May 252018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Moscow Red Square 1916

 

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)
When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)
Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)
North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)
Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)
About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)
Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)
Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)
EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)
Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)
Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)
How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

 

 

Perhaps not a good time to chase yield?

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)

High-grade corporate bonds have had a hard time. Yields have surged as prices have fallen. The S&P bond index for AA-rated corporate bonds is down 3.2% so far this year. Losses are concentrated on bonds with maturities of 15 years and over. They’re down 7%, according to Bloomberg. As prices have declined, yields have surged, with the average AA yield now at 3.47%, up from around 2.2% in mid to late-2016:

In the chart above of the ICE BofAML US AA Effective Yield Index, I marked some key events, in terms of the bond yield:
• The election in November 2016, after which the yield spiked.
• In December 2016, the Fed’s second rate hike in this cycle. This was when the Fed got serious and added an increasingly more hawkish – or less dovish – tone. But the market blew it off, yield fell again, and bonds returned to la-la-land.
• In September 2017, the Fed announced details of its QE unwind, and yields began to rise again and then started spiking in late-2017. This was when the bond market got serious.

But at the riskiest end of the spectrum, with corporate bonds rated CCC or below (deep into junk), there is no such pain. In fact, the S&P bond index for CCC rated bonds is up 4.3% so far this year. They’ve had a blistering 82%-run since February 2016, when Wall Street decided that the oil bust was over and plowed new money into junk-rated energy companies. The average yield of bonds rated CCC or lower is now at 9.78%, down from 12.5% in December 2016, when the Fed got serious, and down from 22% during the peak of the oil bust:

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Looking for the third victim.

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)

When rates go up sharply, stuff blows up, because lots of people are negatively exposed to higher rates. Households, corporates, and governments are all negatively exposed to higher rates, in different degrees. Back in 1994, we found that it was Mexico, Procter & Gamble, and Orange County, California who all suffered because of higher interest rates. Where does the risk live today? We will soon find out. There is a playbook for when interest rates go up. Rising interest rates do not necessarily cause a recession per se, but they are usually found at the scene of the crime. There was no recession in 1994, but the financial world shivered. Today, we have rising rates and a more-hawkish Fed which has shown no signs of letting up.

As usual, emerging markets are puking their guts out. I was in Argentina last week and saw the carnage first-hand. The Argentine peso declined a smooth 20% in a week. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is calling himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He is an FX trader’s dream. Of course, there are idiosyncratic things going on in Argentina and Turkey, but all EM currencies and stock markets have been getting hit hard. Emerging markets was a consensus pick at the beginning of 2018, so it is making some people look a bit foolish.

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“..the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever..”

Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)

Many consumers are debt free and have lots of money and good jobs. Other consumers have large amounts of debt, lousy jobs or no jobs, and are paying for groceries by charging them on their credit cards. Credit problems always involve the most vulnerable consumers. During the mortgage crisis, the delinquency rate peaked at 11.5% in 2010. It wasn’t the 60% of homeowners that had significantly payed down their mortgages or owed no money on their homes who triggered that event. It was the financial mayhem among the smaller portion of the most exposed and most vulnerable. For a different view of the burden of debt, let’s look at non-housing consumer debt, because this is where the music is playing right now.

To eliminate for a moment the impact of interest rates, let’s look at the amount of debt – not the monthly payments – as percent of disposable income. And suddenly, the risks emerge a little more clearly. At year-end 2017, the ratio of non-housing debt – revolving credit such as credit card balances, plus auto loans and student loans – to disposable income reached a new record of 26.3%, up from 23% at the end of 2010, and up from 24% in 2007, the peak before it all came apart during the Great Recession:

So the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever, and only historically low interest rates have kept it manageable. But interest rates are now rising, and many of these consumer debts have variable rates. This explains a phenomenon that is already appearing: How this toxic mix – rising interest rates and record high consumer debt in relationship to disposable income – has now started to bite the most vulnerable consumers once again. And for them, debt service is getting very difficult. In Q1, the delinquency rate on credit card debt at banks other than the largest 100 – so at the 4,788 smaller banks – spiked to 5.9%, higher than at the peak during the Financial Crisis, and the credit-card charge-off rate spiked to 8%.

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They seem more than open.

North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)

North Korea responded on Friday with measured tones to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to call off a historic summit with leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, saying Pyongyang hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program. On Thursday, Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s announcement came after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. Friday’s response by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan was more conciliatory, specifically praising Trump’s efforts. “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media. “We even inwardly hoped that what is called “Trump formula” would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating.

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Caitlin: “..Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon. ..”

Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)

Three days before President Trump announced him as the new National Security Advisor, deranged mutant death walrus John Bolton appeared on Radio Free Asia and said of negotiations with North Korea, “I think we should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago.” Bolton has been loudly and publicly advocating “the Libya model” with the DPRK ever since. “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004,” Bolton said on Face the Nation last month, and said the same on Fox News Sunday in case anyone failed to get the message.

Bolton never bothered to refine his message by saying, for example, “Without the part where we betray and invade them and get their leader mutilated to death in the streets.” He just said they’re doing Libya again. This was what John Bolton was saying before he was hired, and this was what John Bolton continued to say after he was hired. This was what John Bolton was hired to do. He was hired to sabotage peace and facilitate death and destruction. That is what he does. That is what he is for. Can openers open cans, John Bolton starts wars. You don’t buy a can opener to rotate your tires, and you don’t hire John Bolton to facilitate peace. It should have surprised no one, then, when the administration saw Bolton’s Libya comments and raised him a canceled peace talk.

“You know, there were some talk about the Libya model last week,” Vice President Pence told Fox News on Saturday. “And you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal.” “Some people saw that as a threat,” Fox’s Martha MacCallum replied, because there is no other way it could possibly be interpreted. Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon.

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The comments here on GDPR are at least as interesting.

About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin’s popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. The estimates were part of the non-profit group’s research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. “One problem that we’re seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys,” Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview. Jevans is also chairman of APWG.

Of the $1.2 billion, Jevans estimates that only about 20 percent or less has been recovered, noting that global law enforcement agencies have their hands full tracking down these criminals. Their investigations of criminal activity will likely take a step back with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect on Friday. “GDPR will negatively impact the overall security of the internet and will also inadvertently aid cybercriminals,” said Jevans. “By restricting access to critical information, the new law will significantly hinder investigations into cybercrime, cryptocurrency theft, phishing, ransomware, malware, fraud and crypto-jacking,” he added.

GDPR, which passed in 2016, aims to simplify and consolidate rules that companies need to follow in order to protect their data and to return control of personal information to EU citizens and residents. The implementation of GDPR means that most European domain data in WHOIS, the internet’s database of record, will no longer be published publicly after May 25. WHOIS contains the names, addresses and email addresses of those who register domain names for websites.

WHOIS data is a fundamental resource for investigators and law enforcement officials who work to prevent thefts, Jevans said. He noted that WHOIS data is crucial in performing investigations that allow for the recovery of stolen funds, identifying the persons involved and providing vital information for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminals. “So what we’re going to see is that not only the European market goes dark for all of us; so all the bad guys will flow to Europe because you can actually access the world from Europe and there’s no way you can get the data anymore,” Jevans said.

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Facebook makes contradictory claims: First, it says it’s a neutral platform. But then it also wants full freedom to edit.

Interesting court case: the claim is Facebook stiffed 40,000 (!) companies. Reason why? It completely missed the shift to smartphones, and its ads were not ready for that at all.

Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg faces allegations that he developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of private data to earn Facebook billions and force rivals out of business. A company suing Facebook in a California court claims the social network’s chief executive “weaponised” the ability to access data from any user’s network of friends – the feature at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.A legal motion filed last week in the superior court of San Mateo draws upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives including Mark Zuckerberg. He is named individually in the case and, it is claimed, had personal oversight of the scheme.

Facebook rejects all claims, and has made a motion to have the case dismissed using a free speech defence. It claims the first amendment protects its right to make “editorial decisions” as it sees fit. Zuckerberg and other senior executives have asserted that Facebook is a platform not a publisher, most recently in testimony to Congress. Heather Whitney, a legal scholar who has written about social media companies for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said, in her opinion, this exposed a potential tension for Facebook. “Facebook’s claims in court that it is an editor for first amendment purposes and thus free to censor and alter the content available on its site is in tension with their, especially recent, claims before the public and US Congress to be neutral platforms.”

The company that has filed the case, a former startup called Six4Three, is now trying to stop Facebook from having the case thrown out and has submitted legal arguments that draw on thousands of emails, the details of which are currently redacted. Facebook has until next Tuesday to file a motion requesting that the evidence remains sealed, otherwise the documents will be made public.

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Somewhat oddly similar to the article above, also Guardian. Facebook is up against people who actually DO understand the field.

Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges. The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years. A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”. Facebook did not directly respond to questions about surveillance.

Documents filed in the court last week draw upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives, which are currently sealed. Facebook has deployed a feature of California law, designed to protect freedom of speech, to argue that the case should be dismissed. Six4Three is opposing that motion. The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

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All over the place.

EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)

Brexit negotiations have begun to dramatically sour after months of deadlock, with exasperated EU officials tearing into Britain’s “fantasy” negotiating strategy and warning that Theresa May’s latest customs plan would ruin any chance of progress. This week’s latest meetings are understood to have produced no progress on the core issues of the Northern Ireland border and customs, with last year’s business-like start to discussions having given way to bitter behind-the-scenes briefings. One senior EU official said the UK still lacked negotiating positions on a wide variety of issues and that in others it was “chasing the fantasy of denying the consequences of Brexit in a given policy area” – while a UK government source accused Brussels of trying to “insult” the British negotiating team.

Another Brussels official close to talks told The Independent they had been warned internally that there would probably be no progress by the June meeting of the European Council – which would throw off the timetable and raise the risk of a disastrous “no deal”. News that Theresa May wants to align the whole UK with the customs union and single market on a time-limited basis until 2023 as a backstop to solve the Irish border issue was particularly poorly received in Brussels. The Prime Minister is due to actually announce the new policy in the comings weeks, but people familiar with the talks confirmed it had already been raised by UK negotiators. The European Commission’s negotiators have already rejected the plan before its public announcement

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Then agan, Tsipras folded too…

Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)

As Giuseppe Conte is asked to form Italy’s next government, I walk out of a screening of Loro, the controversial portrayal of Silvio Berlusconi by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino. With images of drug-fuelled sex parties still in my mind, the uproar that accompanies the announcement about Conte appears odd. Italy has endured more than 30 years of dreadful governments. For much of the last two decades the country was led by a convicted tax fraudster. Before that, it was led by Bettino Craxi, a politician so corrupt that he ended his days as a fugitive in Tunisia. Why worry now? Part of the answer lies in the outsider nature of the new governing parties. Italian elites have traditionally been very adept at assimilating political newcomers.

Who, in turn, have been willingly co-opted by the system. But the new coalition of the Five Star Movement and far-right League appears peculiarly unconnected to Italy’s high establishment: the risk of loss of influence is real enough. Previous governments were quick to guarantee policy continuity, maintaining a neoliberal economic stance, overall respect for EU obligations, and a US-aligned foreign policy. The coalition promises to break away from this consensus, ushering in an era of fiscal expansion, resentment at Italy’s eurozone membership and closer ties to Russia. The key question now is: will the new government abandon its fiery stance or stick to it? Both alternatives are unfortunately dreadful.

The capitulation scenario is a familiar one. Just like Alexis Tsipras, who turned into a reliable implementer of austerity measures in Greece, so Conte’s government might decide to set aside its promises. The gulf is wide: the coalition programme contains at least €60bn of additional yearly expenses, or 3.5% of Italy’s GDP, while the EU is demanding a 0.6% deficit reduction for 2018. A bargain might look strikingly similar to what Matteo Renzi has achieved in recent years: a moderate loosening of deficit targets allowing for an insignificant fiscal expansion. In other words: business as usual.

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Cuts, cuts, cuts, taxes and sell-offs.

Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)

The sweeping agreement for the conclusion of the fourth bailout review, publicized early on Thursday by the European Commission, contains binding commitments for Greece until 2022. It more or less constitutes an extension to the bailout agreement for another four years, but without the inflow of money, while rendering the coalition government’s rhetoric regarding a “clean exit” and its so-called “holistic plan for growth” irrelevant. The text uploaded by the Commission on its website leaves open the possibility for the income tax discount reduction to be brought forward by 12 months to January 2019, and provides for the monitoring of the deal’s implementation in the context of the enhanced surveillance to be agreed in the next Eurogroup meeting on June 21.

Besides the almost 90 milestones that need to be implemented in the next three weeks for the completion of the program, the government is undertaking at least 20 post-program obligations to be applied by 2022. The post-program milestones start from the fiscal side: Apart from the well-known primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP, the adjusted bailout agreement calls for additional interventions should any court decisions annul any austerity measures in place.

The text also contains the reduction of pensions from 2019 to save 1% of GDP, the full abolition of the EKAS benefit for people on low pensions, the completion of the National Cadaster by June 2021, the implementation of privatizations such as the gas network operator (DESFA), the 17% stake in PPC, and the Elliniko development, among others, and ceilings on civil servant employment and salaries by 2022. The document further refers to the need to improve labor mediation to avert recourse to arbitration, the completion of the process for hiring general and special secretaries for ministries, and the immediate transfer of railway property company GAIAOSE and the company managing the Olympic Sports Center of Athens to the privatizations hyperfund.

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Don’t let accountants run your health care.

How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

It makes sense to sell this old place now, but he can’t bring himself to leave her ashes. Barry Gibbs lives alone in a single-story home among the loblollies of Hyde County in eastern North Carolina. The army veteran collects a small disability check after he tore tendons in his shoulder during a fall at his maintenance job at the local school. He winces every time he stands up. He’s 64 years old and the closest hospital is more than an hour away, a distance he came to understand too damn well on the day she needed help. Their wedding portrait still hangs on the living room wall. It’s one of those 1980s shots with the laser beam backgrounds, her hair big and his mustache combed, his hand on her shoulder.

The interior of the house is almost as she left it four years ago: white oak floors, paintings of black bears, family Christmas photos on end tables. Outside along the driveway, a line of cypress trees shades a headstone that marks where Barry cut a ditch and spread Portia’s ashes, right where she asked to be. Everybody called her Po. She was picking up sticks from the yard on 7 July 2014, five days shy of her 49th birthday, when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Six days earlier, their community hospital had closed. Pungo district hospital was 47 miles west of their house, in Belhaven, and had served the county since 1949, back when crab-picking plants and lumber mills kept these small waterfront communities working.

If you’re an accountant, hospitals are only as good as the number of paying patients. Belhaven’s population is about half what it was then. And Hyde county is now the fifth-sparsest county on the east coast, with nine people per square mile. This spongy stretch of North Carolina’s inner banks represents the suffering side of a modern migration pattern in which southern cities are flourishing, but rural areas are shrinking and losing healthcare options. Since 2010, 53 rural hospitals have closed in 11 southern states, compared with 30 in the other 39 states.

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May 122018
 
 May 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Dulle Griet, also known as Mad Meg 1563

 

If Real Consumer Spending Doesn’t Reverse Course, Look Out Retail Stocks (Street)
Apple Made More Profit In 3 Months Than Amazon In Its Entire Lifetime (CNBC)
Facebook Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Collecting Texts And Call Logs (G.)
Mark Zuckerberg’s Control Of Facebook Is Like A Dictatorship: CalSTRS (CNBC)
Facebook ‘Very Serious’ About Launching Its Own Cryptocurrency (CNBC)
There Will Be No Trade War With Germany, New US Ambassador Promises (R.)
Turkey Remains A “Priority Market” For British Weapons (MEE)
Erdogan Slams Rating Agencies For Upgrading ‘Bankrupt’ Greece (K.)
PDVSA To Shut Curacao Refinery Amid Fight With Conoco (R.)
Canada Sued Over Years Of Experimentation On Indigenous People (G.)
Maasai Herders Driven Off Land To Make Way For Luxury Safaris (G.)
Plastic Bag Found At The Deepest Point In The Ocean (SA)

 

 

Remember, 70% of US GDP. Coming from a population whose majority are maxed out.

If Real Consumer Spending Doesn’t Reverse Course, Look Out Retail Stocks (Street)

With the Amazon beast breathing down their necks, the last thing struggling retailers need is a cautious U.S. consumer. Yet, that’s exactly what they have gotten in recent months — and if it persists, retail stocks are likely to take it on the chin this summer. Real consumer spending took a nosedive in the first quarter (chart below) as consumers assessed the impact President Trump’s tax reform plan. Not helping matters was a more volatile stock market, rising inflation and a cooling U.S. labor market. In turn, consumer sentiment has remained stuck in a range since February. Retail stocks have followed suit.

The VanEck Vectors Retail ETF (RTH) is down about 7% since hitting a high on Jan. 29. This week has brought bearish notes on department stores like Macy’s from Wall Street shops, citing fears of online competition and challenging first quarter sales conditions. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette will be speaking at TheStreet’s sister publication, The Deal’s, big corporate governance in June. “We think that real consumption growth will firm from 1.1% annualized in 1Q to 2.3% in 2Q. We continue to see similarities between this year and last that likely are related to abnormal patterns of tax refunds, and like last year, we expect real consumer spending to firm noticeably between 1Q and 2Q,” says JPMorgan & Chase strategist Daniel Silver. But even Silver doesn’t sound 100% convinced.

“But inflation likely will be much stronger in 2Q18 than it was in 2Q17, and higher prices should dampen real spending and erode some of the benefits associated with lower taxes.”

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But Bezos is the richest of them all.

Apple Made More Profit In 3 Months Than Amazon In Its Entire Lifetime (CNBC)

One word may explain Warren Buffett’s investment decisions on Apple and Amazon: profit. Last week Buffett both lamented on not investing in Amazon shares and revealed how he added massively to Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in Apple. The Oracle of Omaha’s moves may be explained by his philosophy of emphasizing a company’s historical financial track record versus putting credence in aggressive future forecasts from analysts. “I think it’s fair to say, we’ve never looked at a [analyst] projection in connection with either a security we’ve bought or a business we’ve bought,” Buffett said during a Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting in 1995, according to remarks found using CNBC’s Warren Buffett Archive.

Apple “is an unbelievable company,” Buffett told CNBC on May 3. “If you look at Apple, I think it earns almost twice as much as the second most profitable company in the United States.” The smartphone maker generated a $48.35 billion in profit during its fiscal 2017 and made $13.8 billion in net income during the March 2018 quarter. In comparison, Amazon’s total net income since inception is about $9.6 billion. The number was calculated by adding up all of Amazon’s annual net income figures since its inception to the company’s $1.6 billion profit in the March 2018 quarter.

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Will a US court now sanction Facebook’s spying?

Facebook Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Collecting Texts And Call Logs (G.)

Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit over the revelations that it logged text messages and phone calls via its smartphone apps. In the lawsuit filed in Facebook’s home of the northern district of California, the primary plaintiff, John Condelles III, states that the social network’s actions “presents several wrongs, including a consumer bait-and-switch, an invasion of privacy, wrongful monitoring of minors and potential attacks on privileged communications” such as those between doctor and patient. Facebook collected the logs of text messages and calls, including the recipients and duration of the communications, through its apps for Android including Messenger when users opted into being able to send SMS from the app or give access to their contact lists.

“Facebook has collected and stored information in a scope and manner beyond that which users knowingly authorised. The practice is ongoing,” states the filing first reported by the Register. The extent of the collection was revealed when users began downloading and sifting through the data Facebook held on them following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The plaintiffs allege that Facebook’s collection of the data from users’ phones breaches California’s Unfair Competition Law on three counts – including fraudulent business practice – in addition to the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. [..] Facebook is also facing a class action lawsuit from both British and US lawyers as part of a case against the social network, Cambridge Analytica and two other companies for allegedly misusing the personal data of 71 million people.

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But they won’t sell their shares.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Control Of Facebook Is Like A Dictatorship: CalSTRS (CNBC)

The capital markets are a democracy, but that’s not how Facebook is being run, said Christopher Ailman, the chief investment officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS. “There is something wrong,” he said Thursday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “When Facebook changed its structure to take public money in, they should have changed their structure to a more open board structure, and we think that there’s a problem with having one person in charge of the company,” he added. CEO Mark Zuckerberg owns a majority of the voting rights to the company. That’s because the tech giant has dual-class shares.

Facebook’s Class B shares are controlled by Zuckerberg and a small group of insiders and have 10 votes per share. Class A shares only have one vote per share. The end result is that Zuckerberg and those insiders control almost 70 percent of the voting shares in Facebook. CalSTRS took on the issue in a recent op-ed in the Financial Times. CalSTRS portfolio manager Aeisha Mastagni wrote, “Why does Mr. Zuckerberg need the entrenchment factor of a dual-class structure? Is it because he does not want governance to evolve with the rest of his company? If so, this American dream is now akin to a dictatorship.”

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A long way from Satoshi.

Facebook ‘Very Serious’ About Launching Its Own Cryptocurrency (CNBC)

Facebook is “very serious” about launching its own cryptocurrency, according to a report from Cheddar. It’s not the first time the idea of a Facebook coin has been floated, but the plans take on some greater meaning in light of Facebook’s recently reshuffled executive structure and newly formed blockchain group. Blockchain, the decentralized record-keeping system, could help tackle some of Facebook’s most bothersome problems, like identity verification or advertising sales. It’s also the technology behind most cryptocurrencies, logging ownership and transfers of the digital tokens.

“Like many other companies Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology. This new small team will be exploring many different applications,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. It would likely be years before Facebook’s work on blockchain and cryptocurrency became anything material, Cheddar reports, citing anonymous sources. The business news site also reports Facebook has no plans to hold an ICO, or initial coin offering.

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The cover of the new Der Spiegel doesn’t seem convinced.

There Will Be No Trade War With Germany, New US Ambassador Promises (R.)

The new U.S. ambassador to Germany said the row over Washington’s planned imposition of punitive tariffs on European goods would not trigger a trade war, adding that U.S. President Donald Trump only wanted “a level playing field”. In an interview with the Funke newspaper group, Richard Grenell insisted that the United States was awaiting proposals on how punitive tariffs could be averted. “Germans are doing a phenomenal job on trade,” he said. “There will be no trade war … We are talking with our friends to solve a problem.” The United States wanted to see Europe’s proposals before deciding what would follow the expiry of an already extended June 1 deadline to impose tariffs, he added.

