May 232017
 
 May 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Bathers by a River 1910

 

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)
The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)
UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)
US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)
China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)
China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)
Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)
Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)
Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)
Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)
EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)
Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)
German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)
1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)
Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

 

 

Congress will never accept this.

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)

President Donald Trump would dramatically reduce the U.S. government’s role in society with $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years in a budget plan that shrinks the safety net for the poor, recent college graduates and farmers. Trump’s proposal, to be released Tuesday, claims to balance the budget within a decade. But it relies on a tax plan for which the administration has provided precious little detail, the elimination of programs backed by many Republican lawmakers, and heavy use of accounting gimmicks. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal has already been declared dead on arrival by many of his Republican allies in Congress. The plan would slash Medicaid payments, increase monthly student loan payments and cut food stamps and agricultural subsidies, each backed by powerful constituencies.

The administration is unbowed. “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and back in charge of their own lives.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he expects the Republican-led Congress to largely ignore the proposal, saying in an interview last week with Bloomberg News that early versions reflected priorities that “aren’t necessarily ours.” The president’s proposal would fulfill his campaign promise of leaving Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare untouched while increasing national security spending. He’s also proposing severe cuts to foreign aid and tighter eligibility for tax cuts that benefit the working poor. He also seeks cuts in food stamps and disability insurance.

The plan calls for some new domestic spending, including $25 billion over 10 years for nationwide paid parental leave – a cause championed by First Daughter Ivanka Trump – and an expansion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students. The Department of Homeland Security’s budget would increase $3 billion versus the final full year of President Barack Obama’s term, while the Pentagon’s budget would see a $6 billion increase over that same time. The sheer ambition of the president’s plan, which would cut domestic agencies by 10% in 2018 and by 40% in 2027, make the budget even less likely to gain traction on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers regularly flout the annual blueprint offered by the executive branch. But lawmakers are also likely to view some of the administration’s accounting gimmicks with extreme skepticism.

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Now add another financial crisis to that.

The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)

The evidence that the middle class in America is dying continues to mount. As you will see below, nearly half the country would be unable “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”, and about two-thirds of the population lives paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time. Of course the economy has not been doing that well overall in recent years. Barack Obama was the only president in all of U.S. history not to have a single year when the economy grew by at least 3%, and U.S. GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017 was an anemic 0.7%. During the Obama era, it is true that wealthy enclaves in New York, northern California and Washington D.C. did thrive, but meanwhile most of the rest of the country has been left behind. Today, there are approximately 205 million working age Americans, and close to half of them have no financial cushion whatsoever.

In fact, a new survey conducted by the Federal Reserve has found that 44% of Americans do not even have enough money “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”… “Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it.” Not only that, the same survey discovered that 23% of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month…

“Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.” But just because you can pay your bills does not mean that you are doing well. Tens of millions of Americans barely scrape by from paycheck to paycheck each and every month. In fact, a survey by CareerBuilder discovered that 75% of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time…

“Three-quarters of Americans (75%) are living paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 15% said they usually do and 23% said they always do. While making ends meet is a struggle for many post-recession, those with minimum wage jobs continue to be hit the hardest. Of workers who currently have a minimum wage job or have held one in the past, 66% said they couldn’t make ends meet and 50% said they had to work more than one job to make it work.” So please don’t be fooled into thinking that the U.S. economy is doing well because the stock market has been hitting new record highs. The stock market was soaring just before the financial crisis of 2008 too, and we remember how that turned out.

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Politicians can only react to tragedies in regurgitated bland terminology. Only, they now do it on Twitter. Progress?

UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)

Theresa May and the leaders of other political parties have suspended campaigning for the general election following the terrorist attack in Manchester, which has killed at least 22 people. The prime minister, who had been due to speak at a campaign event in southwest England, will instead chair a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee. May said the incident at Manchester Arena was being treated by police as an “appalling terrorist attack”. She added: “All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was to have spoken in the West Midlands, said it was a “terrible incident”. He tweeted: “My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.” In a later statement, Corbyn said: “I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with last night’s appalling events. “I have spoken with the prime minister and we have agreed that that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.” The Scottish National party was due to unveil its election manifesto on Tuesday, but it has now postponed the event.

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Saved by the terror attack?

Theresa May Ditches Manifesto Plan With ‘Dementia Tax’ U-Turn (G.)

Theresa May has announced a U-turn on her party’s social care policy by promising an “absolute limit” on the amount people will have to pay for their care but is not planning to say what level the cap will be set at before the election. The prime minister’s decision came after Conservative party proposals to make people pay more of the costs of social care were branded a “dementia tax” – but she insisted it was simply a clarification. “Since my manifesto was published, the proposals have been subject to fake claims made by Jeremy Corbyn. The only things he has left to offer in this campaign are fake claims, fear and scaremongering,” she said, during a speech in Wrexham to launch the Welsh Tory manifesto. “So I want to make a further point clear. This manifesto says that we will come forward with a consultation paper, a government green paper. And that consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs.”

The prime minister said key elements of her party’s social care policy – to limit winter fuel allowance to the poorest and take people’s properties into account in the means test for social care at home – would remain in place. It is understood that the party will not pre-empt the consultation with a figure, not least because the level will depend on where the means test is set for winter fuel allowance. But the Conservative manifesto and a briefing for journalists on the policy had made no mention of a cap, with the policy only announced after days of backlash and amid a slight tightening in the opinion polls. May immediately faced a string of difficult questions from reporters, with one saying the announcement amounted to a “manifesto of chaos”. A testy prime minister responded by insisting that there was always going to be a consultation and the “basic principles” of the policy were unchanged.

“Nothing has changed, nothing has changed,” she added tersely, raising her voice when asked towards the end of the session if anything else in the Tory manifesto was likely to be altered. The prime minister accused a Guardian journalist of borrowing a term from the Labour party after it was suggested that the “dementia tax” would still mean a wide disparity between the children of Alzheimer’s and cancer sufferers. “This is a system that will ensure that people who are faced by the prospect of either requiring care in their own home or go into a home are able to see that support provided for them and don’t have to worry on that month by month basis about where that funding is coming from. They won’t have to sell their family home when they are alive, and they will be able to pass savings on to their children,” she said.

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Yeah, curious.

US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)

The healthcare industry is beginning to shift blame for Obamacare’s 2018 rate hikes and an unstable individual insurance market to Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. An alliance of health insurers, doctors and employers are urging the Trump administration and Congress to fund cost-sharing subsidies for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act. Politico reported Friday that Trump is telling “advisers he wants to end key Obamacare subsidies.” If cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) aren’t funded through 2018, Trump and Republicans will be responsible for more insurers leaving public exchanges and a rate hike of nearly 20% on average, reports indicate.

The cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) are used to help 7 million Americans pay less out of pocket for healthcare services. “There now is clear evidence that this uncertainty is undermining the individual insurance market for 2018 and stands to negatively impact millions of people,” several powerful groups representing hospitals, doctors, patients, insurance companies and U.S. employers wrote in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

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The worst idea in a long time. But since they bought Syngenta, probably inevitable.

China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)

China will carry out a nationwide poll next month to test the public’s acceptance of genetically-modified food, a technology the government says would boost yields and sustainable agriculture in a country that’s seen consumption soar. [..] China is the world’s fourth-largest grower of GMO cotton and the top importer of soybeans, most of which are genetically modified and used for cooking oil and animal feed for pigs and chickens. But public concern over food safety issues and skepticism about the effects of consuming GMO foods have made the government reluctant to introduce the technology for staple crops. A 2012 trial of so-called Golden Rice – a yellow GMO variant of the grain that produces beta-carotene – caused a public storm after reports that the rice was fed to children without the parents being aware that it was genetically modified.

“Many Chinese turn pale when you mention the GMO word,” said Jin in his small office. Some still believe GMO food can cause cancer and impair childbirth, due to misleading reports in newspapers and social media, he said. A recent decision by a local legislative body against growing GMO crops has added to public confusion, Jin said. The national survey aims to discover what the public’s concerns are so that the government can resolve the confusion, Jin said. “If the government pushes ahead before the public is ready to accept the technology, it would be embarrassing – like offering a pot of half-cooked rice to eat.” Jin said he expected the poll result to show that the general public’s perception of GMO is still negative, but “as more people get to know the technology, more would be willing to accept it.”

The lack of an authoritative scientific institution to answer questions, the widespread illegal cultivation of GMO crops, and public mistrust of government authorities after a series of food scandals have all contributed to skepticism about GMO, Jin said. [..] Syngenta, which produces genetically modified seeds for corn, is gearing up for rapid expansion in the country after shareholders accepted a $43 billion offer for the Swiss agribusiness by China National Chemical. The Chinese state-owned company is expected to complete the deal this month. The American Chamber of Commerce in China had complained that U.S. strains of GMO suffered from slower and less predictable approval for import into China. Chinese and U.S. officials have agreed to evaluate pending U.S. biotechnology product applications by the end of the month, including corn and cotton.

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The GMOs will be used globally.

China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)

Faced with a shrinking area of good arable land and a population of 1.4 billion people who are eating more, Chinese agriculture companies have been buying or leasing farms abroad for decades. After the world food crisis, when grain prices soared from 2006 to 2008, that investment went into overdrive. But many projects were plagued by corruption, mistrust, local resistance and trade restrictions. “By and large, they have not achieved the goals they have set,” said Shenggen Fan, an agricultural economist who grew up on a farm near Shanghai and now heads the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. “The general conclusion was that it was not a good investment—it was too quick.”

[..] China will still need to source an increasing amount of food from overseas as its growing middle class eats more and demands better quality and variety. The nation already consumes about half of the world’s pork and whole milk powder, and about a third of its soybeans and rice. So, as the global food crisis abated, Chinese companies turned their attention elsewhere—to finding farms with quality producers in more developed countries whose products would sell for a premium in Shanghai and Beijing. “China is just getting started,” said Kartini Samon, who runs the Asia program for Grain, a non-profit focused on farmers’ rights that tracks Chinese farm deals. “They’re slowly building their power and their supply chains.”

Chinese firms have spent almost $52 billion on overseas agriculture deals since 2005 and food industry-related transactions have quadrupled over the past six years, according to data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. “More and more of what we’re seeing is Chinese companies wanting to buy really good food businesses, as opposed to buying any food businesses,” said Ian Proudfoot, the Auckland-based global head of agribusiness for KPMG. They include WH Group’s 2013 purchase of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s biggest pork producer, and China National Chemical’s $43 billion agreement to take over Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta.

In a key rural policy statement issued by the Communist Party in February, the government said it supports Chinese companies investing in agriculture overseas, from production and processing to storage and logistics. “They won’t just want the production facilities, they’ll be looking for the story and the brand,” said Proudfoot. Of the 17 agricultural deals made by Chinese companies over the past two years, only two were in developing countries—Cambodia and Brazil—and six were in Australia, according to the AEI/Heritage Foundation data. Shanghai Pengxin, which has dairy-farming interests in New Zealand and a Brazilian grain-trading business, is looking for well-known brands in developed countries that can generate fast returns in markets like Shanghai, said a spokesman..

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This is based on ‘findings’ by Moody‘s, but it rated Santander ABS as high as AAA as late as February. We’ve definitely seen this before.

Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)

Santander Consumer USA, one of the biggest subprime auto finance companies, verified income on just 8% of borrowers whose loans it recently bundled into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s. The low level of due diligence on applicants compares with 64% for loans in a recent securitization sold by General Motors Financial’s AmeriCredit unit. The lack of checks may be one factor in explaining higher loan losses experienced by Santander Consumer in bond deals that it has sold in recent years, Moody’s analysts Jody Shenn and Nick Monzillo wrote in a May 17 report, which reviewed data required of asset-backed bond issuers that’s recently been made available. Limited verification of loan applicants’ stated incomes and employment “creates more uncertainty around whether borrowers will be able to afford their monthly payments, which becomes particularly important if they have poor credit records and risky loan terms,” the analysts wrote.

Andrew Kang, Dallas-based Santander Consumer’s treasurer, acknowledged Moody’s findings and said the company’s practice on income verification has been consistent over time even if it’s lower than levels reported among competitors. The higher losses in the loans backing the bonds have been visible to investors, Kang said. Investors have been protected because Santander Consumer included extra loans in the securities in case some went bad, for example, creating a buffer against losses, he said. The Moody’s analysts didn’t make any claim that noteholders were at risk as the bond-grader simply looked at the new data available in the deals to provide analysis on how lenders underwrite. Moody’s rated the Santander deal as high as Aaa in February. Investors who bought into the securities included Massachusetts Mutual Life, according to data.

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Martin Luther rubber duckies. Nothing is holy. Our crisis is spiritual too.

Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)

From burgers to rubber duckies to liquor, Wittenberg is cashing in on its 16th century resident, who changed Christendom forever. It is on a door of a church here that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses in 1517, leading to a split with the Roman Catholic Church and giving birth to Protestantism. As Germany commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the seismic theological shift started by Luther, Wittenberg is decked out in full Luther regalia. On arrival at the town’s main train station, visitors are greeted with a giant rectangular block labelled “The Bible – Luther’s translation”. Walk a few metres and a billboard seeks to tempt the weary with a “Luther Burger”. In the display windows of shops running one kilometre through the centre of the old town, there is something for everyone – a toddler-sized Luther teddy bear, bags of Luther pasta and Luther tea.

Born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483, Luther moved to Wittenberg in 1511. It was in the eastern town where he married Katharina von Bora, became a father of six children, and published his ideas attacking papal abuses and questioning the place of saints. The theologian, who died in 1546, argued that Christians could not buy or earn their way into heaven but only entered by the grace of God, marking a turning point in Christian thinking. But Luther also came to be linked to Germany’s darkest history, as his later sermons and writings were marked by anti-Semitism – something that the Nazis used to justify their horrific persecution of the Jews. Yet the theologian’s part in reshaping the religious order has unequivocally secured his place as one of the most important figures in European history.

For the 500th Reformation anniversary, Germany has declared an exceptional public holiday on October 31. And tens of thousands of Christians from across the world are descending on the town of 47,000 inhabitants where history was made. [..] going by the number of tourists carrying jute bags featuring Luther’s image, or the steady stream of people picking up Luther cookies, it is clear that the crowd just can’t get enough of the theologian. The boom in Luther souvenirs has been driven by this year’s celebrations, Ruske noted. “There are Luther noodles, Luther tomatoes, Luther chocolate and also Luther coffee. There are many great products that we sell… but there are also bizarre souvenirs. But as long as the demand is there, there’ll always be offers,” said Ruske. The tourism office itself has been stocking 500 Playmobil figurines of Luther every month over the past year. “But they keep selling out,” she said.

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“The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible..”

Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)

In case you wonder how our politics fell into such a slough of despond, the answer is pretty simple. Neither main political party, or their trains of experts, specialists, and mouthpieces, can construct a coherent story about what is happening in this country — and the result is a roaring wave of recursive objurgation and wrath that loops purposelessly towards gathering darkness. What’s happening is a slow-motion collapse of the economy. Neither Democrats or Republicans know why it is so remorselessly underway. A tiny number of well-positioned scavengers thrive on the debris cast off by the process of disintegration, but they don’t really understand the process either — the lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, contractors, feeders at the troughs of government could not be more cynical or clueless.

The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible after years without it. Perhaps that’s why so much hostility is aimed at Mr. Putin of Russia, a person who appears to know where his country stands in history, and who enjoys ample support among his countrymen. How that must gall the empty vessels like Lindsey Graham, Rubio, Schumer, Feinstein, Ryan, et. al. So along came the dazzling, zany Trump, who was able to communicate a vague sense-memory of what had been lost in our time of American life, whose sheer bluster resembled something like conviction as projected via the cartoonizing medium of television, and who entered a paralysis of intention the moment he stepped into the oval office, where he proved to be even less authentic than the Wizard of Oz.

Turned out he didn’t really understand the economic collapse underway either; he just remembered an America of 1962 and though somehow the national clock might be turned back. The industrial triumph of America in the 19th and 20th century was really something to behold. But like all stories, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we’re closer to the end of that story than the middle. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization but it means we have to start a new story that provides some outline of a life worth living on a planet worth caring about.

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Pilger is the source to turn to.

Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)

Julian Assange has been vindicated because the Swedish case against him was corrupt. The prosecutor, Marianne Ny, obstructed justice and should be prosecuted. Her obsession with Assange not only embarrassed her colleagues and the judiciary but exposed the Swedish state’s collusion with the United States in its crimes of war and “rendition”.

Had Assange not sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he would have been on his way to the kind of American torture pit Chelsea Manning had to endure. This prospect was obscured by the grim farce played out in Sweden. “It’s a laughing stock,” said James Catlin, one of Assange’s Australian lawyers. “It is as if they make it up as they go along”. It may have seemed that way, but there was always serious purpose. In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.

Perhaps this was understandable. WikiLeaks has exposed the way America dominates much of human affairs, including its epic crimes, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale, often homicidal killing of civilians and the contempt for sovereignty and international law. These disclosures are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistle blowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. In 2012, the Obama campaign boasted on its website that Obama had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other US presidents combined. Before Chelsea Manning had even received a trial, Obama had publicly pronounced her guilty.

Few serious observers doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, he is on a “Manhunt target list”. Threats of his kidnapping and assassination became almost political and media currency in the US following then Vice-President Joe Biden’s preposterous slur that the WikiLeaks founder was a “cyber-terrorist”. Hillary Clinton, the destroyer of Libya and, as WikiLeaks revealed last year, the secret supporter and personal beneficiary of forces underwriting ISIS, proposed her own expedient solution: “Can’t we just drone this guy.” According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has sought for almost seven years to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy.

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The Troika has no intention of solving the issue. They demand a 3.5% surplus for years to come, making sure Greece can’t grow.

EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)

Eurozone finance ministers failed to agree on a deal which would have released vital rescue funds for Athens on Monday night, after Greece’s creditors rejected calls for an upfront commitment to reduce the country’s debt burden. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the Eurogroup of finance ministers, said the ministers had held an “in-depth discussion” on debt sustainability and said they were “very close” to an agreement. However, he added that they had “not reached an overall agreement on that part of the discussion”. “Tonight we were unable to close a possible gap between what could be done and what some of us had expected should be done or could be done. We need to close that by looking at additional options or by adjusting our expectations.”

“Both are possible and both perhaps should be done, and that I think will bring us to a more positive and definite positive conclusion at the next Eurogroup in June,” Mr Dijsselbloem said. Talks are expected to continue over the coming weeks ahead of the next meeting on June 15. Prior to the meeting, Eurozone finance ministers had said they were confident that a political agreement could be reached on Monday evening. This would have paved the way for a fresh tranche of financial aid to ensure Greece avoids a summer cash crunch. However, officials were at odds with the IMF over the critical issue of debt relief, which is a condition of the Fund’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn bail-out. The IMF had stressed that debt relief was necessary to ensure the country can return to fiscal health, and had called for details on the scope and timing of relief before it joined the programme.

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, Mr Dijsselbloem had said he was optimistic that creditors would release new loans to Athens after the Greek parliament passed fresh austerity measures last week, including pension cuts. Greece’s debt share currently stands at around 180pc of GDP, but Mr Dijsselbloem said detailed relief measures would not be thrashed out until 2018. Insiders said talks aimed at bridging the gap between the IMF and some of Greece’s creditors would be difficult. “Discussions are going to be long, and I am not sure they will be successful,” said one. Others said everyone was working hard to secure a deal that included the Fund. “If we lose the IMF now, we lose the IMF forever,” said one source.

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Macron is nothing but Merkel’s little helper.

Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)

French President Emmanuel Macron says his new administration will push for an international debt relief deal for austerity-weary Greece. Macron’s office says that he spoke Monday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and stressed “his determination to find an accord soon to lighten the burden of Greek debt over the long term.” The phone conversation was the first contact between the two since Macron’s election earlier this month. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, named last week, is joining EU finance ministers for talks Monday and Tuesday expected to focus on Greece’s debt problems. Athens hopes that the ministers will agree this week on a deal on easing Greece’s debt repayment terms. Successive Greek governments have slashed spending in return for bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.

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But no-one has the guts to stand up to Merkel and Schäuble.

German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)

Germany’s coalition government split along party lines on Monday over the question of debt relief for Greece ahead of a crunch meeting in Brussels to tackle the thorny issue. Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund are meeting to seek a deal on Greek debt relief that balances the IMF’s demand for a clear “when and how” with Berlin’s preference for “only if necessary” and “details later”. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, caused the divergence in views by demanding that the euro zone make a firm commitment on granting debt relief to Greece, effectively criticising conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s tough stance. “Greece has been promised debt relief over and over again if reforms are carried out,” Gabriel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung paper. “Now we must stand by this promise.” “This must not fail due to German resistance,” said Gabriel.

Without the deal no new loans can be granted to Athens, even though the bailout is now handled only by euro zone governments and Greece needs new credit to repay some €7.3 billion worth of maturing loans in July. Schaeuble later described reforms agreed by Greece as “remarkable” but said the Greek economy was not yet competitive and that Athens must press ahead with implementing its existing reforms-for-aid program. “We are not talking about a new program but the implementation of the program agreed in 2015,” Schaeuble said. “At the end of the program, in 2018, we will, if necessary, put in place additional measures that we have defined.” “It is about one goal – namely to help Greece become competitive,” Schaeuble said, adding Greece was not there yet. Speaking at a regular government news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said institutions such as the IMF and the EC were not far apart in their assessment on Greece. “Germany should have an interest in not isolating itself too much,” Schaefer said.

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So obviously, more cuts are needed to make Greece ‘competitive’ again. Contradiction in terms.

1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)

The report of the Unified System of Control and Payment of Pensions “ILIOS” made public by the Labor Ministry shows that 1.2 million Greek pensioners live on less than €500 per month. The figures date from December 2016 and show analytical pension data after Greece’s creditors have asked that pension data calculated with the new methodology should be made public at regular intervals. According to the “ILIOS” report, the average main pension is €722 per month, the average supplementary pension is 170 euros and the average dividend to State pensioners is €97 per month. The report shows that there are 2,892,259 main pensions paid each month, 1,252,241 supplementary pensions and 409,620 dividends with a total cost of €2,342,431,276.95. The figures show that 1.2 million pensioners are paid less than €500 per month.

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Elliniko is the site of the former main airport. It’s horrific. But cynically, it is being evacuated not because of the refugees’ conditions, but because there are plans to develop the site from a consortium of Greek, Chinese and Arab investors.

Amnesty should address Berlin on this, not Athens.

Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

Greek authorities must ensure that refugees and migrants expected to start being evacuated from three Elliniko camps on Tuesday, are provided with safe, adequate, alternative housing, Amnesty International said in a press release on Monday. “Whilst no one will mourn the closure of these uninhabitable, unsafe camps, the failure to provide people living there with information about their imminent removal has only served to increase their fears and anxieties,” said Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner. “There has been no consultation with Ellinko residents who have been kept in the dark as to when and where they will be moved to. The authorities must urgently guarantee that no one will be rendered homeless or placed at risk as a result of the closure. Safe and secure adequate alternative housing which takes account of the particular needs of women and girls must be made available,” she said.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, an Amnesty International member said: “All NGOs active in Elliniko were asked to leave the area, except the two that provide medical help.” Sources from the ministry of Migration Policy denied the report on an imminent evacuation, saying that authorities will instead begin an “information campaign for the people who live in Elliniko,” adding that “misinformation doesn’t help in the real handling of the issue.” Amnesty International had requested to visit the camps between May 21 and 23 but was refused, however, its researchers managed to interview residents outside the camp. One Afghan man told Amnesty International: “They don’t give us information, which creates a lot of anxiety…They want to confuse us so that we cannot decide and they’ll decide for us.” An Afghan woman said: “We talked with everyone but no one tells us anything. I am really worried about ending up on the street.”

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Mar 162017
 
 March 16, 2017  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 16 2017
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Arthur Rothstein “Quack doctor, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” 1938

 

Hawaii Judge Halts Trump’s New Travel Ban Before It Can Go Into Effect (R.)
Trump Proposes Historic Cuts Across Government to Fund Defense (BBG)
Janet Yellen Explains Why She Hiked In A 0.9% GDP Quarter (ZH)
Fed Rate Hikes + Low Growth = Recession (MW)
How The Fed Rate Hike Will Impact Millions Of Americans (MW)
How Global Central Banks Have Set Interest Rates Since 2008 (Tel.)
Beware the Debt Ceiling (BBG)
Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)
PM Mark Rutte Sees Off Challenge Of Geert Wilders In Dutch Election (G.)
Northern Ireland Vote Jolts Already Disunited Kingdom (R.)
Erdogan, Europe Head for Political Blow-Up They Can’t Afford (BBG)
Turkey Protests Dutch Government by Returning 40 Holstein Cows (BBG)
Spike In Number Of Greeks Renouncing Inheritance To Avoid Taxes (K.)
New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Being (G.)

