Mar 312017
 March 31, 2017  Posted by at 7:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »

Ray K. Metzker Europe 1961


The true face of the EU is presently on display in Greece, not in Germany or Holland or France. Brussels must first fix what’s going wrong in Athens and the Aegean, and there’s a lot going wrong, before it can move on towards the future, indeed towards any future at all. It has a very tough job in Italy as well, which it’s trying hard to ignore.

You can’t say ‘things are fine in Germany’ or ‘Finland is recovering’ and leave it at that. Not when you’re part of a political -and to a large degree also economic- Union, let alone when you’re preaching tightening -and deepening- that Union. Not when parts of that Union are not only doing much worse than others, but are being thoroughly gutted. Then again, they’re being gutted by the very Union itself, so Brussels -and Berlin, The Hague, Paris- can’t very well feign surprise or deny responsibility.

Of course the European continent needs a ‘body’, some form of organization -and it needs it badly- that will allow its nations to cooperate, in 1000 different ways and fields, but the EU is not it. The EU is toxic. It is turning nations against each other as we speak. So much so that it’s crucial for these nations to leave the union and dismantle the entire operation before that happens, because there will be no opportunity left to do it once the toxicity takes over. The UK should count itself lucky for getting out while it did.


In its present setting, the EU has no future. And, more importantly, there is no mechanism available to change that setting. It should have been insisted on when the Union was founded, or in one of its various treaties after. This never happened, though, and that’s no coincidence, it was always about power. It’s therefore very hard -if not impossible- to see how the EU could be altered in such a way that it has a chance of survival.

Changing or tweaking a few rules is not going to do it. It’s the very Brussels power structure that is inherently faulty, and those parties that under this structure have the power, are the same ones who would have to change it (against their own interests). There is not a single decision concerning important -for instance economic- EU policies that can be taken against the wishes of Berlin. And Berlin demands what’s good for Germany, even if that is bad for other member states.

In order to save the EU, German representatives would have to vote against their own national interests. But they were elected specifically to protect those interests. There is no better way to illustrate the fatal flaw in the -construction of- the EU. Politicians are elected to protect the interests of their member states, and no member state can possibly prevail but Germany, because it’s the biggest. You can put any label you want on that, but democratic it’s not.


Germany and Holland are doing great, according to the most recent economic data. But how is that a reason to celebrate when Greece and Italy, among others, are not doing great at all? Why the difference? It’s not because they spend their money on “Schnaps und Frauen” as Eurogroup president and Dutch demissionary FinMin Dijsselbloem so poetically suggested.

It’s because the Eurogroup has not acted in their best interests. Because when their interests differed from the Dutch and German ones, the latter won out. Easily. And they always will under the present terms. As head of the Eurogroup, Dijsselbloem should represent the best interests of all member nations, not just Holland and Germany.

So should Angela Merkel as the de facto head of the EU. And it’s a very simple fact, easy to explain as well, that these interests can conflict. Obviously, that Merkel can call all the important shots in the EU should be a red, flashing, blinding and deafening alarm sign to start with. Germany should have taken a step back, back in 1960 or so, or even 1999, but for obvious reasons didn’t, and got away with that. It’s about power, it was never about Union other than to increase Power.

European politicians have not been able to make the ‘shift’ from nation to Union. Once they are faced with decisions that may harm their national interests, but benefit those of the EU as a whole, they must revert back, by default, to their own respective nationalistic priorities. Even if they are the ones who complain loudest about rising nationalism and protectionism.

And they’re -kind of- right, or justifiable. German, French, Dutch politicians are not accountable to Slovakian or Slovenian interests. That’s just extra, nice if it happens to coincide with what Berlin or Paris want, but not a priority in any sense of the word. Understandable, but lethal to the idea of a Union.



There is your fatal EU flaw. The whole common interest idea is just a sales pitch, always was. Which worked fine in times of growth. But take a look now. There’s nothing left. The rich north has used the poorer south to transfer its losses to. It’s not a union, it’s old-fashioned colonialism.

Europe’s political problem can perhaps best be expressed by comparing it to the US. Germany, plus to a lesser extent Holland, and France, have so much power that it would be like California and New York could call all important shots in America. But they can’t. Trump’s election shows that they cannot. Europe doesn’t even have that escape valve.

