Mar 282018
 
 March 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edvard Munch Spring in Johan Karl Street 1944

 

Steen Jakobsen Fears 30% Market Correction With Consumer ‘Maxed Out’ (CNBC)
China Says Kim Jong Un Agrees To Denuclearize Korean Peninsula (R.)
All The Personal Data That Facebook/Google Collect (Curran)
Mark Zuckerberg Agrees To Testify Before Congress Over Data Scandal (G.)
37 State Attorneys General Demand Answers From Zuckerberg (ZH)
Zuckerberg’s Refusal To Testify Before UK MPs ‘Absolutely Astonishing’ (G.)
Jimmy Carter: Trump Hiring Bolton ‘A Disaster For Our Country’ (USAT)
Brexit Referendum Won Through Fraud – Whistleblower (G.)
Austria Draws Scorn for Sitting Out Russian Diplomat Expulsions (BBG)
160 Countries Want To See Proof In Skripal Case – Russia’s UK Embassy (RT)
Tesla Just Months From A Total Collapse – Hedge Fund (MW)
The Missing Economic Measure: Wealth, not GDP (OWiD)

 

 

Goldilocks and Frankenstein.

Steen Jakobsen Fears 30% Market Correction With Consumer ‘Maxed Out’ (CNBC)

Stock markets could see a hefty fall in the coming months due to a slew of trends that point to a downturn in the global economy, one economist told CNBC. Steen Jakobsen, the often-bearish chief economist at Danish investment house Saxo Bank, cited several factors including growing credit loans, a widening fiscal deficit in the U.S., doubts over infrastructure spending plans and a potential trade war. “All the data we’ve seen over the last few weeks has basically been that the consumer is maxed out, we’ve seen that in credit card loans as well, so I think the consumer is done spending the money,” he told CNBC Tuesday. New data Tuesday showed that U.S. consumer confidence declined in March, falling below expectations and breaking a two month streak of gains.

“I think overall we have been pricing in for Goldilocks and we are closer to Frankenstein to be honest,” he said. He added that in a scenario of a potential sudden economic recession, he sees a possible market correction of between 25 and 30%. Jakobsen highlighted a “Goldilocks” scenario that he feels traders are mistakenly pricing in to markets, where fresh economic data are either not too hot or not too cold. Overall, the global economy is currently experiencing lower levels of unemployment and higher growth. Looking at 2018 in particular, many analysts hoped for strong global growth on the back of higher inflation and higher investment, but according to Jakobsen, these drivers “aren’t actually materializing.”

Instead, Jakobsen made a reference to the novel “Frankenstein,” arguing that the economy had been skewed by central bankers, who have injected trillions of dollars into the global economy to boost growth and investment. The first quarter of 2018 “started at more than 5% expected GDP; we are now significantly less than 2% for the (first quarter) expected, so I don’t really see things happening in the growth area,” Jacobsen added. “We’ve been at 2% exactly since the financial crisis, I don’t think we’re going to deviate from that,” he said.

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Again, he says it’s what his father and grandfather wanted. Perfect way to save face.

China Says Kim Jong Un Agrees To Denuclearize Korean Peninsula (R.)

China said on Wednesday it won a pledge from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to denuclearize the Korean peninsula during a meeting with President Xi Jinping, who pledged in return that China would uphold its friendship with its isolated neighbor. After two days of speculation, China announced on Wednesday that Kim had visited Beijing and met Xi during what the official Xinhua news agency called an unofficial visit from Sunday to Wednesday. The trip was Kim’s first known journey abroad since he assumed power in 2011 and is believed by analysts to serve as preparation for upcoming summits with South Korea and the United States.

Beijing has traditionally been the closest ally of secretive North Korea, but ties have been frayed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and China’s backing of tough U.N. sanctions in response. Xinhua cited Kim as telling Xi that the situation on the Korean peninsula is starting to improve because North Korea has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks. “It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearisation on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” Kim Jong Un said, according to Xinhua. North Korea is willing to talk with the United States and hold a summit between the two countries, he said.

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Zero Hedge with the entire Twitter thread by Dylan Curran. Does that wake you up?

All The Personal Data That Facebook/Google Collect (Curran)

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was never really about Cambridge Analytica. As we’ve pointed out, neither Facebook nor Cambridge Analytica have been accused of doing anything explicitly illegal (though one could be forgiven for believing they had, based on the number of lawsuits and official investigations that have been announced). Instead, the backlash to these revelations – which has been justifiably focused on Facebook – is so severe because the public has been forced to confront for the first time something that many had previously written off as an immutable certainty: That Facebook, Google and the rest of the tech behemoths store reams of personal data, essentially logging everything we do.

In response to demands for more transparency surrounding user data, Facebook and Google are offering users the option to view all of the metadata that Google and Facebook collect. And as Twitter user Dylan Curran pointed out in a comprehensive twitter thread examining his own data cache, the extent and bulk of the data collected and sorted by both companies is staggering. Google, Curran said, collected 5.5 gigabytes of data on him – equivalent to some 3 million Microsoft Word documents. Facebook, meanwhile, collected only 600 megabytes – equivalent to roughly 400,000 documents.

Another shocking revelation made by Curran: Even after deleting data like search history and revoking permissions for Google and Facebook applications, Curran still found a comprehensive log of his documents and other files stored on Google drive, his search history, chat logs and other sensitive data about his movements that he had expressly deleted. What’s worse, everything shown is the data cache of one individual. Just imagine how much data these companies hold in total.

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By now, shareholders may be his prime concern. Congress won’t hurt the CIA’s interests.

Mark Zuckerberg Agrees To Testify Before Congress Over Data Scandal (G.)

Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has agreed to testify before the United States Congress in the wake of a that has sent the company’s share price tumbling and prompted numerous investigations and lawsuits. Zuckerberg has accepted an invitation to testify before the House energy and commerce committee, according to an aide familiar with the discussions. A date has not yet been set, and the spokesperson for the House committee declined to confirm reports that the hearing was scheduled for 12 April. The Senate judiciary and commerce committees have also invited Zuckerberg to appear at hearings.

His decision to testify before the US Congress was first reported by CNN, and contrasts with his refusal to appear before members of parliament in the UK. The chair of a British committee of MPs on Tuesday said Zuckerberg’s decision to send other executives to the UK to answer questions on his behalf was “absolutely astonishing”. However, news of US congressional evidence paves the way for a major showdown for Zuckerberg, 33, who has come under increasing pressure from lawmakers and the general public to account for Facebook’s business practices since the company acknowledged last September that it had sold advertisements to Russian agents seeking to influence the US presidential election.

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Facebook took 30% of the loot. They sold their data perhaps thousands of times.

37 State Attorneys General Demand Answers From Zuckerberg (ZH)

37 “profoundly concerned” U.S. state and territory attorneys general fired off a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, demanding answers over reports that personal user information from Facebook profiles was provided to third parties without the users’ knowledge or consent. “Most recently, we have learned from news reports that the business practices within the social media world have evolved to give multiple software developers access to personal information of Facebook users. These reports raise serious questions regarding consumer privacy”

The letter notes the 50 million Facebook profiles which may have been “misused and misappropriated by third-party software developers,” noting that Facebook “took as much as 30%” of payments made through applications used by Facebook users. “According to these reports, Facebook’s previous policies allowed developers to access the personal data of “friends” of people who used applications on the platform, without the knowledge or express consent of those “friends.” It has also been reported that while providing other developers access to personal Facebook user data, Facebook took as much as 30% of payments made through the developers’ applications by Facebook users.”

In other words – while a Facebook user may have agreed in the fine print to allowing the social media giant to hoover up their information – their “friends” did not. “These revelations raise many serious questions concerning Facebook’s policies and practices” reads the letter, which asks “were those terms of service clear and understandable, or buried in boilerplate where few users would even read them?”

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He’s just not that into you. Why talk to “the UK parliamentary committee investigating fake news” when he’s already agreed to speak to Congress?

Zuckerberg’s Refusal To Testify Before UK MPs ‘Absolutely Astonishing’ (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg has come under intense criticism from the UK parliamentary committee investigating fake news after the head of Facebook refused an invitation to testify in front of MPs for a third time. The chair, Damian Collins, said it had become more urgent the Facebook founder give evidence in person after oral evidence provided by the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, Christopher Wylie. The MP said: “I think, given the extraordinary evidence we’ve heard so far today, it is absolutely astonishing that Mark Zuckerberg is not prepared to submit himself to questioning in front of a parliamentary or congressional hearing, given these are questions of fundamental importance and concern to his users, as well as to this inquiry.

“I would certainly urge him to think again if he has any care for people that use his company’s services.” Zuckerberg has been invited three times to speak to the committee, which is investigating the effects of fake news on UK democracy, but has always sent deputies to testify in his stead. MPs are likely to take a still dimmer view of his decision after he ultimately agreed to testify before Congress in the US. It was reported on Tuesday that the company is now considering strategy for his testimony. When the Commons committee travelled to Washington DC in February to obtain oral evidence from US companies, Facebook flew over its UK policy director rather than send a high-level executive to speak to the committee.

In response to the latest request, Facebook has suggested one of two executives could speak to parliament: Chris Cox, the company’ chief product officer, who is in charge of the Facebook news feed, or Mike Schroepfer, the chief technology officer, who heads up the developer platform. However, Theresa May declined to back Collins. Pressed by the committee chairman at the Commons liaison committee later in the day, the prime minister said “Mr Zuckerberg will decide for himself” whether to give evidence to parliament.

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The US has one sane person left. And he’s 93. Not that he’s the only one denouncing Bolton. But none of the rest do that nearly loud enough.

Jimmy Carter: Trump Hiring Bolton ‘A Disaster For Our Country’ (USAT)

Former president Jimmy Carter, one of the few U.S. officials who has traveled to North Korea and met with its leaders, expresses hope for the planned White House summit with Pyongyang but warns that President Trump may have made “one of the worst mistakes” of his tenure by naming John Bolton to the sensitive post of national security adviser. In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, pegged to the publication of his new book titled Faith, Carter calls Bolton “a warlike figure” who backs policies the former president calls catastrophic. “Maybe one of the worst mistakes that President Trump has made since he’s been in office is his employment of John Bolton, who has been advocating a war with North Korea for a long time and even an attack on Iran, and who has been one of the leading figures on orchestrating the decision to invade Iraq,” Carter said. He called the appointment, announced last week, “a disaster for our country.”

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Perfect for Tony Blair et al. Maybe too perfect. Who cares about this guy’s views? Stick to the facts, please.

Brexit Referendum Won Through Fraud – Whistleblower (G.)

The EU referendum was won through fraud, the whistleblower Christopher Wylie has told MPs, accusing Vote Leave of improperly channelling money through a tech firm with links to Cambridge Analytica. Wylie told a select committee that the pro-Brexit campaign had a “common plan” to use the network of companies to get around election spending laws and said he thought there “could have been a different outcome had there not been, in my view, cheating”. “It makes me so angry, because a lot of people supported leave because they believe in the application of British law and British sovereignty. And to irrevocably alter the constitutional settlement of this country on fraud is a mutilation of the constitutional settlement of this country.”

Vote Leave has repeatedly denied allegations of collusion or deliberate overspending. When they , Boris Johnson, who fronted the campaign, said: “Vote Leave won fair and square – and legally. We are leaving the EU in a year and going global.” Wylie, who used to work for Cambridge Analytica, gave evidence in a nearly four-hour session before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee. He made a string of remarkable claims about Brexit and Cambridge Analytica, including that his predecessor, Dan Mursean, died mysteriously in a Kenyan hotel room in 2012 after a contract in the company turned sour. Wylie said it was striking that Vote Leave and three other pro-Brexit groups – ; Veterans for Britain, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party – all used the services of the little-known firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to help target voters online.

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And Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Luxembourg. Belgium?!

Austria Draws Scorn for Sitting Out Russian Diplomat Expulsions (BBG)

Austria is drawing criticism from parts of the European Union for saying it couldn’t expel Russian diplomats on account of its neutrality. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government, which includes nationalists that cooperate with Vladimir Putin’s party, declined to join the tough international response to a nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in England. Austria is a “builder of bridges between East and West” and wants to “keep channels open” to Moscow, it said. That position is “hardly compatible with EU membership” and there’s “a big difference between being part of the West and being a bridge between the West and the East,” former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Tuesday on Twitter.

Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian foreign minister who’s a member of the European Parliament, called Austria’s decision a “bad joke.” He asked: “Which other EU policies/decisions Kurz does not apply to Austria?” Kurz, whose People’s Party is part of the same political family as the parties of Bildt and Pabriks, said Monday that Austria backs the EU’s decision to pull its ambassador to Russia. In declining to take further measures, his government cited Austria’s neutrality, which the country adopted as a condition for ending its post-World War II occupation by the U.S., the Soviet Union, the U.K. and France in 1955.

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7 billion people do, too.

160 Countries Want To See Proof In Skripal Case – Russia’s UK Embassy (RT)

Scores of non-Western countries refuse to take the UK’s assertion that Russia was behind the incident in Salisbury at face value, demanding it present the evidence, Moscow’s embassy in London said. Some 160 states share that view. While many in the Western world, save several notable exceptions, united behind the UK as it accused Russia of poisoning the former spy with a military-grade toxic agent, many more countries have not been persuaded by the fiery rhetoric of British PM Theresa May, the spokesperson for Russia’s British embassy told Sputnik.

“Even if Mrs. May said that she was absolutely sure that Russia was responsible for the incident in Salisbury, she would have to present all evidence to Russia, the international community and the British public. This is the opinion of almost 160 countries which are not members of the Western bloc,” he said. “It is obvious that no one in the wider world would take British words for granted.” On Monday, following the lead of the UK, the US, 18 EU states and other European countries, Canada and Australia announced they would expel a number of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK. Washington alone ordered the expulsion of 60 diplomats, including 12 at the Russian mission to the UN, alleging they were covert intelligence operatives.

What became the largest collective expulsion of Russian diplomats in history was denounced by Moscow as an extremely unfriendly and unwarranted step. Still, there were voices in the West that refused to side with London until the evidence is laid out. Austria as well as Switzerland, both stressing their neutral country status, refused to follow suit. Cyprus, Portugal, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Luxembourg did not jump on the expulsion bandwagon either.

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Magic Muskroom.

Tesla Just Months From A Total Collapse – Hedge Fund (MW)

Unless Elon Musk “pulls a rabbit out of his hat,” Tesla will be bankrupt within four months, says John Thompson of Vilas Capital Management. “Companies eventually have to make a profit, and I don’t ever see that happening here,” he told MarketWatch. “This is one of the worst income statements I’ve ever seen and between the story and the financials, the financials will win out in this case.” Thompson manages $25 million and his Tesla short is the fund’s biggest position. To be fair, he’s been betting big against Tesla for years, which, of course, means he’s endured some brutal stretches. Last April, for instance, the stock hit a record high around the $300 mark, and Musk was right there to troll the Tesla bears.

