Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death 1562
Finally financial ‘markets’ go through a substantial dip, which Steve Mnuchin claims is just temporary and Donald Trump says is caused by the fact that the Fed is ‘loco’. Mnuchin may well be right, but it won’t be because he knows something you don’t.
And Trump is certainly right, but in reality the Fed has been loco for many years, so why be surprised if it acts crazy now? The reason Mnuchin and a million other ‘experts’ may be right without realizing it is that the Fed has been crazy enough to kill the financial markets.
Or at least killed what made the markets functional, and beneficial to society. And that may well be exactly what Jay Powell is trying to repair, but he may well not be aware of that either. Looked at from a ‘benign’ angle, Powell is perhaps raising rates so people can regain insight into what they’re buying.
The pre-Powell Fed pushed up asset prices (don’t let’s say ‘values’) to such heights nobody has any insight anymore into what anything is truly worth. And in what was formerly known as the financial markets that was not important, because what were formerly known as investors were making heaps of money regardless.
Surely they must all have known that this wouldn’t continue?! That it’s just a matter of timing, of knowing when it would end? Oh, but that’s not really possible, is it, without the very price discovery process the Fed successfully strangulated?
Still, there must also be tons of people left thinking the Fed can kick that can six times to the moon and back, or sixty. If only because they’ve never bothered to think about price discovery, and what role it plays in the very ‘markets’ they volunteer to spend their money in.
And along those same lines, many acknowledge housing bubbles in Sydney and Vancouver but think the US has learned its lesson a decade ago. And the loco Fed plays its role there too: mortgage rates have been ultra-low, enticing the last left batch of greater fools not mortally wounded by the last fire to jump in this time. Wolf Richter’s Case-Shiller graph says plenty in that regard:
But of course things tend back to normalcy, and it doesn’t take all the overleveraged stock- and home buyers longing for price discovery; it takes just a few to get the engine started. And then everyone will be along for the ride. So from that angle Jay Powell looks anything but crazy raising rates, we just can’t be sure if he knows what the consequences will be.
Not that it matters all that much what he does or does not know. What was formerly the market is like a pendulum swung so far out of balance that it costs ever more effort and money to keep it from moving towards equilibrium, and that process has only one possible outcome.
For mortgage rates, it looks something like this, and to make anyone able to buy any home at all higher rates will of necessity mean lower prices. You can’t, nobody can, not the Fed or the government can, keep that pendulum away from its tendency towards equilibrium forever.
For stocks it looks much the same. So why try, you’d think?! To prevent incumbents and ruling classes from being exposed as swimming naked, that’s why. They invented a way to make the entire nation swim naked, thinking they’d never be found out because the water levels were so high.
Whether yesterday’s 831-point Dow dip is temporary or not is of little interest. Much more important is that the entire asset prices situation is temporary. It doesn’t matter if the Fed pumps $1, $10, or $100 trillion into what once were markets, in the end it all comes down to how many people can pay how much money for the assets.
And since there is never an unending supply of greater fools, we know where this is going. The easy money and low rates and asset purchases at central banks and stock buybacks by companies can and will result only in more profits and more wealth for a few, and sheer endlessly less for the many.
Inequality in the US has now reached such extremities that the country’s AAA rating threatens to be taken away –as Moody’s indicated-; the government has so many people it must support financially (or let perish) that its financial position comes under pressure. Which is, again, negative for the many, for the few; they don’t care about that rating.
Yes, too many people are on some form of welfare in America. And Washington would love to throw many of them off of it. The many have no representation on Capitol Hill anymore. Just about any senator and congress(wo)man is a millionaire or certainly well-off.
How can the country get its rating back, or at least not lose it due to its increasing inequality? There seem to be two ways: let the 80 million now on welfare die by the side of the road, or provide them with jobs that allow them a fruitful life. That may sound like socialism or something, but it’s really the exact opposite.
It’s not the government’s role to give people jobs, but it is its role to make sure conditions are in place for the private sector to provide them. Trump’s ‘trade wars’ look crazy to many, but the intent is to get jobs back to the US. But there is much more.
America was once prosperous. What changed?
Here’s one thing: In what was -arguably?- America’s wealthiest time as a nation, the post-World War II period, income taxes for the richest were as high as 90% (1952: 92%); they were slowly brought down towards 70%. Only when Ronald Reagan took over in 1980 did they really fall (1982: 50%). This was ‘justified’ by lowering the highest income bracket (1982: $85,600, it had been between $200,000 and $400,000 for years).
In 1988, the top rate plunged to 28%, and the highest bracket to $29,750. Today, the top rate is 39.6% and the high bracket $400,000. In a graph, the consequences look like this:
The corporate tax rate, meanwhile, pulled this one, and don’t get started on tax havens etc.:
And that situation has led to a huge financial crisis, to the Fed going crazy and handing out trillions to the exact wrong part of society, those who already have a lot of money, and the result has been an absolute disaster, at least for the country; not so much for its elites.
But as even Moody’s now recognizes, you can’t run an AAA-rated country on elites alone. Despite the crazy Fed trillions, the US has achieved negative growth (imagine where it would be without):
Something must be done. Problem is, with only those millionaires in charge in the House and Senate, the likelihood of boosting income tax levels up to where they were when America was most prosperous is extremely low. And Trump’s tariffs are not on their own going to bring back the jobs; they can’t rebuild the lost infrastructure, for one thing.
Something must be done, and it’s entirely unclear what, or rather, who’s going to do it. The Democrats have nothing, or nothing but frustrated millionaires and Bernie Sanders. The GOP has only Trump. None of these people are going to vote to double their income taxes.
Much of what needs to be done will be classified as socialism, ridiculed and thrown out the window, even if the country was anything but socialist under Eisenhower and Kennedy, during its -at least economic- Golden Age.
It’s a nice puzzle, isn’t it? Well, maybe not so nice after all.
‘I think the Fed is making a mistake. It’s so tight, I think the Fed has gone crazy’. That is the view that President Donald Trump shared of the Federal Reserve on Wednesday in the wake of a virtual bloodbath on Wall Street that resulted in the worst daily decline for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 since both U.S. equity benchmarks tumbled into correction territory back in early February. The Nasdaq, meanwhile, suffered its ugliest day since U.K. voters coalesced around a market-disrupting plan to exit from the European Union’s trade bloc back in June 2016.
In all, it was a withering session for an administration that has closely watched stock-market performance and views it, at least partly, as a gauge of the success of its economic policies, including corporate tax cuts and deregulation. However, those efforts, Trump says, are imperiled by the policies of the Fed, which has raised interest rates three times this year and has signaled its intention to do so a fourth time before year-end. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde dismissed Trump’s comments Thursday. “I would not associate Jay Powell with craziness,” she told CNBC at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia.
A jittery, volatile week on global financial markets has burst into a frenzy of selling, triggered by heavy losses on Wall Street and comments by Donald Trump describing US interest rate hikes as “crazy”. The Nikkei index in Tokyo was down by 4.25% on Thursday afternoon, while in Hong Kong the index was down 3.9% and Shanghai was at its lowest mark for four years after a plunge of 4.15%. In Sydney the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed down 2.74%, slipping below the 6,000-point mark for the first time since early June. European markets were braced for more losses with the FTSE100 in London poised to fall almost 2% and close to dropping down below 7,000 points for the first time since March.
The rout was triggered by a fall of more than 800 points in the Dow Jones industrial average on Wall Street on Wednesday. It was the worst drop in eight months and was led by sharp declines in technology stocks. Despite a booming US economy, low inflation and low unemployment, investors are concerned about rising bond yields that have been drawing money out of the stock market, and rising US interest rates. “It’s a bit of a bloodbath,” said Ed Campbell, senior portfolio manager at QMA, the asset management branch of Prudential Financial in New York. “It’s primarily the cumulative effect of interest rate moves over the past five days and news reports about trade impacting companies.”
[..] The Chinese yuan slipped against the dollar again on Thursday as Beijing tries to mitigate the impact of US tariffs. But it was the only currency across the region that was feeling the pressure from higher bond yields as the Australian dollar slipped under US71c. “The yuan has already weakened significantly, to offset the tariffs announced so far,” said Alan Ruskin, Deutsche’s global head of G10 FX strategy in Sydney. “Further weakness could exacerbate concerns of a self-fulfilling flight of capital, and a loss of control.”
Technology stocks got clobbered on Wednesday, suffering their worst day in more than seven years, as concerns over rising interest rates punished the overall market, particularly shares of companies that have been the best performers. The S&P 500 Information Technology Index closed at $1,220.62, down 4.8 percent, marking the biggest decline since August 18, 2011, when the index dropped 5.3 percent. All 65 members of the index fell. The broader S&P 500 dropped by 3.3 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 3.2 percent. The tech sector includes the largest companies by market cap in the U.S. and those that have been the biggest contributors to the extended rally. Shares of Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are up sharply for the year as investors bet they will continue to deliver strong earnings growth and take market share.
