Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

Read more …

“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

Read more …

Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

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From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

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Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

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Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

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France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

Read more …

And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

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There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

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Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

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It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

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The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

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Aug 262016
 
 August 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain On beach near Casino, Asbury Park 1911

Japan July Consumer Prices Post Biggest Annual Fall In 3 Years (R.)
Dollar Stores’ Admission: Half Of US Consumers Are In Dire Straits (ZH)
QE Infinity: Are We Heading Into The Unknown? (CNBC)
A Less Weird Time at Jackson Hole? (John Taylor)
There May Not Be Too Many Tricks Left For The ECB and Bank of England (BBG)
China’s Great Divide: A New Cultural Revolution? (CH Smith)
Backlash Against Chinese Investment Abroad Grows Ahead Of G-20 Summit (BBG)
China Has Returned To Reform Mode (BBG)
Australia’s Hunger Games (BBG)
Fannie, Freddie, Regulator Rolls Out Refinance Program For Homeowners (R.)
Eurozone Banks See Net Profit Fall 20% In First Quarter (R.)
Deposits at Bank of Ireland To Face Negative Interest Rates (O’Byrne)
It Was a Union for the Ages, Until Suddenly It Wasn’t. Is Europe Lost? (BBG)
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire (Whitney)
2000 Finns to Get Basic Income in State Experiment Set to Start 2017 (BBG)
Greece Grapples With More ‘Fugitives’, Seeks To Avoid Tensions With Ankara (K.)

 

 

Might as well give up on Japan. 3 years of horrible policy failure, and Abe’s as popular as ever.

Japan July Consumer Prices Post Biggest Annual Fall In 3 Years (R.)

Japan’s consumer prices fell in July by the most in more than three years as more firms delayed price hikes due to weak consumption, keeping the central bank under pressure to expand an already massive stimulus program. The gloomy data reinforces a dominant market view that premier Shinzo Abe’s stimulus program have failed to dislodge the deflationary mindset prevailing among businesses and consumers. The nationwide core consumer price index, which excludes volatile fresh food prices but includes oil products, fell 0.5% in July from a year earlier, the fifth straight month of declines, data showed on Friday. It exceeded a median forecast for a 0.4% decline and June’s 0.4% drop.

While falling energy costs were mainly behind the slide in consumer prices, rises in imported food prices and hotel room rates moderated in a sign that weak consumption is discouraging firms from passing on rising costs. A strong yen also pushed down import costs, offering few justifications for retailers to raise prices of their goods. “While economic activity is on the mend, the slump in import prices suggests that underlying inflation will continue to fall in coming months,” said Marcel Thieliant, senior Japan economist at Capital Economics. “The Bank of Japan will find it increasingly difficult to blame falling energy prices for the decline in overall consumer prices.”

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Where the propaganda fails.

Dollar Stores’ Admission: Half Of US Consumers Are In Dire Straits (ZH)

Both Dollar General and Dollar Tree said pressures on their core lower-income shoppers contributed to the same-store sales misses that both retailers reported. On today’s conference call, Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said that he was surprised to admit that while on the surface things are supposed to be getting better, the reality is vastly different for low-income US consumers: “I know that when we look at globally the overall U.S. population, it seems like things are getting better. But when you really start breaking it down and you look at that core consumer that we serve on the lower economic scale that’s out there, that demographic, things have not gotten any better for her, and arguably, they’re worse. And they’re worse, because rents are accelerating, healthcare is accelerating on her at a very, very rapid clip.”

Making matters worse, he added that the company’s core consumers base, 65% of which is comprised of lower-income shoppers, has been impacted by the recent reduction or elimination in foodstamps: “now couple that in upwards of 20 states where they have reduced or eliminated the SNAP benefit, and it has really put a toll on [the core consumer].” He elaborated that the reduction in foodstamps benefits promptly filtered through the entire business model, and culminated with Dollar General being forced to cut prices to remain competitive. This is what he said:

“That SNAP benefit reduction and/or elimination happened in April. That was the kickoff, and you could see it immediately in the numbers. So I believe that those are the things that are affecting her today. Again, our core customer, and by the way, we’ve seen this play out before. If you dial the clock back to October of 2013 and coming into November of 2013, when the last large SNAP benefit reduction happened, it happened almost exactly the same way on our comps and in how we saw traffic. Obviously, we’re up at a little higher level at that time, but rest assured, that our traffic slowed tremendously then, very similar to as it did now.

The difference here is we’re going to take aggressive price action to get that consumer back in the store. She needs a little motivation to get back in. We need to help her stretch her budget for a time period until she figures it out. Our core customer is very resilient. They’ll figure it out over time, but they need a little help as they tend to now try to figure out how to make ends meet with less money during the month.”

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No, we’ve been in the unknown for years. As soon as Bernanke said ‘Uncharted Territory’, we knew we were lost. Of course they’ve acted ever since as if they know what they’re doing, but that is bull.

QE Infinity: Are We Heading Into The Unknown? (CNBC)

Markets are currently riding on the wave of uncertainty and speculation over whether the world’s central banks will continue to pump in more and more cash into the economy though bond-buying programs known as quantitative easing (QE). But as we go deeper into the world of easy money from central banks, there are other areas of the economy that could see a knock-on effect. Alberto Gallo, manager of the Algebris Macro Credit Fund, describes this paradox as “QE infinity,” whereby low rates and seemingly endless rounds of bond-buying programs encourage cheap borrowing, and investment in financial markets – but not in the real economy. “The problem is rising debt and monetary easing comes with many collateral effects. One is the distortion of asset prices, leading to asset bubbles,” Gallo explained.

“Asset price distortion also has a ripple effect on wealth distribution, increasing inequality by benefitting the already-wealthy who are more likely to hold financial assets. Over time, low rates and QE can also encourage misallocation of resources to leverage-sensitive sectors, including real estate and construction.” Gallo further explained that for the global economy to exit this QE infinity trap, government action and reforms to improve productivity are needed. “But many governments are reluctant to accept the need for these measures, often instead implementing policies that win votes but compound the distortions of easy monetary policy e.g. housing affordability programmes, mortgage subsidies.” Without an adequate fiscal response from governments, growing imbalances make it harder to withdraw stimulus, warned Gallo.

“This is the paradox of current monetary policy: On one hand, it is the best possible response available to central bankers. On the other, it has long-term collateral effects which need to be confronted eventually.” Central banks have seen themselves come up with new ways of stimulating the economy ever since the world plunged into financial crisis in September 2008. Data from JPMorgan shows that the top 50 central banks around the world have cut rates 672 times between them since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a figure that translates to an average of one interest rate cut every three trading days. This has also been combined with $24 trillion worth of asset purchases. This raises a big question: Will the global economy ever exit QE Infinity?

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Dream on. All they have left is weird.

A Less Weird Time at Jackson Hole? (John Taylor)

I’m on my way to join the world’s central bankers at Jackson Hole for the 35th annual monetary-policy conference in the Grand Teton Mountains. I attended the first monetary-policy conference there in 1982, and I may be the only person to attend both the 1st and the 35th. I know the Tetons will still be there, but virtually everything else will be different. As the Wall Street Journal front page headline screamed out on Monday, “Central Bank Stimulus Efforts Get Weirder”. I’m looking forward to it. Paul Volcker chaired the Fed in 1982. He went to Jackson Hole, but he was not on the program to give the opening address, and no one was speculating on what he might say. No other Fed governors were there, nor governors of any other central bank. In contrast, this year many central bankers will be there, including from emerging markets.

Only four reporters came in 1982 — William Eaton (LA Times), Jonathan Fuerbringer (New York Times), Ken Bacon (Wall Street Journal) and John Berry (Washington Post). This year there will be scores. And there were no television people to interview central bankers in 1982 (with the awesome Grand Teton as backdrop). It was clear to everyone in 1982 that Volcker had a policy strategy in place, so he didn’t need to use Jackson Hole to announce new interventions or tools. The strategy was to focus on price stability and thereby get inflation down, which would then restore economic growth and reduce unemployment. Some at the meeting, such as Nobel Laureate James Tobin, didn’t like Volcker’s strategy, but others did. I presented a paper at the 1982 conference which supported the strategy. The federal funds rate was over 10.1% in August 1982 down from 19.1% the previous summer.

Today the policy rate is .5% in the U.S. and negative in the Eurozone, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark. There will be lot of discussion about the impact of these unusual central bank policy rates, as well the unusual large scale purchases of corporate bonds and stock, and of course the possibility of helicopter money and other new tools, some of which greatly expand the scope of central banks. I hope there is also a discussion of less weird policy, and in particular about the normalization of policy and the benefits of normalization. In fact, with so many central bankers from around the world at Jackson Hole, it will be an opportunity to discuss the global benefits of recent proposals to return to a rules-based international monetary system along the lines that Paul Volcker has argued for.

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Trapped.

There May Not Be Too Many Tricks Left For The ECB and Bank of England (BBG)

The European Central Bank and the Bank of England may soon find that their most powerful tool for overseeing lenders doesn’t pack the punch it once did. The European Union is overhauling the way supervisors set bank-specific capital levels for current and potential risks that aren’t covered by the minimum requirements in EU law. A proposal from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would rein in supervisors and give banks the lead in determining their capital needs. The ECB has already followed directions from the commission in splitting its demands into binding requirements and non-binding guidance, reducing the capital burden on euro-area banks. This decision also made it less likely that banks will face restrictions on the payment of dividends, bonuses and additional Tier 1 bond coupons.

“What this boils down to is a complete disarming of the authorities,” said Christian Stiefmueller, a senior policy analyst at Finance Watch, a Brussels-based watchdog. “It makes it effectively impossible for the supervisor to set capital requirements for any risk except those that have already materialized.” Europe’s banks are starting to get some slack from policy makers after years of aggressive regulation. The Brussels-based commission has opened up the entire financial rule book for review, including contentious issues such as the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Faced with weak banks and an anemic economy, regulators have made clear that global standards will be adapted to suit Europe’s needs.

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Key: “The processes used to inflate the new bubble suffer from diminishing returns.”

China’s Great Divide: A New Cultural Revolution? (CH Smith)

The status quo solution (in China, the U.S., Japan, the E.U., etc.) to a weakening bubble-dependent economy is to inflate another even bigger bubble. If debt reached extremes that imploded, the solution is to expand debt far beyond the levels that triggered the implosion. If fudging the numbers triggered a loss of confidence, the solution is to fudge the numbers even more, so they no longer reflect reality at all. If the masses protest their powerlessness, the solution is to push them further from the centers of power. And so on. This blowing new bubbles to replace the ones that popped works for a while, but at the expense of systemic stability. Each new bubble requires pushing the system to new extremes that increase the risk of instability and collapse.

In other words, the stability of the new bubble is temporary and thus illusory. The processes used to inflate the new bubble suffer from diminishing returns. The nature of stimulus-response is that overuse of the stimulus leads to diminishing responses. This is a structural feature that cannot be massaged away. Goosing public confidence in the status quo with phony statistics and rigged markets works splendidly the first time, less so the second time, and barely at all the third time. Why is this so? The distance between reality and the bubble construct is now so great that the disconnection from reality is self-evident to anyone not marveling at the finery of the Emperor’s non-existent clothing. The system habituates to the higher stimulus. If the drug/debt has lost its effectiveness, a higher dose is needed.

This is the progression of serial bubbles. Then the system habituates to the higher dose/debt, and the next expansion of debt must be even greater. This dynamic can be visualized as The Rising Wedge Model of Breakdown, which builds on the well-known Ratchet Effect: the system is greased for easy expansion of debt, leverage, employees, etc., but it has no mechanism to allow contraction. Any contraction triggers systemic collapse. The only question left for China (and every other debt/bubble-dependent nation) is what socio-political consequences will manifest when the credit bubble finally bursts?

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More diminishing returns?!

Backlash Against Chinese Investment Abroad Grows Ahead Of G-20 Summit (BBG)

Forget about Yankee go home. Now it’s Chinese go home. From Australia blocking a bid for a power network to the U.K.’s review of a proposed Chinese-funded nuclear plant, opposition to China’s outward push is opening a thornier and potentially more treacherous front in the country’s economic tug-of-war with the rest of the world. And it’s coming as China prepares to host a Sept. 4-5 summit of Group of 20 leaders. Unlike festering frictions over trade, the new front is in an area – investment – where the global rules of engagement are more amorphous and where national security interests are more prominent. That raises the risk of a rapid escalation of tensions that can’t be so easily contained. “The implicit accusation when rejecting overseas direct investment is much stronger than trade,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney.

Using a national-security rationale to blocking outbound investment by China “is far more confronting. It suggests that China is untrustworthy and has potentially nefarious intentions. That’s what Beijing objects to.” But it’s not just security concerns that are driving the increased backlash against stepped-up Chinese investment abroad, especially by state-owned companies. It’s also the suspicion that the Communist-led government is trying to game the system by snapping up foreign firms in key areas of the economy while blocking others from doing the same in China. China “remains the most closed to foreign investment of the G-20 countries,” David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. Treasury attache to Beijing, said. “This creates an unfairness in which Chinese firms prosper behind protectionist walls and expand into more open markets such as the U.S.”

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China’s getting desperate to look like it’s in control of its own economy. It’s not.

China Has Returned To Reform Mode (BBG)

China has returned to reform mode. This week, plans have been unveiled to quicken the clean-up of excess capacity in state-backed companies, level the playing field for private and foreign investors with new access to previously off-limit sectors, and take the next step in a long-awaited fiscal shake up. Having stabilized the economy with a mix of fiscal support and easy monetary settings, China’s leaders appear to be reviving a stalled reform push that’s key to long-term growth prospects. The rush of announcements comes ahead of China’s hosting of leaders from the world’s 20 biggest economies in Hangzhou on Sept. 4 and 5, allowing it to show progress to officials from nations such as the U.S. and bodies like the IMF that have called for structural changes.

“The pace of reform had been slower than expected,” said Shen Jianguang at Securities in Hong Kong. “Now, policy makers want to speed it up again. With monetary easing proving less effective in propping up the economy, they have realized that there’s no way out if they don’t push forward on reform.” The People’s Bank of China has been upping its communication in recent weeks, signaling ongoing use of liquidity tools rather than big gun moves such as cuts to benchmark interest rates or the percentage of deposits banks must lock away as reserves. With businesses hoarding cash and reluctant to invest, further easing risks fueling financial risks without spurring a pick up in economic growth.

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More dividend priests liquidating themselves.

Australia’s Hunger Games (BBG)

If economies need animal spirits to thrive, what sort of beast is Australia in the aftermath of its mining boom? Something like a wounded bear that would rather hibernate than go hunting for food, if you listen to Treasurer Scott Morrison.Governments need to work at building an economy that “can coax private capital out of its cave,” he said at an event in Sydney Thursday. “Global capital is sitting dormant. How else do you interpret the absurdity of negative bond yields? “Though Australia’s 25 years without a recession represent a remarkable success story, it’s fair to say the country’s going through a rough patch. Interest rates are at a record-low 1.5%, and local businesses are showing more of a tendency to lick their wounds than search for new investment opportunities.

The huge splurge of capital expenditure that accompanied the mining boom helped cover for a while a fact that’s becoming embarrassingly clear as the resource spending recedes: Take out mining, and investment by Australian businesses has barely increased since the global financial crisis. So where’s the money going? Blame the baby boomers. Self-managed super funds – accounts that are controlled by their owners rather than professional fund managers – make up the biggest share of Australia’s pool of retirement savings.The funds, which have benefited from a range of overly generous tax breaks during the past decade, have an outsized influence on the Australian stock market, according to Hasan Tevfik, director of Australian equities research at Credit Suisse.

Retirees’ desire for a steady income from their investments helps explain why certain types of stocks tend to be overvalued in Australia relative to their performance elsewhere, and why local businesses so often fall over themselves to pay dividends above the levels found in other markets. [..] In the long term, companies that dedicate more of their free cash to shareholders rather than finding new ways of making money are robbing the future to pay the present. Countries where that becomes the predominant mode of corporate behavior are in even greater trouble.

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Everybody’s scared to death of falling home prices, which happen to be the only thing that can make the market somewhat healthier.

Fannie, Freddie, Regulator Rolls Out Refinance Program For Homeowners (R.)

The regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unveiled on Thursday a program aimed at homeowners who are paying their mortgages on time but whose loan-to-value (LTV) ratios are too high to qualify for traditional refinance programs. To be eligible for this program, which Fannie and Freddie will implement, borrowers must have not missed any mortgage payments in the prior six months; must not have skipped more than one payment in the previous 12 months; must have a source of income and must receive a benefit from the refinance such as a reduction in their monthly loan payment, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said.

“This new offering will give borrowers the opportunity to refinance when rates are low, making their mortgages more affordable and thus reducing credit risk exposure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” said FHFA Director Melvin Watt in a statement. Because this program for high LTV borrowers will not be available until October 2017, the agency said it will extend the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) until Sept. 30, 2017 as a bridge to the new high LTV program. HARP was introduced in 2009 to help underwater borrowers following the housing bust. More than 3.4 million homeowners have refinanced their mortgage through the program. More than 300,000 homeowners could still refinance through HARP, FHFA said.

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Portuguese and Italian banks cannot afford this. Many others can’t either. Question is where the next bailout (bail-in) will happen.

Eurozone Banks See Net Profit Fall 20% In First Quarter (R.)

Euro area banks saw their profits fall by a fifth in the first three months of this year as they made less money from trading and most other business areas, European Central Bank data showed on Wednesday. The ECB survey painted a gloomy picture, with all the main sources of profit for banks – lending, trading and fees – down from the year before. Net profit fell by 20% year on year to €18 billion ($20.25 billion). The net result from trading and foreign exchange was one of the main culprits for that drop as it fell by 41% to €10.8 billion. Other income streams – such as net interest on loans, dividends, and fees and commissions – also declined, albeit more modestly.

Banks have blamed the ECB’s policy of ultra-low rates, which includes charging banks for the excess cash they park at the central bank, for eating into their profits. In cash-rich Germany, several banks have responded by charging fees on bank accounts or charging corporate clients a percentage charge on large deposits. The ECB has maintained its policy has done more good than harm but it has acknowledged it comes with side effects.

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This can not end well.

Deposits at Bank of Ireland To Face Negative Interest Rates (O’Byrne)

Deposits at Bank of Ireland are soon to face charges in the form of negative interest rates after it emerged on Friday that the bank is set to become the first Irish bank to charge customers for placing their cash on deposit with the bank. This radical move was expected as the ECB began charging large corporates and financial institutions 0.4% in March for depositing cash with them overnight. Bank of Ireland is set to charge large companies for their deposits from October. The bank said it is to charge companies for company deposits worth over €10 million. The bank was not clear regarding what the new negative interest rate will be but it is believed that a negative interest rate of 0.1% will initially be charged to such deposits by Ireland’s biggest bank.

BOI was identified as one of the most vulnerable banks in Europe in the recent EU stress tests – along with Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), AIB and Ulster Bank’s parent RBS. All the banks clients, retail, SME and corporates are unsecured creditors of the bank and exposed to the new bail-in regime. Only larger customers will be affected by the charge for now. The bank claims that it has no plans to levy a negative interest rate on either personal or SME customers but negative interest rates seem likely as long as the ECB continues with zero% and negative interest rates. Indeed, they are already being seen in Germany where retail clients are being charged 0.4% to hold their cash in certain banks such as Raiffeisenbank Gmund am Tegernsee.

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Europe is not lost, but the EU sure is.

It Was a Union for the Ages, Until Suddenly It Wasn’t. Is Europe Lost? (BBG)

The U.K.’s vote to quit the EU is the enterprise’s worst setback since it was conceived in the 1950s. Until now, the EU has always grown in scale and ambition. For the first time, Brexit shows that Europe’s manifest destiny—ever closer union—may not be destiny after all. Merely knowing that European integration can be reversed is a threat: It makes the unthinkable thinkable. But this isn’t the only danger. The union is increasingly unpopular not only in the U.K. but also in other European countries. Its political capital is depleted. Working through the mechanics of Brexit may deepen divisions, severely testing the union’s ability to adapt. Brexit could conceivably spur support for the union. But this will demand consensus, flexibility, and farsighted calculation, none of which can be taken for granted.

If governments can’t rise to this challenge, Brexit may be the beginning of the end of the European dream. In one way, today’s discontent is nothing new. There has often been a gap between the grandest designs of Europe’s leaders and the readiness of the continent’s citizens to go along. The EU’s remarkable achievements in securing peace and prosperity in the postwar era required brave, visionary leadership, and voters were rarely up to speed. For years, that was fine. The model was top-down institution-building, followed by good results, then popular backing—in that order. It all worked beautifully. Europe’s postwar political and economic reconstruction was a modern miracle. But now the model is failing. The Brits aren’t the proof. They’ve always been uncomfortable in the EU, late to the party and a nuisance throughout; their vote to quit was a shock, but probably shouldn’t have been.

Lately, though, the disenchantment has spread far more widely. According to one recent poll, the EU is less popular in France—France!—than in the U.K. So what went wrong? [..] Even at the design stage, many economists said the euro’s political underpinnings were too weak. Monetary union, they argued, demanded a commitment to a form of fiscal union. (If currency devaluation with respect to other EU currencies was going to be ruled out, fiscal transfers would be needed to help cushion economies from downturns.) This would require a widely shared sense of common purpose—in effect, a more fully developed European identity. Without it, member states would balk at collective fiscal action. And balk they did: Fiscal union, with the need for fiscal transfers across the union’s internal borders, wasn’t part of the plan.