From that point, the stock continued to break new ground, eventually topping out at $389.61. But despite Tesla’s strong performance in 2017, Thompson’s fund still managed to churn out a 65% gain for the year. Now, Tesla’s back to where it was when Musk fired off his “Shortville” tweet, and Thompson is confident his bet is about to pay off nicely. In fact, Thompson says if his prediction comes true, his fund could surge by another 50%. With that in mind, he says he’s investing $500,000 of his own money. “Tesla, without any doubt, is on the verge of bankruptcy,” he told clients in an email over the weekend.

He explained that funding will be hard to come by in the face of problems in delivering the Model 3, declining demand for the Model S and X, extreme valuation and a likely downgrade of its credit rating by Moody’s from B- to CCC. “As a reality check, Tesla is worth twice as much as Ford [estimate of the enterprise value of both companies], yet Ford made 6 million cars last year at a $7.6 billion profit while Tesla made 100,000 cars at a $2 billion loss,” Thompson said. “Further, Ford has $12 billion in cash held for ‘a rainy day’ while Tesla will likely run out of money in the next 3 months. I’ve never seen anything so absurd in my career.”

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Flows vs stocks. GDP is attractive if you want to make money with destruction.

The Missing Economic Measure: Wealth, not GDP (OWiD)

So, what is GDP? GDP is a measure of economic activity – in terms of market-based gross output – in a given period (often a year). This is of course useful in many ways. GDP growth, when captured accurately, has the potential to tell us about the pace of change and rising levels of consumption. Equally, a cessation of GDP growth can serve as an important red flag: stalling enterprises and increases in unemployed workers tend to imply hardship and losses in welfare. However, there are important changes that GDP does not shed light on, and indeed might give us incorrect signals about. Think about climate change, a critical issue that has been increasingly under the international spotlight. An economy can increase its CO2 emissions and drive up local pollutants – both clearly harmful to the long-term wellbeing of the population – while being rewarded with rising GDP figures.

Similarly, a natural disaster might harm people, destroy infrastructure, and require expensive emergency measures – yet thanks to a rise in spending, this too would temporarily register as an increase in GDP. On the flip side, beneficial endeavors such as attempting to stall the alarming rate of biodiversity loss or deforestation not only fail to register in our headline statistic; they might slow its growth. This is where wealth accounting comes in. Rather than measuring flows, as GDP does, wealth is an indicator of an economy’s underlying capital stocks. Wealth, if measured in detail, accounts for the assets such as natural capital, produced capital, and human capital that underpin growth and consumption possibilities, and in this way shows us viable development pathways.

In the event of a natural disaster or rising pollution, for example, while GDP might grow, wealth measures would alert us to the depletion of underlying physical and natural capital stocks and the need for targeted investment. A detailed enough balance sheet would thus theoretically allow for the sustainable management of an economy’s productive capital. Therefore, while GDP has little to say about whether a nation’s assets can sustain current consumption levels into the future, wealth measures can tell us exactly this. The relationship between wealth and GDP is analogous to company accounts: the balance sheet of a company describes the stock of useful assets owned by a company (akin to wealth), while the profit and loss statement describes the flows of revenue, costs, and net income that the company has been able to generate using those assets (akin to GDP).

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Feb 122018
 
 February 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Corot The Burning of Sodom (formerly “The Destruction of Sodom”) 1843 and 1857

 

Rising Debt + Rising Rates (Northman)
Last Week’s ‘Volocaust’ “Just An Appetizer” – Cole (ZH)
Why People Who Make Money Are Usually Wrong – Taleb (ZH)
‘Big Shakeout Coming’: Bridgewater Sounds Warning (G.)
History Suggests The Correction Isn’t Nearly Over (MW)
Interest Rate Rise Would Hit Millions In UK Who Depend On Cheap Credit (G.)
May Starts Drive to End the Conservative Civil War Over Brexit (BBG)
China Enters The Graveyard Of Empires (Escobar)
China Pledges ‘Employment First’ Policies To Create Millions Of Jobs (R.)
Party On, Dudes (Jim Kunstler)
Oxfam Faces Losing Funding As Crisis Grows Over Abuse Claims (G.)
Oxfam Reels From Prostitution Scandal (G.)
The UK’s Hidden Role In Assange’s Detention (Cook)

 

 

Ultra low rates but ultra high payments.

Rising Debt + Rising Rates (Northman)

“Interest On The Debt Will Be The Fastest Growing Part Of The Federal Budget…By Far. Forget Medicare, Social Security and the Pentagon: $1 trillion-plus deficits means massive increases in the national debt and that debt will have to be borrowed at higher interest rates. Add the need for the Treasury to roll-over existing debt at higher and higher rates and you get an immediate increase in the amount the U.S. will need to spend on interest each year.” Watch this space:

Some people may argue that tax cuts will bring in so much economic growth it will all pay for itself. There is precisely zero evidence for such an assertion:

If you know your tax cut history you know where in the chart above major tax cuts were passed. The debt continued to rise and will continue to rise as spending continues to be expanded. But here’s the kicker: Never in modern times have we seen tax cuts being implemented and spending increased with debt to GDP north of 100%:

Many corporations are drowning in debt, as are consumers, and so are their interest payments:

People invariably argue and say: Yea well, but as a percent of disposable income it’s not so bad. Yes, it’s called artificial low rates, they can mask a lot, but what is currently the situation is not the point, it’s sustainability of debt loads in the very immediate future. As you saw in the above data we are already seeing a vast increase in interest payments despite rates having barely moved off of the historic zero bound line. “As for total debt, the CBO last predicted borrowings of $25.5 trillion by 2027. According to Riedl, the tax cuts, new discretionary outlays and additional interest on the extra spending could add $5 trillion to that number, bringing the total of $30 trillion. That’s 107% of the national income estimate projected by the CBO.

The scariest unknown is what happens to interest expense. At $25.5 trillion, the CBO forecasts outlays for interest of $818 billion in 2027. Going to $30 trillion will raise the load to over $1 trillion. One dollar in seven in spending would be going to interest, versus one in 15 today. And that scenario assumes that the yield on the 10-year Treasury increases to just 3.5% over the next decade, far below its historic average. “If rates go to their average in the 1990s,” warns Riedl, “the deficit will go not to $2 trillion, but to between $2.5 and $3 trillion.”

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“..the VIX ETPs are only 5 billion dollars. You have 1.5 trillion of implicit short-volatility strategies..”

Last Week’s ‘Volocaust’ “Just An Appetizer” – Cole (ZH)

While Cole is happy to accept the back-patting and congratulations for having foretold in near-perfect detail the dynamics that would drive this week’s volatility explosion, those who read our piece summarizing Cole’s (uncannily well-timed) interview two weeks ago will remember that short-vol ETPs like XIV represent only a fraction of the collective $2 trillion short-gamma position that touches nearly every corner of the market. Other components of what calls the ‘implicit’ gamma short – which we’ve touched on this week – include $600 billion invested in risk-parity strategies, $400 billion in volatility-control funds. And $250 billion of risk premium strategies… Rather than buy the dip, Cole ominously warned that it’s more likely this is the beginning of a much larger selloff. Or, as Kevin Spacey’s character put it in the movie “Margin Call”, because of vulnerabilities related to the market’s massively short gamma positioning, “there will be turmoil in the markets for the foreseeable future.”

Everyone talks – congratulations about calling this. Well, I don’t think what I’ve really talked about has come to pass yet. The VIX ETPs are the smallest portion of the global short-vol trade. Talk about this idea of about 1.5 to 2 trillion dollars’ worth of short-vol exposure, both explicit and implicit. Explicit short volatility are VIX exchange-rated products and vol overwriting funds. You know, the VIX ETPs are only 5 billion dollars. You have 1.5 trillion of implicit short-volatility strategies, strategies that may not be directly shorting options, but use financial engineering to mimic the components of a short-option portfolio. About 1.5 trillion dollars’ worth of these, of exposure, this is what we’re seeing come online now.

This is the real risk. So stocks and bonds sell off together. You have disorderly unwind withdrawal of liquidity. And then, all of a sudden, increasing volatility results in a quick deleveraging of these implicit short-volatility strategies. And this will drive the next leg of the crisis. So, people say congratulations, you called the short-vol trade. No, nothing has happened yet. This is an appetizer. This is just the appetizer for the unwind that is about to come. I think this is what people should be really afraid of, and I think this is the next leg of this that we will see. Whether this happens in two weeks or whether this happens over two years, I don’t know. But I strongly believe this will come to pass. And it will be quite disorderly and ugly.

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Practice and theory.

Why People Who Make Money Are Usually Wrong – Taleb (ZH)

Echoing Mark Spitznagel’s insights into how ‘naiveté’ led to the epic losses experienced by many ‘nickel-picker-uppers’ this week in the short-vol game, Nassim Taleb takes to YouTube to provide some more color on the fallacy of forecasting and what destroyed XIV traders. Taleb begins by noting that “many people attempted to profit by forecasting volatility [would drop] and from the fact that the contract [in this case XIV] was poorly constructed… they were right, until they were destroyed.” Academics cannot get the idea that you don’t have to be right about the world to make money.

“Antifragile explains why understanding x is different from f(x) the payoff or exposure from x. Most of the harm/gains come from f(x) being convex or concave, not from understanding x. Forecasting is off an average, and average is for academics and other morons.” As Valuewalk’s Jacob Wolinsky writes, this video illustrates the point with XIV that went bust while being correct about volatility –and why people who make money are usually wrong.

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Has Pandora’s box been opened?

‘Big Shakeout Coming’: Bridgewater Sounds Warning (G.)

Financial markets are braced for more volatility this week amid predictions from the world’s biggest hedge fund that a “big shakeout” is coming. The Australian stock market was the first to test the water on Monday morning and one point was down 0.7%. But it rallied slightly in afternoon trade to close down 0.3%. Bourses elsewhere in Asia Pacific also found calmer waters. South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.9% while Hong Kong put on 0.8%. The Nikkei in Japan was closed for a holiday. The FTSE100 is London is due to open up 1.25% according to futures trading, while the Dow Jones average on Wall Street is set to rise 0.7%. Last week saw $4tn wiped off the value of shares around the world and the US market entered into an official correction after falling more than 10% from its record level in January.

Wall Street staged a late rally on Friday as the Dow Jones finished 330 points higher and the closely watched Vix index, or “fear index”, has dropped four points to 29 on Monday from 33 on Friday. But Bob Prince, co-chief investment officer at the $160bn US hedge fund Bridgewater, told the Financial Times on Monday (paywall): “There had been a lot of complacency built up in markets over a long time, so we don’t think this shakeout will be over in a matter of days. “We’ll probably have a much bigger shakeout coming.” David Bassanese, the chief economist at BetaShares Capital in Sydney, said in a note on Sunday that despite the big falls last week, the selling could continue. “History suggests the depth of corrections – assuming the underlying bull market persists – don’t usually get beyond 15%, so there’s certainly some scope for market weakness before a bottom is reached,” he said.

Investors would be jittery about US inflation figures on Wednesday, he said. The market was forecasting a “fairly benign” 1.7% annual prices growth, but anything above that was likely to result in more stock losses. Chris Weston at online trader IG said on Monday: “A massive buildup in market leverage has been partially unwound in the blink of an eye and what started as systematic funds selling out of equity and futures positions, as implied volatility headed higher, has morphed into something far more broad-based incorporating many other market participants.”

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“..the median decline for the S&P in a correction is 16.4%, and the median length of a pullback is 64 days..”

History Suggests The Correction Isn’t Nearly Over (MW)

Perhaps the biggest question on Wall Street right now is whether the recent pain in the U.S. stock market is over. If history is any indication, the answer is no. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 entered correction territory on Thursday, defined as a 10% drop from a recent peak—in this case, record highs that were hit in late January. According to Bespoke Investment Group, which analyzed the 95 corrections the S&P has seen since 1928, investors might want to brace themselves for more pain.

Per Bespoke’s data, the median decline for the S&P in a correction is 16.4%, and the median length of a pullback is 64 days. Were the S&P to hit that median in the current selloff, it would bottom around 2,400, or roughly 7.8% below current levels. “Keep in mind, though, that these are median levels. There have been a number of corrections (13) that saw declines of less than 11%, while several saw deeper declines of more than 20%,” the research group wrote in a blog post. A decline of 20% would put the index into bear-market territory, where nearly one-fifth of S&P components currently trade. “In terms of length, prior corrections have also been all over the map. Some have lasted as little as three days, while others have stretched on for well over a year.”

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It will hit millions everywhere.

Interest Rate Rise Would Hit Millions In UK Who Depend On Cheap Credit (G.)

The Bank of England’s warning that it plans to raise interest rates from as early as May will hit millions of low-income families who have only survived financially for a decade by using cheap credit. The Resolution Foundation said almost half of low-income families were in debt distress before Threadneedle Street said last week that it needed to increase the base rate at an accelerated pace over the next two years. The Bank governor, Mark Carney, said the strength of the economy warranted higher borrowing costs. He cited rising average wages and resilient GDP growth as reasons to begin pushing interest rates from the historically low level of 0.5%.

But a study by the foundation showed the proportion of households in some form of debt distress rose to 45% among the poorest fifth of working age households, with more than a third experiencing difficulty in paying for accommodation and one in six in arrears on either their mortgage or consumer debts. Households headed by someone aged 25-34 spent nearly £1 in every £5 of their pre-tax income on debt repayments in 2017, compared with 20p for households aged 65 and over. Levels of consumer credit have soared in recent years to more than £200bn, prompting debt charities to warn that lenders are repeating the mistakes made in the early part of the century, when households on low incomes were sold loans they could not repay.

Matt Whittaker, the chief economist at the Resolution Foundation, said most of the increase in consumer debt since 2014 was among middle and higher income groups and they could afford to absorb an increase in interest rates. The cost of servicing Britain’s household debt is low by historical standards, he said, with repayments accounting for 7.7% of disposable income, well below the 12.3% recorded just before the financial crisis, and in line with the level seen during the mid-1990s and early 2000s. “However, while the recent growth in debt is less of a concern, it is very worrying that almost half of low-income families are already showing signs of debt distress,” Whittaker said. “While rates have been at historic lows for a decade now, many families have experienced a tight income squeeze over this period and have not been able to get back on the front foot when it comes to servicing their debts.”

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Yawn.

May Starts Drive to End the Conservative Civil War Over Brexit (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May embarks this week on a determined push to bring her divided Cabinet together and come up with a Brexit plan. As European negotiators show increasing signs of impatience, senior U.K. ministers are preparing to deliver a series of speeches in the coming weeks setting out a vision of life outside the European Union. They’ll culminate with an address by May. Dubbed a “Road Map to Brexit,” the schedule begins on Wednesday when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issues an appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate. May is expected to offer a new security relationship three days later when she addresses a conference in Munich. Also scheduled to make speeches are Brexit Secretary David Davis, Trade Secretary Liam Fox, and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.

Absent, however, is Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who enraged Brexit supporters in January by suggesting Britain would see only “very modest” changes to its relationship with the EU once it leaves the bloc. May has ordered key ministers to attend an “away day” at Chequers, the prime ministerial country retreat outside London, after two meetings to find a joint position on Brexit ended without agreement last week. With just 13 months to go before Britain exits the EU, the ruling Conservatives are mired in a civil war between those who want to retain close ties to the bloc and hard-liners demanding a clean break, including total withdrawal from the EU single market and the customs union. On Friday, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, expressed his exasperation by warning that the post-Brexit bridging period that once seemed a certainty “is not a given,” prompting investors to sell the pound.

