Oct 232017
 
 October 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Gordon Parks Place de la Concorde, Paris 1950

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (IceCap)
Americans Have More Debt Than Ever – And It’s Creating An Economic Trap (BI)
Crisis, What Crisis? Banks Pile Back Into China (BBG)
China’s Home Price Growth Steadies In September (R.)
Jimmy Carter Unleashed: Russians Didn’t Alter Election (DaWi)
Italy Regions Back ‘Big Bang’ Autonomy (AFP)
Noble, Once Asia’s Largest Commodity Trader, Struggles To Survive (BBG)
Washington To Back Greek Call For Debt Relief (K.)
Car Pollution Causes A Huge Salmon Die-Off (WaPo)
CO2 Rise ‘Will Affect All Sea Life’ (BBC)

 

 

“..a +0.7% increase in the US 10-Year Treasury market yield created chaos, havoc and over $1.7 Trillion in losses..”

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (IceCap)

Life was so bad – especially for bond investors, that by the time 1982 rolled around you couldn’t give a bond away. If you were an investor or working in the investment industry at the time – you were painfully aware of the bond market and you were schooled to never, ever buy a bond again. Of course, 1982 was actually the best time ever to buy a bond. With long-term rates dropping like a stone over the next 35 years, bond investors and bond managers became known as the smartest people in the room. But, that was then and this is now. There are 2 points to remember forever here: 1) What goes down, must come up 2) There’s no one around today to remind us of what life was like for bond investors when long-term rates marched relentlessly higher

Interest rates are secular. And with interest rates today already hitting the theoretical 0% level – they have started to rise. And when long-term rates begin to rise, (unlike short-term rates) it happens in a snapping, violent manner. Neither of which is good for bond investors. Of course, there’s another important point to consider, the rise in long-rates from 1962 to 1982 occurred when there wasn’t a debt crisis in the developed world. And since 99% of the industry has only worked since 1982 to today, then 99% of the industry has never experienced, lived or even dreamt of a crisis in the bond market. This of course is the primary reason why all the negative stories about the stock market are alive and well played out in the media – they simply don’t know any better. And this is wrong. Very wrong. After all, the bond bubble dwarfs the tech bubble and the housing bubble. Think about it.

To grasp why the bond market is on the verge of crisis, and why trillions of Dollars, Euros, Yen and Pounds are about to panic and run away, we ask you to understand how free-markets really work. For starters, all free markets have two sides competing and participating. There are natural buyers and there are natural sellers. The point at which they meet in the middle is the selling/purchase price and the entire process is called price discovery. Price discovery is a wonderful thing. It always results in the determination of a true price for a product or service. However, a big problem arises when there is an imbalance between the buyers and sellers, and when one of the sides isn’t a natural buyer or seller. This is what has happened in the bond market. And this is why bond prices (or yields) have become so distorted; the true price of a bond hasn’t existed now for almost 9 years.

[..] over the last year, we’ve seen the most significant market reaction in the history of the bond world, not once but twice. Yet, the talking heads, the big banks and their mutual fund commentaries, and the stock market focused world have completely missed it. Almost a year ago in November immediately after the American Election, over a span of 54 hours – the bond market blew up. To put things into perspective, Chart 2 shows what happened during those fateful days. Ignoring the why’s, the how’s and the who’s – the fact remains that this tiny, miniscule increase in long-term interest rates caused the bond market to vomit over itself. Yes, a +0.7% increase in the US 10-Year Treasury market yield created chaos, havoc and over $1.7 Trillion in losses around the world.

Read more …

“Most consumers, especially those in the bottom 80%, are tapped out..”

Americans Have More Debt Than Ever – And It’s Creating An Economic Trap (BI)

There’s a scary little statistic buried beneath the US economy’s apparent stability: Consumer debt levels are now well above those seen before the Great Recession. As of June, US households were more than half a trillion dollars deeper in debt than they were a year earlier, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve. Total household debt now totals $12.84 trillion — also, incidentally, around two-thirds of GDP. The proportion of overall debt that was delinquent in the second quarter was steady at 4.8%, but the New York Fed warned over transitions of credit card balances into delinquency, which “ticked up notably.” Here’s the thing: Unlike government debt, which can be rolled over continuously, consumer loans actually need to be paid back. And despite low official interest rates from the Federal Reserve, those often do not trickle down to many financial products like credit cards and small business loans.

Michael Lebowitz, co-founder of market analysis firm 720 Global, says the US economy is already dangerously close to the edge. “Most consumers, especially those in the bottom 80%, are tapped out,” he told Business Insider. “They have borrowed about as much as they can. Servicing this debt will act like a wet towel on economic growth for years to come. Until wages can grow faster than our true costs of inflation, this problem will only worsen.” The IMF devotes two chapters of its latest Global Financial Stability Report to the issue of household debt. It finds that, rather intuitively, high debt levels tend to make economic downturns deeper and more prolonged. “Increases in household debt consistently [signal] higher risks when initial debt levels are already high,” the IMF says.

Nonetheless, the results indicate that the threshold levels for household debt increases being associated with negative macro outcomes start relatively low, at about 30% of GDP. Clearly, America’s already well past that point. As households become more indebted, the Fund says, future GDP growth and consumption decline and unemployment rises relative to their average values. “Changes in household debt have a positive contemporaneous relationship to real GDP growth and a negative association with future real GDP growth,” the report says. Specifically, the Fund says a 5% increase in household debt to GDP over a three-year period leads to a 1.25% fall in real GDP growth three years into the future.

“Housing busts and recessions preceded by larger run-ups in household debt tend to be more severe and protracted,” the IMF said. Is there a solution? If things reach a tipping point, yes, says the IMF — there’s always debt forgiveness. Even creditors stand to benefit. “We find that government policies can help prevent prolonged contractions in economic activity by addressing the problem of excessive household debt,” the report said. The Fund cites “bold household debt restructuring programs such as those implemented in the United States in the 1930s and in Iceland today” as historical precedents. “Such policies can, therefore, help avert self-reinforcing cycles of household defaults, further house price declines, and additional contractions in output.”

Read more …

“.. it’s odd that banks would think China is getting debt under control even as they provide more of it.”

Crisis, What Crisis? Banks Pile Back Into China (BBG)

China has been working hard to convince the world that it’s not a financial crisis waiting to happen. Judging from the latest data on cross-border lending, banks are buying it. Foreign banks’ total exposure to China reached $750 billion in June 2017, up from $659 billion a year earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s a big contrast to a couple of years ago, when lenders were pulling tens of billions out amid concerns that a combination of high indebtedness, excessive investment and slowing growth would precipitate a wave of defaults. Here’s how that looks:

What changed? For one, China’s economy (according to the suspiciously smooth official data, at least) has proven more resilient than expected: The pace of growth has accelerated from a mid-2016 low of 6.7%, and forecasters have raised their projections for 2018. Perhaps more important, Chinese officials have advertised their commitment to controlling debt and containing an overheated property market. That said, it’s odd that banks would think China is getting debt under control even as they provide more of it. Although the accumulation has slowed in some areas, it has boomed in households and elsewhere. By one early-warning measure – the difference between the current and long-term levels of business and household credit as a share of GDP, also known as the credit gap – China and Hong Kong are still by far the riskiest countries tracked by the BIS.

Read more …

As Beijing buys 25% of sales.

China’s Home Price Growth Steadies In September (R.)

China’s new home prices registered a second straight month of weak growth in September, with prices in the biggest markets slipping and gains in smaller cities slowing as government measures to cool a long property boom took hold. China’s housing market has been on a near two-year tear, giving the economy a major boost but stirring fears of a property bubble even as authorities work to contain risks from a rapid build-up in debt. While monthly price rises peaked in September 2016 at 2.1% nationwide, they have softened only begrudgingly since then, regaining momentum as buyers shrugged off each new wave of measures to curb speculation. Analysts say more tightening could still be expected in lower-tier cities with relatively fast price gains, as critics argue China’s ever-growing administrative control over its property market has only reaffirmed speculator views that prices will remain steady.

“China’s property prices are still rising even as sales are falling off a cliff, which suggests the market still sees property as an investment product in the belief that the government won’t let prices fall,” said Yi Xianrong, a Professor of Economics at Qingdao University. Still, signs of a more stable and less frothy housing market for now will be welcome to the country’s leaders as they attend a critical Communist Party Congress to set political and economic priorities for the next five years. President Xi Jingping opened the twice-a-decade gathering last week, stressing the need to move from high-speed to high-quality growth. Average new home prices rose 0.2% month-on-month in September, the same rate as in August when prices rose at the slowest rate in seven months, according to Reuters calculations from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Monday.

“The curbs are in general still intensifying, which have gradually impacted property buyers’ expectations,” said Zhang Dawei, an analyst with Centaline, a property agency. New home prices rose 6.3% year-on-year in September, decelerating from August’s 8.3% increase, partly thanks to last September’s high base. Higher prices are also eating up more of home buyers’ disposable income, which could dampen future demand.

Read more …

Truth to power.

Jimmy Carter Unleashed: Russians Didn’t Alter Election (DaWi)

At 93, Jimmy Carter is cutting loose. The former president sat down with The New York Times recently and chatted about all kinds of subjects. The Times decided to play up the fact that Carter — one of the worst presidents in U.S. history — would love to go over to North Korea as an envoy. But the Times is steadily proving how out of touch it is, and how it no longer seems to actually “get” what real news is. Here are some major highlights from the interview:

1. The Russians didn’t steal the 2016 election. Carter was asked “Did the Russians purloin the election from Hillary?” “I don’t think there’s any evidence that what the Russians did changed enough votes — or any votes,” Carter said. So the hard-left former president doesn’t think the Russians stole the election? Take note, Capitol Hill Democrats.

2. We didn’t vote for Hillary. Carter and his wife, Roselyn, disagreed on the Russia question. In the interview, she “looked over archly [and said] ‘They obviously did'” purloin the election. “Rosie and I have a difference of opinion on that,” Carter said. Rosalynn then said, “The drip-drip-drip about Hillary.” Which prompted Carter to note that during the primary, they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. “We voted for Sanders.”

3. Obama fell far short of his promises. Barack Obama whooshed into office on pledges of delivering “hope and change” to the country, spilt by partisan politics. He didn’t. In fact, he made it worse. “He made some very wonderful statements, in my opinion, when he first got in office, and then he reneged on that,” he said about Obama’s action on the Middle East.

4. Media “harder on Trump than any president.” A recent Harvard study showed that 93% of new coverage about President Trump is negative. But here’s another shocker: Carter defended Trump. “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about,” Carter said. “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

5. NFL players should “stand during the American anthem.” Carter, who joined the other four living ex-presidents on Saturday for a hurricane fundraiser, put his hand on his heart when the national anthem played — and he has a strong opinion about what NFL players should do, too. “I think they ought to find a different way to object, to demonstrate,” he said. ” I would rather see all the players stand during the American anthem.”

Read more …

Expect more of this. Much more.

Italy Regions Back ‘Big Bang’ Autonomy (AFP)

Two of Italy’s wealthiest northern regions on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy in the latest example of the powerful centrifugal forces reshaping European politics. Voters in the Veneto region that includes Venice and Lombardy, home to Milan, turned out at the high end of expectations to support the principle of more powers being devolved from Rome in votes that took place against the backdrop of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence. Veneto President Luca Zaia hailed the results, which were delayed slightly by a hacker attack, as an institutional “big bang”. But he reiterated that the region’s aspirations were not comparable to the secessionist agenda that has provoked a constitutional crisis in Spain.

Turnout was projected at around 58% in Veneto, where support for autonomy is stronger, and just over 40% in Lombardy. The presidents of both regions said more than 95% of voters who had cast ballots had, as expected, done so to support greater autonomy. The votes are not binding but they will give the right-wing leaders of the two regions a strong political mandate when they embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of powers and tax revenues from Rome. Secessionist sentiment in Veneto and Lombardy is restricted to fringe groups but analysts see the autonomy drive as reflecting the same cocktail of issues and pressures that resulted in Scotland’s narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis.

“What this vote has shown is that there is no ‘autonomy party’ in Veneto – what there is is an entire people who back this idea,” said Zaia. “What’s won is the idea that we should be in charge of our own back yard.” Lombardy governor Roberto Maroni said he would be looking to present detailed proposals on devolution within two weeks, in a bid to ensure they are considered before national elections due by May next year. “I will go to Rome and ask for more powers and resources within a framework of national unity,” he said.

Read more …

Too much debt?!

Noble, Once Asia’s Largest Commodity Trader, Struggles To Survive (BBG)

Embattled commodity trader Noble Group warned of a more than $1 billion third-quarter net loss and agreed to sell most of its oil-liquids unit to Vitol Group at a loss, further complicating its fight for survival. The long-awaited deal to sell its prized oil business provided little relief to Hong Kong-based company, with shares falling the most in three months. Details of the sale announced on Monday failed to give much clarity on how much Noble Group would ultimately receive from Vitol, while the third-quarter results highlighted the company’s struggle to return to profitability as it offloads assets to repay debt. “They’re still fighting to survive,” Nicholas Teo, a trading strategist at KGI Securities said by phone. Noble Group’s stock slumped as much as 12% in Singapore, extending a more than 90% retreat since questions over its financial reporting emerged in early 2015.

While the company has defended its accounting, it has also written down the value of its long-term commodity contracts, ousted senior managers and put almost all of its businesses outside Asia up for sale. Noble Group’s 2020 notes are trading at about 39 cents on the dollar, with analysts at BNP Paribas and Nomura predicting that the company will eventually be forced to restructure its debt. Noble Group said that based on its end-June accounts it would have received net proceeds of $582 million from the oil unit deal after paying back borrowings under a secured credit facility. But that figure included proceeds from the earlier sale of its gas-and-power unit, the company said, and was prior to a third quarter in which the business was “adversely impacted” by “capital constraints.” Based on that number, the company would report a $525 million loss on the sale.

Read more …

As US alienates itself from Erdogan. For good reasons.

Washington To Back Greek Call For Debt Relief (K.)

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appears set to spearhead initiatives for Greek debt relief as part of Washington’s efforts to bolster Greece as a bastion of stability in the wider region, according to Kathimerini sources. Mnuchin took part in a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the White House last week that addressed ways to promote investments in Greece, strengthen defense cooperation and push Greek debt relief demands. It was, reportedly, made clear at the meeting that Trump has made a strategic decision to support Greece as a reliable ally in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As a first step, the US may ask for an informal meeting of the IMF’s Executive Board to be convened – after a government is formed in Berlin and provided the third Greek bailout review is completed – where pressure will be applied for a specific time frame with regard to Greece’s debt. Another indication that the ball is beginning to roll was the result of talks between Tsipras and IMF chief Christine Lagarde a day before the meeting with Trump. Mnuchin told Trump and Tsipras that Lagarde had contacted him saying her talks with the Greek premier went well and there will be no surprises during the negotiations to complete the review. Mnuchin added that Lagarde said the IMF will push for debt relief.

Read more …

A curious story.

Car Pollution Causes A Huge Salmon Die-Off (WaPo)

Silvery coho salmon are as much a part of Washington state as its flag. The fish has a sacred place in the diets and rituals of the state’s indigenous peoples, beckons to tourists who flock to watch its migration runs, and helps to sustain a multimillion-dollar Pacific Northwest fishing industry. So watching the species die in agony is distressing: Adult coho have been seen thrashing in shallow fresh waters, males appear disoriented as they swim, and females are often rolled on their backs, their insides still plump with tiny red eggs that will never hatch. “Coho have not done well where a lot of human activity impacts their habitat,” said Nat Scholz, a research zoologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s to say the least.

A recent study traced a major coho salmon die-off to contaminants from roads and automobiles — brake dust, oil, fuel, chemical fluids — that hitch a ride on storm water and flow into watersheds. The contaminants are so deadly, they kill the salmon within 24 hours. “Our findings are . . . that contaminants in stormwater runoff from the regional transportation grid likely caused these mortality events. Further, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse historical coho declines without addressing the toxic pollution dimension of freshwater habitats,” said the study, published Wednesday in the journal Ecological Applications. This sort of point-source pollution from antiquated sewer systems is a problem across the nation, including the Chesapeake Bay region. Rain overwhelms storm drains, commingles with human waste and surface road garbage, then flushes into ponds, creeks, streams and rivers.

In Seattle and large cities across the Pacific Northwest, those waters are stocked with salmon. The finding could be a breakthrough in a mystery that has vexed scientists for years. But it fell short of explaining another mystery: Why are coho the only one of five salmon species to be affected? Chinook, sockeye, pink and chum don’t remotely experience the same mortality. “This is the great mystery that we are working on,” Scholz said. The future for a species that experiences up to 40 percent mortality before spawning in Puget Sound is no mystery. “The population will crash,” said Jay Davis, an environmental toxicologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated field research for the study.

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“.. an increase in acidity of about 26%…”

CO2 Rise ‘Will Affect All Sea Life’ (BBC)

All sea life will be affected because carbon dioxide emissions from modern society are making the oceans more acidic, a major new report will say. The eight-year study from more than 250 scientists finds that infant sea creatures will be especially harmed. This means the number of baby cod growing to adulthood could fall to a quarter or even a 12th of today’s numbers, the researchers suggest. The assessment comes from the BIOACID project, which is led from Germany. A brochure summarising the main outcomes will be presented to climate negotiators at their annual meeting, which this year is taking place in Bonn in November. The Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification report authors say some creatures may benefit directly from the chemical changes – but even these could still be adversely affected indirectly by shifts in the whole food web.

What is more, the research shows that changes through acidification will be made worse by climate change, pollution, coastal development, over-fishing and agricultural fertilisers. Ocean acidification is happening because as CO2 from fossil fuels dissolves in seawater, it produces carbonic acid and this lowers the pH of the water. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the average pH of global ocean surface waters have fallen from pH 8.2 to 8.1. This represents an increase in acidity of about 26%. The study’s lead author is Prof Ulf Riebesell from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel. He is a world authority on the topic and has typically communicated cautiously about the effects of acidification. He told BBC News: “Acidification affects marine life across all groups, although to different degrees.

“Warm-water corals are generally more sensitive than cold-water corals. Clams and snails are more sensitive than crustaceans. “And we found that early life stages are generally more affected than adult organisms. “But even if an organism isn’t directly harmed by acidification it may be affected indirectly through changes in its habitat or changes in the food web. “At the end of the day, these changes will affect the many services the ocean provides to us.”

Read more …

Oct 162017
 
 October 16, 2017  Posted by at 2:00 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  16 Responses »
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Marc Riboud Zazou, painter of the EIffel Tower 1953

 

Central bankers have never done more damage to the world economy than in the past 10 years. One may argue this is because they never had the power to do that. If their predecessors had had that power, who knows? Still, the global economy has never been more interconnected than it is today, due mostly to the advance of globalism, neoliberalism and perhaps even more, technology.

Ironically, all three of these factors are unremittingly praised as forces for good. But living standards for many millions of people in the west have come down and/or are laden with uncertainty, while millions of Chinese now have higher living standards. People in the west have been told to see this as a positive development; after all, it allows them to buy products cheaper than if they had been made in domestic industries.

