Aug 182017
 
 August 18, 2017  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis Slow Bull Dakota Sioux Medicine Man In Prayer 1907

 

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)
The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)
Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)
Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)
So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)
Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)
China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)
‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)
Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)
Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)
Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)
Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

 

 

After a week of senseless violence and rhetoric, we could sure do with a medicine man praying for peace. I know, they say this is what the Fourth Turning looks like. But I don’t have to like it. Seeing some of the pictures of traumatized people in Barcelona I couldn’t help thinking how much they looked like those I’ve seen from Syria and Libya. Senseless violence.

 

 

Part of a longer piece on retirement distributions. Very strong graph.

Never Doubt Regression To The Mean (Rosso)

Since 1877, secular bull years have totaled 80 vs. 52 for bears, which is a 60/40 ratio. Surprised? Bear markets happen more often than investors are led to believe. They usually occur at times of overvaluation which makes recent retirees or those close to retirement at greater risk of experiencing negative or poor future returns. Bad luck or rotten timing. Either way, it’s going to be important to remain cognizant of portfolio distribution rates, place renewed priority on risk management, and adjust spending accordingly perhaps over the next ten years. Those who were proactive to minimize stock and high-yield bond portfolio risk (like several of the writers for Real Investment Advice), and redeployed capital into stocks at 13x earnings in the summer of 2009, helped new retirees at that time meet their retirement objectives. In addition, they have experienced a cyclical tailwind in stocks that has allowed greater distribution rates. Great luck!

Stock market cycles are vast and span decades. Don’t stumble into a Recency Bias trap where you believe current complacent market conditions lay the path to a smooth, high-return future. Markets are mean reverting mechanisms. Cycles indeed change. Usually, markets are more volatile with periods of 5% pullbacks occurring every 3-4 months. As investors, this year we’ve witnessed shallow retracements followed up by buys on the dips. An environment like this fosters overconfidence. Volatility may excite traders and be helpful to those who are seeking lower prices to purchase risk assets. For those in retirement distribution mode, volatility and corrections have potential to place portfolio longevity in jeopardy.

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“Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo…”

The Stock Market Bubble is So Big Even the Fed’s Talking About It (Phoenix)

The Fed confirmed yesterday that stocks are in a bubble. Lost amidst the usual Fed-speak about inflation and other items were the following nuggets. 1) “Equities” (read: stocks) were the primary reason the Fed discussed financial stability risks. 2) The Fed raised its assessment of financial stability from “notable” to “elevated.” 3) The Fed discussed “stock valuations.” This is simply incredible. Remember, we’re talking about the Fed here… a group of people who go above and beyond to ignore risks in order to maintain the status quo. Put another way, the stock market bubble is now so massive that even THE FED is talking about it. Indeed, the Fed is even openly states that the bubble might cause financial instability (read: a CRASH). It’s not difficult to see what the Fed is talking about. Based on their cyclical adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) stocks are in CLEAR bubble territory.

As you can see, stocks are currently as overpriced as they were at the 1929 peak. Indeed, the only time stocks were MORE expensive was the Tech Bubble: the single largest stock market bubble in history. They say you don’t ring a bell at the top. But what the Fed did yesterday is DARN close. So what happens when the markets wake up to the fact that yet another massive bubble is beginning to burst?

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Freeze it before the collapse.

Ice-Nine: The Plan To Freeze The Financial System (Rickards)

In my book The Road to Ruin, I discuss a phenomenon called “ice-nine.” The name is taken from a novel, Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut. In the novel, a scientist invents a molecule he calls ice-nine, which is like water but with two differences. The melting temperature is 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit (meaning it’s frozen at room temperature), and whenever ice-nine comes in contact with water, the water turns to ice-nine and freezes. The ice-nine is kept in three vials. The plot revolves around the potential release of ice-nine into water, which would eventually freeze the rivers and oceans and end all life on Earth. Cat’s Cradle is darkly comedic, and I highly recommend it. I used ice-nine in my book as a metaphor for financial contagion.

If regulators freeze money market funds in a crisis, depositors will take money from banks. The regulators will then close the banks, but investors will sell stocks and force the exchanges to close and so on. Eventually, the entire financial system will be frozen solid and investors will have no access to their money. Some of my readers were skeptical of this scenario. But I researched it carefully and provided solid evidence that this plan is already in place — it’s just not well understood. But the ice-nine plan is now being put into practice. Consider a recent Reuters article that admitted elites would likely shut down the entire system when the next financial crisis strikes. The article claimed that the EU is considering actions that would temporarily prevent people from withdrawing money from banks to prevent bank runs.

“The desire is to prevent a bank run, so that when a bank is in a critical situation it is not pushed over the edge,” said one source. Very few people are aware of these developments. They get a brief mention in the media, if they get mentioned at all. But people could be in for a shock when they try to get their money out of the bank during the next financial crisis. Think of it as a war on currency or a war on money. Even the skeptics can see how the entire financial system will be frozen solid in the next crisis. The only solution is to have physical gold, silver and bank notes in private storage. The sooner you put your personal ice-nine protection plan in place, the safer you’ll be.

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“..the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties)..”

Neoliberalism: The Idea That Changed The World (G.)

Last summer, researchers at the IMF settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality. Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.)

But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses. Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.

Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression. In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

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I’m still convinced that people will react shocked if China is the first domino. But though Charlene Chu is right that China controls most of its system, its control over Chinese obligations abroad isn’t nearly that strong. Xi knows this, and that’s why Chinese purchases abroad are shrinking. China has become part of the global financial system with monopoly money. And sure, it has dollars and Treasuries, but they’re neither limitless nor limitlessly fungible. Weakest point? Local governments who have borrowed from foreign sources. Or from domestic ones that get their credit from foreigners. Shadow banks.

So When Will China’s Debt Bubble Finally Blow Up? (WS)

Corporate debt in China has soared to $18 trillion, or 169% of GDP, the largest pile of corporate debt in the world, according to the worried BIS. The OECD has warned about it earlier this year. The New York Fed warned about this debt boom in February and that it could lead to a “financial crisis,” but that authorities have many tools to control it. The IMF regularly warns about China’s corporate debt, broken-record-like, and did so again a few days ago, lambasting the authorities for their reluctance to tamp down on the growth of debt. The “current trajectory,” it said, “could eventually lead to a sharp adjustment.” The Chinese authorities – the government and the central bank, supported by the state-owned megabanks – have allowed some bonds to default, rather than bail them out, to make some kind of theoretical point, and they have been working furiously on a balancing act, tamping down on the credit growth that fuels the economy and simultaneously stimulating the economy with more credit to keep the debt bubble from imploding.

A misstep could create a global mess. “Everyone knows there’s a credit problem in China, but I find that people often forget about the scale; it’s important in global terms,” Charlene Chu told the FT. Back in 2011, when she was still a China banking analyst at Fitch Ratings, she went out on a limb with her radical estimates that there was much more debt than disclosed by the central bank, particularly in the shadow banking system, that banks were concealing risky loans in off-balance-sheet vehicles, and that this soaring opaque debt could have nasty consequences. Her outlandish views at the time have since then become the consensus. And this pile of debt is in much worse shape than officially acknowledged, she says in her latest report, cited by the FT. She’s now with Autonomous Research.

She figured that by the end of 2017, bad debt in China could hit 51 trillion yuan, or $7.6 trillion. Or about 68% of GDP! It would take the bad-debt ratio to an astronomical 34% of all loans, and way above the 5.3% that the authorities are proffering. And the authorities – the government, the central bank, supported by the state-owned banks – are now pulling all levers to keep this under control. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.”

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More Chu. Remarkable how she says “.. the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives.” Remarkable because that describes America as much as it does China.

Charlene Chu Lays Out China’s “Doomsday” Scenario (ZH)

The first time we laid out the dire calculations about what is perhaps the biggest mystery inside China’s financial system, namely the total amount of its non-performing loans, by former Fitch analyst Charlene Chu we called it a “neutron bomb” scenario, because unlike virtually every other rosy forecast the most dire of which topped out at around 8%, Chu argued that the amount of bad debt in China was no less than a whopping 21% of total loans. While traditional bank loans are not Chu’s prime focus – she looks at the wider picture, including shadow banking – she says her work suggests that nonperforming loans may be at 20% to 21%, or even higher. The chart below shows just how much of an outlier Chu’s stark forecast was in comparison to her peers, and especially the grotesquely low and completely fabricated official number released by the banks and the government.

Recall that one of the biggest scandals in China in 2014 was the realization (as many had warned previously) that millions of tons of commodities were rehypothecated countless times, and thus “pledged” as collateral to numerous counterparties, and that as a result these same counterparties were unable to make sense of who owns what at one of China’s largest ports, Qingdao. In this context, it is safe to assume that loss given default rates in China are if not 100% (or more, which is impossible in theoretical terms but in practice is quite possible, as another curious side effect of unlimited collateral rehypothecation), then as close to it as possible.

Fast forward to today, when Charlene Chu, described by the FT as “one of the most influential analysts of China’s financial system” is back with a revised estimate that the bad debt in China has now reached a stunning $6.8 trillion above official figures and warns that the government’s ability to enforce stability has allowed underlying problems to go unchecked. [..] So if Chu held the wildly outlier view nearly two years ago that China’s NPLs amount to 21% of total, what is her latest estimate? The number is a doozy: in her latest report, Chu estimates that bad debt in China’s financial system will reach as much as Rmb51 trillion , or $7.6 trillion, by the end of this year, more than five times the value of bank loans officially classified as either non-performing or one notch above.” That estimate implies a bad-debt ratio of 34%, orders of magnitude above the official 5.3% ratio for those two categories at the end of June.

One factor that has foiled countless shorts over the years is that Beijing can simply order state-owned banks to keep lending to a lossmaking zombie company or to a smaller lender that relies on short-term interbank funding to stay liquid, and that’s precisely what has been happening, when looking at the various non-conventional credit pathways in China in recent years, which include Wealth Management Products, Bank Loans to Non-Bank Institutions, Shadow Banking, Repos and Certificates of Deposit.

But Chu said the ability to avoid recognizing losses only delays the inevitable day of reckoning as problems fester for longer, and grow larger than in an economy where actors respond purely to market incentives. That said, the recent spike in corporate bankruptcies indicates that even Beijing is slowly shifting to a more “market” driven stance. “What I’ve gotten a greater appreciation for is how everything is so orchestrated by the authorities,” she said. “The upside is that it creates stability. The downside is that it can create a problem of proportions that people would think is never possible. We’re moving into that territory.” Finally, putting it all in context is the following chart showing the total size of China’s financial sector, which as of the latest quarter has grown to $35 trillion, double the size of the US.

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Subtle tactics from Xi. Shift the debt but keep it high. What do you think the odds are that after the Party Congress China will withdraw into itself?

China’s New Problem: Frenzy Of Consumer Lending Creates Debt Explosion (CNBC)

The Chinese government is moving to tackle high debt levels, but the country is still borrowing more, Deutsche Bank said in a report released Thursday. That’s because short-term consumer debt in China has begun to surge as authorities try to alleviate the high levels of corporate indebtedness. The redistribution comes as Beijing is trying to strike a balance between stability and strength in its economy. Household debt in China is growing “very fast” and has accelerated in the last three to four months, according to Deutsche Bank: “If we focus purely on the consumer lending … then China has been undergoing something akin to a consumer lending frenzy.” According to Deutsche Bank, corporate credit has fallen to 45% of net new credit, down from 65% in the last 10 years. Instead, Beijing is allowing households and governments to borrow more to fund growth, which is targeted for around 6.5% in 2017, said the analysts.

Now, short-term consumer credit is growing 35% year-over-year, and may hit about 40% year-over-year by the end of December at the current trend, Deutsche Bank said. The bank said it isn’t yet clear where exactly the short-term consumer credit is being deployed, although 70 to 80% of that debt has historically been credit card-related. Overall household credit growth in China, the analysts noted, is growing around 24% year-over-year. At the end of the first half of 2017, corporate the debt-to-GDP ratio fell to 165% from the peak of 169% in the first quarter of 2016. That was “more of a ‘stabilization’ than a significant reduction,” Deutsche Bank said, calling it an “explosion” of growth. Meanwhile, household and government debt however rose by 8 to 9% of GDP. “So when viewed in aggregate China is still leveraging up apace,” the Deutsche Bank report concluded.

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Maybe somoneone should explain to Warren what the Fed is and does. Or Washington for that matter.

‘Simply Doesn’t Cut It’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Wells Fargo Board Changes (BI)

Wells Fargo’s effort to turn the page on consumer fraud scandals is falling short. That’s according to Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who has requested the Federal Reserve remove the bank’s board members who served between May 2011 and July 2015 in response to a series of vast consumer fraud scandals. The bank, already in hot water for creating millions of unauthorized accounts, recently admitted to also selling auto insurance without customers’ knowledge. Wells Fargo’s response? It has promoted an ex-Fed board governor, Elizabeth Duke, to chairwoman of the board. Duke, a champion of community banks while at the Fed, became a Wells Fargo director in 2015 and was named vice chair last year after the first round of scandals broke and led to the resignation of then-CEO John Stumpf.

Business Insider contacted Senator Warren to get her reaction. “Letting a few board members retire early and shuffling around current board members simply doesn’t cut it,” Warren said in an email. “The Fed should remove all remaining board members who served during the fake-accounts scandal.” Warren also renewed her call for board members’ removal with a new letter to Fed chairman Janet Yellen dated August 16, and voicing her dissatisfaction at what she sees as central bank inaction. “Instead of taking steps to remove the responsible Wells Fargo Board members, the Federal Reserve has actually sought to reduce their obligations and the obligations of other directors at the country’s biggest banks,” the letter said. In July, Warren repeatedly pressed Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the issue during recent Congressional testimony but Yellen would only say the central bank had the power to remove the directors — not that it had any inclination to do so.

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More free rides for bankers. Warren! Oh wait, your own party takes their contributions.

Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Settle Agency Bond Rigging Lawsuits (R.)

Deutsche Bank and Bank of America agreed to pay a combined $65.5 million to settle investor litigation accusing large banks of rigging the roughly $9 trillion government agency bond market over a decade. Preliminary settlements totaling $48.5 million for Deutsche Bank and $17 million for Bank of America were filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and require a judge’s approval. Both banks denied wrongdoing. The settlements were the first in litigation accusing 10 banks of engaging in a “brazen conspiracy” to rig the market for U.S. dollar-denominated supranational, sub-sovereign and agency (SSA) bonds, court papers show. The investors are led by the Iron Workers Pension Plan of Western Pennsylvania, KBC Asset Management, and the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Plan of Northern California.

They accused banks of communicating by phone, chatrooms and instant messaging to share pricing data and function as a collective “super-desk,” while letting traders coordinate their strategies, to boost profit. This collusion allegedly ran from 2005 to 2015, and forced customers to accept unfair prices on bonds they bought and sold, court papers show. BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Credit Agricole, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Nomura, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank were also sued, and all sought dismissals. U.S. regulators have also examined possible manipulation in the SSA bond market. The Manhattan court is home to a slew of private litigation accusing big banks of conspiring to rig various financial markets, interest rate benchmarks and commodities. Late Wednesday night, another group of investors sued six banks, claiming they rigged the more than $1 trillion stock lending market.

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Simply how all of Washington works.

Who Is Lobbying Mike Pence And Why? (IBT)

Mike Pence has been among the Trump administration’s most prominent voices pressing to replace the Affordable Care Act, repeal post-crisis financial regulations, privatize American infrastructure and promote fossil fuels. Those positions would benefit the industries that have been directly lobbying Pence since he was elected vice president, according to federal documents reviewed by International Business Times. Amid speculation that Pence could mount his own presidential bid — or replace Trump if he leaves office early — the former Indiana governor and U.S. congressman has been directly lobbied by major health care and drug companies, Wall Street firms, oil and gas interests and industry groups interested in shaping a federal infrastructure privatization initiative.

Pence’s office has also been lobbied by his former congressional chief of staff on behalf of insurance, defense contracting and telecommunications companies — and that lobbying revolved around health care policy, defense spending and net neutrality. Pence has enthusiastically backed the policies by the lobbying firms. While other vice presidents have been the target of lobbying in the past, Pence has been viewed as one of the most powerful vice presidents in recent history. He is a longtime politician serving a president with no experience in elected office, and during his vice-presidential selection process, Trump was reportedly offering potential running mates a vast policy portfolio to oversee. Pence also oversaw Trump’s White House transition, which shaped the administration’s personnel decisions and many of its policy proposals.

Companies that have lobbied the vice president have spent tens of millions of dollars in total federal lobbying so far this year. Here is a deeper look at the major industries lobbying him — and what exactly they have been pushing for in their efforts to influence the vice president. Despite his onetime support for expanding Obamacare subsidies in his home state, Pence has reversed course and led the Trump administration’s legislative bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act — just as health insurers have been lobbying him in 2017.

“If you’re one of those Americans who want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, we literally are days, or maybe just weeks, away from being able to accomplish that historic objective,” he told conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh last month. “We believe if they can’t pass this carefully crafted repeal and replace bill — we do those two things simultaneously — we ought to just repeal only and then have enough time built into that legislation to craft replacement legislation.” The Pence-led repeal effort could be a financial boon to health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as well as UnitedHealthcare Group — both which have been in direct contact with Pence, according to records reviewed by IBT.

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Libertarian view.

Mr. President: Close Down More “Advisory Councils” (Rossini)

So President Trump closed down his “Manufacturing Council” and no one cheered? What a shame. Why was there a “Manufacturing Council” to begin with? It’s not the job of the president to meddle with our economy. His job description says nothing about benefitting “manufactures” or “scientists” or “Silicon Valley” or anyone else. These “Councils” are breeding grounds for the cronyism that has virtually destroyed the American Dream. If a CEO has the ear of the president, do you think he’s going to “advise” the president to do anything that will hurt his own business? On the other hand, would the CEO be tempted to advise the president to hurt his competitors, both foreign and domestic? Would the CEO advise the president to make it hard for start-ups and entrepreneurs to compete?

Would he advise for subsidies? Strict licensing laws? The president doesn’t need Advisory Councils, Czars, or any other destroyer of our economic liberties. Let the CEO’s be “counciled” themselves by free market prices. Let them deal with economic reality as it is, not massage the president for unconstitutional interventions. Let them stand on their own. Either satisfy consumers profitably, or fold up so that other people can. The president, at the same time, should stop pretending that he can push buttons and pull levers to make the economy run. Nothing could be further from the truth. Government intervention only stifles the economy.

The economy continues to function despite the political intrusions that exist. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are creative enough to always find ways around so-called government “regulations”. There’s always a loophole somewhere. But why make it hard on entrepreneurs to begin with? Just get the heck out of the way! But alas, the government and multi-national corporations are attached at the hip. One scratches the back of the other. Mr. President, close down all the “Advisory Councils,” and keep your hands off the economy.

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Spain’s views on this may have changed last night.

Spain Lacks Capacity To Handle Migration Surge – UNHCR (G.)

Spain lacks the resources and capacity to protect the rising number of refugees and migrants reaching it by sea, the UN refugee agency has said. The warning from UNHCR comes as the Spanish coastguard said it rescued 593 people in a day from 15 small paddle boats, including 35 children and a baby, after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar. The number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, with the one-day figure the largest since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period. About 9,300 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year, while a further 3,500 have made it to two Spanish enclaves in north Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, the EU’s only land borders with Africa.

María Jesús Vega, a spokeswoman for UNHCR Spain, said police were badly under-resourced and there was a lack of interpreters and a shortage of accommodation for the new arrivals. “The state isn’t prepared and there aren’t even the resources and the means to deal with the usual flow of people arriving by sea,” she said. “Given the current rise, we’re seeing an overflow situation when it comes to local authorities trying to cope at arrival points.” Vega said the agency was seeing a very high number of vulnerable people including women, victims of people-trafficking, and children. “What we’re asking is for there to be the right mechanisms in place to ensure people are treated with dignity when they come,” she said.

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Jan 092017
 
 January 9, 2017  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE Giant Trump Chicken

Locating Fascism on the Home Map (Ford)
‘The Bull Market Is In Its Final Inning’ (CNBC)
Chinese Warns Trump: End One China Policy And China Will Take Revenge (R.)
It’s Gonna Be Huge: China Factory Hatches Giant Trump Chickens (AFP)
How Meaningful Will China “Opening Up” Markets To Foreigners Be? (BBG)
China Tightens Rules After Anti-Corruption Staff Caught Up In Graft (R.)
China’s Pyrrhic Growth Victory Spurs 2017 Shift To Contain Risks (BBG)
The Rise, Fall and Comeback Of China’s Economy Over The Last 800 Years (BI)
Australia Predicts Dramatic Fall In Iron Ore Prices (BBC)
FBI Arrests Volkswagen Exec on Conspiracy Charges in Emissions Scandal (NYT)
UK Motorists Launch Class-Action Suit Against VW (G.)
Le Pen: I’ll Come To Brussels And Dismantle France’s Relationship With EU (EUK)
Beppe Grillo Calls For Five Star Movement Vote On Quitting Farage Bloc (G.)
New Cold Snap, Heavy Snowfall Causes Problems Across Greece (Kath.)

 

 

Hear hear!

Locating Fascism on the Home Map (Ford)

In decadence and decline, the U,S. has produced two strong strains of fascism that now vie for supremacy. The First Black President, now outgoing, represents the “cosmopolitan, global obsessed” variety of fascist. Donald Trump hails from an older fascist strain, “crude and petty, too ugly for global prime time.” At this stage in history, the two corporate parties seem incapable of producing anything other than fascists of one kind or the other.

Barack Obama was a savior – of a drowning ruling class. Under his administration, Wall Street rose from near-death to new heights of speculative frenzy, awash in capital brutally extracted from the vanishing assets and past and future earnings of the vast majority of the population, or gifted in the form of trillions in free money at corporate-only Federal Reserve windows. The Big Casino, reduced to a rubble of its own contradictions in 2008, ushered in the New Year just shy of the once-fantastical 20,000 mark. Analysts credited Donald Trump’s victory for the bankers’ bacchanal, but it was Obama who made the party possible by overseeing the restructuring of the U.S. economy to accommodate and encourage the hyper-consolidation of capital – another way to describe the deliberate deepening of economic (and political) inequality. Having accomplished the mission assigned him by Wall Street in return for record-breaking contributions to his first campaign, Obama is said to be angling for a hot-money squat in Silicon Valley, the super-rich sector that was most supportive of his presidency.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is melting quicker than the Wicked Witch of the West, principally due to the failure of traditionally Democratic working (and out of work) people of all races to turn out on November 8 – a perfectly understandable response to a party and a system that offers them absolutely nothing but grief, in ever quickening increments. The merciless downsizing of the American worker is a central element of Obama’s legacy. Real wages had been frozen or declining for decades. However, economic restructuring in the Age of Obama demanded that millions of workers be crushed all the way through the floor to a lower level of hell: temporary, contract, not-really-a-job, part-time “gig” employment. If the 1930s squatter shanty-towns called “Hoovervilles” were testaments to President Herbert Hoover’s economic policies, then the maddeningly precarious, no guaranteed hours, no benefits, zero job security, fraction of a shift, arbitrarily scheduled employment of today should be called ObamaJobs. A new study by economists at Princeton and Harvard universities shows that an astounding 94% of the 10 million jobs created during the First Black President’s two terms in office were ObamaJobs.

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“Risk has been priced out of the market..”

‘The Bull Market Is In Its Final Inning’ (CNBC)

As investors await the Dow Jones 20,000 with baited breath, one widely followed chart watcher believes the current market rally is actually on its last legs. On Friday, blue chip shares in the Dow Industrial Average flirted with the psychologically charged 20,000 level, which have largely been driven higher by anticipation over President-elect Donald Trump’s business-friendly policies. Yet a few observers think the party is nearly over, and the punch bowl is about to run dry. “Risk has been priced out of the market,” said Sven Henrick of NorthmanTrader.com on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” Henrich, who is known online as the Northman Trader, said that despite the abundance of optimism on the part of investors, technical indicators could be pointing to some near-term pain.

According to the Northman’s chartwork, every time the S&P 500 Index has hit new highs, it eventually retreats back towards its 25-day moving average line, which would translate to a 4% pullback from current levels. The S&P 500 has rallied 6% since the election, and hit an intraday record high on Friday. “I would expect that at some point there would be a buying opportunity for people who may want to invest in this market,” said Henrich. “But if this line breaks, we may see significantly more downside that we’ve seen in previous corrections as well.” What’s more, Henrich also believes that the S&P 500 has continued to trade in a “bearish wedge pattern” that began just after the end of the last recession.

The wedge pattern Henrich speaks of consists of two trend lines: One that runs along the S&P’s highs and a second that runs along its lows, that look to meet sometime in 2017. It is at that point that Henrich believes the rally will have run its course, and a downside will soon follow. On a fundamental basis, the Northman Trader is troubled by “record debt levels” that the global governments have incurred. “In 2016, the U.S. government ran a deficit of over $600 billion,” explained Henrich.” “If we now add tax cuts and stimulus spending, you’re either going to have to cut a significant amount of programs somewhere, or you’re going to end up with an even larger deficit.”

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For domestic use only?

Chinese Warns Trump: End One China Policy And China Will Take Revenge (R.)

State-run Chinese tabloid Global Times warned U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that China would “take revenge” if he reneged on the one-China policy, only hours after Taiwan’s president made a controversial stopover in Houston. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met senior U.S. Republican lawmakers during her stopover in Houston on Sunday en route to Central America, where she will visit Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Beijing had asked Washington not to allow Tsai to enter the United States and that she not have any formal government meetings under the one China policy. A photograph tweeted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott shows him meeting Tsai, with a small table between them adorned with the U.S., Texas and Taiwanese flags. Tsai also met Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

“Sticking to (the one China) principle is not a capricious request by China upon U.S. presidents, but an obligation of U.S. presidents to maintain China-U.S. relations and respect the existing order of the Asia-Pacific,” said the Global Times editorial on Sunday. The influential tabloid is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily. Trump triggered protests from Beijing last month by accepting a congratulatory telephone call from Tsai and questioning Washington’s commitment to China’s position that Taiwan is part of one China. “If Trump reneges on the one-China policy after taking office, the Chinese people will demand the government to take revenge. There is no room for bargaining,” said the Global Times.

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“..mimic his signature hand gestures with their tiny wings.”

It’s Gonna Be Huge: China Factory Hatches Giant Trump Chickens (AFP)

A Chinese factory is hatching giant inflatable chickens resembling Donald Trump to usher in the Year of the Rooster. The five-metre (16-foot) fowls sport the distinctive golden mane of the US president-elect and mimic his signature hand gestures with their tiny wings. Cartoon figures of animals from the Chinese zodiac are ubiquitous around Chinese New Year at the end of this month. The balloon factory is selling its presidential birds for as much as 14,400 yuan ($2,080) on Chinese shopping site Taobao for a 10-metre version.


A golden mane and tiny wings that mimic his hand gestures – the resemblence of inflatable chickens produced for the Chinese New Year to US President-elect is unmistakable (AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE)

“I saw his image on the news and he has a lot of personality, and since Year of the Rooster is coming up I mixed these two elements together to make a Chinese chicken,” factory owner Wei Qing told AFP. “It is so funny, so we designed it and tried to sell it and it turned out to be popular.” The cartoon balloon appeared to be based on a sculpture designed by US artist Casey Latiolais, which was unveiled at a shopping mall last month in Taiyuan, capital of the northern province of Shanxi. Wei said he was not aware that the American designer had created the original, but added that “there are some differences in the facial expression. And that one is glass. Ours is inflatable.”

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“If we do get any reforms this year, they are going to be Potemkin reforms. The veneer will look like they are moving to a market economy, and the reality will be anything but.”

How Meaningful Will China “Opening Up” Markets To Foreigners Be? (BBG)

China’s recent policy of opening its markets to foreigners is expected to continue this year, but there are questions about how meaningful the change will be amid a clampdown on money leaving the country. While China loosened restrictions on its interbank bond market and relaxed rules for offshore investors trading stocks, it also saw $762 billion head overseas in the first 11 months of last year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates, as investors sought safety in foreign assets. That helped push the yuan down 6.5% against the dollar in 2016, the most since 1994. Seeking to stem the flow, mainland authorities tightened rules that contributed to MSCI Inc. refusing to add Chinese-listed shares to its global indexes.

China’s regulators have indicated that this year foreigners might be allowed to access commodity futures and bond derivatives, while MSCI will again consider adding mainland stocks. But concerns remain about how open China’s markets will be, especially on the issue of taking assets out of the country. The contrast highlights the tension authorities face between inviting more investment while keeping control of the financial sector. “I’d describe China’s strategy as a pipeline strategy. Essentially what they do is to create various pipelines of inflows and outflows,” said John Greenwood, London-based chief economist at Invesco Asset Management. “The problem is the flows are always in the opposite direction of what they want.”

Among last year’s steps, Beijing lifted almost all quotas on China’s interbank bond market and scrapped some constraints under the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor program, which governs how offshore funds invest in mainland markets. The Shenzhen-Hong Kong stock exchange link, the second between the mainland and the former British colony, opened in December. Expectations then rose as an official with the People’s Bank of China said the central bank is committed to further opening the interbank market, including giving foreign investors access to foreign-exchange and interest-rate derivatives to hedge risks, and expanding trading hours. Even as China opens up to incoming funds, it has been clamping down on outflows.