Businesses have said they’ll start to activate contingency plans to move jobs and operations out of the U.K. unless a transition deal is nailed down by the end of March. In her speech to cap off the “Road to Brexit” push — the date of which hasn’t been announced — May will set out the government’s “ambitions for Britain’s partnership with the EU after we have left.” It will be her third major address, following her Lancaster House speech in January last year and her Florence speech in September. “Brexit is a defining moment in the history of our nation,” May’s office said in a statement. “We will be forging an ambitious new partnership with Europe and charting our own way in the world to become a truly global, free-trading nation.”

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Afghanistan is like a Bermuda triangle.

China Enters The Graveyard Of Empires (Escobar)

The latest plot twist in the endless historical saga of Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires has thrown up an intriguing new chapter. For the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a military base alongside Afghanistan’s border with China. “We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers,” Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, admitted to the AFP. On the record, the Chinese Foreign Ministry only admitted that Beijing was involved in “capacity-building” in Afghanistan, while NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, led by the United States, basically issued a “no comment.”

The military base will eventually be built in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. It is one of the most spectacular, barren and remote stretches of Central Asia and according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there. True to Sydney Wignall’s fabled Spy on the Roof of the World ethos, a great deal of shadow play is in effect. Apparently, this is basically about China’s own war on terror. Beijing’s strategic priority is to prevent Uyghur fighters of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who have been exiled in Afghanistan, crossing the Wakhan Corridor to carry out operations across Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China.

There is also the fear that ISIS or Daesh jihadis from Syria and Iraq may also use Afghanistan as a springboard to reach the country. Even though the jihad galaxy may be split, Beijing is concerned about ETIM. As early as September 2013, the capo of historic al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. Later, in July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh said: “Muslim rights [should be] forcibly seized in China, India and Palestine.” Then, on March 1, 2017, Daesh released a video announcing its presence in Afghanistan, with the terror group’s Uyghur jihadis vowing, on the record, to “shed blood like rivers” in Xinjiang. At the heart of the matter is China’s Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

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Empty politics.

China Pledges ‘Employment First’ Policies To Create Millions Of Jobs (R.)

China will boost its job creation effort and promote entrepreneurship this year, a spokeswoman for the top state planner said on Sunday, under pressure to find work for millions of unemployed people and new college graduates. Meng Wei of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said China needs to create jobs for 9.7 million people registered as unemployed and 8.2 million new college graduates, as well as workers affected by industrial capacity cuts. China’s urban-registered unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent last year and has remained generally stable despite slowing economic growth and the government forging ahead with plans to cut back industrial capacity.

Many analysts say, however, that the official data is an unreliable indicator of employment conditions because it only measures employment in urban areas and does not take into account the millions of migrant workers who form the bedrock of China’s labour force. “We will implement an employment-first strategy and more proactive employment policies…and vigorously promote employment and entrepreneurship,” Meng told a news conference on Sunday, adding that protecting jobs was fundamental to China’s stable growth policy. Authorities are counting on “new growth engines” such as technology and services to support job creation. Meng said China will create a policy environment that supports the digital economy and will promote the big data, artificial intelligence and industrial internet sectors.

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QE bankrolls the house.

Party On, Dudes (Jim Kunstler)

In June of 2008, US crude hit $144-a-barrel, a figure so harsh that it crippled economic activity — since just about everything we do depends on oil for making, enabling, and transporting stuff. The price and supply of oil became so problematic after the year 2000 that the US had to desperately engineer a work-around to keep this hyper-complex society operating. The “solution” was debt. If you can’t afford to run your society, then try borrowing from the future to keep your mojo working. The shale oil industry was a prime beneficiary of this new hyper-debt regime. The orgy of borrowing was primed by Federal Reserve “creation” of trillions of dollars of “capital” out of thin air (QE), along with supernaturally low interest rates on the borrowed money (ZIRP). The oil companies were desperate in 2008. They were, after all, in the business of producing… oil! (Duh….) — even if a giant company like BP pretended for a while that its initials stood for “Beyond Petroleum.”

The discovery of new oil had been heading down remorselessly for decades, to the point that the world was fatally short of replacing the oil it used every year with new supply. The last significant big fields — Alaska, the North Sea, and Siberia — had been discovered in the 1960s and we knew for sure that the first two were well past their peaks in the early 2000s. By 2005, most of the theoretically producible new oil was in places that were difficult and ultra-expensive to drill in: deep water, for instance, where you need a giant platform costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention armies of highly skilled (highly paid) technicians, plus helicopters to service the rigs. The financial risk (for instance, of drilling a “dry hole”) was matched by the environmental risk of a blowout, which is exactly what happened to BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, with clean-up costs estimated at $61 billion.

[..] The shale oil companies could get plenty of cash-flow going, but it all went to servicing their bonds or other “innovative” financing schemes, and for many of the companies the cash flow wasn’t even covering those costs. It cost at least six million dollars for each shale well, and it was in the nature of shale oil that the wells depleted so quickly that after Year Three they were pretty much done. But it was something to do, at least, if you were an oil company — an alternative to 1) doing no business at all, or 2) getting into some other line-of-work, like making yoga pants or gluten-free cupcakes.

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“..87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016-17..” “..more than 120 workers across a range of leading charities had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone..”

Oxfam Faces Losing Funding As Crisis Grows Over Abuse Claims (G.)

Oxfam was scrambling on Sunday night to contain a growing crisis over claims of sexual misconduct by aid workers before a crunch meeting on Monday that could see the charity stripped of its government funding. Amid anger from the government and the wider aid sector at revelations that Oxfam staff in Haiti paid prostitutes – possibly underage – for sex in 2011, the charity’s chair of trustees, Caroline Thomson, pledged to widen a review of its practices to include the Haiti allegations and admitted “anger and shame that behaviour like that … happened in our organisation”. She set out the steps Oxfam would take to avoid a similar scandal in future after the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, issued a damning rebuke to the charity. Mordaunt warned that it would receive no more public money unless it demonstrated “moral leadership” and handed over all information on aid workers’ alleged use of prostitutes on the island.

[..] Oxfam’s fight to secure its financial footing came after days of escalating stories about the conduct of its workers after revelations that staff in Haiti had been dismissed for using prostitutes for sex parties. Any hopes the charity’s leadership had that the scandal might quickly subside were dashed when it was reported in the Observer that Oxfam staff in Chad had also used prostitutes and when Oxfam’s own annual report resurfaced, showing it dealt with 87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016-17. Oxfam’s crisis threatened to spill across the charity sector on Sunday with reports that more than 120 workers across a range of leading charities had been accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone.

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Everyone in Haiti knew about this. And it’s not just Oxfam either.

Oxfam Reels From Prostitution Scandal (G.)

deep disgust at what they were hearing was tinged with a sense of inevitability for some. “We’ve all worked with people who’ve worked in Ethiopia, DRC, Haiti, Malawi, Thailand etc who’ve seen similar things across the entire sector,” said one Oxfam worker in the Middle East. Goldring, admired by staff as “deeply thoughtful”, set out the story – first a chronology of what happened in Haiti in 2011, and then a commentary on the issues it raised, including pointing out the dilemmas that the Oxfam staff handling the case faced. For example, he said, the charity didn’t report it to the Haitian police because it was concerned that could rebound adversely on the women involved.

He struck one attendee as “desperately keen to put across the point that we don’t think there was a cover-up because we didn’t hide that there was a problem in Haiti”. Only Oxfam hadn’t been open about what that problem was. Some staff also felt there was a “single-mindedness about the attack on Oxfam” that was not commensurate with the weight of what had happened in 2011. It was shocking and wrong, but some felt that the problems revealed were probably not unique to Oxfam. “I’m really frustrated at the Oxfam-only lens in this – granted what happened was horrific,” said one Oxfam worker abroad. “I’ve worked for [several other NGOs] and there just isn’t any type of policy or procedure in place for any of this stuff.”

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The people responsible for these decisions should be taken to court. Even -make that especially- politicians must be held to their own laws.

The UK’s Hidden Role In Assange’s Detention (Cook)

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade. Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case. In other words, for more than four years Assange has been holed up in a tiny room, policed at great cost to British taxpayers, not because of any allegations in Sweden but because the British authorities wanted him to remain there. On what possible grounds could that be, one has to wonder? Might it have something to do with his work as the head of Wikileaks, publishing information from whistleblowers that has severely embarrassed the United States and the UK.

In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents we support in other parts of the world. According to a new release of emails between officials, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service on 18 October 2013, warning that Swedish law would not allow the case to be continued. This was, remember, after Sweden had repeatedly failed to take up an offer from Assange to interview him at the embassy in London, as had happened in 44 other cases between Sweden and Britain.

Ny wrote to the CPS: “We have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.” Three days later, suggesting that legal concerns were far from anyone’s mind, she emailed the CPS again: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.” In a similar vein, proving that this was about politics, not the law, the chief CPS lawyer handling the case in the UK, had earlier written to the Swedish prosecutors: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

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Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Balthus Therèse dreaming 1938

 

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)
Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)
Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)
Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)
‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)
Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)
Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)
Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)
What Now? (Jim Kunstler)
The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)
Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)
Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)
Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)
US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)
Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

 

 

From a larger article by Lance, This is Nuts. A 40% crash is starting to sound like a lowball.

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)

Just how big could the next correction be? As stated above, just a correction back to the initial “critical support” set at the 2016 lows would equate to a 29.1% decline. However, the risk, as noted above, is that a correction of that magnitude would begin to trigger margin calls, junk bond defaults, blow up the “VIX” short-carry and trigger a wave of automated selling as the algorithms begin to sell in tandem. Such a combination of events could conceivably push markets to either strong support at the previous two bull market peaks or to support at the 2011 peak which coincides with the topping formations of 2000 and 2007. Such a correction would entail either a 41.1% to 49.2% decline.

I won’t even mention the remote, but real, possibility of a nearly 75% retracement to the previous lows of the last two “bear markets.” That can’t happen you say? It wouldn’t even match the decline following the 1929 crash of 85%. Furthermore, as technical analyst J. Brett Freeze, CFA, recently noted: “The Wave Principle suggests that the S&P 500 Index is completing a 60-year, five-wave motive structure. If this analysis is correct, it also suggests that a multi-year, three-wave corrective structure is immediately ahead. We do not make explicit price forecasts, but the Wave Principle proposes to us that, at a minimum, the lows of 2009 will be surpassed as the corrective structure completes.” Anything is possible.

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Behing every bubble there is fraud.

Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)

Back in April/May, Canada’s biggest mortgage lender, Home Capital Group, crashed its way into the headlines, coming clean over its balance sheet-full of liar loans, suffered a bank run, and was forced to take emergency liquidty from taxpaying pensioners, and was eventually bailed out by good old Warren Buffett. “Probably nothing…”

Well just when everyone though that crisis was over, a second cockroach in the Canadian mortgage bubble fiasco just emerged… Laurentian Bank of Canada fell the most in almost nine years after reporting it found customer misrepresentations on some mortgage loans it sold to another firm.

Echoing problems that almost sunk Home Capital Group, Bloomberg reports that: An audit “identified documentation issues and client misrepresentations” with some mortgages from its B2B Bank unit that were sold to a third-party firm, the lender said Tuesday in its annual report. Laurentian said it will repurchase about C$89 million ($70 million) of those mortgages in the first quarter, or 4.9% of such loans sold to the firm. It will buy back an additional C$91 million of mortgages “inadvertently” sold to the firm, also in the first quarter. Just as we saw with Home Capital, the CEO initially shrugged it off as immaterial: “This is largely a documentation and securitization-eligibility issue,” Chief Executive Officer Francois Desjardins said in a call with analysts. “It is not material for the bank, its operations, its funding nor its capital. We have worked to change processes to ensure that this issue is resolved.”

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Pop.

Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)

Canada’s largest housing market continues to see prices fall amid a widening pool of homes for sale, though there are signs the correction is beginning to lure in some new buyers. The Toronto Real Estate Board’s benchmark home price index fell for the sixth consecutive month, down another 0.4% from October. The index has fallen 8.8% since May – the largest six-month decline in the history of data back to 2000. For the first time since 2009, the average price of a home sold in Toronto – at C$761,757 ($600,991) in November – failed to surpass levels from a year earlier.

Toronto’s housing market, dubbed one of the riskiest housing bubble cities by UBS, has slumped over the past few months amid government rules and harsher mortgage guidelines aimed at curbing demand. That’s coincided with a sharp increase in supply with new listings up 37% from a year earlier. [..] Toronto realtors sold 7,374 units in November. While that’s down 13% from a year earlier, the number is one of the highest readings for the month over the past decade. The correction in Toronto’s housing market has been primarily in Toronto’s detached market, where average prices surpassed C$1.2 million earlier this year. The price index for single family detached homes is down 12% since May. The condominium price index is little changed from record levels earlier this year.

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“..the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government..”

Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)

I deplore the tax cut that has passed Congress. It is not an economic policy tax cut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with supply-side economics. The entire purpose is to raise equity prices by providing equity owners with more capital gains and dividends. In other words, it is legislation that makes equity owners richer, thus further polarizing society into a vast arena of poverty and near-poverty and the One%, or more precisely a fraction of the One% wallowing in billions of dollars. Unless our rulers can continue to control the explanations, the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government. The current tax legislation drops the corporate tax rate to 20%. This means that global corporations registered in the US will be taxed at a lower income tax rate than a licensed practical nurse making $50,000 per year.

The nurse, if single, faces in 2017 a 25% marginal tax rate on all income over $37,950. A single person is taxed at a rate of 33% on all income above $191,651. 33% was the top tax rate extracted from medieval serfs, and approaches the tax rate on US 19th century slaves. Such an upper middle class income as $191,651 sounds extraordinary to most Americans, but it is so far from the multi-million dollar annual incomes of the rich as to be invisible. In America, it is the shrinking middle and upper middle class incomes that bear the burden of income taxation. The rich with their capital gains from their equity holdings are taxed at 15%. Even single individuals who earn between $1 and $9,325 are taxed at 10% on their pittance.

The neoliberal economists who are the shills for the rich, Wall Street, and the Banks-Too-Big-Too-Fail claim, erroneously, that by cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20% all sorts of offshored profits will be brought back to the US and lead to a booming economy and higher wages. This is absolute total nonsense. The money won’t come back, because it is invested abroad where labor costs are lower, if invested at all instead of buying back the corporation’s stock or buying other existing companies. After 20 years of offshoring US manufacturing and professional tradable skills and the incomes associated with the jobs, who is going to invest in America? The American population has no income with which to purchase the goods and services from new investment, and the American population’s credit cards are maxed out.

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“We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg..”

‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)

Theresa May has less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open the way to trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatience within the EU over her handling of the process. EU negotiators expect the prime minister to return to Brussels very soon, but have said time is running out to strike a deal at a European summit next week. “The show is now in London,” said the chief spokesman of the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. “We stand ready here in the commission to resume talks with the United Kingdom at any moment in time when we get the sign that London is ready.” While the next “final” deadline for stage one has not been defined publicly, several EU sources said the deal would have to be struck by the end of the week, with either Friday or Sunday as the last resort.