But along with their manufacturing jobs, their entire way of life has mostly disappeared as well. Or, rather, it is being hidden behind a veil of debt. Still, we can no longer credibly deny that some three-quarters of Americans have a hard time paying their bills, and that is very different from the 1950s and 60s. In western Europe, this is somewhat less pronounced, or perhaps it’s just lagging, but with globalism and neoliberalism still the ruling economic religions, there’s no going back.

What happened? Well, we don’t make stuff anymore. That’s what. We have to buy our stuff from others. Increasingly, we lack the skills to make stuff too. We have become dependent on nations half a planet away just to survive. Nations that are only interested in selling their stuff to us if we can pay for it. And who see their domestic wage demands go up, and will -have to- charge ever higher prices for their products.

And we have no choice but to pay. But we can only pay with what we can borrow. As nations, as companies, and as individuals. We need to borrow because as nations, as companies, and as individuals we don’t make stuff anymore. It’s a vicious circle that globalization has blessed us with. And from which, we are told, we can escape only if we achieve growth. Which we can’t, because we don’t make anything.

 

So we rely on central bankers to manage the crisis. Because we’re told they know how to manage it. They don’t. But they do pretend to know. Still, if you read between the lines, they do admit to their ignorance. Janet Yellen a few weeks ago fessed up to the fact that she has no idea why inflation is weak. Mario Draghi has said more or less the same. Why don’t they know? Because the models don’t fit. And the models are all they have.

Economic models are more important in central banking than common sense. The Fed has some 1000 PhDs under contract. But Yellen, their boss, still claims that ‘perhaps’ the models are wrong, with it comes to inflation, and to wage growth. They have no idea why wages don’t grow. Because the models say they should. Because everybody has a job. 1000 very well paid PhDs. And that’s all they have. They say the lack of wage growth is a mystery.

I say that those for whom this is a mystery are not fit for their jobs. If you export millions of jobs to Asia, take workers’ negotiating powers away and push them into crappy jobs with no benefits, only one outcome is possible. And that doesn’t include inflation or wage growth. Instead, the only possible outcome is continuing erosion of economies.

The globalist mantra says we will fill up the lost space in our economies with ‘better’ jobs, service sector, knowledge sector. But reality does not follow the mantra. Most new jobs are definitely not ‘better’. And as we wait tables or greet customers at Wal-Mart, we see robots take over what production capacity is left, and delivery services erase what’s left of our brick and mortar stores. Yes, that means even less ‘quality’ jobs.

 

Meanwhile, the Chinese who now have taken over our jobs, have only been able to do that amidst insane amounts of pollution. And as if that’s not bad enough, they have recently, just to keep their magical new production paradise running, been forced to borrow as much as we have been -and are-, at state level, at local government level, and now as individuals as well.

In China, credit functions like opioids do in America. Millions of people who had never been in touch with the stuff would have been fine if they never had, but now they are hooked. The local governments were already, which has created a shadow banking system that will threaten Beijing soon, but for the citizens it’s a relatively new phenomenon.

And if you see them saying things like: “if you don’t buy a flat today, you will never be able to afford it” and “..a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.”, you know they have it bad. These are people who’ve only ever seen property prices go up, and who’ve never thought of any place as a ghost city, and who have few other ways to park what money they make working the jobs imported from the US and Europe.

They undoubtedly think their wages will keep growing too, just like the ‘value’ of their flats. They’ve never seen either go down. But if we need to borrow in order to afford the products they make in order to pay off what they borrowed in order to buy their flats, everyone’s in trouble.

 

And then globalization itself is in trouble. The very beneficiaries, the owners of globalization will be. Though not before they have taken away most of the fruits of our labor. What are you going to do with your billions when the societies you knew when you grew up are eradicated by the very process that allowed you to make those billions? It stops somewhere. If those 1000 PhDs want to study a model, they should try that one.

 

Globalization causes many problems. Jobs disappearing from societies just so their citizens can buy the same products a few pennies cheaper when they come from China is a big one. But the main problem with globalization is financial: money continually vanishes from societies, who have to get ever deeper in debt just to stand still. Globalization, like any type of centralization, does that: it takes money away from the ‘periphery’.

The Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Starbucks model has already taken away untold jobs, stores and money from our societies, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The advent of the internet will put that model on steroids. But why would you let a bunch of Silicon Valley venture capitalists run things like Uber or Airbnb in your location, when you can do it yourself just as well, and use the profits to enhance your community instead of letting them make you poorer?

I see UK’s Jeremy Corbyn had that same thought, and good on him. Britain may become the first major victim of the dark side of centralization, by leaving the organization that enables it -the EU-, and Corbyn’s idea of a local cooperative to replace Uber is the kind of thinking it will need. Because how can you make up for all that money, and all that production capacity, leaving where you live? You can’t run fast enough, and you don’t have to.

This is the Roman Empire’s centralization conundrum all over. Though the Romans never pushed their peripheries to stop producing essentials; they instead demanded a share of them. Their problem was, towards the end of the empire, the share they demanded -forcefully- became ever larger. Until the periphery turned on them -also forcefully-.

 

The world’s central bankers’ club is set to get new leadership soon. Yellen may well be gone, so will Japan’s Kuroda and China’s Zhou; the ECB’s -and Goldman’s- Mario Draghi will go a bit later. But there is no sign that the economic religions they adhere to will be replaced, it’ll be centralization all the way, and if that fails, more centralization.

The endgame of that process is painfully obvious way in advance. Centralization feeds central forces, be they governmental, military or commercial, with the fruits of labor of local populations. That is a process that will always, inevitably, run into a wall, because too much of those fruits are taken out. Too much of it will flow to the center, be it Silicon Valley or Wall Street or Rome. Same difference.

There are things that you can safely centralize (peace negotiations), but they don’t include essentials like food, housing, transport, water, clothing. They are too costly at the local level to allow them to be centralized. Or everybody everywhere will end up paying through the nose just to survive.

It’s very easy. Maybe that’s why nobody notices.

 

 

Oct 122017
 
 October 12, 2017  Posted by at 2:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fan Ho East meets west 1963

 

For those of you who don’t know Andy Xie, he’s an MIT-educated former IMF economist and was once Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia-Pacific economist. Xie is known for a bearish view of China, and not Beijing’s favorite person. He’s now an ‘independent’ economist based in Shanghai. He gained respect for multiple bubble predictions, including the 1997 Asian crisis and the 2008 US subprime crisis.

Andy Xie posted an article in the South China Morning Post a few days ago that warrants attention. Quite a lot of it, actually. In it, he mentions some pretty stunning numbers and predictions. Perhaps most significant are:

“only China can restore stability in the global economy”

and

“The festering political tension [in the West] could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.”

Here are some highlights.

 

The bubble economy is set to burst, and US elections may well be the trigger

Central banks continue to focus on consumption inflation, not asset inflation, in their decisions. Their attitude has supported one bubble after another. These bubbles have led to rising inequality and made mass consumer inflation less likely. Since the 2008 financial crisis, asset inflation has fully recovered, and then some.

The US household net worth is 34% above the peak in 2007, versus 30% for nominal GDP. China’s property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined. The world is stuck in a vicious cycle of asset bubbles, low consumer inflation, stagnant productivity and low wage growth.

Let that sink in. If Xie is right, and I would put my money on that, despite all the housing bubbles elsewhere in the world, the Chinese, who make a lot less money than westerners, have pushed up the ‘value’ of Chinese residential real estate so massively that their homes are now ‘worth’ more than all other houses on the planet. Xie returns to this point later in the article, and says: “In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. “.

We’ll get back to that. But it suggests that Chinese, if they spend half their income on housing, which is probably not that crazy an assumption, must work 100 to 200 years to pay off their mortgages. Again, let that sink in.

The US Federal Reserve has indicated that it will begin to unwind its QE assets this month and raise the interest rate by another 25 basis points to 1.5%. China has been clipping the debt wings of grey rhinos and pouring cold water on property speculation. They are worried about asset bubbles. But, if recent history is any guide, when asset markets begin to tumble, they will reverse their actions and encourage debt binges again. [..] most powerful people in the world operate on flimsy assumptions.

Despite low unemployment and widespread labour shortages, wage increases and inflation in Japan have been around zero for a quarter of a century. Western central bankers assumed that the same wouldn’t happen to them, without understanding the underlying reasons. The loss of competitiveness changes how macro policy works.

The mistaken stimulus has the unintended consequences of dissipating real wealth and increasing inequality. American household net worth is at an all-time high of 5 times GDP, significantly higher than the bubble peaks of 4.1 times in 2000 and 4.7 in 2007, and far higher than the historical norm of three times GDP. On the other hand, US capital formation has stagnated for decades. The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.

That is the very definition of a bubble: “The outlandish paper wealth is just the same asset at ever higher prices.” American household net ‘worth’ is in a huge bubble, some 66% higher than the historical average. And that’s in a time when for many their net worth is way below that average, a time when more than half live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford medical bills and/or car repair bills without borrowing. And that is the very definition of inequality:

The inflation of paper wealth has a serious impact on inequality. The top 1% in the US owns one-third of the wealth and the top 10% owns three-quarters. Half of the people don’t even own stocks. Asset inflation will increase inequality by definition. Moreover, 90% of the income growth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%, partly due to their ability to cash out in the inflated asset market.

An economy that depends on asset inflation always disproportionately benefits the asset-rich top 1%. [..] Germany and Japan do not have significant asset bubbles. Their inequality is far less than in the Anglo-Saxon economies that have succumbed to the allure of financial speculation.

True, largely, but Japan both has major economic troubles today (deflation), and will have worse ones going forward (demographics). While Germany can unload its losses on the EU periphery (and does). Japan can’t ‘afford’ a housing bubble, its people have refused to raise spending for many years, scared as they are through stagnant wages and falling prices. While Germany doesn’t need a housing bubble to keep its economy growing: it exports whatever’s negative about it to its neighbors. China, however, DOES need bubbles, and blows them with abandon:

While Western central bankers can stop making things worse, only China can restore stability in the global economy. Consider that 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not even close in terms of consumption. This is the fundamental reason for the global imbalance.

Note: as we saw before, while the Chinese may not consume as much as Westerners when it comes to consumer products, they DO -on average- put a far higher percentage of their wages into real estate. And that is because Beijing encourages such behavior. The politburo needs the bubbles to keep things moving. And therefore creates them on purpose. Presumably with the idea that incomes will come up so much that all these homes become more affordable compared to wages. That looks like a big gamble.

Property costs of between 50 and 100 years of household income are not manageable, and rising rates and/or an outright crisis will expose that. And then on top of that, the government wants, needs, an ever bigger take of people’s incomes. Because its whole model is based on its investing in the economy, even if a large part of it is not efficient or profitable.

China’s model is to subsidise investment. The resulting overcapacity inevitably devalues whatever its workers produce. That slows down wage rises and prolongs the deflationary pull. [..] Overinvestment means destroying capital. The model can only be sustained through taxing the household sector to fill the gap.

In addition to taking nearly half of the business labour outlay, China has invented the unique model of taxing the household sector through asset bubbles. The stock market was started with the explicit intention to subsidise state-owned enterprises. The most important asset bubble is the property market. It redistributes about 10% of GDP to the government sector from the household sector. The levies for subsidising investment keep consumption down and make the economy more dependent on investment and export.

In order to prevent a huge real estate crash, Beijing will have to make sure wages rise, across the board, and substantially, for hundreds of millions of people. And there we get back to what Xie said above:

The government finds an ever-increasing need to raise levies and, hence, make the property bubble bigger. In tier-one cities, property costs are likely to be between 50 and 100 years of household income. At the peak of Japan’s property bubble, it was about 20 in Tokyo. China’s residential property value may have surpassed the total in the rest of the world combined.

The 800 million pound elephant here is that what Beijing pushes its citizens to put in real estate, they can no longer spend on other things. Their consumption will flatline or even fall. Unless the Party manages to raise their wages, but it would have to raise them by a lot, because it needs more and more taxes to be paid by the same wages.

And here’s where Andy Xie gets most interesting:

How is this all going to end? Rising interest rates are usually the trigger. But we know the current bubble economy tends to keep inflation low through suppressing mass consumption and increasing overcapacity. It gives central bankers the excuse to keep the printing press on.

In 1929, Joseph Kennedy thought that, when a shoeshine boy was giving stock tips, the market had run out of fools. Today, that shoeshine boy would be a genius. In today’s bubble, central bankers and governments are fools. They can mobilise more resources to become bigger fools. In 2000, the dotcom bubble burst because some firms were caught making up numbers. Today, you don’t need to make up numbers. What one needs is stories.

Those are some pretty impressive insights, and they go way beyond China. Today’s fools are not yesterday’s fools. Only, today’s fools have been given the rights, and the tools, to keep blowing ever larger bubbles. The only conclusion can be that when the bubbles burst, it’ll be much much worse than the Great Depression. And this time, China will blow up along with the west. Take cover!

Hot stocks or property are sold like Hollywood stars. Rumour and innuendo will do the job. Nothing real is necessary. In 2007, structured mortgage products exposed cash-short borrowers. The defaults snowballed. But, in China, leverage is always rolled over. Default is usually considered a political act. And it never snowballs: the government makes sure of it.

Can China continue to roll over its leveraged debt when the west is in crisis, is forced to heavily cut its imports, just as Beijing needs more tax revenue to keep its miracle model alive? WIll it be able to export its over-leverage and over-capacity through the new Silk Road project? It looks very doubtful. And we shouldn’t expect the Party Congress this month to address these issues. They know better.

Xie finishes with most original predictions. Class struggle in the US. It sounds like something straight out of Karl Marx, but perhaps we are already seeing the first signs today.

In the US, the leverage is mostly in the government. It won’t default, because it can print money. The most likely cause for the bubble to burst would be the rising political tension in the West. The bubble economy keeps squeezing the middle class, with more debt and less wages. The festering political tension could boil over. Radical politicians aiming for class struggle may rise to the top. The US midterm elections in 2018 and presidential election in 2020 are the events that could upend the applecart.

Maybe class struggle is something we’ll see first in Europe, both at a national and at a pan-European level. Too many countries keep their systems humming not by being productive, but by encouraging their citizens to sink deeper into debt. Low interest rates may be attractive for signing up to new loans, but the ‘trajectory’ gets shorter all the time, because those same low rates absolutely murder savings and pensions.

The only thing that can keep the whole caboodle from exploding would be absolutely stunning economic growth at least somewhere in the world, but every single somewhere is far too deep in debt for that to happen.

Take cover.

 

 

Oct 112017
 
 October 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe New York night 1929

 

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)
Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)
Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)
Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)
China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)
Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)
Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)
51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)
Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)
Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)
10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)
The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)
How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)
I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)
Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

 

 

You don’t say.

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)

Wall Street isn’t just in a bull market, it’s in an “epic” one. That is according to Morgan Stanley, which on Tuesday wrote that the equity market rally “has reached epic proportions.” “We say this not as hyperbole, but based on a quantitative perspective,” the investment bank explained. “Dispersions in valuations and growth rates are among the lowest in the last 40 years; stocks are at their most idiosyncratic since 2001; and equity hedge fund beta is at its highest since March 2008.” Simply from the perspective of price moves, the “epicness” of recent trading activity should come as no surprise to investors. The Dow DJIA, S&P 500 SPX, Nasdaq COMP, and Russell 2000 RUT have all hit repeated records this year alone, notching dozens of all-time highs. Those gains have been widespread and “perpetual,” to use Morgan Stanley’s description.

Only two of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors are in negative territory for the year, and for broader indexes, even mild pullbacks of 3% have basically been nonexistent for months. Volatility is near record lows. Beta refers to a measure of an assets tendency to fluctuate compared against a benchmark like the S&P 500. [..] “While investors have at times appeared reluctant to embrace the recent rally, there is evidence from last month that risk appetites are increasing,” Morgan Stanley wrote. The investment bank noted that cyclical sectors, which are more closely correlated to the pace of economic growth, have been outperforming defensive ones, just as small-capitalization stocks have outperforming larger companies. “Momentum is now strongly correlated with high beta globally, and the presence of this cohort of investors could produce continued risk-seeking behavior,” wrote the team of analysts, led by Brian Hayes, an equity strategist.

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“The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong.”

Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)

I’ve been telling you for years that the employment data produced by the US government were misleading people into thinking the economy was performing better than it really was. Now Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — finally! — agrees. Yellen, speaking before the National Association of Business Economics on Sept. 26, said, “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective or even the fundamental forces driving inflation.” That’s what she said. Internet news sites picked up that statement, but none of the major newspapers did. And the story behind Yellen’s admission and its importance would be way over the heads of TV news anchors — so they ignored it as well.

Yet Yellen’s statement is important as heck. It means that the Fed has been screwing up in thinking that the US economy was, as Yellen has often said, near full employment. But here’s the kicker — Yellen has been overestimating the strength of the job market and underestimating the amount of inflation in the economy. The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong. There will need to be years of investigation to determine that, but I’ll give you a clue now. Anyone who lives in the real world knows that the unemployment rate is far higher than the 4.2% that the Labor Department reports. And that the job growth each year — as I’ve been harping on — is mostly driven by guesstimates and adjustments made by government statisticians who apparently don’t live in the real world.

And, of course, the economy has been creating crappy-paying, benefit-lacking jobs that don’t come close to replacing the higher-quality employment that went bye-bye after the last recession. Last Friday, Labor said the jobless rate dipped in September to 4.2% from 4.4% in August — and its number crunchers also reported that 33,000 jobs were lost last month. It blamed the hurricanes. The experts were expecting the US economy to have added 100,000 new jobs despite the storms. Labor also announced that it revised August’s figures lower — from growth of 189,000 jobs to just 138,000. So instead of being reasonably good, August was blah, with nary a hurricane to blame.

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An award for not understanding?! If you ask me, the very fact that someone gets an award for ‘finding out’ that human behavior affects economies, says all you need to know about economics.

Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)

A buoyant and complacent stock market is worrying Richard H. Thaler, the University of Chicago professor who this week won the Nobel Prize in economics. “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.” The S&P 500 index has been reaching repeated records since President Donald Trump’s election last November amid steady growth in the U.S. economy and labor market, as well as expectations for lower taxes, though policy action in Washington has been limited. Thaler, who has made a career of studying irrational and temptation-driven actions among economic actors and won the Nobel for such contributions to behavioral economics, expressed misgivings about the low volatility and continued optimism among investors.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous, and it seems like when investors are nervous, they’re prone to being spooked,” Thaler said, “Nothing seems to spook the market” and if the gains are based on tax-reform expectations, “surely investors should have lost confidence that that was going to happen.” The economist said that he didn’t know “where anyone would get confidence” that tax reform is going to happen. “The Republican leadership does not seem to be interested in anything remotely bipartisan, and they need unanimity within their caucus, which they don’t have,” Thaler said. “And the president’s strategy of systematically insulting the votes he needs doesn’t seem to be optimizing anything I can think of, but maybe he’s a deeper thinker than me.”

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Schrödinger’s State. On Wikipedia, someone last night put Catalonia at no. 1 on the List of Shortest-Lived States. At 8 seconds, which is how long the applause lasted when Puigdemont said he had the mandate, only to say right after that he would hold off on executing the mandate. Wikipedia took it down.

Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that he’ll seek talks with the government in Madrid over the future of his region in Spain, rowing back from an immediate declaration of independence that threatened to turn a constitutional crisis into an economic one. Addressing the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening after days of tension in Catalonia, Puigdemont said the result of an Oct. 1 referendum had given him the mandate to pursue independence, but he would hold off for “weeks” for dialogue on the way forward with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration. Rajoy convened an extraordinary meeting of his cabinet in Madrid on Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss his next move, and is due to address the Spanish Parliament on the crisis in Catalonia later in the day.

“Today Mr. Puigdemont has plunged Catalonia into the highest level of uncertainty,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid late on Tuesday. “Neither Mr. Puigdemont nor anyone else can draw conclusions from a law that doesn’t exist, from a referendum that hasn’t taken place and from the wishes of the Catalan people which it’s trying to take over.” Pressure has piled on Puigdemont as the Spanish government and Catalan business leaders demand that he desist from pitching the region further down a path to independence that they warn would wreck the economy and tear apart Spain’s social fabric. Rajoy has consistently ruled out talks until the Catalans drop the threat of a declaration of independence that is illegal under Spanish law.

“Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said to cheers from the packed assembly, with Catalan police deployed around the parliament perimeter. “We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks, to open a period of dialogue.”

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When equity is debt.

China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)

A key Chinese initiative to rein in the world’s largest corporate-debt load has been a program swapping some loans into equity stakes. As the initiative gets going, however, it’s becoming clear the debt isn’t really going away. In a late-summer notice, central government officials said that new bonds should be used to finance the swaps, effectively moving the debt off the balance sheets of the original lenders onto those buying the new debt. The first such deal came last month, according to China Lianhe Credit Rating Co., a domestic rating firm. Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group Co., a troubled old-line industrial company, was targeted for a debt-for-equity swap. Then the Shaanxi provincial government in northwest China set up an asset-management company to raise new debt to pay off the existing lending that was designated to be swapped for an equity stake.

One criticism of the debt-for-equity initiative, which was launched a year ago, is that it keeps afloat struggling enterprises, leaving excess capacity intact and pulling down productivity. The Shaanxi example shows a further weakness: while the company won’t need to service debt any more, the new asset-management unit will – without any new source of revenue having been generated. “If the funding comes from debt, it’s really not solving the issue here because the capital is not permanent capital,” Christopher Lee, managing director of corporate ratings at S&P Global Ratings in Hong Kong. “In fact, you are adding more debt just to refinance the debt that was going to be swapped.”

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Australia lives off its bubble. It’s all that’s left.

Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)

Property-hungry Chinese investors have shrugged off the impact of tighter capital controls and continue to pour money into Australian housing. Foreign buyers are acquiring about a quarter of new housing supply in New South Wales, and China accounts for about 90% of that demand, according to Credit Suisse analysis of tax office data. Foreigners are buying 17% of new housing in Victoria, and 8% in Queensland, Credit Suisse said. While local property agents say higher state taxes on foreigners are deterring buyers, Credit Suisse isn’t so sure they will have a big impact on prices.

They point to even-higher taxes in other global cities, the relative cheapness of Australian property compared to Chinese cities, and the growing stock of wealth in China. “Local incomes are becoming less relevant in determining the outlook for house prices and regional wealth is becoming more relevant,’’ Credit Suisse analysts Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu said in the report. “We see no evidence of a slowdown in foreign demand because of the stronger capital controls introduced by Chinese authorities.” That’s not good news for locals already struggling to break into the booming housing market.

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WHy would anyone still want to buy a car or plane made with Kobe metals? Imagine the lawsuits if accidents happen.

Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)

Kobe Steel shares tumbled a further 16% on Wednesday after it admitted it may have fabricated data on iron powder products and media reported the possible sale of its real estate business. The latest disclosure comes after Japan’s No.3 steelmaker said on the weekend it had falsified data to show that its aluminum and copper products had met customer specifications, and suggests the problems could be widespread. Japanese manufacturers were thrown into turmoil by the revelation, with implications for materials used in cars, aircraft and possibly a space rocket and defense equipment.

Shares in Kobe Steel were down 15.73% at 900 yen as of 0114 GMT on Wednesday, underperforming the broader market which was steady. They fell 22% the previous day. A Kobe Steel spokesman confirmed a report on Wednesday in the Yomiuri newspaper saying the firm may have fabricated data on iron powder products used in components such as automotive gears. He said the company was investigating the issue. The Nikkei business daily meanwhile reported that Kobe Steel intended to put its real estate business on the block in an effort to shore up already shaky finances now threatened by the data falsification scandal.

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And that’s after all those trillions in support.

51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)

Fifty-one large euro zone banks are leaving themselves exposed to a sudden change in interest rates and may need to aside more capital against that risk, the European Central Bank said on Monday. The ECB is preparing to start dialing back its monetary stimulus after years of ultra-low interest rates and massive bond purchases, paving the ground for rate hikes further down the line. After simulating scenarios ranging from a sudden monetary tightening to the kind of lending freeze that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the ECB found that most of the 111 euro zone banks it tested are well prepared for interest rates shocks. But it cautioned it needed “intense discussions” with 51 of them after finding they may be making themselves vulnerable via large bets on derivative instruments and overly aggressive models for calculating risk.

A hike in interest rates could mean the banks suddenly need more capital. “What we need to do is have intense discussions and check with the banks if they’re aware of the… risk and if they have enough capital if things go wrong,” Korbinian Ibel, a senior supervisor at the ECB, said. Results of the test, which started in February, are incorporated into the ECB’s guidance on how much capital each lender on its watch should hold. Ibel said the 51 banks may, in principle, see their capital demands rise by up to 25 basis points, although any decision would depend on the individual circumstances of each firm. Similarly, the remaining 60 banks could see their guidance reduced by the same amount.

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Crypto makes it too easy for money to leave a country.

Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)

Russia will block access to websites of exchanges that offer crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, Russian Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov said on Tuesday. He called them “dubious”. Russian financial authorities initially treated any sort of money issued by non-state approved institutions as illegal, saying they could be used to launder money. Later the authorities accepted the globally booming market of crypto-currencies but want to either control the turnover or to limit access to the market “We cannot stand apart. We cannot give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors),” Shvetsov said, referring to households.

Speaking at a conference on financial market derivatives, Shvetsov said the central bank sees rising interest in crypto-currencies because of high returns from buying into such instruments. He warned, however, that crypto-currencies gradually transform into high-yielding assets from being a mean of payment. “We think that for our citizens, for businesses the usage of such crypto-currencies as an investment object carries unreasonably high risks,” he said. Russian authorities said earlier this year they would like to regulate the use of crypto-currencies by Russian citizens and companies.

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$4 million? That’s the damage?

Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)

A district court in Fukushima prefecture on Tuesday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government were liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) in the largest class action lawsuit brought over the 2011 nuclear disaster, Kyodo news agency said. A group of about 3,800 people, mostly in Fukushima prefecture, filed the class action suit, marking the biggest number of plaintiffs out of about 30 similar class action lawsuits filed across the nation. This is the second court ruling that fixed the government’s responsibility after a Maebashi district court decision in March.

All the three district court decisions so far have ordered Tepco to pay damages. Only the Chiba court decision last month did not find the government liable for compensation. The plaintiffs in Fukushima case have called on defendants for reinstating the levels of radioactivity at their homes before the disaster, but the court rejected the request, Kyodo said. Tepco has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and the company and the government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.

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Incredible. You’d expect to see this in Bombay perhaps, or Lagos.

10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)

The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system rose again last year, according to state data released on Tuesday. The increase pushed the city over a sober milestone: One in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. More than 111,500 students in New York City schools were homeless during the last academic year, a 6% increase over the year before and enough people to populate a small city. Of the overall figure, 104,000 students attended regular district public schools, while the rest were in charter schools. Statewide, 148,000 students were homeless, or about 5% of the state’s public school population.

The data was released by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children of New York funded by the state Education Department. The plight of homeless students is part of the entrenched and growing problem of homelessness confronting New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pushing a controversial plan to expand the city’s shelter system. After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students reported to the state shot up in the 2015-16 school year, reaching nearly 100,000 children, and in the last school year the numbers crossed that threshold. The count this year is the highest since the state began keeping records.

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Not great title for interesting article.

The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)

Have you ever heard of Deutsch Jahrndorf? No? I don’t blame you. The tiny Austrian village, which is situated four miles from the Danube, is utterly unremarkable, except for the fact that it sits on the border of three countries. To the east is Slovakia. To the south lies Hungary. As such, within shouting distance of one another, live three peoples speaking completely unintelligible languages. Austria belongs to the West Germanic language group, Hungary to Finno-Ugric and Slovakia to West Slavic. I thought about the exquisitely rich tapestry of European languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities as I watched the sad spectacle of Spanish riot police and Catalan separatists confronting one another on the streets of Barcelona. How on earth can the European Union unite that which history forced asunder?

The European Union, French President Emmanuel Macron has recently declared to almost universal acclaim, needs more unity, including the creation of “a eurozone budget managed by a eurozone parliament and a eurozone finance minister”. The need for the centralization of power in Brussels is, apparently, the lesson that the EU establishment has learned from the outcome of the British referendum on EU membership. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, millions of people have set their sights on independence from Spain. Foremost among their complaints is that the Catalan budget is influenced by Madrid. Independence, the Catalans feel, will rectify a grave injustice occasioned by the French capture of Barcelona in 1714. The conqueror, Duke of Anjou, became the first Bourbon king of Spain under the name of Philip V. His descendant, Philip VI, is on the throne today. In Europe, ancient lineages last as long as ancient resentments.

Therein lies the conundrum of European unification. On the one hand, people throughout much of Europe desire greater autonomy. Madrid has the vexing problem of the Basque Country to worry about as well as Catalonia. In Italy, Padania and South Tyrol in the North don’t feel like they have very much in common with the Mezzogiorno in the South. Corsica does not want to be French and Britain has only recently revisited a territorial arrangement that dates back to 1707. On the other hand, every separatist movement in Europe declares its support for the project of European unification. But, how likely is it that people annoyed by Madrid, Rome, Paris, and London will be happy to have their affairs decided upon in Brussels? Will the Catalans, resentful of subsidizing farmers in Andalusia, quietly have no problem with subsidizing Polish peasants in Lower Silesia?

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Monbiot has some nice ideas, but underestimates the degree to which our societies profit from carbon. And why bring in Labour?

How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)

We are still living in the long 20th century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine, thermal power plants, factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems, their capture by funders and lobbyists, the failure to temper representation with real participation. And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis. Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today.

A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%, and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. The index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin. But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th-century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the second world war’s military Keynesianism. In 1941 the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

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Featuring Dwayne Johnson? All we need then is a ferret to play Dijsselbloem.

I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)

When the crisis began, the tragedy that the Greek people are still living through, I began to gather material and information in an attempt to make sense of the reasons and the people – published, filmic and oral. However, what I was missing were the goings on behind the closed doors, where the representatives of the European Union and the Greek people met. On 16th July 2015, just after his resignation, I sent a text message to Yanis Varoufakis, whom I did not know personally. In that message I wrote: “Reading your interview in the New Statesman, I believe I found what I have been looking for a long time: the subject for a film, a piece of fiction, about a Europe governed by a group of cynical people disconnected from human, political and cultural concerns – obsessed with numbers and them alone.”

Soon, the arrangements were made and Michele, my wife, and I visited Yanis and Danae in Greece a few weeks later. Meanwhile I read two of his books, The Global Minotaur (London: Zed Books, 2011,2015) and the manuscript of a book he was completing at that time entitled And The Weak Suffer What They Must? (London: The Bodley Head, 2016). I was impressed by the quality and originality of their content, as well as the prose. When we met we had long conversations, in the context of which he let me know that he was about to begin writing his own account of his tenure as Greece’s finance minister, a tale of being an outsider in politics, of the negotiations in the Eurogroup – that illegitimate but ultra powerful EU body. I asked to read the manuscript. He agreed and began sending it to me chapter by chapter, as the book was being written.

Immediately I was convinced by the text’s seriousness and the accuracy of the description of the behaviour of each of the tragedy’s protagonists. Reading it saddened me, and I found myself often angered, indeed enraged, by the violence and the indifference of Eurogroup members, especially the German side, to the drama and unsustainable situation in which the people of Greece lived, and live. I decided to make a film out of this tragedy. Yanis Varoufakis gave me the rights to his book and absolute freedom to adapt it.

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Words fail.

Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

A mental health emergency is unfolding in migrant camps on Greece’s islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday. Medical staff have seen a sharp increase in people trying to get help after attempting suicide, harming themselves or suffering psychotic episodes, the humanitarian organization said in a report. More than 13,000 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for. “Every day our teams treat patients who tell us that they would prefer to have died in their country than be trapped here,” said Jayne Grimes, manager of MSF’s mental health activities on Samos.

The organization said six or seven new patients had visited its clinic on the nearby island of Lesvos each week over the summer following suicide attempts, self-harm or psychotic episodes, 50% more than the previous three months. Violence which many experienced on the journey or in Greece was one factor aggravating mental distress, MSF said. “I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I’m going crazy,” it quoted a Syrian man as saying. The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of people dying of hunger in front of him in the long-besieged town of Madaya. “I still remember the taste of the leaves and the smell of death,” he said. On Samos, more than 3,000 people are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesvos camp, about 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without flooring or heating, the UN refugee agency says.

Read more …

Sep 282017
 
 September 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Juan Gris Man in the café 1912

 

The Illusion of Prosperity (Lebowitz)
Trump Tax Plan Economic Outcomes Likely Disappointing (Roberts)
The Top 1% Of Americans Now Control 38% Of The Wealth (CNBC)
This Chart Defines the 21st Century Economy (CHS)
China’s Traders Have an Excuse to Take the Rest of Year Off
China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)
Debt Boom In India And China Threatens New Financial Crisis – WEF (Tel.)
Japan Downgrade Risk Seen Rising as Default Swaps Climb (BBG)
JPMorgan Ordered To Pay Over $4 Billion To Widow And Family (ZH)
The Courage to Normalize Monetary Policy (Stephen Roach)
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble To Be Bundestag Speaker (G.)

 

 

The future wants its future back.

The Illusion of Prosperity (Lebowitz)

For the last 50 years, the consumer, that means you and me, have been the most powerful force driving the U.S. economy. Household spending now accounts for almost 70% of economic growth, about 10% more than it did in 1971. Household spending in the U.S. is also approximately 10-15% higher than most other developed nations. Currently, U.S. economic growth is anemic and still suffering from the after-shocks of the financial crisis. Importantly, much of that weakness is the result of growing stress on consumers. Using the compelling graph below and the data behind it, we can illustrate why the U.S. economy and consumers are struggling.

The blue line on the graph above marks the difference between median disposable income (income less taxes) and the median cost of living. A positive number indicates people at the median made more than their costs of living. In other words, their income exceeds the costs of things like food, housing, and insurance and they have money left over to spend or save. This is often referred to as “having disposable income.” If the number in the above calculation is negative, income is not enough to cover essential expenses. From at least 1959 to 1971, the blue line above was positive and trending higher. The consumer was in great shape. In 1971 the trend reversed in part due to President Nixon’s actions to remove the U.S. dollar from the gold standard.

Unbeknownst to many at the time, that decision allowed the U.S. government to run consistent trade and fiscal deficits while its citizens were able to take on more debt. Other than rampant inflation, there were no immediate consequences. In 1971, following this historic action, the blue line began to trend lower. By 1990, the median U.S. citizen had less disposable income than the median cost of living; i.e., the blue line turned negative. This trend lower has continued ever since. The 2008 financial crisis proved to be a tipping point where the burden of debt was too much for many consumers to handle. Since 2008 the negative trend in the blue line has further steepened. You might be thinking, if incomes were less than our standard of living, why did it feel like our standard of living remained stable? One word – DEBT.

Read more …

Lance has a lot of detail in his assessment. Worth a read.

Trump Tax Plan Economic Outcomes Likely Disappointing (Roberts)

Do not misunderstand me. Tax rates CAN make a difference in the short run particularly when coming out of a recession as it frees up capital for productive investment at a time when recovering economic growth and pent-up demand require it. However, in the long run, it is the direction and trend of economic growth that drives employment. The reason I say “direction and trend” is because, as you will see by the vertical blue dashed line, beginning in 1980, both the direction and trend of economic growth in the United States changed for the worse. Furthermore, as I noted previously, Reagan’s tax cuts were timely due to the economic, fiscal, and valuation backdrop which is diametrically opposed to the situation today.

“Importantly, as has been stated, the proposed tax cut by President-elect Trump will be the largest since Ronald Reagan. However, in order to make valid assumptions on the potential impact of the tax cut on the economy, earnings and the markets, we need to review the differences between the Reagan and Trump eras.

[..] Of course, as noted, rising debt levels is the real impediment to longer-term increases in economic growth. When 75% of your current Federal Budget goes to entitlements and debt service, there is little left over for the expansion of the economic growth. The tailwinds enjoyed by Reagan are now headwinds for Trump as the economic “boom” of the 80’s and 90’s was really not much more than a debt-driven illusion that has now come home to roost. Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who sits on the finance committee, said he was confident that a growing economy would pay for the tax cuts and that the plan was fiscally responsible. “This tax plan will be deficit reducing,”

The belief that tax cuts will eventually become revenue neutral due to expanded economic growth is a fallacy. As the CRFB noted: “Given today’s record-high levels of national debt, the country cannot afford a deficit-financed tax cut. Tax reform that adds to the debt is likely to slow, rather than improve, long-term economic growth.” The problem with the claims that tax cuts reduce the deficit is that there is NO evidence to support the claim. The increases in deficit spending to supplant weaker economic growth has been apparent with larger deficits leading to further weakness in economic growth. In fact, ever since Reagan first lowered taxes in the ’80’s both GDP growth and the deficit have only headed in one direction – lower.

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The economy lost its balance. It will tip over.

The Top 1% Of Americans Now Control 38% Of The Wealth (CNBC)

America’s top 1% now control 38.6% of the nation’s wealth, a historic high, according to a new Federal Reserve Report. The Federal Reserve’s Surveys of Consumer Finance shows that Americans throughout the income and wealth ladder posted gains between 2013 and 2016. But the wealthy gained the most, driven largely by gains in the stock market and asset values. The top 1% saw their share of wealth rise to 38.6% in 2016 from 36.3% in 2013. The next highest nine% of families fell slightly, and the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% of Americans has been falling steadily for 25 years, hitting 22.8% in 2016 from 33.2% in 1989. The top income earners also saw the biggest gains. The top 1% saw their share of income rise to a new high of 23.8% from 20.3% in 2013. The income shares of the bottom 90% fell to 49.7% in 2016.

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I smell danger.

This Chart Defines the 21st Century Economy (CHS)

One chart defines the 21st century economy and thus its socio-political system: the chart of soaring wealth/income inequality. This chart doesn’t show a modest widening in the gap between the super-wealthy (top 1/10th of 1%) and everyone else: there is a veritable Grand Canyon between the super-wealthy and everyone else, a gap that is recent in origin. Notice that the majority of all income growth now accrues to the the very apex of the wealth-power pyramid. This is not mere chance, it is the only possible output of our financial system. This is stunning indictment of our socio-political system, for this sort of fast-increasing concentration of income, wealth and power in the hands of the very few at the top can only occur in a financial-political system which is optimized to concentrate income, wealth and power at the top of the apex.

