Jun 112018
 


Pierre-Auguste Renoir Les parapluies 1880-86

 

Debt Clock Ticking (Mauldin)
Southern Mayors Defy Italian Coalition To Offer Safe Port To Migrants (G.)
Italy’s New Finance Minister Rules Out Leaving Euro (Pol.eu)
In The Western World Truth Is An Endangered Species (PCR)
Will Bilderberg Still Be Relevant As The Future Of War Is Transformed? (G.)
Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment (F.)
French Farmers Start Refinery Blockade Over Palm Oil Imports (R.)
Our Generation Is Presiding Over An Ecological Apocalypse (G.)
Erdogan Ally Says ‘Cyprus Is Turkish And Will Remain So’ (K.)
Austria Closing Mosques May Mean ‘War Between Cross & Crescent’ – Erdogan (RT)
Greece Puts Men Accused Over Turkey Coup Attempt Under Armed Guard (G.)
New Austerity Bill Hits Greeks With €5.1 Billion More Cuts Until 2022 (KTG)
Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled (JD Alt)

 

 

As the G7 leaders have a few days to lick their wounds, and all attention will continue to be on Trump, I’ll leave all that alone for now. One last thing: hope they understand now that ganging up on Trump is not a good idea. It would be good if the Democrats and media understand that too. They must all reinvent themselves.

Let’s turn to debt: “There is no set of math that works to pay this off.”

Debt Clock Ticking (Mauldin)

“Modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debt.” – Anonymous. You can find hundreds of quotes on the Internet discussing the problems of debt. Debt traps borrowers, lenders, and innocent bystanders, too. If debt were a drug, we would demand it be outlawed. The advantage of debt is it lets you bring the future into the present, buying things you couldn’t afford if you had to pay full price now. This can be good or bad, depending on what you buy. Going into debt for education that will raise your income, or for factory equipment that will increase your output, can be positive. Debt for a tropical vacation, probably not.

And that’s our core economic problem. The entire world went into debt for the equivalent of tropical vacations and, having now enjoyed them, realizes it must pay the bill. The resources to do so do not yet exist. So, in the time-honored tradition of lenders everywhere, we extend and pretend. But with our ability to pretend almost gone, we’re heading to the Great Reset. I’ve been analogizing our fate to a train wreck you know is coming but are powerless to stop. You look away because watching the disaster hurts, but it happens anyway. That’s where we are, like it or not.

And we don’t even really like to talk about it in polite circles. In a private email conversation this week, which must remain anonymous, this pithy line jumped out at me: “The total of Federal (remember they do not use GAAP) debt, state debt, and city debt [unfunded liabilities included] exceeds $200 trillion dollars. There is no set of math that works to pay this off. Let me be sure it’s heard by repeating it: There is no set of math that works to pay this off. Therefore, there has to be some form of remediation. This conversation is uncomfortable, so it is avoided.”

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Hopeful but for now not practical. The solution is in Africa itself. Let Salvini work on that, instead of this sort of stunts.

Southern Mayors Defy Italian Coalition To Offer Safe Port To Migrants (G.)

Mayors across the south of Italy have pledged to defy a move by the new Italian government – an alliance of the far right and populists – to prevent a rescue boat with 629 people on board from docking in the Sicilian capital. But the mayors’ defiance appears unlikely to serve any practical purpose without the direct support of the Italian coastguard. In the first evidence of the new government’s hardline approach, the interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, Aquarius. The Maltese government rejected a request to take the boat, saying international law required that the migrants should be taken to Italian ports.

Salvini, the leader of the League, a far-right party, wrote on Facebook: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.” Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said he was ready to open the city’s seaport to allow the rescued migrants to safely disembark. “Palermo in ancient Greek meant ‘complete port’. We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea. We will not stop now,” Orlando said. “Salvini is violating the international law. He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government.’’

Other mayors in Italy’s south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, also said they were ready to disobey Salvini’s order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports. A representative of Doctors Without Borders said the mayors’ remarks were “nice but not practical” because it was standard practice to wait for the Italian coastguard, which is under the control of the Italian government, to allow a ship to dock.

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Why the confusion between Finance Minister and Economy Minister?

Italy’s New Finance Minister Rules Out Leaving Euro (Pol.eu)

Italy’s new economy minister Giovanni Tria ruled out leaving the euro and said he would focus on structural reforms over deficit spending. “The position of the executive is clear and unanimous,” Tria told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in his first major interview since the country’s populist government was sworn in at the start of this month. “There isn’t any discussion on a plan to leave the euro,” he said, adding that “the government is determined, in any event, to prevent market conditions which push towards the exit to be materialized.”

Tria’s comments appeared designed to reassure financial markets — and to calm fears in the European Commission and among other EU governments that the new administration would implement anti-euro policies and clash with Brussels. Tria told Corriere that the government’s strategy would be “growth and employment” with a program “based on structural reforms,” and that his country would also “make progress on many aspects of the European governance program and banking union.” Though the new government has not adopted a policy of leaving the euro, some members of the coalition including Matteo Salvini, the new interior minister, have criticized the currency in the past and others have floated the idea of a referendum on Italy quitting the monetary union.

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Support for Assange is mounting. But not nearly enough yet. This must grow the same way Free Nelson Mandela did

In The Western World Truth Is An Endangered Species (PCR)

Nowhere in the Western world is truth respected. Even universities are imposing censorship and speech control. Governments are shutting down, and will eventually criminalize, all explanations that differ from official ones. The Western world no longer has a print and TV media. In its place there is a propaganda ministry for the ruling elite. Whistleblowers are prosecuted and imprisoned despite their protection by federal statue. The US Department of Justice is a Department of Injustice. It has been a long time since any justice flowed from the DOJ. The total corruption of the print and TV media led to the rise of Intermet media such as Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange, a prisoner since 2012.

Assange is an Australian and Ecuadorian citizen. He is not an American citizen. Yet US politicians and media claim that he is guilty of treason because he published official documents leaked to Wikileaks that prove the duplicity and criminality of the US government. It is strickly impossible for a non-citizen to be guilty of treason. It is strickly impossible under the US Constitution for the reporting of facts to be spying. The function of the media is to expose and to hold accountable the government. This function is no longer performed by the Western print and TV media. Washington wants revenge and is determined to get it.

If Assange were as corrupt at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, National Public Radio, MSNBC, etc., he would have reported the leaker to Washington, not published the information, and retired as a multi-millionaire with Washington’s thanks. However, unfortunately for Assange, he had integrity. Integrity today in the Western world has no value. You cannot find integrity in the government, in the global corporations, in the universities and schools, and most certainly not in the media.

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“What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet.”

Will Bilderberg Still Be Relevant As The Future Of War Is Transformed? (G.)

This year’s Bilderberg summit is a council of war. On the agenda: Russia and Iran. In the conference room: the secretary general of Nato, the German defence minister, and the director of the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE. They are joined in Turin, Italy, by a slew of academic strategists and military theorists, but for those countries in geopolitical hotspots there is nothing theoretical about these talks. Not when the prime ministers of Estonia and Serbia are discussing Russia, or Turkey’s deputy PM is talking about Iran. The clearest indication that some sort of US-led conflict is on the cards is the presence of the Pentagon’s top war-gamer, James H Baker.

He is an expert in military trends, and no trend is more trendy in the world of battle strategy than artificial intelligence. Bilderberg is devoting a whole session to AI this year – and has invited military theorist Michael C Horowitz, who has written extensively on its likely impact on the future of war. Horowitz sees AI as “the ultimate enabler”. In an article published just a few weeks ago in the Texas National Security Review, he quotes Putin’s remark from 2017: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

Horowitz says “China, Russia, and others are investing significantly in AI to increase their relative military capabilities”, because it offers “the ability to disrupt US military superiority”. Global military domination is suddenly up for grabs – which brings us to the most intriguing item on this year’s Bilderberg agenda: “US world leadership”. [..] What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet. There’s not much dignity in undermining democracy. But there is a huge pile of money, and for many people that’s enough.

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Just as MSB is trying to invest a lot in his ‘new’ Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment (F.)

Inward investment into Saudi Arabia collapsed last year, according to newly published data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), raising serious questions about the prospects for the economic reform agenda being pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). According to the latest UNCTAD World Investment Report, published on June 7, foreign direct investment (FDI) into Saudi Arabia last year amounted to just $1.4 billion, down from $7.5bn the year before and as much as $12.2bn in 2012. The precipitous fall means the country was outranked by far smaller economies in terms of its ability to attract international investment last year, with the likes of Oman and Jordan overtaking it in 2017, with inward FDI of $1.9bn and $1.7bn respectively.

The situation is equally stark when one looks at the amount of investment coming to Saudi Arabia compared to the rest of the surrounding West Asia region. While the kingdom accounted for around a quarter of total regional FDI between 2012 and 2016, last year it attracted just 5.6% of the regional total. While the Saudi economy has been losing out, others have been gaining a bigger piece of the pie. The UAE has seen its share of regional FDI more than double over the past six years, from 19% in 2012 to 41% in 2017. And even Qatar – which has been the subject of an economic boycott by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since June last year – managed to increase its FDI take in 2017, attracting $986m compared to $774m a year earlier.

UNCTAD attributed the fall in investment into Saudi Arabia to significant divestments and negative intra-company loans by foreign multinationals. As an example, it pointed to the UK/Dutch Shell Group which sold its 50% stake in the Sadaf petrochemicals venture to its partner Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) for $820m in August. However, the report also notes that FDI to Saudi Arabia has been contracting since the global financial crisis in 2008/09. And although there has been a similar pattern across the region – inflows to West Asia have fallen in most years since hitting a peak of $85bn in 2008 – the performance of Saudi Arabia last year is still appreciably worse than any other economy in the immediate neighbourhood. It is also far worse than the global picture – worldwide FDI inflows were down 23% last year to $1.43 trillion.

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Palm oil destroys rainforests and orangutans. And you want to burn it?

French Farmers Start Refinery Blockade Over Palm Oil Imports (R.)

French farmers began a blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots on Sunday evening over plans by Total to use imported palm oil at a biofuel plant, which have fanned farmer discontent over unfair competition. The Vatry fuel depot in the Marne region of northeastern France was the first to be blocked on Sunday evening as about 100 farmers set up barricades with tractors and mounds of rubble, a spokesman from the FNSEA farmers union told Reuters. At least five sites will be blocked on Sunday evening, with a total of 13 sites blocked from 9 a.m. Monday, Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA said in an interview with France Info television.

French oil and gas major Total, which operates five refineries and nine petrol depots in France, said late on Sunday that farmers have gathered at two depots and it had taken measures together with authorities, to limit disruptions. It urged clients not to rush to petrol stations to fill their tanks, which could spark panic buying and shortages. The French authorities last month gave Total permission to use palm oil as one of the feedstocks at its La Mede biofuel refinery in southern France, infuriating farmers who grow local oilseed crops such as rapeseed and environmentalists who blame palm oil cultivation for deforestation in southeast Asia.

[..] Palm oil has been widely criticized in Europe for environmental destruction and some lawmakers are pushing for a ban on its use in biofuel as part of new EU energy targets. The issue has caused friction with Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two largest palm oil producers, with Malaysian officials warning of trade repercussions that could affect a potential deal to buy French fighter jets. The refinery protests in France also illustrate a souring relationship between farmers in the EU’s biggest agricultural producer and the government of President Emmanuel Macron. Many farmers welcome the president’s call for fairer farmgate prices as part of a food chain review last year, but they have been angered by Macron’s attempt to phase out common weedkiller glyphosate before other EU countries.

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“..among the most nature-depleted countries in the world..”

Our Generation Is Presiding Over An Ecological Apocalypse (G.)

He’s currently enjoying a great bounty of nature, from tree-climbing slugs to blackbird-gobbling little owls on this year’s Springwatch, but Chris Packham warns that we are presiding over “an ecological apocalypse” and Britain is increasingly “a green and unpleasant land”. The naturalist and broadcaster is urging people to join him next month on a 10-day “bioblitz”, visiting road verges, farmland, parks, allotments and community nature reserves across the country to record what wildlife remains – from butterflies to bryophytes, linnets to lichens. According to Packham, British people have normalised a “national catastrophe” and only see a wealth of wildlife in nature reserves, with the wider countryside bereft of life.

“Nature reserves are becoming natural art installations,” he said. “It’s just like looking at your favourite Constable or Rothko. We go there, muse over it, and feel good because we’ve seen a bittern or some avocets or orchids. But on the journey home there’s nothing – only wood pigeons and non-native pheasants and dead badgers on the side of the road. “It’s catastrophic and that’s what we’ve forgotten – our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and we’ve somehow or other normalised it.” Packham said he looked at the rolling hills beyond this year’s setting for Springwatch on the National Trust’s Sherborne estate in the Cotswolds and despaired. “How many wildflowers can we see? None. Where’s the pink of ragged robin? Where’s the yellow of flag iris? The other colours are not there. It’s not green and pleasant – it’s green and unpleasant.”

Packham’s recent tweets have gone viral after he commented on the absence of insects during a weekend at his home in the middle of the New Forest national park. He did not see a single butterfly in his garden and said he sleeps with his windows open but rarely finds craneflies or moths in his room in the morning whereas they were commonplace when he was a boy. Since Packham first became passionate about birds, in 1970, Britain has lost 90 million wild birds, with turtle doves (down 95% since 1990) hurtling towards extinction. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with scientific data from more than 50 conservation and research organisations revealing that 40% of all species are in moderate or steep decline.

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Opposition leader is a government ally.

Erdogan Ally Says ‘Cyprus Is Turkish And Will Remain So’ (K.)

The leader of Turkey’s nationalist MHP opposition party Devlet Bahceli, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attacked Greece and Cyprus during an election rally in Izmir on Sunday, claiming “Cyprus is Turkish.” Bahceli was commenting on Greek criticism over an MHP campaign video that depicts the island of Cyprus as Turkish territory. “What else are we to do? Cyprus is Turkish and will remain so,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish conservative newspaper Yeni Safak. He went on to “warn” Greeks not to forget “the days when their grandfathers drowned in the bottom of the sea,” and accused the Greek government of “playing games” in the Aegean.

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Ehh.. racist it is not.

Austria Closing Mosques May Mean ‘War Between Cross & Crescent’ – Erdogan (RT)

Austria’s move to close mosques and expel “foreign-funded” imams has infuriated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning of a war “between cross and crescent” and threatening that Ankara will not sit idle. “These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday. Crescent, which can be seen on mosques and other Muslim entities, symbolizes Islamic religion since time immemorial. “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?” he asked, quoted by AFP. “That means we’re going to have to do something,” Erdogan added without elaborating.

Earlier this week, Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl from the right-wing FPO party announced that the country vows to close seven mosques and potentially expel dozens of Turkish-funded imams and their families in Austria’s crackdown on “political Islam.” Austrian officials, including Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, claimed the move was to battle radicalization and growing ‘parallel societies’. However, this explanation did not sit well with Ankara. “Austria’s decision to close seven mosques and expel imams is a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country,” Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman of Tayyip Erdogan, commented on Twitter.

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A crazy situation. Turkey can not be allowed to enter Greek territory to abduct or murder anyone.

Greece Puts Men Accused Over Turkey Coup Attempt Under Armed Guard (G.)

Greece has put in place the “greatest possible” measures to protect eight Turkish commandos accused of being coup plotters after Ankara said it would do everything possible to bring them back. A week after the men were freed from detention, Athens said they were under 24/7 guard at an undisclosed location, for fear of retaliation. The admission came despite mounting tensions with Ankara, which has scrapped a refugee readmission deal with Athens, arguing the soldiers participated in the abortive coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Greece’s deputy defence minister, Fotis Kouvelis, told the Guardian: “We are enforcing the greatest possible measures to secure their safety in a place which for obvious reasons will remain unknown.

“We haven’t forgotten what happened in our region a few months ago.” Kouvelis was referring to the enforced removal from Kosovo of six Turkish citizens also denounced as followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara has blamed for orchestrating the putsch. Tensions over the eight men, who flew into Greece on a Black Hawk helicopter a day after the failed coup, have added to an increasingly fiery campaign ahead of in Turkey on 24 June. Friction with the west has escalated as the race appears to have tightened. At the weekend, Erdogan accused Austria of fomenting a religious war between “cross” and “crescent” after it raised the prospect of expelling Turkish Muslim clerics.

But Greece has been the focus of growing animus in Ankara. Turkey has consistently argued the eight men were involved in the putsch against Erdogan. The Greek supreme court has rejected any notion of sending the men back, saying they would not get a fair trial in Turkey, where a purge of the military and civil establishment continues. In April, the council of state, Greece’s highest administrative court, granted one of the eight commandos permanent asylum, despite objections by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led government. Similar judgments are expected to follow when verdicts are issued in the remaining cases.

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Pile it on!

New Austerity Bill Hits Greeks With €5.1 Billion More Cuts Until 2022 (KTG)

Greece submitted a draft bill to parliament late on Friday, a bill fully packed with austerity measures worth 5.1 billion euros and counter-measures worth 1.5 billion, in an effort to sweeten the bitter pill to thousands of pensioners and employees. The bill outlines reforms in the energy, pension and labor sectors as the government races to secure the last loans from its international bailout program, conclude the last program review and head to a so-called “clean exit” in August. The bill includes the country’s medium-term fiscal strategy framework through 2022, which foresees an average 2 percent annual growth and pledges to increase minimum wages and restore collective labor bargaining.

At the same time, the bill includes measures to expedite privatizations in the energy sector, the reduction of state spending on pensions and labor market reforms including arbitration when there is a dispute between employers and staff. • Pension cuts up to 18% to be implemented as of 2019. • Tax-free basis will be broadening to annual income of 5.686 euros, when EU’s poverty line is at 6,000. The measure to go into effect as of 2020. • Privatizations worth 3.9 billion euros
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill on upcoming Thursday, before the Eurogroup of June 21.

Athens is keen to pass a final review by its creditors ahead of a Eurogroup meeting on June 21, where it is also hoping for progress on a deal on further debt relief to be implemented after the current bailout program expires in August. If it gets the green light from the review and Eurogroup, it will receive about 12 billion euros ($14 billion) of new loans. [..] revenues will increase through the pension cuts, the changes in real estate objective value that will increase the property taxes, scrapping the decreased of Value Added Tax on all islands, scrapping the 15% discount on social security contributions as of 2019. • Pension cuts worth €2.9 billion annually. €1.2 billion will be cut from public sector pensions and €1.4 billion on private sector pensions. • Broadening the tax-free basis will bring revenues worth €1.9 billion.

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h/t Lambert Strether

Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled (JD Alt)

We now stand where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth. –Rachael Carson, Silent Spring What’s important to keep in mind in this quote from Rachael Carson’s 56-year-old warning shot over the bow of corporate civilization is that there are two roads being traveled now. We are no longer at a fork. The fork is half-a-century behind us. The goal is not to get the superhighway to somehow re-route itself and follow the path less traveled. It can’t.

The superhighway will, and must, continue accelerating in its inevitable direction, simply because the greed and power of the people driving that highway will not allow them to alter course. But if there is any truth to Rachael Carson’s warning (and there seems to be growing evidence of it) the other path—the Road Less Traveled—will become the surviving branch of our evolutionary diagram. The present goal, therefore, should be to create as many exits from the superhighway as possible—and to encourage and enable as many people as possible to take those exits to explore and follow the other path. Visualizing how we all got on this superhighway in the first place will be helpful to seeing the exit ramps. To make this visualization, it isn’t necessary to speculate about an ancient, human pre-history.

The process can be clearly seen and understood in a modern anecdote describing how one particular community of people joined the highway. I quote now from the book Fishing Lessons by Kevin M. Bailey*, where he retells author Robert Johannes’ story of fishermen in Palau, an island country in Micronesia. “Seafood was once abundant there. The Palauan fisherman never had trouble finding enough fish to satisfy their own and their village’s needs. The fisherman gave away the fish they didn’t eat to other villagers…. They lived in a state of ‘subsistence affluence.’ “…. After Japan colonized Palau in the 1920s the fishermen began to sell their fish to obtain attractive and exotic goods offered by the Japanese. The fishermen bought nets and motorized boats with the money, allowing them to catch more fish to sell in order to obtain more goods.

They fished harder to harvest more fish and visited more distant areas of the reef to find them. Over the years, the fish abundance dropped. “The fishermen bought even bigger boats to catch the vanishing fish, but to do that they had to borrow money. They had to sell all their fish to pay off their loans. They stopped giving them away in the villages; instead they sold them to the outsiders and to other villagers. Now the people in the village had to work for the money to buy their food…. “Pretty soon, there were not enough fish over the reefs for the fishermen to make payments on their loans, so the village sold their customary access rights to the fishing grounds. The people in the village began to eat imported fish in cans.”

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Mar 082018
 
 March 8, 2018  Posted by at 11:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Tahitian village 1892

 

We May Have Hit ‘Peak Trade’ Even Without Trump’s Tariffs – UBS (CNBC)
China’s Exports Surge At The Fastest Pace In 3 Years (R.)
42% of Americans Are Set To Retire Broke (CNBC)
Trump’s Volley (Lebowitz)
Divorced From Reality (RIA)
A Currency War Is Coming – With Japan (BBG)
Hallelujah! The Squid Regency At The White House Is Finally Over (Stockman)
Canada, Mexico to Get Initial Exemption From Trump Tariffs (BBG)
New iPhones Aren’t Selling In Asia (CNBC)
Vancouver Declares 5% Of Homes Empty And Liable For New Tax (G.)
More People Called David And Steve Lead FTSE 100 Companies Than Women (Ind.)
‘Why Would We Want A World Without Russia?’ – Putin (RT)
Sergei Skripal Is Not Litvinenko (Ind.)
Turkey Renews Threat Against Cyprus Offshore Gas Exploration (AP)
US State Department Stresses Cyprus’s Right To Develop Resources In EEZ (K.)
Tepco’s ‘Ice Wall’ Fails To Freeze Fukushima’s Toxic Water Buildup (R.)
Over 500 Quebec Doctors Protest Their Own Pay Raises (CNBC)

 

 

And not a day too soon. There’s nothing more destructive than schlepping 10 million things 10,000 miles across the planet that don’t neeed to be.

We May Have Hit ‘Peak Trade’ Even Without Trump’s Tariffs – UBS (CNBC)

The world may have hit ‘peak trade,’ according to an expert who pointed to robotics, digitization and localization as major game-changers for the sprawling supply chains that have defined globalization. Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s recently announced trade tariffs are not to blame. “I don’t think that the modest taxes imposed by Trump are a driver of peak trade, at this stage. Trade protectionism — mainly non-tariff barriers to trade — have been rising for some years,” he told CNBC. Rather, Donovan said, the peak trade argument is based on “a reversal of the structural way in which globalization took place in recent years.” Globalization as we know it has meant long cross-border supply chains, where many different countries and entities would take part in the production or processing of goods.

The resulting value of trade rose for each country as a proportion of GDP. Trade to GDP, therefore, rose as supply chains lengthened. “What is now happening is that robotics and digitization mean we can produce efficiently, locally,” Donovan said. As an example, he compared the purchase of a compact disc — whose components, intellectual property and packaging would come from different places — a decade ago to downloading music now, which requires only one transaction of intellectual property. This reduces the ratio of trade to GDP. [..] “Robotics, digitization and localization mean that trade wars today are fighting battles from the past,” Donovan said. “I think global trade in goods (not services) revert to something like the old ‘imperial model’ of importing raw materials and then processing close to the consumer.”

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Cancer growth.

China’s Exports Surge At The Fastest Pace In 3 Years (R.)

China’s exports unexpectedly surged at the fastest pace in 3 years in February, suggesting its economic growth remains resilient even as trade relations with the United States rapidly deteriorate. Trade tensions have jumped to the top of the list of risks facing China this year, with proposed U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports suggesting more measures may be on the way, Zhou Hao, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank, [said]. China’s February exports rose 44.5% from a year earlier, compared with analysts’ median forecast for a 13.6% increase, and an 11.1% gain in January, official data showed on Thursday. Imports grew 6.3%, the General Administration of Customs said, missing analysts’ forecast for 9.7% growth, and down from a sharper-than-expected 36.9% jump in January.

Analysts caution Chinese data early in the year can be heavily distorted by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February this year but in January in 2017. But combined January-February trade data also showed a dramatic acceleration in export growth. Exports rose 24.4% on-year in Jan-Feb, much better than 10.8% in December and 4% growth in Jan-Feb last year. The government also releases combined data for the first two months in an attempt to smooth out seasonal distortions. The deceleration in import growth for February may be payback for the previous month’s unusual strength, rather than a sign there has been an abrupt weakening in demand. Robust import growth in January was mostly led by commodities as factories scrambled to restock inventories ahead of the long holiday. Imports in the first two months of the year rose 21.7%, compared with 4.5% in December.

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Jesse Colombo’s comment: “And what’s amazing is that these retirement stats are during a massive, Fed-driven asset bubble that has inflated the value of retirement accounts – and people STILL can’t retire! Stick a fork in it…we’re done.”

42% of Americans Are Set To Retire Broke (CNBC)

At this rate, retirement is more of a fantasy than a reality for many people in this country. About 42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, according to a study by GoBankingRates released Tuesday. The No. 1 reason most people cited for not stashing more away was because they didn’t earn enough to save, followed by the fact that they were already struggling to pay bills, GoBankingRates said. The personal finance site polled more than 1,000 adults online in February.

