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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

The military-industrial complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fed Rate Hikes + Low Growth = Recession (MW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written just before Yellen’s hike.

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

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

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

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June 1 drop-off.

Beware the Debt Ceiling (BBG)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more …

Rutte lost big and is the winner.

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

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

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

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

Northern Ireland Vote Jolts Already Disunited Kingdom (R.)

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

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

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No visa-free travel either.

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

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

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

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Where it hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feb 252017
 
 February 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Saturday afternoon, Pittsboro, North Carolina 1939

 

Trump An ‘Idiot’ On China, ‘No Clue What Currency Manipulation Means’ (CNBC)
The Fiscal Horror Show Playing Soon in Washington (Stockman)
Homeland Security Report Disputes Threat From 7 Banned Nations (AP)
Multiple News Outlets Denied Access To White House Press Briefing (G.)
Tsipras Says The Era Of Austerity In Greece Is Over (AP)
Transcript Of IMF Press Briefing Thursday, February 23, 2017 (IMF)
Toronto Housing Market May Need Vancouver-Style Cooling (BBG)
Just As Neoliberalism Is Finally On Its Knees, So Too Is The Left (G.)
Documents Indicate Germany Spied on Foreign Journalists (Spiegel)
Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons (NN Taleb)

 

 

From one of Reagan’s main economic advisers.

Trump An ‘Idiot’ On China, ‘No Clue What Currency Manipulation Means’ (CNBC)

President Donald Trump may think the Chinese are the “grand champions” of currency manipulation, but he’s wrong, expert John Rutledge told CNBC on Friday. “Trump is an idiot on this. He has no clue what currency manipulation means,” the chief investment officer of global investment firm Safanad said in an interview with “Closing Bell.” During the campaign, Trump accused China of keeping its yuan currency artificially low against the U.S. dollar to make Chinese exports cheaper, “stealing” American manufacturing jobs. On Thursday, the president told Reuters he has not “held back” in his assessment, despite not acting on a pledge to declare the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office. “Well they, I think they’re grand champions at manipulation of currency. So I haven’t held back,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens.”

However, earlier Thursday Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC he wasn’t ready to pass judgment on China’s currency practices. “We have a process within Treasury where we go through and look at currency manipulation across the board. We’ll go through that process. We’ll do that as we have in the past. We’re not making any judgments until we continue that process,” he told “Squawk Box.” Rutledge, who was one of the principal architects of President Ronald Reagan’s economic plan, said China is actually trying to support its currency. “Chinese authorities have actually sold a trillion dollars’ worth of foreign reserves in the last year to support their currency that’s trying to fall because Chinese nationals are trying to get their money out of China,” he said. That is anti-manipulation.”

Read more …

It’s all about the debt ceiling.

The Fiscal Horror Show Playing Soon in Washington (Stockman)

The Deep State’s coup against Donald Trump is palpable. So count it as another element of reality to which Wall Street and its raging robo-machines and day traders are blind as bats. After all, they are essentially “pricing-in” the most successful presidency in modern times on the economic front. The Trump Stimulus was even supposed to be “in like Flynn” in time to boost corporate earnings materially in 2017. But it has already transpired that the Flynn in question was named Mike, not Errol; and the conquest was not that of a swashbuckling outsider who quickly had his way with the Imperial City, but the doings of resident swamp creatures bent on turning back the Donald’s unwelcome challenge.

So in a matter of weeks or months at most, Trump will be struggling to survive, while the giant fiscal stimulus that has Wall Street all bulled-up will amount to a heap of ruins scattered about a debilitating political war zone on Capitol Hill. I never thought the vaunted Trump tax cut and infrastructure boom would see the light of day in their own right, of course, because the Donald is caught in an inherited debt trap that he does not yet even dimly appreciate. Yet with each passing day, the magnitude of the trap materially enlarges. As of the Daily Treasury Statement for February 17, for example, the public debt was $19.895 trillion compared to $18.99 trillion on the same date a year ago. When you factor in a slight gain in the Treasury’s cash balance to $262 billion, the math speaks for itself.