[..] the elephant in the room few are willing to mention much less discuss is financialization, the siphoning off of most of the economy’s gains by those few with the power to borrow and leverage vast sums of capital to buy income streams–a dynamic that greatly enriches the rentier class which has unique access to central bank and private-sector bank credit and leverage. Apologists seek to explain away this soaring concentration of wealth as the inevitable result of some secular trend that we’re powerless to rein in, as if the process that drives this concentration of wealth and power wasn’t political and financial. There is nothing inevitable about such vast, fast-rising income-wealth inequality; it is the only possible output of our financial and pay-to-play political system.

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China just took two giant steps back from being a functioning economy.

China’s Traders Have an Excuse to Take the Rest of Year Off

Financial markets in the world’s second-largest economy are set to turn listless in the fourth quarter as party officials keep a lid on volatility around a seminal Communist Party gathering. That’s the finding of Bloomberg surveys of market participants. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index is projected to end the year 0.3% higher than Wednesday’s close. The yuan will be at 6.64 per dollar, unchanged from the current level, while the 10-year sovereign bond yield is expected to slip to 3.59% from 3.63%. “I don’t expect any big swings,” said Ken Chen, Shanghai-based analyst with KGI Securities Co. “Regulators would want to ensure the markets are stable for the 19th Party Congress.”

Authorities have stressed the need for stability in the lead-up to what will be China’s most important political event in years. The twice-a-decade party congress, which starts on Oct. 18, is expected to replace about half of China’s top leadership and shape President Xi Jinping’s influence into the next decade. The China Securities Regulatory Commission has ordered local brokerages to mitigate risks and ensure stable markets before and during the event, people familiar with the matter have said. The CSRC has also banned brokerage bosses from taking holidays or leaving the country from Oct. 11 until the congress ends, according to the people.

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Why that forced low volatility is so dangerous. No price discovery.

China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)

Young Chinese like Eli Mai, a sales manager in Guangzhou, and Wendy Wang, an executive in Shenzhen, are borrowing as much money as possible to buy boomtown flats even though they cannot afford the repayments. Behind the dream of property ownership they share with many like-minded friends lies an uninterrupted housing price rally in major Chinese cities that dates back to former premier Zhu Rongji’s privatisation of urban housing in the late 1990s. Rapid urbanisation, combined with unprecedented monetary easing in the past decade, has resulted in runaway property inflation in cities like Shenzhen, where home prices in many projects have doubled or even tripled in the past two years. City residents in their 20s and 30s view property as a one-way bet because they’ve never known prices to drop. At the same time, property inflation has seen the real purchasing power of their money rapidly diminish.

“Almost all my friends born since the 1980s and 1990s are racing to buy homes, while those who already have one are planning to buy a second,” Mai, 33, said. “Very few can be at ease when seeing rents and home prices rise so strongly, and they will continue to rise in a scary way.” The rush of millions young middle-class Chinese like Mai into the property market has created a hysteria that eerily resembles the housing crisis that struck the United States a decade ago. Thanks to the easy credit that has spurred the housing boom, many young Chinese have abandoned the frugal traditions of earlier generations and now lead a lifestyle beyond their financial means. The build-up of household and other debt in China has also sparked widespread concern about the health of the world’s second largest economy.

[..] Mai and Wang have been playing it fast and loose to deal with their debts. Mai has lent 600,000 of the 800,000 yuan he got from a bank after using his first flat as collateral to a money shark promising an annualised return of 20 per cent. Wang gave the bank fake documents showing her monthly income was 18,000 yuan – about 1.6 times her actual salary. It did not ask any questions. Neither see any problem, because the value of their underlying assets, the flats, have risen. The value of Mai’s two flats rose from 3.8 million yuan last year to 6.4 million yuan last month, while the value of Wang’s unit is now 2.93 million yuan, up from 2.6 million yuan. “I think I made a smart and successful decision to leverage debt,” Mai said.

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Watch India.

Debt Boom In India And China Threatens New Financial Crisis – WEF (Tel.)

Banks across the world are more vulnerable to a crisis now than they were in the build up to the credit crunch, the World Economic Forum has warned. Bad loans in India have more than doubled in the past two years, while in China’s financial system “business credit is building up similarly to the United States pre-crisis, and could be a new source of vulnerability.” China’s credit boom has been the subject of several warnings from global finance groups and regulators in recent months. Last week the Bank of International Settlements warned that higher interest rates in the US could have a knock on effect in the world’s second-largest economy, forcing rates higher in China, making the debt mountain more expensive to maintain and hitting the economy hard.

Britain, the US and other developed economies have taken major steps to shore up their banking systems as they were at the heart of the financial crisis, but the global financial system as a whole faces new and growing risks. Other parts of the financial system are taking risks instead, such as fund managers in the so-called shadow banking sector. The eurozone banks have still not fully recovered from the crash either. “In general, there is still too much debt in parts of the private sector, and top global banks are still ‘too big to fail’,” the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report said. “The largest 30 banks hold almost $43 trillion in assets, compared to less than $30 trillion in 2006, and concentration is continuing to increase in the US, China, and some European countries. “In Europe, banks are still grappling with the consequences of 10 years of low growth and the enduring non-performance of loans in many countries.”

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Abe’s power gamble.

Japan Downgrade Risk Seen Rising as Default Swaps Climb (BBG)

Japan’s credit rating could be in the cross hairs after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated the nation may abandon its goal of covering key expenditures through taxes. The cost of insuring Japan’s government debt against default rose to a 15-month high on Tuesday, with policy uncertainty adding to concerns about tensions with North Korea. On Monday, Abe said he would dissolve parliament later this week and he’d pay for economic measures with funds from a consumption-tax increase originally intended to rein in the nation’s swollen debt. Japanese government bonds extended declines Wednesday after S&P Global Ratings said it expects “material” fiscal deficits to continue through 2020.

S&P’s ratings assume fiscal improvements will be gradual over the next few years, sovereign analyst Craig Michaels said. “The prospect for extra revenue to be spent rather than being used to pay down Japan’s debt is a factor of higher bond yields,” said Shuichi Ohsaki, chief rates strategist for Japan at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “There also appears to be some speculation that such a policy move will lead to a sovereign downgrade.” Yield on Japan’s five-year note added 2.5 basis points to minus 0.090% Wednesday, which would be the steepest increase since March 9. The benchmark 10-year yield climbed 2.5 basis points to 0.055%, a level unseen since early August.

The challenges in meeting the long-standing objective of achieving a primary balance surplus, add to concerns about Japan’s debt load, which is the world’s heaviest. Getting to that goal would allow the government to pay for programs including social security and public works projects from tax revenue, rather than through new debt financing. Abe is betting he can crush a weak opposition in next month’s election, which he has framed in part as a vote on his plans to use revenue from the upcoming consumption-tax hike to fund an $18 billion economic package aimed at tackling the challenges of an aging society.

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It’s the mob. One question. Who’s going to end up paying?

JPMorgan Ordered To Pay Over $4 Billion To Widow And Family (ZH)

A Dallas jury ordered JPMorgan Chase to pay more than $4 billion in damages for mishandling the estate of a former American Airlines executive. Jo Hopper and two stepchildren won a probate court verdict over claims that JPMorgan mismanaged the administration of the estate of Max Hopper, who was described as an airline technology innovator by the family’s law firm. The bank, which was hired by the family in 2010 to independently administer the estate of Hopper, was found in breach of its fiduciary duties and contract. In total, JP Morgan Chase was ordered to pay at least $4 billion in punitive damages, approximately $4.7 million in actual damages, and $5 million in attorney fees.

The six-person jury, which deliberated a little more than four hours starting Monday night and returned its verdict at approximately 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, found that the bank committed fraud, breached its fiduciary duty and broke a fee agreement, according to court papers. “The nation’s largest bank horribly mistreated me and this verdict provides protection to others from being mistreated by banks that think they’re too powerful to be held accountable,” said Hopper in a statement. “The country’s largest bank, people we are supposed to trust with our livelihood, abused my family and me out of sheer ineptitude and greed. I’m blessed that I have the resources to hold JP Morgan accountable so other widows who don’t have the same resources will be better protected in the future.” “Surviving stage 4 lymphoma cancer was easier than dealing with this bank and its estate administration,” Mrs. Hopper added.

Max Hopper, who pioneered the SABRE reservation system for the airline, died in 2010 with assets of more than $19 million but without a will and testament, according to the statement. JPMorgan was hired as an administrator to divvy up the assets among family members. “Instead of independently and impartially collecting and dividing the estate’s assets, the bank took years to release basic interests in art, home furnishings, jewelry, and notably, Mr. Hopper’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine,” the family’s lawyers said in the statement. “Some of the interests in the assets were not released for more than five years.”

The bank’s incompetence caused more than just unacceptably long timelines; bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for the assets under their control. In at least one instance, stock options were allowed to expire. In others, Mrs. Hopper’s wishes to sell certain stock were ignored. The resulting losses, the jury found, resulted in actual damages and mental anguish suffered by Mrs. Hopper. With respect to Mr. Hopper’s adult children, the jury found that they lost potential inheritance in excess of $3 million when the Bank chose to pay its lawyers’ legal fees out of the estate account to defend claims against the Bank for violating its fiduciary duty.

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“A world in recovery”, Stephen?

The Courage to Normalize Monetary Policy (Stephen Roach)

Central banks’ unconventional monetary policies – namely, zero interest rates and massive asset purchases – were put in place in the depths of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. It was an emergency operation, to say the least. With their traditional policy tools all but exhausted, the authorities had to be exceptionally creative in confronting the collapse in financial markets and a looming implosion of the real economy. Central banks, it seemed, had no choice but to opt for the massive liquidity injections known as “quantitative easing.” This strategy did arrest the free-fall in markets. But it did little to spur meaningful economic recovery. The G7 economies (the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy) have collectively grown at just a 1.8% average annual rate over the 2010-2017 post-crisis period.

That is far short of the 3.2% average rebound recorded over comparable eight-year intervals during the two recoveries of the 1980s and the 1990s. Unfortunately, central bankers misread the efficacy of their post-2008 policy actions. They acted as if the strategy that helped end the crisis could achieve the same traction in fostering a cyclical rebound in the real economy. In fact, they doubled down on the cocktail of zero policy rates and balance-sheet expansion. And what a bet it was. According to the Bank for International Settlements, central banks’ combined asset holdings in the major advanced economies (the US, the eurozone, and Japan) expanded by $8.3 trillion over the past nine years, from $4.6 trillion in 2008 to $12.9 trillion in early 2017. Yet this massive balance-sheet expansion has had little to show for it.

Over the same nine-year period, nominal GDP in these economies increased by just $2.1 trillion. That implies a $6.2 trillion injection of excess liquidity – the difference between the growth in central bank assets and nominal GDP – that was not absorbed by the real economy and has, instead been sloshing around in global financial markets, distorting asset prices across the risk spectrum. Normalization is all about a long-overdue unwinding of those distortions. Fully ten years after the onset of the Great Financial Crisis, it seems more than appropriate to move the levers of monetary policy off their emergency settings. A world in recovery – no matter how anemic that recovery may be – does not require a crisis-like approach to monetary policy. Monetary authorities have only grudgingly accepted this. Today’s generation of central bankers is almost religious in its commitment to inflation targeting – even in today’s inflationless world. While the pendulum has swung from squeezing out excess inflation to avoiding deflation, price stability remains the sine qua non in central banking circles.

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Chaos looms in Germany. Merkel will be forced to accept a FinMin she doesn’t want. Greece will be squeezed even more. And Italy, Spain etc.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble To Be Bundestag Speaker (G.)

Wolfgang Schäuble, a man revered and reviled in equal measure for his tenacious austerity economics, is to relinquish his powerful role as Germany’s finance minister and instead become the speaker of the parliament, his party has announced. Schäuble, 75, was asked to take on the role by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is keen on someone with authority and experience to steer future debate in the Bundestag after the success in Sunday’s election of the rightwing radical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The AfD is due to take up 94 seats in the house, having secured 12.6% of the vote, and its leadership has pledged to shake up the debating culture in the Bundestag, making it considerably rowdier than the calm and consensus-based mood that has characterised it in the past.

The role of speaker has been empty since Norbert Lammert, a veteran CDU MP, recently announced he would retire at the end of the last parliamentary term. In terms of protocol it ranks second only to that of federal president, and ahead of the chancellor, but in reality it is considerably less powerful than his current post. Schäuble, a lawyer by training, is the longest-serving MP in the Bundestag, having been elected in 1972. Once one of Merkel’s staunchest rivals, he has since become one of her closest confidantes as well as the most experienced and high-profile minister in her cabinet. He has been finance minister since 2009 and is held in high regard in Germany, particularly by the conservative base, who revere him for acting in Germany’s interests as the dogged protector of austerity economics in the eurozone.

He is also admired at home for his insistence – some would say obsession – with a balanced budget or the “black zero”. Germany today has a record budget surplus. But elsewhere he is a hugely controversial figure, particularly in Greece and in Ireland, where he has often faced criticism for his handling of the euro crisis that has dominated almost his entire time as finance minister. Schäuble has yet to respond to the reports of his new appointment, but it was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon by Volker Kauder, the chairman of the CDU parliamentary bloc.

Read more …

Sep 252017
 
 September 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Portrait of the artist’s mother 1896

 

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)
The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)
What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)
China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)
China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)
US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)
Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)
Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)
German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)
German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)
Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)
There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

 

 

Apparently, players never stood for the anthem until 2009. Then the Defense Department started paying teams to get them out of the dressing room and onto the field when the anthem was played. A recruiting tool.

But Kaepernick is a brave man no matter what. Trump should invite him to the White House and talk.

Colin Kaepernick Has Won: He Wanted A Conversation And Trump Started It (G.)

All Colin Kaepernick ever asked was for his country to have a conversation about race. This, he warned, would not be easy. Such talks are awkward and often end in a flurry of spittle, pointed fingers and bruised feelings. But from the moment the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback first spoke about his decision to kneel or sit during the national anthem, he said was willing to give up his career to make the nation talk. In one speech on Friday night, Donald Trump gave Kaepernick exactly what he wanted. With a fiery blast at protesting NFL players that seemingly came from nowhere, the president bonded black and white football players with wealthy white owners in a way nobody could have imagined. By saying any player who didn’t stand for the anthem was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired by his team’s owner, Trump crossed a line from which no one could look away.

Come Sunday afternoon, players who wanted nothing of a racial dialogue stood before giant flags, linking arms in protest. Owners who once wished their kneeling players would just stop offending fans fired off statements in their support. Networks who have avoided showing the raised fists of dissent had no choice but show the rows of players standing strong against Trump’s rage. Whether anyone wanted it or not, Trump has forced the US to have the conversation Kaepernick has been requesting. [..] “I think this is something that can unify this country,” Kaepernick said in the summer of 2016, at his first press conference about his protest. “If we can have the real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people – if we can have this conversation there’s a better understanding where both sides are coming from. (And) if we can reach common ground and can understand what everyone’s going through, we can really affect change.”

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Why the dollar’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

The World Can’t Stop Borrowing Dollars (BBG)

Companies and governments around the world can’t seem to stop borrowing U.S. dollars. This could be a problem, both for them and for the Federal Reserve. Not long ago, it seemed as though a global boom in dollar borrowing had to be reaching its limit. Encouraged by near-zero interest rates, non-U.S. borrowers had binged on trillions in new dollar-denominated debt. With the central bank aiming to increase rates and the U.S. currency rising, strains were beginning to show, as companies struggled to pay back the dollars with devalued local-currency earnings. Yet the party keeps going, perhaps thanks to the Fed’s extremely gradual pace of rate increases and a related decline in the dollar’s exchange rate. According to the Bank for International Settlements, total dollar borrowing outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, up about 6% from a year earlier and up 83% from 2009. Here’s how that looks as a%age of non-U.S. GDP:

About a third of the debt is owed by companies and governments in emerging markets, where the relatively high volatility of earnings and exchange rates can make dollar borrowing particularly risky. Here’s the dollar-denominated debt of the countries that the BIS tracks, as a%age of their GDP:

To be sure, some of the debt might not be too burdensome if borrowers have a lot of dollar revenue from, say, oil exports (think Russia and Saudi Arabia). But to the extent that the obligations aren’t hedged, they will make the world more sensitive to the Fed’s interest-rate moves. And if future rate increases trigger belt-tightening and defaults abroad, the malaise could easily spread back to the U.S., complicating the Fed’s efforts to keep growth on track. So the world is becoming increasingly exposed to the Fed, which leaves the Fed increasingly exposed to the world.

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What’s around the corner is more debt. Dollar-denominated debt.

What’s Around The Corner For The Hottest Emerging Markets (BBG)

Nothing has been able to silence the roar of emerging markets this year, be it Kim Jong-Un’s missiles, President Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric or a host of domestic political ructions from Brazil to South Africa and Turkey. Instead, investors have focused on economies supported by slowing inflation, a recent recovery in commodity prices and the comfort of watching central banks conducting policy by more conventional methods than their developed-nation counterparts. The MSCI EM Currency Index and the Bloomberg Barclays index of emerging-market local-currency government bonds both reached three-year highs this month, while a gauge of developing-nation equities is close to its highest since 2011. And now that the Federal Reserve has laid out a tapering game plan likely to drive down longer-maturity U.S. Treasuries, the bulls are taking new heart, betting the rally’s just getting started.

For others, it’s getting perilously near to closing time. “We all enjoyed the party, but this may be its last leg and there maybe more volatility in the year-end,” said Peter Schottmueller, the head of asset allocation at Deka Investment GmbH in Frankfurt, who helps manage the equivalent of $7.8 billion. “The market is very myopic and very short-term focused.’’ Corporate borrowing has outstripped economic growth over the five years through 2016, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s raised questions about how long it can continue as central banks in developed nations prepare to pare back quantitative easing, according to Toru Nishihama, at Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Research.

Emerging economies expanded 4.4% in 2016, almost half of the rate of a decade ago, when the Fed was in its last year of a cycle of interest-rate increases. “There remains a gap between the growth rate of emerging economies and developed countries as well as returns from investment, and investors will continue to pour funds into emerging markets,” Dai-ichi’s Nishihama said. “However, from here, not all emerging-market investments are rosy, and investors may become more selective in which country or countries to invest.”

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“China will create a centralized financing company..” Yes, but to oversee assets, or to oversee debt, liabilities?

China Plans Closer Oversight of $304 Billion in State Company Funds (BBG)

China will create a centralized financing company to oversee some $304 billion of funds held by the country’s state-owned enterprises’ finance units, people familiar with the matter said, allowing the government closer supervision of SOEs’ borrowing and investments. The plan, approved by the State Council or Cabinet, will increase the government’s ability to supervise the non-financial central SOE finance companies’ investments, giving the entity a fuller picture of how these companies are using funds, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the plans have not been made public. Non-financial, central SOEs have their own finance units that currently offer various products and services such as deposits and loans, and the new entity could facilitate those efforts.

The plan would assist regulators by directing some 2 trillion yuan of funds held by the non-financial SOEs through the new company, meaning they could monitor the flow through only one financing company rather than dozens. Many details about the new entity were not immediately clear, such as who would control it, how much regulatory and oversight authority it would have, and how it might conduct external financing on behalf of the SOEs. The aim is to boost efficiency in the $20 trillion state sector in line with a government campaign to reduce the companies’ debt, according to the people. While the centralized finance company would have a regulatory oversight role, the SOEs would retain control over the funds, the people said.