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Worried about his legacy?

The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire (Whitney)

The main architect of Washington’s plan to rule the world has abandoned the scheme and called for the forging of ties with Russia and China. While Zbigniew Brzezinski’s article in The American Interest titled “Towards a Global Realignment” has largely been ignored by the media, it shows that powerful members of the policymaking establishment no longer believe that Washington will prevail in its quest to extent US hegemony across the Middle East and Asia. Brzezinski, who was the main proponent of this idea and who drew up the blueprint for imperial expansion in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, has done an about-face and called for a dramatic revising of the strategy. Here’s an excerpt from the article in the AI:

“As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture. Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment. The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power.” (Toward a Global Realignment, Zbigniew Brzezinski, The American Interest)

Repeat: The US is “no longer the globally imperial power.” Compare this assessment to a statement Brzezinski made years earlier in Chessboard when he claimed the US was ” the world’s paramount power.” ““…The last decade of the twentieth century has witnessed a tectonic shift in world affairs. For the first time ever, a non-Eurasian power has emerged not only as a key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world’s paramount power. The defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union was the final step in the rapid ascendance of a Western Hemisphere power, the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power.” (“The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Basic Books, 1997, p. xiii)

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A basic income for just 2000 people seems to miss the whole idea.

2000 Finns to Get Basic Income in State Experiment Set to Start 2017 (BBG)

Finland is pushing ahead with a plan to test the effects of paying a basic income as it seeks to protect state finances and move more people into the labor market. The Social Insurance Institution of Finland, known as Kela, will be responsible for carrying out the experiment that would start in 2017 and include 2,000 randomly selected welfare recipients, according to a statement released Thursday. The level of basic income would be €560 per month, tax free, and mandatory for those picked. “The objective of the legislative proposal is to carry out a basic income experiment in order to assess whether basic income can be used to reform social security, specifically to reduce incentive traps relating to working,” the Social Affairs and Health Ministry said.

To asses the effect of a basic income, the participants will be held up against a control group, the ministry said. The target group won’t include people receiving old-age pension benefits or students. The level of the lowest basic income to be tested will correspond with the level of labor market subsidy and basic daily allowance. The idea of a basic income, or paying everyone a stipend, has gained traction in recent years. It was rejected in a referendum in Switzerland as recently as June, where the suggested amount was 2,500 francs ($2,587) for an adult and a quarter of that sum for a child. It has also drawn interest in Canada and the Netherlands. Finnish authorities were clear on one thing as they embark on their study: “An experiment means that, at this point, basic income will not be paid to the whole population.”

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Whatever the US do, Greece will follow. Unless Berlin decides against it.

Greece Grapples With More ‘Fugitives’, Seeks To Avoid Tensions With Ankara (K.)

As Greece struggles to strike a balance between international law and Turkey’s demand for the extradition of eight Turkish officers, it was confronted with a fresh challenge this week after seven civilians from the neighboring country arrived in Alexandroupoli and Rhodes late Wednesday and are expected to request asylum. The new arrivals have been charged with illegally entering Greece. According to officials, they include a couple, both university professors, and their two children, who arrived in Alexandroupoli, reportedly via the northeastern border, possibly crossing the Evros River by boat. All four were said to be holding Turkish passports, though only the man’s is valid.

The other three individuals – of whom only one has a valid passport – said they are businessmen, but it was not clear how they made it to the southeastern Aegean island. One of the passports has been listed as stolen by Interpol. Initial reports suggested they are possibly supporters of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey claims orchestrated the failed coup attempt in July. Their case is set to put yet more strain on already tense relations between the traditional rivals after eight Turkish officers fled to Greece in the aftermath of the attempted coup. Ankara has demanded their immediate extradition to stand trial as “traitors” and coup plotters. Greece has said the decision will lie with its independent court.

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Dec 182015
 
 December 18, 2015  Posted by at 6:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


DPC Times Square seen from Broadway 1908

I was reading something yesterday by my highly esteemed fellow writer Charles Hugh Smith that had me first puzzled and then thinking ‘I don’t think so’, in the same vein as Mark Twain’s recently over-quoted quote:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I was thinking that was the case with Charles’ article. I was sure it just ain’t so. As for Twain, I’m more partial to another quote of his these days (though it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Told you it had nothing to do with anything.

Charles’ article deals with money supply and the velocity of money. Familiar terms for Automatic Earth readers, though we use them in a slightly different context, that of deflation. In our definition, the interaction between the two (with credit added to money supply) is what defines inflation and deflation, which are mostly -erroneously- defined as rising or falling prices.

I don’t want to get into the myriad different definitions of ‘money supply’, and for the subject at hand there is no need. The first FRED graph below uses TMS-2 (True Money Supply 2 consists of currency in circulation + checking accounts + sweeps of checking accounts + savings accounts). The second one uses M2 money stock. Not the same thing, but good enough for the sake of the argument.

In his piece, Charles seems to portray the two, money supply and velocity of money, as somehow being two sides of the same coin, but in a whole different way than we do. He thinks that the money supply can drive velocity up or down. And that’s where I think that just ain’t so. I also think he defeats his own thesis as he goes along.

Before going into details, two things: One, he doesn’t mention the term deflation even once, though he shows money velocity has been going off a cliff like a mountain range and a half full of lemmings. I find that curious.

Two, he doesn’t mention consumers in the context. That can’t be right either. 70% of US GDP is consumers. You can’t ignore that. You can’t just look at financial markets, at investors, even though they use up most of the stimulus, and think they are the main factor determining money velocity. Not when they’re less than a third of GDP.

Moreover, and this I think is crucial, the velocity of money talks to you about consumers in a way that the money supply never could.

There may be ‘positive’ reports coming out of the BLS on jobs numbers, but with 94+ million Americans not in the labor force, with the quality of jobs diminishing so fast and so profoundly that the middle class is all but disappearing, and with 40+ million US citizens on foodstamps, the impact of the deteriorating spending power of ‘consumers’ on money velocity had to be so enormous you can’t ignore them.

Simply because if and when people have a lot less to spend, velocity comes down. That there is even the very heart of deflation. Here’s Charles with my comments:

Money Velocity Is Crashing – Here’s Why

The inescapable conclusion is that Fed policies have effectively crashed the velocity of money.

I’ll get back to that, but no, it is not true.

That the velocity of money has been crashing while the money supply has been exploding doesn’t seem to bother the mainstream pundits. There is always a fancy-footwork explanation of why whatever is crashing no longer matters. Take a look at these two charts and tell me money velocity doesn’t matter.

No argument about that from me.

First, here’s money supply: notice how money supply leaped from 2001 to 2008 as the Federal Reserve pumped liquidity and credit into the economy, and then how it exploded higher as the Fed went all in after the Global Financial Meltdown.

Now look at a brief history of the velocity of money. There are various measures of money supply and various interpretations of velocity, but let’s set those quibbles aside and compare money velocity in the “golden era” of the 1950s/1960s and the stagflationary 1970s to the present era from 2008 to 2015-the era of “growth”:

Notice how the velocity of money remained in a mild uptrend during both good times and not so good times. The inflationary peak of 1979-1982 (Treasury yields were 16% and mortgages were 18%) generated a spike, but velocity soon returned to its uptrending channel. The speculative excesses of the dot-com era pushed velocity to unprecedented heights.

Given the extremes in velocity, it is unsurprising that it quickly fell in the dot-com bust. The Federal Reserve launched an unprecedented expansion of money, credit and liquidity that again pushed velocity up in the speculative frenzy of the housing bubble. But note that despite the vast expansion of money supply, the peak in the velocity of money was considerably lower than the dot-com peak.

OK, that’s the core of why I started thinking I was sure it just ain’t so. What Charles asserts here is that an expansion of the money supply lifts the velocity of money. In other words, that the velocity of both the pre-existing supply AND the additional supply increases as more supply is added. Even BECAUSE it is added. The more money, the faster it moves. The bigger you get, the faster you run.

And I don’t see that. To me, it’s counterintuitive. This implied correlation does not exist. The velocity of money doesn’t rise when you pump more of it into an economy, it rises because people feel more confident about spending it. For whatever reason that may be.

What’s happening today, and what Charles neglects to mention, is that huge amounts of Americans simply no longer have money to spend. And no matter how much extra is pumped in through QE, it fails to reach them. Moreover, they’re all maxed out on debt. So even if they would get some extra, it would go towards debt repayment. And it does.

That’s what the money velocity graph tells us. Velocity began to tank around 1997, and apart from the housing bubble borrowing boom, has kept tanking until now. Beware of the differences between the graphs: the first one, money supply, runs from 1986 to 2015, while the second one, velocity, covers 1960 to 2015. So you can focus on the second part of graph no.2 to get them to line up.

And the first growth spurt in the velocity graph doesn’t correspond with a similar spurt in supply. In fact, the correlation looks pretty much inverse: the more supply, the less velocity. Apart from the housing casino boom blip perhaps. Which Charles attempts to address next:

Since the collapse of that speculative bubble, the Fed’s all-in expansion of money, credit and liquidity has failed to stem the absolutely unprecedented collapse of money velocity. Clearly, expanding money, credit and liquidity no longer generates any velocity.

That’s because it never has. Expanding money, credit and liquidity has never generated any velocity. It’s always been only about confidence – and private debt levels.

Rather, the inescapable conclusion is that Fed policies have effectively crashed the velocity of money.

No, that conclusion is not just not inescapable, it’s flat out wrong. Unless perhaps you would mean that the policies have greatly impoverished the consumer, but that’s not what Charles is saying. He doesn’t mention consumers. His point seems to be that in earlier days, increases in supply did indeed lead to increases in velocity, ostensibly in the financial world.

To the extent that policies, Fed or otherwise, have tempted Americans to enter the ‘investment casino’, one might claim that down the road, such policies have crashed velocity. But the money supply was not rising all that much when the dot.com bubble was happening, and when the real big supply kahuna came, velocity crashed.

Not because of Fed policies, but because of debt, and of people being maxed out. And one could, if one were inclined to do so, blame that as much on the repeal of Glass-Steagall as on the Fed.

How is this possible? Longtime correspondent Eric A. proposed an insightful explanation. Here is Eric’s commentary:

“You know how you say that the economy is locked up in fiefdoms, and they’re picking winners and losers, as part of colluding the prices? Well this adjustment of prices locks out certain people, like say, the young from housing. So houses don’t sell, they stagnate. But what are we really looking at? Velocity.

Velocity is an indicator that buyers and sellers agree on a price, that the price is “right” and not an outlier. That’s why you see a stock move on high volume “confirming” the move, because it means the price wasn’t “right” at the previous level, while more people agree the new price is fair.

If prices are allowed to go where they need to without pressure and manipulation, you will always have velocity, as the most buyers and sellers will always agree at some price. Because this is true, low velocity cannot happen in a free market.

That is half right, but only half. because it suggests that there’s always a price at which people will buy. There isn’t if people have no money to buy with. That’s why the housing market crashed the way it did, and would be much worse to this day without ZIRP tempting people once more into foolish purchases (foolish because ZIRP distorts markets, but can’t do that forever).

Which means the only reason for low velocity (in this or the previous Depressions) is that someone has somehow managed to get an edge that prevents them from selling, from liquidating, at the true price, i.e. the one the buyers will agree to.

This has another corollary, that the measure of velocity on the Fed’s own chart is the measure of the level of unnatural price manipulation on the market. We can watch this aggregate indicator of their failure in real time, by the Fed’s own hand, and we can know the manipulation is ending when it rises.

Sort of right, but… You can’t even begin to understand the velocity of money without including what consumers have to spend. That’s essentially what the velocity of money measures. What they have to spend plus how confident they are of having it to spend (again) tomorrow.

And you can throw in price manipulation, but that’s not the core, though it can’t be said to have zero influence. What’s certain is that the connection to Fed policies is very weak, if not tenuous. The Fed didn’t blow the housing bubble (money supply remained just about flat from 2005-2008), politics did.

So yes, the Fed, the governments, the insiders can manipulate to their heart’s content, as they’ve been doing, but that unnatural pressure goes somewhere. And the pressure diverts into velocity. As we saw in the Great Depression, or the Roman Empire, velocity can stagnate for 10, 20, or 1,000 years until the manipulation ends, property rights are restored, and we have a free market. History has shown that may be a bargain they’re willing to make, but it won’t do the rest of us a lot of good.”

Sounds about right, but ignores the role of millions of Americans with nothing left to spend. To repeat: 94+ million Americans not in the labor force, the quality of jobs diminishing so fast and so profoundly that the middle class is all but disappearing, and 40+ million US citizens on foodstamps.

There’s what’s the velocity of money graph reflects. And that part of that is due to manipulation, sure. But without including debt, the whole argument rings kind of hollow.

Thank you, Eric, for an explanation that intuitively rings true. Manipulating the PR optics (i.e. perception management) as a substitute for an open market doesn’t make you omnipotent, it makes you a hubris-soaked fool.

No argument on the last sentence, but that is not the core of what ‘just ain’t so’ here. You essentially can’t tell anything from the US velocity of money without looking at the American people.

Velocity of money does not rise because -or when- the money supply does, it rises when consumer spending does. And that happens when people feel confident. No additional supply is needed for that, just for money to move faster. And money doesn’t move faster just because -or when- there’s more of it.

Oct 282015
 
 October 28, 2015  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies Gus Hodges, 11, and brother Julius, 5, Norfolk VA 1911

Weak US Business Spending Plans Point To Slower Economic Growth (Reuters)
Chinese Consumer Sentiment Indicator Slumps In October (CNBC)
Japan’s Retail Sales Fall Piles Pressure On Bank of Japan (CNBC)
China Steel Head Says Demand Slumping at Unprecedented Speed (Bloomberg)
Why Don’t We Save Our Steelworkers The Way We Saved Bankers? (Chakrabortty)
In China’s Alleyways, Underground Banks Move Money (WSJ)
Where Are My (Business Cycle) Dragons? (FT)
Fossil Fuel Companies Risk Plague Of Climate Change Lawsuits (AEP)
US Plans to Sell Down Strategic Oil Reserve to Raise Cash (Bloomberg)
VW Posts $3.85 Billion Quarterly Loss, First In 15 Years (Bloomberg)
Canada Can Show That Ending Austerity Makes Sense (Paul Krugman)
EU Net Neutrality Laws Fatally Undermined By Loopholes (Guardian)
Territorial Disputes: The South China Sea (Bloomberg)
US to Begin ‘Direct Action on the Ground’ in Iraq, Syria (NBC)
IMF Paints Gloomy Outlook For Sub-Saharan Africa (Reuters)
Children Hardest Hit By Europe’s Economic Crisis (Reuters)
The End Of Visa-Free Travel In Europe May Be Looming (Bloomberg)
Migrant Crisis Could Prompt EU to Loosen Budget Deficit Rules (WSJ)
Slovenia Considers Calling For EU Military Aid (FT)
The Children’s Feet Are Rotting, In 1 Month All These People Will Be Dead (HP)
So Long And Thanks For All The Poo (WaPo)

Deflation in the US…

Weak US Business Spending Plans Point To Slower Economic Growth (Reuters)

A gauge of U.S. business investment plans fell for a second straight month in September, pointing to a sharp slowdown in economic growth and casting more doubts on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. Other data on Tuesday showed consumer confidence slipped this month amid worries over a recent moderation in job growth and its potential impact on income. Housing, however, remains the bright spot, with home prices accelerating in August. That should boost household wealth, supporting consumer spending and the broader economy, which has been buffeted by a strong dollar, weak global demand, spending cuts in the energy sector and efforts by businesses to reduce an inventory glut.

The continued weakness in business spending, together with the slowdown in hiring, could make it difficult for the Fed to lift its short-term interest rate from near zero in December, as most economists expect. The U.S. central bank’s policy-setting committee started a two-day meeting on Tuesday. “The drift of data suggests that the first time the Fed will raise rates will be in the spring,” said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research in New York. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, slipped 0.3% last month after a downwardly revised 1.6% decline in August, the Commerce Department said. These so-called core capital goods were previously reported to have dropped 0.8% in August.

The data was the latest dour news for manufacturing, which has borne the brunt of dollar strength, energy sector investment cuts and the inventory correction. Manufacturing accounts for 12% of the economy. In a separate report, the Conference Board said its consumer sentiment index fell to 97.6 this month from a reading of 102.6 in September. Consumers were less optimistic about the labor market, with the share of those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead slipping. There was a drop in the proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase and more expected a drop in their income. The downbeat assessment of the labor market follows a step down in job growth in August and September.

Read more …

…and in China…

Chinese Consumer Sentiment Indicator Slumps In October (CNBC)

Consumer sentiment in China plunged in October, as the outlook for business conditions plummeted and household finances weakened, a survey showed Wednesday. The Westpac MNI China Consumer Sentiment Indicator fell to 109.7 in October from 118.2 in September, marking the lowest reading since the survey began in 2007. Business outlook over the coming year was the hardest hit, with Business Conditions in One Year registering a 10.3% decline, while the Business Conditions in Five Years component fell 8.2%. Current and expected measures for household finances were also weaker, down 5.3% and 7.3% respectively. The survey is taken from consumers across 30 Chinese cities ranging from tier 1 to tier 3.

Respondents said that they were planning on reducing their shopping and entertainment activities in the near term. “This result openly questions the resilience of the Chinese consumer to the discouraging state of the real economy,” said Huw McKay, senior international economist at Westpac. The survey follows China’s gross domestic product release last week, which showed the world’s second largest economy grew by 6.9% in the three months through September, the slowest pace since 2009. Concerns over the health of the Chinese economy have spilled from Chile to Korea, sparking a sharp sell-off in the price of commodities that Chinese factories traditionally consume in hefty amounts, as well as the currencies of the countries that benefit from selling raw materials to China.

[..] The drop in confidence was most acute among in the 35-to-54-year-old group, with sentiment plunging 11.2% between September and October. In contrast, confidence among the youngest and oldest age cohorts (18-34 and 55-64) declined more moderately by 3.3% and 3.2% respectively, Wesptac said in a statement.

Read more …

…and in Japan too..

Japan’s Retail Sales Fall Piles Pressure On Bank of Japan (CNBC)

Japan’s retail sales unexpectedly fell on-year in September, official data showed on Wednesday, suggesting that consumer spending does not the momentum to make up for weak exports and factory output. The retail sales news could add to pressure on the Bank of Japan under to expand monetary stimulus, possibly as soon as its rate review meeting on Friday, when it is also expected to slash its rosy economic and price projections, analysts say. Retail sales fell 0.2% in September from a year earlier, compared with economists’ median estimate for a 0.4% rise, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said on Wednesday.

The decline, which followed five straight months of gains, was largely due to sluggish demand for cars and fuel, according to the data. On a seasonally adjusted basis, retail sales rose 0.7% in September from the previous month. Japan’s economy shrank in April-June and may suffer another contraction in July-September on weak exports and consumption. Analysts say any rebound in the current quarter will be modest as companies feel the pinch from soft demand in China and other emerging Asian markets.

Read more …

…and it’s not just consumers, it’s spending across the board.

China Steel Head Says Demand Slumping at Unprecedented Speed (Bloomberg)

If anyone doubted the magnitude of the crisis facing the world’s largest steel industry, listening to Zhu Jimin would put them right, fast. Demand is collapsing along with prices, banks are tightening lending and losses are stacking up, the deputy head of the China Iron & Steel Association said on Wednesday. “Production cuts are slower than the contraction in demand, therefore oversupply is worsening,” said Zhu at a quarterly briefing in Beijing by the main producers’ group. “Although China has cut interest rates many times recently, steel mills said their funding costs have actually gone up.” China’s mills – which produce about half of worldwide output – are battling against oversupply and sinking prices as local consumption shrinks for the first time in a generation amid a property-led slowdown.

The fallout from the steelmakers’ struggles is hurting iron ore prices and boosting trade tensions as mills seek to sell their surplus overseas. Shanghai Baosteel Group forecast last week that China’s steel production may eventually shrink 20%, matching the experience seen in the U.S. and elsewhere. “China’s steel demand evaporated at unprecedented speed as the nation’s economic growth slowed,” Zhu said. “As demand quickly contracted, steel mills are lowering prices in competition to get contracts.” Medium- and large-sized mills incurred losses of 28.1 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) in the first nine months of this year, according to a statement from CISA. Steel demand in China shrank 8.7% in September on-year, it said.

Signs of corporate difficulties are mounting. Producer Angang Steel warned this month it expects to swing to a loss in the third quarter on lower product prices and foreign-exchange losses. The company’s Hong Kong stock has lost more than half its value this year. Last week, Sinosteel, a state-owned steel trader, failed to pay interest due on bonds maturing in 2017. Crude steel output in the country fell 2.1% to 608.9 million tons in the first nine months of this year, while exports jumped 27% to 83.1 million tons, official data show. Steel rebar futures in Shanghai sank to a record on Wednesday as local iron ore prices fell to a three-month low.

Read more …

Because there’s a huge global steel oversupply?