 

 

Not much room left to move, it would seem. And the Supreme Court is still some distance away, if the case even gets there.

Hawaii Judge Halts Trump’s New Travel Ban Before It Can Go Into Effect (R.)

Just hours before President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban was set to go into effect, a U.S. federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday issued an emergency halt to the order’s implementation. The action was the latest legal blow to the administration’s efforts to temporarily ban refugees as well as travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, which the President has said is needed for national security. Trump lashed out at the judge’s ruling, saying it “makes us look weak.” Trump signed the new ban on March 6 in a bid to overcome legal problems with a January executive order that caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests before a Washington judge stopped its enforcement in February. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson put an emergency stop to the new order in response to a lawsuit filed by the state of Hawaii, which argued that the order discriminated against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Watson concluded in his ruling that while the order did not mention Islam by name, “a reasonable, objective observer … would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.” Watson was appointed to the bench by former Democratic President Barack Obama. Speaking at a rally in Nashville, Trump called his revised executive order a “watered-down version” of his first. “I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place,” Trump said. Trump called the judge’s block “unprecedented judicial overreach” and said he will take the case “as far as it needs to go,” including to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Department of Justice called the ruling “flawed both in reasoning and in scope,” adding that the president has broad authority in national security matters. “The Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” it said a statement.

[..] The government, in its court filings cautioned the court against looking for secret motives in the executive order and against performing “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of heart.” Watson said he did not need to do that, because evidence of motive could be found in the president’s public statements. He said he did not give credence to the government’s argument that the order was not anti-Muslim because it targeted only a small percentage of Muslim-majority countries. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,” the judge wrote.

Read more …

The military-industrial complex.

Trump Proposes Historic Cuts Across Government to Fund Defense (BBG)

President Donald Trump is proposing historically deep budget cuts that would touch almost every federal agency and program and dramatically reorder government priorities to boost defense and security spending. The president’s fiscal 2018 budget request, which will be formally delivered Thursday to Congress, would slash or eliminate many of the Great Society programs that Republicans have for decades tried to peel back while showering the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security with new resources. Some of the deepest cuts are reserved for the agencies and programs Trump has often derided. The State Department would be hit with a 28% reduction below fiscal 2016 levels that mainly targets international aid and development assistance; the EPA would face a 30% reduction.

Also in the crosshairs are agriculture programs, clean energy projects and federal research funding. “You see reductions in many agencies as he tries to shrink the role of government, drive efficiencies, go after waste, duplicative programs,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters. “If he said it in the campaign, it’s in the budget.” Trump’s proposal for $1.15 trillion in federal discretionary funding for fiscal year 2018 is certain to face vigorous opposition from lawmakers in both parties who will resist chopping favored programs, whether foreign aid, rural water projects, or development grants for Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta. In addition to a solid wall of opposition from Democrats, senior Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have raised objections to specific agency cuts even before the budget request went to the Capitol.

Read more …

It’s all about credibility. “Fighting inflationary pressures”?!

Janet Yellen Explains Why She Hiked In A 0.9% GDP Quarter (ZH)

It appears that, the worse the economy was doing, the higher the odds of a rate hike.

Putting the Federal Reserve's third rate hike in 11 years into context, if the Atlanta Fed's forecast is accurate, 0.9% GDP would mark the weakest quarter since 1980 in which rates were raised (according to Bloomberg data).

We look forward to Ms. Yellen explaining her reasoning – Inflation no longer "transitory"? Asset prices in a bubble? Because we want to crush Trump's economic policies? Because the banks told us to?

For now it appears what matters to The Fed is not 'hard' real economic data but 'soft' survey and confidence data…

Read more …

“..raising interest rates off ultralow levels during a period of tepid economic growth coincides with recessions in the following three to nine months..”

Fed Rate Hikes + Low Growth = Recession (MW)

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted benchmark interest rates for only the third time in about a decade, and that has caused trepidation among some market participants. Lance Roberts, chief investment strategist at Clarity Financial, makes the case in one chart that raising interest rates off ultralow levels during a period of tepid economic growth coincides with recessions in the following three to nine months (see chart below, which compares real, inflation-adjusted, GDP to Fed interest rate levels).

The Fed lifted key rates by a quarter-point Wednesday to a range of 0.75% to 1%. The rate increase comes as the U.S. economy has been growing at a lackluster pace. Government data show that gross domestic product—the official report card of economic performance—was growing at a seasonally adjusted pace of 1.9% in the fourth quarter compared with 1.6% in 2016 and 2.6% in 2015. “Outside of inflated asset prices, there is little evidence of real economic growth, as witnessed by an average annual GDP growth rate of just 1.3% since 2008, which by the way is the lowest in history since…well, ever,” Roberts wrote in a blog post March 9 (see chart below):

Woeful productivity, defined as the average output per hour of work, has been another bugaboo for economists and the Fed, for the past six years. Higher rates could exacerbate both problems, especially since corporations tend to benefit when borrowing costs are low. Roberts told MarketWatch in a recent interview that the “Fed lifts interest rates to slow economic growth and quell inflationary pressures.” He argues that outside of a stock market that has been mostly zooming higher, “economic growth is weak.”

Read more …

Debtors get screwed, savers get some air. Sounds cute and all, but there’s so much debt out there.

How The Fed Rate Hike Will Impact Millions Of Americans (MW)

Bad news for those with credit card debt: The Federal Reserve hiked its key rate on Wednesday by a quarter%age point and, as a result, your own interest rates could rise almost immediately. The Fed raised the rate for federal funds by a quarter%age point, to 0.75% to 1% at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday, and signaled two further rates rises in 2017. In other words, the Fed announced an increase in how much banks will be charged to borrow money from Federal Reserve banks. (The Fed raises and lowers interest rates in an attempt to control inflation.) That increase will most likely eventually be passed on to consumers, said Sean McQuay, a credit card expert at the personal finance website NerdWallet. Many households with credit card debt — the average household carrying credit card debt has more than $16,000 — will likely take a hit. Here’s how the latest Fed rate increase could impact your credit cards and bank accounts.

Credit cards Because a rise in the federal funds rate means banks will likely pay more to borrow from the Federal Reserve, they may pass that cost on to consumers. Credit card interest rates are variable (banks and credit card companies should state that their rates are variable in the literature customers receive to learn about their cards), and they are tied to the prime rate, an index a few%age points above the federal funds rate. It is a benchmark that banks use to set home equity lines of credit and credit card rates; as federal funds rates rise, the prime rate does, too. As a result, credit card holders are likely to see their interest rates rise, and that will happen soon, said Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst at the personal finance company Bankrate, told MarketWatch.

Read more …

Written just before Yellen’s hike.

How Global Central Banks Have Set Interest Rates Since 2008 (Tel.)

After the financial crisis in 2008 central banks across the world cut their base lending rates to varying degrees, with some introducing negative rates of interest. [..] The US economy has performed strongly in recent months, leading Fed chair Janet Yellen to say that policymakers are now ready to change their stance on interest rates. The expectation is that there will be a steady hike in rates in the coming years and that, in the longer term, interest rates should be hovering around 3pc. Market traders are predicting three interest rate rise in the US this year alone. Ms Yellen has said that waiting too long to raise interest rates risked more rapid increases later if the economy started to overheat. If the Fed does see fit to continue to increase interest rates, it could signal the start of a similar pattern in other countries that have, thus far, kept rates very low since the financial crisis.

The Bank of England’s base lending rate stood at 5.75pc in July 2007 but was slashed repeatedly in the following months and years. Since March 2009 the Bank’s lending rate has been languishing below 1pc. In contrast to the expected direction of interest rates in the US, last August BoE Governor Mark Carney cut the rate again from 0.5pc to 0.25pc. [..] The ECB’s deposit rate has been at -0.4pc since early 2016 while the Swiss National Bank’s lending rate has been even lower than this. Mark Carney has said that the next move on interest rates in the UK will be an upward one but that it will be “limited and gradual”. However with the economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit it may be some time before rate rises catch up with the US. And it is likely to be some time before the ECB feels it can gamble with a significant rate rise.

Read more …

June 1 drop-off.

Beware the Debt Ceiling (BBG)

Euphoria has been pervasive in the stock market since the election. But investors seem to be overlooking the risk of a U.S. government default resulting from a failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling. The possibility is greater than anyone seems to realize, even with a supposedly unified government. In particular, the markets seem to be ignoring two vital numbers, which together could have profound consequences for global markets: 218 and $189 billion. In order to raise or suspend the debt ceiling (which will technically be reinstated on March 16), 218 votes are needed in the House of Representatives. The Treasury’s cash balance will need to last until this happens, or the U.S. will default. The opening cash balance this month was $189 billion, and Treasury is burning an average of $2 billion per day – with the ability to issue new debt.

Net redemptions of existing debt not held by the government are running north of $100 billion a month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has acknowledged the coming deadline, encouraging Congress last week to raise the limit immediately. Reaching 218 votes in favor of raising or suspending the debt ceiling might be harder than in any previous fiscal showdown. President Donald Trump almost certainly wants to raise the ceiling, but he may not have the votes. While Republicans control 237 seats in the House, the Tea Party wing of the party has in the past has steadfastly refused to go along with increases. The Republican Party is already facing a revolt on its right flank over its failure to offer a clean repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Many members of this resistance constitute the ultra-right “Freedom Caucus,” which was willing to stand its ground during previous debt ceiling showdowns.

The Freedom Caucus has 29 members, which means there might be only 208 votes to raise the ceiling. (It’s interesting to recall that, in 2013, President Trump himself tweeted that he was “embarrassed” that Republicans had voted to extend the ceiling.) It may be unrealistic to expect Democrats to save the day – at least initially. House Democrats may be more than happy to sit back and watch Republicans fight among themselves. If the Democrats eventually ride to the rescue, it probably won’t be until after a period of Republican-on-Republican violence. Nobody wants the Treasury to reach the point where it has to prioritize payment of interest over other obligations – a threshold where creditworthiness and market confidence will have begun to retreat. The bond market already seems to be reacting to this possibility, sending yields higher and prices lower, even as the S&P/Dow/Nasdaq have been on a tear and are showing scant concern over the potential turmoil.

Read more …

Change with an enormous impact. Do we really want this?

Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)

Amazon.com has been crowing about its plans to create 100,000 American jobs in the next year, but as with other recent job-creation announcements, that figure is meaningless without context. What Amazon won’t tell us is that every job created at Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn’t want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did. Amazon has revolutionized the way Americans consume. Those who want to shop for everything from books to diapers increasingly go online instead of to the malls. And for about half of those online purchases, the transaction goes through Amazon.

For the consumer, Amazon has brought lower prices and unimaginable convenience. I can buy almost any consumer product I want just by clicking on my phone or computer — or even easier, by just saying: “Alexa: buy me one” — and it will be shipped to my door within days or even hours for free. I can buy books for my Kindle, or music for my phone instantly. I can watch movies or TV shows on demand. But for retail workers, Amazon is a grave threat. Just ask the 10,100 workers who are losing their jobs at Macy’s. Or the 4,000 at The Limited. Or the thousands of workers at Sears and Kmart, which just announced 150 stores will be closing. Or the 125,000 retail workers who’ve been laid off over the past two years.

Amazon and other online sellers have decimated some sectors of the retail industry in the past few years. For instance, employment at department stores has plunged by 250,000 (or 14%) since 2012. Employment at clothing and electronics stores is down sharply from the earlier peaks as more sales move online. “Consumers’ affinity for digital shopping felt like it hit a tipping point in Holiday 2014 and has rapidly accelerated this year,” Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a research note in December. And when he says “digital shopping,” he really means Amazon, which has increased its share of online purchases from about 10% five years ago to nearly 40% in the 2016 holiday season.

Read more …

Rutte lost big and is the winner.

PM Mark Rutte Sees Off Challenge Of Geert Wilders In Dutch Election (G.)

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has seen off a challenge from the anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders to claim a resounding victory in parliamentary elections widely seen as a test for resurgent nationalism before key European polls. With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, national news agency ANP said. Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66 which both ended up in third position on 19 seats. “Our message to the Netherlands – that we will hold our course, and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous – got through,” Rutte told a cheering crowd of supporters at the VVD’s election night party.

After Britain’s shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the US, he added, the eyes of the world had been on the vote: “This was an evening when … the Netherlands said ‘Stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.” A first-place finish for the anti-immigration, anti-EU PVV would have rocked Europe. In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen is expected to make the second-round runoff in the presidential election in May, while the Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is on target to win its first federal parliament seats later in the year. Relieved European politicians were quick to applaud. A spokesman for European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker hailed “a vote against extremists” while French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault tweeted: “Congratulations to the Netherlands for halting the advance of the far right.”

Read more …

What’s going to be left by the time Brexit is reality?

Northern Ireland Vote Jolts Already Disunited Kingdom (R.)

A nationalist surge at elections in Northern Ireland and a Scottish demand for a second independence referendum have raised doubts over whether the United Kingdom can hold together after it leaves the European Union. Last year’s referendum on EU membership saw England and Wales vote to leave while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, straining the ties that bind the UK together. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon dealt a blow to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday by demanding a new vote on independence in late 2018 or early 2019, making her move much sooner than expected. But while the Scottish issue had been well flagged since the Brexit vote, a snap provincial assembly election in Northern Ireland produced a genuine shock: for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1921, unionists lost their majority.

Nationalist party Sinn Fein, backed by many of Northern Ireland’s Catholics, narrowed the gap with the Democratic Unionist Party, whose support base is among pro-British Protestants, to just one seat. This has revived the slow-burning question of whether Northern Ireland will stay in the United Kingdom over the long term or become part of the Republic of Ireland. This could be achieved by a referendum, often referred to as a border poll. “A border poll might be 10 years away and it might still be lost, but clearly this election has shown a different dynamic in Northern Ireland politics,” said Peter Shirlow, Director of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool. “This opens the door for a different scenario.”

Read more …

No visa-free travel either.

Erdogan, Europe Head for Political Blow-Up They Can’t Afford (BBG)

Politicians in Turkey and the European Union stoking tensions for short-term electoral gain may have done lasting damage to vital economic and security ties. While relations between the EU and Turkey have been rocky for years, the furor of recent days – with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan freely hurling the Nazi epithet at his western antagonists – marks a rift that could prove irreparable. Turkey has been negotiating EU membership since 2005, but progress has come close to a halt. “Even without anyone saying it, Turkey’s EU membership talks will go into an irreversible coma now,” said Marc Pierini, who served as the EU’s ambassador to Turkey from 2006-2011 and is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank. “That will suit everybody, except Turkey’s democrats.”

[..] Pierini sees a wider clash between two populisms – one anti-Muslim in Europe, and the other fighting for the Islamization of the secular Turkish Republic – that risks an uncontrolled downward spiral. Europe’s leaders, he said, “are losing sight of the fundamentals, that you have a counter-revolution going on in Turkey,” where Erdogan is trying to reverse the westward course on which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk set the country in 1923. Hanging in the balance is a deal struck a year ago, under which Turkey agreed to cooperate in stemming the flow of refugees from Syria. In exchange, the EU provided more than $3 billion in economic aid and pledges both to “re-energize” Turkey’s stalled membership talks and deliver visa-free travel for Turks entering the 26-nation Schengen area, both of which are increasingly politically toxic for EU leaders.

Read more …

Where it hurts.

Turkey Protests Dutch Government by Returning 40 Holstein Cows (BBG)

Two months after a Turkish butcher broke the Internet, the country’s red meat producers are trying a novel way to break the Dutch government’s resolve. Members of the Ankara-based Beef and Lamb Producers Association have sent 40 Holstein cows back to the Netherlands to show their displeasure at a decision to prevent Turkish ministers from conducting political campaigning on their soil, the association’s chairman Bulent Tunc said in telephone interview. A fiery diplomatic spat has erupted between the two countries after the EU state, which is holding its own elections on Wednesday, refused access to Turkish ministers seeking to campaign on a referendum to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.

While Tunc called the number of cows being shipped away “symbolic,” he spoke of widespread support for the Turkish president’s stance among association members, who number 160,000. Those involved in the cattle trade are also considering putting a stop to purchases of tractors, equipment, feed and bull semen — and extending the boycott to Austria, which Tunc accused of sharing the Dutch government’s stance. “There are many alternatives,” he said, citing Brazil and Romania as possibilities. “Turkey is a huge market for livestock imports and countries are dying to get in.”

Read more …

More Greek tragedies. Imagine having to give up age-old family homes and/or land because you can’t afford taxes.

Spike In Number Of Greeks Renouncing Inheritance To Avoid Taxes (K.)

An increasing number of people are turning their backs on properties they have inherited to avoid paying the higher taxes that accompany them, according to new data from the country’s courts which show that applications for renunciation of property rose 86.4% last year compared to 2013. According to the latest statistics, which were made public on Wednesday, a total of 54,422 such applications were lodged with the country’s local courts last year, compared to 45,628 in 2015 and 29,199 in 2013. Experts attribute the rise to the tremendous increase in property taxes that successive governments have imposed over the years as part of bailout agreements with Greece’s creditors. According to official figures, property owners paid seven times more in taxes last year compared to 2009, the year before the crisis hit.

In 2009, property taxes did not exceed €500 million, while revenue collected from property reached €3.5 billion last year. Most of those who filed documents last year to renounce their inheritance did so in the country’s major cities, with 11,655 applications recorded in Athens, 5,563 in Thessaloniki, 1,938 in Piraeus and 1,473 in Patra. People are not only giving up family houses and apartments but also plots of lands. According to Nikos Stasinopoulos, formerly the head of the association representing Greek notaries, many people in the provinces give up inherited land even when the tax they would have to pay on it is relatively small. He offered the example of one beneficiary in the region of Gortynia who gave up a plot on which he faced a €150 levy, and a second who inherited a total of 98 plots of land in the region of Larissa from his father and aunt and was “relieved” to discover that he could hand them over to the state to avoid paying tax.

Read more …

We have lost all wisdom. Only native peoples have any left.

“..all Maori tribes regard themselves as part of the universe, at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas.”

New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights As Human Being (G.)

In a world-first a New Zealand river has been granted the same legal rights as a human being. The local Maori tribe of Whanganui in the north island has fought for the recognition of their river – the third-largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years. On Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their bid to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi [tribe]. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same. Chris Finlayson, the minister for the treaty of Waitangi negotiations, said the decision brought the longest-running litigation in New Zealand’s history to an end. “Te Awa Tupua will have its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” said Finlayson in a statement. “The approach of granting legal personality to a river is unique … it responds to the view of the iwi of the Whanganui river which has long recognised Te Awa Tupua through its traditions, customs and practise.” Two guardians will be appointed to act on behalf of the Whanganui river, one from the crown and one from the Whanganui iwi.

Albert said all Maori tribes regarded themselves as part of the universe, at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas. [..] “We can trace our genealogy to the origins of the universe,” said Albert. “And therefore rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it. We want to live like that as our starting point. And that is not an anti-development, or anti-economic use of the river but to begin with the view that it is a living being, and then consider its future from that central belief.”

Read more …

Nov 242015
 
 November 24, 2015  Posted by at 7:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Kostas Tzioumakas Constantinos Polychronopoulos 2015

That’s right, I am at last able to come back to Athens, starting today. Alas, without Nicole Foss, who was supposed to join me in the city earlier this year but is back in New Zealand now. Why that plan never materialized, and why I couldn’t return myself, is all about the illness and subsequent passing of my mother, a process I write about in Eulogy for Johanna.

And there are still too many things to do to mention here in Holland, but I don’t feel good sitting on money that our readers have donated for Greece in our Automatic Earth for Athens fund. So that has to be a priority now, in my view. Your generosity, beyond my wildest dreams, combined with my caution in spending that generosity and my ignorance of the inner workings of the city, have resulted in an open ledger of over $8000 (!) US that will have to find its way to the proper goals.

First, you can (re)read my earlier exploits in a series of articles I wrote on the topic this year:

The Automatic Earth Moves To Athens (June 16)

Update: Automatic Earth for Athens Fund (June 19)

Off to Greece, and an Update on our Athens Fund (June 25)

Automatic Earth Fund for Athens Makes First Donation (July 8)

• AE for Athens Fund 2nd Donation: The Man Who Cooks In The Street (July 11)

• AE Fund for Athens: Update no. 3: Peristeri (July 22)

Then, as I’m thinking about this, the first thing that strikes me is the extent to, and the way in, which the Athens problems seem to have changed and switched. In late June and early July, there were refugees, but the main issue was the Greeks themselves. Varoufakis was still finance minister, and the idea was still alive that Greece would stand up to the Troika.

There was hope and excitement in the air, even though the banks were forced shut. There was the big OXI vote early July. But it all went downhill from there, Yanis left, Tsipras gave in to Schäuble, but most of all the refugee numbers on for instance Lesvos went from 200 a day to 5-6-7000 a day. It feels like a 180º change. But then again, it’s not really.

The Greek population is still -and things keep getting worse each day- being dragged down by the EU ordered policies, which are certain to kill off the entire economy. If people have nothing left to spend, nobody can sell them anything either, so unemployment just gets worse. There are tons of Greeks who still have jobs, and they’re the lucky ones, but who’ve seen their pay cut by 25%, 50%. Nothing out of the ordinary.

To wit: Greek rental prices are down 40%, but 40% of the population can’t even afford those prices anymore. The economy simply gets squeezed more and more, and every day sees its chances of recuperating diminish. Asphyxiation by decree.

The Cameron government is doing the exact same thing to Britain at the moment, even if, unlike Greece, the pretense is that the economy is doing well there. It’ll be a spectacle to watch. Once you start killing off your care systems, you get what I saw in Athens – and will again. And I’m not at all sure that the Brits can do what the Greeks can when it comes to humanity and solidarity.

It’s still those same strangled yet amazing Greeks who will go out of their way to help the refugees, who increasingly threaten to flood the country as one razor wire fence after another is erected on the Balkans. There’s a serious risk this winter of refugees, and their children in particular, freezing and/or contracting severe illnesses while getting stuck on the country’s northern borders.

And the EU keeps doing what it does best: make things worse. Why even Varoufakis keeps defending the EU, and just thinks it should be ‘reformed’ and democratized’, I can’t fathom. The EU’s problems are not ones of degree, but of substance, of its very make-up.

With France having thrown out any allegiance to the EU Stability Pact budget deals, and borders being closed all over the place, either with razor wire or with soldiers, the very ideas and ideals that are the foundation of the Union are fast eroding already. And what legitimacy will be left for the Brussels apparatus is entirely up in the air.

But okay, Athens first. There must be an overwhelming number of people and causes that I can help with your money. It’ll just be a matter of finding the most needy and deserving. In June/July I donated €1000 euros each to two volunteer clinics, in Piraeus and Peristeri, and to the man you see pictured above, Kostas Polychronopoulos, aka ‘the man who cooks in the street’.

I know through the grapevine that Kostas has been very active feeding refugees on Lesvos, and I’ll be sure to try and find him, wherever he may be, see how he sees the situation. My idea is I’ll play it by ear, I’m for instance not sure Lesvos needs my presence too, and besides you donated the money for the Greeks, but I’ll certainly listen to the people on the ground.

You can of course still donate to the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, by all means I beg you, your money will find a good place, I’ll guarantee that. Here’s, once again, how I put it at the very beginning:

Now, I don’t think I can go to Athens and not try to see if there’s something I can do to alleviate some of the misery in my own small way. But since that way would be extremely small given where the Automatic Earth’s financial situation and funding stand at the moment, I thought of something.

I’m hereby setting up an “Automatic Earth for Athens” fund (big word), and I’m asking you, our readership, to donate to that fund. I will make sure the revenues will go to clinics and food banks, to the worthiest causes I can find. To not mix up donations for Athens with those for the Automatic Earth, which are also badly needed, I suggest I take any donation that ends with 99 cents, as in $25.99, and single those out for Greece. Does that sound reasonable? Let me know if it doesn’t, please.

You can also donate bitcoin at this address: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.

I’ll be back tomorrow from Athens.