One EU ambassador told the Guardian the failure to reach a deal on Northern Ireland was a microcosm of a wider problem. “At root the problem is that [May] seems incapable of making a decision and is afraid of her own shadow,” the source said. “We cannot go on like this, with no idea what the UK wants. She just has to have the conversation with her own cabinet, and if that upsets someone, or someone resigns, so be it. She has to say what kind of trading relationship she is seeking. We cannot do it for her, and she cannot defer forever.” For weeks, European officials have walked a tightrope between sticking to the EU’s tough negotiating stance and seeking to avoid action or words that could destabilise the fragile May government. “We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg,” said one EU source in the run-up to Monday’s talks, suggesting that if “the realities of the world” dawned too soon, the British government could become more fragile.

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Cats in a sack.

Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from inside her Cabinet over her plan to keep U.K. regulations aligned with the European Union after Brexit, a split that threatens to undermine her hopes of breaking the deadlock in negotiations. Efforts to rescue Brexit talks from an embarrassing breakdown on Monday prompted fresh divisions in the U.K. Cabinet on Tuesday, as leading Brexit-backers challenged the prime minister just days before a key deadline in talks. Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament he wanted the whole country to remain close to EU economic regulations after the split, a move that could have helped unblock talks that broke down over the issue of the Irish border.

Keeping the whole U.K. close to EU regulation would make it easier to avoid a border on the island of Ireland without putting up a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The prospect of a border within the U.K. is a red line for the Northern Irish party that keeps Theresa May in power in London. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who together led the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum, raised concerns about the plan, according to people familiar with the matter. The ministers believe the proposals threaten to dilute Brexit and Johnson raised his fears during a meeting of May’s Cabinet on Tuesday. Part of the Brexit narrative in the last 18 months has been that the split will allow the U.K. to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world.

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“What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure.”

Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)

British voters increasingly think Brexit is being mishandled. But that doesn’t mean they’re turning their backs on the idea of abandoning the EU – just on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government. A report by the National Centre For Social Research published Wednesday found that 52% of people believe the country will get a bad deal, compared to 37% in February, a month before May began divorce proceedings. Even before this week’s embarrassing breakdown, only one in five Brits said the government was handling the talks well. Among those supporting Brexit, 61% thought May was conducting talks badly. The survey of 2,200 people was completed in October, before reports that May was increasing the amount of money she was willing to pay to leave and also before the recent dramatic turn of events that has May at the mercy of a Northern Irish ally.

The findings speak to the sense of disconnect between how the population feels about a process they triggered with the 2016 referendum – and the political realities of a fragile government riven with divisions and bogged down in increasingly technical negotiations. The survey found little change in people’s attitude to Brexit itself. [..] this suggests that rather than regretting their vote, Leave supporters are coming to see it as a good idea badly implemented, something that could help Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party. While Britons wonder what is going on – and perhaps even why leaving needs to be so complicated – the EU gave May until the end of the week to deliver a solution to an intractable problem – how to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Northern Ireland leaves the bloc along with the rest of the U.K.

Britain needs to provide an answer that satisfies all sides to move on to trade. What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure. She set the clock for Britain’s exit in March 2019 and was relying on a summit next week to get EU leaders to allow discussions to begin on commerce, as well as a grace period to give businesses time to adapt.

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Merkel blinking will have far reaching repercussions. But Europeans don’t want more centralization.

Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker never lets others outshine him if he spots an opportunity to give the European project a boost. And that goes for friends and enemies alike. Indeed, the European Commission president has now come up with a project that not only transgressions the mandate given him by the leaders of the European Union member states, but also pits him against all the Eurozone finance ministers as well. Juncker was supposed to reach an agreement with finance ministers from the common currency area on proposals for deepening European integration he will present at the forthcoming EU summit later this month. Plans for greater EU integration are currently in vogue, a trend started by French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented his ideas for a better Europe two days after the German election in late September.

But instead of getting the finance ministers on board, Juncker has embarked on an ego trip. On Wednesday, the Commission is to present its plan without any input from the finance ministers whatsoever. The Eurogroup of 19 Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday and on Tuesday it was the turn of Ecofin, which represents the EU finance ministers, but officially neither group was consulted on the Commission’s plans. “The entire approach is a disaster,” one participant complained. And because the national experts had no input, it’s unlikely that EU heads of state and government will do more than simply take note of Juncker’s proposals. The timing is an expression of rivalry between the Commission and the EU member states when it comes to questions relating to theeconomic and currency union. And the finance ministers aren’t likely to be impressed with the content, either. After all, the Commission’s proposals are designed to increase its own influence at the expense of the member states.

But there is more at stake than just a few bruised Brussels egos. The clash over competencies between European institutions risks torpedoing the French president’s drive for reform. For the first time in years, the French have seized the opportunity to once again set the tone in the EU. Yet, their call to arms is being met with hardly any response. Germany is preoccupied with forming a new government – and nothing much happens in Brussels without Chancellor Angela Merkel. Juncker, though, does not want to stand accused of wasting the chance to implement reforms. His central idea is to turn the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, into an EU institution.

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How much longer for Mueller now the WSJ has called for his head?

What Now? (Jim Kunstler)

“Contact with Russians.” Grown men and women, doubling and re-doubling down on a political fantasy, repeat this prayer hour after hour on the cable channels and Web waves as if trying to exorcise a nation possessed by the unholy hosts of Hell. But such vicars of the news as Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, and Dean Baquet (of The New York Times) only shove the country closer to a cliff of constitutional crisis. To a certain class of people — a class that includes a lot of Intellectuals-Yet-Idiots, as Nassim Taleb has dubbed them — President Donald Trump is a figure of supernatural malignity who must be ousted at all costs. I did not vote for Donald Trump and I do not admire him; but I rather resent the dishonesty that is being marshaled against him, especially the mis-use of judicial procedure and the mendacious propagandizing of the nation in service to that end.

This is what it comes down to: General Mike Flynn, designated National Security Advisor, conferred with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 election about two pressing matters: a vote in the UN orchestrated against Israel, and sanctions imposed against Russia by outgoing President Obama on December 28, two weeks before the inauguration. Both these matters could be viewed as bits of mischief designed deliberately to create foreign policy problems for the incoming administration. Flynn’s discussions with Ambassador Kislyak amounted to what are called “back channel talks.” These informal, probing communications occur all the time and everywhere in American foreign policy, especially the transitional months every four or eight years when a new president comes in. They are necessarily secret because they concern issues of high sensitivity.

Every incoming presidential staff in my lifetime (going back to Dwight Eisenhower) has conducted back-channel talks with foreign diplomats in order to directly assess where things stand, minus public posturing and bloviating. And so that is what Mike Flynn did, as incoming National Security Advisor, after an eight-year run of worsening relations with Russia under Obama that Trump publicly pledged to improve. And now he’s been charged with lying to the FBI about it. Which raises some enormous and troubling questions well beyond the simple charge, questions that suggest a US government at war against itself.

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What’s America without grizzlies?

The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears. If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat. Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups [..] Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context. Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears? Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

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But politicians talk of growth.

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

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A few hundred have been moved, but thousands more must be.

Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)

Humanitarian groups have warned of a looming emergency on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the day after residents converged on Athens in protest at policies that have seen thousands of migrants and refugees marooned in reception centres. A surge in arrivals from neighbouring Turkey has seen numbers soar with officials speaking of a four-fold increase in men, women and children seeking asylum on Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos and Samos. Conditions are deteriorating in the vastly overcrowded camps in a situation that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday warned was “beyond desperate”. “In Lesbos, entire families who recently arrived from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are packed into small summer tents, under the rain and in low temperatures struggling to keep dry and warm,” said Aria Danika, MSF’s project coordinator on the island.

“In our mental health clinic we have received an average of 10 patients with acute mental distress every day, including many who tried to kill themselves or self-harm. The situation on the island was already terrible. Now it’s beyond desperate.” Demonstrators – led by delegations of officials from Chios, Lesbos and Samos – gathered in the Athens sunshine on Tuesday to demand that the government move people out of camps. “Action has to be taken now, before it is too late,” said Panos Pitsios, president of the town council of Mytilene, Lesbos’s capital. “We are heading towards an eruption, a situation that is on the verge of getting out of control.”

The strategy of stranding migrants and refugees in remote camps where tensions have also mounted between rival ethnicities has also been condemned by human rights groups. Organisations increasingly fear that unless asylum seekers are transferred to the mainland where facilities are less crowded and better equipped, thousands could be left out in the cold as winter approaches.

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Biblical proportions.

Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)

The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe. Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya. More than six million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, according to a classified German government report leaked to Bild. The report said that one million people are waiting in Libya; another one million are waiting in Egypt, 720,000 in Jordan, 430,000 in Algeria, 160,000 in Tunisia, and 50,000 in Morocco.

More than three million others who are waiting in Turkey are currently prevented from crossing into Europe by the EU’s migrant deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as a million migrants from countries across Africa are already on the way to Libya and Europe. The EU’s efforts to train a Libyan coast guard was “too little and too late,” he said. “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.” The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is “underestimating” the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that “millions of Africans” will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.

In an interview with Il Messagero, Tajani said there would be an exodus “of biblical proportions that would be impossible to stop” if Europe failed to confront the problem now: “Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave. “When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years. “Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”

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Recovery.

US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)

America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study. The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7% increase over last year. It suggests that despite a fizzy stock market and a burgeoning gross domestic product, the poorest Americans are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. “The improved economy is a good thing, but it does put pressure on the rental market, which does put pressure on the poorest Angelenos,” said Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles homelessness agency. The most dramatic spike in the nation was in his region, where a record 55,000 people were counted. “Clearly we have an outsize effect on the national homelessness picture.”

Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which produced the report, said in a statement: “This is not a federal problem – it’s everybody’s problem.” Advocates who have witnessed the homelessness crisis unfold since it emerged in the early 1980s are grimly astonished by its persistence. “I never in a million years thought that it would drag on for three decades with no end in sight,” said Bob Erlenbusch, who began working in Los Angeles in 1984. The government mandates that cities and regions perform a homeless street count every two years, when volunteers fan out everywhere from frozen parks in Anchorage to palm-lined streets in Beverly Hills and enumerate people by hand. Those numbers are combined with the total staying in shelters and temporary housing. The tally is considered a crucial indicator of broad trends, but owing to the difficulties involved it is also widely regarded as an undercount.

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There is neither a valid reason nor a justification for this. It’s simply a lack of basic values.

Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

Nearly 130,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas as child homelessness reaches a 10-year high, new research shows. The number of youngsters who will be spending the festive period in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels – often with a single room for the whole family and no kitchen – is up 7% on last year, amounting to an additional 8,000 children, according to a report by charity Shelter. Interviews carried out by the charity reveal a quarter of families in temporary accommodation have no access to a kitchen, with many having to eat meals on the bed or floor of their room. The vast majority live in a single room, with more than a third of parents saying they have to share a bed with their children.

An analysis of government figures by Shelter shows that one in every 111 children is currently homeless in the UK, with at least 140 families becoming homeless every day. In England, where the highest number of families are placed into B&Bs, 45% stay beyond the six-week legal limit. The report also lays bare the psychological turmoil experienced by families living in these cramped conditions for often long periods of time, with three-quarters of parents saying their children’s mental health had been badly affected by living in such settings.

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Oct 102017
 
 October 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Pissarro Rue Saint-Lazare, Paris 1897

 

Britain Can’t Cope With A Fall In House Prices (Ind.)
A Remarkable Run for Stocks Gets More Extraordinary (BBG)
Bill Gross Blames Fed For ‘Fake Markets’ (R.)
ECB’s Knot Warns of Market Correction as Risk May Be Underpriced (BBG)
Catalan President To Declare “Gradual Independence” On Tuesday (ZH)
Dear Catalans – A Message From The Chairman (Ren.)
The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron (Steve Keen)
Kobe Steel Faked Data For Metals Used In Planes And Cars (BBG)
Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, Theresa May Warns Britain (Ind.)
The Rising Of Britain’s ‘New Politics’ (John Pilger)
Saudi Arabia In Huge Arms Deals With US AND Russia (N.au)
India Had The Most Confident Consumers. Then Their Cash Disappeared (BBG)
The Big Amazon Subsidy is Doomed (WS)
No Joy in Trumpville (Kunstler)

 

 

Britain and many other countries. Their economies are propped up by bubbles.

Britain Can’t Cope With A Fall In House Prices (Ind.)

[..] most properties in the UK still belong to households. Families, by and large, don’t need to sell. So what would falling property prices mean for them? First, many pension funds and investment bonds rely on UK property to generate income for their beneficiaries. Second, we have what economists call the wealth effect. Economists have long associated consumers’ perceived real estate wealth with spending behaviour: if you believe your house is worth a lot, you feel financially secure. And then you allow yourself to save less and spend more. Just consider the rising number of people who plan to subsidise their retirement with wealth generated by their homes. If their assumed valuations start to look shaky, these people will spend less to build up their savings. The pain would be felt by many: about 64% of households in England are owner-occupiers.

The wealth effect is important in most developed economies but even more so in the UK which relies on ever-rising levels of consumer spending for its growth. A 10% fall in the value of dwellings in the UK would correspond to a loss of wealth equivalent to more than the value of all the cars exported from the UK in a decade. The climate of economic uncertainty, reduced consumption and falling real estate values brings an additional problem for the UK. Britain has long had a trade deficit, but it has also benefited from positive foreign direct investment. The current account itself has been in the red for nearly 20 years now but the hundreds of billions of inward foreign investment channelled to UK property over the same period meant that this deficit remained manageable – just about.

According to the Bank of England, overseas companies have accounted for roughly half of all UK commercial real estate transactions since 2013. If international investors expect prices to fall in any sustained way, the inflow of money would stop and many would sell up. Why buy or hold an asset just at the start of what might be a long decline? This would not only put pressure on real estate prices but would affect UK GDP, reduce government revenues and worsen the UK current account position. The credit rating of the UK would come under more pressure, and trillions of UK government debt would cost more to refinance. Then the UK government deficit would deteriorate further, taxes might rise to cover for this and the domino effect would be in full cry, spreading to all sectors of the economy, similar to events in Greece.

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Bloated. No heartbeat.

A Remarkable Run for Stocks Gets More Extraordinary (BBG)

With a 2% gain in September, the S&P 500 Index has set a record: positive returns in each of the first 10 months of the year. There’s never been a full calendar year when this has happened every month. Going back to November 2016, the index has ripped off 12 consecutive monthly gains. The S&P hasn’t had a down quarter since the third quarter of 2015, a streak of eight in a row without a loss. Since the start of 2013, 18 of the past 19 quarters have been positive. And it’s not like stocks are melting up either. They are going up slowly as volatility is slowly going down. Not only have stocks been consistently profitable recently, but they have done so with remarkably low volatility. This year, there has yet to be a 2% move up or down on the S&P 500.

For a frame of reference, in 2009, there were 55 separate 2% up or down days and there were 35 in 2011. The annualized volatility of daily returns on stocks since 1928 has been 18.7%. For 2017, that number is 7%, a little more than one-third of the long-term average. The average absolute daily price change this year on the S&P 500 is just 31 basis points. If the year ended right now, that would be the lowest daily price change on record since 1965. The worst peak-to-trough drawdown is just 2.8% this year. Over the past 100 years, the average intrayear drawdown in stocks has been around 16%. The shallowest calendar-year peak-to-trough drawdown was in 1995, when the worst loss in stocks was just 3.3% for the year.

