Jul 062018
 
 July 6, 2018  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Reading woman in violet dress 1898

 

China Imposes Tariffs, Says US Launching ‘Largest Trade War In History’ (CNBC)
Trump Says China Could Face More Than $500 Billion In US Tariffs (CNBC)
Merkel Open To Reducing EU Tariffs On American Cars (NC5)
US Labor Shortage Is Reaching A Critical Point (CNBC)
Theresa May’s New Customs Plan ‘Dead On Arrival’ In EU (Ind.)
Theresa May Battles To See Off Revolt Ahead Of Key Brexit Summit (G.)
The Dark Cloud Of Global Debt (GT)
“People Assume That Stocks Always Rise Over Time. They’re Wrong” (Eric Peters)
Most Dangerous Market Ever – Michael Pento (USAW)
Moscow Using UK As Dumping Ground For Poison, Says Sajid Javid (G.)
If The Novichok Was Planted By Russia, Where’s The Evidence? (G.)
Seehofer Tells Merkel, Italy And Greece To Solve Migration Row (EUO)
European Parliament Rejects Controversial Copyright Rules (Ind.)

 

 

Act like grown-ups.

China Imposes Tariffs, Says US Launching ‘Largest Trade War In History’ (CNBC)

China implemented retaliatory tariffs on some imports from the U.S. Friday, state media reported, immediately after new U.S. duties had taken effect. The move signals the start of a full-blown trade war between the world’s two largest economies, after President Donald Trump’s administration had initially made good on threats to impose steep tariffs on Chinese goods. At midnight Washington time, the U.S. imposed new tariffs on $34 billion of annual imports from China. This prompted Beijing to respond in kind with levy tariffs on 545 items of U.S. imports — also worth $34 billion, state-run newspaper The China Daily reported Friday.

A spokesperson at China’s ministry of commerce said that while the Asian giant had refused to “fire the first shot,” it was being forced to respond after the U.S. had “launched the largest trade war in economic history.” “This act is typical trade bullying,” the spokesperson said, before adding: “It seriously jeopardizes the global industrial chain … Hinders the pace of global economic recovery, triggers global market turmoil and will affect more innocent multinational companies, general companies and consumers.”

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China has already retaliated.

Trump Says China Could Face More Than $500 Billion In US Tariffs (CNBC)

President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would consider imposing additional tariffs on $500 billion in Chinese goods, should Beijing retaliate. U.S. tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in on Friday. Another $16 billion are expected to go into effect in two weeks and potentially another $500 billion, Trump told reports aboard Air Force One on his way to a rally in Montana before the tariffs kicked in. China implemented retaliatory tariffs on some imports from the U.S., state media reported about two hours later, after new U.S. duties had taken effect.

First “34, and then you have another 16 in two weeks and then as you know we have 200 billion in abeyance and then after the 200 billion we have 300 billion in abeyance. Ok? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300,” Trump said. “It’s only on China,” he added. Trump’s statements reinforce earlier threats that he would escalate the trade conflict. The dispute with China has roiled financial markets worldwide, including stocks, currencies and the global trade of commodities from soybeans to coal.

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Was that so hard?

Merkel Open To Reducing EU Tariffs On American Cars (NC5)

In the midst of trade tension between the European Union and the U.S., German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’s open to lowering tariffs on American car imports. According to Reuters, Merkel said Europe would have to first agree upon a reduction in tariffs. In addition, she cited World Trade Organization rules that state lowering U.S. auto tariffs would mean doing the same for other countries as well. Merkel’s comments come after President Donald Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies, including the EU, and threatened to put a 20 percent tax on European car imports.

The German chancellor warned Trump on Wednesday not to implement auto tariffs to avoid inciting an all-out trade war. Auto industry experts have suggested that if the Trump administration follows through on that threat, the move would negatively affect American autoworkers’ jobs and raise car prices. Trump is scheduled to travel to Brussels next week for the NATO summit, his first big meeting with European leaders together since last month’s G-7 summit.

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With 95 million still out of the labor force.

US Labor Shortage Is Reaching A Critical Point (CNBC)

America’s labor shortage is approaching epidemic proportions, and it could be employers who end up paying. A report Thursday from ADP and Moody’s Analytics cast an even brighter light on what is becoming one of the most important economic stories of 2018: the difficulty employers are having in finding qualified employees to fill a record 6.7 million job openings. Truck drivers are in perilously low supply, Silicon Valley continues to struggle to fill vacancies, and employers across the grid are coping with a skills mismatch as the economy edges ever closer to full employment. “Business’ number one problem is finding qualified workers. At the current pace of job growth, if sustained, this problem is set to get much worse,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said in a statement.

“These labor shortages will only intensify across all industries and company sizes.” Private payrolls grew by 177,000 in June, a respectable number but below market expectations. It was the fourth month in a row that the ADP/Moody’s count fell short of 200,000 after four months at or above that level. The reason for the tick down in hiring certainly isn’t because there aren’t enough jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that April closed with 6.7 million job openings. May ended with just over 6 million people the BLS classifies as unemployed, continuing a trend this year that has seen openings eclipse the labor pool for the first time. At some point that gap will have to close. Economists expect that employers are going to have to start doing more to entice workers, likely through pay raises, training and other incentives.

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“We have been telling the UK for two years that we would not accept a single market a la carte. “What do they come with? – A single market a la carte.”

Theresa May’s New Customs Plan ‘Dead On Arrival’ In EU (Ind.)

Theresa May’s new plan for future relations with the EU will be “dead on arrival”, senior figures in Brussels have told The Independent. EU officials said any hint that the UK wants to be part of the single market on goods, but not services will be rejected. It is a blow for the prime minister who has spent the last week in meetings with EU leaders, including Angela Merkel, in a bid to prevent Europe dismissing her plans out of hand when they are published next week. Ms May is expected to push her cabinet to agree to a plan at Chequers on Friday, which would see Britain remaining in full regulatory alignment with the EU on goods, but not on services.