Nov 242015
 
 November 24, 2015  Posted by at 7:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Proprietor of small store in market square, Waco, Texas Nov 1939

Negative Interest, the War on Cash and the $10 Trillion Bail-In (Ellen Brown)
Sub-Zero Debt Increases To $2 Trillion In Eurozone On Draghi (Bloomberg)
Soaring Global Debt – The Reality Check in Numbers (O’Byrne)
The Closing Of The Global Economy (Calhoun)
Harmless Commodity Crash Accelerates As Dollar Soars (AEP)
Ireland Is Backing Itself (David McWilliams)
Greek Home Rental Costs 40% Less Since 2011 (Kath.)
Four In 10 Greeks ‘Overburdened’ By Housing Costs (Kath.)
Greek Shipping Currency Inflows Drop 53% In September (Kath.)
Inadequate Dirty Money Regulation ‘Leaves UK Open To Terror Funds’ (Reuters)
Cameron Has Guns, Bombs And A Plane – And Not One Good Idea (Hitchens)
Scale Of Osborne’s Cuts To Police, Education, Councils ‘Unprecedented’ (Mirror)
Austeria – A Nation Robs Its Poor To Pay For The Next Big Crash (Chakrabortty)
Richard Russell, Publisher of Dow Theory Letters, Dies at 91 (Bloomberg)
VW Admits Second Illegal Device In 85,000 Audi Engines (FT)
Average House In Fort McMurray Lost $117,000, 20% Of Its Value In 1 Year (CH)
This Is The Worst Time For Society To Go On Psychopathic Autopilot (F. Boyle)
Varoufakis: Closing Borders To Muslim Refugees Only Fuels Terrorism (Guardian)
Average Stay Is 17 Years: Refugee Camps Are The “Cities Of Tomorrow” (Dezeen)
Canada To Turn Away Single Men As Part Of Syrian Refugee Resettlement Plan (AFP)
Stranded Migrants Block Railway, Call Hunger Strike (Reuters)

“..central banks have already pushed the prime rate to zero, and still their economies are languishing. To the uninitiated observer, that means the theory is wrong and needs to be scrapped.”

Negative Interest, the War on Cash and the $10 Trillion Bail-In (Ellen Brown)

Remember those old ads showing a senior couple lounging on a warm beach, captioned “Let your money work for you”? Or the scene in Mary Poppins where young Michael is being advised to put his tuppence in the bank, so that it can compound into “all manner of private enterprise,” including “bonds, chattels, dividends, shares, shipyards, amalgamations . . . .”? That may still work if you’re a Wall Street banker, but if you’re an ordinary saver with your money in the bank, you may soon be paying the bank to hold your funds rather than the reverse. Four European central banks – the European Central Bank, the Swiss National Bank, Sweden’s Riksbank, and Denmark’s Nationalbank – have now imposed negative interest rates on the reserves they hold for commercial banks; and discussion has turned to whether it’s time to pass those costs on to consumers.

The Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve are still at ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy), but several Fed officials have also begun calling for NIRP (negative rates). The stated justification for this move is to stimulate “demand” by forcing consumers to withdraw their money and go shopping with it. When an economy is struggling, it is standard practice for a central bank to cut interest rates, making saving less attractive. This is supposed to boost spending and kick-start an economic recovery. That is the theory, but central banks have already pushed the prime rate to zero, and still their economies are languishing. To the uninitiated observer, that means the theory is wrong and needs to be scrapped. But not to our intrepid central bankers, who are now experimenting with pushing rates below zero.

The problem with imposing negative interest on savers, as explained in the UK Telegraph, is that “there’s a limit, what economists called the ‘zero lower bound’. Cut rates too deeply, and savers would end up facing negative returns. In that case, this could encourage people to take their savings out of the bank and hoard them in cash. This could slow, rather than boost, the economy.” Again, to the ordinary observer, this would seem to signal that negative interest rates won’t work and the approach needs to be abandoned. But not to our undaunted central bankers, who have chosen instead to plug this hole in their leaky theory by moving to eliminate cash as an option. If your only choice is to keep your money in a digital account in a bank and spend it with a bank card or credit card or checks, negative interest can be imposed with impunity. This is already happening in Sweden, and other countries are close behind.

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His understanding of what he’s doing is sub-zero too.

Sub-Zero Debt Increases To $2 Trillion In Eurozone On Draghi (Bloomberg)

Investor expectations of expanded monetary easing from ECB President Mario Draghi have pushed the amount of euro-area government securities that yield below zero to more than $2 trillion. Bonds across the region climbed last week when Draghi said the institution will do what’s necessary to rapidly accelerate inflation. The statement recalled the language of his 2012 pledge to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro and it solidified investor bets on further stimulus at the ECB’s Dec. 3 meeting. While 10-year bonds fell Monday, the two-year note yields of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands all dropped to records. “The ECB is doing little to counter this market speculation,” said Christoph Rieger at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. “Should they not deliver now it would clearly cause a huge backlash with regards to the euro and overall valuations.”

The anticipation of greater easing has also undercut the euro. The single currency weakened to a seven-month low on Monday after futures traders added to bearish bets. A 10 basis- point cut in the deposit rate is now fully priced in, according to futures data compiled by Bloomberg, while banks from Citigroup to Goldman Sachs, are predicting an expansion or extension of the ECB’s €1.1 trillion quantitative-easing plan. Negative-yielding securities now comprise about one-third of the $6.4 trillion Bloomberg Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index. The amount compares with $1.38 trillion before Draghi’s Oct. 22 press conference, where he pledged to re-examine stimulus at the institution’s December meeting.

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“Indeed, not only does war lead to debt, but high levels of debt lead to more war.”

Soaring Global Debt – The Reality Check in Numbers (O’Byrne)

The fact that global debt is growing throughout the world is widely acknowledged and well documented. However, when faced with the numbers, the magnitude of the problem is still quite shocking to read. An article last week in Washington’s blog gives us a stark and timely reminder of those facts. The volatile geo-political environment we are entering into, coupled with this growth-stifling debt, makes for a dangerous economic combination.

“The debt to GDP ratio for the entire world is 286%. In other words, global debt is almost 3 times the size of the world economy. Both public and private debt are exploding and – despite what mainstream economists think – 141 years of history shows that excessive private debt can cause depressions”.

These global debt figures cannot be ignored. Indeed, many erudite economic commentators have been highlighting the reckless monetary policies being pursued by governments around the world that is feeding our debt crisis.

“The underlying cause of this debt glut is the $12 trillion of free or cheap money created by central banks since 2009, combined with near-zero interest rates. When the real price of money is close to zero, people borrow and worry about the consequences later.” Paul Mason.

Similiarly, Jeremy Warner’s recent warnings about our imminent slide into fiscal crisis in “Europe is sliding towards the abyss, and the terrorists know it” reminds us of the vast expense of going to war. A decision that has very long-term repercussions economically and is a situation over which it would appear we have little or no control over, if the threat of terrorism is to be contained. “Indeed, not only does war lead to debt, but high levels of debt lead to more war.”

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Borders, protectionism, the fiancial crisis makes them inevitable. And now it gets help.

The Closing Of The Global Economy (Calhoun)

I don’t often write about global geopolitics because I think, in general, investors spend too much time worrying about things they can’t control or aren’t going to happen or wouldn’t matter much if they did. The best example is the Middle East which has been a mess my entire life and long before it for that matter. Changing your investments based on the latest threat in or from the Levant is a recipe for constant chaos. The only accurate prediction about the Middle East will always be that the various factions that have been fighting for centuries will continue to fight. And that no matter who is in charge they will have to sell oil to make ends meet. And make no mistake oil is the only economic reason we care about the region.

The recent Paris attacks, though, have me thinking more about how global geopolitics is affecting the global economy. The terrorist attacks Europe has experienced in Madrid, London, Paris and other locales are raising old barriers across the continent. Borders where goods, people and capital have crossed freely for the last few decades are now manned and monitored again. Capital largely continues to flow freely but people and goods are starting to be restricted; you can’t restrict the flow of people without also obstructing the flow of goods. For now, the people and goods continue to flow, just more slowly. One can’t help but think though that if the borders become literal barriers again it won’t be long before the metaphoric ones – protectionist policies – return as well.

If one also considers the antipathy toward Germany that permeates most of Europe and the perception – and reality to some degree – that the EU and especially the EMU are much more favorable for the Teutonic members than the Latin ones, then one begins to see how the fragile union might devolve into its former squabbling, fractured self. The feared break up of Europe and the Euro has until now been based on economic considerations but physical security would seem a larger concern at this point. If the EU can’t guarantee physical security and has already failed at providing economic security, it’s raison d’etre is….what exactly? To provide employment for feckless bureaucrats?

The desire for physical security isn’t confined to Europe obviously; the Paris attacks have amped up the political debate in the US over immigration, with Syrian refugees and physical security now replacing Latin Americans and economic security as the targets. The emergence of Donald Trump as a right wing populist to challenge the near universally populist Democrats means that both parties are now pandering to the population’s baser instincts of fear and greed. That isn’t to say that their fears aren’t real or legitimate just that the solutions offered by populist politicians are simplistic and unlikely to achieve the intended results. Indeed, history says that walling ourselves off from the world is more likely to create less security, physical and economic, rather than more.

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A curious attempt at denial by Ambrose:”..the expected revival of Chinese metal demand disappoints yet again.”

Harmless Commodity Crash Accelerates As Dollar Soars (AEP)

Copper prices have crashed to their lowest level since the Lehman Brothers crisis and industrial metals have slumped across the board as a flood of supply overwhelms the market. The violent sell-off came as the US dollar surged to a 12-year high on expectations of an interest rate rise by the US Federal Reserve next month. The closely-watched dollar index rose to within a whisker of 100, and has itself become a key force pushing down commodities on the derivatives markets. Copper prices fell below $4,500 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange for the first time since May 2009, hit by rising inventories in China and warnings from brokers in Shanghai. Prices have fallen 32pc this year, and 55pc from their peak in 2011 when China’s housing boom was on fire.

Known to traders as Dr Copper, the metal is tracked as a barometer of health for the world economy but has increasingly become a rogue indicator. China consumes 45pc of the world’s supply, distorting the picture. Beijing is deliberately winding down its “old economy” of heavy industry and break-neck construction, switching to a new growth model that is less commodity-intensive. “Dr Copper should be struck off the list,” said Julian Jessop, from Capital Economics. “He is telling us a lot about China and the massive over-supply of copper on the market, but he is not telling us anything much about the economy in the US, Europe or the rest of the world.” The CPB index in the Netherlands shows that global trade began to recover four months ago after contracting earlier in the year, and the JP Morgan global PMI index for manufacturing has risen since then to 51.3 – well above the boom-bust line.

The trigger for the latest plunge in copper prices was a decision last week by the Chilean group Codelco to slash its premium for Chinese customers by 26pc, effectively launchng a price war for global market share. “We’re trying to lower costs. We’re not cutting production,” said the group’s chief executive, Nelson Pizarro. Glencore has already said it will suspend output in Zambia and the Congo for two years until new equipment is installed, and others are doing likewise. But Codelco is the key player. Kevin Norrish, at Barclays Capital, said Codelco is in effect copying Saudi Arabia’s tactics in the oil market: using its position as the copper industry’s low-cost giant with a 10pc global share to flush out the weakest rivals. The price war comes as the expected revival of Chinese metal demand disappoints yet again.

Warehouse stocks in Shanghai have risen to their highest in five years, though LME inventories have been falling since September. Views are starkly divided over the outlook for copper, as it is for the whole nexus of commodities. Goldman Sachs says the demise of China’s “old economy” will lead to a near permanent glut through to the end of the decade. Natasha Kaneva, from JP Morgan, said it would take another one to two years to touch the bottom of the mining cycle, predicting further price falls of 12pc-28pc. “We remain bearish on all the base metals,” she said. But the International Copper Study Group is sticking to its guns, insisting that there will be a global copper shortage of 130,000 tonnes next year.

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“..everyone knows that a balance sheet with too much debt, like Ireland’s, is made more robust by less debt, not more debt. The bailouts mean the opposite.”

Ireland Is Backing Itself (David McWilliams)

On the fifth anniversary of the troika’s arrival, let’s be clear on what has actually helped us recover Six years after its inaugural outing, the atmosphere at the Global Irish Economic Forum on Friday in Dublin Castle couldn’t have been more different. Back then, there was a palpable sense of panic and many reasons to be fearful; this time, there was a sense of a steadied ship and many reasons to be optimistic. This weekend also happens to be the fifth anniversary of the bailout. That was the weekend that the IMF rocked into town and nailed their demands to the door of the Department of Finance. One of the more galling episodes in the run-up to this anniversary has been watching the IMF’s chief negotiators pointing the finger of blame at the ECB about Frankfurt forcing successive Irish governments to take on odious bank debts rather than burning bondholders.

It’s a pity they were not so vocal on the issue of odious debt at the time, and it underscores just how pointless this institution now is, in Europe at least. Let’s remember what the bailout was in reality. The bailout wasn’t so much a bailout, which at least visually conjures up the image of a friend in a canoe bailing out water to keep the canoe afloat. These European bailouts were really a response to the financial markets declining to lend to the stricken states. Once the private sector refused to lend, the public sector had to, or the economies would have imploded. This is where the IMF and the EU came in. They lent to us, and we committed to do certain things – and this public commitment, and the troika’s oversight, coaxed the markets to lend to our government again.

But everyone knows that a balance sheet with too much debt, like Ireland’s, is made more robust by less debt, not more debt. The bailouts mean the opposite. A balance sheet that was laid low by too much debt was forced to take on more debt. However, as the ECB undertook to buy all this debt if necessary, the risk premium of this debt fell – the rate of interest fell. Is a country with more debt less or more risky? Traditionally, you would say more risky, but with the ECB backstopping the government bond market, the opposite has occurred. However, in terms of what prompted the Irish recovery, while Italy, Portugal and Greece remain in the doldrums, this bailout doesn’t explain things adequately.

For example, the chief baiter of debtor countries, Finland, is now in recession, so it’s clear that the state of the public finances isn’t sufficient to explain the recovery for the man on the street. If public finances alone were sufficient, Finland would be booming. What affects the man on the street are the employment opportunities around him in the real economy. The government’s narrative is that the recovery – which is still fitful – was due to some European confidence fairy which magically spread confidence dust all over Ireland after the bailout. But the bailout only replaced private creditors with public creditors. We are still debtors, just to different creditors. I don’t buy the government’s story – not because I don’t want to, but because I can’t, as a trained economist, see how this eurozone transmission mechanism might work.

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Yes, you can rent an apartment in Athens for €200.

Greek Home Rental Costs 40% Less Since 2011 (Kath.)

The price of rentals has declined considerably since the start of the financial crisis across all categories, with house rents costing an average of 40% less than in 2011, when the drop began. This decline has all but offset the rate growth recorded over the 11-year period from 2000 to 2011, estimated at 43% on average. The drop is even bigger in Attica, where, according to data collected by estate agents, rates have fallen by 7 to 8% in the last 12 months alone, despite an increase in demand for rented property. In Athens city center, rates for apartments have dropped by 50% or more since 2011, as this mostly concerns older flats covering a surface of 60-70 square meters.

This means that a one-bedroom flat will set a renter back by €150-200 a month, depending on the area and the condition of the property. Sector professionals stress that as long as citizens’ purchasing power declines, rental rates will continue to shrink. Most landlords, they say, would rather shave their asking price to ensure they will at least collect the rent due than insist on a higher rate they may never collect. Alpha Bank, however, reports a slowdown in the decline of rental rates in the second quarter of 2015.

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Real Greece: rental costs down 40%, but 40% of Greeks still can’t afford them.

Four In 10 Greeks ‘Overburdened’ By Housing Costs (Kath.)

Four in 10 Greeks spend more than 40% of their disposable income on housing costs, more than double the European Union average, according to a new study by Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics service. On average, 11.4% of households in the 28-member EU spent more than 40% of their disposable income in 2014 on housing, a rate that that the Commission considers a housing cost “overburden.” Greece ranks first, with households spending 40.7% of their disposable income on housing, followed by Germany with 15.9%, the Netherlands with 15.4% and Romania with 14.9%. At the lower end of the scale are Malta and Cyprus, with 1.6% and 4% respectively, followed by France and Finland, both with 5.1%.

The continual reduction of household income in Greece since the crisis struck in 2010 – wages have been slashed and pensions cut several times – has been accompanied by higher electricity prices, higher value-added tax on food and more property taxes. According to figures presented over the weekend by the Panhellenic Federation of Property Owners (POMIDA), Greek households will be called upon to pay eight times more in property taxes next year than they did in 2010.

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Greece can’t catch a break: it also gets hit by the global demise of shipping.

Greek Shipping Currency Inflows Drop 53% In September (Kath.)

The drop in foreign currency inflows from shipping, which started in July following the introduction of capital controls in late June, has picked up again, with the reduction in September coming to 53%, on the back of a 46% decline in August and 60% in July, according to Bank of Greece figures. When one considers that the lion’s share of foreign currency in the sector comes from oceangoing shipping, it becomes clear that the capital controls have had a sinking effect on the foreign account balance and the cash flow of banks. In the first half of the year the inflow has posted an annual increase. The foreign currency inflow from shipping dropped to €598.2 million in September against €1.274 billion in the same month last year. In August it had amounted to €570.7 million (from €1.069 billion in August 2014) and in July it had come to €470.7 million from €1.172 billion in July 2014.

This means that the inflow declined by a total of €1.7 billion in the third quarter of the year. The decline is even greater considering that the exchange rate of the euro has fallen significantly from last year and the above amounts given in euros concern dollar payments. The decline is mainly attributed to the capital controls and the fact that a notable number of shipping firms, often under pressure from foreign shareholders, were forced to redirect their revenues from chartering and ship transactions to other countries so that they could meet their international obligations. Another factor is the fall in global dry-bulk market rates, which have reached historic lows. As most of the Greek-owned fleet comprises dry-bulk carriers – and not tankers whose rates are showing very good yields – it is estimated that the current, last quarter of the year will see a further decline in the foreign currency inflows from shipping.

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This is by design. Invariably is.

Inadequate Dirty Money Regulation ‘Leaves UK Open To Terror Funds’ (Reuters)

Britain’s “woefully inadequate” anti-money laundering system has left the country wide open to corrupt money and terrorism funds and needs radical overhaul, a leading anti-corruption group said on Monday. Each year billions of pounds of dirty money flow through Britain, but the system for identifying it is too fragmented and unaccountable to be effective, according to a report by Transparency International UK (TI-UK). “The UK supervision system which should be protecting the country from criminal and terrorist funding is not fit for purpose,” said TI-UK’s Head of Advocacy and Research Nick Maxwell. “Those vulnerabilities can be exploited by sophisticated terrorist organizations as well as the corrupt.” Penalties for professionals such as lawyers and estate agents who fail to comply with anti-money laundering regulations are also too small to act as a deterrent, the report said.

Money laundering is the process of disguising the origins of money obtained from crime and corruption by hiding it within legitimate economic activities. The government’s 2015 money laundering and terrorist financing national risk assessment said there was “evidence of terrorist financing activity in the UK” which uses the same methods as criminal money laundering and “poses a significant threat to the UK’s national security.” Money laundering is also pushing up London property prices because money commonly ends up in high-value physical assets such as real estate and art. Britain’s National Crime Agency’s economic crime director told The Times newspaper this year that London property prices were being artificially driven up by overseas criminals wanting to hide their assets.

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“..if grand personages like him had to shuffle through the security screens, belts off, shoes off, shampoo humourlessly confiscated, like the rest of us, these daft and illogical rules would have been reviewed long ago.”

Cameron Has Guns, Bombs And A Plane – And Not One Good Idea (Hitchens)

So far there is little sign of serious thought about the Paris atrocities. We are to have more spooks, though spooks failed to see it coming, and failed to see most of the other outrages coming, and the new ones will be no more clairvoyant than the old ones. France and Belgium are reaching for emergency laws, surveillance, pre-trial detention, more humiliation of innocent travellers and all the other rubbish that has never worked in the past and won’t work again. David Cameron (in a nifty bit of news management) takes the opportunity to announce that he will henceforth be spared from flying like a normal human being, in an ego-stroking Blaircraft paid for by you and me. Austerity must have been having a day off. Actually, if grand personages like him had to shuffle through the security screens, belts off, shoes off, shampoo humourlessly confiscated, like the rest of us, these daft and illogical rules would have been reviewed long ago.

British police officers dress up like Starship Troopers, something they’ve obviously been itching to do for ages and now have an excuse to do, the masked women involved looking oddly like Muslim women in niquabs. It’s not the police’s job to do this. If things are so bad that we need armed people on the streets, then we have an Army and should deploy it. If not, then spare us these theatricals, which must delight the leaders of ISIS, who long for us to panic and wreck our own societies in fear of them. Next comes the growing demand for us to bomb Syria. Well, if you want to. Only a couple of weeks ago all the establishment experts were saying that the Russian Airbus massacre was obviously the result of Vladimir Putin’s bombing of Syria. Now the same experts say it’s ridiculous to suggest that our planned bombing of Syria might bring murder to the streets of London or to a British aircraft.

Perhaps it’s relevant to this that Pierre Janaszak, a radio presenter who survived the Bataclan massacre in Paris, said he heard one fanatic in the theatre say to his victims, ‘It’s the fault of Hollande, it’s the fault of your President, he should not have intervened in Syria.’ There may be (I personally doubt it) a good case for what’s left of the RAF to drop what’s left of our bombs on Syria. It may be so good that it justifies risking a retaliation in our capital, and that we should brace ourselves for such a war. But I think those who support such bombing should accept that there might be such a connection, and explain to the British people why it is worth it. I am wholly confused by the Cameron government’s position on Syria.

It presents its desire to bomb that country as a rerun of the Parliamentary vote it lost in 2013. But in 2013, Mr Cameron wanted (wrongly, as it turned out) to bomb President Assad’s forces and installations, to help the Islamist sectarian fanatics who are fighting to overthrow the secular Assad state. This is more or less the exact opposite of what he seems to want now. Far from being a rerun, it is one of the most embarrassing diplomatic U-turns in modern British history.

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“People die this way and governments fall.”

Scale Of Osborne’s Cuts To Police, Education, Councils ‘Unprecedented’ (Mirror)

Chancellor George Osborne will this week take the axe to police, councils and welfare as he unleashes the most brutal cuts in history. He will brush aside warnings from police chiefs by pressing ahead with the reductions to their budgets when he unveils his spending review on Wednesday. Funding to local government, transport and higher education will also be slashed – and experts said the scale of the cuts was unprecedented. “We have never had anything like it,” said Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies economic think-tank. Mr Osborne is pushing on with the measures despite being told they may put services such as social care and child protection at risk – and also undermine the fight against terrorism . The Chancellor, when challenged, did not deny that police numbers could be reduced , saying: “Every public service has to make sure it is spending its money well.”

Senior police figures, including former Scotland Yard Commissioner Ian Blair, have warned that axing community support officers (PCSOs) will be a disaster because they work with Muslim youngsters who are being radicalised. Lord Blair said: “National security depends on neighbourhood security and the link between the local and the national is about to be badly damaged.” He added: “This is the most perilous terrorist threat in our history. “With their long, successful track record in counter-terrorism, police have adapted well to the changing circumstances and, at the last moment, the very best defences they have built, the neighbourhood teams and the fast and accurate response to multi-site concurrent attacks, are being degraded. “People die this way and governments fall.”

Mr Osborne revealed all departments had now signed up to the spending review which will see them have to make cuts of around 30% on average. The Chancellor is also likely to hit further education and welfare, including housing benefit and the universal credit, in his determination to have a budget surplus by the end of the decade. Council chiefs warned they would struggle to provide services such as care for the elderly, bin collections, street lighting, social work and pothole repairs. Town hall spending on key services has already fallen by up to a quarter since David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, while expenditure on roads and transport services has dropped 20% in the last five years and education budgets have fallen by 24%.