Delving a bit deeper, Kansas and California may be different cultures, but their people speak the same language, they watch the same TV shows, read the same news. Different cultures, but also part of the same culture. In Europe, most people have no idea who EU head Juncker is, or care, or how he got where he’s at.

Most likely know who Angela Merkel is, but they don’t know that she takes all the important decisions about their lives now. If they did, the pitchforks would be out in minutes. Luckily for Merkel, the EU is as opaque as can be,

90% of Europeans need subtitles to understand Juncker and Merkel. Or for some journalist to translate for them. Everyone in Kansas and California understands what Trump says, no matter how confused he may sound or what they may think of him. He’s American, and so are they. He’s one of them.

Needing subtitles to understand Juncker and Merkel may work in times of plenty. But in lean years, people don’t take kindly to that kind of thing, that someone you can’t even understand, and that you can’t hold to account, makes important decisions that impact you directly, as you see your jobs and savings and homes vanish and the future of your kids disappear.

That is asking for trouble. The EU has that trouble, and it will have much more of it. The only way out of that trouble is for the Union to dismantle itself. But as we can see in the whole Brexit story, that would involve so many interested parties giving up on so many perks that feed them, politicians, businesses, what have you, that none of it would ever happen voluntarily.

The EU has become a farcically intricate web of policies and laws and regulations, all built on fatally flawed foundations, that no citizen of sound mind feels connected with. The only way out of that is to literally get out. The UK got it right, whether they meant it or not.

The EU cannot be reformed because the only people -and the countries they represent- who could do the reforming, profit hugely from the present state of affairs, from not reforming. Fatal. Flaw.

As any builder can tell you who’s ever seen a structure on the verge of collapse: some can be saved and some of them you just have to let go. Raze ’em and start from scratch. Which in many cases, as builders know, is simply the best choice.

Please don’t get me wrong: of course there are tons of things the EU has done that are great, and right, and all that. But it’s the power structure that will inevitably kill it no matter what else it does that actually works. And that structure is beyond redemption.



Oct 072016

Andre Kertesz Bumper cars at amusement park in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris 1930

I read a lot, been doing it for years, about finance and affiliated topics (a wide horizon of them), which means I’ve inevitably seen a wholesale lot of nonsense fly by. But for some reason, and I think I know why, Q3 2016 has been gunning for a top -or bottom- seat in that regard, and Q4 is looking to do it one better/worse.

Apart from the fast increasingly brainless political ‘discussions’ that don’t deserve the name, in the US and UK and beyond, there are the transnational organizations, NATO, IMF, EU and all those things, all suffocating in their own hubris, things I’ve dealt with before in for instance Globalization Is Dead, But The Idea Is Not and Why There is Trump. But none of it still seems to have trickled through anywhere that I can see.

The end of growth exposes the stupidity and ignorance of all but (and even that’s a maybe) a precious few (of our) ‘leaders’. There is no other way this could have run, because an era of growth simply selects for different people to float to the top of the pond than a period of contraction does. Can we agree on that?

‘Growth leaders’ only have to seduce voters into believing that they can keep growth going, and create more of it (though in reality they have no control over it at all). Anyone can do that. So ‘anyone’ who’s sufficiently hooked on power games will apply.

‘Contraction leaders’ have a much harder time; they must convince voters that they can minimize the ‘suffering of the herd’. Which is invariably a herd that no-one wants to belong to. A tough sell.

Any end to growth will and must therefore inevitably change the structure of a democracy, any democracy, any society for that matter. It will lead to new leaders, and new parties, coming to the front. And it should not surprise anyone that some of these new leaders and parties will question the very structure of the democracy they are part of, if only because that structure is already undergoing change anyway.

The tight connection between an era of economic growth (and/or contraction) and the politicians that ‘rule’ during that era is reflected in Hazel Henderson’s“economics is nothing but politics in disguise”.


On the one hand you have the incumbent class seeking to hold on to their waning power, churning out false positive numbers and claiming that theirs is the only way to go (just more of it), and on the other hand you have a loose affiliation – to the extent there’s any affiliation at all- of left and right, individuals and parties, who smell change that they can use to their own benefit.