So investors in U.S. stocks have had double-digit gains three-quarters of the way through the year, with increases every month, nonexistent volatility, and nothing even approaching a 5% correction. It’s looking like a record-breaking year in terms of a calm market. As far as investing in stocks goes, this year has been about as good as it gets – so far. It’s worth remembering that stocks are cyclical, even if those cycles don’t run on set schedules. The following shows the historical drawdown profile of the S&P 500 going back to just before the Great Depression:

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There are no investors: “There is no real advantage in the global marketplace. Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.”

Bill Gross Blames Fed For ‘Fake Markets’ (R.)

Influential bond investor Bill Gross of Janus Henderson Investors said on Monday that financial markets are artificially compressed and capitalism distorted because of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy. “I think we have fake markets,” Gross said at a Janus Henderson event. Investors should brace for higher Treasury bond yields as the Fed begins to unwind its quantitative easing program but yields will edge up “only gradually,” he said. Gross, who oversees the $2.1 billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said the Fed’s loose monetary policy had resulted in investors chasing yield and thus producing tight corporate spreads everywhere around the globe.

“Even China and South Korea – perfect examples of the risk trade – are at very narrow (corporate spread) levels. There is no real advantage in the global marketplace. Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.” Gross reiterated his warning that Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other global policy makers should not rely on historical models such as the Taylor Rule and the Phillips curve “in an era of extraordinary monetary policy.” Economists John Taylor and A.W. Phillips devised models for guiding interest-rate policy based, respectively, on inflation and the unemployment rate. Those models disregard the importance of private credit in the economy, according to Gross.

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In complete denial of what they have wrought.

ECB’s Knot Warns of Market Correction as Risk May Be Underpriced (BBG)

Financial markets may be underpricing global risks, leaving them vulnerable to a major correction, according to European Central Bank Governing Council member Klaas Knot warned. As global stocks surge, measures of volatility suggest unprecedented calm even as crises around the world – including the Catalan separatists in Spain, Turkey’s diplomatic row with the U.S., North Korea’s missile tests and the danger of a hard Brexit – make political headlines. “It increasingly feels uncomfortable to have low volatility in the markets on the one hand while on the other hand there are risks in the global economy,” said Knot, who is also the president of the Dutch Central Bank.

Similarly, a sooner-than-expected normalization of U.S. monetary policy – where financial markets see a slower pace of rate hikes than what the Federal Reserve communicates – would quickly turn investor sentiment, the DNB wrote in a report on financial stability which Knot presented in Amsterdam on Monday. That makes the “risk of sharp market corrections real,” it said. Still, Knot said there’s “no one within the context of the ECB already talking about an increase of interest rates. Rates will “stay low for a long time.” In the run-up to the next policy decision on Oct. 26, ECB officials are showing differing preferences for the way forward with quantitative easing, which is set to run at €60 billion a month and total almost €2.3 trillion by the end of December.

Executive Board member Peter Praet, who crafts the policy proposals, said last week that calm markets may allow the final stages of the bond-buying plan to be dragged out. “The program has achieved what realistically could be expected from it,” Knot said about QE, adding that it supported growth, reduced investment costs and ended deflationary risks.

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Talk!

Catalan President To Declare “Gradual Independence” On Tuesday (ZH)

In the latest twist ahead of tomorrow’s much anticipated “next step” announcement to be made by the Catalan secessionists, which is still to be formalized, Spain’s EFE newswire reports that Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont has reportedly drafted a declaration of “gradual independence”, that will be “gradually effective” and which will plan to start a constituent process. The declaration, which will cap what El Periodico dubbed “the most critical moment for Catalonia” will allegedly insist on Catalonia’s wish to negotiate with central government and the need for mediation, although in an indication that Puigdemont may be back tracking from his hard-line “binary” stance, EFE adds that the Declaration won’t lead to parliamentary vote, and as such may be non-binding. The news is the latest development in a fast-paced day, in which as we reported earlier this morning, the ruling People’s Party issued a thinly veiled death threat to the President of Catalonia.

“Let’s hope that nothing is declared tomorrow because perhaps the person who makes the decalartion will end up like the person who made the declaration 83 years ago.” Additionally, perhaps as a Plan B, Catalan secessionists opened a second-front in their campaign against the government in Madrid, urging the opposition Socialists to forge a coalition to oust Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Bloomberg reported and added that while the Socialists have so far refused to sign up to the plan, the Catalan groups pushing it have already persuaded the populist Podemos party to back and accept a Socialist-only government. Should the Socialists get on board, the alliance would have 172 seats in the 350-strong chamber and would look to add the Basque Nationalists to form a majority. Rajoy heads a minority administration with 134 deputies and can be toppled with a no-confidence motion.

Meanwhile, as reported overnight, Catalan secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont faced increased pressure on Monday to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, with France and Germany expressing support for the country’s unity. The Madrid government, grappling with Spain’s biggest political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981, said it would respond immediately to any such unilateral declaration.

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But then there’s this.

Dear Catalans – A Message From The Chairman (Ren.)

Dear Catalans, I must confess that I feel rather like St. Paul must have felt when he wrote to the Corinthians – the need to address an entire region is a grave affair. But the matter I must address today is of great importance to our community of nations: Enough is enough. We need to get a few things cleared up before this regrettable idea of independence goes any further. There are a number of things that have been rather opaque since we set up the EU. This was deliberate – there was simply no reason for you to know until now. There should never have been any need to disclose this information, and indeed there wouldn’t have been, were it not for those tiresome Brits setting such a terrible example for everyone last year. We must resolve this matter quickly so that we can all get back to the business of being one big happy family again. Here’s what you need to know: We ‘own’ Spain, and Spain ‘owns’ you.

Since you have seen reason to doubt the binding nature of this arrangement, perhaps I should explain to you how it works: Catalonia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Spain – this is all covered in the constitution, and is totally binding, although you may not have realised that when you voted upon it. 1) It was democratic you see – one simply must read the small print, but of course one never does, does one? 2) Spain is a subsidiary of the EU – this is all covered by EU treaty, which of course is also binding, as has been explained on a number of occasions by our Head of European Political Operations, dear Jean-Claude. The following points may be difficult for you to understand, because we’ve never had to explain the structure beyond this point.

3) The EU is not owned by anyone, but of course ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ are really the same thing, but without all the legal drudgery that has become so tiresome of late. 4) The EU is controlled by the monetary system that we put in place. I am not referring to the euro, which is simply the local mechanism for this region. I am referring to the banking system, which over-arches everything. The banks are the organisations that loan the money into existence in the first place. You didn’t know that did you? Don’t worry, very few people do…and that’s worked very well until now. This is how it works: a) Governments don’t actually buy anything with taxes. They spend money that the banks loan to them by buying their IOUs, AKA sovereign bonds. b) When governments eventually get round to collecting taxes they use them to cancel some of their IOUs, plus they pay interest on all of them – naturally.

c) Since all politicians inevitably make promises that they can’t afford in order to get elected – a practice that we encourage by funding both sides – there is never enough taxation collected to fully redeem the IOUs, and there never will be. Why not? Because of the 8th wonder of the world – compound interest! Governments across the globe are paying the banks interest on interest on interest on money that they could have just printed for themselves in the first place!

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Major demo’s all over France today. Macron plans to fire 100,000+ civil servants.

The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron (Steve Keen)

Since his election, Macron’s popularity has plunged faster than any French president in history. Attempts to explain this decline have focused on his pompous approach to governance—literally professing to want to govern like Jupiter. But there is a deeper cause. He has misdiagnosed the origins of the French economic malaise, and therefore his Jovian economic thunderbolts will do more harm than good. It’s easy to show the blatant errors in the president’s perspective by merely looking at the data. Macron’s economic agenda cites an excessively large public sector as the fundamental cause of France’s malaise, and the main ‘Evidence for the Prosecution’ is the towering level of government debt: as of March 2017, this was 111% of GDP, almost twice the 60% of GDP maximum allowed by the Maastricht Treaty.

But private liabilities are worse still: 187% of GDP. So, why does Macron, in common with politicians of almost all stripes, not worry about this far higher level of debt? The reason is that, given he was schooled in mainstream economics for his Master’s degree at ENA (École Nationale d’administration), Macron accepts the argument that private debt doesn’t matter. It’s just a “pure redistribution”, to quote Ben Bernanke, which “absent implausibly large differences in marginal spending propensities” between savers and lenders, “should have no significant macroeconomic effects.” This comforting belief is sharply contradicted by the data for countries which, like France, have a private debt ratio well in excess of 100% of GDP. If Bernanke’s assumption were correct, there would be little or no correlation between credit (the annual change in private debt) and unemployment.

However, in his home country of the USA, the relationship between credit and unemployment since 1990 is minus 0.91: meaning rising credit reduces unemployment, and falling credit increases it. In France’s case, the correlation is lower but still substantial at minus 0.62, when according to mainstream economics, it should be close to zero. So credit matters, not merely because savers are much less likely to consume than debtors, but because bank credit creates new money. Since this new cash is spent by the borrowers, it adds to aggregate demand. And falling credit over time—which France has generally been experiencing since the early 1970s—therefore implies rising unemployment.

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This could spiral out of control. Why would any company take the risk of deadly incidents, instead of demanding recalls?

Kobe Steel Faked Data For Metals Used In Planes And Cars (BBG)

Kobe Steel unleashed an industrial scandal that reverberated across Asia’s second-largest economy after saying its staff falsified data related to strength and durability of some aluminum and copper products used in aircraft, cars and maybe even a space rocket. The Japanese company’s stock ended 22% lower in Tokyo as customers including Toyota, Honda and Subaru said they had used materials from Kobe Steel that were subject to falsification. Boeing, which gets some parts from Subaru, said there’s nothing to date that raises any safety concerns. Rival aluminum makers gained. Kobe Steel’s admission raises fresh concern about the integrity of Japanese manufacturers, and follows Takata misleading automakers about the safety of its air bags, and last week’s recall by Nissan of cars after regulators discovered unauthorized inspectors approved vehicle quality.

Kobe Steel said on Sunday the products were delivered to more than 200 companies but didn’t disclose customer names, with the falsification intended to make the metals look as if they met client quality standards. Chief Executive Officer Hiroya Kawasaki is now leading a committee to probe quality issues. The fabrication of figures was found at all four of Kobe Steel’s local aluminum plants in conduct that was systematic, and for some items the practice dated back some 10 years ago, Executive Vice President Naoto Umehara said on Sunday. Toyota said it has found Kobe Steel materials, for which the supplier falsified data, in hoods, doors and peripheral areas. “We are rapidly working to identify which vehicle models might be subject to this situation and what components were used,” Toyota spokesman Takashi Ogawa said. “We recognize that this breach of compliance principles on the part of a supplier is a grave issue.”

Kobe Steel said it discovered the falsification in inspections on products shipped from September 2016 to August 2017, adding there haven’t been any reports of safety issues. The products account for 4% of shipments of aluminum and copper parts as well as castings and forgings. “The incident is serious,” said Takeshi Irisawa at Tachibana Securities. “At the moment, the impact is unclear but if this leads to recalls, the cost would be huge. There’s a possibility that the company would have to shoulder the cost of a recall in addition to the cost for replacement.”

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We might be in for some crazy surprises in the UK. They’ve lost the script.

Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, Theresa May Warns Britain (Ind.)

Theresa May has warned the British public to prepare for crashing out of the EU with no deal, setting out emergency plans to avoid border meltdown for businesses and travellers. As hopes of an agreement appeared to fade at home and abroad, the Prime Minister – for the first time – set out detailed “steps to minimise disruption” on Brexit day in 2019. They included plans for huge inland lorry parks to cope with the lengthy new customs checks that will be needed – to avoid ports becoming traffic-choked. The move came as Ms May admitted she expected the deadlocked negotiations to drag on for another year before any possible breakthrough. At Westminster, Brexiteer Tories exploited the Prime Minister’s weakness – after last week’s attempted coup – to demand that Chancellor Philip Hammond, and other voices of compromise, be sidelined.

Bernard Jenkin attacked the EU for “refusing to discuss the long term relationship between the EU and the UK”, asking the Prime Minister: “When does she call time?” Meanwhile, in Brussels, Ms May’s insistence that she would make no further compromises in the talks – she told the EU “the ball’s in their court” – was firmly rebuffed. “There has been, so far, no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK’s court for the rest to happen,” said Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief spokesman. Laying bare the impasse, Brexit Secretary David Davis did not attend the first day of the resumed talks, although he is expected to be in Brussels on Tuesday.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister continued to insist that “real and tangible progress” towards an agreement had been made since her high-profile speech in Florence last month. But she also made clear that new policy papers on trade and customs were intended to show Britain could operate as an “independent trading nation” – even if no trade deal was reached.

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Always Pilger.

The Rising Of Britain’s ‘New Politics’ (John Pilger)

Delegates to the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton seemed not to notice a video playing. The world’s third biggest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, supplier to Saudi Arabia, was promoting guns, bombs, missiles, naval ships and fighter aircraft. It seemed a perfidious symbol of a party in which millions of Britons now invest their political hopes. Once the preserve of Tony Blair, it is now led by Jeremy Corbyn, whose career has been very different and is rare in British establishment politics. Addressing the conference, the campaigner Naomi Klein described the rise of Corbyn as “part of a global phenomenon. We saw it in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries, powered by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe future.”

In fact, at the end of the US primary elections last year, Sanders led his followers into the arms of Hillary Clinton, a liberal warmonger from a long tradition in the Democratic Party. As President Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton presided over the invasion of Libya in 2011, which led to a stampede of refugees to Europe. She gloated at the gruesome murder of Libya’s president. Two years earlier, Clinton signed off on a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. That she has been invited to Wales on 14 October to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Swansea because she is “synonymous with human rights” is unfathomable. Like Clinton, Sanders is a cold-warrior and “anti-communist” obsessive with a proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States.

He supported Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s illegal assault on Yugoslavia in 1998 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, as well as Barack Obama’s campaign of terrorism by drone. He backs the provocation of Russia and agrees that the whistleblower Edward Snowden should stand trial. He has called the late Hugo Chavez – a social democrat who won multiple elections – “a dead communist dictator”. While Sanders is a familiar American liberal politician, Corbyn may be a phenomenon, with his indefatigable support for the victims of American and British imperial adventures and for popular resistance movements. [..] And yet, now Corbyn is closer to power than he might have ever imagined, his foreign policy remains a secret. By secret, I mean there has been rhetoric and little else. “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy,” he said at the Labour conference. But what are these “values”?

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Stop!