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“Osborne proudly promises a “permanent change” and “a new settlement” for the UK.“

Austeria – A Nation Robs Its Poor To Pay For The Next Big Crash (Chakrabortty)

A familiar dance begins on Wednesday, as soon as George Osborne reveals his blueprint for Britain. The analysts immediately begin poring over his plans for the next five years. They tell us how deep are the cuts in neighbourhood policing, how tight the squeeze for your local school – and the knock-on effect for the Tory leadership hopes of George and Theresa and Boris. But many will miss the backdrop forming right behind them. Britain is now halfway through a transformative decade: staggering out of a historic crash, reeling through the sharpest spending cuts since the 1920s, and being driven by David Cameron towards a smaller state than Margaret Thatcher ever managed. None of this is accidental. While much commentary still treats the Tories as merely muddling through a mess they inherited, Osborne proudly promises a “permanent change” and “a new settlement” for the UK.

The chancellor has the ambition, the power and the time – 10, perhaps 15 years in office – to do exactly that. Between 1979 and 1990 Thatcher permanently altered Britain and, going by what we already know, Osborne is on course to engineer a similar shift. I think of the country we are morphing into as Austeria. It has three defining characteristics: it is shockingly unequal, as a deliberate choice of its rulers; it looks back to the past rather than investing in its future; and it has shrunk its public services for the benefit of its distended, crisis-prone banking sector. Let’s start with the unfairness. Remember Osborne’s promise, “we’re all in it together”? He is ensuring the opposite.

Wanting to make massive cuts without rendering his party unelectable, the chancellor is deliberately targeting austerity at those sections of society where he calculates he can get away with it. That means slashing local council funding, hoping angry voters will turn on their town halls rather than Whitehall. It means running down prisons. What may be clever Tory politics is desperately unfair policy. The Centre for Welfare Reform calculates Osborne’s austerity programme has so far hit disabled Britons nine times harder than the average, while those with severe disabilities were 19 times worse off. Watch for them to be punished again on Wednesday, as the government looks to cut welfare and local government again.

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Icon.

Richard Russell, Publisher of Dow Theory Letters, Dies at 91 (Bloomberg)

Richard Russell, who shared his technical analysis with subscribers through the influential Dow Theory Letters since 1958, has died. He was 91. He died Nov. 21 at his home in La Jolla, California, his family said in a message to subscribers on the publication’s website. He had entered a hospital a week earlier and was diagnosed with blood clots in his leg and lungs “and other untreatable ailments,” his family said. He returned home under hospice care. An adherent of the investing principles of Charles Dow, founder of the Wall Street Journal, Russell published his newsletter continuously from 1958, never missing an issue in more than half a century. In his last column, published Nov. 16, Russell wrote: “I read 10 newspapers a day, but the news is getting increasingly difficult to digest down to something understandable, and the vast array of news sources becomes more and more complex. I can only imagine what the newspapers will look like in 10 years.”

Stock analyst Robert Prechter wrote in his 1997 book: “Russell has made many exceptional market calls. He recommended gold stocks in 1960, called the top of the great bull market in stocks in 1966 and announced the end of the great bear market in December 1974.” In 1969 Russell devised the Primary Trend Index, composed of eight market indicators that he never publicly divulged – his own secret recipe. When his index outperformed an 89-day moving average, it was time to buy. When it underperformed the 89-day moving average, a bear market was at hand. “The PTI is a lot smarter than I am,” Russell said. The benchmark is unrelated to the Russell 2000 and other indexes maintained by Seattle-based Russell Investments.

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How much crazier can it get? They’re lying about something or the other new every single day.

VW Admits Second Illegal Device In 85,000 Audi Engines (FT)

Audi has conceded that the engines in a further 85,000 cars from the Volkswagen group contained an illegal defeat device, raising questions of how systematic the cheating was at the German carmaker. The luxury car brand of the VW group said it estimated that correcting the engine management software used in Audi, VW and Porsche models would cost in the mid-double-digit millions of euros. It admitted that the software was in all three-litre V6 diesel engines manufactured by Audi and sold from 2009 until this year. The admission further undermines VW’s insistence that the cheating in the two-month-old emissions scandal was limited to a rogue group of engineers. The German carmaker has already admitted installing a defeat device in 11m diesel cars worldwide.

It is also facing a third emissions problem after disclosing that 800,000 cars, including some with petrol engines, had been sold with the stated carbon dioxide levels as too low and the fuel efficiency too high. Audi sent its chief executive and engineers to meet the US Environmental Protection Agency last week. Late on Monday night, it sent out a statement saying that it had failed to disclose three auxiliary emissions control devices (AECDs) to regulators. Without disclosure and subsequent approval from regulators, AECDs are not legal. Audi added: “One of them is regarded as a defeat device according to applicable US law. Specifically, this is the software for the temperature conditioning of the exhaust-gas cleaning system.” The admission causes significant embarrassment to VW, which appeared set for a confrontation with the EPA over the issue. When the EPA first disclosed in early November that it had found a defeat device in the three-litre engines, VW sent out a terse statement, saying that it would co-operate with the EPA.

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Will the tar sands ever be cleaned up? Who would pay for that?

Average House In Fort McMurray Lost $117,000, 20% Of Its Value In 1 Year (CH)

The slumping oilpatch in Alberta continues to take its toll on the Fort McMurray housing market, as the average MLS sale price of a home in that northern community plunged by more than $117,000 in October. Data obtained from the Canadian Real Estate Association indicates that the average sale price for the month of $468,199 was down 20% from $585,438 in October 2014. Sales also plunged by 41% to 85 from 144 a year ago. Year-to-date, MLS sales in Fort McMurray are down by 44.8%. In October, Lloydminster saw MLS sales dip by 54.3%, falling to 43 transactions from 94 last year while the Alberta West area experienced a decline of 52.7%, dropping to 70 from 148 a year ago.

Year-to-date MLS sales in Alberta are down 21.1% from last year. Besides Fort McMurray, the CREA statistics show the hardest hit areas in the province are Lloydminster (down 34.1%); South Central Alberta (down 31.6%) and Calgary, (down 28.9%). Calgary’s resale housing market led the country in October — in a negative way. MLS sales in the Calgary region were 1,810 for the month, down 36.4% from a year ago. The rate of decline was the highest among Canada’s major housing markets, according to a report by the Canadian Real Estate Association. In Alberta, sales fell 28.9% to 4,327 transactions. Across the country, however, MLS sales were up 0.1% to 41,653. CREA said national activity stood near the peak recorded earlier this year and reached the second highest monthly level in almost six years.

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“Abdelhamid Abaaoud? ..they’d have got him even if they just went through lists of terrorists alphabetically.”

This Is The Worst Time For Society To Go On Psychopathic Autopilot (F. Boyle)

There were a lot of tributes after the horror in Paris. It has to be said that Trafalgar Square is an odd choice of venue to show solidarity with France; presumably Waterloo was too busy. One of the most appropriate tributes was Adele dedicating Hometown Glory to Paris, just as the raids on St-Denis started. A song about south London where, 10 years ago, armed police decided to hysterically blow the face off a man just because he was a bit beige. In times of crisis, we are made to feel we should scrutinise our government’s actions less closely, when surely that’s when we should pay closest attention. There’s a feeling that after an atrocity history and context become less relevant, when surely these are actually the worst times for a society to go on psychopathic autopilot. Our attitudes are fostered by a society built on ideas of dominance, where the solution to crises are force and action, rather than reflection and compromise.

If that sounds unbearably drippy, just humour me for a second and imagine a country where the response to Paris involved an urgent debate about how to make public spaces safer and marginalised groups less vulnerable to radicalisation. Do you honestly feel safer with a debate centred around when we can turn some desert town 3,000 miles away into a sheet of glass? Of course, it’s not as if the west hasn’t learned any lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. This time round, no one’s said out loud that we’re going to win. People seem concerned to make sure that Islam gets its full share of the blame, so we get the unedifying circus of neocons invoking God as much as the killers. “Well, Isis say they’re motivated by God.” Yes, and people who have sex with their pets say they’re motivated by love, but most of us don’t really believe them. Not that I’m any friend of religion – let’s blame religion for whatever we can.

Let’s blame anyone who invokes the name of any deity just because they want to ruin our weekend, starting with TGI Friday’s. The ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, evaded detection by security services by having a name too long to fit into one tweet. How could the most stringent surveillance in the world not have picked up Abdelhamid Abaaoud before? I mean, they’d have got him even if they just went through lists of terrorists alphabetically. We’re always dealing with terror in retrospect – like stocking up on Imodium rather than reading the cooking instructions on your mini kievs. The truth is that modern governments sit at the head of a well-funded security apparatus. They are told that foreign military adventures put domestic populations at risk and they give them the thumbs up anyway.

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“..if somebody knocks on your door at three in the morning, and they’re wet, they’re bleeding, they’ve been shot at, and they’re frightened, what do you do?”

Varoufakis: Closing Borders To Muslim Refugees Only Fuels Terrorism (Guardian)

Europe must not close its borders to refugees in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has cautioned, saying rising intolerance towards Muslim refugees would only fuel further violence. Speaking on the Q&A program on Australia’s ABC, Varoufakis said he was proud of the Greek people’s response to the refugee crisis, despite the country being gripped by economic crises. “We have two [thousand], three [thousand], 5,000, 10,000 people being washed up on our shores, on the Aegean Islands, every day. In a nation, by the way, that is buffeted by a great depression, where families, on those islands in particular, are finding it very hard to put food on the table for their children at night.

“And these people in their crushing majority, I’m proud to report, opened their doors to these wretched refugees. And the thought comes to my mind very simply: if somebody knocks on your door at three in the morning, and they’re wet, they’re bleeding, they’ve been shot at, and they’re frightened, what do you do? I think there’s only one answer: you open the door, and you give them shelter, independently of the cost-benefit analysis, independently of the chance that they may harm you.” [..] Varoufakis said while Europe was struggling to cope with both the refugee crisis and Paris attacks, it was a mistake to read one as the cause of the other. “There’s no doubt that when you have a massive exodus of refugees that there may very well be a couple of insurgents that infiltrate [that population], but it’s neither here nor there.”

“Both the terrorist attacks and the refugee influx are symptoms of the same problem. But one doesn’t cause the other.“ The vast majority of the people who exploded bombs, and blew themselves up, and took AK47s to mow people down, these were people who were born in France, in Belgium. Think of the bombings in London. Britain doesn’t have free movement [over its borders] it is not part of the Schengen treaty. So the notion that we’re going to overcome this problem by erecting fences, electrifying them, and shooting people who try to scale them … the only people who benefit from that are the traffickers, because their price goes up … and Isis. They are the only beneficiaries.”

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Good point.

Average Stay Is 17 Years: Refugee Camps Are The “Cities Of Tomorrow” (Dezeen)

Governments should stop thinking about refugee camps as temporary places, says Kilian Kleinschmidt, one of the world’s leading authorities on humanitarian aid (+ interview). “These are the cities of tomorrow,” said Kleinschmidt of Europe’s rapidly expanding refugee camps. “The average stay today in a camp is 17 years. That’s a generation.” “In the Middle East, we were building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees were building a city,” he told Dezeen. Kleinschmidt said a lack of willingness to recognise that camps had become a permanent fixture around the world and a failure to provide proper infrastructure was leading to unnecessarily poor conditions and leaving residents vulnerable to “crooks”. “I think we have reached the dead end almost where the humanitarian agencies cannot cope with the crisis,” he said.

“We’re doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the second world war. Nothing has changed.” Kleinschmidt, 53, worked for 25 years for the United Nations and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in various camps and operations worldwide. He was most recently stationed in Zaatari in Jordan, the world’s second largest refugee camp – before leaving to start his own aid consultancy, Switxboard. He believes that migrants coming into Europe could help repopulate parts of Spain and Italy that have been abandoned as people gravitate increasingly towards major cities. “Many places in Europe are totally deserted because the people have moved to other places,” he said.

“You could put in a new population, set up opportunities to develop and trade and work. You could see them as special development zones which are actually used as a trigger for an otherwise impoverished neglected area.” Refugees could also stimulate the economy in Germany, which has 600,000 job vacancies and requires tens of thousands of new apartments to house workers, he said. “Germany is very interesting, because it is actually seeing this as the beginning of a big economic boost,” he explained. “Building 300,000 affordable apartments a year: the building industry is dreaming of this!” “It creates tons of jobs, even for those who are coming in now. Germany will come out of this crisis.”

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Bit of a weird compromise?!

Canada To Turn Away Single Men As Part Of Syrian Refugee Resettlement Plan (AFP)

Canada will accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away. Since the Paris attacks launched by Syria-linked jihadis, a plan by the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to fast-track the intake of 25,000 refugees by year’s end has faced growing criticism in Canada. Details of the plan will be announced Tuesday but Canada’s ambassador to Jordan confirmed that refugees from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey will be flown to Canada from Jordan starting 1 December. Speaking in Jordan on Monday, ambassador Bruno Saccomani said the operation would cost an estimated C$1.2bn (US$900m), the official Petra news agency reported.

According to Canadian public broadcaster CBC, the resettlement plan will not extend to unaccompanied men. Québec premier Philippe Couillard seemed to corroborate that report ahead of a meeting with Trudeau and Canada’s provincial leaders where the refugee plan was high on the agenda. “All these refugees are vulnerable but some are more vulnerable than others, for example women, families and also members of religious minorities who are oppressed,” he said, although he rejected the notion of “exclusion” of single men. Faisal Alazem of the Syrian Canadian Council, a nonprofit group in talks with the government to sponsor refugees, told Radio-Canada of the plans: “It’s a compromise.”

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Sweet Jesus.

Stranded Migrants Block Railway, Call Hunger Strike (Reuters)


Migrant with his mouth sewn shut at Greek/Macedonian border Nov 23, 2015 (Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski)

Moroccans, Iranians and Pakistanis on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia blocked rail traffic and demanded passage to western Europe on Monday, stranded by a policy of filtering migrants in the Balkans that has raised human rights concerns. One Iranian man, declaring a hunger strike, stripped to the waist, sewed his lips together with nylon and sat down in front of lines of Macedonian riot police. Asked by Reuters where he wanted to go, the man, a 34-year-old electrical engineer named Hamid, said: “To any free country in the world. I cannot go back. I will be hanged.” Hundreds of thousands of migrants, many of them Syrians fleeing war, have made the trek across the Balkan peninsula having arrived by boat and dinghy to Greece from Turkey, heading for the more affluent countries of northern and western Europe, mainly Germany and Sweden.

Last week, however, Slovenia, a member of Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel, declared it would only grant passage to those fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and that all others deemed “economic migrants” would be sent back. That prompted others on the route – Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia – to do the same, leaving growing numbers stranded in tents and around camp fires on Balkan borders with winter approaching. Rights groups have questioned the policy, warning asylum should be granted on merit, not on the basis of nationality.

“To classify a whole nation as economic migrants is not a principle recognized in international law,” said Rados Djurovic, director of the Belgrade-based Asylum Protection Center. “We risk violating human rights and asylum law,” he told Serbian state television.On the Macedonian-Greek border, crowds of Moroccans, Iranians and others blocked the railway line running between the two countries, halting at least one train that tried to cross, a Reuters photographer said. A group of Bangladeshis had stripped to the waist and written slogans on their chests in red paint. “Shoot us, we never go back,” read one. “Shoot us or save us,” read another.

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 November 23, 2015  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Kennedy and Johnson Dallas, Morning of November 22 1963

Commodity Slump Deepens as Dollar Gains; European Stocks Slide (Bloomberg)
Europe Warned On ‘Permanent’ Downturn Amid PMIs (CNBC)
Euro Drops To Seven-Month Low As Draghi Feeds Bears (Bloomberg)
Zinc Producers Keep Cutting Back, Yet Prices Keep Falling (Bloomberg)
Barclays Bets On Stock Boom As World Money Growth Soars (AEP)
Masters of the Finance Universe Are Worried About China (Bloomberg)
Is the Surge in Stock Buybacks Good or Evil? (WSJ)
You’re Not the Yuan That I Want (Bloomberg)
UK Deficit Could Hit £40 Billion By 2020 On Ill-Advised Cuts (Guardian)
Everything We Hold Dear Is Being Cut To The Bone. Weep For Our Country (Hutton)
Five Years Into Austerity, Britain Prepares For More Cuts (Reuters)
Save The Library, Lose The Pool: Britain’s Austere New Reality (Guardian)
Greek Disposable Income Shrinks Twice As Fast As GDP (Kath.)
Cut Oil Supply or Drop Riyal Peg? Saudis Face ‘Critical’ Choice (Bloomberg)
Oil Deal of the Year: Mexico Set for $6 Billion Hedging Windfall (Bloomberg)
London House Prices Have Nothing on Auckland (Bloomberg)
We Still Haven’t Grasped That This Is War Without Frontiers (Robert Fisk)
Yanis Varoufakis: Europe Is Being Broken Apart By Refugee Crisis (Guardian)
Life After Schengen: What a Europe With Borders Would Look Like (Bloomberg)
Greek Concerns Mount Over Refugees As Balkan Countries Restrict Entry (Guardian)
Why Syrian Refugees Are Not A Threat To America (Forbes)

Can’t believe people would still seek to ignore this. It’s China grinding to a halt.

Commodity Slump Deepens as Dollar Gains; European Stocks Slide (Bloomberg)

A slump in commodities deepened, with industrial metals and oil leading losses as the dollar extended gains. European equities retreated after the region’s equities posted their biggest weekly advance in four weeks. Crude extended its drop below $42 a barrel and copper fell to levels unseen since 2009 as comments from Federal Reserve officials about the prospect of a December rate increase bolstered the greenback. Nickel plunged 4.1% and gold declined, helping send the Bloomberg Commodity Index to a 16-year low. Russia’s ruble and the Australian dollar led commodity-producers’ currencies lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index slid, while the euro touched the weakest level in seven months against the dollar.

“This is not a really welcoming environment for risk taking,” said Tim Condon at ING in Singapore. “Liquidity is beginning to dry up as people are waiting for what happens in December with the Fed. Worries about China persist.” The greenback’s surge this year has weighed on material prices at the same time as demand slows in China, the world’s biggest commodity consumer. John Williams, president of the Fed Bank of San Francisco, said at the weekend that there was a “strong case” for a U.S. rate hike at the Fed’s last meeting of 2015. Agricultural commodities face a new headwind after Sunday’s election of Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s president, according to growers and analysts, who said the result heralds the end of punitive export taxes and may unleash an estimated $8 billion in shipments of stored crops.

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But wasn’t eurozone business activity supposed to be great?

Europe Warned On ‘Permanent’ Downturn Amid PMIs (CNBC)

The economic downturn experienced by Europe and its after-effects, such as high unemployment and labor market weakness, could become a permanent fixture in the region, according to a leading think tank. “Europe continues to face the significant challenges of tackling unemployment, underemployment and inactivity,” the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a U.K.-based left-leaning think tank, said in its latest report on Monday. “The southern European economies in particular are still combating the effects of the sovereign debt crisis – high levels of joblessness and insecure or temporary work.” Across the rest of the continent, the IPPR said that workers could be left behind due to advances in automation and global competition which “act as more long-term headwinds blowing skill supply and demand out of alignment.”

Such headwinds, the IPPR added, “threaten to consolidate some of the medium-term effects of recession into more permanent features of the economy – a prospect that would be deeply alarming.” The 19-country euro zone bloc was plunged into a deep crisis and regional recession following the 2008 financial crisis. The most acute effect of the crisis was the widespread loss of jobs as a result of industry and business cutbacks and closures. The crisis hit southern euro zone countries more than their more prosperous northern counterparts with a number of countries, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Ireland, requiring bailouts of various magnitudes.

Despite a slow economic recovery in most of the euro zone over recent years, unemployment remains a problem and is stubbornly high in several countries. While Germany has the lowest rate of unemployment, at 4.5% in September, according to Eurostat, joblessness in Greece and Spain remains high, at 25%. in Greece (in July) and 21.6% in Spain. For young people aged 16-25, the statistics are even worse. The IPPR said that policymakers needed to respond “by minimizing the long-term erosion of skills as a result of recession, and investing to reshape and re-skill the labor force for the jobs of the future.”

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Wish he would go do just that. In the Arctic.

Euro Drops To Seven-Month Low As Draghi Feeds Bears (Bloomberg)

The euro weakened to a seven-month low after futures traders added to bearish bets and ECB President Mario Draghi encouraged speculation his board will ease policy next week. Europe’s common currency dropped versus the majority of its 10 developed-market peers after Draghi said Friday the ECB will do what it must to raise inflation “as quickly as possible.” The Governing Council meets in Frankfurt on Dec. 3 for its next monetary-policy decision. Hedge funds ramped up wagers on dollar strength last week by the most since August 2014. The Australian dollar tumbled as copper and nickel prices plunged to multi-year lows. “It’s probably reasonable to think we can spend time down below $1.05 now,” for the euro, said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank in Sydney. “It looks to me like we’re building up into a fairly classic sell the rumor, buy the fact.”

The euro slid 0.2% to $1.0623 at 6:46 a.m. in London Monday. It earlier touched $1.0601, the lowest since April 15. The shared currency traded at 130.83 yen after declining 0.9% to 130.77 at the end of last week. The dollar rose 0.3% to 123.17 yen. Japanese markets are shut for a holiday. The Aussie dollar dropped 0.8% to 71.79 U.S. cents, following a two-week, 2.8% advance. Copper fell through $4,500 for the first time since 2009, while nickel dropped to the lowest level since 2003 after Chinese smelters announced plans to cut production. “The commodity washout is weighing on Aussie sentiment,” Stephen Innes at foreign- exchange broker Oanda wrote.

New Zealand’s dollar weakened 0.7% to 65.17 U.S. cents. Swaps traders increased the odds the Reserve Bank will cut its benchmark interest rate next month to 55%, from 46% a week ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “A mix of U.S. dollar strength and rising expectations of more RBNZ rate cuts” dragged the kiwi lower, said Elias Haddad, a currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. “The accumulation of unimpressive New Zealand economic data and declining dairy prices are weighing on short-term swap rates.” New Zealand’s currency will depreciate to 59 cents by the middle of next year, he said.

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Overcapacity bites.

Zinc Producers Keep Cutting Back, Yet Prices Keep Falling (Bloomberg)

Zinc producers keep on cutting back and yet prices keep on falling. After Glencore cut a third of its supply last month to combat a rout, the price rallied 10% and the gains lasted a month. When producers in China did the same on Friday, the jump was smaller and got rolled back after a day. “The benefit of previous such announcements have been fleeting, and we are not expecting this occasion to be any different,” Australia & New Zealand Banking analyst Daniel Hynes said in a note on Monday. “The market is intently focused on slowing growth in manufacturing activity in China.”

The rapid rollback of zinc’s bounce, which followed the announcement by China suppliers of output cuts for 2016, signals supply curtailments by producers probably won’t be sufficient on their own to change the course of the rout in base metals. That tallies with the view from Goldman Sachs, which said in a note this month recent output cuts aren’t large enough to rescue prices, and that will require a substantial rise in Chinese demand. In addition to zinc, producers have also announced reductions in copper and aluminum. “If you look at the track record of these vaguely worded statements, unless there is a specificity to it, they are generally not fully carried through,” Ivan Szpakowski at Citibank in Hong Kong, said by phone on Monday. “The market is very suspicious.”

A group of 10 Chinese smelters – including Zhuzhou Smelter Group, the country’s top producer – said they planned to lower refined output 500,000 tons next year, according to a joint statement. That represents about 7% of China’s production and over 3.5% of world supply, according to ANZ. Still, prices fell on Monday as base metals sank. Zhuzhou Smelter hasn’t yet completed drafting its production plan for 2016, according to Liu Huichi, the company’s securities representative. The company is still working on meeting the production target for this year, Liu said by phone on Monday.

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Ambrose loves taking “the other side”, but ignores that a soaring money supply is meaningless if there’s no-one to spend it. And that means people, not companies buying their own stock.

Barclays Bets On Stock Boom As World Money Growth Soars (AEP)

Barclays has advised clients to jump into world stock markets with both feet, citing the fastest growth in the global money supply in over thirty years and an accelerating recovery in China. Ian Scott, the bank’s global equity strategist, said the sheer force of liquidity will overwhelm the first interest rate rises by the US Federal Reserve, expected to kick off next month. Global equities rose by an average 15pc over the six months after the last three US tightening cycles began, on average, and Barclays argues that this time stocks are cheaper. The cyclically-adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) for the world’s equity markets is currently 18, compared to 25.5 at the beginning of the last rate rise episode in 2004.