They just mostly don’t know how to use it yet. But they’ll find out, or some of them will. Blaming people and groups of people for what’s gone wrong will be a major way forward, because it’s just so easy. It’s another reason why the incumbents class, the traditional parties, will go the way of the dodo: they will be blamed, and rightly so in most cases, for the fall of the economic system.

That’ll be the number one criteria: if you’re -perceived as- part of the old guard, you’re out. Not at the flick of a switch, but nevertheless the rise of Trump and Farage and all those folks has been much faster than just about anyone would have thought possible until very recently.

They feed on discontent, but they can do so only because that discontent has been completely ignored by the ruling classes everywhere. Which has a lot to do with the rulers in all these instances we see pop up now still being well-off, while the lower rungs of societies definitely are not.

Moreover, if most people still had comfortable middle-class lives, the dislike of immigrants and refugees would have been so much less that Trump and Wilders and Le Pen and Alternative for Deutschland could never have ‘struck gold’. It’s the perception that the ‘new’ people are somehow to blame for one’s deteriorating living conditions that makes it fertile ground for whoever wants to use it.

And since the far left can’t go there, the right takes over by default. Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have brave ideas on redistribution of wealth, but there is still too much resistance, at the moment, to that, from the incumbent class and their voters, to have much chance of getting anywhere.

Of course the traditional right wing smells the opportunity too, so Hillary (yeah, she’s right wing) and Theresa May and Sarkozy and Merkel are all orchestrating sharp turns to the right, away from their once comfortable seats in the center. They all sense that power will not be emanating from the center going forward, and it’s power, much more than principles, that they are after.


But enough about politicians and their parties, who can and will all be voted out of power. Much harder to get rid of will be the transnational organizations, like the EU and IMF (there are many more), though they represent the ‘doomed construction’ perhaps even more than mere local or national power-hungries. The leading principle is simple: What has all the centralization led to? To today’s contracting economies.

To that end, let’s just tear into a recent random Bloomberg piece on this week’s IMF meeting, and the ‘expert opinions’ on it:

Existential Threat To World Order Confronts Elite At IMF Meeting

Policy-making elites converge on Washington this week for meetings that epitomize a faith in globalization that’s at odds with the growing backlash against the inequities it creates. From Britain’s vote to leave the EU to Donald Trump’s championing of “America First,” pressures are mounting to roll back the economic integration that has been a hallmark of gatherings of the IMF and World Bank for more than 70 years. Fed by stagnant wages and diminishing job security, the populist uprising threatens to depress a world economy that IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde says is already “weak and fragile.”

The calls for less integration and more trade barriers also pose risks for elevated financial markets that remain susceptible to sudden swings in investor sentiment , as underscored by recent jitters over Deutsche Bank’s financial health. “The backlash against globalization is manifesting itself in increased nationalistic sentiment, against the outside world and in favor of increasing isolation,” said Louis Kuijs at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong, a former IMF official. “If we lose consensus on what kind of a world we want to have, the world will probably be worse off.”

Oh, but we do have consensus, Louis: Ever more people don’t want what they have now. That too is consensus. And since you said that what it takes is consensus, we should be fine then, right?!

Also, I find the term ‘elevated markets’ interesting, even if I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean. I can only guess.

In its latest World Economic Outlook released Tuesday, the fund highlighted the threats from the anti-trade movement to an already subdued global expansion. After growth of 3.2% in 2015, the world economy’s expansion will slow to 3.1% this year before rebounding to 3.4% in 2017, according to the report, keeping those estimates unchanged from July projections. The forecasts for U.S. growth were cut to 1.6% this year and 2.2% in 2017.

“We’d like to see an end to the creeping protectionism in the world and more progress on moving ahead with free-trade agreements and other trade-creating measures,” Maurice Obstfeld, director of the IMF’s research department, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tom Keene. Lagarde said last week that policy makers attending the Oct. 7-9 annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank have two tasks. First, do no harm, which above all means resisting the temptation to throw up protectionist barriers to trade. And second, take action to boost lackluster global growth and make it more inclusive.

