Mar 152017
 
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Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934

 

Yes, austerity really kills real people, and it kills the societies they live in. Let’s try and explain this in simple terms. It’s a simple topic after all. Austerity is a mere left-over from faith-based policies derived from shoddy economics, and economics is a shoddy field to begin with. The austerity imposed on and in several countries and their economies after 2008, and the consequences it has had in these economies, cannot fail to make you wonder what level of intelligence the politicians have who did the imposing, as well as the economists who advised them in the process.

We should certainly not forget that the people who make these decisions are never the ones affected by them. Austerity hurts the poor. For those who are living comfortably -which includes politicians and economists that “matter”-, austerity at worst means eating and living somewhat less luxuriously. For the poor, taken far enough, it will mean not eating at all, not being able to afford clothing, medical care, even housing. Doing without 10% of very little hits much harder than missing out on 10% of an abundance.

And even then there are differences, for instance between countries. The damage done to British housing, education and health care by successive headless chicken governments is very real, and it will require a huge effort to restore these systems, if that is possible at all. Still, if the British have any complaints about the austerity unleashed upon them, they should really take a look at Greece. As this graph of households having a hard time making ends meet makes painfully clear:

 

 

Britain ‘only’ suffers from economically illiterate politicians and economists. Greece, on top of that, has to cope with a currency it has no control over, and with the foreign -dare we say ‘occupying’?- powers that do. A currency that is geared exclusively to the benefit of the richer Eurozone nations. The biggest mistake in building the EU, and the Eurozone in particular, is that the possibility has been left open for the larger and richer nations to reign over the smaller and poorer almost limitlessly. These things only become clear when things get worse, but then they really do.

This ‘biggest mistake’ predicted the end of the ‘union’ from the very moment it was established; all it will take is time, and comprehension. Eurozone rules say a country’s public debt cannot exceed 60% and its deficit must remain less than 3%. Rules that have been broken left right and center, including by the rich, Germany, France, who were never punished for doing so. The poor are.

These limits are completely arbitrary. They come from the text books of the same clueless cabal of economists that the entire Euro façade is based on. The same cabal also who now demand a 3.5% Greek budget surplus into infinity, the worst thing that can happen to an already impoverished economy, because it means even more money must flow out of an entity that already has none.

But let’s narrow our focus to austerity itself, and what makes it such a disaster. And then after that, we’ll take it a step further. We can blame economists for this mess, and hapless politicians, but that’s not the whole story; in the end they’re just messenger boys and girls. First though, here’s what austerity does. Let’s start with Ed Harrison talking about some revealing data that Matt Klein posted on FT Alphaville about comparing post-2008 Greece to emerging economies:

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies

Here’s how Matt put it: “Greece had a very different post-crisis experience: it never recovered. By contrast, all the other countries were well past their pre-crisis peak after this much time had elapsed. On average, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have outperformed Greece by more than 40 percentage points after nine years.”

.. unlike those countries, Greece lacked the ability to use the exchange rate as a shock absorber. So while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms – about 45% in GDP per person – Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece. The net effect is that Greece had a relatively typical crisis in dollars but an unprecedently painful one in the terms that matter most”.

[..] Greece doesn’t have its own currency so the currency can’t depreciate. Greece must use the internal devaluation route, which makes its labor, goods and services cheaper through a deflationary path – and that is very destructive to demand, to growth, and to credit.

[..] it’s not about reforms, people. It’s about growth. And the euro – and the policies tied to membership – is anti-growth, particularly for a country like Greece that is forced to hit an unrealistic 3.5% primary surplus indefinitely.

 

Another good report came from the WaPo at about the same time Ed wrote his piece, some 4 weeks ago. After Matt Klein showing how hard austerity hit Greece compared to emerging economies, Matt O’Brien shows us how austerity hit multiple Eurozone countries, compared to what would have happened if they had not cut spending (or introduced the euro). It is damning.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought

Cutting spending, you see, shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can cut interest rates too. That’s because lower borrowing costs can stimulate the economy just as much as lower government spending slows it down. What happens, though, if interest rates are already zero, or, even worse, you’re part of a currency union that means you can’t devalue your way out of trouble? Well, nothing good.

House, Tesar and Proebsting calculated how much each European economy grew — or, more to the point, shrank — between the time they started cutting their budgets in 2010 and the end of 2014, and then compared it with what actually realistic models say would have happened if they hadn’t done austerity or adopted the euro.

According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1% instead of the 18% they did if they hadn’t slashed spending; by only 7% if they’d kept their drachmas, pounds, liras, escudos, pesetas and the ability to devalue that went along with them if they hadn’t become a part of the common currency and outsourced those decisions to Frankfurt; and only would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn’t tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced.

In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.

[..] the euro really has been a doomsday device for turning recessions into depressions. It’s not just that it caused the crisis by keeping money too loose for Greece and the rest of them during the boom and too tight for them during the bust. It’s also that it forced a lot of this austerity on them. Think about it like this. Countries that can print their own money never have to default on their debts – they can always inflate them away instead – but ones that can’t, because, say, they share a common currency, might have to.

Just the possibility of that, though, can be enough to make it a reality. If markets are worried that you might not be able to pay back your debts, they’ll make you pay a higher interest rate on them – which might make it so that you really can’t.

In other words, the euro can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy where countries can’t afford to spend any more even though spending any less will only make everything worse.

That’s actually a pretty good description of what happened until the ECB belatedly announced that it would do “whatever it takes” to put an end to this in 2012. Which was enough to get investors to stop pushing austerity, but, alas, not politicians. It’s a good reminder that you should never doubt that a small group of committed ideologues can destroy the economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

 

So those are the outcomes, But what’s the theory, where does the “small group of committed ideologues” go so wrong? Let’s go really basic and simple. Last week, Britsh economist Ann Pettifor, promoting her new book “The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers”, said this to Vogue:

Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

Around the same time, Ann wrote in the Guardian:

[..] the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

[..] If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

In other words, when faced with economic hard times, a government should not cut spending, it should increase it -and it can-. Because cutting spending is sure to make things worse. At the same time of course, this is not an option available to Greece, because it has ceded control of its currency, and therefore its economy, to a largely unaccountable and faceless cabal that couldn’t care less what happens in the country.

All they care about is that the debts the banks in the rich part of the eurozone incurred can be moved onto someone else’s shoulders. Which is where -most of- Greece’s crisis came from to begin with. And so, yes, Germany and Holland and France are sitting sort of pretty, because they prevented a banking crisis from happening at home; they transferred it to Greece’s pensioners and unemployed youth. The ‘model’ of the Eurozone allows them to do this. Coincidence? Bug or feature?

 

 

Oh, and it’s not only Greece, though it’s by far the hardest hit. Read Roberto Centeno in the Express below. Reminds me of Greeks friends saying: “In 2010, we were told we had €160 billion or so in debt, and we needed a bailout. Now we have over €600 billion in debt, they say. How is that possible? What happened? What was that bailout for?”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years. And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. [..] He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory. “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

 

 

But then it’s time to move on, courtesy of Michael Hudson, prominent economist, who should be a guest of honor, at the very least, at every Eurogroup meeting. You know, to give Dijsselbloem and Schäuble a reality check. Michael shines a whole different additional light on European austerity policies. This is from an interview with Sharmini Peries:

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt

MICHAEL HUDSON: You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015.

It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

[..] for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy.

As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink.

 

So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay. When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities.

[..] If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece.

So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

Sharmini Peries: Greece has now said, no more austerity measures. We’re not going to agree to them. So, this is going to amount to an impasse that is not going to be resolvable. Should Greece exit the euro?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, it should, but the question is how should it do it, and on what terms? The problem is not only leaving the euro. The problem really is the foreign debt that was bad debt that it was loaded onto by the Eurozone. If you leave the euro and still pay the foreign debt, then you’re still in a permanent depression from which you can never exit. There’s a broad moral principle here: If you lend money to a country that your statistics show cannot pay the debt, is there really a moral obligation to pay the debt? Greece did have a commission two years ago saying that this debt is odious. But it’s not enough just to say there’s an odious debt. You have to have something more positive.

[..] what is needed is a Declaration of Rights. Just as the Westphalia rules in 1648, a Universal Declaration that countries should not be attacked in war, that countries should not be overthrown by other countries. I think, the Declaration of International Law has to realize that no country should be obliged to impose poverty on its population, and sell off the public domain in order to pay its foreign creditors.

[..] the looming problem is that you have to pay debts that are so far beyond your ability to pay that you’ll end up like Haiti did after it rebelled after the French Revolution.

[..] A few years after that, in 1824, Greece had a revolution and found the same problem. It borrowed from the Ricardo brothers, the brothers of David Ricardo, the economist and lobbyist for the bankers in London. Just like the IMF, he said that any country can afford to repay its debts, because of automatic stabilization. Ricardo came out with a junk economics theory that is still held by the IMF and the European Union today, saying that indebted countries can automatically pay.

Well, Greece ended up taking on an enormous debt, paying interest but still defaulting again and again. Each time it had to give up more sovereignty. The result was basically a constant depression. Slow growth is what retarded Greece and much of the rest of southern Europe. So unless they tackle the debt problem, membership in the Eurozone or the European Union is really secondary.

There is no such question as “why did austerity fail ‘in a particular case'”?. Austerity always fails. You could perhaps come up with a theoretical example in which a society greatly overspends and toning down spending might balance some things, but other than that, and nothing in what we see today resembles such an example, austerity can only work out badly. And that’s before, as Michael Hudson suggests, austerity is used as a means to conquer people and countries in a financial warfare setting.

This is because our economies (as measured in GDP) are 60-70% dependent on consumer spending. Ergo, when you force consumer spending down through austerity measures, GDP must and will of necessity come down with it. And if you cut spending, stores will close, and then their suppliers will, and they will fire their workers, which will further cut consumer spending etc. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

There is a lot of talk about boosting exports etc., but exports make up only a relatively small part of most economies, even in the US, compared to domestic consumption. As still is the case in virtually every economy, more exports will never make up for what you lose by severely cutting wages and pensions while at the same time raising taxes across the board (Greek reality). The only possible result from this is misery and lower government revenues, in a vicious circle, dragging an economy ever further down.

Since this is so obvious a 5-year old can figure it out in 5 minutes, the reason for imposing the kind of austerity measures that the Eurogroup has unleashed upon Greece must inevitably be questioned in the way professor Hudson does. If someone owes you a substantial amount of money, the last thing you want to do is make sure they cannot pay it back. You want such a person to have a -good- job, a source of income, that pays enough so that they can pay you back. Unless you have your eyes on their home, their car, their daughters, their assets.

What the EU and IMF do with Greece is the exact opposite of that. They’re making sure that Greece gets poorer every day, and the Greeks get poorer, ensuring that the debt, whether it’s odious or not -and that is a very valid question-, will never be paid back. And then they can move in and snap up all of the country’s -rich- resources on the cheap. But in the process, they create a very unstable country, something that may seem to be to their benefit but will blow up in their faces.

It’s not the first time that I say the EU and the US would be well advised to ensure Greece is a stable society, but they all continue to forcibly lead the cradle of democracy in the exact opposite direction.

The best metaphor I can think of is: Austerity is like bloodletting in the Middle Ages, only with a lower success rate.

 

 

Feb 282017
 
 February 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Ben Shahn L.F. Kitts general store in Maynardville, Tennessee 1935

 


A Hole in the Head (Jim Kunstler)
Trump’s Fed Can Start a Central Bank Revolution (BBG)
Trump Puts Final Touches on Speech Focusing on Economy, Defense (BBG)
Number Of Distressed US Retailers At Highest Level Since Great Recession (MW)
The Housing Crisis (Renegade)
China’s Continuing Credit Boom (NYFed)
ADB Says Emerging Asia Infrastructure Needs $26 Trillion by 2030 (BBG)
Greece Said to Expect Revised Bailout Proposal for Tuesday Talks
French Court Probes Leave Le Pen Unscathed as Fillon Bid Falters (BBG)
Shell 1991 Film Warned Of Climate Change Danger (G.)
Britain’s Child Migrant Program: Why 130,000 Children Were Shipped Abroad (G.)
Slavery Claims As UK Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Opens (AFP)

 

 

Theory vs practice is a worthy discussion….

A Hole in the Head (Jim Kunstler)

We need a new civil war like we need a hole in the head. But that’s just it: America has a hole in its head. It’s the place formerly known as The Center. It didn’t hold. It was the place where people of differing views could rely on each other to behave reasonably around a touchstone called the National Interest. That abandoned place is now cordoned off, a Chernobyl of the mind, where figures on each side of the political margin fear to even sojourn, let alone occupy, lest they go radioactive. Anyway, the old parties at each side of the political transect, are melting down in equivalent fugues of delusion, rage, and impotence — as predicted here through the election year of 2016. They can’t make anything good happen in the National Interest.

They can’t control the runaway rackets that they engineered in legislation, policy, and practice under the dominion of each party, by turns, going back to Lyndon B. Johnson, and so they have driven themselves and each other insane. Trump and Hillary perfectly embodied the climactic stage of each party before their final mutual sprint to collapse. Both had more than a tinge of the psychopath. Trump is the bluff that the Republicans called on themselves, having jettisoned anything identifiable as coherent principles translatable to useful action. Hillary was an American Lady Macbeth attempting to pull off the ultimate inside job by any means necessary, her wickedness so plain to see that even the voters picked up on it. These two are the old parties’ revenge on each other, and on themselves, for decades of bad choices and bad faith.

[..] Something like this has happened before in US history and it may be cyclical. The former Princeton University professor and President, Woodrow Wilson, dragged America into the First World War, which killed over 53,000 Americans (as many as Vietnam) in only eighteen months. He promulgated the Red Scare, a bit of hysteria not unlike the Race and Gender Phobia Accusation Fest on the Left today. Professor Wilson was also responsible for creating the Federal Reserve and all the mischief it has entailed, especially the loss of over 90% of the dollar’s value since 1913. Wilson, the perfect IYI of that day.

The reaction to Wilson was Warren Gamaliel Harding, the hard-drinking, card-playing Ohio Main Street boob picked in the notorious “smoke-filled room” of the 1920 GOP convention. He invoked a return to “normalcy,” which was not even a word (try normality), and was laughed at as we now laugh at Trump for his idiotic utterances such as “win bigly” (or is that big league?). Harding is also known for confessing in a letter: “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” Yet, in his brief term (died in office, 1923), Harding navigated the country successfully through a fierce post-World War One depression simply by not resorting to government intervention.

Read more …

… also when it comes to the Fed.

Trump’s Fed Can Start a Central Bank Revolution (BBG)

President Donald Trump will select three members of the Federal Reserve board during his term in office, including a replacement chair for Janet Yellen when her appointment expires early next year. He should seize the chance to refresh the Fed with faces from the business community, adding executives to the roster of PhD economists who currently run monetary policy in most of the world. The Fed appointments come at a key juncture in U.S. economic policy, one that makes business knowhow an even more valuable commodity for a rate-setter than usual. Trump’s fiscal policies will set a new backdrop for the monetary policy environment, given his intention to cut personal and business tax rates and boost investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

So appointing executives to the Fed who’ve had to take fiscal and monetary policy into account when making decisions on where and when to build new factories or make other capital expenditure decisions makes sense. Torsten Slok, the chief international economist for Deutsche Bank, sent around a chart last week showing how the composition of the Fed has become increasingly focused on PhD economists: It’s little wonder that in this populist age central bank independence is under attack. As Bloomberg News reported on Monday, the rise of populism is putting pressure on central banks as “institutions stuffed with unelected technocrats wielding the power to affect the economic fate of millions.” Leavening the boards of policy makers with executives who’ve made hiring and firing decisions and have helped build companies would be a way to address the perception that decisions about borrowing costs are made in ivory towers by economists who’ve all read the same textbooks but don’t inhabit the same world as the people they’re supposed to serve.

Read more …

Entertainment 2017-style.

Trump Puts Final Touches on Speech Focusing on Economy, Defense (BBG)

President Donald Trump was still working Monday evening on the final touches of an address to Congress that will focus on economic opportunity and national security, administration officials said. The officials, who briefed reporters on the eve of the address on the condition of anonymity, said the speech will offer a vision of where Trump wants to take the country as well as an early accounting of campaign promises he has already delivered on through executive actions such as the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. They declined to say whether the president would offer more concrete proposals on major goals, such as rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, rewriting the tax code and replacing the Obamacare health plan.

Trump’s speech comes as the new president tries to stabilize his administration after a turbulent start marked by struggles implementing an initial flurry of executive orders and a controversy over contacts between Trump advisers and Russian officials that led to the resignation of his national security adviser. While Trump’s inauguration speech offered a gloomy portrait of an America racked by violence and economic decay, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Monday that the address to Congress will strive for an optimistic vision focused on “the renewal of the American spirit.”

Surveys show a deep partisan divide over the president’s performance. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Monday showed Trump’s approval rating at 44% – a record low for a new president. But 85% of Republicans see Trump favorably, versus just 9% of Democrats. National security was the key theme of an early glimpse of the budget the White House offered on Monday. Administration officials said the president’s first budget would seek to boost defense spending by $54 billion – offset by an equivalent cut from other discretionary spending.

Read more …

How to kill a city part 827.

Number Of Distressed US Retailers At Highest Level Since Great Recession (MW)

The number of U.S. retailers ranked at the most-distressed level of the credit-rating spectrum has more than tripled since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and is heading toward record levels in the next five years, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday. The rating agency is the latest to weigh in on the state of the sector, and has 19 names in its retail and apparel portfolio, 14% of which are now trading at Caa/Ca. That’s deep into speculative, or “junk,” territory. It’s also a percentage close to the 16% considered distressed during the 2008/2009 period, said a Moody’s report led by retail analyst Charles O’Shea. The rise is part of a wider trend affecting sectors across Moody’s coverage that has retail replacing oil and gas as the most-troubled industry.

Retailers are in the midst of a secular shift to online sales led by juggernaut Amazon.com and that’s forcing many of them to spend heavily on their e-commerce operations. At the same time, mall traffic has slowed dramatically as consumer behavior changes, forcing many to discount heavily, hurting profit margins. The 19 issuers on Moody’s list have more than $3.7 billion of debt maturing in the next five years, with about 30% of that total coming due by the end of 2018. The number is even higher when private credit is included. “While credit markets continue to provide ready access for companies spanning the rating spectrum—allowing many to proactively refinance debt and bolster balance sheets—that could change abruptly if market conditions or investor sentiment shift,” said O’Shea.

Read more …

How to kill a city part 828.

The Housing Crisis (Renegade)

Why is UK housing now so out of reach for so many people? Yes, property has been a safe bet, but we ask what are the economic risks and the social side effects of ever-increasing house prices? Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by Dr Rebecca Ross and economist Professor Steve Keen.

Read more …

These numbers are beyond fantasy.

China’s Continuing Credit Boom (NYFed)

Debt in China has increased dramatically in recent years, accounting for roughly one-half of all new credit created globally since 2005. The country’s share of total global credit is nearly 25%, up from 5% ten years ago. By some measures (as documented below), China’s credit boom has reached the point where countries typically encounter financial stress, which could spill over to international markets given the size of the Chinese economy. To better understand the associated risks, it is important to examine the drivers of China’s expansion in credit, the increasing complexity of its financial system, and evidence that its supply of credit may be growing more rapidly than reported. Note, however, that there are several features of China’s financial system that reduce the threat of a financial disruption.

Nonfinancial debt in China has increased from roughly $3 trillion at the end of 2005 to nearly $22 trillion, while banking system assets have increased sixfold over the same period to over 300% of GDP. In 2016 alone, credit outstanding increased by more than $3 trillion, with the pace of growth still roughly twice that of nominal GDP. As a result, the “credit-to-GDP gap”—the difference between the debt-to-GDP ratio and its long-run trend—has reached almost 30 percentage points. The international experience suggests that such a rapid buildup is often followed by stress in domestic banking systems. Roughly one-third of boom cases end up in financial crises and another third precede extended periods of below-trend economic growth.

As seen in the chart below, rising nonfinancial sector debt was driven initially by a surge in corporate borrowing in response to the global financial crisis. This additional debt was comprised mostly of medium- and long-term corporate loans related to infrastructure and property projects.

Read more …

Better start printing then.