This is roughly 14pc below the CAPE average since 1980, though critics say earnings have been artificially inflated by companies borrowing a rock-bottom rates to buy back their own stock. Mr Scott said the growth of global M1 money – essentially cash and checking accounts – has surged to 11pc in real terms, led by China and the eurozone. This is higher than during the dotcom boom and the pre-Lehman BRICS boom. It is likely to ignite a powerful rally in equities nine months later if past patterns are repeated, although the lags can be erratic, and the M1 data gave false signals in the mid 1990s. Barclays said American stocks are trading at a 30pc premium to the rest of the world. This gap is likely to close as emerging markets – “the epicentre of negative sentiment” – come back from the dead.

The pattern of foreign fund flows into the reviled sector has triggered a contrarian buy-signal. Everything hinges on China where real M1 money has ignited after languishing for over a year. Floor space sold is growing at 20pc and house prices have stabilized. Simon Ward from Henderson Global Investors says real M1 is now surging in China at the fastest rate since the post-Lehman credit blitz, though money data is cooling in the US Chinese fiscal spending has jumped by 36pc from a year ago and bond issuance by local governments has taken off, drawing a line under the recession earlier this year. “A growth revival is under way and will gather strength into the first half of 2016,” he said.

[..] Sceptics abound. Nobody knows for sure what will happen to the most indebted countries if the Fed embarks on a serious tightening cycle. Dollar debts in emerging markets have jumped to $3 trillion, and much higher under some estimates. Private credit in all currencies has risen from $4 trillion to $18 trillion in a decade in these countries. Research by the Bank for International Settlements suggests that rate rises by the Fed ineluctably lifts borrowing costs everywhere.

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“..Singer wrote that the world could face a more severe scenario like a “global central bank panic.”

Masters of the Finance Universe Are Worried About China (Bloomberg)

David Tepper says a yuan devaluation may be coming in China. John Burbank warns that a hard landing there could spark a global recession. Tepper, the billionaire owner of Appaloosa Management, said last week at the Robin Hood Investor’s Conference that the Chinese yuan is massively overvalued and needs to fall further. His comments follow similar forecasts from some of the biggest hedge fund managers, including Crispin Odey, founder of the $12 billion Odey Asset Management, who predicts China will devalue the yuan by at least 30%. The money managers are losing faith in China’s ability to revive its economy, which suffers from rising nonperforming loans and falling exports, after the surprise 1.9% currency devaluation in August and global market rout that followed.

The investors made their dire forecasts after shares of U.S.-traded Chinese companies, which their funds sold in the third quarter, began to rebound in October. “The downside scenario for China seems more intimidating than ever before,” billionaire Dan Loeb wrote on Oct. 30 to investors at Third Point, which manages $18 billion. “The new question is not whether but how severe the slowdown of the world’s foremost growth machine will be.” Goldman Sachs on Thursday echoed the managers’ concerns, saying the biggest risk to a rebound in emerging-market assets next year is a “significant depreciation” of the yuan. Policy makers, facing a stronger dollar and slower growth, may let the currency decline, which would ripple through emerging markets, strategists led by Kamakshya Trivedi wrote. “In our view, the fallout from such a shift is the primary risk,” the analysts said.

[..] Elliott Management’s Paul Singer also warned about global contagion from China’s decline. Singer told investors in an October letter that emerging market countries are “choking” on U.S. dollar-denominated debt that was extended due to low interest rates and monetary stimulus. He said many emerging economies, which are in recession, are “scared to death” about even a 25 basis-point increase in U.S. interest rates. While “muddling along” is still an option, Singer wrote that the world could face a more severe scenario like a “global central bank panic.” He said that policy makers will probably “double down on monetary extremism” in response to deteriorating economies in emerging markets and China.

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It’s about discounting the future as much as you can. Faustian.

Is the Surge in Stock Buybacks Good or Evil? (WSJ)

Corporate stock buybacks are climbing toward a post-financial-crisis high this year, furthering the debate about the use of hundreds of billions of dollars in company cash to enhance quarterly earnings reports. Stock repurchases boost earnings per share, even if total earnings don’t change, by reducing the number of shares. Analysts and investors typically track per-share earnings, not overall earnings. Buybacks have drawn criticism from some fund managers including Larry Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, which oversees $4.5 trillion in assets. He has said some companies invest too much in buybacks and too little in longer-term business growth. Repurchases also have become a political issue. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for more-frequent and fuller disclosure of them by the companies involved, even as some activist investors push for more buybacks as a way of returning cash to investors.

In the year’s first nine months, U.S. companies spent $516.72 billion buying their own shares, with third-quarter reports still not complete, according to Birinyi Associates. That is the highest amount for the first three quarters since the record year of 2007, the year before the financial crisis. It leaves this year on track for a post-2007 high if fourth-quarter buybacks hold up. Buybacks can have a significant impact on earnings, as was illustrated this quarter by companies including Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Pfizer and Express Scripts. Microsoft turned a decline in total earnings into a per-share gain by repurchasing a little more than 3% of its shares in the past 12 months. Its total third-quarter earnings were down 1.3% from a year earlier, but per-share earnings rose 3.1%, according to FactSet.

For Wells Fargo, a 0.6% increase in total earnings became a 2.9% gain in earnings per share after buybacks. At Pfizer, a 2% overall earnings gain became a 5.3% per-share jump. Express Scripts, a large drug-benefits manager, turned a 2.8% overall gain into a 12.4% per-share increase. Apple Inc. is by far the biggest buyback spender this year, with $30.22 billion, followed by Microsoft, Qualcomm and AIG. This year isn’t on pace to surpass 2007 in total buybacks. But Birinyi’s data show that announcements of planned future buybacks are the highest for any year’s first 10 months, more even than in 2007. “If companies execute their plans, we are looking at a record amount being deployed over the next couple of years,” said Birinyi analyst Robert Leiphart.

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“No one’s ever suggested including the loonie in the SDR.”

You’re Not the Yuan That I Want (Bloomberg)

In its ongoing quest for glory and global influence, China appears to have won a notable victory. The IMF is set to anoint the renminbi – the “people’s currency,” also known by the name of its biggest unit, the yuan – as one of the world’s reserve currencies along with the dollar, pound, euro and yen. For those who fear (or hope) that China will eventually transform the postwar economic order, this appears to be the first step toward dethroning the dollar. The IMF’s decision, however, is mere political theater. The yuan will now be included among the basket of currencies that make up its so-called Special Drawing Rights. As the IMF itself notes, “the SDR is neither a currency, nor a claim on the IMF.” Holders simply have the right to claim the equivalent value in one or more of the SDR’s component currencies. Central banks and investors won’t suddenly be required or even explicitly encouraged to use the yuan.

Indeed, all that’s changed is that it’s now clear that the IMF isn’t blocking the yuan from becoming a true global reserve currency: China is. To the contrary, the IMF appears to be doing everything it can to help China. SDR currencies are meant to be “freely usable,” which the IMF defines as “widely used to make payments for international transactions” and “widely traded in the principal exchange markets.” The yuan’s champions note that the currency has grown from being used in less than one% of international payments in September 2013 to 2.5% in October – among the top five globally. This simple metric, however, enormously overstates the yuan’s influence. Globally, it’s still barely used more than the Canadian and Australian dollars. No one’s ever suggested including the loonie in the SDR.

True, China is the world’s second-largest economy and its biggest trading nation. Yet at the same time, more than 70% of payments made in yuan still go through Hong Kong, primarily due to its strategic location as a shipping and trading hub for the mainland. All but 2% of yuan-denominated letters of credit are issued to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Taiwan to facilitate trade with China. Even in Asia, the yuan isn’t accepted as collateral for derivatives trading and similar financial transactions. Instead it’s used almost exclusively for trade in physical goods where China is one of the counterparties. Nor is the currency widely traded in financial markets. Hong Kong, the largest center of yuan deposits outside of China, holds less than 900 billion renminbi, or about $140 billion.

That’s $40 billion less than Coca-Cola’s market cap (and barely a fifth the value of Apple’s). The entirety of yuan deposits held outside of China still amounts to less than the market capitalization of the Thai stock market. This isn’t the result of prejudice against China, but deliberate policy. Take the oft-cited statistic that 2% of global reserves are already held in renminbi. Virtually all yuan reserves are held under swap agreements with the People’s Bank of China, rather than as physical currency. That means China’s central bank maintains control over the currency and its pricing and can refuse transactions if needed, as it did last week when it ordered banks to halt renminbi lending offshore. While other central banks have significant latitude to engage in onshore renminbi purchases, they face restrictions on using the currency outside China.

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As Greece and Britain show us, yes you CAN cut a society to death.

UK Deficit Could Hit £40 Billion By 2020 On Ill-Advised Cuts (Guardian)

George Osborne could be forced to borrow billions of pounds more than forecast by 2020 if he sticks with spending cuts that will damage hit economic growth, according to a report by City University. With only days to go before the chancellor’s autumn statement, the report said the Treasury has underestimated the impact of welfare and departmental spending cuts on the broader economy and especially cuts to public sector investment. Without a boost to public infrastructure, private sector businesses will limit their own investment plans, leading to lower productivity and depressed GDP growth over the next four years. By 2020 the government will be forced to report a £40bn deficit instead of the planned £10bn surplus, the report concludes, undermining Osborne’s fiscal charter, which dictates that governments borrow only in times of distress.

The study by two academics from City University comes only days before the chancellor is expected to tell parliament that he plans to achieve a budget surplus by 2020 from a mixture cuts to departmental spending, welfare and from higher tax receipts, especially income tax and national insurance. But he is already off track in the current 2015/16 year after a run of poor figures for the public finances. Last week the Office for National Statistics reported that higher government spending and lower corporation tax receipts than expected in October had sent borrowing to highest for that month since 2009. Richard Murphy, an academic at City University who has advised the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said the £50bn gap in borrowing is likely because the Treasury will repeat the same mistakes it made between 2010 and 2015, when the coalition government borrowed £160bn more than predicted.

He said the government planned to ignore a detailed study by the IMF that showed cuts to public expenditure during the recovery from a financial crash can result in lower growth, depressed tax receipts and the need for higher borrowing. The analysis of the multiplier effect from spending cuts shows that far from allowing private consumption and investment to accelerate, it remains modest at best, limiting growth and tax receipts. Murphy said: “The very low multiplier the Treasury uses assumes that cuts in government spending will stimulate growth. That’s an assumption, and not a fact. “It is one the IMF now disagree with. And the result of basing policy on that multiplier is we have more cuts than we need, lower growth in the UK economy as a result, lower earnings for most households and so lower tax revenues – which actually makes balancing the government’s books harder,” he added.

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The world view of a handful crazed rich sociopaths is ruining an entire formerly proud nation.

Everything We Hold Dear Is Being Cut To The Bone. Weep For Our Country (Hutton)

Last Thursday, my wife was readmitted to hospital nearly two years after her first admission for treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She is very ill, but the nursing, always humane and in sufficient numbers two years ago, is reduced to a heroic but hard-pressed minimum. She has been left untended for hours at a stretch, reduced to tearful desperation at her neglect. The NHS, allegedly a “protected” public service, is beginning to show the signs of five years of real spending cumulatively not matching the growth of health need. Between 2010 and 2015, health spending grew at the slowest (0.7% a year) over a five-year period since the NHS’s foundation. As the Health Foundation observed last week, continuation of these trends is impossible: health spending must rise, funded if necessary by raising the standard rate of income tax.

There will be tens of thousands of patients suffering in the same way this weekend. Yet my protest on their behalf is purposeless. It will cut no ice with either the chancellor or his vicar on earth, Nick Macpherson, permanent secretary at the Treasury. Their twin drive to reduce public spending to just over 36% of GDP in the last year of this parliament is because, as Macpherson declares more fervently than any Tory politician, the budget must be in surplus and raising tax rates is impossible. Necessarily there will be collateral damage. It is obviously regrettable that there are too few nurses on a ward, too few police, too few teachers and too little of every public service. but this is necessary to serve the greater cause of debt reduction. To reduce the stock of the public debt to below 80% of GDP and not pay a penny more in income or property tax, let alone higher taxes on pollution, sugar, petrol or alcohol, is now our collective national purpose.

Everything – from the courts to local authority swimming pools – is subordinate to that aim. Not every judgment George Osborne makes is wrong. He is right to advocate the northern powerhouse, to spend on infrastructure, to stay in the EU, radically to devolve control of public spending to city regions in return for the creation of coherent city governance and to sustain spending on aid and development. It is hard to fault raising the minimum wage or to try to spare science spending from the worst of the cuts. But the big call he is making is entirely misconceived. There is no economic or social argument to justify these arbitrary targets for spending and debt, especially when the cost of debt service, given low interest rates and the average 14-year term of our government debt, has rarely been lower over the past 300 years.

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But £12 billion more for the military.

Five Years Into Austerity, Britain Prepares For More Cuts (Reuters)

After laying off nearly half its staff over the last five years, scaling back street cleaning and relying on volunteers to work at some of its libraries, the London borough of Lewisham is getting ready for what could be much more painful spending cuts. Officials in Lewisham’s town hall, like those across the country, know they will have to shoulder much of finance minister George Osborne’s renewed push to fix Britain’s budget. Osborne is due to announce on Wednesday the details of a new spending squeeze which, according to International Monetary Fund data, ranks as the most aggressive austerity plan among the world’s rich economies between now and 2020. It is also a gamble by Osborne, a leading contender to be the next prime minister, that voters can stomach more cuts.

He rejects accusations that his insistence on a budget surplus by the end of the decade is a choice, saying Britain needs fiscal strength to fight off future shocks to the economy. As in the first five years of his austerity push – which Osborne originally hoped would wipe out the budget deficit – he plans to spare Britain’s health service, schools and foreign aid budget from his new cuts and will increase defense spending. That means that cuts for unprotected areas of government, such as local councils, will be all the deeper. Kevin Bonavia, a councilor who oversees Lewisham’s budget, said the borough had just agreed to merge computing teams with another one on the other side of London as it seeks to make more savings in its back-office operations and protect services.

But voters are likely to notice the cuts more in the years ahead than they have done so far. Rubbish bins may no longer be emptied weekly. Delivery of cooked meals could be replaced with help for people in need to do their own online shopping. Lewisham will also have to find savings in the way it provides social care for the elderly and children, which accounts for the lion’s share of its spending. “We are always trying to rationalize. But we have to do it at pace now, and when you do it at pace, you can make mistakes,” Bonavia, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said.

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You read that right: £12 billion more for the military

Save The Library, Lose The Pool: Britain’s Austere New Reality (Guardian)

On a weekday morning in Blakelaw, two miles from the heart of Newcastle, the scene inside a community centre suggests a perfect example of what David Cameron used to call the “big society”. Local women have gathered for a “coffee and conversation” session, while people nearby are cutting flyers for a residents’ association’s Christmas fair. Meanwhile, an effervescent 36-year-old councillor called David Stockdale is discussing plans to bring a key amenity into community ownership. The prime minister would presumably balk at his terminology: Stockdale proudly talks about a “socialist post office”. Since March 2013, the Blakelaw neighbourhood centre has been run as a not-for-profit local partnership, raising money and rising to the challenges presented by austerity.

When the library that extends off the foyer was threatened with closure, the partnership took over its funding. About six months after Newcastle city council cut all money for youth services, the partnership appointed a full-time youth worker. For all Stockdale’s collectivist passions, if you believe wonders can result from the enforced retreat of the state, what happens here might hint at a positive case study – but scratch the surface and it is a lot more complicated. The coffee-and-conversation women say the weekly sessions are pretty much all the area’s pensioners have left: cuts in council grants stopped the exercise classes and local history group. Doreen Jardine, chair of the residents’ association, says that in the past she had enough money from the council to organise up to seven annual coach trips for local children. She’s now down to two.

And while Stockdale extols self-organisation, he also wonders how his area has reached this point. “This is one of the most deprived communities in Newcastle,” he says. “Can you imagine what we could be doing if we didn’t have to meet the costs of running our library? We run this thing on a shoestring, with the goodwill of a lot of people. And it’s difficult.” It is my fourth journalistic visit to Newcastle in three years. The last time I was here, in November 2014, I talked to people anxious about the city’s fate, and pieced together the story of local austerity with the city’s Labour leader, Nick Forbes.

The council was in the midst of a £100m programme of cuts to be spread from 2013 to 2016. Its projections pointed to additional cuts in 2016-17 of £30m then £20m the next year – and Forbes suggested by that point the financial position would be impossible. “By 2017-18,” he told me, “our estimate is that we will have less than £7m to spend on everything the city council does, above and beyond adult and children’s social care. So it’s completely untenable.” Now, in the buildup to George Osborne’s spending review, the position seems even tougher. The projected cuts for 2017-18 have gone up by £20m, and thanks chiefly to Osborne’s failure to pay down the deficit by his original deadline, another £30m is set to follow in 2018-19.

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That sinking feeling persists.

Greek Disposable Income Shrinks Twice As Fast As GDP (Kath.)

Despite the major decline in disposable incomes, Greece remains among the most expensive countries in Europe in dozens of products and services. For instance, a kilogram of flour in Spain costs €1.03, while in Greece it costs €1.25. An iPhone 6s, with a capacity of 16 gb costs €789 in Greece against €739 in Germany, Portugal and Austria, €749 in France and €770 in Italy, all of them countries with a considerably higher per capita income than Greece.

While prices have started declining marginally in this country since 2013, disposable incomes started shrinking from 2008 by an average rate of 6.7% every year, according to figures collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): This stands nowadays at €17,448 per household, far below the OECD member-state average of €24,339 per year. That means Greece ranks only 27th among the OECD’s 36 member-states in terms of people’s disposable income, way below fellow countries of the European south, such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. In practice the disposable income in Greece appears to have shrunk in the last seven years at a rate almost twice as big as the country’s economic contraction rate.

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Cutting production is not on the table. They simply can’t.

Cut Oil Supply or Drop Riyal Peg? Saudis Face ‘Critical’ Choice (Bloomberg)

The longer oil languishes, the more pressure builds on Saudi Arabia to abandon its currency peg. Contracts used to speculate on the riyal’s exchange rate in the next 12 months climbed to a 13-year high on Thursday, before trimming the increase a day later, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Six-month agreements rose to near the highest in seven years on Friday. Saudi Arabia is pumping oil at a record level this year, leading OPEC’s effort to defend market share even as oil trades near the lowest level in six years. That’s forced the kingdom to tap savings and sell debt to make up for a plunge in revenue and defend its 30-year-old peg to the dollar. For Bank of America Corp., the country may face a choice next year: cut production to help boost prices or adjust the riyal’s rate to stem a decline in foreign reserves.

“A depeg of the Saudi riyal is our number one black-swan event for the global oil market in 2016, a highly unlikely but highly impactful risk,” BofA strategists led by Francisco Blanch in New York wrote in a Nov. 19 report. “It is a lot easier politically to implement a modest supply cut at first than allow for a full-blown currency devaluation.” One-year forward points for the riyal jumped 167.5 points to 525 on Thursday, before falling to 455 a day later. That reflects expectations for the currency to weaken about 1.2% to 3.7962 per dollar in the next 12 months. Six-month agreements rose on Friday to 152.5, near the highest level since 2008. Weak global growth and inflation as well as a strong dollar will remain a “huge” headwind for dollar-based commodity prices, BofA said. Brent crude closed last week at $44.66 per barrel, down 44% from a year earlier.

Still, Saudi Arabia’s reserves are hardly depleted. While net foreign assets fell to a near three-year low in September as the government drew down financial reserves accumulated over the past decade, they’re among the highest in the region at $646.9 billion. The country’s peg survived low oil prices in the 1990s and revaluation pressure resulting from surging prices in the late 2000s, Shaun Osborne at Scotiabank wrote last week. Pressure may also build on the Chinese yuan amid declining reserves at central banks across the world and with expected U.S. interest-rate increases, BofA said. A meltdown of the yuan may ultimately force Saudi Arabia’s hand because of the “very high sensitivity” of commodities to the currency, the bank said.

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Betting against your own resources is the only way to make money.

Oil Deal of the Year: Mexico Set for $6 Billion Hedging Windfall (Bloomberg)

Mexico is set to get a record payout of at least $6 billion from its oil hedges this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Latin American country locks in oil sales as a shield against price declines through a series of financial deals with banks including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Citigroup. For 2015, Mexico guaranteed sales at almost $30 a barrel higher than average prices over the past year. The 2015 payment, due next month, is set to surpass the record from 2009, when the Mexican government said it received $5.1 billion after prices plunged with the global financial crisis. The country’s crude has fallen by almost half over the hedging period so far this year. Crude sales historically cover about a third of the government budget.

“The windfall is huge,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd., a London-based consulting company. “This gives Mexico breathing space.” The hedge, which runs from Dec. 1 to Nov. 30, covered 228 million barrels at $76.40 each for the Mexican oil basket, according to government documents and statements. With less than two weeks to the end of the program, the basket has averaged $46.61 a barrel over the period. The difference would result in a payment of around $6.8 billion, not including fees. The final figure could vary from the Bloomberg estimate as some details of the hedge aren’t public and oil prices will change over the next two weeks. The Mexican oil basket fell on Nov. 18 to $33.28 a barrel – its lowest since December 2008.

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“People are sick of seeing these people in the paper who made a million after just mowing the lawn three times,” said Wetzell, the realtor in Devonport.”

London House Prices Have Nothing on Auckland (Bloomberg)

Even with its mold-streaked bathroom and kitchen without a sink, the duplex in bayside Auckland attracted a frenzied bidding war. Now it’s one of the city’s newest million-dollar government-built houses. The two-bedroom, brick cottage on Kerr Street on the city’s inner north shore fetched NZ$1.04 million ($685,000) at an auction in September, netting the vendor, New Zealand’s government, double a valuation used for taxes. Long symbols of economic disadvantage, homes built by the state last century for low-income tenants are on a tear, thanks to their typically generous land sizes and proximity to the city.

The changing fortunes of these modest dwellings — loved and derided by New Zealanders for their functionality over style — reflect a fervor that’s spurred Auckland’s biggest property boom in two decades. The average house price in New Zealand’s largest city is now higher than London’s. “It’s like the supermarket before it closes on Christmas Day — everyone thinks they’d better get in or they’ll miss out,” said Carol Wetzell, a realtor at Barfoot & Thompson in Devonport, the agency that sold the 82-year-old Kerr Street home. State homes, particularly those built from local timber in a wave of government-led construction in the 1940s, are regarded as iconic — products of a time when the government was determined to ensure no one lived in squalor.

Prime Minister John Key was raised in a state house in Christchurch by his widowed immigrant mother, and the Auckland municipal government plans to create a NZ$1.5 million sculpture of one on the city’s waterfront. Now, with house prices up 24% in Auckland in the past year alone, the government can count more than 650 state homes, or “staties,” worth at least NZ$1 million in its Auckland property portfolio, according to data obtained by Bloomberg News via a freedom of information request. Among the most valuable listed by property researcher CoreLogic: a two-bedroom home in the leafy, inner-city suburb of Westmere with a rotting clapboard facade. With the prospect of sea views if renovated, plus space for a tennis court and swimming pool, it’s valued at NZ$2.2 million.

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Blowback for the west’s handling of the Middle East in the past 150 years.

We Still Haven’t Grasped That This Is War Without Frontiers (Robert Fisk)

[..] Isil’s realisation that frontiers were essentially defenceless in the modern age coincided with the popular Arab disillusion with their own invented nations. Most of the millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees who have flooded into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan and then north into Europe do not intend to return- ever – to states that have failed them as surely as they no longer – in the minds of the refugees – exist. These are not “failed states” so much as imaginary nations that no longer have any purpose. I only began to understand this when, back in July, covering the Greek economic crisis, I travelled to the Greek-Macedonian border with Médecins Sans Frontières. In the fields along the Macedonian border were thousands of Syrians and Afghans.

They were coming in their hundreds through the cornfields, an army of tramping paupers who might have been fleeing the Hundred Years War, women with their feet burned by exploded gas cookers, men with bruises over their bodies from the blows of frontier guards. Two of them I even knew, brothers from Aleppo whom I had met two years earlier in Syria. And when they spoke, I suddenly realised they were talking of Syria in the past tense. They talked about “back there” and “what was home”. They didn’t believe in Syria any more. They didn’t believe in frontiers. Far more important for the West, they clearly didn’t believe in our frontiers either.

They just walked across European frontiers with the same indifference as they crossed from Syria to Turkey or Lebanon. The creators of the Middle East’s borders found that their own historically created national borders also had no meaning to these people. They wanted to go to Germany or Sweden and intended to walk there, however many policemen were sent to beat them or smother them with tear gas in a vain attempt to guard the national sovereignty of the frontiers of the EU. The West’s own shock – indeed, our indignation – that our own precious borders were not respected by these largely Muslim armies of the poor was in sharp contrast to our own blithe non-observance of Arab frontiers.