The meeting has also been preceded by threats and warnings from the Brexiteer wing of the Conservatives that the proposals mooted by the prime minister will not be accepted by them in the UK because they keep Britain too closely tied to the EU’s rules and regulations. But before her ministers have even agreed to the deal, EU officials told The Independent the white paper would be “dead on arrival” in Brussels if, as expected, it proposes that the UK remain in the EU’s single market for goods, but not services. They claimed they had repeatedly warned UK negotiators that this option would not work. They said it had been widely discussed among EU ministers and rejected – including, crucially, by the EU’s two most powerful players, France and Germany.

One Brussels source said: “We have been telling the UK for two years that we would not accept a single market a la carte. “What do they come with? – A single market a la carte.”

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Who will be left standing by Saturday?

Theresa May Battles To See Off Revolt Ahead Of Key Brexit Summit (G.)

Theresa May was battling to see off a revolt on the eve of a critical cabinet summit, as Boris Johnson convened a meeting of pro-Brexit ministers to discuss their options amid an atmosphere of tension and recrimination. The government was forced to deny “selective leaks” that appeared to suggest that the UK could struggle to strike a trade deal with the US in the future. No 10 insisted that paperwork released to ministers ahead of Friday’s crunch Brexit meeting at Chequers said just the opposite – as a caucus of seven cabinet members including Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and David Davis met at the Foreign Office to discuss their concerns.

An early leak suggested that the UK should “maintain a common rulebook” with the European Union on food and farming standards and that could make striking a trade deal with the more free market-oriented US more difficult as a result. That prompted a series of complaints from backbench Tory MPs and led to the Thursday evening meeting at the Foreign Office hosted by Johnson, the foreign secretary. Sources at No 10 said there had been selective leaks from the paperwork and the controversial passage appeared on page 15 out of 50 from one of several documents sent to all members of the cabinet.

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It’s corporations this time around.

The Dark Cloud Of Global Debt (GT)

While everyone is debating the effects of possible trade sanctions on the global economy, few are paying attention to a far more serious issue. Enormous global debt, combined with low-interest rates, have set the stage for a global recession that has the potential for economic chaos. The combination of enormous debt and artificially low-interest rates were at the center of the 2008 credit bubble. One would expect central banks to be aware of this and show more concern. However, the overall silence has been astonishing. An exception to this is the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which has been making loud noises about the toxic level of global debt and the anticipated bubble.

It recently reported that the global debt of 2008 was $60 trillion, small when compared to the current debt of $170 trillion. To make matters worse, today’s global debt is 40 percent higher in relation to GDP than it was in 2008, just prior to the Lehman Bros. downfall. To add to the current headache are the rising debt levels of emerging markets and corporate debts. According to McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, two-thirds of U.S. corporate debt are from corporations that pose a high default risk. Countries such as Brazil, India, and China have been busy issuing questionable credit. This dubious credit being issued in many emerging markets has come with extremely low-interest rates.

If the borrowers’ default, the lenders won’t be looking at enough compensation to recoup their loses. Low-interest rates have become an overall global problem, including the rates in the U.S. high-yield bond market. Central banks around the world have been keeping interest rates artificially low while printing money with abandon. The current global debt is the direct result of this policy. $2 trillion in corporate debt will be maturing annually through 2022. A considerable amount of this debt may default and cause debt repricing. The damage caused by central banks and their policy of easy credit has been done, and there is little that can be done at this point to stem the tide. It can only be hoped that they are more aware now than they were in 2008.

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Central banks don’t really matter anymore.

“People Assume That Stocks Always Rise Over Time. They’re Wrong” (Eric Peters)

We’ve all looked at the stats, and we’re now at an unemployment rate in the US of sub-4% – 3.8%–3.7%. I think what a lot of people focus on is if the participation rate were back where it was pre-2008 you’d end up with an unemployment rate that had an 8 handle or something like that. So that’s what people are referring to. But making comparisons like that is difficult because a lot of things are changing. The US labor force is shrinking because people are getting older. There is the opioid issue. And this disability issue. Which are difficult to really handicap in terms of how big an impact that’s having on the US labor force.

If the central banks have been the ones who have gotten us here, they just – by definition – they’re not the ones that are going to get us out of here. So I think – look, we’re always going to look at what central banks are doing, they will be important. But I think that they’re no longer going to be dominant. What’s going to be dominant are the politicians. You’re seeing that in the US right now. I know that everyone loves to hang on every word that Powell speaks. And they look at the Fed statement. And people are still trained to look at the Fed dot plots (which are probably going to go away). People are trained to look at all of these things because that’s what they’ve done their whole careers.

But they just are not going to matter that much anymore. Whether the Fed’s terminal rate is 2.25 or 2.5 or 2.75 – we’re not talking about much. What are we going to do in terms of immigration policy? What are we going to do in terms of trade policy? How is that going to impact all of the major corporations’ global supply chains? These are the things that are really going to matter.

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“It is a confluence of events coming in October ..”

Most Dangerous Market Ever – Michael Pento (USAW)

Money manager Michael Pento is sounding the alarm because we are getting very close to something called a “yield curve inversion.” Pento explains, “Why do I care if the yield curve inverts? Because 9 out of the last 10 times the yield curve inverted, we had a recession. . . . The spread with the yield curve is the narrowest it has been since outside of the start of the Great Recession that commenced in December of 2007. . . . The last two times the yield curve inverted, we had a stock market drop of 50%. The market dropped, and the S&P 500 lost 50% of its value.” Can we keep partying in the markets like it’s 1999 or is there an expiration date for the good times?

Pento says, “Well, I have put a check on the calendar for October because of the fact the rate of quantitative easing goes to $15 billion per year, because the trade war will reach a crescendo, then because I believe, unfortunately because I am conservative, the Republicans lose the House of Representatives, because the Chinese credit boom will be in full reverse by October. It is a confluence of events coming in October . . . we’ve already entered into the beginnings of a bear market around the world. The top 22 banks in the world are in a bear market. There are many, many examples of banks around the world that are in a bear market. You have a bear market in Chinese shares. 20% of the S&P 500 is in a bear market. This is an incipient bear market that is already beginning. I believe it manifests clearly to even the people on CNBC by October.”

