Jun 232017
 
 June 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Embarcadero lunch San Francisco 1948

 

Americans Are Dying With An Average Of $61,500 In Debt (ZH)
34 Biggest Banks in US Clear First Hurdle In Fed’s Annual Stress Tests (R.)
Credit-Card Debt Slaves Move to Top of Fed’s Bank Worries (WS)
Citizens Will Soon Turn Their Rage Towards Central Bankers (Albert Edwards)
UK Homelessness Surges 34% Under Tories Since 2010 (Ind.)
UK High Court Judges Tory Policy Causes ‘Real Misery For No Purpose’ (Ind.) /span>
Buy-to-Let Uk Property Sales Fall By Almost 50% In A Year (G.)
Canada’s Private Sector Debt Growing Faster Than Any Advanced Economy (PA)
Warren Buffett Becomes Lender Of Last Resort For Canada’s Home Capital (BBG)
EU Political Class Rides Roughshod over Citizens’ Concerns & Frustrations (DQ)
Dear Oliver: About Those Putin Interviews (RM)
Arab States Send Qatar 13 Demands To End Crisis (R.)
In Yemen’s Secret Prisons, UAE Tortures and US Interrogates

 

 

Double or nothing?!

Americans Are Dying With An Average Of $61,500 In Debt (ZH)

According to a recent study, the average total household debt in America is just over $132,500, broken down as per the chart below… and thanks to the Fed’s recent and ongoing rate increases, the repayment of said debt will become increasingly more difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most Americans will be saddled with a sizable chunk of it at the time of their death. Actually, most already are. According to December 2016 data from credit bureau Experian provided to credit.com, 73% of American consumers had outstanding debt when they were reported as dead. Those consumers carried an average total balance of $61,554, including mortgage debt. Without home loans, the average balance was $12,875. As credit.com reports, the data is based on Experian’s FileOne database, which includes 220 million consumers.

To determine the average debt people have when they die, Experian looked at consumers who, as of October 2016, were not deceased, but then showed as deceased as of December 2016. Among the 73% of consumers who had debt when they died, about 68% had credit card balances. The next most common kind of debt was mortgage debt (37%), followed by auto loans (25%), personal loans (12%) and student loans (6%). The breakdown of unpaid balances was as follows: credit cards, $4,531; auto loans, $17,111; personal loans, $14,793; and student loans, $25,391. And, as a reminder, debt doesn’t just disappear when someone dies.

What happens to that debt when you die, aside from it continuing to accrue interest until someone remembers to inform the creditors? “Debt belongs to the deceased person or that person’s estate,” said Darra L. Rayndon, an estate planning attorney with Clark Hill in Scottsdale, Arizona. If someone has enough assets to cover their debts, the creditors get paid, and beneficiaries receive whatever remains. But if there aren’t enough assets to satisfy debts, creditors lose out (they may get some, but not all, of what they’re owed). Family members do not then become responsible for the debt, as some people worry they might. That’s the general idea, but things are not always that straightforward. The type of debt you have, where you live and the value of your estate significantly affects the complexity of the situation. For example, federal student loan debt is eligible for cancellation upon a borrower’s death, but private student loan companies tend not to offer the same benefit. They can go after the borrower’s estate for payment.

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Let’s do a stress test that assumes the Fed is no longer around, see what happens.

34 Biggest Banks in US Clear First Hurdle In Fed’s Annual Stress Tests (R.)

The 34 largest U.S. banks have all cleared the first stage of an annual stress test, showing they would be able to maintain enough capital in an extreme recession to meet regulatory requirements, the Federal Reserve said on Thursday. Although the banks, including household names like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, would suffer $383 billion in loan losses in the Fed’s most severe scenario, their level of high-quality capital would be substantially higher than the threshold that regulators demand, and an improvement over last year’s level. “This year’s results show that, even during a severe recession, our large banks would remain well capitalized,” said Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who leads banking regulation for the central bank. “This would allow them to lend throughout the economic cycle, and support households and businesses when times are tough.”

The Fed introduced the stress tests in the wake of the financial crisis to ensure the health of the banking industry, whose ability to lend is considered crucial to the health of the economy. Since the first test was conducted in 2009, big banks have seen losses abate, loan portfolios improve and profits grow. The banks that now undergo the exam have also strengthened their balance sheets by adding more than $750 billion in top-notch capital, the Fed said. Banks and their investors have been hoping the improvements would prompt the Fed to allow them to use more capital for stock buybacks and dividends, especially as the Trump administration is seeking to relax financial regulations. Wall Street analysts and trade groups quickly cheered the results on Thursday, saying regulators should feel comfortable easing tough rules put in place since the financial crisis. “We see today’s…stress test results as a positive for Trump administration efforts to deregulate the banks,” said Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst with Cowen & Co.

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The biggest debts are still in mortgages. Falling home prices will hurt most.

Credit-Card Debt Slaves Move to Top of Fed’s Bank Worries (WS)

The comforting news in the results from the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test is that the largest 34 bank holding companies would all survive a recession. Based on this glorious accomplishment, the clamoring has already started for regulators to allow these banks to pay bigger dividends and to blow more money on share buybacks, and for these regulators to slash regulation on these banks and make their life easier and riskier in general. We don’t want these banks to survive a recession in too good a condition apparently. And it would likely be better for Wall Street anyway if banks could lever up with risks so that a few of them would get bailed out during the next recession. Let’s remember, for the Fed’s no-holds-barred bailout-year 2009, Wall Street executives and employees were doused with record bonuses.

The Fed’s bailouts were good for them. And it has been good for them ever since. The less comforting news in the stress test is that credit card debt – generally the most expensive and risky debt for consumers – has now moved to the top of the Fed’s worry list in the “severely adverse scenario” of the stress test. The projected losses for the 34 largest banks – not counting the losses at the 4,997 smaller banks – are expected to hit $100 billion, up nearly 9% from the stress test a year ago. The projected losses rose for several reasons, including that credit card balances have grown by 5.6% from a year ago to over $1 trillion. The delinquency rate has risen to 2.4%. The Fed is also blaming looser lending standards. Sharing the top spot on the Fed’s worry list in the “severely adverse scenario” are Commercial & Industrial loans, whose balances are over twice as large, at $2.1 trillion, but whose projected losses are also pegged at $100 billion. In total, the “severely adverse scenario” sees $493 billion in losses for these 34 banks:

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“..investors, drunk with the liquor of loose money..”

Citizens Will Soon Turn Their Rage Towards Central Bankers (Albert Edwards)

Albert Edwards pwrites “Theft redux: the citizens will soon turn their rage towards Central Bankers.” The core of his argument is familiar: “While politics in the West reels from a decade of economic crisis and stagnation, asset prices continue to surge on the back of continued rapid growth in G3 QE. In an age of “radical uncertainty” how long will it be before angry citizens tire of blaming an impotent political system for their ills and turn on the main culprits for their poverty – unelected and virtually unaccountable central bankers? I expect central bank independence will be (and should be) the next casualty of the current political turmoil.” That’s just the beginning from Edwards, who appears to be getting increasingly angrier and more frustrated with a market that makes increasingly less sense: his fiery sermon continue with the following preview of the “inevitable catastrophe that lies ahead.”

“Evidence of the impact of monetary madness on assets prices is all around if we care to look. I read that a parking spot in Hong Kong was just sold for record HK$5.18 million ($664,200). What about the 3.5x oversubscribed 100 year Argentine government bond? Sure, everything has a market clearing price, even one of the most regular defaulters in history. But what concerned me most about the story was it was demand from investors (“reverse enquires”) that prompted the issue. Is it just me or can I hear echoes of the mechanics of the CDO crisis? But no one cares when the party is still raging and investors, drunk with the liquor of loose money, are blind to the inevitable catastrophe that lies ahead. There is a lot of anger out on the streets, as demonstrated most visibly in recent elections.

Even in France where investors feel comforted that a “moderate” has gained (absolute?) power, it is salutary to remember that the two establishment parties have just been decimated by a man who had never before stood for public office! This is perhaps even more radical than Trump’s anti-establishment victory under the Republican umbrella. The global political situation is incredibly fluid and unpredictable. While a furious electorate has turned its pent up anger on the establishment political parties, the target for their rage is misguided. I am not completely alone in thinking it is the unelected and virtually unaccountable central bankers who are primarily responsible for the poverty of working people and who will be ultimately held to account in the next crisis.

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In other news: ” Government-funded new social housing has fallen 97% since 2010″.

UK Homelessness Surges 34% Under Tories Since 2010 (Ind.)

The number of families being declared homeless has rocketed by more a third since the Conservatives took power in 2010, analysis of new official statistics by The Independent has revealed. Between April 2016 and March 2017, 59,100 families were declared homeless by local authorities in England – a rise of 34% on the same period in 2010-11. The statistics paint a bleak picture of the UK housing crisis and the impact a lack of decent, affordable homes is having on thousands of families. There has been a 60% increase in the number of families being housed in insecure temporary accommodation. In particular, bed and breakfast-type hotels are increasingly being used to house families for long periods of time as local councils struggle to find them proper homes to live in.

There are now 77,240 families in England currently living in temporary accommodation – up from 48,240 just six years ago. Of these, almost fourth-fifths (78%) are families with children, meaning there are currently 120,500 children living in insecure, temporary homes. Of those being housed temporarily, 6,590 households are living in B&Bs, including 3,010 families with children. Almost half have been living in this type of accommodation, which often sees families crammed into one room and forced to share limited bathroom and cooking facilities with strangers, for more than six weeks. This is illegal under the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 2003, which banned local authorities from housing families with children in B&Bs for more than a six-week period.

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The Tories are done. Someone should tell them.

UK High Court Judges Tory Policy Causes ‘Real Misery For No Purpose’ (Ind.)

Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK. High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.

Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating. Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two. Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government.

The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically. In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery. [..] In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50% of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.

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There goes the bubble. Look out below.

Buy-to-Let Uk Property Sales Fall By Almost 50% In A Year (G.)

The number of properties bought by landlords has almost halved in a year after a tax and regulatory clampdown, prompting a leading banking body to downgrade its forecasts for buy-to-let lending in 2017 and 2018. The Council of Mortgage Lenders said buy to let had had a weak start to 2017, with lending falling faster than expected as landlords withdrew from the market in response to major tax changes and tighter lending rules. The data follows a series of recent surveys and indices suggesting the housing market is running out of steam. However, the crackdown on buy to let may have helped young people trying to get a foot on the property ladder. CML said house purchase activity was being driven predominantly by first-time buyers, with their numbers up 8% in the 12 months to April.

Buy-to-let homebuying activity was “nearly half what it was a year ago” and had averaged around 6,000 purchases a month over the last 12 months, said the body, which represents banks and building societies. The number of landlord purchases involving a mortgage was 5,300 in April this year. This compared with 10,300 in February 2016 and 11,800 in July 2015. As a result, the CML has cut its forecast for buy-to-let lending from £38bn being lent in both 2017 and 2018 to £35bn in 2017 and £33bn in 2018. The organisation warned against hitting landlords with any further changes to taxation and lending rules, saying the figures “re-emphasise the case for avoiding further changes to the tax and regulatory framework until the effect of these already in train have been properly assessed”.

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Download report here: Addicted to Debt – Tracking Canada’s rapid accumulation of private sector debt .

Canada’s Private Sector Debt Growing Faster Than Any Advanced Economy (PA)

For the first time ever, Canada’s private sector is racking up debt faster than any other of the world’s 22 advanced economies, putting the country at risk of serious economic consequences, according to new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. A new report authored by CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald reveals that Canada added $1 trillion in private sector debt over the past five years ($2016), with the corporate sector responsible for the majority of it. Economies can become dependent on debt in order to fuel economic and asset price growth. With both rapid private debt accumulation and a high private debt-to-GDP ratio, even a small change in debt growth rates, brought on by changes in interest rates for instance, could have a devastating impact on the larger economy.

“Private sector debt growth is one of the best predictors of economic crisis, and Canada is now the only advanced economy squarely in the debt ‘danger zone’ of having high private sector debt that continues to rise rapidly,” Macdonald says. The report identifies several areas of concern:
• Canada has never before led the advanced economies in private debt growth;
• The last time Canada was close to leading the world in private debt growth was the early 1990s, just as housing prices plummeted and then stagnated for a decade;
• The country’s private debt-to-GDP ratio has risen by a fifth since 2011, from 182% to 218%. The US ratio currently stands at 152%;
• The $315 billion increase in household debt since 2011 ($2016) is almost entirely attributable to the rise in mortgage debt related to rapid home prices increases;
• Corporate debt is less well studied, and rose $671 billion since 2011 ($2016), accounting for two thirds of private debt accumulation over that time;
• Corporate debt was largely spent on mergers and acquisitions as well as real estate purchases, neither of which make the country more productive.

“Canada’s economy has become addicted to binging on ever more private sector debt, and weaning us off it should be our primary public policy concern,” adds Macdonald, who recommends further study of corporate debt and consideration of a housing speculators’ tax to further reign in mortgage debt increases.

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Well, it can’t be because Buffett see a bright future in Canada’s housing market. So draw your own conclusion.

Warren Buffett Becomes Lender Of Last Resort For Canada’s Home Capital (BBG)

Warren Buffett has become the lender of last resort for Home Capital. The billionaire investor agreed to buy shares at a deep discount and provide a fresh credit line for the Canadian mortgage company, tapping a formula he used to prop up lenders from Goldman Sachs to Bank of America. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will buy a 38% stake for about C$400 million ($300 million) and provide a C$2 billion credit line with an interest rate of 9% to backstop the embattled Toronto-based lender, Home Capital said late Wednesday in a statement. The interest on the one-year loan would net Berkshire at least C$180 million if it’s fully tapped.

“While the terms of the new credit line with Berkshire Hathaway remain harsh, we believe the purpose of this loan is to motivate Home Capital’s management to bolster their own funding sources,” said Hugo Chan at Kingsferry Capital in Shanghai, which owns shares in Home Capital. “This again shows Mr. Buffett’s masterful capital allocation skills,” said Chan, citing his investment motto: “be greedy when others are fearful.” The financial backing from Buffett sent the stock higher Thursday, though it comes at a cost, in keeping with his past bailouts of financial firms. Buffett has buoyed some of the biggest U.S. corporations in times of trouble, including a combined $8 billion injection to prop up Goldman Sachs and General Electric when credit markets froze during the 2008 financial crisis.

In the Home Capital deal, Buffett’s firm agreed to pay an average price of C$10 a share, a 33% discount to Wednesday’s closing price of C$14.94. Berkshire would become the largest shareholder in Home Capital, which has a market value of about C$1 billion. Home Capital surged 27% to C$19 in Toronto on Thursday. That gives Buffett a 90% return on paper for the equity investment, assuming the deal goes through.

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They always have, it’s an MO.

EU Political Class Rides Roughshod over Citizens’ Concerns & Frustrations (DQ)

Merkel has expressed a willingness to go along with two central French demands — the appointment of a Eurozone finance minister and the creation of a common budget — as long as certain conditions are met. “We can of course think about a Eurozone budget as long as it’s clear that this is really strengthening structures and achieving sensible results,” she said. [..] Back on the table is a proposal to upgrade the grossly unaccountable Luxembourg-based European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a full-fledged European Monetary Fund. As we’ve noted before, creating a European Monetary Fund (EMF) would be an important statement of intent. If Europe’s core countries are truly set on taking the EU project to a whole new level, such as by pursuing the creation of an EU army, an EU border force (with full powers), fiscal union, and ultimately political union, some form of burden sharing will ultimately be necessary.

The establishment of a fully operational EMF could be an important move in that direction. The EMF would essentially act as a fiscal backdrop to the banking system, something the Eurozone has desperately needed ever since its creation. As Bruegel proposes, it would serve as a fiscal counterpart of the ECB to guarantee the financial stability of the euro area in the event of a sovereign or banking crisis, or a threat thereof — of which there are plenty these days, in particular emanating from Italy’s broken banking system. Naturally, the creation of an EMF would deal a further blow to the fading remnants of national sovereignty in Europe. But that’s a price that many (but certainly not all) of Europe’s elite is more than happy to pay; some would say that destroying national sovereignty was the ultimate goal of the EU all along.

In a survey of more than 10,000 EU citizens and 1,800 EU elites carried out by Chatham House, of the elites, 37% believe the EU should get more powers, 28% want to keep the status quo and 31% would prefer to return more powers to individual member countries. This enthusiasm for a more centralized, more powerful EU is not shared with equal enthusiasm by European citizens: 48% want powers returned to the individual member countries. Citizens, overall, do not feel they have benefited from European integration in the same way Europe’s elite does. Whereas 71% of elites report feeling they have gained something from the EU, the figure among the public is only 34%. Even more worrisome for national leaders, a clear majority of the public — 54% — feel that their country was a better place to live 20 years ago, before the euro existed.

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I’ve seen a few parts. Liked them quite a bit.

Dear Oliver: About Those Putin Interviews (RM)

Dear Mr. Stone: I have just finished watching all four episodes of The Putin Interviews. May I give you my critique? Overall, I felt that the series is Very Good but felt just short of Great. I will explain below what I feel could have made it Great. First, I want to tell you what I really loved about it. 1. You have an easy style. I felt as if Mr. Putin was at ease with you, and you with him. You have a warm command of the English language and can transmit your ideas into language in a very personable way — an art that is missing among so many American media people these days. I felt that you drew out a candid side of Putin, well, that is, as far as a man of his intellectual prowess and disciplined self-control will allow. 2. Best moment of the show: Sitting next to Vlad and watching Dr. Strangelove! Oh my goodness, most people would not even dream of adding such a thing to their bucket list.

3. I loved the walking tour of the President’s offices and the general background of the Kremlin architecture and decor. I pay attention to the daily, tweeted photos from the Kremlin’s official account. I have seen those desks and tables a million times in the photos. But now I have them all within a mental frame, thanks to your film. Question: I was burning to know why Vlad had a pair of scissors and multi-colored construction paper in the middle of his desk, did you happen to ask him, off-camera?

Where It Fell Short Mr. Stone, I hated that so much time was wasted talking about the contrived “Russia hacked the election” meme. Hillary might not know why she lost the election, but the rest of the nation does. When my father would get on a roll with his bad jokes, Mom would tell us kids: “Don’t encourage him.” Well, you too need to stop encouraging the MSM to keep breathing life into a dead meme.

You also wasted time re-hashing Crimea. “Read My Lips,” Vlad said, “the Crimeans ASKED, BEGGED, AND VOTED to rejoin Russia.” Good grief, when McCain’s and Nuland’s beloved neo-Nazi Svoboda party took illegal control of Ukraine, their first move was to try and make it illegal to speak Russian. Geez, half the people in Ukraine ARE Russian! Mr. Putin has exercised considerable restraint towards Ukraine.

Mr. Stone, I have been following the development of BRICS, the “Silk Road Project,” and the EEU (European Economic Union) for a half-decade now. I can’t have a conversation with my neighbors and friends about all of that here in America because not one of them has heard anything about it! You had a great opportunity to ask Mr. Putin to school us on the Sino-Russian version of a multi-polar world without war, but you totally blew it. I don’t think you ever asked Vlad about China, did you?

 

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Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of supporting terrorism. Rich.

Arab States Send Qatar 13 Demands To End Crisis (R.)

Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said. The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands. Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.

The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters. Qatar must also announce it is severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, he said, and surrender all designated terrorists on its territory, The four Arab countries accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional instability and cozying up to revolutionary theocracy Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.

[..] on Monday, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar would not negotiate with the four states unless they lifted their measures against Doha. The countries give Doha 10 days to comply, failing which the list becomes “void”, the official said without elaborating, suggesting the offer to end the dispute in return for the 13 steps would no longer be on the table.

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Bunch of sicko’s.

Edward Snowden on Twitter: “Biggest @AP scoop in a long time: US government behind UAE torture in Yemen, with some reportedly grilled alive.

In Yemen’s Secret Prisons, UAE Tortures and US Interrogates

Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found. Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture. The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.

All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years. The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others. Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.

“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” said chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.” In a statement to the AP, the UAE’s government denied the allegations. “There are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.” Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.

None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year

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Jun 172017
 
 June 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Broadway and Kearny Street, North Beach, San Francisco 1952

 

All Hell Is Going To Break Loose In The Bond Market (SBA)
The Fog of Markets (720G)
10 Years After Global Financial Crisis, World Still Suffers Debt Overhang (SMH)
Amazon, the Death of Brick & Mortar, Buys into Brick & Mortar (WS)
Special Prosecutor Mueller Is a Political Hack (Washington)
Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis (DQ)
China’s Smaller Banks Endure Record Borrowing Costs amid Squeeze (BBG)
Most Of Central London Hospital To Be Sold Off, Plans Reveal (G.)
Five Talks on Power, Populism, Politics & Europe (Varoufakis)
Spain Says Eurogroup May Block Greek Loan If Officials Not Granted Immunity (R.)
Swedish Commuters Can Use Hand Implant Chip Instead Of Train Tickets (Ind.)

 

 

“..the Federal Reserve has not allowed the market to do its one and only job, and that is to determine fair value.”

All Hell Is Going To Break Loose In The Bond Market (SBA)

This past Wednesday we heard from the Federal Reserve with regard to monetary policy, and as I predicted they did raise the federal funds rate 25 basis points however, instead of yields rising, they are dropping. More than a year and a half ago I had said publicly that the Federal Reserve’s attempt at trying to normalize bond yields would backfire-and this is exactly what is happening. It is clear to me that the Federal Reserve has absolutely lost control of what is occurring in the bond market. Remember, this is uncharted territory, we have never been here before in the history of the financial world-so the Federal Reserve actually has no idea of how the market will react in the current environment with regard to their attempt at normalizing interest rates. The yield curve as seen in the picture above continues to flatten out, and this trend will continue until the curve inverts.

The last time the yield curve inverted, the 2008 economic meltdown occurred, and the time before that we suffered the.com bubble meltdown. The fact is we are existing in a multiple bubble economy at this time, worse, and unlike anything which has ever been seen before. The reason why these bubbles exist is simple: the Federal Reserve has not allowed the market to do its one and only job, and that is to determine fair value. The Federal Reserve’s interest rate suppression cycle has not only allowed, but has been the driving force behind mass malinvestments across the entire spectrum of asset classes and as such, bubbles have been created. The Federal Reserve has created distortions across the spectrum of asset classes which is frankly beyond belief, worse than has ever been witnessed in the history of finance. What this means is when the yield curve inverts this time, we will experience a meltdown magnitudes greater then the 2008 crash.

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“..till injuries were wrought to the structure of human society which a century will not efface, and which may conceivably prove fatal to the present civilization.”

The Fog of Markets (720G)

“The year 1915 was fated to be disastrous to the cause of the Allies and to the whole world. By the mistakes of this year the opportunity was lost of confining the conflagration within limits which though enormous were not uncontrolled. Thereafter the fire roared on till it burnt itself out. Thereafter events passed very largely outside the scope of conscious choice. Governments and individuals conformed to the rhythm of the tragedy, and swayed and staggered forward in helpless violence, slaughtering and squandering on ever-increasing scales, till injuries were wrought to the structure of human society which a century will not efface, and which may conceivably prove fatal to the present civilization.” – Winston S. Churchill – The World Crisis: 1915

After reading that quote several times, it remains shocking that the politicians and individuals of that era unconsciously “conformed to the rhythm of the tragedy.” The paragraph above from Winston Churchill, describes the mass mindset of World War I when it was still in its infancy. War-time narratives, nationalism, destruction and the tremendous loss of life led most people to quickly accept and acclimate to an event that was beyond atrocious. Amazingly, less than a year before the period Churchill discusses, the same people likely would have thought that acceptance of such a calamity would be beyond comprehension. Wars and markets are obviously on two different planes, and we want to make it clear the purpose of this article is not to compare the evils of war to financial markets. That said, we must recognize that quick acceptance of abnormal circumstances, as Churchill describes, is a trait that we all possess.

The seemingly unabated march upwards in stock prices occurring over the last eight years has had a mind-numbing effect on investors. The relentless grind higher is backed by weak fundamentals providing little to no justification for elevated prices. Indeed, if there was no justification for such valuations during the economically superior timeframe of the late 1990’s, how does coherent logic rationalize current circumstances? For example, feeble economic growth, stagnating corporate earnings, unstable levels of debt, income and wage inequality and a host of other economic ills typically do not command a steep premium and so little regard for risk. This time, however, is different, and investors have turned a blind eye to such inconvenient facts and instead bank on a rosy future. Thus far, they have been rewarded. But as is so often the case with superficial gratification, the rewards are very likely to prove fleeting and what’s left behind will be deep regret.

Despite our education and experience which teach the many aspects of the discipline of prudent investing, investors are still prone to become victims of the philosophy and psychology of the world around them. These lapses, where popular opinion-based investment decisions crowd out the sound logic and rationale for prudence and discipline, eventually carry a destructively high price. Investors, actually the entire population, have become mesmerized by the system as altered and put forth by the central bankers. We have somehow become accustomed to believe that debt-enabling low interest rates make even more debt acceptable. Ever higher valuations of assets are justifiable on the false premise of a manufactured and artificial economic construct.

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Long from Australia, with lots of sources. Bit confusing even.

10 Years After Global Financial Crisis, World Still Suffers Debt Overhang (SMH)

Let’s start with the question of debt. Lord Adair Turner, who chaired the UK Financial Services Authority between 2008 and 2013 and helped redesign global banking, says the world since has not addressed this root cause of the crisis and that means it’s at risk of another one. Lord Turner, now chairman of New York-based Institute for New Economic Thinking, says the world is suffering from “irrational exuberance” and “debt overhang”. The latter term refers to countries trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, and when nations ultimately default on that debt – he predicts that the next crisis will come courtesy of China and that’s just a number of years away – it ends in their economic destruction.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) says global levels of debt held by households, governments, and non-financial corporates jumped by over $US70 trillion in the past decade to a record high of $US215 trillion, equating to 325 per cent of global GDP. “There’s been no deleveraging,” Lord Turner says. “Once you’ve got too much debt in the economy … it’s incredibly difficult to get rid of it. “If you say, ‘I’m going to write it off’, your banks go bankrupt … if you try get rid of it by people paying down that debt … the attempt to pay it back is what drives the economy into recession.” To avoid that, interest rates then fall, and that simply encourages more borrowing, he says.

[..] Steve Keen, Professor of Economics at Kingston University in London, a long-time doomsayer on Australia’s mortgage binge, says simply: “It’s dangerous”. He says the Reserve Bank and Australian politicians ignore the dangers of private household debt today just as former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke did before the GFC. Keen says the risk of recession is even higher now that APRA has slightly tightened lending standards. “It’s inevitable,” he says, sticking to his bold prediction that it will happen before year’s end.

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Grow your own food.