For those with little or no savings, a serious lack of proper investment income and planning, coupled with a longer life expectancy, has destroyed any retirement expectations. Although millennials are most likely to have less than $10,000 saved, older Americans are also becoming steadily more pessimistic about their future economic prospects, according to a separate study by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.

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The role of teh reserve currency warrants way more attention.

Trump’s Volley (Lebowitz)

America relinquished its role as the world’s leading manufacturer in exchange for cheaper imported goods and services from other countries. The profits of U.S.-based manufacturing companies were enhanced with cheaper foreign labor, but the wages of U.S. employees were impaired, and jobs in the manufacturing sector were exported to foreign lands. This had the effect of hollowing out America’s industrial base while at the same time stoking foreign appetite for U.S. debt as they received U.S. dollars and sought to invest them. In return, debt-driven consumption soared in the U.S. The trade deficit, also known as the current account balance, measures the net flow of goods and services in and out of a country. The graph shows the correlation between the cumulative deterioration of the U.S. current account balance and manufacturing jobs.

Since 1983, there have only been two quarters in which the current account balance was positive. During the most recent economic expansion, the current account balance has averaged -$443 billion per year. To further appreciate the ramifications of the reigning economic regime, consider that China gained full acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. The trade agreements that accompanied WTO status and allowed China easier access to U.S. markets have resulted in an approximate quintupling of the amount of exports from China to the U.S. Similarly, there has been a concurrent increase in the amount of credit that China has extended the U.S. government through their purchase of U.S. Treasury securities as shown below.

To further understand why the current economic regime is tricky to change, one must consider that the debts of years past have not been paid off. As such the U.S. Treasury regularly issues new debt that is used to pay for older debt that is maturing while at the same time issuing even more debt to fund current period deficits. Therefore, the important topic not being discussed is the United States’ (in)ability to reduce reliance on foreign funding that has proven essential in supporting the accumulated debt of consumption from years past. Trump’s ideas are far more complicated than simply leveling the trade playing field and reviving our industrial base. If the United States decides to equalize terms of trade, then we are redefining long-held agreements introduced and reinforced by previous administrations.

In breaking with that tradition of “we give you dollars, you give us cheap goods (cars, toys, lawnmowers, steel, etc.), we will most certainly also need to source alternative demand for our debt. In reality, new buyers will emerge but that likely implies an unfavorable adjustment to interest rates. The graph below compares the amount of U.S. Treasury debt that is funded abroad and the total amount of publicly traded U.S. debt. Consider further, foreigners have large holdings of U.S. corporate and securitized individual debt as well. (Importantly, also note that in recent years the Fed has bought over $2 trillion of Treasury securities through QE, more than making up for the recent slowdown in foreign buying.)

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“Investors still believe in stocks as an asset class.”

Divorced From Reality (RIA)

There are many ways of assessing the value of the stock market. The Shiller PE (price relative to the past decade’s worth of real, average earnings) and Tobin’s Q (the value of companies’ outstanding stock and debt relative to their replacement cost) are likely the two best. That doesn’t mean those metrics are accurate crash indicators, or that one can use them profitably as trading signals. Expensive stocks can stay expensive or get more expensive, and cheap stocks can stay cheap or get cheaper for inconveniently long periods of time.

But those metrics do have a good record of forecasting future long-term (one decade or more) returns. And that’s important for financial planning and wealth management. Difficult though it is sometimes, everyone must plug in an estimated return into a formula for retirement savings. And if an advisor is plugging in a 7% or so return for a balanced portfolio currently, he or she is likely not doing their job well. Stocks will almost certainly return less than their long-term 10% annualized average for the next decade or two given a starting Shiller PE over 30. The long-term average of the metric, after all, is under 17.

[..] Companies are always manipulating items on income statements to arrive at a particular earnings number. Recently, record numbers of companies have supported net income numbers with non-GAAP metrics. That can be legitimate sometimes. For example, depreciation on real estate is rarely commensurate with reality. But it can also be nefarious[..] So I created a chart showing sales per share growth and price per share growth of the S&P 500 dating back to the end of 2008. From the beginning of 2009 through the end of 2016, companies in the index grew profits per share by nearly 4% annualized, a perfectly respectable number for a mature economy. But price per share grew by a whopping 14.5% over that time. Over that 8 year period, sales grew less than 50% cumulatively, while share prices tripled.

Anyone invested in stocks should worry about this chart. How do share prices get so divorced from underlying corporate sales? One likely answer is low interest rates. But there must be other reasons because we’ve had low interest rates and low stock prices before – namely in the 1940s. That was after the Great Depression, and stocks were still likely viewed as suspect investments. Today, by contrast, stocks are not viewed with much suspicion, despite the technology bubble peaking in 2000 and the housing bubble in 2008. Investors still believe in stocks as an asset class.

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Japan cannot do a strong yen for too long.

A Currency War Is Coming – With Japan (BBG)

As if a brewing trade war wasn’t enough to worry about, investors also need to be alert to the threat of a major currency conflict. Norihiro Takahashi, president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, dismissed Donald Trump’s tariffs plan as a “performance” for his supporters, and said U.S. assets are no longer expensive, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week. That marks a change in stance since the December quarter, when the world’s largest pension fund scaled back its exposure to foreign assets. Takahashi’s comments could well be a veiled expression of Japan’s displeasure at a stronger yen. The Japanese currency has soared 6.6% against the greenback this year — and we’re only three months into 2018. For a yen-based investor, Treasuries, in particular, do indeed look more reasonably priced than in December.

In theory, currency policy falls under the jurisdiction of Japan’s finance ministry. In practice, government agencies from the Bank of Japan to the GPIF co-ordinate their actions. Don’t forget that on Oct. 31, 2014, the central bank expanded its monetary policy on the same day the GPIF adopted a “new policy asset mix” that increased the fund’s exposure to foreign bonds. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda can deny it, but the central bank has every interest in seeking a weak yen. Japanese corporate earnings are highly cyclical: On a market-weighted basis, companies on the Topix index derive more than 37% of their revenue from abroad, data compiled by Gadfly show. A strengthening yen can cause stocks to plunge, depressing consumption and tipping the economy back into deflation.

With the Topix down more than 10% from its January high, that’s no idle threat. CPI ex-food, the BOJ’s inflation metric, was 0.9% in January, still nowhere near the 2% target that was last breached in 2015. Kuroda’s domestic toolbox, meanwhile, is starting to look empty. With a record 40% of government bonds already in its hands, the central bank is running out of assets to buy.

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I was wondering yesterday why not more people were happy about this. Question is: how far do the Squid’s tentacles still reach?

Hallelujah! The Squid Regency At The White House Is Finally Over (Stockman)

The financial commentariat and the robo-machines are all in a tizzy this morning because Gary Cohn up and quit. But we say good riddance: The man gave Trump bad advice on nearly every single issue – trade, taxes, fiscal policy and the Fed. We didn’t make any bones about that viewpoint during our appearance on Fox Business this AM. When Maria Bartiromo asked us about Cohn’s departure, our reply was: Hallelujah, the Goldman Sachs Regency in the White House is finally over! The fact is, we do have a trade crisis, but Gary Cohn and the Wall Street pseudo-free traders don’t care and never have. That’s because they fiercely support a perverted, self-serving monetary regime that systematically and massively inflates financial assets, even as it strip mines and deflates the main street economy.

As we have been pointing out in this series, there is a perverse symbiosis between the Fed and the Dirty Float central banks of the 10 major countries (China, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, etc), which account for 90% of the nation’s $810 billion trade deficit (2017). Together they have ripped the guts out of the US industrial economy – effectively sending jobs and production abroad and cash flow and liquidated capital to Wall Street. For its part, the Fed has monkey-hammered US competitiveness. That’s the result of its insensible 2.00% inflation policy, which has fatally inflated nominal dollar wages in a world market drowning in cheap labor priced in artificially under-valued currencies. At the same time, its massive interest rate repression and price-keeping operations in the stock market have turned the C-suites of corporate America into financial engineering joints.

So doing, they have slashed real net business investment by nearly 3o% since the turn of the century, by 20% from the 2007 pre-crisis peak and, actually, to a level in 2016 that barely exceeded real net investment two decades earlier in 1997. Meanwhile, the C-suites shuttled upwards of $15 trillion of cash flow and debt capacity during the last decade alone into stock buybacks, vanity M&A deals and excess dividends and recaps.

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Re-negotiate.

Canada, Mexico to Get Initial Exemption From Trump Tariffs (BBG)

The Trump administration will initially exclude Canada and Mexico from stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, an exemption they would lose if they fail to reach an updated Nafta agreement with the U.S., White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday. The two nations won’t be subject to tariffs on their steel and aluminum if they sign a new NAFTA that meets the satisfaction of the U.S., Navarro said, adding that other American allies could use a similar system to ask for an exemption. If Nafta talks fall through, Canada and Mexico would face the same tariff as other nations, expected to be 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. “Here’s the situation, and the president has made this public,” Navarro said. “There’s going to be a provision which will exclude Canada and Mexico until the Nafta thing is concluded one way or another.”

The decision-making process regarding the tariffs has evolved and more changes could be made before President Donald Trump formally approves them. China on Thursday vowed to retaliate, its most forceful comments yet on the threatened tariffs. “A trade war is never the right solution,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “In a globalized world, it is particularly unhelpful, as it will harm both the initiator and the target countries. In the event of a trade war, China will make a justified and necessary response.” Earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the tariff plan would feature “potential carve outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security” considerations and also possible exclusions for specific countries. Australia is among those making the case for exemption, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop citing her nation’s status as a “close ally and partner” in a Sky News interview on Thursday.

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Good headline, followed by shameless promo.

New iPhones Aren’t Selling In Asia (CNBC)

Apple’s iPhone X may not have wooed Asian consumers during the Lunar New Year holiday — but the company has some new products in the pipeline, according to Rosenblatt Securities’ Jun Zhang. Zhang chopped 5.5 million units off expectations for iPhone X sales for the first half of this year in a Wednesday research note. But with sales of high-end smartphones shrinking, Apple could offset lower iPhone sales with new products. “We are not surprised with the quick cooldown of iPhone X sales following Chinese New Year,” Zhang wrote. “Further iPhone X cuts, in our view, suggest the high-end smartphone market upgrade cycle continues to extend. We are seeing similar issues for Samsung’s S9 model since our research suggests that preorders are weak.”

Apple and Samsung, like many tech companies, and rarely release data on new products or unit sales outside of quarterly reports or launch events. But, Zhang wrote, Apple could sell 6 million to 8 million iPad Pro units with more advanced 3-D sensing, as well as new phones in the fall. A new red iPhone model, lower-end iPhones and a lower-priced HomePod might also be in the works, Zhang said. (Apple has had a partnership with HIV/AIDS organization (RED) for over a decade, and often sells red-colored products to support AIDS research and prevention.) “Since we expect the overall smartphone market to be flat this year, particularly in the mid-to-high end markets, Apple’s upcoming lower priced iPhone model could drive Apple’s unit growth,” Zhang wrote.

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Why do I get the idea there’s not an actual plan behind any of this, or a philosophy?

Vancouver Declares 5% Of Homes Empty And Liable For New Tax (G.)

Thousands of homes in Vancouver have been declared unused and liable for a new empty homes tax as part of a government attempt to tackle skyrocketing home prices and soaring rents. About 4.6% or 8,481 homes in the western Canadian city stood empty or underutilised for more than 180 days in 2017, according to declarations submitted to the municipality by 98.85% of homeowners. Properties deemed empty will be subjected to a tax of 1% of their assessed value. Vancouver has rolled out a raft of measures to cool prices and improve housing affordability in the country’s most expensive real estate market. Empty houses, also a big issue in the UK, are only one aspect of the problem. In 2017 the provincial government of British Columbia raised its foreign buyer tax from 15% to 20% to target offshore investors blamed for pushing up prices.

Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, followed suit with a 15% tax in April. Before the foreign buyer tax, sales agents said investors in Hong Kong, China and other parts of Asia were acquiring up to 40% of Vancouver condominium projects marketed abroad, absorbing the more expensive units that domestic buyers could not afford. Nearly 61% of the homes declared empty in Vancouver were condos, and other multi-family properties made up almost 6%, according to the city government. More than a quarter of the empty properties were in downtown Vancouver. Property owners who did not submit a declaration and those who claimed exemptions, such as for renovations or if the owner was in hospital or long-term care, were included in the empty homes number.

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I’m a sucker for headlines. The original says “..women and ethnic minorities..”, but that had me wondering how many immigrants are named David or Steve. More than women, I’d bet.

More People Called David And Steve Lead FTSE 100 Companies Than Women (Ind.)

There are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities, underscoring the extent to which corporate Britain is still dominated by men. According to research conducted by INvolve, a group that champions diversity and inclusion in business, there are currently five ethnic minority and seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Nine are named David and four are called Steve. Later this month Royal Mail, which is headed up by Moya Greene, is set to join the index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies, taking the total number of female-led firms to eight.

The number highlights how women and ethnic minorities are still dramatically underrepresented on corporate boards across the UK. According to the Government’s Hampton-Alexander Review into female leaders across FTSE companies published last November, only five FTSE 250 companies had at the time achieved a gender-balanced board. Speaking at an event in London to mark International Women’s Day this week, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that women are now joining boards in greater numbers than ever, but often as non-executive directors.

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He doesn’t give an inch. Why would he?

‘Why Would We Want A World Without Russia?’ – Putin (RT)

President Vladimir Putin, who recently startled the world by unveiling Russia’s advanced nuclear arsenal, has again spoken of nuclear arms, clarifying the circumstances in which Moscow is prepared to enter a nuclear war. “Certainly, it would be a global disaster for humanity; a disaster for the entire world,” Putin said, in an interview for a Russian documentary “The World Order 2018,” adding that “as a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?” Even though Putin admitted that any conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons would have dire consequences for humanity, he maintained that Russia would be forced to defend itself using all available means if its very existence is put at stake.

“A decision on the use of nuclear weapons may only be taken if our ballistic missile attack warning system not only detects a launch, but also predicts that the warheads would hit Russian territory. This is called a retaliation strike,” he said in the interview. Russia’s latest edition of its nuclear doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack against Russia or its allies, or to a conventional attack that threatens the existence of Russia. Putin also denied Russia was interested in pursuing a nuclear arms race, saying that “to begin with, we did not start this… nuclear bomb was first developed not by us but by the US,” he said in the interview, pointing out that “we have never used nuclear weapons [although] the US used them against Japan.”

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A rare dose of reality in a British press -and politics- engaged in full-steam Russia bashing.

Sergei Skripal Is Not Litvinenko (Ind.)

Boris Johnson just about observed diplomatic protocol when he addressed MPs about the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. He stopped short of accusing the Russian state directly. But his inference – a malevolent and unjustified inference for the Foreign Secretary of a country that harps on about the rule of law – was indeed of Russian guilt. And it was clearest in the parallel he invited MPs to draw with the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Now it may indeed be that Russia – or Russians (something rather different) – are responsible for whatever happened in Salisbury. And it is true that Russians in the UK seem disproportionately accident-prone. But it is premature in the extreme to blame the Russian state, and just as misleading to draw this particular parallel with the Litvinenko case.

Both men may have been Russians branded traitors by their homeland, and both may have been victims of poisoning, but there are important differences. In Russia, Litvinenko worked against organised crime; he was less a spy in the conventional sense than a criminal intelligence officer. He fled the country after blowing the whistle on his corrupt bosses, and applied for asylum in the UK. His first choice, the US, had turned him down on the apparent grounds that the information he had to offer was not valuable enough. Unlike Skripal, he started working for MI5/6 only after arriving in the UK, and even then seems to have had difficulty getting on the payroll. His widow, Marina, is still battling to get the intelligence agencies to pay a pension or recognise a duty of care. It is cruel to say so, but Litvinenko seems almost to have been more use to the UK in death – as a totem of Russia’s general badness – than he was in life.

[..] For the moment, though, I will resist the temptation to delve into my inner Le Carre and return to Litvinenko. As I said, there are crucial differences between the two – differences that should militate against state-sponsored assassination being the favoured explanation for Skripal’s plight. But there should be doubts, too, about this judgment in the case of Litvinenko. The conclusions of the Litvinenko inquiry, now treated as unimpeachable proof of Russian state culpability, are nowhere near as definitive – or credible – as they have since been presented. The much-trumpeted (and over-interpreted) conclusion of the judge, Sir Robert Owen, was that “the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin”. He said there was “a strong probability” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and the use of polonium-210 was “at very least a strong indicator of state involvement”. What sort of proof is that?

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They better be careful….

Turkey Renews Threat Against Cyprus Offshore Gas Exploration (AP)

Turkey’s prime minister has renewed a threat against efforts to search for offshore gas around Cyprus. Turkey opposes what it says are “unilateral” efforts to search for gas, saying they infringe the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island’s resources. Binali Yildirim said Wednesday during a joint news conference with Tufan Erhurman, the so-called “prime minister” of the breakaway north of Cyprus, that “provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response.” Yildirim’s comments were in response to reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading toward the Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the US Navy. Last month, Turkish warships prevented a rig from reaching an area southeast of Cyprus where Italian company Eni was scheduled to drill for gas.

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….because the US must defend Exxon.

US State Department Stresses Cyprus’s Right To Develop Resources In EEZ (K.)

The United States recognizes the right of Cyprus to develop the resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and discourages any actions or statements that provoke a rise in tensions in the region, a State Department official has said. In a statement late on Wednesday, the official said that Washington’s policy on Cyprus’ EEZ was longstanding and has not changed, noting that the US “recognizes the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.” “We continue to believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” the official said. “We discourage any actions or rhetoric that increase tensions in the region.” The official did not comment directly on threats from Ankara regarding the arrival in the region of a research vessel belonging to US company ExxonMobil.

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How is it possible that TEPCO is allowed to just keep on lying?

Tepco’s ‘Ice Wall’ Fails To Freeze Fukushima’s Toxic Water Buildup (R.)

A costly “ice wall” is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows, preventing it from removing radioactive melted fuel at the site seven years after the disaster. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, Tepco assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant’s basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site’s reactors, to “nearly nothing.” However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the Tepco data showed.

The groundwater seepage has delayed Tepco’s clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant, which was battered by a tsunami seven years ago this Sunday. Waves knocked out power and triggered meltdowns at three of the site’s six reactors that spewed radiation, forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned to this once-fertile coast. Though called an ice wall, Tepco has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen ($324 million) in public funds, Tepco sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant’s reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit).

The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast. However, the continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that Tepco must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. It says it will run out of space by early 2021. “I believe the ice wall was ‘oversold’ in that it would solve all the release and storage concerns,” said Dale Klein, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the head of an external committee advising Tepco on safety issues.

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The people that see the threats to the entire system are not politicians.

Over 500 Quebec Doctors Protest Their Own Pay Raises (CNBC)

In Canada, more than 500 doctors and residents, as well as over 150 medical students, have signed a public letter protesting their own pay raises. “We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the letter says. The group say they are offended that they would receive raises when nurses and patients are struggling. “These increases are all the more shocking because our nurses, clerks and other professionals face very difficult working conditions, while our patients live with the lack of access to required services because of the drastic cuts in recent years and the centralization of power in the Ministry of Health,” reads the letter, which was published February 25.

“The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our remuneration,” the letter says. Canada has a public health system which provides “universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay,” the government’s website says. The 213 general practitioners, 184 specialists, 149 resident medical doctors and 162 medical students want the money used for their raises to be returned to the system instead. “We believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end,” the letter says.

“We, Quebec doctors, are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be canceled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec.” A physician in Canada is paid $260,924 ($339,000 Canadian) for clinical services by the government’s Ministry of Health per year on average, according to a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information published in September 2017. On average, a family physician is paid $211,717 ($275,000 Canadian) for clinical services and a surgical specialist is paid $354,915 ($461,000 Canadian), according to the same report.

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Feb 242018
 
 February 24, 2018  Posted by at 11:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Rear of interstate truck. Elko, Nevada 1940

 

Debt On Track To Destroy The American Middle Class (GoldT)
The Only Thing That Can Save Stocks Is QE (ZH)
Fed ‘Quite Likely’ To Require Large-Scale QE Again (ZH)
VIX Funds Face Fresh Scrutiny From US Regulators (BBG)
Xi Confidant Emerges As Front Runner To Head China’s Central Bank (R.)
Brexit To End London House Price Boom (Ind.)
UK Post-Brexit Plans Based On A “Pure Illusion”- EU (G.)
Ecuador Blames UK As Assange Talks Break Down (G.)
Europe to Wind Down Latvian Bank Targeted by U.S. Over Sanctions (BBG)
After New Incident Off Cyprus, EU Calls On Turkey To Stop Naval Aggression (K.)

 

 

Going down down down.

Debt On Track To Destroy The American Middle Class (GoldT)

Economists report the household debt to be at its highest in decades. Yet, at the same time, we are being told that the economy is doing great. Does anyone see a serious contradiction? In fact, the current economy only favors the wealthy owing to their flourishing financial assets such as stocks and bonds. Owing to the lack of real assets such as property and commodities, the middle and lower classes are becoming overwhelmed due to the serious consequences of the spending/debt cycle. American consumers have a collective outstanding household debt of about $13.15 trillion of which nearly $1 trillion is the credit card debt alone, households are truly on a debt binge. These figures should be a wake-up call to all the Americans. The convulsive household debt has surpassed the bubble of 2008 and is still escalating. The economy may not be doing so great, after all.

Compared to 2008, the automobile credit balances have increased to $367 billion whereas the outstanding student loans are around $671 billion. Moreover, 67% of household debts belong to consumer mortgages. In 2016, 25% of all the Americans purchased a new or used vehicle and two-thirds of them are repaying through high-interest, long-term loans. In fact, the consumer debt has exceeded their income for majority of the Americans. Consumers have become accustomed using easy credit to maintain a lifestyle unaffordable for them otherwise. If this trend continues, and facts indicate that it will, we will be facing a monumental credit crisis in the near future. A huge portion of credit card debt is the interest. Credit cards are a convenience and consumers readily pay for the privilege.

[..] The decline in automobile sales is already an indication of the future consumer debt crisis. If lenders continue to provide easy access to credit regardless of its looming default and delinquent potential, retail purchase will face a sharp decline in 2018. This will have serious consequences on the overall economy. The Federal Reserve and other global lenders are a significant contribution to the problem. They allow printing of trillions of dollars and yens for the lenders to distribute to the borrowing consumers at a high interest, leading to a worldwide inflation. All this printed wealth is merely an illusion yet it is raising the cost of living. Prices are rising at an alamingly faster rate compared to the consumer income. There is no increase in real assets. All this is but a mere mushrooming of debt.

The consequences of federal policy will be inescapable unless reversed and there are no signs of any reversal in near or distant future. At this rate, the consumers will soon face a critical financial bubble. Financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, risk losing substantial value. The wealthy can absorb the losses but the poor and middle class will face financial ruin. Consumers need to seriously consider the need to increase their “real” assets, such as real estate and commodities to prevent a long-term financial nightmare. The chart below shows how the real assets have curved to an all-time low.

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Gee, what a surprise.

The Only Thing That Can Save Stocks Is QE (ZH)

In the last 45 years, there have been seven periods of persistent US dollar and Treasury bond weakness and as BofAML notes, during six of those periods, stocks have been pressured significantly lower.

This could be a problem, as it’s happening again… and stocks are beginning to wake up to it…

There has only been one period in history when falling dollar and bond prices did not lead to slumping stocks…And that was when QE was expanded drastically in March 2009.

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Tightening and then not.

Fed ‘Quite Likely’ To Require Large-Scale QE Again (ZH)

Ahead of Fed Chair Powell’s first semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress next week (brought forward to 2/27), The Fed has released his prepared remarks warning that “valuations are still elevated across a range of asset classes” and fears “signs of rising non-financial leverage.” To wit: Looking at the key topic of inflation, and the labor market, the Fed found that U.S. labor market is “near or a little beyond” full employment in early 2018, and that while the pace of wage growth has been modest, “serious labor shortages” would probably give it an upward push. Ironically, and paradoxically for an “economy beyond full employment”, the Fed observes that “the pace of wage gains has been moderate; while wage gains have likely been held down by the sluggish pace of productivity growth in recent years.”

Regardless, the Fed clearly is concerned about labor supply-demand imbalances, and has even added a new word: serious, as in “serious labor shortages would probably bring about larger increases than have been observed thus far.” In a separate special section on financial stability, the Fed notes that overall vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial system remain moderate, while noting some spots where things are warming up. These include signs of increased leverage to the nonbank sector, noting greater provision of margin credit to equity investors such as hedge funds. Looking at financial imbalances, the Fed warns that “leverage in the nonfinancial business sector has remained high, and net issuance of risky debt has climbed in recent months. In contrast, leverage in the household sector has remained at a relatively low level, and household debt in recent years has expanded only about in line with nominal income.”

[..] Curiously, before Powell’s remarks were dropped, both Dudley and Rosengren were on the tape this morning talking super dovish about QE as “useful to have in the toolkit for those times when the short-term interest rate tool may not be available,” adding that The Fed is “quite likely” to require large-scale asset purchases again because real rates will remain low due to slow productivity and labor-force growth.