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None of this makes any sense.

Moscow Using UK As Dumping Ground For Poison, Says Sajid Javid (G.)

Britain will consult its allies about a possible response to Russia over the latest poisonings in Wiltshire as it emerged that the couple taken critically ill had handled an item contaminated with the nerve agent novichok. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, accused Moscow of using the UK as a “dumping ground” for poison and urged Russia to explain “exactly what has gone on”. In Salisbury, public health and council chiefs warned people not to pick up unidentified objects but dismissed the idea of making a general sweep of the city for novichok, although they said they could not rule out the possibility that more of the nerve agent was present.

The Guardian understands that the novichok that harmed them may have been in a sealed container left following the attack on the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March. Sources close to the investigation dropped a hint that they may now know the identity of the would-be killers who targeted the Skripals. The Metropolitan police confirmed on Thursday evening that the couple taken ill, Dawn Sturgess, 44, from Salisbury, and Charlie Rowley, 45, of Amesbury, collapsed after picking up a contaminated item.

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Even the Guardian allows itself to publish out right criticism. Putin has a really successful World Cup going. Brexit splits Britain. 1+1=2

If The Novichok Was Planted By Russia, Where’s The Evidence? (G.)

I seem to be the only person alive with no clue as to who has poisoned four people in Wiltshire. I am told that only Russians have access to the poison, known as novichok – though the British research station of Porton Down, located ominously nearby, clearly knows a lot about it. Otherwise, I repeat, I have no clue. I suppose I can see why the Kremlin might want to kill an ex-spy such as Sergei Skripal and his daughter, so as to deter others from defecting. But why wait so long after he has fled, and why during the build-up to so highly politicised an event as a World Cup in Russia? Four months on from the crime, the Skripals have been incommunicado in a “secure location”. Barely a word has been heard from them.

Theresa May has persistently blamed Russia. She has called the incident “brazen and despicable”, and MI5 condemned “flagrant breaches of international rules”. But I cannot see the diplomatic or other purchase in prejudging the case, when no one can offer a clue. As to why the same person or persons should want to kill a couple, unconnected to the Skripals, on an Amesbury housing development, the questions are even more baffling. It seems a funny sort of carelessness. Did the couple pick up the infecting agent nearer the original site, eight miles away? Might the new poisoning be an attempt to divert attention from the earlier one? Could it be a devious plot, to make it seem that novichok is available on every street corner, from your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer?

Or perhaps one of the victims, Charlie Rowley, has mates in Porton Down? Perhaps someone is showing off, or panicking, or behaving like a complete idiot. Who knows? Since I have not a smidgen of an answer to any of these questions, I feel no need to capitulate to the politics of terror and fear. I can open my front door without cleaning my hand. I can visit Wiltshire in peace and safety and marvel at the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. I can revel in the remains of the bronze age Amesbury archer – whose death from bone disease has finally been resolved by the scientists. Where knowledge is nonexistent, ignorance is bliss.

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NIMBY on steroids.

Seehofer Tells Merkel, Italy And Greece To Solve Migration Row (EUO)

German interior minister Horst Seehofer defused tensions with Austria on Thursday (5 July) but increased political pressure on his boss, chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as on Italy and Greece, to find a way how Germany can reject asylum seekers without closing its border with Austria. “There will be no measures taken by Germany at the expense of Austria,” Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said after meeting Seehofer in Vienna. Under a plan agreed on Monday between Merkel’s centre-right CDU party and Seehofer’s CSU, its Bavarian conservative sister party, asylum seekers would be sent back to the EU country where they were first registered, or to Austria.

Kurz had warned that in reaction, Austria would consider closing its own border with Italy and Slovenia in order to prevent migrants from coming in. This, Vienna had warned, would lead to a “domino effect” of closing borders and imperil the free-movement Schengen area. But Seehofer assured Kurz that Austria would have to take no specific measures, and that it would be up to Italy and Greece, where three-quarters of asylum seekers come from, to take them back. The Bavarian politician has been trying for almost a month to impose his plan on Merkel, who first refused to unilaterally reject asylum seekers. She advocated instead a “European solution” to be agreed with other member states, who would accept taking refugees from Germany.

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It’s not defeated yet.

European Parliament Rejects Controversial Copyright Rules (Ind.)

The European Parliament has voted against an incredibly controversial new set of copyright rules that campaigners claim could “ban memes”. The law will now be sent for a full reconsideration and debate inside the parliament, during which activists will try and remove the controversial Article 11 and 13. Article 11 has been referred to by campaigners as instituting a “link tax”, by forcing tech companies like Google and Facebook to pay to use snippets of content on their own sites. Article 13 adds rules that make tech companies responsible for ensuring any copyrighted material is not spread over their platforms. Those rules could force technology companies to scan through everything their users post and check it doesn’t include copyrighted material.

If it is found, the post will be forced to be removed, which campaigners claim could destroy the kind of memes and remixes that spread across the internet. The revamp has triggered strong criticism from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, net neutrality expert Tim Wu, internet pioneer Vint Cerf and others. Copyright campaigners claim that the rules are necessary to ensure that material isn’t illegally spread across the internet. Europe’s broadcasters, publishers and artists including Paul McCartney backed the rules, arguing the controversial Article 13 would protect the music industry.

A total of 318 law makers voted against opening talks with EU countries based on the committee’s proposal while 278 voted in favour, and 31 abstained. In practice, the vote only delays the final decision on the rules and gives the European Parliament more time to deliberate on them. Another decision will be taken in September.