Officials have banned the use of friends’ currency quotas, made it more difficult to buy insurance policies in Hong Kong and prepared restrictions on overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies. Grants of new quotas for domestic fund managers to invest overseas were frozen, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The tightening of outflow rules makes it hard for some to say that the country is fully embracing financial reform. “We have already seen in China’s case, markets only work when they go up. You are not allowed to go down,” said Michael Every at Rabobank in Hong Kong. “If we do get any reforms this year, they are going to be Potemkin reforms. The veneer will look like they are moving to a market economy, and the reality will be anything but.”

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“500,000-plus corruption investigators..” Who are corrupt.

China Tightens Rules After Anti-Corruption Staff Caught Up In Graft (R.)

China’s top anti-corruption watchdog has tightened supervision of its 500,000-plus corruption investigators, after some of its own staff were caught in graft probes. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement on its website late on Sunday that a new regulation would be applied to procedures such as evidence collection and case reviews, without providing further details. “Trust cannot replace supervision,” the CCDI said in the statement, released after it held an annual 3-day meeting. “We must make sure the power granted by the (Communist) Party and the people is not abused,” it said.

State newspaper the China Daily, which did not indicate its sources, said the new regulation would set clear standards on how to handle corruption tips, how to handle ill-gotten assets, and would encourage audio and video recordings to be made throughout interrogations. More than 7,900 disciplinary officials have been punished for wrongdoing since 2012, the newspaper said, citing CCDI figures. Of those, 17 were CCDI staffers who were put under investigation for graft, it said. On Friday, state news agency Xinhua quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying that the battle against corruption “must go deeper”, and called for the Communist Party to be governed “systematically, creatively and efficiently”.

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Stuck.

China’s Pyrrhic Growth Victory Spurs 2017 Shift To Contain Risks (BBG)

As China’s top leaders tallied the cost of another year of debt-fueled growth at a December meeting, the imperative for stability as a leadership reshuffle loomed later this year prompted an unexpected conclusion. The price was too high, the leaders agreed, according to a person familiar with the situation. The buildup of debt used to fuel smokestack industries from steel to cement had helped win the short-term battle for growth, but the triumph itself undermined the foundations of long-term expansion, the leaders decided, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the meeting was private. What followed was an order to central and local government officials that if they are forced to choose this year, stability must be the priority while everything else, including the growth target and economic reform, is secondary, said another four people familiar with the situation.

Other concerns aired at the meeting that contributed to the policy shift were the short-term risk of a confrontation with the U.S. under President-elect Donald Trump over trade or Taiwan, and longer-term challenges including how to spur the innovation needed to prevent economic stagnation as well as cleaning up toxic air that enrages and poisons citizens, said the person. Left unsaid was that economic growth underpins the legitimacy of Communist Party rule. “China’s reaching the point where it has to pick its poison and giving up a half%age point of growth would be far less politically damaging than instability in the bond or currency markets,” said David Loevinger, a former China specialist at the U.S. Treasury and now an analyst at fund manager TCW in Los Angeles. “Looking past the Party Congress later in the year, President Xi Jinping may realize that unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, he can’t kick the can to his successor, even more so if he plans on extending his term” beyond 2022.

At the December meeting, officials expressed alarm over the nation’s rapid accumulation of total debt, with some present noting that other nations have experienced crises after allowing debt to climb to about 300% of gross domestic product, the person said. China’s credit boom may have pushed overall debt at the end of 2016 to 265% of GDP. Also aired at the meeting was the risk that China falls into the so-called Thucydides trap, a theory attributed to the eponymous Greek philosopher that says a rising power will clash with an established force. So menacing is the array of economic and political challenges confronting the nation that some leaders at the meeting said there’s no prospect for yuan appreciation against the dollar until at least 2020, said the person. “Tapping the brakes may help avoid the economy skidding off the road,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

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Interesting point of view.

The Rise, Fall and Comeback Of China’s Economy Over The Last 800 Years (BI)

China’s economy led its European counterpart by leaps and bounds at the start of the Renaissance. China was so far ahead, in fact, that economic historian Eric L. Jones once argued that the Chinese empire “came within a hair’s breadth of industrializing in the fourteenth century.” At the start of the 15th century, China already had the compass, movable type print, and excellent naval capacity. In fact, Chinese Admiral Zheng He commanded expeditions to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from about 1405-1433 – about a century before the Portuguese reached India. He also had ships several times the length of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, the largest of Columbus’ three ships that crossed the Atlantic.

Still, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of the shift China’s economic fortunes have seen just with historical anecdotes. And so, in a recent note to clients, Macquarie Research’s Viktor Shvets included two fascinating charts showing the changes China saw over the last 800 years, which we included below. The first chart shows the estimated percent share of a given country’s economy as a part of the overall world economy. In the 15th and 16th centuries, China was about 25-30% of the global economy, but come 1950-1970, after the destruction of World War II and under the rule of Mao Zedong, it was under 5%. Today, its economy is about 17% of the global economy – roughly the same as the US.

The second chart compares GDP per capita in China, Japan, and the US to the British GDP per capita measured in 1990 US dollars. In this case, the British GDP per capita in each year is 100, so if a number from China, Japan, or the US is above 100, then its GDP per capita is greater than in Britain, and if the number falls below 100, per capita output is lower than that in Britain. As Shvets writes, on a per capita basis, China was the wealthiest part of the world in the 1200-1300s — aside from Italy. Even as late as the 1600s it was roughly on par with the Brits. However, after that, the GDP per capita relative to Britain declines all the way up to the 1970s, when it was below 10% of the British standard of living. Around 1990, it starts to pick up again, but it has yet to recover to levels seen in 1200-1600.

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And what does this say about China?

Australia Predicts Dramatic Fall In Iron Ore Prices (BBC)

Shares in Australian mining companies have fallen after the government forecasted a dramatic decline in iron ore prices. The government forecast an iron ore price of $46.70 a tonne by 2018, almost half the current level of $80. The current price is supported by resurgent demand from China. But the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science said that demand was unlikely to continue over the coming years. The department also lowered its forecast for iron ore exports by 2% to 832.2 million tonnes for the fiscal year 2016-17. Australia is the world’s biggest supplier of iron ore and shares in the country’s main mining companies fell after the report was released. Hardest hit was Fortescue Metals which fell more than 3% in early trade, while commodity giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto also saw their shares prices drop. In its forecast early last year, the department had predicted an iron ore price of $44.10 per tonne, but an increase in Chinese demand spurred the price to above $80.

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This guy’s been lying outright to US authorities.

FBI Arrests Volkswagen Exec on Conspiracy Charges in Emissions Scandal (NYT)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a Volkswagen executive who faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two people with knowledge of the arrest said on Sunday, marking an escalation of the criminal investigation into the automaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal. Oliver Schmidt, who led Volkswagen’s regulatory compliance office in the United States from 2014 to March 2015, was arrested on Saturday by investigators in Florida and is expected to be arraigned on Monday in Detroit, said the two people, a law enforcement official and someone familiar with the case. [..] In a statement, Jeannine Ginivan, a spokeswoman for Volkswagen, said that the automaker “continues to cooperate with the Department of Justice” but that “it would not be appropriate to comment on any ongoing investigations or to discuss personnel matters.”

Lawsuits filed against Volkswagen by the New York and Massachusetts state attorneys general accused Mr. Schmidt of playing an important role in Volkswagen’s efforts to conceal its emissions cheating from United States regulators. Starting in late 2014, Mr. Schmidt and other Volkswagen officials repeatedly cited false technical explanations for the high emissions levels from Volkswagen vehicles, the state attorneys general said. In 2015, Mr. Schmidt acknowledged the existence of a so-called defeat device that allowed Volkswagen cars to cheat emissions tests. Volkswagen eventually said that it had fitted 11 million diesel cars worldwide with illegal software that made the vehicles capable of defeating pollution tests. [..] James Liang, a former Volkswagen engineer who worked for the company in California, pleaded guilty in September to charges that included conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act. But Mr. Schmidt’s arrest brings the investigation into the executive ranks.

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Settling the UK alone could cost VW £3.6 billion.

UK Motorists Launch Class-Action Suit Against VW (G.)

Thousands of British motorists have launched a lawsuit against Volkswagen over the “dieselgate” emissions scandal, in a claim that could end up costing the carmaker billions of pounds. The group of 10,000 VW owners has filed a class action lawsuit against the German car firm, seeking £30m, or £3,000 each. If VW ends up having to pay the amount to each one of the 1.2 million people in the UK who own affected cars, including its Skoda, Audi and Seat marques, it would cost the company around £3.6bn.The German firm has yet to reach a settlement with British and European owners affected by the scandal, in which the company admitted using “defeat devices” to cheat emissions tests, making its cars appears greener than they were.

It has not compensated British owners despite reaching a £15bn settlement with 500,000 US drivers, offering instead to fix affected vehicles. The class action suit, which is being led by law firm Harcus Sinclair, is expected to claim that drivers should be compensated because they paid extra for what they thought were clean diesel cars. In fact, the claimants will allege, the cars emitted far higher levels of NOx – a mixture of pollutants nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide – than stated. Damon Parker, head of litigation at Harcus Sinclair, told the Daily Mail that claimants were “angry and believe that VW might get away with it”. “They feel that they have been left with no choice but to take legal action,” Parker said. “We have paved the way for consumers who trusted but were let down by VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda to seek redress through our courts.

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My guess is pollsters and media will get this as wrong as they got Brexit and Trump.

Le Pen: I’ll Come To Brussels And Dismantle France’s Relationship With EU (EUK)

Marine Le Pen announced her first foreign visit would be to Brussels to dismantle France’s relationship with the EU if elected president later this year. The National Front leader has been a long-time critic of the EU and has promised to push back the sprawling European superstate and take back sovereignty to France. The 48-year-old said: “I would go to Brussels to immediately launch negotiations allowing me to give back to the French people their sovereignty.” The right-wing leader attacked the faltering euro currency as one of the root problems of the EU and described her main economic proposals as “economic patriotism, intelligent protectionism and a return to monetary independence”. She added: “The euro is a major obstacle to the development of our economy.”

Le Pen mooted that she was in favour of maintaining a form of common currency mechanism between France and the EU to help prevent sharp currency fluctuations. Recent opinion polls predicted that Le Pen would finish second in April’s first round of voting – putting her through to the next round in a run-off against Les Repubicain’s François Fillon. If pollsters are correct, France would be guaranteed a right-wing leader after five years of left-wing leadership from Francois Hollande.

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Farage got his price, Grillo still has nothing. Weird to ally himself with Verhofstadt, but it’s how Brussels is set up: you either force yourself into some group or you don’t count.

Beppe Grillo Calls For Five Star Movement Vote On Quitting Farage Bloc (G.)

The founder of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement (M5S) has asked members to vote on splitting from a Eurosceptic bloc of MEPs co-chaired by Nigel Farage. Beppe Grillo, a comedian turned politician, said in a post on his blog that since Farage had led Ukip to Britain voting to leave the EU, the two parties no longer shared common goals and he recommended leaving the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). “Recent events in Europe, such as Brexit, have led us to reconsider the nature of the EFDD group,” Grillo wrote. “With the extraordinary success of the leave campaign, Ukip achieved its political objective: to leave the EU. “Let’s discuss the concrete facts: Farage has already abandoned the leadership of his party and British MEPs will leave the European parliament in the next legislature. Until then, our British colleagues will be focused on developing the choices that will determine the UK’s political future.”

Grillo and Farage forged an alliance over lunch in Brussels after 2014’s European elections, in which Ukip took the largest share of the vote in Britain and M5S came second in Italy after winning 17 seats. Both said at the time that the group was aimed at “restoring freedom and national democracy”, with Farage adding: “Expect us to fight the good fight to take back control of our countries’ destinies.” In a move that would see his party mesh with European liberals, Grillo has called an online referendum, scheduled for Sunday and Monday, on breaking away and instead forming a new group with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), led by the former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, who is also the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Grillo has long called for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency, but not on Italy leaving the EU.

With ALDE’s 68 MEPs, the alliance could become the “third political force in the European parliament”, Grillo wrote, while pointing to the fact that his party had only voted alongside Ukip about 20% of the time within the past few years. He said the two shared values linked to “direct democracy, transparency, freedom and honesty”. “With our vote we can make a difference and influence the result of many important decisions to counter the European establishment,” Grillo added. Farage said in a statement: “In political terms it would be completely illogical for Five Star to join the most Euro fanatic group in the European parliament. The ALDE group doesn’t support referenda or the basic principle of direct democracy. ALDE are also the loudest voice for a EU army. I suspect if Five Star joins ALDE it’s support will not last long.” A Ukip spokesman said: “Both Ukip and Five Star are free to choose to stay or quit a political relationship. While it’s interesting that some Five Star MEPs adamantly wish to stay in the EFDD group, as adults we wish them all the best whatever they do.”

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The scandal spreads and deepens. Tens of millions have been handed to NGOs to prepare for winter, and they simply haven’t done it. While those of us that could make it happen don’t have the money. People have to die first?

New Cold Snap, Heavy Snowfall Causes Problems Across Greece (Kath.)

A new cold snap brought snowfall to many parts of the country, leaving the Sporades islands of Alonissos and Skopelos without a ferry connection to the mainland and the Aegean islands of Lesvos and Chios struggling to care for hundreds of migrants amid freezing temperatures. Schools remained closed in many parts of the country due to heavy snowfall, including in the northern suburbs of Athens. According to meteorologists, the bad weather is set to continue through Wednesday. From Monday evening, the cold snap is forecast to spread to eastern Macedonia, Thrace, Halkidiki, the northern Aegean, the Sporades and across Crete. Storms are also likely at sea.


Moria camp, Lesbos, Jan 7

Temperatures are set to drop to -16 degrees Celsius in western Macedonia. The icy conditions left many households in the Thessaloniki region without water as pipes froze or broke. Most schools in the region were to remain closed on Monday due to heavy snowfall and low temperatures. The cold snap has made road travel risky in many parts of the country with motorists advised to fit their cars with anti-skid chains in northern areas.


Moria camp, Lesbos, Jan 7

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Oct 142016
 
 October 14, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 14 2016
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Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies in St. Louis, N. Broadway and De Soto. 1910

Fed Creates Junk Bond And Stock Market Bubble (SA)
Draghi Sends Corporate Yields So Negative the ECB Can’t Buy Them (BBG)
There’s No Plateau in a Housing Bubble, Not Even in Canada (WS)
30% Junk Rally Gives Traders Heartburn (BBG)
China’s Tough Choice: Supporting Growth Or Controlling Debt (CNBC)
China Export Dip Tempts Policy Makers to Keep Weakening Yuan (BBG)
Shanghai Banks Told To Limit Loans To Property Developers (R.)
Standard & Poor’s Warns On UK Reserve Currency Status As Brexit Hardens (AEP)
Hundreds Of Properties Could Be Seized In UK Corruption Crackdown (G.)
Some of Donald Trump’s Economic Team Diverge From Candidate (WSJ)
Renzi Gambles All on Referendum Haunted by Weak Italian Economy (BBG)
Walloon Revolt Against Canada Deal Torpedoes EU Trade Policy (Pol.)
Germany Proposes North Africa Centers For Rescued Migrants (AFP)

 

 

“..this borrowing to fund buybacks and dividends doesn’t last this long and it has never lasted three years..”

Fed Creates Junk Bond And Stock Market Bubble (SA)

The chart below emphasizes the point that real business investment has declined while commercial and industrial loans are increasing. The leverage in the system is the highest ever as cheap money is not going to the right places. Businesses will only invest in new initiatives if they see sales growth in the future. Low interest rates will not cause a manager to invest in a new initiative. However, managers are still tempted to take the free money, so they pile it into the easiest place: dividends and buybacks.

As you can see, the total payout ratio of dividends and buybacks has exceeded 100% for the past two years. Usually, this borrowing to fund buybacks and dividends doesn’t last this long and it has never lasted three years, so leverage is near its brink.

The chart below shows how levered the balance sheets of corporations are. The leverage on investment-grade balance sheets is at a record high. The three bubbles that you can see in the chart below have all been created by the Federal Reserve’s easy money policies.

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Super Clueless Mario surprises himself.

Draghi Sends Corporate Yields So Negative the ECB Can’t Buy Them (BBG)

The European Central Bank is starting to price itself out of the corporate-bond market as yields plumb such lows that some notes are no longer eligible for its purchase program. ECB President Mario Draghi’s unprecedented buying of corporate debt has sent borrowing costs tumbling to a record and now yields on some securities are so low they fall outside the ECB’s own criteria. Yields on bonds from Paris’s public transport network have already dropped below the threshold of minus 0.4%, while those from Siemens, Europe’s biggest engineering company, France’s train operator SNCF and Sagess, which manages the nation’s strategic oil reserves, are also approaching the cut-off point.

The increasingly negative yields are raising questions about how much more the ECB can do in credit markets to stimulate growth. Yields on €2.6 trillion ($2.9 trillion) of government bonds in Europe have already turned negative after the central bank bought €1.3 trillion of fixed-income assets, including €32 billion of corporate bonds. “This is a sign of how much impact corporate bond buying has had on the credit market,” said Barnaby Martin at Bank of America. “If corporate yields continue to fall, then conceivably it could impact the ECB’s ability to buy bonds. It’s surprising how quickly we’ve reached this situation.”

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“When a bubble pops, the first thing that stops is transactions..”

There’s No Plateau in a Housing Bubble, Not Even in Canada (WS)

Once enough people are priced out of the housing market, demand collapses. This would normally be where housing bubbles deflate in a very painful manner for lenders, homeowners, and everyone getting their cut, including governments and the real estate industry. But there has been a strong influx of mostly Chinese investors that need to get their money, however they obtained it, out of harm’s way at home, and they pile into the market, and they don’t care what a property costs as long as they think they can sell it for more later. But British Columbia threw a monkey wrench in to the calculus this summer when it adopted a 15% real estate transfer tax and other measures aimed squarely at non-resident investors. It hit home, so to speak.

Total sales in Vancouver plunged 32.5% in September from a year ago, with sales of detached homes falling off a cliff – down 47%. Home sales have fallen every month since their all-time crazy peak in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, for a cumulative decline of 44%, according to Marc Pinsonneault, Senior Economist at Economics and Strategy at the National Bank of Canada. But home prices have not yet fallen, he wrote in the note, “because market conditions have just started to loosen from the tightest conditions on records. We see home price deflation starting soon (10% expected over twelve months).” His chart shows the plunge in sales (red line, left scale, in thousands of units) even as active listings have started to rise (blue line, right scale):

In Toronto, the opposite is happening, with sales spiking on a seasonally adjusted basis way past prior record levels, even as new listings have plunged.

For now, “Toronto is now the red hot market,” explains Pinsonneault: “Home sales broke records in each of the last three months. But the historically low supply (in terms of the number of homes listed for sale) is also contributing to market conditions that are the tightest on records.” But the situation can turn on a dime, as Vancouver demonstrated. When a bubble pops, the first thing that stops is transactions. This happens suddenly. Sellers refuse to cut their prices, while buyers refuse to step up to the plate. Things grind to a halt.

Once sellers are forced to relent on price, transactions start rolling again, at lower prices, and each lower price, due to the metrics of comparable sales, pressures down future prices of other transactions. Once Chinese investors figure out that they’re likely to lose a ton of money in Canadian real estate, because their compatriots who’ve piled into the market before them have already lost a ton of money, they’re going to lose their appetite. This is the hot money. It evaporates suddenly and without a trace. As Vancouver shows, bubbles don’t end in a plateau.

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Chasing yield doesn’t look like the best way forward.

30% Junk Rally Gives Traders Heartburn (BBG)

It’s becoming difficult to see how the lowest-rated U.S. junk bonds can continue to rally. They’ve posted their best performance since 2009, with more than a 30% return so far this year. And now investors from Goldman Sachs Asset Management to Highland Capital are starting to become nervous about this debt, and with good reason: If there’s any sort of economic shock at all, these notes are poised to lose a lot. And some sort of shock is entirely possible in the near future. These notes have benefited from two overwhelming factors this year:

1) New stimulus efforts in Japan and Europe have pushed investors into the most-speculative notes, especially those in the U.S.

2) Oil prices have rallied from the lows reached earlier this year, giving some highly indebted energy companies more time to survive after seeing their corporate lives flash before their eyes last year.There are signs that both dynamics are reaching their limits.Central bankers in Europe and Japan are running out of ways to stimulate their economies after deploying negative-rate policies that are eroding the stability of their financial systems. Instead of trying to add stimulus, policy makers in both regions are being forced to tweak existing bond-buying programs to keep them viable. And oil prices have rallied, but not as much as energy junk bonds, which have gained more than 49% since the end of February. This has propelled gains on the broader high-yield market.

[..] current prices aren’t high enough to sustain the current momentum in these bonds. That’s because a “significant amount” of the lowest-rated unsecured bonds of energy companies are pricing in oil at $70 a barrel over the longer term, Jefferies analyst Michael Carley said. Taking a step back, why should the lowest, most-leveraged junk bonds continue to do well? This debt should do best when an economy is steadily growing, interest rates are low and companies have bright futures. But U.S. companies are facing an earnings recession, the Federal Reserve is poised to raise rates again within the next few months and companies are borrowing at a faster pace than they’re increasing their incomes.

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The choice China refuses to make; they do both and run only to move backwards.

China’s Tough Choice: Supporting Growth Or Controlling Debt (CNBC)

China’s economic transition has caused a problem for the government—how to avert a sharp slowdown while keeping a lid on ballooning debt. In a report Thursday, rating agency Standard and Poor’s highlighted the “tough choice between supporting growth and controlling debt sustainability” as China tries to find new ways to fund public investments. “Although aggregate and provincial GDP growth stabilized in the first two quarters of 2016, we believe the fiscal conditions of Chinese local governments are under more pressure given the weakened economy,” S&P analysts wrote in a report. The rising debt pile of local government financing vehicles (LGFV) raised questions on credit risks, said S&P.

“As long as investments remain a growth impetus, it is very hard to shift away from the old public financing model to weaken the LGFVs’ role in public investment,” said S&P credit analyst, Xin Liu. “The growing pile of LGFV debt will add to the fiscal vulnerability of local governments, which already rely on these financing vehicles to execute public investment mandates,” she added. S&P’s warning on local government debt comes amid concerns about overall debt levels in the country as the world’s second-largest economy begins to slow after years of boisterous growth. Corporate debt is also under focus. In another report released on Tuesday, S&P warned that the “unabated growth” of China’s corporate debt could cost the country’s bank “dearly”.

It said the current growth rate of China’s debt “is not sustainable for long”. S&P said if the growth in debt doesn’t slow, the ratio of problem credit to total credit facing China’s banks could triple to 17% by 2020. The banks may then need to raise fresh capital of up to 11.3 trillion Chinese yuan ($1.7 trillion), which is equivalent to 16% of China’s 2015 nominal GDP. The Bank of International Settlements warned recently excessive credit growth in China will increase the country’s risk of a banking crisis in the next three years.

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A plunging reserve currency. What’s not to like?

China Export Dip Tempts Policy Makers to Keep Weakening Yuan (BBG)

China’s renewed export weakness is coinciding with a clampdown on surging home prices and corporate debt, stoking expectations policy makers will allow further yuan depreciation to buffer the economy. Exports in September dropped the most since February amid anemic global demand (-10%), while imports declined 1.9%, leaving a $42 billion trade surplus. Analysts at Bank of America, RBC and Capital Economics estimate further depreciation for the yuan, already near a six-year low. With S&P Global Ratings and the International Monetary Fund among those warning about the threats from rapid credit expansion, policy makers risk cooling the economy with new property restrictions. But their plan for economic growth of at least 6.5% this year leaves little room for maneuver.

The upshot: a weaker yuan is needed to support an industrial sector that’s returning to profitability as it emerges from four years of deflation. “China is running out of options and letting the yuan go is the lowest-cost option for them,” said Sue Trinh, head of Asia FX strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. “We’ve seen them move in this direction. There’s more work to do.” The yuan is headed for the biggest weekly decline since January as mainland markets returned from holiday to face intensified depreciation pressures from a rising dollar. The yuan has dropped 3.4% against the dollar this year, the biggest decline in Asia. While depreciation’s not helping exporters in dollar terms, it cushions the blow when their shipments are counted in local currency terms, underpinning a recovery in industrial profits.

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What’s Chinese for whack-a-mole?

Shanghai Banks Told To Limit Loans To Property Developers (R.)

Banks in China’s financial hub Shanghai have been asked by authorities to limit loans to property developers for land purchases and to scrutinize would-be borrowers suspected of trying to access mortgages by getting divorced, the Shanghai Daily reported on Friday. The steps were the latest in a string of measures around the country to try to cool a property market seen at risk of overheating. Quoting unidentified commercial bankers, the newspaper said banks were told that housing developers should pay at least 30% down on residential projects instead of relying on bank loans.

It said some developers had put only 10% down on projects and raised the remaining funds through bank and gray-market loans. Banks were also asked to reject mortgage applications of people who had divorced within three months, it quoted an internal filing from a Shanghai-based rural commercial bank as saying. A property price rally has prompted a home buying frenzy in parts of China, in some cases prompting couples to get divorced to circumvent buying restrictions and invest in multiple homes. Police last month detained seven property agents in Shanghai for spreading rumours of plans for a new government regulation that caused a rash of divorces and a rush to buy new homes.

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More cause for finger pointing.

Standard & Poor’s Warns On UK Reserve Currency Status As Brexit Hardens (AEP)

Britain is in danger of misreading the political landscape in Europe and faces the possible loss of its reserve currency status if it fails to secure full access to the European single market, Standard & Poor’s has warned. The powerful US rating agency said the British government is treading into hazardous waters in negotiations with the EU and is risks serious damage to economy’s future growth trajectory, with long-term implications for the debt profile and the country’s credit-worthiness. S&P fears that loss of unfettered access to the single market would have incalculable consequences for business, yet the Government so far appears almost insouciant about this.

“There seems to be this view that ‘we’re a big important economy, the Europeans export a lot to us, so they have got to give us what we want’, but is that really true?” said Ravi Bhatia, the director of sovereign ratings in charge of Britain. “Individually most of these countries don’t export that much to the UK, and were seeing a hardening of attitudes,” he said. Mr Ravi said Britain has limited scope for a spree on infrastructure projects and is walking a fine line on budget policy. “Before Brexit, the trajectory was planned fiscal consolidation, but we’re no longer certain we’re going to see that,” he said. “If they ramp up fiscal spending they’ll get a stimulus and that is good in one way as it will help boost growth, but they have to finance that spending; it will raise the deficit, and the debt stock is already high,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

Standard & Poor’s stripped Britain of its AAA status immediately after the Brexit vote in June, slashing the rating by two notches to AA, although the move was well-flagged in advance. It described the vote as seminal event that would lead to a “less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the UK”. The agency will issue its next verdict at the end of this month. Any further downgrade at this delicate juncture would be more serious, amounting to a red card on the Government’s hard-nosed rhetoric and negotiating tactics It is unprecedented for a AAA state to lose three notches in a matter on months.

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First they invite them in…

Hundreds Of Properties Could Be Seized In UK Corruption Crackdown (G.)

Hundreds of British properties suspected of belonging to corrupt politicians, tax evaders and criminals could be seized by enforcement agencies under tough new laws designed to tackle London’s reputation as a haven for dirty money. Huge amounts of corrupt wealth is laundered through the capital’s banks. The National Crime Agency believes up to £100bn of tainted cash could be passing through the UK each year. Much of it ends up in real estate, and in other assets such as luxury cars, art and jewellery. The criminal finances bill, published on Thursday, is designed to close a loophole which has left the authorities powerless to seize property from overseas criminals unless the individuals are first convicted in their country of origin.

It will introduce the concept of “unexplained wealth orders”. The Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs and other agencies will be able to apply to the high court for an order forcing the owner of an asset to explain how they obtained the funds to purchase it. The orders will apply to property and other assets worth more than £100,000. If the owner fails to demonstrate that a home or piece of jewellery was acquired using legal sources of income, agencies will be able to seize it. The law targets not just criminals, but politicians and public officials, known as “politically exposed persons”. Depending on how quickly it passes through parliament, the bill could come into force as early as spring 2017.

“There are some hundreds of properties in the UK strongly suspected to have been acquired with the proceeds of corruption,” said the campaign group Transparency International, which has been pressing for the new measures. “This will provide low-hanging fruit for immediate action by law enforcement agencies, if those agencies are properly resourced.”

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Whaddayaknow? The WSJ has a Trump story that’s not about genitals. Surrounding yourself with people who don’t agree with you is often not a bad sign.

Some of Donald Trump’s Economic Team Diverge From Candidate (WSJ)

Advisers concede there is a tug-of-war between the supply-siders and the protectionists, but Mr. Kudlow said he saw similar disagreements in the White House as a budget official for President Ronald Reagan. And Mr. Navarro, whose trade skepticism closely reflects Mr. Trump’s public views, said the campaign is “very much united” on trade. When Mr. Navarro ran for Congress two decades ago, Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, campaigned at one of his San Diego rallies. “Pure serendipity—sweet manna from heaven,” he wrote in a book recounting the campaign. He sought to oust the Republican incumbent by making the race a referendum on then-GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Last month, Mr. Navarro flew with Messrs. Trump and Gingrich to a rally in Fort Myers, Fla. He now says he was “seduced” by the Clintons and “over time, that seduction has turned into betrayal and ultimately disbelief.”