Saudi Arabia In Huge Arms Deals With US AND Russia (N.au)

Saudi Arabia has been quietly planning to build its own military empire and over the last week, it’s announced how it plans to do so. With Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s help. Despite increasing criticism over the United States’ military sales to Saudi Arabia, the US State Department has paved the way for the potential purchase of controversial — and expensive — military equipment. On Saturday, the US State Department announced the approval to sell Saudi Arabia 44 THAAD anti-missile defence systems, 360 interceptor missiles, 16 mobile fire-control and communication stations and seven THAAD radars at an estimated price tag of $US15 billion, according to a press release from the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

The sale, supplied by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – also includes 43 trucks, generators, electrical power units, communications equipment, tools, test and maintenance equipment and “personnel training and training equipment”. The department said the sale of the equipment to the Saudi people would help provide a balance to a relatively unstable environment in the Gulf and to help the US forces enlarge its allied grip on the region. “THAAD’s exo-atmospheric, hit-to-kill capability will add an upper-tier to Saudi Arabia’s layered missile defence architecture.” Meanwhile, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has entered into a preliminary agreement to purchase Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system, he announced in Moscow last week. The king has been visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in talks over oil and Syria, Saudi’s al Arabiya television reported. It is the first visit of a Saudi monarch to visit Mr Putin. It is expected the sale will beef-up security in the nuclear-hungry Middle East.

The US sale has not yet “concluded”, it confirmed. US Congress has 30 days to object. The THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – missile system is used to defend against incoming missile attacks and “is one of the most capable defensive missile batteries in the US arsenal and comes equipped with an advanced radar system”, according to AFP. “This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the State Department said in a statement.

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“Manufacturing jobs are forecast to fall about 30% this year..”

India Had The Most Confident Consumers. Then Their Cash Disappeared (BBG)

Consumption was India’s big story. Its 1.3 billion population was expected to guzzle everything from iron to iPhones, driving global growth and cheering investors such as Apple and Goldman Sachs. For a while everything seemed smooth. Indians were the world’s most confident consumers and the $2 trillion economy was the fastest-growing big market. Then, last November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi voided 86% of currency in circulation, worsening a slowdown that had started earlier in the year. Climbing global oil prices and a tightening Federal Reserve could also complicate domestic policy making. “There are a number of uncertainties which are clouding the short-term outlook of the Indian economy,” said Kaushik Das, Mumbai-based chief economist at Deutsche Bank. “Risk of policy error remains high.”

Indians fell off the top of Mastercard’s Asia Consumer Confidence Index in the first half of 2017, and a report from the nation’s central bank last week confirmed the bleak outlook. About 27% of Indians surveyed said incomes have fallen, pushing overall sentiment into the “pessimistic zone.” Employment “has been the biggest cause of worry,” the Reserve Bank of India said. Government data show food price deflation, hurting rural incomes, and supply of new houses in India’s top eight cities falling 33% January-September, hit by a demand slowdown. Convincing Indians to consume would first require assuring them they’ll have a job. It won’t be easy for Modi to do so. Manufacturing jobs are forecast to fall about 30% this year and broader surveys show the hiring outlook is near a 12-year low. There was an absolute decline in employment between March 2014 and 2016, “perhaps happening for the first time in independent India”.

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Politics can’t and won’t keep up.

The Big Amazon Subsidy is Doomed (WS)

Amazon battled states for years to avoid having to collect sales taxes. Walmart was on the other side of the fight, along with state revenue offices. Walmart had to add sales taxes to all its sales in California, whether online or brick-and-mortar, which at the time ranged from 7.25% to 9.75% depending on location. For shoppers, that price difference was reason enough to switch to Amazon. It was in essence a massive taxpayer subsidy for Amazon. But Amazon lost that battle and started charging sales taxes in California in September, 2012. State after state followed. By early 2017, Amazon was charging sales taxes in all 45 states that have state-wide sales taxes and in Washington DC.

Still, even in 2016, online retailers dodged paying $17.2 billion in sales taxes on out-of-state sales, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For them, it’s a massive price advantage that other retailers didn’t get. The fight over sales taxes is based on a Supreme Court case of 1992 – Quill Corp. v. North Dakota – that barred states from forcing companies to collect sales taxes if they didn’t have physical facilities in those states, such as stores or warehouses. For Amazon, this got increasingly complicated as it is building out its distribution network, with warehouses and facilities around the country. So now Amazon is collecting sales taxes. Problem solved? Nope.

Amazon only collects sales taxes on sales of inventory that it owns (first-party sales). But Amazon is also a platform that sells merchandise owned by other sellers (third-party sales). About half of the goods sold on the Amazon platform fall into this category. Amazon leaves sales tax collections to the 2 million merchants on its platform. But they claim that it’s not their job to collect sales taxes, and most of them don’t collect them. Hence, third-party sales still get the taxpayer subsidy. Amazon isn’t the only out-of-state retailer or platform. It’s just the biggest one. eBay and many others are impacted by it too. Legally, this remains murky. But states and brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting to get the subsidy scrapped. “It’s a fairness issue,” Minnesota Senator Roger Chamberlain told Bloomberg. “Right now, there’s an unlevel playing field that disadvantages brick-and-mortar stores.”

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“History is a trickster.”

No Joy in Trumpville (Kunstler)

I took advantage of the calm before the storm, to pay a visit on Saturday to my hometown, Trumpville, a.k.a. Manhattan. My college buddy had a son who was acting in an off-Broadway play (closing night, so don’t bother asking). The city I knew as a kid — which, frankly, I never liked very much — seemed as lost and far away as Peter Stuyvesant’s quaint Dutch colonial outpost did to me in 1962. That lost city of my childhood was one in which a boy could breeze right into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a weekday afternoon — my school was one block away from it — without the least hindrance. The place was free. There was no “donation” shakedown at the entrance. And hardly anyone was there. Do you know why? Answer: because most of the adults on the island were at work. It was a mostly middle-class city back then.

I know. It’s hard to believe, given the more recent developments in American life — the salient one being the extreme and perverse financialization of the economy. That is actually what you see manifested on-the-ground (and up-in-the-air) when you visit New York these days. To be specific, what I saw sitting on a bench along the High Line — a walking trail built on an old railroad trestle through the former Meatpacking District into Chelsea — was all the wealth of the flyover states funneled into a few square miles of land on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As I watched the endless stream of tourists and hipsters stride by in their selfie raptures, I pictured the various downtowns of the Midwest I’ve visited over the years — St Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Detroit, Akron, Dayton, Cleveland, Louisville, Tulsa, and many more — and remembered the incredible desolation of their centers.

There was no one there, certainly no tourists or hipsters, really no activity to speak of. They were ghost cities. The net effect of financialization has been the asset-stripping of every other place in America for the benefit of a very few cities on the coasts, and especially the financial engineers within them. Thus, the ironic rise of New Yorker Trump as the avatar and supposed savior of all those people “out there” in their dying hometowns and beyond. And their tremendously bitter enmity against the “blue” coastal elites, of which Trump is a nonpareil exemplar. History is a trickster.

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Jan 182015
 
 January 18, 2015  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Main Street north from Sixth, Little Rock, Arkansas 1911

How The US Dollar Stacks Up Against Major World Currencies (AP)
This Is The Case For A ‘Large, Sharp Correction’ (CNBC)
Copper’s Rout May Be A Red Flag (MarketWatch)
Swiss Central Bank’s Shock Therapy Leaves Policy Vacuum (Reuters)
Swiss Franc Trade Is Said to Wipe Out Everest’s Main Fund (Bloomberg)
Making Sense Of The Swiss Shock (Project Syndicate)
Beware Of Politicians Bearing Household Analogies (Steve Keen)
Draghi Primes His Rocket, Could End Up Shooting Europe In The Foot (Observer)
Market to European Central Bank: Size of QE Matters! (CNBC)
A New Idea Steals Across Europe – Should Greece Debt Be Forgiven? (Observer)
Ireland ‘Not Dismissive’ Of EU Debt Conference SYRIZA Wants (Kathimirini)
Aberdeen: In Scotland’s Oil Capital The Party’s Not Yet Over (Observer)
Buying A Home In Britain Should Not Be An Impossible Dream (Observer)
Obama’s State Of The Union To Call For Closing Tax Loopholes (Reuters)
Russia May Lift Food Import Ban From Greece If It Quits EU (TASS)
Donetsk Shelled As Kiev ‘Orders Massive Fire’ On East Ukraine (RT)
New Snowden Docs Reveal Scope Of NSA Preparations For Cyber War (Spiegel)
Guantánamo Diary Exposes Brutality Of US Rendition And Torture (Guardian)
Price Tag Of Saving The World From A Pandemic: $344 Billion (CNBC)
Is Lancashire Ready For Its Fracking Revolution? (Observer)
Pope Francis: Listen To Women, Men Are Too Machista (RT)

“The dollar has soared a staggering 96% against the Russian ruble since June 30.”

How The US Dollar Stacks Up Against Major World Currencies (AP)

The U.S. dollar has been rolling. Since June 30, its value has jumped 16% against a collection of world currencies. Investors are embracing the dollar because the U.S. economy is strong, especially compared with most other nations. U.S. economic growth clocked in at a 5% annual rate from July through September, the fastest quarterly pace in more than a decade. During 2014, American employers added nearly 3 million jobs, the most in any year since 1999. Investors also like the safety of U.S. Treasurys, which pay a higher yield than government bonds in Japan and most big European countries do. Another lure: The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term interest rates this summer or fall, making U.S. rates even more attractive for investors. But the dollar’s strength also reflects weakness elsewhere:

• JAPAN: The dollar is up 16% against the Japanese yen since mid-2014. Japan slid into recession last quarter after the government imposed an ill-timed sales tax increase. The Bank of Japan has tried to revive the economy by buying bonds to lower rates, boost inflation and drive down the value of the yen to aid Japanese exporters.

• EURO: The dollar has surged 18% against the euro since June 30. Economic growth among the 19 countries that use the euro has flat-lined. Last year, the European Central Bank slashed rates and sought to stimulate lending by promising to buy bundles of bank loans. Next week, the ECB is expected to announce a program to buy bonds — a version of what the Fed did three times since 2008 — to lower long-term rates and stimulate the eurozone economy.

• BRAZIL: The dollar has gained nearly 20% against the Brazilian real since the middle of last year. The Brazilian economy is beset by a combination of slow growth and high inflation. The Brazilian Central Bank will likely raise rates next week to try to fight inflation and rally the real, economists at Barclays predict.

• RUSSIA: The dollar has soared a staggering 96% against the Russian ruble since June 30. Plummeting oil prices and economic sanctions have devastated the Russian economy, which is likely headed toward recession. Money is fleeing the country. In mid-December, the Russian central bank raised rates to try to salvage the currency. The move has at least slowed the free-fall.

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“People are underestimating what a strong U.S. dollar can do and oil is just one of those things.”

This Is The Case For A ‘Large, Sharp Correction’ (CNBC)

Pain in the market may just be getting started, according to Raoul Pal of the Global Macro Investor. “The chance of a large sharp correction? Absolutely, because volatility is there and people will be forced to reduce risk, ” Pal said on CNBC’s “Fast Money.” “I would put that as a reasonably high probability that the S&P falls possibly from here down to the 1,800 level.” Pal thinks there will be a lot of volatility in the market this year and currency volatility will be the driving force. He expects the sharp currency moves that have happened globally to hit the U.S. equity markets. A violent move in the Swiss franc on Thursday shook investors as the Switzerland National Bank removed its cap on its currency relative to the euro.

The cap was in place to prevent the franc from gaining ground against the euro while Europe remained in recovery mode. Switzerland has been a beacon of financial stability throughout the euro zone’s recession. Brokerage and financial firms reported millions of dollars of losses from the sudden gains in the Swiss franc on Thursday and that may not be the end of it. Currency swings are an issue at home with the U.S. dollar on a tear over the past year. “The biggest risk to U.S. equities is if the long dollar trades unwind. If that happens, then you may see people unwinding their stock positions as well,” said “Fast Money” trader Brian Kelly.

Pal also believes a strengthening dollar will be part of the U.S. market downfall this year, “People are underestimating what a strong U.S. dollar can do and oil is just one of those things.” Oil is down nearly 10% so far this year and that’s after a 45% drop in 2014. Pal isn’t alone in pointing to hard times ahead in the market. On Wednesday, Dennis Gartman told Fast Money he was now net short of stocks. “As of this afternoon, I am slightly, very slightly net short.” As the markets sold off, Gartman did say that he was long the tanker stocks, which had managed to rise on the back of falling oil prices.

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Chinese data coming this week.

Copper’s Rout May Be A Red Flag (MarketWatch)

Economists are bullish on growth, but copper’s big plunge on Wednesday appeared to be suggesting that +they’re wrong. For investors, the crucial question is ‘Who is right?’ An ugly 24-hour period drove copper to mid-2009 lows on Wednesday—it fell 5% to $2.1590 a pound. In New York on Tuesday, copper fell 8 cents, but the big crack came later in that day when it crashed through key support at $6,000 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange. That drop was followed by heavy falls in Shanghai on Wednesday, said Ole Hansen, Saxo Bank’s head of commodity strategy.

Known as Dr Copper, the commodity is a chief building and manufacturing material and to some a harbinger of the global economy. So when investors start to bail on it, some say that is a sign of the proverbial canary in the coal mine is starting to keel over. Some blamed copper’s losses on the World Bank, which cut its global-growth outlook, including for China, a country that is a big global buyer of copper. Investors inured to oil serving as the whipping boy for the market’s global-growth worries, were taken aback by yet another commodity caving. Copper falling alone would be less of a worry for Adam Sarhan, chief executive officer of Sarhan Capital. A range of commodities, hard and soft, have joined oil lower: gasoline, corn, sugar, to name a few, Sarhan said.

A combination of this pressure “supports that notion that deflation is getting stronger not weaker and if that is the case then that bodes poorly for both main street and Wall Street,” he said. For its part, oil has lost nearly 60% of its value since peaking in June. Equally concerned was Keith McCullough, CEO of Hedgeye Risk Management, who says he has been telling his clients to short copper for months. “Oil, copper, etc.—they are all legacy carry trades associated with the simple expectation that the Fed could perpetually inflate asset prices,” he said. “Now deflation is dominating expectations, and all of those who underestimated how nasty the deleveraging associated with deflation can be,” said McCullough.

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“.. a serious threat for tens of thousands of Swiss jobs.”

Swiss Central Bank’s Shock Therapy Leaves Policy Vacuum (Reuters)

The Swiss National Bank had little choice but to abandon its three-year-old cap on the franc but its execution of the move left a vacuum of policy uncertainty where a pillar of stability stood before. With the euro diving against the dollar as the European Central Bank gears up for fresh stimulus as early as next week, the SNB felt the 1.20-francs-per-euro cap was not sustainable and chose to give it up rather than accumulate further risk. Yet in pulling off the move, the SNB – a conservative institution in a safe-haven state – failed to tip off its peers and shocked investors, who were left wondering whether central banks are now less a source of stability and more one of a risk. “The bottom line: central banks are a lot less predictable than in the past few years,” said Christian Gattiker, chief strategist at Swiss bank Julius Baer. The SNB, whose three board members make their decisions behind closed doors, acted in isolation.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde lamented the lack of a warning from SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan. “I find it a bit surprising that he did not contact me,” she said. For ECB policymaker Ewald Nowotny, the move was “a surprising decision”. In contrast with the ECB, which has 25 policymakers from across the continent who debate major decisions, just three men call the shots at the SNB, albeit in consultation with staff advisers. Details of ECB policy debates often leak because of the large numbers of officials also involved; if President Mario Draghi announces next week that the ECB is to launch quantitative easing, he will surprise no one. Draghi has made no secret of the fact that such a programme is under discussion on the ECB Governing Council.

