Aug 062016
 
 August 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 6 2016


Ben Shahn Sideshow, county fair, central Ohio 1938

UK’s Four Biggest Banks £155 Billion Short Of Safety (Ind.)
Want To Avoid Recession? Then Shower UK Households With Cash (G.)
A Realistic Look at July’s Nonfarm Payrolls (M2)
The Politically Incorrect Jobs Numbers Everyone is Hushing Up (WS)
Hacked Bitcoin Firm Plans To Spread Losses Across All Users (CNBC)
In China, When in Debt, Dig Deeper (WSJ)
Only In China: Companies Become Banks To ‘Solve’ Financial Difficulties
Galbraith Says Critics Have It All Wrong Over Greece ‘Plan X’ (Kath.)
Stiglitz Quits Panama Papers Probe, Cites Lack Of Transparency (R.)
Is Hillary Clinton Corrupt? An Archive of Financial Improprieties (Medium)
Average American 15 Pounds Heavier Than 20 Years Ago (HDN)

 

 

“That sum is not far away from the present market capitalisation of these banks, implying that they are massively overexposed.”

UK’s Four Biggest Banks £155 Billion Short Of Safety (Ind.)

The UK’s four biggest banks would need to raise another £155bn in fresh capital to withstand a new financial crisis, despite the view of the Bank of England Governor that lenders have an adequate cushion to cope with further turmoil. Those are the results of research from three respected financial academics – and add to a growing feeling that the Bank of England is dangerously undercooking its capital requirements on UK lenders in the face of swelling instability in financial markets. UK banks had to be rescued in 2008 and 2009 at massive cost to British taxpayers. Capital represents the shareholder funds in banks available to absorb losses. When losses are greater than the capital cushion the bank is bust and may need to tap state support if deemed to be systemically important by politicians and regulators.

In a new paper Viral Acharya of New York University, Diane Pierret of the University of Lausanne and Sascha Steffen of the University of Mannheim calculate that HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland would need to raise $185bn (£155bn) of new equity between them to retain a 5.5% capital cushion in a crisis, which is the benchmark of safety used in the past by the European Banking Authority. That sum is not far away from the present market capitalisation of these banks, implying that they are massively overexposed. The EBA’s stress test exercise last Friday showed the UK’s major lenders would see their capital diminished in another European economic crisis, but not below the 5.5% level of so-called “risk-weighted assets” that would have created pressure for more equity injections.

[..] Acharya, Pierret and Steffen argue that the broader European banking sector could be undercapitalised to the tune of around €890bn – a figure they calculated using stock market valuations of banks’ equity rather than the sums reported by lenders themselves. Bank share prices have continued to fall since last Friday’s EBA stress test, implying investors are far from reassured by the fact that most lenders received a clean bill of health from the regulators.

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Would it even help anymore?

Want To Avoid Recession? Then Shower UK Households With Cash (G.)

Just give people the money. Give them cash, dole it out, increase benefits, slash VAT, hand it to those most likely to spend it: the poor. Put £1,000 into every debit account. Whatever you do, don’t give it to banks. They will just hoard it or use it to boost house prices. Britain is suffering from a classic liquidity trap. There is insufficient demand. Yet all the Bank of England did on Thursday was wring its hands, blame Brexit and go on digging the same old holes. They are labelled lower interest rates, quantitative easing and more cash for banks. Those policies have been in place for some seven years. They have failed, failed, failed. Not one commentator yesterday thought cutting interest rates to 0.25% would make any difference to the threat of recession.

Worse, by cutting annuity yields it would impoverish many old people who would otherwise spend. The Bank’s cumbersome monetary bureaucracy was set up to keep inflation under control by curbing bank lending. That failed during the credit crunch. Now it is failing in the opposite direction. Channelling policy through the banks has proved useless in protecting the economy from deflation and recession. The Bank is trapped intellectually in the world in which it lives, that of the City and the banking system. Like chateau generals at the Somme, it never ventures to the economy’s frontline, where buyers meet sellers and generate growth. It thinks of bonds, investments and the only glamour spending it recognises, on infrastructure. It believes that an economy can be regenerated through middle-class home ownership and state mega-projects.