Less than a week into the job, Grenell has already triggered headlines with his demand in a tweet that German companies in Iran should “wind down operations” immediately after Trump withdrew the United States from an international nuclear deal. In the interview, Grenell maintained the hard line on Iran that has caused dismay in Europe’s capitals, restating the U.S. government’s position that Europe must re-impose sanctions on Iran. “We expect our friends and allies to help us to bring Iran back to the negotiating table,” he said, adding that the United States had proof Iran had violated its commitment not to enrich uranium.

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Who’s going to protest Erdogan’s visit?

Turkey Remains A “Priority Market” For British Weapons (MEE)

Theresa May is set to roll out the red carpet for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this weekend, as new figures reveal that Britain has sold more than $1bn of weapons to Ankara since the failed 2016 coup and subsequent crackdown under emergency powers, Middle East Eye can reveal. Turkey remains a “priority market” for British weapons, despite concerns from human rights groups and EU officials over the erosion of the country’s rule of law. Turkey is a fellow member of NATO and has cooperated with the EU in tackling the refugee crisis, but critics say that Erdogan’s government has arrested or sacked more than 100,000 state workers and members of the military in the wake of the coup attempt.

Unlike many other Western allies, London spoke out quickly after the coup, in which fighter jets bombed the Turkish parliament and troops opened fire on civilians. But the UK has remained largely silent as Turkey targeted not only the alleged plotters but also political dissidents, journalists and members of pro-Kurdish parties for “supporting terrorism”. Erdogan will meet the Queen and the prime minister during his three-day visit to the UK, starting on Sunday. It comes as the UK is making a Brexit push to boost trade with Ankara, but also in the middle of a snap Turkish parliamentary and presidential campaigns conducted under a state of emergency.

UK weapons sales since the attempted coup include a $667m deal for military electronic data, armoured vehicles, small arms, ammunition, missiles, drones, aircraft and helicopters. It also includes a $135m deal for BAE Systems to fulfil Erdogan’s plan to build a Turkish-made fighter jet. The jet deal was signed by May in January 2017 under an “open licence” to ease the transfer of military technology, and UK officials now reportedly wish to expand the deal by pushing for Rolls-Royce to win the engine contract. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP who recently travelled to northern Syria, where Turkey is involved in operations against the Kurdish YPG militia, told MEE: “The government has been increasing arms sales to Turkey as it has fallen into authoritarianism at home and warmongering abroad.

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When under fire…

Erdogan Slams Rating Agencies For Upgrading ‘Bankrupt’ Greece (K.)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a fresh swipe at rating agencies on Friday over the recent downgrade and the negative outlook they have assigned for the Turkish economy, using “bankrupt” Greece as an example. “Don’t pay attention to them [the rating agencies]. They upgraded a neighbour [of Turkey] that has gone bankrupt by four points. They receive new debts and live with them,” he reportedly told the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) Conference Hall. “Excuse me, but we are talking about a country that cannot pay its civil servants. How is this possible? I am talking about Greece”, he said.

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And the Dutch government is just standing by?!

PDVSA To Shut Curacao Refinery Amid Fight With Conoco (R.)

Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is preparing to shut a Caribbean refinery that is running out of crude amid threats by ConocoPhillips to seize cargoes sent to resupply the facility, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Conoco of the United States last week began legal actions in the Caribbean to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over the 2007 nationalization of its projects in Venezuela. The moves have disrupted fuel deliveries throughout the Caribbean, much of which depends on PDVSA. The PDVSA-operated 335,000 barrel-per-day Isla refinery in Curacao, which has not received new shipments from PDVSA since last week, plans to exhaust existing inventories in the coming days, the two sources said.

PDVSA is seeking ways to sidestep legal orders to hand over assets. The Venezuelan firm has transferred custody over the fuel produced at the refinery to the Curacao government, the owner of the facility, the sources said. In another legal move to avoid oil being seized, PDVSA transferred ownership of crude to be refined at Isla to its U.S. unit, Citgo Petroleum, one of the sources added. “The seizure in Curacao was enforced on Thursday, so the inventories’ custody was transferred. The refinery will eventually stop (operations),” the source said.

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Until the 1980s.

Canada Sued Over Years Of Experimentation On Indigenous People (G.)

A class action lawsuit has been filed in a Canadian court on behalf of the thousands of indigenous people alleged to have been unwittingly subjected to medical experiments without their consent. Filed this month in a courtroom in the province of Saskatchewan, the lawsuit holds the federal government responsible for experiments allegedly carried out on reserves and in residential schools between the 1930s and 1950s. The suit also accuses the Canadian government of a long history of “discriminatory and inadequate medical care” at Indian hospitals and sanatoriums – key components of a segregated healthcare system that operated across the country from 1945 into the early 1980s.

“This strikes me as so atrocious that there ought to be punitive and exemplary damages awarded, in addition to compensation,” said Tony Merchant, whose Merchant Law Group filed the class action. The lawsuit, which has not yet been tested in court, alleges that residential schools – where more than 150,000 aboriginal children were carted off in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society – were used as sites for nutritional experiments, where researchers tested out their theories about vitamins and certain foods. “The wrong here is that nobody knew it was happening. Their families didn’t know it was happening,” Merchant said. As the diet at the schools was known to be nutritionally deficient, the children were considered “ideal experimental subjects”, according to court documents.

It cites six schools, stretching from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, and links them to experiments carried out from 1948 to 1953. At times, researchers would carry out what Merchant described as trials aimed at depriving the children of nutrients that researchers suspected were beneficial. “So what they did on a systemic basis … they would identify a group of indigenous children in schools where they were being compulsorily held and they would not give them the same treatment,” said Merchant. “They used them as a control against experiments that they were doing in other places and they also used them to test certain kinds of foods and drugs.”

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Ban all hunting in Africa. Just stop it.

Maasai Herders Driven Off Land To Make Way For Luxury Safaris (G.)

The Tanzanian government is putting foreign safari companies ahead of Maasai herding communities as environmental tensions grow on the fringes of the Serengeti national park, according to a new investigation. Hundreds of homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people driven from ancestral land in Loliondo in the Ngorongoro district in recent years to benefit high-end tourists and a Middle Eastern royal family, says the report by the California-based thinktank the Oakland Institute. Although carried out in the name of conservation, these measures enable wealthy foreigners to watch or hunt lions, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and other wildlife, while the authorities exclude local people and their cattle from watering holes and arable land, the institute says.

The report, released on Thursday highlights the famine and fear caused by biodiversity loss, climate change, inequality and discrimination towards indigenous groups. “Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever” uses previously unpublished correspondence, official documents, court testimonies and first-person testimony to examine the impact of two firms: Thomson Safaris based in the United States, and Otterlo Business Corporation based in the United Arab Emirates. It says Thomson’s sister company, Tanzania Conservation Limited, is in a court battle with three Maasai villages over the ownership of 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land in Loliondo which the company uses for safaris.

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20 years ago already. Imagine today.

Plastic Bag Found At The Deepest Point In The Ocean (SA)

Humanity’s toxic addiction to plastic has reached stunning depths, and we only wish we were speaking figuratively. A new study analysing over 30 years’ worth of data on human-made trash found in the deepest parts of the ocean reveals almost 3,500 pieces of plastic and other debris have been discovered littering these remote, fragile ecosystems. If proof were ever needed that there are no more untouched places left on our poor, polluted planet, we now have it in one perfect, twisted symbol: amongst this litany of garbage, the deepest-lurking refuse was a fragmented single-use plastic bag, discarded at a depth of 10,898 metres (35,754 ft) in the Mariana Trench.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the entire ocean, home to distant, alien forms of marine life we know next to nothing about, but its remote, almost unreachable location doesn’t mean we haven’t found ways to carelessly spoil it [..] In the thousands of debris images and videos the researchers compiled in their database, deep-sea organisms were observed in 17% – damning evidence that our throwaway culture entangles, intermingles, and generally affects ocean life in ways we’re not aware of. Because the team’s dataset only includes a visual record of what’s on the sea floor – not what’s drifting and sinking above it – the researchers say they’ve only scratched the (deep) surface of the problem here, although simple physics suggests more garbage is headed this way.

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Apr 022018
 
 April 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John La Farge Girls Carrying a Canoe, Vaiala in Samoa 1891

 

China Announces New Tariffs On 128 US Products (CNBC)
The Real Bubble (ZH)
Cryptocurrencies: Nothing Goes To Heck In A Straight Line (WS)
Easter Shoppers Desert UK High Streets, Spreading Retail Gloom (G.)
Trouble For Big Tech As Consumers Sour On Amazon, Facebook And Co (G.)
Google, Facebook Too Big To Be Governed, Could Be Dismantled – Macron (Ind.)
The Middle East Is Doomed (Ehsani)
This Is How We End Up With John Bolton (CJ)
Two Degrees No Longer Seen As Global Warming Guardrail (AFP)

 

 

Feels like China’s just going through the motions.

China Announces New Tariffs On 128 US Products (CNBC)

China is implementing new tariffs on meat, fruit and other products from the U.S. as retaliation for American duties, heightening fears of a potential trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing’s latest move, announced by its finance ministry in a statement dated April 1, is direct retaliation against taxes approved by President Donald Trump on imported steel and aluminum. Chinese officials had been warning over the last few weeks that their country would take action against the U.S. The tariffs begin on Monday, the finance ministry statement said. China’s Customs Tariff Commission is increasing the tariff rate on pork products and aluminum scrap by 25 percent. It’s also imposing a new 15 percent tariff on 120 other imported U.S. commodities, from almonds to apples and berries.

All told, the extra tariffs will hit 128 kinds of U.S. products, multiple outlets reported. The list of new duties matches the proposed list released by the government on March 23, according to Reuters. At that time, China said the affected U.S. goods had an import value of $3 billion in 2017 and included wine, fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts, steel pipes, modified ethanol and ginseng. The decision to target $3 billion in U.S. imports is significant, but it’s widely seen as a drop in the ocean given the size of the bilateral trading relationship. U.S. goods exported to China in 2016 totaled $115.6 billion, according to official data. China’s retaliation is “a statement of intent … but it’s not an escalation in our opinion,” Steve Brice, chief investment strategist at Standard Chartered Private Bank, told CNBC on Monday.

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One of many, really.

The Real Bubble (ZH)

After a seemingly unstoppable surge higher for years, March was a tough one for tech stocks, as the curtain was lifted exposing Oz-like machinations behind the scenes that spooked investors enough to pop the bubble of delusion so many were living in. After a magnificent 2017, Cryptocurrencies also started 2018 off poorly as yet another ‘bubble’ popped. However, there was one ‘asset’ that had a tremendous 2017, and has gone on to greater and bubblier things in 2018. Spot the real bubble in financial markets… Bitcoin has bust, FANG stocks are FUBAR, but The SNB is accelerating.

As we noted previously, The SNB made 32 times more than 85 Swiss private banks… and owns a record $100 billion-plus of American stocks… $11,589.01. – That’s the US dollar amount of American stocks the Swiss National Bank owns on behalf of every man, woman and child in Switzerland. Let that sink in. A Central Bank has taken on itself to expand its balance sheet and invest in the proceeds, not in gold, nor sovereign debt – heck not even in corporate bonds. Nope, the SNB has taken it upon itself to “invest” that money in another country’s most risky part of the capital structure – equity. And don’t think it’s a small number. It’s almost $100 billion US dollars.

In a strange twist of fate, the Swiss National Bank is not only Switzerland’s Central Bank, but also a publicly traded security. And that ‘security’ has had a great year so far – up a stunning 93%…

However, as Holger Zschaepitz notes, the market cap of the Swiss National Bank remains below CHF1bn amidst a profit of CHF54.4bn. But that didn’t stop investors piling in to The SNB in March as a ‘safe haven’ as the rest of the world collapsed… As Macro Tourist’s Kevin Muir concluded previously, I worry that right now, Central Banks are being rewarded for keeping their balance sheets as big and risky as they can stomach. It appears to be a trade with no cost, and in fact, helps out by both keeping their currency weak, and in the meantime, making some money. It encourages them to be extremely slow easing off the accelerator. The idiocy of Central Banks taking this sort of risk is beyond description, but no sense arguing about it – it is what it is.

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65%.

Cryptocurrencies: Nothing Goes To Heck In A Straight Line (WS)

I don’t think there has ever been an entire sector that skyrocketed as much and collapsed as quickly as the cryptocurrency space. The skyrocketing phase culminated at the turn of the year. Then the collapse phase set in, with different cryptos choosing different points in time. It doesn’t help that regulators around the world have caught on to these schemes called initial coin offerings (ICOs), where anyone, even the government of Venezuela, can try to sell homemade digital tokens to the gullible and take their “fiat” money from them and run away with it. There are now 1,596 cryptocurrencies and tokens out there, up from a handful a few years ago. And the gullible are getting cleaned out.

And it doesn’t help that the ways to promote these schemes are being closed off, one after the other. At the end of January, Facebook announced that, suddenly, “misleading or deceptive ads have no place on Facebook,” and it prohibited ads about ICOs and cryptos. On March 14, Google announced that it will block ads with “cryptocurrencies and related content,” including ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice. Its crackdown begins in June. On March 26, Twitter announced that it would ban ads of ICOs, cryptocurrency exchanges, and cryptocurrency wallet services, unless they are by public companies traded on major stock markets. It will roll out its policy over the next 30 days.

On March 29, MailChimp, a major email mass-distribution service, announced that it will block email promos from businesses that are “involved in any aspect of the sale, transaction, exchange, storage, marketing or production of cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, and any digital assets related to an Initial Coin Offering.” This broadened and tightened its policy announced in February that promised to shut down any account related to promos of ICOs or blockchain activity. The overall cryptocurrency space, in terms of market capitalization, peaked on January 4, when market cap reached $707 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. Less than three months later, market cap has now plunged by 65% to $245 billion. $462 billion went up in smoke.

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It’s hard to accept that your entire country is pushing up daisies. But you got to sell your paper. So you get a real heavy headline, and then quote someone saying: “..the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”..

Easter Shoppers Desert UK High Streets, Spreading Retail Gloom (G.)

The gloom on Britain’s high streets deepened over the Easter bank holiday weekend as heavy rain in many areas drove people to seek the shelter of shopping centres or simply stay at home. The number of shoppers on UK high streets on Easter Sunday morning slumped by over 12% compared with 2017, according to retail intelligence firm Springboard. That followed a disappointing Good Friday, when high street footfall fell by 9.6%. Saturday was little better, with footfall down 6.9% year-on-year. This weekend had been billed as the most anticipated weekend for retail since Christmas, but Springboard said bad weather in some parts of the country had “definitely hit high streets”, and pulled the overall result for all UK shopping destinations down into minus figures.

A week ago Springboard predicted that this Easter weekend’s UK retail footfall could end up 2.4% higher than last year’s, though it had said this assumed “normal weather”. It added that if freezing conditions similar to those caused by the “beast from the east” returned, all bets were off. In the event wet weather sent a chill through the high streets, meaning footfall across all shopping destinations was down 2.4% on Good Friday and 3% lower on Saturday. However, retail parks and shopping centres typically enjoyed better fortunes than they did last year. Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said the rain kept many people away from their local high street shops. But “at the same time, people did go shopping” rather than staying at home and browsing the web.

She said the numbers were “generally pretty good news for retailers”, many of whom would be quite heartened by the numbers of shoppers out on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. With predictions of snow in some parts of the country for Easter Monday, many retailers will be crossing their fingers and hoping that conditions are not too challenging. Last week it emerged that high street sales had slumped at the fastest rate for early spring in at least five years, as cold and snowy weather kept people away from the shops. Wehrle said of Easter Monday: “If it starts off dry in the morning, that will shape the day. If people wake up and it’s snowing, that will be it.”

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“..for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.”

Trouble For Big Tech As Consumers Sour On Amazon, Facebook And Co (G.)

Trump is going after Amazon; Congress is after Facebook; Google is too big, and Apple is short of new products. Is it any surprise that sentiment toward the tech industry giants is turning sour? The consequences of such a readjustment, however, may be dire. The past two weeks have been difficult for the tech sector by every measure. Tech stocks have largely driven the year’s stock market decline, the largest quarterly drop since 2015. Facebook saw more than $50bn shaved off its value after the Observer revealed that had harvested millions of people’s user data for political profiling. Now users are deleting accounts, and regulators may seek to limit how the company monetizes data, threatening Facebook’s business model.

On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed it was investigating the company’s data practices. Additionally, Facebook said it would to London to appear in front of UK lawmakers, but it would not send the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, who is increasingly seen as isolated and aloof. Shares of Facebook have declined more than 17% from the close on Friday 16 March to the close on Thursday before the Easter break. Amazon, meanwhile, long the target of President Trump’s ire, saw more than $30bn, or 5%, shaved off its $693bn market capitalization after it was reported that the president was “obsessed” with the company and that he “wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law”.

Shares of Apple, and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are also down, dropping on concerns that tech firms now face tighter regulation across the board. For Apple, there’s an additional concern that following poor sales of its $1,000 iPhone X. For Google, there’s the prospect not only of tighter regulation on how it sells user date to advertisers, but also the fear of losing an important Android software patent case with Oracle. Big tech’s critics may be forgiven a moment of schadenfreude. But for shareholders and pension plans, the tarnishing of tech could have serious consequences.

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More on the article in yesterday’s Debt Rattle.

Google, Facebook Too Big To Be Governed, Could Be Dismantled – Macron (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has warned that Google and Facebook are becoming too big to be governed and could face being dismantled. Internet giants could be forced to pay for the disruption they cause in society and submit to French or European privacy regulations, he suggested. In an interview with the magazine Wired, the president warned that artificial intelligence (AI) would challenge democracy and open a Pandora’s box of privacy issues. He was speaking after announcing a €1.5bn (£1.32bn) investment in artificial intelligence research to accelerate innovation and catch up with China and the US.

Mr Macron said companies such as Google and Facebook were welcome in France, brought jobs and were “part of our ecosystem”. But he warned: “They have a very classical issue in a monopoly situation; they are huge players. At a point of time – but I think it will be a US problem, not a European problem – at a point of time, your government, your people, may say, ‘Wake up. They are too big.’ “Not just too big to fail, but too big to be governed. Which is brand new. “So at this point, you may choose to dismantle. That’s what happened at the very beginning of the oil sector when you had these big giants. That’s a competition issue.”

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We don’t know nearly enough on ME economies. So this is a real good find.

The Middle East Is Doomed (Ehsani)

Authored by “Ehsani” – a Middle East expert, Syrian-American banker and financial analyst who visits the region frequently and writes for the influential geopolitical analysis blog, Syria Comment.

* * *

The Mideast is doomed. Egypt alone needs to create 700,000 jobs every single year to absorb the new job seekers out its 98 million population. A third of this population already live below the poverty line (482 Egyptian Pounds a month, which is less than $1 a day). The seeds of the vicious circle that the Mideast region finds itself in today were planted at least 5 decades ago. Excessive public spending without matching revenues were the catalyst to a faulty and dangerous incentive system that helped to balloon populations beyond control. A governance system that was ostensibly put in place to help the poor ended up being a built-in factory for poverty generation. Excessive subsidies helped misallocate resources and mask the true cost of living for households. Correlation between family size and income was lost.

Successive Mideast leaders are often referred to as evil dictators. I see them more as lousy economists and poor users of simple arithmetic and excel spreadsheets that can help demonstrate the simple, yet devastating power of compounding. Unless you are a Gulf-based monarchy enjoying the revenue stream from oil and gas that can postpone your day of reckoning, the numbers in nearly every single Arab country don’t add up. t is important to note that excessive population growth is not fundamental the issue here. Japan and many parts of Europe are suffering from too little population growth. The problem in Arab societies is lack of productivity stemming from weak private sector and overburdened bankrupt public sector. As students of Economics know, “Potential” Economic Growth of a country is derived by adding the growth rate of its labor force to the growth rate of the economy’s productivity.

High labor force growth therefore ought to be a plus for the “Potential Growth”. The Arab World’s problem is that it suffers from shockingly low levels of “productivity”. This may seem like a fancy word but the concept encapsulates everything that Arab economies and societies suffer from. Why does the Arab world have such low productivity? The answer lies in everything from excessive size of public sector, subsidies and overbearing regulatory system leading to corruption. As public sector liabilities grow, education, healthcare & infrastructure funding suffers. Why is the size of the public sector coupled with excessive subsidies the problem? Because what starts as the noble cause of helping the poor ends up masking the true costs of raising family size. Governments soon go broke. Services suffer. Anger rises. We know the drill now.

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Dead on, Caitlin.

This Is How We End Up With John Bolton (CJ)

A GoFundMe for former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired two weeks ago by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has raised over $400,000 in less than a day. Another way to say that would be that a former officer from the US intelligence community, who is married to a successful physician and will surely receive a book deal worth millions of dollars, just had a charity drive which in less than a day raised an amount of money it would take the average American years to earn. Meanwhile, an impoverished American recently died because his GoFundMe failed to raise enough money for his insulin and an FBI whistleblower was just arrested for trying to bring transparency to the Bureau’s secret domestic surveillance practices while banks receive massive bailouts, global fossil fuel subsidies total trillions of dollars, and Amazon paid zero federal taxes last year despite earning billions.

Even leaving aside the reasons for McCabe’s firing and the shady dealings he was accused of, this is a very solid illustration of everything that is sick about the United States of America. In America you have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. You have government secrecy for the powerful and surveillance for the powerless. You have charity for wealthy establishment lackeys and rugged individualism for ordinary human beings. Those at the top are uplifted even further, while those on the bottom are stomped through the floor.

Julian Assange is currently under siege in the Ecuadorian embassy, deprived of mobility, sunlight and healthcare, and now internet, phone calls and visitors, all because he dared to bring some transparency to the powerful. Meanwhile the intelligence and defense agencies who serve as the armed goon squad of the wealthy and the powerful are able to kill, destroy and pillage from behind the opaque walls of near-total government secrecy in the name of “national security”. And instead of defending the single defenseless man who speaks truth to power, mainstream media reporters around the world are spitting on him in near-unanimity because he hurts power’s feelings.