While officials at central banks generally play down the idea that they offer each other advance notice, they almost always prepare financial markets, businesses and each other for important policy shifts by openly discussing their thinking in the run up to any move. But Adam Posen, a former Bank of England official who heads the Peterson Institute for Economics in Washington, said transparency at times needed to be sacrificed. “Central bank communication is overrated,” Posen said at an event in Washington when asked about the SNB’s move. It’s more important to get a policy right than to stick to a “foolish consistency” of communicating everything, he said. For exporters and the tourism industry in Switzerland, the move that has led to a near 18% rise in the franc against the euro is far from understandable. Christian Levrat, president of the left-wing Social Democrat party, called the move “a serious threat for tens of thousands of Swiss jobs”.

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And many more.

Swiss Franc Trade Is Said to Wipe Out Everest’s Main Fund (Bloomberg)

Marko Dimitrijevic, the hedge fund manager who survived at least five emerging market debt crises, is closing his largest hedge fund after losing virtually all its money this week when the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly let the franc trade freely against the euro, according to a person familiar with the firm. Everest Capital’s Global Fund had about $830 million in assets as of the end of December, according to a client report. The Miami-based firm, which specializes in emerging markets, still manages seven funds with about $2.2 billion in assets. The global fund, the firm’s oldest, was betting the Swiss franc would decline. The SNB’s decision to end its three-year policy of capping the franc at 1.20 a euro triggered losses at Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Barclays as well as hedge funds and mutual funds.

The franc surged as much as 41% versus the euro on Jan. 15, the biggest gain on record, and climbed more than 15% against all of the more than 150 currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Everest grew to $2.7 billion by the start of 1998 after navigating crises in Mexico and Southeast Asia. Russia’s default and currency devaluation proved trickier and assets fell by half amid losses. He revived the firm and a decade later Everest managed $3 billion. Then the global financial crisis hit, and assets shrunk by $1 billion. Last year, the main fund rose 14.1%, driven by Chinese equities and bets against currencies, including a wager that the Swiss franc would fall after citizens rejected a referendum that would require the central bank to hold at least 20% of its assets in gold, the investor report said.

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“The negative effects for the Swiss economy – through the decreased competiveness of its export industries (including tourism and medicine) – may already be showing that abandoning the euro peg was not a good idea.”

Making Sense Of The Swiss Shock (Project Syndicate)

There is historical precedent for the victory of political pressure, and for the recent Swiss action. In the late 1960s, the Bundesbank had to buy dollar assets in order to stop the Deutsche mark from rising, and to preserve the integrity of its fixed exchange rate. The discussion in Germany focused on the risks to the Bundesbank’s balance sheet, as well as on the inflationary pressures that came from the currency peg. Some German conservatives at the time would have liked to buy gold, but the Bundesbank had promised the Fed that it would not put the dollar under downward pressure by selling its reserves for gold. In 1969, Germany unilaterally revalued the Deutsche mark. But that was not enough to stop inflows of foreign currency, and the Bundesbank was obliged to continue to intervene. It continued to reduce its interest rate, but the inflows persisted. In May 1971, the German government – against the wishes of the Bundesbank – abandoned the dollar peg altogether and floated the currency.

Politics had prevailed over central-bank commitments. Within three months, the fallout destroyed the entire international monetary system, and US President Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard. The credibility of the entire system of central bank commitments had collapsed, and international monetary policy became extremely unstable. The Deutsche mark appreciated, and life became very hard for German exporters. Today, the global ramifications of a major central bank’s actions are much more pronounced than in 1971. When the Bundesbank acted unilaterally, German banks were not very international. But now finance is global, implying large balance-sheet exposures to currency swings. Big Swiss banks fund themselves in Swiss francs, because so many people everywhere want the security of franc assets. They then acquire assets worldwide, in other currencies. When the exchange rate changes abruptly, the banks face large losses – a large-scale version of naive Hungarian homeowners’ strategy of borrowing in Swiss francs to finance their mortgages.

Though the SNB had given many warnings that the euro peg was not permanent, and though it had imposed a higher capital ratio on banks, the uncoupling from the euro came as a huge shock. Swiss bank shares fell faster than the general Swiss index. The risks created by the SNB’s decision – as transmitted through the financial system – have a fat tail. The negative effects for the Swiss economy – through the decreased competiveness of its export industries (including tourism and medicine) – may already be showing that abandoning the euro peg was not a good idea. But the consequences will not be limited to Switzerland. After years of wondering whether the exit of a small, fiscally weak country like Greece could undermine the euro, policymakers will have to deal with an even bigger shock stemming from the exit of a small, fiscally strong country that is not even a member of the European Union.

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Steve’s first piece for Forbes.

Beware Of Politicians Bearing Household Analogies (Steve Keen)

The British election campaign has begun, and Prime Minister David Cameron is running with the slogan that his Conservative Party will deliver “A Britain living within its means” by running a surplus on day-to-day government spending by 2017/18. It is, as the UK Telegraph noted, hardly an inspiring slogan. But it is one that resonates with voters, because it sounds like the way they would like to manage their own households. And a household budget—whether you balance yours or not—is something we can all understand. If a household spends less than it earns, it can save money, or pay down its debt, or both. So it has to be good if a country does the same thing, right? If only it worked that way. In fact, a government surplus has the opposite effect on Joe Public: a government surplus means that the public has to either run down its savings, or increase its debt.

And if the government runs a sustained surplus, then—unless the country in question has a huge export surplus, like Japan or Germany—a financial crisis is inevitable. That’s the opposite of what both politicians and most of the public think that running a government surplus will achieve—and yet it’s easy to prove that that is the outcome a sustained surplus will lead to. Firstly, a government surplus means that, in a given year, the taxes the government imposes on the public exceed the money it spends (and gives) to the public. There is therefore a net flow of money from the public to the government. As a once-off, that doesn’t have to be a problem. But if it’s sustained for many years, then the public has to provide a continuous flow of money to the government. Let’s call this flow NetGov: a sustained surplus requires the situation shown in Figure 1 (where a deficit is shown in red and a surplus in black).


Figure 1: A sustained government surplus requires the private sector to supply the government with a continuous flow of money

One way that the public can do this is to run down its own money stock—to reduce its savings. But that’s the opposite of what the policy is intended to achieve: the expectation of enthusiasts for government surpluses is that it will enable the public to save more, not less. But as a simple matter of accounting, increased public savings—increased balances in the public’s bank accounts—are only compatible with a government surplus if the public can produce more money than it pays to the government to maintain its surplus. This raises the question “how does the public produce money?”. Anyone in the private sector can produce goods and services for sale, but the production of money is a very different thing to production of goods. The public in general can’t “produce money”—but the banks can.

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Draghi should leave, and Weidmann be appointed head of the ECB.

Draghi Primes His Rocket, Could End Up Shooting Europe In The Foot (Observer)

Mario Draghi, the urbane boss of the European Central Bank, is about to print hundreds of billions of euros to rescue the faltering continental economy. The City expects him to launch his financial bazooka, otherwise known as quantitative easing (QE), on Thursday after the central bank governing council’s monthly meeting. His hand was forced last week by events in Zurich, where his Swiss counterpart said the policy of pegging the franc to the euro was no longer tenable. The markets were impatient for QE, the Swiss central bank chief said – they have already waited months for a decision. The ECB funds will begin to flow six years after the world’s other major economies adopted QE. The US has spent around $4 trillion, the UK £375bn, and last year the Japanese promised to spend almost $700bn a year, up from $560bn in 2013.

If Draghi goes ahead, the Super-Mario headlines will proliferate across Europe and gigabytes of the web will be devoted to analysing the consequences of the move for the 19-member currency zone – and for its trading partners, such as the UK. The ECB’s aim is to flood the eurozone banking system with money to boost lending after a collapse in the value of consumer and business borrowing. Draghi’s supporters say the very fact of taking action will increase confidence and invigorate a stuttering economic bloc. According to this argument, Brussels has done little apart from impose austerity. Now, with the ECB throwing its weight behind a strategy for growth, confidence and spending will begin to rise.

QE has clearly played a big part in rescuing the global economic system after the crash. But its usefulness as a spur for growth is less clear. As Labour’s Ed Balls has said, governments need to step in with their own funds – albeit borrowed – for investment that ensures growth is sustainable. QE is like an adrenalin shot to revive a stricken patient. It is useless when the patient is in recovery and crying out for something more substantial. But persistently printing vast quantities of a currency has one major effect. It drives down its value against other currencies. Since Christmas, the yen has been trading 50% below where it was in October 2012 against the dollar. That means Japanese exports of cars, TVs and kimonos cost 50% less in the US and, just as importantly, in China, which has pegged the renminbi to the dollar.

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No, it doesn’t. Well, other than for bringing down the euro. All else has long been priced in.

Market to European Central Bank: Size of QE Matters! (CNBC)

Earnings and economic reports all take a back seat to the European Central Bank in the holiday-shortened trading week ahead. Investors are looking to the ECB to on Thursday announce a program of government bond purchases, or quantitative easing. “The only thing that is important next week is the ECB meeting,” Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, said. “The ECB is going to be the biggest driver next week, what they decide to do as far as rates and their QE should have a big impact on global markets,” said Paul Nolte at Kingsview Asset Management.

“The markets are expecting a very impressive QE, a la United States, a la Japan. Some investors may be playing both sides, and by that I mean playing for a big move. If they do come down with a big package, global markets will rally strongly, if they don’t do much of anything, you could see markets fall apart,” Nolte said. “There’s a huge amount of anticipation, and a lot of volatility around this ECB decision on Thursday. It’ll be a combination of what they say they’re going to do, and their intentions after that,” Scott Wren, senior equity strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said.

“I think the ECB will act next week, and make some type of announcement. But the market is likely to be disappointed by the magnitude that the ECB initially says they’re going to do, as the market would like to see a trillion. Let’s say they come out with €500 billion, and some sort of statement of more”. Switzerland’s central bank upended markets Thursday by removing its cap on the Swiss franc versus the euro, with the action viewed as a preemptive one to shield its currency from pressure should the ECB make a move. “I suspect (ECB President Mario) Draghi gave a wink to the Swiss National Bank and allowed them to get in front of that, the question mark at this juncture is the order of magnitude. The market is vulnerable to an underwhelming response. The key, basically, is trying to restore the balance sheet to 2012 levels, so we’d have to at least have to see €1.3 trillion,” Luschini said.

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“The country’s overall debt burden has actually increased in the almost five years since it was first “rescued..”

A New Idea Steals Across Europe – Should Greece Debt Be Forgiven? (Observer)

Forgiveness: it’s a rare enough quality in family life, let alone international policymaking. But if, as the polls suggest, the populist Syriza party wins next weekend’s Greek election, Athens will be asking its European brothers and sisters to forgive and forget some of the €317bn (£240bn) it still owes, so that its economy – and society – can recover from more than six years of austerity and recession. Instead of the defiant tone that once saw Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, threatening to ditch the euro altogether, the party now hopes to negotiate an agreement with Germany and other creditors that could allow Greece to remain in the single currency – but set it on the path to recovery.

London-based pressure group Jubilee Debt Campaign, which has studied the fate of heavily indebted countries around the world, says Greece is right to demand a more generous approach from its creditors, because although it has received an extraordinary €252bn in bailouts since 2010, just 10% of that has found its way into public spending. Much of the rest poured straight back out of the country: in debt repayments and interest to its creditors, many of them banks and hedge funds in the core eurozone countries, including Germany and France; and in sweeteners to persuade lenders to sign up to the 2012 bond restructuring that helped prevent the country crashing out of the euro. In effect, the “troika” of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European commission has simply replaced the banks and the hedge funds as Greece’s paymasters.

The country’s overall debt burden has actually increased in the almost five years since it was first “rescued”, and of the amount still outstanding, 78% is now owed to public sector institutions, primarily the EU. Stephany Griffith-Jones, an economist who is an expert on debt crises in developing countries, says: “They have got quite a lot of relief already; but a lot of that money that came to the government has gone to servicing the debt, including to the private banks. It wasn’t really money to help the Greeks. This is exactly like when I used to study Latin America in the 1980s: then, it was American and British banks, now it’s German and French banks.”

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Of coursethere should be such a conference. A fully public one.

Ireland ‘Not Dismissive’ Of EU Debt Conference SYRIZA Wants (Kathimirini)

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has seized on comments by Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan as evidence that not just “progressive economists and the European Left” are coming round to his party’s argument that the European Union needs to hold a meeting to discuss how to reduce the debt of some of its members, including Greece. “In all of Europe, only Mr Samaras called this nonsene,” wrote Tsipras in Sunday’s Kathimerini. The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that Noonan told Irish ambassadors and civil servants he “would not be dismissive” of a European debt conference being held as long as the issue of Irish, Spanish and Portuguese debt could be discussed.

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“.. nobody believes the party’s over. That’s probably because most employees are older than 40 and have golden handshakes on a Midas scale.”

Aberdeen: In Scotland’s Oil Capital The Party’s Not Yet Over (Observer)

It has been a strange old week in the self-proclaimed oil capital of Europe. According to some members of Aberdeen’s energy sector, a group with a code of silence that would trump any Trappist throng, the North Sea is a busted flush, a dead zone of drilled-out fields with a long-term future to match. There will certainly be some transient pain in the industry; BP has confirmed 300 job losses and other subsidiaries will view the plummeting price of oil as a wonderful opportunity to trim any perceived excess fat. But if there is any panic in Aberdeen over the end of the gravy train, it is being well concealed. One executive told me on Friday: “Times are tough. And they might get tougher.” But nobody believes the party’s over. That’s probably because most employees are older than 40 and have golden handshakes on a Midas scale.

I walked along Aberdeen’s Union Street last week and one particular image struck me. It’s a once-glorious, now-dowdy thoroughfare with a few refulgent granite buildings surrounded by an excess of eyesores. On one side of the street, the Pound Shop announced that it was closing; on the other, the staff at the recently opened Eclectic Fizz champagne bar were preparing to welcome their steady stream of customers. At another location just outside the city on Thursday evening, a few hours after the BP news had broken, a group of four senior oil officials awaited their trip to the airport in Dyce. After a few minutes, four separate cabs arrived to pick them up: it didn’t matter the quartet were all travelling to the same destination. It may be a recession, Jim. But in Aberdeen, not as we usually know it.

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‘To make the impossible possible. To rise, and rise”

Buying A Home In Britain Should Not Be An Impossible Dream (Observer)

‘To make the impossible possible. To rise, and rise”. Uttered in a movie-trailer tone, it sounds like the mission statement for a Mars probe – but, set against the backdrop of the twinkling lights of night-time London, it’s actually the voiceover for a particularly obnoxious Redrow ad for flats in one of the capital’s now-ubiquitous glass and steel skyscrapers, launched and hastily withdrawn earlier this month after a furious outburst on social media. Its sharply suited, go-getting protagonist is whisked through the streets in a cab, reminiscing about all the hours he had to put in (“the mornings … that felt like night”); the calls from mates he was forced to ignore; and the terrible soul-searching he had to endure to succeed (apparently he felt the urge to “be more than individual”).