But there is no shortage of funds to invest. Companies, like banks, are awash in cash. The problem is that savers are not spending; if they spend on anything it is on property, and that, too, may now slide. It is irresponsible to await the chancellor’s autumn statement and a political fiddle with tax rates. The engine of the economy must crash into forward gear. Money must be got into bank accounts, cash cards, shops tills and revenues. The plea from 35 economists published in the Guardian this week for “unconventional measures” made only one mistake. It suggested more spending on state infrastructure, which is just spending delayed. Where the economists were right was in suggesting “an immediate increase in household disposable incomes”.

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“..the U-6 unemployment number is 10.7% of the nation’s workforce..”

A Realistic Look at July’s Nonfarm Payrolls (M2)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its nonfarm payroll data this morning, showing that 255,000 jobs were created in July. The unemployment rate remained at 4.9%. May data was revised up from the eyebrow-raising low number of 11,000 jobs to 24,000 jobs while June was also revised upward from 287,000 jobs to 292,000. That brought the monthly average to 190,000 jobs over the past three months. Unfortunately, drilling down into the more granular details, a far less rosy picture emerges; a picture which is far more consistent with an economy feeling the continued weight of unprecedented wealth and income inequality; a picture that is far more correlated to an economy where “58% of all new income since the Wall Street crash has gone to the top 1%,” to quote Senator Bernie Sanders.

The data for July shows that the U-6 unemployment number is 10.7% of the nation’s workforce, more than double the official number of 4.9%. The U-6 unemployment rate includes the number of people unemployed; plus individuals just marginally attached to the labor force; plus those employed part-time for economic reasons. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the following definition of marginally attached: “Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work.)

But a far bigger problem with the BLS data is what constitutes an “employed” worker to our Federal government’s numbers crunchers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you could be an out of work MBA graduate but if you help your brother in his deli for 15 hours in a week while living in his home, you’re counted as employed. (The BLS says that a worker who makes no money at all donating his or her services to a family business for 15 hours or more per week is considered employed.)

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The US keeps addding more people than jobs.

The Politically Incorrect Jobs Numbers Everyone is Hushing Up (WS)

On its population clock, the Census Bureau estimates that the US population on August 5, 2016, at 4:49 p.m. ET (yup, down to the minute) was 324.17 million. That’s up from 308.76 million in April 2010. Since the darkest days of the Great Recession, the US population has grown by 15.4 million. The Census Bureau also estimates that there are currently 8.6 births per minute, minus 4.6 deaths per minute, plus 2 arriving immigrants (“net”) per minute, for a gain of nearly 6 folks per minute. Everyone ages, so the young ones move into the labor force, but the baby boomers are fit and healthy and don’t feel like retiring, and so they hang on to their jobs for as long as they can, despite the rampant age discrimination they face in many sectors, particularly in tech, though obviously not in politics.

In 2010, 24% of the people were under 18. That was 74 million people. Millions of them have since moved into the labor force, elbowing each other while scrambling for jobs, as have those millions who were then between 18 and their twenties and in college or grad school. These millennials have arrived on the job market in very large numbers. In April 2010, there were 130.1 million nonfarm payrolls. In today’s July report, there were 144.4 million. Hence, 14.3 million jobs have been added to the economy over the time span, even as the total population has grown by 15.4 million. So that’s not working out very well. On average, 205,300 jobs need to be created every month just to keep up with population growth and not allow the unemployment situation to get worse.

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Maybe they should be forced to pay back all their clients and close?

Hacked Bitcoin Firm Plans To Spread Losses Across All Users (CNBC)

The bitcoin exchange Bitfinex has said it is considering sharing losses among all its users after around $70 million worth of bitcoin was stolen earlier in the week. “We are still working out the details so nothing is set in stone, however we are leaning towards a socialized loss scenario among bitcoin balances and active loans to (bitcoin/dollar) positions,” the Hong-Kong based company said on its website on Friday. Bitfinex revealed it had been hacked on Tuesday and suspended trading, causing prices of the digital currency to fall significantly. A total of 119,756 bitcoins, worth $68 million at current prices, were reportedly stolen as a result of a security breach.