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Horse has left that barn ages ago.

VIX Funds Face Fresh Scrutiny From US Regulators (BBG)

U.S. regulators are scrutinizing this month’s implosion of investments that track stock-market turmoil, including whether wrongdoing contributed to steep losses for VIX exchange-traded products offered by Credit Suisse and other firms, several people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have been conducting a broad review of trading since Feb. 5, when volatility spiked and investors lost billions of dollars, the people said. Among those looking into what happened are lawyers in the SEC’s enforcement division, which investigates firms for potential misconduct and fines them if it finds violations of securities laws, two of the people said. There is no indication thus far that specific companies, including Credit Suisse, are being probed.

The scrutiny puts a spotlight on a small corner of the $3.4 trillion exchange-traded fund industry that lets everyone from hedge funds to mom-and-pop investors engage in complex trading strategies. With losses now piling up, allegations of market manipulation are getting more attention and government watchdogs face questions about why small-time investors were permitted to buy such products in the first place. “The values of these exchange-traded products are based on a combination of futures, options and three indices. Quite the maze,” Democratic SEC Commissioner Kara Stein said Friday in a speech at a conference in Washington. “What troubles me is that oftentimes complex products fall into the hands of people who don’t fully understand them.”

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton told reporters at the same event Friday that he wasn’t concerned about how the market functioned during the steep decline in equities on Feb. 5 and in the two weeks since. He said it would be appropriate, however, to review which types of more complex investments are widely available to average investors. “The portfolio of products available to retail investors has changed dramatically and it’s worth taking a look at,” Clayton said.

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Tough job. Xi sets rates all by himself.

Xi Confidant Emerges As Front Runner To Head China’s Central Bank (R.)

Liu He, a Harvard-trained economist who is a trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has emerged as the front runner to be the next governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), according to three sources with knowledge of the situation. Liu may be in a position to become one of China’s most powerful economic and financial officials ever, as he is already top adviser to Xi on economic policy and is also expected to become vice premier overseeing the economy. Liu would replace current PBOC chief, 70-year-old Zhou Xiaochuan, who is China’s longest-running head of the central bank, having taken the job in 2002. Zhou is expected to retire around the time of the annual session of parliament in March, sources previously told Reuters.

The change would be part of a wider government reshuffle following the 19th Communist Party Congress in October last year, during which Xi laid out his vision for China’s long-term development, and elevated his key allies. Speculation has been rife for months over the choice of the next central bank governor. Xi will have the final say, and the sources noted that while Liu is clearly the frontrunner he is not yet certain to get the job. Just before last October’s Congress, sources told Reuters that China’s banking regulator head Guo Shuqing and veteran banker Jiang Chaoliang were leading contenders for the PBOC job. But at the congress, the influence of the 66-year-old Liu continued to grow. He was elected into the 25-member Politburo, the second-highest tier in Beijing’s political power structure after the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

Sources previously told Reuters that Liu, a fluent English speaker, is set to become one of China’s four vice premiers and would oversee the economy and financial sector. Two of the sources said that Liu could serve concurrently as vice premier and head of the central bank.

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Brexit is not all bad.

Brexit To End London House Price Boom (Ind.)

UK inflation will outstrip gains in house prices this year and next, particularly in the capital, as uncertainty over Brexit and weak consumer spending power hits demand, a Reuters poll found on Friday. According to the latest quarterly Reuters poll of 33 housing market specialists, taken in the past week, property prices will rise 2.0% this year, much slower than the predicted 2.5% rise in general costs in the economy. In London – long the hotbed for foreign investors behind a decade of skyrocketing prices – the difference will be even starker: the average price is expected to fall 0.5% this year. Next year, house prices will rise 0.9% in London and 2.0 nationally, still both below the 2.1% expected inflation rate. In 2020, London prices will increase 2.0% and by 2.3% nationally. “A significant effect of Brexit is subdued investment confidence,” said Rod Lockhart at online mortgage lender LendInvest.

“Would-be sellers are holding onto assets for longer and buyers are being a little more diligent before committing to significant expenditures, all this against a backdrop of inflation-surpassing wage growth.” Most respondents in the poll said the Brexit vote had been negative for both turnover and prices in London but were split over whether it had been negative or had no impact nationally. Sterling is over 6% weaker than before the June 2016 vote to leave the EU, something that should make properties more attractive to foreign investors, who can take advantage of cheaper prices. But uncertainty over how Brexit divorce talks will pan out has deterred overseas buyers. “Foreigners get more pounds in their pockets, but the nation and its capital has lost some of its allure,” said Tony Williams at property consultancy Building Value.

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May the masochist.

UK Post-Brexit Plans Based On A “Pure Illusion”- EU (G.)

Theresa May’s reported agreement with her cabinet on a future trading relationship with the EU has been criticised as based on “pure illusion” by the European council president, Donald Tusk, as frustration with the UK erupted in Brussels. Reports that May’s inner cabinet had agreed on a policy of “managed divergence” during eight hours of talks at an awayday in Chequers were met with incredulity by EU leaders. Tusk told reporters on Friday: “I am glad the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position. “However, if the media reports are correct, I am afraid the UK position today is based on pure illusion. It looks like the cake [and eat it] philosophy is still alive. “From the very start it has been a set principle of the EU27 that there cannot be any cherrypicking of single market à la carte. This will continue to be a key principle, I have no doubt.”

Speaking at a summit of EU27 member states in Brussels, to discuss the EU’s budget and leadership post-Brexit, Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, also insisted that the single market was “not à la carte”. It is believed the British government is seeking to maintain frictionless trade in some sectors by staying in lock-step alignment with EU regulation, while opening up the prospect of diverging in other areas in order to gain a competitive advantage in the international marketplace. “It is not possible for UK to be aligned to EU when it suits and not when it doesn’t,” Varadkar said. “The UK position needs to be backed up with real detail that can be written into a legal treaty with the EU. We are well beyond the point of aspirations and principle. We need detail.”

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Britain should be taken to The Hague for its involvement.

Ecuador Blames UK As Assange Talks Break Down (G.)

Talks between the UK and Ecuador over the future of Julian Assange at its London embassy have broken down, the South American country’s foreign minister has said. Maria Fernanda Espinosa suggested British officials had been unwilling to negotiate over the Wikileaks founder’s potential release. Earlier this month, a judge upheld an arrest warrant issued when Assange skipped bail as he fought extradition to Sweden in 2012. The 46-year-old has been at the embassy ever since because he fears extradition to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. Espinosa said of the failed talks: “To mediate you need two parties, Ecuador is willing, but not necessarily the other party.”

Ecuador said it would continue to protect Assange’s rights, however there was a risk to his physical and psychological wellbeing after spending nearly six years in the building as a “refugee”. The country has assessed more than 30 similar cases in a bid to break the deadlock, including that of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in prison in Iran accused of spying. This included options for granting diplomatic immunity, although Ecuador said it would continue to respect the UK’s laws. In November, Espinosa said Assange had been granted Ecuadorian citizenship. The foreign minister said Ecuador was trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – including special legal immunity and safe passage.

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All because of North Korea?!

Europe to Wind Down Latvian Bank Targeted by U.S. Over Sanctions (BBG)

European authorities moved to liquidate Latvia’s ABLV Bank after clients pulled assets from the lender following U.S. accusations that it laundered money. The ECB, which had already placed a freeze on payments by the lender, said that ABLV was failing or likely to fail, handing it over to Europe’s Single Resolution Board. That authority said a resolution of the bank, which generally means a sale or restructuring, isn’t in the public interest because neither ABLV nor its Luxembourg-based subsidiary provide “critical functions” and their failure won’t have a “significant adverse impact” on financial stability. ABLV was plunged into crisis after the U.S. Treasury this month proposed to ban it from the American financial system, saying it helped process illicit transactions, including for entities with alleged ties to North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

The bank responded by saying the allegations are wrong and misleading and that it was working to provide information to the Treasury that would help to overturn the proposal. “The bank is likely unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fall due,” the ECB said in a statement on Saturday in Frankfurt. “The bank did not have sufficient funds which are immediately available to withstand stressed outflows of deposits before the payout procedure of the Latvian deposit-guarantee fund starts.” ABLV took a different view, saying it accumulated more than €1.36 billion over four business days to strengthen its liquidity and ensure 86% of its demand deposits. “The bank considers that it has fulfilled all requirements of the regulator in order to resume operation,” ABLV said. “It was absolutely sufficient for the bank to resume executing payments and meet all obligations toward its clients, yet due to political considerations the bank was not given a chance to do it.”

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Turkey threatens to fire on an Italian ship.

After New Incident Off Cyprus, EU Calls On Turkey To Stop Naval Aggression (K.)

Just a day after it said it won’t allow Cyprus to conduct a “unilateral” gas search off the Eastern Mediterranean island’s coast if Turkish Cypriots don’t also reap the benefits, Ankara ratcheted up tensions with Nicosia Friday when its warships threatened to use force against a drillship contracted to Italian energy giant Eni as it tried, again, to reach an area in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to commence exploratory gas drilling. Turkey has been obstructing the Saipem 12000 drillship from approaching an area in Block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ since February 9, citing naval exercises. This week it announced it is reserving the area until March 10. Earlier in the month a Turkish gunboat rammed a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel near the eastern Aegean islet of Imia. Turkey’s aggression was raised by Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the informal summit of EU leaders in Brussels Friday.

European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters after the meeting that the bloc was calling on Turkey to stop activities that have led to recent incidents in Greece and Cyprus, stressing that both countries have the “sovereign right” to explore for resources. He also said the EU will assess during March’s European Council meeting whether the conditions are ripe for a high-level meeting with Turkey in Varna on March 26. The drillship left the area after the incident and headed west for the city of Limassol, where it is expected to remain for a few days before sailing to Morocco. “Unfortunately, the drillship was halted by five Turkish warships and after threats of violence and the threat of a collision, it was compelled to return back,” said Cypriot government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos, who stressed, however, that the postponement of the scheduled drilling does not mean that the island’s energy plans will change.

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Jul 072017
 
 July 7, 2017  Posted by at 8:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Francis Bacon Triptych 1976

 

All Eyes On Trump-Putin Dynamics As They Meet For First Time At G20 (R.)
Deep State Begins Anti-Russia Media Blitz Ahead Of Trump-Putin Meeting
Anti-G20 Protesters Clash With Hamburg Police ‘Like Never Before’ (RT)
The Party Is Over: Central Banks Pull The Plug On Bond Market Rally (CNBC)
Central Bank Easy Money ‘Era Is Ending’ – Ray Dalio (CNBC)
Ray Dalio’s ‘Beautiful’ Deleveraging Delusion (ZH)
‘It’s Too Late’: 7 Signs Australia Can’t Avoid Economic Apocalypse (News)
World-Beating Wealth Props Up Qatar Against Arab Sanctions (R.)
Home Sales In Greater Toronto Area Plunged 37.3% Last Month (CP)
The Fast Track to “Carmageddon” (David Stockman)
Clinton, The IMF And Wall Street Journal Toppled Suharto (Hanke)
Our Political Parties Are Obsolete (CH Smith)
Cyprus Reunification Talks Collapse (R.)

 

 

If only they could have a decent conversation.

All Eyes On Trump-Putin Dynamics As They Meet For First Time At G20 (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to size each other up in person for the first time on Friday in what promises to be the most highly anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Trump has said he wants to find ways to work with Putin, a goal made more difficult by sharp differences over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That means every facial expression and physical gesture will be analyzed as much as any words the two leaders utter as the world tries to read how well Trump, a real estate magnate and former reality television star, gets along with Putin, a former spy. The fear is that the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, will be less prepared than Putin, who has dealt with the past two U.S. presidents and scores of other world leaders.

“There’s nothing … the Kremlin would like to see more than a (U.S.) president who will settle for a grip and a grin and walk away saying that he had this fabulous meeting with the Kremlin autocrat,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on MSNBC. As investigations at home continue into whether there was any collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia the U.S. president has come under pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin. Moscow has denied any interference and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia. On Thursday, Trump won praise from at least one Republican hawk in the U.S. Congress after his speech in Warsaw in which he urged Russia to stop its “destabilizing activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran.

“This is a great start to an important week of American foreign policy,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has often been critical of Trump on security issues. But earlier in the day, Trump declined to say definitively whether he believed U.S. intelligence officials who have said that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. “I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said at a news conference, before slamming Democratic former President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop hacking.

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So much for that decent conversation. James Clapper, who not long ago stated there is no proof of Russian election hacking, now claims that there is no proof of anyone BUT the Russians being involved.

Deep State Begins Anti-Russia Media Blitz Ahead Of Trump-Putin Meeting

It’s been relatively quiet in the last few weeks on the “the Russians did it, and Trump’s Putin’s best-buddy” propaganda-fest, but it appears the Deep State had three stories tonight – just hours ahead of Trump’s face-to-face with Putin – claim Russian hackers are targeting US nuclear facilities, the Russians are nonchalantly stepping up their spying, and that Russia alone interfered with the US election. With all eyes on the ‘handshake’ as Putin and Trump come face-to-face for the first time as world leaders, it seems the Deep State is desperately fearful of some rapprochement, crushing the need for NATO, and destroying the excuses for massive, unprecedented military-industrial complex spending.

And so, three stories (2 anonymously sourced and one with no facts behind it) in The New York Times (who recently retracted their “17 intelligence agencies” lie) and CNN (where do we start with these guys? let’s just go with full retraction of an anonymously sourced lie about Scaramucci and Kushner and the Russians) should stir up enough angst to ensure the meeting is at best awkward and at worst a lose-lose for Trump (at least in the eyes of the media). First off we have the ‘news’ that hackers have reportedly been breaking into computer networks of companies operating United States nuclear power stations, energy facilities and manufacturing plants, according to a new report by The New York Times.

“The origins of the hackers are not known. But the report indicated that an “advanced persistent threat” actor was responsible, which is the language security specialists often use to describe hackers backed by governments. The two people familiar with the investigation say that, while it is still in its early stages, the hackers’ techniques mimicked those of the organization known to cybersecurity specialists as “Energetic Bear,” the Russian hacking group that researchers have tied to attacks on the energy sector since at least 2012.” And Bloomberg piled on…”The chief suspect is Russia, according to three people familiar with the continuing effort to eject the hackers from the computer networks.” So that’s that 5 people – who know something – suspect it was the Russians that are hacking US nuclear facilities (but there’s no proof).

Next we move to CNN who claim a ‘current and former U.S. intelligence officials’ told them that Russian spies have been stepping up their intelligence gathering efforts in the U.S. since the election, feeling emboldened by the lack of significant U.S. response to Russian election meddling. “Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the US, and their success in election meddling has not deterred them,” said a former senior intelligence official familiar with Trump administration efforts. “The concerning point with Russia is the volume of people that are coming to the US. They have a lot more intelligence officers in the US” compared to what they have in other countries, one of the former intelligence officials says.”

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Holding it in Hamburg is a conscious decision intended to show muscle, and the necessity to show that muscle. Do it in the middle of the Pacific and you can’t show off your new high tech water cannon.

Anti-G20 Protesters Clash With Hamburg Police ‘Like Never Before’ (RT)

An anti-G20 rally in Hamburg has erupted into a violent confrontation between police and protesters. Dozens of officers have been injured by rioters as sporadic clashes on the streets of the German city continued into the night. “There have been offenses committed by smaller groups [but] we now have the situation under control… I was there myself, I’ve seen nothing like that before,” Hamburg police spokesman Timo Zill told German broadcaster ZDF. The ‘Welcome to Hell’ anti-globalist rally started off relatively peacefully as activists marched through the streets chanting slogans and holding banners. Clashes begun in the early evening after roughly 1,000 anti-globalism activists, wearing face masks, reportedly refused to reveal their identity to the authorities.

According to an official police statement, the trouble started when officers tried to separate aggressive black-bloc rioters from peaceful protesters at the St. Pauli Fish Market but were met with bottles, poles and iron bars, prompting them to use justifiable force. Police used pepper-spray on rioting protesters. Water cannons were also deployed by authorities and several people seemed to be injured as a number of people were seen on the ground or with bloody faces being led away by police. Footage from the scene also showed columns of green and orange smoke rising above the crowds. At least 76 police officers were injured in the riots, most, though, suffered light injuries, Bild reports. Five of them were admitted to hospital, a police officer told AFP. One policeman suffered an eye injury after fireworks exploded in front of his face. The number of injured demonstrators has not yet been released by authorities, DW German notes.

As a result of the violence, organizers declared the protest over Thursday evening, but pockets of activists remained on the streets throughout the night. Police confirmed persistent sporadic attacks on security forces in the districts of St. Pauli and Altona. Damage to property has also been reported throughout the city. According to RT’s correspondent on the scene, Peter Oliver, one of the protesters’ grievances was that they received no clear directives from the police as to where they were allowed to march and found themselves kettled by officers in riot gear once they set off. “They are macing everyone,” one witness at the scene told RT. “As far as I could tell, they were attacking the demonstration with no reason.” “I’m from Hamburg, [and] I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve had fights about squatted houses and all that, [but] I’ve never seen anything like that. The aggression, as far as I could tell, the purposelessness… my face hurts, I’ve got mace and everything, this is unbelievable.”

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Central bankers trying to deflect the blame.

The Party Is Over: Central Banks Pull The Plug On Bond Market Rally (CNBC)

Central banks are shutting down the music and turning on the lights after a near decade-long bond market party that resulted in ultra-low yields and low volatility. In the past two weeks, interest rates have been rising, at the prodding of the world’s central banks. Some bond strategists now see the possibility of a shift to a more fundamental-driven market, which could result in higher, more normal interest rate levels that will affect everything from home mortgages to commercial loans. That doesn’t mean the wake-up call will be a jolt, with rates snapping back violently or markets spinning out of control—though it could if rates begin to move too quickly. For now, market pros expect the rising interest rates of the past several weeks to be part of an orderly adjustment to a world in which central banks are preparing to end excessive easy policies.

The Federal Reserve is about to take the unprecedented step of reducing the balance sheet it built up to save the economy from the financial crisis. Since June 26, the U.S. 10- year yield has risen from 2.12% to Thursday’s high of 2.38%. The move has been global, after ECB President Mario Draghi last week pointed to a less risky outlook for the European economy, and Fed officials made consistently hawkish remarks. Some of those officials said they were even concerned that their policies created a too easy financial environment, meaning interest rates should be higher. The stock market caught wind of the rate move Thursday, and equities around the world responded negatively to rising yields. Bond strategists say if higher yields trigger a bigger sell off in stocks it could slow down the upward movement in interest rates, as investors will seek safety in bonds. Bond prices move opposite yields.

Friday’s June jobs report could be a moment of truth for the bond market. Strategists are looking to the wage gains in the report, expected at 0.3%. If they are as expected, the move higher in yields could continue. But a surprise to the upside could mean a much bigger move since it would signal a return of inflation. The Fed has said it is looking past the recent decline in inflation, but the market would become more convinced of the Fed’s rate-hiking intentions if it starts to rise.

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“..our responsibility now is to keep dancing but closer to the exit and with a sharp eye on the tea leaves..”

Central Bank Easy Money ‘Era Is Ending’ – Ray Dalio (CNBC)

Ray Dalio has declared the era of easy money is ending. The founder and chief investment officer of the world’s biggest hedge fund said Thursday in a commentary posted to LinkedIn that central bankers have “clearly and understandably” signaled the end of the nine-year era of monetary easing is coming. They are shifting strategy and are now focused on raising interest rates at a pace that keeps growth and inflation in balance, risking the next downturn if they get it wrong. “Recognizing that, our responsibility now is to keep dancing but closer to the exit and with a sharp eye on the tea leaves,” Dalio wrote.

In May, Dalio posted a commentary that said he was worried about the future, concerned that the magnitude of the next downturn could produce “much greater social and political conflict than currently exists.” On Thursday, he said the aggressive easing policies brought about “beautiful deleveragings,” and it was time to pause and thank the central bankers for pursuing them. “They had to fight hard to do it and have been more maligned than appreciated.” Dalio ends by saying he doesn’t see a big debt bubble about to burst, largely because of the balance sheet deleveraging that came about in the last few years. But, he said, “we do see an increasingly intensifying ‘Big Squeeze.'”

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“..the only reason the world is in its current abysmal socio-political and economic shape is due to the cumulative effect of their disastrous policies..”

Ray Dalio’s ‘Beautiful’ Deleveraging Delusion (ZH)

For some inexplicable reason, Ray Dalio still thinks the the world not only underwent a deleveraging, but that it was “beautiful.” Not only did McKinsey prove that to be completely false two years ago, but for good measure the IIF confirmed as much last week, when it revealed that global debt has hit a record $217 trillion, or 327% of GDP… while Citi’s Matt King showed that with no demand for credit in the private sector, central banks had no choice but to inject trillions to keep risk prices from collapsing.

And now, replacing one delusion with another, the Bridgewater head has penned an article in which he notes that as the “punch bowl” era is ending – an era which made Dalio’s hedge fund the biggest in the world, and richer beyond his wildest dreams – he would like to take the opportunity to “thanks the central bankers” who have ‘inexplicably’ been “more maligned than appreciated” even though their aggressive policies have, and here is delusion #1 again, “successfully brought about beautiful deleveragings.” “In my opinion, at this point of transition, we should savor this accomplishment and thank the policy makers who fought to bring about these policies. They had to fight hard to do it and have been more maligned than appreciated. Let’s thank them.” They fought hard to print $20 trillion in new money? Now that is truly news to us.

That said, we can see why Dalio would want to thank “them”: he wouldn’t be where he is, and his fund would certainly not exist today, if it weren’t for said central bankers who came to rescue the insolvent US financial system by sacrificing the middle class and burying generations under unrepayable debt. Still, some who may skip thanking the central bankers are hundreds of millions of elderly Americans and people worldwide also wouldn’t be forced to work one or more jobs well into their retirement years because monetary policies lowered the return on their savings to zero (or negative in Europe), as these same “underappreciated” central bankers created three consecutive bubbles, and the only reason the world is in its current abysmal socio-political and economic shape is due to the cumulative effect of their disastrous policies which meant creating ever greater asset and debt bubbles to mask the effects of the previous bubble, resulting in unprecedented wealth and income inequality, and which have culminated – most recently – with Brexit and Trump.

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Amen.

‘It’s Too Late’: 7 Signs Australia Can’t Avoid Economic Apocalypse (News)

Australia has missed its chance to avoid a potential “economic apocalypse”, according to a former government guru who says that despite his warnings there are seven new signs we are too late to act. The former economics and policy adviser has identified seven ominous indicators that a possible global crash is approaching – including a surge in crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin – and the window for government action is now closed. John Adams, a former economics and policy adviser to Senator Arthur Sinodinos and management consultant to a big four accounting firm, told news.com.au in February he had identified seven signs of economic Armageddon. He had then urged the Reserve Bank to take pre-emptive action by raising interest rates to prevent Australia’s expanding household debt bubble from exploding and called on the government to rein in welfare payments and tax breaks such as negative gearing.

Adams says he has for years been publicly and privately urging his erstwhile colleagues in the Coalition to take action but that since nothing has been done, the window has now closed and Australia is completely at the mercy of international forces. “As early as 2012, I have been publicly and privately advocating that Australian policy makers take pre-emptive policy action to deal with the structural imbalances within the Australian economy, especially Australia’s household debt bubble which in proportional terms is larger than the household debt bubbles of the 1880s or 1920s, the periods which preceded the two depressions experienced in Australian history,” he told news.com.au this week. “Unfortunately, the window for taking pre-emptive action with an orderly unwinding of structural macroeconomic imbalances has now closed.”

Adams has now turned on his former party and says both its most recent prime ministers have led Australia into a potential “economic apocalypse” and Treasurer Scott Morrison is wrong that we are heading for a “soft landing”. “The policy approach by the Abbott and Turnbull Governments as well as the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which has been to reduce systemic financial risk through new macro-prudential controls, has been wholly inadequate,” he says. “I do not share the Federal Treasurer’s assessment that the economy and the housing market are headed for a soft landing. Data released by the RBA this week shows that the structural imbalances in the economy are actually becoming worse with household debt as a proportion of disposable income hitting a new record of 190.4%.

“Because of the failure of Australia’s political elites and the policy establishment, the probability of a disorderly unwinding, particularly of Australia’s household and foreign debt bubbles, have dramatically increased over the past six months and will continue to increase as global economic and financial instability increases. “Millions of ordinary, financially unprepared, Australians are now at the mercy of the international markets and foreign policy makers. Australian history contains several examples of where similar pre conditions have resulted in an economic apocalypse, resulting in a significant proportion of the Australian people being left economically destitute.”

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Sanctions don’t really work in this case.

World-Beating Wealth Props Up Qatar Against Arab Sanctions (R.)

A month after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism, it is suffering from isolation but is nowhere near an economic crisis. The alliance against it, meanwhile, may not have options to inflict further damage. As the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, Qatar is so rich – at $127,660, its gross domestic product per capita in purchasing power terms is the highest of any country, according to the IMF – it can deploy money to counter almost any type of sanction. In the past month it has arranged new shipping routes to offset the closure of its border with Saudi Arabia, deposited billions of dollars of state money in local banks to shore them up, and drawn the interest of some of the West’s biggest energy firms by announcing a plan to raise its LNG output 30%.