Amazon, the Death of Brick & Mortar, Buys into Brick & Mortar (WS)

Amazon, which is getting blamed profusely for the meltdown of brick-and-mortar stores and malls across the US, and which has been dabbling with its own initiatives into brick-and-mortar operations – including bookstores, after nearly wiping bookstores off the face of the US – said it would buy brick-and-mortar Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion. Amazon will get Whole Foods’s $15.7 billion in annual sales and more importantly, its brand, semi-loyal customers, and about 450 brick-and-mortar stores across 42 states. Whole Food shares jumped 27%. But in early trading, the shares of the largest brick-and-mortar grocery sellers in the US are getting crushed: Wal-Mart Stores -6.5%; Kroger, largest supermarket chain in the US, -14%; Costco -7%; Target -10%.

Amazon already sells groceries online via AmazonFresh, and a few months ago announced it would create a grocery store pickup service, another foray into brick-and-mortar. Selling groceries online has been tough in the US, though everyone has been trying, from innumerable startups to Safeway and Google Express (in cooperation with Costco et al.). Consumers are used to buying at the store by running through the aisles with their carts and choosing what they see or what’s on their list, or both, and they want to touch and check their produce before buying it, and they don’t want the dented apples or squished grapes or wilted lettuce. And they need it now on the way home from work so they can fix dinner.

With this acquisition, Amazon’s efforts to muscle its way into the grocery business and even more into the every-day lives of Americans have thus taken a quantum leap forward. But what industry is Amazon muscling into? Over the past six years, sales at grocery stores are up a total of 14%, not adjusted for inflation, according to the retail trade report by the Commerce Department. Over the same period, the Consumer Price Index for food rose 14%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hence, on an inflation-adjusted basis, “real” sales have been flat for six years.

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Did anyone doubt this? Safe to predict the investigation will be dragged out forever.

Special Prosecutor Mueller Is a Political Hack (Washington)

Torture FBI special agent Colleen Rowley points out: Mueller was even okay with the CIA conducting torture programs after his own agents warned against participation. Agents were simply instructed not to document such torture, and any “war crimes files” were made to disappear. Not only did “collect it all” surveillance and torture programs continue, but Mueller’s (and then Comey’s) FBI later worked to prosecute NSA and CIA whistleblowers who revealed these illegalities.

Iraq War Rowley notes: When you had the lead-up to the Iraq War … Mueller and, of course, the CIA and all the other directors, saluted smartly and went along with what Bush wanted, which was to gin up the intelligence to make a pretext for the Iraq War. For instance, in the case of the FBI, they actually had a receipt, and other documentary proof, that one of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had not been in Prague, as Dick Cheney was alleging. And yet those directors more or less kept quiet. That included … CIA, FBI, Mueller, and it included also the deputy attorney general at the time, James Comey.

Post 9/11 Round-Up FBI special agent Rowley also notes: Beyond ignoring politicized intelligence, Mueller bent to other political pressures. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mueller directed the “post 9/11 round-up” of about 1,000 immigrants who mostly happened to be in the wrong place (the New York City area) at the wrong time. FBI Headquarters encouraged more and more detentions for what seemed to be essentially P.R. purposes. Field offices were required to report daily the number of detentions in order to supply grist for FBI press releases about FBI “progress” in fighting terrorism. Consequently, some of the detainees were brutalized and jailed for up to a year despite the fact that none turned out to be terrorists.

9/11 Cover Up Rowley points out: The FBI and all the other officials claimed that there were no clues, that they had no warning [about 9/11] etc., and that was not the case. There had been all kinds of memos and intelligence coming in. I actually had a chance to meet Director Mueller personally the night before I testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee … [he was] trying to get us on his side, on the FBI side, so that we wouldn’t say anything terribly embarrassing. …

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EU’s post-Cyprus resolutions are being dumped whenever that’s easier.

Fear of Contagion Feeds the Italian Banking Crisis (DQ)

Spain’s Banco Popular had the dubious honor of being the first financial institution to be resolved under the EU’s Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, passed in January 2016. As a result, shareholders and subordinate bondholders were “bailed in” before the bank was sold to Santander for the princely sum of one euro. At first the operation was proclaimed a roaring success. As European banking crises go, this was an orderly one, reported The Economist. Taxpayers were not left on the hook, as long as you ignore the €5 billion of deferred tax credits Santander obtained from the operation. Depositors and senior bondholders were spared any of the fallout. But it may not last for long, for the chances of a similar approach being adopted to Italy’s banking crisis appear to be razor slim.

The ECB has already awarded Italy’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) a last-minute reprieve, on the grounds that while it did not pass certain parts of the ECB’s last stress test, the bank is perfectly solvent, albeit with serious liquidity problems. By contrast, Popular was also liquidity challenged but, unlike MPS, it passed all parts of the ECB’s 2016 stress test, which shows you how ineffectual these tests are — and how subjective the resolution process of a European bank can be. In a speech to the Italian Banking Association on Thursday, the Vice President of the ECB, Vítor Constâncio, suggested that under certain circumstances, it might be wiser to save a bank than to resolve it. What’s more, taxpayers should be called upon not only to save banks like MPS but also to make whole all holders of the bank’s subordinate debt, under the pretext that they were misled into purchasing them (as indeed some retail customers, but certainly not all, were).

A taxpayer-funded bailout of bondholders is also on the cards for the two mid-sized Veneto-based banks, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which have already received billions of euros in taxpayer assistance. Italy’s Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan continues to insist the two banks will not be wound down. This is the same man who insisted last year that a) there would be no need of any future bail outs; and b) Italy did not even have a banking problem on its hands. Padoan has no choice but to deny all rumors of a bail-in; otherwise there would be a massive rush for the exits. In the weeks and even days leading up to Popular’s collapse, Spain’s Economy Minister Luis de Guindos repeatedly reassured investors that the bank was perfectly safe and solvent.

All the while government agencies, including Spain’s social security fund, and regional government authorities were emptying the deposits they held with the bank as fast as they could. The total is unknown but it certain ran into billions of euros. To avoid a similar fate, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca were instructed by the European Commission last week to find an additional €1.25 billion in private capital. That money still hasn’t arrived, and now Italy’s government is trying to persuade the European Commission and the ECB to water down the requirement to €600-800 million, while also urging Italian banks to chip in to the bank rescue fund. If they don’t and the two Veneto-based banks end up being wound down, they will have to cough up as much as €11 billion to refund the banks’ depositors.

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Deleveraging my donkey.

China’s Smaller Banks Endure Record Borrowing Costs amid Squeeze (BBG)

China’s smaller banks, caught between a seasonal cash squeeze and an official deleveraging drive, are stomaching record high borrowing costs to raise funds. Issuance of negotiable certificates of deposit jumped to 758 billion yuan ($111.5 billion) this week, the most since the securities were introduced in 2013 as a lifeline for smaller banks. The yield on one-month AAA rated NCDs has surged nearly one percentage point this month to an all-time high of 5.05%, while that on AA+ contracts reached 5.30%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The increase in NCD costs comes at a tough time for Chinese lenders, which face an unprecedented 4.5 trillion yuan of maturities this quarter. The pressure has been aggravated by the deleveraging drive, with the one-month Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate climbing for 22 days in a row to a two-year high.

The certificates are used mainly by smaller lenders – banks outside of China’s top 10 by market value accounted for 76% of total sales this year. “The smaller banks have no choice but to take the blow,” said Shan Kun, Shanghai-based head of China markets strategy at BNP Paribas. “They need to sell NCDs to get financing as they cut leverage gradually and as they have to cope with tighter liquidity this month. The rates will likely continue to climb, or at least stay elevated in the near term.” When cash supply tightens, small- and medium-sized lenders are usually among the hardest-hit because they lack the retail deposit arsenal of larger banks, said Yulia Wan, a Shanghai-based banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. They also may not have enough bonds to use as collateral to borrow money in the repo market. The banks need the money to finance longer-term and less liquid assets, such as debt and investment in loans and receivables, she added.

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Grand plans going back to Osborne and Cameron.

Most Of Central London Hospital To Be Sold Off, Plans Reveal (G.)

Almost all of a central London hospital is to be sold and its services diverted to already stretched facilities around the capital under plans for NHS modernisation seen by the Guardian. Charing Cross hospital, a flagship NHS facility in the heart of London, is to be cut to just 13% of its current size under proposals contained in sustainability and transformation plans published last year in 44 areas across England. Many of the officially published plans lacked precise detail about how local services would change, but internal supporting documents seen by the Guardian reveal the scale of the closures at the London site. The proposals claim much of the care currently offered at Charing Cross can be transferred to “community settings” such as local GP services, but health campaigners and clinicians say the transformation could endanger patients.

The documents include a map detailing how 13% of the current hospital site will remain, with the rest of its prime real estate in central London sold off. The plan is to introduce the changes after 2021. NHS chiefs have stated as recently as March that “there have never been any plans to close Charing Cross hospital”, and in March 2015 the then prime minister, David Cameron, said it was “scaremongering” to suggest that the Charing Cross A&E departmentwas earmarked for closure. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, echoed the claims. However, in the internal NHS documents the apparent downgrading of Charing Cross is outlined in great detail. The plan is to axe 10 major services at Charing Cross – 24/7 A&E, emergency surgery, intensive care and a range of complex emergency and non-emergency medical and surgical treatments. The remaining services would be a series of outpatient and GP clinics, X-ray and CT scans, a pharmacy and an urgent care centre for “minor injuries and illnesses”. Around 300 acute beds will be lost.

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Yanis.

Five Talks on Power, Populism, Politics & Europe (Varoufakis)

1 Yanis Varoufakis on power, populism and the future of the EU
2 Can Europe Make It? – Yanis Varoufakis speaks to openDemocracy
3 Yanis Varoufakis blows the lid on Europe’s hidden agenda
4 Yanis Varoufakis and his plan to take on Europe – again
5 Greece, Austerity, Brexit and Europe’s other darlings at GFMF2016

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In the EU, there’s immunity for officials committing crimes.

Spain Says Eurogroup May Block Greek Loan If Officials Not Granted Immunity (R.)

The Eurogroup of finance ministers may block an 8.5-billion-euro (7.44 billion pounds) loan to Greece if it does not grant immunity to privatisation agency officials from Spain, Italy and Slovakia, Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Friday. In 2015, a Greek prosecutor charged three officials at the country’s privatisation agency with embezzlement for withholding interest payments and breach of duty in relation to a sale and lease-back deal of 28 state-owned buildings. The case is still pending. “If there’s not a definitive solution for the situation of these three experts, the Eurogroup will block the payment,” de Guindos said in Luxemburg.

Greece would do “whatever necessary” to immediately settle the legal case, a Greek government official said. European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said he was confident the problem would be resolved and that he would continue to discuss the issue with Spain during his visit to Madrid next week. “The problem has to be solved. We should not over dramatise it. The disbursement will happen and at the same time will find a solution to this problem,” Moscovici said on his arrival at a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxemburg on Friday.

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Next up: a chip that makes your kids smarter. Try and resist that.

Swedish Commuters Can Use Hand Implant Chip Instead Of Train Tickets (Ind.)

Gone are the days when an e-ticket was seen as cutting edge – one Swedish rail company is offering passengers the option of using a biometric chip implanted into their hand in lieu of a paper train ticket. SJ is the first travel company in the world to let people use this innovative method that seems straight out of a sci-fi film. The tiny chip has the same technology as Oyster cards and contactless bank cards – NFC (Near Field Communication) – to enable conductors to scan passengers’ hands. Before you pack your bags for Sweden, the scheme is only applicable to those who already have the biometric implant – SJ is not offering to chip people. Around 2,000 Swedes have had the surgical implant to date, most of them employed in the tech industry.

State-owned operator SJ has said it expects about 200 people to take up the microchip method, but users must be signed up as a loyalty programme member to access the service. Customers buy tickets in the normal way by logging onto the website or mobile app, and their membership number, which is the reference code for the ticket, is linked to their chip. There are still kinks to be ironed out with the scheme, which began in earnest last week. Some passengers’ LinkedIn profiles were appearing instead of their train tickets when conductors scanned their biometric chip, while a number of train crew haven’t got the new SJ app which facilitates the scanning of biometric chips yet. “It’s just a matter of days before everyone has it,” says a spokesperson for SJ.

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Jun 072017
 
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Olivier Drot Morning in Downtown Athens June 7 2017

 

Spring Rally in Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Bitcoin Unnerves Investors (WSJ)
Trump’s America Is Facing a $13 Trillion Consumer Debt Hangover (BBG)
Bars Open Early Tomorrow So People Can Drink While Watching Comey Testify (BI)
Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well (WSJ)
UK’s May Says She’d Rip Up Human Rights Law to Beat Terrorists (BBG)
Corbyn: UK Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism Risk. Most Britons Agree (Ind.)
Australia’s Economy Marks Record 26 Years Without Recession (AFP)
Australians Curb Spending As Household Debt Balloons (R.)
Is There A Magic Money Tree? Yes Children, But That’s The Wrong Question (G.)
Santander Buys Struggling Spanish Banco Popular For €1 (BBG)
Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader (WSJ)
Gimme Shelter (Jim Kunstler)
98% Of Greeks Downbeat About Their Current Economic Situation (K.)

 

 

The inevitable result of no price discovery for years on end. Do note that no price discovery also means there are no investors.

Spring Rally in Stocks, Bonds, Gold and Bitcoin Unnerves Investors (WSJ)

Stocks, bonds, gold and bitcoin—assets that rarely move in unison—have all been surging this spring, an everything rally that leaves investors confounded about how to play the plodding U.S. expansion and vulnerable to sharp reversals in fortune. Major U.S. stock indexes have soared to records this month, reflecting some investors’ confidence in the continued U.S. economic recovery along with expectations that large technology firms will accrue further market-share gains. At the same time prices of bonds, which often decline when stocks are rising, have risen lately, as U.S. inflation readings cooled off alongside a slowdown in some key industries. Gold has gained following terror attacks in the U.K., and turmoil in U.S. politics centering on the administration’s legislative prospects and a key congressional hearing this week featuring former FBI director James Comey.

The simultaneous gains have begun to concern some investors. Many point to a wave of money that is driving up asset prices, tied in part to lower bond yields and a lower dollar—a confluence of events they say feels good while it lasts but can’t go on forever. “We do think there are distortions” in the markets, said Iman Brivanlou, who oversees high-income equities at asset manager TCW. The Dow Industrials this month have posted two record closes, their first since March, and the 30-stock index remains just 0.33% below its all-time high despite a decline Tuesday of 47.81 points to 21136.23. The Nasdaq Composite Index has hit more than three dozen new highs this year, reflecting the surge of red-hot tech stocks such as Alphabet and Amazon.com , both of which this month have surpassed $1,000 a share. Bitcoin has tripled this year, hitting a record high Tuesday.

At the same time, U.S. bond yields on Tuesday sank to their 2017 low at 2.147% and the price of gold, long viewed as a barometer of market concern about potential risks ahead, settled at $1,294.40, its highest in seven months. A Goldman Sachs Group index of financial conditions that takes into account credit spreads, equity prices and other market gauges, this month suggested the easiest conditions since early 2015, before the Federal Reserve began lifting rates. Another measure of stress in U.S. money markets fell to near its lowest in seven years, while measures of expected stock-market swings have been at the lowest in a decade.

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A global issue.

Trump’s America Is Facing a $13 Trillion Consumer Debt Hangover (BBG)

After bingeing on credit for a half decade, U.S. consumers may finally be feeling the hangover. Americans faced with lackluster income growth have been financing more of their spending with debt instead. There are early signs that loan burdens are growing unsustainably large for borrowers with lower incomes. Household borrowings have surged to a record $12.73 trillion, and the%age of debt that is overdue has risen for two consecutive quarters. And with economic optimism having lifted borrowing rates since the election and the Federal Reserve expected to hike further, it’s getting more expensive for borrowers to refinance. Some companies are growing worried about their customers. Public Storage said in April that more of its self-storage customers now seem to be under stress.

Credit card lenders including Synchrony Financial and Capital One Financial are setting aside more money to cover bad loans. Consumer product makers including Nestle posted slower sales growth last quarter, particularly in the U.S. Companies may have reason to be concerned. Consumer spending notched its weakest gain in the first quarter since the end of 2009, a problem in an economy where consumers account for 70% of spending, though analysts expect the dip to be transitory. And debt delinquencies are rising even as the job market shows signs of strength. “There are pockets of consumers that are going to be sorely tested,” said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial. “We’ve conditioned American consumers to use debt to close the gap between their wages and their spending. When the Fed hikes, riskier borrowers are going to get pinched first.”

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed has kept rates low to encourage companies and consumers to borrow more and spur economic growth. Much of the gains in household debt since 2012 have come from student loans, auto debt and credit cards. Over that time, wage growth has averaged around 2.2% a year, and the pace has been slowing for much of this year. Even if economists forecast that income growth will accelerate, those pickups have remained elusive. Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in part by convincing voters that he understood their economic pain. Keeping up with household debt payments is still broadly manageable for consumers. As of the end of last year, the ratio of principal and interest payments to disposable income for Americans was just shy of 10%, less than the average going back to 1980 of 11.33%.

And it’s too soon to say whether growing signs of pain among borrowers are just a return to more normal levels of delinquencies or evidence of a more serious credit downturn. Loan delinquencies are creeping higher after plunging from 2010 until the middle of 2016, but are still below historical averages.

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This can only disappoint. The echo chamber is overcrowded.

Bars Open Early Tomorrow So People Can Drink While Watching Comey Testify (BI)

If you want to have a drink while watching former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, you’re in luck. Bars in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Houston, Texas, are opening early on Thursday to screen Comey’s testimony, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST. “Come on… you know you want to watch the drama unfold this Thursday,” Shaw’s Tavern, which will be serving $5 Stoli vodka and “FBI” sandwiches, wrote on Facebook. “Grab your friends, grab a drink and let’s COVFEFE!”

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Oh boy, you can’t win, can you?

Other Times Unemployment Has Been This Low, It Didn’t End Well (WSJ)

There have been only three fleeting periods in the past half-century when the U.S. unemployment rate was as low as it is today. This would be cause for celebration but for one disturbing fact: in hindsight, each period was associated with boiling excesses that led to serious economic trouble. Low unemployment of the late 1960s preceded an inflation spiral in the 1970s. The late 1990s bred the Dot-com bubble and bust. The mid-2000s saw the buildup and collapse of U.S. housing. While there is reason to believe today’s economy isn’t boiling over as in the past, those episodes call for caution. “It’s not a matter of superstition, it’s a matter of being mindful of the history of what such a low unemployment rate usually is followed by,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist of J.P. Morgan Chase.

While initially a welcome development, low unemployment in the 1960s laid the groundwork for a buildup of wage and price pressures, spurred on by low interest rates and aggressive government spending programs. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.3% in September 1965 and then below 4%. Today’s unemployment rate, also at 4.3%, could drop below 4% in the next year if it maintains its present trajectory. Unemployment returned again to 4.3% in January 1999. This time the inflation rate remained below 2% and it seemed that, unlike the late 1960s, the economy wasn’t overheating. But asset prices—the stock market in particular—soared after what had already been a long climb. The DJIA shot above 10000 for the first time in March 1998. Highflying tech companies commanded billion-dollar valuations with no profits to report. In hindsight, an internet bubble grew out of control.

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Hoping to get the nazi vote?

UK’s May Says She’d Rip Up Human Rights Law to Beat Terrorists (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May said she’d be willing to tear up human rights legislation in the battle against terrorists, as security continued to dominate the final days of the U.K. election campaign. Speaking to supporters at a campaign event in Slough, west of London, the premier said she wanted to make it easier for the authorities to deport foreign terror suspects and to limit the freedoms of individuals who pose a threat but who can’t be prosecuted in court. “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it,” May said. “If I am elected as prime minister on Thursday, that work begins on Friday.” May is facing criticism over her record overseeing U.K. homeland security in the wake of two terrorist attacks in two weeks ahead of Thursday’s national vote.

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Those arms sales will be under heavy pressure no matter who wins.

Corbyn: UK Foreign Policy Increases Terrorism Risk. Most Britons Agree (Ind.)

An overwhelming majority of people agree with Jeremy Corbyn that British involvement in foreign wars has put the public at greater risk of terrorism, according to a new poll. The exclusive ORB survey for The Independent found 75% of people believe interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have made atrocities on UK soil more likely. The poll – conducted before Saturday night’s devastating attack – comes after Mr Corbyn was lambasted for suggesting foreign policy decisions were linked to terrorism in the UK and that the “war on terror” had failed. The deadly strike at London Bridge and Borough Market, the third attack in Britain in as many months, has seen security dominate the final days of the election campaign, with cabinet ministers squabbling over whether it could have been stopped.

Theresa May’s record as Home Secretary has been questioned and she has faced a call to resign over the matter from Mr Corbyn, not to mention a former aide to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron. In the wake of the Manchester attack, which killed 22 people last month, the Labour leader highlighted the potential role foreign military interventions play in increasing the likelihood of atrocities in the UK. Despite experts like Baroness Eliza Manningham-Bullerformer, a former MI5 chief, and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, ex-chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, expressing similar views, he was accused by Conservatives of making excuses for terrorism.

But the ORB survey for The Independent found three-quarters of people – taking in all age groups, political persuasions and social classes – agreed Britain’s military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya had increased the risk of terrorist acts. Within that, some 68% of Tory voters agreed foreign wars have enhanced the risks of terrorism at home. So did 80% of Labour supporters and 79% of people that voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2015.

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This is hilarious in combination with the next article.

Australia’s Economy Marks Record 26 Years Without Recession (AFP)

Australia marked a world-record 26 years without a recession Wednesday, as the economy grew 0.3% in the first-quarter, official data showed. The Australian Bureau of Statistics put the annual rate of growth at 1.7%, down from 2.4% in the previous three months. The soft quarterly reading was widely expected by analysts amid the impact of category four Cyclone Debbie on eastern Australia in late March, weaker trade figures and tepid wages growth. “The results today demonstrate the continued resilience of the Australian economy,” Treasurer Scott Morrison told reporters. The Australian dollar rallied by a quarter of a US cent to 75.27 cents just after the data was released, as some analysts had predicted a negative first-quarter reading.

Australia last recorded two negative quarters of economic growth in March and June 1991, before enjoying 103 quarters without a recession to equal the record set by the Netherlands. Economists said the resources-rich nation’s long stretch of expansion was supported by economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the floating of the local currency, a flexible labour market, financial sector and capital markets deregulation and lower tariffs. Australia has also benefited from China’s economic growth and hunger for natural resources, which led to an unprecedented mining investment boom and record commodity prices. But economists have warned that economic growth in the next few years may not be as rosy. “In the context of the past few years, it is still a fairly weak outcome,” JP Morgan economist Tom Kennedy told AFP of the latest figures.

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A record run without a recession entirly paid for with leveraged private debt: “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.”

Australians Curb Spending As Household Debt Balloons (R.)

Australia’s economy may have achieved a remarkable winning streak, avoiding a recession for 25 years, but there are now clear signs that the consumers who have driven much of the growth are running out of puff. With cash interest rates at a record low and house prices near record highs, the nation’s household debt-to-income ratio has climbed to an all-time peak of 189%, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). That means there are an increasing number of people who have little cash for discretionary spending – on everything from cars to electrical appliances and new clothes – as their pay packets get consumed by large mortgages and high rental payments in the country’s red-hot property market.

And it’s not as if a sudden plunge in home prices would help – it might well expose and exacerbate the problem, at least in the short run, squeezing many who have bought into the frothy market with high mortgage repayments and little equity in their homes. “We are seeing a considerable spike in stress even in more affluent households. Large mortgages, big commitments but no income growth,” said Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) Principal Martin North. “Stressed households are less likely to spend at the shops, which acts as a drag anchor on future growth.” North estimates a record 52,000 households risk default in the next 12 months and that 23.4% of Australian families are under mortgage stress, meaning their income does not cover ongoing costs. That compares with about 19% a year ago.

“People are up to their ears in mortgages,” said Brad Smith, a car sales consultant at MotorPoint Sydney which has seen a stark slowdown in sales in the past six months. “They are all on a budget. Everyone’s got all their money in houses, that’s how it is.” Australians are also facing a cash crunch because price inflation in essential items such as food, electricity and insurance is accelerating at a 3.4% annual rate at a time when Australian wages are rising at their slowest pace on record, just 1.9% in the year to March. Meanwhile, growth in retail sales, personal loans and luxury car sales are all at multi-year lows, suggesting the household sector – nearly 60% of Australia’s A$1.7 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy – is under severe strain.

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Steve Keen’s efforts are having an effect.

Is There A Magic Money Tree? Yes Children, But That’s The Wrong Question (G.)

Does anyone who has witnessed the pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s Jubilee, the funnelling of public money into Syrian airstrikes, or the systematic cutting of taxes for the rich really think we’re not paying nurses properly because we simply don’t have the money? Absolutely not: we don’t pay nurses properly because the government makes a choice not to. This fact calls to mind the words of the Texan minister Robert Fulghum: “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber”. But the magic money tree is not a just daft expression in terms of how governments spend public money, it’s also misleading in terms of how the economy works as a whole.

Since 2008, we’ve been encouraged to see the economy like a household budget: if households spend too much money, they need to cut down on living costs so they don’t get into too much debt. To that end, the magic money tree says that if we spend too much money, we can’t just simply grow more. But actually, a country’s whole economy can grow more money if it needs to. Since 2009 the Bank of England has created £453bn of new electronic money to buy debt from the private sector using a mechanism called quantitative easing. Yes, you read that right: the Bank of England has created £453,000,000,000 of new money in the last eight years. Turns out the magic money tree is pretty big. Growing money is possible because an economy is nothing like a household budget. In a household, money comes in via people’s wages and goes out via living costs.

But in an economy, we all pay each other’s wages. Money doesn’t just travel in one direction in the economy, it circulates around. It’s the difference between one car driving in one end of a tunnel and out of the other, and lots of cars zigzagging around Spaghetti Junction. The issue isn’t whether we can grow money or not (we can – that’s just a fact), it’s where the money goes once it’s been grown. And the problem is that it doesn’t go to nurses, teachers or the public services they work for. It goes to institutions such as banks. The nurse in the BBC debate was highlighting a problem that exists across the whole economy: real wages haven’t increased for more than a decade, and this has meant more people have been relying on credit cards, with personal debt now higher than it was before the 2008 crash.

In other words, the fact that the nurse hasn’t had a pay rise is not just bad for her, it’s bad for all of us – because if that nurse is not earning enough, she won’t be spending money. And if she does spend money, she’ll do it by getting into unsustainable debt – which is itself outrageous considering the important, skilled work nurses do.

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Raise €7 billion to buy a bank for €1.