The company added in its latest statement that nothing had yet been decided and it was still settling positions and account balances. Bitfinex’s “socialized loss scenario” most likely means it will distribute its losses among all of the platform’s users, according to Charles Hayter, chief executive and founder of digital currency comparison website CryptoCompare. This would mean users whose bitcoins were never originally stolen would be affected. “In essence, (this is) a haircut for all users on their deposits. To what degree depends on the devil in the details and what the total capital held by BitFinex is,” Hayter told CNBC via email.

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A heavily indebted company gets permission to open a bank, to rival another bank that has 25% of its loans off-balance-sheet and non-performing. What could go wrong?

In China, When in Debt, Dig Deeper (WSJ)

When the going gets tough in China, just get a bank. With profits headed south, heavily indebted Chinese heavy-machinery giant Sany Heavy Industries said this week it won approval to set up a bank in the Hunan province city of Changsha. With 3 billion yuan ($450 million) of registered capital, it will be a relatively large institution as Chinese city-based banks go. Sanyplans to join forces with a pharmaceutical company and an aluminum company.

In recent months several city commercial banks in China have been taken over by the likes of tobacco and travel companies, recapitalized and renamed. Banking licenses are scarce in China, and rarely are new banks set up from scratch. Sany’s Sanxiang Bank will be up and running in six months. It will go up against crosstown rival Bank of Changsha, which at the end of last year had substantial 90 billion yuan book of off-balance-sheet loans, more than a quarter of them nonperforming. Sany had better ramp up quickly.

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Comment on the WSJ piece above.

Only In China: Companies Become Banks To ‘Solve’ Financial Difficulties

China is desperate to solve several problems it has due to its debt to GDP ratio being north of 300%. It may have found a pretty unconventional one by letting companies become banks, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. “With profits headed south, heavily indebted Chinese heavy-machinery giant Sany Heavy Industries said this week it won approval to set up a bank in the Hunan Province city of Changsha. With 3 billion yuan ($450 million) of registered capital, it will be a relatively large institution as Chinese city-based banks go. Sany plans to join forces with a pharmaceutical company and an aluminum company. Sany already operates an insurance and finance division with the goal of internal financing and insurance services for clients.”

One problem is that companies are defaulting on bond payments and there is no adequate resolution mechanism for bad debts, at least according to Goldman Sachs. “A clearer debt resolution process (for example, how debt restructuring on public bonds can be achieved, how valuation and recovery on defaulted bonds are arrived at, the timely disclosure of information and clarity on court-sanctioned processes) would help to pave the way for more defaults, which in our view are needed if policymakers are to deliver on structural reforms,” the investment bank writes in a note. By becoming or owning banks, the companies can just shift debt around different balance sheets to avoid a default, although this is probably not the resolution that Goldman Sachs had in mind when talking about structural reforms.

Another problem is that the regime has more and more difficulties pushing more debt into the economy to grease the wheels and keep GDP growth from collapsing entirely. China needs 11.9 units of new debt to create one unit of GDP growth. At the same time, the velocity of money or the measure of how often one unit of money changes hands during a year has fallen to below 0.5, another measure of how saturated the economy is with uneconomical credit. If the velocity of money goes down, the economy needs a higher stock of money to keep the same level of activity.

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Kathimerini is going off the rails, as are a group of Greeks. Accusing Varoufakis and Galbraith of planning a military coup is so far beyond the pale, it’s reason to look at legal action.

Galbraith Says Critics Have It All Wrong Over Greece ‘Plan X’ (Kath.)

University of Texas professor James Galbraith, a close associate of Yanis Varoufakis, has urged the 23 US-educated Greeks who recently criticized him for his part in last year’s negotiations with Greece’s creditors to read his book. Galbraith’s response came in the form of a letter to Kathimerini, which had published a story on July 29 on the letter from the 23 academics, addressed to the president of the University of Texas. In his own letter, Galbraith mentions the fact that his critics say they learned of his work as head of the team that worked on the so-called “Plan X” from interviews in the Greek press and excerpts of the Greek translation of his book, “Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice” (Yale University Press).