During the past year Uncle Sam’s “cash burn rate” was nearly $75 billion per month. That means Washington actually consumed $885 billion of cash during the last 365 days — or far more than implied by the official budget deficit of $587 billion for the fiscal year just ended (FY 2016). It also means that once the tax collection season ends in April, it will be Katie-bar-the-door time on the debt ceiling front. When the latter becomes frozen into place on March 15 after the insidious Boehner-Obama debt ceiling “holiday” expires, there will not be enough cash to last the summer — even if the Treasury resorts to the usual gimmicks, such as temporarily divesting the trust funds. So let this part be crystal clear. What is coming down the track is the mother of all debt ceiling showdowns and the virtual certainty of government shutdowns and deferred payments to states, contractors and even some transfer payment beneficiaries.

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Funny, but not new. They can always deflect criticism be saying it was an Obama list.

Homeland Security Report Disputes Threat From 7 Banned Nations (AP)

Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States. A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011. Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month.

Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges. Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report’s authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government’s intelligence. “While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you’re referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing,” Christensen said. “The … report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete.”

The Homeland Security report is based on unclassified information from Justice Department press releases on terrorism-related convictions and attackers killed in the act, State Department visa statistics, the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the U.S. intelligence community and the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2015. The three-page report challenges Trump’s core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.

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It’s one way to change the conversation. C’mon, guys, you’ll be let back in soon.

Multiple News Outlets Denied Access To White House Press Briefing (G.)

The White House barred several news organizations from an off-camera press briefing on Friday, handpicking a select group of reporters that included a number of conservative outlets friendly toward Donald Trump. The “gaggle” with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, took place in lieu of his daily briefing and was originally scheduled as an on-camera event. But the White House press office announced later in the day that the Q&A session would take place off camera before only an “expanded pool” of journalists, and in Spicer’s West Wing office as opposed to the James S Brady press briefing room where it is typically held. Outlets seeking to gain entry whose requests were denied included the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others.

Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. The Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing. The decision to limit access to Spicer, hours after Trump once again declared that much of the media was “the enemy of the American people” while speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, marked a dramatic shift. While prior administrations have occasionally held background briefings with smaller groups of reporters, it is highly unusual for the White House to cherry-pick which media outlets can participate in what would have otherwise been the press secretary’s televised daily briefing.

The briefing has become indispensable viewing for journalists trying to interpret the often contradictory statements coming out of the Trump administration, and Spicer’s aggressive handling of the press and delivery of false or misleading statements have already been memorably mocked on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. “Gaggles” – more informal briefings – with the press secretary are traditionally only limited to the pool when they conflict with the president’s travel, in which case they often take place aboard Air Force One. At times, impromptu gaggles form with reporters who spend their days in the White House, but denying outlets wishing to participate is extremely uncommon.

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Don’t believe it for a second.

Tsipras Says The Era Of Austerity In Greece Is Over (AP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the era of austerity is over for his country, painting a positive picture Friday of reforms the country has agreed to take after its latest bailout program ends in 2018. Speaking in parliament, Tsipras described the deal reached Monday as an “exceptional success” and said it showed the country’s creditors accepted Greeces insistence that it could no longer bear any further budget austerity. “I am fully convinced we achieved an honorable compromise,” Tsipras said, adding that all sides at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting in Brussels had agreed for the “first time after seven years … to leave the path of continued austerity behind us.”

On Monday, Greece agreed to legislate new reforms to come into effect in 2019, but said these will be fiscally neutral: for every euros worth of new burdens on the Greek taxpayer, an equal amount of relief will be granted. In return, Greeces creditors agreed to send their bailout inspectors back to Athens next week for further talks to complete a long overdue review of progress made in Greeces bailout. Tsipras said both creditor-requested new measures and government-proposed relief measures will be legislated at the same time, and that therefore there was no conditionality for the relief measures. The prime minister’s left-led coalition government, trailing in polls, has presented the deal as a decisive, positive step forward for austerity-weary Greeks hammered by seven years of a financial crisis that plunged the country into an economic depression.

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I found this very interesting. Looks like the IMF has never truly looked at whether being part of the euro is best for Greece. Why not? It’s not as if they only do what countries want. Whose interests is the IMF really defending here?