Other top advisers include David Malpass, a Reagan administration official, who as chief economist of Bear Stearns in 2007 dismissed concerns that the housing sector would take the economy into a recession, let alone cause the financial crisis that brought down his bank. When he first met Mr. Trump before a rally in an airplane hangar at Dallas’ Love Field last year, conservative economist Stephen Moore pushed back against Mr. Trump’s invitation to join the campaign. “I can’t work for you because I’m free trade, and I know you’re more of a protectionist,” Mr. Moore recalled saying. Mr. Trump said they could “agree to disagree on that issue,” Mr. Moore said. Advisers say Mr. Trump’s decision to hire people he doesn’t fully agree with shows maturity. “Hillary is more like the red army, with everyone marching in lockstep,” said Mr. Kudlow.

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No. 1 concern in Berlin and Brussels.

Renzi Gambles All on Referendum Haunted by Weak Italian Economy (BBG)

Italians are about to have their say on Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the economy isn’t doing him any favors. When the country holds a referendum on a key constitutional change Dec. 4, many voters will have more than “Yes” or “No” on their mind. They’ll probably take the opportunity to vent their frustration over the snail’s pace of growth after the latest recession. [..] All but one of Italy’s main polling firms signaled this month that “No” will prevail in the referendum, with surveys saying on average that the reform will be rejected by 52.2% of voters, up from 50.4% in September. To make things potentially worse for Renzi, just three days before the vote, Italians will learn whether the recovery resumed after stalling in the three months through June, when the national statistics office publishes its final reading of third quarter GDP.

“We might go to the polling stations in the wake of a negative GDP figure,” said Alberto Bagnai, who teaches economics at Gabriele d’Annunzio University in Pescara. “That could have a direct impact on the vote.” While recent industrial data have exceeded expectations, confidence among households and executives about the outlook is not very optimistic. Renzi himself acknowledged that economic concerns might influence voters and has tried to reassure them. Last week, the premier and his Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan repeatedly defended the government’s above-consensus target of 1% growth next year. The central bank called the goal “very optimistic” – a code phrase signaling difficulties ahead.

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A sorrowful bunch.

Walloon Revolt Against Canada Deal Torpedoes EU Trade Policy (Pol.)

The EU’s once-mighty trade negotiators never dreamed that their powers would be stripped from them so unceremoniously – and possibly for good. The Francophone parliament of the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels – only 10 minutes’ walk from EU headquarters — stands to win a place in history for sinking the EU’s landmark trade deal with Canada and potentially for scuppering the European Commission’s ability to lead the world’s biggest trade bloc for many years. Failure to conclude the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) by this month’s deadline would be a devastating blow to the EU, which has spent seven years working on the tariff-slicing agreement with Ottawa.

“It’s crazy. If we allow a regional parliament to block a trade deal that will benefit the whole EU, where does this lead us to?” said Christoph Leitl, president of the Global Chamber Platform, a worldwide alliance of business chambers. “CETA is not just a deal with Canada, it has model character for Europe’s future trade relations.” The Federation of Wallonia-Brussels parliament, which focuses on the cultural and educational concerns of 4.5 million French speakers in Belgium, voted Wednesday evening to reject CETA because of worries about public services and agriculture. [..] Unless the Belgian central government can find an imaginative compromise quickly, the EU will be unable to corral the signatures of all 28 EU countries before an EU-Canada summit on October 27.

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German efficiency. Send them where you can’t see them.

Germany Proposes North Africa Centers For Rescued Migrants (AFP)

Migrants rescued at sea should be taken to centers in north Africa where their claims for asylum in EU countries can be studied, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere proposed Thursday. De Maiziere made the suggestion as he arrived for a Luxembourg meeting of EU interior ministers who are trying to slow the migrant flow from Libya to Italy after a March deal with Turkey sharply reduced the influx to Greece, the main entry point for Europe last year. “People who are rescued in the Mediterranean should be brought back to safe accommodation facilities in northern Africa,” de Maiziere told reporters. “Their need for protection would be verified and we would put into place a resettlement to Europe with generous quotas, fairly divided between the European countries,” the minister said.

“The others have to go back to their home countries,” he added. EU countries, confronting populist opposition to refugees, have long feuded over quotas for relocating asylum seekers from Greece and Italy as well as for resettling people from refugee camps. De Maiziere did not mention a specific country in north Africa but EU officials have been discussing efforts to curb the migrant flow with Libya, the main transit point for African migrants heading to Europe. However, Libya’s new national unity government last week rejected calls from some EU countries to build refugee camps on its shores, saying the bloc could not “shirk its responsibility” while it struggled to restore peace and stability.

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Encore.

There’s No Plateau in a Housing Bubble, Not Even in Canada (WS)

Canadian house prices jumped 11.7% in September from a year ago, according to The Teranet–National Bank National Composite House Price Index released today. But the index papers beautifully over the dynamics in each metro. In six of the 11 metro markets of the index, prices have been languishing or even declining over the past couple of years, as they’ve hit the wall of reality after often stupendous price gains in the prior decade: Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, Halifax, and Ottawa-Gatineau. In the two largest markets – Toronto and Vancouver, which combined account for 54% of the index – prices have blown through the roof. Both markets are among the hottest, most over-priced housing bubbles in the world.

UBS recently ranked Vancouver Number 1 globally on that honor roll. But suddenly the dynamics have changed. Vancouver’s housing market is in turmoil, to use a mild word, as sales have crashed, after the implementation of a real-estate transfer tax this summer by British Columbia, aimed squarely at non-resident investors. In Vancouver, those investors are mostly Chinese. And where do these folks now go to inflate prices? Toronto. Still, the national house price index (red line, right scale), after the 11.7% jump over the past 12 months (blue columns, left scale), has doubled since 2005!

The index, similar to the Case-Shiller Home Price index in the US, is based on repeat sales. It looks at properties that sold at least twice over the years to establish “sales pairs.” It then uses a proprietary formula to deduct price changes from these transactions and extrapolate them into an index for each of the 11 markets and nationally. It’s not perfect, but it offers an alternative view to median prices or Canada’s “benchmark” prices. Prices in Toronto have been spiking (red line, right scale), with double-digit year-over-year%age gains (blue columns, left scale) so far this year, including a breath-taking 16% in September.

Vancouver makes Toronto look practically tame. Vancouver went completely crazy, with year-year-over price gains reaching 26% in the summer. Now a new reality went into effect. Market activity has collapsed, as no one knows what anything is worth, with buyers and sellers jockeying for position. And on a monthly basis, the index was essentially flat (+0.2%):

Most Canadians have not seen their incomes rise anywhere near the rate of the house price inflation of the past many years, if their incomes rose at all. Thus, many of them have been priced out of the housing market, or have access to it only via highly risky financing schemes that put both lenders and borrowers at risk, despite historically low interest rates. Once enough people are priced out of the housing market, demand collapses. This would normally be where housing bubbles deflate in a very painful manner for lenders, homeowners, and everyone getting their cut, including governments and the real estate industry. But there has been a strong influx of mostly Chinese investors that need to get their money, however they obtained it, out of harm’s way at home, and they pile into the market, and they don’t care what a property costs as long as they think they can sell it for more later.

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Jun 032016
 
 June 3, 2016  Posted by at 8:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Happy News Cafe, “restaurant for the unemployed”, Washington, DC 1937

Bill Gross: Capitalism Doesn’t Work At 0% (CNBC)
Negative-Yielding Sovereign Debt Tops $10 Trillion (WSJ)
Japan’s Sovereign Debt Burden Is Quietly Falling the Most in the World (BBG)
Explosion in Quasi-Sovereign Bond Issuance Is Making Analysts Queasy (BBG)
US-China Trade Troubles Grow (WSJ)
One Third Of Americans Are ‘Just Getting By’ (NY Times)
OECD Sees ‘Dramatic And Destabilising’ End To Australia Property Boom (AFR)
Fed Likely To Avoid Rate Hike Before Britain Votes On Leaving EU (R.)
Draghi Insists ECB Stimulus Only Half Done (BBG)
Bank of France Cuts Inflation Outlook, 2017 GDP Forecast (WSJ)
Bundesbank Cuts German GDP Forecasts On Weaker Export Demand (R.)
President Obama, Pardon Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (G.)
Facial Recognition Will Soon End Your Anonymity (MW)
The Fat Lady Always Sings Twice (Jim Kunstler)
Fewer Than 500 of 163,000 Migrants Find Jobs In Sweden (BB)
Corruption Gripes Help Five Star Movement Top Italy Local Election Polls (G.)
US Announces Near-Total Ban On Trade Of African Elephant Ivory (AFP)

Central bankers seem to think it does, though.

Bill Gross: Capitalism Doesn’t Work At 0% (CNBC)

Bill Gross has some bad news for investors. In his June investment outlook released Thursday, the widely followed bond fund manager contended that bond and stock returns realized in the last 40 years are “a grey if not black swan event that cannot be repeated.” Investors should not expect 7% returns on bonds or returns in the high single digits or double digits on stocks, Gross told CNBC on Thursday. “The markets are entirely different and it would pay to travel to Mars as opposed to stay on Earth, because the returns here are very, very low,” the manager of the Janus Capital Unconstrained Bond Fund, said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch”. Gross said easy central bank policy could hold down bond returns. Central banks in Europe and Japan have adopted negative interest rates, while the Federal Reserve’s target rate is at 0.25 to 0.50%.

German and Japanese 10-year bonds currently have negative yields, while their 30-year bonds yield less than 1%. The U.S. 10-year Treasury note yield sat around 1.8% Thursday. Gross contended those rate trends can hurt not only savers but also the broader economy. He said Fed policymakers, who have signaled they could hike rates at least once this year, realize they need to normalize policy. “Ultimately, they have to move back up and I think a certain number of Fed governors realize that the normalization process is necessary in order to save business models and to save capitalism basically because capitalism doesn’t work at 0% and it doesn’t work at negative interest rates,” he said.

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Negative bonanza.

Negative-Yielding Sovereign Debt Tops $10 Trillion (WSJ)

The amount of global sovereign debt with negative yields surpassed $10 trillion for the first time in May, according to Fitch Ratings. The measure stood at $10.4 trillion on May 31, up 5% from $9.9 trillion on April 25, when the rating agency last measured the amount, according to a Thursday report. It is spread across 14 countries, with Japan by far the largest source of negative-yielding bonds. Of the total, $7.3 trillion was long-term debt and $3.1 trillion was short-term debt.

The amount of debt with yields below zero has increased sharply this year as global central banks have instituted unconventional policy measures, such as negative interest rates. The Bank of Japan in January surprised markets by driving its rates below zero, pushing Japanese government-bond yields sharply lower. Banks in the euro currency bloc have also increased demand for government debt to meet regulatory requirements, another factor weighing on yields, Fitch said. “Higher amounts of Japanese and Italian sovereign securities with sub-zero yields were the biggest contributors to the monthly changes,” said Fitch analysts, led by Robert Grossman.

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Because it’s shifting into private hands. The BOJ buys it all. Which allows the government to keep on borrowing with abandon.

Japan’s Sovereign Debt Burden Is Quietly Falling the Most in the World (BBG)

Japan for years has been renowned for having the world’s largest government debt load. No longer. That’s if you consider how the effective public borrowing burden is plunging – by one estimate as much as the equivalent of 15 percentage points of GDP a year, putting it on track toward a more manageable level. Accounting for the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented government bond buying from private investors, which some economists call “monetization” of the debt, alters the picture. Though the bond liabilities remain on the government’s balance sheet, because they aren’t held by the private sector any more they’re effectively irrelevant, according to a number of analysts looking at the shift. “Japan is the country where public debt in private hands is falling the fastest anywhere,” said Martin Schulz at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo.

While Japan’s estimated gross government debt is now over twice the size of the economy, according to Schulz’s calculations using BOJ data, the shuffle of holdings from private actors like banks and households to the central bank is having a big impact. It means debt in private hands will fall to about 100% of GDP in two to three years, from 177% just before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power in late 2012, he estimates. It’s not like Japan is slowing down on borrowing. Abe’s administration is now laying the groundwork for another burst of fiscal stimulus, which could be funded by selling bonds. He also announced Wednesday a delay to a sales tax hike planned for April 2017, rebuffing fiscal hawks who argued it was vital to raise revenue.

Finance Minister Taro Aso explained Tuesday that “the biggest problem is that private consumption hasn’t risen,” making now not a good time to raise the levy. Helping improve household sentiment could be one reason for making it explicit that at least some of the government bonds in the BOJ’s holdings will be written off. If Japanese consumers understand they’re not on the hook for all the gross debt outstanding, their mood could potentially perk up.

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What can we say but: Anything Goes!

Explosion in Quasi-Sovereign Bond Issuance Is Making Analysts Queasy (BBG)

Which fixed-income asset class is growing fast, outperforms similar debt issues, and rarely defaults? Emerging market ‘quasi-sovereign’ bonds, of course! At some $600 billion, debt sold by state-supported companies in emerging markets ranging from China to Oman has surpassed the amount of emerging market government debt outstanding, according to a new note from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Such quasi-sovereign debt issuance has helped propel the stunning growth of the overall bond market, with EM issuance accounting for 47% of the growth in global debt between 2007-14, compared to 22% in the previous seven years, according to S&P Global Ratings.

But the surge in ‘quasi’ bonds is making some feel, well, queasy. “Quasi-sovereigns are effectively a ‘contingent liability’ for a country,” write the BofAML analysts, led by Kay Hope. They note that quasi-sovereign issuance now makes up half of the $1.6 – 1.8 trillion euro- and dollar-denominated corporate bond market for emerging markets, which could put added pressure on strained emerging market coffers.

China, with its lumbering state-owned enterprises, accounts for a full quarter of this kind of debt — despite the Chinese sovereign itself lacking virtually any foreign-denominated bonds. Meanwhile, the amount of debt from Brazilian quasi-sovereigns has nearly quadrupled, according to BofAML, while that sold by Mexico’s state-owned companies has just about doubled. Much of the growth has been driven by companies in the energy and commodities sectors, with giants of industry including Pemex, Petrobras, China National Offshore Oil and Gazprom all tapping the market in recent years.

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There’s going to be trouble.

US-China Trade Troubles Grow (WSJ)

The U.S. and China, facing mounting political pressures at home, are seeing economic tensions flare to their worst point in years over currency and trade practices. China has pushed the yuan to a five-year low against the dollar, reviving charges from American firms of currency manipulation to gain a competitive advantage for Chinese goods. The Obama administration has fired off a series of trade complaints and levied duties on several Chinese industries, from chicken feet to cold-rolled steel used in appliances and auto parts. The friction between the world’s two largest economies could worsen as domestic politics collide with already weak growth.

The U.S., seeing heightened anti-China rhetoric in the presidential election, wants China to press ahead with promised policies to open up its markets and allow greater international investment. Chinese leaders, worried about a deeper economic slowdown, are trying to keep factories humming and prevent the kind of market unrest that gripped global investors over the past year. [..] Some analysts think President Xi Jinping, wanting to consolidate power in the Communist Party ahead of a leadership transition next year, has paused reform efforts and instead is revving up the old playbook of credit-fueled growth and infrastructure spending. His aim: Ensure economic stability and mollify rivals, they say.

An attempt last year by Beijing to allow markets to play a role in setting its exchange rate was mismanaged, adding to a summertime of woe for China’s financial markets and sparking global jitters. The reaction surprised Chinese officials and created a headache for reformers. The Chinese government is keeping steel mills, coal plants and a host of manufacturing industries afloat despite dwindling demand and a tumble in commodity prices that should have closed many. [..] By supporting excess production capacity, the Chinese government is “engaged in economic warfare against the U.S.,” said John Ferriola, chief executive of North Carolina steel giant Nucor Corp. “Thousands of hardworking Americans have lost their jobs because of these illegal, unfair trade practices.”

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“..nearly half of all respondents said they could not cover an unexpected expense of $400..”

One Third Of Americans Are ‘Just Getting By’ (NY Times)

In the United States, nearly one-third of adults, about 76 million people, are either “struggling to get by” or “just getting by,” according to the third annual survey of households by the Federal Reserve Board. That finding, dismal though it is, represents a mild improvement in general well-being last year, compared with the two years before. The improvement, however, was clearly too little to raise Americans’ spirits: The new survey, which was conducted in late 2015 and released last week, also shows that optimism about the future has tempered. The Fed policy committee should take the survey to heart when it meets this month to decide whether to raise interest rates.

Higher rates are a way to slow an economy that is at risk of overheating – a far-fetched proposition when tens of millions of Americans are barely hanging in there. Congress and other economic policy makers, as well as the presidential candidates, could also use the survey to get some insight into Americans’ real economic problems. Among them is deep insecurity. Nearly 70% of adults said they were “living comfortably” or “doing O.K.” — up a bit from previous years — but nearly half of all respondents said they could not cover an unexpected expense of $400, or could do so only by selling something or borrowing money. Americans seeking a path upward through education are staggering under a load of debt. The median debt load for someone with a bachelor’s degree was $19,162.

For a master’s, it was $36,000, and for a professional degree, $100,000. Many students with debt use deferments or other plans to delay or extend repayments, but in most cases that increases the balance they owe. For those making payments, the average monthly bill was $533. By all indications, however, they are the relatively lucky ones. Americans who had attended college accounted for most of the improvement reported in the survey. Financial stress was more prevalent among less-educated people who responded to the survey, as well as racial and ethnic minorities and adults making less than $40,000 a year.

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Please remember and compare to yesterday’s (also OECD): “We’re a little concerned about housing prices in the greater Vancouver area and Toronto..”

OECD Sees ‘Dramatic And Destabilising’ End To Australia Property Boom (AFR)

Australia may be on the cusp of a “dramatic and destabilising” end to the housing boom rather than a hoped-for soft landing because of the apartments building boom, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said. In its latest assessment of the threats to the economy, the Paris-based think tank said jitters over the federal election are adding to risks, and called for an increase in the goods and services tax. Somewhat paradoxically, the OECD appears particularly worried about how to interpret changes in the housing market – even as it notes simultaneously that risks of a boom appear to be receding which, it argues, provides leeway for even more official interest rate cuts.

“Domestically, the unwinding of housing market tensions to date may presage dramatic and destabilising developments, rather than herald a soft landing,” it said. Parts of the real estate industry have already warned about failed settlements as record numbers of new apartments come due for completion in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane this year and next. The warning, which is accompanied by graphs showing dwelling approvals retreating from a peak and house prices levelling out, appears to have been prepared ahead of more recent evidence of a rebound in both measures.

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First things first.

Fed Likely To Avoid Rate Hike Before Britain Votes On Leaving EU (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve may be forced to delay a rate hike at its June meeting because of mounting concern over the economic fallout from Britain’s vote on whether to leave the European Union. The geopolitical risk likely will push any rate increase until at least July, despite apparent consensus among Fed officials that a hike is warranted by stronger U.S. growth and tight labor markets. The Fed’s June 14-15 rate-setting meeting comes just a week before the British vote on June 23. A “leave” vote is expected to roil financial markets, cause credit spreads to widen, trigger a rush into safe assets and bolster the dollar. The dollar’s recent stability is one reason the Fed has become more comfortable with raising rates, and officials may want to let the threat of Brexit pass before moving to tighten financial conditions.

Fed Board Governor Daniel Tarullo on Thursday joined the chorus of those warning of his concerns over the British vote, telling Bloomberg that Brexit would be a “factor” he would consider at the Fed’s June policy meeting and said that the British vote’s impact on markets would be key. [..] If the Fed does indeed take a pass at its June meeting, officials have signaled they’ll be ready to move in July. Minutes of the Fed’s March policy meeting showed officials preparing the ground for higher rates sometime in the summer months. After July, the next option would be September, in the middle of a U.S. election campaign, in which the Fed and Yellen could well become targets of debate.

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The illusion gets expensive, as returns diminish.

Draghi Insists ECB Stimulus Only Half Done (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s insistence that his stimulus program is only half done brings with it a worrying thought. What if its best effects are already spent anyway? At least four times at Thursday’s press conference in Vienna, the European Central Bank president emphasized how policy makers need to see the “full impact” and must “focus on implementation” of their measures. That augurs a busy month ahead as officials keep hoovering up government debt, start buying corporate bonds and enact the first of four long-term loan offerings to banks. While Draghi’s remarks suggest the next major calendar point for the ECB’s assessment of its stimulus will be September – after the release of economic-growth data and coinciding with its fresh forecasts – the omens so far are weak.

Yet another report of negative consumer prices this week underscored the challenge of revitalizing an economy fatigued by years of debt crises and delayed reforms, and battered by global forces beyond the ECB’s control. “We’re getting to the point of radically diminishing effectiveness of these interventions,” Andrew Balls, Pimco’s global fixed income chief investment officer, said on Bloomberg Television. “If we get a recession, which is perfectly plausible over the next three to five years, there’s a real question in terms of how policy makers can respond.”

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France blames emerging economies.

Bank of France Cuts Inflation Outlook, 2017 GDP Forecast (WSJ)

The Bank of France cut its inflation forecasts and trimmed its 2017 economic growth forecast in a semi-annual economic outlook Friday. The Bank of France pared back its GDP forecast for 2017 to 1.5% from 1.6% in December as it expects weaker trade to drag on the French economy. Despite a stronger-than-expected first quarter, it kept its GDP forecast for the whole of 2016 at 1.4%. The softer forecasts indicate how weak oil prices and uncertainty over the outlook for the global economy are cooling eurozone economies just as they emerge from a long period of weak growth. “While global demand is dynamic, it will accelerate only slightly in 2016, due to a less favorable growth outlook than previously forecast in emerging economies,” the Bank of France said.

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Germany blames exports in general. Stingy Greeks?!

Bundesbank Cuts German GDP Forecasts On Weaker Export Demand (R.)

The Bundesbank cut its German inflation and growth forecasts on Friday citing weaker demand for exports, even as it predicted that robust consumer demand and a tightening labor market would keep the domestic economy buoyant. The euro zone’s biggest economy has been an outperformer in recent years, posting healthy growth and driving the currency bloc’s best run since the start of the global financial crisis almost a decade ago. Exporters have been forced to “surrender” some of their market share gained in recent years, however, and this trend may continue this year and offset strong domestic factors, the central bank said in a biannual economic outlook.

“This should probably be interpreted mainly as a correction of previous market share gains not explained by price competitiveness,” the Bundesbank said. “This process could continue further into 2016 according to Ifo and DIHK surveys, in which industrial firms reported subdued export expectations and only a comparatively moderate increase in exports this year,” it said. The bank now sees GDP growing at 1.7% this year, below a December projection for 1.8%, and 1.4% in 2017, down from 1.7% seen earlier. The growth rate would then rebound to 1.6% in 2018.

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Not going to happen.

President Obama, Pardon Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (G.)

As he wraps up his presidency, it’s time for Barack Obama to seriously consider pardoning whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Last week, Manning marked her six-year anniversary of being behind bars. She’s now served more time than anyone who has leaked information to a reporter in history – and still has almost three decades to go on her sentence. It should be beyond question at this point that the archive that Manning gave to WikiLeaks – and that was later published in part by the Guardian and New York Times – is one of the richest and most comprehensive databases on world affairs that has ever existed; its contribution to the public record at this point is almost incalculable. To give you an idea: in just the past month, the New York Times has cited Manning’s state department cables in at least five different stories.

And that’s almost six years after they first started making headlines. We know now that, despite being embarrassing for the United States, the leaks caused none of the great harm that US government officials said would come to pass. Even the government admitted during Manning’s trial that no one died because of her revelations, despite the hyperbolic government comments at the time, including that WikiLeaks had “blood on its hands”. (By the way, the US officials knew they were exaggerating in the media at the time.) Even if you think that she deserves some punishment for breaking the law, six years behind bars (and being tortured during her pretrial confinement) should be more than enough.

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Creepy.

Facial Recognition Will Soon End Your Anonymity (MW)

Nearly 250 million video surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the world, and chances are you’ve been seen by several of them today. Most people barely notice their presence anymore – on the streets, inside stores, and even within our homes. We accept the fact that we are constantly being recorded because we expect this to have virtually no impact on our lives. But this balance may soon be upended by advancements in facial recognition technology. Soon anybody with a high-resolution camera and the right software will be able to determine your identity. That’s because several technologies are converging to make this accessible. Recognition algorithms have become far more accurate, the devices we carry can process huge amounts of data, and there’s massive databases of faces now available on social media that are tied to our real names.

As facial recognition enters the mainstream, it will have serious implications for your privacy. A new app called FindFace, recently released in Russia, gives us a glimpse into what this future might look like. Made by two 20-something entrepreneurs, FindFace allows anybody to snap a photo of a passerby and discover their real name — already with 70% reliability. The app allows people to upload photos and compare faces to user profiles from the popular social network Vkontakte, returning a result in a matter of seconds. According to an interview in the Guardian, the founders claim to already have 500,000 users and have processed over 3 million searches in the two months since they’ve launched.

What’s particularly unsettling are the use cases they advocate: identifying strangers to send them dating requests, helping government security agencies to determine the identities of dissenters, and allowing retailers to bombard you with advertisements based on what you look at in stores. While there are reasons to be skeptical of their claims, FindFace is already being deployed in questionable ways. Some users have tried to identify fellow riders on the subway, while others are using the app to reveal the real names of porn actresses against their will. Powerful facial recognition technology is now in the hands of consumers to use how they please.

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American history 101.

The Fat Lady Always Sings Twice (Jim Kunstler)

That was the week Hillary began to look like the candidate who fell off a truck wearing a Nixon mask. Email-gate is taking on the odor of Watergate — the main ingredient of which was not the dopey crime itself but the stonewalling around it. The State Department Inspector General’s report saying definitively, no, she was not “allowed” to use a private, unsecured email server validated Donald Trump’s juvenile name-calling of “Crooked Hillary.” We may never hear the end of that now (if Trump is actually nominated). And, of course, there lurks the Godzilla-sized skeleton in her closet of the still-unreleased Goldman Sachs speech transcripts, the clamor over which is sure to grow. Meanwhile the specter of the California primary looms, a not inconceivable loss to Bernie Sanders.

And onto the convention in Philly which I contend will be even more fractious and violent than the 1968 fiasco in Chicago. I’ll say it again: Hillary is a horse that ain’t gonna finish. The Democrats better be prepared to haul Uncle Joe out of the closet, fluff up his transplanted hair, wax his dentures, give him a few Vitamin B-12 shots, and stick a harpoon in his fist for the autumn run against the White Whale (if Trump is actually nominated). The Republican convention in Cleveland is apt to be as bloody and violent a spectacle too (if Trump is actually nominated), with Black Lives Matters cadres having already promised to put on a show for global television and their Latino counterparts marching with Mexican Flags and cute signs saying: Trump: Chingate tu madre, perhaps garnished with the sobriquet pendejo.

In such a situation, Trump has enormous potential to make things worse with his childish snap-backs. Hubert Humphrey in 1968 at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about the moiling multitudes out on Michigan Avenue inveighing against him. The Vietnam War was a grave debacle, and it especially pissed off the young men subject to being drafted to fight in it, but the woof and warp of American life was otherwise intact. Blue collar workers still pulled in high wages in the Big Three auto plants, and women had not yet declared war on men, and the airwaves weren’t pornified, and there were still people in government with moral authority who loudly opposed official policy. The sobering martyrdoms of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy sanctified the opposition to the status quo.

Even Hubert Humphrey himself, a thoughtful man underneath his Rotarian clown mask, began to turn away from Lyndon Johnson’s war hawks. Nixon won. He surely benefited most not so much from the war issue and the riots in the streets as from the mass defection of Southern states from the long-entrenched domination of the Democratic Party — directly due to Johnson’s dismantling of the old Jim Crow laws. As a personality, Nixon was as much a pendejo as Donald Trump, but no one doubted his ability to run the machinery of government, if not the way they wanted to run it.

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” The figures of migrant unemployment follow a trend in Sweden of high unemployment for foreigners.”

Fewer Than 500 of 163,000 Migrants Find Jobs In Sweden (BB)

Sweden’s state-funded broadcaster has revealed that of 163,000 migrants who came to Sweden, less than 500 have found jobs. Sweden saw a record 163,000 applications for asylum last year as a result of the migrant crisis and many Swedes were assured that the new arrivals would contribute to the economy; but new research from Sweden’s state-owned SVT reveals that fewer than 500 migrants have found work. Using data from the Swedish employment agency and the Swedish migration authority, Migrationsverket, the network claims that only 494 asylum seekers are contributing to the economy, The Local reports. While in many countries asylum seekers are banned from formally working while their application is being processed, in Sweden there are exceptions.

The “at-und” is an exemption granted by Migrationsverket which allows asylums seekers access to the labour market. In an effort to explain the incredibly low number of migrants working, Lisa Bergstrand of Migrationsverket told SVT: “There was an incredible number of people applying for asylum in Sweden and so that we should be able to register them, we had to de-prioritise certain tasks, and that was the matter of jobs”. Of the migrants who claimed asylum in 2015 approximately one third of the men and women aged 20-64 were given the exemption to allow them to work, which is around 53,790 migrants. The figures of migrant unemployment follow a trend in Sweden of high unemployment for foreigners. The unemployment for those born in Sweden is at the lowest point since the 2008 financial crisis at around 4.8%, while foreign born unemployment is at 14.9%.

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Question to Italian readers: what effect has the death of Casaleggio had on Beppe?

Corruption Gripes Help Five Star Movement Top Italy Local Election Polls (G.)