He asks why, given their knowledge of English, they did not read the original: “Had they done so, they would have found that the allegations they made are factually false.” Galbraith characterizes Plan X as “preliminary,” admitting that “the work of a small team cannot fully prepare for such a dramatic event.” He repeats that it would only have been activated if the Europeans had carried out their threat to cut off emergency liquidity via the ECB to Greek banks. “This would have triggered a forced exit of Greece from the euro, against the will of the government,” he notes. “The threat had been delivered by the president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, in late January,” he adds, mentioning also the suggestion by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble that Greece take a “holiday from the euro.”

Galbraith further rejects the claim made by the 23 that his plan constituted a “monetary-cum-military coup d’etat” and that it would involve “mobilizing the Greek armed forces to suppress possible civil disorder.” “We did not suggest using the military inappropriately or outside the Constitution. The only use of the word ‘mobilization’ in my book refers to the civil service.” He also denies that the plan included a plot to arrest the governor of the central bank. The memo on Plan X, as Galbraith repeats in his letter, “was prepared at the request of the prime minister” and “at no time was the working group engaged in advocating exit or any policy choice. The job was strictly to study the operational issues that would arise if Greece were forced to issue scrip or if it were forced out of the euro.”

Finally, Galbraith responds to claims in the letter from the 23 that he regretted the non-activation of Plan X. “This claim also is false,” he writes, making reference to his interview with Kathimerini on July 6, 2016, in which he had stated that “we were preparing for a scenario that everyone hoped to avoid.”

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“..even as an expert on economic and organized crime, I was amazed to see so much of what we talk about in theory was confirmed in practice..”

Stiglitz Quits Panama Papers Probe, Cites Lack Of Transparency (R.)

The committee set up to investigate lack of transparency in Panama’s financial system itself lacks transparency, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Reuters on Friday after resigning from the “Panama Papers” commission. The leak in April of more than 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, dubbed the “Panama Papers,” detailed financial information from offshore accounts and potential tax evasion by the rich and powerful. Stiglitz and Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth joined a seven-member commission tasked with probing Panama’s notoriously opaque financial system, but they say they found the government unwilling to back an open investigation.

Both quit the group on Friday after they say Panama refused to guarantee the committee’s report would be made public. “I thought the government was more committed, but obviously they’re not,” Stiglitz said. “It’s amazing how they tried to undermine us.” The Panamanian government defended the committee’s “autonomous” management in a statement issued later on Friday, and while it said it regretted the resignations of Stiglitz and Pieth, it chalked them up to unspecified “internal differences.”

[..] In addition to embarrassing leaders worldwide who had interests tied to secretive business concerns, the leak heaped pressure on Panama, well-known for its lax financial laws, to clean up its act. “I have had a close look at the so called Panama Papers, and I must admit that even as an expert on economic and organized crime, I was amazed to see so much of what we talk about in theory was confirmed in practice,” Pieth said in a telephone interview. In the papers he said he found evidence of crimes such as money laundering for child prostitution rings. “We’re being asked to do this as a courtesy for them and we’re paraded in front of the world media first, and then we’re told to shut up when they don’t like it,” Pieth, a criminal law professor at Basel University, said.

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Long and strong summary by Kristi Culpepper. Damning.

Is Hillary Clinton Corrupt? An Archive of Financial Improprieties (Medium)

[..] Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis of State Department and foundation data. That figure – derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) – represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term.

The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation, resulting in a 143% increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. These extra sales were part of a broad increase in American military exports that accompanied Obama’s arrival in the White House. The 143% increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80% increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period.

[..] It’s really not all that difficult to see why Clinton hasn’t given a press conference in 244 days and avoids the media at her campaign events, is it? Asking her to explain every ethically questionable deal she has been involved in would probably take longer than the State Department requires to vet her emails.

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In just 20 years. Wow.

Average American 15 Pounds Heavier Than 20 Years Ago (HDN)

There’s no doubt about it: Americans are getting heavier and heavier. But new U.S. estimates may still come as a shock – since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the average American has put on 15 or more additional pounds without getting any taller. Even 11-year-old kids aren’t immune from this weight plague, the study found. Girls are more than seven pounds heavier even though their height is the same. Boys gained an inch in height, but also packed on an additional 13.5 pounds compared to two decades ago. When looked at by race, blacks gained the most on average. Black women added 22 pounds despite staying the same average height. Black men grew about one-fifth of an inch, but added 18 pounds, the study found.