Santander Buys Struggling Spanish Banco Popular For €1 (BBG)

Banco Popular Espanol has been taken over by Santander after European regulators deemed that the bank was likely to fail. Popular will continue to operate under “normal business conditions” after all the bank’s shares and capital instruments were transferred to Santander, said the EU’s Single Resolution Board. The purchase price was €1, according to a statement. Santander plans to raise about €7bn (£6.1bn) of capital as part of the transaction. Popular had been looking for a buyer or a possible share sale after its balance sheet was battered by soured real estate loans that eroded its capital.

Its shares have dropped 53pc since the beginning of last week. In a statement, the ECB, which oversees the largest banks in the eurozone, said: “The significant deterioration of the liquidity situation of the bank in recent days led to a determination that the entity would have, in the near future, been unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fell due. “Consequently, the ECB determined that the bank was failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which adopted a resolution scheme entailing the sale of Banco Popular Espanol to Banco Santander.”

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That Paris accord is a hoax.

Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader (WSJ)

For years, a wide spectrum of groups in the U.S. lectured, cajoled and entreated China to go green. Multinationals and nonprofits teamed up with Chinese environmental groups to promote eco-friendly causes; Coca-Cola restored forests in the upper Yangtze. U.S. labs offered scientific support. Academics collaborated on research. The former Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, championed China’s disappearing wetlands, a haven for migratory birds. The well-funded effort amplified voices within China demanding the government take action. It was, says Orville Schell, a longtime China watcher and environmentalist, “the most effective missionary work in the past couple hundred years.” So it’s an irony of historic proportions how the roles have reversed: China, the world’s worst polluter by far, is now a convert on climate change while the White House under Donald Trump has turned apostate.

In pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate-change agreement, Mr. Trump has repudiated a signal accomplishment of the Obama presidency: persuading Beijing to become a partner in the effort to prevent the planet from heating up to the point of no return. Without China’s support, the Paris deal might have fallen apart. Mr. Paulson issued a statement saying he was dismayed and disappointed. “We have left a void for others to fill,” he said. When it comes to the environment, China is still torn by conflicting priorities. It has installed more solar and wind capacity than any other nation—and plans to invest another $360 billion in renewable energy between now and 2020. The economy is rebalancing away from heavy industry and manufacturing toward much cleaner services and consumption.

Coal consumption has declined for three straight years. On current trends, many scientists expect that China will reach peak carbon emissions well before its target date of 2030 under the Paris accord. Yet Beijing remains committed to rapid growth. And coal is still king. Just ask the residents of Beijing. Whenever economic policy makers set out to boost growth, spending flows to new real-estate and infrastructure projects, the steel mills around the capital fire up their coal furnaces—and commuters reach for their face masks. This winter was particularly hard on the lungs. A spending splurge meant that Beijing’s average pollution levels last year were double the national standard set by the State Council.

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“How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya?”

Gimme Shelter (Jim Kunstler)

“Have you all lost your mind?” Vladimir Putin replied to one of Megyn Kelly’s thrusts about alleged Russian perfidy toward the US in the gala interview that debuted her new Sunday Night star-chamber on NBC. Old Vlad put his finger on something there. His view of the late goings-on in America is like that of the proverbial detached Martian observer of strange Earthly doings, rattling his antennae and clicking his mouth-parts in mirth. To which retort, by the way, one would have to answer, ”Yes, absolutely.” The toils of slow economic collapse, accompanied by the ceaseless effort by various arms of the Deep State to spin “the narrative” around the voting public’s collective head, has driven the polity insane. And this, of course, is on view in the bedlam that US politics has become, Trump and all.

I’m waiting for The New York Times to run the three-column headline that says Russia Racist, Misogynist, and Islamophobic to finally bring together the programmed paranoia of NeoCon / DemProg alliance with the esprit de corp of the new collegiate Red Guard. Mr. Putin does not have to lift a finger to detonate the groaning garbage barge of US domestic affairs. It’s already ignited and is faring toward a very peculiar species of civil war. You can be sure that the NeoCon/DemProg axis is determined to get rid of Trump at all costs. Impeachment requires some sort of high crime or misdeamenor. So far, going on a year, they haven’t come up with any evidence that the Golden Golem of Greatness acted as a Russian agent in some fashion, and that itself has got to be a little suspicious, considering the thousands of clerks in the spinning mills of those legendary seventeen Intel outfits the government runs.

How could they fail to come up with a video of the Donald and Vladimir swatting each other playfully with birch switches in a Moscow banya? Five TV sitcom writers could surely come up with an angle — as long as it was a plausible entertainment. In the meantime, Trump prevails, the mad bull elephant of the Republican herd, majestically swinging his trunk against everything breakable in the political china shop while trumpeting “Covfefe! Covfefe!” Last week it was the Paris Climate Accords. The op-ed writers in the usual places bounced off the walls of their virtual rubber room in response. Paul Krugman had to be dragged down to hydrotherapy at the NYT after he set his hair on fire. And Rachel Maddow practically popped a carotid artery in her muscular neck from all that shrieking.

I’m a bit more sanguine about the US withdrawal. To me, the Paris Accords were just another feel-good PR stunt enabling politicians to pretend that they could control forces that are already way out-of-hand, an international vanity project of ass-covering. The coming economic collapse will depress global industrial activity whether anybody likes it or not, and despite anyone’s pretense of good intentions — and then we will have a range of much more practical problems of everyday life to contend with.

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It’s getting time to rise up.

98% Of Greeks Downbeat About Their Current Economic Situation (K.)

Greeks are among the most pessimistic people in the world, according to the findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center which found that many Europeans as well as Japanese and Americans feel better about their national economies now than before the global financial crisis nearly a decade ago. Questioned about their national economy, only 2% of Greeks were upbeat, the lowest rate among the 32 countries polled. The Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Indians see their national economies in the most positive light, with more than 80% expressing optimism. The Pew survey also detected widespread concern about the future. A median of just 41% said they believed that a child in their country today would grow up to be better off financially than their parents. The most pessimistic about prospects for the next generation are the French (9%), the Japanese (19%) and the Greeks (21%).

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May 192017
 
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled 1982

 

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)
Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)
US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)
Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)
How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)
Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)
Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)
Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)
ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)
Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)
Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)
Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)
What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)
Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)
50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

 

 

Time for legal action against Sweden and the prosecutors.

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)

Swedish prosecutors said on Friday they would drop a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bringing to an end a seven-year legal standoff. “Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors office said in a statement. Assange, 45, has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation of rape, which he denies. He has refused to travel to Stockholm, saying he fears further extradition to the US over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2015 lawyers for Julian Assange have claimed victory after a Swedish prosecutor bowed to pressure from the courts and agreed to break the deadlock in the WikiLeaks founder’s case by interviewing him in London.

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“Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live.”

Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)

Australia has become the “walking dead of debt” due for a financial reckoning that could shock the housing market “bubble” within months. That’s according to “anti-economist” Professor Steve Keen who defines Australia as a “zombie to be” given soaring personal debt that has created a government-induced property bubble ripe to burst. “Australia has simply delayed its day of reckoning,” he told news.com.au in reference to the global financial crisis that shocked many countries around the world from 2008 but left the lucky country relatively unscathed after a series of government interventions. The Kingston University Professor claims first homeowners grants rolled out by successive governments have artificially kept prices high creating a form of “instant prosperity” that politicians are loath to stop.

“The housing bubble makes the politicians look good because A, people are feeling wealthier, and B … people are borrowing money to spend,” he said. “Then the government runs a balanced budget and looks like it really knows what it’s doing” “It hasn’t got a f***ing clue frankly, because what’s actually happening is the reason it’s making that money is credit is expanding,” he said. “It’s the old classic story, you’re criticising a party because someone’s laced the punchbowl. You try to take the punchbowl away from the party you’re a very unpopular person but you need to because what’s actually happening is people are getting intoxicated with credit”. His latest book, Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? argues Australia, along with Belgium, China, Canada and South Korea, is a “zombie” economy sleepwalking into a crunch that could come between 2017 and 2020.

“Both [Australia and Canada] will suffer a serious economic slowdown in the next few years since the only way they can sustain their current growth rates is for debt to continue growing faster than GDP,” he writes. [..] For Prof Keen, the solution for governments to an overheated housing market is obvious: “Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live. So you go back to saying ‘what’s desirable is affordable houses’ and affordable means it doesn’t cost a first homebuyer more than three or four years’ income to get a property,” he said. As for those struggling to get on the ladder in the meantime? “The only thing you can do in the middle is say I’m just not going to join in, and if it happens on a collective level …. it’s game over for the bubble because the bubble only works if more people keep taking out more leverage.”

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Wait till house prices start falling.

US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)

The total debt held by American households reached a record in early 2017, exceeding its 2008 peak after years of retrenchment against a backdrop of financial crisis, recession and modest economic growth. Much has changed over the past 8.5 years. The economy is larger, lending standards are tighter and less debt is delinquent. Mortgages remain the largest form of household borrowing but have become a smaller share of total debt as consumers take on more automotive and student loans. “The debt and its borrowers look quite different today,” New York Fed economist Donghoon Lee said. He added: “This record debt level is neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm.” The total-debt milestone, announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was a long time coming.

Americans reduced their debts during and after the 2007-09 recession to an unusual extent: a 12% decline from the peak in the third quarter of 2008 to the trough in the second quarter of 2013. New York Fed researchers, looking at data back to the end of World War II, described the drop as “an aberration from what had been a 63-year upward trend reflecting the depth, duration and aftermath of the Great Recession.” In the first quarter, total debt was up about 14% from that low point as steady job gains, falling unemployment and continued economic growth boosted households’ income and willingness to borrow. The New York Fed report said total household debt rose by $149 billion in the first three months of 2017 compared with the prior quarter to a total of $12.725 trillion.

The pace of new lending slowed from the strong fourth quarter. Mortgage balances rose from the final three months of 2016, while home-equity lines of credit were down. Automotive loans rose, as did student loans, but credit-card debt fell along with other types of debt. The data weren’t adjusted for inflation, and household debt remains below past levels in relation to the size of the overall U.S. economy. In the first quarter, total debt was about 67% of nominal gross domestic product versus roughly 85% of GDP in the third quarter of 2008. Balance sheets look different now, with less housing-related debt and more student and auto loans. As of the first quarter, about 68% of total household debt was in the form of mortgages; in the third quarter of 2008, mortgages were roughly 73% of total debt. Student loans rose from about 5% to around 11% of total indebtedness, and auto loans went from roughly 6% to about 9%.

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Can we finally try to understand this, all of us?

Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)

In this Renegade Short, Professor Steve Keen explains why the government isn’t supposed to balance its accounts like a household.

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TomDickHaria.

How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)

The EU’s “Stability and Growth Pact” has as one of its primary rules that “The Member States undertake to abide by the medium-term budgetary objective of positions close to balance or in surplus…” I explore what this objective implies in the context of a model of the economy of “TomDickHaria”: what happens to its collective GDP where one member tries to achieve the surplus goal set out in the “Stability and Growth Pact?

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The Troika makes sure Greece will keep drowning.

Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)

All 153 lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ governing coalition backed the legislation that includes new pension cuts and lower tax breaks, which are expected to save Greece €4.9 billion ($5.4 billion) until 2021. All opposition lawmakers present in the 300-seat chamber rejected the package required by international lenders before the release of more aid. Athens needs the bailout funds to repay €7.5 billion of debt maturing in July this year. Relief measures will only kick in if Greece meets fiscal targets stipulated by its creditors. “Our country is being turned into an austerity colony,” leading opposition conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during debate on the bill, describing added cuts as a “nightmare” for low-earners.

Tsipras countered that its passage would enable Greece from summer next year to stand on its own feet, without the intervention of creditors such as the IMF. He accused the opposition of constantly warning of a catastrophe that “hasn’t come.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai TV that Greek creditors the IMF and Germany were “in the final stretch of very tough negotiations” over a compromise that should allow Greece to return to bond markets in 2018. Thursday’s austerity package lowers the income tax exception from €8,600 down to about €5,700 but increases benefits for low-income tenants, parents with children and subsidies for child care. Public stakes are to be reduced through sales of holdings in Greece’s PPC electricity utility, railways, Athens’ international airport and the Thessaloniki port.

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Same as it ever was. Fantasy numbers have ruled the day for many years.

Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)

President Donald Trump next week will propose the U.S. can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, combined with a tax and regulatory overhaul that speeds up the nation’s economic growth rate, a senior White House budget official said. The president’s budget, due for release Tuesday, will spare the two largest drivers of future spending—Medicare and Social Security—leaving trillions in cuts from other programs. That includes discretionary spending cuts to education, housing, environment programs and foreign aid already laid out by the administration, in addition to new proposed reductions to nondiscretionary spending like food stamps, Medicaid and federal employee-benefit programs.

The budget release, which will be unveiled while Mr. Trump is visiting Europe and the Middle East, shows how his economic policy team is trying to forge ahead on his agenda even as distracting political controversies, such as the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, swirl around Washington. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified on Capitol Hill, his first such appearance since his February confirmation, where he expressed confidence Congress could advance a revamp of the tax code this year. House Republicans held their first hearing on the proposed tax overhaul, following a series of meetings between lawmakers and top administration officials Wednesday.

The White House’s budget proposal next week builds upon an earlier outline in March that called for a nearly 10% boost in defense funding next year, offset by around $54 billion in cuts for nondefense programs. [..] Among the more controversial elements of the budget will be the administration’s growth forecasts. The White House projects the nation’s economic growth rate will rise to 3% by 2021, compared with the 1.9% forecast under current policy by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s unusual to see the White House’s growth forecasts differ from the CBO and other blue-chip projections by such a large margin over such a long stretch of the 10-year budget window.

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Another crazy experiment by the Fed bookworms.

Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)

Despite yesterday’s market sell-off, the Fed is still on track to raise interest rates in June. Wednesday’s action is no more than a speed bump for the Fed. It will not stop the Fed from moving forward with another 0.25% rate increase. The Fed is embarking on a new path, a path that started several years with QE (quantitative easing). QE is the name for the method the Fed uses to ease monetary conditions when interest rates are already zero. Conventional monetary policy calls for interest rate cuts to stimulate growth and inflate asset prices when the economy is in a recession. What does a central bank do when interest rates are already at zero and you can’t cut them anymore? One solution is negative interest rates, although the evidence from Japan and Europe indicates that negative rates do not have the same effect as rate cuts from positive levels. The second solution is to print money! The Fed does this by buying bonds from the big banks.

The banks deliver the bonds to the Fed, and the Fed pays for them with money from thin air. The popular name for this is quantitative easing, or QE, although the Fed’s technical name is long-term asset purchases. The Fed did QE in three rounds from 2008 to 2013. They gradually tapered new purchases down to zero by 2014. Since then, the Fed has been stuck with $4.5 trillion of bonds that it bought with the printed money. When the bonds mature, the Fed buys new ones to maintain the size of its balance sheet. But now the Fed wants to “normalize” its balance sheet and get back down to about $2 trillion. They could just sell the bonds, but that would destroy the bond market. Instead, the Fed will let the old bonds mature, and not buy new ones. That way the money just disappears and the balance sheet shrinks. The new name for this is “quantitative tightening,” or QT. You’ll be hearing a lot about QT in the months ahead.

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Tapering, QT, it’s all just more ‘uncharted territory’.

ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)

Here’s the staggering scale of the Italian government’s dependence on the ECB’s bond purchases, according to a new report by Astellon Capital: Since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. But now there’s a snag. Last month, the size of the balance sheet of the ECB surpassed that of any other central bank: At €4.17 trillion, the ECB’s assets have soared to 38.8% of Eurozone GDP. The ECB has already reduced the rate of purchases to €60 billion a month. And it plans to further withdraw from the super-expansionary monetary policy. To do this, according to Der Spiegel, it wants to spread more optimistic messages about the economic situation and gradually reduce borrowing.

[..] By the halfway point of 2018 the ECB would have completed tapering and it would then use the second half of the year to move away from negative interest rates. So far, most current ECB members have shown scant enthusiasm for withdrawing the punch bowl. The reason most frequently cited for not tapering more just yet is their lingering concern about the long-term sustainability of the Eurozone’s recent economic turnaround. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe, while merely serving to paper over the cracks that began forming — or at least became visible — in some Eurozone economies during the sovereign debt crisis. In many places the cracks are even bigger than they were back then. This is the elephant in the ECB’s room, and by now it’s too big to ignore.

In one country alone, the cracks are so large that they could end up fracturing the entire single currency project. That country is Italy. Astellon Capital’s report on Italy’s dependence on ECB bond purchases poses the question: If the ECB tapers its purchase of Italian bonds further, who would pick up the slack? The Italian banks, which are themselves deep in crisis mode and whose balance sheets are already filled to the gills with Italian bonds? Hardly. When QE ends, the banks are more likely to become net sellers, rather than net buyers, of Italian debt. The only way for the game to continue is if over the next six years non-banks increase their purchase activity up to seven times that of the past nine years. In other words, the very same investors who have used QE as the perfect opportunity to offload the immense risk of holding Italian liabilities onto the Bank of Italy’s, and then onto the Eurosystem’s, would need to step back into the market in a massive way, just at a time that the country in question is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis.

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No kidding.

Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)

Diplomatic relations between America and Russia have deteriorated to such an extent that contacts between the two countries have become extremely paranoid of one another, the chief executive of Russia’s largest bank has told CNBC. “From what we see here in Russia and from the programs we see from the U.S., the unfolding situation is fairly complex. And there are certain signs of a certain… paranoid attitude to Russia and to every single contact with Russia real or imagined,” Herman Gref, Sberbank CEO, said via a translator. [..] When asked whether Gref harbored any concerns about the consequences of having met with Trump in the past, he replied, “I think the situation has become extremely paranoid for one to suspect that these sort of contacts could lead to political consequences.”

Speaking in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sberbank’s CEO had predicted the Trump administration could re-establish close ties with the Kremlin and expressed his hope the newly-elected U.S. president could mark a “new beginning” for the two countries. On Friday, Gref suggested it was still too early to judge the success of Trump’s presidency however conceded that, for the time-being at least, relations between American and Russia were unlikely to change for the better. Moscow is currently enduring the sharp end of tough international sanctions from Washington[..] . “Well, I have to say that this has had an effect on us in the last two years… The inability to access international markets is painful for us,” Gref said. “You know, sanctions were put in place for political reasons and most likely their removal will also be motivated by politics…

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China’s official government paper.

Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)

The American elite still refuse to accept Trump after his 100 days in the Oval Office. He is at odds with the mainstream media; insiders have constantly leaked information to the media. Now some commentators have compared the exposure of the Comey memo to the Watergate scandal. As Congress is under Republican control, few believe there will be a move to impeach the president, but these latest revelations will certainly further erode Trump’s presidential authority. At the beginning of the corruption scandal, few believed that South Korean president Park Geun-hye would be impeached either. Could this be a reference for Trump’s case? But evidence of Park’s illegal activities was solid, while it will be more complicated to make determinations over whether Trump obstructed justice and leaked classified intelligence.

To impeach Trump will need more evidence from further investigation. To completely discredit Trump among voters, the present scandal is not enough as it does not add to the negative image of Trump. Many just think Trump often speaks off the cuff, which ends up in silly blunders. If there is a major substantive scandal over and above him speaking out of turn then that will be another thing. But this is not the case at the moment. Every country has its own troubles. The US model represents Western democracy, but it is crumbling, and the resulting social division has become more and more serious. The US Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into link between Russia and the 2016 US presidential election and related matters on Wednesday.

More juicy details will continue to appear and the rifts may become wider. Trump will become one of the most frequently accused Americans. The US won’t be engulfed by chaos if its president is caught in a lawsuit. Someone has pointed out that no matter how chaotic the White House and Capitol Hill are, the overall operation of the US will not be a major problem as long as the enterprises and social organizations in the country are stable. This is seen as an advantage of the American system. Although American society is relatively stable, the political tumult can’t be taken as an advantage of the US system. The fact is that US politics is in trouble, and the benefits brought by its system are being squandered.

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Democracy as a threat to the state.

Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)

It was never written down and never given a name, but France had a detailed plan to “protect the Republic” if far right leader Marine Le Pen was elected president, French media have reported. “It was like a multi-stage rocket,” an unnamed senior official told l’Obs magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules.” [..] L’Obs cited three anonymous sources with knowledge of the emergency plan that would have been put into effect had Le Pen reached the Elysée palace, saying it was devised by a small group of ministers, chiefs of staff and top civil servants. The magazine said the plan was aimed mainly at preventing serious civil unrest and “freezing” the political situation by convening parliament in emergency session and maintaining the outgoing prime minister in office.

Police and intelligence services were particularly concerned by the threat of “extreme violence” from mainly far left protesters in the event of a Le Pen victory as the country would have found itself “on the brink of chaos”. Even before the first round of voting on 23 April, a confidential note drawn up by the intelligence services announced that “without exception, every local public safety directorate has expressed its concern”, Le Parisien reported. Regional police chiefs were asked on 21 April to detail their crowd control and deployment plans, l’Obs said. Under France’s ongoing state of emergency, more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers were already on duty. On 5 May, two days before the second round that Macron won by 66% to Le Pen’s 34%, the national public safety directorate warned in another note that protesters were ready to use “fireworks, mortars and incendiary bombs”.

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“If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.”

What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)

When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.” The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5% of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.

The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable. At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95% of earners. The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies.

It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools. In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles. If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps?

Read more …

Single payer rules. Supreme.

Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)

Neither Canada nor Japan cracked the top 10, and the United States finished a dismal 35th, according to a much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries, released Friday. Among nations with more than a million souls, top honours for 2015 went to Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Norway, though the healthcare gold standard remains tiny Andorra, a postage stamp of a country nestled between Spain (No. 8) and France (No. 15). Iceland (No. 2), Australia (No. 6), Finland (No. 7), the Netherlands (No. 9) and financial and banking centre Luxembourg rounded out the first 10 finishers, according to a comprehensive study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Of the 20 countries heading up the list, all but Australia and Japan (No. 11) are in western Europe, where virtually every nation boasts some form of universal health coverage. The United States – where a Republican Congress wants to peel back reforms that gave millions of people access to health insurance for the first time – ranked below Britain, which placed 30th. The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990.

Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many – especially in Africa and Oceania – fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens. With the exceptions of Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all. “Despite improvements in healthcare quality and access over 25 years, inequality between the best and worst performing countries has grown,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and leader of a consortium of hundreds of contributing experts.

Read more …

“Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people”

50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, sits in the soft autumn sunshine at a cafe intersecting Redfern Park and the oval that remains the spiritual home of his beloved club. He sips a Red Bull “heart starter” and English breakfast tea. And he shakes his head while contemplating the anniversaries of what ought to have been transformative moments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – starting with the 1967 “citizenship” referendum that first made their existence in Australia “official”. “Things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight,” Bellear says.

“Before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people.” Indigenous people had never previously been officially included among the Australian citizenry, nor counted in the Commonwealth census – so the federal government could not legislate for them. But on 27 May 1967, more than 90% of the Australian electorate voted at the “citizenship” referendum to effectively bring Indigenous people into the Commonwealth. “After the referendum, though, it was like the work was done for the rest of the country and governments – when it was actually just the bloody beginning,” Bellear says. “Every little thing we’ve won since, we’ve had to fight for.”

2017 is also the 25th anniversary of two more critical moments in the story: the Mabo decision – a High Court ruling that led to native title land rights, and former prime minister Paul Keating’s landmark “Redfern speech” (“We committed the murders – we took the children from their mothers”). It was Bellear who introduced Keating at Redfern Park. This was the first time an Australian prime minister had frankly, without qualification, acknowledged the violence, sickness, dispossession and ongoing oppression that colonialism had imposed on Indigenous people. Yet a quarter of a century on, Bellear says his country remains deaf to all the non-government reports into Indigenous lives – and to the savage critiques of Commonwealth policies that purported to make them better.

[..] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute some 3% of the country’s overall population – yet in 1991, they comprised 14% of Australia’s prisoners. A quarter of a century later, that figure was up to 27% – while more than 150 Indigenous people had died in custody in the intervening 25 years. In some parts of Australia, many more young Indigenous men complete prison terms than high school. The Indigenous rate of imprisonment is 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rate. As Thalia Anthony pointed out in her 2015 book Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment, rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia today match those of black imprisonment in apartheid South Africa.

Read more …

May 182017
 
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Pablo Picasso Bull plates I-XI 1945

 

Nicole Foss has completed a huge tour de force with her update of the Automatic Earth Primer Guide. The first update since 2013 is now more like a Primer Library, with close to 160 articles and videos published over the past -almost- 10 years, and Nicole’s words to guide you through it. Here’s Nicole:

 

 

The Automatic Earth (TAE) has existed for almost ten years now. That is nearly ten years of exploring and describing the biggest possible big picture of our present predicament. The intention of this post is to gather all of our most fundamental articles in one place, so that readers can access our worldview in its most comprehensive form. For new readers, this is the place to start. The articles are roughly organised into topics, although there is often considerable overlap.

We are reaching limits to growth in so many ways at the same time, but it is not enough to understand which are the limiting factors, but also what time frame each particular subset of reality operates over, and therefore which is the key driver at what time. We can think of the next century as a race of hurdles we need to clear. We need to know how to prepare for each as it approaches, as we need to clear each one in order to be able to stay in the race.

TAE is known primarily as a finance site because finance has the shortest time frame of all. So much of finance exists in a virtual world in which changes can unfold very quickly. There are those who assume that changes in a virtual system can happen without major impact, but this assumption is dangerously misguided. Finance is the global operating system – the interface between ourselves, our institutions and our resource base. When the operating system crashes, nothing much will work until the system is rebooted. The next few years will see that crash and reboot. As financial contraction is set to occur first, finance will be the primary driver to the downside for the next several years. After that, we will be dealing with energy crisis, other resource limits, limitations of carrying capacity and increasing geopolitical ramifications.

The global financial system is rapidly approaching a Minsky Moment:

“A Minsky moment is a sudden major collapse of asset values which is part of the credit cycle or business cycle. Such moments occur because long periods of prosperity and increasing value of investments lead to increasing speculation using borrowed money. The spiraling debt incurred in financing speculative investments leads to cash flow problems for investors. The cash generated by their assets is no longer sufficient to pay off the debt they took on to acquire them.

Losses on such speculative assets prompt lenders to call in their loans. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values. Meanwhile, the over-indebted investors are forced to sell even their less-speculative positions to make good on their loans. However, at this point no counterparty can be found to bid at the high asking prices previously quoted. This starts a major sell-off, leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market-clearing asset prices, a sharp drop in market liquidity, and a severe demand for cash.”

This is the inevitable result of decades of ponzi finance, as our credit bubble expanded relentlessly, leaving us today with a giant pile of intertwined human promises which cannot be kept. Bubbles create, and rely on, building stacks of IOUs ever more removed from any basis in underlying real wealth. When the bubble finally implodes, the value of those promises disappears as it becomes obvious they will not be kept. Bust follows boom, as it has done throughout human history. The ensuing Great Collateral Grab will reveal just how historically under-collateralized our supposed prosperity has become. Very few of the myriad claims to underlying real wealth can actually be met, leaving the excess claims to be exposed as empty promises. These are destined to be rapidly and messily extinguished in a deflationary implosion.

