Jul 202019
 


 

‘Looking to Break Status Quo,’ Iran Seizes UK Tanker (Defense One)
Deflationary Bust Baked in the Cake (Mish)
Fed’s Rosengren Doesn’t See The Case For A US Rate Cut (R.)
Market Needs Deep Rate Cut To Prevent Earnings Recession – Bianco (CNBC)
After Williams “Misguidance”, Fed Leaks No 50bps Rate Cut This Month (ZH)
Airlines Delay Boeing Max 737 Return Until November (G.)
Kids Could End Up In Foster Care Over Unpaid School Lunch Bills (USAT)
In a Crisis of Democracy, We Must All Become Julian Assange (Hayase)
Jim Acosta Won’t Condemn Espionage Act Being Used Against Julian Assange (CF)
Trump Was Oddly Reasonable About Plastic Straws (G.)
Germany’s Forests On The Verge Of Collapse (DW)

 

 

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, knows exactly what’s going on, and only narrowly shies away from blaming US and UK for the problems:

“They’re not looking to do something that is going to spiral out of control because war is not what they’re looking for.. But at the same time, their decision calculus is they’ve gotta do something in response.”

‘Looking to Break Status Quo,’ Iran Seizes UK Tanker (Defense One)

Iranian forces have seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, heightening the uncertainty in the region amid the disintegrating Iran nuclear deal and reigniting fears that simmering tensions with Iran could flare into conflict. A Liberian-flagged tanker was also seized, British officials said Friday. None of the captured crew are British citizens and it was not immediately apparent whether there were any casualties. Iran has protested the July 4 British seizure of one of its tankers in Gibraltar, which the U.K. said was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

Asked on Friday whether Friday’s incident was a likely retaliation for the detention of their ship, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that Iran typically looks for “things that are proportional in nature” to respond to actions from other nations that it considers a threat. Broadly, Iran is seeking to “break the status quo” of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign of stifling sanctions, Ashley said. “They’re not looking to do something that is going to spiral out of control because war is not what they’re looking for,” Ashley told a small group of reporters at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “But at the same time, their decision calculus is they’ve gotta do something in response.”

The Trump administration has warned since May that Tehran is carrying out an intensifying campaign of provocative actions. Last month, President Trump ordered and then canceled airstrikes in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone that Iran said was flying in its airspace. (The United States says that the drone was flying over international waters.) On Thursday, U.S. Marines destroyed a drone that the White House said was Iranian (Tehran denies it) and which Pentagon officials said was closing in on an amphibious assault ship operating in the region.


If the United States hadn’t ordered airstrikes in June, this latest episode might not have drawn as much attention, said Mara Karlin, a Brookings Institution fellow and former defense official. But now, she said, Trump’s flirtation with airstrikes in June makes it almost impossible to predict how the White House, which has made constraining Iran a key pillar of its foreign policy, might respond to the seizure of a ship flagged to its closest ally. “We’re now in a totally different landscape,” she said, where both Iran and U.S. allies like the U.K. don’t understand Trump’s “escalation ladder.”

Read more …

Rate cuts no longer matter, says Mish.

Deflationary Bust Baked in the Cake (Mish)

A number of Fed governors and economic writers want a big cuts for insurance purposes. These people are economic illiterates. Rate cuts now as economic insurance is like trying to buy insurance on your car after you wrecked it. The bubbles have been blown. Rate cuts cannot unblow economic bubbles any more than they can unblow a horn.The bottom line at this point is an economic recession is baked in the cake. The global economy is slowing and the US will not be immune. It’s possible the US is in recession already, but consumer spending does not point that way, unless it’s revised. It’s all moot. The Fed has been fighting the deflation boogeyman.


Yet, the BIS did a historical study and found routine deflation was not any problem at all. “Deflation may actually boost output. Lower prices increase real incomes and wealth. And they may also make export goods more competitive,” stated the study. In the Fed’s foolish attempt to stave off consumer price deflation, the Fed sowed the seeds of a very destructive set of asset bubbles in junk bonds, housing, and the stock market. The widely discussed “everything bubble” is, in reality, a corporate junk bond bubble on steroids sponsored by the Fed. A 50 or even 100 basis point cut won’t matter now. It’s too late to matter. The debt deflation horn has already sounded.

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But if rate cuts no longer matter, then neither does the Fed. Can’t have that.

Fed’s Rosengren Doesn’t See The Case For A US Rate Cut (R.)

Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren on Friday pushed back against expectations for an interest-rate cut when Fed policymakers meet later this month, saying the U.S. economy does not need a boost the way some other countries might. “It makes sense that if I was in Japan or if I was at the ECB (European Central Bank) that I would seriously be thinking about easing,” Rosengren said in an interview with CNBC. “The U.S. economy is not at that point, the economy is actually quite reasonable at this stage. So, if that were to change, I’d be happy to ease that point. But I don’t want to ease if the economy is doing perfectly well without that easing.”


In a separate interview, conducted Thursday and published Friday, Rosengren told the Wall Street Journal that economic data had improved since the Fed met in June, when it held rates steady. On Thursday, comments by New York Fed President John Williams stoked expectations that the U.S. central bank would cut rates by a half-percentage-point when it meets on July 30-31. But those expectations were deflated just hours later when a New York Fed representative said the comments were not meant to signal policy actions at the upcoming meeting. The Fed is widely expected to cut rates for the first time in a decade at its July meeting. Friday was the last day that investors will hear from Fed officials until they release their policy statement at the close of the July meeting.

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Imagine seeing your self as a ‘market guy’, but failing to see there is no market left.

Market Needs Deep Rate Cut To Prevent Earnings Recession – Bianco (CNBC)

Market researcher James Bianco believes Wall Street is teetering closer to an earnings recession. Unless the Federal Reserve intervenes with a bigger-than-expected 50 basis point cut, he’s worried that year-over-year earnings growth rates for the second and third quarters will go even lower. “The estimates for the third quarter are somewhere just below zero. This is not earnings growth. This is just struggling to stay at zero,” the Bianco Research president told CNBC’s “Trading Nation ” on Wednesday. Bianco is building his case on an ominous trend in the current quarter’s S&P 500 earnings expectations.


“The estimates have just gone negative in the last week or so,” said Bianco. “They’re only down a couple of 10ths, but they are negative. And, they’ve been in a downtrend of several months.” Bianco, who calls himself a “market guy,” has been firmly in the rate-cut camp. He has been calling for the Fed to slash rates four times over the next 12 months. He is concerned the longer the 10-year and 3-month U.S. Treasury yields are inverted, corporate profits could sustain more damage. “It’s telling you that money is too tight for four or five months,” Bianco said. “Better to go 50 [basis point cut] now and you can raise rates later.”

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I see a bunch of spoiled, undereducated and overpaid kids shouting out to hide their ignorance.

After Williams “Misguidance”, Fed Leaks No 50bps Rate Cut This Month (ZH)

How do you put the monetary genie back in the bottle? That is what the Federal Reserve is scrambling to figure out today after a day of unprecedented miscommunication by NY Fed president John Wiliams, who as we reported on Thursday, not only singlehandedly repriced market expectations for a 50bps rate cut on July 31, but went so far as to hint that ZIRP is coming back. The fact that even uber dove, St Louis Fed president James Bullard, afterwards said they were expecting 25bps at best, was their desperate attempt to reset market expectations back to 25bps, but by then it was too late, and as of moments ago, the market was pricing in roughly 40% odds of a 50bps rate cut in two weeks, down from 70% yesterday. In retrospect, Williams made a massive communication mistake.

As Bank of America explained earlier today in a note from chief economist Michelle Meyer titled “The 50bps head fake”, in which she wrote that “on Thursday NY Fed President Williams gave a speech titled “Living Life Near the ZLB” arguing for monetary policy to be proactive and aggressive when confronting an “adverse” outlook. He argued that when short-term interest rates are close to zero, policymakers shouldn’t “keep their powder dry” and that they could not afford to take an “`wait and see’ approach to gain additional clarity about potentially adverse economic developments.” Shortly after, in a TV interview, Vice Chair Clarida strongly argued that it is prudent to take preventative measures with monetary policy when close to the zero lower bound (ZLB). Together, these comments moved markets closer to a 50bp cut at the end of the month.”


However, in an unprecedented move, the NY Fed subsequently released a statement stating that President Williams’s speech on Thursday afternoon was not intended to send a signal that the Fed might make a large interest rate cut this month but rather it was “an academic speech on 20 years of research.” Why did the NY Fed do this? Simple: as BofA explains, “the FOMC was uncomfortable with the market moving toward a 50bp cut and wanted to push the market back to a 25bp baseline.” In other words, as Meyer puts it, “Williams unintentionally misguided the markets”.

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Like they have any say in the matter.

Airlines Delay Boeing Max 737 Return Until November (G.)

The swift return of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft to the skies was put further in doubt this week with airlines signalling that they do not hope to operate the plane any time soon. With more than four months already elapsed since the plane was grounded by regulators, Southwest and American, two of the jet’s main US operators, followed United Airlines in saying they would be taking the Max out of their schedules until November. Ryanair, Europe’s biggest short-haul carrier, also announced it would have to curb expansion plans pinned on the arrival of its 737 Max orders and that some airport bases would have to shut as a result. Making the announcement on Tuesday, its chief executive, Michael O’Leary, said he remained committed to the plane: “We’ve described them as gamechangers – and they remain gamechangers.”


But O’Leary admitted even its biggest customers – Ryanair has ordered 135 models – have little visibility on its immediate future: “We’re still operating in the realms of considerable uncertainty … there are no guarantees.” [..] Elsewhere this week, it became clear that restoring trust among passengers could take longer than fixing the plane. In Washington, relatives of passengers who died in the Ethiopian disaster told Congressional hearings that Boeing had focused on profits “at the expense of human life”. In a blistering attack on the manufacturer and the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), Paul Njoroge, who lost five family members including his wife and three children in the crash, warned that, without change, “another plane will dive to the ground, killing me, you”.

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“After complaints, district officials announced they plan to send out a less threatening letter next week.”

Kids Could End Up In Foster Care Over Unpaid School Lunch Bills (USAT)

A Pennsylvania school district is warning children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills. The letters sent recently to about 1,000 parents in Wyoming Valley West School District have led to complaints from parents and a stern rebuke from Luzerne County child welfare authorities. The district says that it is trying to collect more than $20,000, and that other methods to get parents to pay have not been successful. Four parents owe at least $450 apiece. The letter claims the unpaid bills could lead to dependency hearings and removal of their children for not providing them with food. “You can be sent to dependency court for neglecting your child’s right to food. The result may be your child being taken from your home and placed in foster care,” the letter read. After complaints, district officials announced they plan to send out a less threatening letter next week.

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This is good.

In a Crisis of Democracy, We Must All Become Julian Assange (Hayase)

The framers of the constitution wanted to have power over people. As a testimony to this, the original draft of the constitution did not have a Bill of Rights. They were added to the constitution as amendments. This didn’t come about without a struggle. The proponents of the Bill of Rights demanded them in order to safeguard individual liberty and challenged those who seek to preserve levers of control. Even after the constitution was ratified with a Bill of Rights, the existence of this unaccounted power was never truly addressed. The wording of the First Amendment reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Here, the First Amendment was aimed to restrict the governmental power. It was specifically addressing what Congress can’t do. However, the constitution didn’t ensure that corporations would not be able to circumvent laws and restrict freedom of speech. This lack of oversight made the system of governance vulnerable to corruption, as was observed by Thomas Jefferson, when he warned American people about a time when the American system of government would degenerate into a form of “elective despotism”.

The managed democracy relies on secrecy and deception to control the will of the populace. With the infiltration of commercial interests and the consolidation of media, the big business class has found a way to regulate free speech on their terms. The establishment of corporate media turned journalists’ First Amendment protection into a privilege that they can use against the public. Journalists, who have now become a new class of professionals, no longer share interests with ordinary people. They serve the agendas of the powerful state in maintaining an illusion of democracy, by restricting the flow of information and controlling narratives. For instance, the New York Times has publicly acknowledged that it sends some of its stories to the US government for approval from “national security officials” before publication.


With the merger of the state and corporations, the power of private companies to influence governments and erode civil liberty has increased. Transnational corporations can now revoke and restrict basic rights at any time, crossing the judicial boundaries on the borderless cyberspace. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter censor free speech online and, without warrant, spy and invade the privacy of users.

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Cassandra.

Jim Acosta Won’t Condemn Espionage Act Being Used Against Julian Assange (CF)

CNN talking head, and resident White House activist, Jim Acosta refused to condemn the Espionage Act being used against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange at an event where he was attempting to portray himself as a defender of the free press. Acosta’s book is titled, “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America,” but do not let that headline fool you into thinking that he supports the freedom of the press. Acosta was asked about his thoughts on the subject by YouTuber Matt Orfalea at an event at the Newseum over the weekend titled, “The President and the Press: The First Amendment and the First 100 Days.”

The question asked by Orfalea was simple, “what do you think of the Trump administration’s use of the controversial Espionage Act to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified information in the 2010s that exposed war crimes, informed the public, and didn’t harm anyone?” Assange has been charged for his release of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs which were provided to him by Chelsea Manning. He is not currently charged with anything related to the 2016 election, but that did not stop Acosta from trying to make a case for why he wants to see him punished for the 2010 release as payback for the completely unrelated publication of the Democratic National Committee emails.

“I am probably not gonna give you a satisfactory answer,” Acosta correctly began, “but I’m gonna do the best that I can. “I do think, and forgive me if you don’t agree with me on this, I do think what happened with us and my press pass case is slightly different than what happened with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,” Acosta said. The CNN pundit was correct here, as Assange has published world changing information and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on seven occasions. Acosta simply attempts to insert himself into news cycles to go viral and keep his face on television.


“My understanding about the Julian Assange situation is that, you know, he is being charged not just for trying to speak truth to power, and trying to reveal things. He’s in trouble for other things. What we’ve seen during the 2016 campaign where there were contacts between WikiLeaks and Russian operatives — that I think takes WikiLeaks and Julian Assange into sort of a different category than just a straight news organization — straight publisher of news around the world,” Acosta stammered on, as if he himself is part of a “straight news organization.” Acosta added that he is not “rendering a verdict on Julian Assange” and that he should have his day in court.

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The Guardian struggles to agree with Trump on anything at all.

Trump Was Oddly Reasonable About Plastic Straws (G.)

[..] it was the question from a reporter who piped up after Trump had stonewalled a question on his felonious former fixer that was the last, well … “Are you in favor of banning plastic straws?” the reporter asked. “I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws,” Trump responded. “You know, it’s interesting about plastic straws: so, you have a little straw, but what about the plates, the wrappers, and everything else that are much bigger and they’re made of the same material? So, the straws are interesting. Everybody focuses on the straws. There’s a lot of other things to focus on. But it’s an – it’s an interesting question.”

Trump’s response is largely remarkable for how reasonable it is. Straws are an interesting question that have garnered disproportionate focus, and other single-use plastics, such as cups, plates and wrappers, do need to be part of efforts to address our unsustainable addiction to plastic. [..] Plastic straws only make up about 1% of the plastic waste in the ocean, according to Jim Leape, co-director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. And while plastic straw bans alone will solve neither climate change nor plastic pollution, they have also been criticized by advocates for the rights of people with disabilities, who often need straws to drink. Kim Sauder, a PhD student in disability studies, has described such bans as “environmental theater”.

[..] Trump’s response is also surprising because, for once, he eschewed fanning the fire of a culture war that his campaign has been attempting to stoke. Plastic straw selfies were a mini-Maga meme last summer, with various rightwing pseudocelebrities photographed themselves wasting plastic for no reason other than to “own the libs” who care about sea turtles and sustainability. This week, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale attempted to recapture the meme magic with a tweet comparing the efficacy of paper straws to “liberal progress”. “This is exactly what they would do to the economy as well,” he tweeted. “Squeeze it until it doesn’t work.”


The campaign website is also selling packs of 10 plastic straws “laser engraved” with Trump’s name for $15, with the tagline: “Liberal paper straws don’t work.” But if the campaign message was supposed to be “Vote for Trump because the libs are coming for your straws”, Trump himself failed to get the memo.

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Didn’t need the sensationalist headline. Issues are bad enough.

Germany’s Forests On The Verge Of Collapse (DW)

Germany’s forests are undoubtedly suffering as a result of climate change, with millions of seedlings planted in the hope of diversifying and restoring forests dying, warns Ulrich Dohle, chairman of the 10,000-member Bunds Deutscher Forstleute (BDF) forestry trade union. “It’s a catastrophe. German forests are close to collapsing,” Dohle added in an interview with t-online, a online news portal of Germany’s Ströer media group. Low rainfall last summer saw Germany’s rivers reach extreme lows, with some waterways still struggling and forests prone to fire. “These are no longer single unusual weather events. That is climate change,” said Dohle.

Helge Bruelheide, co-director of Germany’s Center for Integrative Biodiversity, warned: “if the trend prevails and the annual precipitation sinks below 400 millimeters (15.7 inches) then there will be areas in Germany that will no longer be forestable.” Lüdenscheid, a densely forested area in central Germany, was no exception, Bohle added. Its precipitation had slumped from one-meter (3.2-meters) in 2017 to only 483 millimeters last year. Catchments in central Europe collected only 10% more rainfall in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018, a trend exacerbated by uneven wet-then-dry months,Germany’s Institute of Hydrology (BFG) reported Thursday.


Low river levels “remain unchanged” in many parts of Germany, the BFG said, with only the Rhine River currently carrying sufficient water for shipping. It’s expected to fall in the coming weeks as dry, warmer weather returns. What Dohle of the forestry trade union termed “dramatic tree deaths” began with winter snow dumps in early 2018 which broke branches, weakening the trees’ natural defences and letting in fungal infections, “followed by drought and bark beetle infestation” that killed off European spruce trees. One million older trees have since died — not only heat susceptible spruces, but even Germany’s prized European Red Beech which had been widely planted over the past decade in the hope of creating climate stable forests, Dohle added.

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Picture Zero Hedge used with my article yesterday:

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 302018
 


Giovanni Bellini St. Francis in ecstasy 1480

 

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)
Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)
UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)
Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)
Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)
Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)
Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)
Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)
Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)
Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)
EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)
People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

 

 

“China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity.”

Will China be 2019’s big story? Is the PBOC even more powerless than the Fed?

Deflation Risk Rises as China’s Economy Keeps Faltering (ET)

Just about every economic measure is trending down in China, and not surprisingly, deflation fears are mounting. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released Dec. 27, reported that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring all fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. A much-weaker 2019 appears to be in the offing for China, but it’s not solely due to trade tensions with the United States. The domestic economy was already on weak footing and the CBB argues that government support is unlikely. The CBB is a research service that speaks to thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter. It contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation.

“Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” said Shehzad Qazi, CBB managing director, in an interview. While lower prices look good for consumers, policy-makers don’t like deflation for a number of reasons. With prices falling, companies produce less, often lay off workers, and reduce investment, leading to a vicious circle of sorts. While the trade war hurts export-sensitive regions, local orders have now weakened for two straight quarters. Hiring fell for the first time since early 2016. Worse still, the fall was concentrated in services and retail, two sectors being counted upon to pick up the slack left by manufacturing’s woes.