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Jul 022018
 
 July 2, 2018  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roy Lichtenstein Woman in Bath 1963

 

When Politics Trumps Economics (Roach)
Update on Deflating Property Bubbles in Sydney & Melbourne (WS)
EU Warns US Of $294 Billion Hit If Car Tariffs Imposed (R.)
Key Merkel Ally Seehofer ‘Announces Intention To Resign’ Over Migration (G.)
Competing Visions Of Europe Are Threatening To Tear The Union Apart (G.)
Leftist ‘AMLO’ Sweeps To Mexican Presidency (AFP)
Axios Leaks Trump Bill To Blow Up World Trade Organization (ZH)
UK To Announce Third Post-Brexit Customs Model (BBC)
The Supreme Court Has Already Reshaped America (G.)
Australian Plastic Bag Ban Sparks Abuse, Violence From Angry Shoppers (Ind.)
New Zealand Most Perilous Place For Seabirds Due To Plastic Pollution (G.)

 

 

All economics is politics.

When Politics Trumps Economics (Roach)

With each passing day, it becomes increasingly evident that US President Donald Trump’s administration cares less about economics and more about the aggressive exercise of political power. This is obviously a source of enormous frustration for those of us who practice the art and science of economics. But by now, the verdict is self-evident: Trump and his team continue to flaunt virtually every principle of conventional economics. Trade policy is an obvious and essential case in point. Showing no appreciation of the time-honored linkage between trade deficits and macroeconomic saving-investment imbalances, the president continues to fixate on bilateral solutions to a multilateral problem – in effect, blaming China for America’s merchandise trade deficits with 102 countries.

Similarly, his refusal to sign the recent G7 communiqué was couched in the claim that the US is like a “piggy bank that everybody is robbing” through unfair trading practices. But piggy banks are for saving, and in the first quarter of this year, America’s net domestic saving rate was just 1.5% of national income. Not much to rob there! The same can be said of fiscal policy. Trump’s deficit-busting tax cuts and increases in government spending make no sense for an economy nearing a business-cycle peak and with an unemployment rate of 3.8%. Moreover, the feedback loop through the saving channel only exacerbates the very trade problems that Trump claims to be solving.

With the Congressional Budget Office projecting that federal budget deficits will average 4.2% of GDP from now until 2023, domestic saving will come under further pressure, fueling increased demand for surplus saving from abroad and even bigger trade deficits in order to fill the void. Yet Trump now ups the ante on tariffs – in effect, biting the very hand that feeds the US economy.

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A real threat to the entire Aussie economy.

Update on Deflating Property Bubbles in Sydney & Melbourne (WS)

In Sydney, Australia’s largest property market and Petri dish for one of the world’s biggest housing bubbles, home prices fell 4.6% in June compared to a year ago, with house prices down 6.2%, and prices of condos (“units” as they’re called) down 0.7%, according to CoreLogic. The most expensive sector got hit the hardest: in the top quartile of home sales, prices fell 7.3%. In the nine months since the peak in September, the overall Daily Home Value Index has fallen 5.0%. But it had been one heck of a boom in Sydney, where home prices had jumped over 80% from the end of 2009 through the peak in September last year. Even during the big-bad Global Financial Crisis, they’d only dipped 4.6%.

So the market is changing, and the denying has stopped. Australian banks are getting put through the wringer by the Royal Commission with ongoing revelations of an ever longer list of misdeeds, particularly in the mortgage sector. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (ARPA), which is supposed to regulate the financial services industry, put in place some macroprodential measures to tamp down on the housing bubble, and they’re finally having an impact. Banks are suddenly focusing on borrowers’ debt-to-income ratios and other specifics, rather than just the assurance that home prices will always rise. They’re under investigation, and they’re tightening credit. And investors – a huge force in the market – have suddenly lost their appetite for property speculation, and banks have lost their appetite for funding them.

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Just make all tariffs the same.

EU Warns US Of $294 Billion Hit If Car Tariffs Imposed (R.)

The European Union has warned the United States that imposing import tariffs on cars and car parts would harm its own automotive industry and likely lead to counter-measures by its trading partners on $294 billion of U.S. exports. In a 10-page submission to the United States Commerce Department sent last Friday, the European Union said tariffs on cars and car parts were unjustifiable and did not make economic sense. he Commerce Department launched its investigation, on grounds of national security, on May 23 under instruction from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticised the EU over its trade surplus with the United States and for having higher import duties on cars. The EU has a 10% levy, compared to 2.5% for cars entering the United States.

Trump said last week that the government was completing its study and suggested the United States would take action soon, having earlier threatened to impose a 20% tariff on all EU-assembled cars. The bloc exported 37.4 billion euros (33.10 billion pounds) of cars to the United States in 2017, while 6.2 billion euros worth of cars went the other way. The European Union says that for some goods, such as trucks, U.S. import duties are higher. In its submission, the EU said that EU companies make close to 2.9 million cars in the United States, supporting 120,000 jobs – or 420,000 if cars dealerships and car parts retailers are included. [..] Assuming counter-measures along the lines of those taken in response to existing U.S. import tariffs on steel and aluminium, up to $294 billion of U.S. exports – 19% of overall U.S. exports – could be affected, the submission said.

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One last chance for Merkel.

Key Merkel Ally Seehofer ‘Announces Intention To Resign’ Over Migration (G.)

The future of Germany’s coalition government is hanging in the balance after the country’s interior minister reportedly announced his intention to resign over a migration showdown with Angela Merkel. Horst Seehofer, who is also leader of the Christian Social Union, on Sunday night offered to step down from his ministerial role and party leadership in a closed-door meeting in which he and fellow CSU leaders had debated the merits of the migration deal Merkel hammered out with fellow European Union leaders in Brussels. But with CSU hardliners believed to have tried to talk the combative interior minister into staying, a press conference was postponed until Monday, with Seehofer seeking to go back to Merkel in search of a final compromise.

At a 2am media conference, Seehofer said he had agreed to meet again with Merkel’s party before he made his decision final. “We’ll have more talks today with the CDU in Berlin with the hope that we can come to an agreement,” Seehofer said. “After that, then we will see.” In the short term, Seehofer’s resignation would appear to be a let-up for a beleaguered Merkel, removing a politician who has become the chancellor’s biggest nemesis inside her own government since taking up his post at the interior ministry in March. But if Seehofer were to resign and his replacement continue an adversarial approach, it would threaten to bring an end to the historic alliance between Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, and the Bavarian CSU, pushing the chancellor’s coalition government to the brink of collapse.