This is how we end up with John Bolton, people. This is the “kiss-up, kick-down” pathway to success that elevates bloodthirsty psychopaths like John Bolton, the worst of the worst, the ones willing to do the most killing on behalf of the powerful and the most stomping on the powerless to get to the top. This has become the unquestioned pathway in every sphere of public life. We have a situation now where the highest echelons of power are not the wisest among us, but the wiliest. The fourth estate is full of everyday people who at one point presumably believed they were there to bring truth to power, stomping on the silvery head of one who does, while sucking up to the very power that he regularly embarrasses with his leak drops.

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All the stuff we should do but don’t. Should we instead ask why we don’t? All the ‘it’s not too late’ talk certainly doesn’t help.

Two Degrees No Longer Seen As Global Warming Guardrail (AFP)

Limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius will not prevent destructive and deadly climate impacts, as once hoped, dozens of experts concluded in a score of scientific studies released Monday. A world that heats up by 2C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) – long regarded as the temperature ceiling for a climate-safe planet – could see mass displacement due to rising seas, a drop in per capita income, regional shortages of food and fresh water, and the loss of animal and plant species at an accelerated speed. Poor and emerging countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America will get hit hardest, according to the studies in the British Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A.

“We are detecting large changes in climate impacts for a 2C world, and so should take steps to avoid this,” said lead editor Dann Mitchell, an assistant professor at the University of Bristol. The 197-nation Paris climate treaty, inked in 2015, vows to halt warming at “well under” 2C compared to mid-19th century levels, and “pursue efforts” to cap the rise at 1.5C. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday said climate change was “the most systemic threat to humankind”. With only one degree of warming so far, Earth has seen a crescendo of droughts, heatwaves, and storms ramped up by rising seas. Voluntary national pledges made under the Paris pact to cut CO2 emissions, if fulfilled, would yield a 3C world at best.

The treaty also requires that – by the end of the century – humanity stop adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than oceans and forests can absorb, a threshold known as “net zero emissions”. “How fast we get to a 2C world” is critical, Mitchell told AFP. “If it only takes a couple of decades, we will be in trouble because we won’t have time to adapt to the climate.” [..] Researchers led by Felix Pretis, an economist at the University of Oxford, predict that two degrees of global warming will see GDP per person drop, on average, 13% by 2100, once costly climate change impacts are factored in. A 2ºC world will also “show significant negative impact on the rates of economic growth,” Pretis told AFP.

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Feb 032018
 
 February 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1954

 

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)
Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)
Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)
Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)
Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)
Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)
UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)
Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)
German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)
How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)
Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)
Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)
WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)
‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

 

 

The differences in interpretation across the aisle are far more stunning than the memo itself is.

FISA Memo Released: Here’s What It Says (ZH)

Update: The just released FISA memo accuses senior officials at the DOJ of inappropriately using biased opposition research into then-candidate Trump to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia. According to the document, information from the the so-called Steele dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It claims that then-deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December that without the information from the Steele dossier, no surveillance warrant for Page would have been sought. The memo alleges that the political origins of the dossier — paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC — were not disclosed to the clandestine court that signed off on the warrant request.

The document claims that although the FBI had “clear evidence” that the author of the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele, was biased against Trump, it did not convey that to the surveillance court when making its warrant applications. Steele told then-associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr that he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” the memo says. House conservatives have touted the memo’s revelations as “worse than Watergate” and hinted that it could prove the undoing of the federal investigation into Trump’s campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel say that it is a cherry-picked set of inaccurate accusations designed to kneecap special counsel Robert Mueller. They have drafted their own counter-memo to rebut the Republican-drafted document, but the majority voted against immediately making that document public earlier this week.

The memo is based on a slate of highly-classified materials provided to the committee by the Justice Department itself, in a closed-door deal brokered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Naturally, the DOJ has claimed that the release of the memo is an abrogation of the terms of that deal, an assertion spokesmen for both Ryan and Nunes have rejected. Meanwhile, the underlying evidence remains classified, a state of affairs that Democrats and some national security analysts say makes it impossible to independently verify the memo’s conclusions. As The Hill reported earlier, ahead of the document’s release, Paul Ryan privately urged House Republicans not to overplay the document — and not to tie it to the Mueller investigation.

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10 years ago, a drop of 777 was the biggest news on the planet. Today, 666 gets poo-poohed into nothingness.

Dow Plummets 666 Points, Capping Worst Week In 2 Years (CNBC)

U.S. stocks fell sharply on Friday after a stronger-than-expected jobs report sent interest rates higher. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 665.75 points to close at 25,520.96, capping off the index’s sixth-largest points decline ever. The 30-stock index also fell below 26,000. Friday also marked the first time since June 2016 that the Dow fell at least 500 points. The S&P 500 fell 2.1% and finished at 2,762.13, with energy as the worst-performing sector. The Nasdaq composite plunged 1.96% to 7,240.95 as a decline in Apple and Alphabet offset a strong gain in Amazon shares. The Dow posted its worst day since June 2016. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq had their biggest one-day fall since September 2016 and August 2017, respectively.

“The key for the market today is rising interest rates,” said Mike Baele, managing director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “The old adage is: ‘Bull markets don’t die of old age, they are killed by higher interest rates.’ That looms large.” The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists polled by Reuters expected growth of 180,000. Wages, meanwhile, rose 2.9% on an annualized basis. The report sent interest rates higher. The benchmark 10-year yield rose to 2.85% on the back of the report, hitting a four-year high. Investors have been jittery about the recent rise in interest rates, worrying they may be rising too fast. On Friday, the 30-year yield rose its highest level since March.

Bank stocks fell as the yield curve widened. The SPDR S&P Bank exchange-traded fund, which tracks bank stocks, dropped 1.2%. Banks typically benefit from higher interest rates. This has been a volatile week for U.S. stocks. The Cboe Volatility index, widely considered the best fear gauge in the market, rose from 11.08 this week to 17.31.

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That graph is stunning.

Did The Market Just Get “Woke?” (Roberts)

Since the beginning of this year, we have been warning of the potential for a correction. Of course, such warnings seemed pointless as the nearly “parabolic” rise in the markets seemed unstoppable. But all of a sudden, something seems to have changed as the market stumbled this past week and has been unable to regain its footing.

So, what “woke” the markets? Was it the sudden realization that Central Banks globally are reducing Q.E. programs? Or, that economic growth may be weaker than expected given recent numbers? Or, something else? Whatever, the excuse turns out to be, the real culprit is seen in the chart below.

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By now, there are some really big losers out there.

Over $100 Billion Wiped Off Global Cryptocurrency Market In 24 Hours (CNBC)

Over $100 billion was wiped off the global cryptocurrency market in 24 hours on Friday amid concerns over tighter regulation and worries that the bitcoin price was manipulated on a major exchange. The total market capitalization or value of all cryptocurrencies in circulation stood at $405 billion Friday morning New York time, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com, which takes into account the prices of digital coins across a number of key exchanges. This was a fall of $112.6 billion in value from a day before. Cryptocurrencies have seen a major sell-off this week. Bitcoin fell below $9,000 on Thursday and briefly dropped below $8,000 Friday morning, according to CoinDesk’s bitcoin price index, which tracks prices from four major cryptocurrency exchanges.

Other major coins including ethereum and ripple were down 12% and 13%, respectively, compared to a day ago as of 9:58 a.m., ET, Friday. The cryptocurrency world has been plagued by a spate of negative news. India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the country wants to “eliminate” the use of digital currencies in criminal activities, signaling tighter regulation in the country. The New York Times reported Wednesday that an increasing number of digital currency investors are worried the price of bitcoin and other digital currencies have been inflated by cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, which is included in CoinDesk’s price index. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that in December, the U.S. Commodity Futures and Trading Commission subpoenaed Bitfinex and a cryptocurrency company called Tether, which is run by many of the same executives.

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What, they figured there was no more profit in there?

Bitcoin Ban Expands Across Credit Cards as Big US Banks Recoil (BBG)

A growing number of big U.S. credit-card issuers are deciding they don’t want to finance a falling knife. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup said they’re halting purchases of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on their credit cards. JPMorgan, enacting the ban Saturday, doesn’t want the credit risk associated with the transactions, company spokeswoman Mary Jane Rogers said. Bank of America started declining credit card transactions with known crypto exchanges on Friday. The policy applies to all personal and business credit cards, according to a memo. It doesn’t affect debit cards, said company spokeswoman Betty Riess.

And late Friday, Citigroup said it too will halt purchases of cryptocurrencies on its credit cards. “We will continue to review our policy as this market evolves,” company spokeswoman Jennifer Bombardier said. Allowing purchases of cryptocurrencies can create big headaches for lenders, which can be left on the hook if a borrower bets wrong and can’t repay. There’s also the risk that thieves will abuse cards that were purloined or based on stolen identities, turning them into crypto hoards. Banks also are required by regulators to monitor customer transactions for signs of money laundering – which isn’t as easy once dollars are converted into digital coins.

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From before the memo release. As I said, it’s the interpretation more than the memo itself.

Sotu Klaatu Barada Nikto (Jim Kunstler)

The situation certainly puts the nation in a quandary. An uncouth and ridiculous President called forth to battle a vicious, dishonest, bureaucracy and in particular its gigantic, out-of-control “security” apparatus, which appears to have been hijacked by politically interested parties — namely, the minions of Hillary Clinton. You have been reminded here before that history is the supreme prankster. In Fourth Turning terms, the poor old disintegrating USA pined for a “gray champion” and all it got was this booby prize: a Manhattan real estate schmikler with a mean streak. Well, that’s how things roll in a long emergency. And this might only be the beginning of it. In any case, it appears that the FBI, in the hallowed words of Ricky Ricardo, has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Recall, it was not so long ago that the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail, so let’s not act as if the agency was something that the Lord Yahweh brought into being on the fifth day of creation, after the lobsters and the cockateels. Granted, J. Edgar Hoover was a hard act to follow, but we are now, evidently, living in an age of even lower men (and women, to be fair). CNN reminded viewers relentlessly last night that The Memo was sure to be a disappointment, a “nothingburger,” for a nation that expects a righteous half-pound beef patty with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and special sauce on a sesame bun. Personally, I expect something more like a three-day-old dead carp in a plain brown wrapper. Maybe “the Resistance” will try to make gefilte fish out of it, which is a burger of sorts: chopped meat, anyway.

Meanwhile, we await the report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who has been rooting around in the same burger den as the House and Senate committees, questioning the same cast of characters. The DOJ report is liable to be more damaging than The Memo. The whole nasty gumball of suspicion and innuendo seems destined to climax in a constitutional crisis. Ludicrous as it seems — like some rogue army out of the stupid Star Wars epic — the “Resistance” bethinks itself the nation’s savior. In the best American tradition, they’ll burn the joint down in order to save it.

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Another little Brexit surprise.

UK Interest Rates Will Rise At The End Of February (G.)

There’s going to be an interest rate rise on 28 February. In just a few weeks you are going to see about 0.25% added to mortgage and savings rates. But you won’t see a press release from the Bank of England that the base rate has gone up. Instead, for the first time in years, banks are going to be scrambling to offer savers better rates – and the losers will be anyone taking out a new mortgage. So what’s happening? On 28 February an extraordinary financial measure, put in place in the days after the Brexit vote, will end. It was called the Term Funding Scheme and was designed to make sure that the 0.25% rate cut in the wake of the shock referendum result in 2016, did actually feed through the financial system (while keeping them profitable). Under the scheme, banks and building societies were able to borrow money from the Bank of England almost for free.

They did so with gusto. They have so far taken £106bn under the scheme, equal to around £3,500 for every working person in the country. Lloyds took £18bn, RBS £14bn, Barclays £10bn, Nationwide £9.5bn and Santander £8bn. Nearly everyone rushed to grab their share: from the tiny Holmesdale building society – which took £4m – through to the Nottingham building society (£395m) and Virgin Money (£4.2bn). Specialist lender Aldermore, which does a lot of buy-to-let mortgages, has drawn £1.4bn from the scheme over a period during which its total net lending has been £1.5bn. It underlines just how important the cash has been. With all this money gushing out of the Bank of England, it has meant that no one has really had to bother chasing savers for their money. So savings rates, already massively depressed by the 2012 Funding for Lending Scheme, were hit further.

But the corner will be turned on 28 February. On that date, the banks and building societies will have to start repaying that £106bn. They’ll have a few years to do it, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic suggesting rates will rise overnight. But let’s say I wouldn’t, right now, lock myself into Lloyds’ one-year bond paying 0.4% or NatWest’s two-year bond paying 0.85%. The banks are going to have to offer much better rates than that to bring the money in. Some of the big banks may pooh-pooh this. Yes, £18bn sounds like a lot for Lloyds, but then it has an £800bn balance sheet, so it’s hardly fatal. But when rivals start offering as much as 3% to get you to move money, banks won’t have a choice but to raise rates. According to Paul Richards, chairman of Insignis Cash Solutions: “It’s likely we will see a 0.25%-0.5% increase in longer-term savings rates over the next 12 months and potentially up to 1% over the next 24-36 months, which could leave a one-year term account getting close to the 3% level.”

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Why should the EU feel ‘warned’ about what may happen when the UK is no longer part of the EU?

Green Brexit Is Impossible To Guarantee, EU Is Warned (G.)

The European Conservative and Reformist group which represents Conservative MEPs has has said Brexit will make it “impossible” to guarantee that current environmental standards can be maintained in Britain or the EU. A leaked document seen by the Guardian also calls for “the closest possible working relationship” between the EU and UK after Brexit, and for a “no regression clause” in future British trade deals. This would “limit any negative effects from deregulation,” says the paper, which was submitted to the European parliament’s Brexit environment steering group. Some Conservative MEPs claimed not to have seen the report that was submitted. The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, told the Guardian: “Suggestions that the UK might seek to lower environmental standards after Brexit are alarming and contradict the commitments made by prime minister May in her Florence speech.”

They also showed why a future deal “must contain precise and detailed safeguards, with robust sanctions, to ensure the maintenance of high standards and a level playing field,” he said. The EU’s environmental laws are among its most popular, with polls showing that over 80% of Britons support the same levels of protection – or higher – after Brexit. During the referendum campaign, key government ministers said EU laws such as the birds and habitats directive were “spirit-crushing” and would be scrapped. But Theresa May has sought to defuse fears of conservation backsliding by trying to make the environment a selling point of leaving the bloc. “Let me be very clear,” May said in a speech last month. “Brexit will not mean a lowering of environmental standards.” “We will use the opportunity Brexit provides to strengthen and enhance our environmental protections – not to weaken them.”

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Still haven’t seen one word about prosecuting the people behind all this. Incredible.

German Carmakers Have Lost All Moral Standing (Spiegel)

Starting in 2007, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Bosch maintained a joint lobby organization that was disguised as a research institute. The European Research Association for the Environment and Health in the Transportation Sector (EUGT) purported to dedicate itself to the “environmental-medical effects of road traffic.” But the staff in leadership posts alone shows that the institute was in no way interested in independent research. EUGT head Michael Spallek, for example, had previously spent years employed as a leading company doctor at VW. He retained his VW email address, even after his move to EUGT. The results of the institute’s research were accordingly one-sided. The efficacy of low emission zones in cities that place restrictions on driving cars with high emissions?

There’s no proof, according to one essay the lobby group managed to place in a trade publication for respiratory medicine. Nighttime noise pollution from cars? It’s no problem, as long as it’s continuous. Do diesel emissions cause cancer? Can’t be proven. A short time later, former VW manager and EUGT head Spallek approved the tests with the monkeys. “We have finished our discussions with the company lawyers,” Spallek wrote in an email dating June 14, 2013. The lawyers had given the green light for the study to be carried out, but with one restriction: Non-human primates were to be used instead of human volunteers. Several VW executives at the time were copied in the message, including Stuart Johnson, the head of the company’s Engineering and Environmental Office in the United States.

But it doesn’t appear as though any critical questions were asked. The aim of the experiment with the monkeys had been to deliver definitive proof of how clean “German diesel” really is. The case files compiled by attorney Melkersen illustrate the zeal with which VW’s people organized the test. Nothing was left to chance when engineer James Liang began his journey with a bright-red VW Beetle from California to New Mexico at the beginning of October 2014. The engineer from company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, was already under pressure, even at that point. The U.S. environmental authorities had expressed their doubts about the emissions values of the allegedly squeaky-clean car. VW Chairman Martin Winterkorn had been breathing down his staff’s necks, too. The new diesel models needed to provide the company with a breakthrough in the important U.S. market. As such, anything that might possibly preserve diesel’s environmentally friendly façade had priority.

Which is where the monkeys came in. As of Oct. 2, all final preparations had been made for the test. The VW man moved assiduously around the red Beetle, which had been placed on a chassis dynamometer. The experiment would be led by Jacob McDonald, an athletic young biologist who had quickly risen in his career at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI). McDonald found it strange that an engineer from Volkswagen would be present for the test. “It’s the first time that I’ve experienced that,” he would later say. And what he really couldn’t grasp was why the VW people wanted to transmit the entire test data in real-time to their research center in California. Engineer Liang had even brought along a transmission device especially for the task.

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YouTube has the lowest common denominator down to a T. So let kids see videos of kids beating up kids. They’re sure to keep watching.

How YouTube’s Algorithm Distorts Truth (G.)

There are 1.5 billion YouTube users in the world, which is more than the number of households that own televisions. What they watch is shaped by this algorithm, which skims and ranks billions of videos to identify 20 “up next” clips that are both relevant to a previous video and most likely, statistically speaking, to keep a person hooked on their screen. Company insiders tell me the algorithm is the single most important engine of YouTube’s growth. In one of the few public explanations of how the formula works – an academic paper that sketches the algorithm’s deep neural networks, crunching a vast pool of data about videos and the people who watch them – YouTube engineers describe it as one of the “largest scale and most sophisticated industrial recommendation systems in existence”.

Lately, it has also become one of the most controversial. The algorithm has been found to be promoting conspiracy theories about the Las Vegas mass shooting and incentivising, through recommendations, a thriving subculture that targets children with disturbing content such as cartoons in which the British children’s character Peppa Pig eats her father or drinks bleach. Lewd and violent videos have been algorithmically served up to toddlers watching YouTube Kids, a dedicated app for children. One YouTube creator who was banned from making advertising revenues from his strange videos – which featured his children receiving flu shots, removing earwax, and crying over dead pets – told a reporter he had only been responding to the demands of Google’s algorithm. “That’s what got us out there and popular,” he said. “We learned to fuel it and do whatever it took to please the algorithm.”

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How to make rape, murder and pillage more efficiently. And what does Amnesty say? ‘We’re not against it’.

Blockchain To Track Congo’s Cobalt From Mine To Mobile (R.)

Blockchain is to be used for the first time to try to track cobalt’s journey from artisanal mines in Democratic Republic of Congo through to products used in smartphones and electric cars. Sources close to a pilot scheme expected to be launched this year say the aim is eventually to give manufacturers a way of ensuring the cobalt in lithium-ion batteries for products such as iPhones and Teslas has not been mined by children. Tracking cobalt presents many challenges as scores of informal mine sites would have to be monitored, all players in the supply chain would need to buy into the scheme, and accurate, electronic data would need to be transmitted from remote areas – all in a vast country plagued by lawlessness.

But companies are under growing pressure from consumers and investors to show the cobalt they use has come through supply chains free of rights abuses, just as they have for minerals used in electronics such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. Businesses in China, the main destination for Congolese cobalt from artisanal mines, have set up a Responsible Cobalt Initiative, which has been joined by tech giants such as Apple and Samsung, to address child labor. The problem they face is that there are few sure-fire ways of tracing cobalt from the informal mines that produce up to a fifth of the cobalt from Congo, the world’s biggest producer. “The demand to make cobalt more sustainable is going to continue growing, meaning there is a will to find a solution and blockchain will be part of that,” said a source with the project.

[..] Sheila Warren, head of blockchain policy at the World Economic Forum, said it was an open question how well it could work in Congo given the prevalence of conflict, lawlessness and an opaque legal system. “We are prototyping, iterating, testing, scaling,” said Warren, who is working with experts to see how blockchain can improve mineral supply chains. “The technology is not the hard part.” Amnesty International, which detailed the extent of child labor in cobalt mining in Congo in a 2016 report, said it was looking at blockchain, especially with a view to tracing payments to middlemen. “You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it,” said Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett.

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It is our governments who are behind this. And our media who don’t tell us about that. How anyone can protest when the Congo is labeled a shithole is beyond me. That takes a very large object up one’s behind.

Congo Gripped By Fear As Thousands Flee ‘Bone-Chilling’ Violence (G.)

The UN refugee agency has become the latest aid organisation to voice its alarm over rising violence in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis, almost 7,000 people have crossed to neighbouring Burundi and 1,200 into Tanzania in the past week, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Refugees we have spoken to say they fled forced recruitment, direct violence and other abuses by armed groups. Others say they fled in anticipation of military operations and out of fear,” said spokesperson Babar Baloch. Earlier this week, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation described “alarming food insecurity” in the country, sparked by an extension of conflict into areas previously considered stable, such as the provinces of Kasai and Tanganyika.

Last month, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, DRC’s chief of mission for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said the humanitarian crisis in DRC was at “breaking point” amid a massive escalation of inter-ethnic conflict and widespread insecurity. The number of people coping with extreme hunger has risen by 2 million over the past six months, reaching 7.7 million – about 10% of the population. More than 4 million children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, said the agencies. “The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point, as is our capacity to respond to extremely limited funding,” said Chauzy. “The stories that Congolese who have been forced from their homes are telling are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones. We cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence.”

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Without WikiLeaks, we’d be stumbling even more in the dark. We don’t do nearly enough to protect them. We let whoever claim that Assange is some Russian agent, and we owe him a lot more respect than that.

WikiLeaks Has Published Leaks On Trump Admin And Russia, Seeking More (CJ)

Democrats believe that Assange is a Trump-supporting Kremlin asset while Trump supporters believe Assange is a based MAGA hat-wearing ally to their cause, the former because they were told to believe that by CNN and the Washington Post and the latter because they’ve seen him championed by Fox’s Sean Hannity and the elaborate 4chan hoax “QAnon”. Neither could be further from the truth. Today Assange responded to a call for transparency on Trump “tax returns, corporate records, campaign emails, and other documents relevant to Donald Trump’s Russia/WikiLeaks connections” from toxic neocon David Frum with the words “Go for it” and a link to WikiLeaks’ leak submission service. This is not the first time WikiLeaks has solicited documents on the Trump administration, and it won’t be the last.