“Since 1995, the top 10% of US income earners have experienced an overall median net worth increase of close to 200%, while the bottom 40% of income earners have seen a decline. There has been a particularly sharp increase in wealth and income inequality ratios since the global financial crisis,” Moody’s noted in a report released on Monday. “The global financial crisis exacerbated the effects of these trends by disproportionately affecting poorer overleveraged households and by reducing the mobility of households with negative home equity and, oftentimes, negative net wealth as a result,” says Moody’s Vice President William Foster. “Wealthier households with a higher concentration of equity market holdings in retirement savings plans and personal portfolio investments have disproportionately benefited from the significant gains in the US and global stock markets since the global financial crisis.”
In turn, that rising inequality “will exacerbate already material fiscal challenges on the horizon,” Moody’s continued. “Should inequality go unaddressed, social tensions will continue to rise, leading to a more fractious political landscape that increases political risk, and with it a less predictable policy environment.” But it’s not just about taxes, either. Everything from globalization, automation, technological advancements requiring advanced job skills, elevated premium on education and the increasing costs associated with education have played a role in widening inequality. So what does it mean for the U.S.’ AAA rating? According to Moody’s Vice President William Foster, the widening gap between rich and poor is a threat, but the U.S. government, of course, has other aspects supporting the rating—at least in the medium term (2-5 years). Chief among them is the debt denominated in dollars.
Still, Moody’s cites rising inequality as the U.S.’ weakest rating factor. Why? It’s simple math: The wider the income gap becomes, the more the government will have to spend in order to support lower-income households. These costs, Moody’s notes, “are unlikely to be offset by revenue raising measures following recent tax cuts”. At the end of the day, even though the economy is chugging along nicely—nicely enough, in fact, for everyone to ignore rising inequality that will contribute to widening fiscal deficits and a growing debt burden.
What many in 2016 thought would never happen again is now reality. It finally happened – a line in the sand has been breached. The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) and a 20% down-payment did what people had thought in 2016 we’d never see again: It breached 5%. It hit 5.05%, to be precise, for the week ending October 5, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) this morning. This is the highest average rate since January 5, 2010 (chart via Investing.com):
This is likely not the pain-threshold for the housing market, though it is already putting pressure on it at the margin, with some potential buyers being scared off and other potential buyers finding the inflated home prices of today with the current mortgage rates outside their range of affordability. As interest rates have risen, some potential buyers have fallen by the wayside – though not a huge number just yet. But 6% will likely be the pain threshold, in my estimates. It will block a considerable number of potential buyers from buying at current prices. Home prices would have to fall first.
If the maximum a household can afford is a mortgage payment of $1,720 a month, they can finance $320,000 over 30 years with a 5% fixed rate mortgage. But if the mortgage rate rises to 6%, they’re maxed out at $287,000. In other words, the price they can afford would drop by about 10% if the rate rises by 1 percentage point. This principle goes for all budget-constrained buyers. And 6% has moved into view. This is still historically low. It would take rates back to December 2008, when the Fed was kicking off its first round of QE to repress long-term rates and inflate asset prices. Beyond that are the now unimaginably high rates of 7% and 8%:
Mortgage rates move more or less in tandem with the 10-year Treasury yield, but are higher. The spread between the MBA’s average 30-year fixed mortgage rate and the 10-year yield runs around 1.5 to 2.0 percentage points over time. With today’s 10-year yield at 3.22%, the spread is 1.83 percentage points.
[..] This new mortgage rate environment is meeting home prices across the US that have surged over the past years. Affordability issues, already tough to deal with at 4% and 4.5% and even tougher to deal with at 5%, are going to be much tougher at 6%.
Michel Barnier has claimed a Brexit deal could be within reach by next Wednesday but warned the prime minister that only by abandoning a key red line and agreeing to a customs union can impediments on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK be avoided. The British government would have to give up on its plans for free-trade deals with China and the US under such an agreement, the EU’s chief negotiator insisted, but otherwise a customs and regulatory border within the territory of the UK will have to be erected.
The EU’s contentious proposal for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit is for Northern Ireland to, in effect, stay in the customs union and remain under single market regulations, while the rest of the UK withdraws. In a speech in Brussels, Barnier reiterated his rejection of the counter-proposals hammered out by the cabinet at Chequers, which Theresa May insists is the only deal that respects both the referendum result and the constitutional integrity of the UK by ensuring “frictionless” trade and no hard border.
The prime minister’s plan for a common rulebook on goods and a customs arrangement that meant the UK could avoid border checks, while allowing the country to sign its own bespoke trade deals, would give British companies “a huge competitive edge” and be “counter to our very foundations”, Barnier said. He instead encouraged Britain to make a final push in the talks, offering to launch “around 10 negotiations running in parallel” from April 2019 on an EU-UK trade deal, if agreement can be found now on the Irish border issue and the principles of a Canada-style free trade deal.
Even the moderate face of the coalition, the Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, stepped up to question the priorities of the European Commission, the Bank of Italy, and the IMF: He assured that his government remains committed to containing the public debt and maintaining fiscal stability, but claimed that goal is impossible to achieve without economic development. The minister for European affairs, economist Paolo Savona, said that, in fact, a higher deficit-to-GDP ratio than 2.4% would be helpful. The heated reactions to the new fiscal plan are unjustified. In fact, the estimated targets that the new fiscal plan would (minimally) breach are unreliable and based on wrong macroeconomic principles.
Moreover, despite accusations of profligacy, Italy has in fact been running large primary surpluses (the budget balance minus interest payments), and will keep doing so even if the government confirms its plans. If anything should be of “serious concern,” it is the fact that the country continues down the road of austerity, which has proven to be contractionary; it has locked the country into stagnation and exposed its banking system to still more stress. With public investments at historically low levels, unemployment still above the 2008 rate in all regions, and a youth unemployment rate above 30%, it is hard not to see a strong case for fiscal stimulus.
The Trump campaign argued in a legal filing that Wikileaks could not be held liable for publishing emails that were stolen by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 US election because the website was simply serving as a passive publishing platform on behalf of a third party, in the same way as Google or Facebook. Questions about Wikileaks’ publication of thousands of hacked emails, which it allegedly obtained following a plot by Russian military intelligence to steal the emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic party, are at the heart of Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The campaign also said in a legal filing that any alleged agreement between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks to publish the emails could not have been a “conspiracy” because Wikileaks’ decision to release the stolen emails was not an illegal act. The court filing was written in response to a civil lawsuit brought against the Trump campaign by two of Hillary Clinton’s donors and a former employee of the Democratic party. The Trump campaign’s surprising defence of Wikileaks marks a stark departure from official US policy, which has condemned the website for frequently targeting the US government and for publishing thousands of classified documents about covert policies.
[..] Analysts say the legal filing is also significant because it hints at how officials in the Trump White House or individuals who served on the campaign may eventually seek to defend themselves against any criminal charges alleging that they conspired with Wikileaks to release the emails. The legal arguments suggest the Trump White House would argue Wikileaks was not criminally liable for the release of the emails and that it therefore would not be a criminal conspiracy to work with the website on their release. The filing also makes the case that, under the campaign’s first amendment right to free speech, it had the right to publish information – even if it was stolen – as long as it did not participate in the theft of the emails. The hacked materials were a matter of “significant public concern”, the filing said.
Striking trade unionists in Greece are forcing the shutdown of the country’s prime ancient sites, including the Acropolis, in a one-day protest over privatisation fears. The 24-hour walkout on Thursday is expected to close the majority of Greece’s 275 archaeological sites, monuments and museums, which generate about €100m in revenue, mostly from ticket sales, every year. “We are doing this to protest the prospect of any of these sites being exploited by foreign funds,” said Grigoris Vafiadis, the head of the association of culture ministry employees. “Every day we are discovering that monuments have been transferred to the privatisation fund set up at the request of [bailout] lenders. No country in the world, for whatever reason, has mortgaged its cultural heritage.”
The sites, which protestors say include Knossos on Crete, are believed to have been placed on a list of properties overseen by a superfund established in 2016 with the express purpose of managing state assets for the next 99 years. The body, which also handles state asset sales, was part of the price the debt-burdened country had to pay to keep default at bay and remain in the eurozone. Vafiadis, whose union represents more than 3,000 cultural ministry officials, mostly in the Greater Attica region surrounding Athens and central Greece, said sites were listed in the superfund by code. “It’s a long process to work out what the codes refer to on the land registry. For all we know, they might even include the Acropolis which is not just Greek but a world heritage site and should never be put in the hands of any foreign fund,” he said.
Scott Adams, the creator of the office-themed comic strip “Dilbert,” isn’t laughing about the future of American democracy. Having expressed his admiration for Donald Trump over the past few years, Adams believes the tech industry poses a threat to the president as well as to the country as a whole. “I think President Trump will be the last pure human leader,” Adams told Grant Burningham, host of the Yahoo News podcast “Bots & Ballots.” “Everything after this will be a human and he will be elected, he or she, but the decisions will really come from the algorithm after that.”
The algorithm, Adams said, was the one unleashed on the world by Silicon Valley tech companies that has the power to shape popular opinion that, in turn, will determine how politicians express themselves. “There are people making decisions at the tech companies — the Googles and Twitters and Facebooks. Those decisions get turned into algorithms, and once they’re turned into algorithms, the humans no longer really understand them,” Adams said. Adams has likened Trump’s off-the-cuff communications approach in the 2016 presidential election to a form of hypnosis that helped insulate him from the powers of the algorithm.