[..] According to the report, the average weight of men in the United States rose from 181 pounds to 196 pounds between 1988-1994 and 2011-2014. Their average height remained the same at about 5 feet, 9 inches. The average woman, meanwhile, expanded from 152 pounds to 169 pounds while her height remained steady at just under 5 feet, 4 inches.

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May 312016
 
 May 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1940

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)
One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)
The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)
You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)
Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)
Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)
Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)
The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)
Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)
Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)
Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)
German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)
Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)
More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)

The chief of Mizuho Financial Group said Japan risks a credit-rating downgrade if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delays a scheduled sales-tax increase without explaining how the government plans to cut its deficit. Yasuhiro Sato, president of Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, said Mr. Abe’s framing of such a decision would determine whether it sparked concerns about the government’s credibility regarding its plans for fiscal consolidation. “The worst scenario is [the government] will just announce a delay in the tax increase. That could send a message that Abenomics has failed or Japan is heading for a fiscal danger zone and then it will harm Japanese government bonds’ credit ratings,” Mr. Sato said in an interview, referring to the prime minister’s growth program.

Mr. Abe acknowledged for the first time Friday that he was considering delaying an increase in the sales tax to 10% from 8% scheduled to take effect in April next year. He said he would decide before an upper house election to be held in July, but Japanese media have reported that a decision could come this week. Mr. Abe has delayed the tax increase once, after the rise to 8% in April 2014 derailed an economic recovery. Consumer spending has yet to fully rebound, and some economists say the prospect of another tax increase next year is already weighing on spending. Mr. Sato acknowledged that raising the tax again would pose a risk to Japan’s economy. “There will be a risk in either case of raising the tax or not, so as long as the government demonstrates a clear road map for fiscal reconstruction, Japanese credibility likely won’t be hurt so much,” he said.

Some bankers say Japan could damage its international credibility if it fails to raise taxes on schedule. The tax increases are part of long-standing efforts to reach a primary government surplus by 2020. A primary surplus is a balanced budget excluding interest payments on government debt. Japan’s government debt is among the largest in the world relative to the size of its economy. Moody’s Investors Service said in a March report, “Postponing the next [sales-tax] increase regardless of the reason would pose a big fiscal burden for Japan.”

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Last year, “Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak”. But there’s simply money in shorting China; you can’t stop that.

One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)

Chinese stock-index futures plunged by the daily limit before snapping back in less than a minute, the second sudden swing to rattle traders this month. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. More than 1,500 June contracts changed hands in that period, the most all day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The China Financial Futures Exchange is investigating the tumble, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. The swing follows a similarly unexplained drop in Hang Seng China Enterprises Index futures in Hong Kong on May 16, a move that heightened anxiety among investors facing slower Chinese economic growth and a weakening yuan.

Volume in China’s stock-index futures market, which was the world’s most active as recently as July, has all but dried up after authorities clamped down on what they deemed excessive speculation during the nation’s $5 trillion equity crash last summer. Tuesday’s volatility had little impact on the underlying CSI 300, which rose 3%. “Liquidity in the market is really thin at the moment,” Fang Shisheng at Orient Securities said by phone. “So the market will very likely see big swings if a big order comes in. The order looks like it’s from a hedger.” Chinese policy makers restricted activity in the futures market last summer because selling the contracts is one of the easiest ways for investors to make large wagers against stocks. Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak after officials raised margin requirements, tightened position limits and started a police probe into bearish wagers.

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Xi Jinping is one nervous man right now.

The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)

Chinese equities are once again in the cross hairs of short sellers. Short interest in one of the largest Hong Kong exchange-traded funds tracking domestic Chinese stocks has surged fivefold this month to its highest level in a year, according to data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg. The last time bearish bets were so elevated, such pessimism proved well-founded as China’s bull market turned into a $5 trillion rout. While trading in the Shanghai Composite has become subdued this month amid suspected state intervention, pessimists are betting that equities face renewed selling amid a slumping yuan. The Chinese currency is heading for its biggest monthly loss since last year’s devaluation as the nation’s economic outlook worsens and the Fed prepares to raise borrowing costs, driving a rally in the dollar.