Since long before the election and continuing through to the present, WikiLeaks has been harshly criticizing the president’s refusal to release his tax returns and publicly asking for leakers to submit them. They are on record trying to persuade Donald Trump Jr to do the same in a conversation that has been spuriously criticized but which when examined impartially is plainly just a leak publishing outlet soliciting a potential source. More importantly, WikiLeaks has already published Trump administration leaks. Its Vault 7 and Vault 8 leak drops exposing the CIA’s scary surveillance and hacking tools are comparable to NSA leaks from Edward Snowden against the Obama administration, and much like the Obama administration’s vindictive backlash against Snowden we are seeing similar retaliation from the Trump administration for the CIA leaks.

Trump’s CIA Director has pledged to shut down WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and his Attorney General has statedthat Assange’s arrest is a priority, which Trump himself has said he would permit. Mike Pompeo’s increasingly vitriolic and threatening rhetoric about WikiLeaks is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s labeling Assange a “hi-tech terrorist” eight years ago. WikiLeaks in reality is not a friend of Republicans anymore than it’s a friend of Democrats, because WikiLeaks is and always will be first and foremost an enemy of corrupt power. The liberals who used to love Assange when he was dropping leaks about the Bush administration now hate him, and the conservatives who used to attack him as an enemy now celebrate him as a hero. This dynamic will necessarily switch again when more leaks drop and conservatives see clearly that Assange’s principles are not for sale.

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An epic tale for future historians. When we found how to feed ourselves, all of us, with good food, we decided not to do that. There’s some deeper meaning there, we don’t have the ability to do this right. We may be smart, but only superficially. And moreover, if we did get it right, we’d end up with 30-40 billion people here. So we poison ourselves.

‘Ultra-Processed’ Products Now Half Of All UK Family Food Purchases (G.)

Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bearing little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home. Research by global nutrition experts reveals the scale of our food evolution, from farm-fresh to factory-manufactured. “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks. The study of 19 European countries is published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition. It shows that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet.

Germany comes second, on 46.2% and then Ireland on 45.9%. While the figures are not directly comparable, extracted from national surveys carried out differently and from different years, the trend is clear. The UK data they analysed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorised foods into four groups. More than a quarter of food (28.6%) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4% was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2% was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team, told the Guardian of his deep concern about the links between ultra-processed food with obesity and poor health. Ultra-processed foods may look attractive and are designed with sweet or salty tastes that make us want more. But there is nothing nutritious about them, Monteiro said. “Take breakfast cereals. If you take Froot Loops, for instance, more than 50% is sugar,” he told the Guardian. “[But] there is no fruit … “Ultra-processed foods are essentially new creations of the food industry with very low cost ingredients in a very attractive product.”

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Feb 022018
 
 February 2, 2018  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Pink peach trees (Souvenir de mauve) 1888

 

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)
Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)
Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)
Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)
Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)
UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)
Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)
Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)
Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)
Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)
Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)
Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)
Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

 

 

Finally we get to see how ugly it can get.

Trump to Release Memo Friday Morning Without Redactions (DisM)

According to a recent report by the Washington Examiner, President Trump will declassify the controversial four-page memo that reportedly details surveillance abuses by the Department of Justice and FBI, and send it back to House Intelligence for a Friday morning release. The news comes just days after President Trump’s State of the Union address, where he was overheard stating that he would “100%” release the memo. The Examiner further reports that FBI Director Wray continues to oppose the release of the memo to the American public, citing: “grave concerns about the memo’s accuracy.” However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, it is important to remember that the FBI knows and has known what is in the memo for a long time, as the Bureau had, “refused to provide access to those documents until director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department faced a contempt of Congress vote.”

The Journal further relates that: “The FBI’s public statement appears to be an act of insubordination after Mr. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried and failed to get the White House to block the memo’s release. Their public protest appears intended to tarnish in advance whatever information the memo contains. The public is getting to see amid this brawl how the FBI plays politics, and it isn’t a good look.” Members of the Democratic Party have also expressed their opposition to the release of the memo. For example, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), has also come out against the release of the memo to the public.

Last week, Schiff and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter, in which they expressed their fears that the top trending hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo” was being pushed by Russian bots as part of a propaganda effort seeking to “attack our democracy”. However, much to their dismay, it was revealed that the top trending hashtag was not the work of Russian bots, but originated organically by fellow Americans. This news did not deter a California duo from penning a second letter to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, in order to raise awareness about potential abuse of their platforms by “agents of foreign influence”.

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Artificial ‘market’. How can anyone see it as a good thing?

Bank of Japan Offers ‘Unlimited’ Bond Buying To Curb Rising Yields (CNBC)

Japanese government bond prices recovered from earlier losses after the Bank of Japan acted decisively on Friday to curb a rise in bond yields, offering “unlimited” buying in long-term Japanese government bonds. Heavy buying of JGBs raises the price of bonds to force down their yield, an essential element of the BOJ’s ultra-loose yield curve control (YCC) policy. It was the first time in more than six months that the BOJ has conducted special operations to buy bonds to achieve the yields it wants to see, rather than the auctions used in regular operations – a powerful show of force to direct the market. On top of that, the BOJ increased the amount of its planned buying in five- to 10-year JGBs to 450 billion yen from the 410 billion amount it has favored since late August.

Following the BOJ’s operations, the price of the 10-year JGB futures rose to as high as 150.31 from the day’s low of 150.09. It was up 0.11 on the day. The benchmark 10-year cash JGB yield edged down to 0.090%, the same level as its previous close, from 0.095% touched earlier. JGB yields have risen in recent weeks, in line with global peers, on rising expectations that the world’s central banks are increasingly leaning towards winding back stimulus as the global economy gains momentum. Investors have started to speculate that the BOJ could also be moving towards an exit from ultra-easy policy, although BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has denied that he was considering such a major policy adjustment in the near future.

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Significant shift: “The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.”

Bitcoin’s Brutal Week Is Even Worse in South Korea (BBG)

Bitcoin’s brutal start to the year is proving especially painful in South Korea. While prices for the cryptocurrency are falling on major exchanges around the world, nowhere have the declines been faster than in Asia’s fourth-largest economy. The losses have erased a 51% premium for Bitcoin on Korean venues, sending prices back in line with those on international markets for the first time in seven weeks on Friday. The so-called kimchi premium had been so persistent – and so unusual for a large country – that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish. While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also reflects a dramatic reversal of investor sentiment in one of the world’s most frenzied markets for cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin has tumbled more than 60% from its high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps over the past two months to restrict trading and said they may ban cryptocurrency exchanges outright. Policy makers around the world have been moving to rein in the mania surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud. “The bubble in crytpocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim at Eugene Investment & Securities in Seoul. The kimchi premium began shrinking in mid-January as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers – who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea – also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.

Bitcoin traded at about 9.1 million won ($8,449) in Korea on Friday morning, according to a CryptoCompare index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,601 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin’s price was about $7,500 higher in Korea. The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by CryptoCompare.com show that volumes have dropped by about 85% from December highs.

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Liquidity.

Chinese Stocks Tumble As Hong Kong ATM Withdrawals Surge (ZH)

Chinese stocks are down for the fifth day in a row (something that hasn’t happened since May 2017) with the tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite is now down 5% YTD and the Shanghai Composite is tumbling back towards unchanged. The decline is happening at the same time as Bitcoin is in freefall… And chatter about bankers using WeChat to ask for Deposits. In other words – a liquidity crisis. And that anxiety is only increased by the latest report from Reuters that cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry, and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time. China has battled to curb capital outflows for years. A move that took effect on Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.

The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial center. “The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it was “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”. A local banker said some commercial banks have stepped up monitoring of cash withdrawals. Hong Kong police said they were working closely with the HKMA and banking industry to respond to any changes in financial crime trends. While this is as much to do with money-laundering and capital flight, the liquidation of stocks, cryptocurrencies, and now mass ATM withdrawals suggests more is going on that the usual pre-new-year liquidity hording.

Read more …

There is no lck of homes. There’s a huge surplus in ultra low interest rate loans.

Surprise Rise In UK House Prices As Lack Of Homes For Sale Fuels Lift (G.)

UK house prices rose at the fastest annual pace in 10 months in January, bolstered by a lack of new homes coming on to the market, according to Nationwide. The average price of a home reached £211,756 last month, according to the building society’s monthly survey. Property values were up 0.6% from the month before, the same monthly gain as in December, but the annual growth rate picked up to 3.2% from 2.6%, the highest since March 2017, when it was 3.5%. Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, said: “The acceleration in annual house price growth is a little surprising, given signs of softening in the household sector in recent months. Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll.”

But he added: “The flow of properties coming on to estate agents’ books has been more of a trickle than a torrent for some time now and the lack of supply is likely to be the key factor providing support to house prices.” Many forecasters predicted the housing market would continue to slow to about 1% this year. This would mean property values falling in real terms. Nationwide is still forecasting price growth of 1-1.5% this year.

Chris Scicluna, an economist at Daiwa, said: “With real wage growth remaining below zero and consumer confidence still subdued, house price growth appears unlikely to extend this upward trend over coming months and quarters. However, a similar pace could well be maintained on the back of very attractive mortgage rates, limited supply, record high employment, and the strong likelihood that consumer price inflation is likely to moderate.” Home ownership in England remained at a 30-year low last year. The government’s latest English housing survey showed that of an estimated 22.8m households, 14.4m – or 62.6% – were owner-occupiers in 2016-17, compared with 62.9% in 2016. This was similar to the rate seen in the mid-1980s and down from a peak of 71% in 2003. Of young adults aged 25 to 34, only 37% owned their home.

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Greater Fool hour.

Buying Home In UK Cities At Least Affordable Level Since 2007 (Ind.)

The typical cost of buying a home in a UK city has reached its least affordable levels in a decade, a report has found. The average house price across cities equated to seven times typical annual earnings in 2017, the Lloyds Bank Affordable Cities Review found. This is the highest house price-to-income multiple since the average city home cost seven and-a-half times earnings in 2007. In 2012, the average city home cost around 5.6 times wages. But over the past five years, the average house price across UK cities has surged by over a third (36%), reaching £232,945 in 2017.

Over the same period, average city earnings have risen by 9% to £33,420. Oxford was found to be the least affordable city in the study, with average property prices there equating to 11-and-a-half times average annual earnings. Stirling in Scotland was identified as the UK’s most affordable city for the fifth consecutive year, with average property prices at around four times annual earnings. Six cities in the study have house prices commanding at least 10 times the average earnings of residents.

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Only, so-called value is highly inflated, profiting from government actions.

UK Labour Party Plans To Make Landowners Sell To State For Fraction Of Value (G.)

Labour is considering forcing landowners to give up sites for a fraction of their current price in an effort to slash the cost of council house building. The proposal has been drawn up by John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, and would see a Jeremy Corbyn-led government change the law so landowners would have to sell sites to the state at knockdown prices. Landowners currently sell at a price that factors in the dramatic increase in value when planning consent is granted. It means a hectare of agricultural land worth around £20,000 can sell for closer to £2m if it is zoned for housing. Labour believes this is slowing down housebuilding by dramatically increasing costs. It is planning a new English Sovereign Land Trust with powers to buy sites at closer to the lower price.

This would be enabled by a change in the 1961 Land Compensation Act so the state could compulsorily purchase land at a price that excluded the potential for future planning consent. Healey’s analysis suggests that it would cut the cost of building 100,000 council houses a year by almost £10bn to around £16bn. With the “hope value” removed from the price of land, the cost of building a two-bed flat in Wandsworth, south-west London, would be cut from £380,000 to £250,000, in Chelmsford it would fall from £210,000 to £130,000 and in Tamworth in the West Midlands, where land values are lower, it would drop from £150,000 to £130,000. “Rather than letting private landowners benefit from this windfall gain – and making everyone else pay for it – enabling public acquisition of land at nearer pre-planning-permission value would mean cheaper land which could help fund cheaper housing,” said Healey.

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Stock lending links to shorting.

Big Banks Accused of Stifling Competition in Stock Lending (Morgenson)

A newly filed lawsuit against six major investment banks contends they worked together to prevent a startup company from competing in the vast and lucrative stock-lending market. The complaint, filed Tuesday in a New York federal court, follows a suit brought last summer against the same institutions by three pension funds who accused the banks of conspiring to keep their stranglehold on the roughly $1 trillion market. The litigation brings increased scrutiny on the stock-loan business, an opaque, over-the-counter market that is a crucial but behind-the-scenes cog in Wall Street’s trading machinery. At issue are stock-lending transactions, in which pension funds, insurance companies and other investors lend their shares to brokerage firms whose customers, such as hedge funds, borrow stock to offset other positions or make bets against companies in trades known as short sales.

Asset managers receive a fee for the stock they lend depending on borrower interest in it. The suit was filed by QS Holdings, the parent of Quadriserv, which was formed in 2001 and built an electronic trading platform. Called AQS, the platform gave stock-loan participants access to real-time prices on trades that reflected actual bids and offers. Transactions on AQS were executed anonymously and centrally settled; the system was registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it never gained traction and was sold in a distressed sale in 2016. On Jan. 26, the six firms — Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and UBS— filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed last summer by the pension funds.

In that filing, the firms said the allegations were meritless, noting that “none of the plaintiffs’ allegations identified ‘direct evidence’ of conspiracy.” In the stock-loan business, investors borrowing shares from brokerage firms also pay, sometimes steeply, for the service. When many traders want to borrow a company’s shares, its stock is known as “hard-to-borrow” and fees associated with the transaction are far higher. The middlemen in these trades often are Goldman, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. They make trades in an over-the-counter market where prices are typically given privately to customers. It thus is difficult for them to determine whether they are getting appropriate prices.

The middlemen typically keep most of the fees collected on the most lucrative trades, and critics say that amount would be far lower if borrowers and lenders met in a centralized market where pricing was transparent, like the AQS.

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Squid squared.

Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the Senate confirmation of his selection for chairman of the board, Donald Trump now owns the Fed, too. The former number two man under Janet Yellen, Jerome Powell will be running the Fed, come Monday morning, February 5th. Established in 1913 during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, the Fed’s official mission is to “promote a safe, sound, competitive, and accessible banking system.” In reality, it’s acted more like that system’s main drug dealer in recent years. In the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, in addition to buying trillions of dollars in bonds (a strategy called “quantitative easing,” or QE), the Fed supplied four of the biggest Wall Street banks with an injection of $7.8 trillion in secret loans. The move was meant to stimulate the economy, but really, it coddled the banks.

Powell’s monetary policy undoubtedly won’t represent a startling change from that of previous head Janet Yellen, or her predecessor, Ben Bernanke. History shows that Powell has repeatedly voted for pumping financial markets with Federal Reserve funds and, despite displaying reservations about the practice of quantitative easing, he always voted in favor of it, too. What makes his nomination out of the ordinary, though, is that he’s a trained lawyer, not an economist. Powell is assuming the helm at a time when deregulation is central to the White House’s economic and financial strategy. Keep in mind that he will also have a role in choosing and guiding future Fed appointments. (At present, the Fed has the smallest number of sitting governors in its history.)

The first such appointee, private equity investor Randal Quarles, already approved as the Fed’s vice chairman for supervision, is another major deregulator. Powell will be able to steer banking system decisions in other ways. In recent Senate testimony, he confirmed his deregulatory predisposition. In that vein, the Fed has already announced that it seeks to loosen the capital requirements big banks need to put behind their riskier assets and activities. This will, it claims, allow them to more freely make loans to Main Street, in case a decade of cheap money wasn’t enough of an incentive.

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Crude still rules.

Texas Shale Challenges North Sea Crude As World Oil Benchmark (R.)

As the United States approaches a record 10.04 million barrels of daily production, trading volumes of so-called “WTI” futures exceeded volumes of Brent crude in 2017 by the largest margin in at least seven years. A decade ago, falling domestic production and a U.S. ban on exports meant that WTI served mostly as a proxy for U.S. inventory levels. “There was a time when the U.S. was disconnected from the global market,” said Greg Sharenow, portfolio manager at PIMCO, who co-manages more than $15 billion in commodity assets. Two changes drove the resurgence of the U.S. benchmark. One was the boom in shale production, which spawned a multitude of small producers that sought to hedge profits by trading futures contracts.

Then two years ago, the United States ended its 40-year ban on crude exports, making WTI more useful to global traders and shippers. U.S. exports averaged 1.1 million barrels a day through November 2017, rising to an average 1.6 million bpd in the final three months. That compares to just 590,000 bpd in 2016. As U.S. production and exports grow, global firms that increasingly buy U.S. oil are offsetting their exposure by trading in U.S. financial markets. That also gives U.S. shale producers more opportunity to lock in profits on their own production.

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Why Greece needs debt relief across the board “It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.”

Greek Taxpayers’ Debts To The State Soar To Record Highs (K.)

Taxpayers’ total overdue debts to the state soared to a record 101.8 billion euros at the end of December, in a clear indication that society’s taxpaying capacity is at breaking point due to overtaxation. In December alone, when 2018 road tax and an installment of the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) came due, new expired debts amounted to 1.3 billion euros. According to data released on Thursday by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the new expired debts added last year came to 12.9 billion euros, concerning all tax obligations that went unpaid, from income tax and ENFIA to tax penalties and value-added tax. The phenomenon has major consequences for taxpayers. The figures also showed that confiscations and debt settlements brought 5.07 billion euros into the state coffers in 2017, of which 2.69 billion concerned old debts (dating before 2017). More than 1 million taxpayers have already had assets confiscated over debts to the tax authorities. Their number grew by 14,871 in December to reach 1,050,077 at the end of 2017.

The authority’s data reveal that 4,068,857 taxpayers – or more than half – have expired debts to the state, and that this figure would have been 138,260 higher had those people not settled their dues in December due to fears of repossessions. At the moment taxpayers can enter a tax payment program involving 12 to 24 monthly installments, even for dues that are not classified as expired. The online platform also allows them to add new debts to the fixed plan each month. Taxpayers who want to enter such a payment plan can visit the authority’s website and choose which of their debts that are not overdue they want to add to the 12-installment scheme. The picture regarding expired debts is set to change drastically once the bailout obligation for arrears clearance is completed, separating collectible dues from those that cannot be collected. It is estimated that just 20% of expired debts are collectible.

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Fulminating against the 1923 Lausanne Treaty is easy populist fodder for Erdogan. His gamble is that Turkey’s bust-up with the US in Syria, and the threat to NATO because of it, will allow him to take Greek territory.

Erdogan’s Top Adviser Threatens To “Break The Legs” Of Greek PM (KTG)

Chief advisor of Turkish President Erdogan, Yigit Bulut, has threatened Greece over the disputed islet of Imia in the Eastern Aegean Sea. “Athens will face the wrath of Turkey worse than that in Afrin,” Bulut said in a Television show of a private network. “We will break the arms and legs of officials, of the Prime Minister and any Minister, who dares to step on the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean,” he claimed. Bultu’s threats come just a couple of days after Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sailed to Imia and threw a wreath into the sea to honor the three fallen soldiers during the Imia conflict in 1996. Ankara does not miss a chance to challenge Greece’s sovereignty in the islets and islands of the Aegean Sea, escalate tension around Imia and risk an ugly incident that could bring the two neighboring countries at the verge of an armed conflict like two decades ago.

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Much higher metabolism than anyone had ever noticed.

Polar Bears Could Become Extinct Faster Than Was Feared (G.)

Polar bears could be sliding towards extinction faster than previously feared, with the animals facing an increasing struggle to find enough food to survive as climate change steadily transforms their environment. New research has unearthed fresh insights into polar bear habits, revealing that the Arctic predators have far higher metabolisms than previously thought. This means they need more prey, primarily seals, to meet their energy demands at a time when receding sea ice is making hunting increasingly difficult for the animals. A study of nine polar bears over a three-year period by the US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz found that the animals require at least one adult, or three juvenile, ringed seals every 10 days to sustain them.

Five of the nine bears were unable to achieve this during the research, resulting in plummeting body weight – as much as 20kg during a 10-day study period. “We found a feast and famine lifestyle – if they missed out on seals it had a pretty dramatic effect on them,” said Anthony Pagano, a USGS biologist who led the research, published in Science. “We were surprised to see such big changes in body masses, at a time when they should be putting on bulk to sustain them during the year. This and other studies suggest that polar bears aren’t able to meet their bodily demands like they once were.” Pagano’s team studied the bears in a period during April over the course of three years, from 2014 to 2016, in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska.

They fitted the bears with GPS collars with video cameras to measure activity levels. Blood chemistry was also taken from the bears. Previously, polar bears were thought to expend relatively little energy during days where they often wait for hours beside holes in the ice, which seals emerge from in order to breathe. But the researchers found that they actually have an average metabolism 50% higher than prior estimates. With previous studies showing recent drops in polar bear numbers, survival rates and body condition, scientists said the new research suggests the species is facing an even worse predicament than was feared.

A recent widely-shared video of an emaciated polar bear is a “horrible scene that we will see more of in the future and more quickly than we thought,” according to Dr Steven Amstrup, who led polar bear research for 30 years in Alaska. “This is an excellent paper that fills in a lot of missing information about polar bears,” said Amstrup, who was not involved in the USGS research. “Every piece of evidence shows that polar bears are dependent on sea ice and if we don’t change the trajectory of sea ice decline, polar bears will ultimately disappear. “They face the choice of coming on to land or floating off with the ice as it recedes, out to the deep ocean where there is little food. We will see more bears starving and more of them on land, where they will get into trouble by interacting with humans.”

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The takeaway from this is not in the numbers. It’s in the certainty that we will not stop the process. All we have is a Paris agreement spearheaded by politicians who see their polls and businessmen who see a profit.

Warming Could Breach 1.5ºC Within Five Years (CCN)

The UK’s meteorological agency has forecast the global temperature might flicker above 1.5C within the next five years. That would be within a decade of the Paris climate deal setting 1.5C as an aspirational limit on global warming. The Met Office’s decadal forecast said the global average temperature was “likely” to exceed 1C between 2018-2022 and could reach 1.5C. “There is also a small (around 10%) chance that at least one year in the period could exceed 1.5C above pre-industrial levels,” the office said in a statement on Wednesday. “It is the first time that such high values have been highlighted within these forecasts.” Met Office scientists were quick to point out that this would not actually breach the Paris Agreement, as that limit refers to a long term average, rather than a yearly reading.