I can see how a vote against the likes of Hollande, Hillary or Cameron constitutes a “the backlash against globalization”. What I don’t see is how that has now become the same as the anti-trade movement. When did Trump express any feelings against trade? Against international trade deals as they exist and are further prepared, yes.

But those deals don’t define ‘trade’ to the exclusion of all other definitions. As for ‘protectionism’, that’s just a term designed to make something perfectly fine and normal look bad. Every single society on the planet should protect its basic necessities from being controlled by foreigners, either for money or for power.

Nothing good can come of relinquishing that control for any society, ever. There‘s not a thing wrong with protecting your control of your own water and food and shelter, and these are indeed things that should never be traded or negotiated in global markets.

So claiming that ‘do no harm’ equals NOT protecting your basics is nothing but a self-serving and dangerous kind of baloney coming your way courtesy of those people whose sociopathic plush seats and plusher bank accounts depend on your ongoing personal loss of control over what you need to survive.

It’s what any ‘body’ does that has reached the limits of its growth: it starts feeding on its host. Be it a cancerous tumor, the Roman Empire or our present perennial-growth driven economic models, they’re all the same same thing because they are fueled by the same -thoughtless- principle.

Ilargi: See that upward line at the end? Well, it’s an IMF growth ‘forecast’. Which are always so wrong, and always revised downward, that you must wonder if the term ‘forecast’ is even appropriate


Achieving even those modest objectives may prove elusive. Free trade has become polling poison in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton now criticizing a trade deal with Pacific nations, which isn’t yet ratified in the U.S., that she had praised when it was being negotiated. Republican challenger Trump has lashed out at Mexico and China, threatening to slap big tariffs on imports from both nations. Rattled by the U.K.’s June vote to leave the EU, European leaders know it may just be the start of a political earthquake that’s threatening the continent’s old certainties.

In case you didn’t catch it, “..the continent’s old certainties” is a goal-seeked term. Old in this case means not older than, say, 1950, if that. Look back 100 years and “the continent’s old certainties” dress in a whole other meaning.

Next year sees elections in Germany and France, the euro area’s two largest economies, and in the Netherlands. In all three countries anti-establishment forces are gaining ground. With growing resentment of the EU from Budapest to Madrid, policy makers have described the current surge in populism as the greatest threat to the bloc since its creation out of the ashes of World War II. There are also growing signs that the union and Britain are heading for a so-called “hard exit” that would sharply reduce the bloc’s trade and financial ties with the island nation. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said on Oct. 2 that she’ll begin her country’s withdrawal from the EU in the first quarter of next year.

I have addressed the misleading use of the term ‘populism’ before. In its core, it simple means something like: for, and by, the people. How that can be presented as somehow being a threat to democracy is a mystery to me. They should have picked another term, but settled on this one.

And in the western media consensus, it comprises anything from Trump to Beppe Grillo, via Hungary’s Orban and Nigel Farage, Spain’s Podemos, Greece’s Syriza and Germany’s AfD. All these completely different movements have one thing only in common: they protest the failed and fast deteriorating status quo, and receive a lot of support from their people for doing that.

Because it’s the people that bear the brunt of the failure, not the leadership; even Greece’s politicians still pay themselves a comparatively lush salary.

As for Britain, it’s the textbook example of utter blindness. Those who were/are well provided for, be they politically left or right, missed out on what was happening around them so much they had no idea Brexit was a real option. And in the 15 weeks since the Brexit vote, all anyone has done in the UK is seeking to blame someone, anyone but themselves for what they all failed to see coming.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of free trade over the past generation, China, still restricts access to many of its key industries, with economists worried about increasingly mercantilist policies. It’s also seeking a larger role in the existing global framework, with entry of the yuan into the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies on Oct. 1 the most recent example. An all-out trade war would be a disaster for China’s economy, with Trump’s threatened tariff potentially wiping off almost 5% of its GDP, according to a calculation by Daiwa Capital Markets.

John Williamson, whose Washington Consensus of open trade and deregulation was effectively the governing ethos for the IMF and World Bank for decades, said the 2008-09 financial meltdown had undercut support for economic integration. “There was agreement on globalization before the crisis and that’s one thing that’s been lost since the financial crisis,” said Williamson, a former senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics who is now retired.