The success of these initiatives suggests Qatar could weather months or years of the current sanctions if it has the political will to do so – and that further sanctions being contemplated by the alliance may not prove decisive. On Wednesday, the alliance said Qatar, which denies any support for terrorism, had missed a deadline to comply with its demands. Further steps against Doha will be taken in line with international law “at the appropriate time”, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said. Saudi media reported this week that the new sanctions would include a pull-out of deposits and loans from Qatar by banks in alliance states, and a “secondary boycott” in which the alliance would refuse to do business with firms that traded with Qatar. Those steps would cause further pain for Qatar, but not to the point of destabilizing its financial system or breaking the peg of its riyal currency to the U.S. dollar, senior Qatari businessmen and foreign economists said.

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“..a soft month for Toronto real estate market..”, “..a better supplied market and a moderating annual pace of price growth…”

Home Sales In Greater Toronto Area Plunged 37.3% Last Month (CP)

The number of homes sold last month in the Greater Toronto Area plunged a whopping 37.3% compared to the same month a year ago, the city’s real estate board said Thursday, weeks after Ontario introduced measures aimed at cooling the housing market. The Toronto Real Estate Board said 7,974 homes changed hands in June while the number of new properties on the market climbed 15.9% year over year to 19,614. The average price for all properties was $793,915, up 6.3% from the same month last year. In April, the Ontario government implemented rules intended to dampen Toronto’s heated real estate market, where escalating prices have concerned policy-makers at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

Ontario’s measures, retroactive to April 21, include a 15% tax on foreign buyers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, expanded rent controls and legislation allowing Toronto and other cities to tax vacant homes. “We are in a period of flux that often follows major government policy announcements pointed at the housing market,” TREB president Tim Syrianos said in a statement. “On one hand, consumer survey results tell us many households are very interested in purchasing a home in the near future, but some of these would-be buyers seem to be temporarily on the sidelines waiting to see the real impact of the Ontario Fair Housing Plan. On the other hand, we have existing homeowners who are listing their home because they feel price growth may have peaked. The end result has been a better supplied market and a moderating annual pace of price growth.”

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60-odd years later, it’s still true: “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.”

The Fast Track to “Carmageddon” (David Stockman)

Back in the 1950s when GM had 50% of the auto market they always said that, “As General Motors goes, so goes the nation.” That was obviously a tribute to GM’s economic muscle and its role as the driver of growth and rising living standards in post-war America’s booming economy. Those days are long gone for both GM and the nation. GM’s drastically reduced 20% market share of U.S. light vehicle sales in June was still an economic harbinger, albeit of a different sort. GM offered a record $4,361 of cash incentives during June. That was up 7% from last year and represented 12% of its average selling price of $35,650 per vehicle, also a record. But what it had to show for this muscular marketing effort was a 5% decline in year-over-year sales and soaring inventories. The latter was up 46% from last June.

My purpose is not to lament GM’s ragged estate, but to note that it — along with the entire auto industry — has become a ward of the Fed’s debt-fueled false prosperity. The June auto sales reports make that absolutely clear. In a word, consumers spent the month “renting” new rides on more favorable terms than ever before. But that couldn’t stop the slide of vehicle “sales” from its 2016 peak. In fact, June represented the 6th straight month of year-over-year decline. And the fall-off was nearly universal — with FiatChrysler down 7.4%, Ford and GM off about 5% and Hyundai down by 19.3%. The evident rollover of U.S. auto sales is a very big deal because the exuberant auto rebound from the Great Recession lows during the last six years has been a major contributor to the weak recovery of overall GDP.

In fact, overall industrial production is actually no higher today than it was in the fall of 2007. That means there has been zero growth in the aggregate industrial economy for a full decade. Real production in most sectors of the U.S. economy has actually shrunk considerably, but has been partially offset by a 15% gain in auto production from the prior peak, and a 130% gain from the early 2010 bottom. By comparison, the index for consumer goods excluding autos is still 7% below its late 2007 level. So if the so-called “recovery” loses its automotive turbo-charger, where will the growth come from?

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20th Anniversary, Asian Financial Crisis.

Clinton, The IMF And Wall Street Journal Toppled Suharto (Hanke)

On August 14, 1997, shortly after the Thai baht collapsed on July 2nd, Indonesia floated the rupiah. This prompted Stanley Fischer, then the Deputy Managing Director of the IMF and presently Vice Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, to proclaim that “the management of the IMF welcomes the timely decision of the Indonesian authorities. The floating of the rupiah, in combination with Indonesia’s strong fundamentals, supported by prudent fiscal and monetary policies, will allow its economy to continue its impressive economic performance of the last several years.” Contrary to the IMF’s expectations, the rupiah did not float on a sea of tranquility. It plunged from a value of 2,700 rupiahs per U.S. dollar to lows of nearly 16,000 rupiahs per U.S. dollar in 1998. Indonesia was caught up in the maelstrom of the Asian Financial Crisis.

By late January 1998, President Suharto realized that the IMF medicine was not working and sought a second opinion. In February, I was invited to offer that opinion and was appointed as Suharto’s Special Counselor. Although I did not have any opinions on the Suharto government, I did have definite ones on the matter at hand. After nightly discussions at the President’s private residence, I proposed an antidote: an orthodox currency board in which the rupiah would be fully convertible into and backed by the U.S. dollar at a fixed exchange rate. On the day that news hit the street, the rupiah soared by 28% against the U.S. dollar on both the spot and one year forward markets. These developments infuriated the U.S. government and the IMF. Ruthless attacks on the currency board idea and the Special Counselor ensued. Suharto was told in no uncertain terms – by both the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the Managing Director of the IMF, Michel Camdessus – that he would have to drop the currency board idea or forego $43 billion in foreign assistance.

Economists jumped on the bandwagon, trotting out every imaginable half-truth and non-truth against the currency board idea. In my opinion, those oft-repeated canards were outweighed by the full support for an Indonesian currency board by four Nobel Laureates in Economics: Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, Merton Miller, and Robert Mundell. Also, Sir Alan Walters, Prime Minister Thatcher’s economic guru, a key figure behind the establishment of Hong Kong’s currency board in 1983, and my colleague and close collaborator, endorsed the idea of a currency board for Indonesia. Why all the fuss over a currency board for Indonesia? Merton Miller understood the great game immediately. As he said when Mrs. Hanke and I were in residence at the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, the Clinton administration’s objection to the currency board was “not that it wouldn’t work, but that it would, and if it worked, they would be stuck with Suharto.”

Much the same argument was articulated by Australia’s former Prime Minister Paul Keating: “The United States Treasury quite deliberately used the economic collapse as a means of bringing about the ouster of Suharto.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger weighed in with a similar diagnosis: “We were fairly clever in that we supported the IMF as it overthrew (Suharto). Whether that was a wise way to proceed is another question. I’m not saying Mr. Suharto should have stayed, but I kind of wish he had left on terms other than because the IMF pushed him out.” Even Michel Camdessus could not find fault with these assessments. On the occasion of his retirement, he proudly proclaimed: “We created the conditions that obliged President Suharto to leave his job.”

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Hmm. Treating this is an American phenomenon is not useful. It’s global. And that has a lot to do with deteriorating economic conditions. Centralization is only accepted as long as it has tangible benefits for people.

Our Political Parties Are Obsolete (CH Smith)

History informs us that once something is obsolete, it can disappear far faster than anyone expected. While we generally think of obsoleted technologies vanishing, social and political systems can become obsolete as well. Should a poor soul who entered a deep coma a year ago awaken today, we must forgive his/her astonishment at the political wreckage left by the 2016 election. The Democratic Party, a mere year ago an absurdly over-funded machine confident in an easy victory in the presidential race, is now a complete shambles: its leadership in free-fall, its Fat-Cat donors disgusted, and its demented intoxication with pinning collaboration with Russia on the Trump camp eroding whatever feeble legacy legitimacy it still holds. What the party stands for is a mystery, as its Elites are clearly beholden to insiders, special interests and Corporate donors while glorifying the worst excesses of globalism and the National Security State’s endless war on civil liberties.

The newly awakened citizen would also marvel at the chaotic war zone of the Republican Party, in which the Insider Warlords are battling insurgent Outsiders, while the same Elites that fund the Democratic machine are wondering what they’re buying with their millions of dollars in contributions, for it’s unclear what the Republican Party stands for: it’s for Small Government, except when it’s for Bigger Government, which is 95% of the time; it’s for more law enforcement and the militarization of local police, and more intrusion into the lives of the citizenry; it’s for stricter standards for welfare, except for Corporate Welfare; it’s for tax reform, except the thousands of pages of give-aways, loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations all remain untouched, and so on: a smelly tangle of special interests masked by a few sprays of PR air freshener to the millions left behind by the globalization that has so enriched Corporate America and the class of financier-owners, bankers, insiders and technocrats–the same group that funds and controls both political parties.

Political parties arose to consolidate centralized control of the central state. We have now reached the perfection of this teleology: the political elites and the financial elites are now one class. In our pay-to-play “democracy,” only the votes of wealth and institutional power count. As I have often noted here, the returns on centralization are diminishing to less than zero. The initial returns on centralizing capital, production and social-political power were robust, but now the centralized cartel-state is eating its own tail, masking its financial bankruptcy by borrowing from the future, and cloaking its political bankruptcy behind the crumbling facades of the legacy parties. Now that technology has enabled decentralized currency, markets and governance, the centralized political parties are obsolete.

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Erdogan was never going to withdraw his troops. That’s the whole story. Guterres just looks foolish.

Cyprus Reunification Talks Collapse (R.)

Talks to reunify the divided island of Cyprus collapsed in the early hours of Friday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said after a stormy final session. “I’m very sorry to tell you that despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties … the conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” he told a news conference. The collapse marked a dramatic culmination of more than two years of a process thought to be the most promising since the island was split more than 40 years ago. Guterres had flown in on Thursday to press Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci to seal a deal reuniting the east Mediterranean island, while U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had phoned to urge them to “seize this historic opportunity”.

Diplomatic efforts to reunite Cyprus have failed since the island was riven in a 1974 Turkish army invasion triggered by a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece. The week of talks in the Swiss Alps, hailed by the United Nations as “the best chance” for a deal, ground to a halt as the two sides failed to overcome final obstacles. Diplomats said Turkey had appeared to be offering little to Greek Cypriots wanting a full withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island, although the Greek Cypriots had indicated readiness to make concessions on Turkish Cypriot demands for a rotating presidency, the other key issue. Guterres finally called a halt at 2 a.m. after a session marred by yelling and drama, a source close to the negotiations said. “Unfortunately… an agreement was not possible, and the conference was closed without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatic and long-lasting problem,” Guterres said.

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May 282017
 
 May 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Little Italy New York 1943

 

Trump Tells ‘Confidants’ US Will Leave Paris Climate Deal (R.)
New Home Prices Are Over 50% Higher In Canada Than The US (BD)
Low Volatility Is Market’s Most Significant Danger (BBG)
Jeremy Corbyn Within Striking Distance Of No. 10 (Mirror)
Fourth Turning’s Neil Howe: We Are In The 1930s, “Winter Is Coming” (Mauldin)
We’re Dealing With a New Type of War Lie (Swanson)
Private Mercenary Firm Targeted Dakota Access Pipeline Movement (IC)
Once-in-a-Generation Hopes Of Cyprus Reunification Appear To Be Dashed (G.)
US-Led Syria Strikes Kill Scores Of Relatives Of IS Fighters (AFP)
10,000 Migrants Rescued, Dozens Drown Between Italy And Libya This Week (AFP)

 

 

It’ll take Europe a while to recover from Trump.

Trump Tells ‘Confidants’ US Will Leave Paris Climate Deal (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump has told “confidants,” including the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, that he plans to leave a landmark international agreement on climate change, Axios news outlet reported on Saturday, citing three sources with direct knowledge. On Saturday, Trump said in a Twitter post he would make a decision on whether to support the Paris climate deal next week. A source who has been in contact with people involved in the decision told Reuters a couple of meetings were planned with chief executives of energy companies and big corporations and others about the climate agreement ahead of Trump’s expected announcement later in the week. It was unclear whether those meetings would still take place.

“I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!” he tweeted on the final day of a G7 summit in Italy at which he refused to bow to pressure from allies to back the landmark 2015 agreement. The summit of G7 wealthy nations pitted Trump against the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Japan on several issues, with European diplomats frustrated at having to revisit questions they had hoped were long settled. [..] Although he tweeted that he would make a decision next week, his apparent reluctance to embrace the first legally binding global climate deal that was signed by 195 countries clearly annoyed German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” she told reporters. “There are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”

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Is optimism your friend?

New Home Prices Are Over 50% Higher In Canada Than The US (BD)

The price of new homes is quickly diverging in Canada and the US. Data from the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) show that new homes are selling for substantially more than the same time last year. Meanwhile south of the border, data from the US Bureau of Census show that new home prices are on the decline. This has lead to an even wider gap between the average price of a new home in Canada and the US. The price of a new home across Canada is up for the second month in a row. The average sale price in April was CA$751,881 (US$559,123). This represents an 11% increase from the same time last year, when measured in Canadian dollars. When compared in US dollars, that increase drops to a much more conservative 2.64%. Even after factoring in the loonie’s decreased buying power in Canada, new home prices still climbed.

American new home builders aren’t seeing such steep climbs in sale prices. Actually, they aren’t seeing climbs at all. The average price of a new home in the US was CA$495,271 (US$368,300). This represents a 3% decline from the same time last year, when measured in US dollars. In Canadian dollars, this was a 0.49% decline from the same time last year. Both forms of measurement show declining home prices in the US, curious since their economy is in a much better state than Canada right now. New homes are trading at substantially higher values in Canada than the US in April. The average new home in April 2017 was 51% higher in Canada than the US. The same time last year, prices in Canada were only 36% higher. It appears in a post-crash United States, new home buyers are taking much more conservative strides. In a hasn’t-crashed-in-decades Canada, new home buyers are optimistic about future values.

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When markets don’t function, i.e. there is no price discovery, why would there be volatility?

Low Volatility Is Market’s Most Significant Danger (BBG)

Of all the dangers in the world of finance, the enduring low level of market volatility is the most significant. How quiet is quiet? Recently, the six-month realized volatility for the S&P 500 dipped to 6.7 percent, lower than even the period leading up to the financial crisis of 2008-09. During the mid-’90s, volatility was as low as it is now, but the size, complexity and interlinkages of financial market exposures were far less significant. Now, fluctuations are severely muted, and thus send a false signal of safety to both investors and policy makers who misread the calm as an “all clear” sign, dismissing the events above as insufficiently relevant. The result is an inability to appreciate how quickly market conditions can change, especially as trading strategies that capitalize on quiet markets become vulnerable to unwind, serving to amplify a risk-off event.

[..] There is an important debate in markets now about the causes of low realized volatility. A decline in the correlation among stocks, a global economy on more stable footing and a decline in perceptions of systemic risk (a euro-zone unraveling, for example) are among the factors. We should appreciate the importance of money flows as well. According to ETF.com, the exchange-traded fund industry is on pace for $500 billion in new asset growth in 2017. These vehicles can provide cheap, liquid access to market risk exposures. They simply put the money received to work in passive fashion, without evaluating the risk/return trade-off. The flows themselves are a factor in the positive returns and the low volatility that, in turn, attract additional flows.

What results is a dangerous circularity. Recall the period of wonderful outcomes preceding the financial crisis. The demand for housing spurred price appreciation, which enabled mortgage credit to be supplied at increasingly generous terms. The most suspect credit cannot default if the value of the collateral keeps appreciating and, as a result, the supply of credit keeps expanding. The fear of missing out is also supremely powerful. The conservative individual becomes less so when he or she sees a neighbor flipping houses with success. Similarly, the conservative lender is forced to compete with more aggressive suppliers of credit. For lenders, not being accommodative enough during the go-go years can amount to an existential business question.

Today’s risks differ meaningfully from those of a decade ago. However, the excess amount of capital chasing opportunity at increasingly aggressive terms is similar. The competition to put money to work, then, like now, results in low volatility. Investors are in danger of misinterpreting this tranquility as conveying safety when crowded positioning is resulting in more, not less, risk. While spending money on hedging is especially difficult in a seemingly benign environment, investors should be actively vigilant to market risks, devoting time to an action plan that helps protect portfolio wealth against the inevitable return of volatility.

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Different polls have very different numbers.

Jeremy Corbyn Within Striking Distance Of No. 10 (Mirror)

In the first week of the General Election campaign our ComRes poll for the Sunday Mirror gave Theresa May a magic 50% of the vote. She looked unstoppable. Today’s ComRes poll shows Jeremy Corbyn has narrowed her lead to 12 points , six points up on two weeks ago. As the man who invented the Swingometer says he’s never seen swings like it. If the PM goes into polling day on June 8th with this kind of lead she would not be unhappy. It would give her an overall majority of 62. Not the landslide she wished for perhaps, but with enough MPs to get her own way every time. But we are still 11 days from polling day – and on present form that’s enough for Mr Corbyn to pick up another 12 points. And that puts him in striking distance of No10. Our survey puts the Conservatives on 46%, Labour on 34% and the Lib Dems down two points on 8%.

Ukip are unchanged in fourth place at 5%. But the most striking findings are that the Labour leader’s personal ratings are up in every category while Mrs May’s are down in all but one. Mrs May’s Dementia Tax on the elderly and her U-turn over how to pay for it has clearly boomeranged. The Manchester bombing appears to have had little effect on voting intention. Mrs May is still way ahead of Mr Corbyn as being best to deal with terrorism. But she’s five points down on two weeks ago. Only a fifth of voters say she is most likely to protect elderly people dependent on social care while Mr Corbyn scores 43%. Curiously the mess she made of the Dementia Tax has not damaged her among voters aged 65 plus with nearly seven in ten saying they will still vote for her. But Mr Corbyn is ahead in every age group until pollsters get to those 44 or older.

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“..what comes next will be an era in which there is a new order..”

Fourth Turning’s Neil Howe: We Are In The 1930s, “Winter Is Coming” (Mauldin)

From the Balkans to the US, walls are going up, not down, according to demographer and The Fourth Turning author Neil Howe. Speaking to a packed crowd at Mauldin Economics’ Strategic Investment Conference in Orlando, Howe said we are reliving many of the same trends and changes of the 1930s. “Worldwide, people are losing trust in institutions,” he said. “Trust in the military, small business, and police is still there. But trust in democracies, media, and politicians is dropping.” When was the last time we saw these changes and the rise of right-wing populism?” he asked. “The 1930s.” Howe’s statement is borne out of a June 2016 Gallup poll. When poll takers were asked how much confidence they had in institutions in American society, the results were troubling.

Just 15% said they had a “great deal” of confidence in the US Supreme Court. Banks trailed behind at 11%, followed by the criminal justice system (9%), newspapers (8%), and big business (6%). Meanwhile, just 16% expressed a “great deal” of confidence in the presidency, with that number plummeting to 3% for Congress. In his keynote, Howe shared his forecasting logic: “My method is to step back and realize one thing: There is something we know about the world in 20 years’ time. The people who live there will be all of us, 20 years older and playing a different role. I call this ‘looking along the generational diagonal.’ The critical thing to remember about the current crisis period is that what comes next will be an era in which there is a new order.

According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, as this new order takes root, individualism declines and institutions are strengthened. “History is seasonal, and winter is coming,” Howe has said. But after winter, comes spring. As the American Revolution was followed by calm, as the Civil War was followed by reconstruction and a gilded age, and as the Great Depression and World War II were followed by an age of peace and prosperity, so too will this crisis period be followed by a calm, stable era. It’s simply a matter of time.

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Russiagate.

We’re Dealing With a New Type of War Lie (Swanson)

The “Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections” even exists as a factual event in Wikipedia, not as an allegation or a theory. But the factual nature of it is not so much asserted as brushed aside. Former CIA Director John Brennan, in the same Congressional testimony in which he took the principled stand “I don’t do evidence,” testified that “the fact that the Russians tried to influence resources and authority and power, and the fact that the Russians tried to influence that election so that the will of the American people was not going to be realized by that election, I find outrageous and something that we need to, with every last ounce of devotion to this country, resist and try to act to prevent further instances of that.” He provided no evidence. Activists have even planned “demonstrations to call for urgent investigations into Russian interference in the US election.”

They declare that “every day we learn more about the role Russian state-led hacking and information warfare played in the 2016 election.” (March for Truth.) Belief that Russia helped put Trump in the White House is steadily rising in the U.S. public. Anything commonly referred to as fact will gain credibility. People will assume that at some point someone actually established that it was a fact. Keeping the story in the news without evidence are articles about polling, about the opinions of celebrities, and about all kinds of tangentially related scandals, their investigations, and obstruction thereof. Most of the substance of most of the articles that lead off with reference to the “Russian influence on the election” is about White House officials having some sort of connections to the Russian government, or Russian businesses, or just Russians.

It’s as if an investigation of Iraqi WMD claims focused on Blackwater murders or whether Scooter Libby had taken lessons in Arabic, or whether the photo of Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands was taken by an Iraqi. A general trend away from empirical evidence has been extensively noted and discussed. There is no more public evidence that Seth Rich (a Democratic National Committee staffer who was murdered last year) leaked Democratic emails than there is that the Russian government stole them. Yet both claims have passionate believers. Still, the claims about Russia are unique in their wide proliferation, broad acceptance, and status as something to be constantly referred to as though already established, constantly augmented by other Russia-related stories that add nothing to the central claim. This phenomenon, in my view, is as dangerous as any lies and fabrications coming out of the racist right.

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Blackwater 2.0

Private Mercenary Firm Targeted Dakota Access Pipeline Movement (IC)

A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. The documents provide the first detailed picture of how TigerSwan, which originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, to respond to the indigenous-led movement that sought to stop the project. Internal TigerSwan communications describe the movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compare the anti-pipeline water protectors to jihadist fighters.

One report, dated February 27, 2017, states that since the movement “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model while active, we can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse.” Drawing comparisons with post-Soviet Afghanistan, the report warns, “While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies.” More than 100 internal documents leaked to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor, as well as a set of over 1,000 documents obtained via public records requests, reveal that TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters.

As policing continues to be militarized and state legislatures around the country pass laws criminalizing protest, the fact that a private security firm retained by a Fortune 500 oil and gas company coordinated its efforts with local, state, and federal law enforcement to undermine the protest movement has profoundly anti-democratic implications. The leaked materials not only highlight TigerSwan’s militaristic approach to protecting its client’s interests but also the company’s profit-driven imperative to portray the nonviolent water protector movement as unpredictable and menacing enough to justify the continued need for extraordinary security measures. Energy Transfer Partners has continued to retain TigerSwan long after most of the anti-pipeline campers left North Dakota, and the most recent TigerSwan reports emphasize the threat of growing activism around other pipeline projects across the country.

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Not much use talking to Erdogan. He needs his strongman image to much at home.

Once-in-a-Generation Hopes Of Cyprus Reunification Appear To Be Dashed (G.)

The best hope yet of reuniting war-partitioned Cyprus has been dashed after reconciliation attempts were brought to an abrupt halt following two years of intense negotiations. The optimism engendered by talks seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unite the Mediterranean island ended when the United Nations special envoy, Espen Barth Eide, announced that he was terminating negotiation efforts. “Without a prospect for common ground, there is no basis for continuing this shuttle diplomacy,” the Norwegian former foreign minister said in a short statement. Eide now enters the long list of diplomats who, for the best part of 50 years, have attempted to solve one of the world’s most intractable diplomatic disputes.

Split between the majority population of Greeks in the south and Turks in the north, Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Ankara ordered troops to invade the island in response to an Athens-organised coup to unite it with Greece. In Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci – the respective leaders of the island’s Greek and Turkish communities – the two sides had found men who were not only moderate and born in the same town – Limassol – but willing to make the sort of concessions necessary to find a solution. Both had got to the point of poring over maps outlining territorial adjustments in a envisaged bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. In January, the first international conference on Cyprus was held at the UN headquarters in Geneva with representatives from Greece, Turkey and Britain – the island’s three guarantor powers.

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Hundreds of people are collateral damage.

US-Led Syria Strikes Kill Scores Of Relatives Of IS Fighters (AFP)

Dozens of relatives of Islamic State group fighters were killed Friday in Syria in US-led strikes, regime or Russian raids, after the UN urged nations striking the jihadists to protect civilians. Raids by the US-led coalition have pounded IS positions across Iraq and Syria since the jihadist group claimed responsibility for the devastating bombing of a concert in Manchester on Monday. Scores of civilians, many of them families of IS members, have been killed in bombing raids in recent days on the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen, held by IS since 2014. Early Friday, at least 80 relatives of IS fighters were killed in US-led coalition bombardment, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“The toll includes 33 children. They were families seeking refuge in the town’s municipal building,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. “This is the highest toll for relatives of IS members in Syria,” he told AFP. Coalition strikes on the town killed 37 civilians on Thursday night after 15 had been killed on Wednesday, according to the Britain-based Observatory. The US military on Friday confirmed that it had struck “near Mayadeen” on May 25 and 26, but said it was “still assessing the results of those strikes”, according to Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon. The US military insists that it takes every precaution to avoid hitting civilians, but the United Nations on Friday urged parties bombing IS to do more.