Also, debt—of which China has plenty—becomes more problematic under deflation, as its value adjusted for inflation rises. And it’s an issue for central bankers, who typically target 2 percent inflation for price stability. Rate cuts to spur the economy and inflation are less effective, since the real interest rates are higher when accounting for deflation. “China is an aging, leveraged country, with excess industrial capacity. Appearances by inflation should be cheered,” according to the CBB Q4 preview. “They are also rare.”

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No effort needed.

Juncker: The EU Isn’t Trying To Keep Britain In The Union (R.)

The European Union is not trying to keep Britain in and wants to start discussing future ties the moment the U.K. parliament approves Brexit, partly to focus on its own unity ahead of May elections, the head of the bloc’s executive said. “It is being insinuated that our aim is to keep the United Kingdom in the EU by all possible means. That is not our intention. All we want is clarity about our future relations. And we respect the result of the referendum.” Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview. Juncker said the EU was ready to start negotiating a new deal with Britain right after the British parliament approves the divorce deal. A vote is now due in the week starting Jan. 14.

He also said Britain should get its act together. “And then tell us what it is you want,” he said. “I am working on the assumption that it will leave, because that is what the people of the United Kingdom have decided,” he added, refusing to be drawn into whether Britain would hold a second Brexit vote. “That is for the British to decide.” [..] He said he felt EU citizens were increasingly growing apart, another problem to tackle ahead of Europe-wide parliamentary elections in May. “We have to ensure that these rifts do not become too deep,” Juncker said. “We must not imply that the populists are right … they are just loud and do not have any specific proposals to offer on solving the challenges of our time.”

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They want more delays.

UK Trade Minister Says ’50-50′ Chance Brexit May Be Stopped (R.)

Britain’s trade minister Liam Fox said there is a “50-50” chance that Brexit may be stopped if parliament rejects the government’s divorce deal with the European Union next month. “If we were not to vote for that, I’m not sure I would give it (Brexit) much more than 50-50,” Fox, a leading supporter of leaving the EU, told the Sunday Times newspaper. With three months left until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, May’s Brexit deal is floundering, opening up a range of possibilities from a Brexit without a trade deal to calling Brexit off. Earlier this month, May pulled a planned vote on her deal after admitting parliament would reject it. Lawmakers are set to vote on the deal in the week starting Jan. 14.

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But a delay of a few months?! What good will that do?

Cross-Party Move Aims To Delay Hard Brexit (G.)

Senior Tory and Labour MPs are planning to force the government to delay Brexit by several months to avoid a no-deal outcome if Theresa May fails to get her deal through parliament in January, the Observer has been told. Cross-party talks have been under way for several weeks to ensure the 29 March date is put back – probably until July at the latest – if the government does not push for a delay itself. It is also understood that cabinet ministers have discussed the option of a delay with senior backbench MPs in both the main parties and that Downing Street is considering scenarios in which a delay might have to be requested from Brussels.

One senior Tory backbencher said: “I have had these discussions with ministers. They will not say so in public but of course the option of a delay has to be looked at in detail now. If we are determined to avoid a no deal, and the prime minister’s deal fails, we will have to ask to stop the clock, and that will give time for us to decide to go whatever way we decide thereafter.” The Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said he believed that even if May got her deal through, there would probably be insufficient time to push all the necessary legislation through parliament to allow Brexit to happen smoothly and that a delay might well be necessary. But if her deal were voted down, the need to take up the option of a delay would become a “certainty”.

He said: “I think that if she does not get her deal passed, a delay would be inevitable to give more time to avoid a no deal, and also there is the possibility that there would be a referendum, so this would allow for that.” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that parliament would need to discuss all options, including a possible delay, if and when May failed to get her blueprint through the Commons. “If the prime minister’s deal is voted down in early January, then we will be just nine weeks away from the date we are due to leave the EU,” Starmer said. “If the deal is rejected, parliament will need to have a very serious debate about how to protect the economy from a no-deal scenario and at this stage nothing should be ruled out.”


Brexit options. Click to enlarge

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“..if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters…”

Brexit Is Full Of Hysterical Self-Pity – Fintan O’Toole (G.)

In your book, you criticise the way parallels have been made between Brexit and the 100 years war. What is the main problem? A single word: vassalage. What on earth is this word doing in political discourse in the 21st century? I was struck by its re-emergence. It comes originally from Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, this mad idea that somehow the 100 years war shows the English capacity to throw off feudal vassalage. It’s a ludicrous misunderstanding of history. The war was more like Charles Taylor in Sierre Leone – a hideous crime against humanity. To go back to that as the only thing you have to express what English freedom might mean in the 21st century shows how demented it is.

You also write about the long English tradition of clinging romantically to heroic defeat. What do you ascribe this to? George Orwell wrote about this in the early 1940s. He said that it was extraordinary that if you think about the poems that English schoolkids will know, they’re all about defeats or retreats or disasters. It’s Scott of the Antarctic, it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, it’s Gordon of Khartoum. That tradition of heroic failure was great when you were ruling the world as it was a way of saying we’re not really a nasty imperial power. But in a post-imperial age you get a farcical version. Because originally the thing that characterised heroic failure in the English imagination was not self-pity, but Brexit is full of hysterical self-pity.

You describe a false caricature of Germany, put about by Brexiters, of an expansionist nation. You also say that the EU, and especially Germany, had a need to severely punish debtor countries. Is Germany the glue that holds the EU together or a controlling villain? There’s no doubt that Germany is the major power in Europe, and that’s one of the things going on with Brexit. It’s this idea that this country we defeated twice in the 20th century is now seen as the dominant power. That leads to fantasies that Britain really lost the war and we’re being taken over insidiously by the Germans. The real problem with the Germans isn’t that they’re trying to take over Europe. It’s that they’ve promulgated a very heavy austerity that is deeply ingrained in the German mentality. The irony is, it’s exactly the policy that the Tory Brexiters themselves were pursuing.

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Not quite UBI.

Italian Parliament Passes Budget After EU Standoff (BBC)

Italy’s parliament has approved a revised budget for 2019, amid opposition complaints that it was dictated by the EU. The country’s populist government had originally vowed to push through costly campaign promises including a universal basic income. But in October, the European Commission raised concerns about the impact of such spending on Italy’s debt levels. Rome was told to revise its budget, or face fines and disciplinary action. Under a deal struck with the Commission last week, Italy lowered its planned budget deficit from 2.4% of GDP to 2.04% – less of a reduction than European officials had hoped for. The value of its concessions is understood to be a little more than €10bn. The deadline for passing the budget was 31 December, after which the government would have been forced to continue with the 2018 budget on a monthly basis.

[..] Italy’s coalition government, made up of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League, has pledged the following:
• A new income support scheme known as the “citizens’ wage” will pay €780 a month to 1.7 million of Italy’s poorest families. The measure is forecast to cost €7.1bn.
• The retirement age will be cut from the current 67 to 62, for workers who have paid into the pension system for 38 years.
• More than a million self-employed workers earning under €65,000 a year will see their taxes cut to 15%.

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Watch for New Year’s Eve.

Yellow Vests Target French Media Companies And Set Cars Alight (Ind.)

Protesters in France have marched on the headquarters of various French media organisations, with groups taking to the streets in small groups in Paris and across the country. Now in its seventh week, the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests have shrunk somewhat but hundreds of demonstrators, some chanting “fake news” and “journalists – collaborationists”, and others hurling stones, descended on the offices of TV network BFM and the state-run France Televisions. Police in riot gear intervened, leading to skirmishes, with officers eventually using tear gas to disperse those on the streets and making a number of arrests. Despite a lower turnout than at previous protests demonstrators still caused havoc, with some setting fire to a number of cars in central Paris leaving streets choked by fumes.

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Damn foreigners!

Cyber Attack Disrupts Printing Of Major US Newspapers (R.)

A cyber-attack has caused printing and delivery disruptions to major US newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun. The attack on Saturday appeared to originate outside the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported. It led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of the Times, the Tribune, the Sun and other newspapers that share a production platform in Los Angeles. Tribune Publishing, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Sun, as well as the New York Daily News and Orlando Sentinel, said it first detected the malware on Friday.

The west coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times were also hit, as they are printed on the shared production platform, the Los Angeles Times said. A Tribune Publishing spokeswoman, Marisa Kollias, said the virus affected back-office systems used to publish and produce “newspapers across our properties”. “There is no evidence that customer credit card information or personally identifiable information has been compromised,” Kollias said. Most San Diego Union-Tribune subscribers were without a newspaper on Saturday as the virus infected the company’s business systems and hobbled its ability to publish, the paper’s editor and publisher, Jeff Light, wrote on its website.

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“..when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.”

Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record (Porter)

The relationship between Trump and his national security team has been tense since the beginning of his administration. By mid-summer 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford had become so alarmed at Trump’s negative responses to their briefings justifying global U.S. military deployments that they decided to do a formal briefing in “the tank,” used by the Joint Chiefs for meetings at the Pentagon. But when Mattis and Dunford sang the praises of the “rules-based, international democratic order” that has “kept the peace for 70 years,” Trump simply shook his head in disbelief.

By the end of that year, however, Mattis, Dunford, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believed they’d succeeded in getting Trump to use U.S. troops not only to defeat Islamic State but to “stabilize” the entire northeast sector of Syria and balance Russian and Iranian-sponsored forces. Yet they ignored warning signs of Trump’s continuing displeasure with their vision of a more or less permanent American military presence in Syria. In a March rally in Ohio ostensibly about health care reform, Trump suddenly blurted out, “We’re coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon—very soon we’re coming out.”

Then in early April 2018, Trump’s impatience with his advisors on Syria boiled over into a major confrontation at a National Security Council meeting, where he ordered them unequivocally to accept a fundamentally different Syria deployment policy. Trump opened the meeting with his public stance that the United States must end its intervention in Syria and the Middle East more broadly. He argued repeatedly that the U.S. had gotten “nothing” for its efforts, according to an account published by the Associated Press based on interviews with administration officials who had been briefed on the meeting. When Dunford asked him to state exactly what he wanted, Trump answered that he favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces and an end to the “stabilization” program in Syria.

Mattis responded that an immediate withdrawal from Syria was impossible to carry out responsibly, would risk the return of Islamic State, and would play into the hands of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, whose interests ran counter to those of the United States. Trump reportedly then relented and said they have could five or six months to destroy the Islamic State. But he also made it clear that he did not want them to come back to him in October and say that they had been unable to defeat ISIS and had to remain in Syria. When his advisors reiterated that they didn’t think America could withdraw responsibly, Trump told them to “just get it done.”

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New Knowledge. Defenders of freedom. Geez…

Firm That Warned US Of Russian Bots Ran An Army Of Fake Russian Bots (RT)

The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves. Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections. At the time, it struck me that Fox and Morgan’s reasoning seemed a little far-fetched. For example, one of the pieces of evidence presented to prove that Russia had targeted American elections was that lots of people had posted links to RT’s content online.

Hardly a smoking gun worthy of a Times oped. Morgan and Fox, intrepid cyber sleuths that they are, claimed in the article they had detected more “overall activity” from ongoing Russian influence campaigns than social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had yet revealed — or that other researchers had been able to identify. The New Knowledge guys even authored a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s alleged efforts to mess with American democracy. They called it a “propaganda war against American citizens.” Impressive stuff. They must be really good at their job, right? This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.

The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online. New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”

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How popular do you think it would be if we pay people to not kill off orangutans? Lions, hippos?

EU’s Palm Oil Policy Triggers Condemnation From Producing Countries (CNBC)

The European Union is phasing out the use of palm oil in transport fuel, triggering criticism of trade protectionism and threats of retaliation from major producersIndonesia and Malaysia. The European move comes after years of activist campaigns about the vegetable oil associated with rampant deforestation and labor abuses, highlighting how consumer concerns about sustainability are increasingly influencing businesses. According to Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations co-founded by the World Wildlife Fund, the large Indonesian island of Sumatra lost 56 percent of its 25 million hectares (250,000 square kilometers, or bigger than the size of the U.K.) of natural forests over 31 years.

The palm oil industry, with its national epicenter on that island, is thought to be one of the biggest drivers of that loss, the coalition said. France and Norway have become the first few countries to start curbing use of palm oil in the last month, driving fears in major Southeast Asian producing countries, where the cash crop has powered economic growth. Indonesia and Malaysia together produce over 80 percent of the world’s palm oil. More broadly, the EU agreed in June to phase out the use of palm oil in transport fuel from 2030 as part of a broader plan to increase the share of renewables in the bloc’s energy production. The EU is one of the world’s top consumers of palm oil, which is used in a wide range of products from baked goods to detergents.

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All of a sudden the UK creates a frenzy over refugees in the Channel.

People-Smugglers Use Social Media To Lure Migrants To Their Deaths – UN (Ind.)

Tech companies are failing to crack down on people-smugglers using their platforms to lure migrants “to their deaths” with promise of safe passage to Europe, the UN has warned. Companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp are “enabling criminal activity” by traffickers who entrap victims who are unaware of the dangers they face, according to the UN’s migration agency. The warning comes amid a surge in migrants attempting to reach the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats, with almost 100 people intercepted by both British and French authorities while attempting to reach the UK from France since Christmas Day. [..]

Leonard Doyle, spokesperson for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said migrants were being “lured to Calais” over the internet as smugglers operate via social networks “without any real oversight” from the companies controlling them. He said that while tech firms had taken measures to curb other exploitative activities such as child pornography, efforts to prevent people-smuggling has been “microscopic” compared with the damage it causes. [..] Charities on the ground in northern France meanwhile cautioned that irregular migration was not the result of social media but of the persecution faced by migrants in their home countries. But they said failure by European governments to inform refugees of their right to seek asylum and how to do so had enabled criminal gangs to “fill the void”, often through online social networks.

Mr Doyle told The Independent: “People like to point fingers over the migration crisis, but a big part of it must be that the guy or the girl in the village with nothing but a cracked smartphone can actually meet a smuggler in a heartbeat. “This person will often have no prior knowledge, no sense that this is a trap, no sense that this is going to end up in their prostitution, their slavery, their murder, their drowning. “But the tech companies that have done so much to bring technology to its current place are not investing in civic communication to help counter-balance the nonsense people get from social media.

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May 162018
 


Alfred Wertheimer Elvis 1956

 

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)
US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)
Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)
Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)
Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)
Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)
Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)
New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)
US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)
Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)
Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)
UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)
Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

 

 

Deflation.

What If Wall Street Is Waiting For The Wrong Disaster? (BI)

What if the entire world of money is preparing for the wrong disaster — which would be a disaster in and of itself? Since the financial crisis, Wall Street, central-bank heads, economists, and policymakers have been waiting for the return of inflation. At the beginning of this year, they thought they had found it. It came, so they thought, in the form of a weak dollar, wage growth, economic stability in China, and steadily rising interest rates. So here in the US, the Fed started talking about the importance of preparing to fight runaway inflation. In fact, it’s obsessed with the idea. According to Deutsche Bank analyst Torsten Slok, the Fed is talking more about inflation now (in its minutes and in its reports) than it did in 2006 when the economy was actually overheating, right before the crash.

This, even though personal-consumption expenditures haven’t grown by the Federal Reserve’s 2% target since the financial crisis. There’s a lot of noise, from data revisions and Trump tweets, trade-war threats and hopes of growth from tax policy, a wobbling stock market, and rising interest rates. But when it comes down to it, the things that everyone is saying will be sources of inflation may not be sources at all. Meanwhile, the weak dollar, wage growth, and a stable China elixir that got markets high in January have since faded. That should be a warning. If we play our cards wrong and pay attention to all the wrong signs, we may still be in a world tilting dangerously closer to our old enemy, deflation.

[..] As Slok said, aging can’t fully explain why wage growth has been suppressed, but he has other ideas too. “One important reason why the expansion since 2009 has been so weak is that wealth gains have been unevenly distributed (see chart below). A decline in the homeownership rate and the number of households holding stocks has dampened consumer spending growth for the bottom 90% of households,” he wrote in a note to clients back in March.

The deflationary impacts of economic inequality and an aging population are not going away with the flick of a wrist or the push of a button. They are long-term challenges that require imaginative, difficult policy solutions. It’s hard to see that coming from the Trump administration or an increasingly polarized, uncooperative world. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we waiting for the wrong disaster?

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That’s the end?!

US Mortgage Rates Surge To Highest Level In 7 Years (CNBC)

A sharp sell-off in the bond market is sending mortgage rates to the highest level in seven years. The average contract rate on the 30-year fixed will likely end the day as high as 4.875% for the highest creditworthy borrowers and 5% for the average borrower, according to Mortgage News Daily. Mortgage rates, which loosely follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury, started the year right around 4% but began rising almost immediately. They then leveled off in March and early April, only to begin rising yet again. Tuesday’s move follows positive economic data in retail sales, suggesting that newly imposed tariffs would not hit sales as hard as expected.

Rates have been widely expected to rise, as the Federal Reserve increases its lending rate and pulls back its investments in mortgage-backed bonds. But mortgage rates have reacted only in fits and starts. “The bottom line is that the writing on the wall has been telling rates to go higher since at least last September,” said Matthew Graham, chief operating officer of Mortgage News Daily. “Rates keep looking back to see if the writing has changed, and although there have been opportunities for hope (trade wars, stock selling-sprees, spotty data at times), it hasn’t. Today is just the latest reiteration of that writing.”

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10% unemployment.

Economic Numbers Are Less Than Meet the Eye (Rickards)

Let’s start with the employment report. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics report dated May 4, 2018, showed the official U.S. unemployment rate for April 2018 at 3.9%, with a separate unemployment rate for adult men of 4.1% and adult women of 3.7%. The 3.9% unemployment rate is based on a total workforce of 160 million people, of whom 153 million are employed and 6.3 million are unemployed. The 3.9% figure is the lowest unemployment rate since 2001, and before that, the early 1970s. The average rate of unemployment in the U.S. from 1948 to 2018 is 5.78%. By these superficial measures, unemployment is indeed low and the economy is arguably at full employment.

Still, these statistics don’t tell the whole story. Of the 153 million with jobs, 5 million are working part time involuntarily; they would prefer full-time jobs but can’t find them or have had their hours cut by current employers. Another 1.4 million workers wanted jobs and had searched for a job in the prior year but are not included in the labor force because they had not searched in the prior four weeks. If their numbers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 5%. Yet the real unemployment rate is far worse than that. The unemployment rate is calculated using a narrow definition of the workforce. But there are millions of able-bodied men and women between the ages of 25–54 capable of work who are not included in the workforce.

These are not retirees or teenagers but adults in their prime working years. They are, in effect, “missing workers.” The number of these missing workers not included in the official unemployment rolls is measured by the Labor Force Participation Rate, LFPR. The LFPR measures the total number of workers divided by the total number of potential workers regardless of whether those potential workers are seeking work or not. The LFPR plunged from 67.3% in January 2000 to 62.8% in April 2018, a drop of 4.4percentage points. If those potential workers reflected in the difference between the 2018 and 2000 LFPRs were added back to the unemployment calculation, the unemployment rate would be close to 10%.