Alessandro Aquilini had her by the hand. And he wasn’t letting go. Virginia Raggi, the woman tipped to be the next mayor of Rome, was hunting for votes in the street market in Boccea, a lower middle-class district of the Italian capital. Raggi’s trademark is exquisite courtesy – she proffers a slender hand even to reporters who approach her with hostile questions. At the butcher’s stall, though, she got more of a handshake than she bargained for. “We need help,” the 50-year-old Aquilini began. “Left. Right. Centre. We can’t take any more [of party politicians]. This country needs a bit more honesty.” Still gripping Raggi’s hand as he stretched across the slabs of veal, the burly butcher added: “We’re up to here with taxes and corruption.”

His monologue captured many of the reasons why Raggi, the candidate of the Five Star Movement (M5S), is leading the polls ahead of local elections in Rome and other Italian cities on Sunday. Unlike other non-traditional movements that have prospered in Europe, such as Syriza in Greece, the M5S’s protest is not so much against austerity as the corruption and cronyism of Italy’s mainstream parties. Nowhere has this been highlighted more vividly than Rome, where establishment politicians and officials are on trial alongside alleged mobsters, charged with conspiring to pocket millions of euros from rigged public contracts. All three of the final polls released before a ban took effect on 21 May put Raggi ahead by 3-6%age points in the mayoral race.

Run-offs between the two leading candidates in each town are slated for 19 June. Only then will it be known if the 37-year-old lawyer – almost unknown to the public until a few months ago – has won. A victory for Raggi would be a stinging reverse for Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who leads the centre-left Democratic party, and a dramatic breakthrough for the internet-based M5S. Founded less than seven years ago by the comedian Beppe Grillo and his digital guru, the late Gianroberto Casaleggio, the M5S is today Italy’s leading opposition party. Grillo has said he will set fire to himself in public if Raggi fails to win. But he may yet regret that pledge.

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Is there hope?

US Announces Near-Total Ban On Trade Of African Elephant Ivory (AFP)

US authorities announced a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory Thursday, finalizing a years-long push to protect the endangered animals. “Today’s bold action underscores the United States’ leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it’s having on wild populations,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said. The new rule “substantially limits” imports, exports and sales of such ivory across state lines, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said. However, it does make exceptions for some “pre-existing manufactured” items, such as musical instruments, furniture and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria, according to the FWS.

Antiques, as defined under the Endangered Species Act, are also exempt. The new measures fulfill restrictions in an executive order on combating wildlife trafficking issued by President Barack Obama in 2013, the FWS said in its statement announcing the ban. It said that once illegal ivory enters the market it becomes virtually impossible to tell apart from legal ivory, adding that demand for elephant ivory, particularly in Asia, “is so great that it grossly outstrips the legal supply and creates a void in the marketplace that ivory traffickers are eager to fill.”

“We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species,” Jewell said. The Wildlife Conservation Society welcomed the ban, calling it historic and groundbreaking. “The USA is shutting down the bloody ivory market that is wiping out Africa’s elephants,” WCS president and chief executive Cristian Samper said in a statement. “The USA is boldly saying to ivory poachers: You are officially out of business.” Some 450,000 elephants can be found on the African continent and it is estimated that more than 35,000 of these animals are killed each year.

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May 272015
 
 May 27, 2015  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Walker Evans Shoeshine stand, Southeastern US 1936

China Blows Its Debt Bubble Bigger (Pesek)
Bernanke: No Risk Of Hard Landing In China (Reuters)
Greece May Delay IMF Payments Till The End Of June (Guardian)
Greece’s Creditors Must ‘Get Their Act Together’, Says Varoufakis (AFP)
Steve Keen: Varoufakis Battles ‘Divorce Lawyer’ Style Austerity Talks (CNBC)
Juncker Questions Varoufakis, Tsipras (Kathimerini)
Greek Default, European Bankruptcy (Jacques Sapir)
A Parallel Currency For Greece: Part I (VoxEU)
Half Of Greeks Cover Their Needs From Their Deposits (Kathimerini)
EU Funds At Risk Due To Project Payment Freeze By Athens (Kathimerini)
Target Of Greek Scorn Shapes Nation’s Fate As IMF’s Storm Chaser (Bloomberg)
Landlords Enjoy £14 Billion Tax Breaks In UK Buy-To-Let Expansion (Guardian)
Corruptionomics in Italy (Alessio Terzi)
Robert Mundell, Evil Genius Of The Euro (Greg Palast, 2012)
In EU, Reform Means Different Things To Member Countries (Guardian)
Big Oil Bosses’ Bonuses Linked To $1 Trillion Spending on Drilling (Guardian)
Why Finance Is Too Much Of A Good Thing (Martin Wolf)
Canada’s Economy Out Of The Woods? Think Again (CNBC)
FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to US (NY Times)
Can Organic Farming Counteract Carbon Emissions? (WSJ)

“Even among China’s many questionable credit vehicles, local-government financing vehicles are a standout.”

China Blows Its Debt Bubble Bigger (Pesek)

There are plenty of reasons one could argue China isn’t on the verge of a debt crisis: The country has $3.7 trillion in currency reserves, a closed financial system and ambitious leaders who claim to be on the case. And doesn’t the biggest rally in Chinese stocks since 2008 count for anything? But like Japan and other highly-indebted countries that have struggled to deleverage, China isn’t showing the requisite tolerance for pain. A case in point was the government’s May 15 decision to order banks to prop up the same local-government financing vehicles, or LGFVs, that it claimed to be reining in. Then the People’s Bank of China decided this week to guide the three-month Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate to its lowest level since 2008.

By manipulating “shibor” in this way, the People’s Bank of China is helping regional leaders accelerate their unsustainable borrowing. Neither of these steps will help China avoid a Japan-like crisis. Rather, they are likely to ensure a belated financial reckoning in the years ahead with the potential to shake the global economy. The encouragement of local government borrowing is especially alarming. Even among China’s many questionable credit vehicles, LGFVs are a standout. They allow provincial governments to use state-owned resources and assets, like land, to borrow from banks. LGFVs have become a potent symbol of the country’s post-2008 overindulgence in debt, with local government obligations now exceeding the entire German economy.

The Chinese government has also been urging banks to increase lending to borrowers with liquidity troubles, relaxing rules for companies to conduct off-balance-sheet borrowing and prodding the PBOC to do whatever it takes to cap local-government bond yields. Meanwhile, by allowing local government to shift their LGFV debt to fresh bonds, the Chinese government has eliminated any remaining semblance of transparency in those markets. Entrepreneurial government officials who want to raise some cash to fund dubious projects now have a license to do so without leaving a paper trail.

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Meet the expert.

Bernanke: No Risk Of Hard Landing In China (Reuters)

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that China’s economic slowdown should not worry markets as there was no risk of a hard landing, and emphasized that a move to raise U.S. rates should be viewed as a positive sign for the world’s largest economy. Bernanke, who participated in an open interview at a private-sector forum in Seoul on Wednesday, said the expected U.S. rate hike would be “anticlimactic” when it happens and that there would only be minor negative impact on South Korea. “There may be some volatility. Countries like Korea are very well placed because it has very good policy, good institutions. It’s not weak or underdeveloped and doesn’t know how to handle capital flows.”

A Fed rate hike, expected by markets before the end of this year, would be something to cheer about, said Bernanke, who now works at the Brookings Institution, bond giant Pimco and hedge fund Citadel. “I don’t know when (the rate hike will come), but when that begins, that’s good news, not bad news because it means the U.S. economy is strong enough.” Bernanke also said the economic slowdown in China is necessary as it needs to change its growth model to be more sustainable in the long term. “China was growing 10% a year. And it was doing that through heavy capital investment, steel plants and so on. Very export oriented,” he said. “As the country gets more rich and sophisticated that kind of growth is no longer successful.”

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First move in a while? Promptly denied in Athens.

Greece May Delay IMF Payments Till The End Of June (Guardian)

Greece could secure vital weeks to negotiate a rescue deal with its creditors if Athens is able to delay repayments worth €1.6bn to the IMF, as critical deadlines approach. The proposal to combine four IMF repayments due in June and delay payment until the end of the month would win more time for vital debt talks that resumed on Tuesday. Greece must repay €300m on 5 June, the first of four instalments due next month. The IMF, its biggest creditor after the European Union, often waits a month before receiving funds from debtor countries. A senior eurozone official close to the talks with Athens told Reuters: “There is the possibility of putting together several payments that Greece would need to make to the IMF in the course of June and then just make one payment.”

The news agency said a second official close to the talks also acknowledged that a payment delay was a possibility. The first official said: “That’s basically a technical treasury exercise and they could tell the IMF that this is how they want to do it and the IMF would probably have to be OK with that.” Shut out of international markets, Athens has conceded that it will miss the 5 June payment without new loans from the EU, which is demanding reforms that will make the country’s debt sustainable. Last week, the interior minister, Nikos Voutsis, a longstanding ally of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said the country needed to strike a deal with its European partners within the next couple of weeks or it would default on its IMF repayments. In remarks that heightened the possibility of a default, he said: “This money will not be given and is not there to be given.”

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“It’s about time the institutions, in particular the IMF, get their act together..”

Greece’s Creditors Must ‘Get Their Act Together’, Says Varoufakis (AFP)

Greece’s creditors must “get their act together” and help produce a new loan deal for the cash-strapped country, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Tuesday. “It’s about time the institutions, in particular the IMF, get their act together, and come to an agreement with us,” the outspoken Varoufakis told CNN. Greece’s radical left government in recent days has sent conflicting messages on its finances as the state is gradually running out of money. The cash crunch has been caused by the government’s inability to agree with its international creditors on reforms that would unlock some €7.2 billion in promised bailout cash.

Over the weekend, a cabinet minister said Greece had “no money” to make a series of repayments to the IMF from June 5. “The instalments for the IMF in June are (overall) €1.6 billion. This money will not be given. There isn’t any to be given. This is a known fact,” Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis said on Sunday. A day later, a government spokesman insisted the country would keep up with its payments for as long as it could. “To the extent that we are able to pay, we will keep on repaying these obligations,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters. Varoufakis on Tuesday denied that Greece is about to run out of money. “Our state, as a result of huge sacrifices by the Greek people, has managed to live within its means,” he said.

“We will make the payment because I have no doubt that we will have an agreement,” he added. Talks in Brussels over the Greek reform list are to resume on Tuesday. According to Athens, the two sides are still apart on tax issues, social insurance, labour rights and the size of Greece’s budget surplus. The government hopes to secure an agreement by early June at the latest.

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“Mainly his frustration, the fact that the one thing that he can’t discuss with the finance ministers of Europe is economics..”

Steve Keen: Varoufakis Battles ‘Divorce Lawyer’ Style Austerity Talks (CNBC)

Greece’s controversial finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has blamed the euro zone’s insistence on greater austerity measures as the real reason why talks with lenders are stalling, and not any lack of willingness on Greece’s part to implement reforms. In a blog post published Monday, Varoufakis said the Greek government’s negotiations with its creditors have been entirely misrepresented as “unwilling” by the world’s media when Athens is actually very keen to put economic reforms in place. “The problem is simple: Greece’s creditors insist on even greater austerity for this year and beyond – an approach that would impede recovery, obstruct growth, worsen the debt-deflationary cycle, and, in the end, erode Greeks’ willingness and ability to see through the reform agenda that the country so desperately needs,” Varoufakis said in a Project Syndicate blog post, published on Monday.

“Our government cannot – and will not – accept a cure that has proven itself over five long years to be worse than the disease,” he added. At the same time, former colleague, fellow economist and close friend of Varoufakis, Steve Keen said the finance minister was frustrated with the progress of Greece’s talks with the euro zone, adding Varoufakis had compared the talks to dealing with “divorce lawyers”. Keen, chief economist of the Institute of Dynamic Economic Analysis (IDEA) who is credited with forecasting the economic crisis from as early as 2005, said the finance ministers of Europe refused to discuss certain euro policies, according to Varoufakis.

Keen, who also heads up the school of economics, history and politics at Kingston University in London, first met Varoufakis when they both worked as lecturers at Sydney University in the late 1980s. When asked what they mainly discuss at the moment, Keen said, “Mainly his frustration, the fact that the one thing that he can’t discuss with the finance ministers of Europe is economics,” he told CNBC. “He goes inside, he is expected to be discussing what the economic impact of the policies of the euro are and how to get a better set of policies, living within the confines of the euro and the entire European Union system, and he said they simply won’t discuss it. He said it is like walking into a bunch of divorce lawyers, it is not anything like what you think finance ministers should be talking about,” Keen said, adding that he thought current austerity reforms being suggested by the euro zone were a “fantasy”.

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Way beyond his mandate. Still wondering how that became so accepted in Europe.

Juncker Questions Varoufakis, Tsipras (Kathimerini)

As Greece’s negotiations with its creditors enter the most critical phase, the country’s finance minister created fresh confusion on Tuesday with statements regarding possible tax reforms which were almost immediately revoked. Meanwhile, fuelling speculation about how much longer Varoufakis can stay in the crucial post of finance minister, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared that he was “not helping the process.” “Mr Varoufakis is the finance minister of a country that has to confront huge problems and he doesn’t give the feeling that he knows that,” Juncker told the MNI news agency. Asked by the MNI reporter whether he trusted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Juncker took 14 seconds to answer “yes” but said Tsipras was becoming “increasingly responsible.”

In the interview Juncker also presented his opinions on what concessions should be made from each side in the tough negotiations while saying it was imperative to achieve a deal that includes the International Monetary Fund, which is awaiting a €300 million repayment from Greece next week. Referring to proposed changes to the Greek value-added tax system that are under discussion, Juncker said these reforms must yield €1.8 billion, or 1% of gross domestic product, in order to narrow a fiscal gap. He said pension reform was also crucial, pointing to the large proportion of early retirements in Greece in particular, while suggesting that labor reforms – another sticking point – could be postponed until the fall.

The Brussels Group negotiations resume on Wednesday with a Euro Working Group teleconference expected to take place on Thursday. In Athens, government sources said they expected a deal by the weekend so an emergency Eurogroup can be held next Tuesday. But confusion about the details such a deal would entail was deepened by Varoufakis. The minister told a press conference the government was considering introducing a “small” levy on ATM withdrawals. Two hours after the statement, his ministry said that the idea of taxing bank transactions had been proposed during negotiations but was withdrawn following “objections by the Finance Ministry.”

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“..one can see a preference emerging for an austerity which sweeps everything away wherever it passes.”

Greek Default, European Bankruptcy (Jacques Sapir)

The negotiations with Greece have been lead against any good sense or, more exactly, against any democratic good sense (which we are forced to agree is not quite the same thing). There have been attempts to discredit, to threaten, even to corrupt the Greek negotiators. These negotiations are actually being held in the greatest of obscurity. We do not have at disposal the minutes of the declarations of the participants, and one leaves it over to the press the produce “leaks“ the content of which is uncontrollable, precisely because of the lack of minutes. Yannis Varoufakis has expressed this quite well on his blog, admitting that he taped the negotiations so that one day we will know what to make out of the behavior of all parties involved.

“And maybe that we should question the European institutions, where decisions of fundamental importance are being taken, in the name of the European citizens, but minutes of which are neither taken down nor published. Secrecy and a credulous press are not good harbingers for European democracy.” Considering that Varoufakis is in reality a defender of the European project, one must understand, and measure the amplitude and the reach of his criticism. In effect, it is European democracy, not so much as a principle (already badly harmed since the 2005 refusal to take into account the referendums in France and in the Netherlands) but as a system of operational rules, with the purpose of ensuring the responsibility of actors for their acts, which is absent today. We know quite well that without responsibility there is democracy no longer.

What Varoufakis is saying, is that the European Union is no longer, in its day to day functioning, a democratic system. But the failure also concerns the aims of the European Union. In the case of Greece, one pretends officially wanting to keep the country in the Eurozone. But, in fact, and for various reasons, one can see a preference emerging for an austerity which sweeps everything away wherever it passes. Greece’s position has received the support of many economists and even the IMF has considered that on a number of points, the Greek government was right. But, nothing doing. It is all happening as if the German government, it must be said with the help of the French government which is behaving – alas – in this instance as the most eager of vassal, as the lowest of lackeys, were seeking to impose at any price upon ALL the countries of the Eurozone the death-bringing austerity which is its policy.

And one can understand that concessions to Greece would immediately entail demands emanating from Spain. In this latter country, Podemos, the party coming out of the movement of the indignés has carried away on this Sunday, May 24, a few beautiful victories which are rendering the position of the Spanish Prime Minister, Rajoy, ever more fragile. But this is true also of Portugal and Italy. Concessions to Greece would signal the beginning of a wholesale putting into question of austerity, something the German government doesn’t want to happen under any pretext. For ideological reasons, but also for some very material ones.

What is profiling itself on the horizon is not a Greek default, or more exactly, not only a Greek default. We are witnessing the bankruptcy of the Europeist ideology, and of the European Union as well. Through the Greek default, we will be witnessing a defaulting of the politics of the European Union, taken hostage by Germany. So that this default will be a European default, as it will signal the end of a certain idea of the European Union and will open a deep and durable crisis within Europe. European institutions will be affected in their legitimacy. This default will be the basis of the coming revolution.

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A useful overview that includes Cochrane, Parenteau and Varoufakis’ ideas.

A Parallel Currency For Greece: Part I (VoxEU)

Absent a deal with creditors, very soon, short of cash, the Greek government might default on its debt. To prevent this from happening, and to avoid taking new extra doses of useless and painful austerity, Athens could be bound to resort to the introduction of some kind of new domestic currency – in parallel to the euro – for the government to be able to make payments to public employees and pensioners while freeing up the euros needed to pay out its creditors. The ECB has not denied this possibility. Recently, ECB sources have unofficially discussed the issue with the media in some detail (albeit anonymously), and executive board member Yves Mersch has referred to a parallel currency for Greece as one of “the exceptional tools that any government can consider if it has no other options,” noting that all these tools bear high costs.

Is this really so? Is it really the case that a parallel currency would be worse than the current medicine Greece is taking (and is set to be taking for an indefinite future)? A parallel currency per se would neither prevent the risk of Greece’s disorderly default nor automatically help it out of depression. But not all parallel currencies are born equal, and there are various ways to design a parallel currency, each bearing significantly different implications. Below we compare the proposals currently on the table and discuss how a parallel (quasi) currency could be designed to promote Greece’s economic recovery. The issue is relevant for all countries suffering a weak economic activity, with no autonomous monetary policy, and limited fiscal space.

John Cochrane (2015) considers the possibility that the Greek government issues small cuts, zero-coupon bonds as promises to repay the bearer an equivalent amount of euros at some future date (IOUs). These IOUs could take the form of paper securities or electronic book entries in bank accounts, and the government could roll them over every year, just as for any type of debt obligation. The IOUs could be used to pay public salaries, pensions, and social transfers as well as to recapitalise or lend to banks. The IOUs would trade at a discount, but if the government accepted them at face value for tax payments, the discount might not be large. Mostly, the discount would reflect the risk that Greece either reneges on its commitment to accept its own debt for tax payments or suspends the roll over, thereby defaulting on the new debt. As Cochrane notices, introducing the IOUs would amount to creating a separate or dual currency that would allow Greece not to leave the Eurozone.

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The other half doesn’t have any…

Half Of Greeks Cover Their Needs From Their Deposits (Kathimerini)

Greek salaried workers cannot buy what they want but, rather, have to limit themselves to what they can afford on their reduced disposable income, a survey by the Labor Institute of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and the Association of Working Consumers of Greece (EEKE) showed on Tuesday. Crucially, 47% of consumers surveyed said they have relied on their savings to cover their needs in the past few months, while 16% were forced to borrow to spend, as the reduction of incomes continued in 2015 for more than half of Greece’s wage-earners (53%), the survey conducted in mid-February revealed – though this is markedly better than the 70% rate recorded last September.

In terms of expectations for the current quarter, consumers (who responded just three or four weeks after the change in government) said that things could not get much worse: Three in four (75%) said incomes would remain stable (from 57% in September), 16% expected a decline (from 40% five months earlier) and 9% even expected to see their incomes rise.

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To be filed under ‘irony’?!

EU Funds At Risk Due To Project Payment Freeze By Athens (Kathimerini)

Greece runs the immediate risk of missing out on €1 billion worth of EU subsidies this year from the previous support framework, which expires on December 31, as a payment freeze by the state has blocked the proper implementation of projects that will have to finish by the end of the year. Although the subsidy absorption rate had improved considerably in recent years, reaching a level of 85%, failure to stick to that rate this year – the last of the extended 2007-2013 program – would hamper Greece’s capacity to utilize the EU funds. At greater risk are not only the highway and environmental projects but also investment plans that are being implemented by the private sector. Economic uncertainty has suspended any resolve for investing, resulting in an extensive inability to absorb the funds Brussels has set aside for Greece.

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Hit man.

Target Of Greek Scorn Shapes Nation’s Fate As IMF’s Storm Chaser (Bloomberg)

When the IMF’s point man on Greece, Poul Thomsen, rebuffed the nation’s proposal in December to unlock more bailout funding, he wound up making his job even tougher. The Greek government’s failure then to secure an agreement with its creditors helped pave the way for its defeat in January by the anti-austerity Syriza party. Instead of negotiating with Greece’s establishment, Thomsen finds himself facing a novice group whose leaders have likened the lenders’ conditions to “fiscal waterboarding.” Now the 60-year-old Danish economist is holding his ground against Syriza economic plans that fail to meet IMF criteria for putting Greece’s debt on a sustainable path.

And this time, the nation’s membership in the euro and the IMF’s credibility hang in the balance as Greece runs low on cash and European leaders look to the fund’s blessing before disbursing more bailout money. The situation has Thomsen, whose thesis adviser was an architect of the euro, in the role of helping decide the currency’s fate. Thomsen has been closely involved with the Greek bailout since its inception in 2010, and often represents the fund at meetings of euro-area finance ministers, where officials from the European Commission and ECB also typically attend. Those two institutions and the IMF form the so-called troika of Greek creditors.

“That deal in December was a hugely missed opportunity,” said Martin Edwards, an international-relations professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, who has researched IMF lending programs. “They moved from having a moderately cooperative government to one that wasn’t going to be in their corner. This is a problem of their own devising.”

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“A fraction of this amount would go a long way towards fixing our housing shortage, and giving millions of priced-out families and young people the chance of a stable home.”

Landlords Enjoy £14 Billion Tax Breaks In UK Buy-To-Let Expansion (Guardian)

Landlords enjoyed a record £14bn in tax breaks in 2013, according to figures revealing the expansion of the UK’s buy-to-let market in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Some £6.3bn was declared against the cost of mortgage interest alone in the 2012-13 financial year, according to information obtained by the Guardian from HMRC through a freedom of information request. The figures also reveal that the number of landlords has increased by more than one-third over the past six years. In the 2012-13 financial year, 2.1 million taxpayers declared income from property, up from 1.5 million in 2007-08.

The anti-homelessness charity Shelter has called for the government to conduct an urgent review of the tax treatment of landlords, who can also deduct the cost of insurance, maintenance and repairs, utility bills, legal fees and other expenses from their income. Owner-occupiers are not entitled to the same privileges. In response to the figures, Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “In the context of looming welfare cuts and a dramatic shortage of homes, all those struggling to keep up with sky-high housing costs will be shocked to hear that a massive £14bn has been given in tax breaks for landlords in just a year.

“A fraction of this amount would go a long way towards fixing our housing shortage, and giving millions of priced-out families and young people the chance of a stable home. “In the Queen’s speech the new government must start to set out a comprehensive plan that will finally build the homes this country desperately needs, and an urgent review of these huge tax breaks must be part of this.”

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Masters of corruption.

Corruptionomics in Italy (Alessio Terzi)

In line with its National Reform Programme for the period 2015-16, Matteo Renzi’s government obtained parliament’s approval on a new anti-corruption law on May 21. We document the sheer size of corruption in Italy and argue that tackling it is not only a matter of fairness, but also crucial to boost the country’s potential output after three years of recession and almost two decades of stagnation. Experience from past success cases suggests that only forceful and comprehensive actions will succeed in bringing corruption under control.

The problem of corruption in Italy is real and large. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, the most widely used indicator of corruption, shows how Italy occupies the last place in Europe and 69th in the world, on par with Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. This picture is confirmed by other organisations. The World Bank’s indicator for Control of Corruption ranks Italy 95th out of 215 countries, again neck and neck with Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria. The WEF ranks Italy 102nd out of 144 countries on indicators related to ethics and corruption.

The economic consequences of corruption can be dissected in two classes: static and dynamic. Statically, corruption leads to the creation of deadweight losses, as it drives prices above their marginal cost of production. This implies a loss for both the public (e.g. in the form of investment projects being more expensive) and the private sector (e.g. in a bureaucratic procedure costing more to execute). The Italian Court of Auditors estimates these direct costs of corruption to be in the order of magnitude of €60bn per year, equivalent to roughly 4% of the country’s GDP.

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A timely reminder: “..when crises arise, economically disarmed nations have little to do but wipe away government regulations wholesale, privatize state industries en masse, slash taxes and send the European welfare state down the drain.”

Robert Mundell, Evil Genius Of The Euro (Greg Palast, 2012)

The idea that the euro has “failed” is dangerously naive. The euro is doing exactly what its progenitor – and the wealthy 1%-ers who adopted it – predicted and planned for it to do. That progenitor is former University of Chicago economist Robert Mundell. The architect of “supply-side economics” is now a professor at Columbia University, but I knew him through his connection to my Chicago professor, Milton Friedman, back before Mundell’s research on currencies and exchange rates had produced the blueprint for European monetary union and a common European currency. Mundell, then, was more concerned with his bathroom arrangements. Professor Mundell, who has both a Nobel Prize and an ancient villa in Tuscany, told me, incensed:

“They won’t even let me have a toilet. They’ve got rules that tell me I can’t have a toilet in this room! Can you imagine?” As it happens, I can’t. But I don’t have an Italian villa, so I can’t imagine the frustrations of bylaws governing commode placement. But Mundell, a can-do Canadian-American, intended to do something about it: come up with a weapon that would blow away government rules and labor regulations. (He really hated the union plumbers who charged a bundle to move his throne.) “It’s very hard to fire workers in Europe,” he complained. His answer: the euro. The euro would really do its work when crises hit, Mundell explained. Removing a government’s control over currency would prevent nasty little elected officials from using Keynesian monetary and fiscal juice to pull a nation out of recession.

“It puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians,” he said. “[And] without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.” He cited labor laws, environmental regulations and, of course, taxes. All would be flushed away by the euro. Democracy would not be allowed to interfere with the marketplace – or the plumbing. [..] The supply-side economics pioneered by Mundell became the theoretical template for Reaganomics – or as George Bush the Elder called it, “voodoo economics”: the magical belief in free-market nostrums that also inspired the policies of Mrs Thatcher. Mundell explained to me that, in fact, the euro is of a piece with Reaganomics: “Monetary discipline forces fiscal discipline on the politicians as well.” And when crises arise, economically disarmed nations have little to do but wipe away government regulations wholesale, privatize state industries en masse, slash taxes and send the European welfare state down the drain.

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Which is why the EU has no future.

In EU, Reform Means Different Things To Member Countries (Guardian)

The most over-used word in Brussels is “reform”. There is not a leader in the EU who does not urge reform of the union. The trouble is they all mean different things when they declaim the r-word. A German leader urges reform and means belt-tightening, structural change, balanced budgets in the push for global competitiveness. If you’re a French or Italian leader, reform means less austerity, more public spending, policies geared to growth not contraction, to jobs and not more unemployment. And David Cameron, who couches his referendum campaign in the need to reform the EU, of course, means a new deal for Britain.

Reform means concessions to UK exceptionalism in the EU, with 27 countries recognising and adjusting to Britain’s uniqueness in Europe. In the arguments about the looming renegotiation of Britain’s position in the EU, the emphasis until now has been on form rather than substance, the shape that a deal might take rather than what it might bring. This has focused on the calls for reopening the EU treaties, changing the terms of British EU membership, conferring a new legal order on that status. It is still not clear what might happen because Cameron has been deliberately vague about what he wants, exploring what the others – by the other 27 leaders, Cameron usually means Angela Merkel – might be prepared to give.

Cameron’s argument is that treaty change is necessary because of the impact of the euro crisis, that the eurozone needs a radical shift towards greater political and fiscal integration to shore up the single currency. Of course, Cameron speaks with a forked tongue because his argument is aimed at exploiting that renegotiation to rewrite the terms of British membership. Treaty change in any major way will not happen. It is too difficult. It will take too long. And eurozone leaders are also intensely irritated by the lecturing from Cameron and George Osborne, the chancellor, about how to put their house in order.

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Ain’t we smart?

Big Oil Bosses’ Bonuses Linked To $1 Trillion Spending on Drilling (Guardian)

Bosses at the world’s big five oil companies have been showered with bonus payouts linked to a $1tn crescendo of spending on fossil fuel exploration and extraction over nine years, according to Guardian analysis of company reports. The unprecedented push to bring untapped reserves into production, and to exploit new and undiscovered fields, involves some of the most complex feats of engineering ever attempted. It also reflects how confident Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP are that demand will remain high for decades to come.

The big oil groups are pressing ahead with investments despite the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimating that two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground to prevent the earth from warming 2C above pre-industrial levels – a proposed temperature limit beyond which scientists warn of spiralling and irreversible climate change. Multi-billion-dollar capital projects amount to huge, long-term bets by the big five that exorbitant costs associated with unlocking hydrocarbon reserves in some of the most inaccessible locations on the planet can eventually be recouped and converted into profits. Bonuses for chief executives at all five firms are tied to the achievement of delivery milestones in the construction and deployment of such projects.