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Not the plan.

China’s Yuan Is Anything But Stable as Party Congress Approaches (BBG)

China’s currency has swung from hot to cold in a matter of weeks, thwarting expectations that policy makers would keep the yuan stable before a crucial Communist Party Congress next month. The yuan fell 0.3% to 6.6075 per greenback at 2:29 p.m. in Shanghai, taking its decline from a Sept. 8 peak to 2.6%. That’s a sharp reversal from earlier this month, when the currency surged 1.5% in just six days. The stunning shift has propelled a gauge of 50-day price swings on the yuan to a six-month high. With China’s financial markets closed for the whole of next week due to National Day holidays, there are effectively just over two weeks of trading to go before the congress begins Oct. 18.

The turning point for the currency came when the PBOC eased a forwards trading rule that made betting against the currency more expensive – a clear signal that the surge had gone far enough. A mild recovery in the greenback thanks to a more hawkish Federal Reserve – the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is up 1.2% since Sept. 8. – has hastened the yuan’s decline. “Investors were too optimistic earlier, and they are now pushing the yuan lower because they figured the policy makers believed the currency was too strong,” said Eddie Cheung at Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. “There’s still room for the dollar to rise in the short term if the market becomes more confident on U.S. rate hikes. That said, the yuan could weaken further this year, though the PBOC wouldn’t allow any sharp declines.”

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Hmm, really? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck?

US Households Are Loaded Up With Stocks (Lyons)

From the Federal Reserve’s latest Z.1 Release (formerly, Flow Of Funds), we learn that in the 2nd quarter, household and nonprofit’s stock holdings amounted to 35.7% of their total financial assets. This is the highest%age since 2000. In fact, the blow-off phase from 1998 to 2000 leading up to the dotcom bubble burst was the only time in the history of the data (since 1945) that saw higher stock investment than now. You might say that everyone is in the pool. We’ve talked about this data series many times. It is certainly not a timing tool. Rather, it is what we call a “background” indicator, representative of the longer-term backdrop — and potential — of the stock market.

It also serves as an instructional lens into investor psychology. For these reasons, it is one of our favorite metrics pertaining to the stock market, as we wrote in a September 2014 post: “This is one of our favorite data series because it reveals a lot about not only investment levels but investor psychology as well. When investors have had positive recent experiences in the stock market, i.e., a bull market, they have been happy to pour money into stocks. It is consistent with all of the evidence of performance-chasing pointed out by many. Note how stock investment peaked with major tops in 1966, 1968, 1972, 2000 and 2007. Of course, investment will rise merely with the appreciation of the market; however, we also observe disproportionate jumps in investment levels near tops as well.

Note the spikes at the 1968 and 1972 tops and, most egregiously, at the 2000 top. On the flip side, when investors have bad recent experiences with stocks, it negatively effects investment flows, and in a more profound way than the positive effect. This is consistent with the scientifically proven notion we’ve discussed before that feelings of fear or loss are much stronger than those of greed or gain. Stock investment during he 1966-82 secular bear market provides a good example of this. After stock investment peaked at 31% in 1968 (by the way, after many of the indexes had topped in 1966 – investors were still buying the dip), it embarked on steady decline over the next 14 years. This, despite the fact the stock market drifted sideways during that time. By the beginning of the secular bull market in 1982, the S&P 500 was right where it was in 1968. However, household stock investment was at an all-time low of 10.9%.

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She won but lost. What happens here is the future of Europe is decided by German voters alone. That is the core of the European problem.

Merkel Lands Fourth Term, But at What Cost? (Spiegel)

Angela Merkel’s election result four years ago was, to be sure, extraordinary. It was clear from the surveys that her conservatives wouldn’t be able to repeat it. But a fall like this? Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) saw their joint result fall by more than eight%age points – their worst showing since 1949. During her first appearance after the election at her party’s headquarters, the chancellor said she had, in fact, hoped for a somewhat better result. Those gathered at the headquarters dutifully chanted, “Angie, Angie.” Then things grew quiet again. Nobody waved the German flag. It was a far cry from 2013, when CDU politicians broke out into a spontaneous karaoke session after the results were announced. This time, the prominent members of Merkel’s party who had gathered behind her on the stage seemed sobered by the tepid showing.

Merkel can keep her job as chancellor, the “strategic goal” has been achieved, as Merkel refers to it. But it comes at a high price. Voters have severely punished the parties of the current governing coalition, with Merkel’s conservatives losing dozens of seats in parliament. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) will now enter parliament with a strong, double-digit result. And it will be extremely difficult for Merkel to build a government coalition that will be stable for the next four years. There won’t just be a sprinkling of renegades representing the AfD in parliament. The right-wing populists will be the third-largest party in the Bundestag and they have announced their intention to “chase down” the chancellor as one of the party’s two leading candidates expressed it on Sunday.

The election campaign already gave a taste of what might be coming, with AfD supporters loudly venting their hatred and anger at events held by Merkel’s CDU. Merkel, who isn’t known for being the world’s best public speaker, will now be confronted by them on a daily basis. And the conservatives will also have to ask themselves what share of the responsibility they carry for the AfD’s success. What can they do to win back disappointed voters? More than a million voters are believed to have flocked from the CDU and the CSU to the AfD. And most of them say that it was the chancellor’s refugee policies that led them to vote for the right-wing competition. It’s little wonder, then, that Merkel has identified the enduring regulation of refugee flows and domestic security as the key topics for the coming years.

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I went for the headline. But good insights too.

Angela’s Ashes: 5 Takeaways From The German Election (Pol.)

1. Merkel’s twilight has begun SPD leader Martin Schulz told Merkel on live television she was the election’s “biggest loser.” A bit harsh perhaps (especially coming from a candidate who just recorded his party’s worst-ever result), but there’s some truth to it. Instead of addressing tough questions such as migration head-on, Merkel ran a vague, feel-good campaign, promising a “Germany in which we live well and happily,” while offering few specifics about how she wanted to get there.

2. Germany’s consensus-driven political model is shattered The next parliament will include seven parties (eight, if you count the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s CDU), representing a much more diverse cross-section of the country’s body politic than its predecessor. Sparks will fly. The inclusion of the far right in parliament will make German politics louder and nastier. AfD leader Jörg Meuthen made it clear Sunday that confrontation and “provocation” were central to the party’s strategy. If other European countries where populists have a strong foothold are any indication, that no-holds-barred spirit will infect the political mainstream, creating a decidedly more raucous political climate.

3. Forget about meaningful eurozone reforms Merkel’s conservatives were skeptical of French President Emmanuel Macron’s reform proposals even before Sunday. A grand coalition represented the French president’s best chance for realizing his vision. With that option now off the table, a weakened Merkel is unlikely to be able win over the Free Democrats and skeptics in her own party, even if she wanted to. France and Germany may agree to establish some form of budget and an oversight position for the eurozone with the title of finance minister, but neither will have the scope the French, not to mention many economists, had been hoping for.

4. Berlin will play hardball with Europe on refugees German patience over Europe’s lack of solidarity on the refugee front was already wearing thin. After Sunday’s result, look for outright confrontation with countries like Poland and Hungary. In the view of many Christian Democrats, the AfD would have never gotten this far if other European countries had taken in their fair share of refugees instead of letting Germany bear the burden. It’s payback time.

5. This isn’t Weimar For all the breathless historical comparisons, it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering Germany is a stable democracy. The vast majority of Germans didn’t vote for the AfD and most of those who did, did so in protest. The coming years won’t be pretty, but Germany’s democratic foundations are robust enough to withstand the populist onslaught.

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Not could, will. Already has.

German Vote Could Doom Merkel-Macron Deal On Europe (R.)

Weakened by the worst result for her party since 1949 and facing a more fractious political landscape at home, Germany’s Angela Merkel could be forced to rein in plans to re-shape Europe together with France’s Emmanuel Macron. Merkel’s conservatives garnered more support than any other party in the German election on Sunday, projections showed, ensuring that she will return for a fourth term as chancellor. But her party appeared on track for its poorest performance since the first German election after World War Two and its only path to power may be through an unwieldy, untested three-way coalition with the ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), fierce critics of Macron’s ideas for Europe.

Over the next four years, Merkel will also have to cope with a more confrontational opposition force in the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a eurosceptic, anti-immigration party that rode a wave of public anger after her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015.[..] This will be a new world for Merkel, who has grown accustomed to cozy coalitions and toothless Bundestag opposition during her 12 years in power. “In my mind, reform of the euro zone is the single most important foreign policy issue that the new government has in front of it,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, who runs the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. But he predicted a so-called “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the FDP and the Greens – whose combined party colors of black, yellow and green are like those the Jamaican national flag – would struggle to deliver.

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Party in the streets of Athens.

German FinMin Wolfgang Schaeuble May Soon Be Losing His Job (CNBC)

In the aftermath of the German election, there could be one important casualty for markets. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Finance minister, could soon lose his influence on Germany and the euro zone if coalition talks remove him from his key ministry. Schaeuble became the face of austerity and had a determinant role in bailout programs across the euro zone, namely Greece, and is often described as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s co-chancellor, given his importance to the German government. However, given the tough political horse-trading that lies ahead, Merkel might not manage to keep her close ally. “Coalition building will be extremely difficult,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING, told CNBC Monday via email.

“If Schauble would really no longer be Finance minister it would be a watershed for the entire euro zone. An exit of one of the main characters of the entire euro zone crisis clearly marks the end of a historical chapter,” he said. Merkel’s center-right CDU and its Bavarian sister-party the CSU won 33% of the vote, provisional votes showed, down from 41.5% in the previous election. The pro-business FDP party, which placed fourth with 10.7% of the votes, has said it is open for coalition talks with Merkel’s CDU. The Greens are set to join coalition talks too, which could ultimately form Germany’s first four-party government in decades. In German politics, it’s usually the case that the largest party chooses the chancellor, and the second largest group picks the next post.

As such, the FDP could opt for the Finance Ministry and put an end to Schaeuble’s eight-year reign. The future for Schaeuble is “the question” from a market perspective, Carsten Nickel, managing director at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC Monday. “In the end, I think there is probably very little alternative to Schaeuble, right now, at least in terms of individual politicians. There’s nobody who really comes to mind as the key person who would challenge him for that role. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays on in the end,” he said. f Germany were to lose Schaeuble as Finance minister, the current momentum for further euro zone integration could also be damaged.

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The firesale continues unabated. Prices were cut in half over the last decade, even in the high end. Greeks won’t own anything in their own country anymore.

Luxury Properties On Greek Islands Attract Ever More Foreign Buyers (K.)

The rise of tourism and the popularity of certain destinations such as Myconos and Santorini have sent demand for and purchases of luxury holidays homes soaring. The first half of the year saw a 63.5% annual increase in the inflow of capital for property buys in Greece, following a 45.3% rise in the entire 2016 year-on-year to reach 270 million euros. Another factor boosting investments in holiday homes grow is the considerable decline in prices – averaging at 50% – compared to the period before the financial crisis, around 2008. The drop mainly took place from 2009 to 2013, as this section of the property market has become stable since then with some growth signs mainly regarding properties that have unique features and are regarded as emblematic.

Several foreigner buyers are scrambling to complete their acquisitions within the year, sensing that the window of opportunity may shut in the coming months, as there already are cases of owners who are raising their asking prices in view of the spike in demand. Franceska Kalamara, the head of the Franceska Properties estate agency that is active in the Myconos market, tells Kathimerini that “the buyers from abroad are interested in sizable and luxurious properties, from 400 square meters upward, and at very favorable locations, as close to the sea as possible. These are mostly individuals from Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, but also from the US, while there has recently been particular activity by Cypriot buyers.”

Among the recent well-known buyers of luxurious homes on Greek islands are Israeli entrepreneur Teddy Sagi (owner of Camden Market in London) who bought a series of properties on Myconos, according to estate agency sources, and Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, buyer of two villas on the same island costing a total of some 11 million euros. It should be noted that the actual volume of the funds invested in the Greek holiday home market is far greater than reported by the Bank of Greece, as the majority of sellers ask buyers to deposit the money in bank accounts abroad. This trend has grown considerably since the imposition of capital controls two years ago.

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But we like the story! Don’t take our modern mythology away.

There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever (Smithsonian)

According to popular legend, the tulip craze took hold of all levels of Dutch society in the 1630s. “The rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade,” wrote Scottish journalist Charles Mackay in his popular 1841 work Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. According to this narrative, everyone from the wealthiest merchants to the poorest chimney sweeps jumped into the tulip fray, buying bulbs at high prices and selling them for even more. Companies formed just to deal with the tulip trade, which reached a fever pitch in late 1636. But by February 1637, the bottom fell out of the market.

More and more people defaulted on their agreement to buy the tulips at the prices they’d promised, and the traders who had already made their payments were left in debt or bankrupted. At least that’s what has always been claimed. In fact, “There weren’t that many people involved and the economic repercussions were pretty minor,” Goldgar says. “I couldn’t find anybody that went bankrupt. If there had been really a wholesale destruction of the economy as the myth suggests, that would’ve been a much harder thing to face.” That’s not to say that everything about the story is wrong; merchants really did engage in a frantic tulip trade, and they paid incredibly high prices for some bulbs. And when a number of buyers announced they couldn’t pay the high price previously agreed upon, the market did fall apart and cause a small crisis—but only because it undermined social expectations.

“In this case it was very difficult to deal with the fact that almost all of your relationships are based on trust, and people said, ‘I don’t care that I said I’m going to buy this thing, I don’t want it anymore and I’m not going to pay for it.’ There was really no mechanism to make people pay because the courts were unwilling to get involved,” Goldgar says. But the trade didn’t affect all levels of society, and it didn’t cause the collapse of industry in Amsterdam and elsewhere. As Garber, the economist, writes, “While the lack of data precludes a solid conclusion, the results of the study indicate that the bulb speculation was not obvious madness.” [..] All the outlandish stories of economic ruin, of an innocent sailor thrown in prison for eating a tulip bulb, of chimney sweeps wading into the market in hopes of striking it rich—those come from propaganda pamphlets published by Dutch Calvinists worried that the tulip-propelled consumerism boom would lead to societal decay.

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Sep 242017
 
 September 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Elliott Erwitt Gateway Center Demolition Area Pittsburgh 1950

 

All The Bubbles That Are About To Pop In One Chart (Dillian)
America’s $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context (HowMuch)
Accounting Error Spells Chaos For Global Economy (Graeber)
The American Golden Calf (PL)
Boobs on Credit (Jim Quinn)
Bernanke Past the Point of No Return (AM)
Janet Yellen’s 78-Month Plan for US National Monetary Policy (AM)
A Private Solution For China’s Zombie Company Problem? Unlikely (R.)
More Chinese Cities Impose Property Control Measures (R.)
The Tide Is Starting To Turn Against The World’s Digital Giants (G.)
Why Uber’s Fate Could Herald Backlash Against ‘Digital Disruptors’ (G.)
France’s Far-Left Leader Urges French ‘Resistance’ Against Macron (R.)
Spain Rebuffed in Boosting Control Over Catalonia’s Police (BBG)
No Storm Ever Destroyed a Grid Like Maria Ruined Puerto Rico’s (BBG)

 

 

It’s big graphs day today. This is Jared Dillian’s.

All The Bubbles That Are About To Pop In One Chart (Dillian)

It wasn’t always this way. We never used to get a giant, speculative bubble every seven to eight years. We really didn’t. In 2000, we had the dot-com bubble. In 2007, we had the housing bubble. In 2017, we have the everything bubble. I did not coin the term “the everything bubble.” I do not know who did. Apologies (and much respect) to the person I stole it from. Why do we call it the everything bubble? Well, there is a bubble in a bunch of asset classes simultaneously. And the infographic below that my colleagues at Mauldin Economics created paints the picture best. I don’t usually predict downturns, but this time I bet my reputation that a downturn is coming. And soon.

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Private debt would be more useful. But okay…

America’s $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context (HowMuch)

The U.S. federal government just passed a record $20 trillion in publicly held debt. That’s bigger than the entire economy of every country in the European Union, combined. The debt will only grow higher unless President Trump and the U.S. Congress can agree to unprecedented spending cuts combined with tax increases. Don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Most people think that an eye-popping $20+ trillion debt is insurmountable, and in fact, it is the largest in the world by far. But when you look at another fiscal measure—the ratio of debt-to-GDP—the U.S. is not in the worst situation. Our visualization allows you to quickly see how the U.S. government’s debt compares to other countries around the world. The size of the country correlates to the size of the debt. The U.S. and Japan stand out because they have the highest debts in the world ($20.17T and $11.59T, respectively).

Other countries, like Germany and Brazil, appear much smaller because their debts are comparatively tiny ($2.45T and $1.45T, respectively). We then color-coded each country according to its debt-to-GDP ratio. Green countries have a healthy margin, but dark red and fuchsia countries have debts that are even bigger than their entire economies. The debt-to-GDP ratio is a critical metric for evaluating a country’s fiscal health. It makes a lot of sense for the American government to have a higher debt than a much smaller country, like Germany. That’s why it’s important to consider the GDP of each country, a number which represents the sum of all transactions occurring in the economy. Once you understand the public debt as a percentage of GDP, you get a level playing field for countries on different economic scales. When you think about it like this, the U.S. isn’t even among the ten worst sovereign debts in the world.

Top 10 countries with the Worst Debt-to-GDP Ratios
1. Japan (245% at $11.59B)
2. Greece (173% at $338B)
3. Italy (138% at $138B)
4. Portugal (133% at $274B)
5. Belgium (111% at $111B)
6. Spain (106% at $106B)
7. Canada (106% at $106B)
8. Ireland (105% at $105B)
9. France (98% at $98B)
10. Brazil (82% at $82B)

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Dave Graeber suggests (strongly) that official UK numbers miss -intentionally or not- a huge chunk of household debt. Government debt could be involved, but even then.

Accounting Error Spells Chaos For Global Economy (Graeber)

The thing that always struck me is how much the morality of debt—that anyone in debt has only themselves to blame, that deadbeats are contemptible—stubbornly refuses to die. Even now, when the situation is largely engineered by government policy, the first impulse of pundits and other popular moralists is invariably to assume the real problem must, somehow, be a bunch of lazy freeloaders, living beyond their means. As a result, by the standards of public discourse that exist today—that is, the sort of things it’s considered acceptable coming from the mouth of a politician or TV commentator or government economist—it’s not really legitimate to worry about rising levels of household debt simply because it causes misery or deprivation, if it means millions of actual flesh and blood human beings will be living lives of fear, anxiety, and constant humiliation.


Illustration Rachel Bolton

It’s only really legitimate to worry about rising levels of household debt insofar as it might be likely to cause another financial crisis. (Such a crisis, after all, might well affect the lives of the rich and upper reaches of the professional and managerial classes, that is, the kind of lives that policy-makers feel they have to take account of.) And even then, it must be posed as a moral problem caused by irresponsible self-indulgence—as one Daily Mail headline recently put it: “Your neighbour’s shiny new SUV is about to crash the economy!” Yet the two impulses are clearly in tension. To look at debt in macro-economic terms does make it easier to see it as a structural problem, as the result of self-conscious policy decisions. As a result, everyone seems to want to minimise the problem. Here are the numbers that they published in 2017, which a friend of mine who works in the City translated into handy tabular form:

The attentive reader will note that the image is symmetrical. Up to around 2014, at least, the top and bottom half exactly mirror one another. This is exactly as things should be: it’s an “accounting identity”, as in a ledger sheet, debits and credits have to add up. The remarkable thing is that after 2014, they don’t, and in the projected future, the top and bottom are actually quite different. When I first saw this diagram I was startled and confused. Was I missing something? Was there something about the math I didn’t understand? I passed the image on to two different economists and asked just that: isn’t there something wrong with the numbers here?