The office’s chief scientist, professor Stephen Belcher, said: “Given we’ve seen global average temperatures around 1C above pre-industrial levels over the last three years, it is now possible that continued warming from greenhouse gases along with natural variability could combine so we temporarily exceed 1.5C in the next five years.” The Paris climate deal, agreed by 197 UN member states in 2015, set a global goal for keeping temperatures “well below 2C”, aiming for 1.5C. The lower goal is considered by many of the most vulnerable countries, especially low-lying island nations, to be the upper limit for their homelands to survive. Coral scientists also predict that more than 1.5C of warming would wipe out most coral reefs.

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Jan 272018
 
 January 27, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Grete Stern Bertolt Brecht 1934

 

Bankers, Policy Makers at Davos Revel in ‘Sweet Spot’ Economy (BBG)
IMF Chief Warns Trump’s Tax Cuts Could Destabilise Global Economy (G.)
China Set To Lose ‘Emerging Market’ Status As Growth Declines (F.)
This was 1987. Start Rebalancing – David Rosenberg (ZH)
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Lance Roberts)
Equity Allocations At Record Highs As Investor Cash Hits All Time Low (ZH)
Japanese Cryptocurrency Exchange Loses $535 Million To Hackers (CNBC)
How Bitcoin Regulation Will Happen, And What It Will Mean (Ind.)
Bombardier Gets Surprise Win After U.S. Rebuffs Boeing Trade Case (BBG)
Canada Illegally Subsidized Bombardier: Embraer (R.)
More Than Half Of New-Build Luxury London Flats Fail To Sell (G.)
Building More Homes Will Not Solve Britain’s Housing Crisis (Pettifor)
Brexit Saddles EU With A Huge Budget Problem (CNBC)
Deal With France ‘Could Bring Hundreds More Child Refugees To UK’ (G.)

 

 

Not much longer.

Bankers, Policy Makers at Davos Revel in ‘Sweet Spot’ Economy (BBG)

The global elites have rediscovered their animal spirits. As the World Economic Forum drew to a close in the Swiss ski resort, the overarching mood of the executives, policy makers and investors was that their economies are in fine shape and that stock markets have every reason to extend their run. “Let’s celebrate what could go right for the moment because we are in a sweet spot,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on the closing panel discussion. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has gained about a quarter since the start of 2017 and the IMF is forecasting the strongest worldwide economic growth this year since a brief post-recession bounce in 2011. Some 57% of executives polled by PricewaterhouseCoopers saw the economy improving in 2018, about double the number of a year ago.

The rise of cryptocurrencies was evident in the Swiss town both in conference sessions and on the promenade where companies rent shopfronts to promote their wares. “The greatest worry I’ve heard over the past days in Davos is that there is not enough worry,” Mary Callahan Erdoes, JPMorgan asset-management unit CEO, said on the panel. “It’s O.K. to not be worried, to celebrate how we got here.” Erdoes thanked the policy makers on the stage for working “tirelessly” and “giving all of these government jobs such fabulous prestige and something that I know all of us now perhaps aspire to do.” “Wow,” said Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. “This is fantastic.” Such sentiment led delegates to declare that it was the most upbeat Davos gathering since before the financial crisis. Yet the giddiness also gave some investors pause as they warned against turning too exuberant.

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Lagarde gets what she wants and then turns against it. Cover all your bases.

IMF Chief Warns Trump’s Tax Cuts Could Destabilise Global Economy (G.)

Donald Trump’s huge tax cuts are a threat to the stability of the global economy, the managing director of the IMF has warned. Christine Lagarde singled out Trump’s tax reforms as one of three risks that could destabilise the current economic recovery, especially given the boom in stock markets in the past year. “While the US tax reforms certainly will have positive effects in the short term, for the US and other countries around, it might also lead to serious risks,” Lagarde told the World Economic Forum in Davos. “That has an impact on financial vulnerability, particularly given the high asset prices that we see around the world, and the easy financing that it still available,” she added. She was speaking shortly after the US president told Davos that his tax reforms had created “a big, beautiful waterfall” of pay rises for US workers, as American companies passed the tax cut on.

However, the IMF is concerned that cutting taxes will lead to a bigger US budget deficit, and that extra borrowing by the US Treasury will force up long-term American interest rates. As a result, it fears growth could be choked off in the longer term, making the stock market vulnerable to a sudden downward lurch. Lagarde cautioned against people becoming too complacent about the pick-up in global growth reported by the IMF at the start of the WEF’s annual meeting. The IMF raised its forecasts for global expansion to 3.9% this year and in 2019, reporting that all major economies – the US, EU and Japan – are doing better. “I don’t think that we’ve completed the job,” said Lagarde, who fears that the growing economic inequality in many countries is creating “fractures”. “Having growth is good, improving productive is good, but [policymakers should] make sure that the results of that growth are properly allocated,” said the IMF chief, adding that inequality is growing in many advanced economies, and very high in emerging markets.

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An emerging market that’s stopped emerging.

China Set To Lose ‘Emerging Market’ Status As Growth Declines (F.)

China has been considered an emerging market for over 25 years due to its rapid reform process. Generally speaking, emerging markets are defined as developing countries moving toward an open market economy. Unfortunately, if one takes a close look at growth levels and reform factors, China has shed some of the key characteristics of an emerging market, due to a sharp slowdown in the reform process, an increasingly state centered economy, and lower levels of true growth. China is an upper middle income country that enjoyed gangbusters growth through the 1990s and 2000s, but that is now suffering from a major economic slowdown that has no end in sight. One major reason for slowing growth is that market forces have been quashed by a a buildup in the state sector and mounting economic and financial risks that would result in economic collapse if the reform process is restarted.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s economic policy has shifted toward enhancing the organization and financial sources of state owned enterprises, and away from liberalizing the currency and financial sector. Strides that were made toward internationalizing the RMB and bringing about a more market-based financial system have been reversed. A simultaneous over-reliance on easy credit has created plenty of risks in the financial sector that now prevent officials from even considering making the financial sector more market-based. Slow reform of the service sector and strong state presence in service subsectors like health and education have contributed to declining growth.

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When fear is gone, all that’s left is greed. No balance.

This was 1987. Start Rebalancing – David Rosenberg (ZH)

When discussing today’s unexpectedly weak Q4 GDP print, which came in at 2.6%, far below consensus and whisper estimates in the 3%+ range, and certainly both the Atlanta and NY Fed estimates, we pointed out the silver lining: personal spending and final sales, which surged 4.6% Q/Q (vs 2.2% in Q3), although even this number had a major caveat: “as we discussed previously, much of it was the result of a surge in credit card-funded spending while the personal savings rate dropped to levels last seen during the financial crisis.” Indeed, recall the stunning Gluskin Sheff chart we presented a month ago, which showed that 13-week annualized credit card balances in the U.S. had gone “completely vertical” in the last few months of 2017 which we said “should make for some great Christmas.”

Meanwhile, even more troubling was the ongoing collapse in the US personal savings rate, which last month tumbled to the lowest level since the financial crisis as US consumers drained what little was left of their savings to splurge on holiday purchases.

And while we highlighted and qualified two trends as key contributors to the spending surge in Q4 personal spending, Gluskin Sheff’s David Rosenberg – who is once again firmly in the bearish camp – did one better and quantified the impact. Not one to mince words, the former Merrill chief economist described what is going on as “The Twilight Zone Economy” for the following reason: “how many times in the past have we seen a 2.6% savings rate coincide with a 4.1% jobless rate? How about never…huge ETF flows driving equities higher, but these metrics are screaming ‘late cycle’.” He then proceeded to give “some haunting math” from the GDP number: “The savings rate fell from 3.3% to 2.6%. If it had stayed the same, real PCE would have been 0.8% (annualized) instead of 3.8% and GDP would have been 0.6% instead of 2.6%.”

[..] a more troubling development is that the conditions observed ahead of the Black Monday crash are becoming increasingly apparent. Here is Rosenberg’s stark assessment of where we stand: “Rising bond yields. Full employment. Fed tightening. Trade frictions. Weak dollar. Rising twin deficits, spurred by tax reform. Sound familiar? It should. This was 1987. Start rebalancing.”

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More 1987.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Lance Roberts)

What goes up, eventually comes down. That is just reality. The bull market that began in 2009, has now entered the final stage of “capitulation” as investors throw caution to the wind and charge headlong into the markets with reckless regard for the consequences.

Of course, it isn’t surprising given the massive amounts of liquidity continually injected into the financial markets and global Central Banks have now figured out that continually rising financial markets solve much of the world’s ills. Simply, with enough liquidity, you can cover up bad (credit risks) by guaranteeing holders they will never default. It’s genius. It’s a “no lose” investment scheme. Unfortunately, we have seen this repeatedly in the past. In the 1980’s it was “Portfolio Insurance” – a “no lose” investment program that eventually erupted into the crash of 1987. But not before the market went into a parabolic advance first.

In the 1990’s – it was the dot.com phenomenon which was “obviously” a “no lose” proposition. Even after Alan Greenspan spoke of “irrational exuberance,” two years later the market went parabolic once again.

Then in 2006-2007, banks invented the CDO-squared, a collateralized derivative obligation based on other collateralized derivative obligations. It was a genius way to invest with “no risk” because the real estate market had never crashed in history.

Today, it is once again an absolute “certainty” that markets will rise from here as global Central Banks have it all under control. What possibly could go wrong?

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Leverage squared.

Equity Allocations At Record Highs As Investor Cash Hits All Time Low (ZH)

While Bank of America may or may not be right in its forecast that as a result of the market meltup, buying panic and sheer euphoria to get into stocks, which just pushed the bank’s proprietary “Bull and Bear” indicator to a level which on 11 out of 11 prior occasions always presaged a ~12% selloff…

… a market correction or worse is imminent, one thing that is indisputable is the funding status of the Private Clients served by BofA’s Global Wealth and Investment Management (GWIM) team. What it shows is that investor cash allocation has just dropped to a record low of just 10%…

… while investor equity exposure is rising at fastest pace in 10 years.

… and total equity allocations are back to record highs.

In other words: ‘bear capitulation’ as everyone is now long stocks in what BofA called a “non-stop euphoric cabaret.” When will this stop, or reverse? According to BofA, keep an eye on the dollar, which as long as it keeps sliding is supporting of risk assets, however the risk is once it bounces, to wit, the “US dollar key catalyst; note US-Europe FX spat sparked ’87 crash” and “higher US$ “pain trade” = risk-off coming weeks”

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Even if cryptos don’t have a security issue, they certainly appear to have one.

Japanese Cryptocurrency Exchange Loses $535 Million To Hackers (CNBC)

Hackers stole several hundred million dollars’ worth of a lesser-known cryptocurrency from a major Japanese exchange Friday. Coincheck said that around 523 million of the exchange’s NEM coins were sent to another account around 3 a.m. local time (1 p.m. ET Thursday), according to a Google translate of a Japanese transcript of the Friday press conference from Logmi. The exchange has about 6% of yen-bitcoin trading, ranking fourth by market share on CryptoCompare. The stolen NEM coins were worth about 58 billion yen at the time of detection, or roughly $534.8 million, according to the exchange. Coincheck subsequently restricted withdrawals of all currencies, including yen, and trading of cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin. Bloomberg first reported the hack. A CNBC email sent to Coincheck’s listed address bounced back.

Cryptocurrency NEM, which intends to help businesses handle data digitally, briefly fell more than 20% Friday before recovering to trade about 10% lower near 85 cents, according to CoinMarketCap. Most other major digital currencies, including bitcoin, traded little changed on the day. Coincheck management said in the press conference that it held the NEM coins in a “hot” wallet, referring to a method of storage that is linked to the internet. In contrast, leading U.S. exchange Coinbase says on its website that 98% of its digital currency holdings are offline, or in “cold” storage. The Japanese exchange said it did not appear that hackers had stolen other digital currencies.

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There will never be a global consensus. Just a lot of poorly understood laws.

How Bitcoin Regulation Will Happen, And What It Will Mean (Ind.)

Bitcoin has been surging and falling in recent weeks. And it seems mostly to come down to one thing: regulation. The lack of regulation is, for now, a large part of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies’ intrigue: they seem to allow people to avoid the traditional restrictions in place in money and other assets. But they’re also part of their bad reputation, with the same anonymity and decentralisation allowing them to be used for crime. Many governments have suggested they could introduce such rules. But it’s still not clear what they’d look like, or how they’d arrive; here’s an attempt to predict what might be to come in that most unpredictable of markets. In recent weeks, bitcoin has plunged after the threat of regulation in South Korea.

But it was part of a much broader trend – countries around the world have already introduced new rules, and those that haven’t are talking about it. The price has mostly levelled out in recent weeks, after regulation brought volatility and a slowly sliding price. But there might be more disruption coming, as countries look towards regulation, worried about the activity and behaviour that bitcoin could be enabling. That was obvious as world leaders arrived in Davos and were asked their opinion. The event could be a preview of far more wide-ranging controls that could be introduced in March, when the G20 governments’ financial and economic leaders meet in Argentina – a number of the countries attending have specifically said they will focus on fixing regulation of cryptocurrencies at that meeting.

They include France and Germany, which are said to be working together on bitcoin regulation. Many other countries have called for the international community to work together to bring regulation to bitcoin. Davos has been a platform for various world leaders to give their opinion on bitcoin. And they all seem to agree on one thing. “My number-one focus on cryptocurrencies, whether that be digital currencies or bitcoin or other things, is that we want to make sure that they’re not used for illicit activities,” said Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s most senior financial policymaker, told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We encourage fintech and we encourage innovation, but we want to make sure all of our financial markets are safe,” Mnuchin said. “We want to make sure that the rest of the world – and many of the (Group of) 20 countries are already starting on this – have the same regulations.”

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Airplane makers wars are set to intensify.

Bombardier Gets Surprise Win After U.S. Rebuffs Boeing Trade Case (BBG)

Bombardier can start shipping C Series jets to Delta Air Lines after a surprise ruling by a U.S. trade panel that said the proposed imports won’t hurt American industry. U.S. companies and workers aren’t being harmed by sales of 100- to-150-seat aircraft from Canada, the International Trade Commission said Friday. The tribunal’s unanimous vote blocks a Commerce Department decision last month to impose duties of almost 300%. Friday’s vote deals a blow to Boeing, which said Bombardier sold the C Series in the U.S. at less than fair value while benefiting from government subsidies. The ruling also opens the door for Montreal-based Bombardier to woo new American customers while potentially easing U.S. trade tensions with Canada and the U.K., where the company builds wings for the aircraft. “I’m shocked,” said Chris Murray, an analyst in Toronto. “This clears the way for the jets being to delivered to Delta,” Murray said. “It also removes any concerns about potential future orders in the U.S.”

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Bombardier goes from one lawsuit to another. Should have stuck to making skidoos.

Canada Illegally Subsidized Bombardier: Embraer (R.)

Brazilian planemaker Embraer said on Friday that the U.S. Department of Commerce has shown that the Canadian government “heavily and illegally subsidized” Bombardier and its C Series aircraft, allowing the company to survive and distorting the aviation industry. The statement came just after Bombardier won an unexpected trade victory against U.S. planemaker Boeing when a U.S. agency rejected imposing hefty duties on sales of Bombardier’s new CSeries jet to American carriers.

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Oh well, there’s plenty homeless people.

More Than Half Of New-Build Luxury London Flats Fail To Sell (G.)

Developers have 420 towers in pipeline despite up to 15,000 high-end flats still on the market. More than half of the 1,900 ultra-luxury apartments built in London last year failed to sell, raising fears that the capital will be left with dozens of “posh ghost towers”. The swanky flats, complete with private gyms, swimming pools and cinema rooms, are lying empty as hundreds of thousands of would-be first-time buyers struggle to find an affordable home. The total number of unsold luxury new-build homes, which are rarely advertised at less than £1m, has now hit a record high of 3,000 units, as the rich overseas investors they were built for turn their backs on the UK due to Brexit uncertainty and the hike in stamp duty on second homes.

Builders started work last year on 1,900 apartments priced at more than £1,500 per sq ft, but only 900 have sold, according to property data experts Molior London. A typical high-end three-bedroom apartment consists of around 2,000 sq ft, which works out at a sale price of £3m. There are an extra 14,000 unsold apartments on the market for between £1,000-£1,500 per sq ft. The average price per sq ft across the UK is £211. Molior says it would take at least three years to sell the glut of ultra-luxury flats if sales continue at their current rate and if no further new-builds are started. However, ambitious property developers have a further 420 residential towers (each at least 20 storeys high) in the pipeline, says New London Architecture and GL Hearn. Henry Pryor, a property buying agent, says the London luxury new-build market is “already overstuffed but we’re just building more of them”.

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Building more is the worst of all options. See above. But it’s alos the only option that lets the illusion last a bit longer.

Building More Homes Will Not Solve Britain’s Housing Crisis (Pettifor)

Everyone – from the government, to housing charities, to housebuilders – has bought into the conventional wisdom that the dysfunction that racks our housing market is a matter of demand and supply. We’re not building enough houses, so house prices have been sent rocketing, taking home-ownership out of reach for growing numbers of young people. But in reality, our housing problems are not a simple feature of supply and demand. Rather, our housing market has a bitcoin problem. What has bitcoin mania got in common with house prices, especially in the capital? For starters, both are speculative bubbles. Vast sums of money have been poured into finite supplies of bitcoins and London property. Both have consequently exploded in value, albeit over different time periods.

And so both have become financialised assets that deliver capital gains far in excess of people’s ability to earn income from work, or from investment in the real economy. And as with bitcoin, so with London property: speculators are convinced that prices will continue to rise for ever. It’s speculation in the property market that is fuelling stratospheric house price rises, not shortage of supply. When the “fuel” of private capital, mortgage credit and cash from the bank of mum and dad is supplemented by government subsidies and tax breaks, house prices rise. Moreover, wealthy global and non-resident buyers have funnelled more than £100bn into London property over recent years, making the problem even worse.

So, rather counterintuitively, building more houses is not the right prescription. House prices won’t fall until the tide of cash flowing into the market abates, for example by tightening mortgage credit, or shrinking the pool of buy-to-let investors. That may already be starting to happen as real incomes continue to fall, the Bank of England toughens up buy-to-let mortgages, and stamp duty rises are phased in for second properties. Despite this, the government pretends the real cause of unaffordable housing is a shortage of new builds. It uses this argument to provide cover for further taxpayer-funded subsidies and tax breaks that benefit its property-owning core voters, its close allies in the construction industry and property market, and its supporters in the City of London.

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Germany crony Holland wants to pay less toward Brexit because its economy is hit harder than others. It also wants the entire EU budget cut. Juncker wants to raise that budget and buy more Europe. This could blow up. Expect more heavy handedness from Brussels.

Brexit Saddles EU With A Huge Budget Problem (CNBC)

Brexit is leaving the EU with a big problem on its hands and a “very tough” negotiation ahead, European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen told CNBC on Friday. The U.K. has been one of the main contributors to the European budget, but once it has left the bloc there will be a gap in the EU budget that will have to be worked out somehow, Katainen said. “It is certainly a problem and we have to address it,” he said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. “If I should bet something, we need to adjust the budget to a certain extent but also we need fresh money from member states. We also have to look at how money is spent, how we could get more out of less.”

But many EU members do not want to pay more to compensate for the U.K.’s decision to leave the union. Denmark, for example, made it clear last year that it would not step up its financial commitment because of Brexit. Katainen told CNBC that one solution could be using more financial instruments, including equity investments, to finance European projects rather than direct financial contributions. “This is what we are planning or exploring at the moment… it’s going to be a very though negotiation,” he said.

The current EU budget is planned out until 2020. The European Commission is due to come up with proposals on the future of the budget in May. During a speech in September, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “An important element will be the budgetary plans the commission will present in May 2018. Here again, we have a choice — either we pursue the European Union’s ambitions in the strict framework of the existing budget, or we increase the European Union’s budgetary capacity so that it might better reach its ambitions. I am for the second option.”

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Yeah, the ones they previously promised to take but never did.

Deal With France ‘Could Bring Hundreds More Child Refugees To UK’ (G.)

Charities working to bring unaccompanied refugee children to safety are optimistic that agreements signed by Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron could lead to hundreds more receiving permission to travel legally to the UK. Details emerging from last week’s summit show that officials agreed to extend an eligibility deadline so that children fleeing conflict and arriving in Europe before last Friday could be considered under the Dubs amendment, the scheme launched in 2016 under which the government agreed to offer a safe and legal route to refugee children travelling alone. Previously, refugee children had to have arrived in Europe before March 2016 to be considered for acceptance under the scheme. This deadline meant large numbers of vulnerable young people who had arrived in France, Germany and Italy more recently were not eligible.

Lord Dubs, the Labour peer who forced the government to commit to helping more young refugees in January 2016, welcomed the development. “We hope dozens more will be transferred, but it is crucial that they get a move on. In France they are sleeping under the trees in very bleak conditions.” Although the May-Macron agreement focused on France, concerns are growing for the large number of unaccompanied refugee children in Greece where there are currently 3,150 refugee children, travelling without families, and only 1,109 spaces in shelters, according to the charity Safe Passage, which has campaigned to bring more young refugees to the UK. The charity hopes that a further 250 could be brought to safety under the Dubs scheme. The government has committed to accommodating 480 refugee children under the scheme, but has so far only transferred about 220.

Campaigners hope the announcement could reduce the number of young refugees killed on roads outside Calais, after a spike in deaths in recent weeks among asylum seekers attempting to climb on to lorries in order to travel illegally to the UK. The UK government also agreed to speed up the time it spends considering applications from young refugees for transfer to the UK, committing to providing an answer in 10 days, and to transferring them within 15 days after that. George Gabriel, at Safe Passage, said: “For those who are awaiting family reunion, these changes will mean that there is a much lower incentive to make a dangerous journey to reunite with a loved one.”