While we cannot tell you exactly when the bust will unfold in specific locations, we can see that it is already well underway in some parts of the world, notably the European periphery. Given that preparation takes time, and that one cannot be late, now is the time to prepare, whether one thinks the Great Collateral Grab will manifest close to home next month or next year. Those who are not prepared risk losing everything, very much including their freedom of action to address subsequent challenges as they arise. It would be a tragedy to fall at the first hurdle, and then be at the mercy of whatever fate has to throw at you thereafter. The Automatic Earth has been covering finance, market psychology and the consequences of excess credit and debt since our inception, providing readers with the tools to navigate a major financial accident.

 

Ponzi Finance

Nicole: From the Top of the Great Pyramid
Nicole: The Infinite Elasticity of Credit
Nicole: Look Back, Look Forward, Look Down. Way Down
Nicole: Ragnarok – Iceland and the Doom of the Gods
Ilargi: Iceland To Take Back The Power To Create Money
Ilargi: The Only Thing That Grows Is Debt
Ilargi: Central Banks Are Crack Dealers and Faith Healers
Nicole: Promises, Promises … Detroit, Pensions, Bondholders And Super-Priority Derivatives
Nicole: Where the Rubber Meets the Road in America
Ilargi: How Our Aversion To Change Leads Us Into Danger
Ilargi: Debt In The Time Of Wall Street
Ilargi: The Contractionary Vortex Of The Lumpen Proletariat
Ilargi: Hornswoggled Absquatulation

 


Fred Stein Evening, Paris 1934

 

The Velocity of Money and Deflation

Nicole: The Resurgence of Risk
Nicole: Inflation Deflated
Nicole: The Unbearable Mightiness of Deflation
Nicole: Debunking Gonzalo Lira and Hyperinflation
Nicole: Dollar-Denominated Debt Deflation
Nicole: Deflation Revisited: The Studio Version
Nicole: Stoneleigh Takes on John Williams: Deflation It Is
Ilargi: US Hyperinflation is a Myth
Ilargi: Everything’s Deflating And Nobody Seems To Notice
Ilargi: The Velocity of the American Consumer
Ilargi: Deflation, Debt and Gravity
Ilargi: Debt, Propaganda And Now Deflation
Ilargi: The Revenge Of A Government On Its People

 

Markets and Psychology

Nicole: Markets and the Lemming Factor
Ilargi: You Are Not an Investor
Nicole: Over the Edge Lies Fear
Nicole: Capital Flight, Capital Controls and Capital Fear
Nicole: The Future Belongs to the Adaptable
Nicole: A Future Discounted
Ashvin Pandurangi: A Glimpse Into the Stubborn Psychology of 'Fish'
Ashvin Pandurangi: A Glimpse Into the Self-Destructive Psychology of 'Sharks'
Ilargi: Institutional Fish
Ilargi: Optimism Bias: What Keeps Us Alive Today Will Kill Us Tomorrow
Nicole: Volatility and Sleep-Walking Markets

 

Real Estate

Ilargi: Our Economies Run On Housing Bubbles
Nicole: Welcome to the Gingerbread Hotel
Nicole: Bubble Case Studies: Ireland and Canada
Ilargi: Don’t Buy A Home: You’ll Get Burned

 


Berenice Abbott Murray Hill Hotel, New York 1937

 

Metals, Currencies, Interest Rates, and the War on Cash

Nicole: Gold – Follow the Yellow Brick Road?
Nicole: A Golden Double-Edged Sword
Ilargi: Square Holes and Currency Pegs
Nicole: The Special Relativity of Currencies
Nicole: Negative Interest Rates and the War on Cash
Ilargi: This Is Why The Euro Is Finished
Ilargi: The Broken Model Of The Eurozone
Ilargi: Central Banks Upside Down
Ilargi: The Only Man In Europe Who Makes Any Sense

 

China’s Epic Bubble

Nicole: China And The New World Disorder
Ilargi: Meet China’s New Leader: Pon Zi
Ilargi: China Relies On Property Bubbles To Prop Up GDP
Ilargi: Deflation Is Blowing In On An Eastern Trade Wind
Ilargi: China: A 5-Year Plan And 50 Million Jobs Lost
Ilargi: The Great Fall Of China Started At Least 4 Years Ago
Ilargi: Time To Get Real About China
Ilargi: Where Is China On The Map Exactly?

 

Commodities, Trade and Geopolitics

Nicole: Et tu, Commodities?
Nicole: Commodities and Deflation: A Response to Chris Martenson
Nicole: Then and Now: Sunshine and Eclipse
Nicole: The Rise and Fall of Trade
Nicole: The Death of Democracy in a Byzantine Labyrinth
Nicole: The Imperial Eurozone (With all That Implies)
Ilargi: The Troika And The Five Families
Ilargi: Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not
Nicole: Entropy and Empire
Ilargi: There’s Trouble Brewing In Middle Earth

 


Giotto Legend of St Francis, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo c.1297-1299

 

The second limiting factor is likely to be energy, although this may vary with location, given that energy sources are not evenly distributed. Changes in supply and demand for energy are grounded in the real world, albeit in a highly financialized way, hence they unfold over a longer time frame than virtual finance. Over-financializing a sector of the real economy leaves it subject to the swings of boom and bust, or bubbles and their aftermath, but the changes in physical systems typically play out over months to years rather than days to weeks. 

Financial crisis can be expected to deprive people of purchasing power, quickly and comprehensively, thereby depressing demand substantially (given that demand is not what one wants, but what one can pay for). Commodity prices fall under such circumstances, and they can be expected to fall more quickly than the cost of production, leaving margins squeezed and both physical and financial risk rising sharply. This would deter investment for a substantial period of time. As a financial reboot begins to deliver economic recovery some years down the line, the economy can expect to hit a hard energy supply ceiling as a result. Financial crisis initially buys us time in the coming world of hard energy limits, but at the expense of worsening the energy crisis in the longer term.

Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing. We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

We are poised to throw away what remains of our conventional energy inheritance chasing an impossible dream of perpetual energy riches, because doing so will be profitable for the few in the short term, and virtually no one is taking a genuine long term view. We will make the transition to a lower energy society much more difficult than it need have been. At The Automatic Earth we have covered these issues extensively, pointing particularly to the importance of net energy, or energy profit ratios, for alternative supplies. We have also addressed the intersections of energy and finance.

 

Energy, EROEI, Finance and ‘Above Ground Factors’

Nicole: Energy, Finance and Hegemonic Power
Ilargi: Cheap Oil A Boon For The Economy? Think Again
Ilargi: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore
Ilargi: Not Nearly Enough Growth To Keep Growing
Ilargi: Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly
Ilargi: The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy
Ilargi: More Than A Quantum Of Fragility
Ilargi: (Re-)Covering Oil and War
Nicole: Oil, Credit and the Velocity of Money Revisited
Nicole: Jeff Rubin and Oil Prices Revisited
Charlie Hall: Peak Wealth and Peak Energy
Ken Latta: When Was America’s Peak Wealth?
Ken Latta: Go Long Chain Makers
Euan Mearns: The Peak Oil Paradox – Revisited
Ilargi: At Last The ‘Experts’ Wake Up To Oil
Ilargi: Oil, Power and Psychopaths
Nicole: A Mackenzie Valley Pipe-Dream?

 

Unconventional Oil and Gas

Nicole: Get Ready for the North American Gas Shock
Nicole: Shale Gas Reality Begins to Dawn
Nicole: Unconventional Oil is NOT a Game Changer
Nicole: Peak Oil: A (Short) Dialogue With George Monbiot
Nicole: Fracking Our Future
Nicole: The Second UK Dash for Gas: A Faustian Bargain
Ilargi: Jobs, Shale, Debt and Minsky
Nicole (video): Sucking Beer Out Of The Carpet: Nicole Foss At The Great Debate in Melbourne
Ilargi: Shale Is A Pipedream Sold To Greater Fools
Ilargi: The Darker Shades Of Shale
Ilargi: Debt and Energy, Shale and the Arctic
Ilargi: London Is Fracking, And I Live By The River
Ilargi: And On The Seventh Day God Shorted His People
Ilargi: The Oil Market Actually Works, And That Hurts
Ilargi: Drilling Our Way Into Oblivion
Ilargi: Who’s Ready For $30 Oil?
Ilargi: US Shale And The Slippery Slopes Of The Law

 

Electricity and Renewables

Nicole: Renewable Energy: The Vision and a Dose of Reality
Nicole: India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come
Nicole: Smart Metering and Smarter Metering
Nicole: Renewable Power? Not in Your Lifetime
Nicole: A Green Energy Revolution?
Nicole: The Receding Horizons of Renewable Energy
Euan Mearns: Broken Energy Markets and the Downside of Hubbert’s Peak

 


Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

 

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, TAE provided coverage of the developing catastrophe, drawing on an earlier academic background in nuclear safety. It will be many years before the true impact of Fukushima is known, both because health impacts take time to be demonstrable and because the radiation releases are not over. The destroyed reactors continue to leak radiation into the environment, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. The vulnerability of the site to additional seismic activity is substantial, and the potential for further radiation releases as a result is similarly large. The disaster is therefore far worse than it first appeared to be. The number of people in harms way, for whom no evacuation is realistic despite the risk, is huge, and the health impacts will prove to be tragic, particularly for the young.

 

Fukushima and Nuclear Safety

Nicole: How Black is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?
Nicole: The Fukushima Fallout Files
Nicole: Fukushima: Review of an INES class 7 Accident
Nicole: Fukushima: Fallacies, Fallout, Fundamentals and Fear
Nicole: Welcome to the Atomic Village

 

The Automatic Earth takes a broad view of the context in which finance, energy and resources operate, looking at issues of how society functions at a macro level. Context is vital to understanding the bigger picture, particularly human context as it relates to the critical factor of scale and the emergent properties that flow from it. We have continually emphasised the importance of the trust horizon; in determining what functions at what time, and what kind of social milieu we can expect as matters evolve.

Expansions are built upon the optimistic side of human nature and tend to lead to greater inclusiveness and recognition of common humanity over time. Higher levels of political aggregation, and more complex webs of trading relationships, come into being and achieve popular support thanks to the benefits they confer. In contrast, contractions tend to reveal, and be driven by, the darker and more pessimistic side of human collective psychology. They are social and are political as well as economic. In both directions, collective attitudes can create their own self-fulfilling prophecies at the societal level.

Trust determines effective organisational scale, extending political legitimacy to higher levels of political organisation during expansions and withdrawing it during periods of contraction, leaving political entities beyond the trust horizon. Where popular legitimacy is withdrawn, organisational effectiveness is substantially undermined, and much additional effort may go into maintaining control at that scale through surveillance and coercion.

The effort is destined to fail over the longer term, and smaller scale forms of organisation, still within the trust horizon, may come to hold much greater significance. The key to effective action is to know at what scale to operate at any given time. As we have said before, while one cannot control the large scale waves of expansion and contraction that unfold over decades or centuries, understanding where a given society finds itself within that wave structure can allow people and their communities to surf those waves.

 

Scale and Society

Nicole: Scale Matters
Nicole: Economics and the Nature of Political Crisis
Nicole: Fractal Adaptive Cycles in Natural and Human Systems
Nicole: Entropy and Empire
Nicole: The Storm Surge of Decentralization
Ilargi: When Centralization Scales Beyond Our Control
Ilargi: London Bridge is (Broken) Down
Ilargi: The Great Divide
Ilargi: Quote of the Year. And The Next
Nicole: Corruption, Culpability and Short-Termism
Ilargi: The Value of Wealth
Ilargi: The Most Destructive Generation Ever
Ilargi: Ain’t Nobody Like To Be Alone

 

Trust and the Psychology of Contraction

Nicole: Beyond the Trust Horizon
Nicole: Bubbles and the Titanic Betrayal of Public Trust
Ilargi: Why There Is Trump
Ilargi: Who’s Really The Fascist?
Ilargi: Ungovernability
Ilargi: Comey and the End of Conversation
Ilargi: Eurodystopia: A Future Divided
Nicole: War in the Labour Markets
Nicole: An Unstable Tower of Breaking Promises
Ilargi: Libor was a criminal conspiracy from the start

 

Affluence, Poverty and Debt and Insurance

Nicole: Trickles, Floods and the Escalating Consequences of Debt
Nicole: Crashing the Operating System: Liquidity Crunch in Practice
Ilargi: The Impossible and the Inevitable
Nicole: The View From the Bottom of the Pyramid
Ilargi: The Lord of More
Ilargi: The Last of the Affluent, the Carefree and the Innocent
Ilargi: The Worth of the Earth
Nicole: Risk Management And (The Illusion Of) Insurance

 


Fred Stein Streetcorner, Paris 1930s

 

Finally, TAE has provided some initial guidance as to how to position one’s self, family, friends and community so as to reduce vulnerability to system shocks and increase resilience. The idea is to reduce the range of dependencies on the large scale, centralised life-support systems that characterise modernity, and also to reduce dependency on the solvency of middle men. The centralised systems we take so much for granted are very likely to be much less reliable in the future. For a long time we have uploaded responsibility to larger scale organisational entities, but this has led to a dangerous level of complacency.

It is now time to reclaim responsibility for our own future by seeking to understand our predicament and take local control of efforts to mitigate its effects. While we cannot prevent a bubble from bursting once it has been blown, we can make a substantial difference to how widely and deeply the impact is felt. The goal is to provide a sufficient cushion of basic essentials to allow as many people as possible to preserve the luxury of the longer term view, rather than be pitched into a state of short term crisis management. In doing so we can hope to minimise the scale of the human over-reaction to events beyond our control. In the longer term, we need to position ourselves to reboot the system into something simpler, more functional and less extractive of the natural capital upon which we and subsequent generations depend.

 

Solution Space, Preparation and Food Security

Nicole: The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space
Nicole: Facing the Future – Mitigating a Liquidity Crunch
Nicole: 40 Ways to Lose Your Future
Nicole: How to Build a Lifeboat
Nelson Lebo: Resilience is The New Black
Nelson Lebo: What Resilience Is Not
Nicole: Sandy: Lessons From the Wake of the Storm
Nicole: Crash on Demand? – A Response to David Holmgren
Nicole: Finance and Food Insecurity
Nicole: Physical Limits to Food Security – Water and Climate
Ilargi: Basic Income in The Time of Crisis
Nelson Lebo: (Really) Alternative Banking Systems
Nicole (video): Interview Nicole Foss for ‘A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity’
Happen Films: A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity (full video)

 

 

May 092017
 
 May 9, 2017  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1938

 

Macron Is Not The Solution To Europe’s Top Existential Threat (CNBC)
“Europe’s Not Out Of The Woods With Macron Win” (ZH)
Commodities Send Ominous Signal On Global Economy (BBG)
Traders Are Fleeing the Options Market (WSJ)
The Debt-Bubble Landmine Obama Left For Trump (NYP)
Canadians Buy Record Number of New Cars With Record Amount of Financing (BD)
Majority of Consumers Now See Canadian Home Prices Rising (BBG)
Over 50% of Canadians $200 or Less Away From Not Being Able To Pay Bills (Gl.)
Quebec’s Finance Minister: Don’t Dawdle on NAFTA Overhaul (BBG)
Chinese Stocks Head For Longest Losing Streak In 3 Years (BBG)
How China Keeps Its Financial System From Collapsing (ZH)
Parts of Asia Will Grow Old Before Getting Rich, IMF Warns (BBG)
Italy Adds Bum Note To Macron’s Ode To Euro Zone Joy (R.)
The Rock-Star Appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (Nation)
To Bury Nuclear Waste, Dig Deeper Than Yucca Mountain (BBG)
Dangerous Times in the Aegean and Cyprus (K.)
New Refugee Center Planned On Chios As Tensions Simmer (K.)
Nearly 200 Missing, 11 Dead As Migrant Boats Sink Off Libya (AFP)
Hundreds Of Migrants Feared Dead In Mediterranean Over Weekend (R.)

 

 

Macron wants Eurobonds, anathema to Germany et al because they would allegedly “sharply reduce each euro zone government’s motivation to pursue sensible fiscal policies..”.

Many in Brussels want a banking union, anathema to quite a few countries. There is no democratic way that leads to such a union. It’s like handing the EU the keys to your country.

Macron Is Not The Solution To Europe’s Top Existential Threat (CNBC)

The future of the euro zone is dependent on a common commitment to solid government finances, says Commerzbank’s chief economist, and France’s new president-elect does not bring the bloc any closer to achieving this reality. The pro-EU and centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, stormed to victory against his far-right political rival, Marine Le Pen, on Sunday and is now poised to become France’s youngest ever premier. However, the former economy minister is in favor of joint bond issuance which, according to Jörg Krämer, would sharply reduce each euro zone government’s motivation to pursue sensible fiscal policies. “The EU can’t keep feeling its way from one election to the next. At some point an election might go the wrong way – and if that happens in a large country, the survival of the monetary union would be in jeopardy,” Krämer said in a note.

Commerzbank’s chief economist also warned the repeated near misses of anti-EU political leaders in several European elections in recent years would not last forever and suggested the monetary union’s survival now rests on the bloc’s ability to create a genuine banking union. “To lay these existential risks to rest, the euro zone at long last needs a common commitment to solid government finances. The monetary union’s long-term survival depends on it. But new French President Macron won’t bring this any closer to reality,” he added. Meanwhile, just one day after the pro-business and market-friendly candidate Macron secured his country’s presidential election, EC President Juncker publically lambasted high state spending in the euro zone’s second largest economy. “With France, we have a particular problem … The French spend too much money and they spend too much in the wrong places. This will not work over time,” Reuters reported him as saying in Berlin on Monday.

Read more …

Le Pen would have lost against anyone. But tons of Europeans still don’t like what the EU has become. All it takes is a candidate somewhere who’s not Le Pen or Wilders.

“Europe’s Not Out Of The Woods With Macron Win” (ZH)

It appears the chairmen of UBS have plenty to say on Europe.Following former UBS chairman Peter Kurer’s comments that “to the elites, the EU is a means to get rich quickly and export their problems,” UBS current chairman Axel Weber has warned bankers that Europe is not “out of the woods” from its political risks even after Emmanuel Macron’s reassuring victory in the French presidential election. Peter Kurer recently remarked on the end of the Euro…

“Following an unfortunate combination of wrong decisions at the top and the uncontrolled flourishing of a self-serving bureaucracy, the union has moved in a direction where it has become a prisoner of its own constructed reality. The EU was a great idea but it has been ridden to death. Back in 1992, almost half of Swiss voted to join the European Economic Area, including the traveller. If there was a vote today on joining the union, the latest polls say just 15% would vote yes. The EU had its chances. It squandered them, and maybe it will come to an end in the foreseeable future under the weight of its burdens: La messa e finita, andate in pace.”

And over the weekend speaking in Tokyo, as the FT reports, UBS Chairman Axel Weber said that political risk in Europe remained “actually quite high” even though “we’ve seen the centre hold in France” with Macron’s victory over far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, and even though all the signs were that the centre will also hold in the upcoming German location elections.

“That doesn’t mean Europe is out of the woods,” he told the International Institute of Finance’s spring meeting. “There is still Italy where it is very unclear that the centre will hold. And there is still Greece.” He continued: “Where you find some bright side….there are (also) some downside risks that are not really priced into the market but could derail (Europe).” “Brexit is a time bomb… and the countdown is on. It will be two years from now,” Mr Weber said. He added that “if the British really do leave the customs union and single market there could be a lot of volatility which could impact on the global economy”.

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How long can bubbles hold?

Commodities Send Ominous Signal On Global Economy (BBG)

By almost any measure last week was a bad one for commodities, as practically every part of the market lost value. West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell under $44 per barrel, Brent crude broke below $50 per barrel and copper tested $5,500 per metric ton. In China, coal and iron ore tumbled. Gold, the supposed ultimate haven, dropped to almost $1,225 per ounce. Last week’s purge capped a steady decline in prices since mid-April and, more broadly, since February based on the Bloomberg Commodities Index. Although much of the blame is being tied to rather high and growing inventory levels, a lack of real demand shouldn’t be discounted. The market is experiencing something greater than a technical correction or speculative positioning. It is signaling something ominous about the state of the global economy.

So while Friday saw a small recovery, it appears to be merely a “dead cat bounce” rather than a sign of any market bottom. Traders have reason to question global economic strength. They are concerned about fresh signs of an over-extended Chinese economy and an ongoing slowdown in developed markets faced with aging demographics. In the U.S., they question President Donald Trump’s infrastructure promises along with his administration’s relaxed standards in the mining and drilling sectors, whose commodities we already have too much of. OPEC’s output cuts have failed to do enough to stymie the global oil glut as U.S. drillers add to their rig counts. Such negative sentiment has carried through in the equity markets, particularly among commodity-producing nations such as Australia, Canada and Brazil.

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A liquidity problem. And a confidence one.

Traders Are Fleeing the Options Market (WSJ)

Falling volumes and spiraling costs are pushing trading firms out of U.S. options, raising concerns about fragility in a market that investors rely on to protect portfolios. Trading has dwindled in most areas of the market, and investors and traders are grappling with increasing fragmentation. Liquidity, the crucial ability to do trades without significantly moving prices, has deteriorated, according to interviews with market participants and data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Options on key indexes, exchange-traded funds and high-volume stocks dominate trading. Meanwhile, there is less activity in the rest of the listed U.S. options world. The stresses prompted at least six prominent options market makers to exit from the business since 2012. Market makers are firms willing to both buy and sell using automated programs.

Thomas Peterffy, a pioneer of electronic options trading, said in March that his firm, Interactive Brokers, would pull the plug on options market making. KCG Holdings announced its exit from retail options market making last year, while UBS and Credit Suisse have also left automated options market making. JP Morgan and Bank of America made similar decisions in 2014, according to people familiar with the matter. “Most market makers congregate in the highly traded products,” Mr. Peterffy said in an interview. “It’s difficult for a market maker to maintain hundreds of thousands of bids and offers all the time.” It is hard to pinpoint what triggered the trader exodus, but industry experts say as firms leave, liquidity gets further drained, which spurs more market makers to retrench.

The dangerous feedback loop could sap appetite for options, key derivative securities that investors use to manage risk in their portfolios. “We could ill afford to lose any more market makers at this junction,” said Alan Grigoletto, who previously worked at the Boston Options Exchange, and now runs Grigoletto Consulting while trading options in his retirement account. Data show the liquidity bifurcation. Index and ETF options volume rose in April by 28% and 4%, respectively, data from the Options Clearing Corporation show. Meanwhile, total equity options volume shrank by 10% from the prior year.

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The car loans issue keeps growing.

The Debt-Bubble Landmine Obama Left For Trump (NYP)

President Trump came in for much jeering when he told reporters he had “inherited a mess” from President Barack Obama. On the economy, though, Obama did indeed leave behind a hidden mess: a seemingly healthy jobs market dependent on cheap debt. When this debt bubble bursts, just as the last one did, the manufacturing jobs Trump wants to save will be in even greater peril. [..] who is borrowing for used cars – and at much higher interest rates – is a huge concern. People with not-great credit scores have always made up about a fifth of the auto-loan market. But the percentage of people borrowing even though they have really bad credit scores has surged, reports Bloomberg. It’s now a third of the subprime auto-bond market, up from just 5% seven years ago. A Standard & Poor’s analysis of just one big subprime auto bond tells the story.

Last week, a company called DriveTime, which sells used cars in 26 states to people with bad credit, was in the market to issue $442 million worth of bonds backed by auto loans. The average credit score of borrowers was 538 — indicating a history of serious default. And, as S&P notes, “today’s subprime customer appears to be . . . weaker . . . than that of several years ago,” because people who defaulted right after the housing crash at least had the excuse that they were caught up in a global bubble. These loans are for people who have no choice but to borrow to buy a car, and no bargaining power on the interest rate they pay: close to 20%. Even though the borrowers pay through the nose, they depend on cheap global credit. With interest rates still near record lows, lenders have to take ever more risk in a low-interest-rate environment to make a little money.

As for that risk: Delinquency rates are rising, with 4.32% of subprime borrowers in general at least 60 days late last year, up from 3.52 two years earlier, says S&P. The bigger risk here isn’t the risk to investors, though. The auto-loan market is still much smaller than the housing market, and the investment world hasn’t created trillions of dollars of derivative securities based on this market (at least not that we know of). And unlike with houses, no one ever expects the value of a car to increase with use. No, this bubble presents a much more direct risk to the economy — and manufacturing jobs. If people with terrible credit can’t borrow an average of nearly $18,000 to buy a used car (what the DriveTime customer pays), the market for used cars collapses. That, in turn, affects the market for new cars. Indeed, the US auto industry has seen sales decline this year, after clocking half a decade of record highs.

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Canadians do the subprime car thing too.

Canadians Buy Record Number of New Cars With Record Amount of Financing (BD)

Canadians aren’t just buying real estate, they’re also treating themselves to new cars. According to a new release from Statistics Canada, sales of new cars reached a record high for February. Great for automobile manufacturers, but not so great for the economy. Debt-fuelled financing makes this more of a warning sign than a boom-time trend. Sales of new motor vehicles across Canada rose to an all-time record for February. The month saw 125,284 sales – a 2.74% increase from the same time last year. The largest segment of sales were seen in Ontario, where 41% of them occurred. This is up slightly from 2016, where Ontario accounted for 39% of sales. Booming real estate prices, and massive numbers for car sales… Ontario better be facing the greatest economy its ever experienced, or it’s in trouble.

Consumers are purchasing more expensive vehicles too. Over $5 billion was spent on new vehicles for the month, bringing the average to $40,100 – up 3.4% from the same time last year. Ontario was below the average for the country, where the average price was $39,400. While prices are lower in Ontario, they’re not exactly budget vehicles either. The uptick in average sale price is due to longer financing terms for buyers. According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), Canadians are “increasingly purchasing more car than they can afford,” due to longer financing becoming fashionable. The agency notes that average leases have crept up 2 months, every year since 2010. According to the Bank of Canada (BoC), the average loan was 74 months as of 2015.

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The Canadian debt issue is turning into a total craze.

Majority of Consumers Now See Canadian Home Prices Rising (BBG)

Expectations for Canada’s housing market are heating up, with more than half of respondents in a weekly telephone survey predicting home prices will rise, the first time the measure has topped 50% in records dating back to 2008. The bullishness comes even as a run on deposits at Toronto-based mortgage lender Home Capital leads to heightened scrutiny of a market which policy makers have said is divorced from economic fundamentals. The broad Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index fell to 59 in the week ended March 5. Some 50.1% of respondents said they expect local home prices to rise. The figure has climbed for six straight weeks and is higher than the average for the series of 37.1%. Thepercentage of people surveyed in the week ending May 5 who said local home prices will decline in the next six months slid to 10% from 10.7%.