[..] Another serious problem is illustrated in Chart 1 below. This shows the U.S. budget deficit as apercentage of GDP (the white line measured on the right scale) compared with the official unemployment rate (the blue line measured on the left scale). From the late 1980s through 2009, these two time series exhibited a fairly strong correlation. As unemployment went up, the deficit went up also because of increased costs for food stamps, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending and other so-called “automatic stabilizers” designed to bring the economy out of recession. That makes sense. But as the chart reveals, the correlation has broken down since 2009 and the two time series are diverging rapidly. Unemployment is going down, but budget deficits are still going up.

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Too late to get a new government?

Argentina Went From Selling 100-Year Bonds To An IMF Rescue In 9 Months (Q.)

In financial markets, memories can be short. Last year, Argentina sold 100-year bonds, joining a select club of countries with the confidence to borrow for such an extended period. Yes, the same Argentina that has defaulted on its debt eight times in the past 200 years, including the largest sovereign default in history in 2001. Not long before investors decided it was a good idea to lend to the South American nation for 100 years, it was largely shut out of international capital markets. In June 2017, Argentina sold $2.75 billion of US dollar-denominated 100-year bonds at an effective yield of 8%. The history of defaults seemed to be forgotten—nearly $10 billion in bids were placed for the bonds.

The sale came at a time when investors were hungry for high-yielding debt, but it also showed confidence in president Mauricio Macri and his program of pro-market reforms. Less than a year later, Macri has asked the IMF for a $30 billion loan to help it combat a currency crisis and limit further damage to the Argentinian economy from a dangerous outbreak of market turmoil. What went wrong?

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Not sure it’ll be all that slow. Turekey has borrowed in dollars up the wazoo.

Turkey’s Economy Enters A ‘Slow Burning Crisis’ (CNBC)

Turkey’s economy is overheating and if the government doesn’t act then the country is in trouble, according to several analysts. “The government has no intention of tackling imbalances or overheating,” Marcus Chevenix, global political research analyst at TS Lombard, said in a research note this week. “It is this unwillingness to act that leads us to believe that we can now say that Turkey is entering a slow burning crisis.” The Turkish lira is at a record low against the dollar, and is ranked among the worst-performing currencies this year. After comments this week by Turkish President Recep Erdogan promising to lower interest rates after the country’s June election, the currency tanked to its lowest point yet against the greenback, hitting 4.4527 on Tuesday mid-afternoon.

The dollar has appreciated by around 18% against the lira so far this year. The reason? Erdogan has been sitting on interest rates, opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its double-digit inflation. Turkey’s growth rate reached an impressive 7.4% for 2017 and leads the G-20, but at the expense of inflation, which has shot up to 10.9%. Market sentiment has driven much of the lira’s sell-off, as investors worry about government intervention in monetary policy and central bank independence. Investors have been hoping for a rate rise by the bank, but that now appears unlikely.

Erdogan plays an unusually heavy-handed role in deciding his country’s monetary policy, and many observers say he keeps the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey’s (TCMB) hands tied. The bank finally raised its rates for the first time in several sessions in late April, moving its late liquidity window rate (which it uses to set policy) up by 75 basis points to 13.5%. The lira temporarily jumped on the news. But Erdogan aims to bring the rate back down, saying it must be done to ease pressure on Turkish households and drive the growth needed to create jobs for Turkey’s youth. “I’m seriously concerned about the Turkish lira,” Piotr Matys at Rabobank told CNBC via email. “Is Turkey the domino the market expects to fall next? It’s got all those problems — high current account deficit, government borrowing in other currencies.”

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He went to the City for this?!

Investors In Turkey Stunned By Erdogan’s Fight With Markets (R.)

“Shock and disbelief” – that’s how global money managers reacted to an attempt by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to re-assure foreign investors about his economic management as the lira went into tailspin. Fund managers who met Erdogan and his delegation in London on Monday, part of a three-day visit to Britain, were baffled about how he plans to tame rising inflation and a currency in freefall – while simultaneously seeking lower interest rates. Some said that while Erdogan has crushed his domestic enemies, he would find taking on international financial markets with policies that defy economic orthodoxy much tougher.

A resurgent dollar, rising oil prices and a jump in borrowing costs have caused havoc across emerging markets in recent weeks. However, Turkey has been among the worst affected due to its a gaping current account deficit and growing puzzlement over who exactly holds the reins of monetary policy. Erdogan’s comments that he planned to take greater control of the economy after snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month deepened investors’ worries about the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, helping to send the lira to a record low on Tuesday.

Rampant inflation dogged Turkey for decades before 2000 and has been back in double digits since the start of 2017. But Erdogan has styled himself as an enemy of high interest rates, defying orthodox monetary policy that prescribes tighter credit to keep a lid on prices. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the meetings, investors told Reuters they were flabbergasted by his stance and willingness to go into battle with world markets at such a fragile time.

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A suggestive and tendentious piece by the Guardian, which seems to prepare us for a justification of Ecuador throwing Julian out. Other articles in today’s paper have titles like “How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy” and “Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy?”

Ecuador Spent Millions On Spy Operation For Julian Assange (G.)

Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Over more than five years, Ecuador put at least $5m (£3.7m) into a secret intelligence budget that protected the WikiLeaks founder while he had visits from Nigel Farage, members of European nationalist groups and individuals linked to the Kremlin. Other guests included hackers, activists, lawyers and journalists.

[..] Documents show the intelligence programme, called “Operation Guest”, which later became known as “Operation Hotel” – coupled with parallel covert actions – ran up an average cost of at least $66,000 a month for security, intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence to “protect” one of the world’s most high-profile fugitives. An investigation by the Guardian and Focus Ecuador reveals the operation had the approval of the then Ecuadorian president, Rafael Correa, and the then foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, according to sources. [..] Worried that British authorities could use force to enter the embassy and seize Assange, Ecuadorian officials came up with plans to help him escape.

They included smuggling Assange out in a diplomatic vehicle or appointing him as Ecuador’s United Nations representative so he could have diplomatic immunity in order to attend UN meetings, according to documents seen by the Guardian dated August 2012. In addition to giving Assange asylum, Correa’s government was apparently prepared to spend money on improving his image. A lawyer was asked to devise a “media strategy” to mark the “second anniversary of his diplomatic asylum”, in a leaked 2014 email exchange seen by the Guardian.

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Force them to open the books.

New York City Poised To Join Airbnb Crackdown (Pol.)

New York’s City Council is plotting a crackdown on Airbnb, the largest home-sharing platform in the world, as the hotel industry and its unionized workers push lawmakers in some of the nation’s biggest cities to blunt the $30 billion company’s growth. New York City’s push resembles a legislative effort underway in Los Angeles, and comes months after San Francisco passed a measure mandating that hosts of short-term rental platforms register their homes with the city, leading to a decline in listings. The coastal cities are among Airbnb’s largest markets in the United States.

The Council is crafting a bill that would require online home-sharing companies to provide the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement with the addresses of their listings — a potential blow to Airbnb if its users are revealed to be turning rent-regulated apartments into business enterprises in a city starved for more housing. The move is coming two years after New York’s state Legislature first took aim at Airbnb with a bill that banned the advertising of illegal short-term rentals — but ultimately did little to hurt the company. The New York push comes amid a well-funded advertising and lobbying campaign by the hotel industry, which has run ads supporting a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer that was critical of Airbnb, and is accusing the company of reducing the amount of affordable housing in cities.

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What’s taking so long?

US State Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Epidemic Mount (R.)

Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales. U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids. “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.

Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. [..] Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers. Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.

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And on and on and on…

Debt Relief Woes Threaten Greece’s Bailout Exit (K.)

The tug of war between the IMF and Berlin over the Greek debt issue is threatening Greece’s successful bailout program exit in August. Germany insists on granting Greece gradual debt relief under the condition that it will be approved every year by the Bundestag. For its part, the IMF disagrees with Berlin’s insistence on reviewing the measures every year and is threatening to leave the Greek program. If the IMF were to leave the program because it thinks that debt relief measures are inadequate to secure the sustainability of Greece’s debt, the country’s access to international market funding will be cast in doubt. This means that, inevitably, the government will have to resort to precautionary credit to shield itself from complications.

The chasm between Berlin and the IMF was clear during Monday’s session of the so-called Washington Group – representatives of Greece’s creditors as well as the governments of Germany, France, Spain and Italy, the biggest eurozone economies. Poul Thomsen, the head of the IMF’s European Department, who attended Monday’s meeting, countered that Berlin’s conditions were not acceptable. Thomsen said Tuesday that the Fund wants to activate the program for Greece but warned that time is running out and asked for final decisions on the matter by the next Eurogroup on May 24.

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Speed up deportations and appeals, restrict freedom of movement. Lovely

Greece Changes Asylum Rules To Fight Camp Overcrowding (AP)

Greece’s parliament approved legislation Tuesday that is designed to speed up the asylum process for migrants, ease the overcrowding at Greek island refugee camps and to deport more people back to Turkey. Under the new law, staff will be added at the office that handles asylum requests, the appeals process for rejected applications will be shortened and travel restrictions can be imposed on asylum-seekers who are moved from the Greek islands to the mainland. Currently, restrictions on asylum-seekers are mostly limited to five islands near the coast of Turkey, where strained refugee camps are trying to cope with up to three times more residents than planned.

More than 16,000 people are stuck there. A group of 13 Greek human rights organizations, however, has accused the government of ignoring refugee rights. The number of newly arriving migrants and refugees has risen sharply this year at the islands and Greece’s land border with Turkey, prompting the change in policy. Police cleared out two abandoned factory buildings used by migrants in the city of Patras in western Greece early Tuesday. More than 600 people will be moved from there to refugee camps on the mainland, police said.

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Have we lost the ability to frame everything in anything else than monetary terms?

UK Government Wants To Put A Price On Nature – But That Will Destroy It (G.)

Never mind that the new environmental watchdog will have no teeth. Never mind that the government plans to remove protection from local wildlife sites. Never mind that its 25-year environment plan is all talk and no action. We don’t need rules any more. We have a pouch of magic powder we can sprinkle on any problem to make it disappear. This powder is the monetary valuation of the natural world. Through the market, we can avoid conflict and hard choices, laws and policies, by replacing political decisions with economic calculations. Almost all official documents on environmental issues are now peppered with references to “natural capital” and to the Natural Capital Committee, the Laputian body the government has created to price the living world and develop a set of “national natural capital accounts”.

The government admits that “at present we cannot robustly value everything we wish to in economic terms; wildlife being a particular challenge”. Hopefully, such gaps can soon be filled, so we’ll know exactly how much a primrose is worth. The government argues that without a price, the living world is accorded no value, so irrational decisions are made. By costing nature, you ensure that it commands the investment and protection that other forms of capital attract. This thinking is based on a series of extraordinary misconceptions. Even the name reveals a confusion: natural capital is a contradiction in terms. Capital is properly understood as the human-made segment of wealth that is deployed in production to create further financial returns.

Concepts such as natural capital, human capital or social capital can be used as metaphors or analogies, though even these are misleading. But the 25-year plan defines natural capital as “the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life”. In other words, nature is capital. In reality, natural wealth and human-made capital are neither comparable nor interchangeable. If the soil is washed off the land, we cannot grow crops on a bed of derivatives. A similar fallacy applies to price. Unless something is redeemable for money, a pound or dollar sign placed in front of it is senseless: price represents an expectation of payment, in accordance with market rates. In pricing a river, a landscape or an ecosystem, either you are lining it up for sale, in which case the exercise is sinister, or you are not, in which case it is meaningless.

Still more deluded is the expectation that we can defend the living world through the mindset that’s destroying it. The notions that nature exists to serve us; that its value consists of the instrumental benefits we can extract; that this value can be measured in cash terms; and that what can’t be measured does not matter, have proved lethal to the rest of life on Earth. The way we name things and think about them – in other words the mental frames we use – helps determine the way we treat them.

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Make a fresh bed every day.

Chimpanzees Have Much Cleaner Beds Than Humans Do (Ind.)

Chimpanzees have much cleaner beds – with fewer bodily bacteria – than humans do, scientists have found. A study comparing swabs taken from chimp nests with those from human beds found that people’s sheets and mattresses harboured far more bacteria from their bodies than the animals’ beds did from theirs. The researchers say their findings suggest that our attempts to create clean environments for ourselves may actually make our surroundings “less ideal”. More than a third – 35 per cent – of the bacteria in human beds comes from our own saliva, skin and faecal particles. By contrast, chimps – humans’ closest evolutionary relatives – appear to sleep with few such bacteria.

“We found almost none of those microbes in the chimpanzee nests, which was a little surprising,” said Megan Thoemmes, lead author of the paper. The researchers collected samples from 41 chimpanzee beds – or nests – in Tanzania and tested them for microbial biodiversity. At 15 primates’ nests, researchers also used vacuums to find out whether there were arthropods, such as insects, spiders, mites and ticks. “We also expected to see a significant number of arthropod parasites, but we didn’t,” said Ms Thoemmes. In addition, the team were shocked to find very few fleas, lice and bed bugs – ectoparasites – in the chimp nests.

“There were only four ectoparasites found, across all the nests we looked at. And that’s four individual specimens, not four different species,” said Ms Thoemmes, a PhD student at North Carolina State University. She believes chimps’ beds are cleaner because they make them freshly in treetops each day.

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Apr 092018
 


Keith Haring Retrospect 1989

 

Longtime and dear friend of the Automatic Earth, professor Steve Keen, wrote an article recently that everyone should read (that goes for everything Steve writes). It’s hard to select highlights, but I’ll give it a try. Steve explains where our housing markets went off the rails, what (short-sighted) interests politicians have in subverting them, and, something rarely addressed, why housing markets are unlike any other markets (the turnover of existing properties is financed with newly created money)

He then suggests some measures that might counter this subversion, with a twang of It’s a Wonderful Life nostalgia thrown in. That nostalgia, which will be seen by many as outdated and a grave mistake in these ‘modern times’, instead makes a lot of sense. We might even say it’s the only way to get back on our feet. It resides in the idea that money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks should be in charge of the housing market.

Because it’s not supply and demand that rule the market today, it’s available debt (credit). And banks can, and will, always create more debt at the stroke of a keyboard. That is, until they can’t, and then house prices must and will of necessity fall off a cliff. In Steve’s words: “..mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down. And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income.

Still, it left me with a big question. But I’ll ask that at the end; here’s Steve first.

 

The Housing Crisis – There’s Nothing We Can Do… Or Is There?

[..] the UK data is remarkable, even in the context of a worldwide trend to higher levels of leverage. Between 1880 and 1980, private debt in the UK fluctuated as a percentage of GDP, but it never once reached 75% of GDP. But in 1982, both household and corporate debt took off. In 1982, total private debt was equivalent to 61% of GDP, split equally between households and corporations. 25 years later, as the global financial crisis unfolded, private debt was three times larger at 197% of GDP, again split 50:50 between households and corporations.

The key changes to legislation that occurred in 1982 is the UK let banks muscle into the mortgage market that was previously dominated by building societies. This was sold in terms of improving competition in the mortgage market, to the benefit of house buyers: allegedly, mortgage costs would fall. But its most profound impact was something much more insidious: it enabled the creation of credit money to fuel rising house prices, setting off a feedback loop that only ended in 2008.

Building societies don’t create money when they lend, because they lend from a bank account that stores the accumulated savings of their members. There’s no change in bank deposits, which are by far the largest component of the money supply.

However, banks do create money when they lend, because a bank records a loan as their asset when they make an identical entry in the borrower’s account, which enables the property to be bought. This dramatically inflates the price of housing, since, as the politicians themselves acknowledge – housing supply is inflexible, so prices increase far more than supply.

The supply side of the housing market has two main factors: the turnover of the existing stock of housing, and the net change in the number of houses (thanks to demolition of old properties and construction of new ones). The turnover of existing properties is far larger than the construction rate of new ones, and this alone makes housing different to your ordinary market. The demand side of the housing market has one main factor: new mortgages created by the banks.

Monetary demand for housing is therefore predominantly mortgage credit: the annual increase in mortgage debt. This also makes housing very different to ordinary markets, where most demand comes from the turnover of existing money, rather than from newly created money.

We can convert the credit-financed monetary demand for housing into a physical demand for new houses per year by dividing by the price level. This gives us a relationship between the level of mortgage credit and the level of house prices. There is therefore a relationship between the change in mortgage credit and the change in house prices. This relationship is ignored in mainstream politics and mainstream economics. But it is the major determinant of house prices: house prices rise when mortgage credit rises, and they fall when mortgage credit falls. This relationship is obvious even for the UK, where mortgage debt data isn’t systematically collected, and I am therefore forced to use data on total household debt (including credit cards, car loans etc.).

Even then, the correlation is obvious (for the technically minded, the correlation coefficient is 0.6). The US does publish data on mortgage debt, and there the correlation is an even stronger 0.78—and standard econometric tests establish that the causal process runs from mortgage debt to house prices, and not vice versa (the downturn in house prices began earlier in the USA, and was an obvious pre-cursor to the crisis there).

None of this would have happened – at least not in the UK – had mortgage lending remained the province of money-circulating building societies, rather than letting money-creating banks into the market. It’s too late to unscramble that omelette, but there are still things that politicians could do make it less toxic for the public.

The toxicity arises from the fact that the mortgage credit causes house prices to rise, leading to yet more credit being taken on until, as in 2008, the process breaks down.

And it has to break down, because the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income. Once that stops happening, demand evaporates, house prices collapse, and they take the economy down with them. That is no way to run an economy.

Yet far from learning this lesson, politicians continue to allow lending practices that facilitate this toxic feedback between leverage and house prices. A decade after the UK (and the USA, and Spain, and Ireland) suffered property crashes – and economic crises because of them – it takes just a millisecond of Internet searching to find lenders who will provide 100% mortgage finance based on the price of the property.

This should not be allowed. Instead, the maximum that lenders can provide should be limited to some multiple of a property’s actual or imputed rental income, so that the income-earning potential of a property is the basis of the lending allowed against it.

 

Two smaller points first: Steve doesn’t mention the role of ultra-low rates. Which is a huge factor leading the process. Second, he says his proposals will “..transition us from a world in which we treat housing as a speculative asset rather than what it really is, a long-lived consumption good”. I wonder if perhaps we should take this a step further.

We don’t see land as a consumption good either, or water sources. They are assets that belong to a given community. Or should. So shouldn’t buildings be too? A building society (or some local equivalent, It’s a Wonderful Life style) in a community can’t, won’t lend out money to build homes that serve the interests of the owner, but hamper those of the community. But now I sound even more commie than Steve for many, I know.

 

On to my main point: if you return mortgage lending to money-circulating building societies, rather than money-creating banks, who’s going to create the money? Don’t let’s forget that a huge part of our present money supply comes from those banks, and much of that from the mortgage loans they issue. Steve may well have thought about this (was he afraid to ask?), and I’d be curious to see his views.

Inflation/deflation is a function of money supply x money velocity (MxV). There are multiple ways to define this, and discuss it, but in the end this remains valid.

This is what the US money supply (stock) has done over the past 30-odd years

 

 

And here is the Case/Shiller home price index for the US over roughly that period. The correlation is painfully clear. Except maybe for that drop in 2008, but the Fed caught that one. Can’t let the money supply fall off a cliff.

 

 

And why can’t we afford to let the money supply fall off a cliff? Because money velocity already has:

 

 

How dramatic that fall has been is perhaps even clearer on a shorter time-frame.