Part of transcript of a press briefing with Gerry Rice, IMF Director of Communications, and reporters.

Transcript Of IMF Press Briefing Thursday, February 23, 2017 (IMF)

QUESTIONER: Gerry, help me to understand how the IMF weighs a member country’s interests, economic interests when it is in a monetary union, when the interests may be that it be out of a monetary union. I haven’t seen any analysis by the IMF about the pros and cons, economic pros and cons of Greece exiting the euro. And it seems to me that Madame Lagarde has expressed herself as a pro euro and a pro EU advocate. So help me to understand, one, why we haven’t seen any economic analysis to defend the IMF’s position to not counsel Greece for exiting the euro or – and two, how it weighs this decision when obviously other member countries who are not in a program want Greece to stay in the euro. Do you understand where I’m getting at? I just haven’t seen any analysis from the IMF to defend or argue either case.

MR. RICE: You know, the amount of economic analysis that we’ve undertaken on Greece over the last seven years, you probably know as well as anyone, is voluminous. So, you know, I think there’s plenty out there to analyze and digest. [..] So, you know, on the question of Greece being a member of the eurozone and the monetary union, you know, it’s been Greece’s explicit objective to retain its membership of the eurozone. It’s been one of its priority objectives since the very beginning. It’s been also a priority objective of the other eurozone members. So, you know, in terms of how we weigh our service and support to a member country, you know, these are obviously important factors that we take into account, and we have taken those into account and are trying to support and service the member as best we can in that context.

QUESTIONER: But, if I may follow up, Gerry. There are cases in which a member country is explicitly – to use your language – has an explicit objective to do for economic policies that the IMF believes to not be in that member country’s economic interests or in the global economic interest. And it speaks truth to power, and yet there has been no analysis to argue why Greece should remain part of the euro or why it shouldn’t. And to me that’s a fundamental economic argument, since you’re talking about internal devaluation versus a nominal exchange rate devaluation. I mean, that’s at the heart of the problem. So can you tell me why the IMF hasn’t at least published its analysis or any analysis on why Greece should remain in the euro or should exit as a part of its truth-telling economic advice to a member country?

MR. RICE: Well, you know, again I think there’s been plenty of analysis of Greece’s economic situation and how the IMF assesses what is in Greece’s best interests. And, you know, I just think there’s voluminous information on that. And –

QUESTIONER: If you can point me to the – and respectfully, I appreciate your patience and me interrupting you – but if you can point me to the voluminous analysis of Greece – which I admit is voluminous, it will probably fill several volumes in fact, several history books, but I have seen in none of it that I am aware of any analysis of the pros and cons of Greece staying or exiting the eurozone.

MR. RICE: [..] I’ll come back to you, but I do believe there is actually a lot of analysis where you can clearly distill what the IMF’s view is as being in Greece’s best economic interest. I would include in that the many staff reports and, in particular, these ex post evaluation studies that we have done that, again, I can point you to some of this material afterwards. But I do think there’s plenty of material.

QUESTIONER: I just want to follow up on Ian’s question and maybe have another question if you don’t mind. Maybe you can clarify do you think – does the IMF think that it’s in Greece’s best interest to retain its membership in the eurozone? And the second question has to do with the timeline entry, because you mentioned the fact that the discussion on the debt will take place following the discussion on reforms. So should we assume that this discussion on the debt relief won’t start before the second review is completed?

MR. RICE: Yes, I don’t have the timing on the completion of the second review. Again, I want to revert to my formulation. Before we would be able – we, the IMF – would be able to, you know, make a commitment on our participation in the program, we would need to have the discussion of both policies and debt relief, and beyond the discussion, credible commitments in which we have confidence. So that’s the way I would like to formulate that.

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Been saying that forever. But as we saw last week, Toronto’s entire budget is based on high and rising house prices.