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No moral values left: “The G7 only managed to “reaffirm the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels.“

10,000 Migrants Rescued, Dozens Drown Between Italy And Libya This Week (AFP)

Nearly 10,000 migrants were rescued off the coasts of Italy and Libya this week, as the leaders of G7 gathered for a summit coincidentally held in Sicily. And at least 54 people have drowned in the Mediterranean since Tuesday. Large-scale rescue efforts off the Italian coast on Friday saved 2,200 migrants who risked their lives traveling in unworthy sea vessels to reach Italy. Italian coastguard and commercial boats delivered those rescued to reception centers in Italy. A further 1,200 people were rescued by Libyan ships and taken to Tripoli or Zawiya. Some 6,400 migrants were rescued from the Mediterranean between Tuesday and Thursday. The Italian coastguard also discovered another 10 bodies, bringing to 54 the total number of officially registered deaths this week, officials told AFP.

The biggest tragedy occurred on Wednesday, when 35 migrants drowned, including at least 10 children, after they fell off an overloaded vessel that was hit by a huge wave while being rescued by an aid boat. At least 1,400 people have drowned so far this year trying to make the perilous journey across the sea to Italy, according to UN figures, while more than 50,000 migrants reached Italian coasts, most of them through Libya. Italy has on numerous occasions said that it barely has enough resources to deal with the migrant influx from Libya. The situation has become an EU-wide concern in recent years, with Brussels facing mounting pressure from human rights groups over its handling of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.

G7 leaders, who met in Sicily, discussed providing greater assistance to African countries to persuade migrants to stay at home rather than make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. However, no concrete plan of action was agreed upon at the end of the two-day summit in Taormina. The G7 only managed to “reaffirm the sovereign rights of states to control their own borders and set clear limits on net migration levels.”

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Mar 152016
 
 March 15, 2016  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


John M. Fox WCBS studios, 49 East 52nd Street, NYC 1948

Stocks: Consensual Hallucination (WS)
Mineworkers’ Protests Shake Chinese Leaders (CW)
China Ocean Freight Indices Plunge to Record Lows (WS)
Yuan Loses Its Luster In Global Trade (WSJ)
Chinese Investors Increase Buying in the US (WSJ)
China Drafts Rules for Tobin Tax on Currency Transactions (BBG)
Bank of Japan Holds Fire on Stimulus, Negative Rate Unchanged (BBG)
ECB Rate Cuts Help Spanish Home-Buyers, Hurt Banks (WSJ)
JPMorgan, Goldman Discuss Buying Deutsche Bank Derivatives (BBG)
Fears Rise Over US Car Loan Delinquencies (FT)
The Recession Australia Has To Have (ABC)
Obama To Kill Off Arctic Oil Drilling (Guardian)
The Cyprus Problem (FT)
Greek Asylum System Is Broken Cog In EU-Turkey Plan (EUO)
FYROM Returned About 600 Refugees To Greece (Reuters)
Greek Minister Sees Refugees Stuck For At Least Two Years (Kath.)

“..of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 20 reported “adjusted” earnings, with 18 of them reporting adjusted earnings that were higher than their earnings under GAAP”

Stocks: Consensual Hallucination (WS)

The simple fact is that corporate earnings data is out there for everyone to see, but no one wants to see it. Instead, everyone wants to see and believe the sweet fairy tale that Wall Street and Corporate America spin with such skill just for us, because if everyone believes that everyone believes in this fairy tale, even knowing that it is a fairy tale, it will somehow lead to ever higher stock prices. This is part of a phenomenon we’ve come to call “Consensual Hallucination.” But that fairy tale got spun to new fanciful extremes in 2015. Revenues of the S&P 500 companies fell 4.0% in the fourth quarter and 3.6% for the year, according to FactSet, with most of the companies having by now reported their earnings. And these earnings declined 3.4% in Q4, dragging earnings “growth” for the entire year into the negative, so a decline in earnings of 1.1%.

While companies can play with revenues to some extent, it’s more complicated and not nearly as rewarding as “adjusting” their profits. That’s the easiest thing to do in the world. A few keystrokes will do. There are no rules or laws against it, so long as it’s called something like “adjusted earnings.” The rewards are huge, in terms of share prices, stock options, bonuses, and for Wall Street, fees. The ultimate target of the magic is earnings per share. EPS is the most crucial term in the canon of the markets. Turns out, the 2015 “growth” in earnings, and particularly the “growth” in EPS – so a decline – as reported by FactSet and others is a figment of the vivid imagination of Wall Street and Corporate America, called “adjusted earnings,” where everything bad has been “adjusted” out of it.

The reason every developed economy uses standardized accounting rules is to give investors a modicum of insight into what is going on in a company, compare these numbers to those of other companies, and make at least not totally ignorant investment decisions. In the US, these are the generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, the most despised acronym of Wall Street and Corporate America. Yet even these principles offer plenty of flexibility for financial statement beautification. We get that. Yet they’re way too harsh for Wall Street. So companies file the required financial statements under GAAP for everyone to look at, but then they hype their “adjusted” earnings in their communications with investors. And the gap between the two in 2015 was a doozie.

For example, of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 20 reported “adjusted” earnings, with 18 of them reporting adjusted earnings that were higher than their earnings under GAAP, according to FactSet. That 18-to-2 relationship alone shows the clear bias of these adjustments: They’re used to inflate earnings, not to lower them to some more realistic level. These adjusted EPS were on average 31% higher in 2015 than EPS under GAAP. That’s way up from 2014 when 19 of the Dow components reported adjusted earnings that were on average 12% higher than under GAAP. And yet, despite the soaring portion of fiction, these adjusted EPS of the companies in the DOW still declined 4.8%. That’s bad enough. But under GAAP, beautified as it might have been, EPS plunged 12.3%.

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It’s beginning.

Mineworkers’ Protests Shake Chinese Leaders (CW)

Thousands of coal miners in the far northeast of China have been on strike for six days, demanding that China’s rulers – the so-called Communist Party dictatorship (CCP) – “give us back our money!” The protests, captured in dramatic video footage that is banned inside China, have shaken the Chinese regime during the very week when its ceremonial National People’s Congress (NPC) has been meeting in Beijing. A key discussion at the NPC has been about how the regime will cut the workforce in state-owned industries, with widely cited reports of 5-6 million redundancies, equivalent to one in six state sector jobs. The striking mineworkers of Heilongjiang province, a region already devastated by closures and layoffs, have given a courageous and resounding answer to these plans.

The mineworkers’ protests began on Wednesday 9 March in the city of Shuangyashan. Longmay Group, the largest state-owned coal producer in Heilongjiang and the whole of northeastern China, operates 10 mines in Shuangyashan and over 40 across the province as a whole. Last September, Longmay announced 100,000 job cuts – 40% of its entire workforce. The company owes a total of 800 million yuan (US$123 million) in unpaid wages dating from 2014. There have been earlier protests to demand payment of wage arrears by Longmay workers in different cities around Heilongjiang. The strike in Shuangyashan did not materialise from nowhere in other words, but is akin to a match being dropped into a large pool of gasoline.

“What the Shuangyashan incident has exposed is just a tip of the iceberg. It has been pretty endemic (workers not getting paid),” a rights activist from Heilongjiang told the Voice of America website. The trigger for the strike was a statement made by Heilongjiang’s governor Lu Hao during the NPC. At a televised meeting on 6 March, Lu claimed there were no wage arrears among Longmay workers and held the company up as an example of successful restructuring. He also stated that annual payrolls of Longmay are 10 billion yuan, equivalent to one-third of the provincial government’s entire budget, implying that the Longmay workforce are a burden on the province. “Their income hasn’t fallen a penny,” said Lu, in comments that made the workers’ anger spill over.

Initially breaking out in the Dongrong district of the city where Longmay runs three mines, the protests quickly spread across the whole of Shuangyashan. According to local sources eight out of the ten pits in Shuangyashan are only partially working, with mineworkers facing months of wage arrears. Whereas underground workers could earn 6,000 yuan a month in the past, most receive just half this level now – when they get paid. For other workers, monthly salaries have been cut to just 800 yuan (US$120)..

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Wolf Richter summarizes China perfectly: “As exports of money from China is flourishing at a stunning pace, exports of goods are deteriorating at an equally stunning pace. “

China Ocean Freight Indices Plunge to Record Lows (WS)

Money is leaving China in myriad ways, chasing after overseas assets in near-panic mode. So Anbang Insurance Group, after having already acquired the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan a year ago for a record $1.95 billion from Hilton Worldwide Holdings, at the time majority-owned by Blackstone, and after having acquired office buildings in New York and Canada, has struck out again. It agreed to acquire Strategic Hotels & Resorts from Blackstone for a $6.5 billion. The trick? According to Bloomberg’s “people with knowledge of the matter,” Anbang paid $450 million more than Blackstone had paid for it three months ago! Other Chinese companies have pursued targets in the US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere with similar disregard for price, after seven years of central-bank driven asset price inflation. As exports of money from China is flourishing at a stunning pace, exports of goods are deteriorating at an equally stunning pace.

February’s 25% plunge in exports was the 11th month of year-over-year declines in 12 months, as global demand for Chinese goods is waning. And ocean freight rates – the amount it costs to ship containers from China to ports around the world – have plunged to historic lows. The China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI), published weekly, tracks contractual and spot-market rates for shipping containers from major ports in China to 14 regions around the world. Unlike most Chinese government data, this index reflects the unvarnished reality of the shipping industry in a languishing global economy. For the latest reporting week, the index dropped 4.1% to 705.6, its lowest level ever. It has plunged 34.4% from the already low levels in February last year and nearly 30% since its inception in 1998 when it was set at 1,000. This is what the ongoing collapse in shipping rates looks like:

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What state control gets you.

Yuan Loses Its Luster In Global Trade (WSJ)

The yuan is losing its luster as a means of settling cross-border transactions, a development that trading companies blame in part on the Chinese government’s reluctance to loosen its grip on the currency. Bureaucratic issues and a lack of yuan-denominated assets in which to invest have discouraged non-Chinese companies from using the currency in trade with their Chinese partners. Beijing’s recent heavy-handed market interventions have further reduced the currency’s appeal for foreigners, according to Chinese importers and exporters. The yuan’s popularity outside China slipped 0.2% last year, according to an index of metrics such as deposits and foreign-exchange turnover compiled by Standard Chartered since late 2010.

That was the index’s first ever annual decline, although it ticked up in the first month of 2016. Payments using the yuan fell to 21% of China’s total trade last October, before recovering to 30% in January, still well below the 37% peak recorded in August, according to central-bank data. “Given the yuan’s volatility and the authorities’ murky policy intentions, it’s hard to see interest in using the currency among our customers,” said Zhou Lin, finance director of Ningbo United Group Import & Export, a trading firm from China’s east coast that exports steel products and garments and imports coal and wood. “Demand for [yuan trade settlement] will only shrink further,” Mr. Zhou predicted.

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“..36 purchases of U.S. companies valued at $39 billion, eclipsing 2015’s full-year record of $17 billion..”

Chinese Investors Increase Buying in the US (WSJ)

Chinese companies are continuing their U.S. shopping spree. On Monday, the focus was on real estate. A group led by China’s Anbang Insurance came in with a $12.8 billion takeover offer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. The buyout offer threatens to upend Starwood’s tie-up with Marriott International. Anbang is also near a deal to buy Strategic Hotels & Resorts from a Blackstone-managed real-estate fund, people familiar with the situation said. Chinese companies have announced 36 purchases of U.S. companies valued at $39 billion, eclipsing 2015’s full-year record of $17 billion through 114 deals. And 2015 broke the record set in 2014, when Chinese buyers spent $14 billion on U.S. acquisitions. The tally for each year includes transactions where Chinese firms took big stakes in U.S. firms, such as the 5.6% stake that Alibaba took in Groupon in February.

Globally outbound Chinese M&A activity is closing in on its full-year high. Chinese companies have spent $102 billion to buy companies outside of its borders, just shy of its full-year record set in 2015 of $106 billion. The $43 billion acquisition of Swiss pesticide and seed company Syngenta by government-owned China National Chemical Corp. accounts for a large portion of that volume. Beyond real estate, Chinese companies have aggressively pursued deals for U.S. chip makers. In mid-February, U.S. technology distributor Ingram Microid said it had agreed to be acquired for about $6 billion by a unit of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. Chinese buyers also have sought break up a number of existing deals for U.S. semiconductor companies with offers of their own.

Late last year, a group including China Resources Microelectronics and Hua Capital Management made an unsolicited bid for Fairchild Semiconductor International, which already had a deal with U.S. chip maker ON Semiconductor. Prior to that deal, the Chinese chip maker Montage Technology sought to break up Diodes planned purchased of Pericom Semiconductor. Both Fairchild and Pericom rejected the proposals from the Chinese firms, citing concerns that they would fail to pass muster with U.S. authorities on national-security grounds. U.S. regulators -specifically the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment- have pushed back on Chinese purchases. In January, the committee blocked Royal Philips planned $2.8 billion sale of most of its lighting components and automotive-lighting unit to a Chinese investor on national-security grounds. The aggressive push into the U.S. comes amid slowing growth in China.

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Smells desperate.

China Drafts Rules for Tobin Tax on Currency Transactions (BBG)

China’s central bank has drafted rules for a tax on foreign-exchange transactions that would help curb currency speculation, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The initial rate of the so-called Tobin tax may be kept at zero to allow authorities time to refine the rules, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private. The tax is not designed to disrupt hedging and other foreign-exchange transactions undertaken by companies, they said. Imposing a levy on foreign-exchange trading would be the most extreme step yet by policy makers to prevent speculative bets against the Chinese currency, after state-run banks repeatedly intervened to support the yuan and the government intensified a crackdown on capital outflows.

A Tobin tax would complicate plans by China to create an international reserve currency and could undermine the leadership’s pledge to increase the role of market forces in the world’s second-largest economy. “These measures can’t guarantee volatility in the market will come down since it’s difficult to identify if currency trading is down to speculation or the genuine need of companies hedging their foreign-exchange exposure,” said Tommy Ong, managing director for treasury and markets at DBS Hong Kong Ltd. “There haven’t been many successful experiences of this happening anywhere else in the world.” The rules still need central government approval and it’s not clear how quickly they can be implemented, the people said. PBOC Deputy Governor Yi Gang raised the possibility of implementing the punitive measure late last year in an article written for China Finance magazine.

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Deflation misunderstood.

Bank of Japan Holds Fire on Stimulus, Negative Rate Unchanged (BBG)

The Bank of Japan refrained from bolstering its record monetary stimulus as policy makers gauge the impact of the negative interest-rate strategy they adopted in January. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his board kept the target for increasing the monetary base unchanged, and left their benchmark rate at minus 0.1%, the BOJ said in a statement on Tuesday. The decision was forecast by 35 of 40 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The central bank reiterated that it will add easing if necessary. With the BOJ far from its 2% inflation goal and economic growth stalling, most analysts have seen additional stimulus as just a matter of time.

The stakes are rising for Kuroda, with household and corporate sentiment waning and investors questioning whether monetary policy is reaching its limits. The governor holds a press briefing later today. “You can see from the statement the agony for the BOJ in the gap between their hopes and the realities in the economy and prices,” said Kyohei Morita, an economist at Barclays. “Japanese inflation is at a level where even the BOJ has to admit its weakness. It is leaning toward additional stimulus and I expect it to be in July.”

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Mortgages for free.

ECB Rate Cuts Help Spanish Home-Buyers, Hurt Banks (WSJ)

Sheila Guerrero loves Mario Draghi. Her Spanish bank probably doesn’t. Ms. Guerrero’s mortgage payments have fallen by about 40% since she and her husband took out a loan in 2006 to buy their two-bedroom home on the southern outskirts of Madrid. The current payments of €485 a month, or about $541, she says, are “less than some people pay in rent.” Mortgage borrowers in Spain, and their banks, are acutely affected by the rate cuts that ECB President Mr. Draghi, rolled out on Thursday. That is because 96% of mortgages in Spain, a far higher percentage than in other European countries, are variable-rate loans that fluctuate with the rise and fall of the euro interbank offered rate. The 12-month Euribor, as the rate is known, plummeted from 2.2% in mid-2011 into negative territory last month. It is now around -0.03%.

The nosedive is a boon to millions of Spanish homeowners, whose mortgage payments are typically repriced each year based on changes in the rate. It has been a bust for the balance sheets of Spanish banks, helping to drive down their stock prices in recent months. The ECB’s announcement Thursday brought some relief for lenders because it included an offer of cheaper funding through new long-term loans to eurozone banks. Investors welcomed the news, and shares of major Spanish banks surged on Friday. Still, negative rates remain a drag on the banks’ profitability. Each drop of 10 basis points in the 12-month Euribor rate triggers around a 2% decline in a profit metric for Spanish banks known as net interest income, Daragh Quinn, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a research report Tuesday.

One basis point is equal to one one-hundredth of a percentage point. Net interest income is the difference between what lenders pay clients for deposits and charge for loans. Spanish banks are trying to compensate for the hit to net interest income by shifting away from mortgages, which have accounted for about half their lending, to business loans that carry higher interest rates. But the shift is happening en masse, driving down the rate on business loans too. Ms. Guerrero and her husband, a mechanic, began paying €800 a month when they took out the 50-year loan a decade ago, when they were in their 20s. Their current mortgage will be repriced in April based on February’s negative Euribor rate, which she expects will reduce it by €15, to €470. “Every extra bit you can get is welcome,” said Ms. Guerrero. Mortgages issued by Spanish banks yielded an average of 1.51% in January, one of the lowest rates in all of Europe, ECB data show. That figure compares with 2.58% in Italy and 3.27% in Germany.

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Deutsche derivatives start cracking. Uncleared, single-name, oh boy! How many pennies do they get on the buck?

JPMorgan, Goldman Discuss Buying Deutsche Bank Derivatives (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, the lender exiting some trading operations, is in talks with JPMorgan Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to sell the last batches of about 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in complex financial instruments, people with knowledge of the matter said. Deutsche Bank, based in Frankfurt, has sold about two-thirds of the portfolio of uncleared, mostly single-name credit default swaps since last year and wants to sell the rest within the next few months, according to the people, who asked not to be identified as the talks are private. The three U.S. banks have already purchased some of the instruments, the people said.

Deutsche Bank is withdrawing from countries, dumping unprofitable clients and pulling out of businesses as co-CEO John Cryan, 55, tries to boost profit and meet tougher capital rules after starting in July. He inherited a plan by his predecessor, Anshu Jain, to stop trading most credit default swaps tied to individual companies after new banking regulations made them costlier. “It’s all about capital and leverage,” said Chris Wheeler at Atlantic Equities. “Cryan clearly feels it’s not a profitable business, given the need to provide more capital under new regulations.” JPMorgan was among banks in talks to purchase more than $250 billion of the swaps, while Citigroup had already bought almost $250 billion, Bloomberg News reported in October. Deutsche Bank’s portfolio of swaps had a gross notional value of about 1 trillion euros when it began sales last year, the people said. That measure includes long and short bets and doesn’t account for offsetting contracts.

[..] Deutsche Bank’s swaps are uncleared, meaning that investors trade them directly with each other rather than through one of the clearinghouses that are mandatory for many trades after the crash. Europe’s biggest banks will need billions of dollars to meet new rules for collateral that they must set aside when trading uncleared swaps, regulators said this week. The swaps are mostly “single-name,” meaning that they’re tied to individual companies’ creditworthiness, as opposed to an index of securities, one of the people said. Deutsche Bank stopped trading these instruments in late 2014, the lender said then. The total size of the credit derivatives market has dropped by almost two-thirds from $33 trillion in 2008, according to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.

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Those are old worries, FT.

Fears Rise Over US Car Loan Delinquencies (FT)

HDelinquencies on poor-quality US car loans have climbed to their highest level in almost two decades, according to Fitch Ratings, reinforcing concerns over the rapidly growing market. The rate of “subprime” auto loans overdue by more than 60 days rose to 5.16% in February. This surpassed the post-financial crisis peak and was the highest since the 5.96% reading in October 1996, according to the rating agency. Subprime auto loans have long been a concern for analysts, some of whom feared that rapid issuance since the crisis and weakening lending standards would cause problems in the market for securitised auto loans. There, banks repackage loans into asset-backed securities and sell them on to investors, much like they did with subprime mortgages in the 2000s.

“Sharp origination growth, increased competition and weaker underwriting standards over the past three years have all contributed to the weaker performance of the past year,” Fitch Ratings said in its report. The overall US auto finance market passed $1tn in 2015, powered by strong car sales. Issuance of US auto loan-backed ABS climbed 17% to $82.5bn last year, according to data provider Dealogic, the strongest year for such sales since 2005. Fitch tracks the performance of almost $100bn of auto loans that have been securitised into so-called asset-backed bonds, of which just over a third is considered subprime. The delinquency rate on prime US auto ABS stood at just 0.46% in February, up slightly month-on-month but flat compared to the same month in 2015.

Subprime typically means borrowers with scores below 620 from FICO, the biggest credit risk scorer, which rates consumers from 300 to 850. Fitch expects both prime and subprime auto loan ABS performance to improve this spring thanks to tax refunds, but that the seasonal benefits will be more muted given the weakening of loan quality and the expected softening of the US wholesale car market. “Both the prime and subprime sectors have been buoyed by strong used vehicle values over the past five years, contributing to lower loss severity on defaults,” the report said. “However, with new vehicle sales and expected off-lease vehicle supply levels at historical highs entering 2016, Fitch anticipates weakness in the wholesale market.”

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“Australia’s net foreign debt is now over a trillion dollars, and less than a quarter of that is public debt.”

The Recession Australia Has To Have (ABC)

Earlier this week, Liberal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton warned that Labor’s proposed property investment tax changes would bring the economy to “a shuddering halt” and “crash” the stock market. His comments drew a swift rebuke from Labor’s shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, who described them as “reckless” and part of an “outlandish scare campaign”. But are they really so farfetched? Given the massive impact of Australia’s housing market on the economy as a whole, perhaps not. But that’s precisely why something needs to be done now, so that the possibility of a recession doesn’t become the threat of a depression. If we look closely at Australia’s GDP figures, we can get a sense of how out of kilter our housing market has become – and what might happen if the rug was pulled out from beneath it.

Over the past year, residential construction and renovations grew by around 10%, according to the ABS national accounts. The residential building sector alone thus directly added around half a percentage point to the nation’s 3% GDP growth. Obviously, if the sector stopped expanding, other things being equal, GDP growth would slow to 2.5%. If the industry shrank by an equivalent amount, it would have directly pulled GDP growth back closer to 2%. However, that’s only the beginning. As the home is by far the biggest asset for most of the roughly two-thirds of households who own one (outright or mortgaged), the “wealth effect” of rising property prices is a major driver of household consumption. Unlike residential building which makes up about 5.3% of spending in the economy, household consumption makes up nearly 56%.

If household consumption fell, there is a good chance Australia could see its first recession in a quarter of a century. Last quarter, “final consumption expenditure” was by far the biggest contributor to Australia’s economic growth, adding 0.4 percentage points out of a 0.6% GDP increase. Its mammoth size relative to the total economy saw household expenditure contribute just over half of Australia’s 3% economic growth last year, even though household spending only grew a tepid 2.9%. If falling home prices halted growth in household consumption, that would take a further 1.6 percentage points off growth. Not only has Australian household debt-to-income roughly tripled since the late 1980s to a fresh record 184.6%, driven entirely by surging housing debt, but most of that money has been borrowed from offshore. Australia’s net foreign debt is now over a trillion dollars, and less than a quarter of that is public debt.

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Canada wins?

Obama To Kill Off Arctic Oil Drilling (Guardian)

The Obama administration is expected to put virtually all of the Arctic and much of the Atlantic off limits for oil and gas drilling until 2022 in a decision that could be announced as early as Tuesday. The decision reverses Barack Obama’s move just last year to open up a vast swathe of the Atlantic coast to drilling – and consolidates the president’s efforts to protect the Arctic and fight climate change during his final months in the White House. The five-year drilling plan, which will be formally announced by the interior department, was expected to block immediate prospects of hunting for oil in the Arctic, according to those familiar with the proposals. The move was widely anticipated after Obama and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, declared last week they would follow “science-based standards” when it came to sanctioning new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

But the plan was also expected to seal off large areas of the Atlantic coast from future exploration, following protests from coastal communities in the Carolinas and Georgia – and that could cause reverberations in the presidential elections. Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron have been pushing heavily to reopen drilling off the Atlantic coast, and Republicans and some state governors were also in favour. Obama had been inclined to agree. But after protests from dozens of coastal tourist towns, which feared a repeat of BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and opposition to drilling from the Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Georgia and the Carolinas were expected to remain closed to future drilling, sources familiar with the plans said.

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Why the EU doesn’t work, and never will. This time it’s all of Europe against tiny Cyprus.