 

 

We can say that MV = GDP, or we can make it a bit more complex with MV=PT, where P is prices and T is transactions (or national output), and people can say that this is just one of many ways to define inflation, but when you have a drop in velocity as steep as that one, and you combine it with the rise in money supply we saw, the danger should be obvious.

We have made our economies fully dependent on banks creating loans out of thin air. Which is a ridiculous model, and as Steve says: “That is no way to run an economy”, but we still have. And if and when home prices start to fall, and fewer people buy homes, the money supply will first stop rising, and then start falling, and we will have the mother of all deflations.

If you take the MV = GDP formulation, GDP will go down right with the money supply, unless velocity (V) soars. Which it can’t, because people are maxed out on those mortgages. They can’t spend. If you go with MV=PT, then if money supply falls, so will prices. Unless transactions (output) is demolished, but that will just kill off velocity even more. Why many people see inflation in our future is hard to gauge.

 

We could, presumably, get our central banks to pump ginormous amounts of money into our societies, but where are they going to put it? Not into our banks(!), which wouldn’t create all those loans anymore, as It’s a Wonderful Life takes over that role, taking the banks and their present role down with it.

Because it’s starting to get obvious that the present ‘system’ is set to go down big time, since as Steve put it:the only way to sustain it is for debt to continue rising faster than income, and we all know where that goes, we can advocate a version of controlled demolition, but who would lead that?

The banks are the most powerful party at the table right now, and controlled demolition of what we have today, as sensible as it may be for society at large, is not for them. Which makes this not only a financial problem, but a political one too: where does power reside. Down the line, it doesn’t even seem to matter much who gives out the loans, there will be very few takers.

Let’s just say we’re open to suggestions. But they better be good.

 

 

Dec 182017
 
 December 18, 2017  Posted by at 10:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Russell Lee Sign Along the Road Near Capulin New Mexico 1939

 

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)
Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)
Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)
China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)
Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)
UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)
Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)
Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)
Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)
Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)
Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)
If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

 

 

Shaky, but give it time before deciding.

Bitcoin Futures Crash Over $2000 From Open (ZH)

Update: Bitcoin and Bitcoin Futures have collapsed since the futures opened…

Dropping over $2200 to converge with spot…

Both CME and CBOE Bitcoin Futures contracts opened above $20,000 this evening (with Bitcoin spot hovering around $19,000). However, as soon as trading started, Bitcoin futures got hammered lower.

Those expecting a surge in futs volumes on the CME vs the CBOE will be disappointed: In fact, spoting actual trades in the first few minutes of trading is not heavy to say the least. Obviously Jan is seeing all the volume… And March not so much… (let alone the $1200 bid-offer spread).

The lack of trading will likely be a surprise to those who were expecting a more “vigorous” futures launch on the CME, such as Brooks Dudley, vice president of risk in New York at ED&F Man Capital Markets who told Bloomberg that “CME’s bitcoin contract may not be first, but they are a larger futures clearinghouse and we are looking forward to our clients trading their product on Sunday evening. Not all market participants have been able to short the Cboe bitcoin futures. We have allowed our clients to go long or short to take advantage of dislocations between the futures and the underlying spot market.” For now, nobody appears to be taking advantage of anything.

Read more …

This seems to be a reasonable fear.

Bitcoin’s Illiquidity Is Going To Be A Huge Problem (BI)

This chart shows a seven-day average of the total number of minutes it takes to confirm a bitcoin transaction, since May 2016. Like the price of bitcoin itself, transaction time has been rising as the months go by. At the time of writing, it took four-and-a-half hours to confirm a bitcoin trade, on average:

If you are holding bitcoin, and you’re worried that the price is a bubble – it cleared $17,000 last week – then bitcoin transaction times should really start to scare you. The price of bitcoin is shifting up and down by hundreds or thousands of dollars each day. No one knows what the price will be one hour from now, except that we know it will be very, very different. The schedule for the world’s largest ICO, the $500 million Dragon casino offering, has been pushed back two weeks, the company says, “due to the extreme congestion on both the Bitcoin and Ethereum Networks, [in which] ICO investors or contributors have faced significant challenges when transferring their Bitcoin and Ethereum to participate in the Dragon Pre-ICO.”

The transaction time is built into the system. Each transaction must be confirmed by six bitcoin miners, and that takes time. There is a finite number of miners, and the more transactions they have to confirm, the longer it takes as their network bandwidth gets filled. Worse, they charge for transactions and prioritise transactions based on price. Those who pay more get processed first. Imagine how bad this is going to get on the day some negative news hits the wires and the really significant holders of bitcoin decide, “I’ve had enough of this. I’ve made my money. I am bailing.” The majority of bitcoins are held by a tiny percentage of the market. 40% are held by 1,000 people. Those few major holders can crash the market whenever they want.

As anyone who remembers the market crashes of 2000 and 2008 knows, these things happen fast. Billions get wiped off the market in minutes. People who need to cash out now, but who are an hour or so behind the news, can lose their shirts. It is brutal. And blockchain just isn’t equipped to deal with it. Part of the increase in transaction time has, no doubt, been caused by the recent arrival of new, less knowledgeable investors who are coming into the market only because they have seen the headlines about the price of bitcoin going up, up, up. That gives us an idea of just how congested it will be on the way down. It will also be expensive. By some counts, transaction fees are doubling every three months. Ars Technica reported that fees reached $26 per trade recently.

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Abe’s going to have to force his people to spend at gunpoint. And then find out they can’t.

Japan Exports Boom, But Inflation Not Following Script (R.)

Japanese exports accelerated sharply in November, yet again pointing to growing momentum in the world’s third-biggest economy. There was just one catch: inflation remained stubbornly low and well off the central bank’s 2% target. The combination of steady growth and benign consumer prices mean the Bank of Japan will lag other major central banks in exiting crisis-era monetary stimulus, with analysts widely expecting BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda to keep the liquidity tap wide open at a meeting later this week. “Inflation expectation is in a gradual recovery trend, but a gap between firm economic indicators and weak price indexes remains wide open,” said Yuichiro Nagai, economist at Barclays Securities.

Indeed, a BOJ survey on Monday showed companies’ inflation expectations heightened only a touch in December from three months ago, despite a tight labor market and business confidence at over a decade high. The persistently low inflation – with core prices running at an annual pace of 0.8% – was also hard to square off with the robust performance of Japan Inc., which has benefited from booming exports thanks to upbeat global demand. Separate data from the Ministry of Finance showed exports grew 16.2% in the year to November, beating a 14.6% gain expected by economists in a Reuters poll and accelerating from the prior month’s 14.0% increase, led by a stellar sales to China and Asia.

[..] “The BOJ will likely be forced into cutting its price projections once again in its quarterly outlook report in January. That will highlight a distance to an exit from the BOJ’s monetary stimulus,” said Barclays’ Nagai. The BOJ quarterly “tankan” survey on corporate inflation expectations survey showed companies expect consumer prices to rise 0.8% a year from now, slightly ahead of their projection for a 0.7% increase three months ago. The marginal nudge up in expectations underscored why inflation is still well off the BOJ’s target, with firms expecting consumer prices to rise an annual 1.1% three years from now and 1.1% five years ahead, unchanged from three months ago, the survey showed.

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They’ll all go to the same places though.

China Should Let Its Migrant Workers Roam Free (Pettis)

Over the past few weeks, people here in Beijing have been riveted by the so-called migrant “clean-out” – the government’s attempt to evict tens of thousands of migrant workers from their homes in the poorer parts of the city. What’s not being discussed, however, is how the crackdown could threaten one of the government’s other main priorities: managing debt. In China, mobility is legally restricted according to a household registration system, called the hukou. Chinese citizens receive an urban or rural hukou which officially identifies them as residents of a specific area and which allows them to live and work only in that area. Few if any of the migrant workers affected by the current sweep possess a Beijing hukou. Previously, this didn’t really matter.

For the past three decades, during the period of China’s furious economic growth, the country’s fastest-growing regions were desperate for cheap labor to fill factories and build infrastructure. With local government officials graded in large part on their ability to generate rapid growth, they largely ignored hukou restrictions and made migration into their cities easy. Hundreds of millions of workers traveled from their hukou areas to wherever there were jobs, in particular big cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai. The attitudes of local authorities may be changing now as the economy slows and officials become more concerned about unemployment and tensions over access to schools and other social services. One of the easiest tools the authorities have to manage both problems is to enforce the hukou rules that are already on the books.

In Beijing, the campaign is broadly popular among legal residents, who complain about overcrowding and rising rents. If it spreads, however, the crackdown could carry a significant macroeconomic cost. Enforcing the residency system nationally could severely limit labor mobility in China. This would in turn constrain monetary policy, which is critical to minimizing the cost to China of what’s likely to be a very difficult adjustment after decades of deeply unbalanced growth. How exactly would this happen? It’s important to remember that while China is a huge economy with a great deal of variety across different regions, it can nonetheless operate effectively with a single currency because it has most of the characteristics of an optimum currency area. In the 1960s, Columbia University’s Robert Mundell argued that four conditions were required to establish such an area.

They include high levels of labor mobility, high levels of capital mobility, a system of transfers that shares risks across the region, and coordinated business cycles. If labor mobility in China slows dramatically, growth rates in different parts of the country would diverge even more than they have already, rather than converge. As a result, monetary policies aimed at restraining credit growth overall might end up being too tight for some regions, leading to accelerating bankruptcies, and too loose for others, fueling out-of-control credit growth.

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Inevitable.

Desperate UK Homeowners Are Cutting Prices – Zoopla (G.)

Price cutting by homeowners desperate to shift their property in a slowing market has reached the highest levels in six years, according to an analysis by website Zoopla. Just over 35% of the homes marketed on the site have marked down their price in the hope of achieving a sale, with the biggest discounts in the London property market. The 35% figure compares with 29% just before the EU referendum in 2016, although it is below the levels recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Sellers in Richmond and Kingston upon Thames in south-west London, both relatively prosperous areas, are among those to have made the deepest reductions in sale prices. Zoopla put the average mark-down by sellers in Kingston at £84,244.

It added that around half of all the properties for sale in Kingston and other nearby locations such as Mitcham and Camberley in Surrey have been reduced since their first listing, indicating that sellers are having to significantly readjust their hopes in the light of the Brexit vote. Lawrence Hall, at Zoopla, said it was good news for first-time buyers trying to get on the property ladder. “A slight rise in levels of discounting is to be expected at this time of year when house-hunters are likely to be delaying their property search until activity picks up in January,” Hall said. “Those on the look-out for a bargain should consider looking in Camberley or Kingston upon Thames in the south, or areas of the north-east – home to some of Britain’s biggest discounts.”

The average asking price reduction across the country currently stands at £25,562, according to Zoopla. The property website said towns in Scotland and northern England have proved more resilient to discounts. About 16% of homes in Edinburgh have been reduced in price, followed by 19% in Salford, 22% in Glasgow, and 25% in Manchester – all below the national average. In London, 39% of property listings have recorded a price reduction, up from 37% in July.

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Banks want to be no. 1 consideration.

UK Banks Tell May: A Canada-Style Brexit Deal Is Not Good Enough (G.)

Britain’s banks have written to Theresa May and Philip Hammond warning that a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU post-Brexit is not ambitious enough and that alignment with EU rules on finance is crucial. The open letter from UK Finance, which represents major banks and other financial institutions, said the government must place the City at the centre of Brexit trade talks or risk dealing a major blow to the economy. “Ceta [the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada] is an interesting template, but given the UK and the EU 27 start from a position of regulatory convergence that the UK and Canada didn’t have, we should seek to be far more ambitious,” said the letter.

The banks congratulated May on successfully negotiating a move to the second phase of withdrawal negotiations with the EU, which it called the first substantive evidence that a final deal could be agreed. But the trade body called on the government to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit and broker a smooth transition by focusing on alignment with Europe. “Pragmatic decisions to align the two regimes from a regulatory perspective … should be seen not as concessions, but as mechanisms to maximise benefits and choice within a deep regional capital market for the benefit of citizens and our economies,” it said. The alternative is “an unnecessary loss” of GDP, it added.

“A high degree of mutual cross-border market access is fundamental to the continued success of our financial services sector – and to the success of the economies and citizens which our sector serves in the UK and the EU 27,” UK Finance wrote.

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Stimulus instead of austerity.

Why Business Could Prosper Under A Corbyn Government (Pettifor)

[..] polling shows that the British people are disillusioned with the privatisation of key sectors, and favour nationalisation. They seek protection from the impact of deregulated market forces on their lives and livelihoods and on their children’s prospects. Business leaders have been made aware – by the IMF, the OECD and the Bank for International Settlements – that the Conservatives’ dependence on what David Cameron called his government’s “monetary radicalism and fiscal conservatism” has gone too far. There is now real concern about the long-term impact of quantitative easing which, coupled with austerity, has led to rocketing asset prices, falling wages and rising inequality. Those with access to central bank largesse have been enriched as the prices of assets have risen; while those without assets and dependent on earnings have suffered as incomes have fallen in real terms.

Falling incomes and spare capacity have not been good for business. While the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent watchdog, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a thinktank, have obsessed over supply-side issues, politicians have been persuaded by economists to sit on their hands, as Britain’s economy falters under huge, unused capacity. Howard Bogod, who runs a business with a turnover of under £20m, wrote recently: “Economic models have failed to explain why wages have not increased as unemployment has fallen so low. These same models are incorrect in their conclusions about productivity growth – indeed these two failures are linked. My conclusion based on observing actual businesses is that if nominal demand were to continue to grow then both productivity and real wages would start to grow more quickly, and economists would again be left scratching their heads.”

There is, nevertheless, anxiety over the scale of Labour’s public investment plans and their impact on the UK’s credit rating. But Labour has a record, in key respects, of being more fiscally conservative than Conservatives. For example, a review by economists at Policy Research in Macroeconomics of current budget deficits or surpluses (that is, excluding public investment) for the whole period before the global financial crisis, from 1956 to 2008, reveals that Conservative governments had an average annual surplus of 0.3% of GDP, while Labour governments had an average annual surplus of 1.1%.

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“Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week. ..”

Heretics Welcome! Economics Needs A New Reformation (G.)

In October 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the world when he grabbed a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation started there. The tale of how the 95 theses were posted is almost certainly false. Luther never mentioned the incident and the first account of it didn’t surface until after his death. But it makes a better story than Luther writing a letter (which is what probably happened), and that’s why the economist Steve Keen, dressed in a monk’s habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week.

Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the world’s leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the mediaeval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luther’s time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neo-classical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics. Keen was one of those heretics. He was one of the economists who knew there was big trouble brewing in the years leading up to the financial crisis of a decade ago but whose warnings were ignored.

The reason Keen was proved right was that he paid no heed to the equilibrium models favoured by mainstream economics. He looked at what was actually happening rather than having a preconceived view of what ought to be happening. Somewhat depressingly, nothing much has happened, even though it was a crisis neo-classical economics said could not happen. There was a brief dalliance with unorthodox remedies when things were really bleak in the winter of 2008-09, but by late 2009 and early 2010, there was a return to business as normal.

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“.. invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body.”

Merkel’s Last Stand – Article 7 For Poland (Luongo)

As she fights for her political life Soon-to-be-ex-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel will go down swinging against her stiffest political opponents in the European Union, the Poles. Merkel and French President Emmanual Macron publicly agreed to back Article 7 proceedings against Poland for refusing to comply with EU immigration quotas and changes to its judicial system. Immigration quotas, I might add, that are becoming harder to defend as the war in Syria is mostly over and the flow of refugees from there has slowed to a trickle. But, those brought in and stranded in camps in Italy and Greece apparently need to go somewhere else. But, no one wants them. And the rest of the EU is trying to bully Poland and the rest of the Visigrad countries – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – into taking on their ‘fair share.’

The problem with this is that Merkel made this decision unilaterally and foisted it on the rest of the EU. And she is determined not to lose this fight to Poland, not because this is any kind of humanitarian issue at this point. No, this is about the primacy of EU diktats being enforced at the expense of logic and political cohesion. And, as I’ve been warning about all year, Merkel will put the EU before any practical consideration and bring Article 7 proceedings against Poland. Because she has to. Immigration and the destruction of individual European cultures is the guiding principle behind the EU’s biggest benefactors. This policy is part of the long-term strategic goals of the EU. It has created an army which will be used to quell secessionist movements in the name of ‘continental security.’ Because despite the fevered dreams of a few hundred Latvians, the Russians are not invading Europe anytime soon.

And I have to wonder who will staff this Grand Army of the Oligarchy? After impoverishing an entire generation of people thanks to a decade-long banking system bailout, you shouldn’t be expecting the crème de la crème of the vanishing European middle class. You can expect a number of these newly-integrated immigrants that Merkel invited at everyone else’s expense will be in their ranks. And only the most politically-acceptable members of the current armies of each country will be invited to positions of authority in this new EU army. Their loyalty will be to the EU first and their homes second. The very definition of a Vichy gendarme for the 21st century. Poland and the rest of the Visigrad Four – Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – are headed for a collision course with the rest of Western Europe over this issue and many others.

And invoking Article 7 will eventually allow the European Parliament to rescind all economic aid to Poland and its voting rights within the body. While at that same time not allowing Poland free access to international trade because it will not be an independent nation at that point. Any move to extricate itself from the EU politically or practically will be met with the most strident opposition. Look no further than Brexit talks and the brutal put-down of Catalonia’s independence movement to see Poland’s future.

Read more …

They have that in common with Germans.

Cash Still King For The Majority Of Greek Consumers, Employers (K.)

Greeks love cash: Not only do they make most of their payments in cash – more than in any other eurozone country – but they also use it to pay their regular monthly obligations, such as utility bills, rent and even their taxes. The main reason for this proclivity for paper money is not an inherent aversion towards electronic payments, but that the vast majority of Greeks, far more than in other eurozone member states, still get paid in cash. This is evident in the recent European Central Bank survey on cash use in eurozone households, which showed that 57% of Greeks are paid in paper. Cyprus and Slovenia come a distant second, with a rate of 28%, while in the other eurozone countries the share of people getting paid “cash in hand” ranges between 5 and 20%.

Behind this particularly high rate of people paid in cash in Greece lies the large number of small or family owned enterprises and freelancers who work for cash. This also serves to illustrate the extensive tax evasion in this country, which tends to be focused on a series of professional categories, mainly among freelancers. The above figures concern 2016, while banks estimate that this picture has started changing considerably after the compulsory payment of salaried workers via a bank account from early 2017. The ECB figures show that the cash culture is not a strictly Greek phenomenon, as 79% of transactions in the eurozone – with great variations from country to country – are conducted with coins and banknotes.

Yet contrary to European habits, Greeks use cash for a series of transactions that are regular every month: 40% of Greeks pay their taxes in cash against just 9% in the eurozone, 50% use paper to pay for their insurance against 10% in the eurozone, and 70% pay for their medicines in cash against 31% in the eurozone. Similarly, electricity and phone bills are paid by 60% of Greeks in cash, compared to 16% in the eurozone, and 30% of rents are covered by cash against just 6% in the eurozone. ECB data also revealed that Greeks hold an average of 80 euros in cash on them, against the Spaniards’ 50 euros and the Italians’ 69 euros, while the Portuguese like to keep just 29 euros at hand.

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In a system as overwhelmed as it is, this does not spell a lot of good.