Why Don’t We Save Our Steelworkers The Way We Saved Bankers? (Chakrabortty)

Every so often a society decides which of its citizens really matter. Which ones get the star treatment and the big cash handouts – and which get shoved to the bottom of the pile and penalised. These are the big, rough choices post-crash Britain is making right now. A new hierarchy is being set in place by David Cameron in budget after austerity budget. Wealthy pensioners: winners. Young would-be homeowners: losers. Millionaires see their taxes cut to 45%, while the working poor pay a marginal tax rate of 80%. Big business gets to write its own tax code; benefit claimants face harsh sanctions. When the contours of this new social order are easy to spot, they can cause public uproar – as with the cuts to tax credits. Elsewhere, they’re harder to pick out, though still central. It is into this category that the crisis in the British steel industry falls.

It would be easy to tune out the past few weeks’ headlines about plant closures and job losses as just another story of business disaster. But what’s happening to our steelworkers, and what we do to protect them, goes to the heart of the debate about which people – and which places – count in Britain’s political economy. If Westminster lets the UK’s steel industry die, it’s in effect declaring that certain regions and the people who live and work in them are surplus to requirements. That it really doesn’t matter if Britain makes things. That the phrase “skilled working-class jobs” is now little more than an oxymoron. That’s the criteria against which to judge MPs, as they continue to take evidence today on the crisis and then debate options.

What does this crisis look like? Imagine coming to work on a September morning – only to find that you and one in six other employees in your entire industry face redundancy before Christmas. That’s the prospect facing British steelworkers. Motherwell, Middlesbrough, Scunthorpe: some of the most kicked-about places in de-industrialised Britain now face more punishment. Mothball the SSI plant in Redcar and it’s not just 2,200 workers that you send to the dole office and whose families you shove on the breadline. An entire local economy goes on life support: the suppliers of parts, the outside engineers who used to do the servicing, the port workers and hauliers, the cafes and shops. Within days of SSI’s closure, one of Teeside’s biggest employment agencies went into liquidation.

[..] Britain is entering the early stages of yet another industrial catastrophe. It could finally sink a sector, steel, that actually helps reduce the country’s gaping trade deficit. With that will go another pocket of well-paid blue-collar jobs. Chuck in employer contributions to pensions and national insurance, and the total remuneration per SSI staffer is £40,000 a year. Just try getting such pay in a call centre or distribution warehouse, even as a manager. Imagine what would happen if manufacturing were centred around the capital, and its executives had Downing Street on speed dial. Actually, you needn’t imagine – merely remember the meltdown of 2008. Then Gordon Brown was so desperate to save the City that the IMF estimates he propped it up with £1.2 trillion of public money. That’s the equivalent of nearly £20,000 from every man, woman and child in the country doled out to bankers in direct cash, loans and taxpayer guarantees.

Read more …

Try ten times that: “..central-bank officials who attempt to say that underground banks handle about 800 billion yuan ($125 billion) annually..”

In China’s Alleyways, Underground Banks Move Money (WSJ)

In a warren of tiny shops beneath grimy residential towers, a white-haired man selling Snickers bars and fizzy drinks from a kiosk no larger than a cashier’s booth is figuring out a way to move $100,000 out of China. That is twice what Chinese are allowed to send out of the country in a year. Licensed banks won’t do it. But middlemen like Mr. Chen, perched in his mini-mart at the front lines of a vast underground currency-exchange and offshore-remittance network, can and often will. “There’s never a certainty that these things can be done,” said Mr. Chen, who declined to give his full name. “But, usually, when things get stricter, the fee will just be a bit higher.” Facing a turbulent stock market and a weakening economy, many Chinese are trying to move money offshore.

That spells business for operations that can end-run capital controls. No official data track the underground transfers, but central-bank officials who attempt to say that underground banks handle about 800 billion yuan ($125 billion) annually, and more than usual this year. One sign of unusually high activity in underground banks is a drop in China’s foreign-exchange reserves, an indicator of demand for hard currency. Reserves fell by a record $93.9 billion in August and $43 billion more in September, though part of the reason was central-bank selling to support the yuan. Often hidden behind the façades of convenience stores and tea shops, they cater to a clientele ranging from corrupt officials hiding gains to middle-class Chinese trying to buy overseas property.

All believe their money is safer abroad or can bring a higher return, a sentiment that has deepened since this summer’s stock-market plunge. New York real-estate agent Jiang Jinjin said she has handled nearly 2,000 residential-property purchases this year for Chinese families with children at Columbia University. “I didn’t sleep much this summer. Too many kids looking for apartments,” she said. Some customers rely on relatives and friends to carry cash over on repeated trips, she said, and some set up U.S. companies. Such firms can be used to overpay for imports, experts on underground banking say. Ms. Jiang said her company checks the provenance of money used to buy real estate.

The outflows have put underground bankers in China in the cross hairs of financial regulators. China’s capital controls were set up to keep funds onshore when the country was starved for investment. Officials consider them still necessary, to prevent sharp outflows of the kind that shocked developing economies in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Also, too much cash going out could complicate efforts to stimulate growth through interest-rate cuts.

Read more …

Early understanding.

Where Are My (Business Cycle) Dragons? (FT)

The Qian Diagram implies a complete circulation with characteristics of contraction and expansion as well as phases of prosperity, recession, depression and recovery. The corresponding economic cycles are as follows: “Hidden Dragon. Do not act” refers to the economy that in a slump or depressed state in which it is hard to do anything; “Dragon appearing in the field” implies an economic recovery, in which successful people can take the opportunity to succeed; “The energetic gentlemen work hard all day” means keeping vigorous through the whole recovery phase, and no one can relax at any time. Being certain about the target and achieving it with effort and prudence, there will be no great harm even if in the face of risks; “Dragon wavering over the depths” refers to the phase from depression to recovery.

During this rising period, the average social profit rate is high and almost every business runs smoothly; “Flying dragon in the heavens” refers to the most economically prosperous period; “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent” refers to recession in the economic cycle, which suggests things will develop in the opposite direction when they reach an extreme; “A flight of dragon without heads” indicates that in the prosperous period, monopoly will emerge, while after the economy enters recession, monopoly would disintegrate and be replaced instead by a pattern of free competition, which is a symbol of good performance for the economy.

[..] Guanzi is said to be the record of thoughts and remarks by Qi’s famous premier Guan Zhong and his School in the Spring and Autumn Period, which was between 475 B.C. and 221 B.C… Thought on demand management policy as well as fiscal and monetary policies is all covered in Guanzi. There are extensive discussions on the proper fiscal policy that should be undertaken during an economic depression in the Chapter Cheng Ma the sixty-ninth of Guanzi. “When people lose their fundamentals of living in years with frequent floods and droughts, the monarch can recruit those who live in extreme poverty and give them payment through the activities like constructing the palace. Therefore, the purpose of constructing pavilions is to appease national economic fluctuations rather than for enjoyment.” This is the earliest description of policy in Chinese history with characteristics of Keynesianism.

Read more …

Ambrose has a hobby horse.

Fossil Fuel Companies Risk Plague Of Climate Change Lawsuits (AEP)

Oil, gas and coal companies face the mounting risk of legal damages for alleged climate abuse as global leaders signal an end to business-as-usual and draw up sweeping plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Bank of America has warned. Investors in the City are increasingly concerned that fossil fuel groups and their insurers are on the wrong side of a powerful historical shift and could be swamped with exhorbitant class-action lawsuits along the lines of tobacco and asbestos litigation in the US. “It is setting off alarm bells that there could be these long tail risks,” said Abyd Karmali, Bank of America’s head of climate finance. Mr Karmali said the United Nations’ “COP21” climate summit in Paris in December is likely to be a landmark event that starts to shut the door on parts of the fossil industry.

“It is a non-exchangeable, one-way ticket to a low-carbon economy,” he said. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, said 155 countries have already put forward detailed plans covering 88pc of global CO2 emissions, and others are expected to join before the deadline expires. “It is unstoppable. No amount of lobbying at this point is going to change the direction,” she told a Carbon Tracker forum in London. Mrs Figueres said the mood has changed entirely since the failed summit in Copenhagen in 2009. This time China is fully on board. “China is already spending more on renewables than any other country. It is going to introduce its own emissions trading scheme in 2017,” she said. Mrs Figueres said the pledges are not yet enough to cap the rise in average global temperatures to two degrees Centrigrade above pre-industrial levels by 2100 – the “two degree world” deemed the safe limit.

But the Paris accord does promise to “bend” the trajectory to 2.7 degrees and will almost certainly be followed by a series of deals that brings the ultimate target within sight. “We think most countries will be able to over-achieve,” she said. While the exact contours are still unclear, Paris is likely to sketch a way towards zero net emissions later this century. It implies that most fossil fuel reserves booked by major oil, gas and coal companies can never be burned. A deal would also send a moral signal with legal ramifications. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank England, warned last month that by those who had suffered losses from climate change may try to bring claims on third-party liability insurance. He specifically mentioned the parallel of asbestos claims in US courts, which have mounted over the years to $85bn and devastated some Lloyd’s syndicates.

Read more …

Like Gordon Brown selling England’s gold reserves. Timing is everything.

US Plans to Sell Down Strategic Oil Reserve to Raise Cash (Bloomberg)

The U.S. plans to sell millions of barrels of crude oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve from 2018 until 2025 under a budget deal reached on Monday night by the White House and top lawmakers from both parties. The proposed sale, included in a bill posted on the White House website, equates to more than 8% of the 695 million barrels of reserves, held in four sites along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Sales are due to start in 2018 at an annual rate of 5 million barrels, rising to 10 million by 2023 and totaling 58 million barrels by the end of the period. The proceeds will be “deposited into the general fund of the Treasury,” according to the bill. The sale is the second time the U.S. has raised cash from the reserve, created as a counter-balance to the power of Arab producers after the first oil crisis of 1973-74.

The U.S. may sell also additional barrels to cover a $2 billion program from 2017 to 2020 to modernize the strategic reserve, including building new pipelines. The White House on Tuesday urged lawmakers to support the budget deal, including the proposed partial sale of the SPR, saying it was “a responsible agreement that is paid for in a balanced way.” Supporters of the sale argue the U.S. doesn’t require such a big emergency reserve as rising domestic production on the back of the shale boom offsets the need for imports. Critics, including oil analysts and former U.S. energy officials, say using the underground reserve as a piggy bank makes it less effective in meeting its intended purpose: combating a “severe energy disruption.” What’s more, the government would be selling at a time when oil is unlikely to have recovered from its slump over the past 18 months.

Read more …

VW must cut investments. They might as well cut their entire diesel division.

VW Posts $3.85 Billion Quarterly Loss, First In 15 Years (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen AG, Europe’s largest automaker, posted a €3.48 billion operating loss for the third quarter, worse than analysts’ estimate of a €3.27 billion loss. The company made €3.23 billion profit in the third-quarter a year ago. The historic loss comes amid a widening global emissions scandal after it was revealed software was used to cheat official exhaust analysis checks. The company also announced it would cut its 2015 profit target, saying earnings before interest and tax would drop “significantly.”

Read more …

Afraid it’s too late now. Deflation comes first. Oil is down for the count. Next, watch real estate.

Canada Can Show That Ending Austerity Makes Sense (Paul Krugman)

Canadians were less caught up than the rest of us in the ideology of bank deregulation. As a result, Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 financial crisis. Which brings us to the issue of deficits and public investment. Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada platform had to say on the subject: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.” Does that sound reasonable? It should because it is. We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates. It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates, putting those excess savings, not to mention the workers unemployed due to weak demand, to use building things that will improve our future. [..]

Since 2010 public investment has been falling as a share of GDP in both Europe and the US, and it’s now well below pre-crisis levels. Why? The answer is that in 2010 elite opinion somehow coalesced around the view that deficits, not high unemployment and weak growth, were the great problem facing policymakers. There was never any evidence for this view; after all, those low interest rates showed that markets weren’t at all worried about debt. But never mind – it was what all the important people were saying, and all that you read in much of the financial press. And few politicians were willing to challenge this orthodoxy. Those who should have stood up for public spending suffered a striking failure of nerve.

Britain’s Labour Party, in particular, essentially accepted Conservative claims that the nation was facing a fiscal crisis and was reduced to arguing at the margin about what form austerity should take. Even President Barack Obama temporarily began echoing Republican rhetoric about the need to tighten the government’s belt. And having bought into deficit panic, centre-left parties found themselves in an extremely weak position. Austerity rhetoric comes naturally to right-wing politicians, who are always arguing that we can’t afford to help the poor and unlucky (although somehow we’re able to afford tax cuts for the rich). Centre-left politicians who endorse austerity, however, find themselves reduced to arguing that they won’t inflict quite as much pain. It’s a losing proposition, politically as well as economically.

Now come Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who are finally willing to say what sensible economists have been saying all along. And they weren’t punished politically – on the contrary they won a stunning victory. So will the Liberals put their platform into practice? They should. Interest rates remain incredibly low: Canada can borrow for 10 years at only 1.5%, and its 30-year inflation-protected bonds yield less than 1%. Furthermore, Canada is probably facing an extended period of weak private demand thanks to low oil prices and the likely deflation of a housing bubble. Let’s hope, then, that Trudeau stays with the programme. He has an opportunity to show the world what truly responsible fiscal policy looks like.

Read more …

“.. its cut-down nature has prompted the web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, to advise people to “just say no” to it.”

EU Net Neutrality Laws Fatally Undermined By Loopholes (Guardian)

Supporters of net neutrality have accused the European Union of undermining its own net neutrality laws after MEPs voted down amendments aimed at closing loopholes. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should treat all online content equally without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose or allowing companies to pay for preferential treatment. The European parliament voted through new rules intended to enshrine that principle in law, but critics say they are fatally undermined by a number of loopholes which “open the door to an end to net neutrality”. An attempt to close those loopholes through amendments failed to gain enough support from MEPs to pass.

Following the vote, the regulations are immediately in force in all EU member states, but national regulators, who are ultimately responsible for overseeing the implementation of the rules, will not be expected to start enforcement for six months. Among the exceptions opposed by net neutrality supporters is one which allows providers to offer priority to “specialised services”, providing they still treat the “open” internet equally. Many had seen the exception as allowing providers to offer an internet fast lane to paying sites, leading to the Italian government to propose removing the exception from the draft regulations. The final draft, however, limits what services can be given priority to uses like remote surgery, driverless cars and preventing terrorist attacks. The regulation also requires that those specialised services cannot be offered if they restrict bandwidth for normal internet users.

A different exception is aimed at situations where the limitation is not speed, but data usage. The EU’s regulations allow “zero rating”, a practice whereby certain sites or applications are not counted against data limits. That gives those sites a specific advantage when dealing with users with strict data caps such as those on mobile internet. The new regulations allow national regulators to decide whether or not to allow zero rating in their own country. The most significant example of the practice is Internet.org, Facebook’s platform for spreading net access to the developing world. The service allows access for free to sites including Facebook and Wikipedia, but its cut-down nature has prompted the web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, to advise people to “just say no” to it.

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A tangled web.

Territorial Disputes: The South China Sea (Bloomberg)

Some things are worth fighting for. What about a few desert islands occupied mainly by birds, goats and moles? China and Japan seem to think so, the rest of the world is alarmed and a look at other territorial disputes around the globe shows that stranger things have happened. There are about 60 such conflicts simmering worldwide. Most will bubble along, unresolved but harmless, 400 years after the Peace of Westphalia established the notion of national sovereignty. Others are more dangerous. China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea and has constructed artificial islands there for potential development. The U.S. sailed a warship through nearby waters in October, showing it doesn’t recognize the features in the Spratly Islands as having the same rights as Chinese territory.

Five other nations claim parts of the same maritime area: Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. China’s claim to the oil- and gas-rich waters dates to 1947. In November 2014, China and Japan agreed to disagree about century-old claims to a separate set of islands 1,000 miles to the northeast in the East China Sea. That was progress; a year earlier China had proclaimed an “air defense identification zone” over the islands. Taiwan stakes a claim, too and South Korea flew military planes through the self-proclaimed Chinese zone. President Barack Obama went to Japan in 2014 and promised to defend the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese and administered by Japan since 1972. China is locked in a separate disagreement with India over the two countries’ land border.

Read more …

Boots on the ground.

US to Begin ‘Direct Action on the Ground’ in Iraq, Syria (NBC)

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday that the U.S. will begin “direct action on the ground” against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, aiming to intensify pressure on the militants as progress against them remains elusive. “We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” Carter said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee, using an alternative name for the militant group. Carter pointed to last week’s rescue operation with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq to free hostages held by ISIS. Carter and Pentagon officials initially refused to characterize the rescue operation as U.S. boots on the ground.

However, Carter said last week that the military expects “more raids of this kind” and that the rescue mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.” This may mean some American soldiers “will be in harm’s way, no question about it,” Carter said last week. After months of denying that U.S. troops would be in any combat role in Iraq, Carter late last week in a response to a question posed by NBC News, also acknowledged that the situation U.S. soldiers found themselves in during the raid in Hawija was combat. “This is combat and things are complicated,” Carter said.

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The poor were always going to be the first and worst victims.

IMF Paints Gloomy Outlook For Sub-Saharan Africa (Reuters)

This year’s slump in commodity prices and the end of a flood of cheap dollars has pegged back African growth to its weakest in six years and things could get worse if the global economy continues to flounder, the IMF said on Tuesday. In its latest African Economic Outlook, entitled “Dealing with the Gathering Clouds”, the Fund said the poorest continent was likely to grow 3.75% this year and 4.25% next, a big drop from the years before and after the 2008/2009 financial crisis. “The strong growth momentum evident in the region in recent years has dissipated,” the report said. “With the possibility that the external environment might turn even less favourable, risks to this outlook remain on the downside.”

Hardest-hit have been sub-Sahara’s eight oil exporters – led by top producers Nigeria and Angola – although others such as Ghana, Zambia and South Africa were also suffering from weak minerals prices, power shortages and difficult financing conditions. However, the Fund noted some bright spots, most notably Ivory Coast, which is scheduled to expand as much as 9% this year due to an investment boom that followed the end of a brief civil war in 2012. This weekend’s overwhelmingly peaceful election, which President Alassane Ouattara – a former IMF official – is widely expected to win, has reinforced hopes Francophone Africa’s biggest economy has put its worst years behind it. With commodities revenues forecast to remain depressed for several years, governments have to work quickly to diversify revene sources by improving domestic tax collection, said Antoinette Sayeh, head of the IMF’s Africa department.

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The poor, the young, the old and the sick.

Children Hardest Hit By Europe’s Economic Crisis (Reuters)

Some 26 million children and young people in Europe are threatened by poverty or social exclusion after years of economic crisis, according to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation which gave Greece the worst marks in the entire EU. Bertelmann’s Social Justice Index, an annual survey of social conditions in the 28-member bloc, found a yawning gap between north and south, and between young and old. In Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal, the number of children and young people that are under threat because of their economic condition has increased by 1.2 million to 7.6 million since 2007, the study said. In addition, the number of EU citizens between 20 and 24 years old who are neither employed nor in education or training has risen in 25 of the 28 member states since 2008, with Germany and Sweden the only countries where the outlook for this age group has improved.

In Italy, 32% of people in their early 20s fall into this category, while in Spain it is 24.8%. “We cannot afford to lose a generation in Europe, either socially or economically,” said Aart De Geus, chairman of the executive board at Bertelsmann. “The EU and its member states must make special efforts to sustainably improve opportunities for younger people.” By contrast, the study found that a declining number of people aged 65 or older are at risk of poverty, because retirement benefits have not declined as strongly as incomes for younger citizens. Bertelsmann said three Europe-wide trends were exacerbating this gulf between young and old, including growing public debt, stagnating investment in education and research, and rising pressure on the financial viability of social security systems. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Czech Republic stood at the top of the social justice rankings, while Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain were at the bottom.

Read more …

And then there’s no reason to be left for the EU.

The End Of Visa-Free Travel In Europe May Be Looming (Bloomberg)

Warnings of an end to visa-free travel intensified in the EU as Slovenia said it may join Hungary in fencing off its borders if the bloc fails to help countries on its southeastern fringe. Slovene Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said the Adriatic nation will “adopt all measures” to ensure the safety of its citizens and migrants if the situation worsens and the accord reached Sunday in Brussels isn’t implemented, STA news service reported Tuesday. EU President Donald Tusk said the bloc must protect its external frontiers. He echoed an alarm issued Monday by Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who said free-movement of people, one of the EU’s founding principles, may be at risk. “This challenge has the potential to change the European Union we have built,” Tusk told EU lawmakers on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France.

“It has the potential to create tectonic changes in the European political landscape, and these are not changes for the better.” The leaders of 11 EU and Balkan countries agreed on a 17-point plan on Sunday that offered short-term fixes for the 1 million or more migrants expected in the bloc this year. The deal includes sending about 400 policemen to help Slovenia control its borders, emergency housing for as many as 100,000 refugees, a stepped-up registration system and bolstering policing on the EU’s southeastern edge. Still, with winter approaching, countries continue to squabble over longer-term solutions. Many Balkan countries say they’re being overwhelmed after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month there could be no limit on asylum for those who meet the conditions. That coincided with a shift in the route taken by migrants that once led mainly through Libya to Italy. Now most are winding from Turkey to Greece, through the Balkan states, and then further north.