The growing opposition to economic integration has been fueled by a sub-par global recovery. “Perhaps the most striking macroeconomic fact about advanced economies today is how anemic demand remains in the face of zero interest rates,” former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard wrote last week in a policy brief for the Peterson Institute.

These ‘experts’ seem to have an idea there’s something amiss, but they don’t have the answers. Which is impossible to come and say out loud if you’re an expert. Experts must pretend to know it all, or at least know why they don’t know. “There was agreement on globalization before the crisis”, and now it’s no longer there. That they see.

That they ain’t coming back, neither the agreement on it nor globalization itself, is a step too far for them. To publicly acknowledge, at least. That Blanchard expresses surprise about ‘anemic demand’ at the same time that interest rates are equally anemic is something else.

That both are two sides of the same coin, or at least may be, is something he should at least mention. That is to say, low rates induce deflation, though they are allegedly supposed to induce the opposite. Economists are mostly very misguided people.


The world economy is getting some lift after rising at an annual rate just shy of 3% in the first half of this year, according to David Hensley, director of global economics for JPMorgan. But much of the boost will come from a lessening of drags rather than from a big burst of fresh growth, said Peter Hooper at Deutsche Bank Securities, a former Federal Reserve official. Recessions in Brazil and Russia are set to come to an end, while in the U.S. cutbacks in inventories and in oil and gas drilling will wane.

Please allow me to chip in here. ‘Lessening of drags’ in a nonsense term. And so is the idea that “..recessions in Brazil and Russia are set to come to an end”. That’s all goal-seeked day-dreaming. Smoke or drink something nice with it and you’ll feel good for a few hours, but that doesn’t make it real.

“I’m characterizing the global economy as something akin to a driverless car that’s stuck in the slow lane,” said David Stockton, a former Fed official and now chief economist at consultants LH Meyer. “Everybody feels like they’re being taken for a ride but they’re pretty nervous because they can’t see anybody in control.”

I really like this one, because off the bat I thought Stockton had it all wrong. What I think is the appropriate metaphor, is not “a driverless car that’s stuck in the slow lane”, but one of those cars in a carousel at a carnival, a merry-go-round, where you can sit in it forever and you always end up in the same spot. And the only one who’s in control in the boss who hollers that you need to pay another quarter if you want to keep on riding.

Or, alternatively, and to stay at the carnival, it’s a bumper car, which allows you to hit other cars and get hit, but never to leave the rink. That’s the global economy. Not getting anywhere, and running out of quarters fast.

Still, for the first time in the past few years, Stockton said he sees a real upside risk to his forecast of continued global growth of around 3% next year. And that’s coming from the possibility of looser fiscal policy in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S., both Clinton and Trump have pledged to boost infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and the like. In Europe, rising populism provides a powerful incentive for governments to abandon austerity ahead of the elections next year – and perhaps beyond. Whether such a shift will be enough to mollify those who have been on the losing side of globalization for decades is debatable, however.

“The consensus in policy-making circles was that more trade meant better economic growth,” said Standard Chartered head of Greater China economic research Ding Shuang, who worked at the IMF from 1997 to 2010. “But the benefits weren’t shared equitably, so now we see a round of anti-globalization, anti-free trade. “Globalization will stall for the moment, until we can find a way to share those benefits,” he added.

Globalization is done. And while we can discuss whether that’s of necessity or not, and I continue to contend that the end of growth equals the end of all centralization including globalization, fact is that globalization was never designed to share anything at all, other than perhaps wealth among elites, and low wages among everyone else.

The EU and IMF have not delivered on what they promised, in the same way that traditional parties have not, from the US to UK to basically all of Europe. They promised growth, and growth is gone. They may have delivered for their pay masters, but they lost the rest of the world.

Anything else is just hot air. But that doesn’t mean they will hesitate to use their control of the military and police to hold on to what they got. In fact, that’s guaranteed. But it would only be viable in a dictatorial society, and even then.

We are transcending into an entirely different stage of our lives, our economies, our societies. Growth is gone, it went out the window long ago only to be replaced with debt. And that’s going to take a lot of getting used to. But there’s nothing that says we couldn’t see it coming.