The Cyprus Problem (FT)

Donald Tusk, the European Council president who has been attempting to broker a deal to stop the influx of refugees into the EU, has flown to Nicosia for a meeting this morning with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades. For a man who spent the week before the last EU migration summit travelling to seven different capitals in four days, the fact that Mr Tusk is making Cyprus his only stop ahead of the next two-day gathering beginning Thursday is telling: the small island nation may prove the most difficult needle to thread in Brussels’ nascent deal with Turkey to take back thousands of migrants now washing ashore in Greece. [UPDATE: Mr Tusk has tacked on an evening trip to Ankara at the last minute.]

Cyprus has long been one of the biggest complicating factors in EU-Turkey relations, so objections from Nicosia to the demands being made by Ankara– another €3bn in aid, a visa-free travel scheme, opening of new “chapters” in EU membership talks – may have been expected. But the small group of EU leaders who brokered last week’s deal, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, seemed to have forgotten that Cypriot objections this time around are far more consequential: the country is in the middle of delicate talks that diplomats believe are the best (and perhaps last) chance to reunify an island divided since Turkey invaded and held its northern half in 1974.

For Mr Anastasiades, making concessions to Ankara now without any compensation would not only cost him politically at home, but could wreck reunification talks altogether since the Greek Cypriot community he leads would likely abandon him. Like all other 27 EU heads of state, Mr Anastasiades can, on his own, veto the Turkey deal. Officials involved in last week’s summit now admit they may have mishandled the Cyprus issue; at one point, Mr Anastasiades was put into a room with Ms Merkel and the leaders of four other countries, all of whom pressured him to give up the “freeze” Nicosia has on the five membership chapters. The freeze was imposed by Cyprus in 2009 because Ankara had not lived up to commitments made to the EU to recognise the Nicosia-based Greek Cypriot government, and Mr Anastasiades has repeatedly insisted he cannot simply give up on the position without something in return.

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There’s enough being blamed on Greece as is.

Greek Asylum System Is Broken Cog In EU-Turkey Plan (EUO)

Much has been said on the merits of a draft EU-Turkey deal to return unwanted migrants from Greek islands. The plan hinges on designating Turkey as a “safe” country in order to send all “irregular migrants” packing. But Turkey’s patchy application of the Geneva Convention, Europe’s post-WWII human rights bible, and allegations of push-backs have cast a shadow over the draft accord. Big questions also remain on how Greece intends to implement EU asylum law under the new plan. Even if Ankara fulfills its side of the bargain, Greece can still expect a years-long backlog of asylum applications, appeals and meta-appeals that risk undermining the objective of speedy returns. Greece’s asylum system is dysfunctional. Some asylum seekers have waited up to 13 years to have their cases heard.

For rapid returns to work, Greece would need to overhaul its system and hire many more judges. The European Commission wants Greece to make it quick and efficient. “It’s up to the Hellenic authorities to organise this,” commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday (14 March). The Greek deputy minister for citizens’ protection, Nikos Toskas, over the weekend said a return under its bilateral agreement with Turkey could take just 48 hours. But a glance at EU laws and at the Greek asylum process makes that prospect seem unlikely. EU law gives anyone, Syrian or otherwise, the right to defend their case before a Greek court after having transited through Turkey. “Asylum seekers won’t be denied the rights to be heard,” said Schinas.

It means all will have the right to claim Turkey is not safe enough for them to be returned to. If Greek authorities reject their initial claim, the asylum seeker can appeal. That appeal must heard before a Greek court. Past cases in Greece show that the system is cumbersome and already overstretched. The Greek Forum for Refugees, an Athens’ based migrants’ group, said in a blog post earlier this month that people who have had their appeal interviews “are now waiting for months, or even years, to receive a decision from the authorities”. As of September last year, Greece had 23,000 pending appeals for applications filed before June 2013. Nobody seems to know how many more cases were filed after June 2013 when the vast bulk of asylum seekers arrived in Greece.

The Greek administrative body that oversees them stopped digging into the cases last October after its mandate expired. “So currently there is a freeze in the examination of appeals. We don’t know how many are pending,” the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a non-profit watchdog on EU policy, told EUobserver. Meanwhile, 35,000 more people became stuck in Greece in recent weeks after the EU slammed shut its Western Balkan borders About 2,000 more are arriving on Greek shores from Turkey each day. It is likely that many people who struggle across the Aegean will exploit their legal rights to prevent their immediate return. In an added complication, it is also unclear if the legal challenge would be handled in the zones where people are first screened, identified and registered or in separate courts in the Greek islands’ local capitals.

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Another sorrowful episode. Should Greece let them in? Or should it protect its borders?

FYROM Returned About 600 Migrants To Greece (Reuters)

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has sent about 600 refugees who crossed the border on Monday back to Greece, a FYROM police official said on Tuesday. Most of the migrants were taken back to Greece on Monday or overnight on trucks, the official said. Hundreds of migrants marched out of a Greek transit camp, hiked for hours along muddy paths and forded a rain-swollen river on Monday to get around a border fence and cross into FYROM, where they were detained.

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It’ll get completely out of hand way before.

Greek Minister Sees Refugees Stuck For At Least Two Years (Kath.)

It may take up to two years for refugees and migrants trapped in Greece by closed borders at its north to be relocated to other countries of the EU or deported, Alternate Defense Minister and coordinator of the ministerial team managing the crisis Dimitris Vitsas, told the Financial Times on Sunday. “The thousands of migrants at the border are awaiting the outcome of the March 17 summit [of EU leaders] on refugees, hoping they will then be able to cross”, Vitsas said, referring to a summit later this week with Turkish officials to finalize a plan for migrant returns and relocations. “We have to persuade them this is not going to happen .. then the Idomeni camp will quickly empty, I think by the end of the week”, Vitsas told the FT.

His interview came a day before a spokesman for the UNHCR warned that conditions at the makeshift camp that is home to over 10,000 migrants on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are just unbelievable. Official estimates on Monday put the number of migrants trapped in Greece at over 44,000 as new arrivals kept landing on the country s eastern islands. Vitsas estimated that even if EU and Turkish leaders agree to speed up relocations, clearing the backlog in Greece may take up to two years. “We also have to recognize that some migrants will stay in Greece permanently. It’s going to happen”, Vitsas told the FT.

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Apr 052015
 
 April 5, 2015  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Alfred Palmer New B-25 bomber at Kansas City plant of North American Aviation 1942

Greek Parliament Committee to Investigate Who’s Responsible for Crisis (DPA)
Proposal For Creating A Parallel Currency In Greece (Andresen And Parenteau)
Greece Has Cash to Make IMF Payment Next Week, Minister Says (Bloomberg)
Germany Generously Offers To Freeze Bank Accounts Of Wealthy Greeks (Zero Hedge)
The Mischief Behind Big Unemployment ‘Reveal’ (John Crudele)
Cyprus Lifts Capital Controls Two Years After Deposits Bail-In (Bloomberg)
Every TV News Report On The Economy In One (Weekly Wipe)
Europe’s Currency Manipulation (Kawalec)
Bernanke’s Latest Target Is Germany (MarketWatch)
Ukraine Seeks $15.3 Billion From Debt Restructuring (Bloomberg)
New Zealand Exports Down 27% From Year Ago (RNZ)
Dairy Slump Hits New Zealand Exports To China (Stufff.co.nz)
World ‘Awash With Milk’ (RNZ)
New Zealand’s Economic Winds Of Change (Hickey)
Monsanto’s “Discredit Bureau” Really Does Exist (DK)
After the Higgs Boson, Physicists Chase Dark Matter (Bloomberg)

“The opposition opposed the establishment of the committee.” No kidding.

Greek Parliament Committee to Investigate Who’s Responsible for Crisis (DPA)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will be in Washington on Sunday to discuss the country‘s reform programme with IMF chief Christine Lagarde, his office said Saturday. The visit takes place ahead of an April 9 deadline for Greece to pay back a €450 million loan tranche to the IMF. Amid ongoing concerns of a possible default, the Greek government on Friday said it would have no problem meeting the deadline. Greek officials say they are confident that they can soon reach a deal with international creditors such as the IMF over a bailout reform plan that foresees an additional €3.7 billion in state revenues this year. A key component of the plan is a clampdown on tax evasion. The government anticipates raising a further €1.5 billion from the sale of the state-owned Pireaus Port Authority and of 14 regional airports.

Also Saturday, a committee of investigation held a ceremonial session to mark the beginning of its mandate to find out who was responsible for Greece‘s debt crisis. President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took part in the session. Pavlopoulos said as a member of the eurozone Greece has international obligations, but the country also has a right to national sovereignty. The opposition opposed the establishment of the committee. The investigation is to look into the term of socialist prime minister George Papandreou, who was in office from 2009-11; interim prime minister Lucas Papademos, who was in office from 2011-12; and the coalition government of conservatives and socialists that served from 2012-15 under prime minister Antonis Samaras.

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Great ideas. Practicality may need to be discussed, but still.

Proposal For Creating A Parallel Currency In Greece (Andresen And Parenteau)

The premise for the proposal to be presented in the following is that the government has a breathing space of a couple of months. At the end of that period a parallel electronic currency shall be put into circulation. But first, how does a parallel currency (to the euro) work? Proposals resembling the following have been put forth earlier by Andresen and recently by Hillinger. The additional (“parallel”) circulating medium of exchange to be proposed may be designated a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN), a term introduced by Parenteau. The TANs are used by the government to partly pay wages, pensions and for domestic purchases. The TAN enjoys confidence since anyone can use it to pay taxes with one TAN counting as one euro (more on this below).

Transactions are done via mobile phone/SMS, and automatically received and accounted for on a server with ample capacity at the country’s Central Bank or perhaps preferably, for political reasons, at a bank-like facility established for this purpose at the Treasury – from now on just called the TB: “Treasury Bank”. Such a mobile-based transaction system may be implemented through one of the technically proven schemes already in successful operation in some developing countries, also recently put in operation by the central bank of Ecuador. The system may be implemented to work also with older models of mobile phones, since it may be SMS-based (but there will be apps for smartphones).

There are no physical/paper TANs in circulation. The government has a TAN account at the TB with no limit. TANs are thus created out of thin air, but they are later destroyed when paid back as taxes. The government account is debited whenever it pays wages or pensions, or buys goods or services. All citizens and domestic firms are automatically assigned cost-free TAN accounts at the TB. Interested foreign entities are offered to have accounts (but we will expect TANs to be used only by domestic agents in an initial phase). The deposit interest rate is zero. At the start this is a pure medium of exchange, in that sense resembling physical cash. Lending is not considered as an organised option in the pioneer period of this system. (But spontaneous peer-to-peer TAN lending will emerge and grow.)

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But will they use it?

Greece Has Cash to Make IMF Payment Next Week, Minister Says (Bloomberg)

Greece won’t default on payments to the IMF next week even as a lack of bailout disbursements has left government coffers nearly empty, according to the minister responsible for meeting the obligations. Greece has an IMF payment of about €450 million due on April 9. With euro-area officials withholding aid payments until an agreement is reached on economic overhauls, the government also has to get through a short-term debt auction a day before, to refinance €1.4 billion of six-month notes due April 14. “The country will pay the IMF on April 9,” Alternate Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas said in an interview on Mega TV on Saturday. “There’s money there for payment of salaries, pensions and whatever else is needed for all of next week. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t for the week after. This is a political decision that will be taken, and we will follow whichever political decision.”

Greece and euro-area authorities are in negotiations about a package of measures proposed by the government to repair its economy, a condition for the release of bailout funds. The standoff has left the nation’s banks dependent on European Central Bank loans, with Greece facing the risk of a possible default within weeks and a potential exit from the euro area. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will meet IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde in Washington on Sunday for an informal discussion on the Greek government’s reform package, according to an e-mailed statement from the Finance Ministry. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit Moscow next week, with Russia ready to discuss easing restrictions on Greek food products, according to Russian government officials. Russia isn’t considering financial assistance to Greece, they said.

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“.. since in Greece virtually nobody pays the amount of tax they should, this is essentially a carte blanche to freeze and raid the funds of the wealthiest Greeks who have bank accounts in Germany..”

Germany Generously Offers To Freeze Bank Accounts Of Wealthy Greeks (Zero Hedge)

Greece is on the verge of complete monetary collapse and is now scrambling to “borrow” funds from local pensions and other public sources of scarce capital just to remain in compliance with IMF debt repayments and avoid a hard default. In fact, according to some, Greece may not have the funds to make its next mandatory payment due on April 9 to the IMF with the long overdue Greek exit from the Eurozone to follow in due course. Well, maybe not, because Germany has been kind enough to provide an idea where the foundering Greek “radical leftist” government can find some additional funds: by freezing and raiding the bank accounts of wealthy Greeks.

Of course, the legal loophole provision is that only those suspected (not convicted) of tax fraud would be eligible for such an asset freeze, however since in Greece virtually nobody pays the amount of tax they should, this is essentially a carte blanche to freeze and raid the funds of the wealthiest Greeks who have bank accounts in Germany (and soon in all other European nations) no questions asked. Dow Jones reports:

Germany would be willing to freeze the bank accounts of wealthy Greeks suspected of tax fraud, Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a newspaper interview on Saturday. “We have offered to freeze the bank accounts of wealthy Greek citizens that owe taxes to their homeland. The offer stands, but for that [to happen] the Greek financial authorities need to get active,” Mr. Gabriel told the German daily Rheinische Post. Europe is willing to help Greece, but the Greek government’s acceptance of previously agreed upon reforms is a prerequisite, he reiterated. Greece’s problems aren’t a result of Troika initiatives, he added. “Greece is a victim of its own economic and political elite,” Mr. Gabriel said.

But wait, we thought it was “austerity” that was to blame for everything. Does Mr. Gabriel, gasp, suggest that “austerity” is the name that crony, corrupt, incompetent European politicians have been giving to their actions to enable the unprecedented theft and transfer of wealth that has taken place in Europe in the past five years?

In this case Gabriel is spot on with this assessment – one which we said was precisely the case two years ago – and as such Germany has a solution: a one-time, sovereign bail-in, funded by the wealthiest Greeks. And here it gets interesting, because suddenly the options becomes very clear for said wealthy, tax-avoiding Greeks: align with Russia, or suffer deposit confiscation at the hands of Germany, or Switzerland, or France, or any other nation that has been alienated by the Syriza government. To be sure Germany tried to smooth out this contingency. Turning to Russia, Mr. Gabriel said he doubts Greece would seek to replace European partners with an allegiance to Russia.

“Even if I try, I can’t imagine that anyone in Athens is seriously considering turning their backs on Europe to throw themselves into the arms of Russia. And I also doubt that Moscow feels any pressing need to gladly fulfill some of Greece’s financial pipedreams, given the economic and financial situation there,” he said.

Perhaps, but keep in mind that it was the threat of the world’s wealthiest losing all their accumulated wealth that forced the Fed and its central bank peers to launch the biggest ever bail out of capitalism in 2008, at the cost of destroying the livelihood for hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans and Europeans. Because when there is nothing but desperation left, the rich do silly, self-serving things. The question is will Greece’s wealthiest make it clear to Tsipras that their money is off limits, and unless he can find a Eurofacing resolution that preserves their wealth, then he should promptly turn to Putin. With Greek money about to run out in the coming days, we should have the answer very soon.

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“But wait, there’s more.”

The Mischief Behind Big Unemployment ‘Reveal’ (John Crudele)

The Census Bureau had trouble compiling the nation’s jobless rate in March and, because of this, I’m told, questionable shortcuts were taken. So when the Labor Department announces the new unemployment rate on Friday at 8:30 a.m. — and experts are predicting the figure will remain at 5.5% — take it with a giant grain of salt. Here’s why. Census, which is part of the Commerce Department, tallies the unemployment rate after conducting thousands of household surveys. It then projects what it gets from those surveys into a nationwide result. As you probably already know, the Fed is among the many organizations and companies that carefully monitor the unemployment rate and make important decisions based on that number.

So it’s a big nuisance if this figure is unreliable. But that’s exactly what it is — unreliable to the point of being nearly useless at best and fraudulent at worst. Just so you have it straight, let me go over the list of players I am mentioning in this column: Labor hires Census, which is part of Commerce, to conduct interviews that lead to the figure we know as the official unemployment rate. If you’re the type who can’t get enough government gibberish, you should know that this figure is also called the U-3 unemployment rate, which is the “total unemployed as a%age of the civilian labor force.” Here’s how the U-3 survey works. Census randomly picks the homes that are to be surveyed. Labor requires that 90% of those surveys be successfully completed.

Most of the homes are getting repeat surveys, so not everyone is a first timer. Before I started reporting on the method and lack of honesty in taking these surveys back in 2013, Census was easily able to reach that 90% goal. After The Post investigation, Census started coming up short. That led to a congressional inquiry and a probe by Commerce’s inspector general. Unable to cheat once a light was shown on its shady methods, all six Census regions showed declining survey success rates. March’s numbers were way down. Census was only able to complete 85.59% of March unemployment surveys nationwide, sources tell me. And that below-the-threshold number was only reached after Census extended its survey two extra days.

The survey should have ended on Tuesday, March 24, but was extended until Thursday, March 26, because the success rate was only 80.38% as of that Monday night. I’m not an expert on statistics, but this awful performance would seem to invalidate the results of a survey that relies on consistency to measure the ebb and flow of employment. When the survey finally ended on March 26, not one of the six Census regions had hit the 90% goal. The Atlanta region came closest at 89.19%, sources said. New York, which has always been a laggard, had a miserable 81.27%. So how much faith will you have in Friday’s unemployment number? But wait, there’s more.

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“The lifting of the restrictions confirms the full restoration of confidence in the banking system..” Oh, boy!

Cyprus Lifts Capital Controls Two Years After Deposits Bail-In (Bloomberg)

Cyprus will lift next week the last of the capital controls that were imposed two years ago as part of a €10 billion European bailout. The last restrictions on international transfers will be lifted on April 6, Cyprus government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg. Domestic capital controls ended in May 2014. “The lifting of the restrictions confirms the full restoration of confidence in the banking system, the significantly improved business climate and essentially marks the return of the economy to normal conditions,” he said. Cyprus is emerging from the crisis that forced it to seek a bailout and impose a levy on depositors two years ago while Greece, which in 2010 became the first country to be rescued by its euro-area partners, continues its tug-of-war with creditors.

The end of the last capital transfer restrictions is the result “of all our hard work and consistency in the implementation of the obligations we undertook,” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said in Nicosia today. Deposits have shrunk since the crisis, standing at €46.5 billion at the end of February compared with €67.5 billion in the same month of 2013, and Standard & Poor’s says lifting the controls may put the stability of deposit levels at risk. “We see uncertainty regarding the impact of the elimination of the remaining controls on international transactions on the stability of private-sector deposits,” S&P analysts led by Marko Mrsnik said on March 27.

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Brilliant.

Every TV News Report On The Economy In One (Weekly Wipe)

Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe: Every TV news report on the economy in one.

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“.. at more than $300 billion, the eurozone’s current-account surplus for 2014 was about 50% larger than China’s. ”

Europe’s Currency Manipulation (Kawalec)

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the European Union and the United States currently are negotiating, would, studies say, boost welfare and reduce unemployment in both economies, as well as in other countries. At the same time, the TTIP could help to restore confidence in Europe and the transatlantic community. But there is one major barrier to realizing these benefits: the euro. The problem stems from currency manipulation. Over the past three decades, the US has de facto tolerated currency manipulation by its major Asian trading partners, which built up large trade and current-account surpluses by suppressing the value of their currencies. But the US is unlikely to accept such behavior within free-trade zones.

Indeed, a bipartisan majority in the US Congress is already demanding that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a mega-regional free-trade deal involving 12 Pacific Rim countries – should include provisions barring currency manipulation. Discussions about currency manipulation have long focused on China, which is not part of the TPP, but could join it, or a similar arrangement, in the future. But the economy with the biggest current-account surplus today is not China; it is the eurozone. In fact, at more than $300 billion, the eurozone’s current-account surplus for 2014 was about 50% larger than China’s.

The reason for this is simple: monetary expansion, which leads to currency depreciation, is the only macroeconomic tool available to the ECB to boost the competitiveness of struggling economies like Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France. As a result, current-account deficits in the southern countries have diminished or disappeared, while surpluses in countries like Germany have increased, causing the eurozone’s overall surplus to swell. An unsolvable problem for the ECB is that the euro remains too strong for the depressed southern countries and too weak for Germany. While allowing it to appreciate would help to reduce the current-account surplus, it would also exacerbate the economic distress in the depressed southern countries.

This, in turn, would further strengthen the populist and anti-European political movements that have capitalized on social hardship to win support. Some observers believe that the eurozone’s internal imbalances can be reduced if Germany increases infrastructure spending and allows wages to rise faster. But for many Germans, who withstood difficult social-security and labor-market reforms in 2003-2005, a deliberate effort to diminish hard-won competitiveness gains is not an option. The fact that 63% of German exports go to countries outside the eurozone – meaning that German companies must be able to compete with their counterparts all over the world, not just in the monetary union – makes the issue even more sensitive.

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Shouldn’t someone shut him up?

Bernanke’s Latest Target Is Germany (MarketWatch)

First, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke targeted critics of the central bank in Congress. Then he took a swipe at the economic theories of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Now, Bernanke is taking a shot at the eurozone’s largest economy, Germany. In his third blog post of the week, the Brookings Institution fellow took aim at Germany for its large trade surplus. He notes that at international gatherings, like the coming International Monetary Fund meeting, China gets criticized for its large and persistent trade surplus. But he points out China has worked to reduce its surplus—and Germany really has not.

True, Bernanke admits, Germany makes products that foreigners want to buy. “But other countries make good products without running such large surpluses,” Bernanke says. He says the euro is too weak to be consistent with balanced German trade. While that’s not Germany’s fault, he concedes, it nonetheless helps German exports. But what is the country’s fault is its tight fiscal policy that suppresses domestic spending. He gives three things that Germany could do—invest in public infrastructure, raise the wages of German workers, and use targeted reforms like tax incentives for private domestic investment. Bernanke also scolds Germany for not supporting the ECB’s quantitative easing program.

“It’s true that easier monetary policy will weaken the euro, which by itself would tend to increase rather than reduce Germany’s trade surplus,” he writes. “But more accommodative monetary policy has two offsetting advantages: First, higher inflation throughout the eurozone makes the adjustment in relative wages needed to restore competitiveness easier to achieve, since the adjustment can occur through slower growth rather than actual declines in nominal wages; and, second, supportive monetary policies should increase economic activity throughout the eurozone, including in Germany.”

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Ok, want to restructure? Let’s talk Greece then. At least they won’t buy guns with the difference.

Ukraine Seeks $15.3 Billion From Debt Restructuring (Bloomberg)

Ukraine’s government approved a list of debt that should be restructured under an IMF program to save the nation $15.3 billion, including $3 billion in Eurobonds sold to Russia. Ukraine’s sovereign and corporate debt incurred before Feb. 28, 2014 is included, the Finance Ministry said Saturday on its website. The last category covers state banks, the railways operator and the city of Kiev, according to the statement. Ukraine is trying to reach an agreement with creditors including Franklin Templeton, which holds about $7 billion in the debt, to save $15.3 billion through the restructuring. Russia says it bought the Eurobonds in 2013 to support the government of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and is already contributing by not demanding early repayment.

“Up to now, we’ve been repeatedly saying that Russia doesn’t plan to restructure the Ukrainian debt and isn’t in talks on the issue,” Svetlana Nikitina, an aide to Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, said on Saturday by phone. The ministry hasn’t seen the Ukrainian decision yet, she said. The list of debts included may be published as soon as Monday, the Ukrainian Finance Ministry said in response to questions from Bloomberg. The decision on debt comes amid a relative lull in the one-year military conflict in two eastern Ukrainian regions that led the government in Kiev to seek assistance from the IMF. While casualties have waned following a cease-fire agreed on Feb. 12, Ukraine still has to complete negotiations on losses for international bondholders by May to keep funds flowing from the IMF.

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That’s not kids’ stuff.

New Zealand Exports Down 27% From Year Ago (RNZ)

Confidence among manufacturers and exporters has taken a hit with export sales in February down 27% compared with a year ago. A survey found net confidence – which includes measures of cash flow, profitability, investment, staff and sales – fell into negative territory for the first time since April 2013. Net confidence was minus 13, down from 21 in January. The sample of Manufacturers and Exporters Association members covered companies with combined annual sales of $178 million, with 68% of those from exports. Association president Tom Thomson said currency volality was the biggest issue for exporters, with the big jump in the US dollar forcing up the price of some raw materials.

“We’ve been caught a little bit like a possum in the headlights,” said Mr Thomson. “We’ve not only got weakening against the US dollar but we’re also seeing a huge strengthening against the Australian dollar. “We’ve definitely got a double whammy effect going on at the moment.” Mr Thomson said exporters to Europe and Asia were experiencing similar problems. Demand from China had yet to bounce back after the Chinese New Year. Mr Thomson said big swings in exchange rates were challenging, but manufacturers were “resilient” and he was confident they would adapt.

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And 36% is an even bigger drop.

Dairy Slump Hits New Zealand Exports To China (Stufff.co.nz)

New Zealand posted a small trade surplus of just $50 million in February with dairy exports down heavily, especially to China, New Zealand’s top export market. Some economists had expected a monthly surplus of about $350m. The trade shortfall for the year ended February 2015 was a deficit of $2.2 billion. Exports to China have boomed in the past few years, but melted down last year as dairy product prices plunged. Total exports to China in February were worth $740m, down more than 36% on the same month last year. However, Statistics NZ figures showed an 11% lift in seasonally adjusted exports to China between January and February, a gain of $64m.