ADB Says Emerging Asia Infrastructure Needs $26 Trillion by 2030 (BBG)

Asia’s infrastructure race is just getting started. Emerging economies across the region will need to invest as much as $26 trillion on building everything from transport networks to clean water through 2030 to maintain growth, eradicate poverty and offset climate change. That’s according to an Asian Development Bank report released Tuesday that highlights the need for massive construction and upgrading of public works and for much greater private sector investment. Leaving out spending to mitigate climate change, some $22.6 trillion will still be needed over the same period, the ADB said. Big-ticket investment of $14.7 trillion is needed for power, $8.4 trillion for transport, $2.3 trillion for telecommunication costs and $800 billion for water and sanitation, adjusted for climate change.

The bulk of infrastructure work is needed in East Asia, which accounts for 61% of the ADB estimate. As a percentage of GDP, the Pacific leads all other sub regions needing investment valued at 9.1% of GDP, followed by South Asia at 8.8%. The new projection of a $1.7 trillion annual infrastructure need, adjusted for climate change, is more than double the $750 billion that the Manila-based development bank estimated in 2009–though the latest report looks at 45 of the ADB’s developing members compared with 32 last time and uses 2015 prices compared to 2008 ones.

Read more …

Hard to see how this sadistic play can survive the various elections.

Greece Said to Expect Revised Bailout Proposal for Tuesday Talks

Greece’s auditors are pulling together a list of policies the country needs to implement to unlock additional bailout funds as they prepare for the resumption of talks with Athens on Tuesday, two people familiar with the matter said. Greece has asked European lenders for a draft Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding and the IMF for a Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies as it braces for details of creditor demands, the people said, declining to be identified as negotiations between the two sides aren’t public. The government expects an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home, they said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government last Monday agreed to legislate structural reforms demanded by the IMF that will lower the threshold of tax-free income and amend the pension system by 2019, effectively crossing what it had once characterized as a red line. The government says the deal won’t increase austerity since the new legislation will include stimulus measures in addition to belt-tightening reforms. Tsipras told lawmakers on Friday that the bailout review can be completed by March 20 when euro–area finance ministers are set to meet in Brussels. It could drag on to the next Eurogroup meeting on April 7th given the number of outstanding issues that need to be resolved, the people said. Greece is looking for a “global deal” by May that would also include potential decisions on medium-term debt-relief measures and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s debt-purchase program.

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Because Fillon is the establishment.

French Court Probes Leave Le Pen Unscathed as Fillon Bid Falters (BBG)

Prosecutors’ interventions in the French election have so far done more damage to the establishment’s one-time champion than the nationalist firebrand vowing to overthrow the system. The Republican Francois Fillon and National Front leader Marine Le Pen both say the criminal probes they face are political plots against them, but it’s only Fillon, a church-going 62-year-old former prime minister, who has been set back by the allegations. Le Pen’s suspected misuse of her allowance from the European Parliament hasn’t hurt her at all. “The National Fronts is seen as persecuted by the system so their supporters think that if everyone else has gotten rich of the system, it’s good for them to get some of that money back,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist linked to the Jean Jaures research institute.

“Fillon tried to use the conspiracy angle but it doesn’t work because he’s from the system.” On Tuesday, a committee of lawmakers in Brussels will consider a request from the French courts to strip Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity over two separate cases of defamation and publishing violent images of Islamic State killings on Twitter. The committee is due to release its recommendations to the EU parliament next week, and the full chamber will vote on the issue later in March. Le Pen is battling a range of mainstream politicians asking for one more chance to address voters’ concerns about lackluster economic growth and the perceived threat of immigration and terrorism. Instead, she’s offering voters a chance to upend the status quo by putting up border controls, stopping mass immigration and pulling out of the euro.

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This is a surprise to anyone?

Shell 1991 Film Warned Of Climate Change Danger (G.)

The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered. However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly. Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by the Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.” The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.

But, despite this early and clear-eyed view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals.

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What nation kicks out its own children…

Britain’s Child Migrant Program: Why 130,000 Children Were Shipped Abroad (G.)

More than 130,000 children were sent to a “better life” in former colonies, mainly Australia and Canada, from the 1920s to 1970s under the child migrant programme. The children, aged between three and 14, were almost invariably from deprived backgrounds and already in some form of social or charitable care. It was believed, they would lead happier lives. Charities such as Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society, the Anglican and Catholic churches and local authorities helped with the organisation of the emigration. Once there, the children were often told they were orphans to better facilitate their fresh start. The parents – many of them single mothers forced to give up their child for adoption because of poverty or social stigma – believed this was giving them best chance in life, though often did not have details of where their offspring were sent to.

The reality, for some of those children, was a childhood of servitude and hard labour at foster homes: on remote farms, at state-run orphanages and church-run institutions. They were often separated from siblings. Some were subjected to physical and sexual abuse. In 2010, the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, issued an official apology, expressing regret for the “misguided” programme, and telling the Commons: “To all those former child migrants and their families … we are truly sorry. They were let down. “We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back”. He announced a £6m fund to reunite families that had been torn apart. The last children sailed in 1967. But it is only recently, as their stories have been told, that details of the abuse, and the official sanction which made it possible, has become public.

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…only to have them enslaved and abused.

Slavery Claims As UK Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Opens (AFP)

England’s mammoth inquiry into historical child sex abuse was told of the “torture, rape and slavery” suffered by child migrants shipped to Australia, at its first public hearings on Monday. The wide-ranging Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse opened by looking at the schemes that sent thousands of vulnerable children to far-flung parts of the Commonwealth in the decades after World War II. David Hill broke down as he told the inquiry of the “endemic” sexual abuse at the school he was sent to in Australia. “I hope this inquiry can promote an understanding of the long-term consequences and suffering of those who were sexually abused,” he said. “Many never recover and are permanently afflicted with guilt, shame, diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem, fear and trauma.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May set up the inquiry in 2014 when she was interior minister. The British Empire sent some 150,000 children abroad over 350 years, according to a 1998 parliamentary study, although the probe started Monday by looking at use of the practice after World War II. It was justified as a means of slashing the costs of caring for lone children and providing disadvantaged young people with a fresh start, while meeting labour shortages in the Commonwealth and populating colonial-era lands with white British settlers. Between 1945 and 1970, youngsters were sent mainly to Australia, but also Canada, New Zealand and what is now Zimbabwe — often without the consent of their families.

But the promise of a good upbringing and an exciting new life in the sun was often, in reality, a world of forced labour, brutal treatment and sexual assault in remote institutions run by churches and charities. “They sent us to a place that was a living hell,” victim Clifford Walsh told the BBC. Oliver Cosgrove was sent to Australia in 1941, one of an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 children shipped there from 1922 to 1967. “Those who were abused tried in vain to tell others, who they hoped and believed might assist them. But they didn’t,” his representative told the inquiry. “This was a systematic and institutional problem.”

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Feb 232017
 
 February 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Jack Delano Colored drivers entrance, U.S. 1, NY Avenue, Washington, DC 1940

 


The Absolute Dominance Of The US Economy, In One Chart (MW)
Trump Scorns the IMF’s Globalism, and Now He Gets to Vote on It
The Problem with Gold-Backed Currencies (CHS)
What’s So Great About Europe? (BBG)
Italy Warned by EU Over High Public Debt With Spillover Risk (BBG)
‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’ (Exp.)
Why Greece’s Crisis Has Broken All Previous Records (K.)
Millions In UK Are Just One Unpaid Bill Away From The Abyss (G.)
Oz Reserve Bank Interest Rate Moves Limited By High Debt, House Prices (AbcAu)
Exxon Wiped A Whopping 19.3% Of Its Oil Reserves Off Its Books In 2016 (Q.)
Turkish Provocations Test Greek Resolve (K.)
Greece Okays Asylum Requests Of 10,000 Refugees (K.)

 

 

Not sure that’s what I get from the graph.

The Absolute Dominance Of The US Economy, In One Chart (MW)

Despite the bleak picture painted by President Donald Trump of the U.S. as a country in disarray, America’s status as an economic superpower is still very much intact, even as China steadily closes the gap. The U.S. economy, as measured by GDP, is by far the largest in the world at $18.04 trillion. China, the closest thing the U.S. has for a competitor, is No. 2 with a GDP of $11 trillion, while Japan is a distant third with $4.38 trillion. As the chart by HowMuch.net illustrates, the U.S. accounts for about a quarter of the global economy, nearly 10 percentage points more than China’s 14.84%. Put another way, the U.S. economy is roughly equivalent to the combined GDPs of the eight next-biggest countries after China — Japan, Germany, the U.K., France, India, Italy, Brazil and Canada.

However, the narrative shifts when countries are grouped by geography, with Asia clearly in the lead. The region, denoted in yellow in the chart, contributed 33.84% to the global GDP. “Asia’s economic center of gravity is in the east, with China, Japan and South Korea together generating almost as much GDP as the U.S.,” said Raul Amoros at HowMuch.net. North America follows Asia at 27.95%, and Europe trails at 21.37%. The three blocs combined represent about 83% of the world’s economic activity. The chart also highlights the chasm between wealthy and poor countries. South America’s four largest economies — Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia — only add up to 4% of the global GDP, while Africa’s three biggest — South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria — account for around 1.5%.

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I picked the last bit of the article.

Trump Scorns the IMF’s Globalism, and Now He Gets to Vote on It

The IMF has already survived one major mission-change. It’s known today as the lender of last resort to countries facing balance-of-payments crises. But in its first three decades, the Fund managed the world’s currency order. That was the role assigned at Bretton Woods in 1944, when the IMF and World Bank were set up. Forty-five nations attended the summit, but two men dominated it: John Maynard Keynes and America’s Harry Dexter White. From the back of her car in Uganda, Lagarde calls them the “founding fathers.” Their goal was to avoid a repeat of the 1930s, when competitive devaluations and tariff wars led to the collapse of world trade. Keynes wanted the IMF to act as a central bank of central banks, denominating their accounts in a new global currency. It would let members devalue or borrow with relative ease. Both creditors and debtors would pay interest on their holdings, discouraging large trade surpluses as well as deficits.

White’s plan was more creditor-friendly, reflecting the U.S. position as world lender. There would be no new currency: IMF members would tie their money to the dollar. They couldn’t devalue without consulting the Fund, and were only supposed to borrow short-term to close balance-of-payments gaps. “The British wanted an automatic source of credit, the Americans a financial policeman,” wrote Keynes’s biographer Robert Skidelsky. The English economist was one of the 20th century’s sharpest thinkers, but it was the U.S. Treasury official who got his way. The system turned out to have a flaw: It depended on the supply of U.S. dollars backed by gold. That link came under pressure as America, financing social programs at home and war in Vietnam, slipped into persistent deficit. In 1971, President Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, ending phase one at the IMF.

Today there’s a patchwork of floating rates, pegs and currency unions like the euro. It’s not working to everyone’s satisfaction – notably Trump’s. His team has called out several countries, from China to Germany, for gaming the system. Money courses around that system on a scale that would have been unimaginable at Bretton Woods. Massive trade imbalances built up. The dollar remains central. The risks were laid bare in 2008, when a collapsed U.S. housing bubble led to world recession. Since then, some financial leaders – among them the governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, and his U.K. counterpart Mark Carney – have gently hinted that something more like Keynes’s plan might be in order, to reduce the world’s dollar dependency.

Lagarde doesn’t see that happening on her watch. “It didn’t happen in 1944, when the world had destroyed itself,” she said. “I’m not a dreamer.” She argues instead that what the IMF is doing today will remain useful tomorrow. Countries will always be getting in a financial mess. Someone has to clean it up. Ukraine needed money in 2015: without the IMF, “where would the $17.5 billion come from? Whose pocket would it be?”

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The curse of the reserve currency. And if you look a bit deeper, any gold-backed currency.

The Problem with Gold-Backed Currencies (CHS)

There is something intuitively appealing about the idea of a gold-backed currency –money backed by the tangible value of gold, i.e. “the gold standard.” Instead of intrinsically worthless paper money (fiat currency), gold-backed money would have real, enduring value–it would be “hard currency”, i.e. sound money, because it would be convertible to gold itself. Many proponents of sound money identify President Nixon’s ending of the U.S. dollar’s gold standard in 1971 as the cause of the nation’s financial decline. If our currency was still convertible to gold, the thinking goes, the system would never have allowed the vast pile of debt to accumulate. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is disconnected from the real-world mechanisms of capital flows and the way money is created in our financial system.

This article explains why Nixon took the USD off the gold standard: since the U.S. was running trade deficits, all of America’s gold would have been transferred to the exporting nations. America’s gold reserves would have disappeared, leaving nothing to back the dollar. The U.S. Empire Would Have Collapsed Decades Ago If It Didn’t Abandon The Gold Standard. The problem to sound-money proponents is trade deficits: if the U.S. only had trade surpluses, then the gold would not drain away. But Triffin’s Paradox explains why this doesn’t work for a reserve currency: a reserve currency has two distinct sets of users: domestic users and global users. Each has different needs, so there is a built-in conflict between the two sets of users.

Global users of the USD need enormous quantities of dollars to use as reserves, to pay debts denominated in USD and to facilitate international trade. The only way the issuing nation can provide enough currency to meet this global demand is to run large, permanent trade deficits–in effect, “exporting” dollars in exchange for goods and services. This is the paradox: to maintain the “exorbitant privilege” of a reserve currency, a nation must “export” its currency in size; a nation that runs trade surpluses cannot supply the world with enough of its currency to act as a reserve currency.

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That is one damning set of numbers.

What’s So Great About Europe? (BBG)

A woman said that maybe the problem with the European Union – or at least the common currency, the euro – was that it was too advantageous to Germany. “Because we have a common currency, we get an edge in exports,” she said. “I profit from this. Thanks!” “Do you think this is harming our neighbor countries?” Armbruster asked. “Yes, definitely,” she responded. “Germany was always a problem in Europe,” interjected Andre Wilkens, a Berlin-based policy wonk who was one of the evening’s featured speakers but mostly sat and listened. “The EU was formed to solve that problem.” Others got up to say that Europe needed more solidarity, with Germans leading the way. It needed more of a sense of community. More attention needed to be paid to the millions of jobless young people in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Then things shifted to straight-out Euroenthusiasm. “To be totally honest, I think Europe is super,” said a woman sitting in the front row. Added a man a few rows back: “There are problems that we Germans alone can’t solve.” By working together with the rest of Europe, he went on, Germany had a better shot at fighting climate change and preventing war. It isn’t exactly news that a bunch of people gathered in a theater in downtown Stuttgart support the idea of Europe and even, for the most part, the reality of the European Union. The home of Daimler, Porsche and Robert Bosch is one of the continent’s great economic success stories – and its residents’ political views aren’t necessarily shared by other Germans. On the whole, Germans see the EU in a more positive light than the citizens of most other European countries (I’ve included the 10 most populous EU member countries in the chart below), but they’re still pretty negative about it.

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All Italy can do is pretend. And Brussels likes it that way.

Italy Warned by EU Over High Public Debt With Spillover Risk (BBG)

The European Commission warned that Italy faces excessive economic imbalances as the country’s shaky center-left government struggles to control public debt, boost sluggish growth and mend ailing banks. Troubles including soured bank loans risk spilling into other euro-area countries, the commission said on Wednesday. Italy’s public debt is projected to rise to 133.3% of gross domestic product this year from an estimated 132.8% in 2016. “High government debt and protracted weak productivity dynamics imply risks with cross-border relevance looking forward, in a context of high non-performing loans and unemployment,” the European Union’s executive arm in Brussels said in a set of annual policy recommendations to EU governments. Italy is struggling to maintain government stability amid infighting in the ruling Democratic Party, where some members are pushing for early elections.

The country also faces sluggish GDP growth of 0.9% this year and lingering issues at domestic banks, which are weighed down by €360 billion of bad loans that have eroded profitability, undermined investor confidence and curtailed new lending. “The stock of non-performing loans has only started to stabilize and still weighs on banks’ profits and lending policies, while capitalization needs may emerge in a context of difficult access to equity markets,” the commission said. In May it plans to recommend whether Italy should be subject to a stricter oversight regime – one with fines as a last resort – for failing to keep public debt on a trajectory toward the EU limit of 60% of GDP. The assessment will take into account final economic data for 2016 and Italian government pledges to adopt by the end of April budget-austerity measures worth 0.2% of GDP.

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“We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory..”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’ (Exp.)

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years.And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. And that current Prime Minister Rajoy has employed 2500 special advisors in his central government as opposed to other leaders. He said: ”Our economic future requires drastic decisions to cut public waste, such as eliminating thousands of useless public companies, thousands of useless advisers, [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy has 2,500 in Moncloa, compared to Obama’s 600, Merkel’s 400 or the 250 working for Theresa May.

“There’s disastrous management of Health and Education, the cost of which has skyrocketed 60 per cent since they were transferred to the Autonomous Communities while the quality plummeted.” Mr Centento also said the Government and the European Union’s estimations of GDP are completely wrong and has presented them with figures he claims are accurate. He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory, “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

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A feature not a bug.

Why Greece’s Crisis Has Broken All Previous Records (K.)

How unique is the Greek crisis? Two charts tell the tragic tale. The first – from the International Monetary Fund’s recent Article IV report on Greece – compares four major economic crises that took place in the developed world in the last 100 years: the Great Depression in the United States, the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, the eurozone recession and Greece’s long collapse. Greece’s performance is by far the worse. The East Asian countries caught in the hurricane of 1997-8 returned to pre-crisis real GDP within three years. The eurozone needed six years, and today its real GDP is only 2% higher than the pre-crisis high point. The output of the US economy had shrunk by a quarter three years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but by 1936 it had recovered to pre-crisis levels. The Greek economy contracted by 26% in real terms between 2007 and 2013, and at the end of 2016 – nine years after the start of its own Great Depression – it remained stuck at the bottom.

The second chart, from the analysis service Macropolis, compares the performance of eight countries that have sought assistance from the IMF since 1997 seven years after the start of their programs. The Fund’s best student was Turkey, which doubled its GDP in real terms between 2000 and 2007. Russia was a close second, largely thanks to growth fueled by climbing oil and gas prices. South Korea comes next, with growth well above 50% from its baseline year, while Indonesia, Brazil and Thailand are hovering around 25%. The only countries which remained below their pre-crisis GDP levels seven years after seeking the Fund’s assistance are Argentina (in the aftermath of the 1998-2002 crisis) and Greece. At its low point, three years into its crisis, Argentina’s dollar-denominated GDP – largely because of the devaluation of the peso after the abolition of convertibility – had fallen by two-thirds compared to pre-crisis highs. At the seven-year mark, Argentina, unlike Greece, was experiencing a robust recovery.

Focusing on the comparison with the Great Depression in the United States, US unemployment peaked in May 1933 at 26%, to be cut by more than half by the end of 1936. In Greece it reached 28% in July 2013, and has since fallen to 23%. The Dow Jones Industrial index lost 85% of its value between August 1929 and May 1932, but it rose fourfold in the three-and-a-half years to the end of 1936 (another 23 years would pass, however, before it got back to pre-crisis levels).

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No, it’s not just the EU, or the euro.

“..an economic climate that is normalising low-income families having to live hand to mouth..”

Millions In UK Are Just One Unpaid Bill Away From The Abyss (G.)

As the cocktail of long-term austerity, rising living costs and a slumping post-Brexit economy hits, what’s really frightening is the crisis that is brewing but is barely being noticed. Look at this week’s finding that one in four families now have less than £95 in savings. That’s staggering, not simply because it gives an insight into how large swaths of families in Britain are clinging on financially in a climate of low wages, cut benefits and high rents, but also because it offers us a warning of how little it will take to push them over the edge. There are now 19 million people in this country living below the minimum income standard (an income required for what the wider public view as “socially acceptable” living standards), according to figures released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) this month.

Around 8 million of them could be classed as Theresa May’s “just about managing” families: those who can, say, afford to put food on the table and clothe their children but are plagued by financial insecurity. The other 11 million live far below the minimum income standard and are, the JRF warns, “at high risk of falling into severe poverty”. We are entering a period not simply of growing hardship in this country but of what I would call precarious poverty: the sort that isn’t characterised by the traditional image of lifelong, deep-seated deprivation, but which can hit in a matter of days: a broken washing machine, a late child tax credit payment, an injury that leads to time off work. In an economic climate that is normalising low-income families having to live hand to mouth, increasingly, for a whole economic class, one small unexpected cost can trigger a spiral into debt.