Jun 222016
 June 22, 2016  Posted by at 1:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

Founding father of the EU, French economist and financier, Jean Monnet

I stumbled upon an article by Day of the Jackal author Frederick Forsyth, published last week in the Daily Express, that I think every Briton and European and everyone else should read. Forsyth doesn’t delve into the American pressure to form a European Union as a counterweight to the Soviet Union, he sticks with ‘founding father’ Jean Monnet and his reasoning behind the particular shape the Union took. And that is bad enough.

All Forsyth has to do is to quote from Monnet’s work, and I have to admit that while reading it I increasingly got the feeling that it’s quite remarkable that no-one, especially no journalist, does this. It’s there for everyone to see, but that means little if and when no-one actually sees it.

I have repeatedly talked about how the very structure of the EU self-selects for sociopaths and/or worse, but perhaps not enough about how that was deliberately built into the design. A feature not a flaw.

And I don’t think Monnet ever thought about how structures like that develop over time, in which the flaws in that design become ever more pronounced and the more severe cases of sociopathy increasingly take over the more powerful positions. A development that is well visible in present day Brussels.

For me, as I’ve written before, being here in Athens these days is plenty testimony to what the EU truly represents. Not only do we need to help feed many tens of thousands on a daily basis, depression levels are up 80% or so and life expectancy is plunging because proper health care is ever further away for ever more people in a country that not long ago had a health care system anyone would have been proud of.

That is the EU. And, yeah, Britons, do reflect on the NHS. Sure, you can argue it’s not the EU but Cameron and his people that are breaking it down, but it’s also Cameron who is pleading with you to vote to stay in the union.

If it can do this today to one of its member states, it will do it tomorrow to others, and more, if it sees fit. The benefits of the union flow to a select few countries, and to a select few within those countries. And ever fewer are selected as economic policies continue to fail.

It is frankly beyond me to see why anyone would want to be part of that. It’s not about Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage or George Osborne, that is just more deception. It’s about being ruled by midgets, as Forsyth puts it.

Here are some snippets from Frederick Forsyth’s article:

Birth of superstate: Frederick Forsyth on how UNELECTED Brussels bureaucrats SEIZED power

There was nothing base or inhumane about Jean Monnet, the French intellectual now seen as the founding father of the dream, nor those who joined him: De Gasperi the Italian, Hallstein the German, Spaak the Belgian and Schumann the Frenchman. In 1945 they were all traumatised men. Each had seen the utter devastation of their native continent by war and after the second they swore to try for the rest of their lives to ensure nothing like it ever happened again. No one can fault that ambition.

First Monnet analysed what had gone wrong and became obsessed by one single fact. The German people had actually voted the Austrian demagogue into the office of chancellor. What could he, Monnet, learn from this? What he learned stayed with him for the rest of his life and stays with us today in the EU.

The continent of Europe, from western Ireland to the Russian border, from Norway’s North Cape to Malta’s Valletta harbour, must be unified into one huge superstate. Politically, socially, economically, militarily and constitutionally.

There could be no war between provinces so war would be banished. (For a man who had witnessed the Spanish Civil War that was an odd conclusion but he came to it. And there was more).

As coal, iron and steel were the indispensable sinews of war machinery, these industries should be unified under central control. Thus would also be prevented any single state secretly rearming. That at least had the benefit of logic and the Coal and Steel Community was his first success.

But the big question remained: how should this Europe-wide single state be governed? Then he came to the conclusion that still prevails today. In the 1930s democracy had failed. In Germany, Italy and elsewhere desperate people had flocked to the demagogues who promised full bellies and a job in exchange for marching, chanting columns.

So democracy must go. It could not be the governmental system of the new Utopia. It was not fit to be. (He was already president of the Action Committee for the Superstate, his official title. There is nothing new about the word superstate).

Instead there would be a new system: government by an enlightened elite of bureaucrats . The hoi polloi (you and me) were simply too dim, too emotional, too uneducated to be safely allowed to choose their governments.

It never occurred to him to devise a way to strengthen and fortify democracy to ensure that what happened in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s could not happen again. No, democracy was unsafe and had to be replaced. (This is not propaganda, he wrote it all down).