“President Trump is unique in that his persuasion skills are greater than the tech companies’. It’s probably the only reason he got elected,” Adams said. “I can imagine no one else who would have beat Hillary Clinton. So, after him, I think if you get in an ordinary politician, and it doesn’t matter which party they’re in, the algorithm will push the voters and the voters will push the politicians and everybody will think they have free will, they will think they made up their own minds. They will think they did their own research, they came up with independent decisions, but we’re no longer in that world.”
A California judge has moved to grant the agrochemical company Monsanto a new trial after a landmark jury verdict found its herbicide had caused a man’s terminal cancer. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former groundskeeper, won a $289m award in August in a trial alleging that the popular Roundup weedkiller had made him sick and that Monsanto had failed to warn him of the risks. Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, the German pharmaceutical company, immediately appealed the verdict, which included punitive damages and economic losses and also found that Monsanto had “acted with malice or oppression”.
The San Francisco superior court judge Suzanne Bolanos cited the “insufficiency of the evidence to justify the award for punitive damages” in a tentative written ruling issued before a hearing on Wednesday. She is expected to make a final decision after attorneys submit additional arguments. Monsanto sought to overturn the verdict and has continued to argue that it is safe to use glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate-based products, including the Roundup and Ranger Pro brands, are now worth billions of dollars in revenues, approved for use on more than 100 crops, and registered in 130 countries. Timothy Litzenburg, one of the attorneys who represented Johnson in the trial, told the Guardian that regardless of the outcome, the original ruling would still have a long-term impact: “There’s been a loud and clear message.”
According to the global research team at HSBC, the use of antibiotics in meat production could have “devastating” consequences for humanity. When farmers feed antibiotics to their animals, they create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in humans. Over time, this could make it difficult to treat even common infections like strep throat. The report’s authors liken the impact of antibiotic resistance to climate change: The causation may not be immediately clear, but the evidence suggests a catastrophic future. Scientific experts now predict that antibiotic resistance could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050, exceeding cancer as one of the most common forms of death worldwide.
While some of this is related to the overprescribing of antibiotics by doctors, it also has to do with the antibiotics that are fed to key sources of produce, such as chickens, cows, and pigs. According to the report, more than half of global antibiotics are used in agriculture rather than medicine. Although China accounts for 60% of the world’s agricultural antibiotics, the US also uses antibiotics in around 70% of its agricultural products. Most of these antibiotics are used in meat production, which has risen by 90% per capita globally since the 1960s. In June, an analysis of more than 47,000 US government lab tests found an increase in the number of pork chops and ground beef that were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Court decides because of “a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights”. If that is true in Holland, it will also be in 26 other countries. Moreover, as Elliot Sherber said in his article in yesterday’s Debt Rattle:
“According to the legal maxim that “the health of the people should be the supreme law” (another type of emergency brake – one cited by jurists, and those contesting coercive power, since antiquity), there is a legal duty to pursue this as well (for, among other things, human health is contingent on the health of its general environment – and freedom from oppression). Indeed, if we are to take this maxim seriously, we must recognize that it implies that conditions that are inimical to health (harmful to the health of the people) must be corrected in order to comply with the “supreme law.”
Climate litigators are celebrating after a second landmark court victory that will hold the Netherlands government to account for greater action on climate change. The Hague Court of Appeal has upheld a historic win for the Urgenda Foundation on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens in their climate case, rejecting the Dutch government’s arguments. A day after the UN IPCC report outlined the urgent climate action needed to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees, the Dutch court today affirmed that any less than a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by the Netherlands government before 2020 would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Dutch emissions are currently only 13% lower compared to 1990 levels and have stagnated during the last six years.
The original legal victory by Urgenda inspired a wave of climate lawsuits worldwide, brought by people determined to hold their governments accountable for a lack of climate action. ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “Today’s news shows just what a powerful tool climate litigation has become in holding decision-makers to account for their climate inaction. “For a second time now, a Dutch court has ruled that the country’s government has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from the impacts of climate change and that anything less is a violation of their human rights. “This second victory shows that Dutch judges have been clear about what the government must do now: accept both decisions and refocus its efforts on reducing its carbon emissions by 25% by 2020.
“This is the climate case that started it all, inspiring similar lawsuits worldwide. It has completely changed the debate on climate policy and will inspire people everywhere to use the power of the courts to hold their leaders to account for greater action on climate change.”
Hurricane Maria destroyed many of Puerto Rico’s local seed and organic food-producing farm crops. Please, if you can, send me seeds. Even fruit seed for the tropics – I can plant them quickly. I will hand them out to those in need – as well as start flats in order to jumpstart their crops. Thank you!
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
Catalan separatist leaders signaled they may be moving toward a unilateral declaration of independence as early as this week after hundreds of activists were injured on Sunday as they sought to stop Spanish police from shutting down an illegal referendum. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont appealed to the European Union for support as he pledged to inform the regional parliament of the result of the vote in the coming days. The assembly will then act in line with the referendum law, Puigdemont said — and that could lead to a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of the notification. “The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to have an independent state,” Puigdemont said in a televised statement, flanked by members of his regional administration.
Two million Catalans backed independence out of 2.3 million votes cast in total, government spokesman Jordi Turull said at a press conference in the early hours of Monday. Just over 5 million people were eligible to vote. Before the government crackdown began, separatist leaders said they would be comfortable declaring independence with about 1.8 million votes. Puigdemont’s time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on Oct. 6, exactly 83 years since his predecessor as regional president, Lluis Companys, also declared independence. Companys was executed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. [..] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is wrestling with his country’s biggest constitutional crisis since Franco’s death in 1975 as Puigdemont looks to harness decades of frustration to force Catalonia out of Spain.
Heading a minority government, Rajoy is fighting to maintain his authority as allies peel off in the national parliament and his officials struggle to enforce the law in the rebel region. While a declaration of independence would have no legal force, and would most likely not be recognized by the international community, it would nevertheless constitute a historic challenge to the authority of the Spanish government and state institutions. On Sunday night, Rajoy praised police for their “calmness” in defending the constitutional order after they raided polling stations and seized ballot boxes in their efforts to shut down the vote. As forces deployed, camera phones beamed the confrontations to the world. In one video, broadcast by a local newspaper, a woman is seen being thrown down a flight of stairs.
In another, police rip ballot boxes from the hands of would-be electoral officials. “We’ve proved that our rule of law has the resources to repel an attack on democracy of this magnitude,” Rajoy said in a televised statement. “Look for no culprits other than those who organized an illegal act and have broken our common bonds. We’ve witnessed the type of behavior that would be repugnant for any democrat: the indoctrination of children, persecution of judges and journalists.”
Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain. Jordi Turull, the Catalan regional government spokesman, told reporters early on Monday morning that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted Sunday chose yes. He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.The region has 5.3 million registered voters. Turull said the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids which resulted in hundreds of people being injured. At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt, including at least two people who were thought to have been seriously injured.
Catalonia’s regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, spoke out against the violence with a pointed address: “On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia’s citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic. “My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.” Puigdemont had pressed ahead with the referendum despite opposition from the Spanish state, which declared the poll to be illegal, and the region’s own high court. He told crowds earlier in the day that the “police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever”. The Spanish government defended its response after hundreds of people were hurt when riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.
Tensions are running high in Catalonia, with riot police out in force and protesters advocating their right to vote being shot with rubber bullets. At the time of writing, more than 300 people have been injured and at least one person is currently undergoing surgery as a result of clashes between police and protesters. Police repression, the arresting of politicians and the intransigence of the Spanish government (“there will be no referendum” has been Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s favourite refrain over the last few weeks) make the temptation to simplify this into a simple left-right or good-bad discourse tantalising. But this issue is far from simple. Both sides in this debate are using the referendum to further their own political agendas.
Spain’s governing party, the Partido Popular (PP), is a right-wing party housing a spectrum of thought from neoliberalists to the hard-line right. The ruling party in Catalonia, PDeCAT, is a centre right party of the Catalan bourgeois which has historically been the natural ally of PP and not a traditional supporter of independence. Interestingly, their move to advocate a referendum has stopped their support from dropping in recent months. Alongside this, neither the national government nor the Catalan parliament are strangers to corruption in politics. PDeCAT has been plagued with allegations of corruption, debate around which has receded significantly as demands for independence have increased. PP, for its part, has often sought conflict as a means of garnering public support.
Positioning this referendum and the spectre of independence as a threat to Spanish citizens and their economic future – as well as tugging on the strings of nationalist patriotism in demanding the continued unity of Spain – PP has engaged widespread support. In recent days, Spanish flags have poured from windows and balconies, and in towns throughout Spain people have cheered the Civil Guard – Spain’s law enforcement agency which operates on military lines – with football chants advocating the defeat of the opposition. Against this political background, Spain is beginning to emerge from the crisis of which it has been in the grasp of since 2008. However, unemployment, particularly among young people, is still extremely high, with poverty and homelessness rates continuing to rise. Both Catalan and Spanish politicians have invoked nationalism as the banner beneath which popular support can be raised, allowing the referendum and its surrounding debates to create a vacuum in which these pressing social issues are demoted.