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A version of the ugly duckling. Behind Trump’s words on athletes and the anthem. Many people like the athletes, but some 75% of Americans think they should respect the flag. Trump thought this through.

The American Golden Calf (PL)

As a young boy, I enjoyed my family’s bantam chickens that laid very small eggs and hatched very small chicks. Theirs was a small and miniature world. One day one of my bantams started sitting on eggs to hatch its chicks. Something happened to her eggs but she continued to sit, so I decided to put a duck egg under her. Duck eggs are at least three times bigger than bantam eggs and take a few days longer to hatch, but she dutifully sat on the egg several days longer. She hatched the duckling and, as you can imagine, it thought that his world was normal and that the bantam hen was his mother. The duckling eventually grew into a full sized mallard duck, probably five or six times the size of its bantam mother. The full-grown duck would follow its hen mother around as would normal chicks. It was a funny sight to watch.

But I remember thinking, even as a small boy, that the duck’s entire reality was that the bantam hen was his mother and that was the way the world worked. He had no need to consider anything else. This is the world of the American people today. Their perceptions of reality control them and they who control their perceptions control the American people. Our perception of America has always been that she is the mother country and ordained by God, good and just and a beacon of freedom. This is hammered into our psyches from our early days. From pre-school up, we are taught to worship the state. I don’t know if it is still done, but in the public (non)education system, for many years, schoolchildren across the South — and elsewhere, I suppose — recited the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.

Political rallies and government meetings are still often begun with a recitation of the pledge. People say it with patriotic fervor, with their hands placed dutifully on their hearts. Sporting events, political rallies and other public venues are often kicked off with the playing and/or singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Before the song begins, people are instructed to rise, men to remove their hats,and people place their hands over their hearts. They don’t realize its value as a propaganda tool. We have come to equate the flag, the pledge and the national anthem with patriotism, and patriotism with government, country and support for government, support for foreign wars and veterans. Anything less is “un-American.”

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“What happens when a bimbo defaults on her boob loan? How narrow minded of me.”

Boobs on Credit (Jim Quinn)

As I was driving to work yesterday morning on the Schuylkill Expressway a commercial comes on the radio from a plastic surgeon advertising for anyone looking for a better set of boobs. I had never heard a plastic surgeon commercial before, so I thought that was unusual. But, that wasn’t the best part. This plastic surgeon was offering no money down 18 month interest free financing on your new boobs. I wonder if they are moving boobs with subprime debt the same way the auto companies have used subprime debt to move cars. Of course, when a deadbeat defaults on an auto loan the car is easily repossessed. What happens when a bimbo defaults on her boob loan? How narrow minded of me. What happens when some dude who wants to be a bimbo defaults on his/her loan? I guess it was just a matter of time before breast enhancement met debt enhancement in this warped world of materialism, narcissism, financialization, and delusions.

Now that revolving credit has reached a new all-time high of $1 trillion and total consumer debt outstanding has exceeded it’s 2008 peak at $12.8 trillion, the Fed has completed its job of helping the average American again in-debt themselves up to their eyeballs. This is considered a success story in this twisted, perverted, bizarro world we call America today. The solution to an epic debt induced global financial catastrophe caused by Federal Reserve easy money, Wall Street fraud, and Washington DC corruption has been to increase global debt by 50% since 2007, with virtually all of it created by central bankers and the governments they control. In what demented Ivy League educated academic mind would piling $68 trillion more debt on the backs of taxpayers as a cure for a disease caused by the initial $149 trillion of debt be considered rational and sustainable? It’s like having pancreatic cancer and trying to cure it with a self inflicted gunshot.

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The following two pieces are fom the same article.

Bernanke Past the Point of No Return (AM)

In late November 2008, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke put in place a fait accompli. But he didn’t recognize it at the time. For he was blinded by his myopic prejudices. Bernanke, a self-fancied Great Depression history buff with the highest academic credentials, gazed back 80 years, observed several credit market parallels, and then made a preconceived diagnosis. After that, he picked up his copy of A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, turned to the chapter on the Great Depression, and got to work expanding the Fed’s balance sheet. Now here is something all those “Great Depression experts” always neglect to mention: the Fed’s holdings of government securities expanded my more than 400% between late 1929 and early 1933.

Friedman’s often repeated assertion that the Fed “didn’t pump enough” in the early 1930s – which is held up as the gospel truth by nearly everyone – is simply untrue. It is true that the money supply collapsed anyway – but not because the Fed didn’t try to pump it up. Many contingent circumstances mitigated against money supply expansion: too many banks went bankrupt, taking all their uncovered deposit money to money heaven, as there was no FDIC insurance; only 50% of all banks were even members of the Federal Reserve system; no-one wanted to borrow or lend in view of the massive economic contraction and the Hoover administration’s ill-conceived interventionism. We can also tentatively conclude that the economy’s pool of real funding was under great pressure, which was exacerbated as a result of the trade war triggered by the protectionist Smoot-Hawley tariff enacted in June 1930.

The collapse in international trade and investment meant that the pool of savings of the rest of the globe was no longer accessible. Bernanke’s dirty deed commenced with the purchase of $600 billion in mortgage-backed securities, using digital monetary credits conjured up from thin air. By March 2009, he’d run up the Fed’s balance sheet from $900 billion to $1.75 trillion. Then, over the next five years, he ballooned it out to $4.5 trillion. All the while, Bernanke flattered his ego with platitudes that he was preventing Great Depression II. Did it ever occur to him he was merely postponing a much-needed financial liquidation and rebalancing? Did he comprehend that his actions were distorting the economy further and setting it up for an even greater bust?

Perhaps Bernanke understood exactly what he was doing. As many readers have insisted over the years, the Fed works for the big banks and big money interests. Not Main Street. Regardless, the Fed recognizes that the optics of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet have become a bit skewed. The Great Recession officially ended over eight years ago. Why is the Fed’s balance sheet still extremely bloated?


US broad true money supply TMS-2 and assets held by the Federal Reserve

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A 6.5 year plan.

Janet Yellen’s 78-Month Plan for US National Monetary Policy (AM)

By our back of the napkin calculation, starting with October’s initial $10 billion reduction, then incrementally increasing the reduction by $10 billion each quarter until hitting $50 billion per month, and then contracting by $50 billion a month from there, it will take 78-months for the Fed to get its balance sheet back to $900 billion (i.e., where it was before Bernanke’s act of depravity). Thus, in roughly six and a half years, or in March 2024, monetary policy will be back to normal. If you recall, the Soviets operated under five-year plans for the development of the national economy of the USSR. Now, Yellen, an ardent central planner and control freak, has charted the Fed’s 78-month plan for the national monetary policy of the United States. Have you ever heard of something so ridiculous?

However, while the Soviets were zealous believers in their plans, we suspect the Fed will be as committed to the cause as a fat person to a New Year’s Day diet. In truth, the Fed will never, ever reduce its balance sheet to $900 billion. They won’t even get close; they are well past the point of no return. In the early 1930s the Soviet planners under Stalin had a great idea: why not fulfill the 5 year plan in four years? This showed that nothing was impossible for the “new Soviet man” and two plus two was henceforth five. As Marxists will explain, this is in perfect keeping with the rules of polylogism. Even the laws of mathematics must bend to proletarian logic. For starters, financial markets will not allow the Fed to execute its 78-month tightening program according to plan. At some point, credit markets will have a severe reaction.

This would ripple through stock markets and nearly all assets that are propped up by cheap credit. What’s more, if this doesn’t panic the Fed from its master 78-month monetary policy plan, the economy will. No doubt, at some point within the next 78-months the U.S. economy will shrink. What will the Fed do then? Will they continue to tighten in the face of a contracting economy? No way. They will ease, and then they will ease some more. They won’t stop until it is near impossible for an honest person to work hard, save their money, and pay their way in life. Many fine fellows were already pickled over by the Fed in the last easing cycle and lost their way. More are bound to follow.


Guess who’s lying in wait… it will be found out that a creature long held to be extinct was merely hibernating in its cave, sharpening its claws.

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China’s just shifting debt around, hoping it’ll end up under a carpet some place. But the zombies merely start infecting healthy businesses.

A Private Solution For China’s Zombie Company Problem? Unlikely (R.)

China’s latest push to revive its bloated state-owned sector is set to pick up pace this year, with bankers and investors expecting possible spin-offs and asset sales to follow a key Communist Party Congress in October. But the effort is likely to only involve a limited role for private money, even as Beijing has been promoting it as crucial for reforming state-owned enterprises (SOEs), according to people familiar with China’s plans. Beijing would likely lean on cash-rich SOEs like China Life Insurance and Citic Group to bail out the largest of the struggling companies, the people said. They cited China Life stepping in to help China Unicom raise $12 billion last month. A limited role for private capital would raise questions about the depth of any overhaul of the SOEs.

China hopes to speed up the reforms in order to meet ambitious economic growth targets and manage its corporate debt burden. “The current model allows winners, companies doing better, to partially own those doing worse,” said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis. “In other words, this is a reshuffling of profit, loss among SOEs to a large extent.” China Life is in talks with China Three Gorges New Energy, a unit of the country’s top hydropower developer, according to sources familiar with the matter. China’s state-run companies dominate the country’s key industries, from banking to insurance, energy, and telecoms. They retain an edge over their private rivals in investing both locally and overseas, in part thanks to easier financing.

But they also produce lower returns than their private counterparts and account for the biggest proportion of the bad loans on the books of the country’s banks. The fund raising by Unicom, a state-owned telecoms group, had sparked hopes for the mixed ownership effort, as outlined in a 2015 government plan. The partial privatization of Unicom in August, involving 14 investors, including the tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, was welcomed by markets. But, as Beijing balanced the need for cash with the need for control, China Life ended up with a 10.6 percent stake in the company, nearly a third of the total sold. New investors, including China Life, were given three of 15 board seats.

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Feels half ass.

More Chinese Cities Impose Property Control Measures (R.)

A number of second-tier cities in China have rolled out property speculation curbs in an effort to cool home property sales, according to the official Xinhua News Agency and documents published by some municipal governments. The city of Shijiazhuang, southwest of Beijing, has banned investors from selling newly bought homes for up to five years, while Changsha in Hunan province banned homeowners from buying a second property for up to three years from the time of their first home purchase, Xinhua said. Changsha has also limited property sales to non local residents to one unit per person. The city of Chongqing, as well as Nancang in the southern province of Jiangxi, meanwhile, banned transactions of new and second-hand homes for two years after purchase.

The various measures took effect last week. Additionally, Xian in Shaanxi province has asked real estate developers from Monday to report home prices to local price-monitoring departments before sale and reiterated its pledge to crack down on property price manipulation and speculation. The latest property clampdowns follow moves in June by two Chinese cities, Xian in Shaanxi and Zhenzhou in Henan province, to cool their property markets. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 0.2 percent in August from a month ago, data from the statistics bureau showed.

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I’m not convinced. Besides, Google and Facebook already are branches of the intelligence industry.

The Tide Is Starting To Turn Against The World’s Digital Giants (G.)

In his wonderful book The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began, the literary historian Stephen Greenblatt traces the origins of the Renaissance back to the rediscovery of a 2,000-year-old poem by Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). The book is a riveting explanation of how a huge cultural shift can ultimately spring from faint stirrings in the undergrowth. Professor Greenblatt is probably not interested in the giant corporations that now dominate our world, but I am, and in the spirit of The Swerve I’ve been looking for signs that big changes might be on the way. You don’t have to dig very deep to find them. Some are pretty obvious. In 2014, for example, the European Court of Justice decided that EU citizens had the so-called “right to be forgotten” and that Google would have to comply if it wanted to continue to do business in Europe.

In May this year, the European commission fined Facebook €110m for “providing misleading information” about its takeover of WhatsApp. And in June the commission levied a whopping €2.4bn fine on Google for abusing its monopoly in search. Since the European commission is the only regulator in the world that seems to have the muscle and inclination to take on the internet giants, these developments were relatively predictable. What’s more interesting are various straws in the wind that show how digital behemoths are losing their shine. Many of these relate to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and to the dawning of a realisation that Google and Facebook in particular may have played some role in these political earthquakes.

This was not because the leadership of the two companies actively sought these outcomes, but because people began to realise that the infrastructure they had built for their core business of extracting users’ data and selling it to companies for ad-targeting purposes could be – and was – “weaponised” by political actors in order to achieve political goals. Public concern about these discoveries was not exactly mollified by the responses of the companies’ bosses – which were variously dismissive, evasive (“it’s just the algorithms – nothing to do with us”), disingenuous, inept and politically naive. They had to be like that, because a franker response would reveal that taking responsibility for what happens on their platforms would vaporise the business model that has made them so rich and powerful.

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Why let Uber grow as big as it has and only then act?

Why Uber’s Fate Could Herald Backlash Against ‘Digital Disruptors’ (G.)

In the mind of many Uber supporters, the Transport for London (TfL) decision – coming a few days before Khan’s appearance at the Labour party conference – revealed an organisation in thrall to established labour interests. Sources told the Observer that the decision was communicated to Uber only two minutes before it was announced and that there had been only one meeting in the last year between the company and the senior team at TfL who insisted that the licence renewal could not be discussed. “TfL has once again caved into pressure from unions who never miss an opportunity to rip off passengers,” said Alex Wild, research director at the rightwing pressure group Taxpayers’ Alliance. The pushback against the laissez-faire philosophy of the US west coast’s tech community is being waged on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, calls to regulate technology companies have made strange bedfellows of Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren and ex-White House aide and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon. Last week the former chief strategist to Donald Trump reiterated his view that firms such as Facebook and Google should be regulated like “public utilities”. Meanwhile progressives such as Warren warn of the monopolistic behaviour of Google, Amazon, and Apple while pushing for a renewed debate over antitrust laws. “Silicon Valley is going from being heroes to villains,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a distinguished fellow and adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s been brewing for quite a while, but there’s a big shift happening.” But, still, the speed of this shift has surprised many. “In our wildest dreams we didn’t think TfL would refuse the licence,” said Maria Ludkin, legal director at the GMB union. “We thought they’d attach conditions to make sure Uber would improve passenger and driver safety.”

[..] Ironically, while many drivers like Abdul have leapt to Uber’s defence, it was the company’s treatment of them that drew attention to the aggressive corporate culture which brought about its downfall in the capital. Last October, following a case brought by the GMB that has wide-ranging implications for all companies in the gig economy, an employment tribunal ruled that Uber’s UK drivers should be classed as workers rather than as self-employed. “We’d had an epidemic of companies saying their people are self-employed when in fact, when you examine their rights and responsibilities, the way they’re acting each day, it’s pretty clear they’re either fully employed or are workers entitled to sickness pay, etc,” Ludkin said. “We brought the Uber case because we had so many drivers coming to us. We looked at their contracts and thought it was a ludicrous idea that 30,000 of them were self-employed, which was Uber’s position.”

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Let’s see what’s left of the famed French protests. Note: the US is not alone in contesting crowd sizes.

France’s Far-Left Leader Urges French ‘Resistance’ Against Macron (R.)

French far-left opposition party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon drew tens of thousands to a rally on Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms, aiming to reinforce his credentials as Macron’s strongest political opponent. Trade union protests against Macron’s plan to make hiring and firing easier and give companies more power over working conditions seem to be losing steam, but Melenchon said his “France Unbowed” party was calling on unions to join them and together “keep up the fight”. “The battle is not over, it is only starting,” Melenchon told the crowd gathered on the Place de la Republique where the rally against what Melenchon has called “a social coup d‘etat” ended.

In a warning to Macron, who has said he will not bow to street pressure, Melenchon said: “It is the street that defeated the kings, it is the street that defeated the Nazis,” while the crowd chanted “Resistance! Resistance!” It remains to be seen whether Melenchon and his party have the capacity to mobilize the kind of street resistance which forced the last two presidents to dilute their own attempts to loosen the labor code. Melenchon tweeted that over 150,000 demonstrators had turned up while police put the number at 30,000. A campaign rally in March, weeks before the presidential election, drew some 130,000 people, party officials had said.

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Pitting police forces against each other is a recipe for trouble. Peaceful resistance is teh way to go for Catalonia. But…

Spain Rebuffed in Boosting Control Over Catalonia’s Police (BBG)

Police in Spain’s rebel region of Catalonia rejected giving more control to the central government in defiance of authorities in Madrid who are trying to suppress an independence referendum on Oct. 1. The SAP union, the largest trade group for the 17,000-member Mossos d’Esquadra regional force, said it would resist hours after prosecutors Saturday ordered that it accept central-government coordination. The rejection echoed comments by Catalan separatist authorities. “We don’t accept this interference of the state, jumping over all existing coordination mechanisms,” the region’s Interior Department chief Joaquim Forn said in brief televised comments. “The Mossos won’t renounce exercising their functions in loyalty to the Catalan people.”

The disobedience may fuel speculation the Mossos aren’t committed to work with the national Civil Guard in Spain’s largest regional economy. The standoff came a day after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government acknowledged it’s sending more reinforcements to help control street demonstrations and carry out a separate court order to halt the vote. Officials in Madrid have quietly rented cruise ships including the Rhapsody and moored them in Catalan ports as temporary housing for riot police and other security officials being sent to the region in what El Correo newspaper said may ultimately exceed the number of Mossos by the referendum date.

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“100% of the system run by the Puerto Rico Power Authority is offline”. How long till people will start dying in hospitals?

No Storm Ever Destroyed a Grid Like Maria Ruined Puerto Rico’s (BBG)

You don’t even have to leave the airport to see that Hurricane Maria has laid waste to Puerto Rico’s power grid. On Friday, the San Juan airport was abandoned. No electricity meant no air conditioning, and no air conditioning meant hot and muggy air wafting through the terminals. Ceilings were leaking. Floors were wet. Only the military, relying on its own sight and radar systems, was landing planes. The airport is one of the first places crews will restore power – whenever they can get to it. Hundreds are still waiting for the all-clear to move in and start the arduous task of resurrecting Puerto Rico’s grid. The devastation that Maria exacted on Puerto Rico’s aging and grossly neglected electricity system when it slammed ashore as a Category 4 storm two days ago is unprecedented – not just for the island but for all of the U.S.

100% of the system run by the Puerto Rico Power Authority is offline, because Maria damaged every part of it. The territory is facing weeks, if not months, without service as utility workers repair power plants and lines that were already falling apart. “I have seen a lot damage in the 32 years that I have been in this business, and from this particular perspective, it’s about as large a scale damage as I have ever seen,” said Wendul G. Hagler II, a brigadier general in the National Guard, which is assisting in the response. No federal agency dared on Friday to estimate how long it’ll take to re-energize Puerto Rico. If it’s any indication of how far they’ve gotten, the island’s power authority known as Prepa is only now starting to assess the damage.