“Some macro funds are seeking opportunities to short index futures to play the currency movement,” said Wenjie Lu at UBS. “A higher chance of a Fed rate hike means there’s pressure for the yuan to soften.” Short interest in the CSOP FTSE China A50 ETF climbed to 6.1% on May 25, the highest level since April 2015, two months before Chinese equities peaked, and up from 1.3% at the end of last month. Bearish bets in the U.S. traded iShares China Large-Cap ETF jumped to a two-year high of 18% of shares outstanding on the same day, up from 3% a month ago. Even as Chinese equities rallied on Tuesday, traders were rattled by a sudden plunge in index futures. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at around 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. The move had little effect on the underlying stock gauge, which rose 2.6% at the break.

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I think there’s more to it than that.

You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF. What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”. The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism.

Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition. The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree.

And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”. Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses.

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You kidding me? They’re overloaded to their necks in overvalued property loans.

Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)

Today they face little competition in their home market and have benefited tremendously from Australia’s strong growth, underpinned by China’s seemingly insatiable demand for the country’s gas, coal, iron ore and other raw materials. During the 2012 European debt crisis, Australia’s banks were worth more than all of Europe’s. But Australian financial institutions have made the same fundamental mistake the rest of the country has, assuming that growth based on “houses and holes” – rising property prices and resources buried underground – can continue indefinitely. In fact, despite a recent rebound in Chinese demand, commodities prices look set to remain weak for the foreseeable future. Banks’ exposure to the slowing natural resources sector has reached nearly $70 billion in loans outstanding – worryingly large relative to their capital resources.

If anything, their exposure to the property sector is even more dangerous. Mortgages make up a much bigger proportion of bank portfolios than before – more than half, double the level in the 1990s. And they’re riskier than they used to be: many loans are interest-only, while around 80% have variable rates. With a downturn likely – everything from price-to-income to price-to-rent ratios suggests houses are massively overvalued – losses are likely to rise, especially if economy activity weakens. Australian banks are also more vulnerable to outside shocks than they may first appear. Their loan-to-deposit ratio is about 110%. Domestic deposits fund only around 60% of bank assets; the rest of their financing has to come from overseas. While that hasn’t been a problem recently, Australia’s external position is deteriorating.

The current account deficit is expected to climb to 4.75% in the year ending June 30. Weak terms of trade, a rising budget deficit, slower growth and a falling currency are likely to drive up the cost of funds. If Australia’s economy or the financial sector’s performance falters, or international markets are disrupted, banks’ access to external funds could be threatened.

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“..only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP..”

Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)

The US-Europe deal TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the best known of these so-called “new generation” trade deals and has inspired a movement. More than 3 million Europeans have signed Europe’s biggest petition to oppose TTIP, while 250,000 Germans took to the streets of Berlin last autumn to try to bring this deal down. A new opinion poll shows only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP, down from 53% and 55% just two years ago. But TTIP is not alone. Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Ceta is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months.

The one positive thing about Ceta is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries. Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.

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Would anyone doubt it?

Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)

Britain has been described as the most corrupt country in the world, according to a journalist and expert on the Italian Mafia. Roberto Saviano, who wrote best-selling exposés Gomorrah and ZeroZeroZero, made the claim at the Hay Literary Festival. The 36-year-old has been living under police protection for 10 years since revelations were published about members of the Camorra, a Neapolitan branch of the mafia. Mr Saviano told the audience at Hay-on-Wye: “If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy and I will tell you it’s the UK. “It’s not the bureaucracy, it’s not the police, it’s not the politics but what is corrupt is the financial capital. 90% of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore.

“Jersey and the Cayman’s are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it. “That is why it is important why it is so crucial for me to be here today and to talk to you because I want to tell you, this is about you, this is about your life, this is about your government.” David Cameron came under pressure for the UK to reform offshore tax havens operating on British overseas territories at an anti-corruption summit earlier this month. Mr Saviano also weighed in on the EU referendum debate, warning a vote to leave the union would see Britain even more exposed to organised crime. He added: “Leaving the EU means allowing this to take place. It means allowing the Qatari societies, the Mexican cartels, the Russian Mafia to gain even more power and HSBC has paid £2 billion in fines to the US government, because it confessed that it had laundered money coming from the cartels and the Iranian companies. “We have proof, we have evidence.”

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How power rules.