Toronto Housing Market May Need Vancouver-Style Cooling (BBG)

Toronto may require measures to cool its red-hot housing market similar to moves taken in Vancouver if interest rates don’t increase, said Royal Bank of Canada Chief Executive Officer David McKay. The head of Canada’s largest lender said Toronto housing is “running hot” and is fueled by a “concerning mix of drivers” that include lack of supply, continued low rates, rising foreign money and speculative activity. Similar circumstances in Vancouver prompted British Columbia’s government last year to impose a 15% tax on foreign buyers. “In the absence of being able to use higher rates to reduce that, I do think we’re going to at some point have to consider similar measures to slow down the housing price growth,” McKay said Friday in a telephone interview.

The comments from the bank CEO come as frustration grows over the unaffordability of properties in Canada’s biggest city. The average home price in Toronto jumped 22% in January from the previous year, the fifth straight month of gains topping 20%. Listings have dropped off, down by half from last year, squeezing prices further. The CEOs of Canada’s other big banks last year called on the government to increase housing regulation amid skyrocketing prices in Vancouver and Toronto. National Bank of Canada CEO Louis Vachon said that minimum downpayments should return to 10% from 5%, while Bank of Nova Scotia head Brian Porter suggested his company was pulling back on mortgage lending due to concern about high home prices in those two cities.

Vancouver, once Canada’s fastest-paced home market and now supplanted by Toronto, has seen slowing sales after several regulatory moves. In August, British Columbia added a 15% tax to home purchases by non-Canadians after they were found to have bought more than C$1 billion ($760 million) in property in a five-week period. The city of Vancouver in January began taxing empty homes and plans to further regulate short-term rentals. Since the tax was imposed in Vancouver, monthly transactions in the metro region fell on average by 36% compared to a year earlier, according to data from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Prices for prized single-family detached homes had been rising in double digits last year. In the past six months, they’ve fallen 6.6% to an average C$1.47 million, according to board figures released earlier this month.

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The left largely has itself become part of neoliberalism. Ergo: there is no left, left, other than in name.

Just As Neoliberalism Is Finally On Its Knees, So Too Is The Left (G.)

The 10th anniversary of the global financial crisis looms this year, which means it’s almost a decade since neoliberal economics began to fall apart. The crisis spawned a global recession, the near collapse of global finance and the subsequent eurozone crisis as governments incurred huge debts amid efforts to rescue the hapless banking industry. The then Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, observed in the immediate aftermath: The current crisis is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free-market ideology that has been variously called neoliberalism, economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington consensus. The central thrust of this ideology has been that government activity should be constrained, and ultimately replaced, by market forces.

The global recession that followed was the worst in 70 years and its effects continue to be felt in many developed countries. Australia was one of the fortunate few to avoid a recession, thanks to enormous government-funded stimulus packages and the continuation of an unprecedented mining boom. Nevertheless, economic activity has been sluggish ever since, job growth has stalled, wage growth has collapsed and inequality is on the rise. And yet in 2017, just as neoliberalism is on its knees, so too is the left. It matters not whether we are describing social democrats, socialists, the hard left or the moderate left. A swath of populist extreme rightwing forces is sweeping through many developed countries. Europe now resembles a graveyard for social democracy. How did it come to this?

First and foremost, there is incompetence. Neoliberal economics, a creation of the right and embraced to varying degrees by social democrats, has dominated western politics for nigh on four decades. Its mantras of deregulation, privatisation and cutting tax for the wealthy and corporations have been exhausted, if not discredited. There are only so many assets that can be privatised and, as the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, has noted, replacing a public-sector monopoly with a private-sector monopoly has simply driven up prices. The fetish for deregulation and tax cutting has caused immense harm – for consumers, for workers and for governments seeking to provide services demanded of them but hampered by inadequate revenue.

It is not just Pope Francis who has called for major reform of the economic system. The World Economic Forum, which met in January, advocated “fundamental reforms to market capitalism to tackle inequality”. In doing so, it echoed statements of the IMF and World Bank, formerly strong advocates of the neoliberal agenda.

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Legal schmegal. If they can do it, they will. All of them. Question: is this worse than banning them?