Complaining about a lack of coordination in the EU, countries have embarked on divergent policies. Many eastern members oppose a German-led push to redistribute the refugees across the bloc with mandatory quotas, saying the migrants don’t want to stay on their territory. Amid the bickering, Hungary has drawn criticism for fencing off its borders, while Slovenia has complained Croatia is waving migrants through. The Republic of Macedonia says its southern neighbor Greece is doing the same, without following the rules that arrivals must be registered in the first EU state they enter. Such squabbling helped prompt European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to call Sunday’s meeting in Brussels and he said on Tuesday that national cooperation already had improved.
“We are putting an end to all beggar-thy-neighbor policies,” Juncker told the European Parliament. “Instead, countries shall help their neighbors by telling each other what they are doing.”

Read more …

The EU must compensate Greece for all costs, not ‘allow’ it to run a bigger deficit. That’s just crazy. And amoral.

Migrant Crisis Could Prompt EU to Loosen Budget Deficit Rules (WSJ)

European Union governments will be able to offset some of the costs related to the migrant crisis from the EU’s budget deficit rules, according to a top EU official in charge of policing national budgets. Under EU rules, governments have to stick to a budget deficit of 3% of GDP or face fines. “It will be a country-by-country assessment, but we will bear in mind the cost entailed by refugee policies more than up to now,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Mr. Juncker said that given the “exceptionally serious problem” of the refugee crisis, there will be some room for maneuver for the Commission, the EU executive, when assessing the countries’ budget deficits.

“If a country is making huge efforts, there should be a commensurate understanding of what they have done. If a country is unable to prove it’s affected by the cost of refugee policies, then we won’t necessarily apply the flexibility of the Stability and Growth Pact to them,” Mr. Juncker said. Germany, the main destination country for refugees arriving in Europe, is expected to triple its budget for accommodating asylum seekers to an estimated €15 billion. Germany’s current deficit is within the EU rules, but that may change by the end of the year. Austria and Italy, two countries affected by the migration crisis and whose budgets are likely to surpass the 3% threshold, have already been pressing the Commission to exempt their refugee spending from the EU’s budget assessment.

Fiscal hawks, however, including Germany’s own finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have been wary of supporting that call, for fear that other countries will seize the opportunity and offset budget expenditures which aren’t necessarily refugee-related. Greece, Croatia and Slovenia—all countries on the main migrant route into Europe—are already in breach of the 3% deficit rule. They are likely to get their deadlines for reaching 3% extended if they can prove that the refugee crisis has taken a toll on their already-strapped coffers.

Read more …

The EU has no military. Nor would it solve anything. Separate countries do, but can they operate on reign territory?

Slovenia Considers Calling For EU Military Aid (FT)

Slovenia, the tiny Balkan state struggling to cope with the migration crisis, has raised the idea of invoking a never-before-used “solidarity clause” in the EU treaties to formally request European aid and military support. Ljubljana recently floated the option of triggering Article 222, which enables military aid to EU nations overwhelmed by disasters, according to two officials familiar with the talks. It indicates the drastic steps under consideration to deal with a tide of asylum seekers arriving in Europe. The Alpine state of just 2m people has received 84,000 migrants over the past 10 days, leading the government to call in its national army as well as private security personnel to help its small police force. It received a further 8,000 migrants between Monday evening and Tuesday morning — a figure that exceeds the size of Slovenia’s army.

Against that backdrop, one Slovenian government official said invoking Article 222 was a “viable option” as a last resort. Ljubljana has not officially commented on the idea. Alarmed by the potential for Slovenia pulling the bloc’s emergency cord, EU officials have sought to head off a request, in part by arranging for EU countries to provide 400 police to help Ljubljana manage the crisis. Slovenian officials have put a brave face on the meagre results of Sunday’s summit of European leaders on the so-called western Balkans route, but are keeping up threats to take more aggressive steps. Miro Cerar, Slovenia’s prime minister, had warned the EU would “fall apart” unless the “unbearable” pressure was not eased promptly. His foreign minister Karl Erjavec hinted at the potential for a fence, saying “impediments” could be considered to stem the cross-border flows.

The solidarity clause states that EU member states “shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources” in the event the requesting country is subject to a terrorist attack or is the victim or a man-made or natural disaster. It has never been invoked. Although the clause is explicit in the potential for military aid and the “spirit of solidarity”, it does not say the support would be automatic. Some EU officials are keen for the principle not to be tested. Up to half a million migrants have attempted to pass through the so-called Balkan corridor between Greece and Germany since the start of the year, overwhelming governments and inflaming already tense relations in the region.

Read more …

Devastating.

The Children’s Feet Are Rotting, In 1 Month All These People Will Be Dead (HP)

“There are thousands of children here and their feet are literally rotting, they can’t keep dry, they have high fevers and they’re standing in the pouring rain for days on end. You have one month guys, and then all these people will be dead”. Those were the final words of Dr Linda on the phone, a doctor that our volunteer organisations (Help Refugees and CalAid) had asked to fly out to Lesbos in response to an emergency cry for help from an overwhelmed volunteer on the ground. The weight of those words and the responsibility that comes with them felt crippling. But why are we, a film maker, a radio presenter, and a music assistant being tasked with this responsibility? Shouldn’t, as we had presumed, the large charities and governments be taking the charge of care for the precious lives arriving on Europe shores?

Another call came in – this time from volunteers in Serbia – the refugees are burning plastic bags to keep warm, they have nothing else, they are freezing to death, and the fumes from the bags are slowly poisoning them, please send help. Then another – this time from volunteers on Lesbos trying to find out how to order body bags en masse… will they have to resort this? Time will tell, but certainly people there have already started to die. We wished we could pick up the phone and call someone… who? A charity? An emergency team? The government? The army? How could we sit by and watch whilst these people die, and the handfuls of volunteers struggle and suffer too. But who is there to call? The charities are acting slowly, they have protocols to follow, political considerations, red tape, hierarchy and procedures.

Our government’s policy is not to help in Europe, and only to send aid to places like Syria, Lebanon in Jordan. So… it’s left to everyday people, untrained, unprepared, and overwhelmed, to deal with this crisis. Everyday people like us… a small group of friends who nine weeks ago decided to raise a little bit of cash, get a car load of goods and drive it to Calais. We’d heard from friends who’d been there some of the terrible stories of war and persecution, we knew that numbers were growing, that more children were coming everyday, and that conditions were dire. Our plan was to do our bit, pat ourselves on the back, and then go back to our lives feeling that we’d done something good for our fellow mankind.

Read more …

Nature is a complex system.

So Long And Thanks For All The Poo (WaPo)

It only takes a glance at a history book and a look out the window to know that our planet has lost many of its biggest creatures: The world that was once home to mammoths and towering dinosaurs can now barely maintain stable populations of rhinos and whales. But according to a new study, we’ve got more to mourn than just the animals themselves. We’ve lost their feces, too — and that’s a bigger problem than you might think. Why should we miss steaming piles of dinosaur dung? According to research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, megafauna play a greater role in the spread of nutrients across the planet than scientists ever realized. The research focused on modeling the distribution of phosphorus, a nutrient necessary for fertilizing plant growth.

Scientists know that animals help carry these nutrients around by, well, not pooping where they eat. Without this process, nutrients would end up following gravity onto the ocean floor, instead of spreading as high as the mountain tops. But these days most of the nutrient recycling that happens is due to bacteria — not wandering poopers. “I wanted to know whether the world of the past with all the endemic animals was more fertile than our current world,” lead study author Chris Doughty of Oxford University told The Post. “Large free-ranging animals are much less abundant than they once were. Today, if scientists were to study the role of animals they would find that it is important but small,” Doughty explained. “However, in the past, we hypothesize that it would have been at least an order of magnitude larger than today.

Essentially, we have replaced wild free-roaming animals with fenced domestic cattle that cannot move nutrients in the same way.” Some of these contributors — the massive land animals that once roamed our planet — are gone for good. But others are dwindling before our very eyes. In one example of the effect, the researchers found that whales — which have seen dramatic population loss in the last century, mainly due to hunting and habitat disruption — used to bring an estimated 750 million pounds of phosphorus up from the deep ocean to the surface each year. Since whales feed deep in the water and come up to breathe — and poop — at the surface, they’re great at helping to recycle these resources.

But today, the researchers estimate, whales only bring 165 million pounds of phosphorus up annually. That’s just 23% of their previous contribution. Phosphorus movement by birds and fish that come inland after eating in the sea (like salmon, for example) are just 4% what they once were.

Read more …

Aug 262015
 
 August 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

Look, it’s very clear where I stand on China; I’ve written a lot about it. And not just recently. Nicole Foss, who fully shares my views on the topic, reminded me the other day of a piece I wrote in July 2012, named Meet China’s New Leader : Pon Zi. China has been a giant lying debt bubble for years. Much if not most of its growth ‘miracle’ was nothing but a huge credit expansion, with an outsize role for the shadow banking system.

A lot of this has remained underreported in western media, probably because its reporters were afraid, for one reason or another, to shatter the global illusion that the western financial fiasco could be saved from utter mayhem by a country producing largely trinkets. Even today I read a Bloomberg article that claims China’s Q1 GDP growth was 7%. You’re not helping, boys, other than to keep a dream alive that has long been exposed as false.

China’s stock markets have a long way to fall further yet. This little graph from the FT shows why. The Shanghai Composite closed down another 1.27% today at 2,927.29 points. If it ‘only’ returns to its -early- 2014 levels, it has another 30% or so to go to the downside. If inflation correction is applied, it may fall to 1,000 points, for a 60% or so ‘correction’. If we move back 10 or 20 years, well, you get the picture.

That is a bursting bubble. Not terribly unique or mind-blowing, bubbles always burst. However, in this instance, the entire world will be swept out to sea with it. More money-printing, even if Beijing would attempt it, no longer does any good, because the Politburo and central bank aura’s of infallibility and omnipotence have been pierced and debunked. Yesterday’s cuts in interest rates and reserve requirement ratios (RRR) are equally useless, if not worse, if only because while they may provide a short term additional illusion, they also spell loud and clear that the leadership admits its previous measures have been failures. Emperor perhaps, but no clothes.

Every additional measure after this, and there will be many, will take off more of the power veneer Xi and Li have been ‘decorated’ with. Zero Hedge last night quoted SocGen on the precisely this topic: how Beijing painted itself into a corner on the RRR issue, while simultaneously spending fortunes in foreign reserves.

The Most Surprising Thing About China’s RRR Cut

[..] how does one reconcile China’s reported detachment from manipulating the stock market having failed to prop it up with the interest rate cut announcement this morning. The missing piece to the puzzle came from a report by SocGen’s Wai Yao, who first summarized the total liquidity addition impact from today’s rate hike as follows “the total amount of liquidity injected will be close to CNY700bn, or $106bn based on today’s onshore exchange rate.” And then she explained just why the PBOC was desperate to unlock this amount of liquidity: it had nothing to do with either the stock market, nor the economy, and everything to do with the PBOC’s decision from two weeks ago to devalue the Yuan. To wit:

In perspective, the PBoC may have sold more official FX reserves than this amount since the currency regime change on 11 August.

Said otherwise, SocGen is suggesting that China has sold $106 billion in Treasurys in the past 2 weeks! And there is the punchline. It explains why the PBOC did not cut rates over the weekend as everyone expected, which resulted in a combined 16% market rout on Monday and Tuesday – after all, the PBOC understands very well what the trade off to waiting was, and it still delayed until today by which point the carnage in local stocks was too much. Great enough in fact for China to not have eased if stabilizing the market was not a key consideration.

In other words, today’s RRR cut has little to do with net easing considerations, with the market, or the economy, and everything to do with a China which is suddenly dumping a record amount of reserves as it scrambles to stabilize the Yuan, only this time in the open market!

The battle to stabilise the currency has had a significant tightening effect on domestic liquidity conditions. If the PBoC wants to stabilise currency expectations for good, there are only two ways to achieve this: complete FX flexibility or zero FX flexibility. At present, the latter is also increasingly unviable, since the capital account is much more open. Therefore, the PBoC has merely to keep selling FX reserves until it lets go.

And since it can’t let go now that it has started off on this path, or rather it can but only if it pulls a Swiss National Bank and admit FX intervention defeat, the one place where the PBOC can find the required funding to continue the FX war is via such moves as RRR cuts.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, too, touches on the subject of China’s free-falling foreign reserves.

China Cuts Rates To Stem Crisis, But Doubts Grow On Foreign Reserve Buffer

The great unknown is exactly how much money has been leaving the country since the PBOC stunned markets by ditching its dollar exchange peg on August 11, and in doing so set off a global crash. Some reports suggest that the PBOC has already burned through $200bn in reserves since then. If so, this would require a much bigger cut in the RRR just to maintain a neutral setting. Wei Yao said the strategy of the Chinese authorities is unworkable in the long run.

If they keep trying to defend the exchange rate, they will continue to bleed reserves and will have to keep cutting the RRR in lockstep just to prevent further tightening. They may let the currency go, but that too is potentially dangerous. She said China can use up another $900bn before hitting safe limits under the IMF’s standard metric for developing states.

“The PBOC’s war chest is sizeable, but not unlimited. It is not a good idea to keep at this battle of currency stabilisation for too long,” she said. Citigroup has also warned that China’s reserves – still the world’s largest at $3.65 trillion but falling fast – are not as overwhelming as they appear, given the levels of short-term external debt. The border line would be $2.6 trillion. “There are reasons to question the robustness of China’s reserves adequacy. By emerging market standards China’s reserves adequacy is low: only South Africa, Czech Republic and Turkey have lower scores in the group of countries we examined,” it said.

It is a dangerous game they play, that much should be clear. And you know what China bought those foreign reserves with in the first place? With freshly printed monopoly money. Which is the same source from which the Vinny the Kneecapper shadow loans originated that every second grandma signed up to in order to purchase ghost apartments and shares of unproductive companies.

And that leads to another issue I’ve touched upon countless times: I can’t see how China can NOT descend into severe civil unrest. The government at present attempts to hide its impotence and failures behind the arrest of all sorts of scapegoats, but Xi and Li themselves should, and probably will, be accused at some point. They’ve gambled away a lot of what made their country function, albeit not at American or European wealth levels.

If the Communist Party had opted for what is sometimes labeled ‘organic’ growth (I’m not a big afficionado of the term), instead of ‘miracle’ Ponzi ‘growth’, if they had not to such a huge extent relied on Vinny the Kneecapper to provide the credit that made everything ‘grow’ so miraculously, their country would not be in such a bind. It would not have to deleverage at the same blinding speed it ostensibly grew at since 2008 (at the latest).

There are still voices talking about the ‘logical’ aim of Beijing to switch its economy from one that is export driven to one in which the Chinese consumer herself is the engine of growth. Well, that dream, too, has now been found out to be made of shards of shattered glass. The idea of a change towards a domestic consumption-driven economy is being revealed as a woeful disaster.

And that has always been predictable; you can’t magically turn into a consumer-based economy by blowing bubbles first in property and then in stocks, and hope people’s profits in both will make them spend. Because the whole endeavor was based from the get-go on huge increases in debt, the just as predictable outcome is, and will be even much more, that people count their losses and spend much less in the local economy. While those with remaining spending power purchase property in the US, Britain, Australia. And go live there too, where they feel safe(r).

I fear for the Chinese citizen. Not so much for Xi and Li. They will get what they deserve.

Apr 112015
 
 April 11, 2015  Posted by at 7:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Inauguration of air mail service, Washington, DC 1918

That title may be a bit much, granted, because never is a very long time. I might instead have said “The American Consumer Won’t Be Back For A Very Long Time”. Still, I simply don’t see any time in the future that would see Americans start spending again at a rate anywhere near what would be required for an economic recovery. Looks pretty infinity and beyond to me.

However, that is by no means a generally accepted point of view in the financial press. There’s reality, and then there’s whatever it is they’re smoking, and never the twain shall meet. Admittedly, my title may be a bit provocative, but in my view not nearly as provocative, if not offensive, as Peter Coy’s at Bloomberg, who named his latest effort “US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough”.

I know, sometimes they make it just too easy to whackamole ’em down and into the ground. But even then, these issues must be addressed time and again until people begin to understand, and quit making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. People have a right to know what’s truly happening to their lives, and their societies. And they’re not nearly getting enough of it through the ‘official’ press. So here goes nothing:

US Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough

People are constantly exhorted to save, but as soon as they do, economists pop up to complain they aren’t spending enough to keep the economy growing. A new blogger named Ben Bernanke wrote on April 1 that there’s still a “global savings glut.” Two days later the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the weakest job growth since 2013, which economists quickly attributed to soft consumer spending.

The first problem with Coy’s thesis is that even if people open their wallets, far too many of them will find there’s nothing there. And Bernanke simply doesn’t understand what savings are. His ideas through the past decade+ about a Chinese savings glut were always way off the mark, and his global – or American – savings glut theory is, if possible, even more wrong. In the minds of the world’s Bernankes, there’s no such thing as people opening their wallets to find them empty. If they don’t spend, they must be saving. That there’s a third option, that of not having any dollars to spend, is for all intents and purposes ignored.

The U.S. personal savings rate—5.8% in February—is the highest since 2012. “After years of spending as if there were no tomorrow, consumers are now saving like there is a tomorrow,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, wrote to clients in March. Saving too much really can be a problem when spending is weak.

The little man inside, when I read things like that, tells me this is nonsense. So I decided to look up how the US personal savings rate is calculated. Turns out, it’s another one of those whacky goal-seeked government numbers. At least, that’s what I make of it. Mainly, though not even exclusively, because of things like this, from a site called Take A Smart Step:

[The personal savings rate in] November 2012 was 3.6%, this is not even close to where we need to be for financial health. This savings rate barely gives us enough to handle emergencies, and makes us as a nation weaker. The government calculates the personal savings rate as the difference between the after tax income and consumption of Americans. So they include not only retirement savings, but debt repayments, college savings, emergency fund savings, anything that was not spent.

Making paying off your debt (i.e. money you’ve already spent) count towards your savings is a practice fraught with questionable consequences. But useful for economists, and accountants alike, no doubt. The problem with it is that it hides reality behind a veil. Because debt repayments are not really savings at all; people are not free to spend what they put into paying off debt, on something else, like iPads, cars or trinkets. Not even on hookers or crack cocaine, for that matter.

For the vast majority of what is paid off in debt, there’s no such thing as free choices. People pay off debt because they must. Or, to look at it from another, wide lens, angle, Americans would have to stop servicing their debt payments if they want to ‘start spending’ again.

Going through the numbers from various sources, I can see that the US personal savings rate is presently some 5.8% of pre-tax income, and debt repayment is close to 10% of disposable -after tax – income. I’m still trying to make those stats rhyme. But no matter how you read and interpret them, it should be clear that debt repayments are a large part of ‘official’ savings. Even if they really shouldn’t be counted as such.

Of what remains in real savings, retirement/pension savings must necessarily be a substantial percentage, and it would be weird to call those things ‘saving like there is a tomorrow’, if only because they are about, well, tomorrow. But that seems to be the new normal: creating the impression that saving any money at all is somehow detrimental to the economy. A truly crazy notion, if you ask me. Let’s get back to Bloomberg’s Coy:

There are only two things you can do with a dollar, after all: spend it or save it. If you spend it, great—that’s money in someone else’s pocket.

In someone else’s pocket, but no longer in yours. Why would that be so great? It’s only great if that someone has added value to something by doing productive work, not if you simply swap paper assets.

If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment with loans for new houses, factories, software, and research and development.

That notion of ‘the financial system is supposed to’ refers to theories such as those that Bernanke and his ilk ‘believe’ in. Theories that have no practical value. What is normal for many everyday Americans is crippling debt levels, and no such thing is recognized in these theories. After all, according to them, whatever amount of dollars you get in, you either spend or save them. And if you use them to pay off previously incurred debt, you’re supposedly actually saving, even though you no longer have possession of the money in any way, shape or sense, nor a choice of what to spend it on.

But if no one’s in the mood to invest more and interest rates are already as low as they can go (as they are in much of the world), the compulsion to save can sap demand and throw people out of work. For the U.S. economy, the good news is that the jump in the personal savings rate is probably no more than a blip. Three economists from Deutsche Bank Securities in New York explained why in a March 25 report called ‘U.S. Consumers: Still Shopping, Not Dropping’. While noting a “deceleration” in consumer spending, they wrote, “we think that concerns about the outlook for the consumer are overstated.” Their model of the U.S. economy predicts the savings rate will fall to 3% to 3.5% by 2017.

Oh sweet lord. Now a falling savings rate has become a beneficial thing, even when and where savings are very low. Not saving will allegedly save the economy. How did that happen? If we may presume that debt repayments will continue virtually unabated, and there seems to be little reason to think otherwise, this means that by 2017 there will be just about nothing saved at all anymore in America. Which means there’d be very little left of the ‘If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment’.

The only ‘growth’ perspective America has left is to grow its debt levels continually, continuously and arguably exponentially.

Other economists have also concluded that the spending dropoff is temporary, which is why the slowdown in job growth, to just 126,000 in March, didn’t set off many alarm bells. “Consumer spending is starting to look more and more like a coiled spring,” says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities. One sign that consumers aren’t retrenching: On April 7 the Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose $15.5 billion in February, in line with the recent past.

They got deeper into debt, and this is a sign they’re not ‘retrenching’? A coiled spring? Really?