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And now they’re stuck. This is where it gets risky.

Oz Reserve Bank Interest Rate Moves Limited By High Debt, House Prices (AbcAu)

Fears of inflating housing bubbles in Sydney and Melbourne are stopping the Reserve Bank from cutting interest rates to boost the economy, the central bank governor conceded today. The stark admission by Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe about the RBA’s dilemma comes as soaring house prices in the eastern states have Australians carrying “more debt than they ever have before”. Dr Lowe delivered the reality check at the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum, where he said low interest rates made it attractive for borrowers in both countries to invest in real estate, making further rate cuts an undesirable option. “We are trying to balance multiple objectives at the moment,” he said in response to questions after the speech.

“We’d like the economy to grow a bit more quickly and we’d like the unemployment rate to come down a bit more quickly than is currently forecast. “But if we were to try and achieve that through monetary policy it would encourage people to borrow more money and it probably would put more upward pressure on housing prices and, at the moment, I don’t think either of those two things are really in the national interest.” For the moment, it looks like the Reserve Bank feels content — or locked in — to leaving official interest rates on hold at a record low 1.5%. However, Dr Lowe expressed optimism that this level of rates was low enough to spark business investment and stronger economic growth, and therefore there would be no need to lower rates further.

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That’s a lot of (not) oil.

Exxon Wiped A Whopping 19.3% Of Its Oil Reserves Off Its Books In 2016 (Q.)

ExxonMobil has taken a big hit to one of the pillars underlying its decades of braggadocio: its oil reserves. In an announcement today, Exxon said it had written down its proven oil reserves by a massive 19.3%, a stinging reduction to what is a primary measure of any oil company’s value. As of the end of 2016, Exxon had 20 billion barrels in proven reserves, compared with 24.8 billion a year earlier. This includes the erasure of all 3.5 billion barrels of Exxon’s proven oil sands reserves at Canada’s Kearl field. Last year’s low oil prices made it uneconomical to drill at Kearl, which had been at the core of Exxon’s growth strategy. In addition, for the second straight year, Exxon failed to replace all the reserves it pumped—in 2016, it replaced just 65% of its produced reserves. In 2015, it replaced just 67%.

Prior to these years, Exxon had replaced at least 100% of its production every year since 1993. As bad as that was, it was expected: Exxon had signaled that it would write down reserves in 2016, and analysts had expected the company not to replace what it pumped. What wasn’t anticipated was the impact on Exxon’s vaunted longer-term performance. Almost every year, when Exxon announces its earnings, dividend payouts, reserve replacement results—and nearly any other important annual result—it throws in its 10-year record in the respective category to demonstrate its steady, reliable hand on the tiller. This time, bringing up the 10-year record backfired: The replacement failures of the last two years and the 2016 writedown punched a hole in Exxon’s vaunted 10-year reserves replacement average—it plunged to 82% in 2016, from 115% a year earlier.

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Simmering conflict.

Turkish Provocations Test Greek Resolve (K.)

The recent spike in Turkish provocations in the Aegean and incendiary comments emanating from Ankara are aimed at testing Greece’s resolve, according to Greek analysts. In what was seen as its latest transgression, Turkey dispatched its Cesme research vessel to conduct surveys on Wednesday in international waters between the islands of Thasos, Samothrace and Limnos, but within the area of responsibility of the Hellenic Search and Rescue Coordination Center. The night before, Turkish coast guard vessels conducted patrols in the region around the Imia islets. At the same time, the Cyprus talks are being undermined over what Greeks believe is a minor detail – the decision by the Cyprus Parliament for schools to commemorate a 1950 referendum calling for union with Greece.

Greeks say it is an attempt to shift attention from the fundamental issues of the peace talks, namely post-settlement security and guarantees. In response, Athens has pursued the principle of proportionality by countering the presence of Turkish military and coast guard vessels with an equivalent number of Greek ones, while embarking on a diplomatic campaign at international organizations and in major capitals. Analysts also attribute the spike in tension to the Supreme Court’s refusal to extradite the Turkish servicemen that Ankara says were involved in the July coup attempt. But they also note that it serves as a convenient pretext for Turkey to up the nationalistic rhetoric ahead of the April 16 referendum called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bid to expand his powers.

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Think maybe rich Europe has slipped Tsipras a few bucks?

Greece Okays Asylum Requests Of 10,000 Refugees (K.)

At least 10,000 refugees, including around 2,000 minors, are expected to remain in Greece over the coming three years as their asylum applications have been approved. The approved asylum claims account for about a sixth of more than 60,000 migrants who are currently stranded in Greece following the decision last year by a series of Balkan states to close their borders amid a massive influx of refugees from Syria and other war-torn states. The arrival of migrants in Greece has slowed significantly following an agreement between the European Union and Turkey in March last year to crack down on human smuggling across the Aegean.

However, boatloads of migrants continue to arrive on Greek shores from neighboring Turkey. On Wednesday, another 145 migrants arrived on the eastern Aegean island of Chios alone. Authorities attribute the sudden spike in arrivals to the unseasonably good weather. According to the Greek Asylum Service, a total of 1,912 migrants lodged asylum applications in January of this year. Last year, when hundreds of thousands of migrants flooded through Greece toward other parts of Europe, a total of 51,091 people applied for asylum in Greece, compared to 13,195 in 2015, 9,432 in 2014 and 4,814 in 2013.

Read more …

Dec 232016
 
 December 23, 2016  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Ben Shahn Quick lunch stand in Plain City, Ohio 1938


Donald Trump Can’t Stop The Next Financial Crisis – Jim Rickards (MW)
“Russia Did It” – The Last Stand Of The Neocons (GEFIRA)
94% Of All New Jobs Created During Obama Era Were Part-Time Or Contract (IC)
World Trade Falls to 2014 Level, Trump “Trade War” Might Make it Worse (WS)
Central Banks Have Cut Interest Rates 690 Times Since Lehman Brothers (CNBC)
Italian Government Rides To Rescue Of Stricken Bank Monte Dei Paschi (R.)
Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Agree Billion-Dollar Fines With US (CNBC)
US Sues Barclays For Alleged Mortgage Securities Fraud (R.)
Why The Chinese Are Still Snapping Up US Commercial Property (CNBC)
EU Plans To ‘Revitalize’ Complex Financial Products (EUO)
Ron Paul: “We Don’t Have Very Much Room For Condemning Anybody Else” (ZH)
Is Obama a Russian Agent? (Dmitry Orlov)
Air Pollution Cause Of One In Three Deaths In China (SCMP)
1000s Of Refugees Left In Greek Cold, UN And EU Accused Of Mismanagement (G.)
The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

 

 

“Policies that could prevent the crisis [..] include reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking, breaking up big banks, banning most derivatives, and tougher law enforcement of bank wrongdoing.”

Donald Trump Can’t Stop The Next Financial Crisis – Jim Rickards (MW)

James Rickards sees threats in many places. In his latest book, “The Road to Ruin: The Global Elites’ Secret Plan for the Next Financial Crisis,” he paints a picture of how that crisis will unfold. He argues that rather than pumping the financial system with liquidity, as happened in 2008, “elites” will freeze the financial plumbing until the crisis has passed. That means banks will close, as will exchanges. Money-market funds will be inaccessible. Forget trying to get your hands on money. Rickards, who was the principal negotiator of the 1998 bailout of Long-Term Capital Management as the hedge fund’s general counsel, calls this new world “ice-nine,” after a fictitious substance in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle.” Freezing customer funds in bank accounts is what happened in Cyprus is 2012 and Greece in 2015, he says. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a rule in 2014 that lets money-market funds suspend redemptions.

MarketWatch: Why do you believe a financial crisis is coming in 2018, and what do you see as the likely triggers? James Rickards: A financial crisis is certainly coming. In “The Road to Ruin,” I use 2018 as a target date and device because the two prior systemic crises, 1998 and 2008, were 10 years apart. I extended the timeline 10 years into the future from the 2008 crisis to maintain the 10-year tempo, and this is how I arrived at 2018. Yet I make the point in the book that the exact date is unimportant. What is most important is that the crisis is coming and the time to prepare is now. It could happen in 2018, 2019, or it could happen tomorrow. The conditions for collapse are all in place. It’s simply a matter of the right catalyst and array of factors in the critical state. Likely triggers could include a major bank failure, a failure to deliver physical gold, a war, a natural disaster, a cyber–financial attack and many other events. The trigger does not matter. The exact timing does not matter. What matters is that the crisis is inevitable and coming soon. Investors need to prepare.

MW : Is this likely to be on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis? Or what is a better comparison? J.R.: The new crisis will be of unprecedented scale. This is because the system itself is of unprecedented scale and interconnectedness. In complex dynamic systems that reach the critical state, the most catastrophic event that can occur is an exponential function of scale. This means that if you double the system, you do not double the risk; you increase it by a factor of five or 10. Since we have vastly increased the scale of the financial system since 2008, with larger banks, greater concentration of banking assets in fewer institutions, larger derivatives positions, and $70 trillion of new debt, we should expect the next crisis to be much worse than the last. There is no comparison short of wartime exigencies such as 1914. The next crisis will be of unprecedented scale and damage.

MW : On the flip side, what could prevent this crisis? And how do you respond to those who say this is just fear-mongering and a conspiracy theory? What are they missing? J.R.: Policies that could prevent the crisis are spelled out clearly in the book. These include reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of investment and commercial banking, breaking up big banks, banning most derivatives, and tougher law enforcement of bank wrongdoing. The book also explains clearly why the dysfunctions in the system are not a “conspiracy” but the workings of like-minded individuals operating in a closed loop lacking cognitive diversity. I am not a fear-monger; people are already afraid, [and] I’m just trying to shed some light on the situation, which is why readers have responded so positively to the book. The critics do not have a firm grasp of the statistical properties of risk. They are clinging to obsolete equilibrium models instead of embracing more accurate models based on complexity theory and behavioral psychology.

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“..the European establishment is simultaneously bombing a country and importing the country’s inhabitants..”

“Russia Did It” – The Last Stand Of The Neocons (GEFIRA)

By the 2000s, Neocons had taken over the Republican Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK and could count on allies in Italy (Berlusconi) and Spain (Aznar). In the following decade, Neocon ideology spread virulently, substituting for the failed experiment of military intervention to overthrow non-cooperating governments with covert operations funding and/or arming local groups in Libya, Syria,Tunisia Egypt, Georgia, and Ukraine. Neocon adherents took over the US state department, and their grip on it was strengthened by the appointment of Barack Obama as assistant to Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State for European affairs, wife of Robert Kagan, who is in turn a top Neocon ideologist alongside Paul Wolfowitz. They also created the narrative spread and reinforced by the mainstream media, which expose the alleged crimes of non-cooperating regimes in Syria, Russia and Libya, while ignoring the anti “democratic” behavior by friendly dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia’s kings.

The mission however never changed. What changed is the mood of Western citizens about the government changes and state-building projects of the Western leadership; as the economic and human cost grew endlessly, the Western public opinion has become fed up with interventionism around the world. The British Labour party was the first to face the malcontents: Blairites are being ousted in favour of anti-NATO, sworn pacifist Jeremy Corbyn. Then Donald Trump won the US election with his “America First” i.e. a policy of “non-interventionism and protectionism”, defeating Hillary’s hawkish one, publicly endorsed by Kagan and Wolfowitz; Sarkozy and Juppè were defeated in the primaries in France by Fillon, who is advocating the end of the trade war against big bad Neocon target Russia. The Neocon-backing Western establishment is facing political upheaval all over Europe and the US.

These revolutions are not mere popular movements. Trump’s election is the handing over of power from one influential group to another because a part of the establishment has become fully aware of the problems Europe and the US are facing. After a fourteen-year war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq the bloodshed spilled over into the streets of Paris and Berlin. The killing of civilians in the streets in Europe was not supposed to happen after the eradication of Al Qaeda and the alleged elimination of its leader Osama Bin Laden. Or should we rather say European insanity is spilling over, as the European establishment is simultaneously bombing a country and importing the country’s inhabitants? What do the Western leadership expect to have on their hands? Meanwhile Russia is reemerging as a more successful international actor.

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Echo chambers are us.

94% Of All New Jobs Created During Obama Era Were Part-Time Or Contract (IC)

A new study by economists from Harvard and Princeton indicates that 94% of the 10 million new jobs created during the Obama era were temporary positions. The study shows that the jobs were temporary, contract positions, or part-time “gig” jobs in a variety of fields. Female workers suffered most heavily in this economy, as work in traditionally feminine fields, like education and medicine, declined during the era. The research by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that the proportion of workers throughout the U.S., during the Obama era, who were working in these kinds of temporary jobs, increased from 10.7% of the population to 15.8%.

Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was surprised by the finding. The disappearance of conventional full-time work, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work, has hit every demographic. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” said Krueger. Under Obama, 1 million fewer workers, overall, are working than before the beginning of the Great Recession. The outgoing president believes his administration was a net positive for workers, however. “Since I signed Obamacare into law (in 2010), our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs,” said Obama, during his farewell press conference last Friday.

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It’s going to keep falling no matter what. And regaining some domestic manufacturing capacity is never a bad thing. If you focus of producing essentials, that is.

World Trade Falls to 2014 Level, Trump “Trade War” Might Make it Worse (WS)

“If you get into a trade war with China, sooner or later we’ll have to come to grips with that,” Carl Icahn, now special advisor to President-Elect Trump, told CNBC on Thursday. “I remember the day something like that would really knock the hell out of the market.” A trade war with China surely would be another wall of worry for stocks to climb. Trump’s rhetoric against China, each morsel packaged into 140 characters or less, has already recreated much-needed turbulence [read… Trump Tweets about China, US Businesses Freak out]. “But maybe if you’re going to do it,” Icahn said about the looming trade war with China, “you should get it over with, right?”

This comes after rumors emerged that Trump’s transition team is chewing over the idea to impose import tariffs of up to 10%, “according to multiple sources,” including a “senior Trump transition official,” CNN reported. The idea is to boost US manufacturing. The new tariffs could be imposed by executive order or by Congress as part of broader tax reform legislation. The 10% would be an uptick from the 5% tariff that incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had put on the table last week, in “meetings with key Washington players,” two sources “who represent business interests in Washington” told CNN. These tariffs would be in line with Trump’s campaign motto of “America First.” Other countries would, as they always do, retaliate. Hence the term “trade war.”

Countries will be careful not to escalate, but these things can escalate nevertheless, because no one wants to seem weak and back off. Either way, it would pull the rug out from under world trade. But world trade, a reflection of the health of the global goods-producing economy, is already in bad shape. For the past two years, it has been languishing in a condition we now call the Great Stagnation. The CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, just released the preliminary data of its Merchandise World Trade Monitor for October. World trade isn’t falling off a cliff, as it had done during the Great Recession, when global supply chains froze up overnight. But since November 2014, it has gone absolutely nowhere:

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“Is There A Way Out?” Not for most. And do give the ECB a special place in this: they are responsible for setting one single rate in countries that need completely different rates.

Central Banks Have Cut Interest Rates 690 Times Since Lehman Brothers (CNBC)

The top 50 central banks around the world have seen a total of 690 interest rate cuts since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, according to data from JP Morgan. While this number means one rate cut every three trading days, analysts have warned that central banks may start to run out of ammunition soon. “Essentially these rate cuts came into effect to try and stimulate economic growth and to prop up economies post the financial crisis,” Alex Dryden, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC via email. However, he warned that central banks are running out of room to maneuver.

“The Bank of Japan, for example, own over 45% of the government bond market, over 65% of the domestic ETF market and are a top 10 shareholder in 90% of listed firms. They have also cut rates into negative territory. There isn’t much more they can do.” Markets, however, continue to ride the wave of uncertainty and speculation over whether the world’s central banks will either continue to pump in more and more cash into the economy through bond-buying programs known as QE or conventional ways such as lowering interest rates to stimulate borrowing. But as we delve deeper into this world of ultra-low interest rate and easy monetary policy, there are other areas of the economy that could see a knock-on effect.

This raises a very big question – will the global economy ever exit this low interest rate environment? “No easy way out. The world has changed and the level of neutral interest rates has fallen for most countries,” Jan von Gerich, chief economist at Nordea, told CNBC via email. Gerich further explained that the way inflation is responding to growth seems to have changed, which makes monetary policy considerations harder for central bankers. “The situation varies a lot, though. The Fed is gradually finding at least a partial way out while it is hard to see the ECB raising rates before the next recession arrives.”

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Oh, sweet Jesus: “..allow Italy’s third-largest bank to finally return to operate at full throttle to support the economy..”

Italian Government Rides To Rescue Of Stricken Bank Monte Dei Paschi (R.)

The Italian government approved a decree on Friday to bail out Monte dei Paschi di Siena after the world’s oldest bank failed to win investor backing for a desperately needed capital increase. Looking to end a protracted banking crisis that has gummed up the economy, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said his Cabinet had authorized a €20 billion fund to help lenders in distress – first and foremost Monte dei Paschi. Within minutes of the late-night Cabinet meeting ending, the country’s third largest lender issued a statement saying it would formally request state aid, opening the way for possibly the biggest Italian bank nationalization in decades. The government has said its long-awaited salvage operation will work within EU rules, meaning some Monte dei Paschi bondholders will be forced to accept losses to ensure the taxpayer does not pick up all of the bill.

However, the government and Monte dei Paschi promised protection for around 40,000 retail savers who had bought the bank’s junior debt. Many of the high street investors say they were unaware of the risks when they purchased the paper. “Today marks an important day for Monte dei Paschi, a day that sees it turn a corner and be able to reassure its depositors,” said Gentiloni, who only took office last week and has made the bank rescue his first priority. [..] The collapse of Monte dei Paschi would have threatened the savings of thousands of Italians and could have had devastated the wider banking sector, which is saddled with €356 billion of bad loans – a third of the euro zone’s total. [..] The government said full details of the rescue plan have yet to be worked out, but it outlined the contours in a statement.

It said the bank’s Tier 1 bonds, which are mostly held by professional investors, would be converted into shares at 75% of their nominal value. Tier 2 bonds, which are mostly in the hands of retail investors, will be converted instead at 100% of their face value. To further insulate small savers from losses, Monte dei Paschi will offer to swap the shares they end up with as a result of the forced conversion with regular bonds and sell the same shares to the state instead. “The rescue will require a (new) business plan that European authorities will need to approve and that will allow Italy’s third-largest bank to finally return to operate at full throttle to support the economy and with the full confidence of its depositors,” said Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

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Where are the indictments?

Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Agree Billion-Dollar Fines With US (CNBC)

Deutsche Bank will be hoping for a fresh start in 2017 after reaching a $7.2 billion deal with U.S. authorities to settle allegations of the mis-selling of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Germany’s largest lender said on Friday morning it had agreed ‘in principle’ to pay a $3.1 billion civil fine to be supplemented with the payment of $4.1 billion in consumer relief overtime. The announcement of the fine comes amid a raft of banking stories related to the mis-selling of MBS which hit the wires before Friday’s European market open. This included news that U.S. federal prosecutors would sue Britain’s Barclays bank and that Credit Suisse had reached a provisional $5.3 billion deal, meaning the Swiss bank will take a pre-tax charge of about $2 billion.

Of the total amount demanded of Credit Suisse, $2.48 billion would be an immediate fine to settle the claims and an additional $2.8 billion would be paid over five years for consumer relief. Deutsche Bank’s agreement follows months of negotiations with the U.S.’s Department of Justice (DoJ) and ranks as the third-highest penalty imposed to date on a bank to settle claims of mis-sold mortgage-backed instruments. Although the $7.2 billion payment is far from negligible, investors may take some cold comfort from the fact it is less than $16.7 billion that Bank of America was required to stump up in August 2014 and the $9.0 billion charged to JPMorgan Chase in November 2013. Furthermore, of the full amount, only the $3.1 billion civil fine component is required to be imminently delivered in cash.

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Again, where are the indictments?

US Sues Barclays For Alleged Mortgage Securities Fraud (R.)

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday sued Barclays for fraud in the sale of mortgage securities in the run-up to the financial crisis. The British bank deceived investors about the quality of loans underlying tens of billions of dollars of mortgage securities between 2005 and 2007, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court in Brooklyn, New York. Loans had been made to borrowers with no ability to repay and were based on inflated home appraisals, the complaint said. Barclays said in a statement that the claims in the lawsuit are “disconnected from the facts” and that it has an obligation to defend against “unreasonable allegations and demands.”