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No, Europe is being broken apart by the EU.

Yanis Varoufakis: Europe Is Being Broken Apart By Refugee Crisis (Guardian)

Europe’s stumbling response to the refugee crisis is the result of the divisions caused by the six-year monetary crisis which has fragmented the continent and turned nations against each other, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has told the Guardian. With thousands of migrants travelling to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and south Asia, Varoufakis said the future of the European Union was threatened by the worst such crisis since 1945. European leaders have agreed a plan to share 120,000 refugees through a quota system, but countries on the Balkan route have begun refusing people of certain nationalities as part of a backlash against migrants in the wake of the Paris attacks. The issue has become symbolic of Europe’s inability to act together.

Countries such as Britain were gripped by “moral panic” at the sight of refugees camped out at Calais, Varoufakis said, while countries such as Hungary had erected razor-wire fences to prevent migrants getting in. “Take a glance at events in Europe over the last 10-15 years ever since monetary union. The project has failed spectacularly,” said Varoufakis, who quit his job in July after failing to win the deal on debt relief that he believed was necessary for the Greek economy to turn the corner. “Europeans are a people divided by a common currency. The euro crisis has fragmented Europe, turning Greeks against Germans, Irish against Spanish etc. “It makes it hard for the EU to function as a political entity, as a unified entity. The centrifugal force of monetary union has made it harder to deal with the refugee crisis. In a sense, it is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.”

Varoufakis, speaking during a short speaking tour of Australia, admitted that he did not have the solution to the refugee crisis. “I don’t have the answer. The numbers of people are very large. But if someone knocks on my door at three in the morning, scared, hungry and having been shot at, as a human it is my moral duty to let them in and give them a drink and feed them. And then ask questions later. Anything else is an affront to European civilisation. “From a European perspective, we have a lot to answer for. Countries such as Iraq and Syria are creations of western imperialism and the cynicism of the west’s treatment of the region in the past has caused a backlash. “The invasion of Iraq was a great example of the inanity of the west. Syria and Iraq were very fragile states but by creating the rupture, it propelled a shockwave.”

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Back to the future.

Life After Schengen: What a Europe With Borders Would Look Like (Bloomberg)

Continental Europeans have gone so long – two decades – without internal border controls that the younger generation doesn’t know what life is like with them. For a glimpse of the past, and the fortress mentality setting in after the Paris terrorist attacks, look no further than France’s frontier with Luxembourg. Five days after the Paris murder spree, the highway into Luxembourg resembled a truck parking lot, with a two-hour wait as the police stopped and, occasionally, searched. “What a pain in the neck,” said Alban Zammit, 43, a shaven-headed French truck driver who travels back and forth across the border with cargoes ranging from batteries to sacks of sugar. “Is it just to give people the impression of increased security?”

To grasp the economic toll in the time-is-money society, imagine commuters and truckers lining up for passport checks every morning to take the George Washington Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan. Rush hour is slow enough as it is. Luxembourg is central to the border-free story. The Grand Duchy is at the heart of Europe, and every day its population of 550,000 swells by 157,000 commuters taking the train or bus, or driving or carpooling in from bedroom communities in France, Germany and Belgium. Schengen, a Luxembourg town just across the Moselle river from where Germany meets France, was the site of the signing of the open-borders treaty in 1985. Border controls were fully abolished in 1995, initially between seven countries.

Now passport-free travel is the norm between 26 European countries, with the island nations of Britain and Ireland as the notable exceptions. Some 400 million people live in the zone that makes travel within Europe like travel between American states, with only signs like “Bienvenue en France” to denote a change of country. The European Commission guesstimates that there are 1.25 billion cross-border journeys annually, but the unsupervised nature of the system makes the true number unknowable. Incantations such as “Schengen is the greatest achievement of European integration” – intoned by the European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, on Wednesday – are now coupled with the fear that the system will be rolled back, and in the worst case abolished.

Before the Paris attacks, five countries had temporarily reimposed passport controls to cope with the unprecedented wave of refugees from the Middle East. France followed suit as the Europe-wide manhunt got under way for the Paris culprits. Brief suspensions are nothing new, and are foreseen during security scares and for countries staging big events like the Group of Seven summit in southern Germany in June or the European soccer championship in Poland in 2012. But never before has there been so much pressure for a wholesale tightening of the system.

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Wonder what Christmas they will have,

Greek Concerns Mount Over Refugees As Balkan Countries Restrict Entry (Guardian)

Concerns are mounting in Greece that the country could have to deal with thousands of trapped migrants and refugees, after border crossings to Balkans countries to the north were abruptly closed. Macedonia’s decision to prohibit entry to anyone not perceived to be from wartorn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq has ignited concern that the EU’s weakest member may be left picking up the pieces. “The nightmare scenario has started to develop where Greece is turned from a transit country to a holding country due to the domino effect of European nations closing their borders,” said Dimitris Christopoulos, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights. “There is no infrastructure in place to handle people being stuck here,” he told the Guardian.

An estimated 3,600 Europe-bound migrants were stranded on the Greek side of the frontier on Sunday. “More and more are arriving all the time,” said Luca Guanziroli, field officer with the United Nations refugee agency in the border village of Idomeni. “There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of tension.” Labouring under its worst crisis in modern times, debt-stricken Athens is ill-placed to deal with any emergency that might put more burden on a fragile state apparatus. As spontaneous protests erupted at the weekend, the government dispatched its junior interior minister for migration, Yiannis Mouzalas, to Idomeni to hold talks with local officials. One said: “We are very worried. We can hardly cope, and that’s just waving them [refugees] through.”

Those affected by the ban – mainly Iranians, north Africans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis – demonstrated within spitting distance of Macedonian border guards on Saturday, shouting “we are not terrorists” and “we are not going back”. The UNHCR said it was wrong to profile people on the basis of nationality. “You cannot assume that they are all economic migrants,” said Guanziroli. “You cannot assume that a lot of them aren’t persecuted in their own countries.” Macedonia is not the only state to tighten border controls. In the wake of the Paris attacks, many nations along Europe’s refugee corridor – in the western Balkans and further north – have also restricted access to those not thought to be fleeing war. “This business of placing restrictions and erecting fences to keep terrorists out when terrorists are already in their countries makes no sense whatsoever,” said Ketty Kehayiou, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Athens. “Profiling by nationality defies every convention.”

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“..some of the attackers were French citizens, so they could have come to New York without needing a visa.”

Why Syrian Refugees Are Not A Threat To America (Forbes)

The days following the Paris attacks have seen a backlash against Syrian refugees. The governors of 31 states have refused to accept Syrian refugees, citing security fears. But the numbers don’t back them up. Here are a few powerful statistics. Only 2% of Syrian refugees admitted to America are males of military age. 50% are children, and 25% are above the age of 65, according to the the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. There are very few Syrian refugees in the United States. Since Oct. 1 2012, a total of 2,128 of the world’s four million Syrian refugees have been resettled across the United States, with 4,900 more in the pipeline. That’s hardly the unmanageable torrent some Republicans are fearfully describing. Six of the states that are refusing to accept refugees have not had a single refugee settle there since 2012.

For comparison, the U.S. State Department issues visas to tens of thousands of tourists and students each year. They go through some security checks, but they avoid the stringent refugee screening process. It takes at least four years for refugees to be approved to enter the U.S.. The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) puts refugees through its own two-year screening process before referring them to the U.S.. The American screening process takes about another two years as well. Lavinia Limon, the chief executive officer of USCRI points out that that’s a long time for undercover terrorists to wait. ”It seems to me that terror networks are better funded than to keep someone in a refugee camp for four years to hope that they’ll be the half of 1% that will get to come in,” she said.

“That’s not very efficient!” She pointed out that some of the attackers were French citizens, so they could have come to New York without needing a visa. Once they get that UNHCR referral, refugees are vetted by a high number of American agencies. Lee Williams of USCRI names a few. “We know they go through the CIA, the FBI, the national counter-terrorism database, and the Department of Defense,” he said. Then they’re vetted by “agencies with acronyms that none of us know about,” he added, describing the process as a “black box.” It works, for the most part.

Since 9/11 just three refugees out of the 784,000 admitted have been arrested on terrorism charges. Two weren’t planning an attack on American soil, and the plans of the third were “barely credible,” according to the Migration Policy Institute. None of the three were Syrian. Once the refugees get to America, they’re placed in one of 300 resettlement sites by one of nine resettlement agencies. The goal of these agencies is to get the refugees to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible, Simon said. 85 percent of family groups are self-sufficient four months after they arrive.

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Jan 292015
 
 January 29, 2015  Posted by at 11:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Unknown Crack salesmen ‘Going East’ on streamliner City of San Francisco 1936

What The Oldest Stock Market Index Is Telling Us (MarketWatch)
I Am So Bearish, I Am Growing Fur! (MarketWatch)
The Euro Is Crashing Below Parity And Will Get Cheaper Still (MarketWatch)
Goldman Cuts Outlook For Whole Commodity Sector (CNBC)
Three Myths About Greece’s Enormous Debt Mountain (Telegraph)
Investors Have Woken Up To Greece’s Nuclear Risk (AEP)
Tsipras Aims to Avert Catastrophe But Greek Markets Sink Further (Bloomberg)
Greece Wants a Debt Break. What About Its Poorer Neighbors? (Bloomberg)
Investors Turn On Tsipras’s Campaign to End Austerity in Greece (Bloomberg)
Greek Bank Stocks And Deposits Hit By Default Fears (CNBC)
Bank Of England Governor Attacks Eurozone Austerity (Guardian)
The Really Scary Thing About Europe’s QE Plan (CNBC)
Federal Reserve Paves Way For Earlier-Than-Expected Rate Hike (Guardian)
Jeffrey Gundlach: Fed Is on the Brink of Making a Big Mistake (Bloomberg)
‘Two Percent Inflation’ and The Fed’s Current Mandate (Ron Paul)
Who Doubts Yellen’s Policies? Summers for One. Investors too (Bloomberg)
China Regulator To Inspect Stock Margin Trading At 46 Firms (Reuters)
Kern County Declares Fiscal Emergency Amid Plunging Oil Prices (LA Times)
Shell Cuts $15 Billion of Spending as Profit Misses Expectations (Bloomberg)

“If you want to know whether lower oil prices are benefitting the economy, take a look at the Dow Jones Transportation Average. The picture isn’t pretty.”

What The Oldest Stock Market Index Is Telling Us (MarketWatch)

If you want to know whether lower oil prices are benefitting the economy, take a look at the Dow Jones Transportation Average. The picture isn’t pretty. Consider what’s happened over the five weeks since I last devoted a column to the Dow Transports, the oldest stock market index in widespread use today. (The Dow Industrials are the second-oldest.) Since then, oil prices have dropped 20%. If cheaper oil were a net positive for the economy, one of the first places you’d expect to see it show up is the transportation sector. Yet it hasn’t: Over this same five-week period, the Dow Transports have fallen nearly 2%. The Transports’ surprisingly poor performance is worrisome for at least two reasons. The first is that the Transports are a leading indicator of economic downturns.

The transportation sector’s track record as a leading indicator was documented several years ago by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics in the U.S. Department of Transportation, titled “The Freight Transportation Services Index as a Leading Economic Indicator.” The study found that the department’s index over the past three decades “led slowdowns in the economy by an average of 4-5 months.” Unfortunately, we don’t know where the Freight Transportation Services index currently stands, since it is reported with a significant time lag. The latest data, for example, are for November. But it is significantly correlated with the Dow Jones Transportation Average, so that average’s weakness is definitely worrying.

The other reason the Transports’ weakness is ominous: It is one of the two stock market averages that are the focus of the Dow Theory, the oldest stock market timing system in widespread use today. The other average, of course, is the Dow Industrials. To be sure, not all Dow Theorists agree on the hurdles over which the two Dow averages must jump before the Dow Theory would issue a “sell” signal. But suffice it to say that the further they retreat from their highs, the further the market gets from confirming that the bull market is still alive — and the closer it gets to signaling that a bear market has begun. As of Tuesday’s close of trading, the Dow Industrials were 4% below its all-time high, and the Transports were 4.1% below.

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“This condition has happened two other times, in March 2000 and December 2007. In each of the following years, the market lost more than 30%.”

I Am So Bearish, I Am Growing Fur! (MarketWatch)

The recent bubble that burst in the oil market has been the talk around the world. What would people say if the stock market fell 40% in 2015? The U.S. market’s foundation is crumbling, according to my calculations — just as it did in 2000 and in 2008. My proprietary daily indicator, called The Cook Cumulative Tick indicator, or CCT, measures several internal market components, the strongest of which is the duration of buying versus the duration of selling. A healthy bull market sees mostly buying, indicated by the NYSE tick. But when the duration of the plus-column NYSE tick is less than the duration of the minus tick, this suggests weakening buying volume for stocks. A second component of the CCT focuses on the NYSE “big block” buying and selling.

A bullish market has numerous big blocks of buying. A print on the NYSE tick in excess of plus-1000 signifies fund buying by numerous entities, which accompanies a healthy bull market. Nowadays the big institutional money has dried up. Market action in both December 2014 and January 2015 have given a short-term sell signal. I believe the correct way to gauge a market condition is by measuring the strength or weakness of a rally. The S&P 500 futures registered a triple-top in the range between 2,088 and 2,089, on December 26th, December 29th, and December 30, 2014 respectively. The resulting pullback took the index to the 1,970 price area. The gauge of measurement following the lows of 1,970 is the rally strength generated in the rally phase, which carried prices to 2,062.

This last rally covered approximately 90 S&P futures points. A rally of this magnitude under normal market conditions would record a net Daily CCT reading of plus-9.0. This means that there would be a recorded reading of 9 more incidences of plus-1,000 NYSE tick readings than minus-1,000 tick readings. Yet the actual readings during this period registered a minus CCT reading, not a plus. This condition has happened two other times, in March 2000 and December 2007. In each of the following years, the market lost more than 30%. I am so bearish, I am growing fur!

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“There is no way of fixing this mess without a lot of saber-rattling on both sides. The real issue is not going to be the Greek debt burden. The payment terms have already been extended, and the interest payments reduced, so that the annual payments are hardly onerous. ”

The Euro Is Crashing Below Parity And Will Get Cheaper Still (MarketWatch)

Now the fun part begins. After months of speculation, the radical antiausterity party Syriza has now taken power in Athens. Its platform of staying within the euro while overthrowing the conditions of membership is going to test the leadership of the European Union to the limit. The euro has already plunged to a multi-year low against the dollar, partly on account of the potential for chaos that the election result has unleashed But it is about to go a lot lower still. Why? Because there will be a tense game of brinkmanship between Brussels and Athens before a compromise is worked out. Because Syriza’s victory will encourage other antiausterity parties, especially in Spain. And because the ECB will throw more quantitative easing at the problem.

The euro will crash through parity with the dollar before the end of the year — and when it does, eurozone assets, and equities in particular, will be a bargain for foreign investors. The mandate secured by the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was as decisive as it could be in the circumstance. He soundly beat the moderate center-right incumbent, and will now govern in coalition with a small far-right party that is even more determined in its opposition to the austerity package Greece agreed to in return for a bailout. Over the next few weeks, he will attempt to renegotiate the terms of that bailout, postponing or re-scheduling the country’s debt, and freeing up space for the government to increase wages and welfare benefits, and, it hopes, start to lift the country out of the most savage recession any country has experienced since the 1930s.

The market took that – perhaps surprisingly – in its stride. That may have been because the result was so widely expected. Greek bond yields shot up, but in the rest of the peripheral eurozone states, they barely moved. The euro itself hardly showed any reaction, and equities traded as if it was a normal day. Over the next three months, however, the euro is going to take a big hit. Here are the three reasons why. First, there will be a game of chicken between Brussels, Berlin and Athens. There is no way of fixing this mess without a lot of saber-rattling on both sides. The real issue is not going to be the Greek debt burden. The payment terms have already been extended, and the interest payments reduced, so that the annual payments are hardly onerous.

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“Despite the large declines in commodity prices, we see risks as still skewed to the downside over the near-term. Lower oil prices are also driving cost deflation across the broader commodity complex..”

Goldman Cuts Outlook For Whole Commodity Sector (CNBC)

After countless oil price downgrades, analysts at Goldman Sachs have cut their outlook for the commodity sector as a whole. Goldman downgraded commodities on Wednesday—including energy, metals, agriculture and livestock—to “underweight” from “neutral” on a 3-month basis. “Despite the large declines in commodity prices, we see risks as still skewed to the downside over the near-term. Lower oil prices are also driving cost deflation across the broader commodity complex,” Goldman strategists led by Christian Mueller-Glissmann said in a research note. The strategists forecast WTI crude oil prices would remain at around $40 per barrel for most of the first half of the year, which would “slow supply growth, keep further capital investment in U.S. shale sidelined, and “We think the oil market is experiencing a marginal cost re-basement,” they said.

Mueller-Glissmann and colleagues forecast that “balance” would return to global oil markets by 2016 and they upgraded their 12-month view of the commodity sector to “overweight” from “neutral”. “By the end of 2015, we see inventories closer to a neutral level and prices rising to the marginal cost of production, which we estimate to be US$65 for WTI and US$70 for Brent. However, the timing of normalizing inventories and prices remains highly uncertain, in part due to ongoing cost deflation in shale,” they said. Barclays also revised down its forecasts for oil prices on Wednesday, in its second substantial revision in recent months. The bank now forecasts Brent and WTI will average $44 and $42 respectively over 2015. Less than two months ago, Barclays’ forecasts were $93 and $85 respectively.

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Mehreen Khan reveals some interesting points. Things are not what they seem.

Three Myths About Greece’s Enormous Debt Mountain (Telegraph)

€317bn. Over 175pc of national output. That’s the enormous debt mountain that faces the new Greek government. It is the issue over which the country is set to clash with other countries in the eurozone. As it stands, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio is the highest in the currency bloc. It has been steadily rising as the country has undergone painful austerity and experienced a severe contraction in economic output. The new far-left/right-wing coalition is now demanding a write-off of up to 50pc of its liabilities. The government argues that this is the only way Greece can remain in the single currency and prosper.

According to the newly appointed finance minister, who first coined the term “fiscal waterboarding” to describe Greece’s plight, the EU has loaded “the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders – the Greek taxpayer”. So far, the rest of the eurozone is adamant that it will not meet demands for debt forgiveness. And yet, the value of Greece’s debt mountain has been called a meaningless “accounting fiction” by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. So what does Greece’s €317bn debt really mean for the country and its creditors? And can it ever be paid back?

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“A freshly elected government cannot allow itself to be intimidated by threats of Armageddon..”

Investors Have Woken Up To Greece’s Nuclear Risk (AEP)

Markets have woken up to Greek nuclear risk. Bank stocks in Athens have crashed 44pc since Alexis Tsipras swept into power this week with a mandate to defy the European power structure. Contrary to expectations, Mr Tsipras has not resiled from a long list of campaign pledges that breach the terms of Greece’s EU-IMF Troika Memorandum and therefore put the country on a collision course with Brussels and Berlin. He told his cabinet he is willing to negotiate on demands for debt relief but will not abandon core promises. “We will not seek a catastrophic solution, but neither will we consent to a policy of submission,” he said. If anything, he is upping the ante, going into coalition with a nationalist party even more hostile to the Troika, clearly gambling that Germany and the creditor powers will not let monetary union break apart at this late stage having already committed €245bn (£183bn), for to do so would shatter the illusion that the eurozone crisis has been solved.

“We will immediately stop any privatisation,” said Panagiotis Lafazanis, leader of the Marxist Left Platform, the biggest bloc in the Syriza pantheon. Plans to sell the PPT power utility and the Piraeus Port have been halted. The minimum wage will be raised from €500 to €751 a month as a first order business, an explicit rejection of Troika austerity terms. We are witnessing a revolt. Never before have the EMU elites had to face such defiance on every front, and they have yet to experience the lacerating tongue of Yanis Varoufakis, a relentless critic of their 1930s ideology of debt-deflation and “fiscal waterboarding”. Mr Varoufakis told me before becoming finance minister that Syriza will not capitulate even if the European Central Bank threatens to cut off €54bn of liquidity for the Greek banking system, a move that would force Greece to nationalise the banks, impose capital controls, and reintroduce the drachma within days.

“A freshly elected government cannot allow itself to be intimidated by threats of Armageddon,” he said. His first act in office today was to announce that 600 cleaners in the finance ministry will regain their jobs, paid for by cutting financial advisers. Whether you are “staunchly” Left or “unashamedly” Right – as the BBC characterises opinion – it is hard not to feel a welling sympathy for this revolt. If it takes a neo-Marxist like Alexis Tsipras to confront the elemental folly of EMU crisis strategy, so be it. The suggestion that Syriza is retreating from “reform” is laughable. There has been no reform. The two dynastic parties in charge of Greece for three decades have treated the state as a patronage machine and seem unable to shake the habit. At least Syriza are outsiders.

Mr Varoufakis has vowed to smash the “rent-seeking” kleptocracy that have turned state procurement into an enrichment scam. “We will destroy the bases which they built for decade after decade,” he said. What Syriza is really retreating from is a scorched-earth austerity regime that has cut investment by 63.5pc, caused a 26pc fall in GDP, pushed the youth jobless rate to 62pc, and sent debt spiralling up to 177pc of GDP. We have witnessed “The Rape of Greece”, to borrow the title of a new book by Nadia Valavani, suddenly catapulted into power as deputy finance minister. IMF officials privately agree. The fund confesses that the Troika fatally under-estimated the violence of the fiscal multiplier. It is true that Athens lied about the true state of public finances in the years leading up to the crisis, but this is a distraction in macro-economic terms.

The flood of French, German, Dutch, and British capital into Greece was so vast that the drama would have unfolded in much the same way even if Greek politicians had been angels. The greater lie was the silent complicity of the whole eurozone in allowing a deformed monetary union to incubate disaster. What has happened to Greece since then is a moral scandal. Leaked documents from the IMF board confirm the country needed debt relief at the outset. This was blocked by the EU for fear it would set off contagion at a time when the eurozone did not have a lender-of-last resort. Greece was sacrificed to buy time for the euro.

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“Talks won’t be easy, they never are in Europe..”

Tsipras Aims to Avert Catastrophe But Greek Markets Sink Further (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance chief pledged to avoid a standoff with creditors as stock and bond markets tumbled on the prospect of a prolonged fight with fellow European governments. “There will neither be a catastrophic clash, nor will continued kowtowing be accepted,” Tsipras, 40, said on Wednesday, in comments broadcast live. The new Greek leadership “will not be forgiven” if it betrays its pre-election pledges to renegotiate the terms of the country’s bailout, he said. The new premier convened his cabinet that includes a foreign minister who raised questions over European Union sanctions against Russia and a finance minister who has called Greece’s bailout a trap.

Germany warned the Mediterranean nation against abandoning prior agreements on aid, after analysts said that setting Greece on a collision course with its European peers might lead to its exit from the euro region. The Syriza-led government came to power on a platform of writing down Greek public debt, raising wages and halting spending cuts while remaining in the euro. “Talks won’t be easy, they never are in Europe,” Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, 53, said as he took over from his predecessor. “There will be no duel, no threats, or an issue of who blinks first.” Greek stocks and bonds slumped for a third day, after new ministers said they will cease the sale of some state assets and increase the minimum wage. Yields on three-year bonds rose 2.66 percentage points to 16.69%.

The benchmark Athens General Index decreased 9.2% to its lowest level since 2012, led by a collapse in the value of banks. Yields on 10-year bonds rose back above 10% after being as low as 5.7% in September. In mid 2012, they exceeded 30%, the highest since the country’s debt restructuring, the largest in history. Statements of newly appointed ministers “imply confrontation and tense negotiations in the near future,” Vangelis Karanikas, head of research at Athens-based Euroxx Securities, wrote in a note to clients. The country has about €330 billion of outstanding borrowings. It has to refinance Treasury bills on Feb. 6 totaling €1 billion and another €1.4 billion on Feb. 13, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The government typically would do that mostly through local banks.

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“The country has suffered economic ruin on a scale usually seen only in times of war. The crisis has shorn away nearly a quarter of Greece’s GDP. The unemployment rate is 26%, higher than that of the United States at the height of the Great Depression.”