I wrote a letter last June titled “Can You Afford to Reach 100?” Your answer may well be “Yes;” but, if so, you are one of the few. The World Economic Forum study I cited in that letter looked at six developed countries (the US, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, and Canada) and two emerging markets (China and India) and found that by 2050 these countries will face a total savings shortfall of $400 trillion. That’s how much more is needed to ensure that future retirees will receive 70% of their working income. This staggering figure doesn’t even include most of Europe.
[..] The chart below shows the percentage of GDP needed to cover government pension payments in 2015 and 2050. But consider that the percentage of tax revenues required will be much higher. For instance, in Belgium the percentage of GDP going to pensions will be 18% in about 30 years, but that’s 40–50% of total tax revenues. That hunk doesn’t leave much for other budgetary items. Greece, Italy, Spain? Not far behind. And there is other research that makes the above numbers seem optimistic by comparison. The problem that the European economies have is that for the most part they are already massively in debt and have high tax rates. And they can’t print their own currencies. Many of Europe’s private pension companies and corporations are also in seriously deep kimchee. Low and negative interest rates have devastated the ability of pension funds to grow their assets.
Combined with public pension liabilities, the total cost of meeting the income and healthcare needs of retirees is going to increase dramatically all across Europe. Macron, the new French president, really is trying to shake up the old order, to his credit; and this week he came out and began to lay the foundation for the mutualization of all European debt, which I assume would end up on the balance sheet of the ECB. However, that plan still doesn’t deal with the unfunded liabilities. Do countries just run up more debt? It seems like the plan is to kick the can down the road just a little further, something Europe is becoming really good at. In this next chart, note the line running through each of the countries, showing their debt as a percentage of GDP. Italy’s is already over 150%. And this is a chart based mostly on 2006 and earlier data. A newer chart would be much uglier.
I could go on reviewing the retirement problems in other countries, but I hope you begin to see the big picture. This crisis isn’t purely a result of faulty politics – though that’s a big contributor – it’s a problem that is far bigger than even the most disciplined, future-focused governments and businesses can easily handle. Look what we’re trying to do. We think people can spend 35–40 years working and saving, then stop working and go on for another 20–30–40 years at the same comfort level – but with a growing percentage of retirees and a shrinking number of workers paying into the system. I’m sorry, but that’s magical thinking. And it’s not what the original retirement schemes envisioned at all. Their goal was to provide for a relatively small number of elderly people who were unable to work. Life expectancies were such that most workers would not reach that point, or would at least live just a few years beyond retirement.
As I have pointed out in past letters, when Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security for people over 65 years old, US life expectancy was about 56 years. If the retirement age had kept up with the increase in life expectancy, the retirement age in the US would now be 82. Try and sell that to voters. Worse, generations of politicians have convinced the public that not only is a magical outcome possible, it is guaranteed. Many politicians actually believe it themselves. They aren’t lying so much as just ignoring reality. They’ve made promises they aren’t able to keep and are letting others arrange their lives based on the assumption that the impossible will happen. It won’t.
The market is calm. Perhaps too calm. The lack of price swings has investors mired in a sea of complacency, which has them ignoring potential risks, says Societe Generale. The firm specifically cites the CBOE Volatility Index – or VIX – which is used to track nervousness in the US stock market. Not only is the so-called fear gauge locked near the lowest levels on record, but hedge funds are betting it’ll decline even further. Their VIX positioning is the most bearish on record, according to data compiled by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “Compare that with dancing on the rim of a volcano,” a group of SocGen strategists led by Alain Bokobza, the firm’s head of global asset allocation, wrote in a client note. “If there is a sudden eruption (of volatility) you get badly burned.”
This isn’t the first time SocGen has issued a warning about low volatility. Two weeks ago, the firm drew parallels to conditions leading up to the 2007 financial crisis. Describing the current situation as a “dangerous volatility regime,” the firm cited the strong mean-reverting tendency of price swings as a big reason why investors should be bracing themselves. Other heavyweights in the investment field have also spoken out about the low-price-swing situation that they see as untenable. In late July, JPMorgan global head of quantitative and derivatives strategy Marko Kolanovic compared rock-bottom volatility to the conditions leading up to the 1987 stock market crash. [..] Laszlo Birinyi, the investment guru who predicted the bull market and has been repeatedly correct over its 8 1/2-year run, said that betting on the VIX is a “quick way to lose money.”
The moral of the story with Citi and other large banks is that there is no free lunch, but sadly no one on the FOMC seems to appreciate this subtlety. When the Fed pushes down interest rates and then manipulates credit spreads to achieve some illusory goal in terms of monetary policy, the result is a change in the behavior of investors and lenders that is profound. The fact that Citi, JPM and GS are now pushing back into the dangerous world of off-balance sheet (OBS) derivatives just illustrates the fact that the large banks cannot survive without cheating customers, creditors and shareholders. And just as retailers cannot compete with AMZN, Citi and GS certainly cannot compete against the monopoly power of the House of Morgan. In the case both of Citi and JPM, just half of the banks’ operating business comes from lending, while the remainder comes from risk bearing investments and trading.
With some $50 trillion in off-balance sheet (OBS) derivatives, which is almost six standard deviations above the $1.8 trillion peer average for large banks, Citi and JPM are now the outliers on Wall Street in terms of derivatives exposure. A move of 30bp in the OBS derivatives book of either bank would wipe out their capital. Chart One below shows the OBS derivatives exposure of Citi, JPM, GS and the other major banks. Notice that all three of the leading derivatives dealers have been increasing exposures since last year. Note too that the relatively small GS has a notional OBS derivatives book of more than $41 trillion, almost as large as that of Citi and JPM. More alarming, a move of just 7bp in the smaller bank’s OBS derivatives exposures would wipe out the capital of Goldman’s subsidiary bank. This gives GS an effective leverage ratio vs its notional OBS derivatives exposures of 8,800 to 1.
[..] to look at the larger context of the entire relief operation, I decided to talk to someone whose experience rivals that of General Honore: retired Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix. Now a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, Hendrix served for decades both on the high seas and in high-level staff jobs, including with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy’s Irregular Warfare Quadrennial Defense Review. Few people know more about military history than Hendrix, who has degrees from Purdue, Harvard, the Naval Postgraduate School and a Ph.D. from Kings College in London. Little wonder that in 2012 was named the service’s director of naval history.
TH: So, it seems like everybody has blasted Trump administration’s response to the Puerto Rico crisis. Has that criticism been fair?
JH: No, I don’t think so. First of all, there was a fair amount of anticipatory action that is not being recognized. Amphibious ships including the light amphibious carriers Kearsarge and Wasp and the amphibious landing ship dock Oak Hill were at sea and dispatched to Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane’s impact. These are large ships that have large flight decks to land and dispatch heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters to and from disaster sites. They also have big well-decks – exposed surfaces that are lower than the fore and aft of the ship – from which large landing craft can be dispatched to shore carrying over 150 tons of water, food and other supplies on each trip. These are actually the ideal platforms for relief operations owing to their range of assets. The ships, due to their designs to support Marine amphibious landings in war zones, also have hospitals onboard to provide medical treatment on a large scale. That these ships were in the area should be viewed as a huge positive for the administration and the Department of Defense.
TH: Your plaudits toward the White House on all this are surprising to say the least. But where does the response still need to improve?
JH: One area in which the Trump administration could possibly lend additional assistance would be looking at a more robust activation of its assets in the Defense Department’s Transportation Command to include more heavy-lift and cargo aircraft, as well as Maritime Administration shipping to move the logistics-heavy large infrastructure items on the ocean. Everything from bulldozers to transformers needs to come by ships, and it’s been decades since it was really flexed to its full capacity. This would have the dual purpose of revealing any significant weaknesses in the Transportation Command assets and readiness should we need it in a military emergency down the road.
In an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, President Trump gave his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, an Art of the Deal-style coaching session on how to negotiate with the South Koreans. Trump’s impromptu coaching came in the middle of a pivotal conversation with top officials about whether or not to withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal. Sources familiar with the conversation recounted the exchange for Axios, and the White House did not dispute this account. A number of senior officials and cabinet secretaries were present for the conversation, including Defense Secretary Mattis, Agriculture Secretary Perdue, and Secretary of State Tillerson. At issue was whether the U.S. would withdraw from the Korean trade deal — an action Trump threatened but still hasn’t done.