In terms of demands, Barclays was apparently referring to negotiations with the Justice Department to settle the claims without a case being filed. “Barclays will vigorously defend the complaint and seek its dismissal at the earliest opportunity,” the statement said. The bank’s U.S.-traded shares were down 1.7 percent at $11.08 shortly before the close of the market. Barclays is among a number of European banks that have been under investigation for misconduct in the sale of mortgage securities, which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

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One word: Dollar.

Why The Chinese Are Still Snapping Up US Commercial Property (CNBC)

Interest in U.S. commercial real estate is perking up, particularly from China, as expectations of pro-growth policies from President-elect Donald Trump spark demand for dollar-denominated assets. “(Investors) are seeing the U.S.commercial real estate marketplace as really standing out on a global basis,” said Hessam Nadji, president and chief executive at commercial real estate firm Marcus and Millichap. “It’s not being overbuilt; it’s been very well balanced in this particular cycle in terms of loans that are not going up, the leverage that was very well balanced. They’re at much lower risk at this stage of recovery than we’ve seen in the past,” he told CNBC’s The Rundown. Concerns over the dollar’s appreciation are also prompting some motivation for capital allocation into the U.S. “particularly because the Chinese economy is slowing” and as the yield profile of commercial real estate is competitive, Nadji added.

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We don’t solve our problems, we package them.

EU Plans To ‘Revitalize’ Complex Financial Products (EUO)

The EU is trying to “revitalise” a market for controversial financial products, but one of the goals appears to already have been achieved without the EU’s help. Securitisation is the packaging of loans, mortgages, or other contractual debts into securities that can then be sold on the market, together with the risk attached to those debts. It had an instrumental role in the financial crisis of 2008, but the European Commission says giving the securitisation market a boost can help the real economy. The commission has not given a target figure of when “revitalisation” will have been achieved, but spoke in a press release of going back to the “pre-crisis average”.

The commission did not want to comment on the record, but one commission official said that if the market would return to average pre-crisis issuance levels, this would generate €100-€150 billion in additional funding for the economy. “This would already be a major achievement for the securitisation markets,” the commission official said. EUobserver looked at how average issuance levels have done so far, and found that more securities have been created through securitisation since the crisis than before the crisis. This website collected data from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), a lobby group for the financial service sector, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, its US-based counterpart.

Taking a very narrow view, the “pre-crisis” years are 1996-2006. The average issuance of securities in Europe was €168 billion. When including 2007, the average was €203 billion. When including 2008 – when the financial crisis was in full swing – the average was €251 billion. Last week, AFME released data for the third quarter of 2016. The first three quarters of 2016 were the best three quarters since 2012. Taking the most recent data into account, the average annual issuance of securitisation since 2009, is €270 billion. Last year the figure was €216 billion. Even when correcting for inflation, the post-crisis period is already better than the pre-crisis period. Converting the averages to today’s prices, the average since 2009 is €282 billion, compared to a 1996-2007 average of €244 billion.

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“I think the spying and interference is sort of the nature of our governments.”

Ron Paul: “We Don’t Have Very Much Room For Condemning Anybody Else” (ZH)

When asked whether all the “Russian hacking” allegations were just a simple “political stunt” or whether a serious investigation needed to be conducted, Ron Paul offered up a startling bit of reality pointing out that America has a long history of interfering with elections and even invading countries “to have our guy in.” We suspect the following response was a bit more truth than Fox Business News expected.

“I think it is politics more than anything else. It’s really is nothing new. It’s like, guess what – somebody might have done A, B, C.” “The very rarely, if ever, compare what we do with election around the world. We are interfering all the time.” “I’m sure the Russians are interfering. But when you lose, you can jump on that and make a big point of it. But I don’t think it made any difference. I think it’s insignificant.” “If you review the history of how many elections we’ve been involved with, how many countries we’ve invaded and how many people we’ve killed to have our guy in, I’ll tell you what – we don’t have very much room for condemning anybody else.” “I think the spying and interference is sort of the nature of our governments. That’s why I’d like to see government much smaller.”

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HA!

Is Obama a Russian Agent? (Dmitry Orlov)

Sometimes a case looks weak because there is no “smoking gun”—no obvious, direct evidence of conspiracy, malfeasance or evil intent—but once you tally up all the evidence it forms a coherent and damning picture. And so it is with the Obama administration vis à vis Russia: by feigning hostile intent it did everything possible to further Russia’s agenda. And although it is always possible to claim that all of Obama’s failures stem from mere incompetence, at some point this claim begins to ring hollow; how can he possibly be so utterly competent… at being incompetent? Perhaps he just used incompetence as a veil to cover his true intent, which was always to bolster Russia while rendering the US maximally irrelevant in world affairs. Let’s examine Obama’s major foreign policy initiatives from this angle.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of his eight years has been the destruction of Libya. Under the false pretense of a humanitarian intervention what was once the most prosperous and stable country in the entire North Africa has been reduced to a rubble-strewn haven for Islamic terrorists and a transit point for economic migrants streaming into the European Union. This had the effect of pushing Russia and China together, prompting them to start voting against the US together as a block in the UN Security Council. In a single blow, Obama assured an important element of his legacy as a Russian agent: no longer will the US be able to further its agenda through this very important international body.

Next, Obama presided over the violent overthrow of the constitutional government in the Ukraine and the installation of an American puppet regime there. When Crimea then voted to rejoin Russia, Obama imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation. These moves may seem like they were designed to hurt Russia, but let’s look at the results instead of the intentions. First, Russia regained control of an important, strategic region. Second, the sanctions and the countersanctions allowed Russia to concentrate on import replacement, building up the domestic economy. This was especially impressive in agriculture, and Russia now earns more export revenue from foodstuffs than from weapons. Third, the severing of economic ties with the Ukraine allowed Russia to eliminate a major economic competitor.

Fourth, over a million Ukrainians decided to move to Russia, either temporarily or permanently, giving Russia a major demographic boost and giving it access to a pool of Russian-speaking skilled labor. Most Ukrainians are barely distinguishable from the general Russian population.) Fifth, whereas before the Ukraine was in a position to extort concessions from Russia by playing games with the natural gas pipelines that lead from Russia to the European Union, now Russia’s hands have been untied, resulting in new pipeline deals with Turkey and Germany. In effect, Russia reaped all the benefits from the Ukrainian stalemate, while the US gained an unsavory, embarrassing dependent.

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Worse than smoking.

Air Pollution Cause Of One In Three Deaths In China (SCMP)

Smog is related to nearly one-third of deaths in China, putting it on a par with smoking as a threat to health, according to an academic paper based on the study of air pollution and mortality data in 74 cities and published in an international journal. The findings by Nanjing University’s School of the Environment, which were published in the November edition of the journal the Science of the Total Environment, provides the latest scientific estimates of the health cost of China’s notorious smog. The latest bout of smog began last Friday, affecting about half a billion people on the mainland, with the severest impact in the last three days. Previous research work have found equally alarming results about the country’s toxic air.

The International Energy Agency published its first study on air pollution in June and estimated that severe air pollution has shortened life expectancy in China by an average 25 months. An academic paper co-authored by researchers from MIT in the US, Tsinghua University and Peking University in China, plus the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2013 concluded that bad air has cut life expectancy by an average of 5.5 years in the north of the country. There are so far no concrete or widely agreed estimates on the impact of air pollution on health in China partly because it is scientifically complicated to measure and also because there is little historical precedent for prolonged exposure to such high levels of air pollution.

The six researchers from Nanjing University said they conducted the study because air pollution was the “most severe and worrisome environmental problem in China”, but knowledge of its health effects was insufficient. When they looked into 3.03 million deaths in 2013 in 74 cities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, they found 31.8 per cent could be linked to PM 2.5 pollution – the tiny smog particles most hazardous to health.

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Yeah, it’s bitter. Still, as I said yesterday on FB: “Right up the alley of my -repeat- article and appeal yesterday. Only, the Guardian itself runs a fund now. So it has reason to publish this. The problem: the paper supports 3 NGOs, all British. As if they know better than Greeks what to do in Greece. It’s a broken record problem. Too much money gets wasted on hubris and 1001 -repeat- preventable fuck-ups.”

1000s Of Refugees Left In Greek Cold, UN And EU Accused Of Mismanagement (G.)

The UN refugee agency and the EU’s aid department have been accused by other aid groups of mismanaging a multimillion-pound fund earmarked for the most vulnerable refugees in Europe, leaving thousands sleeping in freezing conditions in Greece. The Greek government, which has ultimate jurisdiction over camp activities, has also been criticised for failing to use nearly €90m (£75m) of separate EU funding to adequately improve conditions at the camps before the onset of winter. No single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps, allowing most parties to distance themselves from blame.

The EU aid department, known as Echo, has given UNHCR more than €14m since April to help prepare roughly 50 refugee camps for the winter in Greece, where an estimated 50,000 mainly Syrian refugees have been stranded since the adoption of new European migration policies in March. A further €24m has been given to UNHCR for other projects. Both organisations stand accused by other aid groups of squandering this money, after failing to properly “winterise” or evacuate dozens of camps before snow fell in Greece earlier in December. In addition to providing warmer bedding and clothes, UNHCR was expected to use this money to move people from tents to heated containers or formal housing; heat warehouses where other refugees are living; provide a consistent supply of hot water; and install insulated flooring for anyone still left in tents.

Months after the funds were dispersed, roughly half of those living in camps had yet to be transferred to formal housing by the onset of winter. Of the 45 camps that were still active at the start of the month, the Guardian visited or was made aware of at least 15 camps that had yet to be properly adapted by the time snow fell in northern Greece at the start of December. UNHCR admitted it was itself aware of only eight camps where all the residents have been moved out of tents and into prefabricated containers.

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Because of all that goes wrong in the NGO structure, we support this:

The Automatic Earth in Greece: Big Dreams for 2017 (Automatic Earth)

Both Konstantinos and myself -and all the other volunteers at O Allos Anthropos- want to thank you so much for all the help you’ve given over the past year -and in 2015-. We’re around $30,000 for 2016 alone, another $5000 since my last article 4 weeks ago. I swear, for as long as I live, this will never cease to amaze me. And then of course what happens is people start thinking and dreaming about what more they can do for those in peril. Wouldn’t you know…

A Merry Christmas to all of you, to all of us. Very Merry. God bless us, every one. Thank you for everything.

If I may make a last suggestion, please forward this ‘dream’ to anyone you know -and even those you don’t-, by mail, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth, any which way you can think of. Go to your local mayor or town council, suggest they can help and get -loudly- recognized for it. There may be a dream involved for 2017, but that was our notion a year ago as well, and look what we’ve achieved a year later: it is very real indeed. And anyone, everyone can become part of that reality for just a few bucks. If the institutions won’t do it, perhaps the people themselves should. That doesn’t even sound all that crazy or farfetched. There’s a lot of us.


Konstantinos Polychronopoulos on Lesbos Dec 2015

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Nov 212016
 
 November 21, 2016  Posted by at 4:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Theodor Horydczak “Dome of US Capitol through trees at night” 1943

 

For the second time in a few weeks (see ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent), former British diplomat Alastair Crooke quotes me extensively, and I gladly return the favor. Crooke here attempts to list -some of- the difficulties Donald Trump will face in executing the -economic- measures he promised to take in his campaign. Crooke argues that, as I’ve indicated repeatedly, for instance in America is The Poisoned Chalice, the financial crisis that never ended may be one of his biggest problems.

Here, again, is Alastair Crooke:

 

 

We are plainly at a pivotal moment. President-Elect Trump wants to make dramatic changes in his nation’s course. His battle cry of wanting to make “America Great Again” evokes – and almost certainly is intended to evoke – the epic American economic expansions of the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.

Trump wants to reverse the off-shoring of American jobs; he wants to revive America’s manufacturing base; he wants to recast the terms of international trade; he wants growth; and he wants jobs in the U.S. – and he wants to turn America’s foreign policy around 180 degrees.

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads "Vote Trump" on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

The run-down PIX Theatre sign reads “Vote Trump” on Main Street in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. July 15, 2016. (Photo by Tony Webster Flickr)

It is an agenda that is, as it were, quite laudable. Many Americans want just this, and the transition in which we are presently in – dictated by the global elusiveness and search for growth (whatever is meant now by this term “growth”), clearly requires a different economic approach from that followed in recent decades.

As Raúl Ilargi Meijer has perceptively posited, greater self-reliance “is the future of the world, ‘post-growth’, and post-globalization. Every country, and every society, needs to focus on self-reliance, not as some idealistic luxury choice, but as a necessity. And that is not as bad or terrible as people would have you believe, and it’s not the end of the world … It is not an idealistic transition towards self-sufficiency, it’s simply and inevitably what’s left, once unfettered growth hits the skids. …

“Our entire world views and ‘philosophies’ are based on ever more and ever bigger and then some, and our entire economies are built upon it. That has already made us ignore the decline of our real markets for many years now. We focus on data about stock markets and the like, and ignore the demise of our respective heartlands, and flyover countries …

“Donald Trump looks very much like the ideal fit for this transition … What matters [here] is that he promises to bring back jobs to America, and that’s what the country needs … Not so they can then export their products, but to consume them at home, and sell them in the domestic market …There’s nothing wrong or negative with an American buying products made in America instead of in China.

“There’s nothing economically – let alone morally – wrong with people producing what they and their families and close neighbours themselves want, and need, without hauling it halfway around the world for a meagre profit. At least not for the man in the street. It’s not a threat to our ‘open societies’, as many claim. That openness does not depend on having things shipped to your stores over 1000s of miles, that you could have made yourselves, at a potentially huge benefit to your local economy. An ‘open society’ is a state of mind, be it collective or personal. It’s not something that’s for sale.”

A Great Wish

That’s Trump’s ostensible great wish, (it seems). It is not an unworthy one, but things have changed: America is no longer what it was in the Nineteenth or Twentieth centuries, neither in terms of untapped natural resources, nor societally. And nor is the rest of the world the same either.

Mr. Trump rather unfortunately may find that his chief task will not be the management of this Great Re-orientation, but more prosaically, fending off the headwinds which he will face as he hauls on the tiller of the economy.

In short, there is a real prospect that his ambitious economic “remake” may well be prematurely punctured by financial crisis.

These headwinds will not be of his making, and for the main part, they lie beyond human agency per se. They are structural, and they are multiple. They represent the accumulation of an earlier monetary doctrine which will fetter the President-elect into a small corner from which any chosen exit will carry adverse implications.

Ditto for anyone else trying to steer any ship of state in this contemporary global economy. Paradoxically – in an era moving toward greater self-sufficiency – what success Trump may have, however, will likely depend not on self-reliance so much as he would like.

For his foreign policy about turn, he will depend on finding common interest with Russian President Vladimir Putin (that should not be too hard) – and for the economic “about turn” – on Trump’s ability not to confront China, but to come to some modus vivendi with President Xi (less easy).

“Things are not what they were.” Complexity “theory” tells us that trying to repeat what worked earlier – in very different conditions – will likely not work if repeated later. In the Clinton era, for example, 85 percent of the U.S. population growth derived from the working-age population. The headwind that Trump will face is that, over the next eight years, 80 percent of the population growth will comprise 65+ year olds. And 65+ year olds are not a good engine of economic growth. This is not an uniquely American problem; it is a global trend too.

“The peak growth” (according to Econimica blog), “in the annual combined working age population (15-64 year/olds) among all the 35 wealthy OECD nations, China, Brazil, and Russia has collapsed since its 1981 peak. The annual growth in the working age population among these nations has fallen from +29 million a year to just +1 million in 2016 … but from here on, the working age population will be declining every year … These nations make up almost three quarters of all global demand for oil and exports in general. But their combined working age populations will shrink every year, from here on (surely for decades and perhaps far longer). Global demand for nearly everything is set to suffer.

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(FFR stands for Federal Funds Rate: i.e. the US key interest rate) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

And then there is China: It too is passing through a difficult “transition” from the old economy to an “innovative” one. It too, has an aging population and a debt problem (with a debt-to-gross domestic ratio reaching 247 percent). Trump argues that China deliberately holds down the value of its currency to gain unfair trade advantage, and he further suggests that he intends to confront the Chinese government on this key issue.

Again, Trump does have a point (many nations are managing their exchange rates precisely in order to try to “steal” a little bit extra growth from the diminished global pot). But as noted at Zerohedge, citing the analysis of One River Asset Management executive Eric Peters:

“What’s good for the US in this case [the rising dollar and interest rates in anticipation of ‘Trumponomics’], is not good for emerging markets (EMs). Emerging markets benefit from a weaker dollar, and you’re not going to get that. Emerging markets benefit from global capital flows moving in their direction and that’s not happening either. Back in February, emerging markets were in sharp decline, driven by (1) a strong dollar, (2) rising US interest rates, and (3) slowing Chinese growth. Then China spurred a massive credit stimulus, the Fed became wildly dovish, and the dollar declined sharply.

“Interest rates collapsed throughout the year. As the growing pool of dollar, euro and yen liquidity searched for a decent return, it headed to emerging markets. Trump has reignited the dollar rally, and his fiscal stimulus will force interest rates higher. This reversed everything. [the dollars are heading home]

“And to be sure, the Beijing boys don’t want to see material weakness ahead of next autumn’s Party Congress. But we’re currently near peak impulse from China’s Q1 stimulus.”

In short, Peters is saying that, with the appreciating dollar and rising interest rate environment, growth from emerging markets as a whole will falter, since emerging markets have effectively leveraged their economies to Chinese growth. It used to be the case that they were closely tied to U.S. growth, but it is now China which dominates the EMs’ trade flows [i.e. without China growth, the EMs languish]. The question is, can America reboot its growth whilst China and the EMs languish? It is another structural shift, whereas heretofore, it was vice versa: without U.S. growth, the EMs and China languished. Now it is the converse.

Hollowed-Out Economies

There are other structural changes of course which will make it harder for the industrially hollowed-out economies of the West to recuperate jobs off-shored earlier. Firstly, there has been a systemic shift of innovation and technology eastwards (often to a more skilled and better-educated workforce). This represents not only an economic event, but a redistribution of power too. In any case, technology in this new era is being more job destructive than creative.

In one sense, Trump’s economic plan to “get America working again” through massive debt-financed, infrastructure projects, harks back to the Reagan era, which was also a period in which the dollar was strong. But yet again, “things today are not what they were then.” Inflation then was at 13 percent, Interest rates were around 20 percent, and crucially, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was a mere 35 percent (compared to today’s estimate of 71.8 percent or 104.5 percent with external debt included).

Then, as Jim Rickards has suggested, the strong dollar was deflationary (deliberately so), and interest rates had nowhere to go, but down. It was the beginning of the three decades’ bond boom, which finally seems to have come to an end, coincident with Trump’s election. Today, inflation has nowhere to go but up – as have interest rates – and the bond market, nowhere to go, but (perilously) down.

Growth and Jobs?

Can Trump then achieve growth and jobs through infrastructure expenditure? Well, “growth” is an ambiguous, shape-shifting term. The first chart shows both sides of the equation … the annual GDP growth and the annual federal debt incurred, spent, and (thus counted as part of the growth) to achieve the purported growth.

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

The second chart shows the annual GDP minus the annual growth in federal debt to achieve that “GDP growth.” In other words, unlike in the earlier Reagan times, more recently, the debt is producing no growth – but … well … just more debt, mostly.

In fact, what the second chart is reflecting is the dilution – through money “printing” – of purchasing power: away from one entity (the American consumer), through the intermediation of the financial sector, to other entities (mostly financial entities, and to corporations buying back their own shares). This is debt deflation: the American consumer ends having less and less purchasing power (in the sense of residual discretionary income).

The point here is that “growth” is becoming rarer everywhere. Russia and China, like everyone else, are in search for new sources for growth.

As Rickards has said, debt is the “devil” that can undo Trump’s whole schema: a “$1 trillion infrastructure refurbishment plan, along with his proposal to rebuild the military, will — at least in the short-term — significantly increase annual deficits. In fact, deficits are already soaring; the fiscal 2016 budget hole jumped to $587 billion, up from $438 in the prior year, for a huge 34% increase…in addition to this, Trump’s protectionist trade policies would implement either a 35% tariff on certain imports or would require these goods to be produced inside the United States, at much higher prices. For example, the increase in labor costs from goods made in China would be 190% when compared to the federally mandated minimum wage earner in the United States. Hence, inflation is on the way.”