According to Deutsche Bank Securities, the first reason to think consumers will resume spending is that their incomes are rising. Annual growth in average hourly earnings has averaged about 2% since 2010, which isn’t great but does exceed inflation. With more people working as well, aggregate payroll outlays are up 4.9% from the past year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The rises in stock and home prices should make consumers more willing to live a little, say the Deutsche Bank authors. They calculate that households’ net worth is almost 6.5 times consumers’ disposable personal income. That’s the highest ratio since before the housing crash.

But that last bit is arguably all due to QE induced asset bubbles. Not an argument the author would make, I know, but nevertheless. Coincidentally, another Bloomberg article published the same day as the one we’re delving in here is called:Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think. Perhaps the respective authors should have a sit down.

No question, the high savings rate depresses spending in the short run. Purchases of durable goods, from cars to couches, remain well below their 60-year average share of GDP. But all that saving helps consumers get their finances in order, which will allow them to satisfy pent-up demand for that sweet new Ford F-150.

No no no: they just paid off part of their debts. How can that possibly mean they’ll go out and get a new F-150? In real life, they spent their money instead of saving it. Either way, they don’t have it any longer to spend on a F-150. It would mean they need to get into new debt. On top of what they still have left over even AFTER paying down part of it.

Fed data show that financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases are about their lowest in comparison to disposable income since 1981.

Hmm. According to Wikipedia, “Household debt as a % of disposable income rose from 68% in 1980 to a peak of 128% in 2007, prior to dropping to 112% by 2011.” It’s about 105% today. So that’s just a very weird statement. Someone’s wrong, very wrong, and I think I know who that would be. Maybe Peter Coy conveniently ignores mortgage payments when he talks about “financial obligations including debt service, rent, and auto leases”?!

When consumers are ready to borrow more, it won’t hurt that, according to the Fed’s survey of banks’ senior loan officers, banks are easing lending standards.

See? That’s what I said: they can only spend if they acquire new debt. They’re just getting rid of the last batch, and it’s going mighty slowly at that. Lest we forget, when debt as a percentage of income falls, that is due to quite an extent to people failing to make any debt payments at all, and losing their homes and cars. This is a dead economic model. This model is pining for the fjords.

These factors add up to an optimistic consumer.

Oh, c’mon. What is that statement based on? That ‘sky high’ savings rate that is really just poor slobs paying off what they can in debt repayments so they won’t get hit with even more fees and fines?

What I think these factors add up to, is a delusional reporter. There is no excess saving. It’s ludicrous. As far as people have any money at all, they’re using it to pay down their previously incurred debts. And that gets tallied into their savings rate by the government’s creative accounting methods. That’s all there is to the whole story. But it will, regardless, induce a few more poor souls to sign up for more mortgages and car loans and feel like happy American consumers on their way down into the maelstrom.

It’s sad, it really is. Maybe we should first of all stop referring to the American people as ‘consumers’. That might help.

Dec 132014
 
 December 13, 2014  Posted by at 6:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


DPC “Grant’s Tomb. Rubber-neck auto on Riverside Drive, New York” 1911

Hey! Who said economics can’t be fun?! How is it not absolutely brilliant that in the face of a collapsing shale oil industry – or at least, for the moment, of its financing model -, and the worst week for the Dow since 2011, the Thomson Reuters/UofMichigan consumer sentiment index shows American consumers are more optimistic than they’ve been in 8 years, and that “more consumers volunteered good news than bad news than in any month since 1984”? 1984! How does one trump that as a contrarian signal? And that I don’t mean to sound funny: that is serious.

Of course it says something too about US media and their incessant messages about how well everything is going and how we’ve passed that corner the recovery was always just around, and what a boon the falling oil prices will be to spending over the holidays, and even if sales instead fell over Thanksgiving; surely that’s only because people were saving up their newly found extravaganza for the Christmas season. And obviously the Fed-sponsored distortions of all asset prices on the planet, homes, stocks, you name it, have a lot to do with stoking that optimism as well.

But the feat stands on its own two feet just as much. Americans are not just behind the curve, they positively confirm a top has been reached. If ever you needed a sign, here it is: “Their expectations run quite counter to recent price data.” That’s from Jason Lange for Reuters, but before he gets around to that, check out what some of the experts he cites have to say:

After Years Of Doubts, Americans Turn More Bullish On Economy

Pessimism and doubt have dominated how Americans see the economy for many years. Now, in a hopeful sign for the economic outlook, confidence is suddenly perking up. Expectations for a better job market helped power the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment to a near eight-year high in December, according to data released on Friday.

U.S. consumers also saw sharp drops in gasoline prices as a shot in the arm, and the survey added heft to strong November retail sales data that has showed Americans getting into the holiday shopping season with gusto. “Surging expectations signal very strong consumption over the next few months,” said Ian Shepherdson, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

While improvements in sentiment haven’t always translated into similar spending growth, consumers at the very least are feeling the warmth of several months of robust hiring, including 321,000 new jobs created in November. When asked in the survey about recent economic developments, more consumers volunteered good news than bad news than in any month since 1984, said the poll’s director, Richard Curtin.

Moreover, half of all consumers expected the economy to avoid a recession over the next five years, the most favorable reading in a decade, Curtin said. The data bolsters the view that the U.S. economy is turning a corner and that worker wages could begin to rise more quickly, laying the groundwork for the Federal Reserve to begin hiking its benchmark interest rate to keep inflation from eventually rising above the Fed’s 2% target.

Overall, the sentiment index rose to a higher-than-expected 93.8, mirroring levels seen in boom years like 1996 and 2004. Many investors see the Fed raising rates in mid-2015, and policymakers will likely debate at a meeting next week whether to keep a pledge that borrowing costs will stay at rock bottom for a “considerable time.” Consumers see faster inflation ahead. Over the next year, they expect a 2.9% increase in prices, up from 2.8% in November, according to the sentiment survey.

Their expectations run quite counter to recent price data. The Labor Department said separately its producer price index dropped 0.2% last month, brought lower by falling gasoline prices. Prices were soft even excluding the drag from gasoline. U.S. stocks briefly cut losses after the buoyant sentiment data but stayed lower on the day as investors fretted about declining oil prices and what that said about global demand.

About those recent data, the New York Times says:

Inflation has been below 2% for most of the last two years, and falling gas prices could drive it even lower. Partly because of cheaper gas, the Consumer Price Index was unchanged in October from the previous month. Compared with 12 months earlier, consumer prices were up just 1.7%.

I think maybe I should just leave it at this. The American consumer has spoken, and (s)he’s called a top. Whether that’s just the top in consumer sentiment or also one in the stock markets, let’s see, but I lean towards thinking both is a realistic option, because of the way energy credit fell to pieces in no time. It looks like a harbinger for a – much – wider segment of the economy, and it feels like something’s profoundly broken.

Nov 262014
 
 November 26, 2014  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Oregon or Bust, family fleeing South Dakota drought Jul 1936

Banking’s Toxic Culture ‘Will Take A Generation To Clean Up’ (Guardian)
Consumer Confidence in US Unexpectedly Dropped in November (Bloomberg)
Case Shiller Reports “Broad-Based Slowdown For Home Prices” (Zero Hedge)
BEA Revises 3rd Quarter 2014 US GDP Growth Upwards to 3.89% (CMI)
Refinancing Boom Exposing Risks in US Property Bonds (Bloomberg)
Abe Sales Tax Backfiring With More Debt Not Less (Bloomberg)
Japan Is Running Out of Options (Bloomberg)
Eurozone ‘Major Risk To World Growth’: OECD (CNBC)
Do German Bonds Face Japanification? (CNBC)
UK Housing Market Cools Rapidly (Guardian)
Commodity Exporters Like Cheaper Currencies (A. Gary Shilling)
On This Day, 138 Years Ago, The Idea Of QE Was Born (Art Cashin)
A Bearish Hedge Fund Bets Against the Bulls and Still Profits (NY Times)
Saudi Arabia Says No One Should Cut Output, Oil Will Stabilize
Pre-OPEC Producer Meeting Fails to Deliver Oil Output Cut (Bloomberg)
The Unbearable Over-Determination Of Oil (Ben Hunt)
Who Will Wind Up Holding the Bag in the Shale Gas Bubble? (Naked Capitalism)
US Oil Producers Can’t Kick Drilling Habit (FT)
The Environmental Downside of the Shale Boom (NY Times)
Obama Climate Envoy: Fossil Fuels Will Have To Stay In The Ground (Guardian)
Cracks Form in Berlin Over Russia Stance (Spiegel)
Europe Looks ‘Aged And Weary’: Pope Francis (CNBC)

Why should it? Just regulate the heebees out of them or close them down.

Banking’s Toxic Culture ‘Will Take A Generation To Clean Up’ (Guardian)

Overhauling the broken culture of high street banking will take a generation to achieve, according to a report that found UK banks have received 20m customer complaints since the financial crisis. The report, by the thinktank New City Agenda, calculated that in the last 15 years the retail operations of banks had incurred £38.5m in fines and redress for mistreatment of customers. Andre Spicer, a professor at Cass Business School and the report’s lead author, said: “Most people we spoke to told us that real change will take at least five years. “There was some uncertainty as to how these changes were being translated into good practice at the customer coalface. Many culture change initiatives are fragile, and their success is not ensured. It’s clear to us that much work still needs to be done.”

The report concluded that it will take a generation to end a sales culture exposed by the 2008 crisis. It said UK banks did not address cultural change until the eruption of the Libor scandal in 2012, having failed to act after the emergence of mis-selling debacles such as the payment protection insurance scandal. “A toxic culture, decades in the making, will take a generation to clean up,” said the founders of New City Agenda, who are Labour peer Lord McFall, Conservative MP David Davis, and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey. They added: “Some frontline staff told us they still feel under significant pressure to sell. Complaints continue to rise and trust remains extremely low. Most of the people we talked to believed that real change, and as a consequence the better treatment of customers, will take some time to achieve.”

Read more …

Will they ever stop using the word ‘unexpectedly’? It’s certainly a favorite over at Bloomberg, and not just there.

Consumer Confidence in US Unexpectedly Dropped in November (Bloomberg)

Consumer confidence unexpectedly declined in November to a five-month low as Americans became less upbeat about the economy and labor market. The Conference Board’s index fell to 88.7 this month from an October reading of 94.1 that was the strongest since October 2007, the New York-based private research group said today. The figure last month was weaker than the most pessimistic estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The decline this month interrupts a steady pickup in sentiment since the middle of the year and shows attitudes about the economy would benefit from bigger wage gains. While confidence slipped, buying plans picked up, indicating spending will be sustained on the heels of stronger job growth and lower fuel costs.

The drop this month “doesn’t change our view that the trend in consumer confidence is moving upwards,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds in New York. “Gasoline prices are down, the unemployment rate is down, home prices are gradually rising, and stock prices are certainly rising.” The median forecast of 75 economists in the Bloomberg survey called for a reading of 96, with estimates ranging from 93.5 to 99 after a previously reported October index of 94.5. The Conference Board’s measure averaged 96.8 during the last expansion and 53.7 during the recession that ended in June 2009.

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I’m wondering how this squares with that GDP revision.

Case Shiller Reports “Broad-Based Slowdown For Home Prices” (Zero Hedge)

While the just revised Q3 GDP surprised everyone to the upside, the Case Shiller index for September which was also reported moments ago, showed yet another month of what it called a “Broad-based Slowdown for Home Prices.” The bad news: the 20-City Composite gained 4.9% year-over-year, compared to 5.6% in August. However, this was modestly above the 4.6% expected. However, what was more troubling is that on a sequential basis, the Top 20 Composite MSA posted a modest -0.03% decline, the first sequential drop since February. And from the report itself: “The National Index reported a month-over-month decrease for the first time since November 2013. The Northeast region reported its first negative monthly returns since December 2013 and its worst annual returns since December 2012 due to weaknesses in Washington D.C. and Boston.”

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Some useful details.

BEA Revises 3rd Quarter 2014 US GDP Growth Upwards to 3.89% (CMI)

In their second estimate of the US GDP for the third quarter of 2014, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported that the economy was growing at a +3.89% annualized rate, up +0.35% from their first estimate for the 3rd quarter but still down some -0.70% from the 4.59% annualized growth rate registered during the second quarter. The modest improvement in the headline number masks substantial changes in the reported sources of the annualized growth. The previously reported significant inventory draw-down almost vanished completely (dropping to a mere -0.12% impact on the headline number). Improving fixed investments added +0.23% to the headline, with nearly all of that improvement from spending for commercial equipment. Consumer spending for goods was also reported to be growing 0.27% in this report, while consumer spending for services was essentially unchanged (+0.02%).

Offsetting those upside revisions was a significant erosion in the previously reported export growth, which subtracted -0.38% from the headline. The contribution from imports in the headline number also weakened, taking the annualized growth down another -0.17%. Governmental spending was also revised down slightly, knocking another -0.07% from the headline. Nearly all of that downward revision to governmental spending was from reduced state and local investment in infrastructure. Despite the increased consumer spending, households actually took a disposable income hit in this revision – losing $146 in annualized per capita disposable income (now reported to be $37,525 per annum). This is down $344 per year from the 4th quarter of 2012. The spending growth reported above came exclusively from reduced household savings, which dropped a full 0.5% in this report.

As mentioned last month, softening energy prices play a major role in this report, since during the 3rd quarter dollar-based energy prices were plunging (and have continued their dive since). US “at the pump” gasoline prices fell from $3.68 per gallon to $3.32 during the quarter, a 9.8% quarter-to-quarter decline and a -33.8% annualized rate – pushing most consumer oriented inflation indexes into negative territory. During the third quarter (i.e., from July through September) the seasonally adjusted CPI-U index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was actually mildly dis-inflationary at a -0.10% (annualized) rate, and the price index reported by the Billion Prices Project (BPP — which arguably reflected the real experiences of American households) was slightly more dis-inflationary at -0.18% (annualized).

Yet for this report the BEA effectively assumed a positive annualized quarterly inflation of 1.40%. Over reported inflation will result in a more pessimistic growth data, and if the BEA’s numbers were corrected for inflation using the appropriate BLS CPI-U and PPI indexes the economy would be reported to be growing at a spectacular 5.42% annualized rate. If we were to use just the BPP data to adjust for inflation, the quarter’s growth rate would have been an astounding 5.52% annualized rate.

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The smell of volatility on the morning.

Refinancing Boom Exposing Risks in US Property Bonds (Bloomberg)

A $40 million penalty wasn’t enough to keep the owner of San Francisco’s Parkmerced apartment complex from the chance to lock in record-low interest rates and take advantage of the property’s $1.5 billion value. While a landlord willing to pay almost 63 times the average fee to refinance early is a bullish sign for commercial real estate, it’s less so for bond investors facing $295 billion of mortgages that come due during the next three years. That’s because the securities are increasingly tied to the market’s weakest properties, many of them financed during the peak of the real-estate boom in 2007, as the strongest are paid off. More property owners are jumping on a drop in financing costs and loosening terms to pay off their mortgages. That helped shrink the amount of debt maturing before the end of 2017 from $332 billion at the start of 2014, according to Bank of America data.

“If you’re a well-capitalized entity, you’re going to do it,” Richard Hill, a debt analyst at Morgan Stanley, said. That could leave commercial-mortgage bond investors “holding the bag on a bunch of lower-quality loans.” Properties such as skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels and apartment complexes are attracting investors from sovereign wealth funds to insurance companies as they seek higher-yielding assets amid six years of Federal Reserve policies to hold short-term interest rates near zero. Wall Street banks are on pace to issue $100 billion of securities backed by commercial real estate this year after issuance doubled to $80 billion in 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sales, which peaked at $232 billion in 2007, are poised to climb to $140 billion in 2015, Credit Suisse Group AG analysts led by Roger Lehman forecast in a Nov. 21 report.

Sales of the securities also are being fueled by rules that will require banks to retain some portion of loans that are sold to investors as securities, according to Morgan Stanley’s Hill. That may increase financing costs when they take effect in 2016. Ray Potter, founder of R3 Funding, a New York-based firm that arranges financing for landlords and investors, said he’s advising clients not to wait to refinance as economists forecast the Fed will raise rates next year for the first time since 2006. There has been a surge in borrowers looking to refinance in the past couple of months, Potter said. “If you like that coupon, lock it in for 10 years,” he said. While the interest rate could dip even lower, it’s not worth the risk because “when it moves higher it moves fast,” he said.

Read more …

“Japan remains doomed by its demographics and, of course, by its horrible debt.”

Abe Sales Tax Backfiring With More Debt Not Less (Bloomberg)

What started as a plan to reduce Japan’s debt is turning into a reason to issue more bonds. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration implemented a higher sales tax in April to boost revenue as government liabilities ballooned to 1 quadrillion yen ($8.5 trillion), more than double the nation’s yearly economic output. Consumption plunged and the economy fell into a recession, prompting companies including Mirae Asset Global Investments Co. and High Frequency Economics to predict even more sovereign debt sales to revive growth. “The government’s policies have failed,” Will Tseng, a money manager in Taipei at Mirae Asset, which manages about $62 billion, said in an e-mail Nov. 20. “They’re still issuing more debt and printing more money to try to help the economy. They’re in a really bad cycle.” He said he’s staying away from Japanese bonds.

The cost of protecting Japan’s debt from default surged for eight straight days and the yen tumbled to a seven-year low as Abe called a snap election and delayed plans to further increase the sales tax by 18 months. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Oct. 31 boosted the amount of government bonds he plans to buy to as much as 12 trillion yen a month, a record. Japan will go back to its routine of borrowing more to fund plans to spur growth, said Carl Weinberg, the chief economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York. What it needs to do is allow immigration to keep the population from shrinking, he said Nov. 18 on the “Bloomberg Surveillance” radio program. “The population and the economy are contracting, and the debt is growing, and that’s an unsustainable trend,” Weinberg said. “Japan remains doomed by its demographics and, of course, by its horrible debt.”

Read more …

” .. Kuroda now has a budding mutiny on his hands. Many of his staffers think the central bank has already gone too far to weaken the yen and buy virtually every bond in sight.”

Japan Is Running Out of Options (Bloomberg)

The New York Times recently lit up the Japanese Twittersphere with a cartoon that was a little too accurate for comfort. In it, a stretcher marked “economy” is loaded into an ambulance with “Abenomics” painted on the side; the vehicle lacks tires and sits atop cinder blocks. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks on nervously, holding an IV bag. The image aptly sums up Japan’s failure to gain traction in its push to end deflation. The Bank of Japan’s unprecedented stimulus and Abe’s pro-growth reforms have yet to spur a recovery in inflation and gross domestic product growth, and the country is yet again in recession. Worse, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda is rapidly running out of weapons in his battle to eradicate Japan’s “deflationary mindset.”

Minutes from the central bank’s Oct. 31 board meeting, at which officials surprised the world by expanding an already massive quantitative-easing program, show that Kuroda now has a budding mutiny on his hands. Many of his staffers think the central bank has already gone too far to weaken the yen and buy virtually every bond in sight. That’s a problem for Kuroda and Abe in two ways.

First, board members warned that the costs of further monetary stimulus outweigh the benefits. We already knew that Kuroda had only won approval for his shock-and-awe announcement by a paper-thin 5-4 margin, and that Takahide Kiuchi dissented when the BOJ boosted bond sales to about $700 billion annually. But the minutes suggest Kuroda came as close to any modern BOJ leader ever has to defeat on a policy move. Cautionary voices like Kiuchi’s worry that the BOJ could be “perceived as effectively financing fiscal deficits.” I’d say it’s too late for that. Of course the BOJ is acting as the Ministry of Finance’s ATM, just as Abe intended when he hired Kuroda. Still, the fact is that Kuroda’s odds of getting away with yet another Friday surprise are nil at best.

Second, maintaining stability in the bond market just got harder. The only way Kuroda can stop 10-year yields – currently 0.44% – from spiking as he tries to generate 2% inflation is by making ever bigger bond purchases. But fellow BOJ board members will be giving Kuroda less latitude to cap market rates. Japan is lucky in one way: Given that more than 90% of public debt is held domestically, Tokyo can the avoid wrath of the “bond vigilantes.” Kuroda further neutralized these activist traders by saying there’s “no limit” to what he can do to make Abenomics work. The fact that so many of his colleagues are skeptical of the policy, however, undermines Kuroda’s credibility. If markets begin to doubt his staying power, yields are sure to rise.

Read more …

The entire world is a risk to world growth.

Eurozone ‘Major Risk To World Growth’: OECD (CNBC)

The eurozone poses a serious danger for global growth, with the world’s economy already “in low gear”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Tuesday. “The euro area is grinding to a standstill and poses a major risk to world growth, as unemployment remains high and inflation persistently far from target,” the OECD said in the 96th edition of its Economic Outlook. The euro zone’s fledgling recovery—which started at the end of 2013—has been a cause for concern over recent months, with gross domestic product (GDP) rising only 0.2% quarter-on-quarter between July and September. Policymakers are also battling with very low inflation and high unemployment—around one-quarter of Spaniards and Greek remain without jobs.

The OECD sees euro zone economic growth at 0.8% this year. This is better than the economic contraction the currency union suffered in 2012 and 2013, but below average growth of 1.1% between 2002 and 2011. By comparison, the OECD expects the world’s economy to expand by 3.3% this year. As with the euro zone, this is an improvement on 2012 and 2013, but below the 2002-2011 average of 3.8%.”A moderate improvement in global growth is expected over the next two years, but with marked divergence across the major economies and large risks and vulnerabilities,” the OECD said.