“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer. “Ok, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied. “No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute.'” “That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued. “And by the way, I might. You guys all need to know I might. You don’t tell them 30 days. If they take 30 days they’ll stretch this out.” Why this matters: Plenty of world leaders think the president is crazy — and he seems to view that madman reputation as an asset. The downsides are obvious: the rhetoric can unnerve allies and has the potential to provoke enemies into needless, unintended war. But Trump keeps using the tactic, with varying degrees of success:
Just today, the president undercut his secretary of state by suggesting diplomacy with “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea was a waste of time — implying that only military action would resolve the conflict. “Save your energy Rex,” Trump tweeted, “we’ll do what has to be done!” We’ve never seen anything like this before. Trump’s tweet, undercutting Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts, comes a day after Tillerson acknowledged for the first time that the administration was in direct communication with North Korea. Trump’s tweet also undercuts a statement made Tuesday by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dunford: “The military dimension today is in full support of the economic and diplomatic pressure campaign the secretary of state is leading in North Korea.”
The only reason Egypt has even existed from ancient times until today is because of the Nile River, which provides a thin, richly fertile stretch of green through the desert. For the first time, the country fears a potential threat to that lifeline, and it seems to have no idea what to do about it. Ethiopia is finalizing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, its first major dam on the Blue Nile, and then will eventually start filling the giant reservoir behind it to power the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. Egypt fears that will cut into its water supply, destroying parts of its precious farmland, hampering its large desert reclamation projects and squeezing its bourgeoning population of 93 million people, who already face water shortages. Dam construction on international rivers often causes disputes over the downstream impact.
But the Nile is different: few nations rely so completely on a single river as much as Egypt does. The Nile provides over 90% of Egypt’s water supply. Almost the entire population lives cramped in the sliver of the Nile Valley. Around 60% of Egypt’s Nile water originates in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile, one of two main tributaries. Egypt barely gets by with the water it does have. Because of its population, it has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, some 660 cubic meters a person. The strain is further worsened by widespread inefficiency and waste. With the population on a path to double in 50 years, shortages are predicted to become severe even sooner, by 2025. That is despite the fact that Egypt already receives the lion’s share of Nile waters: more than 55 billion of the around 88 billion cubic meters of water that flow down the river each year.
It is promised that amount under agreements from 1929 and 1959 that other Nile nations say are unfair and ignore the needs of their own large populations. Complicating the issue, no one has a clear idea what impact Ethiopia’s dam will actually have. Addis Ababa says it will not cause significant harm to Egypt or Sudan downstream. Much depends on management of the flow and how fast Ethiopia fills its reservoir, which can hold 74 billion cubic meters of water. A faster fill means blocking more water at once, while doing it slowly would mean less reduction downstream.[..] One study by a Cairo University agriculture professor estimated Egypt would lose a staggering 51% of its farmland if the fill is done in three years. A somewhat slower fill over six years would cost Egypt 17% of its cultivated land, the study claimed
Vanuatu is no stranger to the rumblings, shakings, flood waters and wrecking winds of natural disaster. The south Pacific island nation was rated the most at-risk country in the world in a 2016 United Nations study. Its 83 islands are stuck right in the middle of hurricane alley and they dot the border of the “ring of fire” – a belt around the Pacific prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Despite their precarious situation being a day-to-day reality, the country has been galvanised by the prime minister Charlot Salwai’s order to evacuate the entire island of Ambae because of the threat that the volcano at its centre will blow. “People’s lives must be our first priority,” Salwai said. “Everybody has to go.” What followed has been Vanuatu’s own version of the Dunkirk evacuation. Folk began organising even before Salwai gave the order.
The Ni-Vanuatu – the people of this archipelago – are defined by two things: land and family. From the moment a state of emergency was announced, members of the Ambae community in Port Vila, the capital, began to mobilise. They knew better than to wait for the cash-strapped, resource-starved government and instead jury-rigged a disaster response centre at a church. Local companies began donating goods immediately. Before long they had stockpiles of water, food, bedding and other essentials ready to send. Then they chartered a ship. The MV Makila was one of the first of Vanuatu’s ragtag fleet of inter-island barges and coasters to reach Ambae with supplies. It unloaded those goods then took more than 100 passengers to safety on the nearby island of Espiritu Santo. Then it went back and did it again.
There was no hesitation, no reflection. The ships had to run. So the community members dug deep and shifted for themselves. [..] Nadia Kanegai has been a personal assistant to a prime minister, and a former political candidate herself. A past master at getting things done by Vanuatu’s often shambolic bureaucracy, she didn’t flinch at the difficulties presented by moving hundreds of her home island’s most vulnerable inhabitants to safety. She just hired a plane and told the pilot to keep flying until everyone was out. Kanegai won’t discuss how much this airlift is costing her, but whistle-stop charter flights to the outer islands typically cost the equivalent of £1,000 for a return hop. Her plane made 18 flights on the first day alone.
President Donald Trump and other climate-change deniers probably don’t think of themselves as contributing to Russia’s future prosperity. But judging from a new International Monetary Fund report, that’s what they might be doing. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF offers a sobering analysis of global warming’s potential repercussions. Looking at the historical relationship between climate and economic output, it finds that poor countries in hot regions – home to a majority of the world’s population – are likely to suffer the most as average temperatures rise. Here’s a map showing the effect of a one-degree-Celsius temperature increase on per-capita GDP, with countries scaled to reflect their populations:
Gazing at the map, though, I couldn’t help but ask: What about the winners? Those green areas in the north certainly suggest that somebody stands to gain. So I downloaded the data to see which countries would get a per-capita GDP boost. Mongolia, Iceland, Finland and Russia topped the IMF’s list. Here’s the whole thing:
To be sure, this doesn’t mean that the countries will turn into a tropical paradises. For one, the researchers derived their estimates from the relatively small weather fluctuations of the past – nobody can really know what will happen if temperatures go beyond what humans have experienced. Also, don’t forget bigger natural disasters, forced migrations and all the other ills that climate change is expected to bring. That said, the data do suggest that Russia could, at least initially, be an unintended beneficiary of what amounts to a global injustice of epic proportions. Look again at that map: The poor countries in the south stand to bear the brunt of a catastrophe created largely by the wealthy countries in the middle, while the countries in the north get a windfall. That’s an outcome to which Trump, by downplaying the dangers of global warming and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, has already made a significant contribution.
Totally irresponsible policies by governments and central banks have created the most dangerous crisis that the world has ever experienced. Risk doesn’t arise quickly as the result of a single action or event. No, risk of the magnitude that the world is experiencing today is the result of many years or decades of economic mismanagement. Cycles are normal in nature and in the world economy. And cycles that are the result of the laws of nature normally play out in an orderly fashion without extreme tops or bottoms. “Just take the seasons. They go from summer to autumn, winter and spring, with soft transitions that seldom involve drama or catastrophe. Economic cycles would be the same if they were allowed to happen naturally without the interference of governments.
But power corrupts and throughout history leaders have always hung on to power by interfering with the normal business cycle. This involves anything from reducing the precious metals content of money from 100% to nothing, printing money, leveraging credit, manipulating interest rates, taking total taxes from at least 50% + today from nothing 100 years ago etc, etc. Governments will always fail when they believe that they are gods. But not only governments believe they perform godly tasks but also hubristic investment bankers like the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs who proclaimed that the bank was doing God’s work. It must be remembered that Goldman, like most other banks, would have gone under if they and JP Morgan hadn’t instructed the Fed to save them by printing and guaranteeing $25 trillion. Or maybe that was God’s hand too?
We now have unmanageable risks at many levels – politically, geopolitically, economically and financially. This is a RISK ON situation that is extremely dangerous and will have very grave consequences. There are numerous risks that can all cause the collapse of the world economy and they all have equal relevance. However, the political situation in the USA is very dangerous for the world. This the biggest economy in the world, albeit bankrupt with debt growing exponentially and real deficits every year since 1960. Before the dollar has collapsed, the US will still be seen as a powerful nation, although a massive economic decline will soon weaken the country burdened by debt at all levels, government, state, and private.
Just call it Peak Crazy and move on. There is absolutely no reason for the stock markets to be at current levels, let alone melting-up day after day. The fact that this is happening is a measure of how impaired capital markets have become as a result of massive central bank intrusion. The robo-machines and day traders keep buying the dips because that has “worked” for the last 100 months. There is nothing more to it than residual momentum. Under a regime of honest money and price discovery, the stock market discounts the future. There is no plausible future from here that’s worth 24 times S&P 500 value or 96 times the Russell 2000. Surely the year-ahead earnings boom that Wall Street’s artists have penciled in is not in the slightest bit plausible. With 84% of the S&P 500 reporting Q2 results, LTM earnings are still 1.3% below where they were in September 2014.
Nothing has happened to corporate earnings in the last three years except deflation in the energy, materials and industrial sectors. After hitting $106 per share in September 2014, the global deflation cycle brought them to a low point of $86.44 per share in March 2016 in response to low $30s oil prices. The latter has since recovered to the $50 dollar zone – bringing S&P 500 earnings back to $104.61 during the current quarter. The question remains: How does an aging business cycle and immense global headwinds justify the expectation of a red hot earnings breakout during the next 18 months? Yet that’s what’s happening on Wall Street. We’ve hit nearly $133 per share of GAAP earnings (and $145 of the ex-items variety) for the LTM period ending in December 2018, meaning a prospective surge of 27%.