In sum, self-sufficiency implies higher domestic costs and price rises for consumers.

Debt will rise. And there is seemingly already a buyers’ strike against U.S. government debt underway: well over a third of a $1 trillion worth of Treasuries were disposed of, and sold in the year to Aug. 31 by foreign Central Banks. And who is buying it? (Below, the chart shows what this purchasing looks like, as a percentage of total debt issued by the Treasury). Well, foreign central banks have disappeared. (The Chinese have not bought a U.S. Treasury bond since 2011.)

(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period) Source: http://econimica.blogspot.it/2016/11/trump-lies-no-different-than-obama-or.html

(Above: who purchased the marketable debt as a percentage, by period)
Source.

 

It is the American public who are buying. Will they be willing to take on Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spree? Or, will it be “printed” in yet another dilution of the American consumer’s purchasing power? The question of whether the infrastructure splurge does give growth hangs very much in the balance to such answers. (Equity shares in construction firms will do okay, of course).

The bottom line: (Michael Pento, Pento Report): “If interest rates continue to rise it won’t just be bond prices that will collapse. It will be every asset that has been priced off that so called ‘risk free rate of return’ offered by sovereign debt. The painful lesson will then be learned that having a virtual zero interest rate policy for the past 90 months wasn’t at all risk free. All of the asset prices negative interest rates have so massively distorted including; corporate debt, municipal bonds, REITs, CLOs, equities, commodities, luxury cars, art, all fixed income assets and their proxies, and everything in between, will fall concurrently along with the global economy.

“For the record, a normalization of bond yields would be very healthy for the economy in the long-run, as it is necessary to reconcile the massive economic imbalances now in existence. However, President Trump will want no part of the depression that would run concurrently with collapsing real estate, equity and bond prices.”

A Pending Financial Crisis

Trump, to be fair, has said consistently throughout the election campaign that whoever won the Presidential campaign to take office in January would face a financial crisis. Perhaps he will not face the “violent unwind” of the QE and bond bubble as some experts have predicted, but many more – according to Bank of America’s survey of 177 fund managers over the last six days, and controlling just under half a trillion of assets – expect a “stagflationary bond crash.”

This has major political implications. Trump is setting out to do no less than transform the economy and foreign policy of the U.S. He is doing this against a backdrop of many of the followers of the liberal élite, so angered at the election outcome, that they reject completely his electoral legitimacy (and, with the élites themselves staying mum at this rejection of the U.S. democratic process). Movements are being organized to wreck his Presidency (see here for example). If Trump does indeed experience a severe financial “unwind” at a time of such domestic anger and agitation, matters could turn quite ugly.

 

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

Nov 152016
 
 November 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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George N. Barnard Atlanta, Georgia. View on Marietta Street 1864


UK Government Has No Plan For Brexit, Leaked Memo Says (BBC)
Why India Wiped Out 86% Of Its Cash Overnight (BBC)
Asian Currencies Drop to 7-Year Low Against US Dollar (BBG)
The Euro-Dollar Parity Bet Is Back (BBG)
‘Trump Thump’ Whacks Bond Market For $1 Trillion Loss (R.)
China: Trump’s First Crisis? (JP Smith)
China’s Central Bank Faces Trump Headache (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Real Estate Binge Is Coming To A City Near You (BBG)
America Has Abdicated Its Leadership of the West (Spiegel)
Memo to Trump: Defense Spending Must Be For Actual Defense (Ron Paul)
The Democratic Party Had a Good if Not Great Candidate in Bernie Sanders (CP)
Russian Economy Minister Detained Over Alleged $2 Million Bribe (R.)
EU Threatens Turkey With Economic Sanctions (TT)
Julian Assange Faces Second Day Of Questioning (ITV)
Highly Contagious Strain Of Bird Flu Sweeps Through Europe ( DW)
100,000 Landslides and Hundreds of Tremors After New Zealand Quake (G._

 

 

It’s only been 5 months, after all….: “Whitehall is working on 500 Brexit-related projects and could need 30,000 extra staff..”

UK Government Has No Plan For Brexit, Leaked Memo Says (BBC)

The government has no overall Brexit plan and a negotiating strategy may not be agreed by the cabinet for six months, a leaked memo has suggested. The memo – obtained by The Times and seen by the BBC – warns Whitehall is working on 500 Brexit-related projects and could need 30,000 extra staff. However, there is still no common exit strategy “because of divisions within the cabinet”, the leaked document adds. A government spokesman said it “didn’t recognise” the claims made in the memo. Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to invoke Article 50 – beginning the formal two-year process for leaving the EU – by the end of March next year. However, BBC political correspondent Chris Mason – who has seen the memo – says the document shows how “complex, fraught and challenging delivering Brexit will be”.

The leaked Cabinet Office memo – written by an un-named consultant and entitled “Brexit Update” of 7 November – suggests it will take another six months before the government decides precisely what it wants to achieve from Brexit or agrees on its priorities. The report criticises Mrs May, who it says is “acquiring a reputation of drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself” – an approach it describes as being “unlikely to be sustainable”. The Times says the document also identifies cabinet splits between Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox on one side, and Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark on the other.

According to the newspaper, the memo said: “Every department has developed a ‘bottom-up’ plan of what the impact of Brexit could be – and its plan to cope with the ‘worst case’. “Although necessary, this falls considerably short of having a ‘government plan for Brexit’ because it has no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy.” The memo also suggests the government does not have enough officials to implement Brexit quickly, while departments are developing individual plans resulting in “well over 500 projects”. It estimates an additional 30,000 extra civil servants could be required to meet the workload. The document also says big businesses could soon “point a gun at the government’s head” to secure what they need to maintain jobs and investment.

Read more …

Tax evasion.

Why India Wiped Out 86% Of Its Cash Overnight (BBC)

India is in the middle of an extraordinary economic experiment. On 8 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave only four hours’ notice that virtually all the cash in the world’s seventh-largest economy would be effectively worthless. The Indian government likes to use the technical term “demonetisation” to describe the move, which makes it sound rather dull. It isn’t. This is the economic equivalent of “shock and awe”. Do not believe reports that this is primarily about bribery or terror financing, the real target is tax evasion and the policy is very daring indeed. Mr Modi’s “shock and awe” declaration meant that 1,000 and 500 rupee notes would no longer be valid. These may be the largest denomination Indian notes but they are not high value by international standards – 1,000 rupees is only £12. But together the two notes represent 86% of the currency in circulation.

Think of that, at a stroke 86% of the cash in India now cannot be used. What is more, India is overwhelmingly a cash economy, with 90% of all transactions taking place that way. And that is the target of Mr Modi’s dramatic move. Because so much business is done in cash, very few people pay tax on the money they earn. According to figures published by the government earlier this year, in 2013 only 1% of the population paid any income tax at all. As a result huge numbers of Indians have stashes of tax-free cash hidden away – known here as “black money”. Even the very poorest Indians have some cash savings – maybe just a few thousand rupees stored away for a daughter’s wedding, the kids’ school fees or – heaven forbid – an illness in the family.

But lots of Indians have much more than that. It is not unusual for half the value of a property transaction to be paid in cash, with buyers turning up with suitcases full of 1,000 rupee notes. The size of this shadow economy is reckoned to be as much as 20% of India’s entire GDP. Mr Modi’s demonetisation is designed to drive black money out of the shadows. At the moment you can exchange up to 4,000 (£48) of the old rupees every day in cash for new 500 (£6) and 2,000 (£24) rupee notes. There is no limit to the amount that can be deposited in bank accounts until the end of December, but the government has warned that the tax authorities will be investigating any deposits above 250,000 rupees (£2,962).

Read more …

This may continue for a while. Energy in the crosshairs.

Asian Currencies Drop to 7-Year Low Against US Dollar (BBG)

A gauge of emerging Asian currencies is heading for the lowest close since March 2009 as the dollar surged after Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory. The Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia Dollar Index, which tracks 10 regional currencies, is down 2% this year. As recently as August it was up 1.7%. Emerging assets have tumbled in the past week as the president-elect is seen unleashing a spending surge, pushing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

Read more …

The euro is way overvalued anyway, of course. Parity would sake the south to its core, though, much more than the north.

The Euro-Dollar Parity Bet Is Back (BBG)

Donald Trump’s electoral upset has breathed new life into the bet that diverging economic paths will drive the euro toward parity with the dollar for the first time since 2002. Traders see about a 45% chance the European currency will sink to $1 in the next year, about double the probability assigned a week ago. The president-elect’s pledges to boost spending and cut taxes are fueling speculation that economic growth will accelerate, pushing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more quickly. That sentiment sent a gauge of the dollar to the strongest since February on Monday, while the euro fell to about $1.07, touching its lowest since 2015.

For Deutsche Bank, the world’s fourth-biggest currency trader, the election results are enough to jolt the euro out of a range it’s been stuck in for months and push it below $1 in 2017. Calls for parity crumbled this year as the Fed cut back on the number of expected rate hikes, even as the ECB continued to add unprecedented amounts of stimulus. Now Trump’s win is rekindling the wager that drove the dollar to back-to-back annual gains in 2014-2015, for its biggest two-year rally since the euro’s 1999 debut. “Divergence is back,” George Saravelos, a strategist at Deutsche Bank in London, wrote in a report dated Nov. 13. “The Trump victory has changed things.”

Read more …

The Trump fairytale lacks all sense of reality. He’s going to stumble upon a zillion roadblocks on his way to get the best of what he can get, and that means volatility.

‘Trump Thump’ Whacks Bond Market For $1 Trillion Loss (R.)

Donald Trump’s stunning victory for the White House may mark the long-awaited end to the more than 30-year-old bull run in bonds, as bets on faster U.S. growth and inflation lead investors to favor stocks over bonds. A two-day thumping wiped out more than $1 trillion across global bond markets worldwide, the worst rout in nearly 1-1/2 years, on bets that plans under a Trump administration would boost business investments and spending while firing up inflation. “We’ve had a sentiment shift in the bond market. We’ve seen it, too. People have already started reallocating out of bonds and into stocks,” said Jeff Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Capital. “The cracks have been forming for five years – we’re in this slow-grinding higher phase in yields,” he said.

The stampede from bonds propelled longer-dated U.S. yields to their highest levels since January with the 30-year yield posting its biggest weekly increase since January 2009. In the stock market, the blue chip Dow Jones industrial average finished out its best week in five years on Friday as it marked a record high close. The 10-year German Bund yield rose to its highest level in eight months, while the 10-year British gilt yield climbed to its highest level prior to Brexit. [..] While investors dumped most types of bonds after Trump’s victory, they piled into Treasury inflation-protected securities as a hedge against a pick-up in inflation. “You are seeing interest in TIPS right now from a widening investors base,” said Brian Smith, portfolio manager at TCW in Los Angeles, which has $197 billion in assets. Investors poured $1 billion into TIPS in the week ended Nov. 9, the second-biggest inflows since records began in October 2002.

Read more …

Trump may hand China exactly what it needs but is afraid to face.

China: Trump’s First Crisis? (JP Smith)

There is a growing possibility that China will be at the epicentre of President-elect Trump’s first crisis, triggered by concerns over the potential impact of protectionist measures on China’s trade surplus, which currently supports the increasingly fragile financing chains supporting corporate debt that the IMF estimates at around 155% of GDP. Trump’s pledges to impose tariffs of up to 45% on Chinese manufactured goods threatens to drive a significant uptick in the amount of capital flight from the renminbi, while the prospect of measures to change the US tax system to encourage companies to repatriate cash to the are already pulling the dollar higher.

At this point the likelihood of Trump actually delivering on his protectionist rhetoric is secondary to the psychological impact on resident corporate and household savers of any potential threat to the current uneasy equilibrium within the Chinese economy. The situation could quickly become much more acute than the one faced by the FOMC earlier this year, when the Fed appears to have backed off raising rates primarily due to concerns about China, so that President Trump will have to make a decision whether to clarify his intentions towards China and possibly repudiate his key campaign pledge at a relatively early stage of his presidency.

The consequences of his not doing so could be to precipitate an economic and financial crisis within China, that would obviously have major adverse consequences for the regional and global economies and also some potentially very serious implications for geopolitical stability. In brief, our longstanding bearish view on China has rested on the governance factors at both a central and local government level that have led to massive cost factor subsidies driving overcapacity across a broad range of industries. This has resulted in very high levels of debt which are being financed from an increasing range of institutions and instruments, most recently the city and county banks and shadow financing instruments, all of which are lack transparency even by Chinese standards.

No-one disputes any more that an increasing amount of financing is being used to service and roll over existing loans and that higher write-offs are not keeping pace with the flow of doubtful loans. The financing structures that surround the overcapacity industries are increasingly fragile especially on a regional level; Chinese enterprises are simply too interconnected to fail. Over the course of 2016, there have been some indications of a visible improvement in both the macro-economic and corporate numbers, as well as some of the more physical and therefore reliable indications of activity such as power production and freight journeys. This has, however, been a function of the massive monetary and fiscal stimulus beginning in the second half of 2015, to head off a potential crisis in response to the plunge in the onshore equity market.

Read more …

“As if defusing the world’s biggest debt bomb while keeping economic growth humming wasn’t tough enough..”

China’s Central Bank Faces Trump Headache (BBG)

As if defusing the world’s biggest debt bomb while keeping economic growth humming wasn’t tough enough, Donald Trump’s shock election victory has just made the policy outlook even more complex for People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan. The president-elect’s threats to slap tariffs of up to 45% on Chinese imports cast a shadow over the economy’s stabilization and the world’s most crucial trade relationship. Protectionism may fuel more international use of the yuan, according to Standard Chartered, while UBS says tariffs may push the PBOC to let the yuan fall further. Longer-term ambitions like capital account opening and yuan internationalization are also clouded, hinging on whether President Trump delivers on candidate Trump’s promises.

The PBOC’s monetary policy becomes trickier, and harder to keep neutral, amid “huge uncertainty” about Trump’s impact on China, according to Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “It’s hard to tell what would be actual policies instead of just campaign rhetoric,” Hu wrote in a note. Even before Trump takes office Jan. 20, there’s reason to think his campaign threats to impose tariffs and label China a currency manipulator may be tempered by the reality of governing. He’s already signaled there may be some watering down of other contentious issues such as building a wall on the Mexican border and scrapping President Barack Obama’s health care program. There’s a low probability that the PBOC will cut its benchmark interest rates or the required reserve ratio for banks this year, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Tuesday. The central bank has held its main rates at record lows for more than a year to support growth.

Read more …

Whatever happened to people’s right to shelter?

The World’s Biggest Real Estate Binge Is Coming To A City Near You (BBG)

If they were anywhere else in Beijing, the five young women in cowboy hats and matching red, white, and blue costumes would look wildly out of place. But here at the city’s biggest international property fair – a frenetic gathering of brokers, developers and other real estate professionals all jockeying for the attention of Chinese buyers – the quintet of wannabe Texans fits right in. As they promote Houston townhouses (“Yours for as little as $350,000!”), a Portugal contingent touts its Golden Visa program and the Australian delegation lures passersby with stuffed kangaroos. Welcome to ground zero for the world’s largest cross-border residential property boom. Motivated by a weakening yuan, surging domestic housing costs and the desire to secure offshore footholds, Chinese citizens are snapping up overseas homes at an accelerating pace.

They’re also venturing further afield than ever before, spreading beyond the likes of Sydney and Vancouver to lower-priced markets including Houston, Thailand’s Pattaya Beach and Malaysia’s Johor Bahru. The buying spree has defied Chinese government efforts to restrict capital outflows and shows little sign of slowing after an estimated $15 billion of overseas real estate purchases in the first half. For cities in the cross-hairs, the challenge is to balance the economic benefits of Chinese demand against the risk that rising home prices spur a public backlash. “The Chinese have managed to accumulate very large amounts of wealth, and the opportunities to deploy that capital in their own market are somewhat restricted,” said Richard Barkham at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial property brokerage. “China has more than a billion people. Personally, I think we have just seen a trickle.”

Read more …

I have too much to say on this to say it here.

America Has Abdicated Its Leadership of the West (Spiegel)

Even history sometimes leans toward pathos. In January 2017, when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, the American Age will celebrate its 100th birthday – and its funeral. The West was constituted in its modern form in January 1917. World War I was raging in Europe at the time and in Washington, D.C., President Woodrow Wilson told his country that it was time for Americans to take responsibility for “peace and justice.” In April he said: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” He declared war on Germany and sent soldiers to Europe to secure victory for the Western democracies – and the United States assumed the leadership of the Western world. It was an early phase of political globalization. One hundred years later: Trump.

Trump, who wants nothing to do with globalization; Trump, who preaches American nationalism, isolation, partial withdrawal from world trade and zero responsibility for a global problem like climate change. And all of this after a perverse election campaign marked by resentment, racism and incitement. Human dignity is the centerpiece of the Western project. Following the revolutions in France and the US in the late 18th century, states began guaranteeing human rights for the first time. Human rights have a normative character, as Heinrich August Winkler argued in his monumental work “History of the West.” And a racist cannot embody this normative project. Trump has no sense of dignity – neither for himself nor others. He does not qualify as the leader of the Western world, because he is both unwilling and incapable of assuming that role.

We now face emptiness – the fear of the void. What will happen to the West, to Europe, to Germany without the United States as its leading power? Germany is a child of the West, particularly of the United States, brought to life with American generosity, long spoon-fed and now in a deep state of shock. The American president was always simultaneously our president, at least a little, and Barack Obama was a worthy president of the West. Now, though, we must come to terms with a lack of Western leadership. What were those 100 years like? The history of the modern West can be told in many ways: as a heroic tale, as a story of greed, as a mission or as a tale of fear. This article is about 100 years of fear, in particular the fear for our freedom, a quintessentially American paranoia that spread to the rest of the West. The word is not being used negatively here; we are talking about fear as a bulwark protecting us against danger. There are good fears and bad fears.

Read more …

“If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then I am afraid we should prepare for economic collapse in very short order.”

Memo to Trump: Defense Spending Must Be For Actual Defense (Ron Paul)

[..] The military budget is something very different from the defense budget. The military budget is the money spent each year not to defend the United States, but to enrich the military-industrial complex, benefit special interests, regime-change countries overseas, maintain a global US military empire, and provide defense to favored allies. The military budget for the United States is larger than the combined military spending budget of the next seven or so countries down the line. To get the military budget in line with our real defense needs would require a focus on our actual interests and a dramatic decrease in spending. The spending follows the policy, and the policy right now reflects the neocon and media propaganda that we must run the rest of the world or there will be total chaos. This is sometimes called “American exceptionalism,” but it is far from a “pro-American” approach.

Do we really need to continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars manipulating elections overseas? Destabilizing governments that do not do as Washington tells them? Rewarding those who follow Washington’s orders with massive aid and weapons sales? Do we need to continue the endless war in Afghanistan even as we discover that Saudi Arabia had far more to do with 9/11 than the Taliban we have been fighting for a decade and a half? Do we really need 800 US military bases in more than 70 countries overseas? Do we need to continue to serve as the military protection force for our wealthy NATO partners even though they are more than capable of defending themselves? Do we need our CIA to continue to provoke revolutions like in Ukraine or armed insurgencies like in Syria?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then I am afraid we should prepare for economic collapse in very short order. Then, with our economy in ruins, we will face the wrath of those countries overseas which have been in the crosshairs of our interventionist foreign policy. If the answer is no, then we must work to convince our countrymen to reject the idea of Empire and embrace the United States as a constitutional republic that no longer goes abroad seeking monsters to slay. The choice is ours.

Read more …

“Their corrupt Democratic Party had a good if not great candidate in Bernie Sanders and their DNC deliberately fought to keep him from winning the primaries..”

The Democratic Party Had a Good if Not Great Candidate in Bernie Sanders (CP)

It’s hard to empathize with the corporate liberals who streamed from the Javits Center in tears [last] Tuesday night. Their corrupt Democratic Party had a good if not great candidate in Bernie Sanders and their DNC deliberately fought to keep him from winning the primaries. In every poll taken during his campaign, Sanders beat Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election. Oh, they’ll start pouring out their bile now, blaming everyone but themselves and their candidate. It was the media’s fault for popularizing Trump (a Clinton strategy). It was the FBI’s fault for re-opening the email case (thanks to Huma Abedin’s ex). It was stupid Middle America’s fault for being racist and sexist (was that why they voted for Trump?). It was third-party supporters who screwed us in Florida again (Paul Krugman and Rachel Maddow are furious that leftists didn’t vote for their heroine). It was Russia’s fault for hacking the DNC (no evidence) and plotting to invade Europe (no evidence).