“We are only a couple of days in from the storm – there could be lots of issues and confusion at the beginning of something like this,” said Kenneth Buell, a director at the U.S. Energy Department who is helping lead the federal response in Puerto Rico. “We are in the phase where we have people queued up and lining up resources.” What Buell does know is Puerto Rico’s power plants seem inexplicably clustered along the island’s south coast, a hard-to-reach region that was left completely exposed to all of Maria’s wrath. A chain of high-voltage lines thrown across the island’s mountainous middle connect those plants to the cities in the north.

Puerto Rico’s rich hydropower resources have also taken a hit. On Friday, the National Weather Service pleaded for people to evacuate an area in the northwest corner of the island after a dam burst. “All areas surrounding the Guajataca River should evacuate NOW. Their lives are in DANGER!,” the service said on Twitter. And that’s not to mention the state of Puerto Rico’s grid before the storm. Government-owned Prepa, operating under court protection from creditors, has more than $8 billion in debt but little to show for it. Even before the storm, outages were common, and the median plant age is 44 years, more than twice the industry average.

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Sep 232017
 
 September 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí Mi esposa desnuda 1945

 

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)
The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)
Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)
Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)
The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)
China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)
Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)
UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)
The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)
Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)
Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)
It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)
The Killing of History (John Pilger)

 

 

“Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.”

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)

The U.S. Treasury has been up against its debt ceiling since March 15 when the ceiling was re-imposed. Since then, there has been no net new issuance from the Treasury. The Treasury has run down its cash balances and borrowed internally from its own resources, which are not subject to the ceiling. This period has been very helpful to the financial markets. With the federal government not selling any net new supply of securities—just rolling the maturing stuff over—the markets have been flush with cash that would otherwise have been absorbed by the government. This hit of extra liquidity is about to disappear and then some. President Trump has made a three-month debt ceiling deal with the Democrats which means that the Treasury can resume borrowing without restrictions through December.

This increase in the debt ceiling is needed to reliquify the federal government (which is down to $38 billion in cash) and repay the internal funds the Treasury raided since the debt ceiling was imposed back in March. The Treasury needs to borrow a substantial amount of money. There hasn’t been a material increase in the Treasury’s borrowing schedule yet, but it is coming. The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC), a group of senior Wall Street executives, has advised the Treasury to issue $501 billion in net new supply in the fourth quarter, virtually all in November and December, and the Treasury almost always follows the TBAC script. That’s an outrageous amount of money. The cash the Treasury needs is not sitting somewhere in primary dealer bank accounts; it’s invested in the financial markets. Securities will have to be sold to accommodate this new issuance.

This is not new. A borrowing spike happens every time we have an increase in the debt ceiling as the chart demonstrates. Note that this chart reflects an estimate of net new issuance needed to return to last year’s cash on hand and was produced before TBAC had issued its recommendations. TBAC is proposing to move more slowly. Nonetheless, past funding spikes are clearly demarcated and the next one is going to be big. While Treasury supply will increase, the trend of demand for Treasuries has been going the other way. Bid coverage at auctions has been declining in recent months and the largest banks have been reducing their inventories of Treasury securities. Falling demand in the face of increasing supply is a recipe for a bear market in bonds. Bond yields will rise and that will put pressure on stocks as well.

The Federal Reserve has given the market extraordinary support over the past eight years by financing most new Treasury supply. Even after it stopped outright QE in November of 2014, the Fed continued to buy $25–$45 billion per month in maturing Mortgage Backed Securities from the primary dealers. That cashed up the dealers and helped finance their purchases of new Treasuries. But now, the Fed intends to join the Treasury as a net seller of Treasuries (and MBS) as it starts to reduce its balance sheet this fall. Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.

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“These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.”

The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)

There’s a mystery hidden on the balance sheets of Corporate America: These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.This seems paradoxical and kind of silly. Why raise money from bond investors when you already have the liquid assets on hand? As Bloomberg News reported Thursday, non-financial companies’ liquid assets, which include foreign deposits, currency as well as money-market and mutual fund shares, reached a record of almost $2.3 trillion in the second quarter. That’s an increase of nearly 60% since mid-2009. This cash cushion also appears sort of comforting; companies can do whatever they want. They’re rich. But in reality, it is neither silly nor overly comforting.

First of all, a disproportionate amount of the cash is held by the biggest companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and General Electric, and it is mostly held in overseas accounts. These corporations can’t bring that cash back without incurring steep tax bills, so they’ve been keeping it offshore. When they need money, they simply raise dollars by borrowing from the bond market at record-low rates. Indeed, the amount of bonds issued by these companies has surged, rising 66% from mid-2009 to $5.24 trillion of bonds outstanding as of the end of June, Federal Reserve data show. That isn’t necessarily a recipe for default because a large chunk of this is an exercise in financial engineering aimed at avoiding onerous taxes. But it has consequences.

First, it limits the benefit to the economy if and when those tax policies are changed because much of the money has already been released through the bond market. And second, to the extent that companies have cash, they’re not using enough of it for exciting projects. There hasn’t been a tremendous wave of innovation or salary increases. Instead, companies have repurchased billions of dollars of their own shares, which is great for the stock market but doesn’t do a whole lot to bolster economic growth.

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A bit poorly written, but still: “For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.”

Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)

The borrowing and spending binge by Canadian households, businesses and governments (all levels) continues unabated. Growing the debt in the economy significantly faster than the economy itself grows seems to have developed into a way of life in Canada. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $7.51 trillion. At the end of June, 2016 it was $7.13 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $375 billion. This is an increase of 5.2%. The approximate beginning of the global financial crisis was June, 2007. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $3.99 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $3.52 trillion. This is an increase of 88.3%. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.32 trillion.

At the end of June, 2016 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.04 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $278 billion. This is an increase of 5.5%. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $2.84 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $2.47 trillion. This is an increase of 86.9%. At the end of June, 2017 the annual GDP at market prices in Canada was $2.12 trillion, and in the preceding 1 year it grew by 6.3%, – ie: the size of the economy grew by $133.9 billion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the GDP at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding increased by $2.80.

Looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors in Canada: In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $278 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the gdp at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $2.08. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was 3.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices, and looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors, that was 2.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices. [..] In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.

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Communities and societies don’t matter. Only money does.

Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)

My chart highlights how for DECADES the income required to buy a median priced house – using popular programs & rates for each era – remained mostly flat (red line) and WELL BELOW the level of household income (black line). How could house prices rise so much for decades but income required to buy (red) them remain flattish? Because of the accompanying falling rates/easing credit guideline cycle. In fact, during Bubble 1.0 house prices soared but exotic loans legitimately made them more affordable than ever, as shown.

But in ’12, as trillions in unorthodox capital, credit & liquidity began to drive massive speculation (just like Bubble 1.0) income required to buy began to surge, with prices, shooting above median HH income (boxed in yellow). Meaningful sales growth with this affordability backdrop is impossible. …This is the point in this inflationary cycle at which affordability detached from end-user fundamentals. Now, in ’17, end-user purchase power & house prices have never been more diverged from the multi-decade trend line and a mean reversion – via surging wages, new era exotic loans, plunging rates, and/or falling house prices, as speculation ebbs – is inevitable.

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Must read. Like Charles, I don’t see it either. There is nothing to replace the USD for the foreseeable future.

The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)

Every form of credit/debt is denominated in a currency. A Japanese bond is denominated in yen, for example. The bond is purchased with yen, the interest is paid in yen, and the coupon paid at maturity is in yen. What gets tricky is debt denominated in some other currency. Let’s say I take out a loan denominated in quatloos. The current exchange rates between USD and quatloos is 1 to 1: parity. So far so good. I convert 100 USD to 100 quatloos every month to make the principal and interest payment of 100 quatloos. Then some sort of kerfuffle occurs in the FX markets, and suddenly it takes 2 USD to buy 1 quatloo. Oops: my loan payments just doubled. Where it once only cost 100 USD to service my loan denominated in quatloos, now it takes $200 to make my payment in quatloos. Ouch. Notice the difference between payments, reserves and debt: payments/flows are transitory, reserves and debt are not.

What happens in flows is transitory: supply and demand for currencies in this moment fluctuate, but flows are so enormous–trillions of units of currency every day–that flows don’t affect the value or any currency much. FX markets typically move in increments of 1/100 of a percentage point. So flows don’t matter much. De-dollarization of flows is pretty much a non-issue. What matters is demand for currencies that is enduring: reserves and debt.The same 100 quatloos can be used hundreds of times daily in payment flows; buyers and sellers only need the quatloos for a few seconds to complete the conversion and payment. But those needing quatloos for reserves or to pay long-term debts need quatloos to hold. The 100 quatloos held in reserve essentially disappear from the available supply of quatloos.

Another source of confusion is trade flows. If the U.S. buys more stuff from China than China buys from the U.S., goods flow from China to the U.S. and U.S. dollars flow to China. As China’s trade surplus continues, the USD just keep piling up. What to do with all these billions of USD? One option is to buy U.S. Treasury bonds (debt denominated in dollars), as that is a vast, liquid market with plenty of demand and supply. Another is to buy some other USD-denominated assets, such as apartment buildings in Seattle. This is the source of the petro-dollar trade. All the oil/gas that’s imported into the U.S. is matched by a flow of USD to the oil-exporting nations, who then have to do something with the steadily increasing pile of USD.

The USD is still the dominant reserve currency, despite decades of diversification. Global reserves (allocated and unallocated) are over $12 trillion. Note that China’s RMB doesn’t even show up in allocated reserves–it’s a non-player because it’s pegged to the USD. Why hold RMB when the peg can be changed at will? It’s lower risk to just hold USD. While total global debt denominated in USD is about $50 trillion, the majority of this is domestic, i.e. within the U.S. economy. $11 trillion has been issued to non-banks outside the U.S., including developed and emerging market debt:

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Well, not entirely.

China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)

China has moved to limit North Korea’s oil supply and will stop buying textiles from the politically isolated nation, it said on Saturday. China is North Korea’s most important trading partner, and one of its only sources of hard currency. The ban on textiles trade will hurt Pyongyang’s income, while China’s oil exports are the country’s main source of petroleum products. The tougher stance follows North Korea’s latest nuclear test this month. The United Nations agreed fresh sanctions – including the textiles and petroleum restrictions – in response. A statement from China’s commerce ministry said restrictions on refined petroleum products would apply from 1 October, and on liquefied natural gas immediately.

A limited amount, allowed under the UN resolution, would still be exported to North Korea. The current volume of trade between the two countries – and how much the new limits reduce it by – is not yet clear. But the ban on textiles – Pyongyang’s second-biggest export – is expected to cost the country more than $700m a year. China and Russia had initially opposed a proposal from the United States to completely ban oil exports, but later agreed to the reduced measures. North Korea has little energy production of its own, but does refine some petroleum products from crude oil it imports – which is not included in the new ban. The AFP news agency reports that petrol prices in Pyongyang have risen by about 20% in the past two months.

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Spring cleaning: “Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years..”

Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)

Russia’s central bank has been forced to rescue two major lenders in less than a month, intensifying concerns among global investors that a systemic banking crisis could be in the offing. The Russian government’s latest rescue of a major bank was confirmed on Thursday, when the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) said it had nationalized the country’s 12th largest lender in terms of assets, B&N Bank. Last month, the CBR stepped in to launch one of the largest bank rescues in Russia’s history when Otkritie Bank required a bailout to help plug a $7 billion hole in its balance sheet. Russia’s central bank moved to dismiss intensifying concerns that a brewing systemic crisis could be forthcoming on Thursday, as it said its second major bank nationalization in three weeks had prevented a “domino effect” in the country’s ailing banking sector.

“We realized that it’s better to isolate a bit more so that the domino effect does not arise, and according to the results of this work the domino effect is excluded, there is no risk of this,” Vasily Pozdyshev, deputy governor at the CBR, told a press conference as reported by state media. B&N Bank requires an estimated capitalization of around $4.3 billion to $6 billion, according to Pozdyshev, an amount approximately equivalent to 25% of the lender’s balance sheet. The failure of two major lenders in relatively quick succession has fueled anxiety over the health of Russia’s banking sector, which has been hampered by an economic slowdown and Western sanctions in recent years.

In 2014, Russian regulators were jolted into action after a dramatic slump in oil prices as well as tough international sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and Russia’s perceived role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine. The CBR has been attempting to clean up the banking sector since 2013, shutting down scores of banks that it believed represented a risk to the system. Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years as it sought to eradicate undercapitalized institutions.

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Brexit becomes expensive.

UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)

The UK’s credit rating has been cut over concerns about the UK’s public finances and fears Brexit could damage the country’s economic growth. Moody’s, one of the major ratings agencies, downgraded the UK to an Aa2 rating from Aa1. It said leaving the European Union was creating economic uncertainty at a time when the UK’s debt reduction plans were already off course. Downing Street said the firm’s Brexit assessments were “outdated”. The other major agencies, Fitch and S&P, changed their ratings in 2016, with S&P cutting it two notches from AAA to AA, and Fitch lowering it from AA+ to AA.

Moody’s said the government had “yielded to pressure and raised spending in several areas” including health and social care. It says revenues were unlikely to compensate for the higher spending. The agency said because the government had not secured a majority in the snap election it “further obscures the future direction of economic policy”. It also said Brexit would dominate legislative priorities, so there could be limited capacity to address “substantial” challenges. It added “any free trade agreement will likely take years to negotiate, prolonging the current uncertainty for business”. Moody’s has also changed the UK’s long-term issuer and debt ratings to “stable” from “negative”.

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Uber was allowed to grow massively, elbowing any competition out of the way. It’s just dumb.

The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)

Transport for London has announced it will not renew ride-sharing app Uber’s licence, because it had identified a “lack of corporate responsibility” in the company. The statement highlighted four major areas of concern: the company’s approach to reporting criminal offences, the obtaining of medical certificates, its compliance with Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on employees, and its use of controversial Greyball software to “block regulatory… access to the app”. The company has recently been dogged by a number of corporate scandals in the UK and its international operations, which ultimately led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick in June. Uber has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual assault by its drivers against passengers.

Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun last year showed that the Metropolitan Police investigated 32 drivers for rape or sexual assault of a passenger between May 2015 and May 2016. In August, Metropolitan Police Inspector Neil Billany wrote to TfL about his concern that the company was failing to properly investigate allegations against its drivers. He revealed the company had continued to employ a driver after he was accused of sexual assault. According to Inspector Billany, the same driver went on to assault another female passenger before he was removed. The letter said: “By not reporting to police promptly, Uber are allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.”

The statement by London’s transport body also expresses concern about “its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London”. In March it emerged that Uber had been secretly using a tool called Greyball to deceive law enforcement officials in a number of US cities where the company flouted state regulations. Greyball used personal data of individuals it believed were connected to local government and ensured that its drivers would not pick them up if they requested a ride on the app. It was used in Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Boston, and Las Vegas, as well as France, Australia, China, South Korea and Italy. Uber denies ever using the software in the UK.

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Politicians are too scared to call for regulation of things they don’t understand.

Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)

Uber isn’t the only sharing economy app that has become part of daily life in the capital. Since 2008, over four million people have stayed in an Airbnb in London. The company, which links guests up with empty rooms or homes in the capital, recently came under fire in the US for not properly screening a host who attempted to sexually assault a woman (a spokesman for Airbnb later told The Independent that a background check had been done on the host and that there had been no prior convictions). The legal ruling over Uber could now bring the responsibilities of other companies such as Airbnb into the limelight. The rapid proliferation of these types of “gig economy” companies over the past few years has meant that many of them have forgotten their basic responsibilities toward their customers.

As The Independent’s Josie Cox has written, they forgot that the sharing economy business model was based on trust – we had to have confidence that the strangers we were sharing cars with were safe, and they couldn’t provide that. For too long, Uber tried to evade its role as anything more than a provider of tech. But we were never just sharing software; we were sharing our lives. Uber tried to get away with pretending it was a neutral software platform for far too long – all it did was link people together, and its responsibilities went as far as fixing glitches. But it was always a private taxi hire firm. It was a company with employees, who it should have been paying properly from that start, and customers, who it should have been protecting.

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“We’re only two days past the Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico and there is no phone communication across the island, so we barely know what has happened. We’re weeks past Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and news of the consequences from those two events has strangely fallen out of the news media. Where have the people gone who lost everything? The news blackout is as complete and strange as the darkness that has descended on Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)

Ricardo Ramos, the director of the beleaguered, government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN Thursday that the island’s power infrastructure had been basically “destroyed” and will take months to come back “Basically destroyed.” That’s about as basic as it gets civilization-wise. Residents, Mr. Ramos said, would need to change the way they cook and cool off. For entertainment, old-school would be the best approach, he said. “It’s a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children.” Meaning, I guess, no more playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on-screen because you’ll be living it — though one wonders where will the money come from to buy the ball and glove? Few Puerto Ricans will be going to work with the power off.

And the island’s public finances were in disarray sufficient to drive it into federal court last May to set in motion a legal receivership that amounted to bankruptcy in all but name. The commonwealth, a US territory, was in default for $74 billion in bonded debt, plus another $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations. So, Puerto Rico already faced a crisis pre-Hurricane Maria, with its dodgy electric grid and crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water and sewage systems. Bankruptcy put it in a poor position to issue new bonds for public works which are generally paid for with public borrowing. Who, exactly, would buy the new bonds? I hear readers whispering, “the Federal Reserve.” Which is a pretty good clue to understanding the circle-jerk that American finance has become.

Some sort of bailout is unavoidable, though President Trump tweeted “No Bailout for Puerto Rico” after the May bankruptcy proceeding. Things have changed and the shelf-life of Trumpian tweets is famously brief. But the crisis may actually strain the ability of the federal government to pretend it can cover the cost of every calamity that strikes the nation — at least not without casting doubt on the soundness of the dollar. And not a few bonafide states are also whirling around the bankruptcy drain: Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky. Constitutionally states are not permitted to declare bankruptcy, though counties and municipalities can. Congress would have to change the law to allow it. But states can default on their bonds and other obligations. Surely there would be some kind of fiscal and political hell to pay if they go that route.

Nobody really knows what might happen in a state as big and complex as Illinois, which has been paying its way for decades by borrowing from the future. Suddenly, the future is here and nobody has a plan for it. The case for the federal government is not so different. It, too, only manages to pay its bondholders via bookkeeping hocuspocus, and its colossal unfunded obligations for social security and Medicare make Illinois’ predicament look like a skipped car payment. In the meantime — and it looks like it’s going to be a long meantime – Puerto Rico is back in the 18th Century, minus the practical skills and simpler furnishings for living that way of life, and with a population many times beyond the carrying capacity of the island in that era.

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Still 8 days to go. How can this remian peaceful? Will Rajoy try to provoke violence (if he isn’t already) and blame it on the Catalans?

It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)

Madrid’s crackdown on Catalonia is already having one major consequence, presumably unintended: many Catalans who were until recently staunchly opposed to the idea of national independence are now reconsidering their options. A case in point: At last night’s demonstration, spread across multiple locations in Barcelona, were two friends of mine, one who is fanatically apolitical and the other who is a strong Catalan nationalist but who believes that independence would be a political and financial disaster for the region. It was their first ever political demonstration. If there is a vote on Oct-1, they will probably vote to secede. The middle ground they and hundreds of thousands of others once occupied was obliterated yesterday when a judge in Barcelona ordered Spain’s militarized police force, the Civil Guard, to round up over a dozen Catalan officials in dawn raids.