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Germany has dictated policies far too long.

Competing Visions Of Europe Are Threatening To Tear The Union Apart (G.)

[..] three competing visions have emerged. The first is Merkel’s idea of a “competitive” Europe. Under her “leadership” since the euro crisis began in 2010, the EU has increasingly become a vehicle for imposing market discipline on member states. It is in the name of this idea of a competitive Europe that, led by Germany, austerity has been imposed on debtor countries in the eurozone. In other words, although it is expressed in pro-European terms and involves further integration, it is essentially a neoliberal vision.

The second vision is the French president Emmanuel Macron’s idea of a “Europe qui protège”, a Europe that protects. Macron envisages an EU in which there would be greater solidarity between citizens and between member states. In practice, this means more redistribution and risk-sharing in the eurozone – the “transfer union” that Germany and other creditor countries fear. This is a centre-left vision of Europe – although in France, because Macron has implemented structural reforms in an attempt to gain credibility in Berlin, he is himself increasingly perceived as neoliberal.

The third vision is the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s idea of a “Christian” Europe of sovereign states. His vision first emerged in response to the attempt, led by Germany, to force EU member states to accept mandatory quotas of refugees in 2015, but it has developed into a broader critique of the European project. Orbán defines himself as an “illiberal democrat” in opposition to what he sees as the undemocratic liberalism of the EU. His vision is shared not just by the Law and Justice party government in Poland but also by far-right parties in other EU member states.

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Good luck. Mexico is such a mess. But they might beat Brazil today in the World Cup.

Leftist ‘AMLO’ Sweeps To Mexican Presidency (AFP)

Anti-establishment leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador swept to victory in Mexico’s presidential election Sunday, in a political sea change driven by voters’ anger over endemic corruption and brutal violence. The sharp-tongued, silver-haired politician known as “AMLO” won 53% of the vote, according to an official projection of the results. It is the first time in Mexico’s modern history a candidate has won more than half the vote in a competitive election, and a resounding rejection of the two parties that have governed the country for nearly a century. “This is a historic day, and it will be a memorable night,” Lopez Obrador said in a victory speech in Mexico City’s Alameda park, as thousands of ecstatic supporters flooded the capital’s central district, chanting “Yes we did!” and partying to mariachi music.

Lopez Obrador, 64, sought to downplay fears of radicalism, after critics branded him a “tropical Messiah” who would install Venezuela-style policies that could wreck Latin America’s second-largest economy. “Our new national project seeks an authentic democracy. We are not looking to construct a dictatorship, either open or hidden,” he told cheering supporters, promising to safeguard freedoms, respect the private sector and work to reconcile a divided nation. He also vowed to pursue a relationship of “friendship and cooperation” with the United States, Mexico’s key trading partner – a change in tone from some comments during the campaign, when he said he would put US President Donald Trump “in his place.”

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Better to reorganize it?!

Axios Leaks Trump Bill To Blow Up World Trade Organization (ZH)

Following the close of a second quarter that will be best remembered by President Trump’s vacillations on trade, Axios has dropped a Sunday night bombshell that may spook markets hoping for a respite from the daily escalating trade war rhetoric as the second half of the year begins: White House reporter Jonathan Swan has obtained a copy of a draft bill, purportedly ordered by Trump himself, that would allow the US to “walk away” from its commitments to the World Trade Organization. If passed, the bill (entitled the “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act”) would effectively blow up the WTO, an organization that the US helped create back in the 90s, by allowing Trump to unilaterally ignore the two most important principles:

The “Most Favored Nation” (MFN) principle that countries can’t set different tariff rates for different countries outside of free trade agreements; “Bound tariff rates” — the tariff ceilings that each WTO country has already agreed to in previous negotiations. “It would be the equivalent of walking away from the WTO and our commitments there without us actually notifying our withdrawal,” one anonymous source reportedly told Axios. The bill asks Congress to hand over to Trump unilateral power to ignore WTO rules and negotiate unilateral trade agreements. The leak of the draft bill follows another WTO-related scoop from Axios, published last week, where Swan reported that Trump has repeatedly badgered his aides about pulling the US out of the WTO, which the president has famously criticized as a “disaster”.

The bill’s chances of making it through Congress are extremely low. However, if Trump has taught us anything about his trade agenda, it’s never say never. “The good news is Congress would never give this authority to the president,” the source added, describing the bill as “insane.” “It’s not implementable at the border,” given it would create potentially tens of thousands of new tariff rates on products. “And it would completely remove us from the set of global trade rules.”

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Another nonstarter.

UK To Announce Third Post-Brexit Customs Model (BBC)

Downing Street has produced a third model for handling customs after the UK leaves the EU, the BBC understands. Details of the new plan have not been revealed publicly but senior ministers will discuss it at Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat, on Friday. Ministers have been involved in heated discussions recently as they tried to choose between two earlier models. Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg says the PM risks a revolt if the type of Brexit she promised is not delivered. Theresa May hopes to resolve cabinet splits on the shape of Brexit at this week’s cabinet meeting. The prime minister has said the UK will then publish a White Paper setting out “in more detail what strong partnership the United Kingdom wants to see with the European Union in the future”.

It follows last week’s summit in Brussels where European Council president Donald Tusk issued a “last call” for the UK to agree its position on Brexit, saying the “most difficult” issues were unresolved and “quick progress” was needed if agreement was to be reached by the next meeting in October. BBC political correspondent Chris Mason says Downing Street hopes it has now found its way out of a bind on customs, the issue central to the practicalities of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, and a significant part of finding a solution to maintaining an open border with the Republic of Ireland.

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Highest courts in every nation MUST be independent.

The Supreme Court Has Already Reshaped America (G.)

“It’s not just that justice Kennedy’s successor is likely going to move the court to the right,” Vladeck said. “It’s that knowing that there are five conservative justices surely emboldens states and conservative interest groups to bring to the supreme court legal theories that they might have been reluctant to leave in justice Kennedy’s hands.” If that picture of the country’s jurisprudential future has left liberals distraught, it has also raised questions about the court’s increasingly politicized nature, its power to shape society and the erosion of its independence as one branch of government meant to balance the other two – Congress and the presidency – and to be checked in turn itself.