Shell’s Ben van Beurden, for example, last year received a pay deal worth $32.2m, including bonuses linked to delivering “a high proportion of flagship projects on time and on budget”. These are thought to include four platforms floating 1,000 metres or more above deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Guinea and South China Sea. Similarly, BP’s Bob Dudley was awarded a pay deal worth $15.3m, with bonuses linked to seven “major projects”, thought to include Sunrise, a tar sands joint venture in Canada, as well as projects in Angola, Azerbaijan, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea.

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“The first is direct damage: an unsustainable credit-fuelled boom, say. Another is indirect damage that results from a breakdown in trust in a financial arrangements..”

Why Finance Is Too Much Of A Good Thing (Martin Wolf)

An organised society offers two ways of becoming rich. The normal way has been to exercise monopoly power. Historically, monopoly control over land, usually seized by force, has been the main route to wealth. A competitive market economy offers a socially more desirable alternative: invention and production of goods and services. Alas, it is also possible to extract rents in markets. The financial sector with its complexity and implicit subsidies is in an excellent position to do so. But such practices do not only shift money from a large number of poorer people to a smaller number of richer ones. It may also gravely damage the economy.

This is the argument of Luigi Zingales of Chicago Booth School, a strong believer in free markets, in his presidential address to the American Finance Association. The harm takes two forms. The first is direct damage: an unsustainable credit-fuelled boom, say. Another is indirect damage that results from a breakdown in trust in a financial arrangements, due to crises, pervasive “duping”, or both. Prof Zingales emphasises the indirect costs. He argues that a vicious circle may emerge between public outrage, rent extraction and back to yet more outrage. When outrage is high, it is difficult to maintain prompt and unbiased settlement of contracts. Without public support, financiers must seek political protection. But only those who enjoy large rents can afford the lobbying.

Thus, in the face of public resentment, only rent-extracting finance – above all, the mightiest banks – survive. Inevitably, this further fuels the outrage. None of this is to deny that finance is essential to any civilised and prosperous society. On the contrary, it is the very importance of finance that makes the abuses so dangerous. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that a rise in credit relative to gross domestic product initially raises economic growth. But this relationship appears to reverse once credit exceeds about 100% of GDP. Other researchers have shown that rapid credit growth is a significant predictor of a crisis.

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Beware housedold debt, hiding behind the housing bubble.

Canada’s Economy Out Of The Woods? Think Again (CNBC)

The state of Canada’s finances is back in focus this week with economists questioning whether the country has managed to combat a worrying rise in private debt. An independent policy think tank, called the Fraser Institute, made headlines last Wednesday when it described concerns as “overblown,” adding that there was little evidence that Canadian households were irresponsibly borrowing too much. However, that argument is now being challenged by David Madani, an economist focused on the north American nation at Capital Economics. He called the research “misleading” as it only showed the payments on debt interest, not the principal repayments which reduce the original loan amount.

“Principal repayments often represent a large portion of debt obligations, especially when it comes to housing mortgage debt,” he said in a note released on Monday. “Should market interest rates rise over the next several years, as we anticipate, household debt obligations will become much more onerous.” Canada’s economy has seen house prices and debt levels continue to climb despite the global financial crash of 2008. Former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney, warned of elevated household debt levels on several occasions during his tenure.

New statistics in March showed that Canadian households held roughly C$1.63 ($1.32) of credit market debt for every dollar of disposable income in the fourth quarter of 2014 – a record high, according to Statistics Canada who published the data. The country has also had to deal with a dramatic fall in the price of oil with its economy very much reliant on the commodity. The central bank delivered a rate cut in January and market participants are gearing up for another policy meeting this week. The current governor of the Bank of Canada, Stephen Poloz, said last week that this policy was “working” and that the cut would benefit households with a mortgage.

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Question: how did the NY times know where and when the arrests were going to take place?

FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Face Extradition to US (NY Times)

Swiss authorities conducted an extraordinary early-morning operation here Wednesday to arrest several top soccer officials and extradite them to the United States on federal corruption charges. As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. They went to the front desk to get keys and proceeded upstairs to the rooms. The arrests were carried out peacefully, with at least two men being ushered out of the hotel without handcuffs. One FIFA official, Eduardo Li of Costa Rica, was led by the authorities from his room to a side-door exit of the hotel. He was allowed to bring his luggage, which was adorned with FIFA logos.

The charges allege widespread corruption in FIFA over the past two decades, involving bids for World Cups as well as marketing and broadcast deals, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering, and officials said they targeted members of FIFA’s powerful executive committee, which wields enormous power and does its business largely in secret. The arrests were a startling blow to FIFA, a multibillion-dollar organization that governs the world’s most popular sport but has been plagued by accusations of bribery for decades.

The inquiry is also a major threat to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s longtime president who is generally recognized as the most powerful person in sports, though he was not charged. An election, seemingly pre-ordained to give him a fifth term as president, is scheduled for Friday. Prosecutors planned to unseal an indictment against more than 10 officials, not all of whom are in Zurich, law enforcement officials said. Among them are Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands, a vice president of the executive committee; Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay, who is also an executive committee vice president and until recently was the president of South America’s soccer association; and Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, a former member of the executive committee who has been accused of numerous ethical violations.

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It can produce enough food for everyone, while at the same time cutting CO2 and toxicity in our food. It can not generate gigantic profits fro Big Ag and the chemical industry, though.

Can Organic Farming Counteract Carbon Emissions? (WSJ)

Organic practices could counteract the world’s yearly carbon dioxide output while producing the same amount of food as conventional farming, a new study suggests. The white paper by the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for the use of organic practices, says that using “regenerative organic agriculture,” such as low or no-tillage, cover crops and crop rotation, will keep photosynthesized carbon dioxide in the soil instead of returning it to the atmosphere. Citing 75 studies from peer-reviewed journals, including its own 33-year Farm Systems Trial, Rodale Institute concluded that if all cropland were converted to the regenerative model it would sequester 40% of annual CO2 emissions; changing global pastures to that model would add another 71%, effectively overcompensating for the world’s yearly carbon dioxide emissions.

Michel Cavigelli, a research soil scientist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, which has a slightly different 19-year side-by side study, says his research also shows that organic soil has higher carbon content than conventional but warns that the devil is in the details. For example, the USDA study tills the organic plot and that might cause the manure’s carbon to stay deeper in the soil. But the question organic farming always comes back to is whether farming without synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms is really a viable way to feed the planet. Rodale Institute believes it can do that and better. In the longest-running study of its kind, Rodale’s Farming Systems Trial compares organic farming with conventional farming, by farming neighboring plots just as organic farmers and traditional farmers would.

That means its organic farming plot utilizes techniques like crop rotation and cover crops while the conventional plot uses common synthetic pesticides and genetically modified organisms. Both organic and conventional fields were divided into tilled and no-till areas to reflect that farmers use both practices. The findings show that organic farming yields are lower than conventional in the first few years, while conventional crops do better in the first years than they do later on. Over time the production equals out and with organic outperforming conventional farming production in years of drought (organic corn yields 31% more than conventional corn during drought).

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Mar 042015
 
 March 4, 2015  Posted by at 11:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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NPC Communist Party Young Communist League, Washington, DC 1925

It’s not that long ago, in 2001, that Jim O’Neill, then still with Goldman Sachs, coined the term BRICs, for the fast emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China. O’Neill saw a global power shift from the west to these four nations happening. Fast forward to today, and we see Russia under multiple attacks, including economic ones, from the west, as India just announced the second rate cut this year and China is attempting controlled demolition of the possibly biggest financial bubble in the history of the world.

And Brazil? If anything, it’s falling even faster off its pedestal than the other three nations. And in Brazil, it’s as much corruption scandals as it is the financial crisis and the plunge in oil revenues that take center stage. The stories have long been simmering, but they all came together in the media yesterday.

First, a seemingly minor one. Eike Batista was once the richest man in Brazil, and one of the 10 richest men on the planet, having made a fortune in gold mining and later oil. Then he went on to become probably the one man to lose the most money in the shortest time, going from $32 billion in early 2013 to minus $5 billion or so a little over a year later, impossible to pin down exactly for numerous reasons, but spectacular for sure.

Yesterday Mr. Batista made the news when the judge in a case against him for insider trading, was taken off that case for driving one of Batista’s luxury cars to his own home. He claimed the police had no place to store the vehicle…

Brazilian Court Upholds Removal of Judge From Eike Batista Trial

An appeals court on Tuesday upheld a decision to remove the judge presiding over the trial of Brazilian businessman Eike Batista , throwing out many of the judge’s rulings, according to a spokeswoman for the court in Rio de Janeiro. Later Tuesday, the court said it granted the judge— Flávio Roberto de Souza —a medical leave until April 8th. A separate appeals court had ordered last week that Federal Judge de Souza be removed from the case after he allegedly drove one of the cars he had ordered seized from Mr. Batista. Tuesday’s ruling was on a motion filed in December by Mr. Batista’s lawyers to have Judge de Souza removed from the case, claiming he had given a number of news interviews in which he used language demonstrating bias against Mr. Batista.

Judge de Souza has denied being partial. His removal will delay the case, which could be assigned to a new judge as early as Tuesday, the spokeswoman said. Mr. Batista is on trial for market manipulation and insider trading, charges he has denied. The judges who ruled on Tuesday overturned all of Judge de Souza’s actions during the trial until another judge can decide how to continue the case. The freeze on Mr. Batista’s assets ordered by Judge de Souza remains in place, however.

Police in February seized 11 vehicles, including a Porsche Cayenne the judge allegedly drove, as well as a Lamborghini Aventador, from Mr. Batista’s homes. They also took jewelry, a grand piano and a fake Fabergé egg as guarantees to repay investors in the event the entrepreneur is found guilty. The cars were to be sold at auction and the proceeds placed into escrow until the conclusion of the trial, an action allowed under Brazilian law. The piano, which was being kept at the apartment of one of Judge de Souza’s neighbors, along with one of the seized cars have been returned to Mr. Batista…

Then, on the same day, Brazil’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to start 28 separate investigations against 54 individuals, mostly politicians, in the Petrobras kickback scandal (‘under Brazilian law, politicians and cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court.’) I don’t know how many politicians Brazil has, but it would seem 54 is a solid haircut. And, of course, current president Dilma Rousseff was herself head of Petrobras from 2003-2010, the period in which the kickbacks took place. She’s probably not among the 54 to be investigated, however.

Petrobras did Batista one better. Its market capitalization was a reported $310 billion in May 2008. It has since lost $270 billion of that. According to the BBC, $100 billion was lost just since last September.

Petrobras Scandal Takes Politicians To Court

Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot’s office did not release the names of the politicians, but plea bargain testimony by defendants in the case leaked to local media indicate that most are members of the ruling Workers’ Party and coalition allies in Congress. O Estado de S. Paulo and other newspapers said the list includes Senate President Renan Calheiros and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha, both the top leaders of Congress and members of the PMDB party, the largest ally in Rousseff’s ruling coalition. The judge in charge of the case must decide whether to lift a secrecy provision and release the names and plea bargain statements.

The politicians were named by a former senior manager at Petrobras and a black market currency dealer whose arrest last March triggered an investigation into the funnelling of money from overpriced infrastructure contracts into the pockets of corrupt executives and politicians. Some of that money, prosecutors say, may have helped finance election campaigns for political parties, including Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and other members of her governing coalition.

The corruption probe known as “Operation Car Wash” has so far led to 40 indictments on racketeering, bribery and money laundering charges. Officials have indicted two former senior managers at Petroleo Brasileiro as the company is formally called and 23 executives from six of Brazil’s leading construction and engineering firms. The scandal threatens to have a ripple effect on Brazil’s already weak economy, prompting Petrobras to halt or cancel several investment projects.

Prosecutors are seeking the return from construction firms of about $1.6 billion siphoned off Petrobras contracts and are investigating Swiss bank accounts where funds were transferred and in some case laundered through off-shore front companies. The investigation and possible trial of politicians by the Supreme Court could take years. Brazil’s largest political corruption case to date, involving monthly payments to lawmakers in return for support in Congress for the Workers’ Party, took seven years before it went to trial in 2012.

Rousseff has denied knowing about the scheme during those years and has vowed to respect the Judiciary’s independence. A recent opinion poll, however, showed three in four Brazilians believe Rousseff knew about the scam. … even opposition leaders believe that recent calls for her impeachment will go nowhere.

Sabrina Valle and Anna Edgerton, writing for Bloomberg, must have seen this coming. They have a very long article on Rousseff and her power politics, very much worth reading. Some excerpts:

Petrobras CEO Lost Job Over a $30 Billion Disagreement

As the kickback and money-laundering scandal engulfing state-run oil giant Petrobras escalated in late January, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff got calls from two of her top appointees. They were in the midst of a marathon board meeting and they heatedly disagreed. The first was from her former finance minister and current Petrobras chairman, warning her that the board was discussing the release of a potentially embarrassing number: a $30 billion writedown that company auditors were saying was partially tied to scandal-related losses. The chairman left in the middle of the meeting to call his political benefactor to discuss releasing it – believing it was a bad number conjured up by faulty methodology. Rousseff agreed.

The second call, later in the same evening, came from Maria das Gracas Foster, the Petrobras chief executive officer whom Rousseff had appointed three years earlier. She expressed the opinion that under Brazilian law the $30 billion figure, whether faulty or not, had to be released because if the board now knew the number, the market had a right to know as well. Foster was aware Rousseff preferred the number not be released and hoped her close friend the president would understand her position..

After a dramatic ten-hour boardroom showdown, the number would in fact be included in a note to Petrobras’s overdue third-quarter earnings but it would be costly to Foster. On Feb. 6, Rousseff replaced her with Aldemir Bendine, CEO of state-run Banco do Brasil – a government executive popular with Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party. The appointment sent the shares of the company formally known as Petroleo Brasileiro down 6.9% that day.

Rousseff’s replacement of Foster also has ruptured the long-held bond of loyalty the two forged over more than a decade as business and political allies rising up in the ranks among a sea of powerful men. Foster’s departure further helps to isolate Rousseff as Foster joins a cadre of onetime close supporters who have been swept aside in various government dust-ups.

For Brazil and millions of ordinary Brazilians, Petrobras has become both an embarrassment and a source of anger even as they hope for a rebound. Only five years ago, the company was the darling of the global energy world, able to raise a staggering $70 billion at a share sale because of deep-water oil and natural gas finds so huge that they were expected to propel Brazil to decades of growth.

The first allegations of Petrobras corruption came in March of last year [..] Foster, however, seemed to be weathering the storm until October, when video tapes published online by a federal judge in a Parana, Brazil, court showed that same executive confessing to investigators that Petrobras had long been compromised – that for at least nine years he and others siphoned millions in kickbacks from companies to whom Petrobras awarded inflated construction contracts.

As allegations of wrongdoing escalated, the public became more outraged and investors continued to dump Petrobras shares; the hard-charging Foster found the political weather turning foul. [..] Throughout the ordeal, Foster had offered to resign several times. Rousseff wasn’t having it..

But the scandal kept escalating. A growing list of former executives started cooperating with investigators, hoping for reduced sentences. Cash deliverymen went by flamboyant nicknames such as Big Tiger, Watermelon and Eucalyptus, according to testimony before the Parana court. One former Petrobras manager admitted to taking as much as $100 million in kickbacks as part of a plea bargain deal.

As the drama unfolded, the one constant was Rousseff’s support for Foster, the woman she met in the early 2000s when she was an energy secretary for a southern state of Brazil and Foster was Petrobras’s representative for a gas pipeline to Bolivia. This trust began to unravel in December, when Foster decided to ban 23 construction companies caught up in the probe from doing business with Petrobras, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rousseff’s public position was that corrupt individuals — not the companies that employed millions of Brazilians and worked on strategic infrastructure projects — should be held accountable.

Then came the contentious Jan. 27 board meeting. Foster found herself at odds with Guido Mantega, the Italian-born, left-leaning Petrobras chairman. Foster knew that a fight with Mantega was a fight with Rousseff. But at some point, with the back and forth exhausted, Foster signaled to her management team and declared “enough, huh?” according to people who were in the room.

A week later, on Feb. 3, Foster was summoned by Rousseff to the presidential palace about 465 miles away in Brasilia. After two hours of candid discussion, the two came to terms. Foster and her executive team would be replaced by month’s end while a search for successors proceeded… Foster then boarded a commercial flight back to Rio de Janeiro and was booed by other passengers. There was no relief back home. Dozens of protesters greeted her at her Copacabana apartment, banging pots and pans outside her door, demanding she resign.

The CEO was still willing to stay on until Rousseff named a replacement but in a conference call from Brasilia with her five-member executive staff they declined to continue as lame ducks. Since Foster had said publicly she would never serve without her team, she had no choice but to go. The announcement came on the morning of Feb. 4 in a one-line regulatory filing that took the market by surprise.[..]

Petrobras continues to face huge challenges. With its market value shrunken, its debt ratings in the tank and its global image tarnished, it desperately needs to get back to basics. Over the past decade, its oil and gas production has lagged the company’s own projections — due to equipment delivery delays, maintenance issues and faster-than-expected declines in its older fields – even though that is starting to change.

Starting in 2007, stupendous deepwater offshore finds in an area known as the pre-salt had exponentially raised its reserves. Those discoveries still afford Petrobras plenty of potential upside assuming they are managed properly, analysts say. The most productive of its pre-salt wells pumps 35,000 barrels of crude a day. At the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota it takes more than 300 wells to pump that much. That’s in the top 1% for “all oil wells on the planet,” said Cleveland Jones, a geologist and researcher at Rio de Janeiro State University.

I think it might be wise to question the real reserves in those ‘stupendous’ finds. And in any case, the deeply inbred culture of corruption could easily waste all of it even if they are indeed so huge. With Lula as president, things seemed to go well, though he might have just been lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Rousseff has no such luck. And she doesn’t seem able to cope with the power she has, either. But it doesn’t look like she’ll have to bother with that for much longer:

Brazil’s Senate Resists Rousseff’s Austerity Push

Brazil’s Senate on Tuesday threw out a presidential decree that reduces payroll tax breaks for businesses, in a political setback for President Dilma Rousseff’s new fiscal austerity crusade. The Senate’s president Renan Calheiros said the matter was not urgent and should be presented to Congress in a bill rather than a temporary decree that bypasses lawmakers. Rousseff immediately responded by sending Congress a legislative proposal to trim the tax breaks, saying the change does not hamper the government’s fiscal savings plan.

In an action applauded by financial markets, Rousseff on Friday moved to pare back tax breaks on payrolls and export revenues to save the government up to 7 billion reais ($2.39 billion) this year and reduce its widening budget deficit. The new-found fiscal rigor threatens to tip the Brazilian economy into a deep recession, raising opposition from lawmakers and even senior members of her own Workers’ Party who want to water down the savings measures.

Since her narrow re-election win in October, Rousseff has made a dramatic U-turn in economic policy to regain the trust of investors worried with the financial health of an economy that until recently was one of the world’s most dynamic. Calheiros, a member of Rousseff’s main ally in Congress, the PMDB party, said her government was trampling on the constitutional right of Congress to legislate on important matters that affect Brazilians, such as raising taxes.

Opposition leaders praised Calheiros’ decision to assert the independence of the Senate, which will make it harder for Rousseff to push through belt-tightening legislation needed to avoid a credit rating downgrade. The surprise move by Calheiros, who has been a loyal ally to Rousseff during her first term, comes at a time of tension in Congress where politicians are worried that they will be implicated in a corruption scandal engulfing state-run oil company Petrobras.

One of other measures under fire includes a controversial decree that trims unemployment and pension benefits to save state coffers about 18 billion reais this year.

If the Petrobras affair doesn’t bring Rousseff down, her decisions will. You have to be an exceptional politician to survive the kind of huge economic downturn that Brazil finds itself in. Rousseff is no such exceptional politician. And of course most ‘leaders’ are not (that makes the few exceptional). That in turn means we will see increasing numbers of leadership changes as economies go downhill. Argentina went through 5 presidents in less than 3.5 years at the beginning of the century. Don’t be surprised if Brazil goes down that path too. And many other countries.

Nov 182014
 
 November 18, 2014  Posted by at 1:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Saturday afternoon, Pittsboro, North Carolina Jul 1939

Japan PM Abe Calls Snap Election, Delays Sales Tax Hike (CNBC)
Japan Prepares Stimulus to Strengthen 2015 Growth After Recession Hit (Bloomberg)
Japan’s ‘Abenomics’ Can Survive Quadruple-Dip Recession (AEP)
‘Godfather’ Of Abenomics Admits It’s A Ponzi Game, Taxpayers May Revolt (ZH)
ECB’s Draghi: Buying Sovereign Bonds Is An Option (CNBC)
Draghi Says ECB Measures May Entail Buying Government Bonds (Bloomberg)
Draghi Seen Bypassing QE Qualms to Hit Balance-Sheet Goal (Bloomberg)
Industrial Output in U.S. Unexpectedly Fell in October (Bloomberg)
Deutsche Bank Scales Back Trading in Credit Derivatives (Bloomberg)
Flash Boys Invade $12.4 Trillion Treasury Market in New Era of Volatility (Bloomberg)
Wall Street to Reap $316 Million From Day of Mega Deals (Bloomberg)
Australia’s Record-Low Rates To Head Further South (CNBC)
US Pension Insurer Ran Record $62 Billion Deficit (AP)
All Aboard The Instability Express (James Howard Kunstler)
The Secret History Of Corruption In America (Stoller)
UK Grocery Sales In Decline For First Time In 20 Years (Guardian)
1 in 5 UK Supermarkets Must Close To Restore Profit Growth (Guardian)
Putin Warns He Won’t Let Ukraine Annihilate Eastern Rebels (Bloomberg)
Shale Drillers Plan Output Increases Despite Oil Price Decline (Bloomberg)
3 Billion Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Pumped Into Clean CA Aquifers (ZH)
Modern Slavery Affects More Than 35 Million People (Guardian)
Ebola Doctors: The Last Working Consciences In The Western World (Guardian)

It’ll give him the power to totally sink the nation. All that’s missing is a few nuke plants and a major quake.

Japan PM Abe Calls Snap Election, Delays Sales Tax Hike (CNBC)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election and announced a delay in the second sales tax hike by 18 months after the country fell into recession. The move announced on Tuesday comes after growth numbers on Monday showed the world’s third-largest economy shrunk by an annualized 1.6% in the third quarter after a 7.3% contraction in the second quarter, shocking the markets. “I have decided not to raise the consumption tax to 10% next October and I have decided to delay a consumption tax hike for 18 months,” Abe said at a press conference. Japan has suffered since the first consumption tax hike from 5 to 8% in April.

Abe said the rise in the sales tax “acted as a heavy weight and offset a rise in consumption”. A second consumption tax hike was set for October 2015 which would have seen a 2% increase to 10%. Abe also said the lower house of parliament would be dissolved on November 21 and an election would be called in a move to strengthen his mandate for “Abenomics” – his set of economic policies. The Japanese Prime Minister admitted that it will be a “difficult election” but said he wanted the public to back his package of reforms. “There are differing opinions on the structural reforms we have proposed and I have decided that I need to hear the voice of the Japanese public on whether or not we should go forward with these reforms,” Abe said.

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There are still ‘analysts’ around who actually believe this stuff: “Household sentiment should be relaxed thanks to the delay in another VAT hike, helping improve spending attitude and facilitate consumption recovery”. Spending in Japan has been down for years, nothing to do with sales taxes.

Japan Prepares Stimulus to Strengthen 2015 Growth After Recession Hit (Bloomberg)

With Japan’s slump into its fourth recession since 2008 threatening the failure of the Abenomics reflation program, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is taking steps to shore up growth for the coming year. Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters yesterday in Tokyo there’s a high chance of a stimulus package. Etsuro Honda, an adviser to Abe, said a 3 trillion yen ($26 billion) program was appropriate and should go toward measures that directly help households, such as child care support. Abe, who holds a news conference later today, is also considering a postponement of an October sales-tax increase until 2017 – a move that would add 0.3 percentage point to growth in the coming fiscal year, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

At stake for the prime minister is assuring re-election in a likely snap vote next month that may serve as a referendum on his policies. “Household sentiment should be relaxed thanks to the delay in another VAT hike, helping improve spending attitude and facilitate consumption recovery,” Kazuhiko Ogata, chief Japan economist at Credit Agricole SA in Tokyo, wrote in a note to clients yesterday, referring to the sales, or value-added, tax. “If Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party wins in the election, ‘Abenomics’ would be set” to be sustained until as long as until 2018, when he would run up against term limits as LDP head, according to Ogata.

Less than two years into Abenomics – a three-pronged strategy to pull Japan out of two decades of stagnation through monetary stimulus, fiscal flexibility and structural deregulation – the program has yet to spark sustained growth. An April sales-tax rise saw the economy sink into two straight quarters of contraction, a government report showed yesterday. Abe, 60, has yet to implement growth-strategy items from labor-market liberalization to the securing of a free-trade deal within the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Corporate-tax cut discussions have yet to see legislation enacted. In other areas, Abenomics has stirred Japan, achieving the end of 15 years of sustained deflation and spurring focus in the stock market on corporate returns on equity. The Topix index of shares has jumped 79% in the past two years.

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Once again, Ambrose is out of his league. And not as sure as the title suggests, since he also says: “This is a formidable task and may ultimately fail.” The rest is not arguments, but exclusively wishful thinking. And harking back to what Japan did in 1932 is cute, but also entirely hollow.

Japan’s ‘Abenomics’ Can Survive Quadruple-Dip Recession (AEP)

Abenomics is alive and well. Japan’s crash into its fourth recession since 2008 is a nasty surprise for premier Shinzo Abe but it tells us almost nothing about the central thrust of his reflation blitz The mini-slump is chiefly due to a one-off fiscal shock in April. Mr Abe defied warnings from Keynesian critics and unwisely stuck to plans drawn up by a previous (DPJ) government to raise the consumption tax from 5pc to 8pc. The essence of Abenomics is monetary reflation a l’outrance to lift the country out of deflation after two Lost Decades. The unstated purpose of this “First Arrow” is to lower real interest rates and raise the growth of nominal GDP to 5pc, deemed the minimum necessary to stop Japan’s debt trajectory from spiralling out of control. This is a formidable task and may ultimately fail. Public debt is already 245pc of GDP. Debt payments are 43pc of fiscal revenues. The population is expected to fall to from 127m to 87m by 2060. Given the grim mathematics of this, the inertia of the pre-Abe era was inexcusable.

Takuji Aida from Societe Generale said the tax rise was an “unnecessary diversion from Mr Abe’s reflationary goals” but will not have a lasting effect. The contraction of Japanese GDP by 0.4pc in the third quarter – following a 1.8pc crash in the second quarter – is certainly a public relations embarrassment, but less dreadful than meets the eye. The economy expanded by 0.2pc when adjusted for inventory effects. Machinery orders rose for a fourth month in September to 2.9pc. Retail sales jumped by 2.3pc. Danske Bank’s Fleming Nielsen says Japan’s economy will be growing at a 3pc rate again this winter. Mr Abe has shrugged off the tax debacle without much political damage. He is likely to call a snap election for December, win heartily, and suspend plans for a further rise in the sales tax to 10pc next October, ditching a policy he never liked anyway.

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Besides, Ambrose, the guy who thought it all up has this: ” .. there are always new taxpayers, so this is a feasible Ponzi game”. How bad can you get it when, as Ambrose himself said, ” .. the population is expected to fall to from 127m to 87m by 2060″? It’s a hopeless game.

‘Godfather’ Of Abenomics Admits It’s A Ponzi Game, Taxpayers May Revolt (ZH)

Koichi Hamada is a special adviser to prime minister Shinzo Abe and one of his closest confidants. That makes his comments, as The Telegraph reports, even more stunningly concerning. Focusing his attention on the fact that Japan must delay the 2nd stage of its planned consumption tax hike – for fear of derailing the ‘recovery’ – Hamada unwittingly, it seems, explains the terrible reality behind the so-called “godfather” of Abenomics’ perspective on the extreme monetary policy he has unleashed… Select stunning quotes that everyone should ignore and just BTFPonziD in Japan…

“The consumption tax hike is a great big turbulence to the Japanese economy. It may have erased almost two thirds of the benefits of Abenomics,” he told the Telegraph. “At the very least, a third of this great experiment is gone.” [..] “I used to say that we should wait until the third quarter figures are out. However, by various economic indicators, the GDP figures cannot be very optimistic,” he added. [..] “We should increase the consumption tax in the intermediate future,” he said. “This first shock starting in April has been countered by a monetary counter-move. But can we risk another shock in this way?” He also said that while he fully supported the Bank of Japan’s bond buying spree, he said there would be diminishing returns from quantitative easing the longer it went on. “I completely agree with Kuroda’s direction of policy, as well as his strategy of keeping quiet and surprising the market. Of course, if you repeat the same kind of action then the impact will be weaker,” he said.

[..] Marc Faber, the famous Swiss investor, has accused Japan of “engaging in a Ponzi scheme” because the BoJ is hoovering up most of the debt that has been issued by the government. While Mr Hamada agreed that Japan had created a “mild ponzi game”, he also said it was a “feasible” one because of Japan’s huge foreign reserves. “In a Ponzi game you exhaust the lenders eventually, and of course Japanese taxpayers may revolt. But otherwise there are always new taxpayers, so this is a feasible Ponzi game, though I’m not saying it’s good.” Mr Hamada said it was important that Japanese policymakers sent a clear signal that the government was willing to do whatever it takes to smash deflation and pave the way for wage increases for millions of workers. “I’m optimistic about wages, but the uncertainty is how long it takes,” he said. Business is still in doubt about whether Abenomics will continue. If they know it will continue and the profits of export firms are really soaring, they will start to share that with their employees.”