[..] In this machine driven market, any of these indices could resume their mad momentum based climb. But negative divergences are breaking out everywhere, and that’s usually a sign that the end is near. Margins on debt has again reached an all-time high of $550 billion. The chart below leaves little doubt as to what comes next. After the 2000 peak, margin debt collapsed by 50% as stocks were violently liquidated to meet margin calls. All this while in 2008 the shrinkage of margin debt was even larger – nearly 60%. This time, however, a similar shrinkage would cause a $325 billion decline in margin balances. That’s a lot of stocks on a fire sale.
China’s economy is looking good enough that the IMF is raising its outlook, but the organization is doing so with a strong warning over growing debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The IMF issued its annual review of China on Tuesday, and has revised its growth forecast to 6.7% for 2017, which was up from 6.2%. The organization also said it expects China to average 6.4% growth between now and 2021, versus its previous estimate of 6%. Still, the organization warned that things were far from peachy. “The growth outlook has been revised up reflecting strong momentum, a commitment to growth targets, and a recovering global economy,” the IMF said. “But this comes at the cost of further large and continuous increases in private and public debt, and thus increasing downside risks in the medium term.”
What Beijing needs to do is to seize its current strong growth momentum “to accelerate needed reforms and focus more on the quality and sustainability of growth,” said the report. At the top of that list is working to tackle the debt issue: Going forward, the IMF sees China’s non-financial sector debt to hit nearly 300% of GDP by 2022, up from around 240% last year. Debt-fueled growth, the IMF warned, is a short-term solution that isn’t sustainable in the long run unless China tackles deeper structural issues. Experts have been sounding the alarm bell over this issue for years, urging China to rein in its old model of opening credit lines to fuel investment and spending and to find a better balance between supporting growth and controlling risks to the economy.
Chinese banks extended 825.5 billion yuan (about $123.44 billion) in new loans in July, down from 1.54 trillion yuan in June. Outstanding total social financing — a broad measure of credit and liquidity — came in at 1.22 trillion yuan last month versus 1.78 trillion yuan in June. Part of the drop is seasonal, and it’s “masking an uptick in underlying credit growth,” wrote China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard at Capital Economics. A better way to look at credit creation is to gauge growth in outstanding bank loans and total social financing, both of which rose roughly 13% in July versus the same period last year.
Growth in China’s broad money supply slipped to a fresh record low, signaling authorities aren’t letting up in their drive to curb excess borrowing and safeguard the financial system. Aggregate financing stood at 1.22 trillion yuan ($182.7 billion) in July, the People’s Bank of China said on Tuesday, compared with an estimated 1 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey. New yuan loans stood at 825.5 billion yuan, versus an projected 800 billion yuan. Broad M2 money supply increased 9.2%, while economists forecast a 9.5% increase . Authorities pushing to cut excess leverage have squeezed the massive shadow bank sector, which shrank for the first time in nine months. Yet with aggregate financing remaining robust and bond issuance rebounding, the central bank is still providing ample support for businesses to avoid derailing growth ahead of a key Communist Party congress this fall.
Slower M2 growth will become a “new normal,” the PBOC said Friday in its quarterly monetary policy report. “The relevance of M2 growth to the economy and its predictability has reduced, and its changes should not be over-interpreted.” “The deleveraging campaign is still focused on the financial sector, which leads to the slowdown in M2 growth,” said Yao Shaohua at ABCI Securities in Hong Kong. “Bank support for the real economy remains solid.” “The easing in credit conditions in July was probably part of the concerted stability play ahead of the Party Congress, thus more likely to be temporary,” said Yao Wei, chief China economist at Societe Generale in Paris. “We’re still looking for more deleveraging measures and tougher regulations afterwards.”
“The divergence between M2 growth and aggregate financing reflects that the PBOC is trying to balance cutting leverage while ensuring enough funds to support the real economy,” said Wen Bin at China Minsheng Banking in Beijing. “Single-digit M2 growth is likely to stretch until year-end. And with ample support from the central bank’s credit supply, the drag effect of financial deleveraging on the economic expansion will be limited.” “Banks are still creating credit, and this credit is important to support economic growth,” said Iris Pang, an analyst at ING in Hong Kong. “If liquidity is too tight, or credit growth shrinks, the whole deleveraging reform will run into the risk that there will be too many defaults and the whole banking system will be shaken up.”
The UK risks losing its place as a property-owning democracy if house prices continue to rise, according to the boss of the UK’s largest independent estate agent. Paul Smith, chief executive of haart, said that “unaffordability is reaching crisis point” and urged the Government to stop “excessive profiteering” at the expense of aspiring home owners. The call comes as official figures showed that the price of the average house in the UK increased by £10,000 last year to £223,000. Property values increased by 0.8% between May and June according to joint figures from the Office for National Statistics, Land Registry and other bodies. In the year to June average prices were up 4.9%, down marginally from 5% growth in the year to May.
The report released on Tuesday said the annual growth rate had slowed since mid-2016 but has remained steady at about 5% this year so far. “House prices continued to rally with unflinching determination once again in June despite the ongoing economic uncertainty,” Mr Smith said. “However this means that the average UK buyer now has to fork out an extra £10,000 more to own a home than the same time last year. “Along with consumer price hikes and falling wage growth, unaffordability is reaching a crisis point. This is creating real impact on the ground as we see first-time buyer registrations drop by almost 20% on the year across our branches.”
About a month ago I joined the Board of Directors of a publicly-traded company that invests in US real estate. The position brings a lot of insight into what’s happening in the US housing market. And from what I’m seeing, the transformation that’s taking place today is extraordinary. Buying and renting out single-family homes has long been the mainstay investment of small, independent, individual investors. The big banks and hedge funds pretty much monopolize everything else. They own the stock market. They own the bond market. They own all the commercial real estate. They even own the farmland. Single-family homes were one of the last bastions of investment freedom for the little guy. (Real estate is how I got my own start in business and investing so many years ago; I was a 21-year-old Army lieutenant fresh out of the academy when I bought my first rental property.)
But all that’s changing now. Last week a huge merger was announced between Invitation Homes (owned by private equity giant Blackstone Group) and Starwood Waypoint Homes (owned by real estate giant Starwood Capital). If the deal goes through, the combined entity would be the largest owner of single-family homes in the United States with a portfolio worth over $20 billion. And this is only the latest merger in an ongoing trend. Three years ago, for example, American Homes 4 Rent bought Beazer Pre-Owned Rental Homes, creating another enormous player. A few months later, Starwood Waypoint bought Colony American Homes. And of course, Blackstone was one of the first institutional investors to start buying distressed homes, forking over around $10 billion on houses since the Great Financial Crisis.
[..] medium-sized funds are buying up all the little guys. And mega-funds like Blackstone are buying up all the medium-sized funds. This means there’s essentially an ‘arms race’ building among the world’s biggest funds to control the market, squeezing small, individual investors out of the housing market. [..] the average guy isn’t making any more money, or able to save anything… all while home prices soar to record levels as major funds gobble up the supply. This means that the new reality in America, especially for young people, is that if you’re lucky enough to not be living in your parents’ basement, you’ll be relegated to renting your house from Blackstone.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that’s designed to streamline the approval process for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure by establishing “one federal decision’’ for major projects and setting an average two-year goal for permitting. “This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country,” Trump said in a press conference at Trump Tower in New York. “It’s disgraceful.” Among other things, the president’s order will rescind a previous decree signed by former President Barack Obama that required federal agencies to account for flood risk and climate change when paying for roads, bridges or other structures.
It also allows the Office of Management and Budget to establish goals for environmental reviews and permitting of infrastructure projects and then track their progress – with automatic elevation to senior agency officials when deadlines are missed or extended, according to the order. The order calls for tracking the time and costs of conducting environmental reviews and making permitting decisions, and it allows the budget office to consider penalties for agencies that fail to meet established milestones. Critics say there’s danger in streamlining the reviews. “This is yet another outrageous example of Trump’s insistence on putting corporate interests ahead of people’s health and safety,” said Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director with the League of Conservation Voters, a political advocacy group.
The European Central Bank may be violating laws on monetary financing in its €2.3 trillion ($2.7 trillion) asset purchase programme, Germany’s constitutional court said on Tuesday, and it asked Europe’s top court to make a ruling. In the biggest challenge yet to the ECB’s unprecedented effort to revive growth, the court said bond buys under the scheme may go beyond the bank’s mandate and inhibit euro zone members’ activities. “Significant reasons indicate that the ECB decisions governing the asset purchase programme violate the prohibition of monetary financing and exceed the monetary policy mandate of the European Central Bank, thus encroaching upon the competences of the Member States,” the court said. It said it would ask the European Court of Justice to review the programme.
The ECB acted swiftly to defend the scheme. “The extended asset purchase programme is in our opinion fully within our mandate,” it said in a statement. “That is ultimately for the European Court of Justice to assess.” It said the €60 billion per month asset buys would continue as normal. The European court has already backed the ECB’s more contentious emergency bond purchase scheme known as Outright Monetary Transactions or OMT with only relatively minor limitations, suggesting that the challenge – lodged by several academics and politicians – may face an uphill battle. The decision to pass the issue over to the ECJ means any final ruling will come either after the bond purchases end or near the end of the scheme, which has already been running for over two years and is expected to be wound down next year.