Greece Drafts Law to Accelerate Migrant Asylum Applications And Returns (K.)

In a bid to ease growing pressure on overcrowded refugee camps on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the government is drafting a law to accelerate the process of granting asylum to refugees with a bill expected to go to Parliament as early as this week. Arrivals of migrants from Turkey radically dropped after Ankara signed an agreement with the European Union to crack down on human smuggling over the Aegean. But the influx has picked up in recent months. Also the process of returning migrants to Turkey, as foreseen by the pact, is very slow, partly due to the influence of critics of the deal within leftist SYRIZA. “The only way to deal with the problem on the Greek islands is for the EU-Turkey agreement to be effectively enforced and for there to be a significant number of returns to Turkey,” an official at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry told Kathimerini.

Since the deal was signed in March 2016, around 48,600 migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, according to the United Nations refugee agency. During that time only some 1, 500 people have been returned to Turkey. Thousands of asylum applications are pending, chiefly because migrants generally appeal rejected claims. At a summit of EU leaders last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to bolster Greek efforts to accelerate the asylum process and to help increase the presence of Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, at the country’s frontiers with Turkey and Bulgaria, Greek officials said. Meanwhile, there are concerns that a decision by the government to move migrants from cramped island camps to the mainland could encourage smugglers to bring more migrants to Greece.

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“There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever.”

If Money Rewarded Hard Work, Moms Would Be The Billionaires (CJ)

Ask a woman right now how her Christmas is going and she will almost certainly unfurl her to-do list before your eyes, from the turkey to the costumes for the kids’ concerts. They should call it the Season of To-dos. For women, anyway. Christmas is the one time of the year when the gender pay gap is an open festering wound. Most of women’s work goes unvalued, unpaid, unseen by the patriarchal valuing system we call money. It’s invisible to money but it’s also pretty invisible even to ourselves. For a woman, it’s just what you do. For men, it’s stuff that just… happens. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to give up being Santa. I love it, I’m good at it, and I still do it for my kids even though they’re way past believing. That doesn’t mean it’s not work and it’s not worth something. People love their work and still get money for it.

(A little aside: isn’t it interesting that the man behind Santa is almost never a man? It’s almost like the patriarchy wants to take the credit for all of women’s work at Christmas time.) But whoever coined the term “holiday season” was clearly a bloke. It ain’t no holiday. For women, it’s the busiest time of the year. There’s something really broken about a valuing system that doesn’t recognize how much important work goes into bringing up children, socially integrating the tribe, bonding with each other and appreciating the beauty of each individual in the family and all the gifts they bring. A valuing system that doesn’t recognize the gains of having good-natured humans brought up in solid, loving environments that are closely networked in the goodwill economy. A family that will look after each other.

There’s something wrong with a valuing system that doesn’t recognize healthy humans, or the redistribution of goods, or the disappearing of problems forever. There’s something deeply sick about a valuing system that only knows how to pay people to make more problems, more sickness, more work for themselves. Invent a problem, and then sell your “solution” to it. That’s pretty much every business model ever. Libertarians will tell you earnestly that all our valuing decisions should be left up to “the markets.” If left to its own devices, the intelligence of money is meant to somehow create a handsome retirement savings package for a hardworking single mom of six. It’s somehow going to pay people to reuse and redistribute goods that they don’t need and fill all the unused houses with house-less people. It’s going to reward leaving minerals in the ground and pay for people to be healthy and live simply and for the environment to flourish and sustain life.

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Dec 102017
 
 December 10, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Robert Frank Motorama, Los Angeles 1956

 

Peak Fantasy Time (David Stockman)
Deflation Remains Biggest Threat As Lofty Stock Markets Head Into 2018 (F.)
Global Powers Lobby To Stop Special Brexit Deal For UK (G.)
The US Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages (GG)
Principles of Political Economy: The Opening Lines (Steve Keen)
Half A Salary, Half A Job, Half A Life (K.)
Erdogan, Tsipras Strike Secret Deal On Refugees (K.)
Refugee Arrivals in Greece Offset Decongestion Efforts (K.)
Super Rich Shown To Have Grown Out Of Ancient Farming (G.)
India Gov. Files Suits Against Monsanto et al Over Bollworm Cotton Attack (VoI)

 

 

Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
-Frank Zappa

The decline in quality of jobs -and compensation- is as horrible as the jobs reports’ attempts at hiding that decline.

Peak Fantasy Time (David Stockman)

If you want to know why both Wall Street and Washington are so delusional about America’s baleful economic predicament, just consider this morsel from today’s Wall Street Journal on the purportedly awesome November jobs report. “Wages rose just 2.5% from a year earlier in November—near the same lackluster pace maintained since late 2015, despite a much lower unemployment rate. But in a positive sign for Americans’ incomes, the average work week increased by about 6 minutes to 34.5 hours in November…. November marked the 86th straight month employers added to payrolls.” Whoopee! Six whole minutes added to a work week that has been shrinking for decades owing to the relentlessly deteriorating quality mix of the “jobs” counted by the BLS establishment survey.

In fact, even by that dubious measure, the work week is still shorter than it was at the December 2007 pre-crisis peak (33.8) and well below its 2000 peak level. The reason isn’t hard to figure: The US economy is generating fewer and fewer goods producing jobs where the work week averages 40.5 hours and weekly pay equates to $58,400 annually and far more bar, hotel and restaurant jobs, where the work week averages just 26.1 hours and weekly pay equates to only $21,000 annually. In other words, the ballyhoed headline averages are essentially meaningless noise because the BLS counts all jobs equal – that is, a 10-hour per week gig at the minimum wage at McDonald’s weighs the same as a 45 hour per week (with overtime) job at the Caterpillar plant in Peoria that pays $80,000 annually in wages and benefits.

In fact, what has been the weakest expansion in history by far may now be finally running out of gas. During the last several weeks the pace of US treasury payroll tax collections has actually dropped sharply – and it is ultimately Uncle Sam’s collection box which gives the most accurate, concurrent reading on the state of the US economy. Some 20 million employers do not tend to send in withholding receipts for the kind of phantom seasonally maladjusted, imputed and trend-modeled jobs which populate the BLS reports.

Yet we we are not close to having recovered the 4.3 million goods producing jobs lost in the Great Recession; 40% of them are still AWOL – meaning they are not likely to be recovered before the next recession hits. Stated differently, the US economy has been shedding high paying goods producing jobs ever since they peaked at 25 million way back in 1980. Indeed, we are still not even close to the 24.6 million figure which was posted at the turn of the century.

By contrast, the count of leisure and hospitality jobs( bars, hotels and restaurants), or what we have dubbed the “Bread and Circuses Economy” keeps growing steadily, thereby filling up the empty space where good jobs have vacated the BLS headline total. Thus, when goods-producing jobs peaked at 25 million back in 1980, there were only 6.7 million jobs in leisure and hospitality. Today that sector employs 16.0 million part-time, low-pay workers..

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“.. the Fed has erroneously predicted 2% inflation for 66 months and continues to tell us that the low levels of inflation are “transitory.“

Deflation Remains Biggest Threat As Lofty Stock Markets Head Into 2018 (F.)

In the two weeks running up to the passage of the Senate’s version of the tax bill, the equity markets moved significantly depending on how any particular Republican senator intended on voting. Then, when the Senate finally passed the bill on the next business day, markets made new intra-day record highs, but then reversed course. Given the current sky-high market valuation levels, the tax benefits are already priced in. Economist David Rosenberg examined market reaction to the five major tax bills of the last 70 years. He found that, on average, the S&P 500 rises 14.3% (median 18.9%) in the year leading up to the passage of the tax legislation. In the year following, on average, the index falls 7.5% (median 13.1%). It could be he is on to something.

If it has been historically easy money that has propelled the U.S. and every other major stock market to record heights over the past few years, then it is noteworthy that the last 12 moves from the world’s central banks have been tightening moves. We know that the Fed is certain to tighten next week at its December 12-13 meeting. This, despite the fact that the Fed’s governing board is deeply divided on the outlook for interest rates and inflation. According to their own minutes, some Fed-governing members continue to hold to the academic view that the Phillips curve (i.e., inflation always rises when the unemployment rate is low) is alive and well. Under this view, inflation is just around the corner and the Fed had better be pre-emptive, lest inflation get ahead of them.

The other view is that today’s economy exhibits behaviors that are significantly different from those that dominated the 60+ years of post-WWII America, and that inflation is no longer the threat it used to be. In fact, deflation may be a bigger threat, especially given the high and rising debt levels. Regular readers know that I have espoused the latter viewpoint. I have pointed out several times that the Fed has erroneously predicted 2% inflation for 66 months and continues to tell us that the low levels of inflation are “transitory.” Fed Chair-Elect Powell espoused this viewpoint in his confirmation hearing, so, there is not much hope that they Fed will back off.

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US, Canada et al don’t want any special treatment for Britain. But that’s not their decision.

Global Powers Lobby To Stop Special Brexit Deal For UK (G.)

Theresa May’s hopes of securing a unique post-Brexit trade deal with the EU were under threat on Saturday night as Brussels said it was coming under international pressure to deny Britain special treatment. After a week that saw May reach a deal with the EU that will allow Brexit talks to move forward on to future trade relations, EU officials insisted a bespoke deal more favourable to the UK than other non-EU nations was out of the question. One EU source close to the talks said: “We have been approached by a number of [non-member] countries expressing concerns and making it clear that it would constitute a major problem for them if suddenly the UK were to get better terms than they get.”

The official said that once the UK is out of the single market and customs union in March 2019, there could be no replication of the terms of the current trading relationship, or anything close to it, and no special treatment. “It is not just an indication of some strange rigid principle. It is because things won’t work,” he said. “First and foremost we need to stick to this balance of rights and obligations, otherwise we will be undermining our own customs union and single market. Second, we cannot upset relations with other third countries,” the official said. “If we were to give the UK a very lopsided deal, then the other partners with whom we have been engaging and who entered into balanced agreements would come back and question those agreements.”

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Julian Assange on Twitter: “Is the fake news story about @WikiLeaks yesterday the worst since Iraq? It’s a serious question. Three outlets, CNN, NBC and ABC all independently “confirmed” the same false information. Has there previously been a serious triple origin fake news story? i.e not just re-reporting.”

The US Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages (GG)

Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened. The spectacle began on Friday morning at 11:00 am EST, when the Most Trusted Name in News™ spent 12 straight minutes on air flamboyantly hyping an exclusive bombshell report that seemed to prove that WikiLeaks, last September, had secretly offered the Trump campaign, even Donald Trump himself, special access to the DNC emails before they were published on the internet.

As CNN sees the world, this would prove collusion between the Trump family and WikiLeaks and, more importantly, between Trump and Russia, since the U.S. intelligence community regards WikiLeaks as an “arm of Russian intelligence,” and therefore, so does the U.S. media. This entire revelation was based on an email which CNN strongly implied it had exclusively obtained and had in its possession. The email was sent by someone named “Michael J. Erickson” – someone nobody had heard of previously and whom CNN could not identify – to Donald Trump, Jr., offering a decryption key and access to DNC emails that WikiLeaks had “uploaded.”

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Steve is busy introducing economics to energy. Another thing the entire field entirely overlooked.

Principles of Political Economy: The Opening Lines (Steve Keen)

Labor without Energy is a Corpse; Capital without Energy is a Statue

Economics went astray from the very first sentence of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776: “The annual labour of every nation”, Smith asserted, “is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always, either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.” This paragraph mimicked the structure, and even the cadence (though not the brevity), of the opening sentence of Richard Cantillon’s 1730 treatise Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (which Smith read). However, Smith made one crucial substitution: he asserted that “Labor … is the fund” from which our wealth springs, whereas Cantillon asserted that it was Land:

“Land”, Cantillon began, “is the source or matter from which all wealth is drawn; man’s labor provides the form for its production, and wealth in itself is nothing but the food, conveniences, and pleasures of life.” (21) Both these assertions are strictly false. The true source of the wealth that humanity has generated from production is neither Labor nor Land, but the Energy that humanity’s production systems harness and turn into useful work (now known as “Exergy”). However, Smith’s assertion is irredeemably false, whereas Cantillon’s merely needs generalization to make it consistent with the fundamental laws of the universe known as the Laws of Thermodynamics. These Laws are still poorly known by economists, which in part explains why economic theory has managed to be in conflict with them for so long. Illustrating why this is so, and why it is crucial, will take time, and effort on your part too to understand them (if you do not already).

But the fact that no theory that contradicts them can be taken seriously, was stated eloquently by the physicist Arthur Eddington in his 1928 book for lay readers The Nature of the Physical World: The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations—then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observations—well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation. (37)

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Life in Greece. Every day gets worse.

Half A Salary, Half A Job, Half A Life (K.)

Two in three Greeks fail to pay their bills on time, mainly because they don’t have the money. Three in 10 private sector workers, meanwhile, work part time and get paid a salary of 407.15 euros a month, on average. The first case puts Greece at the top of the list of EU countries in terms of citizens that don’t keep up with their bills, according to the European Consumer Payment Report 2017, with the main reason being the lack of money. In the rest of Europe, the main causes of delays are simple absentmindedness or forgetfulness. The second case is something entirely different. In one sense, it can be interpreted as a reduction in unemployment, which dropped to 20.5% in September. Basically, unemployment falls as part-time work rises, with 30.6% of employees in the private sector working such jobs.

Is this something to be glad about? Should we welcome it as an improvement in the country’s economy? Flexible forms of labor that bring in a pittance of a salary strengthen the ranks of the nouveau pauvre, but at the same time bring down unemployment – albeit dragging down every index that points to a normal life along with it. This is the new normal. But how can 400 euros a month possibly be considered normal? We are beyond the viral videos of the first months of the crisis, of frenzied officials claiming that children were fainting of hunger at school, of images of people rummaging through trash cans looking for food, of pensioners falling over each other for a bag of free potatoes and other such dramatic scenes, real or contrived, that appeared on screens all over the world, and which the present government is quick to claim no longer exist.

Today, some really “lucky” Greeks are insured and have a daily wage of 51 euros, adding up to 1,193 euros a month. But the majority, the less fortunate – yet still fortunate enough to have a job – need to make do with 400 euros a month. It is a conundrum that requires a good deal of math. This month you’ll pay the water bill but not the electricity, you’ll limit your purchases to the bare essentials and you’ll adapt your diet to your budget. What’s left after that? A constant knot in your stomach that you have to learn to put up with. You won’t faint in the street, but each day will be a struggle. You will die a little bit inside, but this is not a measurable reaction and the indices don’t care. Neither does the government, whose slogan when it was in the opposition was that there are real people behind the data. Now the only number it cares to talk about is the shrinking unemployment rate.[..]

The line that defines normal is constantly being shifted and with it the definition of poverty.

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Erdogan was in Greece the past week and tried to stir up as much shit as he could. Refugees remain his main weapon.

Erdogan, Tsipras Strike Secret Deal On Refugees (K.)

As pressure due to overcrowding continues to build at reception centers for migrants on the islands of the eastern Aegean, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted a request by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Turkey take back migrants from the Greek mainland as well as the islands, Kathimerini understands. During a joint press conference with Erdogan on Thursday, Tsipras declared that “new measures have been agreed for cooperation in the context of the European Union-Turkey agreement,” referring to a deal signed between Ankara and Brussels in March 2016 to curb human trafficking across the Aegean. Tsipras’s comments spurred much speculation about what those measures might be. It appears that they would involve triggering the return of migrants to Turkey, a process that has largely halted as new arrivals often lodge applications for asylum, a lengthy process.

Thousands of migrants, particularly those deemed to be the most vulnerable such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, have already been transferred from cramped facilities on the islands to the mainland. But conditions remain overcrowded at the island camps amid a constant stream of new arrivals from neighboring Turkey. What remains unclear is whether officials in Brussels have approved the deal; as it stands, it would basically undermine the basis of last year’s EU-Ankara agreement, according to which migrants should remain on the islands until a decision has been reached on their status (whether they are considered to belong to vulnerable groups meriting priority treatment, to be granted asylum etc). In recent comments, Dutch Ambassador in Athens Caspar Veldkamp expressed concerns about the prospects of mass relocations to the mainland if returns are not being made to Turkey, noting that this could undermine the EU-Turkey deal and encourage human smugglers rather than averting them.

For the leftist-led government, however, moving migrants from cramped facilities to mainland camps would appease those in the party concerned about inhumane conditions on the islands. As winter looms, and hundreds of migrants continue to live in tents around the reception centers, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has conceded that he could not rule out the risk of people dying from hypothermia. In an interview with Der Spiegel that was published on Friday, Mouzalas said that authorities were making preparations to ensure that island camps are ready to deal with plunging temperatures. Everything should be in place by December 15, he said. “The key though is the number of new arrivals,” he said, adding that if there is no large increase in numbers “then we are well prepared.” Authorities might reserve some rooms at local hotels if necessary, he said.

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Haven’t heard this one before, and it feels like an ominous sign: “Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Germany’s Spiegel Online that he cannot guarantee that no one will die in the camps with the onset of winter.”

Refugee Arrivals in Greece Offset Decongestion Efforts (K.)

The effort to improve the living conditions of refugees and migrants stranded at overcrowded reception centers on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos by transferring some of them to the mainland will fail to yield the desired result as long as flows from Turkey continue. In its latest report, the UNHCR said that 17,764 people were transferred from the islands to the mainland in the period from July 2016 to November 2017. UNHCR sources clarified, however, that the number of those removed from the islands is significantly higher than the official figure. Many of the people who have completed the necessary procedures or are deemed to be vulnerable, and as such are allowed to depart for the mainland, do so at their own cost, the same sources said.

They also reckoned that in 2016 around 40% of transfers were conducted by the UNHCR but the%age rose to 80% in 2017 after a request by the Migration Policy Ministry. At the same time, however, in the period between early April 2016, when Ankara and Brussels reached a deal to limit migrant flows into Europe, until late November, some 48,600 people arrived in Greece. In November, 3,800 people arrived on the Greek islands from Turkey, while 2,128 asylum seekers were transferred to the mainland in the same month. The Migration Policy Ministry on Saturday dismissed rumors on Chios that there are plans for the immediate removal of some 1,000 people from the Vial hotspot. It said that removals will take place gradually.

Meanwhile, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Germany’s Spiegel Online that he cannot guarantee that no one will die in the camps with the onset of winter. “What we can do,” he said, “is try the utmost to prevent death.” Moreover, the German newspaper Bild said that an increasing number of refugees in Greece are trying to get to other European Union countries using forged passports.

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There are multiple pieces coming out lately that prove the obvious: once mankind started gathering surpluses, hierarchies developed, and so did inequality.

Super Rich Shown To Have Grown Out Of Ancient Farming (G.)

To measure relative wealth in a society, the team worked with archaeologists studying 62 different societies in Europe, Asia and North America. Some of these were up to 10,000 years old and included digs in ancient Babylonia, Catalhoyuk (now in Turkey) and Pompeii. Researchers analysed the sizes of houses at these sites and used these as indicators of the variations of wealth that existed there at any one time. “House size gives a very good indication of wealth,” said Smith. This point was backed by Kohler. “We consider house size to be a proxy for wealth.” The figures produced by these analyses provided the team with an indication of a particular society’s wealth. The greater the diversity in house size, the greater the inequality. In turn this disparity was measured using a system based on the Gini coefficient.