China remains New Zealand’s biggest export market, worth almost $9b in the past year, just slightly ahead of Australia. But the trend for exports to China has been falling for the past year, and is down 45% from the peak in late 2013. In fact, it has returned to levels seen in 2012. Beef exports, on the other hand, are up from a year ago, with strong sales to the United States. Total exports were worth $3.9b for the month, just barely ahead of monthly imports which were also about $3.9b. Seasonally adjusted exports fell 3.2% between January and February, while imports rose 5.8%.

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Even before the EU lifted the quota’s.

World ‘Awash With Milk’ (RNZ)

The Government is blaming a slump in milk prices on the world market being awash with milk. But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said National’s economic policies and the high value of the New Zealand dollar were not helping dairy farmers. In the Global Dairy Trade auction prices dropped 10.8% overnight to $US2746 a tonne, the second fall in a fortnight. Mr Peters said he predicted the fall and it was a sign of rural areas lagging behind. “I’ve been saying it for a long long time – what you’ve got is a fixation with Auckland, hollowing out the provincial economies and sucking all the attention and money to Auckland and that is not going to go on any longer.” But Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy has told Parliament the dairy market fluctuated.

“The world is basically awash with milk. We’ve got milk currently that is displaced from the Russia ban from the EU looking for a new home, and of course we’ve got some stockpiling in China. So all of those things mean that right now we are in a very volatile dairy market.” Mr Peters said New Zealand had a free market system that no other country followed and he would legislate to control the exchange rate, similar to Singapore’s system. “The one country that’s not devaluing at the moment is New Zealand – every other economy has. And consequently we are leaving our people terribly exposed and the consequences are being seen in the Gisborne’s, the Whanganui’s, all round the country.” Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce firmly rejected that idea.

“Well, with the greatest respect to Winston I am old enough, and so is he, to remember the last time we tried to set the exchange rate in this country and it wasn’t that successful… “What he is basically saying is that he would legislate, presumably, to put the exchange rate at a level it won’t naturally go and that means effectively increasing costs for the consumer and decreasing costs for exporters.” Mr Joyce remained pragmatic about the fall in dairy prices. “It is challenging obviously for farmers and that makes it a bit challenging generally, but we fortunately are in a position where we have a lot of industries doing very well at the moment so it is probably less challenging than it would have been three or four years ago.”
Meanwhile, the Fonterra Shareholders Council said some frustrated farmers were considering leaving the co-operative due to the price slump.

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“One of the flappiest at the moment is the global iron ore price. It’s barely noticed here but it’s an indicator of growing trouble..”

New Zealand’s Economic Winds Of Change (Hickey)

Chaos theory calls it the butterfly effect. It’s the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon could cause a tornado in Texas. The New Zealand economy has plenty of its own butterflies changing the weather for GDP growth, jobs, interest rates, inflation and house prices. Not all cause tornadoes, but there are plenty of head and tailwinds for different parts of the country. One of the flappiest at the moment is the global iron ore price. It’s barely noticed here but it’s an indicator of growing trouble inside our largest trading partner, China, and it is knocking our second-largest partner, Australia, for six. It fell to a 10-year low of almost US$50 a tonne this week and is down from a peak of more than US$170 a tonne in early 2011. Australia and Brazil are the biggest suppliers of iron ore to China.

China embarked on an infrastructure spree after the global financial crisis. Over the three years to 2013, China poured 6.4 gigatonnes of concrete, which was more than was poured in the US in the entire 20th century. All that concrete needed reinforcing with steel and China didn’t have enough iron ore and coking coal to make it. That building boom created a glut of apartments and debt, which China now needs to digest. The elevation of President Xi Jingping to China’s top leadership post in late 2012 was a key moment in the flapping of those iron ore wings. He realised China needed to move to a more consumer-friendly economy with cleaner air, water and food. Dirty steel plants have closed and projects mothballed. Apartment prices have fallen sharply over the past six months and demand from steel foundries has slowed.

At the same time, iron ore production in Australia has only now ramped up to its peak levels. Weak demand met high supply to produce a price slump. This all may seem irrelevant to New Zealand, but it’s not. The Australian dollar has fallen in response to the iron ore crash, while New Zealand’s dollar has remained strong because our economy is humming along, thanks to building surges in Christchurch and Auckland and plenty of spending and investment. That divergence between the Australasian economies drove the New Zealand dollar to a record high of well over A.98 this week. Westpac has started offering $1 for every A$1 sent by telegraphic transfer.

Dollar parity would make all those winter holidays on the Gold Coast and trips to shows in Sydney and Melbourne cheaper and generate a fierce headwind for manufacturing exporters and tourism businesses here that sell to Australians. President Xi has reinforced the contrasting effects of the changes in China on Australia and New Zealand by encouraging consumers and investors to spend more of China’s big trade surpluses overseas. Tourism from China was up 40% in the first two months of this year from a year ago, and there remains plenty of demand from investors in China for New Zealand assets.

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“Dr. Moar, perhaps forgetting that this was a public event, then revealed that Monsanto indeed had “an entire department” (waving his arm for emphasis) dedicated to “debunking” science which disagreed with theirs.”

Monsanto’s “Discredit Bureau” Really Does Exist (DK)

Reuters is reporting that Monsanto is demanding a sit-down with members of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This international scientific body is being called on the carpet for reporting that Monsanto’s most widely sold herbicide, which is inextricably linked to the majority of their genetically engineered products, is probably carcinogenic to humans. In a DO-YOU-KNOW-WHO-WE-ARE moment, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs Philip Miller said the following in interview: “We question the quality of the assessment. The WHO has something to explain.” Evidence for the carcinogenicity of Glyphosate comes from a peer-reviewed study published in March of 2015 in the respected journal The Lancet Oncology:

“Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate”. “Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide, currently with the highest production volumes of all herbicides. It is used in more than 750 different products for agriculture, forestry, urban, and home applications. Its use has increased sharply with the development of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crop varieties. Glyphosate has been detected in air during spraying, in water, and in food. There WAS limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. “Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption. Soil microbes degrade glyphosate to aminomethylphosphoric acid (AMPA). Blood AMPA detection after poisonings suggests intestinal microbial metabolism in humans. Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations.”

Recently, I attended a talk by Monsanto’s Dr. William “Bill” Moar who presented the latest project in their product pipeline dealing with RNA. Most notably, he also spoke about Monsanto’s efforts to educate citizens about the scientific certainty of the safety of their genetically engineered products. The audience was mostly agricultural students many of whom were perhaps hoping for the only well-paid internships and jobs in their field. One student asked what Monsanto was doing to counter the “bad science” around their work. Dr. Moar, perhaps forgetting that this was a public event, then revealed that Monsanto indeed had “an entire department” (waving his arm for emphasis) dedicated to “debunking” science which disagreed with theirs.

As far as I know this is the first time that a Monsanto functionary has publicly admitted that they have such an entity which brings their immense political and financial weight to bear on scientists who dare to publish against them. The Discredit Bureau will not be found on their official website. The challenge for Monsanto’s Discredit Bureau is steep in attacking the unimpeachably respected Lancet and the international scientific bodies of WHO and IARC. However, they have no choice but to attack since the stakes are so very high for them. Glyphosate is their hallmark product upon which the majority of their profits are based.

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Smart cookies.

After the Higgs Boson, Physicists Chase Dark Matter (Bloomberg)

The world’s most epic physics experiment will flip back on as early as Saturday. After a two-year tuneup, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will run at twice the power it needed in 2012 to find the Higgs boson, the long-theorized particle that confers mass onto matter. As monumental as the Higgs discovery was — its theorists won the Nobel Prize in Physics the next year — physicists still have very little idea what’s going on in the universe, beyond the stuff we can see, touch, and smell. A big question concerns “dark matter,” what scientists call the stuff that makes up 80% of galaxies but that doesn’t interact with light, atoms, and molecules. They know it’s there, but it’s hiding from us. With the Higgs in hand, finding traces of dark matter is the next big hunt in high-energy physics.

The Standard Model of physics is what scientists consider their working picture of how fundamental particles behave and interact. But it “has some holes in it,” says Verena Martinez Outschoorn, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We know that our worldview, our model, our understanding of particles and their interactions is kind of a subset of a bigger picture,” she says. “We have reason to believe there are other particles out there.” The LHC is located at CERN, the scientific research juggernaut in Meyrin, Switzerland. It’s a network of superpowered, supercold, super empty magnet-driven beam pipes that zip protons around a 17-mile loop.

Some circle the ring in one direction; some trace the opposite path. How high-powered? Ultimately, 14 tera-electron volts, or 14 trillion electron volts (eVs). That’s a lot of anything. Neutrons popping out of a radioactive nucleus — nuclear fission — have about a million electron volts. Medical X-rays have about 200,000 eVs. Electrons hit old-fashioned cathode-ray television screens with about 20,000 eVs. How cold? At 1.9 kelvins (-456F), the LHC magnets are colder than outer space. How empty? The vacuum beam pipes that carry the particles around in circles are so empty they make the moon’s atmosphere look like a choking smog.

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Mar 042015
 
 March 4, 2015  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC “.. the hearty cereal beverage with flavor and tang, Altemus-Hibble truck” 1920

Only Mass Default Will End The World’s Addiction To Debt (Telegraph)
Eurozone Faces First Regional Bankruptcy In Austria’s Carinthia (AEP)
Shelby Says Fed Should Be Held Accountable for Its Actions (Bloomberg)
Yellen Says Fed Seeks to Avert ‘Capture’ by Banks It Oversees (Bloomberg)
Draghi’s Rescue Plan Has Created a $103 Billion Problem (Bloomberg)
ECB Glimpse of Cyprus Debt Mountain Shows Limits of Bank Cleanup (Bloomberg)
$2 Trillion Euro Government Bonds Trading At Negative Yield (David Stockman)
Greece Taps Public Sector Cash To Help Cover March Needs (Reuters)
Can Greece Really Thrive Inside the Euro? (George Magnus)
ECB Will Need More Creative Accounting To Deal With Greece (MarketWatch)
Greece vs Europe: Who Blinked First In The Bail-out Battle? (Telegraph)
Athens Preparing Reform Proposals For Eurogroup (Kathimerini)
Oil at $95 a Barrel Discovered in SEC Rules on Reserves (Bloomberg)
The Latest Sign the Oil-Price Plunge Is Hitting the Job Market (Bloomberg)
Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials’ $30 Trillion Inheritance (Bloomberg)
Japan Public Debt Keeps BNP Chief Credit Analyst Awake at Night (Bloomberg)
Ukraine Looks Ready To Default (MarketWatch)
Ukraine Raises Interest Rates To 30% (BBC)
Financial Collapse Leads To War (Dmitry Orlov)
NATO Rolls Out ‘Russian Threat’ In Budget Battle (RT)
Massive Swarms of Jellyfish Wreak Havoc on Fish Farms, Power Plants (Bloomberg)

“Finally, creditors are being made to pay for the consequences of their own folly.”

Only Mass Default Will End The World’s Addiction To Debt (Telegraph)

In a valedictory speech at the weekend of characteristically Latin American duration – a mind-numbing three hours – the Argentine president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, claimed that her country was the only one in the world to have reduced its national debt over recent years. I doubt she is right about being alone in this “achievement” – there must surely be others – but even if she is, I’m not sure that reduction in the national debt via the mechanism of default is anything to boast of. Only Kirchner could think this a matter of national pride. Nonetheless, where Argentina treads, others will surely soon be following. The world is sinking under a sea of debt, private as well as public, and it is increasingly hard to see how this might end, except in some form of mass default. Greece we already know about, but the coming much wider outbreak of debt repudiation will not be confined to sovereign nations.

Last week, there was another foretaste of what’s to come in developments at Austria’s failed Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank International. Taxpayers have had enough of paying for the country’s increasingly crisis-ridden banking sector, and have determined to bail in private creditors to the remnants of this financial road crash instead – to the tune of $8.5bn in the specific case of Hypo Alpe-Adria. Finally, creditors are being made to pay for the consequences of their own folly. You might have thought that a financial crisis as serious as that of the past seven years would have ended the world economy’s addiction to debt once and for all. It has not. If anything, the position has grown even worse since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. According to recent analysis by McKinsey, global debt has increased to the tune of $57 trillion, or 17pc, since 2007, with little sign of a slowdown in sight.

Much of this growth has been in emerging markets, which were comparatively unaffected by the financial crisis. Yet even in the developed West, private sector deleveraging has been limited and, in any case, more than outweighed by growing public indebtedness. The combined public sector debt of the G7 economies has grown by 40pc to around 120pc of GDP since the crisis began. There has been no overall deleveraging to speak of. Where the West left off, Asia has taken up the pace, with a credit-induced real estate bubble that makes its pre-crisis Western counterpart look tame by comparison, much of it fuelled, as in Western economies, by growth in the shadow banking sector. China’s total indebtedness has quadrupled since 2007 to $28 trillion, according to estimates by McKinsey. At 282pc of GDP, the debt burden is now bigger, relative to output, that the US.

Attempts to rein in this growth have so far proved problematic. The Chinese property market has slowed markedly, which in turn has knocked the stuffing out of the all-important construction sector and its feeder industries. Starved of its regular fix of debt, the Chinese economy seems as incapable of generating decent levels of growth as the mature economies of the West. The addiction to credit has gone global.

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“While Austria remains a rich and successful country, it is slithering towards the bottom of the reform league. France looks less sluggish by comparison, and Greece looks almost Thatcherite.”

Eurozone Faces First Regional Bankruptcy In Austria’s Carinthia (AEP)

The Alpine region of Carinthia faces probable bankruptcy after Austria’s central government refused to vouch for debts left by a disastrous banking expansion in eastern Europe and the Balkans. It would be the first sub-sovereign default in Europe since the Lehman Brothers crisis, comparable in some respects to the bankruptcy of California’s Orange County in 1994 or the city of Detroit in 2013. Austria’s finance minister, Jörg Schelling, said Vienna would not cover €10.2bn (£7.4bn) in bond guarantees issued by the Carinthian authorities for the failed lender Hypo Alpe Adria, or for the “Heta” resolution fund that succeeded it. This leaves the 550,000-strong province on the Slovene border to fend for itself as losses spin out of control. “The government won’t waste another euro of taxpayer money on Heta,” he said, insisting that there must be an end to moral hazard.

The Hypo affair has alredy cost taxpayers €5.5bn. The Austrian state has said it will cover €1bn of its own guarantees “on the nail” but nothing more. Sources in Vienna suggested that even senior bondholders are likely to face a 50pc writedown, becoming the first victims of the eurozone’s tough new “bail-in” rules for creditors. These rules are already in force in Germany and Austria, and will be mandatory everywhere next year. “We are at a very delicate phase when Europe’s banking system switches from a bail-out regime into a much tougher bail-in regime, and Austria has just thrown this into sharp relief,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro. The biggest bondholders are Deutsche Bank’s DWS Investment, Pimco, Kepler-Fonds and BlackRock. The World Bank also owns €150bn of Hypo debt.

Austria’s banking regulators surprised markets by intervening over the weekend to wind down Heta and suspend debt payments until 2016 after discovering a further shortfall in capital of €7.6bn. The surge in the Swiss franc in January after the collapse of Switzerland’s currency floor against the euro appears to have been the last straw, setting off another wave of likely losses from eastern European mortgages denominated in francs. “This is getting bigger and bigger,” said Marc Ostwald from Monument. “They kept kicking the can down the road but it is finally catching up with them, and Heta won’t be the last. There is a whiff of the Irish situation in this story. Carinthia stood as guarantor for debts that it could not possibly cover,” he said. There are many regions that could slide into difficulties, including Belgium’s Wallonia, or the Italian region of Sicily.

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Of course it should. Everyone should.

Shelby Says Fed Should Be Held Accountable for Its Actions (Bloomberg)

Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who heads the Senate Banking Committee, said lawmakers should consider ways to overhaul the Federal Reserve’s structure and tighten oversight by Congress. “We will further explore options to improve the oversight and structure of the Fed,” Shelby said Tuesday in prepared remarks at a hearing. Arguing the Fed has failed to explain the impact of its extraordinary monetary policies, he said it should “be held accountable for its actions.” Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s senior Democrat, said the group should focus on the Fed’s governance, not monetary policy. “Rather than attempting to interfere in, or even dictate, monetary policy, Congress should focus on whether the Federal Reserve is protecting consumers, ensuring safety and soundness, and strengthening the financial stability of our economy,” he said.

The Fed is under pressure from both parties in Congress to be more transparent and accountable. Republicans are unhappy with its aggressive monetary policy and some of the regulatory powers it has gained since the financial crisis. Democrats have criticized the New York Fed for being too close to the big Wall Street banks that it oversees. “Federal Reserve officials have stressed the importance of the Fed’s independence,” Shelby said in prepared remarks. “But, such independence does not mean that it is immune from congressional oversight.” Shelby said last week at Bloomberg TV that he’s looking “very strongly” at a proposal from Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher to strip the New York Fed of its permanent vote on the Federal Open Market Committee in favor of an equal vote rotation among all 12 regional reserve banks.

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Sure.

Yellen Says Fed Seeks to Avert ‘Capture’ by Banks It Oversees (Bloomberg)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen, countering criticism from members of Congress, said the central bank is trying to avoid being too cozy with the Wall Street firms it supervises and wants to ensure that regulators aren’t afraid to confront the financial industry. “The risk of regulatory capture is something the Federal Reserve takes very seriously and works very hard to prevent,” Yellen said in remarks prepared for a speech in New York on Tuesday night. “It is important that anyone serving the Fed feel safe speaking up when they have concerns about bias toward industry, and that those concerns be addressed.” The Fed has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who say it’s deferential to large banks. The issue was the subject of a Senate hearing in November following allegations by Carmen Segarra, a former examiner at the Fed of New York, who said her colleagues had been too soft on Goldman Sachs.

At the hearing, Warren told New York Fed President William C. Dudley that he needs to fix a “cultural problem” or “we need to get someone who will.” The Fed has also come under fire from Republicans, including Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Senate Banking Committee chairman, who called for more Fed transparency and greater congressional oversight at a hearing Tuesday. Yellen, in her speech to the Citizens Budget Commission, also took aim at ethical lapses at large banks supervised by the Fed. “We expect the firms we oversee to follow the law and to operate in an ethical manner,” she said. “Too often in recent years, bankers at large institutions have not done so, sometimes brazenly.” Such incidents “raise legitimate questions of whether there may be pervasive shortcomings in the values of large financial firms that might undermine their safety and soundness,” she said.

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Pensions and low rates. A poisonous combination.

Draghi’s Rescue Plan Has Created a $103 Billion Problem (Bloomberg)

There’s a corner of the pension world that needs to brace itself for Mario Draghi. His ECB’s €1.1 trillion bond-buying plan might have already blown a €92 billion hole in defined-benefit pension plans by depressing bond yields, Standard & Poor’s said Feb. 26. And if the actual start of QE pushes yields further, for longer, companies may have to take drastic measures to make ends meet, and could face a hit to their credit ratings. The ECB is expected to announce further details of its asset-purchase program after it meets in Cyprus Thursday. S&P estimates that the anticipation of quantitative easing in Europe squashed bond yields so much that the liabilities of defined-benefit pension plans rose by up to 18% last year.

Its analysis looked at the top 50 European companies it rates that have defined-benefit pension plans and are “materially underfunded,” meaning, the plans have deficits of more than 10% of adjusted debt, and that debt is more than 1 billion euros. In 2013, liabilities outstripped obligations for that group by more than 30% on average. “The challenge for companies in coming years will be how to rein in plan deficits in the new post-QE low interest-rate environment in Europe,” Paul Watters, credit analyst at S&P, said in a statement. “This will become a more material credit consideration where defined-benefit plan deficits are significant.”

Among the measures S&P says companies may have to take to adjust to this new low-yield world are freezes on pensionable salaries, raising the retirement age, and closing plans to new or even to existing members.vAnd that’s not the end of it. A potential cocktail of low bond yields, sluggish growth and faster inflation, which could result if QE fails to kickstart activity, could push those deficits out a further 10-15%. “The risk remains that QE achieves nothing more than promoting stagflation in the euro area,” Watters said. “A combination of weak growth, inducing the ECB to continue with its aggressive monetary-policy stance, and rising inflation would be a treacherous combination for DB-pension schemes already struggling to contain their plan deficits.”

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” I realized I could afford to pay my children’s university expenses or my loan. I chose my kids and no one can blame me.”

ECB Glimpse of Cyprus Debt Mountain Shows Limits of Bank Cleanup (Bloomberg)

There was a time when a Cypriot on a moderate income could take a gamble on foreign real-estate worth more than his life savings. One banking crash, three and a half years of recession and an international bailout later, 58-year-old Stelios Charalambous is among the Mediterranean island nation’s many debtors who realize that time has passed. “I took a €70,000 loan six years ago from a cooperative bank in the days when no one asked you many questions, and I bought six plots of land in Romania,” the Nicosia-based chiropractor said in an interview. “Now I’m earning half what I was and no one wants to buy my Romanian land. I realized I could afford to pay my children’s university expenses or my loan. I chose my kids and no one can blame me.”

The ECB, which holds a policy meeting in the euro area’s easternmost capital on Thursday, cares about such cases as they add up to almost €900 billion of soured credit in the region and hobble lenders’ ability to serve the economy. Yet Cyprus, where non-performing exposures account for more than half the country’s loan-book, also shows how politics can get in the way of a cleanup. The nation made euro-era history in March 2013 when it imposed capital controls for the first, and so far only, time in the single currency’s existence. The measures came alongside a €10 billion rescue led by the euro area, the merger of the country’s two largest lenders, and the seizure of almost half the savings of some 21,000 customers.

The crisis gave birth to a new class of individuals and small businesses that could not, or would not, service their debt, turning Cyprus into the country with the highest bad-debt ratio in the currency bloc. That meant banks had to tie up large chunks of their capital in loss provisions instead of making fresh loans to companies and households. To relieve the blockage, a new foreclosure law enabling banks to seize property from defaulters was introduced in 2014, only to be held up repeatedly by opposition politicians nervous of the impact on businesses and families. Implementation – and the disbursement of further bailout funding which is contingent on the law – is still pending. The economic slump and legal uncertainty created a “perfect storm” for the banks, Euan Hamilton at Bank of Cyprus said.

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“Never before have speculators been gifted with such stupendous, easily harvested windfalls. And these adjectives are not excessive.”

$2 Trillion Euro Government Bonds Trading At Negative Yield (David Stockman)

That investors anywhere in this age of fiscal profligacy would pay to own the notes and bonds of sovereign states is a testament to the financial deformations of modern central banking. But the fact that nearly $2 trillion of debt issued by European governments is currently trading at negative yields——now that’s a flat-out derangement. After all, the aging, sclerotic economies of the EU have been making a bee line toward fiscal insolvency for most of the last decade. So it goes without saying that this giant agglomeration of pay-to-own government debt is not reflective of an outbreak of fiscal rectitude or any other rational economic development.

It’s purely an artificial trading result stemming from central bank destruction of every semblance of honest price discovery. In this case, the impending ECB purchase of $70 billion of government debt and other securities per month for the next two years has transformed the financial casinos of Europe and elsewhere into a front runner’s paradise. As today’s Bloomberg piece tracking Europe’s $2 trillion of exuberant irrationality makes clear, sovereign bond prices are soaring because traders are accumulating, not selling, in anticipation of the ECB’s big fat bid hitting the market in the weeks ahead:

“It is something that many would not have pictured a year ago,” said Jan von Gerich at Nordea Bank in Helsinki. “It sounds very awkward in a sense, but if you look at it more, the central bank has a deposit rate in negative territory, and there’s a huge bond-buying program coming. People are holding on to these bonds and so you don’t have many willing sellers.”

Needless to say, this is the opposite of at-risk price discovery; it amounts to shooting fish in a barrel. Never before have speculators been gifted with such stupendous, easily harvested windfalls. And these adjectives are not excessive. The hedge fund buyers who came to the game early after Draghi’s “anything it takes”ukase have enjoyed massive price appreciation, but have needed to post only tiny slivers of their own capital, financing the balance at essentially zero cost in the repo and other wholesale funding venues. Indeed, the more risk, the bigger the windfall. German yields have now been driven below the zero bound on all maturities through seven years, emboldening speculators to move out on the risk curve. So doing, they have gorged on peripheral nation debt and have been generously rewarded. In the case of the 10-year bond of Ireland – a state which was on the edge of bankruptcy only a few years ago – leveraged speculator gains are now deep into three figures.

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“March is sorted.”

Greece Taps Public Sector Cash To Help Cover March Needs (Reuters)

Greece is tapping into the cash reserves of pension funds and public sector entities through repo transactions as it scrambles to cover its funding needs this month, debt officials told Reuters on Tuesday. Shut out of debt markets and with aid from lenders frozen, Athens is in danger of running out of cash in the coming weeks as it faces a €1.5 billion loan repayment to the IMF this month. The government has sought to calm fears and says it will be able to make the IMF payment and others, but not said how. At least part of the state’s cash needs for the month will be met by repo transactions in which pension funds and other state entities sitting on cash lend the money to the country’s debt agency through a short-term repurchase agreement for up to 15 days, debt agency officials told Reuters. However, one government official said they could not be used to repay the IMF unless Athens was able to repay the state entities the cash it borrowed from them.