The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)

Failure was not an option. It was July 1974. A steady predawn drizzle had given way to overcast skies when William Simon, newly appointed U.S. Treasury secretary, and his deputy, Gerry Parsky, stepped onto an 8 a.m. flight from Andrews Air Force Base. On board, the mood was tense. That year, the oil crisis had hit home. An embargo by OPEC’s Arab nations—payback for U.S. military aid to the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War—quadrupled oil prices. Inflation soared, the stock market crashed, and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin. Officially, Simon’s two-week trip was billed as a tour of economic diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East, full of the customary meet-and-greets and evening banquets.

But the real mission, kept in strict confidence within President Richard Nixon’s inner circle, would take place during a four-day layover in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The goal: neutralize crude oil as an economic weapon and find a way to persuade a hostile kingdom to finance America’s widening deficit with its newfound petrodollar wealth. And according to Parsky, Nixon made clear there was simply no coming back empty-handed. Failure would not only jeopardize America’s financial health but could also give the Soviet Union an opening to make further inroads into the Arab world. It “wasn’t a question of whether it could be done or it couldn’t be done,” said Parsky, 73, one of the few officials with Simon during the Saudi talks.

At first blush, Simon, who had just done a stint as Nixon’s energy czar, seemed ill-suited for such delicate diplomacy. Before being tapped by Nixon, the chain-smoking New Jersey native ran the vaunted Treasuries desk at Salomon Brothers. To career bureaucrats, the brash Wall Street bond trader—who once compared himself to Genghis Khan—had a temper and an outsize ego that was painfully out of step in Washington. Just a week before setting foot in Saudi Arabia, Simon publicly lambasted the Shah of Iran, a close regional ally at the time, calling him a “nut.” But Simon, better than anyone else, understood the appeal of U.S. government debt and how to sell the Saudis on the idea that America was the safest place to park their petrodollars.

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Inappropriate, illegal, and a public service, all at the same time.

Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents. “We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “Now I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. Holder said Snowden jeopardized America’s security interests by leaking classified information while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency in 2013.

“He harmed American interests,” said Holder, who was at the helm of the Justice Department when Snowden leaked U.S. surveillance secrets. “I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.” Snowden, who has spent the last few years in exile in Russia, should return to the U.S. to deal with the consequences, Holder noted. “I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

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Times editors’ curious timing.

Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)

European leaders congratulated themselves last week for reaching an agreement to provide more loans to Greece and eventually ease the terms of the country’s huge debt. But there is little to celebrate. Greece is bankrupt in all but name. The country has a debt of more than €300 billion, or about 180% of its GDP, a sum it cannot hope to repay in full. Most of that money is owed to Germany, France, Italy and other countries in the eurozone. After an 11-hour meeting last week, the eurozone finance ministers said that they would lend another €7.5 billion to Greece next month to help it pay off debt and grant it some relief, possibly including lower interest rates and extended payment periods, but not until mid-2018.

The reality is that Greece can’t be squeezed any harder. But the finance ministers are seeking still more spending cuts and increased taxes. They want to see a budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP before interest payments by 2018. A stable and fast-growing country might be able to hit that target, but it is preposterous to expect that from Greece. The IMF wants to see a more realistic surplus of 1.5%. Delaying meaningful debt relief until 2018 will further harm the struggling Greek economy. The Greek unemployment rate was 24.4% in January, and Greece’s economy shrunk in the first three months of the year. The I.M.F., which has also lent Greece money, recently estimated that at its current trajectory, the country’s debt would eventually grow to 250% of GDP.

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Forcing Greece into foolish measures: “..Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall.”

Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)

There was fresh concern on Monday that there could be further delays in the disbursement of much-need bailout money to Greece owing to a disagreement between Athens and its creditors, who have demanded changes to prior actions passed in Parliament earlier this month. EU officials on Monday appeared to dismiss Greece’s refusal to implement some of these changes, saying that these are issues that have already been agreed with the Greek government. The country’s lenders had given the green light for the disbursement of a tranche of 10.3 billion euros last week, on the condition the government made amendments to recent legislation it passed on pension, bad loans and privatizations.

However, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos had informed the European Commission representative and the IMF in a letter last week that their demands could not be met, neither could Athens fulfill the demands enshrined in the bailout deal signed last summer to privatize ADMIE, the country’s grid operator, and to freeze the wages of essential services, like those of the coast guard and police. Greece desperately needs the new bailout money to pay state arrears as well as debt repayments to the IMF and European Central Bank in the coming weeks. There were reports on Monday that the government is planning to submit its own amendments on Wednesday to Parliament. If the disagreement between Greece and its creditors persists, then it is likely it will be discussed at the Euro Working Group on Thursday.

In comments on Monday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall. “This is why Greece needs an effective public administration,” Schaeuble told a conference on fiscal sustainability, observing that Greek tax collection must be improved to bring in the higher revenues that are being targeted.

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Germany has exported its unemployment to Greece and Spain.

German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)

German unemployment declined more than economists estimated, pushing the jobless rate to the lowest level since reunification. The number of people out of work fell by a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 2.695 million in May, data from the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg showed on Tuesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was for a decline of 5,000. The jobless rate dropped to 6.1 percent. The report comes two days before ECB officials convene in Vienna to set monetary policy and assess whether they’ve done enough to sustain an economic recovery in the 19-nation euro region.

The ECB is expected to keep its stimulus plan unchanged after President Mario Draghi announced an expansion of quantitative easing by a third to €80 billion in March and cut the deposit rate further below zero. Unemployment dropped by 8,000 in western Germany and declined by 3,000 in the eastern part of the country, the report showed. Growth momentum in Europe’s largest economy remains strong after gross domestic product expanded at the fastest pace in two years in the first quarter. German business sentiment rose to the highest level in five months in May and consumer prices unexpectedly halted their decline. The Bundesbank predicts the economy will retain its underlying strength, even though expansion will probably slow somewhat this quarter.

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Obviously not a surprise for me, or Automatic Earth readers. And lest we forget: Norway does a lot of good in silence. But more austerity is definitely not going to fix anything at all.

Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)

71% of the Greek capital’s homeless population has ended up on the streets in the last five years and 21.7% in the last year alone, a study by the City of Athens’s Homeless Shelter (KYADA), funded by the Norwegian government and other European countries, has found. According to the study, which was conducted as part of the “Fighting Poverty and Social Exclusion” program and whose findings were presented by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis on Monday evening, 62% of the capital’s homeless are Greeks, the overwhelming majority (85.4%) are men and most (57%) are aged between 35-55. Of the 451 respondents questioned by KYADA workers from March 2015 until the same month this year, 47% said they ended up on the street after losing their job and 29% said they do not want to move to a shelter or other organized facility.

Less than half of the respondents (41.2%) admitted to using drugs, 7.3% to alcohol and 2% to both. Kaminis also said that in the one-year period, the solidarity program helped distribute 46,156 supermarket food coupons worth around 1.85 million euros to nearly 9,000 beneficiaries in over 3,700 families. “Through its social structures and strong alliances with agencies, partners and simple citizens, the City of Athens help give support to more than 25,000 residents,” Kaminis said at the presentation, which was also attended by Norwegian Ambassador to Athens Jorn Eugene Gjelstad.

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Who we are. Not including debt slaves.

More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

More than 45 million men, women and children globally are trapped in modern slavery, far more than previously thought, with two-thirds in the Asia-Pacific, a study showed Tuesday. The details were revealed in the 2016 Global Slavery Index, a research report by the Walk Free Foundation, an initiative set up by Australian billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest in 2012 to draw attention to the issue. It compiled information from 167 countries with 42,000 interviews in 53 languages to determine the prevalence of the issue and government responses. It suggested that there were 28% more slaves than estimated two years ago, a revision reached through better data collection and research methods.

The report said India had the highest number of people trapped in slavery at 18.35 million, while North Korea had the highest incidence (4.37% of the population) and the weakest government response. Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. They may be held in debt bondage on fishing boats, against their will as domestic servants or trapped in brothels. Some 124 countries have criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol and 96 have developed national action plans to coordinate the government response.

In terms of absolute numbers, Asian countries occupy the top five for people trapped in slavery. Behind India was China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million). As a %age of the population, Uzbekistan (3.97%) and Cambodia (1.65%) trailed North Korea, which the study said was the only nation in the world that has not explicitly criminalised any form of modern slavery.

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