Greece Wants a Debt Break. What About Its Poorer Neighbors? (Bloomberg)

Alexis Tsipras’s first official act as Greece’s new prime minister was to lay a small bouquet of roses at the site of a World War II memorial. It marks the execution by firing squad of 200 mostly communist activists by Nazi soldiers. The move was highly symbolic, and not only because Tsipras heads a party named Syriza, an acronym for The Coalition of the Radical Left. The 40-year-old prime minister’s rise to power has put him on a collision course with Germany, as he struggles to deliver on his campaign promises to renegotiate his country’s debt and overturn the painful austerity demanded by Greece’s creditors. But if Tsipras is to bring home the deal he feels Greece deserves, he will have to more than face down the Germans. He’ll have to win over skeptical taxpayer in other euro zone countries, reassure European leaders worried about insurgent challenges of their own and make the case that – in a Europe still reeling from the 2008 global financial crisis – Greece is uniquely deserving of assistance.

Even after seven year of devastating recession, Greece remains much richer than most of its neighbors. Its gross domestic product is $22,000 a person. Albania’s is $4,000, Macedonia’s $5,000. In Bulgaria – like Greece, a member of the European Union – it’s $8,000. “It’s very difficult to make the point to a worker in Bulgaria that they should give part of their taxes to help people in Greece who are richer than they are,” said Ruslan Stefanov, director of the economic program at the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia. “If you are spending money like that in Greece, you should spend money in Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries. This is an argument that is being made by politicians here.”

There’s no denying that the situation in Greece is heart-wrenching. The country has suffered economic ruin on a scale usually seen only in times of war. The crisis has shorn away nearly a quarter of Greece’s GDP. The unemployment rate is 26%, higher than that of the United States at the height of the Great Depression. Among the young, it has topped 50%. Families have been plunged into poverty. The private sector has been gutted. The public sector is in shambles. And yet the alternative to austerity is money, and the money has to come from somewhere. Just as Tsipras would suffer if he tried to return empty-handed to the Greeks who elected him, so would politicians in countries like Germany if they tried to sell debt forgiveness to national parliaments and voters.

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“Hardest hit were banks, falling as much as 30% on Wednesday because of concern about their supply of funds.”

Investors Turn On Tsipras’s Campaign to End Austerity in Greece (Bloomberg)

Investors gave their verdict on the new Greek government, selling the country’s stocks and bonds in a signal to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the price he will pay for sticking to promises to end austerity. Hardest hit were banks, falling as much as 30% on Wednesday because of concern about their supply of funds. In the run-up to Sunday’s election, Greek deposit outflows accelerated last week to levels not seen even at the peak of the debt crisis, totaling €11 billion ($12.5 billion), according to a person familiar with the matter. Tsipras’s plans to boost the minimum wage and halt the sale of state assets helped win him a decisive endorsement from voters.

He then formed a coalition with a party that also wants to ditch Greece’s bailout terms and appointed a finance minister who has called them a trap, alarming investors that he’s set for a protracted clash with fellow European leaders. “The market was expecting most of it was going to be political posturing ahead of the elections,” said Gianluca Ziglio, executive director of fixed-income research at Sunrise Brokers in London. Instead, “there’s walk after the talk, and a good deal of it,” he said. Standard & Poor’s said it may cut Greece’s credit rating, already five levels below investment grade, should the new government fail to agree with official creditors on further financial support for the country. Stocks and bonds slumped after Germany and the Netherlands warned Tsipras against abandoning prior agreements on aid and analysts said his policies might lead to Greece’s exit from the euro region.

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“Shares of Bank of Piraeus, Alpha Bank, National Bank of Greece and Eurobank all fell by more than 25% on Wednesday.”

Greek Bank Stocks And Deposits Hit By Default Fears (CNBC)

Greece’s already-fragile banking sector has taken a hammering as fears of a debt default have hit lender’s stocks—and deposits. Following the victory of anti-austerity Syriza in the polls at the weekend, traders are seriously considering the possibility of a default on Greece’s sovereign debt. It’s not the first time Greece has defaulted—the first one was around 450 BC and, more recently, private bond-holders were forced to take a haircut on their debt back in 2012. But Greece’s banks are ill-prepared for another one. Shares in the country’s four main banks have tumbled since Friday, when polls indicated a victory for Syriza. Shares of Bank of Piraeus, Alpha Bank, National Bank of Greece and Eurobank all fell by more than 25% on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Greek banks have hemorrhaged deposits since December, when a Syriza victory was seen as increasingly likely. On Wednesday, Citi Bank economists cited estimates suggesting that around €3 billion euros flew out of Greek banks in December, followed by a further €8 billion in January.

Syriza’s fiery young leader Alexis Tsipras has consistently argued that Greece’s sovereign debt burden of 320 billion euros ($364 billion) is unsustainable, and that the country must be offered some form of debt relief—a policy that Germany, among other lenders to Greece, has dismissed. “Europe and Germany is prepared for accepting the worst case of a Greece default,” Friedrich Heinemann, head of the department for public finance at Munich’s ZEW research institute, told CNBC on Wednesday. “A big name is starting now… They are sending out signals of a very tough stance in the upcoming negotiations. But I think it is important that Europe now also sends out a signal that it cannot be blackmailed, because the Greek government, I think it has the expectation that Europe is very anxious to avoid any stopping of payments from the Greek side.”

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“Since the financial crisis all major advanced economies have been in a debt trap where low growth deepens the burden of debt..”

Bank Of England Governor Attacks Eurozone Austerity (Guardian)

The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, has launched a strong attack on austerity in the eurozone as he warned that he single-currency area was caught in a debt trap that could cost it a second lost decade. Speaking in Dublin, Carney said the eurozone needed to ease its hardline budgetary policies and make rapid progress towards a fiscal union that would transfer resources from rich to poor countries. “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, if the eurozone were a country, fiscal policy would be substantially more supportive,” the governor said. “However, it is tighter than in the UK, even though Europe still lacks other effective risk-sharing mechanisms and is relatively inflexible.” Carney’s remarks come just three days after the election of the Syriza-led government in Greece presented a direct challenge to the austerity policies championed in the eurozone by Germany’s Angela Merkel.

While not mentioning any eurozone country by name, Carney made it clear that he thought the failure to complete the process of integration coupled with over-restrictive fiscal policies risked driving the 18-nation single currency area deeper into a debt trap. “Since the financial crisis all major advanced economies have been in a debt trap where low growth deepens the burden of debt, prompting the private sector to cut spending further. Persistent economic weakness damages the extent to which economies can recover. Skills and capital atrophy. Workers become discouraged and leave the labour force. Prospects decline and the noose tightens. “As difficult as it has been, some countries, including the US and the UK, are now escaping this trap. Others in the euro area are sinking deeper.”

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“Will individual governments be forced to re-capitalize, or bail out the central banks, which are trying to bail out the very countries they are trying to help?”

The Really Scary Thing About Europe’s QE Plan (CNBC)

The European Central Bank’s plan to, along with each member country’s central bank, launch a $1 trillion bond-buying program raises as many questions as it answers. The most important of which is not whether it will boost European Union growth and inflation, but whether it will create an unexpected problem, the likes of which the Federal Reserve never need deal with. Will the ECB and individual central banks make or lose money on their bond buys? Remember when the Fed launched its zero interest-rate policy (ZIRP) and the first round of quantitative easing (QE), many said the Fed would take a bath buying both U.S. Treasury bonds and mortgage securities? The difference was that the Fed, almost by definition, was “buying the bottom” in mortgages, whose prices were so distressed, and the market so illiquid that the Fed could virtually only make money on the transactions.

So, too, with Treasurys. The Fed started buying bonds when interest rates were considerably higher and, thus, since the start of QE I, all the way through QE III, the Fed has logged large capital gains on its bond portfolio and remitted back to the Treasury the interest payments from both mortgage securities and Treasury bonds. However, in the case of the ECB and other individual central banks, they will be buying sovereign debt with yields at historic lows and, as bond math goes, prices at historic highs. In some cases, European bond yields are negative, suggesting that it will be impossible for some of the central banks to ever make money on their QE programs.

Rather ironically, QE is designed to bring about lower interest rates, something the Fed’s program was quite successful at. With the exception of Greece, European rates had already greatly discounted the well-telegraphed ECB program, leaving no room for the “shock and awe” that could move markets in a desired direction. The larger question, which only a handful have thought to ask, is what happens to the central banks if they do, indeed, lose money on their bond buys? Larger balance sheets, with portfolio losses could reduce the available capital of the individual central banks and the ECB. Will individual governments be forced to re-capitalize, or bail out the central banks, which are trying to bail out the very countries they are trying to help?

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Yellen just makes it up by cherry picking data.

Federal Reserve Paves Way For Earlier-Than-Expected Rate Hike (Guardian)

The Federal Reserve appeared to be paving the way for an earlier-than-expected increase in interest rates on Wednesday night, as it highlighted the recent strength of the US economy. After its two-day meeting, the Fed announced that borrowing costs would remain unchanged, at 0-0.25%; but seasoned Fed-watchers pointed out that in the accompanying statement, it had upgraded its assessment of the strength of the world’s largest economy. “Economic activity has been expanding at a solid pace,” the Fed said. “Labour market conditions have improved further, with strong job gains and a lower unemployment rate.” Janet Yellen, who took over as Fed chair a year ago, has stressed that with oil prices plunging, she wants to see evidence that inflation is returning to its 2% target before she agrees to a shift in rates. But markets saw the relatively upbeat language about growth and jobs as a sign that opinion at the Fed is shifting towards an increase in borrowing costs.

Economists are bitterly divided about when monetary policy should be tightened. Some Fed policymakers are nervous that falling unemployment could soon spark inflation. But outside experts, including Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman, have warned that high levels of debt among many US households would make an early rate rise risky. Krugman said in Dubai last month that he believed the Fed could even delay a rate rise until next year. “When push comes to shove, they’re going to look and say: ‘It’s a pretty weak world economy out there, we don’t see any inflation, and the risk if we raise rates and it turns out we were mistaken is just so huge.’” Unlike December’s no-change decision, the Fed said Wednesday’s meeting was unanimous, after the new year saw a reshuffle among the chairs of the various regional federal reserve banks, who take turns to vote.

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“My idea is the Fed raises rates for philosophical reasons. That may be short-lived.”

Jeffrey Gundlach: Fed Is on the Brink of Making a Big Mistake (Bloomberg)

Jeffrey Gundlach says the Federal Reserve is on the brink of making a big mistake. U.S. central bankers have been talking about raising benchmark borrowing costs this year even though the outlook for global growth is worsening as oil prices tumble. If Fed Chair Janet Yellen goes ahead with this plan, she runs the risk of having to quickly reverse course and cut interest rates, according to Gundlach. “There’s no fundamental reason to raise interest rates,” Gundlach, chief executive officer at DoubleLine, said at a conference yesterday in Hollywood, Florida. “My idea is the Fed raises rates for philosophical reasons. That may be short-lived.” Policy makers concluded a two-day meeting in Washington today.

The Fed maintained its pledge to be “patient” on raising interest rates and boosted its assessment of the economy and labor market, even as it expects inflation to decline further. Yellen said in December that being patient meant such a tightening wouldn’t happen “for at least the next couple of meetings,” or not before late April. Bond traders would seem to share Gundlach’s concern that the Fed may be getting ahead of itself with its road-map for an exit from six years of near-zero interest rates. They are pricing in annual inflation of about 1.33% during the next five years, short of the Fed’s 2% goal, based on break-even rates for Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. Oil prices have fallen to $44.28 a barrel from $107.26 in June. “I would bet a great deal of money that oil’s not going to go to $90 by year-end,” Gundlach said.

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“The Fed and its friends in the financial industry are frantically hoping their next mandate or strategy for managing the system will continue to bail them out of each new crisis.”

‘Two Percent Inflation’ and The Fed’s Current Mandate (Ron Paul)

Over the last 100 years the Fed has had many mandates and policy changes in its pursuit of becoming the chief central economic planner for the United States. Not only has it pursued this utopian dream of planning the US economy and financing every boondoggle conceivable in the welfare/warfare state, it has become the manipulator of the premier world reserve currency. As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explained to me, the once profoundly successful world currency – gold – was no longer money. This meant that he believed, and the world has accepted, the fiat dollar as the most important currency of the world, and the US has the privilege and responsibility for managing it. He might even believe, along with his Fed colleagues, both past and present, that the fiat dollar will replace gold for millennia to come.

I remain unconvinced. At its inception the Fed got its marching orders: to become the ultimate lender of last resort to banks and business interests. And to do that it needed an “elastic” currency. The supporters of the new central bank in 1913 were well aware that commodity money did not “stretch” enough to satisfy the politician’s appetite for welfare and war spending. A printing press and computer, along with the removal of the gold standard, would eventually provide the tools for a worldwide fiat currency. We’ve been there since 1971 and the results are not good. Many modifications of policy mandates occurred between 1913 and 1971, and the Fed continues today in a desperate effort to prevent the total unwinding and collapse of a monetary system built on sand.

A storm is brewing and when it hits, it will reveal the fragility of the entire world financial system. The Fed and its friends in the financial industry are frantically hoping their next mandate or strategy for managing the system will continue to bail them out of each new crisis. The seeds were sown with the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in December 1913. The lender of last resort would target special beneficiaries with its ability to create unlimited credit. It was granted power to channel credit in a special way. Average citizens, struggling with a mortgage or a small business about to go under, were not the Fed’s concern. Commercial, agricultural, and industrial paper was to be bought when the Fed’s friends were in trouble and the economy needed to be propped up. At its inception the Fed was given no permission to buy speculative financial debt or U.S. Treasury debt.

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“People have no confidence in the central banks being able to fight off deflation..”

Who Doubts Yellen’s Policies? Summers for One. Investors too (Bloomberg)

Janet Yellen is betting she has the formula for fending off deflationary forces. Investors and some of her fellow economists aren’t so sure. The Fed chair says history and theory suggest wages will pick up as the job market tightens, and prices will rise in line with the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers argues policy makers can’t count on this, while Richard Clarida of Columbia University in New York says it hasn’t happened in the last few economic expansions. Investors have their doubts, too: They expect inflation will run well below the Fed’s target for the next decade, based on trading in U.S. Treasury securities.

“People have no confidence in the central banks being able to fight off deflation,” said Marvin Goodfriend, a former Fed official who is now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The Fed chair and her colleagues said Jan. 28 that inflation probably will ebb further in the next few months, driven lower by falling energy prices. Over the medium term, they see it rising “gradually toward 2%” as the labor market tightens and oil’s impact fades, according to the statement released after their Jan. 27-28 meeting. Yellen’s predecessor, Ben S. Bernanke, won plaudits in monetary-policy circles when he finally got the Fed to sign on to an inflation target in early 2012. There’s just been one small hitch: Since April of that year, inflation has failed to hit the central bank’s objective. It was 1.2% in November.

“The irony is that Bernanke got his inflation target in January 2012, and in almost every month since then they’ve fallen below it,” said Clarida, who is also executive vice president at Pacific Investment Management Co. in Newport Beach, California, which oversees some $1.7 trillion in assets Summers said the Fed shouldn’t base its interest-rate decisions on a theory that links changes in inflation to developments in the labor market. That theory, known as the Phillips Curve, posits that wages and prices rise as unemployment falls.

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“..banks have been told to tighten lending supervision to avoid loans being funneled into stock markets.” Yeah, but what about the shadow banks?

China Regulator To Inspect Stock Margin Trading At 46 Firms (Reuters)

China’s stock regulator will inspect the stock margin trading business of 46 companies, the official Xinhua news agency said, amid concerns that the country’s stock markets are becoming over-leveraged and vulnerable to a sudden reversal. Sources told Reuters on Wednesday that Chinese regulators would launch a fresh investigation into stock margin trading, and banks have been told to tighten lending supervision to avoid loans being funneled into stock markets. “The inspection belongs to normal regular supervision and should not be over-interpreted,” Xinhua said late on Wednesday, quoting the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC). Chinese stocks have climbed by around 40% since November, raising some concern that the rally is out of step with a marked slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. The tide of money into stocks follows a recent cut in interest rates and a weak property market, which is traditionally a strong investment destination for household savings.

The outstanding value of margin loans used to purchase shares has hit record highs for the past three days, reaching 780 billion yuan ($124.5 billion) on Wednesday. The CSRC punished three of the nation’s largest brokerages this month for illegal conduct in their margin trading businesses. At the same time, banking regulators moved to curb abuse of short-term forms of credit in the interbank market that were seen as being used for stock market speculation. Reports of previous investigations and regulatory clampdowns caused a dramatic plunge in stocks on Jan. 19, with main indexes tumbling over 7% in a single day. Regulators followed up by reassuring the market they were not trying to suppress the rally, one of the few bright spots in Chinese capital markets.

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“It just doesn’t bode well.”

Kern County CA Declares Fiscal Emergency Amid Plunging Oil Prices (LA Times)

Kern County supervisors declared a state of fiscal emergency at their weekly meeting Tuesday in response to predictions of a massive shortfall in property tax revenues because of tanking oil prices. Surging oil supplies domestically and weak demand abroad have left Kern, the heart of oil production in California, facing what could be a $61-million hole in its budget once its fiscal year starts July 1, according to preliminary calculations from the county’s assessor-recorder office. Oil companies account for about 30% of the county’s property tax revenues, a percentage that has been declining in recent decades but still represents a critical cushion for county departments and school districts.“It affects all county departments – every department will be asked to make cuts,” said County Assessor Jon Lifquist in an interview this month. “It just doesn’t bode well.”

Soaring pension costs also influenced the fiscal emergency declaration, which allows supervisors to tap county reserves. Operating costs expected at a new jail facility in fiscal 2017 and 2018 factored into the decision as well. Looking at an operational deficit of nearly $27 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year, supervisors adopted a plan to immediately begin scaling back county spending rather than making deep reductions all at once in July. The Service Employees International Union Local 521 urged officials in a statement to “not adopt drastic cuts that could cripple vital community services.” The union said that although temporary wage cuts and hiring freezes “may be an obvious solution,” such tactics “are never the sole answer to economic problems.”

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”Shell warned there could be more to come should crude prices remain relatively low..”

Shell Cuts $15 Billion of Spending as Profit Misses Expectations (Bloomberg)

Royal Dutch Shell Plc will cut $15 billion of spending over the next three years as the crash in oil prices saw fourth-quarter profit miss expectations. Shell, the first of the world’s largest oil companies to report earnings following the slump in crude to a five-year low, will review spending on about 40 projects worldwide, Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said in an interview. “We see pressure on our investment program,” van Beurden said on Bloomberg TV. “It’s a game of being prudent but at the same time not overreacting.” Profit excluding one-time items and inventory changes was $3.3 billion in the quarter, up from $2.9 billion a year earlier, Shell said today in a statement. That missed the $4.1 billion average of 13 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Shell shares dropped as much as 4.4% in London. The global industry is scurrying to respond as oil below $50 a barrel guts cash flows. Statoil, Tullow and Premier have delayed projects or cut exploration spending. BP has frozen wages and Chevron delayed its 2015 drilling budget.

By cutting spending, companies aim to protect returns to investors. Shell, based in The Hague, will pay a quarterly dividend of 47 cents a share, the same as the previous three months. It will pay the same in the first quarter. The payout is an “iconic item at Shell, I will do everything to protect it,” the CEO said in the television interview. In addition to the $15 billion of cuts in planned spending over three years, Shell warned there could be more to come should crude prices remain relatively low. “Shell has options to further reduce spending but we are not over-reacting to current low oil prices,” it said. The drop in oil prices has put investment levels “under severe pressure in the near term.” While declining to speculate about where crude prices are headed, he warned that canceling or delaying too many projects could risk putting in jeopardy supply over the longer term.

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 December 21, 2014  Posted by at 1:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Frances Benjamin Johnston “Courtyard at 1133-1135 Chartres Street, New Orleans” 1937

Saudi Arabia and UAE Blame Non-OPEC Producers For Oil Price Slide (FT)
Calculating The Breakeven Price For The Median Bakken Shale Well (Zero Hedge)
How Oil Price Fall Will Affect Crude Exporters – And The Rest Of Us (Observer)
UAE Urges All World’s Oil Producers Not To Raise Output In 2015 (Reuters)
Goldman Sees Little Systemic Risk For Banks From Oil Price Drop (MarketWatch)
Russian Crisis Kills Big German Gas Deal (CNNMoney)
ECB’s Constancio Sees Negative Inflation Rate In Months Ahead (Reuters)
For Rome, All Roads Seem To Lead Away From A Single Currency (Observer)
Poll Shows Majority Of Brits Want To Quit EU (RT)
Retirement Index Shows Many Still At Risk (MarketWatch)
Despite Job Growth, Native US Employment Still Below 2007 (HA)
Go West, Young Han (Asia Times)
The Fed’s Too Clever By Half (Guy Haselmann, Scotiabank)
Women To Take Brunt Of UK Welfare Cuts (RT)
Derivatives And Mass Financial Destruction (Alasdair Macleod)
How To Get Ahead At Goldman Sachs (Jim Armitage)
David Stockman Interview: The Case For Super Glass-Steagall (Gordon T. Long)
There Is Hope In Understanding A Great Economic Collapse Is Coming (Snyder)

The dog ate my homework?!

Saudi Arabia and UAE Blame Non-OPEC Producers For Oil Price Slide (FT)

The oil ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have blamed the oil price rout on producers outside of OPEC and reaffirmed their stance to keep output at current levels. Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, said a lack of co-operation from countries outside the cartel was a key contributor to the near 50% slide in crude oil prices since the middle of June. “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other countries sought to bring back balance to the market, but the lack of co-operation from other producers outside OPEC and the spread of misleading information and speculation led to the continuation of the drop in prices,” he said at an energy conference in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, according to Reuters. “Let the most efficient producers produce,” he added.

Speaking at the same gathering, Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui, the UAE energy minister, said one of the principal reasons for the price falls was “the irresponsible production of some producers from outside OPEC”. The comments from the two Gulf producers underline their commitment to production targets that stand at 30m barrels day, despite calls from some poorer OPEC members to reduce output to bolster prices. OPEC’s production policy and concerns about a supply glut have seen the price of Brent crude — the international oil benchmark — fall below $60 a barrel, hitting its lowest level in more than five years last week. At the conference, Mr Al-Mazrouei echoed a previous statement, saying “OPEC is not a swing producer” and “it’s not fair that we correct the market for everyone else”.

The UAE is thought to have the closest views to Saudi Arabia, a Gulf ally as well as the cartel’s largest producer and de facto leader. Ahead of last month’s OPEC meeting in Vienna, Mr Al-Mazrouei told the Financial Times: “Yes, there is an oversupply but that oversupply is not an OPEC problem.” He also said that non-OPEC countries and high-cost production – such as oil from US shale fields – should play a role in balancing the market. He says lower prices would help cut excess supplies from more expensive oilfields while preserving the share of lower-cost OPEC producers. The “market will fix it”, he said in November.

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Too optimistic. To do this kind of calculation, you have to look at where financing came from, and how it’s leveraged and hedged.

Calculating The Breakeven Price For The Median Bakken Shale Well (Zero Hedge)

A lot of data has been thrown around recently concerning the Bakken shale wells of North Dakota in an attempt to figure out the necessary oil price required to break even on the investment. In order to get a clearer picture of the financial situation in Bakken, it is necessary to develop a financial model of the median Bakken well. With a discount rate of 15%, the median well has a profitability index of 1.02 (after federal income tax) if $66 per barrel is used. (A profitability index of 1.0 indicates a break even situation at the discount rate that was used in the model). This means that at $66 per barrel, half the wells are uneconomic. If oil prices settle out at this price it can be expected that the number of wells drilled should be reduced by about half. The median Bakken well has the following attributes:

If the current oil price of $55 per barrel is used, the initial production rate has to be increased to 800 BPD in order to break even. According to the J.D. Hughes data, 25% of the wells have an initial production rate of 1000 BPD or more. Accordingly, if oil prices settle out at the current price, the number of wells drilled will be about a quarter of the present number. Some people have stated that this shale industry exists only due to abnormally low interest rates. If we use $100 per barrel and increase the discount rate to 20%, the median well has a profitability index of 1.6, which is profitable. The well is still making over 200 BPD after payout. My conclusion is that the shale development would still be profitable in a normal interest rate environment. The production data used in this model are from only 4 counties, Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail, and Williams. Very few wells have been economic outside of these 4 counties. Therefore, when these 4 counties become saturated with wells, the Bakken play is over.