“Consumer sentiment on real estate has gone from hot to hotter,” said Nanos Research Group Chairman Nik Nanos. Housing has led the world’s 10th largest economy over most of this decade as exporters have struggled. The latest burst of housing momentum has led policy makers to question whether it’s being led by supply and demand or by speculation. The Ontario Securities Commission opened hearings into whether Home Capital failed to properly disclose an internal probe into fraudulent mortgage applications, a shakeup in a nation lauded for having the world’s safest banks. The latest Toronto figures also showed prices up 25% in April from a year earlier, still close to the 30% March pace that Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa called unsustainable on April 20 when he imposed a foreign buyers tax. Those events haven’t led to more bets on a price decline either, and housing optimists now outnumber pessimists by a factor of five to one.

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So much in debt they can’t pay their bills. Maybe someone should take a look at Canadian inequality, too.

Over 50% of Canadians $200 or Less Away From Not Being Able To Pay Bills (Gl.)

More than half of Canadians are living within $200 per month of not being able to pay all their bills or meet their debt obligations, according to a recent Ipsos survey conducted on behalf of accounting firm MNP. “With such a small amount of wiggle room, any kind of unanticipated hardship, such as a job loss or even a car repair, could send an already struggling family into financial despair,” said Grant Bazian, president of MNP’s personal insolvency practice, which is one of the largest in Canada. For 10% of Canadians, the margin of error when it comes to household finances is even thinner, at $100 or less. But those with anything at all left at the end of the month were in better shape than many: A whopping 31% of respondents said they already don’t make enough to meet all their financial obligations.

Debt is causing Canadians a fair bit of stress, the polling suggests, but few appear to be on track to buff up their monthly financial cushion. Two-thirds of survey takers said they are “less than very confident” about their ability to create an emergency fund. Another hair-raising finding from the survey: Roughly 60% said they don’t have a firm grasp of how interest rates affect debt repayments. The statistic helps explain why many indebted Canadians end up taking on more debt and high-cost loans, said Bazian. “That’s how so many end up in an endless cycle of debt,” he noted. But the data also raises the question of whether Canadians understand the implications of an interest rate hike by the Bank of Canada (BoC). A decision by the BoC to start lifting its key policy rate from historic lows would raise the cost of carrying debt across the country.

The Bank uses interest rates, among other tools, to influence inflation and economic activity. Many economists believe it could start to raise rates in the first half of 2018, as economic growth picks up pace. Although the BoC will probably lift rates gradually and over time, the impact on Canadian wallets will be substantial. For example, as Global News has reported before, a onepercentage point rise in the BoC’s key interest rate would likely push up variable mortgage rates by a similar amount. A variable mortgage rate that’s currently set at 3%, for example, would go up to 4%, which represents a 33% increase in interest payments for the mortgage holder. That’s an extra $83 a month for every $100,000 in outstanding mortgage debt.

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Quebec has strong US trade ties.

Quebec’s Finance Minister: Don’t Dawdle on NAFTA Overhaul (BBG)

Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao has a message for government officials considering a renegotiation of NAFTA: Time is of the essence. “If we are going to renegotiate Nafta, then let’s do it,” Leitao said in an interview Friday at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “The worst case scenario would be if we spend years talking about renegotiating, but don’t actually do it and it just keeps hanging around and doesn’t get addressed. The longer it drags on, the bigger the real impact on investment.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a lengthy trade battle with the U.S., which also includes calls for a new softwood lumber pact and Donald Trump’s complaints about Canada’s system of protectionist dairy quotas.

It’s all set to drag on as the president has yet to trigger a 90-day notice period to Congress to renegotiate Nafta. The last softwood lumber dispute lasted five years. “The problem with the uncertainty is we don’t know what kind of process we will have,” Leitao said. “Is this going to be along the same lines as the last Nafta negotiations? That was very systematic. There were panels on various issues. It’s that kind of certainty that we would like. The actual nuts and bolts will take time.” Leitao has good reason to be wary of protracted trade battles, with his most recent budget already predicting Quebec’s economic growth will lag behind the Canadian average. Output in Quebec will grow 1.7% this year before slowing to 1.6% in 2018, budget forecasts show. That’s less than the 2.2% and 2.3% forecast for all of Canada over the same period.

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Deleveraging.

Chinese Stocks Head For Longest Losing Streak In 3 Years (BBG)

Chinese stocks pared declines, with technical indicators signaling that a five-day slide may have been overdone. The Shanghai Composite Index was little changed at 3,077.78 as of 1:07 p.m. local time, after declining as much as 0.7% earlier in the day. Consumer shares were the worst performers on the CSI 300 gauge, while telecom companies led gains. The Hang Seng Index climbed 0.4%. An intensifying campaign to reduce leverage in the financial system pushed the Shanghai benchmark to a 2.4% loss in the five days through Monday. This drove the gauge’s relative strength index to below 30, a level that suggests to some traders that an asset is oversold.

The nation’s banking regulator said Monday that lenders should carry out collateral pressure tests at least once a year, while the Securities Times reported that some rural banks had suspended interbank businesses temporarily while officials conduct spot checks. “Some stocks appeared to be very cheap at current levels, and this triggered some bargain hunting,” said Banny Lam, head of research at CEB in Hong Kong. State-owned enterprises that dominate old growth industries, such as banks and commodity producers, have been among the hardest-hit by the deleveraging drive, while new-economy shares remain in favor among overseas investors. That’s led to a wide gap between the nation’s two main offshore gauges: the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index and the MSCI China Index.

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Much collateral doesn’t actually exist. Wealth management products, shadow banks, it’s all not much more than a mirage. It takes faith.

How China Keeps Its Financial System From Collapsing (ZH)

With “risk” in most of the developed world seemingly a long forgotten four-letter word, as seen by today’s plunge in the VIX to a level not seen in 34 years, traders hoping for some “risk event” have been confined to the recent turmoil in China, where overnight not only did trade data disappoint, with both imports and exports missing, but bond yields jumped to the highest level since 2015, dragging stocks lower even as the local commodity crash slammed iron ore and copper to new YTD lows.

While largely a “controlled” tightening, meant to contain China’s out-of-control shadow banking system, the recent gyrations in Chinese capital markets are starting to have a profound impact on local funding, resulting in a collapse in new bond issuance, and according to FT calculations, in April the number of aborted issues rose to 154, up from 94 in March, 32 in February and 31 in January.

As DB added, “local bond markets are practically shut for corporates. In fact, YTD issuance is down 40%+ yoy and net issuance has been negative in three out of the first four months this year. A number of issuers are being forced to cancel bond issuances (over RMB100 billion YTD) and there were reports (Bloomberg) of even CDB halting issuance (though subsequently denied). Some AA corporates are now issuing at north of 7%.” These signs of mounting stress in China’s $9.3 trillion bond market come less than a month after the country’s banking regulator, Guo Shuqing, was quoted as supporting a campaign to sort out chaotic practices, and threatening to resign if the banking system became “a complete mess”.

[..] whether or not China keels over and has a hard (or worse) landing, will depend on the PBOC; when (not if) the central bank gets involved, will depend on how soon China’s banks and various CD-funded financial institutions run out of collateral (whether it exists or not) to sell, such as iron ore, copper, precious metals, bonds and even stocks. This will hardly come as a surprise. As we showed last month, the only reason the Chinese banking system hasn’t imploded, is due to nearly CNY 10 trillion in central bank liquidity support for the local banks, just under 100% of China’s GDP.

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Europe too.

Parts of Asia Will Grow Old Before Getting Rich, IMF Warns (BBG)

Asia’s rapidly aging population means the region is shifting from being the biggest contributor to the global workforce to subtracting hundreds of millions of people from it, according to the International Monetary Fund. The reversal of the so-called “demographic dividend” will drag on global growth and also that in Asia, the world’s fastest growing region, the IMF warned in its annual outlook for the area. The population growth rate will fall to zero for Asia by 2050 – it’s already negative in Japan – and the share of the population who are working-age has already hit its peak, the IMF estimates. That means the ratio of the population aged 65 and older will be almost two and a half times the current level by 2050, and even higher in East Asia.

“The speed of aging is especially remarkable compared to the historical experience in Europe and the United States,” the IMF said. Per capita income in Asia relative to the U.S. remains at much lower levels than those achieved by mature advanced economies in the past. “Countries in Asia will have less time to adapt policies to a more aged society than many advanced economies had,” the fund wrote. “As such, parts of Asia risk becoming old before becoming rich.” For economic growth, the aging process could erode up to one percentage point from annual output over the next three decades in Japan, and between 0.5-0.75 percentage point in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand.

While some bright spots remain, such as India and Indonesia, demographics could subtract 0.1 of a percentage point from annual global growth over the next three decades, the IMF estimates. It also means Asia is at risk of falling into secular stagnation if an older population leads to excessive savings and low investment renders monetary policy ineffective. The demographic shift will also likely keep downward pressure on real interest rates and asset returns for most major countries in Asia, the IMF said. “Adapting to aging could be especially challenging for Asia, as populations living at relatively low per capita income levels in many parts of the region are rapidly becoming old,” the IMF said.

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It’s time to come clean on how bad Italy is really doing.

Italy Adds Bum Note To Macron’s Ode To Euro Zone Joy (R.)

Italy is adding a bum note to Emmanuel Macron’s ode to joy. While it’s encouraging that a Europhile will take the French presidency after Sunday’s vote, attention can now turn to Europe’s other crisis-in-waiting. Elections are coming in Italy, and there are more of the ingredients for a populist shock than in France. The economy has fared much worse since the creation of the euro zone, with growth averaging zero since 2001, according to the IMF. GDP per capita has fallen in that time. The IMF expects the unemployment rate to reach 11.7% this year, 2 percentage points higher than in France. Anti-EU forces are also spread widely across Italy’s messy political landscape. Stagnation has fuelled support for the 5-Star Movement, which could lead Italy out of the euro zone and currently polls just below 30%.

Mainstream parties are shaky. The left fragmented after former prime minister Matteo Renzi lost his referendum on constitutional reform in December. The right is an awkward alliance between ageing former premier Silvio Berlusconi and more radical anti-EU parties, like the Lega Nord. The risk is that 5-Star forms a coalition with the Lega after elections that must take place by May next year. The economy is picking up, but tighter monetary policy, as the European Central Bank reins in bond buying, could strangle the recovery, as could an overly stern fiscal policy. Italy needs to cut spending or increase taxes by 2percentage points to meet European targets through 2019. Job losses from the restructuring of banks and bankrupt national airline Alitalia could become a lightning rod for anti-EU sentiment.

Europe can help. Italy is likely to miss its fiscal targets anyway, but loosening bloc-wide budget rules to encourage investment and spread out cuts over a long period would cement the recovery. A strong France, aided by Macron’s victory, might persuade Germany to spend more, and give other countries freer rein. However, even if a political shock is avoided, the next election may produce a weak government with no mandate for taking tough decisions to boost growth. Italy could be bringing discord to the region for years.

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MMT must go mainstream.

The Rock-Star Appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (Nation)

To a layperson, MMT can seem dizzyingly complex, but at its core is the belief that most of us have the economy backward. Conventional wisdom holds that the government taxes individuals and companies in order to fund its own spending. But the government—which is ultimately the source of all dollars, taxed or untaxed—pays or spends first and taxes later. When it funds programs, it literally spends money into existence, injecting cash into the economy. Taxes exist in order to control inflation by reducing the money supply, and to ensure that dollars, as the only currency accepted for tax payments, remain in demand.

It follows that currency-issuing governments could (and, depending on how you lean politically, should) spend as much as they need to in order to guarantee full employment and other social goods. MMT’s adherents like to point out that the federal government never “runs out” of money to fund the military, but routinely invokes budget constraints to justify defunding social programs. Money, in other words, isn’t a scarce commodity like silver or gold. “To people who’ve worked in financial markets, who work at the Fed, this isn’t controversial at all,” says Galbraith, who, while not an adherent, can certainly be described as “MMT-friendly.”

The decisions about how to issue, lend, and spend money come down to politics, values, and convention, whether the goal is reducing inequality or boosting entrepreneurship. Inflation, MMT’s proponents contend, can be controlled through taxation, and only becomes a problem at full employment—and we’re a long way off from that, particularly if we include people who have given up looking for jobs or aren’t working as much as they’d like to among the officially “unemployed.” The point is that, once you shake off notions of artificial scarcity, MMT’s possibilities are endless. The state can guarantee a job to anyone who wants one, lowering unemployment and competing with the private sector for workers, raising standards and wages across the board.

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No matter how deep you dig, you can’t guarantee safety for a million years. That’s what’s halted Yucca Mountain. The Bloomberg editors don’t understand the issue either.

To Bury Nuclear Waste, Dig Deeper Than Yucca Mountain (BBG)

Energy Secretary Rick Perry is right to say the U.S. needs a long-term solution to its massive nuclear waste problem. It also makes sense for Perry and some members of Congress to see Yucca Mountain as part of that solution – though many Nevadans promise to make sure it won’t be. But even if Yucca can survive the political fight, it can’t be the only option for disposing of America’s spent nuclear fuel. More than 75,000 metric tons of the stuff are cooling in pools and casks at dozens of power-plant sites around the country. That’s already too much to fit in Yucca Mountain, and the total grows by more than 2,000 tons a year. Other strategies are needed, ideally ones that are less politically radioactive. Consider, for instance, the idea of sinking the waste into boreholes that reach three miles below ground – 15 times as deep as the proposed chambers inside Yucca. Such shafts could be drilled in states that, unlike Nevada, benefit from the use of clean, reliable nuclear power.

Boring into the Earth’s deep rock layers could provide the kind of bury-it-and-forget-it underground disposal necessary for material that will remain dangerous for hundreds of millennia. Local opposition can still be expected; in North and South Dakota, residents have shouted down some plans to dig test holes. That’s why a so-called consent-based strategy, identifying locations with both the appropriate geology and an agreeable population, is necessary. If hosting a waste site means more funding for local public works and services, more communities might be willing to accept one. (This proved to be the case in Carlsbad, New Mexico, home to a storage place for low-level waste from nuclear weapons.) A familiarity with nuclear power may also encourage acceptance, perhaps because there is a nuclear plant in the area employing people and providing power.

The same approach could also be used to locate six or seven centers where waste from several nuclear plants could be stored while it awaits burial. Such containment facilities could also include research centers – mini national laboratories where scientists could work out new ways of reprocessing fuel and perhaps conduct demonstration projects for reactors designed to use safer fuels. The one thing the U.S. should not do is continue to neglect the growing quantities of nuclear waste. Over the past few decades, electricity ratepayers have contributed more than $34 billion to a national fund to pay for a geologic disposal site. And because none yet exists, taxpayers are forking over billions more to enable nuclear-plant operators to manage interim storage. The political barriers to solving this problem may be high, but further delay – and an undue fixation on Yucca Mountain – won’t make them any easier to overcome.

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Turkey will provoke Greece at some point, and US and Europe had better prevent that from happening.

Dangerous Times in the Aegean and Cyprus (K.)

The concept of gray zones (the claim that the sovereignty of a number of islands and islets in the Aegean is undetermined) was a novel idea that Turkey came up with 20 years ago. At some point, Ankara reached the point of including the Greek island of Gavdos in its gray zones list. Whenever Athens made an official request regarding the islands or rocky outcrops that Turkey had on its list, the answer was always very vague: “Anything that is not clearly included the bilateral agreements that set out Greece’s borders with other countries.” At first, many people thought this was a bargaining chip that Ankara would trade as part of a grand bargain. They were wrong. The failure to settle differences between Greece and Turkey gave Ankara the opportunity to add more issues to the agenda.

Over time, these have become permanent and ever-expanding. Currently, Turkey considers significant parts of the Aegean to be gray zones. This includes islands that have been inhabited for decades. It is questioning Greek sovereignty through its actions, not just its words, by the frequent presence of naval vessels in Greek waters and overflights by fighter jets. Over the last few months, it has being doing this more systematically and openly. Greece’s approach has also changed. The doctrine that existed in the wake of the Imia crisis in 1996, when the two countries almost went to war, was based around not building up tension following various incidents and maintaining a low profile.

[..] A dangerous situation is also playing out in Cyprus. The Turks are trying to impose the concept of gray zones there as well. July (when a new round of drilling for hydrocarbons is due to begin off Cyprus) promises to be a difficult month. Ankara will attempt before then to intimidate the companies that plan to start drilling or try to obstruct them if they are not scared off by threats.

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Prison camps are no solution.

New Refugee Center Planned On Chios As Tensions Simmer (K.)

The exact site for the creation of a new so-called pre-departure camp for migrants and refugees on the island of Chios will be determined by May 20, authorities said on Monday. The new camp will come as tensions at overcrowded reception centers on the eastern Aegean island continue to simmer, with almost daily clashes between stranded migrants of different ethnicities. “The experience of Lesvos and Kos where such centers have been created is positive,” said Lieutenant General Zacharoula Tsirigoti of the Greek Police in a press briefing Monday on Chios. Pre-departure centers are deemed essential as they house refugees and migrants returning to Turkey. Tsirigoti added that building a new center on the island is a “one-way street” as locals – many of whom have campaigned for the immediate removal of all migrants and refugees from Chios – say the situation has reached breaking point and that the large police force on the island has been unable to cope.

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The season is just starting: “..the trend points to around 250,000 people arriving over the course of 2017”. There is no place for these people in Italy and Greece.

Nearly 200 Missing, 11 Dead As Migrant Boats Sink Off Libya (AFP)

Eleven migrants have died and nearly 200 are missing after two boats sank off the coast of Libya, UN agencies said Monday citing survivors, in the latest such tragedy. The first involved an inflatable craft which left Libya early Friday with 132 people on board, only to start deflating a few hours later, before overturning. Some 50 survivors were picked up by a Danish container ship, the Alexander Maersk, which was alerted to divert by Italian coastguards and dropped them off on Sunday in Pozzallo, southern Sicily. Representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) were able to meet them on Monday to hear their accounts. Survivors told them that women and children were among those missing.

At the same time, the bodies of 10 women and one child were found Monday on a beach in Zawiya, 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of Tripoli, according to an official for the Libyan Red Crescent. Then on Sunday seven migrants – a woman and six men – were rescued by Libyan fishermen and coastguards off the coast of the Libyan capital. An IOM spokesman who met them said they had set out on a boat with at least 120 people on board, including about 30 women and nine children. In all more than 6,000 migrants were rescued Friday and Saturday in international waters off the coast of Libya and brought to Italy, while several hundred were rescued in Libyan waters and taken back to Libya.

The number of people leaving Libya in the hope of starting a new life in Europe is up nearly 50% this year compared with the opening months of 2016. With most departures coming in the warm summer months, the trend points to around 250,000 people arriving over the course of 2017. Some 500,000 migrants were registered in Italy in the three years spanning 2014-16.

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Europe’s reputation is tarnished for decades. But everyone thinks they can deflect responsibility. Time for skin in the game.

Hundreds Of Migrants Feared Dead In Mediterranean Over Weekend (R.)

More than 200 migrants are feared to have died in the Mediterranean over the weekend, according to testimony from survivors, and several bodies, including that of an infant, have washed up on a Libyan beach. About 7,500 people have been rescued off the coast of Libya since Thursday, the Italian and Libyan coastguards said. Two groups of survivors told the organizations that hundreds drowned when their rubber boats began to deflate before rescuers arrived. More than 60 are feared dead and three bodies were recovered on Saturday, survivors brought to Sicily on Sunday told Italian coastguards. The boat left Libya carrying about 120, they said. There was some discrepancy in the numbers. Based on its interviews with some of the survivors in Pozzallo, Italy, the U.N. refugee agency estimated the number of dead at more than 80.

Separately, Libya’s coastguard picked up seven survivors over the weekend who said they had been on a boat packed with 170 migrants. Aid agency International Medical Corps, which gave medical care to the survivors, also confirmed their account. “We rescued on Sunday seven illegal migrants – six men and a woman,” said Omar Koko, a coastguard commander in the western city of Zawiya. “According to these survivors, there were 170 on board the boat, which sank because of overloading.” Among those missing were more than 30 women and nine children, Koko said. Eleven bodies washed up on the shore west of Zawiya, said Mohanad Krima, a spokesman for the Red Crescent in Zawiya. “All the bodies are of female victims and there is a girl of less than one year old,” he said.

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May 062017
 
 May 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Edouard Boubat Paris 1950

 

Think Like a Surfer in the Largest Stock Market Bubble Since 1983 (Dent)
US Student, Auto Loans Hit New All Time High Of $2.6 Trillion (ZH)
China’s War on Debt: Stocks Drop, Bond Yields Shoot Up and Defaults Rise (WSJ)
This Is Not a Bill (Jim Kunstler)
Review of Steve Keen’s Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (R.)
France and Greece Heavily Disadvantaged by Euro as Germany Benefits (WE)
How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics – And The Election (Nation)
Macron Team Blasts ‘Massive Hacking Attack’ (R.)
Macron Personifies The Very Europe Whose Failure Feeds Le Pen (Zizek)
The English Language Is Losing Importance In Europe – Juncker (G.)
Germany Says No Debt Relief Being Prepared For Greece (R.)
The Forgotten History of Cinco de Mayo (IC)
Rescuers Pick Up 560 Migrants Off Libyan Coast On Thursday (R.)

 

 

Disasters as opportunities.

Think Like a Surfer in the Largest Stock Market Bubble Since 1983 (Dent)

I took up surfing in my early 30s. It didn’t last long. But I learned a tremendous amount from the experience (least of which is that I suck at surfing). Well, it’s time to think like a surfer. Your sole focus is to catch the wave. The best surfers can see the waves building, just like we can in the markets, but they only care about where the biggest, best waves will crash. That’s where you get the ride. And if you catch the biggest wave in the right place, you get the ride of a lifetime. Look at this fourth and largest wave building in the stock market. It’s the wave of a lifetime for investors, and it’s rolling onto our shores right about now… Remember, all the action comes when the wave crashes, not as it’s building. As the swell grows around you, you can go with the flow and harness the energy of the wave with little effort.

That’s when you become one with the universe, sitting there on your board, surrounded by dark water, rolling up and down as the power builds beneath you. That’s why surfers get addicted. Then, at the perfect moment, all the wave’s pent up energy releases in a roaring spray of water and power. That’s where we want YOU to be when the greatest market wave of your lifetime comes crashing to shore! That’s when the greatest profits come. That’s when the greatest innovations spring up. The smartest people (I include surfers in this group) and the greatest innovators understand this. They don’t look at a good economy as the best opportunity for success. Seeds of radical innovation only grow in the most challenging conditions.

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Private debt is far more dangerous than public debt.

US Student, Auto Loans Hit New All Time High Of $2.6 Trillion (ZH)

One month after we, and every other financial media, reported that US credit card debt had risen back over $1 trillion for the first time since January 2017, the Fed demonstrated just how meaningless such reports are when in its latest consumer credit report it revised the total stock of revolving debt back under $1 trillion for the month of March, while boosting December’s amount to $1,000.1 billion, meaning that all those “$1 trillion in credit card” debt headlines were about 4 months late. Fed screwing around with the financial reporters aside, the latest monthly report showed that total consumer credit rose by $16.4 billion, more than the $14 billion expected, an increase which was offset by a downward revision to the February consumer credit number from $15.2 billion to $13.8 billion. Revolving credit accounted for $2 billion of the increase with the rest, or $14.4 billion, in the form of auto and student loans.

And speaking of student and auto loans, the Fed also released its latest quarterly estimate for the two series as of March 31, and as one would expect, the numbers rose to new all time highs, and as of the end of the first quarter, US consumers owed $1.44 trillion in student loans, an increase of $32 billion for the quarter and $80 billion for the year, as well as $1.12 trillion in auto loans, an increase of $8 billion Q/Q and $73 billion Q/Q. This means that as of March 31, Americans owed two and a half times as much on their auto and student loans, as on their credit cards, a new all time high.

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“..since these products aren’t logged as loans or other assets on their balance sheets, banks have to set aside little or nothing for potential losses associated with them..”

China’s War on Debt: Stocks Drop, Bond Yields Shoot Up and Defaults Rise (WSJ)

A wave of regulations aimed at cutting risk in China’s financial system is rippling through the country’s markets and sending banks and companies scrambling for funds. During the past month, Chinese shares have fallen nearly 5%, draining almost half a trillion dollars out of the country’s markets. Bond yields have shot up to their highest levels in two years, and bond defaults hover at record levels. The uncertainty has also weighed on metals and commodity prices, already hurt by doubts around China’s growth momentum. The price of iron ore plunged 8% on Thursday, the daily trading limit. Investors blame the volatility on a host of measures Chinese authorities have rolled out to curb runaway debt levels, from raising the cost of short-term funds to measures that are prompting banks to unwind hidden loans and securities.

A particular target is high-risk, high-yielding investment products that banks have used to boost returns, but that regulators say may conceal dangerous amounts of risky lending. Regulators are responding to prodding from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who issued a call for financial stability ahead of a major power reshuffle later this year, and just last week warned finance officials not to miss “a single risk” or “hidden danger.” The market turbulence will test Beijing’s resolve in tackling China’s snowballing debt, especially if it looks like regulators’ crackdown is jeopardizing short-term growth. If they can withstand the short-term squeeze and continue to push it through, the effort will help put China’s economy on a sounder footing longer-term. Banks—especially small and midsize lenders—sell the risky investment products to Chinese savers, then lend the funds to outside asset managers who invest them in bonds, stocks and loans.

The lenders make money from the difference between what they pay their investment clients and what they get from the outside managers. But since these products aren’t logged as loans or other assets on their balance sheets, banks have to set aside little or nothing for potential losses associated with them. That leaves banks more exposed to risk and shows their financial position as stronger than it really is. The maneuvering also encourages leveraged purchases of securities by asset managers and enables banks to continue funding troubled customers, such as property developers with excess inventory and bloated steelmakers. Such grey-area investments reached nearly 20 trillion yuan ($2.8 trillion) at the end of last year, says Fitch Ratings, or about 26% of China’s GDP in 2016, up from less than 10% three years earlier. They now represent an average of 19% of small and midsize banks’ total assets, compared with about 1% for big state banks, according to Fitch.

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America’s unsolvable problem has been solved in dozens of countries.