He faced one last stigma as he sought the support of the six who would become the kernel of his dream: Germany (still ruined by war), France (fighting dismal colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria), Italy in her usual chaos, Holland, Belgium and tiny Luxembourg. How could the various peoples ever be persuaded to hand over their countries from democracy to oligarchy, the government of the elite? Let me quote from what he wrote:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the Super-state without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to federation.”

In other words he could not force them (he had no tanks). He could not bribe them (he had no money). He could not persuade them (his arguments were offensive). Hence the deliberate recourse to government by deception. Both nostrums continue to this day. Study the Remain campaign and the people behind it.

Almost without exception they are pillars of the establishment, London-based, accustomed to lavish salaries, administrative power and enormous privilege. None of this applies to 95% of the population. Hence the need for deception.

At every stage the Remain campaign has stressed the issue is about economics: trade, profits, mortgages, share prices, house values – anything to scare John Citizen into frightened submission. The gravy train of the few must not be derailed. Some of them are already sticking pins into a wax figurine of David Cameron for being soft enough to offer the proles a chance to recover their parliamentary democracy and thus their sovereignty.

Forsyth then continues with a bunch of typically British issues, and ends with:

[..] You have repeatedly been told this issue is all about economics. That is the conman’s traditional distraction. This issue is about our governmental system, parliamentary. Democracy versus non-elective bureaucracy utterly dedicated to the eventual Superstate.

Our democracy was not presented last week on a plate. It took centuries of struggle to create and from 1940 to 1945 terrible sacrifices to defend and preserve.

It was bequeathed to us by giants, it has been signed away by midgets.

Now we have a chance, one last, foolishly offered chance to tell those fat cats who so look down upon the rest of us: yes, there will be some costs – but we want it back.

Jun 082016
 June 8, 2016  Posted by at 2:18 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »

Fred Stein Evening, Paris 1934

Two months ago, there was a referendum in Holland about an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine. A relatively new Dutch law states that with an X amount of signatures a referendum can be ‘forced’ by anyone. Before, during and -especially- after the vote, its importance was -and is actively being- pooh-poohed by both the Dutch government and the EU. That in itself paints the issue better than anything else. Both the call and the subsequent support for the referendum stem from resistance against exactly that attitude.

The Dutch voted No to the EU/Ukraine agreement. It was with a turnout not much above the validity threshold, but a large majority of those who did vote agreed they want no part of the deal. This puts Dutch PM Rutte in an awkward position, he can’t be seen ignoring the population. Well, at least not openly. The EU can’t validate the agreement, and with Holland still holding the chair of the Union until July 1, a meeting on the topic has been pushed forward until the last weekend of June. With Rutte still in charge, but only just, and with the June 23 UK Brexit vote decided.

Brussels is frantically looking for a way to push through the agreement despite the Dutch vote, and likely some sort of bland compromise will be presented, which Rutte’s spin doctors will put into words that he can -with a straight face- claim honor the vote while at the same time executing what that same vote specifically spoke out against.

The EU will claim that since 27 other nations did ‘ratify’ the agreement, the 67% of the 32% of Dutch voters who bothered to show up should not be able to block it. As they conveniently fail to mention that nobody in the other 27 countries had a chance to vote on the issue. Just imagine a Brexit-like vote in all 28 EU nations on June 23. Brussels knows very well what that would mean. There’s nothing it finds scarier than people having an active say in their lives.


All this is a mere introduction for what is a ‘western world wide’ trend that hardly anybody is able to interpret correctly. It what seems to many to be a sudden development, votes like the Dutch one are ‘events’ where people vote down incumbents and elites. But these are not political occurrences, or at least politics doesn’t explain them.

In the US, there’s Trump and Bernie Sanders. In Britain, the Brexit referendum shows a people that are inclined not to vote FOR something, but AGAINST current political powers. In Italy, a Five-Star candidate is set to become mayor of Rome, something two Podemos affiliated -former- activists have already achieved in Barcelona and Madrid.