A euro zone analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit said the risks to the world economy posed by the euro zone were even larger than the OECD forecast.”The euro zone’s fundamental institutional deficiencies are now exacting a damaging price, by hampering the formulation and implementation of policy responses to the ongoing slump,” said Aengus Collins in a research note emailed after the OECD report.”In addition, the OECD overlooks political risk, which is rising sharply in line with voter disaffection.” Major countries expected to post solid growth include the U.S., which the OECD predicts will expand by 2.2% this year and 3.1% next. China, meanwhile, is seen growing by an impressive 7.3% in 2014, before slowing to 7.1% in 2015.

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More interestingly, where will that leave Spanish and Italian bonds?

Do German Bonds Face Japanification? (CNBC)

The euro zone’s long disinflation has spurred fears it will tumble all the way to Japan-style deflation, with some concerned yields on the continent’s safe-haven bond, the German bund, could remain depressed for the long haul. “While we are still not convinced that the euro zone is the new Japan, despite the many similarities in their economic predicaments, we are increasingly of the view that the 10-year Bund yield will remain exceptionally low for at least the next couple of years,” John Higgins, chief markets economist at Capital Economics, said in a note Wednesday. The 10-year bund is yielding around 0.75%, around all-time lows, compared with the 10-year Japanese government bond (JGB) at around 0.45% after a decades-long downtrend.

Japan’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.5% in 1995, a move that pushed the 10-year JGB yield below 1% after three years, Higgins noted. “Investors did not know in 1998 that Japan’s key policy rate would remain near zero for the next 16 years (and counting). But the prospect of it remaining there for the foreseeable future was enough to keep the 10-year yield quite firmly anchored,” he said. “We see no reason why a similar outcome couldn’t happen in Germany,” as the bund yield fell below 1% after the ECB cut its main rate to 0.5% in mid-2013.

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” .. new mortgage approvals hit a 17-month low of 37,076 in October. That total was down nearly a quarter from January’s 76-month high of 48,649. It was also down 16% year on year ..”

UK Housing Market Cools Rapidly (Guardian)

Britain’s housing market is cooling rapidly as a result of tougher Bank of England mortgage market requirements, high prices and the uncertainty caused by the coming general election. The prospect of higher interest rates at some point in 2015 is also dampening demand. Figures from the British Bankers’ Association showed a sharp slowdown in mortgage approvals, while Nationwide building society has reported a drop in lending volumes. The BBA said that new mortgage approvals hit a 17-month low of 37,076 in October. That total was down nearly a quarter from January’s 76-month high of 48,649. It was also down 16% year on year. However, a house price crash is unlikely, according to new forecasts. Halifax’s forecasts for 2015 point to a further rise in values of 3% to 5% next year, despite uncertainty about the general election. Earlier this month Halifax reported that house prices fell during October and recorded their smallest quarterly increase in nearly two years.

The October survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that buyer inquires shrank for the fourth month running. Half-year results from Nationwide building society added to the gathering evidence of a weakening market, with net lending down by £2bn to £3.6bn in the six months to 30 September – although lending to landlords rose slightly. The society, which reported a doubling in pre-tax profits and higher savings inflows, said part of the reason net lending was down was tougher competition from other major mortgage providers, such as Halifax and Santander. “The BBA data add to now pretty widespread and compelling evidence that the housing market has come well off the boil,” said Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Insight. “The fact that mortgage approvals are substantially below their January peak levels – and falling – after lenders have got to grips with the new mortgage regulations points to an underlying moderation in housing market activity.”

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“The Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars as well as the Brazilian real, Russian ruble and other emerging economies are all playing this game. Those countries want weaker currencies to offset declining commodity exports ..”

Commodity Exporters Like Cheaper Currencies (A. Gary Shilling)

The U.S. dollar is strengthening for reasons that go beyond deliberate devaluations of the euro and yen. Major commodity exporters are also purposely pushing down their currencies as commodity prices drop. The Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars as well as the Brazilian real, Russian ruble and other emerging economies are all playing this game. Those countries want weaker currencies to offset declining commodity exports. In the past year, the head of the Reserve Bank of Australia has expressed sympathy for a weaker Aussie in view of soft mineral exports and a moderately growing economy.

Recently, the head of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said that, even with the drop in the New Zealand dollar, the kiwi is at “unjustifiable” levels and isn’t reflecting the weakness in the global commodity market. Earlier, the kiwi was propelled by strong meat and dairy exports to China and robust prices for milk, which have plunged. New Zealand’s economic growth is in jeopardy. The Bank of Canada recently left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 1% and expects inflation to be near its 2% target. But a decline in energy and other commodity prices has hurt the Canadian economy, which is growing at the same slow 2% rate as the U.S. The commodity bubble in the early 2000s prompted producers of industrial commodities, such as copper, zinc, iron ore and coal, to increase production. New output resulted just in time for the price collapse in the 2007 to 2009 recession.

The subsequent rebound didn’t hold and commodity prices have been falling since early 2011, no doubt due to excess supply of industrial commodities and slower growth in China, the world’s biggest commodity user. The price decreases are also due to sluggish expansions in developed countries and, in the case of agricultural products, good weather and more acreage being planted. So far this year, grain prices are falling, as are industrial commodity prices. Crude oil prices rose until mid-June, but have since dropped 25% and now are the lowest in six years. Spurred by fracking, U.S. oil output is exploding as economic softness in Europe and China and increased conservation have curtailed consumption. Copper, which is used in everything from plumbing fixtures to computers, is dropping in price as supply leaps and demand lags.

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“Several months earlier, the stock market had begun to plunge violently. Soon there were layoffs and business closings and the economy was having a tough time getting back in gear.”

On This Day, 138 Years Ago, The Idea Of QE Was Born (Art Cashin)

On this day in 1876, a group of influential, yet irate, Americans met in Indianapolis. Their primary purpose was to send a message to Washington on how to get the economy moving again. America at the time was going through a difficult and unusual period. Several months earlier, the stock market had begun to plunge violently. Soon there were layoffs and business closings and the economy was having a tough time getting back in gear. And for months now, strange things were happening, the money supply seemed not to be growing, real estate values were stagnant to slipping, and commodity prices were heading lower. (How unusual.)

So this group decided that what was needed was re-inflation (put more money in everyone’s hands, you see). The method they proposed was to issue more and more money. Cynics called them “The Greenback Party”. And on this day, the Greenbacks challenged Washington by running an independent for President of the United States. His name was Peter Cooper. He lost but several associate whackos were elected to Congress. To celebrate stop by the “Printing Press Lounge”. (It’s down the block from the Fed.) Tell the bartender to open the tap and just keep pouring it out till you say stop. Reassure the guy next to you (while you can still talk) that now we have more enlightened people in Washington. Try not to spill your drink if he falls off the stool laughing. There wasn’t much raucous laughter on Wall Street Monday, but the bulls were beaming with smiles as they managed to continue their string of bull runs.

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” .. the stimulus policies of the Federal Reserve and other central banks have the power to drive stocks higher. But they will ultimately be self-defeating ..”

A Bearish Hedge Fund Bets Against the Bulls and Still Profits (NY Times)

The stock market has been rising for years, hitting new highs almost every week. So how is it that one of Wall Street’s most bearish investors can claim to have profited strongly over this period? Universa Investments, a hedge fund founded by Mark Spitznagel, is one of the few firms that is set up with the aim of making money in an economic and financial collapse. In the market turmoil of 2008, Mr. Spitznagel earned large returns. Large pessimistic bets usually lose a lot of money when stocks are rising, as they have ever since 2009. But Universa is saying that its investment strategy has been able to produce consistent gains since then, including a 30% return last year, according to firm materials that were reviewed by The New York Times.

In comparison, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index in 2013 had a return of 32% with dividends reinvested. Insurance policies that pay out after disasters do not produce big returns when the catastrophe fails to occur. But since 2008, some investors have been looking for ways to ride the market higher while having bets in place that will notch up huge gains if the system teeters on the brink once again. At Universa, Mr. Spitznagel’s strategy stems from his skepticism toward government efforts to revive the economy. He acknowledges that the stimulus policies of the Federal Reserve and other central banks have the power to drive stocks higher. But they will ultimately be self-defeating, he contends.

This theory holds that another crash will occur when the Fed stops being able to stoke the economy. Universa’s strategy seeks to profit when confidence in the central banks is strong — and when it evaporates. “The Fed has created a trap in this yield-chasing environment,” Mr. Spitznagel said in an interview, during which he gave an overview of Universa’s approach. “It allows you to be long, but it gets you in position to be short when it’s all over,” he said.

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Beggar thy neighbor, oil edition.

Saudi Arabia Says No One Should Cut Output, Oil Will Stabilize

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said tumbling crude prices will stabilize and there’s no need for producing nations to cut output. “No one should cut and market will stabilize itself,” Ali Al-Naimi told reporters a day before OPEC meets in Vienna. “Why Saudi Arabia should cut?The U.S. is a big producer too now. Should they cut?” Oil ministers from the 12 nations in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meet tomorrow in Vienna to discuss their combined production at a time when prices have fallen 30 percent since June. Crude fell in part on speculation that Saudi Arabia and other OPEC states wouldn’t take the necessary measures to curb a surplus. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez met with officials from Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia yesterday. While they agreed to monitor prices, they made no joint commitment to lower their supplies.

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It’s not going to happen. They are in too much distress.

Pre-OPEC Producer Meeting Fails to Deliver Oil Output Cut (Bloomberg)

Nations supplying a third of the world’s oil failed to pledge output cuts after meeting in Vienna today. Russia can withstand prices even lower than they are now, the country’s biggest producer said. Officials from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia said only that they would monitor prices. Crude futures sank to a four-year low in New York. OPEC meets in two days, with analysts split evenly over whether the group will lower output in response to the crash in prices. Crude fell into a bear market this year amid the highest U.S. production in 31 years and speculation that Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC won’t do enough to curb a surplus. Prices are below what nine of group’s 12 members need to balance their national budgets, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“All these countries are significantly affected by lower prices and want to see cuts, but it is a big step between having these talks and taking actual coordinated action to achieve this,” Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, said by phone today. “The key is going to be what happens amongst OPEC members.” Brent, the global benchmark, fell as much as 2.1% in London, having gained 1% before the four-way meeting concluded. It settled at $78.33 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate sank 2.2% to $74.09, the lowest since Sept. 21, 2010. The discussions didn’t result in any joint commitment to reduce supplies, Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister and representative to OPEC, told reporters after the meeting. All parties said they were worried about the oil price, he said.

“There is an overproduction of oil,” Igor Sechin, Chief Executive of OAO Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, said after the meeting. “Supply is exceeding demand, but not critically” and Russia wouldn’t need to cut production immediately even if oil fell below $60 a barrel, he said. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela between them produced 27.8 million barrels a day of oil last year, according to data from BP Plc. Total global output was 86.8 million barrels daily, the oil company’s figures show. OPEC, which meets to discuss output in Vienna on Nov. 27, pumped 30.97 million barrels a day last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Too many opinions, too many variables.

The Unbearable Over-Determination Of Oil (Ben Hunt)

You know you’re in trouble when the Fed’s Narrative dominance of all things market-related shows up in the New York Times crossword puzzle, the Saturday uber-hard edition no less. It’s kinda funny, but then again it’s more sad than funny. Not a sign of a market top necessarily, but definitely a sign of a top in the overwhelming belief that central banks and their monetary policies determine market outcomes, what I call the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence. There is a real world connected to markets, of course, a world of actual companies selling actual goods and services to actual people. And these real world attributes of good old fashioned economic supply and demand – the fundamentals, let’s call them – matter a great deal. Always have, always will. I don’t think they matter nearly as much during periods of global deleveraging and profound political fragmentation – an observation that holds true whether you’re talking about the 2010’s, the 1930’s, the 1870’s, or the 1470’s – but they do matter.

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as looking at some market outcome – the price of oil declining from $100/bbl to $70/bbl, say – and dividing up the outcome into some percentage of monetary policy-driven causes and some percentage of fundamental-driven causes. These market outcomes are always over-determined, which is a $10 word that means if you added up all of the likely causes and their likely percentage contribution to the outcome you would get a number way above 100%. Are recent oil price declines driven by the rising dollar (a monetary policy-driven cause) or by over-supply and global growth concerns (two fundamental-driven causes)? Answer: yes. I can make a case that either one of these “explanations” on its own can account for the entire $30 move. Put them together and I’ve “explained” the $30 move twice over. That’s not very satisfying or useful, of course, because it doesn’t help me anticipate what’s next.

Should I be basing my risk assessment of global oil prices on an evaluation of monetary policy divergence and what this means for the US dollar? Or should I be basing my assessment on an evaluation of global supply and demand fundamentals? If both, how do I weight these competing explanations so that I don’t end up overweighting both, which (not to get too technical with this stuff) will have the effect of sharply increasing the volatility of my forward projections, even if I’m exactly right in the ratio of the relative contribution of the potential explanatory factors. Here’s the short answer. I can’t.

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Note: this is shale gas, not oil. That’s another bubble, and just as big.

Who Will Wind Up Holding the Bag in the Shale Gas Bubble? (Naked Capitalism)

We’ve been writing off and on about how the sudden fall in gas prices has been expected to put a lot of shale gas development on hold. In fact, quite a few analysts believe that one of the big Saudi aims in refusing to support oil prices was to dent the prospects for competitive energy sources, not just renewables like wind and hydro power, but shale gas. Even though OilPrice reported that US rig count had indeed fallen as oil prices plunged, John Dizard at the Financial Times (hat tip Scott) gives a more intriguing piece of the puzzle: the degree to which production is still chugging along despite it being uneconomical. The oil majors have been criticized for levering up to continue developing when it is cash-flow negative; they are presumably betting that prices will be much higher in short order. But the same thing is happening further down the food chain, among players that don’t begin to have the deep pockets of the industry behemoths: many of them are still in “drill baby, drill” mode. Per Dizard:

Even long-time energy industry people cannot remember an overinvestment cycle lasting as long as the one in unconventional US resources. It is not just the hydrocarbon engineers who have created this bubble; there are the financial engineers who came up with new ways to pay for it.

And while the financial engineers will as always do just fine, lenders are another matter:

By now, though, there is an astonishing amount of debt that continues to build up on the smaller E&P companies’ balance sheets. According to Gavekal, the research group, even before the oil price plunge, aggregate debt-to-equity ratios in the smaller publicly traded energy companies are now at 93%, up from around 70% in 2012 and 2013, and around 50% between 2005 and 2011. This in a highly cyclical industry that used to go through periodic banker-driven shakeouts and even bankruptcies.

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John Dizard from last Friday: the debt boom can’t stop without wreaking havoc across the industry.

US Oil Producers Can’t Kick Drilling Habit (FT)

You would think, what with the recent oil price crash, the people who finance US oil and gas producers would have learnt their lesson. But not yet. For the past several years, and despite the once again widening gap between capital spending and cash flow, Wall Streeters have stepped in like an overindulgent parent to pay for the producers’ drilling habit. “Isn’t he cute!” they exclaim, as an exploration and production boy crashes another budget. “So talented! Did you see how many frac stages he can do now, and how tight his well spacing is?” Of course the exploration and production companies and their lenders have been to expensive accounting therapy sessions, where the concerned Wall Street family, accompanied by the sullen E&P operators, are told that they have to make a really sincere effort to match finding, drilling and completion expenditures to internally generated cash flow.

Everyone promises the accountant that that irresponsible land purchase or midstream commitment was the last mistake. From now on, cash flow break-even. Right. By now, though, there is an astonishing amount of debt that continues to build up on the smaller E&P companies’ balance sheets. According to Gavekal, the research group, even before the oil price plunge, aggregate debt-to-equity ratios in the smaller publicly traded energy companies are now at 93%, up from around 70% in 2012 and 2013, and around 50% between 2005 and 2011. This in a highly cyclical industry that used to go through periodic banker-driven shakeouts and even bankruptcies.

Particularly in the gas and natural gas liquids drilling directed sector, every operator (and their financier) is waiting for every other operator to stop or slow their drilling programmes, so there can be some recovery in the supply-demand balance. I have been hearing a lot of buzz about cutbacks in drilling budgets for 2015, but we will not really know until the companies begin to report in January and February. Then we will find out if they really are cutting back, using their profits on in-the-money hedge programmes to keep their debt under control, and taking impairment charges on properties that did not really pay off.

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Nasty report.

The Environmental Downside of the Shale Boom (NY Times)

Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances. In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country. [..]

Continental Resources hardly seems likely to walk away from its 1.2 million leased acres in the Bakken. It has reaped substantial profit from the boom, with $2.8 billion in net income from 2006 through 2013. But the company, which has a former North Dakota governor on its board, has been treated with leniency by the Industrial Commission. From 2006 through August, it reported more spills and environmental incidents (937) and a greater volume of spillage (1.6 million gallons) than any other operator. It spilled more per barrel of oil produced than any of the state’s other major producers. Since 2006, however, the company has paid the Industrial Commission $20,000 out of $222,000 in assessed fines.

Continental said in a written response to questions that it was misleading to compare its spill record with that of other operators because “we are not aware other operators report spills as transparently and proactively as we do.” It said that it had recovered the majority of what it spilled, and that penalty reductions came from providing the Industrial Commission “with precisely the information it needs to enforce its regulations fairly.” What Continental paid Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, is guarded by a confidentiality agreement negotiated after a jury was impaneled for a trial this September. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

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You wish.

Obama Climate Envoy: Fossil Fuels Will Have To Stay In The Ground (Guardian)

The world’s fossil fuels will “obviously” have to stay in the ground in order to solve global warming, Barack Obama’s climate change envoy said on Monday. In the clearest sign to date the administration sees no long-range future for fossil fuel, the state department climate change envoy, Todd Stern, said the world would have no choice but to forgo developing reserves of oil, coal and gas. The assertion, a week ahead of United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, will be seen as a further indication of Obama’s commitment to climate action, following an historic US-Chinese deal to curb emissions earlier this month. A global deal to fight climate change would necessarily require countries to abandon known reserves of oil, coal and gas, Stern told a forum at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

“It is going to have to be a solution that leaves a lot of fossil fuel assets in the ground,” he said. “We are not going to get rid of fossil fuel overnight but we are not going to solve climate change on the basis of all the fossil fuels that are in the ground are going to have to come out. That’s pretty obvious.” Last week’s historic climate deal between the US and China, and a successful outcome to climate negotiations in Paris next year, would make it increasingly clear to world and business leaders that there would eventually be an expiry date on oil and coal. “Companies and investors all over are going to be starting at some point to be factoring in what the future is longer range for fossil fuel,” Stern said.

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Merkel has problems keeping her stance.

Cracks Form in Berlin Over Russia Stance (Spiegel)

Within the European Union, the interests of the 28 member states are diverging in what are becoming increasingly clear ways. Taking a tough stance against Russia is generally less important to southern Europeans than it is to eastern Europeans. In the past, the German government had sought to serve as a bridge between the two camps. But in Berlin itself these days, significant differences in the assessment of the situation are starting to emerge within the coalition government pairing Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). It’s one that pits Christian Democrat leaders like Merkel and Horst Seehofer, who heads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), against Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD and Social Democratic Party boss Sigmar Gabriel, who is the economics minister.

“The greatest danger is that we allow division to be sown between us,” the chancellor said last Monday in Sydney. And it’s certainly true to say that this threat is greater at present than at any other time since the crisis began. Is that what the Russian president has been waiting for? Last week, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier traveled to Moscow to visit with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. With Steinmeier standing at his side, the Russian foreign minister praised close relations between Germany and Russia. “It’s good my dear Frank-Walter that, despite the numerous rumors of recent days, you hold on to our personal contact.” Steinmeier reciprocated by not publically criticizing contentious issues like Russian weapons deliveries to Ukrainian separatists. Afterwards, Vladimir Putin received him, a rare honor. It was a prime example of just how the Russian strategy works.

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Don’t want to be a prick, and I like the man, but so does he a bit.

Europe Looks ‘Aged And Weary’: Pope Francis (CNBC)

Pope Francis has warned European politicians and policymakers that Europe is becoming less of a protagonist in the world as it looks “aged and weary.” Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics worldwide, suggested that Europe risks becoming irrelevant. “Europe gives the impression of being aged and weary,feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently looks on itwith aloofness, distrust and even, at times, suspicion…As a grandmother, no longer fertile and lively,” he said. “The great ideas that once inspired Europe…seem to have been replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of Europe’s institutions.” Speaking at the plenary session of the parliament, he told lawmakers that they had the task of protecting and nurturing Europe’s identity “so that its citizens can experience renewed confidence in the institutions of the (European) Union and its project of peace and friendship that underlies it.”

Pope Francis’ visit to the European Parliament is the first by a pontiff since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1988. He is also visiting the Council of Europe – the region’s human rights body – later on Tuesday. “I encourage you to work so that Europe rediscovers the best of its health,” he added. The pope also spoke about the importance of education and work. On the question of migration, a hot topic in Europe, Pope Francis said there needed to be a “united response.” “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a large graveyard,” he said, referring to the number of migrants who die during their attempts to cross the sea and reach Europe. “Rather than adopting policies that focus on self-interest which increase and feed conflicts, we need to act on the causes (for migration) and not only on the effects,” he added.