“Gini coefficients range from zero for societies in which each person has exactly the same amount of wealth to a society in which a single person owns the resources of an entire society. Such a society would have a Gini coefficient of one,” Kohler said. The team found that ancient farming societies had an inequality with a coefficient of around 0.35. That is a higher level of inequality than the level that is likely to have existed in earlier millennia when humans lived as hunter gatherers and shared many resources. “However, this inequality among these, the first farmers, is an awful lot less than the inequality you find in the US today,” said Kohler. “Here we have a Gini coefficient of around 0.8 today.” In the ancient farms of the New World, inequality stayed more or less the same. However, in Eurasia it started to climb over time until it reached levels of around 0.6 a few thousand years ago. This rise coincides with the introduction of oxen and horses and their exploitation in the ploughing of fields.

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More. Monsanto. Mayhem.

India Gov. Files Suits Against Monsanto et al Over Bollworm Cotton Attack (VoI)

The Maharashtra government on Friday announced that it would file police complaints against seed companies like Monsanto, which supplied seeds of BT Cotton, the crops from which were destroyed in a large-scale bollworm attack. Maharashtra’s Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil said on Friday more than 70% of the cotton crop in Vidarbha has been destroyed due to the bollworm attack. He added that companies like Monsanto had provided the BT Cotton seeds with the promise that they were immune to attacks by the pest. The Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission, a state government body, has estimated that the output of cotton in Maharashtra would fall to 43.10 lakh quintal as compared to 78.61 quintals in December 2016.

The opposition parties are however demanding that the Maharashtra government pay compensation to cotton farmers on the lines of the ongoing farm loan waiver extended to cultivators. The Nationalist Congress Party is demanding that the government provide a compensation of Rs 25,000 per hectare for farmers whose crop has been destroyed in the bollworm attack. NCP leader Dhananjay Munde said his party would hold protests in the cotton-growing areas of Vidarbha to force the government raise compesation to farmers. With the opposition parties likely to paralyse the state legislature during the Winter Session to be held in Nagpur from Monday, Chief Ministre Devendra Fadnavis’s government on Friday asked revenue officials to carry out panchnama of crops destroyed in the bollwork attack. “We are working on a compensation package for farmers,” Patil told reporters.

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Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.
-Frank Zappa

 

Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 1:49 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Rembrandt van Rijn The Three Crosses 1653

 

John Rubino recently posted a graph from Bob Prechter’s Elliot Wave that points to some ominous signs. It depicts the S&P 500, combined with consumer confidence and savings rate. As the accompanying video at Elliott Wave, What “Too Confident to Save” Means for Stocks, shows, when the gap between high confidence and low savings is at its widest, a market crash -often- follows.

In 2000, the subsequent crash was 39%, in 2007 it was 54%. We are now again witnessing just such a gap, with the S&P 500 at record levels. Here’s the graph, with John’s comments:

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

 

 

John is mostly right. But not entirely. Not that I don’t think he knows, he simply forgets to mention it. What I mean is his suggestion that people stop saving because they’re confident, bullish. To understand where and why he slightly misses, let’s turn to Lance Roberts. Before we get to the savings, Lance explains why the difference between the Producer Price Index (PPI) and Consumer Price Index (CPI) is important to note.

Summarized, producer prices are rising, but consumer prices are not.

 

You Have Been Warned

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

 

 

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

 

 

Such differences have real life consequences. In Lance’s words:

 

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3% decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally.

If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers.

 

That already hints at what I said above about savings. But it’s Lance’s next graph, versions of which he uses regularly, that makes it even more obvious. (NOTE: I think he means to say 2009, not 2000 below)

 

The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000(?!), debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

 

 

The cut-off point is 2009, unless I miss something in Lance’s comment. Before that, borrowing could create the illusion of a rising standard of living. Those days are gone. And it’s very hard to see, when you take a good look, what could make them come back.

Not only are savings not down because people are too confident to save, they are down because people simply don’t have anything left to save. The American consumer is sliding ever deeper into debt. And as for the Holiday Season, we can confidently -there’s that word again- predict that spending will be disappointing, and that much of what is still spent will add to increasing Consumer Credit Per Capita, as well as the Gap Between Real Disposable Income (DPI) And Cost Of Living.

The last graph, which shows Control Purchases, i.e. what people buy most, a large part of which will be basic needs, makes this even more clear.

 

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

 

 

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

“Prior to 2009, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Less than a decade later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

To put that in numbers, there’s a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes. In other words, no matter how much people are borrowing, their standard of living is in decline.

Something else we can glean from the graphs is that after the Great Recession (or GFC) of 2008-9, the economy never recovered. The S&P may have, and the banks are back to profitable ways and big bonuses, but that has nothing to do with real Americans in their own real economy. 2009 was a turning point and the crisis never looked back.

Are the American people actually paying for the so-called recovery? One might be inclined to say so. There is no recovery, there’s whatever the opposite of that is, terminal decline?!. It’s just, where does that consumer confidence level come from? Is that the media? Is The Conference Board pulling our leg? Is it that people think things cannot possibly get worse?

What is by now crystal clear is that Americans don’t choose to not save, they have nothing left to save. And that will have its own nasty consequences down the road. Let’s raise some rates, shall we? And see what happens?!

One consolation: Europe, Japan, China are in the same debt-driven decline that Americans are. We’re all going down together. Or rather, the question is who’s going to go first. That is the only hard call left. America’s a prime candidate.

 

 

Sep 212017
 
 September 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Jacqueline in Turkish costume 1955

 

Yellen Brushes Aside Inflation ‘Mystery’ While Fed Eyes Rate Hike (BBG)
Federal Reserve Will Continue Cutting Economic Life Support (Smith)
What Shiller Says Is Preventing A 1929-Like Stock Market Crash (CNBC)
Stock Market Bubbles in Perspective (Ma)
We’re Officially In The 2nd-Largest Bull Market Since World War II (BI)
Who’s Pulling The Strings? (Ren.)
144 Years Ago A Panic Shut Down The Stock Market For The First Time (Cashin)
China’s Dangerous House Price Boom Is Spreading (BBG)
Japan’s “Deflationary Mindset” Grows (ZH)
Greece Considers Bond Swap As It Looks To Bailout Exit (R.)
Abbas Says Trump May Have Mideast ‘On the Verge’ of Peace Deal
4-6 Months To Restore Puerto Rico Electricity After Hurricane Maria (NBC)
Global Mass Extinction Set To Begin By 2100 (Ind.)

 

 

Inflation is arguably the Fed’s no. 1 concern left. Yellen admits they don’t know what it is or does, though. Still, decisions concerning billions and trillions are taken. No direction home.

Yellen Brushes Aside Inflation ‘Mystery’ While Fed Eyes Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged that the fall in inflation this year was a bit of a “mystery” but suggested that the central bank was on course to raise interest rates again in 2017 nonetheless. She told reporters on Wednesday that the economy was robust enough to withstand further rate increases and an imminent reduction in the Fed’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet, as it exits from a crisis-era policy a decade after the onset of the Great Recession.“We continue to expect that the ongoing strength of the economy will warrant gradual increases” in rates, she told a press conference after the Federal Open Market Committee announced that it will slowly begin to pare its bond holdings next month. As expected, the target range for the federal funds rate was held at 1% to 1.25%. The central bank’s intention to press ahead with another rate hike this year and three more in 2018 caught investors by surprise, sending bond yields and the dollar higher.

The strategy represents a bit of a gamble because it risks cementing inflation permanently below the Fed’s 2% target. As measured by the personal consumption expenditures price index, inflation has ebbed this year even as the economy and the labor market have continued to improve. After briefly poking above 2% earlier this year, it fell to 1.4% in June and July. “I will not say that the committee clearly understands what the causes are of that,” Yellen, 71, said. While transitory forces such as a one-time cut in mobile-phone service charges were part of the story, they did not fully explain the shortfall, she said. The Fed chief though argued that the ongoing strength of the economy and the labor market would ultimately help lift inflation, while she kept open the possibility the central bank would alter course if that proved not to be the case.

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The Fed doesn’t serve the people. Never forget.

Federal Reserve Will Continue Cutting Economic Life Support (Smith)

First, let’s be clear, historically the Fed’s predictable behavior has been to skip major policy actions in September and then startle markets with renewed and aggressive actions in December. People placing bets on a Fed rate hike in September would look at this pattern and say “no way.” However, the narrative I see building in Fed rhetoric and in the mainstream media is that stock markets have become “unruly children” and that the Fed must become a “stern parent,” reigning them in before they are crushed under the weight of their own naive enthusiasm. In my view, the Fed will continue to do what it says it is going to do — raise interest rates and reduce and remove stimulus, and that the mainstream narrative will soon be adjusted to suggest that this is “necessary;” that stock markets need a bit of tough love.

If the Fed means to follow through with its stated plans for “financial stability” in markets, then the only measure that would be effective in shell-shocking stocks back to reality would be a surprise hike, a surprise announcement of balance sheet reduction or both at the same time If the Fed intends to continue cutting off life support to equities and bonds in preparation for a controlled demolition of the U.S. economy, then there is a high probability at the very least of a balance sheet reduction announcement this week with strong language indicating another rate hike in December. I also would not completely rule out a surprise rate hike even though September is usually a no-action month for central banks. This would fit the trend of central banks around the globe strategically distancing themselves from artificial support for the financial structure.

Last week, the Bank of England surprised investors with an open indication that they may begin raising interest rates “in the coming months.” The Bank Of Canada surprised some economists with yet another rate hike this month and mentions of “more to come.” The European Central Bank has paved the way for a tapering of stimulus measures according to comments made during its latest meeting early this month. And, the Bank of Japan initiated taper measures in July. Even Forbes is admitting that there appears to be a “coordinated tightening of monetary policy” coming far sooner than the mainstream expects. If you understand how the Bank for International Settlements controls policy initiatives of national central bank members, then you should not be surprised that central banks all over the world are pursuing the same actions and the same rhetoric. The only difference between any of them is the pace they have chosen in taking the punch bowl away from the party.

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Psychology and obesity. Gee, thanks Bob! Feel much more confident now.

What Shiller Says Is Preventing A 1929-Like Stock Market Crash (CNBC)

It’s a comparison no one wants to hear — that this stock market bears striking similarities to that of 1929. The observation is coming from Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, who’s been arguing valuations are extremely expensive. But instead of predicting an epic stock market crash, he’s finding reasons to be optimistic. “The market is about as highly priced as it was in 1929,” said Shiller on Tuesday’s “Trading Nation.” “In 1929 from the peak to the bottom, it was 80% down. And the market really wasn’t much higher than it is now in terms of my CAPE [cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings] ratio. So, you give pause when you notice that.” In his first interview since penning an op-ed on Sept. 15 in The New York Times, the Yale University economics professor reiterated to CNBC that there’s one vital characteristic protecting investors from losing their nest eggs: Market psychology.

“It’s not just a matter of low interest rates, it’s something about the American atmosphere. It’s partly the Trump atmosphere. Investors love this. I can’t exactly explain – maybe it has something to do with prospective tax cuts. But I don’t think it’s just that. It’s something deeper, and it’s pushing the American market up,” he added. Unlike 1929, Shiller points out there’s not much talk about people borrowing exorbitant amounts of money to buy stocks. Plus, he notes there’s now more regulation. But don’t mistake the Yale University economics professor for a bull. “I don’t want to encourage people too much to put a lot into the most expensive market in the world,” said Shiller. “The U.S. has the highest CAPE ratio of 26 countries. We are number one.”

[..] Shiller may see red flags, but he isn’t ruling out a market that continues to churn out fresh records for months, if not years. “I wouldn’t call it healthy, I’d call it obese. But you know, some of these obese people live to be 100 years, so you never know,” said Shiller.

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Still feeling good, Shiller?

Stock Market Bubbles in Perspective (Ma)

A better type of average would be the median. It literally represents the middle of a sequence of ranked numbers. In most cases, it is not influenced by outliers. By using median (instead of mean) earnings, I refer to this valuation approach as the CAPME ratio. It currently shows the S&P Composite is not the second or third most expensive stock market cycle. This finding supports those who criticize the traditional CAPE ratio of overstating the valuation of the S&P Composite Index. The problem for critics though is using the CAPME ratio still shows the U.S. stock market is very expensive right now. In fact, it is the fourth most expensive, behind the stock market cycle that occurred during the Subprime Mortgage Bubble. Based on the data Professor Shiller uses, you can see this in the graph below that looks back 135 years.

You will notice in the graph above that the past 5 stock market bubbles were all valued at one point at more than 20-times median, annual, inflation-adjusted earnings. The valuation range of those peaks is wide though given the Tech Bubble was valued at more than 40-times at its peak. This makes the Tech Bubble potentially an outlier. Furthermore, all 5 stock market bubbles did not last long. They were fleeting. To put this all into perspective, consider these valuations by their percentile ranks. You can see this from the orange lines in the graph below. [It] shows the aforementioned 5 stock market cycles turned into bubbles when their CAPME valuation ratios reached a very high level of roughly the 90th percentile (red dotted line). In other words, these bubbles formed when their valuations were near or at the most expensive decile.

Investors beware: the valuation of the S&P Composite Index is currently ranked at the 94th percentile. This puts the U.S. stock market smack-dab at the heart of bubble territory. It has been argued lots that the high stock market valuation is justified by low interest rates. This argument does not work for me. Let me tell you why. Yields on 10-year U.S. treasury bonds in early-1941 were lower than they are now. Despite lower interest rates in early-1941, the stock market CAPME valuation ratio was quite low at that time ranking at around the 30th percentile. Furthermore, the amount of debt provided by stock brokers used to fuel the current stock market cycle is at a record level. This could prove problematic given bubbles driven by financial leverage are particularly dangerous.

The aforementioned 5 stock market cycles turned into bubbles when their CAPME valuation ratios reached the 90th percentile. The U.S. stock market is back there again. Its valuation is squarely in the middle of that very expensive decile looking back 135 years. The 5 previous instances of stock market bubbles suggest this will not end well. Bubbles never do, particularly ones driven by financial leverage.

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Whcih goes to show how easily markets are manipulated.

We’re Officially In The 2nd-Largest Bull Market Since World War II (BI)

We’re officially in the second-largest bull market since World War II. A week ago Monday, the S&P 500 index’s bull market became the second-best performing in the modern economic era. Stocks have climbed by about 270% from their March 2009 low over the past eight years, according to data from LPL Financial. Today’s bull market has eclipsed the 267% gain seen from June 1949 to August 1956. But the bull market from October 1990 to March 2000 remains in the top spot. “The logical question we continue to receive is: how much further can it go? We have an old bull market and an old expansion. When will the music stop?” Ryan Detrick, the senior market strategist for LPL Financial, wrote in commentary. “The current bull market is officially 101 months old, which might sound old (and it is), but remember that bull markets don’t die of old age, they die of excesses.”

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“The central bankers of the world have dumped $30 trillion into the global economy over the last eight years and we’ve got 2% growth and change..”

Who’s Pulling The Strings? (Ren.)

Feierstein cited the Resolution Trust debacle as an example of what should have happened. The Trust was declared insolvent as a consequence of the 1980s Savings and Loans Crisis and up to 300 bankers were jailed. “This is what should have happened this time around, instead of taking hundreds of trillions of dollars taxpayer’s money and placing the taxpayer at incredible peril and just added liquidity to the markets,” he said. “Giving more money to an insolvent institution is not the solution. You cannot pay your way out of debt with borrowed money. It’s not going to cure the underlying problem of insolvency.” This is why Feierstein refers to the entire global economy as a Ponzi scheme. “The amount of debt in the global financial system is a Ponzi scheme because the United States government has over $240 trillion in debt which is more than three times global GDP.

That’s the sum of all goods and services produced with zero consumption for three years. We’ll never pay out the debt that’s owed.” Feierstein says the government has tried to replace consumer demand with debt and printed money and consumers haven’t come back into the market. “That’s why we’ve got a huge government that thinks they can control everything and price action manipulating volatility to unrealistically low levels,” he said. “They think the consumer will eventually come back but they won’t because the jobs have disappeared and the unemployment rate which we’ve spoken about before is a lie. It’s not 4.3%, it’s closer to 20% because you’ve got people who aren’t participating in the workforce. And that’s probably over 100 million people in America.” Financial times journalist, Rana Foroohar says consumers are all tapped out.

“Credit is what we do to sort of keep middle class voters happy,” she said. “We’re tapped out.” The good news and the bad news is that when the next financial crisis comes the US government will not have as much firepower to throw at it. “The central bankers of the world have dumped $30 trillion into the global economy over the last eight years and we’ve got 2% growth and change,” she said. “It’s pathetic.” Feierstein said it is important to highlight how derivative products have contributed massively to this problem. “When I say there is too much leverage, basically derivative products allows financial institutions and investors to create 100 to 1 leverage. You put up $1 to control $100, or $500 dollars in assets. Think about that on a big scale. If you take $1 million you can control something worth $100 million, or even $500 million depending upon how you gear the leverage ratio.

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Art Cashin tells a story.

144 Years Ago A Panic Shut Down The Stock Market For The First Time (Cashin)

“[O]n Saturday, September 20, 1873, for the first time in its history, the NYSE closed in response to a panic. (The word circuit breaker had not been invented yet….er…..neither had circuits.) A week or more before, one of the most renowned firms in American finance and especially U.S. Treasury auctions came under a cloud of suspicion. The firm was Jay Cooke & Company. And, on most continents, it was seen as a key player. After all, its aggressive style had made it the key underwriter for the billions of Treasury bonds issued during and after the Civil War. (Contemporary competitors had shied back fearing that deficit spending had gotten out of control.) Anyway, the concern about in this key brokerage firm only confused the market at first. But as this day approached, there were hints that the problems would spread to other brokers. On the 18th, liquidation of equities showed up at the ‘first call.’

For most of its first century of existence, the NYSE was a ‘call market.’ The chairman, or other senior officer, would call out the name of one of the listed issues. Brokers who had an interest in that ‘issue’ would arise from their ‘seats’ and begin to bargain with any other brokers arisen from their ‘seats’. When transactions ended in that issue (assuming they were not all buyers), brokers returned to their ‘seats’ and the chairman called the next issue on the roll. When the last issue was called, the session officially ended. There were two sessions each day. […] So, here they were. Rumors surfaced that, perhaps some other brokers were involved and the first call on the 18th turned soft. The second call turned soggy. Prices were down and with no on-going after market; all you could do (as the banks did) is await the next call.

The morning call on the 19th was messy and the afternoon call was just a disaster. Outside, in a heavy rain, crowds gathered on Wall Street to withdraw securities and money from brokers. By the morning of the 20th anyone who was in the phone book (if there had been one at the time) was rumored to have been impacted by the problem. So, naturally the morning call on Saturday the 20th was a disaster. So much so that the Exchange opted to close until the crisis calmed (skipping the P.M. call). Close they did and for a lot more than one ‘call.’ But, but perhaps because banks and investors naturally needed some means of evaluating holdings, they reopened about ten days later. However, the rumors would not go away and liquidations and defaults continued. The history books call it the Panic of 1873. And, it put the American economy in a tailspin for years. (Nearly 10,000 businesses failed.)”

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Until recently, Chinese hardly borrowed at all. Now, debt is the only way to keep up.