While past courts have had liberal or conservative bents, since the Bush v Gore decision that decided the 2000 election, the court has taken on a more explicitly political feel. “People say the founders would roll over in their graves – I think the founders would hang themselves”, said Mickey Edwards, vice-president of the Aspen Institute think-tank and formerly a congressman for 16 years. “The whole idea of the court being a separate and independent branch has totally disappeared. It is now a third branch of the policymaking process.” Extreme partisanship in Congress has led the legislature to relinquish its power to the presidency and the court, Edwards said.

“We now have become so accustomed to thinking of things – whether it’s foreign policy or trade policy or other things that the Congress has constitutional authority over – we now look at them all as presidential powers,” Edwards said. “So the presidency has grown much stronger. “I would also say that the supreme court has grown stronger and it’s become more partisan, which is very disturbing.”

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Portrait of a nation.

Australian Plastic Bag Ban Sparks Abuse, Violence From Angry Shoppers (Ind.)

Supermarket staff in Australia have faced abuse and violence from shoppers angry at the removal of plastic bags as a ban comes into force. Customers rebelling against the end of free single-use bags have taken out their frustration on staff, prompting warnings to them to be considerate. In Western Australia, a shopper put his hands around the throat of an employee at Woolworths, which had stopped giving out free plastic bags days before the ban came into force. It was one of dozens of cases of shop staff being abused as Australia moves to reduce the amount of non-decomposing synthetic materials going into rivers and seas.

In a survey of supermarket workers this week, out of 132 who responded, 57 (43 per cent) said they had suffered abuse because of the plastic bag ban. “I work at Woolies and have already been abused countless times; it’s not our fault,” staff member Lauren McGowan told News.com.au. There have also been reports of customers stealing handfuls of bags before the ban. As of today, major retailers in Western Australia and Queensland face fines if they supply single-use plastic bags – which are already banned in Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

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Because there are so many birds.

New Zealand Most Perilous Place For Seabirds Due To Plastic Pollution (G.)

Seabirds are more at risk of dying due to plastic in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world, new research presented to parliament has shown. New Zealand is considered “the seabird capital of the world”, according to the country’s Department of Conservation, with the northern royal albatross raising their chicks on the Otago Peninsula, unique species of oystercatchers on the Chatham Islands and more penguin species than any country in the world. There are 36 seabird species that breed only in New Zealand. Mexico is a distant second with just five. More than a third of all seabird species are known to spend time in New Zealand’s waters.

Karen Baird from conservation group Forest & Bird, which produced the report, said: “Rubbish that ends up in our seas has a far worse effect on seabird species than anywhere else in the world.” “Even though we don’t have the most plastic pollution, we are unique in the world in having so many seabirds species. We also have the most threatened seabird species, many of which are found nowhere else.” Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to eating plastic because they are surface feeders, spotting food from the air and swooping down on it, scooping it up and swallowing it before the mistake is realised. Seabird chicks and adults face starvation when their stomachs fill up with plastic rather than food.

Forest & Bird called on the government to ban single-use plastic bags and commit to further research into how marine life is affected by plastic in New Zealand waters. One in three turtles that are found sick or dead in the country are caused by the animals eating plastic, Forest & Bird found, with marine mammals such as seals and sea lions also at risk. In neighbouring Australia, nine out of 10 fledglings in some shearwater colonies surveyed had eaten significant quantities of plastic, Baird said. New Zealand’s 10 shearwater species could be in for the same fate if plastic pollution wasn’t urgently addressed, Baird said.

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Feb 182018
 
 February 18, 2018  Posted by at 11:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jerome Liebling Butterfly Boy, Harlem, New York City 1949

 

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)
VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)
Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)
Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)
UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)
The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)
Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)
Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)
Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

 

 

The last few drops squeezed from a stone-dry stone. Buybacks kill economies.

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)

While there is still some fringe debate what companies will do with the hundreds of billions in offshore funds repatriated to the US as part of the recently passed Trump tax reform, the discussion is largely over, especially after last week’s Cisco results. The company, which has $68 billion of overseas cash, third after AAPL and MSFT, announced that it would raise its buyback authorization by $25 billion, and revealed plans to repurchase its entire authorization of $31 billion during the next 6-8 quarters, equal to roughly 15% of its current market cap. Call it a partial LBO, courtesy of Donald Trump.

[..] Here’s what Goldman’s David Kostin said in his latest Weekly Kickstart report: “Since December, S&P 500 firms have announced buybacks totaling $171 bn. YTD announcements of $67 bn represent a 22% increase versus the same period in 2017. The buyback window has re-opened and firms are taking advantage of the recent correction; the GS Buyback Desk reported that last week was the most active week in its history.” The $171 billion in YTD stock buyback announcements is the most ever for this early in the year. In fact, it is more than double the prior 10 year average of $77 billion in YTD buyback announcements.

[..] in addition to what we first pointed out over two years ago, namely that all net debt issuance in the 21st century has been used to pay for stock buybacks… here is what John Hussman commented on this record last hurrah in stock buybacks: “Though buybacks are primarily debt-financed, they are also highest at market peaks, and contract sharply at major market troughs. Corporations are still borrowing to buy the dip at peak valuations, within a few percent of extremes associated with prospective 10-12yr market losses.”

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There was no need for better design, the Fed has traders’ backs regardless.

VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)

There’s no question that, in an economy and in a financial system where there’s the level of debt that we have and the sensitivity to interest rates, rising rates are kind of a pre-condition to equity market disruptions and selloffs. I think that the level of volatility selling and its integration into risk models across virtually every type of investment strategy are contributors. And, having gone through such a long period with very, very little movement, I’d say that many people’s trading books were robust for relatively small moves. But once you’ve passed a certain move – and I think in this case it was probably the S&P down 3-ish% that triggered a whole series of different adjustments that people needed to make to their books and their option books – that then amplified the move in volatility and led to this blowup in the VIX product.