In Hillary’s farewell speech, she kept to form and quoted scripture–the very last guide she has used to shape her political life. In other words, she remained a hypocrite. She talked to little girls who think she is a great flagbearer for womankind, even though she precipitated the brutal destruction of infrastructure, the breakdown of law and order, and the eventual collapse of the Libyan state, throwing thousands of brown women, boys and girls into extreme danger and exile. She exported the same plan to Syria. And she supported a coup d’état in Honduras that has now led to predictably vicious repression and regular homicide. The truth is, Hillary was a terrible candidate. Like Al Gore. She was charmless and toneless. In an election atmosphere typified by personality politics, Hillary lacked one.

She had a rich track record of foreign policy meltdowns at the State Department and a feckless tenure in the Senate. She alienated Congress in 1993 when she failed to get health care reform passed. And she evidently used high office to peddle access and influence to Clinton Foundation donors. Her positions had changed repeatedly, suggesting she couldn’t be trusted. This, compounded by the scandal surrounding her lazy use of email in the trafficking of confidential information, and ham-fisted attempts to cover it up, cast her in the dimmest of lights with many Americans. An albatross husband still despised by conservatives and who loomed hungrily behind the floodlights of her campaign–didn’t help either.

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Russia’s energy and banking sectors remain murky fields.

Russian Economy Minister Detained Over Alleged $2 Million Bribe (R.)

Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev has been detained over a $2-million bribe allegedly received for a “positive” assessment, which led to oil producer Rosneft acquiring a 50% stake in Bashneft, the country’s Investigative Committee said on Tuesday. He is the highest-ranked statesman in Russia arrested since the failed coup in 1991. The Investigative Committee, which directly reports to President Vladimir Putin, said the investigation would put forward charges soon. “Ulyukayev was detained at night, immediately after interrogation,” an Investigative Committee official told Reuters. It was not immediately clear, what exactly Ulyukayev, who has overseen massive government privatization, has been accused of, but Russian news outlet RT reported that the minister had been detained in the act of taking the bribe.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS news agency that “this is a serious accusation”. “In any case, only a court is able to decide anything,” he was quoted as saying. RT reported that Peskov said he did not know if Putin was aware of the minister’s detention. According to RT, if found guilty, Ulyukayev could face a fine up to 100 times the size of the bribe plus the loss of the right to serve in some state positions and undertake certain activities for up to 15 years. A prison sentence of as long as 15 years and a fine that was 70 times the size of the bribe were other potential outcomes following a guilty verdict, RT said.

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I’ve said it 1000 times: Turkey will never be a member of the EU. Countries will leave as soon as that propect gets real.

EU Threatens Turkey With Economic Sanctions (TT)

Turkey-EU relations braced for a major showdown after the Turkish government renewed its push for bringing the death penalty back, leading to mutual recriminations, trading barbs over recent days. To reveal the gravity of the situation and its meaning for the EU, European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz even spoke about possible economic sanctions against Turkey over draconian emergency practices that destroyed central pillars of democracy and the rule of law. As Turkey’s record on human rights hits lows, its ramifications for the EU accession process becomes evidently palpable with dying prospects for membership in the foreseeable future. The unrelenting political crackdown inside Turkey has left the EU with few options seen deterrent to force Ankara to change its policies at home.

Speaking to German’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Schulz said about the political climate in Brussels where EU leaders discuss imposing economic sanctions against Turkey in response to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s actions to curb the opposition. The consideration of such an option is preferred to terminating entire talks between Turkey and the EU, he argued. “We as the EU will have to consider which economic measures we can take,” Schulz said. One of the arguments he brought forward is that the breakdown in relations would leave the EU with no leverage and option that it could wield influence Turkey to help the opposition and those who are held in pre-trial detention

But his warnings and comment fell on deaf ears in Ankara, prompting a swift rebuke from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who called on Schulz to do whatever possible to back up his threats. Speaking at a press conference in Ankara along with his Chinese counterpart, Cavusoglu called on Schulz to remove banners and booths of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and the EU consider as a terrorist group, from EP building in Brussels. His criticism refers to periodic protests of pro-PKK groups near EP headquarters in Brussels as European Kurds demonstrate there against the Turkish state, set up tents and booths filled with PKK flags and images of imprisoned PKK chief Abdullah Ocalan.

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If Sweden had a case, they would have made it eons ago. What a disgrace as a country.

Julian Assange Faces Second Day Of Questioning (ITV)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be questioned for a second day inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London over a sex allegation. Swedish prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and Swedish police inspector Cecilia Redell will once again interview Assange through a representative of the Ecuadorian government. They said a DNA sample will be taken if he gives consent. It is believed Assange was “fully cooperative” during their initial meeting on Monday. The process could take three days, before Swedish authorities decide on their next move.

However Ms Isgren will not be giving interviews during her stay in London. A statement said: “As the investigation is ongoing, it is subject to confidentiality. “This confidentiality also applies according to Ecuadorian legislation for the investigative measures conducted at the embassy. “Therefore, the prosecutors cannot provide information concerning details of the investigation after the interview.”

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Still waiting for the big one.

Highly Contagious Strain Of Bird Flu Sweeps Through Europe (DW)

The German state of Schleswig-Holstein widened protection measures on Monday to protect against an outbreak of the H5N8 influenza virus among wild birds, which has spread to poultry. All farms – including smallholdings – will be required to tighten biosecurity, with the use of protective clothing and footwear, and the widespread disinfection of all farm buildings and vehicles used to transport poultry. Over the weekend, 30,000 chickens were culled as a precaution at a farm close to the northern city of Grumby, which saw an outbreak of the virus. The affected breeder farm is currently being disinfected and cleaned, Schleswig-Holstein’s environment ministry said on Monday.

Two smaller poultry farms in the same state and the neighboring Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were also affected over the weekend, but neither states registered new H5N8 cases on Monday, local officials said. So far, five German states have seen bird flu outbreaks, including the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, which reported cases around Lake Constance, which is bordered by Switzerland and Austria. The state of Saxony also confirmed the H5N8 virus was detected in a dead heron at a lake near the city of Leipzig. On Monday, Denmark sought to contain its own outbreak among wild birds by ordering a farm to destroy hundreds of thousands of eggs imported from Germany, as a precaution. Some 300,000 eggs from the farm in Grumby were supplied to a hatchery in the Danish town of Baekke, near Kolding. They are all expected to be destroyed by Tuesday.

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Still waiting for the big one here as well. Jitters all around.

100,000 Landslides and Hundreds of Tremors After New Zealand Quake (G._

Up to 100,000 landslides were caused by New Zealand’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, officials said, as aftershocks continued to shake parts of both islands of New Zealand and emergency crews worked to help people in the main affected areas. A major relief effort continued on Tuesday, with thousands of people stranded by the quake, which blocked roads and damaged many buildings across parts of the North and South islands. Emergency services and defence personnel were evacuating hundreds of tourists and residents from Kaikoura, the heavily hit South Island town, amid more strong aftershocks on Tuesday.

The powerful earthquake killed two people. It struck just after midnight on Sunday, destroying farm homesteads, sending glass and masonry toppling from buildings in the capital, Wellington, on the North Island and cutting road and rail links throughout the north-east of the South Island. As aftershocks continued to rattle the region on Wednesday, emergency services cordoned off streets in Wellington and evacuated several buildings due to fears one of them might collapse. Gale-force winds and rain were hampering recovery efforts as wild weather brought floods to the Greater Wellington region. Hundreds of aftershocks continued to rock the region. A 5.4 tremor was among the bigger aftershocks and was felt strongly in Wellington.

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Aug 142016
 
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Harris&Ewing Goat team, Washington, DC 1917


Silicon Valley May Get Hit By China’s ‘Virtual Reality’ Economy (CNBC)
High-Risk ‘Shadow’ Credit in China Put at $2.9 Trillion by IMF (BBG)
Insanity, Oddities and Dark Clouds in Credit-Land (AM)
The Next President Should Forgive All Student Loans (TIME)
The Big Idea about Private Debt (Steve Keen)
How to Break the Power of Money (Korten)
TTIP: The Suicide of Nations (PCR)
How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen (Noonan)
Megaupload’s Dotcom To Seek A Review Of US Court’s Forfeiture Ruling (R.)
A Year After The Crisis Was Declared Over, Greece Is Still Spiralling Down (G.)
The Greek Crisis Will Flare Up Again. And Why Should It Not? (G.)
Aid and Attention Dwindling, Refugee Crisis Intensifies in Greece (NYT)
Germany To Send 3,000 Refugees Back To Greece (KTG)

 

 

Virtual money economy.

Silicon Valley May Get Hit By China’s ‘Virtual Reality’ Economy (CNBC)

“Japan 25 years ago and China now were both debt [and] currency fueled flood of cash into U.S. assets inflating both valuations and fears,” Josh Wolfe, co-founder and managing partner of Lux Capital, a $700 million venture capital firm, told CNBC via email this week. Like other skeptical investors, Wolfe believes there are “really two Chinas: A high growth tech and biotech driven economy conflated with a levered old asset state owned influenced burden of very bad decision making and governance.” China’s high debt, slowing growth and appetite for U.S. assets—the country already owns trillions in U.S. Treasuries and dollars—raises the stakes for tech companies if the country’s fortunes should suddenly reverse.

Of the nearly $60 billion that the National Venture Capital Association says was invested in U.S. startups last year, about a quarter of those flows came from one destination: China. Along with art and high end real estate, tech ventures have been the primary recipient of China’s largesse. Meanwhile, 2016 has already exceeded last year’s record flow of Chinese capital, according to recent figures from The Rhodium Group. Wolfe told CNBC that Chinese investors “are fleeing a virtual reality economy in China and funding virtual reality startups in the U.S. They seem to be choosing illiquidity and uncertainty, denominated in dollars over liquidity and certainty of devaluation denominated in yuan.”

China’s slowing economy has reverberated across the globe, sending commodities reeling and giving investors fright. That pain is far from over: The IMF warned on Friday that China’s real GDP could sink below 6% in 2020. If Chinese interest rates rise or liquidity tightens, the flood of money threatens to do “what all excesses do: reverse or stop,” said Lux Capital’s Wolfe. “As the China bubble pops, it has been commodities and commodity exporting countries in the first wave, then banks and non-performing loans, then it will be the assets they financed or were secured by.”

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Yuan+Junk=Yunk.

High-Risk ‘Shadow’ Credit in China Put at $2.9 Trillion by IMF (BBG)

IMF staff said that 19 trillion yuan ($2.9 trillion) of Chinese “shadow” credit products are high-risk compared with corporate loans and highlighted the danger that defaults could lead to liquidity shocks. The investment products are structured by the likes of trust and securities companies and based on equities or on debt – typically loans – that isn’t traded, staff members John Caparusso and Kai Yan said in a report released Friday. The commentary highlighted the potential for risks bigger to the nation’s financial stability than from companies’ loan defaults. While loan losses can be realized gradually, defaults on the shadow products could trigger risk aversion that’s harder to manage, the report said.

The “high-risk” products offer yields of 11% to 14%, compared with 6% on loans and 3% to 4% on bonds, the commentary said. The lowest-quality of these products are based on “nonstandard credit assets,” typically loans, it said. In a separate document in a bundle released by the IMF, the Chinese banking regulator was cited as saying that banks’ exposures to “nonstandard credit assets” were a key concern, with moves already made to require higher provisioning against such exposures than for regular loans.

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“Foreign buying of US assets very often reaches record highs prior to major financial accidents.”

Insanity, Oddities and Dark Clouds in Credit-Land (AM)

Bond markets are certainly displaying a lot of enthusiasm at the moment – and it doesn’t matter which bonds one looks at, as the famous “hunt for yield” continues to obliterate interest returns across the board like a steamroller. Corporate and government debt have been soaring for years, but investor appetite for such debt has evidently grown even more. A huge mountain of interest-free risk has accumulated in investor portfolios and on bank balance sheets. Globally, more than $13 trillion in sovereign bonds trade at negative yields to maturity. In spite of soaring defaults, junk bond yields have collapsed again as well. In short, insanity rules in the bond markets. A recent article in the FT informs us of “a wave of foreign demand for US corporate debt”:

“Record-low interest rates are no barrier for US companies finding buyers for their debt thanks to a relentless global quest for fixed returns that shows little sign of easing. The pace of US corporate debt sales – which has not been fast enough to quench investor demand – is expected to continue unabated driven by foreign buyers in a world where roughly $13tn of sovereign and corporate debt trades in negative territory. “It is a low return world,” says Ed Campbell, a portfolio manager with asset manager QMA. “You don’t have a lot of asset classes that are attractive and there is a flight to quality where the US is outperforming.” More than $2.3tn of dollar-denominated debt has been issued by companies and banks since the year began, including three of the ten largest corporate bond sales on record, Dealogic data show.”

This not only shows that “investors” (we use the term loosely) are insane, it also happens to be a contrary indicator. Foreign buying of US assets very often reaches record highs prior to major financial accidents. Is this really a “flight to quality?” Corporate defaults are currently at the highest level since 2009, with US defaults clearly leading the pack:

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And what should(s)he do for everyone else who’s in trouble? Can’t very well help only students.

The Next President Should Forgive All Student Loans (TIME)

If Hillary Clinton is to win this November, she needs to motivate the electorate to come out to vote for something more than a justified aversion to Donald Trump. Particularly for younger voters and voters with families, she has to capture their imaginations with a bold, simple, and common sense proposal to address one of the most critical financial and social problems currently facing a generation: the student loan crisis. And she needs to do so in a way that can do the most immediate good for the nation at large. First, all outstanding student loan debt should be forgiven. Second, a new loan program should be created that is tied to incentives for college graduates to choose careers in public service and which indexes repayment to income.

Current outstanding student loans amount to 1.3 trillion dollars, roughly 10% of all household debt. Student loan debt is larger than either car loans or credit card debt. Forty-two million Americans hold student loan debt. Student debt has been a drag on younger generations’ incomes and has contributed to the stagnation in middle class earnings. The average debt at graduation has skyrocketed from $10,000 in 1993 to more than $35,000 in 2016. Furthermore, the federal government has set interest rates on student loans at twice the current market rate of other types of loans. Going to college should not be a profit center for Wall Street and the federal government.

By forgiving student loan debt—which is largely held by the government—a tremendous economic stimulus would be generated, whose beneficiaries are people, not banks. The cost is comparable to the stimulus program created in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, and, in this case, Main Street and not Wall Street will benefit. Quickly, more than two generations of Americans would be able to invest in homes and develop and support families. And the Americans who benefit are those who have obtained education and skills, but whose careers have been hobbled by an inordinate amount of debt.

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Private debt sinks societies. For no good reason. Make forgiving student debt part of a modern jubilee?!

The Big Idea about Private Debt (Steve Keen)

This is a talk I gave to the Northern Ireland Big Ideas Event organised by NICVA: the “Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action” (http://www.nicva.org/event/big-ideas-…). Unfortunately I ran out of time to finish my presentation on why a “Modern Debt Jubilee” is needed to escape from the current economic state of credit stagnation, but I covered why it is this–and not “secular stagnation” that explains the prevalence of low rates of economic growth globally.

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True but not strong.

How to Break the Power of Money (Korten)

Our current political chaos has a simple explanation. The economic system is driving environmental collapse, economic desperation, political corruption, and financial instability. And it isn’t working for the vast majority of people. It serves mainly the interests of a financial oligarchy that in the United States dominates the establishment wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. So voters are rebelling against those wings of both parties—and for good reason. As a society we confront a simple truth. An economic system based on the false idea that money is wealth—and the false promise that maximizing financial returns to the holders of financial assets will maximize the well-being of all—inevitably does exactly what it is designed to do:

1. Those who have financial assets and benefit from Wall Street’s financial games get steadily richer and more powerful. 2. The winners use the power of their financial assets to buy political favor and to hold government hostage by threatening to move jobs and tax revenue to friendlier states and countries. 3. The winners then use this political power to extract public subsidies, avoid taxes, and externalize environmental, labor, health, and safety costs to further increase their financial returns and buy more political power. This results in a vicious cycle of an ever greater concentration of wealth and power in the hands of those who demonstrate the least regard for the health and well-being of others and the living Earth, on which all depend.

Fewer and fewer people have more and more power and society pays the price. A different result requires a different system, and the leadership for change is coming, as it must, from those for whom the current system does not work.

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“The agreements make global corporations immune to laws and regulations that can be said to adversely impact their profits.”

TTIP: The Suicide of Nations (PCR)

The TransAtlantic and TransPacific “partnerships” are the economic and financial counterpart to Washington’s military and foreign policy push for world hegemony. TTIP and TPP are neither partnerships nor trade agreements. They are instruments of financial imperialism that, if they come into effect, subordinate the sovereignty of countries to the profits of global corporations. The reason the “partnerships” are negotiated in secrecy without public discussions and the participation of the national legislatures is that the so-called agreements cannot stand the light of day. The reason is simple. The agreements make global corporations immune to laws and regulations that can be said to adversely impact their profits.

It makes no difference whether the laws protect the environment, the safety of food and workers or are part of the social fabric. If the laws impose costs that reduce profits, corporations can sue the governments in “corporate tribunals” in which the corporations themselves serve as judge and jury. This is no joke. Public Citizen reports that the agreements would greatly expand the privileges given to foreign corporations by the North American Free Trade Agreement under which $350 million has been paid out by governments to corporations because of costs of complying with toxic waste and logging rules, with $13 billion in claims pending.

Economist Michael Hudson cites a British study that public provision of health care, such as the UK’s National Health Service, is a TTIP target on the grounds that not only health care regulations but also public provision of health care harms the commercial interests of corporations. TTIP and TPP are tools for disenfranchising electorates and overturning democratic outcomes and for looting taxpayers via damage suits against governments for the costs of complying with health, safety, environmental, and social laws and regulations. The agreements place corporations above the laws of countries. The agreements have the potential of producing a worldwide sweatshop with starvation wages devoid of environmental and safety legislation.

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Curious ideas when coming from the Wall Street Journal.

How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen (Noonan)

On Wall Street, where they used to make statesmen, they now barely make citizens. CEOs are consumed with short-term thinking, stock prices, quarterly profits. They don’t really believe that they have to be involved with “America” now; they see their job as thinking globally and meeting shareholder expectations. In Silicon Valley the idea of “the national interest” is not much discussed. They adhere to higher, more abstract, more global values. They’re not about America, they’re about … well, I suppose they’d say the future. In Hollywood the wealthy protect their own children from cultural decay, from the sick images they create for all the screens, but they don’t mind if poor, unparented children from broken-up families get those messages and, in the way of things, act on them down the road.

From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage. In Manhattan, my little island off the continent, I see the children of the global business elite marry each other and settle in London or New York or Mumbai. They send their children to the same schools and are alert to all class markers. And those elites, of Mumbai and Manhattan, do not often identify with, or see a connection to or an obligation toward, the rough, struggling people who live at the bottom in their countries. In fact, they fear them, and often devise ways, when home, of not having their wealth and worldly success fully noticed.

Affluence detaches, power adds distance to experience. I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.

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“Did they think they can separate me from my kids without a fight? I fight corrupt US empire clowns all day, every day. Not even tired.”

Megaupload’s Dotcom To Seek A Review Of US Court’s Forfeiture Ruling (R.)

German tech entrepreneur and alleged internet pirate Kim Dotcom will seek a review of a Federal Court decision which rejected his bid to keep hold of millions of dollars in assets held in Hong Kong and New Zealand, his lawyer said. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled two to one on Friday that Dotcom could not recover his assets because by remaining outside the U.S., he was a fugitive, which disentitled him from using the resources to fight his case. Dotcom’s lawyer Ira P. Rothken said his client would seek a review of the decision in front of the full bench and, if necessary, petition the Supreme Court.

“This opinion has the effect of eviscerating Kim Dotcom’s treaty rights by saying if you lawfully oppose extradition in New Zealand, the U.S. will still call you a fugitive and take all of your assets,” Rothken said in an email to Reuters received on Sunday. Dotcom has been fighting extradition from New Zealand over charges of copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering in the United States related to the Megaupload file-sharing site he founded in 2005. A New Zealand court ruled in December he could be extradited, but an appeal hearing has been set for later this month. Dotcom responded to the Federal Court ruling on Twitter. “Did they think they can separate me from my kids without a fight? I fight corrupt US empire clowns all day, every day. Not even tired.”