Debt officials sought to play the repos as advantageous for both sides, arguing that the funds get a better return on their cash than what is available in the interbank market. “It is not something new, it’s a tactic that started more than a year ago and is a win-win solution. It’s a proposal, we are not twisting anyone’s arm,” one official said. In such repo transactions, a pension fund or government entity parks cash it does not immediately need at an account at the Bank of Greece, which becomes the counterparty in the deal with the debt agency. The money is lent to the debt agency for one to 15 days against collateral – mostly Greek treasury paper held in its portfolio – and is paid back with interest at expiry. The lender can always opt to roll over the repurchase agreement and continue to earn a higher return than what is available in the interbank market.

One source familiar with the matter has previously said Athens could raise up to €3 billion through such repos, but that it was not clear how much of that had already been used up by the government. “There is a sum that has already been raised this way,” the debt official said without disclosing specific numbers. Athens – which has monthly needs of about €4.5 billion including a wage and pension bill of €1.5 billion – is running out of options to fund itself despite striking a deal with the euro zone to extend its bailout by four months. Faced with a steep fall in revenues, it is expected to run out of cash by the end of March, possibly sooner, though the government is trying to assure creditors it will not default. “We are confident that the repayments will be made in full, particularly to the IMF, and there will be liquidity to get us through the end of the four-month period,” Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Greek TV on Monday. “March is sorted.”

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Of course not. Only the north can, at the cost of the south.

Can Greece Really Thrive Inside the Euro? (George Magnus)

After a lot of hubbub, in the end the Greek government submitted a list of policy proposals that elicited a positive response from Brussels, judging them to be “sufficiently comprehensive” to permit the four-month extension of the existing loan arrangements until June. The responses from the IMF and the ECB were rather more circumspect, indicating strongly that the next four months of negotiations to determine Greece’s relationship with the Eurosystem will be tough and most probably tense. The IMF noted that the Greek government’s “policy parameters” didn’t go far or weren’t detailed enough, especially about VAT and pension reforms, privatizations and policies to open up closed sectors, including the labor market. The ECB urged the Greek authorities to act swiftly to “stabilize the payments culture and refrain from any unilateral action to the contrary.”

This is believed to refer to matters such as Greek regulations on mortgage foreclosures and to tax and payments arrears in public policy. The “deal” between Greece and its Eurogroup partners has been widely welcomed, and spun according to what people thought would or should happen. I think that the current “deal” is just Act I in a play with an unpredictable, but very likely bad, ending — where “bad” equals Euro system fragmentation, or Grexit, if you prefer. (Or the even tonier “Grexident.”) I think it’s fair to say that however people judge the deal and what they think is good or positive about it from Greece’s point of view is really about one thing only: relief that the integrity of the Eurosystem has been preserved. That is some achievement, given that it looked as though it might not happen. Now, the hope (rather than conviction) prevails that the upcoming negotiations will see a realignment of interests and trust between Greece and its creditors.

Well, who wouldn’t wish for such an outcome? The problem though, as I see it, is that the economic and social policy agenda on which Syriza scored such a stunning electoral victory is entirely appropriate for Greece, but wholly incompatible with a Eurosystem that I call colloquially, Teutonia. While Teutonia normally refers to the geography of Germany or parts of Northern Europe, I use it to connote a German culture in economics and finance. In Teutonia, Germany doesn’t always win all the arguments, nor does it or can it impose a policy agenda by diktat. But in the absence of political and fiscal union – of which none of the major countries is in favor – the terms of the (narrow) monetary union will always reflect largely the interests of Germany and a relatively orthodox financial establishment viscerally opposed to the establishment of a genuine transfer, joint liability union.

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“Given the overriding political resolve to keep Greece in the eurozone, above all because the precarious geopolitics of southeast Europe, some form of compromise is likely here, too.”

ECB Will Need More Creative Accounting To Deal With Greece (MarketWatch)

The ECB faces pressure to carry out a new feat of creative accounting to meet Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s request for renegotiation of €6.7 billion in ECB bonds due to mature in July and August. In a round of interviews, Varoufakis has pledged that his country will make repaying its debts to the IMF its main priority. About €2 billion needs to be repaid to the Fund this month. But the Greek minister has drawn a strong distinction with the ECB, making it likely that the central bank may have to bring in further conditionality into its traditional insistence that it should always be treated as a preferred creditor on a par with the IMF.

Leading European politicians have long claimed that the ECB will have to show flexibility in rolling over some of the total of €30 billion in Greek bonds it still holds in its portfolio, resulting from its efforts started in 2010 to prop up weaker members of the euro. Further bruising tussles between Greece and its creditor look inevitable in view of the deliberate ambiguity the Greek government built into the provisional agreement with creditors clinched last month after several finance minister sessions in Brussels. Speaking in Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Greece would have to make its reform proposals more specific and agree to the program with the “three institutions” (formerly called “the troika”) of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF.

Similarly, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who heads the euro finance ministers’ group, says Greece must immediately start adopting the creditors’ list of reforms, as a condition for gaining access to emergency funds needed to meet March cash deadlines. There is little doubt that, provided Europe’s main capitals give political backing to the still-ambivalent Greek reform approach, the ECB will bend to the politicians’ will — even though it will face further charges of a watering down of its constitutional independence. The Greek government is calling for concessions such as the lifting of a €15 billion ceiling on the issue of short-term treasury bills. Given the overriding political resolve to keep Greece in the eurozone, above all because the precarious geopolitics of southeast Europe, some form of compromise is likely here, too.

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“Greece’s economy minister vowed to cancel the Piraeus deal and pursue sweeping changes to the terms of already completed sales. Defending his government’s stance, Yanis Varoufakis claims there is enough “creative ambiguity” in the text submitted to Brussels to provide enough wiggle room for Syriza to re-open the question of the sale of Piraeus and Greece’s airports..”

Greece vs Europe: Who Blinked First In The Bail-out Battle? (Telegraph)

The Greek parliament will not be voting on the country’s bail-out extension. Following internal turmoil among the ruling Syriza party over the terms of the reprieve, the Greek legislature will only be given the chance to “debate”, rather than officially ratify, the four-month extension. In an ironic twist of the EU’s democratic procedures, Greece’s 18 fellow eurozone parliaments will still need to rubber-stamp the deal. The move has prompted some to ask whether this represents Syriza’s “worst capitulation” in an already protracted and strained series of negotiations with its international creditors. Last week, Athens drew up a series of reforms in return for the remaining €7.2bn it needs to complete its bail-out programme.

At the time, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis insisted the country had become the “co-author of its own destiny” rather than the subject of EU diktats. But dissent among Syriza’s more Leftist elements started bubbling from the onset. Syriza MP and London-based academic Costas Lapavitsas has dismissed the deal as one agreed under “economic duress”. The nascent anti-austerity government now faces a four-week race to draft legislation and pass the laws that will see it come good on its promises. Only then will Greece’s creditors decide whether or not to disburse the vital cash the country needs to say afloat until June. But what exactly has Athens signed up for and could domestic political wranglings now put a brake on the country’s bid to avert bankruptcy?

One of the cornerstones of Syriza’s plans to end Greece’s “ritual humiliation” has been an increase in the country’s minimum wage. In a vociferous speech to his parliament last month, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras repeated his promise to raise the minimum wage by around 10pc to €750-a-month. Of the 22 EU member states with a national minimum wage, Greece is the only country that has seen its fall since the financial crisis. The country’s nominal gross wage is now 14pc lower compared to 2008, as Greece has undergone a progressive reduction in its labour costs in a bid to restore competitiveness in the stricken economy. The current €684-a-month puts Greece between its Iberian counterparts, both of whom have seen a steady rise in their mandated wage floors over the last seven years: Spain’s minimum wage has risen 8pc, while Portugal’s has gone up by 19pc.

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If they refuse the proposals, Syriza may throw the towel.

Athens Preparing Reform Proposals For Eurogroup (Kathimerini)

A collection of reform proposals are being put together by the government so Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis can present them at Monday’s Eurogroup, with Athens hoping that this will help it secure part of the remaining €7.2 billion in bailout installments. Government sources said on Tuesday night that the six proposals Varoufakis is due to present will be measures to tackle the humanitarian crisis, administrative reform, a new scheme to settle overdue debts to the state, changes to tax collection, the creation of a fiscal council (a nonpartisan body to monitor and advise on fiscal policy) and the setting up of a new body for targeted tax inspections. The measures are due to be put forward at the Euro Working Group on Wednesday or Thursday but the Greek government is hoping that eurozone finance ministers will deem the proposals enough to pave the way for the release of some funding to Athens within March.

Varoufakis is also likely to be prepared to discuss with his counterparts what privatizations the government is willing to carry out. The finance minister said in an interview on Star TV on Monday night that he is in favor of further private investment at Piraeus port and in the Greek railway network. State Minister Alekos Flambouraris said on Tuesday that the coalition would not consider selling the country’s water or electricity firms. The preparation for Monday’s Eurogroup has led to the government making changes to some of the legislation it had planned. For instance, the provision for giving debtors a haircut on the principal they owe to the state has been removed from the legislation introducing a new payment plan for overdue taxes and social security contributions.

There is even a possibility that the dreaded ENFIA property tax will remain for another year, albeit reduced by 15 to 20%. The government wants to replace it with a levy on large property but will need to ensure it can raise revenues of €2.6 billion to do so. A new formula has not been found yet. The coalition has, however, finalized the legislation aimed at tackling the social impact of the crisis. The bill foresees households in “extreme poverty” receiving free electricity for a year. This is estimated to affect 150,000 families. The draft law also provides a rent subsidy of between €70 and €220 per month for up to 30,000 households. Furthermore, food coupons will be provided to up to 170,000 families. The total cost of these interventions is estimated at €200 million.

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This is going to hurt. A lot.

Oil at $95 a Barrel Discovered in SEC Rules on Reserves (Bloomberg)

There’s one place in the world where oil is still $95 a barrel. On paper. The US Securities and Exchange Commission requires drillers to calculate the value of their oil reserves every year using average prices from the first trading days in each of the previous 12 months. Because oil didn’t start its freefall to about $45 till after the OPEC meeting in late November, companies in their latest regulatory filings used $95 a barrel to figure out how much oil they could profitably produce and what it’s worth. Of the 12 days that went into the fourth-quarter average, crude was above $90 a barrel on 10 of them. So Continental Resources reported last month that the present value of its oil and gas operations increased 13% last year to $22.8 billion. For Devon, a pioneer of hydraulic fracturing, it jumped 31% to $27.9 billion.

This year tells a different story. The average price on the first trading days of January, February and March was $51.28 a barrel. That means a lot of pain – and writedowns – are in store when drillers’ first-quarter numbers are announced in April and May. “It has postponed the reckoning,” said Julie Hilt Hannink at New York-based CFRA, an accounting adviser. Companies use the first-trading-day-of-every-month calculation to estimate future cash flow and to tally how much crude can be profitably pumped out of the ground. The SEC introduced the formula in 2009 as part of wider changes in how the regulator required drillers to report reserves. Prior to the shift, the value of the reserves was measured based on the oil price on the last day of the year, which also caused distortions. There are no current plans to revisit or modify SEC reporting rules, Erin Stattel, an SEC spokeswoman, said.

Most shale drillers are reporting increases in what’s known as proved reserves. The SEC requires oil producers to submit an annual tally, along with an estimate of the present value of the future cash flow from those properties. The estimates are limited to what the firm is reasonably certain it can extract from existing wells and prospects scheduled to be drilled within five years. The reports are based on factors such as geology, engineering, historical production – and price. To count as proved, the resources must be economic to develop given existing market conditions. “What the SEC requires isn’t thorough enough to get to the numbers investors really want,” said Mike Kelly with Global Hunter Securities. “What is the true cost of producing a barrel of oil? And what is the real value of the assets?” A similar pricing formula helps determine whether some companies need to write off their oil and gas properties.

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Keep going.

The Latest Sign the Oil-Price Plunge Is Hitting the Job Market (Bloomberg)

As investors prepare for the release of the February U.S. employment data on Friday, we’re getting more inklings of how the shakeout in the oil industry will impact the jobs market, and it doesn’t look great: Demand for workers in energy-related occupations is plunging. Online help-wanted ads for jobs involved in the extraction of oil and gas – derrick operators, wellhead pumpers, roustabouts and the like – declined 42% in the two months through January as oil prices cratered, according to data compiled by the Conference Board and Wanted Technologies.

Occupations in the industry that have higher education requirements, such as petroleum engineers, geoscientists and technicians, also saw demand for their services collapse, with ads dropping 38%, Gad Levanon and his fellow researchers at the Conference Board wrote on their blog this week. The downbeat message from the online ad postings echoes that of a report last month by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which showed that 38% of announced job cuts in January were in the energy industry. As we noted last month, employment in oil and gas extraction and related supply industries doubled over the last decade, reaching some 523,500 workers. If the Conference Board and Challenger data are anything to go by, that trend is likely to reverse big-time this year.

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Nice graphics.

Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials’ $30 Trillion Inheritance (Bloomberg)

There have been any number of pieces written about how the millennial generation is consciously refusing to do things that preceding generations thought were perfectly reasonable, such as playing golf or investing in the stock market or even doing a SINGLE NICE THING for someone else! This seems to have caused some consternation on Wall Street, where the powers-that-be would obviously like to see millennials do at least one nice thing for them: hand over all their money. But have no fear, because Wall Street is ON IT! Financial firms are working hard to solve the Rubik’s Cube (err, sorry the 2048) that is the Gen Y zeitgeist, if recent reports from Federated Investors and Goldman Sachs are any indication. Based on the research, here are the highlights of what you need to know about this enigmatic generation: They like skinny ties and skinny jeans and, based on the way these firms are presenting these findings, they seem to only be reachable through cartoon-like graphics and animation.

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“If Japan can’t get its finances under control, people are going to start questioning what exactly the difference between Japan and Greece is.”

Japan Public Debt Keeps BNP Chief Credit Analyst Awake at Night (Bloomberg)

For most of her career, Mana Nakazora has taken a pre-dawn train to work regardless of whether she arrived home just hours earlier. Her colleagues describe BNP Paribas’s Tokyo head of investment research as a powerhouse, and she was Japan’s No. 1 bond picker from 2010 to 2012 and No. 2 for the last two years in Nikkei Veritas newspaper polls. Making it to the top in an industry whose corporate bond sales exceeded $70 billion last year can be tough. “I usually get home on average at about midnight, sometimes it can be 2 a.m.,” Nakazora said in an interview at BNP’s Tokyo offices on the 42nd floor overlooking the nation’s parliament and Imperial Palace. “I get up at 5 a.m., so I don’t sleep much. It has been like that forever.”

One thing keeping her up – analysis of Japan’s public debt, which is expected to climb to 1.06 quadrillion yen ($8.85 trillion) at the end of March. With a population that’s been shrinking for the past six years and annual debt servicing costs that are bigger than New Zealand’s gross domestic product, the world’s third-largest economy is quite simply running out of people who can pick up the tab. “Maybe there’s no point in throwing stones at this huge rock, but if you keep hurling just maybe you can open up a crack,” said Nakazora, who also sits on two government panels including the finance ministry’s fiscal system council that advises on budgetary rectitude. “If Japan can’t get its finances under control, people are going to start questioning what exactly the difference between Japan and Greece is.”

With unprecedented central bank stimulus compressing debt yields, Nakazora said she likes SoftBank’s bonds, which offer investors more than five times the average spread Japanese notes pay. She also recommends the debt of TEPCO, operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima power plant, but is no longer a fan of Sony debentures because the jury’s still out on whether the electronics maker can revive its fortunes. Nakazora also doesn’t favor the delay in Japan’s sales tax increase. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in November postponed raising the levy to 10% by 18 months after an increase to 8% from 5% in April plunged the economy into a recession. Japan’s debt will rise to the equivalent of 246% of GDP this year, one of the highest ratios in the world, the IMF forecasts.

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That’s what the US is waiting for.

Ukraine Looks Ready To Default (MarketWatch)

The conflict in the Ukraine is relevant to global investors as it directly affects security in Europe, which is the home of an economy the size of the U.S. The trade bans due to conflict-driven sanctions involve many countries and add to the European deflation at present. Those trade bans might get wider should the conflict intensify based on the realization that a political solution would not give the rebels and their Russian backers what they want — enough autonomy to keep Ukraine out of the EU and NATO. I do not follow this conflict to determine who is right or wrong but to gauge how it affects financial markets.

Most of my conclusions may seem relevant only to institutional investors that deal in currencies, sovereign bonds, credit-default swaps (CDSs), and the energy markets, but I do believe those geopolitical developments affect quite a few individual investors, even those in the U.S. Last week the Ukrainian truce barely took hold when fighting over the strategic Ukrainian town of Debaltseve, which controls rail lines linking Luhansk and Donetsk, threatened to unravel the ceasefire agreement. The rebels decided to take the town “no matter what,” as a prolonged truce made it necessary for them to control logistics in their territory. It has been clear for a long time that Ukraine is a divided country where half the population supports the rebels and the other half supports the government in Kiev — as demonstrated by this map of the 2010 election, which brought Yanukovych to power.

This map also suggests this conflict can quickly carry all the way to Odessa, which Russian ruler Catherine the Great (1729-1796) turned into a key trading hub for the Russian Empire. There is also an unhappy minority of Russians in a strip of Moldova adjacent to Ukraine, where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed for years. It is entirely possible they see this conflict as the opportunity to resolve their situation once and for all. Perhaps because of all of the above considerations, Ukrainian government bonds are at all-time lows. When such a bear market in credit gets to prices like 44 cents on the dollar, this is the bond market saying that Ukraine will likely default.

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Done deal.

Ukraine Raises Interest Rates To 30% (BBC)

Ukraine’s central bank has sharply raised interest rates from 19.5% to 30% in an effort to curb inflation and prop up its beleaguered currency. The new benchmark refinancing rate takes effect on Wednesday. It comes as the government in Kiev is seeking a $17.5bn assistance programme from the IMF. Inflation is expected to hit at least 26% this year and the hryvnia has tumbled against the dollar. The currency has lost 80% of its value since last April, when pro-Russian separatists took up arms in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula. Last week, the hryvnia hit a record low of 33.75 to the dollar before recovering some ground.

The conflict has taken its toll on Ukraine’s economy, which is forecast to shrink by 5.5% in 2015. The interest rate increase is the second in two months, after the central bank raised the rate from 14% in February. On Monday night, Ukraine’s parliament approved a package of reforms that could determine whether it will avoid economic meltdown in the coming weeks. They include changes to the tax and energy laws and the government’s budget. The passing of the reform package was a condition for the IMF rescue package. The IMF’s executive board will meet on 11 March, when it will make its decision. If it says yes, the first tranche of some $5bn will become available within days.

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Not a single doubt.

Financial Collapse Leads To War (Dmitry Orlov)

Scanning the headlines in the western mainstream press, and then peering behind the one-way mirror to compare that to the actual goings-on, one can’t but get the impression that America’s propagandists, and all those who follow in their wake, are struggling with all their might to concoct rationales for military action of one sort or another, be it supplying weapons to the largely defunct Ukrainian military, or staging parades of US military hardware and troops in the almost completely Russian town of Narva, in Estonia, a few hundred meters away from the Russian border, or putting US “advisers” in harm’s way in parts of Iraq mostly controlled by Islamic militants. The strenuous efforts to whip up Cold War-like hysteria in the face of an otherwise preoccupied and essentially passive Russia seems out of all proportion to the actual military threat Russia poses. (Yes, volunteers and ammo do filter into Ukraine across the Russian border, but that’s about it.)

Further south, the efforts to topple the government of Syria by aiding and arming Islamist radicals seem to be backfiring nicely. But that’s the pattern, isn’t it? What US military involvement in recent memory hasn’t resulted in a fiasco? Maybe failure is not just an option, but more of a requirement? Let’s review. Afghanistan, after the longest military campaign in US history, is being handed back to the Taliban. Iraq no longer exists as a sovereign nation, but has fractured into three pieces, one of them controlled by radical Islamists. Egypt has been democratically reformed into a military dictatorship. Libya is a defunct state in the middle of a civil war. The Ukraine will soon be in a similar state; it has been reduced to pauper status in record time—less than a year. A recent government overthrow has caused Yemen to stop being US-friendly.

Closer to home, things are going so well in the US-dominated Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they have produced a flood of refugees, all trying to get into the US in the hopes of finding any sort of sanctuary. Looking at this broad landscape of failure, there are two ways to interpret it. One is that the US officialdom is the most incompetent one imaginable, and can’t ever get anything right. But another is that they do not succeed for a distinctly different reason: they don’t succeed because results don’t matter. You see, if failure were a problem, then there would be some sort of pressure coming from somewhere or other within the establishment, and that pressure to succeed might sporadically give rise to improved performance, leading to at least a few instances of success.

But if in fact failure is no problem at all, and if instead there was some sort of pressure to fail, then we would see exactly what we do see. In fact, a point can be made that it is the limited scope of failure that is the problem. This would explain the recent saber-rattling in the direction of Russia, accusing it of imperial ambitions (Russia is not interested in territorial gains), demonizing Vladimir Putin (who is effective and popular) and behaving provocatively along Russia’s various borders (leaving Russia vaguely insulted but generally unconcerned).

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The level of absurdity is stunning.

NATO Rolls Out ‘Russian Threat’ In Budget Battle (RT)

NATO member-states unwilling or unable to help boost the military spending are being accused of ignoring the “Russian threat,” that has re-emerged as the core of the alliance’s agenda to boost arms sales. A report saying one of major NATO funding contributors, the UK, could fail to fulfil the commitment to spend 2% of its GDP on the alliance in 2015 came as a bombshell for some of the West’s military elite. The head of the US army, General Raymond Odierno, told the Telegraph he was “very concerned” about Britain’s possible defense cuts. “[Odierno] warned that, while the US was willing to provide leadership in tackling future threats, such as Russia and ISIL [the Islamic State, aka IS or ISIS], it was essential that allies such as Britain played their part,” the British daily wrote.

Former MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers, called for a rise in defense spending, also mentioning the “threat” coming out of Russia “not necessarily directly to the UK, but to countries around its periphery.” “The level of threat posed by Moscow has increased and we have to be prepared to take the defensive measures necessary to defend ourselves, defend our allies – which now extend as far as the Baltic States and Central Europe,” Sawers said, according to the Guardian. In turn, Moscow said it will take all “necessary measures” including military, technical and political to neutralize a possible threat from NATO presence in Eastern Europe, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, told the Rossiya 24 TV channel on Monday. He added NATO’s actions “significantly impair regional and European security, and pose risks to our security.”

Grushko said NATO has intensified its military drills in Eastern Europe, with about 200 exercises in its eastern member states, mostly in the Baltic and Black seas, Poland and Baltic states. Russia’s Defense Ministry has consistently denied all reports of its personnel or hardware being involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, calling NATO’s allegations “groundless.” Among “proof” of the “Russian aggression” there have been fake photos of the Russian tanks, which eventually turned out to have been taken in a different place at a different time, a supposed Russian airplane in British airspace, that turned out to be Latvian, and mysterious “Russian submarines” in Swedish waters – which never were found. “Demonizing” Russia plays well into the hands of the military, believes former NATO intelligence analyst, Lt Cdr Martin Packard.

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On their way to your dinner plate.

Massive Swarms of Jellyfish Wreak Havoc on Fish Farms, Power Plants (Bloomberg)

As the oceans get warmer, jellyfish are causing pain beyond their sting. The marine animals have shut power plants from Sweden to the U.S. while killing thousands of farmed fish in pens held off the U.K. coast. GPS devices normally used to track the behavior of house cats were attached to 18 barrel-jellyfish off the coast of northern France. The study upended previous assumptions about their movement. Climate change may be one reason more jellyfish are congregating in large numbers known as blooms, which can encompass millions of the creatures over tens of kilometers.

Researchers are seeking to develop a system, akin to weather forecasting, to help predict their movement and prevent fish deaths, such as the loss of 300,000 salmon off Scotland last year, or power outages that shut a Swedish nuclear plant in 2013. “Jellyfish blooms may be increasing as a result of climate change and overfishing,” Graeme Hays, the leader of the group from Deakin University in Australia and Swansea University in the U.K. that did the research, said by phone Jan. 28. “They have a lot of negative impacts – clogging power station intakes, stinging people and killing fish in farms.” The study was conducted in 2011 with results published online in January by the journal Current Biology.

Hays plans to replicate the work in Tasmania, Australia, where salmon farming is an industry valued at about A$550 million ($430 million) a year. Combined land and ocean surface temperatures have warmed 0.85 of a degree Celsius since 1880, according to the IPCC. Global warming is “unequivocal” and many observed changes since the 1950s are “unprecedented over decades to millennia,” it said in a 2014 report. “Warmer water is a dream come true for jellyfish,” Lisa-ann Gershwin, a marine scientist who has studied the creatures for about 25 years and author of Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, said by phone Feb. 4. “It amps up their metabolism so they grow faster, eat more, breed more and live longer.”

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