But you have to remember that these VIX products were extremely ill-designed. And they were very vulnerable to this. They’re a rare thing that you see in our industry, which is they had a predefined stop loss. And markets are pretty good at finding stop losses and triggering them. I started my career in the commodity pits, and I witnessed firsthand how the commodity pit is built around finding stop losses on the top side of the bottom side of markets. So I think the market did a great job of finding the stops – and in this case finding the weakest ones, which were in the VIX complex – and hitting them. But I don’t think that that really explains why this move happened. Why did we get the first leg down, and why are markets starting to move with very little news flow? And, again, that’s something that’s difficult to explain for a lot of people that are trying to do it.

[..] The biggest problem in the investment industry today, the portfolio construct that investors have come to rely on, which is a brilliant construct really pioneered by Ray Dalio – he naturally has done incredibly well from this, and it’s been a fantastic strategy – this risk parity strategy. And, while there’s certainly more complexity to it that just being long equities and leveraged funds, let’s just view it as that strategy for a moment. It’s essentially what the dominant portfolio has become at all the major investors, pensions, endowments, etc. in the industry. And the beauty of that portfolio has been that you’ve been able to own risk assets and then you’ve been able to own a hedge, which is a leveraged bond portfolio, and that hedge has actually paid you a positive return.

The problem is when equity valuations become very high and interest rates get very low it’s difficult for that strategy to continue to perform very well. All else being equal. Now, however, if you add modest inflation into the formula, that portfolio actually becomes pretty toxic. That’s the environment I think we’re entering into. And that’s why, ultimately, I see some of these shocks like this most recent market shock as just being trail markers on this path to a much more difficult investment environment.

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Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein: “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Virginia State Senator Richard Black: “When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,”

Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has again dismissed claims of Russian meddling in the US election, saying that until facts are presented by Washington, they are nothing but “blather.” Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, he said that “Until we see facts, everything else will be just blather.” When asked to comment on the indictment of Russian nationals and companies in the US over alleged meddling in the 2016 US election, the foreign minister answered:“You know, I have no reaction at all because one can publish anything he wants. We see how accusations, statements, statements are multiplying.”

On Friday, a US federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities accused of interfering in the 2016 election and political processes. According to the indictment, those people were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton” as they staged political rallies and bought political advertising, while posing as grassroots entities.

[..] Even US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to admit that there were “no allegations” that this “information warfare” yielded any results and affected the outcome of the presidential election. The underwhelming indictment was also slammed in the US. Virginia State Senator Richard Black accused FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller of deliberately dragging out the Russian meddling probe for his own gain. “To a certain extent, I think, Robert Muller is struggling to keep alive his position of a special counsel. The special counsel has already earned seven million dollars. When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,” Black told RT.

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Maxed out. Forget the web. Think savings, pensions.

Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)

“Who’d be a retailer now?” That was the comment from City economist Jeremy Cook when the latest set of grim retail sales data was released by the Office for National Statistics last Friday. “The average Brit,” he added, “has spent the past few years living by the mantra ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.’” After a grim December, many had been hoping for a bounceback, but the figures showed that consumers were not as hardy as they once were, said Cook, and the retail sector was facing a long-term, continuing slowdown. Shoppers are being hit by declining real wages, record levels of consumer debt and the prospect of higher borrowing costs. But the wider problem is a structural shift in the way consumers spend their money.

This is threatening famous retailers and forcing a rethink about how high streets will look in years to come, and what might be done with retail parks and malls when retailers shut up shop. It is not just about shoppers preferring to buy online – although 20% of fashion sales, where the pressures are perhaps worst, have now moved to the internet. There’s been a seismic shift in the way we spend our time and money. Social media, leisure, travel, eating out, eating in – using takeaways and delivery services – and technology are all taking time and cash that would once have gone straight to shops. In food, increasing numbers of people now prefer to buy local and often. Fewer big weekly shops mean out-of-town superstores are under pressure and the big supermarkets are trying to lure in other retailers to take space they no longer need.

This rapid change in shopping habits is boosting sales at the likes of Amazon, Asos and Boohoo, but forcing radical change on British towns and cities as physical retail space becomes redundant. The past few months have seen a stream of collapses – from fashion store East to shoe chain Shoon and bed specialists Warren Evans and Feather & Black. Toys R Us is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, while House of Fraser, Debenhams and New Look are all struggling, with all three considering large-scale closures of stores or space.

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Almost funny.

UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)

The Dutch government plans to hire at least 750 new customs agents in preparation for Britain’s exit from the European Union. The Dutch parliament’s Brexit rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, who had recommended the move, said both sides of the English Channel had been slow to wake up to the reality that Britain was on course to leave the EU in 14 months’ time. “If we need hundreds of new customs and agricultural inspectors, the British are going to need thousands,” he said. Omtzigt warned that “for a trading nation like the Netherlands, you just cannot afford for customs not to work, it would be a disaster”.

In a letter to parliament on Friday, the deputy finance minister, Menno Snel, said the cabinet had “decided that the Customs and Food and Wares agencies should immediately begin recruiting and training more workers”. He said the government was working on the basis of two scenarios: that Britain leaves the EU with no deal in place, or that it leaves on similar terms to those of the EU’s recent trade deal with Canada. “The results are that … around 930 or 750 full-time employees are needed,” Snel said. “It speaks for itself that the cabinet is following the negotiations closely in order to be able to react appropriately.”

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“The real story of how Britain’s economy has been left high and dry by a doomed economic philosophy..”

The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)

Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), recently made an astonishing admission on BBC1’s Question Time when he stated that private finance initiatives (PFI) had been a “fraud on the people”. Beyond seemingly populist rhetoric, the real story of PFI reveals that RBS alongside other global banks, notably HSBC, were instrumental in what Sir Howard has effectively labelled a great heist. The past month has seen the demise of construction giant Carillion followed by the collapse of Capita’s market value: both firms having built huge empires by providing outsourced services to public authorities. These initial tremors might be the canary in the coal mine. Profit warnings have been issued for other government contractors, such as Interserve. The domino effect has shades of the 2007-08 financial crisis even though it is clearly not of the same magnitude.