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Jan 252018
 
 January 25, 2018  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Grete Stern Sueño No. 27: No destiñe con el agua 1951

 

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)
A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)
Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)
Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)
IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)
Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)
Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)
Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)
Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)
How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)
Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)
We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)
Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)
Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)
Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)
Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

 

 

Winning bigly. Triumphant talk of the town in Davos. Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein are on board. “They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.” How long will it last?

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)

President Donald Trump has a familiar message for the global elites populating the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: You were wrong. A year ago, some Davos participants predicted Trump’s protectionist rhetoric would lead to sluggish economic growth and lackluster stock market gains. It didn’t. And the president isn’t about to let that go unnoticed. Trump will arrive at the conference Thursday, joining a large delegation of U.S. officials already there, where he’s expected to boast about U.S. economic performance during his first year in office – unemployment down, the stock market up, robust growth. He’ll also seek to persuade the Davos audience in a major speech on Friday that his populist, “America First” policies can co-exist with globalism.

The president said on Twitter that he plans “to tell the world how great America is” and that “our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better.” “He wants to shatter the myth that he is only an ‘America First’ president,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who was briefly Trump’s communications director and still informally advises the president. “That’s not the case. He is a globalist. He has a duality to his personality. He’s here to disrupt things, which he does a reasonably good to great job of.” The Swiss mountainside gathering of bankers, corporate chiefs and academics isn’t exactly Trump’s scene, and his administration deliberately spurned the conference prior to his inauguration last year. But now, chief executives are warming up to the president after a year in which his administration began a major deregulation effort and won passage of a law that slashes the U.S. corporate tax rate.

“What I’m bulled up about is that policy makers are making good policy decisions in the U.S. about taxes, about proper regulatory reform,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in Davos. “I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview with CNBC. [..] Trump will host European executives on Thursday night to argue that the U.S. is a better place for businesses as a result of the tax overhaul and deregulation, his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, said Tuesday at a briefing. [..] Trump told reporters late Wednesday that he decided to go to Davos “to get them to bring back a lot of money. They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.”

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When does Beijing start to talk about currency manipulation.

A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is open for business and welcomed a weaker dollar, saying that it would benefit the country. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday, he made a bid for investment into the U.S., saying the government was committed to growth of 3% or higher. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, according to Bloomberg, adding that the currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

On the eve President Donald Trump’s arrival at the event, he said that the U.S. delegation to Davos was its largest ever. “(The) size of the delegation to Davos this year is testament to the scale of Trump’s work over the past year,” Mnuchin said. “What’s happening in the U.S. (is a) reflection of programs being put in place. As we look at U.S. growth, it continues to look quite good and is a very attractive place to invest,” he added. The dollar dipped slightly after his comments and hit a session low, with the dollar index slipping 0.47% for the day. The British pound climbed to a post-Brexit vote high shortly after 8:30 a.m. London time. Mnuchin iterated that his country is “absolutely” committed to free and fair trade, according to the Associated Press. He added that strong U.S. growth was good for the economy and that there was no inconsistency with Trump’s “America First” agenda, according to the news agency.

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Calculation: others lose more than the US does short term.

Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)

Speaking one’s mind can be dangerous, especially for the U.S. Treasury secretary. Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that a weaker dollar was good for his country. Textbook theory certainly supports his view that a depreciating currency is good for exporters. But the remarks are a break with what his predecessors have publicly asserted since 1995. If the greenback became a trade weapon it would be to the detriment of foreign holders of U.S. debt. Treasury secretaries since Robert Rubin have repeated the mantra that a strong dollar is in U.S. interests. That meant something when Rubin articulated it in 1995 with the aim of shoring up a weak dollar. But it has been used ad nauseam since then, both when the U.S. authorities were intervening in the currency markets to buy their currency and when they were selling it.

What qualified as strong is up for grabs. Since 1995, an index of the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies has risen as high as 121 and then fallen more than 40% without the wording being questioned or amended. The maxim has served its purpose, though, by reassuring investors and other countries that the United States would not try to talk its currency down to win a trade advantage. Little wonder then that the dollar index, which has been on a losing streak since the year started, hit a three-year low after Mnuchin’s comments. He probably had no intention of weakening the dollar and there is no evidence that President Donald Trump’s administration is about to embark on such a policy. The remarks do, however, reveal how focused U.S. policymakers are on domestic interests. From there, actually egging on such moves is only a small step.

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There’s no way to keep the reserve currency down, and there’s no alternative either, but they’ll take what they can get today.

Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)

U.S. presidents and Treasury secretaries have a long tradition of declaring their allegiance to a strong dollar policy in public remarks, even if privately many welcomed a softer dollar to boost U.S. exports and reduce trade deficits. If the U.S. is publicly supporting a weak dollar while also imposing tariffs on foreign imports — as the Trump administration did this week — it could invite retaliation from other countries, potentially sparking both currency and trade wars, economists say. “It’s remarkable, really, this kind of bomb-throwing from Mnuchin on the dollar the same week they slap on tariffs,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, referring to action this week by the Trump White House to impose tariffs on some imported solar panels and washing machines. “The problem with this is it just invites retaliation. This is not a friendly action.”

A weaker U.S. dollar, while potentially a boost for exports, makes many foreign consumer goods more expensive for Americans to buy. That could hit lower-income consumers the hardest, including less well-off voters in Trump’s political base. Retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports could also hurt domestic manufacturers. The concept of a public strong-dollar policy dates back at least three administrations to when Lloyd Bentsen and Robert Rubin served as Treasury secretaries under President Bill Clinton. The general approach reflects the belief that a stronger dollar improves the value of U.S. Treasury bonds, equities and other dollar-denominated assets and gives Americans more purchasing power. It also generally reflects an improving U.S. economy.

“I have been consistent in saying, as my predecessors have said, that a strong dollar is good for the United States. If you look at the U.S. economy right now, the truth is our economy is performing quite well,” then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in January 2015, echoing the regular public refrain of U.S. officials. Mnuchin did nod to this tradition in his Davos comments after remarking on the benefits of a weaker dollar. “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

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She must appear impartial. But this of course is utter crap: “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets..”. There are no markets. There’s only central banks.

IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde suggested that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin may wish to explain his comments in which he appeared to back a weak dollar, adding that U.S. tax cuts will probably cause the world’s reserve currency to rally. “I really hope that Secretary Mnuchin has a chance to clarify exactly what he said,” Lagarde said in Bloomberg TV interview with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene in Davos, Switzerland. “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets and geared by the fundamentals of U.S. policy.” The dollar slid to the lowest since December 2014 on Thursday, a day after Mnuchin’s endorsement of a weaker greenback at the WEF. The euro also climbed to its strongest against the dollar since 2014. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos.

The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” Losses for the greenback have mounted since U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration a year ago, with the currency weakening against every Group-of-10 peer. Lagarde reiterated the IMF’s view, presented in its World Economic Outlook this week, that the U.S. tax reform is likely to lead to dollar’s strengthening in the medium term. For many market analysts, Mnuchin’s comments represent a stark break from previous U.S. administrations and could provoke pushback from other regions before too long. “This is a further break away from the ‘strong USD’ mantra launched in the mid-1990s by Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Rubin and adhered to by subsequent Treasury leaders,” wrote Credit Agricole CIB strategists led by Valentin Marinov in a note to clients. “Inevitably, the Administration’s vocal preference for a weak dollar is likely to raise the risk of global currency wars.”

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A carrot for the Democrats. They’ll take it.

Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)

Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would support a plan that offered a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, as part of a broader immigration package that the White House is expected to unveil next week. Trump made the comments to a group of reporters assembled for a briefing on the president’s immigration plan before he departs to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. According to the Associated Press, Trump said he would be open to allowing certain immigrants to become citizens after “10 or 12 years”. Trump told reporters he would allow the Dreamers to “morph into” citizens over a period of time.

“Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive, of after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.” Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican Senators deeply involved in the negotiations over immigration, called Trump’s statement “a major breakthrough”. “I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for Daca recipients,” he said. “This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law.” Trump had previously rejected the idea of citizenship for the young immigrants as “amnesty”. According to the AP, a senior White House official immediately clarified the remarks, telling reporters that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers was only a “discussion point” in the plan that the White House would preview to Congress on Monday.

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He’s not bluffing.

Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)

Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he would be willing to speak to the special counsel office’s under oath, adding that he was “looking forward” to talking with Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including alleged contacts with the Trump campaign. Speaking with reporters at the White House before he set out for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked about a potential interview with Mueller. “I’m looking forward to it,” he answered. “I would love to do it.” He added that the interview could occur in “two or three weeks”. Trump’s statement would seem to end months of speculation about whether the special counsel would interview the president, though he also said he would testify under oath last year. The president’s attorneys have met with their counterparts in the special counsel’s office.

Mueller’s team is tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the election, including hacks of Democratic party emails and contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russians. The special counsel’s office has charged Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort with money laundering and conspiracy, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and one of his former foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, have each pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. The special counsel’s office is also investigating potential obstruction of justice, and has questioned the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in part to discuss the president’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Also on Wednesday, Trump rejected criticism of his attacks on the Russia inquiry. “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump said. He added: “We’re going to find out” if he gets a fair shake from Robert Mueller. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever,” Trump said. “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”

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For what it’s worth.

Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)

Weiss Ratings, which claims to offer the first “ratings” on cryptocurrencies, has judged ethereum to be better than bitcoin. The securities ratings agency announced Wednesday that it gave ethereum a B rating because it “benefits from more readily upgradable technology and better speed, despite some bottlenecks.” Bitcoin received a “fair” C+ rating because the digital currency is “encountering major network bottlenecks, causing delays and high transactions costs,” according to a release. “Despite intense ongoing efforts that are achieving some initial success, Bitcoin has no immediate mechanism for promptly upgrading its software code.” None of the 74 cryptocurrencies the agency covers received an “excellent” A rating. B-rated ethereum and digital currency EOS have the highest ratings.

That tough take is apparently a trademark of the 47-year-old independent financial ratings agency. Reports from Barron’s and The New York Times from 2002 and 1992, respectively, note Weiss’ lack of A ratings in coverage of insurance stocks, mutual funds and other securities. The Florida-based company usually flies under the radar in comparison to better-known agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Weiss says it does not accept compensation from the companies it rates for issuing the rating. Foreign cryptocurrency investors were apparently very worried that Weiss would issue negative ratings on digital currencies. The agency said in a release Wednesday that “staff was up all night last night fending off denial of service attacks from Korea” and cited Korean social media posts calling others to bring down the ratings agency’s website. The hackers then broke into the website, took information from it and are distorting it on social media, the company said.

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No, Beppe is not ‘gaffe-prone’. He built a formidable force, and he’s the first to recognize he’s too old to take the next step. M5S was always going to be movement by and for the young. Because they’re not yet corrupt.

Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)

Beppe Grillo, the bombastic comedian who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has stepped aside in what some speculate could be a move to bolster the party’s chances before the general election on 4 March. Grillo, who has been instrumental in turning the movement into Italy’s most popular party, roared on to the political scene in 2009 after joining forces with the late web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio to launch a blog that railed against political corruption. The blog struck a chord among an electorate weighed down by the economic crisis and fed up with the traditional political class, and became the driving force behind the movement’s phenomenal success in the 2013 elections, when it snatched the second-largest share of the votes.

But the blog has now removed most references to the party. The 69-year-old has started a new blog, which he said will focus on technology and visions for the future as part of an “extraordinary liberating adventure”. He added that while he “likes to have points of view” he is “fed up with opinions”. Quite what that means has left commentators guessing, but Grillo has been distancing himself from the party for some time. In 2015, just a year after the party made gains in the European elections, he announced that he was leaving politics and returning to comedy. As he toured comedy clubs, the gaffe-prone Grillo was thrust back into the spotlight a year later after taking a swipe at Sadiq Khan, saying the Muslim mayor of London would “blow himself up in front of Westminster”.

After that Grillo took more of a back seat, gradually grooming 31-year-old Luigi di Maio for the party’s leadership. Di Maio, who was elected leader in September and is the party’s candidate for prime minister, said on Tuesday night that the split did not mean “patricide” or “reneging on the past”. “The party is now moving forward on its own legs and getting stronger,” he said. The Five Star Movement is leading in opinion polls, ahead of the centre-left Democratic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League. Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “Maybe [Grillo] wants to guarantee its survival and see how it will fly in his absence.”

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“..we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work.”

How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)

What’s in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal for Australia? There’s no way to tell until we’ve seen the text, and we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work. After that, there’s still time to back out if we don’t want to ratify it, and there’s a precedent. All 12 would-be members signed up to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2016. Barack Obama found himself unable to get it through Congress and Donald Trump didn’t try. As best as we can tell, the new deal, TPP-11, is the old one with fewer bad bits. Twenty of the most contentious provisions included at the insistence of the US have been “suspended” until the US decides to join. They include enforced protections for the owners of pharmaceutical patents and extensions to copyright law.

There’s no guarantee they would come back if the US did decide to join. Each of the 11 other members would have to agree. Still in the agreement, although somewhat weakened, are the investor-state dispute settlement provisions insisted on by the US and Korea. They will allow private companies to sue national governments in extraterritorial tribunals, as Philip Morris did over Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws using the terms of an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement. John Howard successfully resisted having them in the US-Australia agreement and the Abbott government managed to avoid them in the Australia-Japan agreement, but we have apparently agreed to them now, for Japan, Korea and eight other nations. The upside is that our companies will also be able to sue governments.

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It’s time for Putin to tell Erdogan to back off.

Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation. Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict. “He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria. However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call. “President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

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Get him out of there, to a safe place. Get him treatment. A society that persecutes its smartest and bravest cannot succeed.

We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has not stepped outside the heavily surveilled confines of the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he entered the building almost six years ago. Naturally, much of the media attention has focused on his international legal drama and threats to his safety, including arrest and possible extradition to the US. In contrast, ongoing violations of his human rights, including his fundamental right to healthcare in the context of his unusual confinement, have received less coverage. As clinicians with a combined experience of four decades caring for and about refugees and other traumatised populations, we recently spent 20 hours, over three days, performing a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation of Mr Assange.

While the results of the evaluation are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare. Packing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and after being conspicuously photographed entering the embassy, we performed our examinations in a poorly ventilated conference room. The reason for examining Mr Assange in these conditions is that he has no access to proper medical facilities. Although it is possible for clinicians to visit him in the embassy, most doctors are reluctant to do so. Even for those who will see him, their capacity to provide care is limited. At the embassy, there are none of the diagnostic tests, treatments and procedures that we have concluded he needs urgently.

As clinicians, it is our ethical duty to advocate for the health and human rights of all people as promised under international law, and to call on our colleagues to hold our professional societies, institutions and governments accountable. In 2012, Ecuador, in accordance with its right as a sovereign state, formally determined that Mr Assange meets the requirements enshrined by the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. Regardless of the allegations against Mr Assange, he remains a citizen of Australia and a refugee, and, as the Guardian reported last week, he is now also a citizen of Ecuador.

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Trump should support Assange vs their common enemy.

Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)

At this juncture, it bears reminding that Jeff Bezos, the current owner of the Washington Post, has a $600 million contract with the CIA in relation to his monolithic company Amazon. The Nation wrote in 2013: “Amazon, under the Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, recently secured a $600 million contract from the CIA. That’s at least twice what Bezos paid for the Post this year. Bezos recently disclosed that the company’s Web-services business is building a “private cloud” for the CIA to use for its data needs. Critics charge that, at a minimum, the Post needs to disclose its CIA link whenever it reports on the agency. Over 15,000 have signed the petition this week hosted by RootsAction.” The Nation’s coverage of the CIA’s contract with Amazon has since been removed from their web page for unknown reasons, but is available through archive services.

When discussing The Washington Post’s exercise in gaslighting, it is important to keep the outlet’s well-documented financial connection with the CIA through Bezos in mind. In so doing, it is also pertinent to note that the CIA has made its hatred for Assange very clear, especially over the course of the last year. CIA Director Mike Pompeo put the agency’s hatred for Wikileaks were on full display as recently as yesterday, when the CIA Director lambasted the journalistic organization as a threat on par with Al Qaeda. Pompeo said of Al Qaeda and Wikileaks: “They don’t have a flag at the UN, but they represent real threats to the United States of America.” That a group who publishes information that is inconvenient for the CIA would be likened to a terrorist network speaks to the threat which Wikileaks represents not to the safety of the American public, but to the plutocratic class and the American deep state.

Pompeo is well known for his previous reference to Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The Hill wrote of the incident: “In his first major public appearance since taking the top intelligence post in the Trump administration, Pompeo took aim at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden…” The Hill also cited Pompeo’s characterization of Assange as a: “fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.” Pompeo’s vitriolic characterization of Wikileaks is helpful, because it demonstrates that the CIA’s response to Wikileaks is on par with the force with which terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are pursued. In that light, the magnitude of the threat faced by Assange and Wikileaks associates cannot be over-estimated. Pompeo’s words are not only absurd in light of Wikileaks being an extremely accurate journalistic organization, but also depict the real impetus behind Assange having been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years.

The CIA Director’s statements, even taken at face value, completely undercut the manipulative coverage of Wikileaks and Assange by outlets like the Washington Post. That providing evidence of corruption is considered an existential threat by the establishment is indicative of the value of Wikileaks to the public. The publisher is only a threat to those whose lies are exposed by their publications. The same plutocracy that has aggressively targeted Assange and Wikileaks has progressively strangled free press and freedom of thought in the United States and the world for decades.

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The zenith of EU cruelty: starve a gutted economy of investment. It’s how you guarantee it can’t ever recover.

Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)

Greece ended 2017 with a revenue shortfall of 719 million euros that was covered by the failure to implement budgeted investments of 1.57 billion euros, leading to a primary surplus of 1.94 billion euros. At the same time Greek taxpayers piled up more arrears to the state, with December witnessing an increase in the creation of new debts. The definitive data of the budget’s execution last year, issued on Wednesday by the Finance Ministry, showed that the primary surplus was far above the target, exceeding it by some 877 million euros. Public Investments Program spending was 800 million euros below target, depriving the economy of much-needed cash just as it is trying to recover.

The shortfall was particularly evident on the program’s EU co-funded side, which missed the target by 1.127 billion euros, while the national part of the program showed a 327-million-euro increase in investment. It is therefore no surprise that the economy is now seen to have grown by an even smaller rate than the revised estimate included in the 2018 budget. The 1.941-billion-euro primary surplus, if confirmed by Eurostat in April, will be added to the so-called cash buffer to be created ahead of the conclusion of the bailout program. The non-execution of public investments co-funded by the EU also had an impact on budget revenues, as inflows from Brussels were 1.213 billion euros short of the target.

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Those that have jobs, that is.

Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)

Greeks work the longest hours in Europe, while Germans clock the least hours, new data by the OECD reveal. The OECD includes 35 developed countries and some developing nations. The data were presented during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mexicans are shown to be the hardest workers in the world, as the average Mexican spends 2,255 hours working per year, the equivalent of around 43 hours per week. In Europe, Greeks work the longest hours, averaging 2,035 hours per year. Germans, on the other hand, work the least in Europe and the world, averaging only 1,363 hours per year. The differences between countries has to do with differences in work cultures, the OECD says.

For instance, Mexicans work the most hours because they have a fear of unemployment, while lax labor rules allow employers to break a 48-hour-week law. However, although South Koreans come third in hours worked per year, employees there aim to boost economic growth. The Japanese, who are stereotyped as working very long hours, in fact put in only 1,713 hours per year, below the OECD average. An important factor regarding hours of work is the level of productivity. According to the study, Germans work the least hours but manage to maintain high productivity levels. The average German worker is reported to be 27% more productive than their British counterparts who work 1,676 hours per year. The Dutch, French and Danes also work fewer than 1,500 hours per year on average, while Americans average 1,783 work hours per year.

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The easiest problem to solve, isn’t. So what hope is there then? If you must have plastic, and you rarely do really, make it compostable, edible. By next year, not 20-30 years from now.

Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

Plastic packaging waste is a huge problem around the world. Despite efforts in some European countries such as plastic bottle deposit schemes or having to pay for plastic bags in the supermarket, Statista’s Martin Armstrong notes that the average EU citizen creates 31kg of plastic waste per year. Eurostat figures show that the UK lies above this average, with its citizens responsible for 35kg of waste. The worst country by a long way though is Ireland. 61kg of packaging is thrown away by the average Irish person, 9kg more than the second most prolific country, Luxembourg. The least is created in Bulgaria where a more acceptable 14kg is disposed of over the year.

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Jan 242018
 
 January 24, 2018  Posted by at 3:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn The Storm on the Sea of Galilee 1633
On March 18, 1990, the painting was stolen by thieves disguised as police officers. They broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston, MA, and stole this painting, along with 12 other works. The paintings have never been recovered, and it is considered the biggest art theft in history. The empty frames still hang in their original location.

 

 

This is an article written by Dr. D, who last month wrote a series at the Automatic Earth entitled Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist.

It shouldn’t surprise you that bitcoin plays a cameo in his Modest -but actually quite grand- Plan as well.

 

 

Dr. D: With all the talk about the bubble market, people are once again saying Donald Trump is a fool, he should never have taken credit for a Dow that’s about to collapse. In addition, how does he think he can get away with claiming we have a great economy made greater? He said in the election the economy was terrible and the Dow was a bubble, that’s why he won.

But hold on: you have to remember, they’re politicians; they may be dishonest but they’re not stupid. Let’s try a scenario to see what they’re thinking:

We have a situation in the U.S. where 100 million people are out of the workforce, the real economy is on life-support, debt is crushing, and monetary velocity is at an all-time low. The Fed’s every effort at market-rigging, lowering rates and pumping in money, bailing out the banks and giving unearned interest for Fed deposits have run up both the housing market and the stock market, neither of which is their legal mandate. If either one goes higher, they’ll pop as workers, particularly millennials, have no income to buy houses, and stocks are levitating on just 5 insider-paid FAANG stocks.

It’s untenable. However, if either falls, the collateral that upholds the whole system will fail, margins will be called, the housing market will fall, and there will be an instant Depression… You know, more than the 100 million out of work Depression we already have. A Depression that makes Congressmen and government workers lose their profits and 401k’s instead of just turning students to open prostitution, and mass opioid death, and starving people in Oklahoma – you know, a Depression that finally hurts someone who matters.