Many of them now face crushing daily fines of up to €12,000. The Civil Guard also staged raids on key administrative buildings in Barcelona. The sight of balaclava-clad officers of the Civil Guard, one of the most potent symbols of the not-yet forgotten Franco dictatorship, crossing the threshold of the seats of Catalonia’s (very limited) power and arresting local officials, was too much for the local population to bear. Within minutes almost all of the buildings were surrounded by crowds of flag-draped pro-independence protesters. The focal point of the day’s demonstrations was the Economic Council of Catalonia, whose second-in-command and technical coordinator of the referendum, Josep Maria Jové, was among those detained. He has now been charged with sedition and could face between 10-15 years in prison. Before that, he faces fines of €12,000 a day.

[..] yesterday’s police operation significantly — perhaps even irreversibly — weakens Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum on October 1, as even the region’s vice-president Oriol Junqueras concedes. But that doesn’t mean Spain has won. As the editor of El Diario, Ignacio Escolar, presciently notes, yesterday’s raids may have been a resounding success for law enforcement, but they were an unmitigated political disaster that has merely intensified the divisions between Spain and Catalonia and between Catalans themselves. Each time Prime Minister Rajoy or one of his ministers speak of the importance of defending democracy while the Civil Guard seizes posters and banners related to the October 1 vote and judges rule public debates on the Catalan question illegal and then fine their participants, a fresh clutch of Catalan separatists is born.

In the days to come they will be swarming the streets, waving their flags, clutching their red carnations and singing their songs. For the moment, the mood is still one of hopeful, resolute indignation. But the mood of masses is prone to change quickly, and it’s not going to take much to ignite the anger.

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Pilger was a Vietnam correspondent. He knows what he’s talking about.

The Killing of History (John Pilger)

One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”. In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam. Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”.

Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives. I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”. The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.

There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans – it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences. In the series’ press release in Britain – the BBC will show it – there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern. All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”. In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.

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Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Adolphe Yvon Genius of America c1870

 

A number of people have argued over the past few days that Hurricane Harvey will NOT boost the US housing market. As if any such argument would or should be required. Hurricane Irma will not provide any such boost either. News about the ‘resurrection’ of New Orleans post-Katrina has pretty much dried up, but we know scores of people there never returned, in most cases because they couldn’t afford to.

And Katrina took place 12 years ago, well before the financial crisis. How do you think this will play out today? Houston is a rich city, but that doesn’t mean it’s full of rich people only. Most homeowners in the city and its surroundings have no flood insurance; they can’t afford it. But they still lost everything. So how will they rebuild?

Sure, the US has a National Flood Insurance Program, but who’s covered by it? Besides, the Program was already $24 billion in debt by 2014 largely due to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. With total costs of Harvey estimated at $200 billion or more, and Irma threating to cause far more damage than that, where’s the money going to come from?

It took an actual fight just to push the first few billion dollars in emergency aid for Houston through Congress, with four Texan representatives voting against of all people. Who then will vote for half a trillion or so in aid? And even if they do, where would it come from?

 

 

Trump’s plans for an infrastructure fund were never going to be an easy sell in Washington, and every single penny he might have gotten for it would now have to go towards repairing existing roads and bridges, not updating them -necessary as that may be-, let alone new construction.

Towns, cities, states, they’re all maxed out as things are, with hugely underfunded pension obligations and crumbling infrastructure of their own. They’re going to come calling on the feds, but Washington is hitting its debt ceiling. All the numbers are stacked against any serious efforts at rebuilding whatever Harvey and Irma have blown to pieces or drowned.

As for individual Americans, two-thirds of them don’t have enough money to pay for a $500 emergency, let alone to rebuild a home. Most will have a very hard time lending from banks as well, because A) they’re already neck-deep in debt, and B) because the banks will get whacked too by Harvey and Irma. For one thing, people won’t pay the mortgage on a home they can’t afford to repair. Companies will go under. You get the picture.

There are thousands of graphs that tell the story of how American debt, government, financial and non-financial, household, has gutted the country. Let’s stick with some recent ones provided by Lance Roberts. Here’s how Americans have maintained the illusion of their standard of living. Lance’s comment:

This is why during the 80’s and 90’s, as the ease of credit permeated its way through the system, the standard of living seemingly rose in America even while economic growth rate slowed along with incomes. Therefore, as the gap between the “desired” living standard and disposable income expanded it led to a decrease in the personal savings rates and increase in leverage. It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.

 

 

There’s no meat left on that bone. There isn’t even a bone left. There’s only a debt-ridden mirage of a bone. If you’re looking to define the country in bumper-sticker terms, that’s it. A debt-ridden mirage. Which can only wait until it’s relieved of its suffering. Irma may well do that. A second graph shows the relentless and pitiless consequences of building your society, your lives, your nation, on debt.

 

 

It may not look all that dramatic, but look again. Those are long-term trendlines, and they can’t just simply be reversed. And as debt grows, the economy deteriorates. It’s a double trendline, it’s as self-reinforcing as the way a hurricane forms.

 

Back to Harvey and Irma. Even with so many people uninsured, the insurance industry will still take a major hit on what actually is insured. The re-insurance field, Munich RE, Swiss RE et al, is also in deep trouble. Expect premiums to go through the ceiling. As your roof blows off.

We can go on listing all the reasons why, but fact is America is in no position to rebuild. Which is a direct consequence of the fact that the entire nation has been built on credit for decades now. Which in turn makes it extremely vulnerable and fragile. Please do understand that mechanism. Every single inch of the country is in debt. America has been able to build on debt, but it can’t rebuild on it too, precisely because of that.

There is no resilience and no redundancy left, there is no way to shift sufficient funds from one place to the other (the funds don’t exist). And the grand credit experiment is on its last legs, even with ultra low rates. Washington either can’t or won’t -depending on what affiliation representatives have- add another trillion+ dollars to its tally, state capitals are already reeling from their debt levels, and individuals, since they have much less access to creative accounting than politicians, can just forget about it all.

Not that all of this is necessarily bad: why would people be encouraged to build or buy homes in flood- and hurricane prone areas in the first place? Why is that government policy? Why is it accepted? Yes, developers and banks love it, because it makes them a quick buck, and then some, and the Fed loves it because it keeps adding to the money supply, but it has turned America into a de facto debt colony.

If you want to know what will happen to Houston and whatever part of Florida gets hit worst, think New Orleans/Katrina, but squared or cubed -thanks to the 2007/8 crisis.

 

 

Sep 082017
 
 September 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Irma heads for Florida

 

Irma Heads For Florida (R.)
Magnitude 8.4 Earthquake Strikes Off Mexico’s Southern Coast (DW)
Worst US Consumer Data Hack Ever? Equifax Confesses (WS)
Consumer Credit & The American Conundrum (Roberts)
Low Interest Rates Major Source Of Concern – German Financial Watchdog (CNBC)
Japan’s April-June Economic Growth Much Slower Than Preliminary Reading (R.)
The North Korean Endgame is Playing Out Now – Rickards (DR)
Theresa May Apponts Cronies In ‘Sweeping Power Grab’ (Ind.)
At Democracy’s Birthplace, Macron Dreams Of Europe 2.0 (AP)

 

 

650,000 mandatory evacuations. But gas shortages make it hard to get away. Irma is twice the size of hurricane Andrew.

Irma Heads For Florida (R.)

The eye of Hurricane Irma grazed the Turks and Caicos Islands on Thursday, rattling buildings after it smashed a string of Caribbean islands as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, killing 14 people on its way to Florida. With winds of around 185 miles per hour (290 km per hour), the storm the size of France has ravaged small islands in the northeast Caribbean in recent days, including Barbuda, Saint Martin and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, ripping down trees and flattening homes and hospitals. Winds dipped on Thursday to 165 mph as Irma soaked the northern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and brought hurricane-force winds to the Turks and Caicos Islands. It remained an extremely dangerous Category 5 storm, the highest designation by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Irma was about 55 miles (85 km) south of Great Inagua Island and is expected to bring 20-foot (6-m) storm surges to the Bahamas, before moving to Cuba and ploughing into southern Florida as a very powerful Category 4 on Sunday, with storm surges and flooding due to begin within the next 48 hours. Across the Caribbean authorities rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of residents and tourists. On islands in its wake, shocked locals tried to comprehend the extent of the devastation while simultaneously preparing for another major hurricane, Jose, now a Category 3 and due to hit the northeastern Caribbean on Saturday.

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“Mexico earthquake is most powerful to hit the country in a century, president says”

Magnitude 8.4 Earthquake Strikes Off Mexico’s Southern Coast (DW)

The quake struck late on Thursday, and was recorded as a magnitude 8.4 on the Richter scale according to Mexico’s National Seismological Service. Government officials said that at least five people died in the country’s south. The US Tsunami Warning Center has cautioned that widespread, devastating tidal waves were possible on Mexico’s coast, as well as in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and Ecuador. Shortly thereafter, authorities reported a tsunami was indeed headed towards the coast, fortunately only 0.7 meters (2.3 feet) tall. While there were no immediate reports of major damage, Mexico’s civil protection agency reported that it was the strongest tremor to hit the country since a 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and destroyed entire buildings.

Its epicenter was about 123 km (76 miles) south of the town of Pijijiapan in Chiapas state, but the shock was felt as far away as Mexico City, sending residents fleeing swaying buildings and knocking out electricity in parts of the city. The quake was also felt in much of Guatemala, which borders Chiapas. Civil Defense officials wrote on Twitter that their personnel were patrolling the streets in Chiapas aiding residents and looking for damage. They also issued a warning for aftershocks, several of which themselves registered a 5.0 magnitude according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). Chiapas Governor Manuel Velasco told broadcaster Televisa some homes had been damaged and a shopping center had collapsed in the town of San Cristobal. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been affected,” Velasco said.

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The execs delayed reporting the hack so they could offload their shares. Why are these guys walking around free?

Worst US Consumer Data Hack Ever? Equifax Confesses (WS)

Equifax, as a consumer credit bureau, collects financial, credit, and other data on every US consumer. It has names, birth dates, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, mortgage data, and payment history data, including to utilities, wireless service providers, and the like. It collects data on bank balances, loan balances, credit card balances, credit card purchases, and myriad personal details. It has massive digital dossiers on every consumer in the US and in some other countries. And it sells this data to other companies, such as banks, credit card companies, car dealerships, retailers, and others, as a routine part of its business model. That’s how it makes money. But when someone breaks in and steals this data without paying Equifax for it, well, that’s a huge deal. And it is.

Turns out, Equifax got hacked – um, no, not today. Today it disclosed that it had discovered on July 29 – six weeks ago – that it had been hacked sometime between “mid-May through July,” and that key data on 143 million US consumers was stolen. There was no need to notify consumers right away. They’re screwed anyway. But it gave executives enough time to sell 2 million shares between the discovery of the hack and today, when they crashed 13% in late trading. Given the quantity and sensitivity of the stolen data, it may well be the biggest and worst breach in US history. That stolen data “primarily includes”:• Names • Social Security numbers • Birth dates • Addresses • “In some instances,” driver’s license numbers.

In addition, the stolen data includes: • Credit card numbers of around 209,000 US consumers • “Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information” of around 182,000 US consumers. • “Limited personal information for certain UK and Canadian residents.” This is the kind of information with which identities can be stolen and money can be borrowed in your name. Those data points are the crown jewels for hackers.

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It has all been built on debt for decades.

Consumer Credit & The American Conundrum (Roberts)

Under more normal circumstances rising consumer credit would mean more consumption. The rise in consumption should, in theory, led to stronger rates of economic growth. I say, in theory, only because the data doesn’t support the claim. Prior to 1980, when the amount of debt used to support consumption was fairly stagnant, the economy, wages, and personal consumption expanded. However, as I noted previously, that all changed with financial deregulation in the early 80’s which fostered three generations of debt driven excesses. In the past, if they wanted to expand their consumption beyond the constraint of incomes they turned to credit in order to leverage their consumptive purchasing power. Steadily declining interest rates and lax lending standards put excess credit in the hands of every American. (Seriously, my dog Jake got a Visa in 1999 with a $5000 credit limit) .

This is why during the 80’s and 90’s, as the ease of credit permeated its way through the system, the standard of living seemingly rose in America even while economic growth rate slowed in America along with incomes. Therefore, as the gap between the “desired” living standard and disposable income expanded it led to a decrease in the personal savings rates and increase in leverage. It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.

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Draghi has a fight on his hands. And he’s going to lose it.

Low Interest Rates Major Source Of Concern – German Financial Watchdog (CNBC)

The continued low interest environment in key markets such as Europe, the U.S. and the U.K. is a “major source of concern”, according to Felix Hufeld, the president of the German financial regulatory authority. Alluding to the results of a recent survey, the authority over which he presides carried out alongside staff at Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, Hufeld described the effect on domestic banks. “The impact is massive and is creeping into the balance sheets more and more. The longer it continues, the higher the risk for a change of interest rates is increasing as well,” he warned, speaking from the Handelsblatt annual banking summit in Frankfurt on Thursday. His wariness comes despite his acknowledgment that the banking system has become much more solid than it was 10 years ago when the financial crisis broke out.

“Both the amount as well as the quality of capital has been massively increased. Risk management procedures have been improved, governance procedures have been improved. Remuneration has been curbed – so all sorts of things – a very wide range of things have been done,” he explained before sounding a note of caution. “But one thing should be clear – no regulatory system and no financial market in the world is invulnerable. There can be and there will be new crises coming up somewhere in the future,” Hufeld declared, pointing to real estate as the most notable cause for concern. The BaFin president’s comments echoed those of fellow Handelsblatt summit participants such as Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan and Goldman Sachs’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Cryan joined Hufeld in warning of the possibility of bubbles forming in certain asset classes, adding, “If you look at the higher risk end of the market, I don’t think you get the right reward for the risk you’re taking right now.”

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What a surprise.

Japan’s April-June Economic Growth Much Slower Than Preliminary Reading (R.)

Japan’s economic growth in the second quarter was much slower than seen in a stellar preliminary reading, government data showed on Friday, confounding hopes for a long awaited pick-up in domestic demand. The downgrade was widely expected after data used to revise gross domestic product figures showed capital spending in April-June rose at a slower annual pace than the previous quarter. While the disappointing data may weaken confidence in the government’s economic policies and the business outlook, analysts still expect the economy to sustain a steady recovery as robust global demand underpins exports and a tightening job market improves the prospects for higher wages.

Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, expanded at an annualized rate of 2.5% in the April-June quarter, less than the initial estimate of annualized 4.0% growth, Cabinet Office data showed. That was also lower than a median market forecast for a revision to a 2.9%. On the quarter, the economy grew a revised 0.6% in real, price-adjusted terms, against a preliminary reading of a 1.0% increase and the median estimate of a 0.7% expansion. Capital expenditure, a key component of GDP, rose 0.5% for the quarter, marked down from the preliminary estimate of a 2.4% increase.

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“The United States is facing a six month window to act and I believe they will.”

The North Korean Endgame is Playing Out Now – Rickards (DR)

“North Korea has already beaten the world to the punch. They’ve been building up their strategic oil reserves. What that means is they have an estimated year’s worth of held in reserve and China has played a role in these things in the past.” “The area that would be effective for a reactionary measure would be for the United States to exclude the People’s Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and some of the other major Chinese banks from within the U.S dollar payment systems. The U.S could completely shut down the U.S operations.” “Ultimately, the Chinese are facilitating the North Korean finance. The move would be a kind of sanction with bite behind it. My expectation would be that China wouldn’t necessarily put pressure on North Korea. In reaction we could see escalation of further sanctions from the Chinese against the United States leaving for a trade and financial war without solving the North Korean situation.”

“Currently, North Korea is in what is classified as a ‘break out.’ Under typical nuclear development phases, we’ve normally seen countries that are cheating on nuclear development programs complete their operations in baby steps. In the process they proceed gradually and when they do draw attention will stall programs until beginning again at a later date. North Korea has put that pattern aside and is in complete breakout.” “To give a U.S football comparison, they’re in the red zone and the quarterback is simply about to throw a pass into the end zone. The leader of North Korea is going for it and not hiding anything. The leadership in North Korea is hoping that the United States is bluffing and that they will be able to get a serviceable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a hydrogen bomb that could threaten or destroy Los Angeles before the U.S could do anything. The United States is facing a six month window to act and I believe they will.”

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The mess keeps getting bigger.

Theresa May Apponts Cronies In ‘Sweeping Power Grab’ (Ind.)

Theresa May is poised to make an unprecedented attempt to fix the parliamentary system, allowing her to grab sweeping powers ahead of Brexit, The Independent can reveal. A late-night Commons vote to secure the Conservatives the muscle to use so-called “Henry VIII powers” to make new laws – behind the backs of MPs – will be staged next week. The move has been disguised on the Commons order paper under the innocuous description of “motions relating to House business”, but will be a decisive act in the Brexit process. It will allow the Tories to pack a crucial Commons committee with their own MPs, in defiance of Parliament’s rules, in order to carry out the power grab. To win the vote, the Conservatives will need the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), under the much-criticised “cash-for-votes” deal that props up Ms May in power.

Opposition parties immediately accused the Prime Minister of a bid to “sideline Parliament and grant ministers unprecedented powers” – despite promises to restore sovereignty to MPs. “This is an unprecedented power grab by a minority government that lost its moral authority as well as its majority at the general election,” Valerie Vaz, Labour’s Shadow Commons Leader, told The Independent. And Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, said: “The Tories seem determined to ram through their destructive hard Brexit even though they have no mandate for it.” The bid to seize control of the Committee of Selection comes despite unequivocal advice from parliamentary officials that the Tories must not do so, after losing their Commons majority at the election. Without the fix, it would be impossible to force through up to 1,000 “corrections” to EU law as intended through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill – the reason for the accusations of a power grab.

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Europe 2.0 won’t be a democracy.

At Democracy’s Birthplace, Macron Dreams Of Europe 2.0 (AP)

Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a “slow disintegration.” Macron, on a visit on Thursday to Athens, urged EU nations to carry out six-month national reviews on EU reforms before imposing them — signaling his distance with the German-backed approach based on fiscal discipline within the eurozone. “It would be a mistake to abandon the European ideal,” Macron said. “We must rediscover the enthusiasm that the union was founded upon and change, not with technocrats and not with bureaucracy.” Elected by a landslide in May, the 39-year-old Macron has vowed to back efforts for closer integration in the EU, which has been rattled by a financial crisis, migration issues, a populist backlash and Britain’s decision to leave.

His proposal found enthusiastic support in bailout-stricken Greece, which considers France a vital ally and counterweight to fiscally hawkish Germany in its efforts to ease the stringent terms of its international rescue loans. Reinforcing his message, Macron urged the IMF to step back from its role in European bailouts — breaking with a widely accepted policy adopted when Greece sought international help seven years ago. “I don’t think it was the right method for the IMF to supervise European programs and intervene in the way it did,” he said. “Let’s work within Europe and not turn to outside agencies.” The eurozone rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, should play the lead role in financial rescue within the euro currency zone, he said. France, Europe’s No. 2 economy, had previously backed Germany’s insistence in involving the IMF to enforce austerity measures that came with bailout programs in Greece and other rescued economies including Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus.

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