So to sum up… as long as the BoJ keeps buying stocks and bonds in ever-greater amounts (and Japan has more taxpayers to foot the bill) then the ponzi scheme can survive in its fiscally unsustainable way… what a total farce.

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Tell ‘im ee’s dreamin’.

ECB’s Draghi: Buying Sovereign Bonds Is An Option (CNBC)

The euro zone’s growth has weakened over the summer months, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi told European lawmakers Monday, but stressed that he was willing to do more to stimulate the economy—including the purchase of government bonds. Speaking at the European Union’s Parliament, Draghi reiterated that the bank’s governing council remained “unanimous in its commitment to using additional unconventional instruments if needed.” He added: “The other unconventional measures might entail the purchase of a variety of assets, one of which is sovereign bonds.” The comments helped the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 close 0.5% higher on the day.

The central bank has already launched a slew of stimulus in an effort to boost the economy by easing credit conditions. These include cutting interest rates to record lows and announcing plans to purchase covered bonds and asset-backed securities (ABS) – and there are calls for the ECB to do more by launching a U.S. Federal Reserve-style sovereign bond-buying program. Further measures, “could include changes to the size and composition to the Eurosystem balance sheet, if warranted, to achieve price stability over the medium term,” Draghi added.

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“Data released today showed that officials accelerated covered-bond buying last week, with the total settled rising by more than €3 billion – up from €2.629 billion the week before.” Ahem: the goal is $1 trillion. At this rate, that’ll take 6 years.

Draghi Says ECB Measures May Entail Buying Government Bonds (Bloomberg)

ECB President Mario Draghi explicitly cited government-bond buying as a policy tool officials could use to stimulate the economy if the outlook worsens. “Other unconventional measures might entail the purchase of a variety of assets, one of which is sovereign bonds,” Draghi said in Brussels today during quarterly testimony to lawmakers at the European Parliament. In opening remarks both today and after the ECB’s monthly policy decision, Draghi stopped short of mentioning government bonds when he said that officials had been tasked with the preparation of further stimulus measures. His comments today come weeks before the institution’s critical December meeting, when it will publish new forecasts that are likely to incorporate a lower outlook for the economy and inflation. Draghi will succeed in boosting the ECB’s balance sheet back toward €3 trillion ($3.74 trillion), though he’ll have to override some policy makers’ qualms on quantitative easing to do so, according to a majority of economists in Bloomberg’s monthly survey published today.

Until now, the ECB has restricted purchases of assets to covered bonds, though asset-backed securities are now on its shopping list too. Data released today showed that officials accelerated covered-bond buying last week, with the total settled rising by more than €3 billion – up from €2.629 billion the week before. As Draghi spoke, Italian and Spanish bonds rose. The ECB president began his comments in the parliament by presenting European lawmakers with a list of policy resolutions for them to pursue in 2015 as he insisted his institution alone can’t fix the economy. “2015 needs to be the year when all actors in the euro area, governments and European institutions alike, will deploy a consistent common strategy to bring our economies back on track,” Draghi said today. “Monetary policy alone will not be able to achieve this.” “Monetary policy has done a lot,” Draghi said. “It can do more if structural reforms are implemented. It can’t do everything.”

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Not sure the Bundesbank and Nowotny will look favorable on being called ‘qualms’. 60% of Bloomberg ‘experts’ think Draghi will win, and they’re hardly ever right about anything.

Draghi Seen Bypassing QE Qualms to Hit Balance-Sheet Goal (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi will succeed in boosting the European Central Bank’s balance sheet back toward 3 trillion euros ($3.75 trillion), though he’ll have to override some policy makers’ qualms on quantitative easing to do so. That’s the majority view of economists in Bloomberg’s monthly survey, who have become more optimistic that the ECB president will meet his goal. Most predicted he’ll have to buy more than covered bonds and asset-backed securities though, and 72% said any stimulus expansion will be against the wishes of some national central-bank governors. Draghi, who has faced opposition to his most recent measures, told European lawmakers today that an expanded purchase program could include government bonds, as he insisted the ECB alone can’t fix the region’s economy. He also reiterated his pledge to be ready with further steps should the outlook worsen, and 95% of respondents in the survey said he’ll act on that promise either this year or in 2015.

“If private-sector asset purchases are insufficient, then sovereign bonds will then likely be included,” said Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Merrion Capital in Dublin. “This will be a hard sell internally.” Resistance to Draghi’s recent loosening of policy has come primarily from Germany. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann has repeatedly warned of the risks of large-scale asset purchases, known as quantitative easing, and Executive Board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger has said the balance between cost and benefit for some non-standard tools is currently negative. Austria’s Ewald Nowotny joined Weidmann in opposing the ABS plan. That didn’t stop a fresh reference by Draghi on Nov. 6 to driving the balance sheet back toward its March 2012 level via asset purchases and targeted loans to banks. 60% of the economists surveyed said he’ll succeed, which implies that close to €1 euros of assets will be added. In last month’s survey just 39% said he’ll achieve his aim.

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Yup, that’s that strong revovered economy for you.

Industrial Output in U.S. Unexpectedly Fell in October (Bloomberg)

Industrial production in the U.S. unexpectedly dropped in October, weighed down by declines at utilities, mines and automakers that signal manufacturing started the fourth quarter on soft footing. Output fell 0.1% after a 0.8% increase in September that was smaller than previously estimated, figures from the Federal Reserve in Washington showed today. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 83 economists projected a 0.2% gain. Factory production rose 0.2%, matching the prior month’s advance that was also revised down. A pickup in manufacturing is needed to help bolster the expansion, now is its sixth year, as global growth from Europe and Japan to emerging markets cools. Rising consumer confidence and the drop in gasoline prices are brightening the outlook for holiday sales, indicating factories will get a lift in the next few months.

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When CDS dries up, there will be major problems in the markets. It’s in the size: ” .. the market that shrank to less than $11 trillion from $32 trillion before the financial crisis”. So much money is evaporating it’s scary: “requiring large swaths of credit swaps to be backed by clearinghouses, which are capitalized by banks and require traders to set aside collateral, or margin, to cover losses”.

Deutsche Bank Scales Back Trading in Credit Derivatives (Bloomberg)

Deutsche Bank will stop trading most credit-default swaps tied to individual companies, exiting a business that new banking regulations have made costlier, according to a spokeswoman. The lender will instead focus on transactions in corporate bonds, while maintaining trading in the more active market for credit swaps tied to benchmark indexes, Michele Allison, a spokeswoman for the bank said today. The firm also will continue trading swaps tied to emerging-market borrowers and distressed companies, she said. The derivatives are used by hedge funds, banks and other institutional investors to protect against losses or to speculate on the ability of companies to repay their obligations. Deutsche Bank is exiting a part of the market that shrank to less than $11 trillion from $32 trillion before the financial crisis, data from the Bank for International Settlements show.

Dealing in credit swaps, which have been blamed for exacerbating the 2008 financial crisis, has become more expensive for lenders like Deutsche Bank as regulators across the U.S. and Europe require banks to hold more capital to back trades, reducing the returns for shareholders. “When liquidity providers leave the market, it becomes really questionable if the market is functioning efficiently,” Jochen Felsenheimer, founder of XAIA Investment said in a telephone interview. “Regulators continue to dry out the CDS market by putting more and more constraints.” Among measures that regulators have enacted since the crisis is requiring large swaths of credit swaps to be backed by clearinghouses, which are capitalized by banks and require traders to set aside collateral, or margin, to cover losses if they can’t make good on the transactions. Much of the market, where the privately negotiated trades have typically been done over phone calls and e-mails, is also being shifted to electronic systems.

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What could go wrong?

Flash Boys Invade $12.4 Trillion Treasury Market in New Era of Volatility (Bloomberg)

In a flash, the bond market went wild. What began on Oct. 15 as another day in the U.S. Treasury market suddenly turned into the biggest yield fluctuations in a quarter century, leaving investors worrying there will be turbulence ahead. The episode exposed a collision of forces – the rise of high-frequency trading and the decline of Wall Street dealers – that are reshaping the world’s biggest and most important bond market. Money managers say the $12.4 trillion Treasury market is becoming less liquid, meaning securities can no longer be traded as quickly and easily as they used to be, thanks in part to the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program.

“The way the market is set up right now, we’ll see instances like we did on that day,” said Michael Lorizio, senior trader Manulife Asset Management, which oversees $281 billion. “There’s going to be a learning curve as to how to handle that.” The development reflects unintended consequences of new financial regulation, as well as steps the Fed has taken to breath life into the U.S. economy. The implications, however, extend far beyond Wall Street, because the Treasury market determines borrowing costs for governments, companies and consumers around the world. When the day began on Oct. 15, an unprecedented number of investors were betting that interest rates would rise and U.S. government debt would lose value. The news that morning seemed ominous. Ebola was spreading. So was war in the Middle East.

At 8:30 a.m. in Washington, the Commerce Department announced a decline in retail sales. The shift came all at once. The sentiment that the Fed would raise rates reversed. Traders who’d bet against, or shorted, Treasury bonds had to buy as many as they could as quickly as they could to limit their losses. By 9:38 a.m., 10-year Treasury yields plunged 0.34 percentage point, the most in five years. Analysts such as Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research LLC in Chicago, blame the herd mentality of electronic traders. “A lot of these guys are focused on speed,” Bianco said. “They’re all uncreative and write the same program. When the stimulus comes in a certain way, every one of them comes to the same conclusion at exactly the same moment.”

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And we’ll see this as a positive, shall we?

Wall Street to Reap $316 Million From Day of Mega Deals (Bloomberg)

The five Wall Street banks that advised on $100 billion of takeovers announced yesterday by Halliburton and Actavis could reap as much as $316 million in fees for their work. Goldman Sachs and Bank of America will take home the lion’s share of that, with roles on both the $34.6 billion purchase of Baker Hughes Inc. by Halliburton, and the $66 billion acquisition of Allergan by Actavis. Goldman Sachs was the sole adviser to Baker Hughes, while Bank of America and Credit Suisse advised Halliburton. The three banks are set to receive as much as $143 million in total, Freeman & Co. said. Halliburton, the second-biggest oilfield services provider, agreed to buy No. 3 Baker Hughes, taking advantage of plunging crude prices to set up the biggest takeover of a U.S. energy company in three years. Actavis’s deal to acquire Allergan, meanwhile, will help the target rebuff a hostile approach from Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.

Goldman Sachs and Bank of America were also advisers to Allergan, for which they may share as much as $92 million, according to Freeman. JPMorgan, meanwhile, may receive as much as $81 million as adviser to Actavis. Yesterday’s deals firmed up Goldman Sachs’s status as the No. 1 adviser on M&A, with almost $814 billion of total value to its credit. Morgan Stanley which didn’t have a role on either of the two large deals, ranks second with $653 billion of deals to its credit. Citigroup, which also didn’t have a role on either deal, slipped a spot in the rankings to No. 4, while Bank of America rose to third from fifth. The ranking lists, called league-tables, are used by banks when they pitch their services to clients. A strong track record can help them convince companies to hire them as advisers. “We are extremely proud of the performance and momentum of our M&A franchise and the strategic advice and solutions that we have delivered to our clients in 2014,” Citigroup spokesman Robert Julavits wrote.

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Fingers in your ears, a big bang is coming.

Australia’s Record-Low Rates To Head Further South (CNBC)

Australia’s economy faces myriad headwinds that could trigger interest rate cuts from the central bank, taking borrowing rates further south from current historic lows. “Leading indicators suggest that a case can be made for further cuts: Confidence is low and consistent with weak growth, inflation expectations are falling and the unemployment rate is rising,” Credit Suisse wrote in a note Friday, arguing that rates could fall to 1.5%. Consumer confidence slumped over 12% on year in November, according to a joint survey from the Melbourne Institute and Westpac, marking the ninth straight month of pessimists outnumbering optimists – the longest slump since the global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, Australia’s official jobless rate rose to a 12-year high of 6.2%in October. Lower inflation also paves the way for rate cuts, Credit Suisse said. Headline consumer price inflation cooled to an annual 2.3% during the third-quarter, the lower end of the central bank’s 2-3% target band. Most importantly, markets have started to price in cuts, it said. The dominant view among major banks is still for the Reserve Bank of Australia to hike interest rates in 2015, but Credit Suisse says the behavior of the spread between 10-year bond yields and the cash rate is “abnormal” and doesn’t reflect that view.

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One of multiple problems in US pensions.

US Pension Insurer Ran Record $62 Billion Deficit (AP)

The federal agency that insures pensions for about 41 million Americans saw its deficit nearly double in the latest fiscal year. The agency said the worsening finances of some multi-employer pension plans mainly caused the increased deficit. At about $62 billion for the budget year ending Sept. 30, it was the widest deficit in the 40-year history of the Pension Benefit Guaranty, which reported the data Monday. That compares with a $36 billion shortfall the previous year. Multi-employer plans are pension agreements between labor unions and a group of companies, usually in the same industry. The agency said the deficit in its multi-employer insurance program jumped to $42.4 billion from $8.3 billion in 2013. By contrast, the deficit in the single-employer program shrank to $19.3 billion from $27.4 billion.

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“The global economy has caught the equivalent of financial Ebola: deflation ..”

All Aboard The Instability Express (James Howard Kunstler)

The mentally-challenged kibitzers “out there” — in the hills and hollows of the commentary universe, cable news, the blogosphere, and the pathetic vestige of newspaperdom — are all jumping up and down in a rapture over cheap gasoline prices. Overlay on this picture the fairy tale of coming US energy independence, stir in the approach of winter in the North Dakota shale oil fields, put an early November polar vortex cherry on top, and you have quite a recipe for smashed expectations. Plummeting oil prices are a symptom of terrible mounting instabilities in the world. After years of stagnation, complacency, and official pretense, the linked matrix of systems we depend on for running our techno-industrial society is shaking itself to pieces.

American officials either don’t understand what they’re seeing, or don’t want you to know what they see. The tensions between energy, money, and economy have entered a new phase of destructive unwind. The global economy has caught the equivalent of financial Ebola: deflation, which is the recognition that debts can’t be repaid, obligations can’t be met, and contracts won’t be honored. Credit evaporates and actual business declines steeply as a result of all those things. Who wants to send a cargo ship of aluminum ore to Guangzhou if nobody shows up at the dock with a certified check to pay for it? Financial Ebola means that the connective tissues of trade start to dissolve, and pretty soon blood starts dribbling out of national economies.

One way this expresses itself is the violent rise and fall of comparative currency values. The Japanese yen and the euro go down, the dollar goes up. It happens in a few months, which is quickly in the world of money. Foolish US cheerleaders suppose that the rising dollar is like the rising score of an NFL football team on any given Sunday. “We’re numbah one!” It’s just not like that. The global economy is not some stupid football contest. When currencies change value quickly, as has happened since the past summer, big banks get into big trouble. Their revenue streams are pegged to so-called “carry trades” in which big blobs of money are borrowed in one currency and used to place bets in other currencies. When currency values change radically, carry trades blow up.

So do so-called “derivatives” such as bets on interest rate differentials. When the sums of money involved are grotesquely large, the parties involved discover that they never had any ability to pay off their losing bet. It was all pretense. In fact, the chance that the bet might go bad never figured into their calculations. The net result of all that foolish irresponsibility is that banks find themselves in a position of being unable to trust each other on virtually any transaction. When that happens, the flow of credit, a.k.a. “liquidity,” dries up and you have a bona fide financial crisis. Nobody can pay anybody else. Nobody trusts anybody. Fortunes are lost. Elephants stomp around in distress, then keel over and die, and a lot of “little people” get crushed in the dusty ground.

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Looks like a good book to get.

The Secret History Of Corruption In America (Stoller)

If there s one way to summarize Zephyr Teachout’s extraordinary book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, it is that today we are living in Benjamin Franklin’s dystopia. Her basic contention, which is not unfamiliar to most of us in sentiment if not in detail, is that the modern Supreme Court has engaged in a revolutionary reinterpretation of corruption and therefore in American political life. This outlook, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the famous Citizens United case, understands and celebrates America as a brutal and Hobbesian competitive struggle among self-interested actors attempting to use money to gain personal benefits in the public sphere.

What makes the book so remarkable is its scope and ability to link current debates to our rich and forgotten history. Perhaps this has been done before, but if it has, I have never seen it. Liberals tend to think that questions about electoral and political corruption started in the 1970s, in the Watergate era. What Teachout shows is that these questions were foundational in the American Revolution itself, and every epoch since. They are in fact questions fundamental to the design of democracy.

Teachout starts her book by telling the story of a set of debates that took place even before the Constitution was ratified – whether American officials could take gifts from foreign kings. The French King, as a matter of diplomatic process, routinely gave diamond-encrusted snuff boxes to foreign ambassadors. Americans, adopting a radical Dutch provision banning such gifts, wrestled with the question of temptation to individual public servants versus international diplomatic norms. The gifts ban, she argues, was evidence of a particular demanding notion of corruption at the heart of American legal history. These rules, bright-line rules versus corrupt-intent rules, govern temptation and structure. They cover innocent and illicit activity, as opposed to bribery rules which are organized solely around quid pro quo corruption.

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However you slice and dice it, that’s not a number from a recovering economy.

UK Grocery Sales In Decline For First Time In 20 Years (Guardian)

UK grocery sales have gone into decline for the first time in at least 20 years as a raging price war and the falling cost of food commodities hit Britain’s supermarkets. In good news for shoppers, the average price of a basket of everyday essentials such as milk, bread and vegetables now costs 0.4% less than it did a year ago, according to the latest figures from market research firm Kantar Worldpanel. But the figures highlight a painful few months for the UK’s biggest retailers with all of the “big four” supermarkets seeing sales fall back in the 12 weeks to 9 November. Tesco continues to be the worst performer with sales dropping by 3.7%, but Morrisons’ performance deteriorated at the fastest rate, with the slump in sales accelerating to 3.3%, from 1.3% a month ago.

Sainsbury’s trading figures also worsened, with sales down 2.5%. Asda’s sales also went into decline, for the first time in some months, although the Walmart-owned group was the only one of the big four to hold market share. Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel said: “The declining grocery market will be of concern to retailers as they gear up for the key Christmas trading season.” In a pattern that has continued throughout this year, the German discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to grow strongly, as did the up-market grocer Waitrose. But only Waitrose picked up the pace of growth, to 5.6%, shoring up its spot at the UK’s sixth largest supermarket. Aldi’s growth slowed to 25.5% from 29.1% last month, and more than 30% earlier this year, while Lidl’s growth slowed to 16.8% from 17.7% last month.

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Complaceny and hubris pay off.

1 in 5 UK Supermarkets Must Close To Restore Profit Growth (Guardian)

Supermarket chiefs need to take drastic action by shutting one in five of their stores if the financial health of the mainstream grocery chains is to recover from the damage being wreaked by altered shopping habits and the onslaught of the discounters, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs. A large closure programme is the only viable solution to bring about a return to profitable growth for the UK supermarket industry, the analysts said in a report. With 56% of Tesco’s stores bigger than 40,000 sq ft, the report concludes the market leader has the biggest problem on its hands. Profits at the three listed chains, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, have gone into reverse as weak food sales are exacerbated by the runaway growth of Aldi and Lidl. Further pressure is coming from structural changes in the market such as the growth of online and convenience store retailing.

Last week Sainsbury’s reported a first half loss of £290m as it counted the cost of pulling the plug on 40 new supermarket projects and wrote down the value of its underperforming stores. Goldman Sachs analyst Rob Joyce was gloomy about the ability of the major players to bounce back if the fight was based on price cuts alone. “We believe that any major price investments by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s or Tesco can be exceeded by the discounters,” he wrote. The unhealthy industry dynamic prompted him to predict large stores would suffer like-for-like sales declines of 3% a year until 2020, unless the big chains embrace the need for major surgery. Too much focus on profitability allowed the “discounters to get too strong”, with incumbents, until recently, reliant on pushing up prices to combat falling sales?, according to the report. But even Asda, which was the first of the big four to take on the discounters with a £1bn price cuts campaign, has started to show signs of strain.

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It’s a simple story.

Putin Warns He Won’t Let Ukraine Annihilate Eastern Rebels (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned he won’t allow rebels in eastern Ukraine to be defeated by government forces as European Union ministers met to consider imposing more sanctions on the separatists. “You want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents,” Putin said in an interview yesterday with Germany’s ARD television. “Is that what you want? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday the EU will keep its economic sanctions on Russia “for as long as they are needed.”

EU foreign ministers convened today in Brussels to discuss adding to sanctions that have limited access to capital markets for some Russian banks and companies and blacklisted officials involved in the conflict. New measures will likely target pro-Russian separatist leaders, the EU said. “Sanctions in themselves are not an objective, they can be an instrument if they come together with other measures,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters before the meeting. She said the EU’s three-track strategy consists of sanctions, encouragement of reforms in Ukraine and dialogue with Russia. “We are very concerned about any possible ethnic cleansings and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state,” Putin said according to an English translation of his remarks published by the Kremlin.

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They’re afraid if they cut production, investors may pull out. So they keep on the treadmill until they blow up the entire thing.

Shale Drillers Plan Output Increases Despite Oil Price Decline (Bloomberg)

Shale drillers are planning on production growth with fewer rigs despite a worldwide glut that has sent crude prices to a four-year low. Companies including Devon Energy, Continental Resources and EOG Resources said they expect to pump more from their prime properties while cutting back in their least productive prospects. That puts the onus on OPEC nations, led by Saudi Arabia, to cut output if they want to stem the slide in global oil prices. “There’s a lot more production coming online this year and in the first half of 2015,” said Jason Wangler, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities. “This isn’t a machine that you can turn on and off with a switch. It’s going to take months, if not quarters, to turn it around.”

Domestic output topped 9 million barrels a day for the first time since at least 1983, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Nov. 13. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark oil contract, sank 18 cents yesterday to settle at $75.64 a barrel. Prices fell to $74.21 on Nov. 13, the lowest since 2010. “Certainly if prices fall even further than they are now, it’ll have some impact, and it may slow the growth rate of U.S. production,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy in New York. “I still think, unless they fall significantly further, U.S. production is going to see dramatic increases in growth.”

Lower prices aren’t stopping U.S. shale drillers. Devon Energy, which pumped 136,000 barrels a day of crude in the third quarter, will boost output by as much as 25% next year, said John Richels, the company’s CEO, in a Nov. 5 earnings call. That rivals this year’s expansion, even though Devon will idle four of its six rigs in Oklahoma’s Mississippi Lime prospect. Continental Resources, which produced 128,000 barrels a day in the third quarter, trimmed $600 million from its 2015 drilling budget by shelving plans to add new rigs. Nonetheless, the Oklahoma City-based company said in its Nov. 6 earnings call it will increase output as much as 29%. Pioneer Natural Resources in Irving, Texas, the most active driller in West Texas’s Permian Basin, said in its Nov. 5 third-quarter call that it plans to add as much as 21%.

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Anything for a buck.

3 Billion Gallons Of Fracking Wastewater Pumped Into Clean CA Aquifers (ZH)

Dear California readers: if you drank tapwater this morning (or at any point in the past few weeks/months), you may be in luck as you no longer need to buy oil to lubricate your engine: just use your blood, and think of the cost-savings. That’s the good news. Also, the bad news, because as the California’s Department of Conservation’s Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall, told NBC Bay Area, California state officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump up to 3 billion gallons (call it 70 million barrels) of oil fracking-contaminated waste water into formerly clean aquifiers, aquifiers which at least on paper are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, and are protected by the government’s EPA – an agency which, it appears, was richly compensated by the same oil and gas companies to look elsewhere.

And the scariest words of admission one can ever hear from a government apparatchik: “In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made.” Because nothing short of a full-blown disaster prompts the use of the dreaded passive voice. And what was unsaid is that the “biggest error that was made” is that someone caught California regulators screwing over the taxpayers just so a few oil majors could save their shareholders a few billion dollars in overhead fees. And now that one government agency has been caught flaunting the rules, the other government agencies, and certainly private citizens and businesses, start screaming: after all some faith in the well-greased, pardon the pun, government apparatus has to remain:

“It’s inexcusable,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”

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Our own countries are replete with mental slaves.

Modern Slavery Affects More Than 35 Million People (Guardian)

More than 35 million people around the world are trapped in a modern form of slavery, according to a report highlighting the prevalence of forced labour, human trafficking, forced marriages, debt bondage and commerical sexual exploitation. The Walk Free Foundation (WFF), an Australia-based NGO that publishes the annual global slavery index, said that as a result of better data and improved methodology it had increased its estimate 23% in the past year. Five countries accounted for 61% of slavery, although it was found in all 167 countries covered by the report, including the UK. India was top of the list with about 14.29 million enslaved people, followed by China with 3.24 million, Pakistan 2.06 million, Uzbekistan 1.2 million, and Russia 1.05 million.

Mauritania had the highest proportion of its population in modern slavery, at 4%, followed by Uzbekistan with 3.97%, Haiti 2.3%, Qatar 1.36% and India 1.14%. Andrew Forrest, the chairman and founder of WFF – which is campaigning for the end of slavery within a generation – said: “There is an assumption that slavery is an issue from a bygone era. Or that it only exists in countries ravaged by war and poverty. “These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country. We are all responsible for the most appalling situations where modern slavery exists and the desperate misery it brings upon our fellow human beings.

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That’s an excellent way to look at them.

Ebola Doctors: The Last Working Consciences In The Western World (Guardian)

Patients arrive at the Médecins Sans Frontières treatment centre in Sierra Leone 10 to an ambulance. The overcrowding means that by the time they get there, even those whose original symptoms may not have been Ebola will have been sufficiently exposed to catch it on the way in. Such is life in West Africa in the midst of the worst outbreak of the disease since it was first identified 38 years ago. Ebola Frontline – Panorama (BBC1) followed MSF doctor Javid Abdelmoneim – who, along with his colleagues, you can’t help but feel must be the owners of the last working consciences in the western world – on his month-long volunteer posting to the centre, treating some of the tens of thousands of people who have contracted Ebola since the epidemic began nine months ago.

Furnished with a specially adapted camera fitted to his goggles, one that can survive the chlorine sprayings and sluicings as part of the good doctor’s 20 minute decontamination procedure every time he leaves the tent full of his suffering and dying charges, we watch along with him as the disease plots its course through bodies, through families and through entire communities. People die quietly, for the most part. The loudest noise we hear is the wailing in grief of a woman who loses her sister. Their parents died before the cameras got there. Eleven-month-old Alfa is an Ebola orphan too, one of the estimated 10.3 million children directly or indirectly affected by the crisis. She dies alone, relieved of physical pain, Abdelmoneim hopes, by the morphine he gives her as her little body starts to fail, but “she looked frightened at the end”.

She is buried in a cemetery purpose-built for bodies that remain biohazards after death, one of hundreds of people marked only by patient ID numbers scrawled on paper labels attached to sticks driven into the ground. While the volunteer doctors, nurses and staff try to hold the line at the treatment centre – whose name they change to “case management centre” in recognition that all they can give is supportive, not curative care – the voiceover keeps us abreast of the rising death toll in Africa and the ponderous reactions and non-reactions of other nations to the crisis, and the delivery and non-delivery of promises and aid to the stricken regions. Last month the UN called for a twentyfold increase in help. Half of that has so far been donated. A plague on all our houses.

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 November 11, 2014  Posted by at 11:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Country filling station, Granville County, NC July 1939

Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ For Banks Really Coming To An End? (BBC)
Banks Poised to Settle With Derivatives Regulator in FX-Rigging Cases (BW)
Bond Swings Draw Scrutiny (WSJ)
China, Japan And An Ugly Currency War (Steen Jakobsen)
Subprime Credit Card Lending Swells (CNBC)
Why Iron Ore’s Meltdown Is Far From Over (CNBC)
It’s Time to Put Juncker on the Hot Seat (Spiegel Ed.)
The Ghosts of Juncker’s Past Come Back to Haunt Him (Spiegel)
The Return Of The US Dollar (El-Erian)
Fears Of German Recession As Moment Of Truth Looms (CNBC)
Russia Ends Dollar/Euro Currency Peg, Moves To Free Float (RT)
Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize (NY Times)
Alleged Sarkozy Plot Rocks French Political Establishment (FT)
Nearly A Third Of Indian Cabinet Charged With Crimes (Reuters)
Energy Is Europe’s ‘Big Disadvantage’: Deutsche Bank Co-Ceo (CNBC)
Rich Nations Subsidize Fossil Fuel Industry By $88 Billion A Year (Guardian)
The Real Story Of US Coal: Inside The World’s Biggest Coalmine (Guardian)
Angry Canary Islanders Brace For An Unwanted Guest: The Oil Industry (Guardian)
Fukushima Radiation Found in Pacific Off California Coast (Bloomberg)
The Fate of the Turtle (James Howard Kunstler)

Make that a no.

Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ For Banks Really Coming To An End? (BBC)

Interviewing Alistair Darling in 2011, three years after the financial crisis during which he was chancellor, his most striking answer to me was not about the fear that Britain’s economic system was on the point of collapse. It wasn’t even his worry that ATMs up and down the country might simply stop functioning. Those answers were of course chilling. But they were symptoms of a wider disease. Mr Darling’s most striking answer was the “absolute astonishment” he felt when he asked Britain’s largest banks to account for the risks contained in their businesses – and they were unable to come up with a coherent answer. This total lack of knowledge – coupled with the hubris of profit-taking built on lax credit – went to the heart of the financial crisis. Regulators appeared similarly non-plussed.