China’s Dangerous House Price Boom Is Spreading (BBG)

Hefty mortgages have pushed up Chinese household debt, reducing their room for maneuver should income growth stall, according to recent research by Gene Ma, chief China economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington. In general, it’s debt that’s the warning sign. As developers and households become more leveraged, the risk is that a price downturn doesn’t remain contained within the property market. “The high leverage will amplify the damage to the economy if a property bust happens,” said Bloomberg Intelligence economist Fielding Chen. “The shock wave will be passed onto the entire financial system, and losses will be greater,” he said. Once home prices tumble, about 40% of Chinese banks will be hit hard, according to a recent research note from Ping An Securities.

Analysts have argued that the debt load in the Chinese property market is far from a carbon copy of the situation in Japan’s bubble era before its bust in the 1990s, nor is it similar to the sub-prime crisis in the U.S. a decade ago. With down payment requirements of at least 20% for first purchases and as much as 70% for second homes, China’s household mortgages still stand at relatively safe levels, said Wang Qiufeng, an analyst at China Chengxin International in Beijing. Ping An Securities also argues that the odds of a property crash happening in the near term are very small. But as household debt-to-income ratios have risen almost to levels seen in advanced economies, the potential impact on the economy of a popping bubble would be considerable.

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Abenomics is (was) an attempt to force people into spending. That scares them into not spending. It doesn’t come any simpler.

Japan’s “Deflationary Mindset” Grows (ZH)

After being force-fed more stimulus than John Belushi, and endless rounds of buying any and every asset that dares to expose any cracks in the potemkin village of fiat folly, Japan remains stuck firmly in what Abe feared so many years ago – a “deflationary mindset.” As Bloomberg reports, cash and deposits held by Japanese households rose for 42nd straight quarter at the end of June as the nation’s consumers continued to favor saving over spending. The “deflationary mindset” that the Bank of Japan is battling to overcome was also evident in the money laying idle in corporate coffers, which stayed near an all-time high, according to quarterly flow of funds data released by the BOJ on Wednesday. Still, as Bloomberg optimistically notes, with the economy expanding much faster than its potential growth rate, greater inflationary pressures could be on the way, which may prompt a shift in behavior by consumers and companies… or not!

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Musical chairs.

Greece Considers Bond Swap As It Looks To Bailout Exit (R.)

Greece is considering swapping 20 small bond issues for four or five new ones, government sources said, as it prepares to exit its international bailout and resume normal financing operations. The country has been surviving on rescue funds since 2010 and is anxious to draw a line under its bailout phase next year. The government is considering a swap that would consolidate the secondary market into a few benchmark issues, replacing 20 separate bonds with a face value of around 32 billion euros, said officials familiar with the proposal. “We are planning to proceed with some debt management actions … to improve liquidity and tradeability,” one senior government official said. Officials said the move was still under discussion and did not say when it might happen, adding that bondholders had yet to be sounded out.

The 20 bonds were issued in 2012 in a voluntary scheme whereby private bondholders took a 53.5% haircut on their investments. It was the world’s biggest debt restructuring involving bonds with a total face value of 206 billion euros. Major holders included banks and pensions funds in Greece and abroad. Two years later in 2014, Greece made two forays as part of a plan to regain full bond market access. This time the plan is more modest but would represent a major step toward for bigger debt issues. Greece issued a five-year bond in July, and investors that bought the new bond are already making a profit of about 1.5% since the beginning of the year. Greece’s borrowing costs have fallen sharply this year back to pre-crisis levels, as investors see the prospect further bailouts diminishing as well as signs of economic improvement.

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Wouldn’t that be something.

Abbas Says Trump May Have Mideast ‘On the Verge’ of Peace Deal

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s diplomatic efforts in the Mideast give him confidence that the region is “on the verge” of peace. Abbas said his government has met with U.S. diplomats more than 20 times since Trump took office in January. “If this is an indication of anything, it indicates how serious you are about peace in the Middle East,” Abbas said through a translator at a meeting with the U.S. president during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “I think we have a pretty good shot, maybe the best shot ever,” Trump said. “I certainly will devote everything within my heart and within my soul to get that deal made.” “Who knows, stranger things have happened,” he added. “No promises, obviously.”

Trump met with Abbas two days after a similar meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where the U.S. president said he was hopeful Israelis and Palestinians would be able to come to a peace agreement during his presidency. The president recently dispatched his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to the region in a bid to restart peace talks. Kushner was joined by Jason Greenblatt, the president’s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. The White House is trying to take advantage of a period of relative calm following violent clashes earlier this summer over Israeli security arrangements at the Jerusalem shrine known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, said a senior administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

Trump has said he’s hopeful Kushner can help restart a peace process that has made little headway over the past 25 years. He made addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an early priority, hosting both Abbas and Netanyahu at the White House during the opening months of his presidency and visiting Israel during his first international trip as president. The last round of U.S.-led talks, a pet project of former Secretary of State John Kerry, broke down three years ago amid mutual recriminations.

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How does a country, state, territory survive without power for half a year?

4-6 Months To Restore Puerto Rico Electricity After Hurricane Maria (NBC)

Hurricane Maria is likely to have “destroyed” Puerto Rico, the island’s emergency director said Wednesday after the monster storm smashed ripped roofs off buildings and flooded homes across the economically strained U.S. territory. Intense flooding was reported across the territory, particularly in San Juan, the capital, where many residential streets looked like rivers. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the entire island shortly after 12:30 a.m. ET. Yennifer Álvarez Jaimes, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s press secretary, told NBC News that all power across the island was knocked out. “Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés said at a news briefing. [..] Maria, the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm near the town of Yabucoa just after 6 a.m. ET.

But it “appears to have taken quite a hit from the high mountains of the island,” and at 11 p.m. ET, it had weakened significantly to a Category 2 storm, moving away from Puerto Rico with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, the agency said. [..] “Extreme rainfall flooding may prompt numerous evacuations and rescues,” the agency said. “Rivers and tributaries may overwhelmingly overflow their banks in many places with deep moving water.” San Juan San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC that the devastation in the capital was unlike any she had ever seen. “The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Yulín said, adding: “We’re looking at four to six months without electricity” in Puerto Rico, home to nearly 3.5 million people. “I’m just concerned that we may not get to everybody in time, and that is a great weight on my shoulders,” she said.

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Nice math, but many questions.

Global Mass Extinction Set To Begin By 2100 (Ind.)

Planet Earth appears to be on course for the start of a sixth mass extinction of life by about 2100 because of the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere, according to a mathematical study of the five previous events in the last 540 million years. Professor Daniel Rothman, co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Centre, theorised that disturbances in the natural cycle of carbon through the atmosphere, oceans, plant and animal life played a role in mass die-offs of animals and plants. So he studied 31 times when there had been such changes and found four out of the five previous mass extinctions took place when the disruption crossed a “threshold of catastrophic change”. The worst mass extinction of all – the so-called Great Dying some 248 million years ago when 96 per cent of species died out – breached one of these thresholds by the greatest margin.

Based on his analysis of these mass extinctions, Professor Rothman developed a mathematical formula to help predict how much extra carbon could be added to the oceans – which absorb vast amounts from the atmosphere – before triggering a sixth one. The answer was alarming. For the figure of 310 gigatons is just 10 gigatons above the figure expected to be emitted by 2100 under the best-case scenario forecast by the IPCC. The worst-case scenario would result in more than 500 gigatons. Some scientists argue that the sixth mass extinction has already effectively begun. While the total number of species that have disappeared from the planet comes nowhere near the most apocalyptic events of the past, the rate of species loss is comparable. Professor Rothman stressed that mass extinctions did not necessarily involve dramatic changes to the carbon cycle – as shown by the absence of this during the Late Devonian extinction more than 360 million years ago.

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Sep 072017
 
 September 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


St. Maarten seen through the eye of Irma

 

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)
Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)
Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)
Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)
New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)
Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)
China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)
Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)
Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)
Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)
Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

 

 

Too early to say much of anything. Barbuda is gone. So is much of St. Martin. Close to uninhabitable.

If Irma hits Puerto Rico anywhere near full force, that would be exceedingly dramatic. Ditto for Haiti, Miami. This has just started.

NOAA Hurricane Hunters flight director Richard Henning on CNN: “Irma “is actually getting stronger. … You can’t overhype this storm”.

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)

Nearly every building on the island of Barbuda has been damaged and almost 900,000 people have been left without power in Puerto Rico as the Category 5 Hurricane Irma continues its journey towards mainland US. About 60 percent of Barbuda’s roughly 1,400 people were left homeless, Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, told the Associated Press news agency, when the eye of the storm passed almost directly overhead early on Wednesday. “Either they were totally demolished or they would have lost their roof,” Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighbouring island. “It is just really a horrendous situation.” Browne said roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and recovery will take months. A two-year-old was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, he said.

Puerto Rico was buffeted by powerful winds and heavy rain as authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands already devastated by the storm. The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. But as the storm moved west, it devastated the small islands in its path. Significant effects were reported on St Martin, an island split between French and Dutch control. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. The US National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds would fluctuate, but the storm would probably remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it moves past just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and touches Cuba on Friday night.

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“Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea..”

Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)

President Donald Trump forged a surprising deal with Democrats in Congress on Wednesday to extend the U.S. debt limit and provide government funding until Dec. 15, embracing his political adversaries and blindsiding fellow Republicans in a rare bipartisan accord. Trump, living up to his reputation for unpredictability, met at the White House with congressional leaders from both parties and overruled Republicans and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who wanted a longer-term debt-limit extension rather than the three-month Democratic proposal the president embraced. “We could have done a one-year deal today,” Mnuchin told reporters aboard Air Force One later in the day en route back to Washington from an event in North Dakota where Trump spoke about taxes.

Mnuchin said Trump chose a short-term deal to keep his options open on possibly raising military funding later this year, suggesting a longer-term government funding deal might have blocked that. Trump is very focused on military spending, “particularly with what’s going on in North Korea and other parts of the world today,” Mnuchin said. “The president wasn’t willing to give up his need for additional military spending.” If passed by the Republican-led Congress, the three-month agreement would avert an unprecedented default on U.S. government debt, keep the government funded at the outset of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and provide aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey. “It was a really good moment of some bipartisanship and getting things done,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said. Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea that would “play politics with the debt ceiling.”

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Curious timing. Note that Reuters has fully entered the anti-Trump echo chamber.

Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)

U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, a veteran central banker who helped set the course for modern monetary policy, said on Wednesday he will step down from his position in mid-October, potentially accelerating President Donald Trump’s opportunity to reshape the direction of the central bank. In a letter to Trump, Fischer, 73, said he was resigning for personal reasons effective on or around Oct. 13, eight months before his term as vice chair expires in June. In the letter, Fischer said jobs growth had returned to the United States and that “steps to make the financial system stronger and more resilient” had been taken – actions that may now be weakened by the Trump administration.

His departure leaves the seven-person board of governors with as few as three sitting members, depending on whether and when the Senate confirms Trump nominee Randal Quarles to the role of vice chair for supervision, a job distinct from Fischer’s vice chairmanship. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination on Thursday. The White House said it had no immediate comment on Fischer’s departure or on the timing for filling his spot or other positions at the Fed. Though the Fed often operates with fewer than its full complement of seven governors, it has never dipped as low as three. Fischer’s earlier-than-expected departure intensifies the urgency for Trump to decide how deeply he wants to overhaul U.S. monetary policy. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires in February. While Trump has spoken approvingly of her performance he has also kept the door open to naming his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, or someone else, to the job.

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He thinks he’s taken all he’s going to get.

Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)

Deutsche Bank chief executive John Cryan has called on the European Central Bank to change course on providing cheap money, warning he sees price bubbles in stocks, bonds and property. “The era of cheap money in Europe should come to an end – despite the strong euro,” Cryan told a room full of bankers in Frankfurt on Wednesday, a day before the ECB’s governors meet to discuss policy. Low interest rates, money printing and a penalty charge for hoarding cash have been at the heart of attempts by the central bank to reinvigorate the 19-country euro zone economy in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. But the policy, which has seen the ECB print more than €2 trillion ($2.4 trillion) so far, has been politically divisive, prompting fierce criticism from famously thrifty Germans.

It has also imposed a heavy cost on still fragile banks, turning deposits into a hot potato that many would rather avoid so as not to pay charges to their central bank for storing them. The head of Germany’s largest commercial bank warned of the fallout from cheap money, cautioning against using the strong euro as a justification for printing more. “We are now seeing signs of bubbles in more and more parts of the capital market,” he said. Cryan also said Frankfurt was the most natural location as a financial hub as banks move from London after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – ahead of Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam. “There is only one European city which can fulfil these requirements and that city is Frankfurt,” he said, pointing to Frankfurt’s supervisory authorities, law firms, consultancies and airport.

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Multiple papers have been leaked in recent days. They won’t be the last.

New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)

The EU will risk heightening tensions with the UK on Brexit by publishing five combative position papers in the coming days, including one that places the onus on Britain to solve the problem of the Irish border, according to documents leaked to the Guardian. The Irish document shows that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will call on the UK to work out “solutions” that avoid the creation of a hard border and guarantee peace on the island. The leaks come a day after the Guardian obtained a draft memo showing the British government’s position on post-Brexit EU migration, which has been denounced as “completely confused”, “economically illiterate” and “a blueprint on how to strangle London’s economy”. The Ireland paper is one of five due to be published by the European commission in the coming days. Each is dated 6 September and was drawn up by Barnier’s article 50 taskforce in Brussels.

Together, the papers lay bare the complexity of disentangling Britain from the European Union. Each paper is focused on withdrawal day, 29 March 2019, delving into technical minefields not dealt with during the referendum campaign. EU proposals include:
• A demand – likely to inflame Brexiters – for the UK to legislate for the “continued protection” of special foods such as Parma ham and feta cheese, as well as French burgundy and Spanish cava. Brussels wants to ensure that more than 3,300 food and drink products are protected from British copycats after Brexit.
• Ensuring that any goods in transit on Brexit day would be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. In effect, British companies and the British government would be liable to fines from Brussels for breaking EU VAT and customs rules.
• A warning to the government that it must guarantee EU data protection standards on classified EU documents. If not, the EU wants these documents erased or destroyed.
• Asking Britain not to discriminate against EU companies which are carrying out state-funded infrastructure projects that began before Brexit day.

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How to spell deflation.

Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)

Debt serves as a regulator of economic growth and is the focus of ill-advised fiscal and monetary policy. It is no coincidence that no matter what economic topic we explore, debt is usually a central theme. Illustrated in the chart below is the actual trajectory of total U.S. debt outstanding (black) through March 2017 and a calculated parabolic curve (red). The parabolic curve uses 1951 as a starting point and a quarterly 1.82% compounding factor to create the best statistical fit to the actual debt curve. If we start with the $434 billion of debt outstanding on December 1951 and grow it by 1.82% each quarter thereafter, the result is the gray line. If debt outstanding continues to follow this parabolic curve, it will exceed $60 trillion by the first quarter of 2020, or nine quarters from now.

Many economists point to the stability of debt service costs as a reason to ignore the parabolic debt chart. Despite rising debt loads, falling interest rates have served as a ballast allowing more debt accumulation at little incremental cost. While that may have worked in the past, near zero interest rates makes it nearly impossible to continue enjoying the benefits of falling interest rates going forward. Importantly, social safety net obligations, demographics, and political dynamics argue that debt growth is likely to continue accelerating as implied by the chart above. Without interest rates falling in step with rising debt burdens, debt service costs will begin to rise appreciably.

The power of compounding, extolled by Albert Einstein as the eighth wonder of the universe, is as damning in its demands as it is merciful in its generosity. Barring negative interest rates, debt service costs will be an insurmountable burden by 2020. However, if the debt trajectory slows as it did in 2008 that too will bring about painful consequences. In other words, all roads lead to trouble.

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“China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad..”

China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)

China is increasingly desperate for foreign investment. Yet foreign companies are less and less interested in what it has to offer. How this problem gets resolved may be one of the most important questions facing China’s economy. After China joined the World Trade Organization, in 2001, overseas investors couldn’t wait to jump in. Foreign direct investment grew at an annualized rate of 10.8% from 2000 to 2008. Enticed by China’s market size and development capacity, companies were willing tolerate almost any kind of restriction. They turned over intellectual property; entered into joint ventures as junior partners, essentially training their eventual competitors; and accepted restricted access to wide swathes of the economy. Since the financial crisis, however, things have changed.

Wages in China have risen by an average of 11% a year, making it less attractive for outsourcing. Despite years of complaints, intellectual property theft hasn’t abated (just ask Michael Jordan, who had to wage a four-year court battle to get ownership of his own name in China). Add in an increasingly hostile business environment, and it’s not surprising that overseas companies are losing enthusiasm. Since 2008, utilized foreign direct investment has increased by an average rate of only 4% a year. According to quarterly balance-of-payment data, FDI has amounted to only $55 billion this year through June. The last time China’s mid-year inflows were that low was in 2009, the year after the financial crisis. This could have serious economic consequences.

Due to shady invoicing – which many firms use to evade capital controls – the money flowing into China through its trade surplus has shrunk. From 2010 through 2014, banks reported net settlement inflows from goods trade of nearly $1.7 trillion. Since January 2015, net settlement by banks has amounted to only $278 billion, while the official trade surplus is $1.3 trillion. For a country that relies on capital accumulation to sustain growth, this is a significant problem. Making matters worse, China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad, which is China’s main method of advancing its foreign-policy objectives.

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All on red.

Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)

Apple will launch its next-generation iPhone (expected to be called the iPhone 8 or the iPhone Edition) on September 12, and this chart from Guggenheim Securities analyst Robert Cihra gives you a good idea of the giant headache Apple needs that new phone to solve. The graph is interesting because it shows Apple’s business in a seldom-seen way: It charts only the revenue growth of the company, broken out by product. The chart does a good job of showing how Apple’s various product lines have increasingly stalled over the years. In each of the last four years, Apple had one or more major product lines with shrinking sales. In 2016, that came to a head, and Apple’s overall revenue went into decline for the first time ever.

Note that in 2016, Apple’s worst year, the only division growing revenues was Services — apps, content, and software in iTunes. The stakes for iPhone 8 and its kindred models — iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus — couldn’t be higher. If they don’t grow revenues, then the company as a whole doesn’t grow. The task facing Apple is not trivial. As this chart from Deutsche Bank shows, the iPhone tends to grow more slowly than the smartphone market as a whole — and the smartphone market has flatlined.

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Spain threatens criminal charges for people seeking self-determination.

Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)

Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a law on Wednesday (Sep 6) paving the way for an independence referendum on Oct 1 which is fiercely opposed by Madrid, setting a course for Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades. The looming showdown comes three weeks after militant attacks in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and a seaside resort which killed 16 people and wounded more than 120. The law was adopted with 72 votes in favour and 11 abstentions after 12 hours of often stormy debate in the regional assembly. Lawmakers who oppose independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain quit the chamber before the vote. After the law was passed, separatist lawmakers, who have a majority in the assembly, sang the Catalan anthem, “Els Segadors”, which recalls a 1640 revolt in the region against the Spanish monarchy.