Read more …

Nov 032014
 
 November 3, 2014  Posted by at 10:51 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


NPC US Geological Survey fire, F Street NW, Washington DC May 18 1913

I can do this in just about random order, the idea should still shine through, and crystal clear at that. We’re on the verge not of a market correction, but of something much bigger. All it takes to know that is to connect a few dots. Ironically, the very same financial press that reports on the dots, refuses to connect them. Don’t they see it, or don’t they want to? It’s not even a very interesting question anymore: they’ll end up commenting only in hindsight.

What happens today in Japan is both a sign of what’s wrong with the entire global financial system, and at the same time the catalyst that will help bring that system to its knees. Japan goes where no man has gone before, because it’s further down the gutter than the rest. But they will all follow. Japan thinks it can escape collapse if the US does fine, and vice versa, and the same goes for China, Europe etc., but none of them can survive the big blow by themselves, let alone that one of them could lift any of the others up by the hair on their heads. It’s a desperate mirage. When you hear anyone say the US will lift up the world economy, switch your channel. Unless you’re already at Comedy Central.

Here’s the litany for the day: China prints $25 trillion and buys Portugal. Japan’s national debt is 750% of tax revenue. US first time homebuyers are at a 27 year low. 40.5% of Greek children grow up in poverty, as Greece is part of the eurozone that should take care of all citizens. In the UK 72% of 18-21-year olds make less than a living wage. US and Japanese QE leads to ‘consumers’ spending less, which is the exact opposite of what QE is supposed to be intended for. China is trapped in the newfangled currency war Japan’s QE has unleashed across Asia, and which will soon be exported across the globe.

The common denominator? Debt. Sovereign debt, personal debt, corporate debt. Japan doesn’t want to recognize it yet, but it’s caught in the same trap with everyone. The difference is that Japan fights debt with more debt, while other parties are starting to find a little more nuance in their approach. Does it matter? Not one bit. Other than Japan’s hole will be deeper than the others. Let’s just track through today’s news. Bloomberg:

Portugal Sees Chinese Do 90% of Bids at Property Auction

As bargain-hunters waited in a packed room at a property auction in Lisbon last month, one language dominated their chat: Mandarin. About 90% of the bidders for the government-owned apartments and stores on offer were Chinese, according to Jorge Oliveira, the official overseeing the asset sale. They ended up acquiring more than two-thirds of the 45 properties, he said. “A Portuguese investor bought a store to start a bakery and coffee shop, but most of the properties went to the Chinese,” Oliveira said in an interview after the sale. Portugal is the latest target for Chinese investors who have been acquiring buildings around the world as China allows freer movement of funds in and out of the country.

Why would you want to sell your assets to a country that simply prints the money it uses to purchase those assets? Why not print that kind of money yourself and buy theirs? China printed $25 trillion and we allow them to buy Lisbon and Madrid and Rome with that? How much worse can this get? Portugal is defenseless, because it’s adopted the euro, but Germany would never allow the Chinese money printers to buy Berlin. Need any more info on why the eurozone is such an abject and perverse failure? Guardian:

More Than One Fifth Of UK Workers Earn Less Than Living Wage

More than a fifth of UK workers earn less than the living wage, with bar staff and shop assistants among the most likely to live “hand to mouth” because of low pay, a report warns on Monday. Published to mark living wage week, the research also finds that younger workers, women and part-timers are more likely to be paid less than the living wage, a voluntary threshold calculated to provide a basic but decent standard of living. New living wage rates will be announced on Monday, with the current rate at £8.80 per hour in London and £7.65 elsewhere. The report by consultancy firm KPMG adds to evidence of low pay remaining prevalent in Britain, despite the economic recovery. The proportion of employees on less than the living wage is now 22%, up from 21% last year, the study found. In real terms, that was a rise of 147,000 people to 5.28 million. [..] It found 72% of 18-21 year olds were earning less than the living wage

22% of your working population on less than a living wage is an insane disgrace. Certainly when at the same time you’re telling everyone your economy is doing great. There’s no excuse for that. But it can get worse: if 72% of your young people can’t survive on what they work for, you’re murdering your nation’s future. And your housing market, just to name an example, people can’t start families, it all ties together. MarketWatch:

US Consumers Resisting Enticements To Increase Spending

The U.S. is adding jobs at the fastest rate since the end of the Great Recession and another strong month of hiring is expected in October, but Americans still aren’t spending like good times are here to stay. The lackluster pace of consumer spending — outlays fell in September for the first time in eight months – largely explains why the U.S. is only growing at a post-recession annual average of 2.2%. Yet most economists think that could change in the near future.

The US is adding jobs that don’t pay enough to get people spending who are still buried in debt, just like Europe, just like Japan. That clear enough? The US economy ‘grows’ despite the American people. But ‘most economists think that could change in the near future’. Get a job. CNBC:

Bank of Japan Bazooka To Spark Currency War

The Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) stimulus blitz raises the specter of currency wars as a rapidly weakening yen threatens the competitiveness of export-driven economies, say strategists. “Whenever you have these kinds of disruptive moves by central banks, there’s always going to be fall out effects,” said Boris Schlossberg at BK Asset Management. Markets were caught off guard by the BoJ’s announcement on Friday that it would expand purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and real estate investment trusts, extend the duration of its portfolio of Japanese government bonds (JGBs), and increase the pace of monetary base expansion.

“The hottest currency war today is Japan vs Korea. That’s probably the one to keep an eye on. The yen-won cross rate is very sensitive as Japan and Korea compete in a lot of key areas,” said Sean Callow at Westpac. The Japanese currency has fallen around 20% against the won since the BoJ launched its unprecedented stimulus program in April 2013. Currency strategists say the BoJ’s actions could encourage the Bank of Korea (BoK) to become more defensive against local currency strength through intervention in the foreign exchange market or a rate cut.

That’s the big one for now. It’s not just Japan and Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and quite a few others are in the same merry go round. And of course China, as the following MarketWatch piece identifies: “The move will be particularly problematic for China, as its slow-crawling managed rate to the U.S. dollar renders it is effectively defenseless when confronted by currency wars.”

China Faces Trap In Currency War

Last Friday, the Bank of Japan effectively tossed a grenade into the region’s currency markets with its surprise announcement of a new round of quantitative easing sending the yen to fresh lows. The move will be particularly problematic for China, as its slow-crawling managed rate to the U.S. dollar renders it is effectively defenseless when confronted by currency wars, in which countries try to steal growth from their trading partners through competitive devaluations. It also comes at a time when Beijing is already battling foes on two fronts: hot-money outflows and an economy flirting with deflation. The consensus is that the world’s largest trading nation will resist the temptation to enter the fray with a competitive devaluation or move to a market-based exchange rate. Yet Japan’s latest actions will hurt, as they hold Beijing’s feet to the fire.

As long as China holds its (semi) peg to the USD, it may wake up to some ugly surprises, certainly when USDJPY goes to 120 or beyond. But the, when that happens, China won’t be alone. The next piece by Pater Tenebrarum, h/t Durden, may be the best I’ve read on Japan‘s despair move on Friday:

The Experiment that Will Blow Up the World

In order to explain why the pursuit of Kuroda’s policy is edging ever closer to a catastrophic outcome, we have to delve a bit into the details of Japan’s monetary data. In spite of the BoJ’s “QE” reaching record highs, it mainly creates bank reserves and furthers carry trades. The economy sees no private credit growth so far. Commercial banks in Japan continue to shrink the stock of fiduciary media – this is to say, they are reducing outstanding credit, which makes more and more unbacked deposit money disappear. Hence, Japan’s money supply growth has recently declined to a mere 4.3% year-on-year.

“… the markets are pouncing on the yen because they are forward-looking: the BoJ is monetizing ever more government debt and this is expected to continue, because the public debtberg has become too large to be funded by any other means. In spite of the relatively low money supply growth this debt monetization has produced so far, it also creates the perverse situation that an ever greater portion of the government’s outstanding stock of debt consists actually of debt the government literally “owes to itself”.

Japan has debt levels that are unequalled not just in the world, but most likely in human history, and I’m not saying that to take anything away from the demise of Rome:

And then we get back home with the NAR and Lawrence Yun and all of its cheerleaders, who got their faces all full of mud and shit and sand, and will never admit to it. Zero Hedge:

Why Housing Is Dead: First-Time Buyers Collapse To 27-Year Lows

The Millennials (one of the biggest generations in US history) are just not getting with the status quo program. As we detailed previously, with lower credit scores, less disposable income, and a soaring number of people living with their parents; so it should be no surprise that The National Association of Realtors (NAR) today admitted that first-time homebuyers plunged to the lowest level in 27 years. The blame – of course – rather than low/no-growth fiscal policies, student debt servitude, and inequality-driving cheap-funding monetary policy, is price competition from ‘investors’ and too “stringent credit standards,” perfectly mirroring FHFA’s Mel Watt’s Einsteinian insanity desire to dramatically ease lending standards and slash minimum down-payments (as we noted previously). Perhaps NAR accidentally stumbles on the biggest reason no one is buying in their profiling: the typical first-time buyer was 31-years-old, while the typical repeat buyer was 53 – smack in the middle of the Millennial collapse.

We’ve been keeping the long lost idea of our long lost society alive by squeezing our own children wherever we can, and telling them that if they only work hard enough, they can be whoever they want to be. But they can’t, that notion is also long lost. When you keep home prices artificially high, homeowners don’t suffer as much, even if they bought at insanely high prices, but the suffering is switched to potential buyers, who remain just that, potential, while they live in their mom’s basements for years.

A surefire way to kill a society while everyone’s eagerly awaiting the growth that is just around the corner and will forever remain there. Take it from your kids. Take it from somewhere else in the world.

And that’s where we’re now passing a barrier: there’s no-one to take it from anymore. Not through sleight of hand or spin or propaganda. You can only keep a quarter of your people below living wage levels for so long. Japan can only wage a currency war on its neighbors for so long (not very long). Japan can only wage a consumer price war on its own people for so long.

Japan’s QE9 has set the world on fire. It didn’t need much of a spark to begin with, but it’s certainly got one now.

Oct 292014
 
 October 29, 2014  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Photo booth at fiesta, Taos, New Mexico Jul 1940

Fed Set To End One Crisis Chapter Even As Global Risks Rise (Reuters)
How American QE Has Changed The World (Telegraph)
The Biggest Risk For US Investors Is A China Crash (MarketWatch)
Is China’s Export Boom Fake? (CNBC)
Another Reason Not to Trust China’s Economic Data (BW)
China Shadow Banking Shifted to Insurers Alarms Moody’s (Bloomberg)
US Homeownership Rate Drops To 1983 Levels (Zero Hedge)
Why British Interest Rates Will Never Go Up Again (MarketWatch)
EU Financial Transaction Tax Bid Falters on Revenue Disagreement (Bloomberg)
UK Faces ‘Debt Timebomb’ From Ageing Population (Telegraph)
Payday Loan Brokers Regularly Raid Bank Accounts Of Poor Customers (Guardian)
Dubai Insists the Boom is Not a Bubble This Time Around (Bloomberg)
Chinese Oil Trader Buys Record Number of Mideast Cargoes (Bloomberg)
Rajoy Apologizes as New Wave of Corruption Allegations Hits Spain (Bloomberg)
How The Consumer Dream Went Wrong (BBC)
Gross National Happiness – Can We Measure A Feelgood Factor? (Guardian)
Australia Protection Plan ‘Will Not Save Great Barrier Reef’ (BBC)
Blame The Cows: Kiwi Dollar May Stumble (CNBC)
Russia to Send 3,000 Tons of Aid to Eastern Ukraine Within Week (RIA)
Pope Francis: Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Real (NBC)
Population Controls ‘Will Not Solve Environment Issues’ (BBC)

Mission accomplished.

Fed Set To End One Crisis Chapter Even As Global Risks Rise (Reuters)

– The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday is expected to shutter its bond-buying program, closing one controversial chapter in its crisis response even as it struggles to manage a full return to normal monetary policy. The Fed is likely to announce at the end of a two-day meeting that it will no longer add to its holdings of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, halting the final $15 billion in monthly purchases under a program that at its peak pumped $85 billion a month into the financial system. An important symbolic step, the end of the purchases still leaves the Fed far from a normal posture.

Its balance sheet has swollen to more than $4 trillion, interest rates remain at zero, and, if anything, recent events have increased the risk the U.S. central bank may need to keep propping up the economy for longer than had been expected just a few weeks ago. The statement the Fed will issue at 2 p.m. will be read carefully for signs of how weak inflation, ebbing global growth and recent financial market volatility have influenced U.S. policymakers. There is no news conference scheduled after the meeting and no fresh economic forecasts from Fed officials. “They are worried about the economy, the global one,” and are likely to leave much of their language intact rather than signal progress towards a rate hike, Morgan Stanley analyst Vincent Reinhart wrote in a preview of the meeting.

Attention will focus on whether the Fed’s statement continues to refer to “significant” slack in the U.S. labor market, and whether it retains language indicating rates will remain low for a “considerable time,” as most economists expect. Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight, said the Fed may also need to acknowledge the inflation outlook is weakening. “They have been kind of wrong about inflation lately,” Edelstein said. “It would behoove them to do something – signal to markets they are not going to tolerate inflation and inflation expectations persistently below 2%.” Fed officials have largely stuck to forecasts that the U.S. economy will grow around 3% this year, with inflation poised to move gradually back to their 2% goal.

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It has perverted just about all global economies for the benefit of banks and elites. As I said yesterday, perhaps that’s a touch of genius.

How American QE Has Changed The World (Telegraph)

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to end its asset purchasing programme today. If so, it will be a quiet end to one of the most radical monetary policy experiments in modern times. Since the financial crisis, the world’s biggest central bank has embarked on an unprecedented programme of asset purchases that has resulted in its balance sheet growing to more than $4.45 trillion. Under the most recent incarnation of monetary easing – dubbed “QE3” – the central bank has purchased around $1.6 trillion in government bonds and mortgage-backed securities. With QE3 now expected wind down, November could be the first time in more than 37 months that the Fed will not be dipping its toe in the securities market.

Here’s how QE has changed the global economy. In September 2012, the Fed announced it would be buying $40bn in mortgage-backed debt in addition to goverment bonds each month. At the time, the US economy was still in the midst of a fledgling recovery, while the eurozone crisis had begun to ease after Mario Draghi did his best to soothe markets. Then Fed chief Ben Bernanke announced the programme would be open-ended and contingent on improving conditions in the US labour market. In December last year, the central bank said that it would start to “taper” its purchases and buy fewer assets in each successive month. It has now decided the US economy is strong enough to and the stimulus altogether. Here’s why: Stubbornly high unemployment was one of the key reasons the Fed decided to embark on additional stimulative measures in 2012. Arguably, one the best indicators of the success of QE3 has been the fall in unemployment from more than 8pc, when the purchases began, to less than 6pc last month.

Read more …

“…if China’s economy slows, domestic consumption will start feeling the pain, leading to even less job creation and slower growth. That’s a feedback loop that will not end well for China.”

The Biggest Risk For US Investors Is A China Crash (MarketWatch)

There’s a lot of talk about how the U.S. stock market and the American economy will fare now that the Federal Reserve plans to end its bond-buying program. But the bigger risks are from overseas, namely a European slowdown and the threat of terrorism from ISIS in the Middle East. And the biggest risk for the next year is from China. Here’s why: China growth is falling fast: Last week, we learned that China’s gross domestic product growth rate for the third quarter was 7.3%, the slowest in five years. That’s down sharply from a peak of 11.9% in 2010 and below the 7.5% pace Beijing has been targeting. In fact, China has posted growth of 7.6% or higher dating back to 2000.

Domestic demand under pressure: Remember that China’s own policy makers estimate that 7.2% growth is running at about break-even. That’s because a growth rate that large is needed simply to create enough jobs — about 10 million annually — to support China’s massive (and still growing) population. Think of it this way: After the Great Recession, the U.S. returned to GDP expansion and even posted a respectable 2.5% growth rate in 2010 but, unfortunately, that didn’t necessarily mean much for American consumers or job-seekers that year. Or put another way, economists estimate about 2.2 million jobs must be created every year in the U.S. simply to ensure there’s work for a growing population of job-seekers. And China needs over four times that kind of growth. So if China’s economy slows, domestic consumption will start feeling the pain, leading to even less job creation and slower growth. That’s a feedback loop that will not end well for China, or investors in China stocks.

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Government created loopholes all over the place.

Is China’s Export Boom Fake? (CNBC)

Exports are regarded as the bright spot in China’s slowing economy, but growing evidence suggests mainland firms are “over-invoicing” outbound shipments, inflating the trade data, say economists. “When China’s external trade data for September came out two weeks ago, we were surprised by the apparent strength of exports. The Hong Kong trade data released [on Monday] suggests that renewed over-invoicing may be part of the reason for China’s strong September export data,” said Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at RBS. China’s exports rose 15.3% on year in September, beating a median forecast in a Reuters poll for a rise of 11.8%, following a 9.4% rise in August. In the same month, China reported that it exported $37.6 billion worth of goods to Hong Kong, while Hong Kong data revealed imports of just $24.1 billion, yielding an unusually large $13.5 billion gap.

“While there have always been discrepancies between the two sources on this trade flow, the discrepancy in September was equivalent to 4.3 percentage points of total export growth, the largest positive discrepancy since April 2013 during the previous round of over-invoicing,” said Kuijs. Widely seen in early 2013, over-invoicing is a technique by which companies inflate the value of exports, allowing them to evade capital controls and bring more funds into the country. Why is this happening? Last year, expectations of yuan appreciation seemed to be the key driving force. This year, the motivations appear to have shifted, said Kuijs. “One possible motivation could be that money was channeled to the Shanghai A-share market on expectations the A share market would rise after the launch of the Shanghai – Hong Kong Connect scheme,” he said. “Such flows may help to explain the rise in the A-share market index in September in the absence of obvious good economic or financial news,” he added.

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“…companies have “faked, forged, and illegally re-used” documents for exports and imports”

Another Reason Not to Trust China’s Economic Data (BW)

The numbers don’t match. In September, China exported $37.6 billion to Hong Kong, according to government data compiled by Bloomberg. For the same month, Hong Kong’s government says imports from the mainland amounted to only $24.1 billion. That’s this year’s biggest gap between Chinese and Hong Kong figures. Where did all those billions of dollars go? Julian Evans-Pritchard, Capital Economics’ China economist, called the results “very suspicious,” especially since the discrepancies are largely related to the trade of precious metals and stones. “It seems the Chinese customs are basically overvaluing these gems [and] these precious metals,” he told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. Meanwhile, “Hong Kong customs are valuing them more accurately.” The China-Hong Kong discrepancy is just one example. Evans-Pritchard points to similar discrepancies regarding Chinese imports from South Korea. “

What appears to be happening [is] we have some round-tripping,” he said. Companies may be claiming to import the stones from Korea at a certain price and then export them to Hong Kong at a higher price, pocketing the difference. That helps companies evade Chinese government currency controls at a time when there’s renewed pressure to strengthen the yuan. With such conditions, “it makes a lot of sense” for Chinese companies to borrow money cheaply abroad and find ways to get that money into the country. The Chinese government is not blind to the problem. China has found almost $10 billion in fraudulent trades nationwide since April of last year, and companies have “faked, forged, and illegally re-used” documents for exports and imports, Wu Ruilin, a deputy head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange’s inspection department, told reporters in Beijing in September.

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Dangerous development.

China Shadow Banking Shifted to Insurers Alarms Moody’s (Bloomberg)

A doubling in the trust holdings of China’s insurers has prompted ratings companies to warn the industry may be taking on too much shadow banking default-risk. Insurers held 281 billion yuan ($46 billion) of trust products on June 30, surging from 144 billion yuan at the end of last year, China Insurance Regulatory Commission data show. The companies’ shadow bank assets, including wealth management products and other financing kept off commercial lenders’ balance sheets, reached 1.14 trillion yuan, or 13% of their investments, Standard & Poor’s estimated, adding that this made them “vulnerable in times of stress.” China Pacific Life Insurance, Taiping Life Insurance and Du-Bang Property & Casualty Insurance all expanded trust investment fivefold or more in the first half, a “credit negative” for companies traditionally focused on fixed-income securities, according to Moody’s Investors Service. 51% of the trust investment was directed to real estate and infrastructure, making insurers vulnerable to a cooling property market, according to Fitch Ratings.

“If the insurers experience any liquidity problems, they won’t be able to easily turn these trust investments into cash,” said Sally Yim, a Moody’s analyst in Hong Kong. “These assets also tend to be more volatile. The yield may be higher, but there may also be defaults.” Chinese insurers’ assets doubled in the past five years to 9.6 trillion yuan last month, as premium income climbed an average of 14% annually. Squeezed by competition from wealth management products sold by banks and online funds, insurers started offering policies with investment characteristics to compete for money. “Over the last two or three years, banking product rates have been quite competitive compared with some of the rates offered by the insurers,” said Terrence Wong, a director at Fitch in Hong Kong. “So to enhance the yield, they have to seek investment instruments with higher returns.”

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More recovery.