Such was the global complexity and lack of governance in the international financial system, when it came to rescuing the banks from having to eat their own sick, the UK government – and many other governments around the world – initially had no idea how large the bill would be. And neither did the banks. The only funding avenues large enough to contain such unquantifiable risks were those provided by central banks and the taxpayer. The alternative was financial meltdown. The numbers turned out to be astronomical. A National Audit Office report in August this year suggested the value of the UK government’s total support for the financial system alone exceeded £1.1tn at its height. Many tens of billions of pounds worth of capital was directly injected into failing banks and building societies.

The rest of that dizzying £1.1tn was the total value of liability insurance – the government guaranteeing banks’ security as lender of last resort. Put simply, the taxpayer had become the guarantor of the global financial system and the banks that are the essential plumbing of that system. In direct capital the UK government (the taxpayer) ultimately had to find over £100bn. More than £66bn was used to rescue the Royal Bank of Scotland (still 80% owned by the government) and Lloyds Bank (still 25% owned by the government). Of that, the sale of two chunks of Lloyds since the last election in 2010 has raised the princely sum of £7.4bn.

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For rigging a $5.300.000.000.000 a day market, banks are fined $300.000.000. Remove a few zeroes and it’s like being fined $300 for rigging a $5.300.000 million market. Sounds profitable.

Banks Poised to Settle With Derivatives Regulator in FX-Rigging Cases (BW)

Banks suspected of rigging the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency market are preparing to reach settlements as early as this week with the main U.S. derivatives regulator, according to a person with knowledge of the cases. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission may levy fines of about $300 million against each firm, depending on the level of their involvement, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because deals haven’t been announced. It’s unclear how many firms may settle with the CFTC as U.K. and U.S. bank regulators prepare to levy related penalties this week, the person said. There was no immediate response to an e-mailed request for comment from the CFTC after normal business hours. The New York Times reported late yesterday on the talks with the agency.

Investigations are under way on three continents as authorities probe allegations that dealers at the world’s biggest banks traded ahead of clients and colluded to rig benchmarks used by pension funds and money managers to determine what they pay for foreign currencies. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority is poised to reach settlements as soon as this week with six banks, which together have set aside about $5.3 billion in recent weeks for legal matters including the currency investigations, people with knowledge of those talks have said. Barclays, Citigroup, HSBC, JPMorgan, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBSare in settlement talks with the FCA, people with knowledge of the situation have said.

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How many years is the investigation going to take?

Bond Swings Draw Scrutiny (WSJ)

The day’s trading was just hitting its stride in New York on the morning of Oct. 15 when bond investors, traders and strategists were stunned by an unusual move in the $12 trillion U.S. Treasury market playing out on their computer screens. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note took a sharp dive below 2% within minutes, and few could understand exactly why. Some dealers immediately pulled the plug on automated trading systems that provided price quotes to customers. Fund managers rushed to convene meetings. Many investors scrambled to pinpoint the reason behind the accelerating decline. “It starts moving faster and faster, and you can’t point to anything,” recalled Mark Cernicky, managing director at Principal Global Investors , which oversees $78 billion. Now, investors and regulators are burrowing into the causes of the plunge in yields to try to understand whether electronic trading and new regulations are fueling sudden price swings in a market that acts as a key benchmark for interest rates, investments and U.S. home loans.

At the time, bond-market analysts attributed the fall in yields to weak U.S. economic data, shaky European markets and hedge funds scrambling to cover wrong-way bets. But many investors felt that didn’t fully explain why the yield on the 10-year Treasury note tumbled to its biggest one-day decline since 2009. When yields fall, prices rise. Regulators and other experts are examining deep-seated shifts in trading since the financial crisis, which could help explain the unusual size of the move in a market many investors rely on for its relative stability. “What happened on Oct. 15 is the result of things that had been building for a while,” said Alex Roever, a strategist at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. who follows the government-bond market. The Federal Reserve, Treasury and Commodity Futures Trading Commission are looking at that day’s trading activity, according to people familiar with the situation. One focus is the role of high-speed electronic trading in the bond market, although regulators haven’t yet drawn any conclusions, these people said.

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More trouble for Tokyo.

China, Japan And An Ugly Currency War (Steen Jakobsen)

There’s increasing risk we’ll soon see a “significant paradigm shift” from China in its attitude to the strength of its currency. So says Saxo Bank’s Chief Economist, Steen Jakobsen. He says we’re about to see a full-scale currency war, notably between China and Japan, two of the world’s greatest exporting countries. There are a number of important world meetings over the coming few weeks and the Chinese will be “very vocal”, says Steen, as it’s getting increasingly worried about its loss of growth momentum. The yuan has strengthened significantly in recent weeks while the yen has declined substantially. The country’s determined, he says, to refocus and maintain its export share of total growth.

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And Washington just sits by and lets it happen all over again.

Subprime Credit Card Lending Swells (CNBC)

Consumers with dinged credit are back in a borrowing mood, and lenders are more than happy to give them new credit cards, according to new data. Since the Great Recession ended five years ago, consumers have been gradually taking on more debt and lenders have been accommodating them, easing up on tighter standards. Much of the growth has been in so-called non-revolving credit, especially car loans, thanks to record low interest rates. But revolving credit—mainly in the form of credit cards—is picking up. And the biggest growth in new credit cards is coming from so-called subprime borrowers whose credit scores are less than 660, according to the latest Equifax data.

Through July of this year, banks handed out cards to 9.8 million subprime consumers, a six-year high and an increase of 43% from the same period last year. Another 7.8 million cards have been issued to subprime borrowers by retailers this year, up 13% from 2013 to an eight-year high. Lenders are also giving subprime borrowers higher credit limits. Bank-issued card limits jumped to $12.7 billion for the first seven months of the year—up 4% from the same period a year ago to a six-year high. Retailers lifted their card limits by 16% to $6.8 billion, an eight-year high. Part of the growth is the result of an easing of the tighter standards that followed the 2008 credit bust after the boom of the early-2000s. Now that banks have repaired the damage from billions of dollars in bad debts, they’re better able to take on more risk. A stronger job market is also putting more consumers in a borrowing mood, according to economists at Wells Fargo.

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Chinese fake numbers have distorted the market for years.

Why Iron Ore’s Meltdown Is Far From Over (CNBC)

Iron ore prices have dived an eye-watering 44% this year and there’s no respite ahead for the metal, according to Citi, which forecasts double-digit declines in 2015. The bank on Tuesday slashed its price forecasts for the metal to average $74 dollars per ton in the first quarter of next year, before moving down to $60 in the third quarter. It previously forecast $82 and $78, respectively. “We expect renewed supply growth to once again drive the market lower in 2015, combined with further demand weakness,” Ivan Szpakowski, analyst at Citi wrote in a report, noting that prices could briefly dip into the $50 range in the third quarter. The price of spot iron ore fell $75.50 this week, its lowest level since 2009, according to Reuters.

Price declines in the first half of this year were driven by rapid growth in export supply, which has slowed in the second half of the year. In recent months, deteriorating Chinese steel demand and deleveraging by traders and Chinese steel mills has dragged the metal. Iron ore is an important raw material for steel production. However, iron ore supply growth will return in the first half of next year, Citi said, as industry heavyweights Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Vale rev up expansions and Anglo American’s Minas-Rio iron ore project in Brazil ramps up. Meanwhile, demand out of China – the world’s biggest buyer of iron ore – will remain under pressure due subdued steel demand. Demand for steel is being compressed due to tighter credit conditions and an uncertain export outlook.

“Chinese manufacturing exports have improved in recent months, helping to boost steel demand for machinery, metal products, etc. However, with European growth having slowed such positive momentum is unlikely to continue,” Szpakowski said. ANZ also substantially downgraded its 2015 price forecast for iron ore this week. However, it was not quite as bearish as Citi. The bank, in a report published on Monday, said the metal will not breach $100 a ton again, forecasting prices to average $78 next year, 22% lower than its previous estimate. “Recent trip to China highlights that demand conditions are more challenging than we thought,” ANZ said.

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I bet he thinks he’s awfully smart.

The Ghosts of Juncker’s Past Come Back to Haunt Him (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker’s first public appearance as the new European Commission president was a symbolic one. Early this month, he traveled to Frankfurt to present former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s new book in the luxury hotel Villa Kennedy. Called “Aus Sorge um Europa” – “Out of Concern for Europe” – the book warns that the pursuit of national interests represents a danger to the European ideal. And Juncker is quick to endorse Kohl, a man he calls “a friend and role model.” “Kohl is right in deploring the fact that we are increasingly sliding down the slope toward reflexive regionalism and nationalism,” Juncker said. It is certainly not the first time Juncker has uttered such a sentence. Indeed, his delivery of the message has often been even more direct. “I’ve had it,” he erupted during an EU summit in December of 2012, for example. “80% of the time, only national interests are being presented. We can’t go on like this!”

Such sentiments have served Juncker well throughout his career and have helped transform the politician from tiny Luxembourg into a well-known defender of Europe. Now, though, at the apex of his European career, Juncker and his beloved European Union are facing a significant problem. And it is one that has led even advisors close to Juncker to wonder whether he may soon have to step down from his new position, despite having taken office only recently. Last week, several media outlets, including the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, published the most detailed accounts yet of the tricks used – and the eagerness brought to bear – by Luxembourg officials to help companies avoid paying taxes. The strategies were often developed together with company leaders and served to entice multinationals to set up shop in Luxembourg. The tiny country on Germany’s western border, for its part, benefited from tax revenues it wouldn’t otherwise have seen. It was, in short, a reciprocal relationship.

But it was also a relationship that was disadvantageous for Luxembourg’s EU partners – and for European cooperation itself. Many of the companies that set up shop in Luxembourg, after all, no longer paid taxes in their home countries where they produced or sold the lion’s share of their products.

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But with the Spiegel editorial board turning against him, how long can Jean-Claude last?

It’s Time to Put Juncker on the Hot Seat (Spiegel Ed.)

Can the European Commission be led by a man who transformed his own country into a tax oasis? [..] The European Union has a problem – and a serious one at that. On the surface, the issue is about the tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg that were engineered during former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s tenure. And about the billions of euros in revenues lost by other EU countries as a result. But the true problem in this affair actually runs a lot deeper. At issue is just how seriously we take the new European democracy that Juncker himself often touts. The criticism of Juncker came less than a week after he took office. Leaked tax documents released last Wednesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how large corporations have taken advantage of loose policies in Luxembourg to evade paying taxes. At a time of slow economic growth and tight national budgets, sensitivity has grown in large parts of the EU over countries that facilitate legal tax evasion.

Juncker is fond of pointing out proudly that he was Europe’s first “leading candidate,” and the first to be more-or-less directly elected as president of the European Commission. Across Europe, many celebrated it as the moment when more democracy came to the EU. Unfortunately, optimism blinded people to one salient fact: European politicians themselves never took this newfound democracy particularly seriously. In contrast to the United States, where getting to know the candidates is a matter of course, the EU never had any intent of truly introducing its leading politicians to the people. This has created a situation in which a person like Juncker can effectively lead two lives. One as an (honest) proponent of the EU and the other as a cunning former leader of an EU member state who promoted Luxembourg’s self-interest by blocking treaties that would have forced the country to adopt stricter tax policies.

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Mo talks his book.

The Return Of The US Dollar (El-Erian)

The US dollar is on the move. In the last four months alone, it has soared by more than 7% compared with a basket of more than a dozen global currencies, and by even more against the euro and the Japanese yen. This dollar rally, the result of genuine economic progress and divergent policy developments, could contribute to the “rebalancing” that has long eluded the world economy. But that outcome is far from guaranteed, especially given the related risks of financial instability. Two major factors are currently working in the dollar’s favour, particularly compared to the euro and the yen. First, the United States is consistently outperforming Europe and Japan in terms of economic growth and dynamism – and will likely continue to do so – owing not only to its economic flexibility and entrepreneurial energy, but also to its more decisive policy action since the start of the global financial crisis.

Second, after a period of alignment, the monetary policies of these three large and systemically important economies are diverging, taking the world economy from a multi-speed trajectory to a multi-track one. Indeed, whereas the US Federal Reserve terminated its large-scale securities purchases, known as “quantitative easing” (QE), last month, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank recently announced the expansion of their monetary-stimulus programs. In fact, ECB President Mario Draghi signalled a willingness to expand his institution’s balance sheet by a massive €1 trillion ($1.25 trillion). With higher US market interest rates attracting additional capital inflows and pushing the dollar even higher, the currency’s revaluation would appear to be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to catalysing a long-awaited global rebalancing – one that promotes stronger growth and mitigates deflation risk in Europe and Japan.

Specifically, an appreciating dollar improves the price competitiveness of European and Japanese companies in the US and other markets, while moderating some of the structural deflationary pressure in the lagging economies by causing import prices to rise. Yet the benefits of the dollar’s rally are far from guaranteed, for both economic and financial reasons. While the US economy is more resilient and agile than its developed counterparts, it is not yet robust enough to be able to adjust smoothly to a significant shift in external demand to other countries. There is also the risk that, given the role of the ECB and the Bank of Japan in shaping their currencies’ performance, such a shift could be characterized as a “currency war” in the US Congress, prompting a retaliatory policy response. Furthermore, sudden large currency moves tend to translate into financial-market instability.

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Not looking good.

Fears Of German Recession As Moment Of Truth Looms (CNBC)

Just days before Germany’s much anticipated third quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data is released, business leaders and policy makers warn that the euro zone’s largest economy has lost its competitiveness and is on the brink of a recession. The chair of the German Banking Association, Juergen Fitschen, told CNBC on Monday that it was “undeniable that we have slowed down recently.” “We cannot insulate ourselves against the factors that have contributed to the current state of affairs…But, also, [thereis a] slow recovery in some of our neighboring countries and also a lack o fdemand to finance infrastructure projects in Germany itself,” he said. Speaking to CNBC on the sidelines of a press conference held by the association, he said: “We have to remind ourselves that we have not spared continuing efforts to renew our competitiveness and that is something that applies obviously to our neighboring countries as well,” he continued.

Fitschen’s comments came amid other severe critiques of the German economy and outlook, just days before the release of the GDP data on Friday. Second quarter data in August showed data showed Germany’s economy had lost momentum, contracting for the first time in over a year. Quarter-on-quarter, GDP contracted 0.2%. If the economy contracts again in the third quarter, Germany will technically be in recession. The head of Germany’s influential Ifo economic research institute said that was a distinct possibility on Monday.Speaking to Reuters, Hans-Werner Sinn said that Germany was teetering on the brink of a recession due to weakness in major emerging trading partners. “It is going to be really close,” Sinn warned, saying that surveys by the Ifo institute pointed more towards a recession.

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Flipping the west the bird.

Russia Ends Dollar/Euro Currency Peg, Moves To Free Float (RT)

The Bank of Russia took another step towards a free float ruble by abolishing the dual currency soft peg, as well as automatic interventions. Before, the bank propped up the ruble when the exchange rate against the euro and dollar exceeded its boundaries. “Instead, we will intervene in the currency market at whichever moment and amount needed to decrease the speculative demand,” the bank’s chairwoman, Elvira Nabiullina, said in an interview with Rossiya 24 Monday. The move is edging towards a floating exchange rate, which the bank hopes to attain by 2015. “Effective starting November 10, 2014, the Bank of Russia abolished the acting exchange rate policy mechanism by cancelling the allowed range of the dual-currency basket ruble values (operational band) and regular interventions within and outside the borders of this band,” the bank said in a statement Monday.

“As a result of the decision the ruble exchange rate will be determined by market factors, which should promote efficiency of the monetary policy of the Bank of Russia and ensure price stability,” the central bank said. Foreign exchange intervention is still at the bank’s disposal, and is ready to use in the case of “threats to financial stability,” according to the statement. Propping up the ruble can cost the Central Bank of Russia billions of dollars per day, coming out of the country’s reserve fund. In October alone, the bank was forced to spend $30 billion to defend the weakening ruble. On November 5, the bank announced it had limited the reserves it is willing to spend to inflate the ruble to $350 million per day in order to slash speculation and volatility. The decision triggered a 3-day plunge for the Russian currency. On Monday, the ruble recovered slightly after Russian President Vladimir Putin assured speculative drops would cease in the near future.

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Welcome to the third world.

Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize (NY Times)

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars. In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar. “A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime.

The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces. The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch.

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Politicians caught up in their own lies and denials. It shows you what France is made of. Marine Le Pen’s popularity doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Alleged Sarkozy Plot Rocks French Political Establishment (FT)

Leading figures from France’s two traditional parties have been enmeshed in a fresh political scandal involving former president Nicolas Sarkozy, complicating their attempts to halt voter defection to the far-right National Front. The latest “affair” to rock France’s political establishment involves the chief of staff of President François Hollande, who is already struggling with the lowest popularity ratings of any French leader since the second world war. It also touches François Fillon, a leading figure in the country’s centre-right UMP party and a former prime minister who has stated his determination to run for the presidency in 2017.

The scandal centres on a lunch in June during which Mr Fillon reportedly asked Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Mr Hollande’s chief of staff, to speed up judicial investigations into an alleged UMP cover-up of illegal overspending during the 2012 presidential re-election campaign of Mr Sarkozy, the UMP’s then candidate. “Hit him quickly,” Mr Fillon is alleged to have said to Mr Jouyet, referring to Mr Sarkozy. “If you don’t hit him quickly, you will see him come back.” Mr Sarkozy recently announced his return to French politics, and is campaigning to become head of his party in elections at the end of the month. The move is seen widely as the first step in a longer-term goal of competing for the presidency in 2017. Mr Fillon has vehemently denied the conversation about campaign financing with Mr Jouyet, which was first reported by two journalists at Le Monde, the French daily newspaper.

“I can only see in these incredible attacks an attempt at destabilisation and a plot,” Mr Fillon said on Sunday. He threatened the two Le Monde journalists with legal action and then turned his wrath on Mr Jouyet, accusing him of lying and threatening to take him to court. Mr Jouyet, a close personal friend of Mr Hollande but who also served in the previous centre-right government of Mr Sarkozy, on Sunday admitted he had discussed the alleged illegal overspending issue during the lunch with Mr Fillon – though stopped short of confirming Mr Fillon’s alleged request to speed up the judicial investigations against Mr Sarkozy. Mr Jouyet’s admission, reported by France’s AFP, came just a few days after he had told the news agency that the subject of the UMP campaign financing had not come up during the June lunch with Mr Fillon.

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Almost funny: “At least five people in the cabinet have been charged with serious offences such as rape and rioting. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said any suggestions there were criminals in the cabinet were “completely baseless. “These are cases arising out of criminal accusations, not cases out of a crime .. ”

Nearly A Third Of Indian Cabinet Charged With Crimes (Reuters)

Attempted murder, waging war on the state, criminal intimidation and fraud are some of the charges on the rap sheets of ministers Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed to the cabinet on Sunday, jarring with his pledge to clean up politics. Seven of 21 new ministers face prosecution, taking the total in the 66-member cabinet to almost one third, a higher proportion than before the weekend expansion. At least five people in the cabinet have been charged with serious offences such as rape and rioting. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said any suggestions there were criminals in the cabinet were “completely baseless. “These are cases arising out of criminal accusations, not cases out of a crime,” he told reporters on Monday, adding that Modi had personally vetted the new ministers. Ram Shankar Katheria, a lawmaker from Agra, was appointed junior education minister yet has been accused of more than 20 criminal offences including attempted murder and promoting religious or racial hostility.

The inclusion of such politicians does not sit easily with Modi’s election promise to root out corruption, and has led to criticism that he is failing to change the political culture in India where wealthy, tainted politicians sometimes find it easier to win votes. “It shows scant respect for the rule of law or public sentiment,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) which campaigns for better governance. “Including these people in the cabinet is a bad omen for our democracy.”Modi won the biggest parliamentary majority in three decades in May with a promise of graft-free governance after the previous government led by Congress party was mired in a series of damaging corruption scandals.

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” ..High energy prices and resistance to fracking are two key reasons why Europe’s economic recovery has lagged the U.S.”

Energy Is Europe’s ‘Big Disadvantage’: Deutsche Bank Co-Ceo (CNBC)

High energy prices and resistance to fracking are two key reasons why Europe’s economic recovery has lagged the U.S., the joint head of Germany’s largest bank by assets told CNBC. Jürgen Fitschen, co-chief executive of Deutsche Bank, said bureaucracy, education and productivity partially explained Europe’s difficulties, but laid much of the blame on the cost of energy in the region. “It is undeniable that Europe overall faces one very big disadvantage: that is cost of energy,” Fitschen, who is also head of the German Bankers Association, told CNBC in Frankfurt on Monday. “That (low energy prices) has been one of the factors that have stimulated the euphoria and the growth momentum in the States. That is something that cannot be replicated easily in Europe.”

Including taxes, domestic U.S. gas prices fell by 2.2% in 2013 on the previous year to 2.18 U.K. pence (3 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour (kWh), according to the International Energy Agency. By comparison, Spanish domestic prices rose by 7.8% to 6.93 pence and British prices rose by 7.7% to 4.90 pence respectively. Fitschen said that the shale gas revolution helped explain why U.S. energy prices had fallen. The U.S. has embraced fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—for shale, which has helped lead a revival in some manufacturing industries and helped the country become less reliant on oil and gas imports. However, the process has met with far more opposition in Europe, due to environmental concerns relating to possible seismic tremors and a risk to water supplies.

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” .. an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico. ”

Rich Nations Subsidize Fossil Fuel Industry By $88 Billion A Year (Guardian)

Rich countries are subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by about $88bn (£55.4bn) a year to explore for new reserves, despite evidence that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change. The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields. The public money went to major multinationals as well as smaller ones who specialise in exploratory work, according to British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International. Britain, says their report, proved to be one of the most generous countries. In the five year period to 2014 it gave tax breaks totalling over $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves.

A breakdown of that figure showed over $1.2bn of British money went to two French companies, GDF-Suez and Total, $450m went to five US companies including Chevron, and $992m to five British companies. Britain also spent public funds for foreign companies to explore in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, Uganda and Qatar, according to the report’s data, which is drawn from the OECD, government documents, company reports and institutions. The figures, published ahead of this week’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, contains the first detailed breakdown of global fossil fuel exploration subsidies. It shows an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

“The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors. “This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI. [..] “The IPCC is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

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” .. It’s not for the United States. They want to sell it overseas, and I want to see that stopped.”

The Real Story Of US Coal: Inside The World’s Biggest Coalmine (Guardian)

In the world’s biggest coalmine, even a 400 tonne truck looks like a toy. Everything about the scale of Peabody Energy’s operations in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming is big and the mines are only going to get bigger – despite new warnings from the United Nations on the dangerous burning of fossil fuels, despite Barack Obama’s promises to fight climate change, and despite reports that coal is in its death throes. At the east pit of Peabody’s North Antelope Rochelle mine, the layer of coal takes up 60ft of a 250ft trough in the earth, and runs in an interrupted black stripe for 50 miles. With those vast, easy-to-reach deposits, Powder River has overtaken West Virginia and Kentucky as the big coalmining territory. The pro-coal Republicans’ takeover of Congress in the mid-term elections also favours Powder River.

“You’re looking at the world’s largest mine,” said Scott Durgin, senior vice-president for Peabody’s operations in the Powder River Basin, watching the giant machinery at work. “This is one of the biggest seams you will ever see. This particular shovel is one of the largest shovels you can buy, and that is the largest truck you can buy.” By Durgin’s rough estimate, the mine occupies 100 square miles of high treeless prairie, about the same size as Washington DC. It contains an estimated three billion tonnes of coal reserves. It would take Peabody 25 or 30 years to mine it all. But it’s still not big enough. On the conference room wall, a map of North Antelope Rochelle shows two big shaded areas containing an estimated one billion tonnes of coal. Peabody is preparing to acquire leasing rights when they come up in about 2022 or 2024. “You’ve got to think way ahead,” said Durgin.

In the fossil fuel jackpot that is Wyoming, it can be hard to see a future beyond coal. One of the few who can is LJ Turner, whose grandfather and father homesteaded on the high treeless plains nearly a century ago. Turner, who raises sheep and cattle, said his business had suffered in the 30 years of the mines’ explosive growth. Dust from the mines was aggravating pneumonia among his Red Angus calves. One year, he lost 25 calves, he said. “We are making a national sacrifice out of this region,” he said. “Peabody coal and other coal companies want to keep on mining, and mine this country out and leave it as a sacrifice and they want to do it for their bottom line. It’s not for the United States. They want to sell it overseas, and I want to see that stopped.”

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There’s a pattern here: ” .. the Madrid government contrived to have the plebiscite banned as unconstitutional”.

Angry Canary Islanders Brace For An Unwanted Guest: The Oil Industry (Guardian)

In most places the news that you’ve struck oil would be cause to crack open the champagne. But not in the Canary Islands where Spain’s biggest oil company Repsol is due to begin drilling off Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. “Our wealth is in our climate, our sky, our sea and the archipelago’s extraordinary biodiversity and landscape,” the Canary Islands president, Paulino Rivero, said. “Its value is that it’s natural and this is what attracts tourism. Oil is incompatible with tourism and a sustainable economy.” Rivero, a former primary school teacher, is on a crusade against oil and he is not alone. Protest marches have drawn as many as 200,000 of the islands’ 2 million inhabitants on to the streets. The regional government planned to consolidate public opinion with a referendum on 23 November. Voters were to be asked: “Do you believe the Canaries should exchange its environmental and tourism model for oil and gas exploration?”

As with the weekend’s scheduled referendum on Catalan independence, the Madrid government contrived to have the plebiscite banned as unconstitutional and Rivero has now commissioned a private poll he hopes will demonstrate the strength of public opinion. “The banning of the referendum reveals a huge weakness in the system,” said Rivero. “You have to listen to the people. There’s a serious discrepancy between what people here want and what the Spanish government wants. You are allowed to hold consultations under the Spanish constitution and what we wanted to do was completely legal. The problem we have is that some government departments have too close a relationship with Repsol.” Repsol is flush with cash after settling a long dispute with Argentina and is keen to develop what may be the country’s biggest oilfield after winning permission to drill in August. The company believes the fields may contain as much as 2.2bn barrels of oil and is investing €7.5bn to explore two sites about 40 miles (60km) east of Fuerteventura.

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Don’t worry be happy, nuke style.

Fukushima Radiation Found in Pacific Off California Coast (Bloomberg)

Oceanographers have detected isotopes linked to Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant off California’s coast, though at levels far below those that could pose a measurable health risk. Volunteer ocean monitors collected the samples that tested positive for trace amounts of the isotope cesium-134 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Eureka, California, the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said yesterday on its website. Tepco’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which released “unprecedented levels” of radioactivity during the March 2011 accident, was the only conceivable source of the detected isotopes, Woods Hole oceanographer Ken Buesseler said in the release.

Explosions during the accident, during which three reactors suffered meltdowns, sent a burst of radioactivity into the atmosphere, while water used to cool overheating fuel rods flowed into the ocean in the weeks after the disaster. Lower levels of radiation have continued to trickle into the ocean via contaminated groundwater. The radioactivity detected off the California coast was at levels deemed by international health agencies to be “far below where one might expect any measurable risk to human health or marine life,” according to Woods Hole. It’s also more than 1,000 times lower than acceptable limits in drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the organization said.

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” .. the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future.”

The Fate of the Turtle (James Howard Kunstler)

Anybody truly interested in government, and therefore politics, should be cognizant above all that ours have already entered systemic failure. The management of societal affairs is on an arc to become more inept and ineffectual, no matter how either of the current major parties pretends to control things. Instead of Big Brother, government in our time turns out to be Autistic Brother. It makes weird noises and flaps its appendages, but can barely tie its own shoelaces. The one thing it does exceedingly well is drain the remaining capital from endeavors that might contribute to the greater good. This includes intellectual capital, by the way, which, under better circumstances, might gird the political will to reform the sub-systems that civilized life depends on. These include: food production (industrial agri-business), commerce (the WalMart model), transportation (Happy Motoring), school (a matrix of rackets), medicine (ditto with the patient as hostage), and banking (a matrix of fraud and swindling).

All of these systems have something in common: they’ve exceeded their fragility threshold and crossed into the frontier of criticality. They have nowhere to go except failure. It would be nice if we could construct leaner and more local systems to replace these monsters, but there is too much vested interest in them. For instance, the voters slapped down virtually every major ballot proposition to invest in light rail and public transit around the country. The likely explanation is that they’ve bought the story that shale oil will allow them to drive to WalMart forever. That story is false, by the way. The politicos put it over because they believe the Wall Street fraudsters who are pimping a junk finance racket in shale oil for short-term, high-yield returns. The politicos want desperately to believe the story because the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future. The public, of course, is eager to believe the same story for the same reasons, but at some point they’ll flip and blame the story-tellers, and their wrath could truly wreck what remains of this polity. When it is really too late to fix any of these things, they’ll beg someone to tell them what to do, and the job-description for that position is ‘dictator’.