All this has thrown up searching questions, not least around staff redundancies and pensions, bailouts, inflated dividends and executive remuneration. Yet even in the throes of this PFI and outsourcing crisis, public-private Partnerships (PPP) are far from dead and buried. On the contrary, the Naylor Review – a report recommending the disposal of NHS land and assets to generate investment – is rehabilitating PPP. Furthermore, the Government is pushing through Accountable Care Organisations (ACO), a form of PPP based on an American model of healthcare. The Government cites too the model of Alzira in Spain where a consortium of private companies not only financed and built facilities but also delivered health services.

Of course, PFI was not always a toxic brand. In 1997 it appeared to be New Labour’s magical solution to chronic underinvestment in public services in the wake of Thatcherism. As Alan Milburn – the former Labour Health Secretary described by Private Eye as an “almost maniacal convert to PFI” – put it: “It’s PFI or bust.” The argument went that Labour had inherited public services in such a diabolical state of neglect that there was no alternative to the private financing of whole swathes of infrastructure. It was a persuasive argument which seduced many. The Blairite Third Way would somehow square the circle by delivering new schools, hospitals, roads, railways and prisons without the debt or inefficiency of the public sector. It seemed too good to be true yet those who dared to question the orthodoxy du jour were swatted away.

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“..including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving..”

Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)

U.S. investigators probing Mercedes maker Daimler have found that its cars were equipped with software which may have help them to pass diesel emissions tests, a German newspaper reported on Sunday, citing confidential documents. There has been growing scrutiny of diesel vehicles since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software on 580,000 U.S. vehicles that allowed them to emit up to 40 times legally allowable emissions while meeting standards when tested by regulators. Daimler, which faces ongoing investigations by U.S. and German authorities into excess diesel emissions, has said investigations could lead to significant penalties and recalls.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper said that the documents showed that U.S. investigators had found several software functions that helped Daimler cars pass emissions tests, including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving. Another function under scrutiny allowed the emissions cleaning system to recognize whether the car was being tested based on speed or acceleration patterns. Bild am Sonntag also cited emails from Daimler engineers questioning whether these software functions were legal.

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We don’t we just shoot the remaining polar bears right now, and move on?!

Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)

The world’s sea ice shrank to a record January low last month as the annual polar melting period expanded, experts say. The 5.04 million square miles of ice in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-to-2010 ice cover average, making it the lowest January total in satellite records, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Combined with low levels in the Antarctic, global sea ice amounted to a record low for any first month of the year, the organisation concluded. The news comes just days after researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder said the rate at which sea levels are rising was increasing every year, driven mostly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

The NSIDC, a respected authority on the Earth’s frozen regions, which researches and analyses snow, glaciers and ice sheets among other features, said that ice in the Arctic Ocean hit “a new record low” at both the start and end of last month. In an online post, the group said: “January of 2018 began and ended with satellite-era record lows in Arctic sea ice extent, resulting in a new record low for the month. Combined with low ice extent in the Antarctic, global sea ice extent is also at a record low.” It said the Arctic experienced a week of record low daily ice totals at the start of the month, with the January average beating 2017 for a new record low. “Ice grew through the month at near-average rates, and in the middle of the month daily extents were higher than for 2017,” the report went on. “However, by the end of January, extent was again tracking below 2017.”

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• Yes, we should. Even if 50% ia an arbitrary number.

• No, we won’t.

Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

The orangutan is one of our planet’s most distinctive and intelligent creatures. It has been observed using primitive tools, such as the branch of a tree, to hunt food, and is capable of complex social behaviour. Orangutans also played a special role in humanity’s own intellectual history when, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developers of the theory of natural selection, used observations of them to hone their ideas about evolution. But humanity has not repaid orangutans with kindness. The numbers of these distinctive, red-maned primates are now plummeting thanks to our destruction of their habitats and illegal hunting of the species. Last week, an international study revealed that its population in Borneo, the animal’s last main stronghold, now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, less than half of what it was in 1995.

“I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University. For good measure, conservationists say numbers are likely to fall by at least another 45,000 by 2050, thanks to the expansion of palm oil plantations, which are replacing their forest homes. One of Earth’s most spectacular creatures is heading towards oblivion, along with the vaquita dolphin, the Javan rhinoceros, the western lowland gorilla, the Amur leopard and many other species whose numbers are today declining dramatically. All of these are threatened with the fate that has already befallen the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the baiji dolphin – victims of humanity’s urge to kill, exploit and cultivate.

As a result, scientists warn that humanity could soon be left increasingly isolated on a planet bereft of wildlife and inhabited only by ourselves plus domesticated animals and their parasites. This grim scenario will form the background to a key conference – Safeguarding Space for Nature and Securing Our Future – to be held in London on 27-28 February. The aim of the symposium is straightforward: to highlight ways of establishing sufficient reserves and protected areas to halt or seriously limit the major extinction event that humanity now faces. According to one recent report, the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and pollute or destroy habitats, and worse probably lies ahead.

[..] The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature. This point is stressed by Harvey Locke, whose organisation, Nature Needs Half, takes a far bolder approach and campaigns for the preservation of fully 50% of our planet for wildlife by 2050. “That may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit,” Locke told the Observer. “But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.” The idea is supported by E O Wilson, the distinguished Harvard biologist, in his most recent book, Half Earth. “We thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal other than economic growth and unfettered consumption,” he writes. “As a result, we’re extinguishing Earth’s biodiversity as though the species of the natural world are no better than weeds and kitchen vermin.”

The solution, he says, is to fill half the planet with conservation zones – though just how this division is to be decided is not made clear in his book. In any case, Hoffman points out, simply setting aside huge chunks of land or marine areas will not, on its own, save the day. “We could earmark the whole of northern Canada as a wildlife reserve but, given the paucity of animals who live in these frozen regions, that would not have a significant effect on a great many species who live elsewhere,” he said.

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