“The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.”
From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies. Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria. You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments. Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise.
Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’. Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it. In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.”
When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again. The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.” Gadaffi would soon be removed by Islamists, backed by NATO forces after Western oil companies agitated for his removal because he was “driving a hard bargain”. Canadian paramilitary forces even quipped that they were “al-Qaeda’s air-force”.
Fish may be actively seeking out plastic debris in the oceans as the tiny pieces appear to smell similar to their natural prey, new research suggests. The fish confuse plastic for an edible substance because microplastics in the oceans pick up a covering of biological material, such as algae, that mimics the smell of food, according to the study published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists presented schools of wild-caught anchovies with plastic debris taken from the oceans, and with clean pieces of plastic that had never been in the ocean. The anchovies responded to the odours of the ocean debris in the same way as they do to the odours of the food they seek. The scientists said this was the first behavioural evidence that the chemical signature of plastic debris was attractive to a marine organism, and reinforces other work suggesting the odour could be significant.
The finding demonstrates an additional danger of plastic in the oceans, as it suggests that fish are not just ingesting the tiny pieces by accident, but actively seeking them out. Matthew Savoca, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the study, told the Guardian: “When plastic floats at sea its surface gets colonised by algae within days or weeks, a process known as biofouling. Previous research has shown that this algae produces and emits DMS, an algal based compound that certain marine animals use to find food. [The research shows] plastic may be more deceptive to fish than previously thought. If plastic both looks and smells like food, it is more difficult for animals like fish to distinguish it as not food.”
Lastly, Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU, an actual expert on China, weighed in, saying ‘Russia thinks we’re crazy, completely crazy.’ He even took some time to express his ‘disgust’ with Al Mattour, saying ‘your previous guest, I don’t mean to be rude to him. First of all, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And, secondly, he excludes the reality that Russia has a politics. And the politics in Russia today as we talk is […] the concern that America is preparing war against Russia. If not on Syria, then on the other two cold war fronts […] where NATO is building up in an unprecedented way. This is not good because they have nuclear weapons and because accidents happen.’
He then theorized what the conversation between Putin and Tillerson was like, pointing to the two having a history of trust together from the time Tillerson led Exxon Mobile. ‘Rex, says Putin, what in the world is going on in Washington?’ Professor Cohen, ominously, summed it up, ‘I’m not young. I’ve been doing this 40 years, sometimes as a Professor, sometimes inside. I have never been as worried as I am today about the possibility of war with Russia.’
Before the holiday weekend begins, best-selling author James Rickards joins Olivia Bono-Voznenko outside the NYSE to talk all about the markets and his latest book, “The Road to Ruin.” Jim discusses the currency wars, Trump’s turnaround on China & the Fed and an inevitable crisis amid a weak system.
Peter Praet, the ECB’s chief economist said in a recent interview that, “Since the crisis, we have had serious concerns about deflationary risks on several occasions in the euro area, but now we can say they have disappeared.” Really? Has he seen the chart below, which shows core CPI in the Eurozone heading sharply lower and now approaching its all-time low seen at the start of 2015! Not only that, but Eurozone inflation expectations are also declining again, after surging in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. To be fair, Praet was focusing on the rise in headline inflation in the Eurozone, which touched 2% in February before dropping back in March to 1.5%.
After some 18 months bobbing around the zero mark, I can understand why central bankers might be heaving a sigh of relief, but for them to take credit for a recovery in headline inflation is totally disingenuous given it has been entirely driven by a recovery in the oil price. Similarly, Janet Yellen was quoted saying the Fed is “doing pretty well” in meeting its congressionally mandated goals of low and stable inflation and a full-strength labor market. It’s this sort of comment that has led Marc Faber to want to short central bankers, the only way being to buy gold. The increasing volume of central bank hubris may even explain the recent breakout of gold to the upside! It is not just eurozone inflation expectations that seem to be in retreat. The same thing is happening in the US too (see chart below).
I am always surprised how dominated 10y inflation expectations are by short-term movements in the oil price and headline inflation, but it was noticeable just how rapidly inflation expectations ran up in the wake of Trump’s election – way in advance of what might have been expected by the bounce in the oil price. One might have thought the surge in the oil price from its trough some 12-18 months ago might have had more impact on wage inflation, but so far that does not seem to be the case. Despite the euphoria in the markets about the “reflation trade”, survey inflation expectations have continued to drift downwards. One thing is certain: for central banks to call victory over deflation may prove very premature indeed. Nemesis awaits.
Stocks may be in for a deeper pullback, now that the so-called fear index is finally breaking out higher. The CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed above its 200-day moving average for the first time since the election this week. The indicator jumped more than 2% Thursday afternoon at one point to a fresh high for the year. U.S. markets are closed for trading Friday for the Easter holiday. The recent spike in fear comes just as geopolitical risk heats up. The Pentagon said Thursday U.S. military forces dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, the first time the so-called mother of all bombs has ever been used in combat. U.S. stocks fell, with the S&P 500 and DJIA closed at two-month lows Thursday. “I’d say it’s probably more of a Trump trade [reversing] than the geopolitics, but going forward I think the geopolitics is the topic the market is focusing on,” said Andres Jaime at Barclays.
Foreign capital is playing an important role in the real estate markets of Toronto and Vancouver, and has for some time. As political leaders debate its impact and possible policy measures to alleviate its attendant issues, it is important to think clearly about the ethics of foreign ownership. Predictably, those who want to stymie or avoid policy action in this area have alluded to “xenophobia” to deter critics. Even some well-intentioned people have given credence to these claims. Yet curtailing or taxing foreign ownership is not xenophobic, especially if policy is properly designed. Xenophobia is the irrational or unjustified fear of foreigners. Concerns about the impact of foreign ownership are about flows of money, not people, and they are certainly justified in Toronto and Vancouver.
Foreign ownership raises two main ethical problems. First, those who buy based on foreign income or wealth often have access to money in ways that are unavailable to local residents. This means that locals are potentially put into disadvantageous, or unfair, competition for real estate where they live. Second, people who buy property based on foreign income or wealth may not have contributed much in Canadian taxes, which is largely what makes the property so valuable in the first place. Canadian real estate has become an attractive place to stash international money for a variety of reasons – we don’t effectively enforce money laundering regulations, we have relatively low property-tax rates and the enforcement of capital gains taxes has been lax. But real estate in Canada is ultimately attractive because of the country’s stable institutions, its public infrastructure and its social cohesion.
These latter things are paid for, or fostered by, taxes collected from Canadians – income taxes in particular. At a minimum, then, Canadians should have preferential access to property ownership, since they are paying for what makes it so valuable. It is precisely for these reasons that we see nothing ethically problematic about charging foreign students more in tuition at Canadian universities. Residential property is no different. Concerns around foreign ownership are especially potent when money is arriving from societies where corruption is widespread, and when foreign money is playing a significant role in driving up prices. Both apply in the cases of Toronto and Vancouver.
[..] We can then better design a foreign-buyer’s tax, which is needed to calm Toronto’s frenzied market. A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes – the amount they pay in the three years following a purchase, for instance. This makes it clear that the tax need not discourage entrepreneurial talent from abroad, as claimed by Toronto Mayor John Tory. This understanding of the issue also leads straightforwardly into the proposal by many economists in British Columbia, including my colleague Rhys Kesselman. Provincial governments should introduce an annual property surtax on expensive homes that can be offset by income taxes paid, while exempting seniors with sustained CPP contribution records. This continuous surtax would powerfully target foreign ownership, and would thereby reconnect the local housing market to the local labour market.
Britain’s credit card binge could be at an end as banks tighten up controls on consumer debt. Borrowing growth hit rates of more than 10pc over the past year, a pace not seen since the boom years before the financial crisis, but now banks are touching the brakes. The Bank of England has warned that a consumer debt could be more of a risk to banks than mortgage lending, should there be an economic downturn. Fierce competition to win new customers has led banks to offer more credit to customers with increasingly long interest-free periods.But banks have started tightening lending criteria for credit card applicants in a move of an intensity not seen since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.
A net balance of 33pc of lenders expect to tighten standards in the coming three-month period, according to Bank of England data. When unsecured loans are also included, a net balance of 27pc plan to scrutinise applications more closely. There was also a fall in the number of credit card applications approved in the first quarter of the year, and banks expect the number to remain roughly steady in the coming quarter. By contrast credit scoring criteria for secured loans, such as mortgages, is holding broadly steady. “The recent rapid growth in consumer credit could principally represent a risk to lenders if accompanied by weaker underwriting standards,” warned the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee this month.
Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators. In his first public remarks since becoming chief of the US spy agency in February, Pompeo focused on the group and other leakers of classified information like Edward Snowden as one of the key threats facing the United States. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence… And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organisations,” said Pompeo. “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
[..] Last month, WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA and damaged its operations by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the agency’s top secret hacking operations. The data showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence. Counterintelligence investigators continue to try to find out who stole the files and handed them to WikiLeaks. Assange meanwhile criticized the US agency for not telling the tech industry and authorities about those vulnerabilities so they can be fixed. Pompeo said Assange portrays himself as a crusader but in fact helps enemies of the United States, including aiding Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.
“Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today. Yes, they try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent.” However, Pompeo did not comment on how Trump has previously lavished praise on Assange for the information he has made public. Nor did Pompeo mention that he himself had cited and linked to WikiLeaks in a tweet attacking the Democratic Party. Pompeo at the time was a Republican congressman and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The CIA declined to comment on that.
The US government will keep an “open mind” on any new loan package from the IMF for debt-burdened Greece, a senior US Treasury official said Thursday. Despite criticism of international organizations by the Trump administration, the comments allay concerns that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could veto any large new aid package for Athens. “We’re looking for the Europeans to help Greece to resolve its economic problems, and we think the IMF can play a supportive role,” the official told reporters. “And we’ll look at any potential future agreement with an open mind.” IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said Greece and its eurozone creditors have made progress towards a new loan package that includes debt relief, but that is something the fund has been saying for months without a final deal.
Greece last week accepted a tough set of reforms demanded by its eurozone creditors in hopes of securing a new loan in time to avert a looming debt default in July, although it still must finalize the details. Athens has been deadlocked for months over reforms, and budget targets, which has put the IMF and EU at loggerheads over the need for debt relief in order to ensure an economic recovery, and the government’s ability to repay its loans. The eurozone is under heavy pressure to end the feud in order to avert a chaotic default and inflicting damage on an already stalled Greek recovery. Greece has about €7 billion in debt repayments due in July. All the key officials involved in the talks are expected to be in Washington next week to attend the IMF and World Bank annual meetings.
Every year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL produces a new energy flow chart showing the sources of US energy, what it’s used for, and how much of it is wasted. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a bit of a mind-blower. Behold US energy in 2016: So much information in so little space! (It’s worth zooming in on a larger version.)
[..] a British thermal unit (BTU) is a standard unit of energy — the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. If you prefer the metric system, a BTU is about 1055 joules of energy. A “quad” is one quadrillion (a thousand trillion) BTUs. [..] a few things equivalent to a quad: 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline, 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), 36,000,000 metric tons of coal The US consumed 97.3 quads in 2016, an amount that has stayed roughly steady (within a quad or so) since 2000.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the spaghetti diagram — what everyone notices the first time they see it — is the enormous amount of “rejected” energy. Not just some, but almost two-thirds of the potential energy embedded in our energy sources ended up wasted in 2016. (And note that some scholars think LLNL is being too optimistic, and that the US is not even 31% efficient but more like 13%.) What’s more, the US economy is trending less and less efficient over time. Here’s the spaghetti diagram from 1970 (LLNL has been at this a long time):
Back then, we only wasted half our energy! It’s important to put this waste in context. It is not mainly about personal behavior or inefficient energy end use — keeping cars idling or leaving the lights on, that kind of thing. That’s a part of it, but at a deeper level, waste is all about system design. The decline in overall efficiency in the US economy mainly has to do with the increasing role of inefficient energy systems. Specifically, the years since 1970 have seen a substantial increase in electricity consumption and private vehicles for transportation, two energy services that are particularly inefficient. (Electricity wastes two-thirds of its primary energy; transportation wastes about three-quarters.)
There is loss inherent in any system that converts raw materials to usable energy, or transports or uses energy, of course. That follows from the second law of thermodynamics. And it’s true both narrowly (a car is an energy system) and broadly (a city is an energy system). It’s not possible to achieve perfect efficiency, or anything close to it. But surely we can do better than 31%! Sixty-six quads is a truly mind-boggling amount of energy to vent into the atmosphere for no good purpose. It really highlights the enormous potential of better-designed systems — especially better electricity and transport systems, along with better urban systems (i.e., cities) — to contribute to the country’s carbon reduction goals. We could double our energy use, with no increase in carbon emissions, just by halving our energy waste.
I like this, and it’s high time energy became a part of economic modeling; Steve Keen is working on it too. BUT: to understand today’s predicaments, you have to look -seperately- at what has happened in financial markets. The debt binge was not a result of what went on with energy; it stood -and stands- on and by itself.
What if you realized that the fundamental economic framework of macroeconomics is insufficient to inform our most pressing concerns? The world is dynamic, in constant change, yet most economic models (even the most widely used “dynamic” model) lack fundamental feedbacks that govern long-term trends (e.g., regarding role of energy) and make assumptions that prevent the ability to describe important real-world phenomena (e.g., financial-induced recessions). Monetary models of finance and debt often assume that natural resources (energy, food, materials) and technology are not constraints on the economy. Energy scenario models often assume that economic growth, finance and debt will not be constraints on energy investment.
Energy and food costs have declined since industrialization, but no longer
These assumptions must be eliminated, and the modeling concepts must be integrated if we are to properly interpret the post-2008 macroeconomic situation: unprecedented low interest rates, high consumer and private debt, high asset valuations, and energy and food costs that are no longer declining. As we attempt to understand newer and more numerous options (e.g., electric cars, renewables, information) regarding energy system evolution, it is paramount to have internally consistent macro-scale models that take a systems approach that tracks flows and interdependencies among debt, employment, profits, wages, and biophysical quantities (e.g., natural resources and population). There is a tremendous research need to develop a framework to describe our contemporary and future macroeconomic situation that is consistent with both biophysical and economic principles. Unfortunately, this fundamental integration does not underpin our current thinking.
U.S. consumer costs of fundamental needs (energy, food, housing, transport) are no longer declining
• Debt is money.
• Money is created when commercial banks lend money to businesses, not when the U.S. Treasury prints money or when Federal Reserve Bank lowers interest rates. Those government and Fed actions are reactions to the creation or destruction of money (e.g., paying back loans) within the real economy.
• Businesses seek new loans when economic opportunities are present. Thus, a growing economy can support more debt.
• Economic opportunities are present when consumers have disposable income to spend (and when innovative technologies supplant old technologies, thus lowering prices, and enabling growth).
• Consumers have more money to spend when core needs (e.g., food, energy, housing) are getting cheaper relative to incomes. Thus, if these core needs are no longer getting cheaper, this is an indication of the lack of income growth to support business investment. In turn banks stop lending because there are fewer viable business opportunities.
• The conclusion is that without decreasing food and energy costs to consumers, real incomes do not rise.
• This is a viable explanation of the post-2008 economy, but one ignored by practically all policy makers, economists, and advisors!
A Spanish group which has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean since 2016 accused the EU’s border control agency Frontex on Wednesday of plotting to discredit private aid organisations in order to put off donors. Allegations by Frontex that donor-funded rescue vessels may have colluded with traffickers at the end of last year prompted Italian prosecutors to begin an informal investigation into their funding sources. “The declarations by Frontex and political authorities are intended to discredit our actions and erode our donors’ trust,” said Proactiva Open Arms head Riccardo Gatti. “They are trying to say that we support the smuggling or the traffickers themselves,” he said. In a report cited in December by the Financial Times daily, Frontex raised the possibility that traffickers were putting migrants out to sea in collusion with the private ships that recover them and bring them to Italy “like taxis”.
Prosecutors then publicly wondered at the amount of money being spent, though they stopped short of opening a formal probe. “We feel there’s someone who wants to put a spoke in our wheels, though we do not really know who is behind it,” Gatti said. The organization said it had nothing to hide. “We have 35,000 donors. Some are well known – like Pep Guardiola, the current manager of Manchester City – others are anonymous,” said Oscar Camps, Proactiva Open Arms director. He said the group had so far received €2.2 million euros in donations for an op in the Med that costs between €5,000 and €6,000 a day. Pro-Activa Open Arms also heavily criticized a deal signed in February between Italy and Libya which purportedly hopes to stem the flow of migrants from the coast of North Africa to Italy.
Gatti said the deal was made with only part of the 1,700 militias he said control Libya and would therefore be ineffective. Human rights watchers have also warned the accord would put the lives of those fleeing persecution and war in greater danger. “Everything is controlled by the militias in Libya, even the coast guard, and 30 percent of the financial flows in the country come from human trafficking,” he said. The deal is in doubt after it was suspended in March by Tripoli’s Court of Appeal. Nearly 25,000 migrants have been pulled to safety and brought to Italy since the beginning of the year in a sharp increase in arrivals.
At least 97 migrants were missing after their boat sank on Thursday off the Libyan coast, a navy spokesman said. Survivors said the missing include 15 women and five children, General Ayoub Qassem told AFP. He said the Libyan coastguard had rescued a further 23 migrants of various African nationalities just under 10 kilometres (6 miles) off the coast of Tripoli. The boat’s hull was completely destroyed and the survivors, all men, were found clinging to a flotation device, he said. Those who had disappeared were “probably dead”, but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Qassem added. An AFP photographer said survivors had been given food and medical care at Tripoli port before being transferred to a migrant centre east of the capital.
Six years since the revolution that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most of the migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300 km away. Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 migrants have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration said in late March. In the absence of an army or regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coastguards but are often themselves accused of complicity or even involvement in the lucrative people-smuggling business. More than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Libya during the first three months of the year, up from 18,000 during the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.
But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.
During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.