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Nov 092014
 
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DPC League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia. USS Brooklyn spar deck 1898

Fed to Markets: Brace for Volatility (WSJ)
Central Banks Warn of Possible Bumpy Ride for Markets (Bloomberg)
US Earnings Outlook Might Be Less Rosy Than Investors Think (Reuters)
Gorbachev Warns US, Allies Put World On ‘The Brink Of A New Cold War’ (FT)
Hungary Under ‘Great Pressure’ From US Over Its Energy Deals With Russia (RT)
Kuroda Sprang Easing Surprise To Head Off Damaging Inflation Forecast (Reuters)
It’s a Bad Time to Be a Saver in Europe (Bloomberg)
We Can Control Risks Facing The Economy, Says China’s Xi Jinping (Reuters)
Sweden Grapples With Massive Household Debt As Rates Hit Zero (Reuters)
UK Condemned Over Arms Sales To Repressive States (Observer)
It’s Official: Spain is Unraveling (Don Quijones)
Catalans Prepare to Open the Polls in Defiance of Spain (Bloomberg)
The Albanian World Cup Gambler Who Robbed The National Vault (Reuters)
Prepare For An Invasion From The North: “Polar Vortex, The Sequel” (CBS)
Harsh Winter Outlook Made More Dire by Siberia Snow (Bloomberg)
Bird Decline Poses Loss Not Just For Environment, But Human Soul (Guardian)

As rate hikes come.

Fed to Markets: Brace for Volatility (WSJ)

Federal Reserve officials are warning investors and foreign central bankers to brace for market turbulence as the Fed prepares to raise short-term interest rates next year. In a speech to central bankers Friday in Paris, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said rate increases, when they materialize in advanced economies, “could lead to some heightened financial volatility.” New York Fed President William Dudley, at the same conference, issued a more detailed alert. “This shift in policy will undoubtedly be accompanied by some degree of market turbulence,” he said of future rate increases in the U.S. “Moreover, it could create significant challenges for those emerging market economies that have been the beneficiaries of large capital inflows in recent years.”

They offered their warnings as the Labor Department released new data showing the U.S. job market is improving faster than the Fed expects. The unemployment rate, at 5.8% in October, was below the 6.3% to 6.6% range the Fed projected last December for the end of 2014. In September, the Fed revised that projection to 5.9%-6.0%, still higher than the October rate. Other metrics being watched closely by the Fed showed continued gains. For instance, the percentage of the U.S. population that is employed rose to 59.2%, its highest level since July 2009. This employment-to-population ratio increased one percentage point from a year earlier, its largest one-year gain since March 1995. The Fed is eyeing rate increases as unemployment declines and slack in the economy slowly diminishes. Higher rates will be aimed at preventing the economy from overheating.

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“Normalization could lead to some heightened financial volatility .. ”

Central Banks Warn of Possible Bumpy Ride for Markets (Bloomberg)

Global central bankers said financial markets could suffer a bout of turbulence – again – when they begin to withdraw monetary stimulus. Janet Yellen and William Dudley of the Fed, Mexico’s Agustin Carstens and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney were among those to use a Paris conference of policy makers yesterday to talk about potential fallout from the eventual shift from record-low interest rates used to revive growth since the global financial crisis in 2008. “Normalization could lead to some heightened financial volatility,” Yellen told the gathering convened by the Bank of France. Carney said “the transition could be bumpy.” The comments suggest central bankers are trying to prepare better for the global effects of any withdrawal than in 2013, when then-Chairman Ben S. Bernanke unexpectedly signaled the Fed could soon start reducing bond purchases. That pushed up yields and rattled investors worldwide in the so-called taper tantrum.

Fed Chair Yellen and Dudley, president of the Fed Bank of New York, recognized the importance of U.S. officials being clear in their plans. “The Federal Reserve will strive to clearly and transparently communicate its monetary policy strategy in order to minimize the likelihood of surprises that could disrupt financial markets,” Yellen said. [..] Given a likely increase in U.S. rates next year will “undoubtedly be accompanied by some degree of market turbulence,” Dudley said the central bank has an obligation to provide global stability. “It is clear in retrospect that our attempts in the spring of 2013 to provide guidance about the potential timing and pace of tapering confused market participants,” Dudley said. With that episode in mind, Carstens said there is a “potential for financial market disruption” amid the unwinding of unconventional monetary policy.

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They’re hot air.

US Earnings Outlook Might Be Less Rosy Than Investors Think (Reuters)

With the U.S. Q3 earnings season almost at an end, many investors are breathing a sigh of relief as more companies surpassed profit expectations than in any quarter since 2010. But some analysts say investors may be brushing off their worries about corporate profits a little too soon. While most S&P 500 companies beat analysts’ expectations for third-quarter earnings, many just barely topped estimates, said Pankaj Patel at Evercore ISI in New York. Of the S&P 500 companies that had reported results as of early this week, 66% exceeded expectations, according to Evercore’s data analysis. But that figure falls to just 43% after stripping away companies that beat expectations by 5% or less, Patel’s research shows. The figure excluding beats of 5% or less is also well below the%age of beats according to data based on Thomson Reuters polls of analysts. On that data, 74% of S&P 500 companies so far have exceeded analysts’ expectations, which is the highest for any quarter since the second quarter of 2010.

Results have come in from 88% of the S&P 500. The results could mean that an increasing number of companies are trying to “manage their beat rate,” possibly to mask profit weakness, Patel said, noting that companies that exceed expectations by 5% or less typically see their share prices decline in the three days following results. “The beat rate is artificially high, but people still watch that %,” Patel said. “They keep buying and the market goes higher.” The S&P 500 has risen more than 3% since Oct. 8, roughly when this earnings season began. The index is up 9.1% from its Oct. 15 low. In addition, analysts’ keep trimming their profit forecasts. Estimates for fourth-quarter earnings are down from the start of the quarter, along with estimates for the first part of 2015. Earnings growth for the fourth quarter now is estimated at 7.6% compared with an Oct. 1 forecast for 11.1% growth, Thomson Reuters data showed. For the 2015 first quarter, profit growth is seen at 8.8%, down from an Oct. 1 forecast for 11.5% growth.

Moreover, the magnitude by which Q4 estimates are falling has increased compared with the previous quarter, said Nick Raich, chief executive officer of The Earnings Scout, a research firm specializing in earnings trends. In outlooks given by companies themselves – done by only a minority of companies – the news is not good. Negative outlooks outnumber positive ones for Q4 so far by a ratio of 3.9 to 1, up from the third quarter’s ratio of 3.3 to 1, Thomson Reuters data showed. “That’s a worsening trend,” Raich said. “The outlooks have gotten a little bit worse this quarter.” Outlooks could become even dimmer if lackluster demand overseas translates into weak results for the fourth quarter. “The United States clearly is the bright spot in the world,” said Uri Landesman, president of Platinum Partners in New York. “The rest of the world isn’t nearly as strong, so demand coming from certain places is weaker, and the currency is going to have an enormous impact going forward.”

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How many western officials have you seen trying to address Gorby’s accusations?

Gorbachev Warns US, Allies Put World On ‘The Brink Of A New Cold War’ (FT)

Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned on Saturday that the Ukraine crisis had brought the world to “the brink of a new Cold War”. “The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say it has already begun, ” said the 83-year-old former Kremlin chief in a sombre speech delivered in Berlin at an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this weekend. He was speaking as reports from eastern Ukraine suggested that Kiev’s troops and the Russia-backed rebels may be preparing for renewed fighting. Agency reporters in eastern Ukraine said they saw more than 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move on Saturday in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine. The apparent escalation threatens the fragile ceasefire agreed in Minsk in early September and increases the danger of further pressure on east-west relations.

Speaking at a conference within a few metres of the iconic Brandenburg Gate, Mr Gorbachev accused the west, led by the US, of “triumphalism” after the fall of the Berlin Wall ended Soviet dominance in eastern Europe. Trust between Russia and the west had “collapsed” in the last few months, he said, highlighting the damage done by the Ukraine crisis. He called for new initiatives to restore trust, including a lifting of personal sanctions imposed by the US and the EU on top Russian officials in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Mr Gorbachev clearly sees the west as the culprit in the crisis, having given his unequivocal backing to Mr Putin last week. He said, before arriving in Germany, that he was “absolutely convinced that Putin protects Russia’s interests better than anyone else.”

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Hungary PM Orban is an interesting man. The country is doing quite well, relatively.

Hungary Under ‘Great Pressure’ From US Over Its Energy Deals With Russia (RT)

Washington is exerting heavy pressure on Hungary over the country’s decision to give a green light for the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline and expedite the construction by allowing companies without licenses to participate in the project. “The US is putting Hungary under great pressure fearing Moscow’s rapprochement with Budapest,”Hungarian media cited Prime Minister Viktor Orban saying in Munich, Germany after a meeting with Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer. Orban said that Hungary’s relations with Russia have become “entangled in geopolitical and military and security policy issues,” AFP reports. The PM said that US is retaliating for Budapest’s willingness to endorse the South Stream gas pipeline development as well as a deal that would see Russia’s Rosatom expand Hungary’s nuclear power.

Under a deal worth up to €10 billion Rosatom will build a 2,000 megawatt addition to Hungary’s state-owned nuclear power plant MVM Paksi Atomeromu. Russia is Hungary’s largest trade partner outside of the EU, with exports worth $3.4 billion in 2013. Also it is highly dependent on Russian energy. “We don’t want to get close to anyone, and we don’t intend to move away from anybody,” Orban said.“We are not pursuing a pro-Russian policy but a pro-Hungarian policy,” as expansion of the nuclear plant was the “only possible means” to lower dependence on external energy resources. The PM remained firm that “cheap energy is key in strengthening Hungary’s competitiveness” as he also defended the law which gave a green light for the construction of the South Stream pipeline that would bypass Ukraine as a transit nation in EU gas supply chain. It “ensures Hungary gas supplies by eliminating risks posed by situation in Ukraine,” Orban said.“Even if South Stream does not diversify gas sources, it diversifies delivery routes.”

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A forecast based on slumping oil prices.

Kuroda Sprang Easing Surprise To Head Off Damaging Inflation Forecast (Reuters)

The Bank of Japan Governor not only surprised the markets with his latest splurge of monetary easing. He sprang it on his own board members just two days earlier, jolted into action to stop them making a low-ball forecast that might have sunk his flagship inflation target. To achieve maximum effect for the shock decision, Haruhiko Kuroda and right-hand man Masayoshi Amamiya kept only a handful of elite central bank bureaucrats in the loop as they laid the ground for the expansion of their quantitative and qualitative easing (QQE) program. They didn’t even give the usual forewarning to senior bureaucrats at the Ministry of Finance, according to interviews with nearly a dozen insiders and government sources with knowledge of the bank’s deliberations.

No leaks reached the media, and the announcement at the Oct. 31 policy meeting pushed the Nikkei stock average to seven-year highs and the yen to seven-year lows against the dollar. The market reaction will have been welcome news to Kuroda, but the impact he wanted above all was to alter inflation expectations in a country that has struggled with crippling deflation for two decades. Timing was critical – and not of his choosing. At the policy meeting the board would also issue a new consumer inflation forecast for the next fiscal year, based on the median estimate from the nine members. But two days before publication, the preliminary estimate was only around 1.5%, three of the sources said. That was well below the 1.9% forecast made in July, and if published could have been fatal to his key goal of hitting 2% from April next year.

Since price expectations play a key role in the consumer behaviours that ultimately determine prices, doubts about the target could be self-fulfilling. There were other triggers for action, including October’s plunge in oil prices and the fact that an easing burst would have more market impact in the week the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to turn its own liquidity taps off. But it was the inflation forecast that convinced Kuroda and his aides to go for another burst of stimulus, three sources said. Board members would then have to revisit their estimates in light of the new action.

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“If you’re a central bank, it’s not a good sign when institutions actively seek to deter customers from owning your currency.”

It’s a Bad Time to Be a Saver in Europe (Bloomberg)

In the post-crisis economic environment, with record-low interest rates in many countries, it’s better to be a borrower than a lender, despite Shakespeare’s admonition to be neither. These days, however, it’s even worse to be a saver. Since the European Central Bank in June sought to prod banks to lend more – by imposing negative interest rates on banks’ ECB deposits – savers are discovering that banks aren’t the only ones paying for the privilege of having cash on hand. At least three banks – State Street Corp., Bank of New York Mellon, and Deutsche Skatbank – have introduced negative rates for large euro deposits. It makes financial sense for the banks: If the ECB is charging them 0.2% for holding their cash, banks have a fiduciary duty to try to recoup that cost.

The result is that depositors suffer the consequences of the ECB’s interest-rate tyranny. They would do better to stash their money in mattresses. The ECB addressed the implications of its monetary-policy shift on its website after it cut its deposit rate below zero. It asked the question: “Do I now have to pay my bank to keep my savings for me? What is the effect of this negative deposit rate on my savings?” And then it answered itself:

There will be no direct impact on your savings. Only banks that deposit money in certain accounts at the ECB have to pay. Commercial banks may of course choose to lower interest rates for savers. The ECB’s interest rate decisions will in fact benefit savers in the end because they support growth and thus create a climate in which interest rates can gradually return to higher levels.

So the first sentence turned out to be incorrect. And the final sentence provides scant comfort to a depositor whose hard-earned cash is dribbling away and is too pessimistic about the future of the European economy to find more productive uses for the money, such as spending it or investing it. We’ve been here before, including in 2012 when depositors fled the euro and piled into other currencies. Credit Suisse imposed negative rates on Swiss franc cash balances, for example, and said it would “invite our customers to keep cash balances as low as possible to avoid negative credit charges.” State Street also imposed negative rates on Danish kroner deposits. If you’re a central bank, it’s not a good sign when institutions actively seek to deter customers from owning your currency.

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Sure.

We Can Control Risks Facing The Economy, Says China’s Xi Jinping (Reuters)

The risks faced by China’s economy are “not so scary” and the government is confident it can head off the dangers, president Xi Jinping told global business leaders on Sunday to dispel worries about the world’s second-largest economy. In a speech to chief executives at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO summit, Xi said even if China’s economy were to grow 7%, that would still rank it at the forefront of the world’s economies. China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, has had a rocky year. Growth slid to a low not seen since the 2008/09 global financial crisis in the third quarter dragged by a housing slowdown, softening domestic demand and unsteady exports. “Some people worry that China’s economic growth will fall further, can it climb over the ridge?” Xi said. “There are indeed risks, but it’s not so scary.

“Even at growth of around 7%, regardless of speed or volume, (we) are among the best in the world,” he said, noting that China’s economy remained “stable”. The remarks from Xi came a day after data showed annual growth in Chinese exports and imports cooled in October, in another sign of fragility in the economy that could prompt policymakers to take further action to stoke growth. To shore up activity, policymakers have loosened monetary and fiscal policies since April to ensure that the economy can grow by around 7.5% this year. A marked slowdown in growth would hit countries all over the world, but especially commodity producers such as Australia, Indonesia and Brazil that have benefited from strong Chinese demand.

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This will not end well. There are limits.

Sweden Grapples With Massive Household Debt As Rates Hit Zero (Reuters)

Sweden’s new center-left government and its financial authorities are under huge pressure when they meet on Tuesday to tackle a mountain of household debt that is casting a long shadow over one of Europe’s few economic bright spots. Having slashed rates to zero to fight the risk of deflation, top Swedish officials are now in a quandary over how to rein in borrowing and house price rises without sending the real estate market into a downward spiral. The country’s AAA-rated economy is still one of Europe’s strongest, with low public debt, sound state finances and banks among the best capitalized and most profitable in Europe. But consumers, barely touched by the financial crisis, have loaded up on cheap mortgages and caused Swedish property prices to triple over the last 20 years, prompting a warning from the IMF that the market is 20% overvalued. Adding to the problem: Sweden has built too few houses for the last 20 years and its capital Stockholm is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities.

Critics say the former center-right government added fuel to the fire by slashing real estate taxes and leaving 30% mortgage tax relief untouched. Meanwhile, Sweden’s household debt-to-income ratio has risen to above 170% – among Europe’s highest. The worry is that private consumption, nearly half of GDP, would suffer if rates rose or property prices fell. “The longer we wait, the bigger the imbalances are,” said Bengt Hansson, analyst at the Swedish National Board of Housing Planning and Building. “We already have a bubble, but we will avoid an even bigger bubble.” It will be hard to dissuade bullish Swedish consumers. In Stockholm’s frenzied housing market, buyers make multi-million crown offers to snap up flats they may only have seen in photographs. And cranes and scaffolding are common sights in suburbia as householders take advantage of generous tax breaks for home improvements.

“We don’t think it will crash badly,” said Peter, a 47 year-old investment advisor, who with his wife Maria has just bought a house in Stockholm for around 12 million Swedish crowns ($1.62 million). “It might stop going up for a while, but over the longer term we expect it to go up,” he added, suggesting the lack of housing and population growth in Stockholm would support prices. Attempts by regulators so far to slow credit growth – squeezing banks by making them put aside more capital and draw up voluntary mortgage pay-down plans – have not worked because interest rates have continued to fall. Last week the central bank cut rates to zero in an attempt to answer criticism that it is not doing enough to tackle another economic risk – deflation – even while it acknowledged the problem that would create in containing household debt. “There is a fairly large consensus that household debt is a concern,” Swedish central bank chairman Stefan Ingves said after the cut. “If households continue to borrow, we could end up with very big problems later on, and this is what we want to avoid.”

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They all do it. We have no morals left.

UK Condemned Over Arms Sales To Repressive States (Observer)

The government has been accused of dishonesty over arms sales as new figures reveal that the value of British weapons sales to “countries of concern” has already hit £60m this year. Former Tory defence minister Sir John Stanley, who chairs the Commons committees on arms export controls, says ministers failed to come clean on a “significant change in policy” that makes it easier to export arms to countries with a poor human rights record. He said in a recent parliamentary debate that the government has not acknowledged that such a change has taken place, and it “should consider most carefully whether they should now offer an apology to the committees”.

The government used to reject arms export licences where there was concern they might be used for “internal repression”, but now a licence will be refused only if there is a “clear risk” that military equipment might be used in violation of international law. Former Foreign Office minister Peter Hain, who established the strict criteria on arms sales, last night demanded that the government be transparent about the change and called for parliament to be allowed a vote. He said: “The present government has run a coach and horses through our arms export controls, circumventing the legislation we put in place by putting a particular spin on it. It has enabled them to sell arms to countries and for purposes that should not be allowed under the legislation.

“There is a clear policy in the legislation that arms should only be sold to countries for defensive purposes and not for internal suppression or external aggression. In the case of Gaza over the summer, that has clearly been flouted. Bahrain is another example.” Data from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills reveals that in the first six months of 2014 the UK granted licences worth £63.2m of arms sales to 18 of the 28 states on its official blacklist, countries about which the Foreign Office has the “most serious wide-ranging human rights concerns”. Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Central African Republic, Sri Lanka and Russia were among the countries that Britain approved military equipment for.

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How much corruption can one government shake off?

It’s Official: Spain is Unraveling (Don Quijones)

Since taking office in late 2011, Rajoy’s government has been embroiled in one sordid political scandal after another. In the latest episode, the Punica Affair, more than 100 politicians have been arrested and charged with varying acts of white collar crime, including taking kick backs from private sector companies. Payment often came in the form of cash-stuffed envelopes although, as El Confidencial reports, it could also include completely free-of-charge construction work on a politicians’ property, luxury holidays, hunting trips and even an intimate evening or two with a high-class prostitute. Most of the politicians involved in the scandal are – or at least were – members of the governing Popular Party. The rest belong – or at least belonged – to the other partner in Spain’s (until now) two-party system, the not-really-socialist-at-all party, the PSOE.

The good news is that some of Spain’s corrupt politicians and business figures are finally seeing the sharp (or at least not entirely blunt) end of the law. Scores have been arrested and some are even going down. The bad news is that Rajoy’s scandal-tarnished government of self.serving mediocrities still stands, albeit more precariously than ever. In El Pais‘ latest poll of voters’ intentions in next year’s general election, the Popular Party (PP) was, for the first time in decades, relegated to third place. Indeed, the two incumbent parties – the PP and PSOE – were unable to muster 50% of the vote between them. The most popular party in the poll was Podemos, a stridently left-wing political movement founded just at the beginning of this year. In May’s European elections the party picked up five seats; now, six months later, it is apparently the hottest contender for the spoils in next year’s general election, picking up 27% of the votes polled – 6%% more than PP and one more than PSOE.

Lead by Pablo Iglesias, a firebrand (or as the right-wing media like to call him “demagogic”) 35-year-old professor of political science, Podemos has masterfully exploited the general public’s disaffection with a political establishment that serves no one’s interests but its own – and, of course, those of the country’s biggest businesses and banks. The political establishment is quite rightly blamed for stoking and feeding the country’s biggest ever real estate bubble. Thanks to a change in the property laws enacted in 1997 by the Aznar government, local and regional administrations were encouraged to part-finance themselves through granting authorization for ever larger public and private construction projects, many of which turned out to be white elephants (empty toll roads, high-speed train stations planted slap bang in the middle of nowhere, ghost airports…).

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That same corrupt government demands the moral high road when it comes to Catalunya.

Catalans Prepare to Open the Polls in Defiance of Spain (Bloomberg)

In more than 900 towns across Catalonia, an army of volunteers is preparing to open polling stations today and offer compatriots a vote on independence in defiance of Spain’s central government and its highest court. The informal ballot, stripped of legal validity by a Constitutional Court ruling in September, poses two questions: Do you want Catalonia to be a state? And should that state be independent? Separatists led by regional president Artur Mas aim to win a majority in favor of breaking up Spain and use that mandate to force Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to negotiate. The runup to the vote has been marked by legal salvos: Rajoy’s government reminded public officials in Catalonia of their obligation to respect the Constitutional Court ban as Mas had an appeal to that ruling thrown out by the Supreme Court.

The Catalan government talked of filing a lawsuit against Spain in an international court while an activist group in Madrid responded with its own suit to state prosecutors demanding police halt the balloting. “The Spanish government is being really short-sighted,” said Alex Quiroga, a lecturer in Spanish history at Newcastle University in England. “Continually saying ‘no’ and appealing to the Constitutional Court doesn’t help. It’s clear that only through negotiation can they solve the problem.” Spain’s prosecutor’s office in Catalonia asked regional police to report on any public-sector premises such as schools being used for the vote and to gather information about the persons responsible for allowing their use, according to an e-mailed statement from the prosecutor. It also requested Catalonia’s Education Department to explain whether it asked principals to allow the schools to be used for the vote.

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Great story. “All three keys needed to access the vault were kept in his personal safe.”

The Albanian World Cup Gambler Who Robbed The National Vault (Reuters)

In the end, it wasn’t the security cameras or the audit inspections in the vault of Albania’s central bank that brought down Ardian Bitraj. It was the high blood pressure and lack of sleep, the burden of a multi-million-dollar secret. Sitting down with his boss this July, Bitraj confessed his deception: over a four-year period he had stolen the equivalent of $6.5 million from the vault, covering his tracks by stuffing the empty cash boxes with books and balls of string. The revelation brought down the central bank governor, led to the arrest of 18 employees and tarnished the reputation of an institution once lauded for its professionalism. And all for the sake of a gambling habit that led to massive losses, culminating in a series of fatal bets on the soccer World Cup.

The full story of the Balkan bank heist is only just emerging, gleaned by Reuters in interviews with bankers, investigators and others involved, and from legal documents including a transcript of Bitraj’s confession. It started in May 2010, when Bitraj, who had risen to become head of the cash processing department at the bank, first opened the metal and plastic clasps to the wooden boxes that hold its cash reserves in the cryptically named X Building on the outskirts of the capital Tirana. Bitraj, 45, had a penchant for placing bets on soccer matches, so roughly once a month he would wait for his co-workers to leave the room and swipe up to 2 million leks, roughly $18,000, according to the confession.

Choosing carefully how he returned the boxes, Bitraj would make sure those he had tampered with were not in line for delivery to Albania’s commercial banks, nor likely to be picked on in the regular random audit of the vault. As the thefts mounted, he would stuff the boxes with packaging, balls of string and books to replace the weight of the cash. All three keys needed to access the vault were kept in his personal safe. In statements to police, bank employees said they had not received any directive on how or where to store the keys. Bitraj says auditors checked only 2% of the cash boxes in the vault. Fired governor Ardian Fullani says it was 5%, maintaining that checks in the former communist country were comparable with other central banks in Europe.

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Beware the US economy, or rather the reports and excuses that will be written on the cold.

Prepare For An Invasion From The North: “Polar Vortex, The Sequel” (CBS)

Prepare yourself for an invasion from the north. A blast of polar air is about to send temperatures plunging in the heart of America. It’s the return of the polar vortex that brought misery a year ago. A mass of whirling cold air will dip southward this weekend, sending the mercury plunging. As the cold air moves south and east, it has the potential to affect as many as 243 million people with wind chills in the single digits in some places and snow. It’s all triggered by a Super Typhoon named Nuri. Images from the European Space Station show that Nuri is a growing meteorological bomb blanketing the Bering Sea. The 50-foot waves and 100 mile-an-hour winds will make conditions similar to those we had two years ago, and could make Nuri the biggest storm of the year.

But it would be wrong to think that it will affect only Alaska’s far-flung Aleutian Islands or those famous fishermen who work in the North Pacific. WBBM’s meteorologist Megan Glaros in Chicago explains. “The remnants of Super Typhoon Nuri will create a big buckle in the jet stream,” Glaros says. “And in several days time, it’s going to mean a big dip in the jet which will connect us with a big mass of Arctic air – taking temperatures east of the Rockies down to 10 to 30 degrees below average.” Say “a big mass of arctic air” to anyone who lives in the Midwest and it conjures painful memories of the dreaded polar vortex that hit the region last winter.

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“A rapid advance of Eurasian snow cover during the month of October favors that the upcoming winter will be cold across the Northern Hemisphere …”

Harsh Winter Outlook Made More Dire by Siberia Snow (Bloomberg)

Remember how evidence was mounting last month that early snowfall was accumulating across Siberia? And remember how there’s a theory that says this snowfall signals a cold winter? So in the two and a half weeks since, the news for the winter-haters has, unfortunately, only gotten worse. About 14.1 million square kilometers of snow blanketed Siberia at the end of October, the second most in records going back to 1967, according to Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab. The record was in 1976, which broke a streak of mild winters in the eastern U.S. In addition, the speed at which snow has covered the region is the fastest since at least 1998. Taken together they signal greater chances for frigid air to spill out of the Arctic into more temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia, said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather.

“A rapid advance of Eurasian snow cover during the month of October favors that the upcoming winter will be cold across the Northern Hemisphere,” Cohen said in an interview yesterday. “This past October the signal was quite robust.” There are a few steps to get from the snows of Siberia to the chills in New York City. Cold air builds over the expanse of snow, strengthening the pressure system known as a Siberian high. The high weakens the winds that circle the North Pole, allowing the cold air to leak into the lower latitudes. The term Polar Vortex actually refers to those winds, not the frigid weather.

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The connection between our souls and our living world was lost in our heads long ago. 147 million fewer sparrows, a drop of 62% of their total population, since 1980; starling numbers have fallen by 45 million or 53%; skylarks are down by 37 million (46%).

Bird Decline Poses Loss Not Just For Environment, But Human Soul (Guardian)

‘That’s a buzzard!” says Richard Gregory, gesturing at a tall birch tree stump 50 metres or so away, from which a flapping streak of brown and white has just disappeared. “That was a buzzard. That’s one of the ones I was telling you about. It’s back.” When Gregory was a young child, toddling around the green bits of Cheshire with a monocular, a glimpse of a buzzard made for a thrilling day out – though he was mad about birds by the age of four, he was in his teens before he ticked the large raptor off his list. Now, though, thanks to reintroduction projects and legal protections, its number and that of several other birds of prey is on the up in Britain.

We glimpse another one, as it happens, a few minutes later, and while I suppose there is just a possibility it was the same bird on a second swoop, I’m counting that as a double sighting. The recovery in recent decades of Britain’s raptor population is welcome for a number of reasons. Firstly, it means I was right after all that time I spotted a red kite while driving up the A1 and everyone else in the car said I was talking rubbish. Secondly, it’s a snatch of good news in what could otherwise seem an unrelentingly grim picture. These are bad days to be a bird. A study released this week found that the most common birds in Europe are declining at an alarming rate, and that is not an idle term.

By studying 30 years of data across 25 countries, conservationists estimated that there are now a brain-boggling 421 million fewer birds flapping across the continent’s skies than were around in 1980. House sparrows alone account for a third of that decline, with 147 million fewer birds, a drop of 62% of their total population; starling numbers have fallen by 45 million or 53%; skylarks are down by 37 million (46%). Yes, the marsh harrier has recovered a bit, and feral pigeons and ring necked parakeets are doing well in cities, but overall, concluded the report, “global biodiversity is undergoing unprecedented decline”, and some of the species taking the hardest hit are birds which were once, not so long ago, abundant in our skies.

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Oct 292014
 
 October 29, 2014  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Russell Lee Photo booth at fiesta, Taos, New Mexico Jul 1940

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

Mission accomplished.

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

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

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

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

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

How American QE Has Changed The World (Telegraph)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Government created loopholes all over the place.

Is China’s Export Boom Fake? (CNBC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dangerous development.

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

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

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

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More recovery.

US Homeownership Rate Drops To 1983 Levels (Zero Hedge)

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

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

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

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Only, they will.

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

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

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

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

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It’s now become a joke.

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

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

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

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

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Many nations do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s not like we we born as consumers.

How The Consumer Dream Went Wrong (BBC)

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

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

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But we can be happy only as consumers these days.

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

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

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

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They’re not trying.

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

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

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

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

Blame The Cows: Kiwi Dollar May Stumble (CNBC)

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

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

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By plane as well…

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

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

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

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Is he talking about TV series?

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

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

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

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Not a problem for us to solve.

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

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

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

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