This Is Not a Bill (Jim Kunstler)

The way it works now, the so-called “providers” (doctors, hospitals) refuse to post the cost of any service, and then charge whatever they feel they can extract, subject to an abstruse and dishonest ceremonial “negotiation” with the insurance company. The result: hospital and insurance executives get paid multi-million dollar salaries, doctors get to drive fine German cars, and the patient gets financially ass-raped, kicked to the curb, and eventually stuffed into the bankruptcy courts. ObamaCare did nothing to fix this. It just added more victims to the rolls and upped the price of admission for a personal financial ass-raping, so that an insured individual could go to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and end up getting dunned for thousands of dollars — or even more if one of the hosptial’s favorite cute scams is applied, such as calling in an out-of-network anesthesiologist to knock you unconscious (in which state you are unlikely to inquire whether he/she/zhe is in-network or out).

Under the current system, a hospital can bill you $5,999 to stitch up a cut finger, mitigate a bee-sting, or wind an Ace bandage around a sprained ankle, and you’re sure not to learn the cost-of-treatment until the postman drops off the incomprehensible “explanation of benefits” from the insurance company that states in bold print on top “This Is Not a Bill,” but actually is a report of your own incipient financial ass-raping. But judging from the news reports this day, none of these issues is actually on the table in the congressional debate. I don’t believe the editors of The New York Times are necessarily “in bed” with the overpaid hospital CEOs and the insurance company fraudsters. They are simply putting up a defense of their previous psychological investment in Democratic Party ideology — in the shibboleth that ObamaCare was unquestionably a great thing because it was created under the magically empowered 44th president.

I can believe that both Democratic and Republican law-makers are not only in bed with the medical fraudsters of all categories, but are performing a particularly odious form of sadomasochistic bondage-and-discipline sex in exchange for payoffs. Note, too, that none of the aforementioned major media have reported what the medical and insurance lobbyists have paid to their rent-boys and doxies in the US capitol. Wouldn’t you like to know?

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“Money is seen as a “veil” placed over the activities of the real economy, a mere contrivance to get around the inconveniences of barter.”

Review of Steve Keen’s Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (R.)

The preference for high theory and abstruse mathematical modeling meant that mainstream economics had come to rest on a number of gloriously improbable assumptions. In their models, millions of households were reduced to a single “representative agent,” a God-like being, omniscient and immortal. This unreal creature inhabited a world where peace – or equilibrium – ruled. Crises were impossible in such an Eden, unless a mischievous serpent entered from abroad. But such an outcome was naturally impossible to predict. Both Romer and Keen agree that the most serious error of modern macroeconomics is that it ignores finance. Money is seen as a “veil” placed over the activities of the real economy, a mere contrivance to get around the inconveniences of barter.

Minsky, by contrast, saw capitalism as a financial system in which millions of balance sheets and cash flows were intertwined in a highly complex fashion. Money and credit are the essence of capitalism: economic transactions can only take place after financing. The trouble is that credit is inherently unstable, prone to expand excessively and to inflate asset price bubbles, which in time collapse, causing a cascade of defaults throughout the economy. In Minsky’s world, the tail of finance wags the real economy dog. Anyone who paid serious attention to credit, as Keen did prior to 2008, could hardly have failed to notice that something was amiss. After all, credit was growing very rapidly in the United States, in Australia and across much of Europe. Keen’s own contribution at the time was to point out that it wouldn’t take a collapse of credit to cause a serious economic downturn – a mere slowdown in the rate of lending would do the job.

This prediction was vindicated in 2008, when credit growth slowed sharply but remained positive, sending the U.S. economy into a tailspin. Keen is now calling for the dominant macroeconomic models to be jettisoned and replaced by ones that take account of credit. In his book, he develops a simple credit-based macro model. The economists at the Bank for International Settlements have constructed a “financial cycle” model along similar lines. In the end, the money-free macro models appear doomed. Yet progress has been painfully slow to date. As Max Planck said, science advances one funeral at a time – failing death, retirement would do the trick.

So what of the next crisis? With his eye on credit growth, Keen sees China as a terminal case. The People’s Republic has expanded credit at an annualized rate of around 25 per cent for years on end. Private-sector debt exceeds 200 per cent of GDP, making China resemble the over-indebted economies of Ireland and Spain prior to 2008, but obviously far more significant to the global economy. “This bubble has to burst,” writes Keen unequivocally.

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Untenable, but zero movement towards addressing the issue.

France and Greece Heavily Disadvantaged by Euro as Germany Benefits (WE)

It is now incontestable that Germany benefits greatly from the Euro. The weaker members of the Euro drag down the external value of the Euro compared with the US Dollar making German exports far more competitive than they would otherwise be. Despite the relative value of the Euro being lower than would be the case if the Euro was the currency of Germany alone, the Euro’s value relative to the Dollar is still significantly higher than would be the case were the Euro the currency of an independent Greece or France.

In Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms the Euro in Germany is some 32% undervalued compared with the Greek Euro, greatly benefiting German exporters, but imposing a burden on Greek exporters that they must find impossible to cope with. Conversely the overvaluation facing French companies is now a clear 20% compared with German companies.

 

Brazil and Argentina suffer from overvalued currencies against the US Dollar, suggesting one reason for the serious recession suffered by South America’s biggest economies over the past year. In contrast Canada, Russia, China, Mexico, Turkey and India all have currencies between 15% and 44% undervalued against the US Dollar, suggesting that at least some of Mr Trump’s rhetoric is justified. Over time these fundamental disparities have not shrunk, they have in fact widened. The charts to the upper right show the trend of German undervaluation against the French and Greek Euro’s in Purchasing power terms.

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“Although the major Western media portrays the EU authorities’ policies as the only sensible course, in economic terms, it is anything but.”

How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics – And The Election (Nation)

[..] there is a structural problem in the eurozone, and in the EU. The ECB, the European Commission, and the IMF (which is not an independent entity but generally answers to its European directors for decisions affecting Europe), are the European authorities that have increasingly constrained the economic decision-making of European governments. We can also include the eurogroup of finance ministers, which has tormented poor Greece and helped prolong that country’s interminable economic crisis. These people have shown that they are committed to creating a different kind of Europe. This can be seen in a paper trail of thousands of pages of documents, called Article IV consultations, where the IMF and EU government finance ministries hammer out their views on economic policies. These documents represent an elite consensus which can differ greatly from public opinion within the countries.

A review of 67 of these agreements for the four years 2008 through 2011, for 27 EU countries, showed a clear pattern of policy choices: cutting government spending, including on health care and pensions; increasing labor supply; reducing public sector employment; and changes in labor law that would reduce the scope of collective bargaining. This is the economic program that any politician or political party who does not want to be labeled as “anti-Europe” must adhere to, and it can be seen in the most recent (July 2016) IMF Article IV consultation for France, as well as the Stability Program that France has agreed to with the EU. These documents see France as freezing real spending, and committing to reducing its budget deficit to zero by 2021. These commitments imply that the French government can do nothing to reduce mass unemployment, which has averaged about 10% over the past year.

Although the major Western media portrays the EU authorities’ policies as the only sensible course, in economic terms, it is anything but. With France’s real borrowing costs near zero and inflation well below target, it makes sense for France to implement an economic stimulus, for example by increasing public investment. Fears of increasing the French public debt are unfounded; annual interest payments on that debt are currently at about 1.7% of GDP, a modest burden by any historical or international comparison.

[..] Since the 2008–09 world financial crisis and recession, the project of the eurozone, and to some extent of the EU, has created a destructive feedback loop that leads directly to the kind of dysfunctional politics now unfolding in France. It is one thing to give up some national sovereignty for a common project that can raise common living standards; it is quite another to surrender a country’s most important macroeconomic decision-making (monetary, exchange rate, and increasingly fiscal policy) to unaccountable authorities who have demonstrated their commitment to a regressive agenda. The Center Left’s collaboration with this program, e.g., President Hollande’s in France, has given the Far Right opportunities not seen since the 1930s.

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Good thing everybody already knows it’s Putin again. No reasoning needed.

Macron Team Blasts ‘Massive Hacking Attack’ (R.)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign team says it has been the victim of a massive and coordinated hacking operation. A large trove of emails from the campaign of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was posted online late on Friday, 1-1/2 days before voters go to the polls to choose the country’s next president in a run-off against far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Some nine gigabytes of data were posted by a user called EMLEAKS to Pastebin, a document-sharing site that allows anonymous posting. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for posting the data or whether the emails were genuine. In a statement, Macron’s political movement En Marche! (Onwards!) confirmed that it had been hacked.

“The En Marche! Movement has been the victim of a massive and co-ordinated hack this evening which has given rise to the diffusion on social media of various internal information,” the statement said. An interior ministry official declined to comment, citing French rules which forbid any commentary liable to influence an election, and which took effect at midnight French time on Friday (2200 GMT). Comments about the email dump began to appear on Friday evening just hours before the official ban on campaigning began. The ban is due to stay in place until the last polling stations close on Sunday at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).

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Perhaps the failure of the EU is not clear enough yet everywhere.

Macron Personifies The Very Europe Whose Failure Feeds Le Pen (Zizek)

The title of a comment piece which appeared in The Guardian, the UK voice of the anti-Assange-pro-Hillary liberal left, says it all: “Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?” Predictably, the text proper begins with: “Is being an investment banker analogous with being a Holocaust revisionist? Is neoliberalism on a par with neofascism?” and mockingly dismisses even the conditional leftist support for the second-round Macron vote, the stance of: “I’d now vote Macron – VERY reluctantly.” This is liberal blackmail at its worst: one should support Macron unconditionally; it doesn’t matter that he is a neoliberal centrist, just that he is against Le Pen. It’s the old story of Hillary versus Trump: in the face of the fascist threat, we should all gather around her banner (and conveniently forget how her side brutally outmanoeuvred Sanders and thus contributed to losing the election).

Are we not allowed at least to raise the question: yes, Macron is pro-European – but what kind of Europe does he personify? The very Europe whose failure feeds Le Pen populism, the anonymous Europe in the service of neoliberalism. This is the crux of the affair: yes, Le Pen is a threat, but if we throw all our support behind Macron, do we not get caught into a kind of circle and fight the effect by way of supporting its cause? This brings to mind a chocolate laxative available in the US. It is publicised with the paradoxical injunction: “Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate!” – in other words, eat the very thing that causes constipation in order to be cured of it. In this sense, Macron is the chocolate-laxative candidate, offering us as a cure for the very thing that caused the illness.

[..] In the hopeless situation we are in, facing a false choice, we should gather the courage and simply abstain from voting. Abstain, and begin to think. The commonplace “enough talking, let’s act” is deeply deceiving – now, we should say precisely the opposite: enough of the pressure to do something, let’s begin to talk seriously, ie, to think! And by this I mean we should also leave behind the radical leftist self-complacency of endlessly repeating how the choices we are offered in the political space are false, and how only a renewed radical left can save us – yes, in a way, but why, then, does this left not emerge? What vision has the left to offer that would be strong enough to mobilise people? We should never forget that the ultimate cause of the act that we are caught into – the vicious cycle of Le Pen and Macron – is the disappearance of the viable leftist alternative.

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Sharp thinking. Make literally everyone incapable of understanding anything that’s said.

The English Language Is Losing Importance In Europe – Juncker (G.)

The English language is losing importance in Europe, the president of the European commission has said amid simmering tensions over the Brexit negotiations. Speaking to an audience of European diplomats and experts in Florence, Jean-Claude Juncker also described the UK’s decision to leave the EU as a tragedy. “Slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” Juncker said, to applause from his audience. “The French will have elections on Sunday and I would like them to understand what I am saying.” After these opening remarks in English, he switched to French for the rest of the speech. Making a stout defence of the EU, Juncker said the UK had voted to leave the project despite historic successes and a recent uptick in economic growth. “Our British friends decided to leave the EU, which is a tragedy,” he said.

[..] It is not the first time the English language has been caught in the crossfire of the Brexit negotiations. At a recent EU summit May slapped down reports that Brexit negotiations would be conducted in French, and after the June referendum EU officials made it known they planned to downgrade the use of English in the corridors of Brussels. In reality, the Brexit talks are most likely to be conducted in French and English with simultaneous interpretation. Barnier, a former French EU commissioner who clashed with the City of London, speaks English but wants the right to negotiate in his native tongue. English is also highly unlikely to disappear as a dominant language in the EU any time soon. Not only is it an official language for the Irish and Maltese governments, but many diplomats prefer to use English as a common second language rather than French.”

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2018 at the earliest. Then again, debt relief would make Greece less of a slave, so maybe much longer or not at all.

Germany Says No Debt Relief Being Prepared For Greece (R.)

No debt relief measures are being readied for Greece, Germany’s Finance Ministry said on Thursday after the Handelsblatt business daily reported measures were under consideration. The implementation of reforms that Greece agreed to in return for aid would help ensure the sustainability of the country’s debt, the ministry said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters. “No debt relief is being prepared,” it added. Regarding possible debt measures, a clear agreement was reached in a statement by the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers last May. “According to that, after the full implementation of the adjustment program, there will be an assessment of whether debt measures are necessary. That still applies,” it said. Earlier, Handelsblatt reported that Greece’s international lenders were preparing possible debt relief for Athens for discussion by the finance ministers.

The European Commission, the ESM eurozone rescue fund, the ECB and the IMF had prepared various debt measures in a document to be sent to the Eurogroup for further discussion, it said, citing people familiar with the document. One option was for the ESM to take over loans paid out by the IMF. The advantage would be lower interest rates charged by the ESM. Others included extending debt maturities and having the ECB and national central banks send profits made on Greek bonds to Athens through national governments, Handelsblatt reported. An EU source told Reuters the document was originally a paper by the ESM, not all four institutions, and had been modified on the way to the version Handelsblatt saw.

“It lays down several options for the restructuring of Greek debt and specifies possibilities which were given by the Eurogroup last May. One of the options still is that ESM would take debt from IMF,” the source said. “It is not clear yet if the IMF would agree on that.” Separately, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Durban, South Africa that the EU needed to “exert pressure on national governments to implement … much-needed reforms.” “Those countries which received help under European assistance programmes, and therefore had to actually implement unpleasant reforms, and those countries which have kept to the agreed rules are among the most successful countries in the EU today,” he said. “The problem is therefore not with the rules, but with the lack of implementation of them.

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Warfare, financial or otherwise.

The Forgotten History of Cinco de Mayo (IC)

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of Mexican troops over the invading French army at the Battle of Puebla southeast of Mexico City on May 5, 1862. Because the Mexican soldiers were badly outnumbered and outgunned, the unexpected triumph was a watershed in forging the country’s national identity. (Militarily it wasn’t that significant — the next year France captured the Mexican capital and installed a member of the Austrian nobility as Maximillian I, “Emperor of Mexico.”) But here’s important part for everyone else to remember today: France was invading Mexico essentially because Mexico owed France money. Mexico had borrowed enormous amounts from Europe during the Mexican-American War from 1846-8 and in a civil war from 1858-61.

By 1862 it was impossible for the government to make timely payments on the loans without starving the country, and Mexican president Benito Juárez declared that all payments on foreign debt would be suspended for two years. Getting into unsustainable debt is not something unique to Mexico; countries have done so over and over throughout history, particularly during wars. The U.S. borrowed more than we could ever repay from France and the Netherlands during the Revolutionary War, and the U.K. borrowed far beyond its means from the U.S. during World War I. When this happens, it’s far better for both the debtors and creditors to organize some kind of default rather than forcing the debtors to pay all the money back on the original terms. The advantage for debtors is obvious.

More intelligent creditors understand it’s also good for them, because they generally don’t have a choice between getting all or just some of their money back. Instead, it’s a choice between getting some of it back or much less. To understand why, imagine loaning too much money to a software engineer. If you demand that the engineer sell all their computers to make interest payments, you’re unlikely to get much more money after that. And indeed both the U.S. and U.K. defaulted to varying degrees after their wars. Likewise, in 1862 the U.K. and Spain agreed to accept less than they were formally owed by Mexico. France, however, invaded Mexico in an attempt to get all its money back, which is why French troops were there for the Battle of Puebla on May 5.

In a sense, the invasion was admirably honest. International relations are often like organized crime on a gigantic scale, but people pretend otherwise. Here there was no pretense: The loanshark’s enforcers beat the crap out of an entire country. By contrast, creditors today have institutions like the IMF, which has often functioned as a creditors’ cartel — squeezing countries until they pay back their debts. This often involves lots of people dying … but in quiet ways, without armies involved.

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The EU isn’t only giving us Le Pen, it’s presenting us with this too.

Rescuers Pick Up 560 Migrants Off Libyan Coast On Thursday (R.)

Rescuers picked up 560 migrants from unsafe boats off the coast of Libya on Thursday, Italy’s Coast Guard said, including the body of a young man who the migrants said had been shot by smugglers on the beach for his baseball cap. Italian Navy and Coast Guard boats participated in the rescues together with two humanitarian vessels, a spokesman said. The migrants were traveling on board two large rubber boats and five small wooden ones, he added. The Phoenix, a rescue ship operated by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), took 422 on board, plus the body of the allegedly murdered young Gambian. “According to eyewitnesses, the deceased teenager was killed by human traffickers because they wanted his baseball hat. What cruelty,” MOAS co-founder Chris Catrambone said.

“The medical team onboard the Phoenix have confirmed that the deceased teenager died from gunshot wound,” he added. MOAS doctors are also caring for another teenage boy who has a gunshot wound to the stomach, but is stable. German NGO Jugend Rettet also helped with the rescues. Separately, Doctors Without Borders said its rescue ship Prudence would arrive in the Sicilian port of Catania early on Friday with the corpses of six migrants, including five women, who it had picked up in the Mediterranean in recent days. There had been a pause of boat departures from Libya, where smugglers operate with impunity, since Easter, because of bad weather and sea conditions. But boat migrant arrivals in Italy are still up 30 percent so far this year from 2016, when a record 181,000 arrived.

Humanitarian rescue ships have come in for criticism in Italy in recent months, with Catania chief prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro opening a fact-finding investigation into possible ties between NGOs and people-smugglers. The NGOs have strongly denied the accusations, including representatives from MOAS who testified in Italy’s parliament earlier on Thursday. They say their only mission is to save lives. Zuccaro has yet to present any evidence of illicit activities and has not opened a criminal investigation.

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Apr 172017
 
 April 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Rembrandt The Descent from the Cross 1634

 

Mother of All Debt : Trump Reflation Fantasy Ends on Day 100 (Stockman)
Trump Gives Generals More Freedom In ISIS Fight (WSJ)
Who Are the Debt Slaves in this Rich Nation? (WS)
Time Has Come For Banks To Prepare For Interest Rate Rises – Bundesbank (CNBC)
World’s Biggest Aluminum Producer Faces Default (ZH)
China Home Sales Surge 18% In March Ahead Of Stepped-Up Curbs (BBG)
Tesla: Is There More To Elon Musk Than Cars? (WSJ)
Uber Confirms Horrendous Loss in 2016 (WS)
India ATMs Run Out Of Cash (ToI)
Erdogan Follows Slim Referendum Win by Warning Opponents (BBG)

 

 

April 28. There won’t be one big halt, it’ll come in incremental steps.

Mother of All Debt : Trump Reflation Fantasy Ends on Day 100 (Stockman)

In honor of the Donald’s “Mother of All Bomb” (MOAB) attack on the Hindu Kush mountains Thursday, let me introduce MOAD. I’m referring to the “Mother of All Debt” crises, of course. The opening round is coming when Washington goes into shutdown mode on April 28, which happens to be Day 100 of the Donald’s reign. In theory, this should be just a routine extension of the fiscal year (FY) 2017 continuing resolution (CR) by which Congress is funding the $1.1 trillion compartment of government which is appropriated annually. The remaining $3 trillion per year of entitlements and debt service is on automatic pilot, but the truth is Washington can’t agree on what to do about either component — except to keeping on borrowing to pay the bills. There is a problem with this long-running game of fiscal kick-the-can, however.

Namely, a 100 year-old statute requires Congress to raise the ceiling for treasury borrowing periodically, but the Imperial City has now reached the point in which there is absolutely no way forward to accomplish this. Moreover, that critical fact is ill-understood by Wall Street because it does not remotely recognize that all the debt ceiling increases since the public debt exploded after the 2008-09 crisis were an accident of the Obama presidency. That is, surrounded by Keynesian economic advisers and big spending Democratic politicians, he had no fear of the national debt at all and obviously even believed the more debt the better. And Obama was also able to bamboozle the establishment GOP leadership led by former Speaker Boehner into steering enough GOP votes to the “responsible” course of action.

Needless to say, Obama is gone, Boehner is gone and the 17-month debt ceiling “holiday” that they confected in October 2015 to ride Washington through the election is gone, too. What’s arrived is vicious partisan warfare, a new President who is clueless about the urgency of the debt crisis and a bloc of 50 or so Freedom Caucus Republicans who now rule Washington. And good for them! They genuinely fear and loathe the banana republic financial profligacy that prevails in the Imperial City, and would rip the flesh from Speaker Ryan’s face were he to go the Boehner route and try to assemble a “bipartisan” consensus for a condition-free increase in the debt ceiling.

What that means is a completely new ball game in the Imperial City that will absolutely dominate the agenda as far as the eye can see. That’s because the Freedom Caucus will insist that sweeping entitlement reforms and spending cuts accompany any debt ceiling increase. Even “moderate” Senator Rob Portman (Ohio) has legislation requiring that dollar for dollar deficit cuts accompany any increase in the debt ceiling. But if you think the GOP fractures and fissures generated by Obamacare replace and repeal were difficult, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet. There is absolutely no basis for GOP consensus on meaningful deficit cuts, meaning that MOAD will bring endless starts, stops, showdowns and shutdowns, as the U.S. Treasury recurringly exhausts its cash and short-term extensions of its borrowing authority.

In the meanwhile, everything else — health care reform, tax cuts, infrastructure — will become backed-up in an endless queue of legislative impossibilities. Accordingly, there will be no big tax cut in 2017 or even next year. For all practical purposes Uncle Sam is broke and his elected managers are paralyzed. The Treasury will be out of cash and up against a hard stop debt limit of $19.8 trillion in a matter of months. But long before that there will be a taste of the Shutdown Syndrome on April 28 owing to the accumulating number of “poison pill” “riders” to the CR.

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This is not good: “A senior administration official said Mr. Trump didn’t know about the weapon’s use until it had been dropped.”

Trump Gives Generals More Freedom In ISIS Fight (WSJ)

U.S. military commanders are stepping up their fight against Islamist extremism as President Donald Trump’s administration urges them to make more battlefield decisions on their own. As the White House works on a broad strategy, America’s top military commanders are implementing the vision articulated by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: Decimate Islamic State’s Middle East strongholds and ensure that the militants don’t establish new beachheads in places such as Afghanistan. “There’s nothing formal, but it is beginning to take shape,” a senior U.S. defense official said Friday. “There is a sense among these commanders that they are able to do a bit more—and so they are.” While military commanders complained about White House micromanagement under former President Barack Obama, they are now being told they have more freedom to make decisions without consulting Mr. Trump.

Military commanders around the world are being encouraged to stretch the limits of their existing authorities when needed, but to think seriously about the consequences of their decisions. The more muscular military approach is expanding as the Trump administration debates a comprehensive new strategy to defeat Islamic State. Mr. Mattis has sketched out such a global plan, but the administration has yet to agree on it. While the political debate continues, the military is being encouraged to take more aggressive steps against Islamic extremists around the world. The firmer military stance has fueled growing concerns among State Department officials working on Middle East policy that the Trump administration is giving short shrift to the diplomatic tools the Obama administration favored.

Removing the carrot from the traditional carrot-and-stick approach, some State Department officials warn, could hamper the pursuit of long-term strategies needed to prevent volatile conflicts from reigniting once the shooting stops. The new approach was on display this week in Afghanistan, where Gen. John Nicholson, head of the U.S.-led coalition there, decided to use one of the military’s biggest nonnuclear bombs—a Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB—to hit a remote Islamic State underground network of tunnels and caves. A senior administration official said Mr. Trump didn’t know about the weapon’s use until it had been dropped. Mr. Mattis “is telling them, ‘It’s not the same as it was, you don’t have to ask us before you drop a MOAB,’” the senior defense official said. “Technically there’s no piece of paper that says you have to ask the president to drop a MOAB. But last year this time, the way [things were] meant, ‘I’m going to drop a MOAB, better let the White House know.’”

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We are all of us in the gutter (but some of us are looking at the stars).

Who Are the Debt Slaves in this Rich Nation? (WS)

We constantly hear the factoids about “American households” that paint a picture of immense wealth – and therefore a lack of risk for consumer lenders during the next downturn. We hear: “This – the thing that happened in 2008 and 2009 – won’t happen again.” For example, total net worth (assets minus debt) of US households and non-profit organization (they’re lumped together) rose to an astronomical $92.8 trillion at the end of 2016, according to the Federal Reserve. This is up by nearly 70% in early 2009 when the Fed started its QE and zero-interest-rate programs. Inflating household wealth was one of the big priorities of the Fed during the Financial Crisis. It would crank up the economy. In an editorial in 2010, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke himself called this the “wealth effect.”

So with this colossal wealth of US households, what could go wrong during the next downturn? Here’s what could go wrong: About half of Americans do not have enough savings to pay for even a minor emergency expense. The Federal Reserve found that 46% of adults could not cover an emergency expense of $400, such as a broken windshield. They would either have to borrow the money or try to sell the couch or something. So nearly half of the adults in the US live from paycheck to paycheck. About 15% of American households have either zero or negative net wealth, according to the New York Fed. Negative net worth means they have more debt than in assets. And nearly 47 million Americans, or nearly 15% of the population, live below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau.

So who benefited from the “wealth effect”? Those who had the most assets. At the very tippy-top: Warren Buffet. At the other end of the spectrum, in 2016, only 52% of households owned stocks directly or indirectly. The phenomenal stock market boom left 48% – usually those below the poverty line, those who cannot cover emergency expenses, those with zero or negative net worth, etc. etc. – in the dust.

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Germany is one of the precious few who might benefit from higher rates. But Germany seems to forget it is not an island.

Time Has Come For Banks To Prepare For Interest Rate Rises – Bundesbank (CNBC)

The time has come for financial institutions to prepare for an environment with rising interest rates, a Bundesbank board member told CNBC on Thursday. Many risk managers have focused on credit and liquidity risks, but they need to insert interest rate risks into the equation too, Andreas Dombret, an executive board member of the German Bundesbank, said. “Let’s face it, there are quite a number of risk managers who have never seen interest rates rise and who have never seen the interest rate risk and even thought about (it) and have concentrated on credit risk and have concentrated on liquidity risk, so it’s about time to prepare for a potential change,” Dombret said.

The former vice-chairman of Bank of America’s European global investment unit explained that the German central bank is taking interest rate rises “very seriously” and is “actively” working with German banks to ensure that changes to monetary policy will not disrupt them in any way. “Should there be sharp rises in interest rates that of course would be a challenge for any bank,” Dombret said. Members of the German central bank have been critical of the low interest rate environment in the euro zone, arguing this is hurting banks’ balance sheets. Earlier this month, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, called on the ECB to start tightening its monetary policy.