Lawmakers approved the bill despite a February ruling by Spain’s Constitutional court declaring it would be unconstitutional. Shortly after the law was passed the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and the rest of his cabinet signed a decree calling the referendum, presenting a show of unity in the face of threats of legal action by Madrid, which deems the plebiscite illegal. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said before the law was passed that the government had asked the Constitutional Court to declare “void and without effect the agreements adopted” by the Catalan parliament. She also denounced the regional assembly’s agreement to quickly vote on the bill with little debate as an “act of force” characteristic of “dictatorial regimes”. At the same time, public prosecutors announced they would seek criminal charges for disobedience against the president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and other Catalan officials for allowing the vote on the referendum law.

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Macron can only do what Merkel allows him.

Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will make Greece the launchpad for a major policy speech on the future of Europe as he starts his first official trip to the country on Thursday. From the dramatic setting of the ancient Pnyx in Athens, the French president is expected to outline his vision for the continent in what is being called his most important overseas address since taking office in May. Amid the rocky hills of the Pnyx beneath the Acropolis, the speech will focus on the virtues of democracy as the European Union – and Greece – finally show signs of economic revival. “It will be a message of confidence in Greece but also a European symbolic message, given that in many ways Greece has been a symbol of Europe’s crisis,” said an Élysée Palace source. “The restart of Greece is the restart of the eurozone.”

It is a measure of the significance the Greek government is attaching to the visit that Macron is making the address from such an august setting. From the earliest days of Athenian democracy, the Pnyx was a meeting place for popular assemblies. In more modern times its use has been limited to the rare photo op. The young president will be the first French leader to speak from it, in what Greeks are also calling a subliminal message of hope. Macron has been criticised at home for his carefully choreographed media appearances evoking the grandeur of eras past, and has seen his approval ratings drop dramatically. But officials say the rich symbolism of Macron’s Athens speech will underscore the argument that, despite its battle to stay in the eurozone and keep bankruptcy at bay, Greece remains at the heart of Europe’s tradition and history.

“We see it is as a very important visit,” said the deputy minister of economy and development, Stergios Pitsiorlas. “We are very much hoping it will not only deepen economic cooperation but also herald a change in the political dynamic in the EU which for so long has been dominated by a single state, Germany.” France has stood by Greece, often defending it in fraught negotiations, since international creditors, led by Berlin, were forced to come to the debt-stricken country’s rescue issuing the first of three bailouts in return for tough reforms in May 2010. Macron, a former economy minister, has long advocated debt relief for Athens – echoing the view of its leftist-led government that without it the Greek economy can never fully recover.

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While politicians on all sides cheer the ‘recovery’.

Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

The economic crisis continues to plague Greek households struggling too make ends meet – month in, month out. A survey conducted by Nielsen shows a decline in consumption and therefore the plight of thousands of families. Greeks cut on essential goods like milk and bread. The drop in the category of milk in the organized retail market reached 8.6% in the first half of 2017. Sales of essential consumer goods continue to drop, according to a Nielsen survey of the Greek market. Sales of milk, bread and alcoholic beverages are among the goods that suffer most. In the first half of 2017 the drop in the sale of milk reached 8.6%, while sales of packaged bread shrank by 5.3%. Sales of alcoholic beverages also recorded significant losses, as whiskey sales dropped by 6.8% over the same period.

Overall, retail trade lost 1.1% in value in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. More pronounced downward trends were recorded in personal care products at 4.4%, and household goods at 3.5%. Sales of deodorants and diapers dropped by 7.3% and 7.2% respectively. In household goods, chlorine dropped by 8.9% and kitchen paper towel by 7.7%. The only positive trend in all sectors was in fresh / bulk products where sales increased by 2.0%. An earlier Nielsen survey has shown that food sales in Greece have dropped by 18 percent since 2009, when the current economic crisis begun. In 2009, food sales reached a record high, totalling 13.15 billion euros. However, as Greece entered the first bailout program in 2010, the demand for food items started to drop. The decrease was also attributed partly to the closing down of small grocery and convenience stores..

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Sep 062017
 
 September 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Edward Hopper Summer evening 1947

 

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)
Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)
The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)
Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)
Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)
UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)
Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)
Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)
Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)
The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)
Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)
European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)
Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

 

 

Tropical storm José is close behind, and the next one, Katia, is forming in the Gulf. Prayers. The Saffir-Simpson scale doesn’t go to 6, or Irma would be that. 5++ for now.

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the north-east Caribbean on Tuesday night local time, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend. At the far north-eastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early on Wednesday. Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.” The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4. Other islands in the path of the storm included the US and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people. US president Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80m), said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.

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‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’

Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)

The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns. The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”. “The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says. “This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.

“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.” The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows. “Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.” LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.

“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says. The report largely sheets the blame home to Australia’s financial regulators, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. “ASIC and APRA have failed to protect borrowers from predatory and illegal lending practices,” it says. “Although ASIC has no official ‘duty of care’, APRA does, and will have some serious questions to answer in relation to systemic criminality within the mortgage market committed by the financial institutions they regulate. The evidence strongly suggests the regulators have done nothing to combat white-collar criminality in the mortgage market.”

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Because the world doesn’t know what it is.

The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)

The Great Recession may be over, but eight years later we can still see the deep scars and unhealed wounds it left on the global economy. In an attempt to prevent an unpleasant revisit to the Stone Age, global governments have bailed out banks and the private sector. These bailouts and subsequent stimuli swelled global government debt, which jumped 75%, to $58 trillion in 2014 from $33 trillion in 2007. (These numbers, from McKinsey, are the latest, but it’s fair to say they have not shrunk since.) There’s a lot about today’s environment that doesn’t fit neatly into economic theory. Ballooning government debt should have brought higher – much higher – interest rates. But central banks bought the bonds of their respective governments and corporations, driving interest rates down to the point at which a quarter of global government debt now “pays” negative interest.

The concept of positive interest rates is straightforward. You take your savings, which you amass by forgoing current consumption — not buying a newer car or making fewer trips to fancy restaurants — and lend it to someone. In exchange for your sacrifice, you receive interest payments. With negative interest rates, something quite different happens: You lend $100 to your neighbor. A year later the neighbor knocks on your door and, with a smile on his face, repays that $100 loan by writing you a check for $95. You had to pay $5 for forgoing your consumption of $100 for a year. The key takeaway: negative and near-zero interest rates show central banks’ desperation to avoid deflation. More important, they highlight the bleak state of the global economy. In theory, low- and negative interest rates were supposed to reduce savings and stimulate spending.

In practice, the opposite has happened: The savings rate has gone up. As interest rates on their deposits declined, consumers felt that now they had to save more to earn the same income. Go figure. Some countries resort to negative interest rates because they want to devalue their currencies. This strategy suffers from what economists call the fallacy of composition: the mistaken assumption that what is true of one member of a group is true for the group as a whole. As a country adopts negative interest rates, its currency will decline against others — arguably stimulating its export sector (at the expense of other countries). But there is absolutely nothing proprietary about this strategy: Other governments will do the same, and in the end all will experience lowered consumption and a higher savings rate.

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Draghi seeks to protect Europe’s biggest banks, but he can’t. Not anymore.

Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)

The European Central Bank may not have as much flexibility left in its bond-buying program as Mario Draghi insists. As the Governing Council kicks off discussion about the future of its asset purchases, the question that will loom large is how much wiggle room policy makers have to extend their 2.3 trillion-euro program ($2.7 trillion). Not much, according to two economists. They believe the ECB’s decision to wind down bond buying next year will be a matter of necessity rather a choice. “Bond scarcity is increasing in more and more countries,” says Louis Harreau, an ECB strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris. “The ECB will be forced to reduce its QE regardless of economic conditions, simply because it has no more bonds to purchase.”

But working out how much space the central bank still has is fiendishly hard. That’s because the asset-purchase program is like a three-dimensional game of chess spread over bonds from 18 euro-area states. The 19th member, Greece, is excluded from the program. The first rule the ECB could trip over is the one that prohibits the accumulation of more than 33% of debt from a single country. Germany could hit this mark as early as spring if the current pace of purchases is maintained, says Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer. It’s long been a red line for Draghi and revisiting it now when the program is awaiting a review at the European Union’s highest court could be particularly tricky.

Yet some rules of the program are more malleable, giving the ECB potential leeway. The euro-area central banks have quotas to meet in buying each nation’s debt based on the size of their economies. But they can deviate from those capital-key guidelines and have done so for months now. A good example is Germany, where debt-buying last month hit the lowest level since the program started more than two years ago. According to Harreau, the ECB could deviate from the capital key by a total of €5 billion a month, twice the amount they do now. That could ease the strain for some countries, but would still require the program to be wound down by the end of next year, he says.

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By the time Brexit is reality, they’ll need to lay them off anyway.

Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)

Frankfurt and Dublin are emerging as the clear favorites for post-Brexit relocation among U.K.-based banks, according to a top official at Germany’s central bank. “From the discussions I have, it is my clear impression that Dublin and Frankfurt are the two cities where there is most interest (from City lenders). We have received quite a number of applications,” Andreas Dombret, an executive board member at the German Bundesbank, told CNBC on Tuesday. “We encourage the banks to finalize their thinking, especially the ones that have not done so, and to really think where they want to move and how they want to move … Let’s all not try to walk through the same narrow door in the 11th hour,” he added. Britain’s financial services industry has been quietly preparing for Brexit given that it’s likely to lose its EU passporting rights – these are special licenses that allow U.K.-based banks to sell their services across the whole of the EU.

The negotiations between London and Brussels are still ongoing and it remains unclear how many employees will have to be moved from London to other European cities. At the moment, the disruption appears to be minimal compared to the overall size of the industry. But there are clear winners from the exit of some jobs from London with Frankfurt and Dublin perceived to be the top destinations for institutions that wish to continue working with clients across the EU. When asked whether vulnerable European banks could trigger a systemic crisis across the continent, Dombret said that such a prospect “doesn’t keep me up at night.” “I’m not that worried about a systemic crisis at all. There are regions, there are sectors and there are certain banks in certain countries which are more exposed than others but it is not a system wide or country wide issue,” he said.

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An event that shapes an entire nation is negotiated by just one segment of its population. Not even a majority at that.

UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit planning suffered a double blow as a top European Union official doubted that trade talks will start next month and the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge key legislation. The EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told German lawmakers that she’s skeptical officials will be able to begin discussing a trade deal in October, as they had hoped, according to two people present at the briefing. Her warning emerged as Labour announced it will seek to block May’s plan for a post-Brexit legal regime in London. May also has to contend with a leak of a draft plan for new immigration rules, which would end the free movement of workers on the day Britain leaves the EU, and impose restrictions on all but highly skilled workers from the region.

The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, said immigration should not just benefit the migrants, but “make existing residents better off.” The fresh trouble at home and abroad exposes how hard May is finding it to extricate the U.K. from the EU just days after the latest round of negotiations ended in acrimony with the two sides at odds over how much Britain should pay when it quits the bloc. [..] The EU has said it will not shift to discussing the sweeping new free-trade agreement that the U.K. wants until “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues – including the financial settlement, the rights of citizens and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Labour is challenging the government’s argument that with a shrinking amount of time available, ministers should be handed the power to revise aspects of EU law without full parliamentary scrutiny. As May has no majority in Parliament, she’d be vulnerable to rebels from her own Conservative side, and some Tories, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, have already expressed reservations about this aspect of the bill. If amendments to the bill mean ministers have to get parliamentary approval for each regulation, they risk being held up by constant roadblocks.

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In the hands of Congress now.

Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night said he would “revisit” the Obama-era policy shielding hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation in six months if Congress cannot legalize it. It is unclear what action Trump would take if he decided to again address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that he said he would end Tuesday with a six-month delay. However, his tweeted comment appears to cloud his view on the issue after a day in which he and his administration vehemently criticized President Barack Obama’s authority to implement the policy. Trump’s decision set up a potential rush for lawmakers to pass a bill protecting so-called dreamers before the Trump administration’s deadline. It is unclear if the GOP-led Congress, members of which voted to sink similar legislation in the past, can do so in the near future as it faces multiple crucial deadlines to approve legislation.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, Trump said he looks forward “to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to finally address all of these issues in a manner that puts the hardworking citizens of our country first.” “As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans,” Trump said. Trump allies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged him to end DACA, arguing it will be difficult to defend in court. “Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said Tuesday in announcing the move.

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“They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned that the escalating North Korean crisis could cause a “planetary catastrophe” and huge loss of life, and described US proposals for further sanctions on Pyongyang as “useless”. “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he told reporters in China. “It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.” On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date. The underground blast triggered a magnitude-6.3 earthquake and was more powerful than the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war. Putin was attending the Brics summit, bringing together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Speaking on Tuesday, the final day of the summit in Xiamen, China, he said Russia condemned North Korea’s provocations but said further sanctions would be useless and ineffective, describing the measures as a “road to nowhere”. Foreign interventions in Iraq and Libya had convinced the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that he needed nuclear weapons to survive, Putin said. “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged … We all know how this happened and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. “They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

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History does talk. Jimmy Carter was replaced with “We came, we saw, he died.”

Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)

The 1994 agreement was the United States’ response to a regional political crisis that began that year when North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear states to agree never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Although it had no nuclear weapon, North Korea was producing plutonium, an action that almost led the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against its plutonium facility. That war was averted when Jimmy Carter made a surprise trip to Pyongyang and met with North Korea’s founder and leader at the time, Kim Il-sung (he died a few months later, and his power was inherited by his son, Kim Jong-il). The framework was signed in October 1994, ending “three years of on and off vilification, stalemates, brinkmanship, saber-rattling, threats of force, and intense negotiations,” Park Kun-young, a professor of international relations at Korea Catholic University, wrote in a 2009 history of the negotiations.

In addition to shutting its one operating reactor, Yongbyon, the North also stopped construction of two large reactors “that together were capable of generating 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year,” according to Leon V. Sigal, a former State Department official who helped negotiate the 1994 framework and directs a Northeast Asia security project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Most important for the United States, it remained in the NPT. In exchange for North Korea’s concessions, the United States agreed to provide 500,000 tons a year of heavy fuel oil to North Korea as well two commercial light-water reactors considered more “proliferation resistant” than the Soviet-era heavy-water facility the North was using. The new reactors were to be built in 2003 by a US/Japanese/South Korean consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO. (The reactors, however, were never completed).

[..] First, the Agreed Framework led North Korea to halt its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program for over a decade, forgoing enough enrichment to make over 100 nuclear bombs. “What people don’t know is that North Korea made no fissible material whatsoever from 1991 to 2003,” says Sigal. (The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in 1994 that the North had ceased production of plutonium three years earlier.) “A lot of this history” about North Korea, Sigal adds with a sigh, “is in the land of make-believe.” Second, the framework remained in effect well into the Bush administration. In 1998, the State Department’s Rust Deming testified to Congress that “there is no fundamental violation of any aspect of the framework agreement”; four years later, a similar pledge was made by Bush’s then–Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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“Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth..”

The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)

These are not the bad guys. The bad guys are the ones refusing to respect the sovereignty of North Korea or any other nation under the sun. The bad guys are the ones invading sovereign nations at will and slaughtering civilians with explosives dropped from flying killing machines. The fact that something so simple and so obvious is not universally known in America speaks to the phenomenal efficacy of its corporate media propaganda machine. Because of that propaganda machine, Americans sincerely think that the bad guys are the tiny little nations that America bullies in proxy conflicts to maintain global hegemony. They’re watching Star Wars and cheering for the stormtroopers.

Because of the neoconservative American supremacist doctrine that the US power establishment has espoused, America has given itself the authority to intervene in any government’s affairs at any time and for any reason. This doctrine of American supremacy is founded on the belief that the United States was selected by destiny to lead the world when it won the Cold War, a divine right of sorts to dominion over the entire planet. This is the real evil. The North Koreans aren’t the bad guys, and the South Koreans want to get along with them. They’re sick of being in a constant state of war, they want dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea by a nearly four to one margin, and they staged large protests against America’s missile defense system which at one point mobilized 8,000 riot police to remove protesters from a South Korean THAAD site.

These are the people who are actually putting their lives on the line with Seoul’s close proximity to the DMZ, and they want peace and de-escalation. They should be allowed to have that, but their US-backed government is talking about bringing American tactical nukes back to the Korean Peninsula. [..] Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth, throughout their schooling and by every screen they interact with throughout their day; it’s a testament to their good will that the elites are forced to put on this Scooby Doo haunted house song and dance every time.

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The Mussolini kind.

Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)

The time for rhetorical reservations is over. Things have to be called by their name to make it possible for a co-ordinated democratic reaction to be initiated, above all in the public services. Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies. Neoliberalism is a form of economism in our day that strikes at every moment and every sector of our community. It is a form of extremism. Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.

I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought. The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy. The austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service. The nihilism that results from this makes possible the dismissal of universalism and the most evident humanistic values: solidarity, fraternity, integration and respect for all and for differences.

There is no place any more even for classical economic theory: work was formerly an element in demand, and to that extent there was respect for workers; international finance has made of it a mere adjustment variable. Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as depicted accurately in George Orwell’s 1984. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernisation of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernisation of social security in action.

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The EU seeks to forcefully redefine ‘sovereignty’, like it did in Greece. That will not end well. Even if these countries gave in and admitted refugees, how would they be treated?

European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)

The EU’s top court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge by eastern European members over the bloc’s mandatory refugee quota program. The ruling means that Hungary and Slovakia could face fines if they refuse to abide by the quota system. The ruling is a victory for EU immigration policy, which has divided the bloc as nearly 1.7 million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary argue the mandatory quota system violates their sovereignty and threatens their societies. The legal challenge was also backed by Poland, which alongside Hungary has not taken in any asylum seekers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have only taken in a few dozen asylum seekers. Only 24,000 of 160,000 refugees from frontline Mediterranean states like Greece and Italy have been transferred to other states under the EU’s refugee burden sharing policy agreed to in 2015.

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Because they have farmland to spare?

Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

China will expand its agricultural use of environment-damaging plastic film to boost crop production even as authorities try to curb soil pollution, a government scientist said. Some 1.45 million metric tons of polyethylene are spread in razor-thin sheets across 20 million hectares (49 million acres) — an area about half the size of California — of farmland in China. Use of the translucent material may exceed 2 million tons by 2024 and cover 22 million hectares, according to Yan Changrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The plastic sheets, used as mulch over 12% of China’s farmland, are growing in popularity because they trap moisture and heat, and prevent weeds and pests. Those features can bolster cotton, maize and wheat yields, while enabling crops to be grown across a wider area.

“The technology can boost yields by 30%, so you can image how much extra production we can get — it can solve the problems of producing sufficient food and fiber,” Yan said in an interview at his office at the academy’s Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture. The downside is that polypropylene film isn’t biodegradable and often not recycled. Potentially cancer-causing toxins can be released into the soil from the plastic residue, known locally as “white pollution,” which is present at levels of 60-to-300 kilograms (132-to-661 pounds) per hectare in some provinces. [..] Regrettably, there are no viable alternatives to polyethylene that possess the same agronomic advantages. That means farmers are compelled to keep using it to boost production and income, said Yan, as he flicked through slides showing pollution in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

The material enables crops to be grown in both drier and colder environments. In Xinjiang, which accounts for almost 70% of the country’s cotton output, plastic mulch is used on all cotton farms; and across 93% of the country’s tobacco fields, he said. The film reduces water demand by 20-to-30%.

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