Without encountering another soul, our hero strides into an anonymous lobby and is whisked up to a vast, sparkling eyrie, worthy of a Bond villain’s hideout. An outraged viewer captured the ad for posterity; rival builder Berkeley Homes pulled its own equally nauseating effort (this one involving a private jet) a few days later. Prices for apartments at One Blackfriars, the tower block being marketed by Berkeley, range up to £23m. And judging by the ad, its lucky inhabitants in their hermetically sealed penthouses will never have to rub shoulders with hoi polloi down at ground level. It’s hard to think of a more powerful symbol of Britain’s divisive, winner-takes-all property market. Of course, the rich have always been with us, and to some extent have always cut themselves off. Strolling through the Geffrye Museum in east London recently, I was intrigued by a painting from 1936.

An elegant, bejewelled woman in a shimmering gown peers languorously out on to a crowded London thoroughfare, perhaps Regent Street or Piccadilly, from a plush, warmly lit salon, while a man faces away from the window with studied nonchalance, blowing smoke rings. Only on reading the inscription does it become clear that the lively scene outside the window is not a celebration or a festival, but the arrival of the Jarrow marchers. Britain in the 21st century is a very long way from the Great Depression; yet that well-heeled couple’s cosy imperviousness to their fellow humans’ suffering is all there in the “because I’m worth it” high-rise property porn churned out by Redrow, Berkeley and the rest (“They said nothing comes easy; but if it was easy, then it wouldn’t feel as good,” goes the voiceover).

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Yada yada.

Obama Speech To Call For Closing Tax Loopholes (Reuters)

– President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address will propose closing multibillion-dollar tax loopholes used by the wealthiest Americans, imposing a fee on big financial firms and then using the revenue to benefit the middle class, senior administration officials said on Saturday. Obama’s annual address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night will continue his theme of income equality, and the administration is optimistic it will find some bipartisan support in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate. The proposals administration officials listed on Saturday may still generate significant opposition from the Republicans because they would increase taxes.

In a conference call with reporters to preview the taxation aspect of Obama’s address, one official said some of the ideas the president is outlining already have “clear congressional bipartisan support or are ideas that are actually bipartisan in their nature.” Obama’s proposals call for reforming tax rules on trust funds, which the administration called “the single largest capital gains tax loophole” because it allows assets to be passed down untaxed to heirs of the richest Americans. They also would raise the capital gains and dividends rates to 28 percent, the level during the 1980s Republican presidency of Ronald Reagan. As a way of managing financial risk that could threaten the U.S. economy, Obama also wants to impose a fee of seven basis points on the liabilities of U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion, making it more costly for them to borrow heavily.

The changes on trust funds and capital gains, along with the fee on financial firms, would generate about $320 billion over 10 years, which would more than pay for benefits Obama wants to provide for the middle class, the official said. The benefits mentioned on Saturday would include a $500 credit for families with two working spouses, tripling the tax credit for child care to $3,000 per child, consolidating education tax incentives and making it easier for workers to save automatically for retirement if their employer does not offer a plan. The price tag on those benefits, plus a plan for free tuition at community colleges that Obama announced last week, would be about $235 billion, the official said. Specifics on the figures will be included in the budget Obama will send to Congress on Feb. 2. “We’re proposing more than enough to offset the new incremental costs of our proposals without increasing the deficit,” the administration official said.

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Greece has historically had close ties to Russia.

Russia May Lift Food Import Ban From Greece If It Quits EU (TASS)

Russia may lift its ban on food imports from Greece in the event it quits the European Union, Russian Minister of Agriculture Nikolai Fyodorov told a news conference in Berlin on Friday. Fyodorov is leading an official Russian delegation to the International Green Week public exhibition for the food, agriculture, and gardening industry. If Greece has to leave the European Union, we will build our own relations with it, the food ban will not be applicable to it, he said. He said that European Union countries, which felt discomfort from the slump in proceeds from exports of foods to Russia, were asking Russia to cushion the impacts of the Russian food import ban by expanding other types of imports.

We are looking at such possibility, he said, adding that these countries offer new formats of cooperation in those areas that are not covered by the Russian food sanctions. Meanwhile he stressed that Russia did not plan to toughen its sanctions. As concerns possible new sanctions, we are not looking at any such proposals from any structures, he added. Earlier on Friday, Fyodorov met with his German counterpart, Christian Schmidt, to discuss possible expansion of cooperation and mutual trade in agricultural products. The two ministers agreed that Russia and Germany may expand mutual trade in food products in the framework of the current laws.

“We cannot solve pressing political problems, but we can maintain dialogue in the current conditions, the German minister said. We can make trade between our countries more intensive. The Russian minister shared this opinion saying, the Berlin exhibitions was a non-political event working on problems of food security. We discussed possible expansion of cooperation and mutual trade in agricultural products and agreed to work in the new conditions strictly within the frameworks of the current legislation of Russia, the Customs Union, Germany and the European Union, Fyodorov said.

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This is effectively the US and EU killing women and children.

Donetsk Shelled As Kiev ‘Orders Massive Fire’ On East Ukraine (RT)

Violence escalated in eastern Ukraine as Kiev’s troops launched a massive assault on militia-held areas Sunday morning. The army was ordered to start massive shelling of all rebel positions, a presidential aide said. The order to launch the offensive was issued early approximately at 6:00 am, according to Yury Biryukov, an aide to President Petro Poroshenko. “Today we will show HOW good we are at jabbing in the teeth,” he wrote on his Facebook page, a mode of conveying information favored by many Ukrainian officials. In a later post he said: “They are now striking a dot. Uuu…” in a reference to Tochka-U (‘tochka’ means ‘dot’ in Russian), a tactical ballistic missile, one of the most powerful weapons Ukraine so far deployed against rebel forces. “That wasn’t a dot but ellipsis. Strong booms,” he added.

Reports from the ground confirmed a sharp escalation of clashes across the front line, with particularly heavy artillery fire reported at Gorlovka. “Locals in Donetsk said they haven’t heard such intensive shelling since summer,” Valentin Motuzenko, a military official in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told Interfax news agency. “The Ukrainian military are using all kinds of weapons, Grad multiple rocket launchers, mortars…” Motuzenko said. Several residential buildings, a shop and a bus station have been seriously damaged by artillery fire in the city, RIA Novosti reported. There were also reports of attacks on the town of Makeevka and several nearby villages. The militia added that at least one shell hit a residential area in central Donetsk rather than the outskirts of the city. There were no immediate reports of how many casualties resulted from the offensive.

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“Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan foresaw these developments decades ago. In 1970, he wrote, “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.”

New Snowden Docs Reveal Scope Of NSA Preparations For Cyber War (Spiegel)

[..] the intelligence service isn’t just trying to achieve mass surveillance of Internet communication, either. The digital spies of the Five Eyes alliance – comprised of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – want more. According to top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seen exclusively by SPIEGEL, they are planning for wars of the future in which the Internet will play a critical role, with the aim of being able to use the net to paralyze computer networks and, by doing so, potentially all the infrastructure they control, including power and water supplies, factories, airports or the flow of money. During the 20th century, scientists developed so-called ABC weapons – atomic, biological and chemical. It took decades before their deployment could be regulated and, at least partly, outlawed.

New digital weapons have now been developed for the war on the Internet. But there are almost no international conventions or supervisory authorities for these D weapons, and the only law that applies is the survival of the fittest. Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan foresaw these developments decades ago. In 1970, he wrote, “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” That’s precisely the reality that spies are preparing for today. The US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force have already established their own cyber forces, but it is the NSA, also officially a military agency, that is taking the lead. It’s no coincidence that the director of the NSA also serves as the head of the US Cyber Command. The country’s leading data spy, Admiral Michael Rogers, is also its chief cyber warrior and his close to 40,000 employees are responsible for both digital spying and destructive network attacks.

From a military perspective, surveillance of the Internet is merely “Phase 0” in the US digital war strategy. Internal NSA documents indicate that it is the prerequisite for everything that follows. They show that the aim of the surveillance is to detect vulnerabilities in enemy systems. Once “stealthy implants” have been placed to infiltrate enemy systems, thus allowing “permanent accesses,” then Phase Three has been achieved – a phase headed by the word “dominate” in the documents. This enables them to “control/destroy critical systems & networks at will through pre-positioned accesses (laid in Phase 0).” Critical infrastructure is considered by the agency to be anything that is important in keeping a society running: energy, communications and transportation. The internal documents state that the ultimate goal is “real time controlled escalation”.

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Chilling.

Guantánamo Diary Exposes Brutality Of US Rendition And Torture (Guardian)

The groundbreaking memoir of a current Guantánamo inmate that lays bare the harrowing details of the US rendition and torture programme from the perspective of one of its victims is to be published next week after a six-year battle for the manuscript to be declassified. Guantánamo Diary, the first book written by a still imprisoned detainee, is being published in 20 countries and has been serialised by the Guardian amid renewed calls by civil liberty campaigners for its author’s release. Mohamedou Ould Slahi describes a world tour of torture and humiliation that began in his native Mauritania more than 13 years ago and progressed through Jordan and Afghanistan before he was consigned to US detention in Guantánamo, Cuba, in August 2002 as prisoner number 760. US military officials told the Guardian this week that despite never being prosecuted and being cleared for release by a judge in 2010, he is unlikely to be released in the next year.

The journal, which Slahi handwrote in English, details how he was subjected to sleep deprivation, death threats, sexual humiliation and intimations that his torturers would go after his mother. After enduring this, he was subjected to “additional interrogation techniques” personally approved by the then US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. He was blindfolded, forced to drink salt water, and then taken out to sea on a high-speed boat where he was beaten for three hours while immersed in ice. The end product of the torture, he writes, was lies. Slahi made a number of false confessions in an attempt to end the torment, telling interrogators he planned to blow up the CN Tower in Toronto. Asked if he was telling the truth, he replied: “I don’t care as long as you are pleased. So if you want to buy, I am selling.”

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“.. a massive flu outbreak could cost anywhere between $71 billion to $166.5 billion.”

Price Tag Of Saving The World From A Pandemic: $344 Billion (CNBC)

Infectious diseases are incubating everywhere across the world—ranging from the deadly Ebola virus to the more common yet debilitating influenza—to often devastating effect. It raises the question of how large a premium should world governments pay to insulate their economies from global pandemics. Would you believe $343.7 billion? That eye-popping figure is one of several takeaways of a group of scholars calling for a “global strategy” to mitigate the impact of threats to public health. In a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, economists and public health experts said emerging pandemics were increasing in their virulence and frequency.

The grim circumstances, which include the Ebola outbreak ravaging parts of Africa and an increasingly tough flu season in the U.S., calls for “globally coordinated strategies to combat” the hydra-headed threats posed by widespread disease—which the scientists say have their origins in animals. By pooling resources and implementing a host of programs and policies, governments could curtail the spread of infectious viruses by 50% if the measures were implemented within a 27-year span, the paper said. Of course, there’s the matter of the price tag, which is more than South Africa’s nominal GDP and is nearly as large as the U.S. Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget. In response to questions, co-author Peter Daszak said the money would be funneled into “mitigation programs” that isolate the first cluster of cases at their source. The funds would also be spent on hospitals and diagnostic labs in West Africa, and creating a web of information to identify and track diseases. [..]

The study arrives at a time when public health officials are struggling to contain a blitz of mysterious outbreaks. In recent months, isolated cases of Ebola, Legionnnaire’s disease, enterovirus and Chikungunya—all sicknesses most common in developing economies—have all appeared in the U.S. In the larger scheme, the nearly $344 billion call to arms may be a reasonable price to pay to prevent yet another shock to global growth, one that’s already taking a heavy toll on African economies. In a December study, the World Bank said West Africa’s Ebola pandemic had shaved off about two-thirds of Liberia’s and Sierra Leone’s growth. For those who think the flu isn’t that pernicious, think again: A Centers for Disease Control study once estimated that a massive flu outbreak could cost anywhere between $71 billion to $166.5 billion.

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Absolute madness.

Is Lancashire Ready For Its Fracking Revolution? (Observer)

The Fylde, the flat, rich pasture land and villages stretching from Preston and the M6 to the Blackpool coast, is set to host the UK’s first full-scale fracking exploration, if Lancashire county council gives planning permission at the end of January. Nationally David Cameron and the government have declared they are “going all out” for fracking, hoping to emulate the shale gas revolution in the US. But on the frontline the mood is more equivocal. Fears of the effects on health and plummeting house prices compete with the promise of jobs and money for communities, accompanied by accusations of misinformation and hysteria from both sides.

The site owned by Sanderson’s uncle and aunt is near Roseacre, and as you wind down the pot-holed lanes towards it, past the huge communication masts of the Royal Navy’s Inskip site, placards of opposition appear: “Don’t frack with Fylde”, “Health not wealth” and “What price fracking? Clean air? Clean water?” At the site, an unspectacular stretch of grassland whose only current features are a black water butt and a dull rumble from the M55, Cuadrilla’s head of well development, Eric Vaughan, explains the company’s plans for up to four wells, each of which would see dozens of fracking blasts to release gas. “I am excited we may finally get going again,” he says. “You have to be optimistic. We have tried to answer every question. Hopefully the planning permission will go through, so we can show people what it really looks like.”

A single frack at Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall site on the Fylde in 2011 produced good flow results, says Vaughan, but it also produced two small earthquakes, a government investigation and a false start for the company. “Because we had the earthquake, we decided to abandon that well,” says Vaughan, who is originally from Kentucky and for the past 30 years has been fracking all over the world, from the US to Thailand to Turkmenistan. Fracking at Roseacre, and at a second proposed site at nearby Preston New Road, will be under way by Christmas, if all goes Cuadrilla’s way. On Friday, the Environment Agency granted the environmental permits Cuadrilla needs for Preston New Road, and has already said it is minded to grant the permits for Roseacre as well.

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So true.

Pope Francis: Listen To Women, Men Are Too Machista (RT)

Pope Francis has called on men to listen to women as they have “much to tell us.” Women are able to ask questions that men can’t grasp, the pontiff told an audience in the Philippines, where his comments drew instant applause. “Women have much to tell us in today’s society,” Francis told a mostly male audience at the Catholic University of Santo Tomas in Manila, on the last day of a weeklong visit to Philippines and Sri Lanka. His impromptu comments were welcomed with applause from the audience, which according to organizers’ estimates was 30,000 people. “At times we men are too ‘machista’, the Argentinian pontiff said using word for the term for extreme male chauvinism in his native Spanish. According to the 78-year-old Catholic leader, we “don’t allow room for women but women are capable of seeing things with a different angle from us, with a different eye.”

His comments come after he noted that four out of five people who asked him questions on the stage were male. “There is only a small representation of females here, too little,” he said, to laughter. He added that it was a 12-year-old girl who posed the toughest question to him. Glyzelle Palomar, who was living on the streets before being taken in by a church charity, broke into tears when she was posing her question. “Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution. Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything,” Palomar said. Francis took her into his arms and hugged her for a few seconds. “She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer and she wasn’t even able to express it in words, but in tears,” he said.

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