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Simple fraud.

World’s Biggest Aluminum Producer Faces Default (ZH)

While China Hongqiao Group may be best known for being the world’s largest aluminum producer, it has in recent months featured just as prominently among short-seller reports who have accused the company of being a fraud. As the WSJ’s Scott Patterson writes, questions about China Hongqiao’s finances first emerged in November, when an anonymous short seller wrote on a website called Hongqiao Exposed that the company’s profits are “too good to be true.” China Hongqiao in the March 31 statement called the report “untrue and unfounded.” A subsequent 46-page report on Feb. 28 by Emerson Analytics, a trading firm focused on Chinese stock-market fraud, disclosed more allegations of fraud involving the Chinese commodity giant.

Emerson accused China Hongqiao of “abnormally high” profits generated by underreporting production costs and disclosing electricity expenses—one of the biggest costs for aluminum producers—as much as 40% below their true cost. Emerson said it investigated Chinese electricity costs, spoke to former China Hongqiao employees and compared the company’s costs and profits with other comparable companies.

Additionally, China Hongqiao has been more profitable than some Chinese competitors. For instance, China Hongqiao earned an average operating profit margin of 27% in the past five years, compared with minus-1.7% for state-owned Aluminum Corp. of China , known as Chalco, and 5.9% for Alcoa, according to FactSet. “People were always skeptical about how they managed to be more profitable than their peers,” said Sandra Chow, a credit analyst at CreditSights. And while China Hongqiao denied the Emerson report’s allegations and said it hired an investigative agency to look into the firm and people behind the claims, things are starting to unravel rapidly for the Chinese megacap.

As Patterson reports, China Hongqiao – the world’s biggest aluminum producer – is in trouble, locked in a feud with its accountant over fraud allegations that have forced it to suspend trading of its shares and seek help from the central government in Beijing. Just like in the case of its cow dairy peer, the problems emerged to the surface following the bearish 3rd party reports. Just days after the Emerson Analytics note, on March 4 China Hongqiao sought assistance from a trade group, the Chinese Non-Ferrous Metals Industry Association, or CNIA, saying the short sellers’ claims of inflated profits were forcing the company’s accountant, Ernst & Young, “to adopt an extremely conservative and careful attitude.” One wonders just whose books E&Y had been reviewing until that point if it took an outside party to bring attention to potential fraud at one of its biggest Chinese clients.

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It’s really not that long ago when Chinese were reluctant to go into debt. But look now.

China Home Sales Surge 18% In March Ahead Of Stepped-Up Curbs (BBG)

The value of China’s home sales remained buoyant in March, though volume figures indicated that curbs in a number of cities may be slowing the recent buying frenzy. New home sales by value rose 18% to 1 trillion yuan ($145 billion) last month from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data released Monday by the National Bureau of Statistics. The increase compares with a 23% surge in the first two months of the year. But the value of sales partly reflected surging home prices. By volume, home sales grew only 11% in March to 130 million square meters, according to Bloomberg calculations, below the 24% growth in the first two months of 2017. “The curbs are showing their effects,” said Liu Feifan at Guotai Junan Securities in Shenzhen, who predicted that sales growth will continue to slow.

Policy makers are seeking to clear a glut of unsold homes in smaller urban centers, while pledging to enforce strict curbs in most first- and second-tier cities to prevent a housing bubble. In a month when at least 64 cities announced new or stricter property-buying restrictions, some of the growth in home sales reflected buyers flocking into the market fearing they’d be ruled ineligible for future purchases. Investment in real estate development gained 9.4% in March from a year earlier, up from 8.9% in the first two months, according to Bloomberg calculations. Strong property investment helped China’s fixed-asset investment excluding rural areas expand 9.2% in the first quarter, accelerating from 8.1% growth last year.

Some of the growth represented a “delayed effect” from an earlier property boom, and the rate is likely to decelerate soon, Zhou Hao at Commerzbank wrote in a note after the data release. Liu at Guotai Junan said the increasingly high leverage that Chinese households have taken on for home purchase is “not sustainable.” New medium and long-term loans to households, made up mostly of mortgages, picked up again last month to 450.3 billion yuan, according to official data last Friday.

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Tesla, Uber, same bubble. Giant losses with no future profits in sight. “Uber customers knew they were in a driverless car, by the way, because it had two drivers instead of one.”

Tesla: Is There More To Elon Musk Than Cars? (WSJ)

You probably have figured it out by now, but let me state it anyway. Ten years from now, if you’re reading this paper in a driverless car, it will be on a limited-access highway or a closed-off, experimental city circuit. You will not be thumbing through your text messages in a driverless car capable of carrying you anywhere, at all hours, in all weather conditions, over all kinds of roads. And even so, you will be expected to take over driving at a moment s notice. Ditto electric cars. If you own an electric car, you will be a member of a still-small minority. Electric-car owners will be people who own multiple cars or otherwise are willing to settle for a car with limited utility, suited for a daily commute but not a family trip or a long weekend. Even so, a new phenomenon will become apparent. After unexpected tie-ups on the interstate, tow trucks will routinely have to come and remove three or four Teslas that risked a long-distance trip and ran out of juice.

All this we offer as a discordant note amid the hype for electric cars and autonomous driving. Last week the market value of Tesla surpassed that of Ford and General Motors. Tesla is now the most valuable homegrown American car company, worth almost $US52 billion.Yet in the same week a reputable consultancy, Navigant Research, showed that Ford and GM lead all others, including Tesla and Google, in the autonomous car race. Shocking? Not really. These companies are making and selling cars, while the Silicon Valleyites have been mostly engaged in brand-building exercises based on public fascination with jazzy, futuristic auto technology. Google, the pioneer of self-driving hype, recently admitted it won’t build and sell a car after all. Google, though, still finds it pays to trundle its handful of robot cars on the exquisitely mapped streets of a few locales in perfect weather as obstacles to other motorists.

Apple reaped untold millions in free publicity based mainly on rumours and job postings for automotive engineers. Uber briefly suspended its own self-driving taxi experiment in three cities after an accident last month. Uber customers knew they were in a driverless car, by the way, because it had two drivers instead of one. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Tesla’s triumph in the market-cap sweepstakes underscores the profound change occurring in the global automotive industry as Silicon Valley pursues a vision for transportation … that could up-end century-old competitors. Except that the stock prices of traditional car makers haven’t exactly been tanking. GM’s remains within yelling distance of its postbankruptcy high. Look at BMW, whose market cap Tesla nearly equals. Even if Tesla succeeds in its high-risk plan to ramp up annual production to 500,000 from 80,000 in a scant two years, it will sell a quarter as many luxury cars as BMW does, and has yet to show it can do so profitably.

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Case in point.

Uber Confirms Horrendous Loss in 2016 (WS)

On Good Friday, when markets were closed and when the entire financial world was tuned out, and when certainly no one was supposed to pay attention, Uber, the most highly valued – at $62.5 billion – and the most scandal plagued tech startup in the world, took the until now unprecedented step of disclosing its audited revenues and losses for the fourth quarter and for the full year of 2016. Rumors of ballooning losses for 2016 had been swirling since last summer. Bloomberg reported in August that Uber had lost “at least $1.2 billion” in the first half. In December, Uber’s loss in Q3 was said to “exceed $800 million,” according to Bloomberg, and its annual loss “may hit $3 billion.”

Others chimed in as some of Uber’s dozens of investors who’re getting its financial statements share them in dribs and drabs with the media. But on Friday, Uber itself disclosed that it lost $2.8 billion before interest, tax, depreciation, and employee stock options – the latter likely being a big chunk, as the earnings of publicly traded companies that award stock-based compensation, such as Twitter, regularly show. Translated into a net loss, including the expense for stock-based compensation? Dizzying. But Uber wisely didn’t disclose it. The Financial Times, which reported this disclosure, mused that Uber is “cementing its place as the most heavily-lossmaking private company in the history of Silicon Valley.”

In Q4 alone, it lost $991 million before interest, tax, depreciation, and stock-based compensation, up 5% from the losses in Q3 and nearly double its loss in Q1. However, as Uber has expanded at break-neck speed into more than 70 countries, stirring up numerous hornets’ nests of local and national laws and regulations, revenue soared over 200% from Q1 to reach $2.9 billion in Q4. For the whole year, revenue reached $6.5 billion. This is the image of its skyrocketing 2016 quarterly revenues and ballooning losses before interest, tax, depreciation, and stock-based compensation:

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In a country of over 1 billion people, failures look big.

India ATMs Run Out Of Cash (ToI)

Five months have passed since the demonetisation drive, but the people of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam continue to face shortage of cash in banks and ATMs. Sources said more than 90% of the ATMs in the region do not have cash while in the plains and Agency areas running dry. “The last date for paying my daughter’s tuition fees at Visakha Valley School was April 10, but I could not pay due to unavailability of cash. Moreover, the school does not have any online payment system,” said a worried P Srinivasa Rao. Speaking to TOI, State Bank of India (SBI) deputy general manager Ajoy Kumar Pandit said the customers are losing confidence in them due to the crisis.

“Nearly 70% of our 648 ATMs in the three districts are out of cash. The rest will also become dry in the next few days as we do not have cash to refill the machines. We are helpless from our side,” he said. A banking source said the RBI has diverted most of the cash to north India due to the recent elections. This has affected the southern parts of the country. “The government’s intention is to encourage smart payment systems, but the infrastructure is not up to the mark,” the source said. Many ATMs have not been upgraded with the new software required for handling the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 denominations, the source added.

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The referendum has revealed the opposite of what Erdogan claims it has; namely, a dramatically divided Turkey. A powder keg. Recounts first? Is the judicial system still strong enough to order them? Changing a constitution with a 50% + 1 majority is questionable enough, since a constitution is supposed to be the result of many years of deliberation; in most places it would require 67% or even 75%. On top of that, this referendum was executed with many opposition politicians and many journalists behind bars. And even then only a very slim margin?!

Erdogan Follows Slim Referendum Win by Warning Opponents (BBG)

An emboldened Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed his win in a referendum that ratified the supremacy of his rule by taking aim at political opponents at home and abroad. At his victory speech late on Sunday, supporters chanted that he should bring back the death penalty – a move that would finish off Turkey’s bid to join the EU – and Erdogan warned opponents not to bother challenging the legitimacy of his win. He told them to prepare for the biggest overhaul of Turkey’s system of governance ever, one that will result in him having even fewer checks on his already considerable power. “Today, Turkey has made a historic decision,” he said. “We will change gears and continue along our course more quickly.” The lira surged as much as 2.5% against the dollar in early trading on Monday in Istanbul before gains moderated.

The success of a package of 18 changes to the constitution was narrow, with about 51.4% of Turks approving it. It came at the end of a divisive two-month campaign during which Erdogan accused opponents of the vote of supporting “terrorists” and denounced as Nazi-like the decision of some EU countries to bar his ministers from lobbying the diaspora. “The referendum campaign was dominated by strongly anti-Western rhetoric and repeated promises to bring back the death penalty,” said Inan Demir at Nomura in London. “One hopes that this rhetoric will be tempered now that the vote is over,” but recent steps by the Turkish government do “not bode well for the hoped-for moderation in international relations.”

“It looks like the best outcome for financial markets because it gives the mandate, but not a strong mandate,” said Ozgur Altug, the chief economist at BGC Partners in Istanbul, who predicts stocks in Istanbul will rally about 7%. While markets looked favorably on the result as a sign political turmoil in the majority Muslim nation of 80 million people may settle down and help jumpstart the economy, Turkey’s biggest political party alleged fraud, demanding a recount after election officials accepted ballots without official stamps.

The EU’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, said given the “unfair election environment,” EU accession talks will be suspended if the constitution is passed in its current form. The European Commission, in a statement, said the constitutional amendments, and their implementation “will be assessed in light of Turkey’s obligations” as an accession candidate and as a member of the Council of Europe. “You saw how the West attacked. But despite this, the nation stood tall, didn’t get divided,” Erdogan told his supporters, while calling on Turks who opposed him to “stop tiring themselves out” and accept the course the country is headed on.

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Apr 142017
 
 April 14, 2017  Posted by at 8:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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American Soldiers Observing Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1944

 

‘Russia Thinks We’re Crazy, Completely Crazy’ (ZH)
We’re Heading Straight Into a Recession – Jim Rickards (MWS)
How’s This For Grade 1 Central Bank Hubris? (Albert Edwards)
Wall Street Fear Gauge Hits Fresh High For The Year (CNBC)
The Ethical Case For Taxing Foreign Home Buyers (Gordon)
UK Banks Crack Down On Credit Card Lending After Borrowing Binge (Tel.)
CIA Director Brands Wikileaks A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’ (G.)
‘US Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ On Any IMF Aid To Greece’ (AFP)
American Energy Use, In One Diagram (Vox)
Macroscale Modeling Linking Energy and Debt (King)
Refugee Rescue Group Accuses EU Border Agency Of Plotting Against Them (AFP)
At Least 97 Migrants Missing As Boat Sinks Off Libya (AFP)
The Ultimate Lovebird (DM)

 

 

As Cohen indicates, Tillerson signed multi-billion contracts with Putin. That required a lot of trust. That trust is now being put at risk.

‘Russia Thinks We’re Crazy, Completely Crazy’ (ZH)

Lastly, Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian studies at Princeton and NYU, an actual expert on China, weighed in, saying ‘Russia thinks we’re crazy, completely crazy.’ He even took some time to express his ‘disgust’ with Al Mattour, saying ‘your previous guest, I don’t mean to be rude to him. First of all, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And, secondly, he excludes the reality that Russia has a politics. And the politics in Russia today as we talk is […] the concern that America is preparing war against Russia. If not on Syria, then on the other two cold war fronts […] where NATO is building up in an unprecedented way. This is not good because they have nuclear weapons and because accidents happen.’

He then theorized what the conversation between Putin and Tillerson was like, pointing to the two having a history of trust together from the time Tillerson led Exxon Mobile. ‘Rex, says Putin, what in the world is going on in Washington?’ Professor Cohen, ominously, summed it up, ‘I’m not young. I’ve been doing this 40 years, sometimes as a Professor, sometimes inside. I have never been as worried as I am today about the possibility of war with Russia.’

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Any day now.

We’re Heading Straight Into a Recession – Jim Rickards (MWS)

Before the holiday weekend begins, best-selling author James Rickards joins Olivia Bono-Voznenko outside the NYSE to talk all about the markets and his latest book, “The Road to Ruin.” Jim discusses the currency wars, Trump’s turnaround on China & the Fed and an inevitable crisis amid a weak system.

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Though he defines it poorly, Edwards is right that deflation is still here.

How’s This For Grade 1 Central Bank Hubris? (Albert Edwards)

Peter Praet, the ECB’s chief economist said in a recent interview that, “Since the crisis, we have had serious concerns about deflationary risks on several occasions in the euro area, but now we can say they have disappeared.” Really? Has he seen the chart below, which shows core CPI in the Eurozone heading sharply lower and now approaching its all-time low seen at the start of 2015! Not only that, but Eurozone inflation expectations are also declining again, after surging in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. To be fair, Praet was focusing on the rise in headline inflation in the Eurozone, which touched 2% in February before dropping back in March to 1.5%.

After some 18 months bobbing around the zero mark, I can understand why central bankers might be heaving a sigh of relief, but for them to take credit for a recovery in headline inflation is totally disingenuous given it has been entirely driven by a recovery in the oil price. Similarly, Janet Yellen was quoted saying the Fed is “doing pretty well” in meeting its congressionally mandated goals of low and stable inflation and a full-strength labor market. It’s this sort of comment that has led Marc Faber to want to short central bankers, the only way being to buy gold. The increasing volume of central bank hubris may even explain the recent breakout of gold to the upside! It is not just eurozone inflation expectations that seem to be in retreat. The same thing is happening in the US too (see chart below).

I am always surprised how dominated 10y inflation expectations are by short-term movements in the oil price and headline inflation, but it was noticeable just how rapidly inflation expectations ran up in the wake of Trump’s election – way in advance of what might have been expected by the bounce in the oil price. One might have thought the surge in the oil price from its trough some 12-18 months ago might have had more impact on wage inflation, but so far that does not seem to be the case. Despite the euphoria in the markets about the “reflation trade”, survey inflation expectations have continued to drift downwards. One thing is certain: for central banks to call victory over deflation may prove very premature indeed. Nemesis awaits.

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Easter jitters.

Wall Street Fear Gauge Hits Fresh High For The Year (CNBC)

Stocks may be in for a deeper pullback, now that the so-called fear index is finally breaking out higher. The CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed above its 200-day moving average for the first time since the election this week. The indicator jumped more than 2% Thursday afternoon at one point to a fresh high for the year. U.S. markets are closed for trading Friday for the Easter holiday. The recent spike in fear comes just as geopolitical risk heats up. The Pentagon said Thursday U.S. military forces dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, the first time the so-called mother of all bombs has ever been used in combat. U.S. stocks fell, with the S&P 500 and DJIA closed at two-month lows Thursday. “I’d say it’s probably more of a Trump trade [reversing] than the geopolitics, but going forward I think the geopolitics is the topic the market is focusing on,” said Andres Jaime at Barclays.

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Good argument: A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes..

The Ethical Case For Taxing Foreign Home Buyers (Gordon)

Foreign capital is playing an important role in the real estate markets of Toronto and Vancouver, and has for some time. As political leaders debate its impact and possible policy measures to alleviate its attendant issues, it is important to think clearly about the ethics of foreign ownership. Predictably, those who want to stymie or avoid policy action in this area have alluded to “xenophobia” to deter critics. Even some well-intentioned people have given credence to these claims. Yet curtailing or taxing foreign ownership is not xenophobic, especially if policy is properly designed. Xenophobia is the irrational or unjustified fear of foreigners. Concerns about the impact of foreign ownership are about flows of money, not people, and they are certainly justified in Toronto and Vancouver.

Foreign ownership raises two main ethical problems. First, those who buy based on foreign income or wealth often have access to money in ways that are unavailable to local residents. This means that locals are potentially put into disadvantageous, or unfair, competition for real estate where they live. Second, people who buy property based on foreign income or wealth may not have contributed much in Canadian taxes, which is largely what makes the property so valuable in the first place. Canadian real estate has become an attractive place to stash international money for a variety of reasons – we don’t effectively enforce money laundering regulations, we have relatively low property-tax rates and the enforcement of capital gains taxes has been lax. But real estate in Canada is ultimately attractive because of the country’s stable institutions, its public infrastructure and its social cohesion.

These latter things are paid for, or fostered by, taxes collected from Canadians – income taxes in particular. At a minimum, then, Canadians should have preferential access to property ownership, since they are paying for what makes it so valuable. It is precisely for these reasons that we see nothing ethically problematic about charging foreign students more in tuition at Canadian universities. Residential property is no different. Concerns around foreign ownership are especially potent when money is arriving from societies where corruption is widespread, and when foreign money is playing a significant role in driving up prices. Both apply in the cases of Toronto and Vancouver.

[..] We can then better design a foreign-buyer’s tax, which is needed to calm Toronto’s frenzied market. A foreign-buyer’s tax can be refunded to individuals to the extent they pay income taxes – the amount they pay in the three years following a purchase, for instance. This makes it clear that the tax need not discourage entrepreneurial talent from abroad, as claimed by Toronto Mayor John Tory. This understanding of the issue also leads straightforwardly into the proposal by many economists in British Columbia, including my colleague Rhys Kesselman. Provincial governments should introduce an annual property surtax on expensive homes that can be offset by income taxes paid, while exempting seniors with sustained CPP contribution records. This continuous surtax would powerfully target foreign ownership, and would thereby reconnect the local housing market to the local labour market.

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I’ll believe it when I see it. Nobody wants to see the economy crash, they’ll stick with loose lending standards to prevent it.

UK Banks Crack Down On Credit Card Lending After Borrowing Binge (Tel.)

Britain’s credit card binge could be at an end as banks tighten up controls on consumer debt. Borrowing growth hit rates of more than 10pc over the past year, a pace not seen since the boom years before the financial crisis, but now banks are touching the brakes. The Bank of England has warned that a consumer debt could be more of a risk to banks than mortgage lending, should there be an economic downturn. Fierce competition to win new customers has led banks to offer more credit to customers with increasingly long interest-free periods.But banks have started tightening lending criteria for credit card applicants in a move of an intensity not seen since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

A net balance of 33pc of lenders expect to tighten standards in the coming three-month period, according to Bank of England data. When unsecured loans are also included, a net balance of 27pc plan to scrutinise applications more closely. There was also a fall in the number of credit card applications approved in the first quarter of the year, and banks expect the number to remain roughly steady in the coming quarter. By contrast credit scoring criteria for secured loans, such as mortgages, is holding broadly steady. “The recent rapid growth in consumer credit could principally represent a risk to lenders if accompanied by weaker underwriting standards,” warned the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee this month.

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After first praising it.

CIA Director Brands Wikileaks A ‘Hostile Intelligence Service’ (G.)

Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, has branded WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators. In his first public remarks since becoming chief of the US spy agency in February, Pompeo focused on the group and other leakers of classified information like Edward Snowden as one of the key threats facing the United States. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence… And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organisations,” said Pompeo. “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

[..] Last month, WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA and damaged its operations by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the agency’s top secret hacking operations. The data showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence. Counterintelligence investigators continue to try to find out who stole the files and handed them to WikiLeaks. Assange meanwhile criticized the US agency for not telling the tech industry and authorities about those vulnerabilities so they can be fixed. Pompeo said Assange portrays himself as a crusader but in fact helps enemies of the United States, including aiding Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election.

“Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today. Yes, they try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent.” However, Pompeo did not comment on how Trump has previously lavished praise on Assange for the information he has made public. Nor did Pompeo mention that he himself had cited and linked to WikiLeaks in a tweet attacking the Democratic Party. Pompeo at the time was a Republican congressman and member of the House Intelligence Committee. The CIA declined to comment on that.

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Translation: get it done.

‘US Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ On Any IMF Aid To Greece’ (AFP)

The US government will keep an “open mind” on any new loan package from the IMF for debt-burdened Greece, a senior US Treasury official said Thursday. Despite criticism of international organizations by the Trump administration, the comments allay concerns that US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could veto any large new aid package for Athens. “We’re looking for the Europeans to help Greece to resolve its economic problems, and we think the IMF can play a supportive role,” the official told reporters. “And we’ll look at any potential future agreement with an open mind.” IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said Greece and its eurozone creditors have made progress towards a new loan package that includes debt relief, but that is something the fund has been saying for months without a final deal.

Greece last week accepted a tough set of reforms demanded by its eurozone creditors in hopes of securing a new loan in time to avert a looming debt default in July, although it still must finalize the details. Athens has been deadlocked for months over reforms, and budget targets, which has put the IMF and EU at loggerheads over the need for debt relief in order to ensure an economic recovery, and the government’s ability to repay its loans. The eurozone is under heavy pressure to end the feud in order to avert a chaotic default and inflicting damage on an already stalled Greek recovery. Greece has about €7 billion in debt repayments due in July. All the key officials involved in the talks are expected to be in Washington next week to attend the IMF and World Bank annual meetings.

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We waste. That’s what we’re good at.

American Energy Use, In One Diagram (Vox)

Every year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory LLNL produces a new energy flow chart showing the sources of US energy, what it’s used for, and how much of it is wasted. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a bit of a mind-blower. Behold US energy in 2016: So much information in so little space! (It’s worth zooming in on a larger version.)

[..] a British thermal unit (BTU) is a standard unit of energy — the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. If you prefer the metric system, a BTU is about 1055 joules of energy. A “quad” is one quadrillion (a thousand trillion) BTUs. [..] a few things equivalent to a quad: 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline, 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh), 36,000,000 metric tons of coal The US consumed 97.3 quads in 2016, an amount that has stayed roughly steady (within a quad or so) since 2000.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the spaghetti diagram — what everyone notices the first time they see it — is the enormous amount of “rejected” energy. Not just some, but almost two-thirds of the potential energy embedded in our energy sources ended up wasted in 2016. (And note that some scholars think LLNL is being too optimistic, and that the US is not even 31% efficient but more like 13%.) What’s more, the US economy is trending less and less efficient over time. Here’s the spaghetti diagram from 1970 (LLNL has been at this a long time):

Back then, we only wasted half our energy! It’s important to put this waste in context. It is not mainly about personal behavior or inefficient energy end use — keeping cars idling or leaving the lights on, that kind of thing. That’s a part of it, but at a deeper level, waste is all about system design. The decline in overall efficiency in the US economy mainly has to do with the increasing role of inefficient energy systems. Specifically, the years since 1970 have seen a substantial increase in electricity consumption and private vehicles for transportation, two energy services that are particularly inefficient. (Electricity wastes two-thirds of its primary energy; transportation wastes about three-quarters.)

There is loss inherent in any system that converts raw materials to usable energy, or transports or uses energy, of course. That follows from the second law of thermodynamics. And it’s true both narrowly (a car is an energy system) and broadly (a city is an energy system). It’s not possible to achieve perfect efficiency, or anything close to it. But surely we can do better than 31%! Sixty-six quads is a truly mind-boggling amount of energy to vent into the atmosphere for no good purpose. It really highlights the enormous potential of better-designed systems — especially better electricity and transport systems, along with better urban systems (i.e., cities) — to contribute to the country’s carbon reduction goals. We could double our energy use, with no increase in carbon emissions, just by halving our energy waste.

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I like this, and it’s high time energy became a part of economic modeling; Steve Keen is working on it too. BUT: to understand today’s predicaments, you have to look -seperately- at what has happened in financial markets. The debt binge was not a result of what went on with energy; it stood -and stands- on and by itself.

Macroscale Modeling Linking Energy and Debt (King)

What if you realized that the fundamental economic framework of macroeconomics is insufficient to inform our most pressing concerns? The world is dynamic, in constant change, yet most economic models (even the most widely used “dynamic” model) lack fundamental feedbacks that govern long-term trends (e.g., regarding role of energy) and make assumptions that prevent the ability to describe important real-world phenomena (e.g., financial-induced recessions). Monetary models of finance and debt often assume that natural resources (energy, food, materials) and technology are not constraints on the economy. Energy scenario models often assume that economic growth, finance and debt will not be constraints on energy investment.


Energy and food costs have declined since industrialization, but no longer

These assumptions must be eliminated, and the modeling concepts must be integrated if we are to properly interpret the post-2008 macroeconomic situation: unprecedented low interest rates, high consumer and private debt, high asset valuations, and energy and food costs that are no longer declining. As we attempt to understand newer and more numerous options (e.g., electric cars, renewables, information) regarding energy system evolution, it is paramount to have internally consistent macro-scale models that take a systems approach that tracks flows and interdependencies among debt, employment, profits, wages, and biophysical quantities (e.g., natural resources and population). There is a tremendous research need to develop a framework to describe our contemporary and future macroeconomic situation that is consistent with both biophysical and economic principles. Unfortunately, this fundamental integration does not underpin our current thinking.