Since this is self-evident and unsustainable, isn’t Trump just stepping in it by pushing all the same policies as Obama? Not necessarily. Look at what matters to him. A tax plan, and barely, not one he liked, but look at what he settled for: return of foreign profits abroad. Why? Large as it is – and it’s already creating long-withheld bonuses – that’s not enough to turn the dial. But that’s a card he wanted. Tax policy and a high stock market. What else?

Well, we have a crippling high debt, easily 100% even 200% of GDP. With that weight, nothing can move, no way to win. Pensions also are nearly dead, along with insurance companies; the high Dow is all that’s saving them from bankruptcy. What else? Well he was interested in health reform but was willing to let it remain for now. He wrote deferrals but not pardons for 5 banks showing he’d like to keep them functioning for the moment. He wanted to increase the military.

Certainly the only other promise was to create jobs and economies again, in a way saying the few protected industries: Finance, Health Care, and Military would have to become a smaller % of GDP, so those dollars could be returned back to Main Street. But we just said those three aren’t happening.

So. What if instead of pulling money from intractable lobbying groups he got new investment money from abroad? We saw this initially with Carrier and Ford and more recently with Japan. But it’s not enough and he knows all this; they all do. How do you solve the problem? How do you get more?

Calling all 1st year econ students: how do you attract capital to your country? With higher rates. As the US 10-year breaks out above 2.6% you’d have to think that’s attractive. Attractive investing in a bankrupt nation that’s barely moving? It does if you’re a company that must maintain legal investment ratios and you’re getting 0% in Japan, and negative rates in Europe, both with economies as bad or worse.

But aren’t rising rates bad? The Fed model raises rates to clamp down on the economy. Money will leave the stock market and go to bonds. Housing prices will fall as the monthly cost increases. Cats and Dogs living together….except it isn’t true.

 

Let’s go down the list:

 

1. Trump starts with plausible seed corn, a billboard sign: a tax cut and a few trillion overseas to start economic motion.

2. If the Fed raises rates, that will draw in trillions of world capital Trump wants, enough to turn the dial and really matter.

3. Enough money flowing into the U.S. will create demand for the US$, and the US$ will rise. This part has to work. Be flashy, attract attention. Go big or go home.

4. The US$ rising will attract foreign buyers into U.S. investment and together the stock market will counterintuitively rise.

5. The Fed will detect overheating and raise rates again and again in a reinforcing cycle, drawing capital to only the U.S. and suffocating the world.

6. The massive investment re-industrializes the U.S. to some extent while the high US$ gives some relief to Main Street.

7. Foreign buying, better jobs, and low exchange rates hold off the housing collapse, while all the mortgage bonds are also sold overseas.

8. Emerging markets are hammered by the high US$ and fail, driving ever-more capital to safe havens like the US.

9. Ultimately, the U.S. does what all reserve currencies do and fails LAST.

 

See why they think they can get away with this? The U.S. can still ravage the world, and Trump can, in fact, call it his “success.” …Just like all the Presidents since Nixon.

But this is history, and it never ends there.

 

10. The whole world, strangled by the US and its dollar have no choice but to reject the US system entirely in private contracts and move to an alternative.

11. We now have at least three alternatives: the CIPS/Yuan banking bloc, gold, and cryptocurrencies. They aren’t exclusive: the most likely outcome is a gold-backed trading note priced in Yuan on a blockchain, perhaps in the Shanghai Exchange.

12. Being entirely too high the US$ ultimately cripples the U.S. as well, but the alternative currency the world creates becomes the lifeboat to escape. Let’s be simple and say it’s Bitcoin (it won’t be): Bitcoin hits John McAfee’s $1 million. What do you call it when a currency rapidly becomes worth 1/10th, 1/100th, 1/1,000,000th of the standard? Isn’t that hyperinflation?

13. The U.S., like every nation since Adam Smith, defaults on its $20T in $ debt – and all its internal consumer, corporate, and pension debt – using “hyperinflation” of the dollar. New twist is that, instead of gold, it hyperinflates vs. cryptos or the new world exchange standard as planned in 1971 and publicized in 1988.

14. The reset occurs, no one dies (in the U.S.), supply chains are maintained, oil flows, and the economy stops being a feral, diabolical means of theft and control and returns to being a fair, voluntary exchange. For now.

 

That’s not to say they’ll succeed, but this is why they think they can go this way and win at it. What does the Trump world look like?

 

1. Stock market rose, like he said.

2. Manufacturing returns, reindustrializing a hollow nation and allowing the country to catch up to the stock prices, like he said.

3. Unemployment drops, like he said.

4. Crime is reduced and the cities are improved, like he said.

5. This helps win the black vote, snatching the rest of the Democratic base and locking them out for years, like Bannon said.

6. Economic growth normalizes the banking/medical oversize, like he wanted.

7. Free, untracked money for bribes and illegal cover end and law and order returns with fair exchange, like he said.

8. The U.S. is unwelcome overseas, and the breaking of bonds re-sets the multipolar world, where the U.S. is just one trading nation among many, like he said.

9. Without the money of empire the military returns home, like he said.

10. The world is pretty mad at us and that renewed military came in handy. That’s okay, they’ll be consoled that the economy now works and the U.S. can no longer start wars and act terribly.

 

What does the world look like after? A lot more like it was before 1945. You know, back when we were great and before we got terrible.

Again, not to say this WILL happen, but you can see that it CAN happen, and they are now in control of most of the levers required. From their rhetoric, you can see the glass darkly that this is what they find a priority, a possibility, and therefore a doorway out. In addition, downsizing and re-establishing honesty will not allow their opponents to wiggle out and reverse it.

Why wasn’t this done before? My guess is that a) previous planners thought with a little more effort they could take over the world, as seen in the Arab Spring plan that would culminate in the capture of Iran, the only remaining oilfields on the planet, and b) given the world’s first entirely fiat financial system, it was too complex and disruptive to return to a gold standard.

Without a lighting fast crypto base, banking and trade would fail and millions would die. Only when the one was burned out and the other made available could this move be attempted. Watch and see.

 

 

Jan 242018
 
 January 24, 2018  Posted by at 11:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Florida, Buenos Aires 1936

 

Rising Rates and Decelerating Deficits Spell Doom For US Housing -Again (CH)
Global Pension Ponzi – Carillion Collapse One Of Many To Come (GCore)
South Korea Bans Anonymous Cryptocurrency Trading (BI)
South Korea Is Banning All Foreigners From Trading Cryptocurrency (F.)
Mueller Wants To Question Trump On Comey, Flynn Firings (ZH)
Sessions, Comey Questioned By Mueller In Russia Probe (ZH)
Evidence Suggests A Massive Scandal Is Brewing At The FBI (NYPost)
Behind the Money Curtain: Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory (CP)
Turkey Lodges Third Extradition Request For Eight Servicemen in Greece (K.)
German Politicians Decry Arms Sales To Turkey Amid Attack On Syrian Kurds (RT)
Nearly Half Of Children In London, Birmingham Live In Poverty (Ind.)
UK Opposes Strong EU Recycling Targets Despite Plastics Pledge (G.)
Monsanto Faces A Fight For Soy Market (R.)
Number Of New Antibiotics Has Fallen Sharply Since 2000 (G.)

 

 

Chris Hamilton tends to get stuck in a multitude of data and graphs. Bit of a shame. Sometimes it’s about what you leave out.

But point taken: Demographics, Housing and Debt.

Rising Rates and Decelerating Deficits Spell Doom For US Housing -Again (CH)

I recently wrote an article explaining why a 30% to 50% decline in household net worth is imminent (HERE). No shocker that the primary asset for most in figuring household net worth is real estate, particularly primary residences. This article details why US housing starts and job creation are set to decelerate and a recession will almost surely follow… sending home prices tumbling (and likely equity and bond prices, to boot) severely negatively impacting US households net worth’s. First, the year over year change in housing starts (one unit variety) is highly indicative of the subsequent change (in 12 to 18 months) of full time employees (chart below…year over year change in full time employees blue shaded area) vs. YoY change in housing starts (red line)). As goes housing, so goes subsequent jobs creation.

[..] If you think interest rate changes and housing creation look interdependent…you’re right (chart below).

Again, total annual total population growth, 0-65yr/old population growth, housing starts (1-unit)…but this time including annual change in full time employees.

I believe the interest rate hikes and decelerating deficits will slow housing and jobs creation…but even if I’m wrong, there is still trouble dead ahead as the US is simply running out of employable persons as the percentage of employed 15-64yr/olds is nearing all time highs (also known as potential homebuyers).

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Pensions problems are literally everywhere. But they come to light only when companies themselves collapse first.

Global Pension Ponzi – Carillion Collapse One Of Many To Come (GCore)

The looming pension crisis has been signalled in the collapse of Carillion. The deficit of latest private sector dead-on-arrival Carillion is officially £580 million. However, private reports suggest it could be as high as £2.6 BILLION. According to a Sky News investigation: ‘the £2.6 billion figure relates to the cost to Carillion of paying an insurance company to guarantee all of its pension liabilities, and is significant because it is likely to be the sum claimed on behalf of the pension schemes as part of the liquidation process.’ Nearly 30,000 UK workers’ pensions are at risk thanks to Carillion management’s total mismanagement of a company that has seen its share price collapse 94% in the last 12 months. Carillion’s 27,500-member pension scheme was placed on an ‘at risk list’ in autumn 2017. Arguably, it like many other pension funds should have been there many months ago.

Sadly, Carillion is just the latest in a very long string of serious company collapses that have highlighted the major pension crisis in the UK and around the Western world. It also likely signals that we may be on the verge of many, many more very large corporate bankruptcies in the UK due to massive debt levels and unfunded liabilities. This is not a situation unique to the private sector. It will be repeated in the years ahead – both in the public and the private sector. In November 2017, the OECD warned that the UK’s defined benefit workplace pension plans (final salary schemes) as ‘persistently underfunded’ and the state pension as seriously lacking. Everyone is exposed by this and it emphasises the importance of saving for retirement and ensuring your pension is both funded and properly diversified. These ongoing disasters in the UK’s pension pots are also a threat to the efforts of prudent individuals who have worked hard to set aside enough for their hard-earned retirements.

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This will be copied across the world.

South Korea Bans Anonymous Cryptocurrency Trading (BI)

South Korea has made moves to ban anonymous cryptocurrency accounts from being used for financial transactions. Financial authorities have already banned banks from offering virtual accounts that are needed to buy or sell cryptocurrency. New regulations set for next week will further the ban already in place by introducing a system to verify a person’s identity before they can make a transaction. Planned regulation also prevents foreigners and underage investors from opening cryptocurrency accounts in South Korea, Yonhap reported, citing financial officials. South Korea’s senior financial regulator Kim Yong-beom told reporters that six South Korean banks will begin issuing new trading accounts next week after the system is implemented. Those banks include Shinhan Bank, NH Bank and the Industrial Bank of Korea.

Existing crypto bank accounts not linked to verified users will be banned on the same day, Kim said. Officials also announced on Sunday that cryptocurrency traders would be required to share user data with the banks, according to Yonhap. Newly proposed regulations would require banks to check whether cryptocurrency exchanges comply with the new transparency measures. The government will also be able to access users’ transaction data through compliant banks, according to officials, which may point to the government looking to enforce taxes on cryptocurrency transactions. Stricter trading regulations are part of a government system to curb speculative investment into virtual money, as many fear that the cryptocurrency bubble may soon burst. The government also hopes to prevent the use of cryptocurrency in illegal activity.

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“Kang noted a loophole. In the new system, foreigners and minors can’t possibly make investments as it operates on a bank’s real-name account, but they could potentially use corporate accounts to make additional investments. “There’s no limit to that for now. We haven’t come up with measures to ban that as there is no actual way to do so,” he said.”

South Korea Is Banning All Foreigners From Trading Cryptocurrency (F.)

The system aims to tackle money laundering and related crimes, along with speculation-driven overheating in the market, Kang Young-soo, head of the FSC’s cryptocurrency response team, said by phone on Tuesday after the announcement. “The government is concerned about manipulation of market conditions and injection of illegal funds while market funds are leaked into speculative investments,” he added. “We view that foreigners’ and minors’ investments contribute to our areas of concern.” All foreigners, including residents, nonresidents and “kyopo” ethnic Koreans with foreign citizenship, will be banned from trading cryptocurrencies in Korea, the FSC’s foreign media department said by email. Minors are banned after Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon earlier claim the cryptocurrency craze could lead the youth toward crime.

The government first suggested last month to ban minors and nonresident foreigners. But the final decision nets all foreigners regardless of resident status. “If they’re not Korean citizens, then they can invest in exchanges provided in their countries. Why do they have to invest in ours?” Kang quipped. [..] “The government is creating boundaries for instances of foreigners injecting in coins into the country and a phenomenon of more Bitcoins and other cryptocurrency circulating within the Korean market,” says Kim Jin-hwa, corepresentative of the Korea Blockchain Association, which has about 30 member companies including several exchanges. “With the current conditions of our market, higher supply would equate to higher speculation.”

The targets of the latest regulation, says blockchain startup BlockchainOS Choi Yong-kwan, are Chinese investors who have flooded the cryptocurrency market since their country banned cryptocurrency trade last year. Digital coins from China enter Korean exchanges, then are illegally changed into foreign currencies, which are sent back to China, he explained. “These cases are surprisingly high, and difficult to track or identify. This measure can be viewed as a response to ban these illegal activities,” he said by phone, but suggested the ban would have little effect on existing investors. “The biggest problem lies on Chinese cryptocurrency investors, so this matter is an important focus.”

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Trump can simply say NO. But he probably won’t.

Mueller Wants To Question Trump On Comey, Flynn Firings (ZH)

Following the news earlier this month that special counsel Mueller is seeking to question President Trump – and following today’s NYT report that Mueller had interviewed AG Jeff Sessions – moments ago the Washington Post reported that Mueller wants to question Trump over his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey and the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn from the White House. According to two WaPo sources, Trump’s legal team could present conditions for Trump to interview with Mueller’s investigators as soon as next week. The Post also adds that Trump’s lawyers hope to have Trump answer some of Mueller’s questions in an in-person interview and some in writing.

Within the past two weeks, the special counsel’s office has indicated to the White House that the two central subjects that investigators wish to discuss with the president are the departures of Flynn and Comey and the events surrounding their firings. Mueller has also reportedly expressed interest in Trump’s efforts to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general or pressure him into quitting, “according to a person familiar with the probe who said the special counsel was seeking to determine whether there was a “pattern” of behavior by the president.” Earlier this month, Trump declined to say whether he would grant an interview to Mueller and his team, deflecting questions on the topic by saying there had been “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked directly about meeting with the special counsel. While Trump has told has allegedly told his lawyers that he is not worried about a face to face meeting with the special counsel, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole. Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, said he should try to avoid an interview at all costs, saying agreeing to such a session would be a “suicide mission.” “I find it to be a death wish. Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Stone said. “The president would be very poorly advised to give Mueller an interview”, Stone said.

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I googled Sessions. All articles on this are from WaPo, NYT, CNN etc. Where is the balance?

Sessions, Comey Questioned By Mueller In Russia Probe (ZH)

The leaks from the special counsel’s office just keep coming. After reporting earlier today that AG Jeff Sessions sat for an interview with Mueller last week, the paper is now reporting that Mueller interviewed former FBI Director James Comey last year. The interview with Comey focused on the infamous memo he wrote where he alleged that Trump had asked him to take it easy on Michael Flynn. Many of the special counsel’s critics have warned that Mueller should recuse himself from all dealings with Comey, who is believed to be a key witness in the probe. Comey and Mueller have a long history of working together, and also share a personal friendship, having vacationed together. A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed that he had appeared before the committee. Circling back to Sessions, the NYT pointed out that Sessions is perhaps one of the most important witnesses to be interviewed by Mueller.

For Mr. Mueller, Mr. Sessions is a key witness to two of the major issues he is investigating: the campaign’s possible ties to the Russians and whether the president tried to obstruct the Russia investigation. Mr. Mueller can question Mr. Sessions about his role as the head of the campaign’s foreign policy team. Mr. Sessions was involved in developing Mr. Trump’s position toward Russia and met with Russian officials, including the ambassador. Along with Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions led a March 2016 meeting at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where one of the campaign’s foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, pitched the idea of a personal meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Mr. Papadopoulos plead guilty in October to lying to federal authorities about the nature of his contacts with the Russians and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office.

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The FBI is confident it won’t be investigated. There’s no-one to do it.

Evidence Suggests A Massive Scandal Is Brewing At The FBI (NYPost)

During the financial crisis, the federal government bailed out banks it declared “too big to fail.” Fearing their bankruptcy might trigger economic Armageddon, the feds propped them up with taxpayer cash. Something similar is happening now at the FBI, with the Washington wagons circling the agency to protect it from charges of corruption. This time, the appropriate tag line is “too big to believe.” Yet each day brings credible reports suggesting there is a massive scandal involving the top ranks of America’s premier law enforcement agency. The reports, which feature talk among agents of a “secret society” and suddenly missing text messages, point to the existence both of a cabal dedicated to defeating Donald Trump in 2016 and of a plan to let Hillary Clinton skate free in the classified email probe.

If either one is true -and I believe both probably are- it would mean FBI leaders betrayed the nation by abusing their powers in a bid to pick the president. More support for this view involves the FBI’s use of the Russian dossier on Trump that was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. It is almost certain that the FBI used the dossier to get FISA court warrants to spy on Trump associates, meaning it used the opposition research of the party in power to convince a court to let it spy on the candidate of the other party – likely without telling the court of the dossier’s political link. Even worse, there is growing reason to believe someone in President Barack Obama’s administration turned over classified information about Trump to the Clinton campaign. As one former federal prosecutor put it, “It doesn’t get worse than that.” Joseph diGenova, believes Trump was correct when he claimed Obama aides wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower.

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Quite literally nobody seems to understand that governments are not households.

Behind the Money Curtain: Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory (CP)

Taxes do not fund government spending. That’s a core insight of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) whose radical implications have not been understood very well by the left. Indeed, it’s not well understood at all, and most people who have heard or read it somewhere breeze right past it, and fall back to the taxes-for-spending paradigm that is the sticky common wisdom of the left and right. This, despite the fact that the truth of the proposition is obvious if you think through just a few steps about the process of money-creation. What makes it hard to see is the dense knot of conventional theory and discourse in which we are entangled, and which seems impossible to cut as cleanly as MMT suggests.

But the discussion around the newly-enacted Republican tax bill has brought the issue of tax policy to the forefront again, and it’s time for the left to realize how fundamentally wrong that common wisdom is, and how continuing to argue within the phony terms of the taxes-for-revenue paradigm occludes and reproduces a persistent reactionary fiction regarding what taxes are for. The argument of the common-wisdom economic paradigm is that the government must collect taxes (or borrow money—we’ll get to that) to spend on whatever programs it wants to fund. In this paradigm, the government extracts money from an external, economically prior source, and uses it to pay for government programs. For both the left and the right in this paradigm, taxes are for funding government spending: money first flows into the government through taxes collected, and is then spent into economy in various programs and purchases.

The arguments that ensue are over how much money to collect in taxes, from which sources, and which government programs to fund with the money collected. Most leftists take their stance within this paradigm. Bernie Sanders, for instance, says his Medicare-for-all plan would “raise revenue” from various taxes such as income and capital gains, and from limiting “deductions for the rich.” Dean Baker suggests a 4% increase in payroll taxes to “fully fund” Social Security and Medicare. These kinds of analyses, typical of the left, make points that are helpful in immediate political fights, and they’re also grounded in the conventional paradigm about, money, taxes, and government spending. That paradigm not only informs most thinking—whether conservative, liberal, or left-radical—about money in our society, it also informs the legal and institutional policy framework. It’s the paradigm of the household.

We’re comfortable with the household paradigm because it reflects everyday reality. The household has to get money from somewhere to spend it. It’s obvious. But, also obvious, the household (or business or state) does not create money. That teensy little huge fact makes the household-government finance analogy wrong and wildly misleading. Unless we take that fact as of no significance—And how could we?—we need another paradigm. Analyses and critiques—no matter how radical—of government financing as if it worked like household financing are based on false premises, and false premises lead down meandering dead-end paths to wrong conclusions. We have to reject the household analogy whenever it comes up from any source, including our own minds, where it will sneak in. Most leftists, I’m afraid, do end up assuming it, and ignoring the huge little fact that it cannot be right.

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Governments rejecting Supreme Court decisions. Well, perhaps in Turkey that’s the rule.

Turkey Lodges Third Extradition Request For Eight Servicemen in Greece (K.)

Ankara on Tuesday lodged a third request for the extradition of the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in July 2016 following a failed coup in the neighboring country, sources said. The request by Ankara was lodged just a few hours after Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis received in Athens a delegation from the Turkish Justice Ministry where, according to sources, the Turkish officials underlined Turkey’s insistence on the return of the eight men who are accused of treason. The same sources indicate that Ankara has included new claims about the servicemen in its third request for their extradition.

Speaking after a meeting with Turkey’s Deputy Justice Minister Bilal Ucar in Athens, Kontonis said that the eight could not be send back given that the country’s Supreme Court has rejected the original extradition request. Kontonis said the ruling was “fully respected by everyone and the Greek government.” However, he said, a proposal to try them in Athens was still on the table, adding that it would be up to Ankara “to take the appropriate legal steps.”

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German weapons fight US allies.

German Politicians Decry Arms Sales To Turkey Amid Attack On Syrian Kurds (RT)

German politicians have widely opposed plans to provide Turkey with tank modernization upgrades after Leopard 2 combat vehicles were spotted taking part in the military operation against the Kurds in Syria’s Afrin. Amid rumors of potential resumption of arms sales to Turkey, German opposition parties, the Greens and the Left, urged the government to reconsider such deals with Ankara, pointing out that German weapons are now killing innocent people in Syria. “An immediate halt to all arms exports to Turkey is long overdue,” Agnieszka Brugger, a Greens lawmaker told the Heilbronner Stimme newspaper. “This intense situation should be a wake-up call for the German government.”

Since the 1980s Germany has sold Turkey some 751 Leopard tanks, including 354 modern Leopard 2 type, which has been previously used by Turkey an a cross border operation against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists and US-supported Kurdish militias in Syria. Throughout its military campaign in the neighboring country, Turkey lost a number of 60-ton Leopard 2 tanks, built by Bavaria’s Krauss-Maffei, due to mine explosions. Ankara has recently pressed Berlin and German arms companies to retrofit the hardware to offer better protection against enemy mines. The tanks used by Turkey come from decommissioned stocks of the Bundeswehr. The frontal armor on the hull and turret on the Leopard 2 is much thicker than on the sides and rear of the tracked vehicle.