Documents Indicate Germany Spied on Foreign Journalists (Spiegel)

According to documents seen by SPIEGEL, the BND conducted surveillance on at least 50 additional telephone numbers, fax numbers and email addresses belonging to journalists or newsrooms around the world in the years following 1999. Included among them were more than a dozen connections belonging to the BBC, often to the offices of the international World Service. The documents indicate that the German intelligence agency didn’t just tap into the phones of BBC correspondents in Afghanistan, but also targeted telephone and fax numbers at BBC headquarters in London. A phone number belonging to the New York Times in Afghanistan was also on the BND list, as were several mobile and satellite numbers belonging to the news agency Reuters in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The German spies also conducted surveillance on the independent Zimbabwean newspaper Daily News before dictator Robert Mugabe banned it for seven years in 2003. Other numbers on the list belonged to news agencies from Kuwait, Lebanon and India in addition to journalist associations in Nepal and Indonesia. Journalists in Germany enjoy far-reaching protection against state meddling. They enjoy similar legal protection to lawyers, doctors and priests: occupations that require secrecy. Journalists have the right to refuse to testify in court in order to protect their sources. German law forbids the country’s domestic intelligence agency from conducting surveillance on persons who have that right.

The German chapter of Reporters without Borders says that the BND’s systematic surveillance of journalists is an “egregious attack on press freedoms” and “a new dimension of constitutional violation.” Christian Mihr, head of the German chapter of Reporters without Borders, says that press freedom “is not a right granted by the graciousness of the German government, it is an inviolable human right that also applies to foreign journalists.” The allegations come as the German parliamentary investigative committee focusing on U.S. spying in Germany is completing its inquiry. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who appeared before the committee last Thursday, was the last witness called and now the committee members are working on their closing report. But even as the committee also addressed extensive BND spying, the surveillance of journalists was only a fringe issue.

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Things are not what they seem.

Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons (NN Taleb)

Say you had the choice between two surgeons of similar rank in the same department in some hospital. The first is highly refined in appearance; he wears silver-rimmed glasses, has a thin built, delicate hands, a measured speech, and elegant gestures. His hair is silver and well combed. He is the person you would put in a movie if you needed to impersonate a surgeon. His office prominently boasts an Ivy League diploma, both for his undergraduate and medical schools. The second one looks like a butcher; he is overweight, with large hands, uncouth speech and an unkempt appearance. His shirt is dangling from the back. No known tailor in the East Coast of the U.S. is capable of making his shirt button at the neck. He speaks unapologetically with a strong New Yawk accent, as if he wasn’t aware of it. He even has a gold tooth showing when he opens his mouth.

The absence of diploma on the wall hints at the lack of pride in his education: he perhaps went to some local college. In a movie, you would expect him to impersonate a retired bodyguard for a junior congressman, or a third-generation cook in a New Jersey cafeteria. Now if I had to pick, I would overcome my suckerproneness and take the butcher any minute. Even more: I would seek the butcher as a third option if my choice was between two doctors who looked like doctors. Why? Simply the one who doesn’t look the part, conditional of having made a (sort of) successful career in his profession, had to have much to overcome in terms of perception. And if we are lucky enough to have people who do not look the part, it is thanks to the presence of some skin in the game, the contact with reality that filters out incompetence, as reality is blind to looks.

When the results come from dealing directly with reality rather than through the agency of commentators, image matters less, even if it correlates to skills. But image matters quite a bit when there is hierarchy and standardized “job evaluation”. Consider the chief executive officers of corporations: they not just look the part, but they even look the same. And, worse, when you listen to them talk, they will sound the same, down to the same vocabulary and metaphors. But that’s their jobs: as I keep reminding the reader, counter to the common belief, executives are different from entrepreneurs and are supposed to look like actors.

Now there may be some correlation between looks and skills; but conditional on having had some success in spite of not looking the part is potent, even crucial, information. So it becomes no wonder that the job of chief executive of the country, that is, the president, was once filled by a former actor, Ronald Reagan. Actually, the best actor is the one nobody realizes is an actor: a closer look at the record and the activity shows that Barack Obama was even more of an actor: a fancy Ivy-League education combined with a liberal reputation is compelling as an image builder. (In fact much as President Trump has going for him is that he doesn’t act as a president).

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