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The writedowns total down the road keeps growing rapidly.

A Year After The Crisis Was Declared Over, Greece Is Still Spiralling Down (G.)

In a side street in the heart of Athens, two siblings are hard at work. For the past year they have run their hairdressing business – an enterprise that was once located on a busy boulevard – out of a two-bedroom flat. The move was purely financial: last summer, as it became clear that Greeks would be hit by yet more austerity to foot the bill for saving their country from economic collapse, they realised their business would go bust if it continued operating legally. “We did our sums and understood that staying put made no sense at all,” says one sibling. “If we didn’t [offer] receipts, if we avoided taxes and social security contributions, we could just about make ends meet.”

They are far from being alone. A year after debt-stricken Greece received its third financial rescue in the form of international funding worth €86bn, such survival techniques have become commonplace. For a middle class eviscerated by relentless rounds of cuts and tax rises – the price of the country’s ongoing struggle to avert bankruptcy – the draconian conditions attached to the latest bailout are invariably invoked in their defence. Measures ranging from the overhaul of the pension system to indirect duties – slapped on beer, fuel and almost everything in between – and a controversial increase in VAT are similarly cited by Greeks now reneging on loan repayments, property taxes and energy bills.

Against a backdrop of monumental debt – €320bn, or 180% of GDP, the accumulation of decades of profligacy – fatalism is fast replacing pessimism on the streets. “Our country is doomed,” sighs Savvas Tzironis, summing up the mood. “Everything goes from bad to worse.” Close to half a million Greeks are believed to have migrated since the crisis begun, thanks to the searing effect of persistent unemployment (at just under 24%, the highest in Europe) and an economy that has shed more than a third of its total output over the past six years. The nation has been assigned some €326bn in bailout loans since May 2010 – the biggest rescue programme in global financial history. Yet the fear that it is locked in an economic death spiral was given further credence last week when Eurobank analysts announced that consumption and exports had also fallen, by 6.4% and 7.2%, in the second quarter of the year.

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And why should Larry Elliott not call a spade a spade? What’s happening to Greece is not some ‘policy mistake’, all parties involved know exactly what they do.

The Greek Crisis Will Flare Up Again. And Why Should It Not? (G.)

Greece has ceased to make headlines. A year ago, the TV cameras were trained on the protesters thronging the streets of Athens because there were fears that a crisis that had been steadily becoming more acute in the first half of 2015 could result in the single currency splintering. That threat was removed by a deal that involved a humiliating climbdown by the Syriza-led government. Greece received a bailout, but with harsh conditions attached. There were three obvious problems with that 2015 deal, which secured Greece its third bailout in five years. The first was that the new dose of austerity would make it more difficult for Greece to emerge from a slump just as severe as that which gripped the US in the 1930s.

The second was that Greece’s creditors were making unrealistic assumptions for growth and deficit reduction. The third was that sooner or later the Greek crisis would flare up again. It was a case of when, not if. It has not all been bad news over the past 12 months. Fears that yields on Greek bonds would soar after the UK’s Brexit vote did not materialise. Some of the tough capital controls that were imposed in the summer of 2015 to protect the banking system have been eased. There has been talk that by next summer it will be possible for the government in Athens to raise money in the world’s financial markets by selling Greek government bonds. All that said, though, the first two predictions have come true.

By last summer, Greece had suffered a five-year slump that was on a par with the damage caused to the US economy in the Great Depression. Yet the country’s creditors thought it was a good idea to suck even more demand out of the economy through spending cuts and tax increases. The result has been depressingly predictable. Far from there being a resumption of growth, the economy has continued to contract. Greece’s national output was 1.4% lower in the first three months of 2016 than it was a year earlier. Consumer spending was down by 1.3%. Nor, with confidence at rock bottom, is there much prospect of better times. Greece remains deep in recession.

[..] The IMF says that without debt relief, Greece’s debt could hit 250% of GDP by the middle of the century. Germany would prefer those discussions to be delayed until after its election in autumn next year. But the chances are that Greece will be back in the headlines before then.

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Oh, irony. Just a few days after I wrote about Greece’s 15 minutes of fame in Meanwhile in Greece.., both the Guardian and the NY Times happen to notice the same thing. “..ceased to make headlines..” , “..Attention dwindling..”

Aid and Attention Dwindling, Migrant Crisis Intensifies in Greece (NYT)

Seven months after the EU shut the doors to large numbers of newcomers, Greece remains Europe’s de facto holding pen for 57,000 people trapped amid the chaos. Many are living in a distressing limbo in sordid refugee camps on the mainland and on Greek islands near Turkey. A year after the world was riveted by scenes of desperate men, women and children streaming through Europe, international attention to their plight has waned now that the borders have been closed and they are largely confined to camps. Anti-immigrant sentiment has surged since last year in many countries, especially as people who entered Europe with the migrant flow are linked to crimes and, in a few cases, attacks planned or inspired by the Islamic State or other radical groups.

Neither the prosperous nations of Western and Northern Europe, where the refugees want to settle, nor Turkey, their point of departure for the Continent, are living up to their promises of help. [..] The ranks of those in limbo are most likely to grow despite a deal to resolve the crisis that took effect March 20 between the EU and Turkey. While the number of migrants entering Greece has dwindled from nearly 5,000 a day last year, hundreds have started crossing the Aegean Sea again after the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Few of the resources pledged by the EU to assist the asylum seekers and process their applications have actually come through, leaving the Greek authorities struggling to cope with a daunting humanitarian and logistical challenge that has fallen from view in the rest of Europe.

European Union member states have sent just 27 of the 400 asylum specialists and 24 of the 400 interpreters they had agreed to provide to process claims for refugees like Mrs. Madran. So far, 21,000 migrants have been registered for asylum; 36,000 have not. A union plan to ease Greece’s burden by relocating tens of thousands of asylum seekers to the Continent has also fizzled, with European countries taking less than 2,300 people.

The bottlenecks have overwhelmed many of the camps, especially on the Greek islands, where migrants arriving after the March 20 deal are supposed to be held until being deported to Turkey. That program has stalled because of legal challenges and because Greece must process each asylum application first. So far, 468 of the more than 10,000 people who have arrived since the deal took effect have been returned. Turkish monitors assigned to assist were fired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey after the coup attempt against him.

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“The cost for Greece since the beginning of the Refugee Crisis “is more than €2 billion, the EU has allocated so far €330million – not to the Greek government but to NGOs, mostly NGOs from abroad..” Makes you wonder how much of that €330million has actually been used to help refugees, and how much on NGO operating costs.

Germany To Send 3,000 Refugees Back To Greece (KTG)

I thought, EU members states were supposed to take 6,000 refugees per month from Greece – according to some forgotten EU Deal signed the European Commission and the EU member states. Reality teaches us, the deal will work the other way around. Member states will send refugees back to …Greece. Blame the Dublin III Agreement. Germany decided to send to Greece and specifically to Crete more than 3,000 refugees in first phase. Berlin considers that this number is “redundant” in its territory. According to local media ekriti.gr, the Greek government has adopted this German decision, while Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas chaired a revelant meeting in Herakleion recently and announced the transfer.

The refugees will start coming by plane initially in Heraklion and Chania in December. Mouzalas had said that they will come after the tourist season. Independent MEP Notis Marias also confirmed the transfer in an interview with Radio Kriti. The cost for Greece since the beginning of the Refugee Crisis “is more than two billion euro, the EU has allocated so far €330million – not to the Greek government but to NGOs, mostly NGOs from abroad,” ekriti notes. Meanwhile the influx from Turkey started to increase again, more than 650 refugees and migrants arrived last week. Athens is worried that Ankara will draw back from the EU-Turkey deal in October.

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Aug 122016
 
 August 12, 2016  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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G. G. Bain At Casino, Belmar, Sunday, NJ 1910


Private Lenders Increase the Risk of a Global Debt Crisis (TeleSur)
US Homeownership Dips to Lowest Rate Since 1960 (RCM)
The Next Huge American Housing Bailout Could Be Coming (TAM)
China’s Stimulus Efforts Show ‘Malinvestment Is Still Hard at Work’ (BBG)
The UK Is the New Engine of Bond-Market Distortion (WSJ)
A Really Vicious Circle Is Threatening UK Pension Pots (BBG)
IMF to ECB: Forget Negative Rates, Or You’ll Do More Harm Than Good (MW)
Global Shipping Giant Moller-Maersk Reports 90% Fall In Net Profit (CNBC/R.)

 

 

Warning against vulture funds. Then again, isn’t the IMF one of them too?

Private Lenders Increase the Risk of a Global Debt Crisis (TeleSur)

Private creditors have replaced the public sector as lead borrower to developing countries, which has contributed to a new borrowing and lending boom. Private financial institutions are responsible for prompting a potential “new wave” of debt crises among developing nations, according to a new report carried out by European Think Tank Eurodad. Public debt in developing countries is increasingly being borrowed from private lenders, which the authors argue has meant that an increasing portion of credit is not effectively monitored or regulated. “Private borrowers, in particular private corporations, have used this regulation gap to throw a big borrowing party, a debt party, and thus have contributed disproportionately to the external debt burden that developing countries carry now,” the report warned.

As part of its findings, the authors of the report concluded that, “while relative debt burdens decreased between 2000 and 2010, these trends have reversed in 2011. Since then debt is on an upward path, also when measured in relative terms.” Developing countries total external debt burden reached US$5.4 trillion in 2014 and over half of this amount is now owed by private debtors, according to data from the report titled,“The Evolving Nature of Developing Country Debt and Solutions for Change.” The study attributed the recent increase in private creditors to the heavy public borrowing that took place during the 1980’s and 1990’s, which prompted sharper restrictions on public lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.

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Remember affordable housing?

US Homeownership Dips to Lowest Rate Since 1960 (RCM)

The US homeownership rate, as recently reported by the Census Bureau, dropped to 62.9% in the second quarter of 2016, a rate about equal to the rate of 61.9% reported over a half century ago for 1960. This stagnation compares unfavorably to 1900 to 1960 when the non-farm homeownership rate increased from 36.5% to 61%.-a period encompassing rampant urbanization, immigration, and population growth. For example, the non-farm population quadrupled from about 42 million to 166 million, yet the non-farm homeownership rate increased by 67%. Except for the interruption caused by the Great Depression, the rate of increase was moderate to strong throughout the period.

How can this be? Isn’t there an alphabet soup of federal agencies-FHA, HUD, FNMA, FHLMC, GNMA, RHS, FHLBs-all with the goal of increasing homeownership by making it more “affordable”? Don’t these agencies fund or insure countless trillions of dollars in home loan lending–most with very liberal loan terms? Could it be the federal government massive liberalization of mortgage terms creates demand pressure leading to higher prices? Could it be federal, state, and local governments’ implement land use policies that constrain supply and drive prices up even further? Could it be government housing policies have made homeownership less, not more affordable or accessible?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Since the mid-1950, liberalized federal lending policies have fueled a massive and dangerous increase in leverage-one that continues to this day. For example, in 1954 FHA loans had an average loan term of 22 years vs. 29.5 years today, an average loan-to-value of 80% vs. 97.5%, average housing debt-to-income ratio of 15% vs. 28%. Only the average borrowing cost in 1954 of 4.5% is the same as it is today. The result is today’s FHA borrower can purchase a home selling for twice as much as one with the underwriting standards in place in 1954-but without a dollar’s increase in income!

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It’s all a big rip-off. Get the government out of housing once and for all.

The Next Huge American Housing Bailout Could Be Coming (TAM)

The failures of government intervention in the economy have made headlines yet again. Recent stress tests by the Federal Housing Finance Agency found something sinister brewing under the surface at notorious mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The results show that these puppet companies could need up to a $126 billion bailout if the economy continues to deteriorate. That’s right — the two companies that were taken over by the government and that sucked $187 billion from the treasury could be entitled to more taxpayer money. The toxic home loans bought during the last crisis coupled with a lack of liquidity have suddenly become serious risk factors.

The so-called “recovery” that has been trumpeted for years by countless politicians and economists is falling apart in plain view. The media will do just about anything to assure the public that this is all isolated and overblown, but the canary in the coal mine has just dropped dead. The tests ran a scenario eerily similar to warnings we’ve heard about what the economic future might hold: “The global market shock involves large and immediate changes in asset prices, interest rates, and spreads caused by general market dislocation and uncertainty in the global economy.” In the throes of the 2008 crisis, the government took many unprecedented actions, but one of the most notable was seizing control of the two largest mortgage loan holders in the country.

Since then, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been converted from subsidized private organizations into some of the biggest government-sponsored enterprises ever created. These institutions have been used to prop up the entire real estate market by purchasing trillions of dollars in home loans from other banks to keep prices elevated. Without Fannie and Freddie, the supply of houses on the market would have far exceeded the number of buyers. This glut in supply and low demand would have forced sellers to lower prices until a deal was made. Instead, these wards of the state were able to buy up properties at artificially high prices using government-issued blank checks, allowing for the manipulation of home values back up to desired levels.

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Debt at work.

China’s Stimulus Efforts Show ‘Malinvestment Is Still Hard at Work’ (BBG)

It was supposed to be different this time. Ahead of looming fiscal stimulus from China, analysts were quick to emphasize that this would be a leaner, smarter government spending program. There would be a new method of financing to try to keep the debt burdens for local governments from becoming too onerous. And, above all, it would be targeted to avoid exacerbating the excess capacity that’s abundant in many industries. While the scale of the expenditures certainly pales in comparison to those that followed the Great Recession, the story remains the same. A Morgan Stanley team, led by Chief China Economist Robin Xing, noted that fixed-asset investment growth among state-owned enterprises (or SOEs) has accelerated across the board in 2016, with the exception of mining.

This same trend also holds for investment in services sectors, Xing observed. These data suggest that stimulus efforts have not been as targeted as proponents hoped, belie the narrative of rotation of growth from credit-driven infrastructure projects to activity linked to domestic demand, and raise the specter of further malinvestment in the world’s second largest economy. “We know a) in real terms rebalancing isn’t advancing as much as the government protests citing nominal data and b) the restimulation this last year of investment via credit and fiscal policies will certainly have slowed it down further,” writes George Magnus, senior economic adviser at UBS. “Capital accumulation isn’t all or always wrong but if it’s largely debt financed and SOE provided, I’d say that malinvestment is still hard at work.”

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Lest we forget: There is no market. There is only distortion.

The UK Is the New Engine of Bond-Market Distortion (WSJ)

Britain has taken over from Japan as the world’s wildest bond market, raising new questions about the distortions being caused by central banks. The soaring price (and so plunging yield) of the 30-year gilt means it has now returned the same 31% over the past 12 months as the Japanese 30-year note, even as some of the excess in long-dated Japanese bonds falls away. The race into gilts partly anticipated and was accelerated by the Bank of England’s resumption of bond purchases this week, part of a package of monetary easing designed to offset damage to the economy from June’s Brexit vote. Lower gilt yields are in turn contributing to demand for global bonds, helping keep U.S. Treasury yields depressed even as other market moves suggest a revival of hopes for growth and inflation.

This again raises a long-running problem for investors. Should they regard low yields as a sign of how grim a future is in store for the world economy? Or are central banks distorting the signal so much through bond purchases that yields no longer carry much information about the economy? The rally in gilts has been extraordinary, with the yield on the U.K.’s longest-dated bond, the 2068 maturity, almost halving from 2% on the day of the referendum to 1.06% on Thursday. The price of the bond is up 53% this year, the sort of gains usually produced by risky stocks, not rock-solid government paper.

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Consolation: it happens everywhere.

A Really Vicious Circle Is Threatening UK Pension Pots (BBG)

As the Bank of England seeks to ease Brexit angst by injecting money into the U.K. economy, pension managers and insurers are finding themselves caught up in a vicious circle. Britain’s new quantitative-easing program, combined with monetary easing around the world, is crushing yields, leaving these long-term investors ever more desperate to hold on to their 20-, 30- and 50-year bonds to meet return targets and liabilities. That forces protagonists like the BOE, which is buying 60 billion pounds ($78 billion) of government debt over six months, to bid higher prices – driving yields down even further.

This may explain the crunch this week, when the central bank failed to find enough investors to sell it longer-maturity gilts, the part of the debt market dominated by pensions and insurers. While the revival of QE is intended to reduce the risk of a Brexit-fueled slump, the shortfall raises the question of whether debt purchases with newly created money are becoming part of the problem as well as the solution. “We recognize the Bank’s concern and the need to protect the economy,” said Helen Forrest Hall, defined-benefit policy lead at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association in London. “But the challenge we have is that the QE programs do have an impact on pension funds’ liabilities.”

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Yeah, can’t risk bank profits, can we?

IMF to ECB: Forget Negative Rates, Or You’ll Do More Harm Than Good (MW)

Economists at the IMF are urging the ECB to stop yanking interest rates further into negative territory, warning it will take a toll on the region’s already struggling banks and reduce lending to businesses and households. In a blog post on the IMF website, economists Andy Jobst and Huidan Lin say any additional cuts that would push rates further below zero will encounter diminishing returns and threaten, at this point, to do more harm than good. “Further policy rate cuts could bring into focus the potential trade-off between effective monetary transmission and bank profitability. Lower bank profitability and equity prices could pressure banks with slender capital buffers to reduce lending, especially those with high levels of troubled loans,” the analysts said on the blog.

“The prospect of prolonged low policy rates has clouded the earnings outlook for most banks, suggesting that the benefits from a negative interest rate policy might diminish over time,” they said. The warning comes as expectations are rising the central bank will announce fresh stimulus at its September meeting to offset the negative impact on the eurozone from the U.K.’s Brexit vote on June 23. At its July meeting, ECB boss Mario Draghi stopped short of pledging more measures, saying the policy makers will reassess in September when it will have fresh economic forecasts that factor in the impact of the U.K.’s referendum on ending its EU membership.

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New normal: Profit falls 90%, shares up 5.3%.

Global Shipping Giant Moller-Maersk Reports 90% Fall In Net Profit (CNBC/R.)

Moller-Maersk kept its downbeat 2016 profit forecast on Friday as the Danish shipping and oil giant reported net profit way under expectations as it struggles to cope with a shipping recession and tough oil markets. The Danish shipping and oil group said net profit fell to $101 million in April-June, lagging a forecast of $196 million. It was also around 90% lower than the $1.069 billion reported for the same period last year. The company maintained its outlook for an underlying profit for the full year significantly below last years $3.1 billion. Shares of the group were up 5.3% Friday morning.

Trond Westlie, chief financial officer of Maersk Group, told CNBC on Friday that the shipping industry faced turbulent times as a result of the “very difficult” oil market and decline in freight rates. “When we look at the overall market and when we look at supply and demand and the growth in the world, we still think it’s going to be low-growth and volatile.” “For us, like always, we have a view on a couple of weeks or a four weeks’ indication on where the market is going but after that it’s very opaque for us as well.”

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Aug 042016
 
 August 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Howard Hollem George Lane April 1942
“George Lane, served in the last war with the British Army from Vimy Ridge to the Occupation. Two of his sons are in the American Army, one with the Air Corps in Australia. His daughter volunteered for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Seven of his nephews are in the British Army”

 

 

With the Bank of England about to announce its latest set of desperate measures today, the first since the Brexit, I accidentally stumbled upon an article I wrote on January 16 2012, well over 4 1/2 years ago, in the Automatic Earth’s last days at Blogger. Posting it again here seems appropriate 5 weeks after the Brexit, because the article shows you that the referendum result did not come out of nowhere, no matter what many people claim. The British economy was already doing very poorly, and already failing millions of people, going into 2012.

Note: of course not all predictions made back then played out the way they were made, but I’m more interested in the overall picture. For instance, unemployment numbers are not as dire as forecast, but that hides the deterioration in the quality of jobs, and what they actually pay, much as that happens in the US. Bubbles in stocks and housing hide a lot too. David Cameron’s rule has been hard on the poorer British people, and it will take a long time for that to be corrected. I changed the coding just a little bit (Blogger vs WordPress), nothing big, so it looks a bit different. Here’s from early 2012, happy time travel:

 

 

Ilargi: There is a relative silence in the international financial press when it comes to Britain. The economic situation of continental Europe gets almost all the attention. Every now and then someone in France or Germany states that Britain, too, should be downgraded, like when S&P cut the ratings of 9 European countries, but such statements attract hardly any interest at all. This might not be overly wise, though.