U.S. consumer costs of fundamental needs (energy, food, housing, transport) are no longer declining

• Debt is money.

• Money is created when commercial banks lend money to businesses, not when the U.S. Treasury prints money or when Federal Reserve Bank lowers interest rates. Those government and Fed actions are reactions to the creation or destruction of money (e.g., paying back loans) within the real economy.

• Businesses seek new loans when economic opportunities are present. Thus, a growing economy can support more debt.

• Economic opportunities are present when consumers have disposable income to spend (and when innovative technologies supplant old technologies, thus lowering prices, and enabling growth).

• Consumers have more money to spend when core needs (e.g., food, energy, housing) are getting cheaper relative to incomes. Thus, if these core needs are no longer getting cheaper, this is an indication of the lack of income growth to support business investment. In turn banks stop lending because there are fewer viable business opportunities.

• The conclusion is that without decreasing food and energy costs to consumers, real incomes do not rise.

• This is a viable explanation of the post-2008 economy, but one ignored by practically all policy makers, economists, and advisors!

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Frontex is a disaster.

Refugee Rescue Group Accuses EU Border Agency Of Plotting Against Them (AFP)

A Spanish group which has been rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean since 2016 accused the EU’s border control agency Frontex on Wednesday of plotting to discredit private aid organisations in order to put off donors. Allegations by Frontex that donor-funded rescue vessels may have colluded with traffickers at the end of last year prompted Italian prosecutors to begin an informal investigation into their funding sources. “The declarations by Frontex and political authorities are intended to discredit our actions and erode our donors’ trust,” said Proactiva Open Arms head Riccardo Gatti. “They are trying to say that we support the smuggling or the traffickers themselves,” he said. In a report cited in December by the Financial Times daily, Frontex raised the possibility that traffickers were putting migrants out to sea in collusion with the private ships that recover them and bring them to Italy “like taxis”.

Prosecutors then publicly wondered at the amount of money being spent, though they stopped short of opening a formal probe. “We feel there’s someone who wants to put a spoke in our wheels, though we do not really know who is behind it,” Gatti said. The organization said it had nothing to hide. “We have 35,000 donors. Some are well known – like Pep Guardiola, the current manager of Manchester City – others are anonymous,” said Oscar Camps, Proactiva Open Arms director. He said the group had so far received €2.2 million euros in donations for an op in the Med that costs between €5,000 and €6,000 a day. Pro-Activa Open Arms also heavily criticized a deal signed in February between Italy and Libya which purportedly hopes to stem the flow of migrants from the coast of North Africa to Italy.

Gatti said the deal was made with only part of the 1,700 militias he said control Libya and would therefore be ineffective. Human rights watchers have also warned the accord would put the lives of those fleeing persecution and war in greater danger. “Everything is controlled by the militias in Libya, even the coast guard, and 30 percent of the financial flows in the country come from human trafficking,” he said. The deal is in doubt after it was suspended in March by Tripoli’s Court of Appeal. Nearly 25,000 migrants have been pulled to safety and brought to Italy since the beginning of the year in a sharp increase in arrivals.

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Happy Easter.

At Least 97 Migrants Missing As Boat Sinks Off Libya (AFP)

At least 97 migrants were missing after their boat sank on Thursday off the Libyan coast, a navy spokesman said. Survivors said the missing include 15 women and five children, General Ayoub Qassem told AFP. He said the Libyan coastguard had rescued a further 23 migrants of various African nationalities just under 10 kilometres (6 miles) off the coast of Tripoli. The boat’s hull was completely destroyed and the survivors, all men, were found clinging to a flotation device, he said. Those who had disappeared were “probably dead”, but bad weather had so far prevented the recovery of their bodies, Qassem added. An AFP photographer said survivors had been given food and medical care at Tripoli port before being transferred to a migrant centre east of the capital.

Six years since the revolution that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi, Libya has become a key departure point for migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Hailing mainly from sub-Saharan countries, most of the migrants board boats operated by people traffickers in western Libya, and make for the Italian island of Lampedusa 300 km away. Since the beginning of this year, at least 590 migrants have died or gone missing along the Libyan coast, the International Organization for Migration said in late March. In the absence of an army or regular police force in Libya, several militias act as coastguards but are often themselves accused of complicity or even involvement in the lucrative people-smuggling business. More than 24,000 migrants arrived in Italy from Libya during the first three months of the year, up from 18,000 during the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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Easter feel good.

The Ultimate Lovebird (DM)

A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.

But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.

During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.

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Apr 082017
 
 April 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Wife of sharecropper in town to sell crop at tobacco auction, Douglas Georgia 1938

 

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)
Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)
Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)
Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)
US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)
Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)
Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)
Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)
Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)
Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)
US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)
Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)
Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

 

 

On top of auto and student loans, both already well over $1 trillion. Get a fork and turn ’em over.

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)

Unlike last month’s unexpectedly week consumer credit report, which saw a plunge in revolving, or credit card, debt moments ago the Fed, in its latest G.19 release, announced that there were few surprises in the February report: Total revolving credit rose by $2.9 billion, undoing last month’s $2.6 billion drop – the biggest since 2012 – while non-revolving credit increased by $12.3 billion, for a total increase in February consumer credit of $15.2 billion, roughly in line with the $15 billion expected. However, while in general the data was uneventful, there was one notable milestone: in February, following modest prior revisions, total revolving/credit card debt, has once again risen above the “nice round number” of $1 trillion for the first time since January 2007… where it now joins both auto ($1.1 trillion) and student ($1.4 trillion) loans, both of which are well above $1 trillion as of this moment.

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It IS a recession.

Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)

The U.S. retail industry is shedding jobs at an unparalleled pace outside of recession and stands to lose many more as the industry continues to shrink its physical footprint, a response to the shift in consumer shopping habits away from purchasing in stores and malls in favor of e-commerce. The U.S. retail sector lost 60,600 jobs in February and March, the worst two months for the sector since the tail end of 2009, according to Labor Department data. The category called general merchandise stores – Target, J.C. Penney and the like – has shed jobs for five consecutive months. Media reports have tallied more than 3,500 store closures for 2017, with retailers including J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s and others announcing that they are shutting doors and making job cuts.

Ralph Lauren has outlined the next phase of its turnaround effort, which includes shutting stores and cutting jobs. Bankruptcies and liquidations have also picked up, with Payless ShoeSource just this week announcing nearly 400 store closures. Wet Seal, Aeropostale, Sports Authority, and Hhgregg are among the many other retailers that have either filed for bankruptcy or liquidated. The current state of retail, which is weighed by less foot traffic, more promotions, and increased competition, particularly from Amazon.com, suggests that additional closures are on the horizon. The U.S. simply has too many stores, according to a report from Cowen & Company titled “Retail’s Disruption Yields Opportunities – Store Wars!,” which found that up to 2,000 stores should close.

“[W]e expect online penetration of apparel to increase to 35% to 40% from 20%, yielding closures of 20% at oversized chains,” the report said. Cowen analysts say there are about 1,200 malls in the U.S. and they represent about 15% of retail square footage. Cowen anticipates that up to about 20%, or 240 malls, will close or be repurposed, with anchor store closures and the rise of digital among the primary drivers.

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The Amazon bubble. Killing off America’s last remaining meeting places.

Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)

This week, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy, joining many other U.S. apparel brands, including The Limited and Wet Seal, that have sought Chapter 11 protection in recent months. These three chains alone will shutter almost 1,000 stores. Fung Global Retail & Technology estimates that all of the major U.S. store closures announced so far this year total 2,507. That total is just for announcements made in the three months through April 4, 2017, yet it already dwarfs the 1,674 store closures we recorded across major U.S. chains in all of 2016. Closures are impacting multiple sectors: electronics is represented by RadioShack, furniture and appliances by Hhgregg, office products by Staples and healthcare by CVS. Apparel, however, is leading the charge out of brick-and-mortar. We calculate that apparel retailers and department stores account for 2,060 (82%) of the 2,507 closures announced so far this year.

What can we infer from this surge in store closures? We see three principal takeaways: Weak demand for apparel persists. The most obvious conclusion from the recent bankruptcy filings is that apparel retailers continue to feel the impact of subdued consumer demand. American shoppers have been flush with cash thanks to low gas prices, but they have chosen to spend on cars and their homes rather than on fashion. The latest retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that apparel specialist stores saw a 1% year-over-year decline in sales in February. There is little reason to think shoppers will switch back to apparel as interest rates rise and if fuel prices creep up.

Second, pure-play retailing is fashionable again. Amid all the talk of omnichannel retailing and Internet pure plays opening brick-and-mortar stores, we are now seeing a trend of retailers going the opposite way, moving from operating stores to selling only online. Bebe is one such retailer that is planning to become an Internet pure play. The Limited considered a similar plan but is no longer selling online after filing for bankruptcy. Third, more retailers are facing reality. Not all store closures are being forced by bankruptcies. J.C. Penney and Macy’s, for instance, are slimming down their store networks in order to prepare for the future. We expect more retailers to join them in recognizing a need for fewer stores. Accordingly, we do not expect this year’s store-closure count to stop at 2,507.

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Just in time economy?!

Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)

On countless occasions in recent years, the U.S. auto industry has relied on cheap and easy credit from Wall Street to get it through rough patches. Not this time. With both bad loans and interest rates on the rise, financial institutions are becoming more selective in doling out credit for new-car purchases, adding to the pressure for automakers already up against the wall with sliding sales, swelling inventories and a used-car glut. “We’ve been having a party for a few years and it was fun,” said Maryann Keller, an industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. “Now lenders are getting back to basics.” Many figure they have to. For one thing, subprime borrowers have been falling behind on their car-loan payments at a rate not seen since just after the 2008 financial crisis.

Delinquencies for auto debt of all stripes have been climbing, with the value of those behind for at least 30 days swelling to $23.3 billion in December, a 14% jump from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve. This helps explain why 10% of senior bank-loan officers said they expect to pull back on extending credit to car buyers this year, according to a Fed survey. Expectations are that terms will toughen for loans the vast majority of Americans need to buy new vehicles as the Fed boosts benchmark rates. “There are only so many people wanting a new car and only so much capital available,” said Daniel Parry, CEO of Praxis Finance and co-founder of Exeter Finance, a subprime lender. “Manufacturers and lenders will have to reset to reduced volume levels.”

The reset has already started, with auto sales dipping in each of the first three months of the year. In March, the annualized pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.6 million from 16.7 million a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Analysts had projected it would accelerate to about 17.2 million. Now Goldman Sachs economists figure there’s only demand for about 15 million per year, they said in an April 4 report. The industry set a record by selling 17.6 million cars and trucks in 2016 and has been on a seven-year growth streak. But General Motors, Ford and others had to pile on discounts and incentives to keep the expansion going, with both their finance arms and third-party lenders giving them a boost with easy credit. “This has come full circle,” Keller, the consultant, said. “We’ve created an auto market of 17.5 million vehicles based on accommodating credit. There will be consequences.”

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Whaddaya think? Yup, weather.

US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)

The U.S. created just 98,000 new jobs in March to mark the smallest gain in almost a year, a sign the labor market is not quite as strong as big hiring gains earlier in 2017 suggested. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 4.5% from 4.7% and touched a nearly 10-year low despite the slowdown in hiring. U.S. stocks ended the session pretty much where they started as investors sifted through the March employment report. The U.S. had added more than 200,000 jobs in January and February, but hiring in weather-sensitive industries such as construction was helped by unusually high temperatures in the dead of winter.

Many economists were skeptical the recent pace of job creation was sustainable after a six-year hiring boom that chopped the unemployment rate in half and ignited growing complaints among companies about a shortage of skilled workers to fill open jobs. As a result, economists polled by MarketWatch had estimated the number of new jobs created in March would taper off to 185,000 in the third month of Donald Trump’s young presidency. Instead the decline was even steeper, speared by plunging employment in a beleaguered retail industry. “The 200,000-plus numbers reported for job gains in January and February always seemed a bit outlandish,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard. Added economist Harm Bandholz of UniCredit: “Most of this is weather related and correct for exaggerated strengths seen earlier in the year.”

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It’s going so well, get me come shades.

Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)

Millions of Americans don’t want to work part-time. The U.S. economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in nearly a year, after adding more than 200,000 jobs in January and February. Economists predicted that the number of jobs created in March would hit 180,000, so the actual figures fell far short of that. Unemployment fell to a 10-year-low of 4.5% in March from 4.7% in February, but the “real” unemployment rate that includes part-time workers who would rather work full-time and job hunters who gave up searching for work was 8.9%, although this was also down from 9.2% in February. Part-time work is still a contentious alternative for many workers. On Thursday, Amazon said it will create 30,000 part-time jobs in the U.S. over the next year, nearly double the current number. Of those, 25,000 will be in warehouses and 5,000 will be home-based customer service positions.

Amazon said in January it would create 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, according to a separate announcement made in January. Last year, Amazon’s world-wide workforce grew by 48% to 341,400 employees. In the U.S., it has over 70 “fulfillment centers” and 90,000 full-time employees. There were some 5.6 million involuntary part-time workers in March 2017, little changed from the month before, but down from 6.4 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from 4.5 million in November 2007, but way off a peak of 8.6 million in September 2012. These figures are almost entirely due to the inability of workers to find full-time jobs, leaving many workers to take or keep lower-paying jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think-tank in Washington, D.C. And 54% of the growth in these involuntary part-time jobs between 2007 and 2015 were in retail, leisure and hospitality industries, the EPI said.

[..] Perhaps not surprisingly, involuntary part-time workers tend to earn less than their voluntary part-time counterparts. Approximately 40% of involuntary part-time workers report a total family income of less than $30,000, compared with just 18% of the latter and 29% of the population as a whole, according to an earlier report published in 2015 by Rutgers University. More than four out of every five involuntary part-time workers says it’s hard to save for retirement and about seven out of every 10 say they earn less money than they and their family need to get by and pay bills.

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It’s too late to gently deflate.

Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)

The concerns about froth in Toronto’s housing market are not likely to subside given the sticker-shock from the latest report from the Toronto Real Estate Board. As per the March report, the average single-detached house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) sold for $1,214,422 last month up from $910,375 in March of last year – that is a 33% YoY surge, and follows a 16% run-up over the prior 12 months. Whatever the term is for an acceleration in an already parabolic curve, well, that is what we have on our hands today. And it isn’t just detached homes seeing this degree of rapid price appreciation — the benchmark single-family home selling price was up 29% YoY, the benchmark townhouse price was up 28% and the condo/apartment composite was up 24%. This is a bubble of historic proportions.

Not only to have home prices in the GTA now absorb an unprecedented 13 years of median family income, but to have 30%-ish run-ups against a backdrop of a 2% inflation rate, wages that are barely going up 2% as well, and nominal GDP growth of around 4%. This should put 30% into some sort of perspective when we conclude that what we have on our hands is a near three standard deviation event. That alone qualifies as a bubble — if you don’t like that term, then call it a giant sud. In the past, Toronto home prices went up at an annual rate of 4% in real terms, in the past year they have surged by nearly 30%. [..] it goes without saying that if the name of the game is to tame the flame then have the foreign investor share the blame. A tax on foreign transactions, as was already done in Vancouver, seems like a pretty good idea.

And the government can at the very least use the revenues to either provide greater tax incentives to build and/or provide tax relief for the low/mid income entry-level buyer who is struggling to cobble together the funds for a down payment. So yes, in this sense, I would be advocating a Robin Hood style of economic policy. Indeed, what may be needed is a very progressive tax on foreign buying of local residential real estate in the bid to cool demand and reverse the exponential surge in home prices – a surge that is creating tremendous social problems by crowding out young families (or individuals) from chasing the homeownership dream (a typical response is for these folks is to go out and buy a condo instead, but the reality is that average prices here have also skyrocketed 24% in the past year and are in a bubble of their own).

Everyone says that the Bank of Canada cannot raise interest rates to curb the excess demand because of the deleterious effect this would have on the economy writ large (for example, taking the Canadian dollar back up to or above 80 cents which would thwart our export competitiveness which has become a longstanding role of the central bank). Be that as it may, the home price surge in the GTA over the past year has impaired homeowner affordability to such an extent that it is basically the equivalent of the Bank of Canada having raised rates 150 basis points – actually a 200 basis point increase if you were to look at what home prices have done to affordability ratios over the past two years …

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“Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)

Gluskin Sheff Chief Economist David Rosenberg is joining the growing chorus of calls for government intervention into the Toronto housing market. In an interview on BNN, Rosenberg, who correctly called the U.S. housing bubble in 2005, said the massive deviation from historical norms has him drawing comparisons between the two situations. “This bubble is on par with what we had in the States back in ’05, ’06, ’07,” he said. “We have to actually take a look at the situation. The housing market here is in a classic price bubble. If you don’t acknowledge that, you have your head in the sand.” Rosenberg warned unchecked increases in home prices are becoming a social issue. “It’s not an equity, it’s not a bond – it’s where people live,” he said. “Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg said he’d be singing a different tune if price increases were running in line with any of the usual economic fundamentals, such as job growth, rising incomes, or nominal GDP growth. “We’re out of equilibrium, and when we’re out of equilibrium, or there’s some sort of market failure, are there grounds there for government intervention? I think even the most ardent libertarian would say ‘yes,’” he said. Rosenberg said there are a trio of levers the government can pull to cool down the market. Authorities can address supply, which he said has already been “kiboshed.” Interest rates can be raised, but Rosenberg doesn’t believe the Bank of Canada will do that. Or new policy can be drafted to address the prevalence of speculation.

“These are not prices driven by the local fundamentals – this is the foreign buyer coming in,” Rosenberg said. “Toronto has really emerged as a first-class city, not just politically, not just culturally and economically, but also in terms of being a major financial centre. But if you’re going to ask me at this stage, ‘do we need to approach taxation of this capital coming in differently to curb the demand?’ [That’s] absolutely right.”

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In a word: YES.

Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)

Unilever CEO Paul Polman must have had one eye focused across the Atlantic when he unveiled his revamp of the consumer goods giant this week. And not just because erstwhile suitors 3G Capital, Kraft Heinz and Warren Buffett will have been watching. In an effort to appease shareholders, Polman also ripped a couple of pages from any U.S. CEO’s post-crisis playbook: load more debt on the balance sheet and buy back lots of your own shares. So Unilever will lift its net debt to Ebitda ratio from 1.3 to 2 and buy back 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of stock.In Europe, that counts as relatively bold. Faced with anemic economic growth since the global financial crisis, non-financial companies here have typically been reluctant to take on more debt, as the chart below shows.

They’re also far less likely to buy back stock: U.S. corporations repurchased more than $530 billion of stock last year. In Europe the total was a fraction of that.Polman seems to have belatedly recognized the obvious: having a lightly geared balance sheet makes a company vulnerable to a takeover. That’s especially true if the buyer is holding dollars and your stock is priced in relatively cheap euros or pounds.

Of course there’s an argument what Polman is doing is common sense. Debt is cheap compared to equity, so Unilever’s balance sheet is simply becoming more efficient. Having more debt shouldn’t pose a problem for Unilever as its earnings power is considerable. People still need to buy soap and deodorant, even in a recession.Still, this sets a rather uncomfortable precedent. Polman rebuffed Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion bid in part because he’s no fan of financial engineering. It would be a shame if other European companies now drew the conclusion that to remain independent they need to indulge in some financial engineering of their own. Especially if they load up on too much debt just as the current economic cycle starts to look long in the tooth.

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She’s crystal clear.

Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)

On April 7th, US warships delivered an illegal blow to a Syrian airbase in Homs. Their justification was the recent “chemical weapon” attack on behalf of the Syrian government in Idlib. The Kremlin condemned the strike as an act of aggression against a sovereign state, and a violation of international law. Meanwhile, at the UN, representatives of Western governments attempt to push through a resolution that is based on information taken out of thin air. It includes the removal of Assad, whether or not he was behind the attack.

It is noteworthy, that the only real source of information on what took place, are the videos made by the White Helmets, an infamous propaganda organisation as it pertains to the Syrian civil war. In this clip, Maria Zakharova calls on Western respresenatives/ journalists to hear Russia, and what it has to say. The attack against the Syrian government, much like the Ghouta gas attack in 2013, which precipitated the Syrian civil war, is a giant facade for the military industrial warhawks in the US, to put their money where their mouth is.

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“Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month.”

US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)

My days as apologist for Donald Trump’s backsliding on his electoral campaign promise of a new direction in foreign policy are over. From being the solution, he has become an integral part of the problem. And with his bigger than life ego, petulance and stubbornness, Commander-in-Chief Trump is potentially a greater threat to world peace than the weak-willed Barack Obama whom he replaced. Trump has ignored Russian calls for an investigation into the alleged chemical gas attack in Idlib province before issuing conclusions on culpability, as happened within hours of the event. He has accepted a narrative that is very possibly a false flag produced by anti-government rebels in Syria, disseminated by the White Helmets and other phony NGO’s paid from Washington and London.

He ordered the firing of 50 or more Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian Government air base in Homs province, thereby crossing all Russian “red lines” in Syria. Until this point, the Kremlin has chosen not to react to all signs coming from Washington that Trump’s determination to change course on Russia and global hegemony was failing. The wait-and-see posture antedated Trump’s accession to power when Putin overruled the dictates of protocol and did not respond to Obama’s final salvo, the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S. and the eviction of Russian diplomats. The Russians also looked the other way when the new administration continued the same Neocon rhetoric from the tribune of the UN Security Council and during the visits of Vice President Pence, Pentagon boss Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson to Europe.

However, the missile attack in Syria is a game changer. The pressure on Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin to respond in kind is now enormous. Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month. In the meantime, we who have been hoping for a change of direction, for the rooting out of the Neocons and Liberal hawks directing the Deep State should drop what we are doing, and help form a grass roots political statement that Donald Trump and the political establishment will hear loud and clear.

A mass letter-writing campaign to Congress and the White House? A march on Washington? One way or another, the White House must be told that arranging foreign policy moves out of purely domestic calculations, such as likely happened yesterday puts the nation’s very existence at risk. Acting tough, striking out at Russia and its allies, is not the way to form a coalition to pass a tax reform act. The same may be said of an alternative reading of the missile attack yesterday: that it was intended as a message to visiting Chinese President Xi that should there be no joint action to restrain North Korea, the United States will act alone and with total disregard for international law. Either logic in the end is a formula for suicide.

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I predict very large demonstrations, and quite possibly more violent ones. This could well be the end of Tsipras, and of SYRIZA; there’s no credibility left. They should have fought for the people.

Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)

Greece is on course to avoid a debt default this summer after creditors reached a deal with Athens on reforms including pension cuts and tax changes that will continue until the end of the decade. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the group of eurozone finance ministers, said creditors had reached an agreement in principle on the “size, sequencing and timing” of Greek reforms. The agreement also paves the way for the IMF to join the country’s third, €86bn bail-out programme. The Eurogroup chief said “significant progress” had been made in all areas, with debt inspectors expected to return to Greece shortly to “put the last dots on the ‘i’s and to reach a full staff-level agreement as soon as possible”.

A final agreement among finance chiefs will unlock a fresh tranche of rescue funds, enabling Athens to pay back around €6bn to creditors in July, including the ECB. “We’ve solved all the big issues,” said Mr Dijsselbloem. “The big blocks have now been sorted out and that should allow us to speed up and go for the final stretch.” The measures, which include controversial cuts to pensions and a widening of the tax base, amount to 2pc of Greek GDP in 2019 and 2020. Greece will be able to implement “parallel expansionary measures” if the economy is strong enough, said Mr Dijsselbloem. He said discussions on medium-term debt relief would not be discussed at a political level until a full agreement is reached and approved by the Greek government, which has a slim majority.

The pension cuts are likely to spark a fresh wave of protests across the country. Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, said austerity measures would be legislated “in the coming weeks”. “There are things that will upset the Greek people,” he said. Mr Tsakalotos said the government would also adopt stimulus measures in parallel, which will be “activated” if Athens meets its fiscal targets. Gerry Rice, a spokesman at the IMF, welcomed the “important progress” made in recent weeks, but said it still needed “satisfactory assurances” on debt sustainability before the Fund would seek board approval to participate in Greece’s third rescue programme.

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There is so much in the way of international law and UN conventions to protect refugees, but none of it has any meaning in Brussels.

Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

595. A nice round number, right? It refers to the dead and missing in the central Mediterranean, mostly between Libya and Italy, in the first three months of 2017. The known dead died from drowning, exposure, hypothermia, and suffocation. Horrible, agonising deaths. 24,474. This is a nicer number. It refers to the women, men, and children who made it safely to Italy this year, all of them plucked from flimsy, overcrowded boats by European vessels. Many were rescued by teams from nongovernmental organisations patrolling international waters just off Libya, where most migrant boats depart. Those groups – including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), SOS Mediterranee, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Watch and others – are now being accused of encouraging boat migration. Or worse, of collusion with people smugglers.

The EU border agency, Frontex, has suggested that the presence of rescue operations by nongovernmental groups is a pull factor, encouraging people to take the dangerous journey in hopes of rescue. A prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, has opened an inquiry into the funding streams for these groups, indicating a suspicion that they may be profiting illicitly from the movement of people in search of safety and better lives. This is the latest cruel twist in the EU’s response to boat migration from Libya. It reflects concern over increasing numbers of people embarking from Libya, the strain on the reception system in Italy and beyond, and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries. But blaming the lifesavers ignores history, reality, and basic morality.

As MSF’s Aurelie Ponthieu explained, the NGO group rescuers are not “the cause but a response” to an ongoing human tragedy. Even before the significant increase in numbers in 2015, tens of thousands of people have been risking their lives in unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean for decades; almost 14,000 have died or been reported missing since 2011. After the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, in which 368 people lost their lives, there was increased talk among organisations about mounting rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In 2015, that became a reality, in large part because the end of the Italian navy’s humanitarian rescue mission Mare Nostrum and the gaps in its poor replacement by the EU border agency Frontex. People embark on these dangerous journeys for myriad reasons; they are fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty, and moving toward freedom, safety, and opportunity.

Both pull and push factors are always in play when people are on the move. Insofar as more freedoms, liberties, and policies grounded in respect for human rights – including vital rescue-at-sea operations – serve as pull factors, these should not be sacrificed in the name of limiting migration. The presence of EU vessels just off Libyan waters has changed the dynamic of boat migration. There is more hope of rescue, and smugglers have adopted even more unscrupulous tactics like using inflatable (throw-away) Zodiacs instead of wooden boats and providing only enough fuel to reach international waters. But to question the humanitarian imperative of rescue at sea is to discard our most basic respect for life. And the logic of those who criticise the rescue operations as a pull factor is that the groups should stop rescuing people and let them drown to discourage others from coming.

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