US Homeownership Rate Drops To 1983 Levels (Zero Hedge)

The last time US homeownership declined down to 64.4% (which the Census Bureau just reported is what US homeownership declined to from 64.7% in Q2), was back in the fourth quarter of 1983. It goes without saying that this is about the bearishest news possible for those few who still believe in the American homewonership dream. Of course, those who have been following real-time rental market trends would be all too aware there is no rebound coming to the homeownership rate. The reason is simple: increasingly fewer can afford to buy, instead having no choice but to rent, which in turn has pushed the median asking rent to record highs.

In fact in the past two quarters, the asking rent was just $10 shy of its time highs at $756 per month. But capital allocation preferences aside, while explaining the disparity between rental and homeownership in a world where Renting is the new American Dream, what [this doesn’t explain] is why there is no incremental demand from all those millions of young Americans who enter the population and, eventually, the workforce. At least on paper. Earlier today, Bank of America was confused by precisely this:

Population growth of 25-34 year olds outpacing growth in the housing stock: The primary driver of household formation is population growth among 25 to 34 year olds. There is notable divergence with the growth in this age group and the growth in the housing stock. This suggests greater doubling up of households as a result of the recession and weak recovery. Unless doubling up turns into tripling up, household formation should recover over time, creating a need for greater building. Given tight credit conditions, this will tend to drive apartment construction more than single family construction. Either way, the housing stock is lagging well behind demographic fundamentals.

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Only, they will.

Why British Interest Rates Will Never Go Up Again (MarketWatch)

The autumn of 2014? Er, scratch that. The spring of 2015? Put that on the back burner. How about the autumn of 2015? For the moment, that seems to be the consensus. The markets have had plenty of dates that they penciled in for the first rate rise from the Bank of England. But each time one of them actually comes close, something comes along to blow it off course. It happened again this month. Analysts and economists in the City of London were confidently expecting the first rise sometime in the spring of next year. Then the plunge in the global markets of early October, combined with some disappointing economic data, meant that timetable was hurriedly reset. Here’s what is actually going to happen. Interest rates in the U.K. may not ever go up from the near-zero level of the last few years.

Japan cut its rates to those levels more than two decades ago and it is no closer to a rate rise now than it was in the mid-1990s. Sooner or later the penny is going to drop that rates are not going to go up, at least not in the working lives of most people in the market today. The timetable for the Bank of England to start moving interest rates back to normal levels is about as reliable as an Italian train. When Gov. Mark Carney moved from Canada to the U.K., he bought with him a policy of forward guidance, which was meant to give companies and consumers a clearer idea of where interest rates were heading. He set out criteria such as falling unemployment, and rising real wages, that would need to be met. But once those targets were hit, rates would start going up again.

There was certainly a lot to be said for that. It was on March 5, 2009, that the bank cut interest rates all the way down to 0.5%. At the time, it was presented as an emergency measure, designed to cope with deep recession bought on by the near collapse of the financial system a few months earlier. It was not presented as a normal rate, nor, at the time, is it likely that many of the members of the Monetary Policy Committee saw it that way either. They thought rates would stay at that level for a year or two, and then start to edge their way back towards normal. The trouble is, the right moment never seems to arrive. Despite heavy signaling through last spring that a rate rise was likely before the end of 2014, it hasn’t happened.

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It’s now become a joke.

EU Financial Transaction Tax Bid Falters on Revenue Disagreement (Bloomberg)

The European Union must figure out how to handle revenues from a proposed financial-transaction tax to meet a year-end deadline for moving ahead with the levy in participating nations. Ten nations pledged in May to seek agreement on a “progressive” tax on equities and “some derivatives” by the end of 2014, with implementation planned for a year later. As that deadline approaches, nations have found broad agreement on how to handle equities, according to an Oct. 27 planning document obtained by Bloomberg News. Derivatives and revenues are the biggest obstacles to moving forward with a proposed tax by year end, according to Italy, one of the participating nations and also current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency. National officials are due to discuss the tax plan this week, ahead of a Nov. 7 finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels. Italy proposed three possible models for shifting revenue from countries where transactions take place to nations where the trading firms are based, so that countries with smaller financial sectors wouldn’t be at a disadvantage.

This would allow the tax to be collected in the country of issuance, then allocated to take account of other parameters like residence. “Delegations could not agree on the solution of revenue distribution that would be acceptable to all of them,” according to the planning document. Willing nations are considering how to build the first phase of a trading tax, with an eye toward expanding it in future years. EU policy makers have considered a transactions tax to raise money and discourage speculative trading, goals that have gained urgency since the financial crisis and the euro-area budget rules adopted in its wake. Efforts to build a common tax for all 28 member nations fell apart, followed by a scaled back proposal for a joint tax among 11 willing nations. The plans have been criticized by banks and trading firms, which have warned that could curtail investment at a time when the EU is seeking to boost anemic economic growth.

“The FTT is about the worst idea of the last three centuries,” Wim Mijs, chief executive of the European Banking Federation, a Brussels-based industry group, told reporters yesterday. In some countries, the “cost of implementing it is higher than the possible gain,” he said. [..] Most participating nations are in favor of including equity derivatives, so that trading in equities doesn’t immediately jump to a non-taxed transaction. Still, some nations want to exclude equity derivatives, the document showed. Some nations want to tax credit default swaps. Other nations have concerns about interest-rate derivatives because these trades have ties to monetary policy and government bonds.

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Many nations do.

UK Faces ‘Debt Timebomb’ From Ageing Population (Telegraph)

Britain’s ageing population has created a “debt timebomb” that can only be defused through a combination of significant spending cuts, faster increases in the state pension age and ending universal free healthcare, according to a respected think-tank. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) warned that the Government would need to slash public spending by a quarter in order to get Britain’s debt mountain down to sustainable levels. In a set of radical proposals, the IEA called on the Government to end “unhelpful” policies such as the “triple lock guarantee” that ensures the state pension increases by the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5pc every year. It also said charging for some NHS services would help to reduce demand.

The IEA calculated that Government spending cuts equivalent to 9.6pc of GDP – or £168bn per year in today’s money – were needed to reduce Britain’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 20pc by 2063. This is equivalent to cutting the health, welfare and pensions budgets in half, or overall spending by a quarter. “Politicians must wake up to the size of the debt time bomb in the UK. Older generations have voted themselves benefits that will indebt future generations, meaning crippling tax hikes for our children and grandchildren,” said Philip Booth, editorial director at the IEA. “Very significant spending restraint and reform of entitlements will be required in the next parliament and beyond to get our debt levels back under control.” While the think-tank welcomed the measures introduced by the Government to link the state pension age to life expectancy and commit to a further £67bn worth of austerity by 2018-19, it said that without further reforms, debt would continue to rise in the long-term.

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How is this possible? Why do we condone preying on the poor?

Payday Loan Brokers Regularly Raid Bank Accounts Of Poor Customers (Guardian)

A new breed of payday loan brokers are making as many as 1m attempts per month to raid the bank accounts of some of the poorest members of society. The behaviour is provoking alarm at one of Britain’s biggest high street banks, Natwest, which says it is being inundated with complaints from its most vulnerable customers. NatWest said it is seeing as many as 640 complaints a day from customers who say that sums, usually in the range of £50 to £75, have been taken from their accounts by companies they do not recognise but are in fact payday loan brokers. The brokers are websites that promise to find loans, but are not lenders themselves. Often buried in the small print is a clause allowing the payday broker to charge £50 to £75 to find the person a loan – on top of an annual interest charge as high as 3,000%. In the worst cases, the site shares the person’s bank details with as many as 200 other companies, which then also attempt to levy charges against the individual.

The City regulator has received a dossier of information about the escalating problem, and the Financial Ombudsman Service also confirmed that it is facing a wave of complaints about the issue. NatWest, which is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, gave as an example a 41-year-old shop assistant who took a payday loan of £100 at 2,216% interest. A month later she complained to NatWest after seeing a separate fee of £67.88 paid to My Loan Now and £67.95 to Loans Direct on her account, companies she said she had never dealt with. The broker sites tell customers they need their bank account details to search for a loan, but then pass them on to as many as 200 other brokers and lenders, which then seek to extract fees, even if they have not supplied a loan. The small print allowing the site to pass on the details and demand payments can be hidden in the site’s ‘privacy policy’ or in small print at the bottom of the page.

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Sure.

Dubai Insists the Boom is Not a Bubble This Time Around (Bloomberg)

Alongside the Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping centers, sits an ersatz version of what would be an authentic retail experience in most Persian Gulf cities: an Arab souk. If, in the evening, you stroll through this air-conditioned, hassle- and haggle-free caricature of a market, staffed mostly by smiling South Asians, you can amble out onto the shores of man-made Burj Khalifa Lake, named after the world’s tallest building, which looms over it. Here – bumping elbows with a veritable United Nations General Assembly of residents and tourists decked out in everything from dishdashas to Dior – you can gawk at the Dubai Fountain, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its December issue. Every half-hour, an array of computer-choreographed nozzles sends jets of water erupting from the lake’s surface 500 feet into the air, gyrating to Middle Eastern pop one minute and Andrea Bocelli singing “Con Te Partiro” the next.

Awash in fantasia, this metropolis of glass and steel sprouting from the barren sands of the Arabian Peninsula often seems nothing more than an illusion born of desert heat. Never was Dubai more miragelike than five years ago, after the global financial crisis crushed what had been a bastion of wealth and growth. House prices plunged as much as 60%. Half of the city’s $582 billion in construction projects were either placed on hold or abandoned, their incomplete steel skeletons left poking from the sand, a 21st-century Ozymandias. Now, Dubai is booming again. To understand why, journey 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Dubai Mall to a part of the city few tourists ever see. Here, if you pass through the security gates at Jebel Ali port, you’re treated to another mesmerizing mechanical ballet – one less ephemeral and arguably more important to the city-state’s fate than the Dubai Fountain’s dancing waters. Towering gantry cranes sidle up to 1,200-foot-long (365-meter-long) container ships bound for Mumbai or Singapore or Rotterdam.

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“The big question is what China will do with all of these cargoes…”

Chinese Oil Trader Buys Record Number of Mideast Cargoes (Bloomberg)

China National United Oil Co., a unit of the country’s biggest energy company, bought the most ever cargoes of Middle East crude through a pricing platform in Singapore amid oil’s slump into a bear market. The company, known as Chinaoil, purchased about 21 million barrels this month through the system used to determine benchmark prices by Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc. It bought more than 40 cargoes of the Dubai, Oman and Upper Zakum grades in the so-called window, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A Beijing-based press officer for CNPC, the parent company, wasn’t immediately able to comment and asked not to be identified because of internal policy. “It’s very difficult for the market to know Chinaoil’s strategy,” Ehsan Ul-Haq, a senior market consultant at KBC Energy Economics in Walton-on-Thames, England, said by phone.

“Prices have gone down and China is always interested in buying more crude whenever the price is right, but they could also have some other different trading strategy.” Benchmark oil prices tumbled to the lowest in almost four years this month amid signs of an expanding global supply glut, led by the highest U.S. production in about three decades. China consumed the second-largest amount of crude ever last month and its stockpiles increased to a record. Some of Chinaoil’s cargoes may be used to fill the country’s strategic crude reserves, according to JBC Energy GmbH, a Vienna-based consultant. “The big question is what China will do with all of these cargoes,” JBC said in an e-mailed report Oct. 21. “If the Middle Kingdom puts the barrels into strategic storage, something that would be logical given low outright prices, they will disappear entirely from the market and China will still have to buy more crude for its day-to-day needs.”

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How corrupt is the government that’s supposed to fight corruption?

Rajoy Apologizes as New Wave of Corruption Allegations Hits Spain (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy apologized to the Spanish people yesterday amid mounting public outrage at a new wave of corruption allegations against officials from his party. All members of the governing People’s Party among the 51 arrested this week on bribery allegations have had their party membership suspended and will be expelled if the charges are proved, Rajoy told the Senate in Madrid. “I understand and share fully the indignation of so many Spaniards at the accumulation of scandals,” Rajoy said. “In the name of the People’s Party I want to apologize to all Spaniards for having appointed to positions for which they were not worthy those who would seem to have abused them.”

Rajoy is battling to retain his moral authority amid evidence that local officials took bribes to hand out public contracts while he was administering the harshest budget cuts in Spain’s democratic history. This week’s arrests follow allegations from the former PP treasurer, Luis Barcenas, that Rajoy and other senior party officials including Rodrigo Rato, a former deputy prime minister, accepted cash from a party slush fund. Rajoy has denied the allegations against him. Barcenas produced handwritten ledgers to back up his claims that he handed out envelopes of cash to party officials and received text messages of support from Rajoy during the early part of the investigation. He’s in jail while the National Court probes his financial affairs.

A survey by the state pollster in July showed political corruption is the second-biggest concern for Spaniards after the country’s 24% unemployment rate, the second highest in the European Union. “Explain about the envelopes, explain about the messages you sent to Barcenas, explain about the secret financing of your party,” the opposition Socialist leader in the Senate, Maria Chivite, told Rajoy in response. “Explain to all Spaniards how many senior official from your party will appear before the courts because of their accounts in Switzerland.”

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It’s not like we we born as consumers.

How The Consumer Dream Went Wrong (BBC)

We could, it seemed, have it all. So what went wrong? The truth is this: despite all its promise, the idea of the Consumer is killing us. And before it does, we must kill it. I can perhaps best explain why the golden dream went so wrong by describing one of a series of recent experiments that have explored the effect of this word on our behaviour. The simplest was a survey of environmental and social attitudes and values. The group taking the survey was split in half. For half, the front cover said Consumer Reaction Study, for the rest, Citizen Reaction Study. No specific attention was drawn to this and there was no other significant difference between the two groups; just this one word. Yet those who answered the Consumer Reaction Study were far less motivated to care about society or the environment.

That pattern has been seen elsewhere, and the only possible explanation for the difference is the unconscious effect of merely being exposed to the language of the Consumer as a prime, a kind of mental framing of the task at hand. How can this be? Can a word, just a word, really make us less likely to care about one another and about the world, and less likely to trust and work with one another to fix it? Here’s the thing – nothing is “just a word”. Language is the scaffolding on which we build our thoughts, attitudes, values and behaviours. And as we do so, we would do well to recognise that the Consumer is a deeply dangerous place to start. Because what looks at surface level like a word is in fact a moral idea, an idea of what the right thing is for us to do in our daily lives. This word Consumer represents the idea that all we can do is consume, choosing between the options offered us, and that the morally right thing for us to do is to pick the best of these for ourselves, measured in material standards of living, as narrowly defined individuals, and in the short term.

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But we can be happy only as consumers these days.

Gross National Happiness – Can We Measure A Feelgood Factor? (Guardian)

The UK economy continues to recover, albeit at a slower pace, the latest official figures show. But how well does this reflect how people are feeling? GDP measurements only provide part of the picture and so the Office for National Statistics will soon reveal details of a new set of supplementary indicators on economic well-being. It follows a pledge by the prime minister, David Cameron, in 2010 to make the UK one of the first countries to officially monitor happiness. The inaugural release including how households are doing, how well-off people feel and other insights into well-being will be published just in time for Christmas on 23 December.

Bhutan is the real trailblazer in this area. The tiny nation to the east of the Himalayas has long been renowned for its focus not on GDP – gross domestic product – but GNH (gross national happiness). In other words, what matters to Bhutan more than upping production and improving productivity is whether its citizens are happy. It’s a measure the remote south Asian nation has been using since the early 1970s, well before the rest of the world began to realise that wealthier does not necessarily translate into happier. The ONS says its new regular well-being release will help businesses, households and policymakers in the UK make better-informed decisions by providing a whole “dashboard” of indicators on the state of the economy.

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They’re not trying.

Australia Protection Plan ‘Will Not Save Great Barrier Reef’ (BBC)

Australia’s Academy of Science says an Australian government draft plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef will not prevent its decline. The group said the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan failed to address key pressures on the reef including climate change and coastal development. Much bolder action was needed, said Academy Fellow Professor Terry Hughes. “The science is clear, the reef is degraded and its condition is worsening,” said Prof Hughes. “This is a plan that won’t restore the reef, it won’t even maintain it in its already diminished state,” he said in a statement released on Tuesday. “It is also more than disappointing to see that the biggest threat to the reef – climate change – is virtually ignored in this plan.”

Public submissions on the draft plan – an overarching framework for protecting and managing the reef from 2015 to 2050 – closed on Monday. The plan will eventually be submitted to the World Heritage Centre in late January, for consideration by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee mid-next year. Unesco has threatened to place the reef on its List of World Heritage in Danger. According to scientists, another major threat to the reef’s health is continual expansion of coal ports along the Queensland coast. In a controversial move earlier this year, the Australian government approved a plan to dredge a port at Abbot Point in Queensland, and dump thousands of tonnes of sediment in the sea.

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New Zealand needs to diversify away from export-driven monoculture, and towards its own domestic market.

Blame The Cows: Kiwi Dollar May Stumble (CNBC)

Once billed as the hottest currency trade this year, New Zealand’s dollar is set to stumble, tripped up by spilled milk. “Since peaking in February this year, international dairy prices per Fonterra Global Dairy Trade (GDT) auction have fallen by almost 50%,” Morgan Stanley said in a note Tuesday, noting that dairy products are New Zealand’s largest export, accounting for 26.4% of the total. “Due to New Zealand’s specialization in whole milk powder (WMP) exports to China, we expect the fall in price and import demand to weigh on the New Zealand dollar,” the note said. It’s a turnaround from the beginning of the year, when analysts had expected strong gains in the kiwi. BK Asset Management in January called the New Zealand dollar, also known as the kiwi, one of its favorite trades for the year, citing expectations the central bank would hike interest rates and increased demand for “soft commodities.”

After starting the year around $0.8221, the kiwi climbed to highs of over $0.88 in July, but it has since stumbled, fetching around $0.79 in early Asia trade Wednesday. Dairy prices face a lot of headwinds, likely keeping milk prices depressed for a while. “We expect the recent peak in dairy prices, the lift of EU dairy quota and lower feed costs to increase global milk production,” Morgan Stanley said, noting the USDA forecasts global dairy export volume to rise 10% in 2014. The EU dairy quota system, which fined countries for surplus production over a delivery quota, is set to be scrapped after the first quarter of next year, and Morgan Stanley noted that farmers there have already begun increasing their cow counts. While New Zealand will likely continue to dominate WMP exports to China, media reports indicate the mainland’s inventories are stocked up and lower prices aren’t likely to spur additional demand, the note said.

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By plane as well…

Russia to Send 3,000 Tons of Aid to Eastern Ukraine Within Week (RIA)

Russia will send up to 3,000 metric tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine’s southeastern regions within a week, Russian Deputy Emergencies Minister Vladimir Stepanov told RIA Novosti Tuesday. “Within a week the total weight of humanitarian aid will amount to 3,000 metric tons,” Stepanov said, adding that it will be delivered both by aircraft and land vehicles. According to Stepanov, on Tuesday three aircraft will deliver part of the aid to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, where it will be loaded onto trucks. The aid includes food, medicine and construction materials that will help residents of southeastern Ukraine to prepare for the winter.

The deliveries of aid to Ukraine are being carried out in coordination with the Red Cross and the Russian Foreign Ministry. Earlier today, Russia’s Emergency Ministry confirmed that on October 28 a convoy of up to 50 trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the people of Donetsk and Luhansk regions will depart from the city of Noginsk. Since August, Russia has sent three humanitarian convoys of trucks carrying food, water, power generators, medication and warm clothes to eastern Ukrainian regions, which went through a severe humanitarian crisis due to the military operation initiated by Kiev’s authorities in April.

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Is he talking about TV series?

Pope Francis: Evolution and Big Bang Theory Are Real (NBC)

Big Bang theory and evolution in nature “do not contradict” the idea of creation, Pope Francis has told an audience at the Vatican, saying God was not “a magician with a magic wand.” The Pope’s remarks on Monday to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences appeared to be a theological break from his predecessor Benedict XVI, a strong exponent of creationism. “The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to something else, but it derives directly from a supreme principle that creates out of love,” Pope Francis said.

“The Big Bang, that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God; on the contrary, it requires it. Evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of [divine] creation because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve.” The Pontiff said God created beings “and let them develop in accordance with the internal laws that he has given to each one.” He said: “When we read in Genesis the account of creation [we are] in danger of imagining that God was a magician, complete with a magic wand that can do all things. But he is not.”

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Not a problem for us to solve.

Population Controls ‘Will Not Solve Environment Issues’ (BBC)

Restricting population growth will not solve global issues of sustainability in the short term, new research says. A worldwide one-child policy would mean the number of people in 2100 remained around current levels, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Even a catastrophic event that killed billions of people would have little effect on the overall impact, it said. There may be 12 billion humans on Earth by 2100, latest projections suggest. Concerns about the impact of people on the planet’s resources have been growing, especially if the population continues to increase. The authors of this new study said roughly 14% of all the people who ever existed were alive today.

These growing numbers mean a greater impact on the environment than ever, with worries about the conversion of forests for agriculture, the rise of urbanisation, the pressure on species, pollution, and climate change. The picture is complicated by the fact that while the overall figures have been growing, the world’s per-capita fertility has been declining for several decades. The impact on the environment has increased substantially, however, because of rising affluence and consumption rates. Many experts have argued the best way of tackling this impact is to facilitate a rapid transition to much lower fertility rates.

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