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Not an overly impressive sum-up.

How Oil Price Fall Will Affect Crude Exporters – And The Rest Of Us (Observer)

John Paul Getty’s formula for success was to rise early, work hard and strike oil. But a dependence on the black stuff can create its own problems, especially when the price tumbles as it has over the last few months. The price of a barrel of Brent crude has almost halved from $115 in the summer to stabilise around $60 last week. Most forecasters expect the cost of oil to remain low well into next year. Getty became a billionaire oil magnate after four years of speculative drilling in the Saudi Arabian desert proved to be worth the risk. Now the house of Saud appears willing to wait almost as long for its own victory. The plan, agreed with OPEC, maintains output, ignoring demands for cuts to push the price back up again.

As the dominant OPEC member, and keen to protect its own market share, the Saudis have forced the others to take the long view with a strategy that aims to put out of business all those producers that have flooded the market in the last few years and dragged the price lower. US fracking firms, where production costs are high, should be the first to feel the financial pain. But there will be collateral damage to others too. Iran may find itself running out of cash. And then there is Russia, which is heading for a deep recession next year as gas prices follow oil to lows not seen in 10 years. There will be winners too. The UK, now a net importer of oil, has already benefited by an estimated £3m-a-day reduction in fuel costs. Businesses will gain from cheaper energy, and cheaper petrol in effect puts more cash in consumers’ pockets. Taken in the round, global GDP could rise by 0.2% to 0.5% as the wheels of trade are lubricated a little more.

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If you yourself can’t hike your ourput, it’s easy to tell others not to do it either.

UAE Urges All World’s Oil Producers Not To Raise Output In 2015 (Reuters)

The United Arab Emirates oil minister urged all of the world’s producers on Sunday not to raise their oil output next year, saying this would quickly stabilize prices. “We invite everyone to do what OPEC did and take a step to balance the market through not offering additional products in 2015, and if everyone abides by (the) OPEC decision, the market will stabilize and it will stabilize quickly,” Suhail Bin Mohammed al-Mazroui said. He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of ministers of the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) in Abu Dhabi. OPEC’s decision late last month to leave its output ceiling unchanged,rather than cutting it, was followed by a fresh plunge of oil prices. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said last week that the continuing price slide was a “political conspiracy”; Iran needs a high oil price to ease pressure on its state finances. But Mazroui said on Sunday: “There is no conspiracy, there is no targeting of anyone. This is a market and it goes up and down.”

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Hey, well, if Goldman says it …

Goldman Sees Little Systemic Risk For Banks From Oil Price Drop (MarketWatch)

A larger share of lending to the energy sector came from high-yield debt rather than through traditional bank loans and as a result there is little scope for systemic risk to the U.S. banking system from a drop in oil prices, according to a research note from Goldman Sachs economist team. Government data puts energy-related loans on commercial banks at a bit more than $200 billion, the team said Friday in a note, a modest share of the sector’s $14.3 trillion in assets. However, regional banks have a disproportionate exposure to energy-related loans could find the recent drop in prices more challenging, the report said.

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said last week that oil’s nearly 50% drop from its summers highs remains a net positive for the economy. She played down risk to the U.S. banking sector. Robert Brusca, chief economist at FAO Economics, said hedge fund players have already taken some big hits since energy was such a prevalent theme in the sector. “If the oil price continues to weaken and stays low for an extended period we could see problems emerge,” Brusca said in a note to clients. He noted a separate study by Goldman’s investment research unit that shows that $1 trillion in oil investment projects planned for the next year globally are no longer profitable with Brent crude below $70 a barrel. The analysis excluded U.S. shale.

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Germany’s industry will not take much more of this.

Russian Crisis Kills Big German Gas Deal (CNNMoney)

Fallout from the Russian crisis continues to spread with the cancellation of a big gas deal with Germany. BASF said it had dropped plans to hand full control of its gas storage and trading business to Russia’s Gazprom in exchange for stakes in two Siberian gas fields. State-controlled Gazprom is the leading supplier of natural gas to western Europe and has been looking to develop its marketing and distribution activities in the region. The chill in relations between Germany and Russia killed the asset swap deal, which covered BASF businesses with €12 billion ($14.6 billion) in sales. Sanctions imposed on Russia over its behavior in Ukraine place restrictions on new energy projects and equipment, and also prevent Russian companies borrowing in Western financial markets.

The cancellation has forced the German chemicals company to restate its accounts for last year, and to mark down profits in 2014, at a combined cost of €324 million ($395 million). BASF and Gazprom have worked together for more than 20 years, and will continue to operate the gas trading business as a joint venture. Other big energy deals have already fallen victim to the deterioration in relations with the West. President Vladimir Putin announced earlier this month that Gazprom had scrapped plans to build a new $40 billion gas pipeline to southern Europe, bypassing Ukraine. With Russia unable to raise new finance from European and U.S. investors, Gazprom may have struggled to fund construction of the pipeline. Some EU states were also nervous that the project would make them even more dependent on Russian gas at a time when they’re looking to diversify their energy supplies.

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But no, that’s not deflation … After all, it’s all about semantics.

ECB’s Constancio Sees Negative Inflation Rate In Months Ahead (Reuters)

European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio said in a magazine interview he expected the euro zone inflation rate to turn negative in the coming months but that if this was just a temporary phenomenon, he did not see a risk of deflation. Annual inflation in the euro zone slowed to 0.3% in November as energy prices fell, putting it well below the ECB’s target for inflation close to but just below 2%. In early December the ECB had forecast 0.7% inflation for 2015 but Constancio told Germany’s WirtschaftsWoche oil prices had fallen by an extra 15% since then and that, while this should support growth and so drive up inflation in the longer term, it created a tricky situation in the short-term.

“We now expect a negative inflation rate in the coming months and that is something that every central bank has to look at very closely,” Constancio was quoted as saying in an interview due to be published on Monday. But he said that several months of negative inflation would not translate into deflation: “You’d need negative inflation rates over a longer period for that. If it’s just a temporary phenomenon, I don’t see a danger.” Constancio said the euro zone was not in deflation and there was also not a risk of this for every country in the single currency bloc. He added that rising productivity in countries like Ireland and Spain could, for example, create scope for wage rises, which would counter deflation dangers.

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“.. while the social democrats think big, Italy’s rightwing parties are declaring the whole thing unaffordable. Not just the Olympics, but the foreign wars, what’s left of the foreign aid budget and, most pressingly, the euro.”

For Rome, All Roads Seem To Lead Away From A Single Currency (Observer)

When Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi confirmed last week that Rome would enter a bid to host the 2024 summer Olympic Games, it was a moment that divided the nation. How could the country afford the £10bn, or even £20bn-plus bill to stage the Olympics when the Italian economy has failed to grow in every quarter since 2011 and the national income is the same as it was in 1997? Renzi dismissed his critics, saying: “Our country too often seems hesitant. It’s unacceptable not to try… or to renounce playing the game.” What he meant was that Italy is a premiership team and should therefore be prepared to compete with the best. Yet while the social democrats think big, Italy’s rightwing parties are declaring the whole thing unaffordable. Not just the Olympics, but the foreign wars, what’s left of the foreign aid budget and, most pressingly, the euro. Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and the Northern League all agree that Italy cannot hope to compete with northern European rivals inside the same currency zone.

Between them they represent almost 45% of the Italian electorate, rising to almost 50% once Eurosceptic parties are included. These three parties hate each other almost as much as they loathe Renzi’s Democrats. But, still, this discontent with the euro, and the almost intuitive understanding of the single currency’s ability to set Italian workers against German and Austrian rivals with only one obvious loser – Rome – illustrates how the euro project is crumbling. Only a couple of years ago, Italy would have stood aside from all the hand-wringing about the euro. Middle-income Italians were solidly in favour of a project of which they saw themselves as founding members. And more importantly, their vast savings and property values were in euros. Any attempt to withdraw would almost certainly entail a devaluation of 50% or more and the destruction of 50 years of scrimping.

Roberto D’Alimonte, professor of politics at Rome’s Luiss university, says growing discontent with the euro is still an emotional response to domestic austerity cuts and could not be translated into an outright vote against the euro. He says a referendum calling for a withdrawal would be lost. So for the time being, a splintered rightwing opposition and an incoherent response to the euro allow Renzi to forge ahead. But D’Alimonte warns that the resurgence of the Northern League is a sign of growing discontent. An opinion poll earlier this month gave the 41-year-old party leader, Matteo Salvini, a personal popularity of 26% and his party 10%. D’Alimonte says these polls underestimate the powerful surge enjoyed over recent months by the Northern League, which has also reached out to discontented southerners. Salvini calls the euro a “criminal currency” and wants to demolish a Brussels consensus he says is strangling European politics.

The successor to party founder Umberto Bossi, who was brought down by a financial scandal, Salvini is also an admirer of Vladimir Putin and friend of French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. To the shock of many on the left, he has overtaken Grillo as the cheerleader for an Italy that accepts demotion to the second division. “The Europe of today cannot be reformed, in my opinion,” he told the Foreign Press Association in Rome. “There’s nothing to be reformed in Brussels. It’s run by a group of people who hate the Italian people and economy in particular.” When asked whether he worried about spooking the financial markets with his radical plans to withdraw from the euro, impose a single flat tax rate of 15% and deport illegal immigrants, he said: “I don’t want to reassure anyone at all.”

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Those numbers should be much higher.

Poll Shows Majority Of Brits Want To Quit EU (RT)

Among the six European states participating in the poll questioning EU membership, the British appeared most certain of all that they want to leave the union with only 37% against breaking ties. The French OpinionWay poll showed that 42% of British respondents want to leave the EU, while 37% are for staying in the union and the rest 21% are not sure of the answer, Le Figaro reported on Friday. Britain’s PM Davis Cameron promised last year to hold a vote on Europe in a referendum by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives win the next general election. Cameron has been under domestic pressure from politicians to quit the EU sooner. The second place among the six European states surveyed was taken by the Netherlands with 39% for breaking the relationship with EU and 41% of responders against leaving European partnership. The least eager ones to say goodbye were the Spanish with 67% against the notion and only 17% for EU exit.

Among the 3,500 respondents, the French were 22% for and 55 against, while the Germans were 22% and 64 respectively. Most of Italy’s respondents said they would stay in the union – 58%, only 30 were against. Amid the ongoing Eurozone crisis that started in 2009, the member states have cut government spending to try and reduce their budget deficits. EU member countries pushed by austerity policing Germany have been struggling to come out of the crisis. Last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized France and Italy for taking insufficient reforms to curb spending. “The European Commission has drawn up a calendar according to which France and Italy are due to present additional measures” Merkel said to newspaper Die Welt adding that she agrees with the commission. In November the EU commission approved two countries’ budgets which guaranteed that they would impose more austerity measures in 2015.

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And many more than MarketWatch lets on.

Retirement Index Shows Many Still At Risk (MarketWatch)

Every three years, with the release of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), we update our National Retirement Risk Index (NRRI). The NRRI shows the share of working-age households who are “at risk” of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living in retirement. Constructing the NRRI involves three steps: 1) projecting a replacement rate—retirement income as a share of pre-retirement income—for each member of the SCF’s nationally representative sample of U.S. households; 2) constructing a target replacement rate that would allow each household to maintain its pre-retirement standard of living in retirement; and 3) comparing the projected and target replacement rates to find the percentage of households “at risk.” The NRRI was originally created using the 2004 SCF and has been updated with the release of each subsequent survey.

Our expectation was that the NRRI would improve sharply in 2013; it certainly felt like a better year than 2010. The stock market was up, and housing values were beginning to recover. But the ratio of wealth to income had not bounced back from the financial crisis, more households would face a higher Social Security Full Retirement Age, and the government had tightened up on the percentage of housing equity that borrowers could extract through a reverse mortgage. On balance, then, the Index level for 2013 was 52%, only slightly better than the 53% reported for 2010. This result means that more than half of today’s households will not have enough retirement income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, even if they work to age 65—which is above the current average retirement age—and annuitize all their financial assets, including the receipts from a reverse mortgage on their homes. The NRRI clearly indicates that many Americans need to save more and/or work longer.

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Strange use of the word ‘native’.

Despite Job Growth, Native US Employment Still Below 2007 (HA)

Additional findings:
• The BLS reports that 23.1 million adult (16-plus) immigrants (legal and illegal) were working in November 2007 and 25.1 million were working in November of this year — a two million increase. For natives, 124.01 million were working in November 2007 compared to 122.56 million in November 2014 — a 1.46 million decrease.
• Thus BLS data indicates that what employment growth there has been since 2007 has all gone to immigrants, even though natives accounted for 69% of the growth in the +16 population.
• The number of immigrants working returned to pre-recession levels by the middle of 2012, and has continued to climb. But the number of natives working remains almost 1.5 million below the November 2007 level.
• However, even as job growth has increased in the last two years ( November 2012 to November 2014), 45% of employment growth has still gone to immigrants, though they comprise only 17% of the labor force.
• The number of natives officially unemployed (looking for work in the prior four weeks) has declined in recent years. But the number of natives not in the labor force (neither working nor looking for work) continues to grow.
• The number of adult natives 16-plus not in the labor force actually increased by 693,000 over the last year, November 2013 to November of 2014.
• Compared to November 2007, the number of adult natives not in the labor force is 11.1 million larger in November of this year.
• In total, there were 79.1 million adult natives and 13.5 million adult immigrants not in the labor force in November 2014. There were an additional 8.6 million immigrant and native adults officially unemployed.
• The percentage of adult natives in the labor force (the participation rate) did not improve at all in the last year.
• All of the information in BLS Table A-7 indicates there is no labor shortage in the United States, even as many members of Congress and the president continue to support efforts to increase the level of immigration, such as Senate bill S.744 that passed in the Senate last year. This bill would have roughly doubled the number of immigrants allowed into the country from one million annually to two million.
• It will take many years of sustained job growth just to absorb the enormous number of people, primarily native-born, who are currently not working and return the country to the labor force participation rate of 2007. If we continue to allow in new immigration at the current pace or choose to increase the immigration level, it will be even more difficult for the native-born to make back the ground lost in the labor market.

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Problem is: who’s going to buy all that stuff?

Go West, Young Han (Asia Times)

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9. Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train. At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain. You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods – from clothes to toys – possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road”, conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade. Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours – via high-speed rail, no less. The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west.

That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed. Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change. Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution. And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans”, as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people. So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind. Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.

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What did it say, exactly?

The Fed’s Too Clever By Half (Guy Haselmann, Scotiabank)

Yesterday I received an email from a well-known hedge fund manager which in its entirety read as follows: “At the end of the day, the Fed is confused and confusing, so if you spend too much time addressing their comments you end up confusing as well”. In this light, I will detail one observation in this note that leaves me to conclude that the post-FOMC market reaction is farcical. Bear with me while I explain. The FOMC meeting was slightly hawkish for two simple reasons.

1) The Fed slightly moved forward its time frame for the first rate hike to the April-June time frame when Yellen stated, “It is unlikely the Federal Open Market Committee will raise rates for at least the next couple of meetings”. This statement is indeed wishy-washy enough as to allow the Fed flexibility around the comment; nonetheless, the center point for ‘lift-off’ was moved forward.

2) Yellen said the drop in the price of oil would have a transitory effect on inflation and was seen as “tax cut” for the consumer and businesses.

These were the only new pieces of information that emerged from the meeting. How would a day-trader have reacted in normal markets? The US dollar would have risen. Oil would have fallen despite the rise in the dollar. The front end of the Treasury market would have dropped (i.e. higher yields). And, equities would have gone down. All of these occurred except for equities which exploded higher in wild grab-fest fashion. Why? The explanation centers around the fact that the Fed left the words “considerable period” in the statement, even though the Fed changed how it used those words. Many headlines read, “Fed kept considerable period”. This is misleading. The FED did NOT say that it “expects to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate for a consider time”. Rather, the Fed kept the original language that it expects to maintain the target…..for a considerable time following the end of its asset purchase program in October. There is a big difference between the two.

Why make it backward looking? Using the statement in this manner is no different than saying, ‘we still believe what we said at the last meeting’. The markets already knew the Fed expected rates to be maintained after the end of QE, but what about its assessment from today forward? They actually even changed how the words “considerable time” were used to make them completely meaningless. They wanted to emphasize the word “patient” (even though the market already knew it would be patient). In order to keep the “considerable time” words, the FOMC said its patience is consistent with that earlier statement of “consider time”. If they did not do this in order to purposefully make sure those exact words were in the statement, then the entire sentence is completely meaningless.

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Women and children first, Cameron’s favorite victims.

Women To Take Brunt Of UK Welfare Cuts (RT)

New analysis has shown that women will suffer the most from a freeze in tax credits and benefits that the Chancellor, George Osborne, has said will be introduced if the Tories win the general election. Labour commissioned the research from the House of Commons Library after Osborne announced in September that he would save £3 billion a year by freezing working age benefits, which Labour say would hit 10 million households. Labour has consistently said that freezes and cuts to working age benefits hit women the hardest as large numbers of women are in part time work and because of child care they have to rely more on tax credits.

The analysis showed that Osborne’s plan would save up to £3.2 billion by 2018 and that £2.4 billion of these savings will be provided by women compared to just £800 million by men. “These figures show how, once again, women will bear the brunt of David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s choices. This follows four years of budgets, which have taken six times more from women than men – even though women earn less than men,” said the Labour shadow chancellor, Ed Balls. Balls said that 3 million working people will be worse off because of the proposed cut in tax credits; in reality the freeze will cost a one-breadwinner family £500 a year. Labour is pushing hard to convince voters that their way of dealing with the deficit is fairer and less damaging than the Tories.

They have said consistently that the deficit must be tackled but not in a way that hits the working poor. They have also said that the wealthy must do more and have said the 50p higher rate of income tax would be restored if they win the election. Labour’s announcement comes after a report compiled in September that called on the government to produce a “plan F” to tackle the deficit after it found that women were bearing a disproportionate amount of the burden. The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) found that single parents and single pensioners had lost the most from cuts that were being made to benefits and public services.

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Be an asshole.

How To Get Ahead At Goldman Sachs (Jim Armitage)

The Christmas break approaches but a select handful of Goldman Sachs rainmakers are counting down the clock to New Year’s Day – and a life of prosperity of which they only dared to dream. For these are the Goldmanites who have just been told they have made the grade as partners – a near-Olympian status that they take on from 1 January. There are 78 of them this year – 78 of the brightest, most ambitious and most driven men and women in the financial world. Goldman’s partnership-selection process is the stuff of legend in the City and on Wall Street. Once every two years, a pool of potentials is selected, then the candidates are evaluated by every partner with whom they have worked around the world in a process known as “crossruffing” – named after a cunning cardplayer’s move in bridge. The evaluations are, of course, completely confidential. Partnership selection is one of the secret ingredients that give Goldman its edge – that and paying the biggest bonuses on the block, of course.

As far as I’m aware, details of the testimonials from partners about their candidates have never been seen outside the firm. So it was quite a rarity to unearth an internal note of one the other week. It’s from a few years back – the 2008 partnership selection to be precise – but the process has remained the same for decades. So thrusting young Goldman executives aspiring to make the grade like CEO Lloyd Blankfein did all those years ago, read on. The bank stresses that selections are made according to candidates’ leadership qualities, teamwork, appreciation of “the significance of clients” – the usual stuff. But the testimonial memo makes the core message clear: this guy is great because he has an unnerving ability to make money for Goldman Sachs. Big money. And he makes this cash off the backs of the pension funds of the likes of you and me.

The banker, who is a well-known figure in his niche of the City, joined Goldman in the late 1990s, going on to be promoted to work in various divisions along the way. “Notable transactions”, the testimonial memo says, included making a killing (my words, not theirs) in helping to reorganise the pension-fund investments of WH Smith and Rolls-Royce not long before the global financial crisis hit. In the case of WH Smith, the memo says, he helped switch its pension pot from being invested in “cash equity and bonds” to “almost 100% synthetics” – derivatives contracts mainly of the type known as swaps. The trade was aimed at making the pension fund’s value less prone to being boosted or slashed by the vagaries of the financial markets. At the time, the deal was pretty famous – “innovative” was how pension fund trustees put it. It was certainly an innovation in the amount of money our banker helped Goldman make arranging the trade: “a total P&L [profit] exceeding $70m”, the memo says.

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The Citi-written legislation passed this week.

Derivatives And Mass Financial Destruction (Alasdair Macleod)

Globally systemically important banks (G-SIBs in the language of the Financial Stability Board) are to be bailed-in if they fail, moving the cost from governments to the depositors, bondholders and shareholders. There are exceptions to this rule, principally, small depositors who are protected by government schemes, and also derivatives, so the bail-in is partial and bail-out in these respects still applies. With oil prices having halved in the last six months, together with the attendant currency destabilisation, there have been significant transfers of value through derivative positions, so large that financial instability may result. Derivatives are important, because their gross nominal value amounted to $691 trillion at the end of last June, about nine times the global GDP. Furthermore, the vast bulk of them have G-SIBs as counterparties.

The concentration of derivative business in the G-SIBs is readily apparent in the US, where the top 25 holding companies (banks and their affiliated businesses) held a notional $305.2 trillion of derivatives, of which just five banks held 95% between them. In the event of just one of these G-SIBs failing, the dominoes of counterparty risk would probably all topple, wiping out the financial system because of this ownership concentration. To prevent this happening two important amendments have been introduced. Firstly ISDA, the body that standardises over-the-counter (OTC) derivative contracts, recently inserted an amendment so that if a counterparty to an OTC derivative contract fails, a time delay of 48 hours is introduced to enable the regulators to intervene with a solution. And secondly, derivatives, along with insured deposits, are to be classified as “excluded liabilities” by the regulators in the event of a bail-in.

This means a government that is responsible for a G-SIB’s banking license has no alternative but to take on the liability through its central bank. If it is only one G-SIB in trouble, for example due to the activities of a rogue trader, one could see the G-SIB being returned to the market in due course, recapitalised but with contractual relationships in the OTC markets intact. If, on the other hand, there is a wider systemic problem, such as instability in a major commodity market like energy, and if this instability is transmitted to other sectors via currency, credit and stock markets, a number of G-SIBs could be threatened with insolvency, both through their lending business and also through derivative exposure. In this case you can forget bail-ins: there would have to be a coordinated approach between central banks in multiple jurisdictions to contain systemic problems. But either way, governments will have to stand as counterparty of last resort.

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Stockman on that same legislation.

David Stockman Interview: The Case For Super Glass-Steagall (Gordon T. Long)

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This should resound with many of you.

There Is Hope In Understanding A Great Economic Collapse Is Coming (Snyder)

If you were about to take a final exam, would you have more hope or more fear if you didn’t understand any of the questions and you had not prepared for the test at all? I think that virtually all of us have had dreams where we show up for an exam that we have not studied for. Those dreams can be pretty terrifying. And of course if you were ever in such a situation in real life, you probably did very, very poorly on that test. The reason I have brought up this hypothetical is to make a point. My point is that there is hope in understanding what is ahead of us, and there is hope in getting prepared. Since I started The Economic Collapse Blog back in 2009, there have always been a few people that have accused me of spreading fear.

That frustrates me, because what I am actually doing is the exact opposite of that. When a hurricane is approaching, is it “spreading fear” to tell people to board up their windows? Of course not. In fact, you just might save someone’s life. Or if you were walking down the street one day and you saw someone that wasn’t looking and was about to step out into the road in front of a bus, what would the rational thing to do be? Anyone that has any sense of compassion would yell out and warn that other person to stay back. Yes, that other individual may be startled for a moment, but in the end you will be thanked warmly for saving that person from major injury or worse. Well, as a nation we are about to be slammed by the hardest times that any of us have ever experienced.

If we care about those around us, we should be sounding the alarm. Since 2009, I have published 1,211 articles on the coming economic collapse on my website. Some people assume that I must be filled with worry, bitterness and fear because I am constantly dealing with such deeply disturbing issues. But that is not the case at all. There is nothing that I lose sleep over, and I don’t spend my time worrying about anything. Yes, my analysis of the global financial system has completely convinced me that an absolutely horrific economic collapse is in our future. But understanding what is happening helps me to calmly make plans for the years ahead, and working hard to prepare for what is coming gives me hope that my family and I will be able to weather the storm.

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