At the end of last year, Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge published a graph from Haver Analytics/Morgan Stanley that should probably have sounded alarm bells quite a bit louder than it did.

Still, this graph would seem to indicate that the only core issue in the UK is its outsize financial sector with its outsize debt. From time to time, however, news articles pop up that seem to indicate there’s more going on than trouble in the City of London.

I found this one alarmingly interesting, for instance, from James Hall in the Telegraph on January 4:

One million people take out emergency loans to pay mortgage

Almost one million Britons have taken out an emergency ‘payday’ loan to help pay their rent or mortgage in the last year, according to Shelter, the housing charity.

The high degree of borrowing highlights the ‘spiral of debt’ that people are falling into to keep a roof over their head, Shelter said. The charity also found that seven million Britons are relying on some form of credit to help pay their housing costs.

Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: ‘These shocking findings show the extent to which millions of households across the country are desperately struggling to keep their home.’

Ilargi: Payday loans to pay off your mortgage? Sounds like perhaps Britain has a substantial hidden real estate problem, a pre-shadow inventory one that could spiral out of control at a rapid clip.

On January 9, the same James Hall had this follow-up:

Six million households have only five days’ savings

Around six million households would be unable to survive for more than five days if they stopped being paid, such are the low levels of savings among Britons, new research shows.

A new report from First Direct, the bank, warns that one in three UK households have less than £250 in accessible savings. A fifth of all households have no savings at all.

The bank said that £250 is the equivalent of three days’ average monthly household take-home pay. With average monthly outgoing currently at £1,536, these savings would last just five days.

Ilargi: Obviously, the two groups, those that take out loanshark payday loans to keep a roof over their head, and those that live paycheck to paycheck, overlap each other to a large extent.

Still, what makes it striking is the sheer number of people affected. One million people need emergency loans to keep their families in their homes, while six million households have nothing whatsoever saved for a rainy day.

If we put the average household size at 2.5 people, that means that, out of 60 million living in Britain, 2.5 million are on the verge of losing their homes, and 15 million, or 25% of the population, risk having to cut on their basic needs, food and heating, if they hit even the slightest speedbump.

And what are the chances this situation will improve any time soon? It doesn’t look good; in fact it looks set to worsen. While there’s no lack of denial, an increasing number of voices admit that the British economy has already slipped back into recession. This is from the BBC this morning:

UK in recession say Item Club economic forecasters

The UK may have already slipped back into recession, economic forecaster the [Ernst&Young] Item Club has warned. The think tank said gross domestic product shrank in the final quarter of last year and would contract again in the current three-month period.

It said that even if the eurozone could resolve its problems the UK economy would grow by just 0.2% this year. It also predicted unemployment would rise by a further 300,000 to just below three million people. [..]

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said unemployment would stay above 2.5 million until at least 2016, peaking at 2.9 million next year. Chief economic adviser John Philpott said the jobless rate would rise to 8.8% at the end of next year. [..]

Another forecast from the Centre for Economics and Business Research said the UK would actually shrink this year by 0.4% and by a full 1% if the eurozone broke up.

Ilargi: Nor is it hard to find an ironic twist in all this. In what depicts a fast growing chain of events, Zoe Wood reports for the Guardian:

Royal Bank of Scotland pulls out of deal to rescue Peacocks

More than 13,000 retail jobs are on the line at value fashion group Peacocks after Royal Bank of Scotland walked away from restructuring talks at the heavily indebted retail chain.

Peacocks may have to appoint administrators after the state-backed lender had an abrupt change of heart about a deal to refinance the retailer’s £600m debt pile, which would have involved risking more money in the business. RBS and Barclays were in the driving seat of the complex debt-for-equity negotiations – which were said to involve 18 funds and lenders – as they are owed the most. Both banks are owed more than £100m.

Peacocks’ advisers have been trying to put together a rescue deal for months, but talks broke down at the weekend, leaving the future of the store, which has 550 branches and employs around 10,000 staff, hanging in the balance. [..] “It’s quite a complex deal,” said one insider. “It was all going well until RBS walked away last week. There are still conversations going on.” [..]

RBS is facing a series of tough decisions this year as a number of struggling high-street chains, including HMV and Clinton Cards, are reliant on its largesse. “Each company restructure is judged on its own merits, but clearly the difficult conditions that retailers face is an important factor,” said an RBS spokesman. [..]

A string of high-street chains including La Senza, Blacks Leisure and Barratts Priceless have called in administrators in recent weeks as trading failed to produce enough cash to cover costs such as rent and interest payments on loans.

Ilargi: With the country in a recession, but hardly anyone willing to concede that to date, least of all its government, it’s no wonder that things like this happen, mostly hidden from sight.

The ironic twist to it is provided by that fact that RBS is 70% owned by the British government, which has poured billions of pounds into the bank, and then lets it make decisions that cost 10’s of 1000’s of jobs.

I don’t want to get into a political debate about this; however, protecting banks with taxpayer funds, but not jobs, is a decision that is of course as political as it is ironic. Letting bailed out bank executives make decisions that cut all these jobs and at the same time pay themselves multi-million dollar bonuses is way beyond ironic.

But all of the above is just today’s prologue. I received an article yesterday that outdoes it all, and then some.

John Ross, Visiting Professor at Antai College of Economics and Management at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai writes a real stunner on his blog Key Trends in Globalisation:

The incredible shrinking UK economy

The magnitude of the blow suffered by the UK economy since the beginning of the financial crisis is very considerably minimized by not presenting it in terms of a common international yardstick. Gauged by decline in GDP, using a common international purchasing measure, dollars, no other economy in the world has shrunk even remotely as much as the UK.

As most countries produce only annualized GDP data it will be necessary to wait before a comprehensive global comparison can be made for 2011. However it is clear no substantial growth in dollar terms took place in the UK economy during that year – GDP at national current prices rose only 1.4 per cent between the 1st and 3rd quarters and the change in the pound’s exchange rate against the dollar during the year was a marginal 0.3 per cent.

Therefore there will have been no significant recovery from the UK data set out in Table 1 below, and the gap between the UK and other European economies, which form the next worst performing major group, is too great to have been qualitatively affected by changes in the Euro’s exchange rate – the Euro declined against the pound by only 3.3 per cent in 2011.

Table 1 shows that the fall in UK GDP in 2007-2010 was $562 billion compared to the next worst performing national economy, Italy, with a decline of $65 billion – i.e. the decline in UK GDP in the common measuring yardstick of dollars was more than 8 times that of the next worst performing national economy. Table 1 shows the 10 national economies suffering the greatest declines in dollar GDP.

It is also extremely striking that the UK’s decline was more than two and a half times that of the entire Eurozone.

The UK accounted for a somewhat astonishing 77% of the EU’s decline.

Expressed in percentage terms the situation is no better. Of all economies for which World Bank data is available only Iceland, with a decline in dollar GDP of 38.4%, suffered a worst percentage fall than the UK – even bail out economy Ireland, with a fall of 18.4%, outperformed the UK economy.

Two trends intersected for the UK’s performance to be so much worse than that of any other economy. First, contrary to the government’s anti-European rhetoric, UK economic performance in constant price national currency terms has been significantly worse than the Eurozone during the financial crisis (Figure 2). [..]

… between the beginning of 2008 and the beginning of 2012, the pound’s exchange rate has fallen by 21.0% against the dollar compared to the Euro’s 11.4% drop in the same period. The multiplicative effect of the severity of the relative drop in constant price GDP and the fall in the pound’s exchange rate accounts for the unequalled decline in UK GDP in dollars.

As at present the UK economy shows no substantial sign of recovery, the present UK government, which maintains a steadfastly ostrich like attitude towards Europe in particular, and most other countries in general, may argue that a measure in terms of dollars at current exchange rates is irrelevant – the UK currency is the pound and what counts is constant price shifts. Such an argument is false and an attempt to disguise the true scale of the decline of the UK economy.

The internationally unmatched decline in UK dollar GDP is a huge fall in real international purchasing ability. The far higher than targeted inflation in the UK during the last two years, which has substantially eroded the population’s living standards, is itself in part a reflection of the decline in the UK’s exchange rate and consequent raising of import prices. In short, the decline in the international purchasing power of the UK’s economy translates into a direct fall in real incomes.

It may also be seen that the government’s claim that the UK is outperforming Europe and the Eurozone is entirely without foundation even in constant price national currency terms. But when measured in terms of real international comparisons, i.e. in dollars, the UK’s performance is incomparably worse than Europe’s.

It appears extremely unlikely that the UK’s economy will escape from this circle of decline in the next period. The austerity policies pursued by the present UK government have substantially slowed the economic recovery that was taking place in 2009 and the first part of 2010 – between the 3rd quarter of 2010 and the 3rd quarter of 2011 the UK economy grew by only 0.5%. [..]

Even if any partial recovery takes place, for example by some increase in the exchange rate of the pound against the Euro, the sheer magnitude of the decline in the UK economy makes it implausible that this could be on a scale sufficient to reverse the fall in its relative international position.

Ilargi: Britain lost 20% of GDP from 2007 – 2011. Against this backdrop, and don’t let’s forget the over-600% debt to GDP ratio just for Britain’s financial sector, which will inevitably lead to more – calls for – bailouts, what is the Cameron government’s response?

First of all, austerity measures. Which will hit those people very hard who are in the bottom 25% or so who already have no savings, no nothing, to fall back on. And which will also lead to a rise in unemployment, which in turn will exacerbate the vicious problem circle.

Cameron also distances himself, and his country, from continental Europe, even though that is Britain’s main export destination. How smart is that?

Britain is a country of relatively large regional disparities as well as wealth disparities. The already rich center increasingly sucks up the remaining wealth of the periphery of society. There is then only one possible outcome of those one million people paying their rents and mortgages with payday loans: the British housing bubble will burst sooner rather than later.

Tax revenue has only one way to go as well. Down. So what will Cameron use to support the banks? How will he attempt to prevent a large scale repeat of last year’s Tottenham riots?

Looking at all this, we also need to wonder how much longer, and why in the first place, Britain is perceived as a safe haven, with its sovereign bonds – gilts – much sought after. Sure, Britain has its own currency and central bank, it can “print”, it can do QE 1001, but it’s not as if it hasn’t already tried that route. And still lost 20% of GDP.

Whatever it decides to do, it seems safe to presume that Britain might well steal some of the limelight away from Greece and Italy in the not too distant future.

 

 

Me in 2016 again for a moment: after reading this -I wrote it 55(!) months ago-, does the Brexit still surprise you?

 

 

Jul 222016
 
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Dorothea Lange ‘OK Family bound for Kingfisher and Lubbock. We’ll be in California yet’ 1938

Basic income is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and while I won’t get anywhere near a comprehensive overview -there are too many uncertainties and untested ideas-, I’m going to try to paint a first chapter in a work of progress. Or, a thought experiment, for me and others.

Of course I’ve read a lot of and about other people’s ideas on the topic, and I’m sure there are many more out there that I haven’t seen yet, but I’m afraid to say that about all of those I did read tend to fall into the same ‘trap’. That is, they project their ideas, which are widely varying, onto -or close to- the economy (economies) and society (societies) as they are today.

Their basic income examples and ideas and theories (as well as criticisms of them) are all built around a perception of the economy as it is, or better still as it once was. And that is probably a bad idea. Because the economy of the future will not be like it is today, or was yesterday, and neither will societies.

And that is not because of the role automation and/or robots will play, a topic that features prominently in many basic income writings; those things are but a minor distraction. What will change our world much more profoundly will be the inevitable demise of the economic system as we know it.

And it’s against that backdrop that the issue of basic income must be viewed. If only because it then becomes something entirely different.

 

 

I started thinking a while back that it would not be robots or inequality that would be the foundation of and driving force behind basic income, but the ruin of our pension systems. Of course one has to be careful with general statements on this, because there are so many different systems and approaches when it comes to pensions and other old-age ‘provisions’ and/or ‘benefits’.

What all have in common today, though, is that they’re woefully underfunded and sliding down further fast due to ultralow interest rates and other ‘policies’, as well as to ageing societies. It seems almost incredulous that until a few years ago most pensions funds were required by law to invest only in AAA-rated assets.

While they may not all suffer from the same afflictions, all these systems, from Social Security to private pension funds, do suffer from the same symptoms. Painting the picture with a broad stroke, it’s safe to say they’re all in essence Ponzi schemes.

While many of the ‘Social Security variety’ depend on the trust in a government to pay out something for which nothing -or very little- has been set aside, those of the variety in which money IS actually paid in are inflicted by the twin impairments of too little return on what is paid in to maintain the fund, and too few newcomers to pay for what ‘oldtimers’ never paid but do want to take out.

A third ‘impairment’ will occur when younger workers figure out they’re paying into something they will never see any benefits of, and refuse to fork over any longer.

Low interest rates and ageing populations are wreaking havoc on -especially- European and Japanese pensions even as we speak, and a brief look at future trendlines makes abundantly clear where things are going.

Pondering all that, it seems obvious that at some point a government with at least a bit of vision would come to the conclusion that a basic income to replace all the faltering old-age provisions schemes -and many others- might make a lot of sense. If only because, once you think about it, ‘free’ money only for older people does not make sense, neither politically nor economically.

 

 

But let’s take a step back; that last bit still doesn’t take sufficiently into account that our economies are about to undergo radical changes because they are collapsing. What I find interesting is that this collapse actually seems to play into the hands of a basic income. For several reasons, as a matter of fact.

I am convinced that a basic income in an economy that’s part of a centralized, even globalized, system, makes no sense. You can’t really have a basic income in a society that imports most of what it uses, but that still is the model of most of our societies. We import much of what’s essential, and export non-essential things.

That is a problem that will more or less solve itself, though we better pay attention and be prepared, or else. We may not know exactly when or how the economic collapse will occur, but that’s not the most important thing. What is, is that centralization can only happen in a growing economy. As soon as growth halts -or even reverses-, economies will of necessity decentralize. Unless perhaps they’re under a dictatorship, but even then.

Setting up a basic income system in a society that, for example, imports its clothes and furniture -and sometimes even food- from China, is a doomed proposition. The number one requirement for a successful basic income is that the money issued stays inside the society it’s being issued in. If not, it would merely speed up bankruptcy.

The money must be spent locally, on local products, as much as possible, because then it will be worth much more to the local economy. This will also go far towards fighting deflation, because the velocity of money will increase. To ensure that as much as possible is spent inside a community/society, the manufacturing base will need to be (re-)built.

Which must happen anyway as the global economy sinks, and the sooner, the better. The worldwide transport lines we know today will not exist for much longer, and it will take time to adapt one’s economy to that.

On the bright side, this decentralization, or relocalization, or ‘protectionism’ if you will, will (re-)create a lot of jobs. Not ones that will pay as much as what we see now, but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. And besides, it’s not as if we have some kind of free choice. Reality will dictate the terms. We must produce our own essentials once again: food, clothing, housing, furniture etc.

Still on the bright side, the new jobs will make basic income much less costly for a society. Because you can top off what people make on top on whatever the basic income is, and you can do so at a level that everyone can agree to.

 

 

That’s my first take of basic income in a crisis, a crisis I see as set in stone. Which changes the whole issue of a basic income. Plenty people will see this as socialism or something in that vein, I see it as perhaps the only way to make sure you have a functioning society on the way down. With none of the alternatives looking particularly appealing.

When discussing the details of such a program, what would probably be good, if only for the sake of justice, is to combine it with Steve Keen’s notion of a Modern Debt Jubilee, in which debt gets cancelled but those with most debt are obliged to pay -part of it- down, while those who are debt-free get ‘rewarded’ for that status.

What I have always found difficult to envision is how a jubilee would work in modern days. The ones ‘of old’ would typically involve a local ruler and/or landlord to whom subjects owed debts of some sort, which the ruler could declare null and void while still being the ruler- and the richest man around.

Today debts are global, with much of them having been securitized and sold on to large -financial- institutions who may even be anonymous and have shareholders in dozens of different countries. How do you get them to agree to large-scale debt cancellation or reform? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not the same thing.

The hardest part of what I laid out above may well be to get people who feel they are owed benefits, pensions or otherwise, to accept that these will be incorporated into a new basic income system. Not many understand to what extent pensions systems are Ponzi’s, and even those who do to an extent may still refuse to give up their slice of the pie.

It should be fairly easy, though, to explain what their slice will look like once the systems collapse, or even simply once nobody pays in anymore. And because younger people have no reason to pay for something they know they will never see the benefits of, and moreover all this can be phased in/out over a certain period of time, it may well unfold faster and easier than one might think at first sight.

 

 

Lastly, some numbers. Greg Ip wrote for the Wall Street Journal last week: Revival of Universal Basic Income Proposal Ignores Needs of Labor Force. Obviously, in my example, i.e. in an economy that’s going down the drain, the term ‘needs of the labor force’ takes on a whole different role and meaning. In his piece, Ip says:

To send every American adult $10,000 a year would cost $2.4 trillion, or 13% of GDP.

And I think that is a misleading way of phrasing things. Because the money doesn’t disappear, so it doesn’t ‘cost’ that; and that’s not only true in my theoretical example. Most of the ‘basic income money’ would circulate inside the economy, and much comes back to the issuing state through various taxes. Crux is don’t let it leave the economy it’s issued in.

Mind you, I don’t see a basic income trial happen in the US, because it’s far too big a country. The EU is too large too. You’d need smaller units. And as I said, a shrinking economy would of necessity make units smaller. In Europe, these units already exist. In countries the size of Finland, Switzerland, Scotland, Wales, perhaps Greece, a basic income trial may well be viable.

That is, provided they shrug off the strangleholds that bind them to centralized systems. But that they will wind up doing regardless. What’s more important is that such a trial is meticulously planned, and not with some pie in the sky idea of where the world economy is headed.

Greg Ip suggests that a $10,000 basic income for all US adults is not realistic, because it would ‘cost’ 13% of GDP. But this graph from the World Economic Forum World Economic Forum on social expenditures as calculated by the OECD, puts things in a different light:

 

In 2014, US social expenditures were at about 20% of GDP, which is 50% more than Ip’s example. And that is the main point behind the basic income question, even if you don’t subscribe to the collapsing economy ‘thesis’: what would happen if you replace all -or almost all- social benefit schemes in a particular society with a basic income? How much money would you save, or how much extra would it cost?

Ip seems to contend that a basic income would be prohibitively expensive. But, even if the OECD numbers fail to include certain items, there’s a lot of leeway between the 13% of GDP a US basic income would cost, and the 20% of GDP America now pays in benefits. About $1.2 trillion in leeway. So the cost picture at the very least is not all that obvious.

By the way, it’s kind of funny that I’ve seen nobody address the perhaps most ironic thing: even if the state would save a lot of money moving to the much simpler basic income from a myriad of other programs, that would make a whole lot of civil servants unemployed all at once. Can’t help wondering why no-one brings that up.

But the US is not the best example, for various reasons. It’s countries that have the right size to hold a trial in, or at least what we can perceive as the right size. Finland, Belgium, Denmark all spend close to 30% of GDP on social expenditures. Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Luxembourg are at 25%. If a basic income can be had for 13% of GDP, these countries stand to save a fortune…

Unfortunately, you can’t be in the EU and start a basic income trial. And that’s a shame. Because it’s going to be very hard to get this right, and it’ll take some serious time and effort. So much so that not starting today is a risk in itself.

But as long as people keep having faith in the economists, politicians, bankers and reporters who drill the ‘recovery is right around the corner’ meme into them 24/7, and any alternative to that meme just scares the heebees out of them, I’m afraid there’ll be no basic income trial. Yes, there are a few ideas, but they’re all based on the wrong -growth- assumptions, so they’re sure to fail.

Caveat: No, I haven’t gone through all different social benefits plans of all countries I’ve mentioned, so I don’t know what part of GDP each spends at present, or how much they could save or lose. Someone will have to write ‘the book’ on this.

For my thought experiment here I found it sufficient to go with the basic principles, and throw in a few numbers. And the most elementary difference between me and other voices is not there anyway: that is in my putting the basic income issue against the backdrop of economic collapse, and nobody else really doing that whom I’ve read.

Yes, the title is Marquez, of course, THE time of cholera