[..] The massive outcry from the German politicians was caused by the publication of pictures which allegedly showed German tanks used against the Kurds in Syria. An expert from the Bundeswehr confirmed to the German Press Agency in Berlin on Monday that pictures, distributed by the state-owned Anadolu Turkish news agency, showed Leopard 2 A4 tanks of German production. [..] “Angela Merkel must explain her Turkey policy,” said Jan Korte, an MP from the Left. He noted that German soldiers are directly involved in the war of aggression against the Kurds by flying Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft missions and not doing anything to stop the bloodshed on the ground.

Free Democratic Party (FDP) MP Graf Alexander Lambsdorff also expressed sharp criticism of the Turkish action against the Kurds in Syria. “This invasion is not legitimized by international law. There is no mandate from the United Nations and it is not self-defense. All states should call on Turkey to end the campaign and ask them to work on a political solution instead.”

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When seeing stats like this, one must fear for what is yet to come in Britain.

Nearly Half Of Children In London, Birmingham Live In Poverty (Ind.)

Almost half of all children in some UK cities are estimated to be living in poverty, new figures reveal, amid warnings that welfare reforms are leading to an “emerging child poverty crisis”. An analysis of data indicates the most deprived areas in the country have experienced the biggest increases in child poverty over the past two years, with parts of London and Birmingham seeing levels rise by 10 percentage points to above half of all children. The “shocking” figures have been attributed to the benefit freeze – which has been in place since 2015 and leaves children’s benefits frozen until the end of the decade – as well as the high cost of credit for low income families, leaving many “spiralling into debt”.

A report by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) last month found that Britain’s record on tackling poverty had reached a turning point and was at risk of unravelling, with nearly 400,000 more children and 300,000 more pensioners living in poverty than five years ago. The JRF stated that while poverty levels fell in the years to 2011-12, changes to welfare policy – especially since the 2015 Budget – saw the numbers creep up again. Their report showed a total of 14 million people in the UK currently live in poverty – more than one in five of the population.

Now the latest figures, collated by the End Child Poverty coalition through analysis of tax credit data and national trends in worklessness, estimate that child poverty in Manchester and Birmingham stands at 44% and 43% respectively. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets this reaches 53%. [..] A child is said to live in poverty if they are in a family living on less than 60 per cent of median household income. According to the latest official statistics, 60 per cent of median income, after housing costs, was around £248 per week.

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EU targets are for 2035. Ergo, they are not ‘strong’. They’re just as bad and weak as the UK 2042 targets. Don’t be fooled.

UK Opposes Strong EU Recycling Targets Despite Plastics Pledge (G.)

The UK government is opposing strong new recycling targets across the EU despite its recent pledge to develop “ambitious new future targets and milestones”, confidential documents have revealed. A 25-year environment plan was launched earlier in January by the prime minister, Theresa May, who particularly focused on cutting plastic pollution. The plan, aimed partly at wooing younger voters, says “recycling plastics is critical”. A target to recycle 65% of urban waste by 2035 was agreed by the European council and parliament in December and now awaits a vote of approval by member states. But the UK’s opposition is revealed in a record of a subsequent briefing for EU ambassadors, obtained by Greenpeace’s Unearthed team and seen by the Guardian. “The UK cannot support a binding target of 65% for 2035,” said the record, compiled by officials from one member state and confirmed by others. Furthermore, the UK said its opposition meant it would not support the overall waste agreement.

The recycling target had already been watered down from the 70% by 2030 initially sought by the European parliament. The UK’s own environment officials estimated that meeting ambitious recycling targets would bring benefits totalling billions of pounds, according to a July 2017 internal presentation, also obtained by Greenpeace. It suggested a 65% target by 2030 would save almost £10bn over a decade in waste sector, greenhouse gas and social costs. “This Conservative government must be judged on what they do, not on what they say,” said Sue Hayman, shadow environment secretary. “It comes as no surprise that the government are trying to scupper progress on recycling behind the scenes. “Recycling rates have stagnated on this government’s watch and we are way behind meeting our national targets. [Environment secretary] Michael Gove needs to clarify the government’s position on this matter without delay.”

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Fighting GMO resistance with more GMO. A road to nowhere but mass starvation.

Monsanto Faces A Fight For Soy Market (R.)

Monsanto is facing major threats to its historic dominance of seed and herbicide technology for the $40 billion U.S. soybean market. Rivals BASF and DowDuPont are preparing to push their own varieties of genetically modified soybeans. At stake is control over seed supply for the next generation of farmers producing the most valuable U.S. agricultural export. The market has opened up as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready line of seeds – engineered to tolerate the weed killer glyphosate – has lost effectiveness as weeds develop their own tolerance to the chemical. Compounding the firm’s troubles is a national scandal over crop damage linked to its new soybean and herbicide pairing – Roundup Ready 2 Xtend seeds, engineered to resist the chemical dicamba.

The newly competitive sector has sown confusion across the U.S. farm belt, particularly among smaller firms that produce and sell seeds with technology licensed from the agrichemical giants. Many of these sellers told Reuters they are amassing a surplus of seeds with engineered traits from multiple developers – at substantial extra cost – because they can only guess which product farmers will buy. “Our job is to meet our customers’ needs, and we don’t know what those are going to be,” said Carl Peterson at Peterson Farms Seed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.” Monsanto has much to lose. Soybeans are the key ingredient in feed used to fatten the world’s cattle, pigs, chickens and fish. Net sales of Monsanto’s soybean seeds and traits totaled almost $2.7 billion in fiscal 2017, or about a fifth of its total net sales. Gross profits from soybean products climbed 35% over 2016, beating 15% growth of its bigger corn seed franchise.

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No, the solution is not more and new antibiotics. The solution is to stop using the present ones the way we do. It can be legislated by tomorrow morning.

Number Of New Antibiotics Has Fallen Sharply Since 2000 (G.)

The number of new antibiotics being developed has fallen sharply since 2000 and drugmakers need to do much more to tackle the rise of superbugs, according to a report. Britain’s biggest pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, and its US rival Johnson & Johnson are leading efforts to combat antibiotic resistance, according to the report, which was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation assessed 30 of the world’s biggest drugmakers, including pharma companies, biotech firms and generic drugmakers, and produced the first independent report on the industry’s efforts to address drug-resistant infections.

Overprescription of antibiotics, along with their overuse in animals, has caused growing drug resistance in humans with serious health implications – leading to the rise of superbugs such as MRSA that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics. England’s chief medical officer has repeatedly warned that antibiotic resistance could spell the “end of modern medicine”. Caesarean sections and cancer treatments would become very risky without the drugs used to fight infection. In Europe, an estimated 25,000 people a year die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the US, at least 2m illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year can be attributed to antibiotic resistance, according to the foundation’s report.

New antibiotics are urgently needed but there is little incentive for drugmakers to develop them as they will be tightly controlled once they reach the market to limit the risk of resistance emerging. The number of new antibacterial drugs approved in the US dropped from 33 between 1985 and 1999 to 13 between 2000 and 2014. Jayasree Iyer, the head of the foundation, said: “If we don’t use antibiotics in the right doses or for the right bugs, we risk giving bacteria a chance to adapt and strengthen their defences, which will make it harder to kill them the next time. The threat that once-deadly infections could again become life-threatening is intensifying. “Pharmaceutical companies have a critical contribution to make to the effort to tackle superbugs.”

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Jan 212018
 
 January 21, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Francisco Goya The Dog 1819-23

 

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)
Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)
Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)
China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)
China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)
Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)
Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)
Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)
In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)
Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)
Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)
15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

 

 

Let it go down; why maintain the illusion that the system functions?

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)

The US Senate is due back in session to try to end a budget impasse before the start of the working week when the shutdown of many federal services will be felt around the country. Hundreds of thousands of federal staff face the prospect of unpaid leave. On Saturday, recriminations flew around over the Senate’s failure to pass a new budget and prevent the shutdown. A bill to fund the federal government for the coming weeks did not receive the required 60 votes by Friday. The Republican leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said there will be a vote at 01:00 in the early hours of Monday (06:00 GMT) on a bill to fund the government until 8 February. The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days.

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

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No gloating.

Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)

Donald Trump was set to be the first U.S. president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in nearly two decades, but the government shutdown might have scrambled those plans. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that Trump’s plans to travel to Davos next week are up in the air while Congress scrambles to strike a deal to fund the federal government. “We’re taking Davos, from the president’s perspective and the Cabinet’s perspective, on a day-by-day basis,” Mulvaney told reporters during an impromptu briefing. The government shut down at midnight Friday, after congressional negotiators failed to pass a budget.

Earlier in the day, Trump cancelled a planned trip to Florida, where he was scheduled to host a party at his private Mar-a-Lago club to mark the one year anniversary of his inauguration. Tickets for the Mar-a-Lago party begin at $100,000 per couple, and proceeds will benefit the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. On Saturday, RNC staffers were busy setting up TV screens in the private club, so Trump could address the guests via satellite, according to CNN. The budget impasse showed no signs of letting up on Saturday, as both Democrats and Republicans dug their heels in, and each party blamed the other. The president is scheduled to depart for Switzerland on Wednesday, along with a delegation of more than a dozen Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top White House aides.

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They have to release it, no choice.

Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)

One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, The Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues. We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four-page memo alleging abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spying processes during the 2016 election.

This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material. The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.” This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.” Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself.

The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes — or anyone else — are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

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Don’t worry, the shadow banks will.

China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)

The People’s Bank of China has ordered financial institutions to stop providing banking or funding to any activity related to cryptocurrencies, further tightening the noose since its shutdown of crypto exchanges last September sent digital currency enthusiasts fleeing overseas. “Every bank and branch must carry out self-inspection and rectification, starting from today,” according to a document issued by the central bank on Wednesday. “Service for cryptocurrency trading is strictly prohibited. Effective measures should be adopted to prevent payment channels from being used for cryptocurrency settlement.” The Chinese-language document, as seen by the South China Morning Post, was distributed as an internal document among banks, and not published on the central bank’s official website.

“Banks should enhance their daily transaction monitoring, and the timely shut down of the payment channel once they discover any suspected trading of cryptocurrencies,” the document said, adding that the deadline for disclosing the measures is on January 20. The emphasis was on handling any capital settlement to avoid any financial losses by cryptocurrency investors from escalating into public protests – known as “group events” in China – and preserve social stability, the central bank said. [..] Chinese cryptocurrency traders, who once dominated 90 per cent of the world’s trading volume of bitcoin, the most popular and oldest form of cryptocurrency, have moved to the underground market, or overseas to Japan. Bitcoin is considered legal tender in Japan.

“Most of the trading is taking place via US dollar now, as some big accounts active in digital currency trading are already on China’s official watch list and payment channel already blocked,” said Zhao Dong, an individual bitcoin investor who spends most of his time in Japan now. “This move by the PBOC is further pushing capital and innovation out of China.” Still, a person no less than Zhou Xiaochuan, the longest-serving governor in the Chinese central bank, has himself announced that the People’s Bank of China itself is studying the feasibility of developing its own digital currency.

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As does Russia.

China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)

China’s National Defense Ministry said the U.S. should abandon a “Cold War” mindset and view Chinese national security and military efforts “rationally and objectively.” The instigators of militarization of the South China Sea are “other countries” that don’t seem to want to see peace in the region and are using the banner of “navigational freedom” to undertake military activities in a tyrannical manner, ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement released late Saturday. The statement was in response to a U.S. Defense Department strategy report, released last week, that singled out China’s military modernization and expansion in the South China Sea as key threats to U.S. power.

China has undertaken massive land reclamation in the contested waterway that hosts $5 trillion in trade a year, to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area. That has strained ties with other claimant states, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. The National Defence ministry’s statement on Saturday came shortly after China’s Foreign Ministry vowed to take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty after a U.S. warship entered waters surrounding the Huangyan Island in the South China Sea. China’s activities in the South China Sea is “a matter within China’s sovereign rights,” Ren said, adding that the country is committed to a path of peaceful development and a harmonious world order.

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A good point not particularly well made.

Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)

Brexit, at its heart, is a recognition that Britain has become steadily weaker since it spent much of its empire wealth fighting two world wars – too feeble in the years before the 2016 referendum to sustain an exchange rate of $1.60 and €1.40, just as it was too poor to cope with $4 to the pound in the 1950s and $2 to the pound in 1992. Manufacturers were unable to make things cheaply, reliably or efficiently enough against the headwind of a high-value currency, forcing many to give up. An economy that boasted 20% of its income coming from manufacturing in the 1980s found it was the source of barely 10% at the beginning of this decade.

Surges in GDP growth in the 70 years since the war can be attributed (and this short list makes the point crudely) to periods when there were cheap raw materials and energy costs; or a growing population; or foreign ownership and management of key industries; or the offloading of vast amounts of state and mutually owned assets; or cheap borrowing. Without these in operation to improve the UK’s performance, a lower exchange rate became inevitable. Some Brexit campaigners made a cheaper currency their explicit aim, arguing that while Britain’s wealth and standing in the world would be diminished in the short term, the breathing space given to manufacturers would allow them to sell abroad at cheaper prices, then use the funds to invest and gain the efficiencies needed to cope with a return to a higher exchange rate sometime in the next decade.

There is a good deal of logic to the argument, but it rests, like so many revolutionary aims, on the many and competing forces in the economy doing exactly what its proponents want them to. For instance, manufacturers, with a few honourable exceptions, have refused to invest more than the bare minimum for decades, even when the exchange rate has helped them. There are windfall profits to be made when currencies fall: but these windfalls have been trousered by shareholders, not invested.

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Little emperor.

Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has said it would be possible for Britain to secure a bespoke trade deal but only if the UK accepts certain “preconditions”. The French president said that while a special solution could be secured, full access to the single market without accepting its rules was “not feasible”. The comments were made during an interview recorded for BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Macron has been in the UK for his first visit since taking office. On Thursday, at the end of a joint press conference with Theresa May at Sandhurst military training college, he rejected the idea of a tailored Brexit deal for Britain’s financial services sector. Macron said full access to EU markets would not be possible unless the UK paid into the EU budget and accepted all its rules.

In the interview with Marr, he said there was “a competition between different countries” to attract financial services companies in the future and that France wanted “to attract the maximum activity”. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said he is seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” arrangement, based on the EU-Canada trade treaty, but with additional access for services. However, EU negotiators have stressed that Britain would not be allowed to “cherry-pick” sectors. Pressed on whether there would be a bespoke special solution for the UK, Macron said: “Sure, but … this special way should be consistent with the preservation of the single market and our collective interests. “And you should understand that you cannot, by definition, have the full access to the single market if you don’t tick the box.” He added: “So it’s something perhaps between this full access and a trade agreement.”

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It’s starting to feel like Stockholm Syndrome.

Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)

Eurozone finance ministers are to meet in Brussels on Monday to assess Greece’s progress in enforcing economic reforms, decide whether to disburse 6.7 billion euros in bailout loans and, Athens hopes, signal talks on debt relief. It was unclear if the loan tranche would be disbursed in its entirety, as some prior actions are pending. However, Greek officials sounded upbeat following a decision late on Friday by Standard & Poor’s to raise Greece’s sovereign credit rating from B- to B with a positive outlook. “Greece’s growth and fiscal outlooks have improved alongside a labor market recovery and amid a period of relative policy certainty,” S&P said.

“These positive developments boost the sense that the trust of the markets and investors in the Greek economy is being restored with steady steps,” the Finance Ministry said on Saturday. “With the conclusion of the program in August 2018 and the securing of steady access to the markets, the Greek economy is definitely moving away from a long period of crisis.” Despite the upbeat rhetoric, there are divisions within SYRIZA over government policies, particularly in the radical Group of 53 faction. In comments to SYRIZA’s central committee on Saturday, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos conceded that there are “many short-term problems” and underlined two major risks. “One is the banks and the other is the IMF,” he said.

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Nice. Kiwis believe in fairy tales.

In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)

Ask Tourism New Zealand what 100% Pure means and they’ll tell you: it’s not a ‘clean, green’ campaign, but a campaign that delivers a “100% Pure New Zealand experience”. What it is is 100% pure advertising, and a slogan fit to replace the fertiliser used in the country’s intensive farming. But while Kiwis do seem to be realising there’s something murky about our clean-green image, there is one area we are still fooling ourselves about – the state of our native creatures. Stuff has just wrapped up its Forgotten Species series, a five-part series looking at a handful of the estimated 3700 native species which are either approaching extinction or at risk. Despite having one of the highest proportions of threatened or endangered species of anywhere on the planet, 70% of the public feel the state of our country’s natives is adequate or doing well, according to a recent Lincoln University study.

Ask study co-author Ross Cullen and he will tell you – 70% of the public is “totally wrong”. All countries advertise, and everyone accepts it with a pinch of salt. If we didn’t we would all be jetting off to England expecting a village in the Cotswolds and end up at a sleazy pub in Plumstead, east London. Advertising is advertising, and good advertising brings in tourism money. However, when the public believes its own advertising, it’s no longer advertising, it’s propaganda –and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because if the populace think something’s going well, they ignore it, the political hot-potato cools, and the decline continues. Case in point – the National Government’s Minister for Conservation, Maggie Barry, paraded the new Threatened Species Strategy in front of voters just as the 2017 general election was heating up.

It promised to increase the number of at-risk species directly managed by 40%. On the face of it, this seems great, but when the Budget was released a couple of weeks later, almost all of DOC’s extra funding was ring-fenced for upgrading tourism infrastructure and developing new Great Walks. It was a great ad delivered by a great ex-garden show host. Kiwis might have kicked up a fuss – if the majority didn’t think we were doing a bang up job on protecting native species already. I remember a telling moment after ex-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s launched her report finding 80% of native birds were threatened. I was present to hear why Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts didn’t fancy this was a problem. “The people come here for our scenery, not our wildlife,” he said. Roberts didn’t disagree with any of the report’s findings, he just thought a visitor levy would do more harm to the country than the rapid die-off of our native birds.

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Depression zone. I went from Athens to Amsterdam 5 weeks ago, lost 2 hours of daylight to begin with, and been dead tired ever since. Vitamin D doesn’t do it either.

Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)

Sunshine is in short supply across a swathe of north-west Europe, shrouded in heavy cloud from a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems since late November and suffering one of its darkest winters since records began. If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January. “Sound the alarm and announce the disappearance,” read a despairing headline in photon-deprived northern France’s regional paper, La Voix du Nord. “A star has been kidnapped. We still have no sign of life from the sun.”

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute has declared December 2017 “the second darkest month since 1887”, when it began measuring, after the 10.5 hours of sun recorded at its Uccle weather station last month were beaten only by a bare 9.3 hours in 1934. France’s northern Hauts-de-France region did better with 26 hours of sunshine in December, but that was against a norm of 48. But Météo France described the paltry 2.7 hours of sun recorded from 1 to 13 January in Lille, the region’s biggest city, as “exceptional”. The January average stands at 61.4 hours, according to the agency – meaning Lille and its unfortunate residents were deprived of perhaps 30 hours’ worth of rays in the first part of the month.

[..] Even southern French sun-traps such as Bordeaux and Marseille fell a very long way short of their usual ray quota in the first half of the month, basking in just 10.3 and 26.9 hours respectively against monthly averages of 96 and 92.5. Health experts say a shortage of sunshine can lead to seasonal depression, whose symptoms include a lack of energy, a desire to sleep and a perceived need to consume greater quantities of sugar and fat. “Exposure to morning light inhibits the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep and favours the production of hormones that will stimulate the body,” Matthieu Hein, a psychiatrist at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, said. In the absence of light, we are “rather slow, tired, which is characteristic of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder”. Florent Durand, who runs a massage studio in Lille, told France 3 TV that his €39 light therapy sessions were booked out.

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As Turkey bombs US supported Kurds, Erdogan feels like a god.

Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to curb human trafficking across the Aegean appears to be in jeopardy again after a top Turkish official warned that a current impasse with the EU gives Ankara no reason to honor the deal. A collapse of the deal would put more pressure on Greek islands where thousands of migrants are cooped up in overcrowded reception centers. The comments on Friday by Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, essentially rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a partnership rather than full EU membership for Turkey. “A privileged partnership or similar approaches, we don’t take any of these seriously. Turkey cannot be offered such a thing,” Celik told Reuters.

Celik said the EU was not fully honoring its part of the migration deal, noting that financial aid was “not working well” and that no new chapters have been opened in Turkey’s EU accession bid. “Technically there’s no reason for Turkey to maintain this deal,” he said. The minister’s words echoed those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, during a landmark visit to Greece in December, hit out at the EU for giving Turkey just a portion of the aid it had pledged as part of the 2016 migrant deal. During Erdogan’s visit, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed that Turkey take back migrants from facilities on the Greek mainland to free up space for migrants from overcrowded camps on the islands. Erdogan did not publicly respond to the suggestion.

After Celik’s comments on Friday, a spokesman for the Greek Migration Ministry said the government’s position, that all sides must honor the Turkey-EU deal, remained “fixed and firm.” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Lesvos on Friday, together with Valentin Radev, the interior minister of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mouzalas reassured local residents, who had gathered at the Moria facility, that measures would be taken to ensure that migrants alleged to have been involved in thefts or other offenses will no longer be allowed to leave the premises. Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said the minister was not doing enough to adequately inform residents and was shifting the blame for the situation on the islands on to local authorities.

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New year, same old lack of humanity.

15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

Fifteen Syrian refugees – some of them children – have been found frozen to death while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. Thirteen bodies were found on Friday and two more were discovered on Saturday after the area was hit by a fierce snowstorm. Lebanese civil defence officials found the bodies after being told a group of refugees were in trouble near Masnaa. Local reports say the group had been abandoned by smugglers. Two smugglers have reportedly been arrested.

Several refugees were rescued, including a young boy who was found wandering by himself. The group were taking the same route hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken before them trying to flee the conflict at home. Lebanon, with a population of four million, has taken in nearly one million Syrians since the war began in 2011. The Lebanese authorities brought in new restrictions in 2015 to try to restrict the number of refugees arriving in the country.

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