All across Europe, ‘traditional’ parties are at record lows in the polls. As is evident when it comes to Brexit, but what when you look closer is a common theme, anything incumbents say can and will be used against them. (A major part of this is that the ’propaganda power’ of traditional media is fast coming undone.)

The collapse of the system doesn’t mean people swing to the right, as is often claimed, though that is one option. It means people swing outside of the established channels, and whoever can credibly claim to be on that outside has a shot at sympathy, votes, power, be they left or right. Whatever else it is they may have in common, first and foremost they’re anti-establishment.


To understand the reason all this is happening, we must turn our heads and face economics. Or rather, the collapse of the economy. Especially in the western world – the formerly rich world-, there is no such thing as separate political and economic systems anymore (if there ever were). There is more truth in Hazel Henderson’s quote than we should like: “economics [..] has always been nothing more than politics in disguise”.

What we have is a politico-economic system, with the former media establishment clinging to (or inside?!) its body like some sort of embedded parasite. A diseased triumvirate.

With the economy in irreversible collapse, the politico part of the Siamese twin/triplet can no longer hold. That is what is happening. That is why all traditional political parties are either already out or soon will be. Because they, more than anything else, stand for the economic system that people see crumbling before their eyes. They represent that system, they are it, they can’t survive without it.

Of course the triumvirate tries as hard as it can to keep the illusion alive that sometime soon growth will return, but in reality this is not just another recession in some cycle of recessions. Or, at the very minimum this is a very long term cycle, Kondratieff style, . And even that sounds optimistic. The system is broken, irreparably. A new system will have to appear, eventually. But…

‘Associations’ like the EU, and perhaps even the US, with all the supranational and global entities they have given birth to, NATO, IMF, World Bank, you name them, depend for their existence on an economy that grows. The entire drive towards globalization does, as do any and all drives toward centralization. But the economy has collapsed. So all this will of necessity go into reverse, even if there are very powerful forces that will resist such a development.


Despite what the media try to tell you, as do the close to 100% manipulated economic data emanating from various -tightly controlled- sources, the economy is not growing, and it hasn’t for years; the only thing that grows is debt. And you can’t borrow growth.

You can argue in fascinating philosophical debates about when this started, arguments can be made for Nixon’s 1971 abolishment of the -last vestiges of- the gold standard anywhere up to Clinton’s 1998 repeal of Glass-Steagall, or anything in between -or even after.

It doesn’t matter much anymore, the specifics are already gathering dust as research material for historians. The single best thing to do for all of us not in positions of politico/economic power is to recognize the irreversible collapse of the system. Since we all grew up in it and have never known anything else, that is hard enough in itself. But we don’t have all that much time to lose anymore.

The whole shebang is broke. This can easily be displayed in a US nominal debt vs nominal GDP graph:



That’s really all you need to know. That’s what broke the shebang. It is easy. And even if a bit more of the ‘surplus’ debt had been allowed to go towards the common man, it wouldn’t have made much difference. We’ve replaced growth with debt, because that is the only way to keep the -illusion of- the politico-economic system going, and thereby the only way for the incumbent powers to cling on to that power.

And that is where the danger lies. It’s not just that the vast majority of westerners will become much poorer than they are now, they will be forced to face powers-that-be that face the threat of seeing their powers -both political and economic- slip sliding away and themselves heading towards some sort of Marie-Antoinette model.

The elites-that-be are not going to take that lying down. They will cling to their statuses for -literally- dear life. That right there is the biggest threat we all face (including them). It would be wise to recognize all these things for what they really are, not for what all these people try to make you believe they are. Dead seriously: playtime is over. The elites-that-be are ready and willing to ritually sacrifice you and your children. Because it’s the only way they can cling on to their positions. And their own very lives.

It may take a long time still for people to understand the above, but it’s also possible that markets crash tomorrow morning and bring the facades of Jericho down with them. Waiting for that to happen is not your best option.

Sep 302015
 September 30, 2015  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 30 2015

Marjory Collins 3rd shift defense workers, midnight, Baltimore April 1943

Equities On Course For Worst Quarter Since 2011 (FT)
September 30 Is Historically Worst Day Of The Year For Investors (MarketWatch)
‘Cold Fusion’ Is Citi’s Answer to Fading Central Bank Firepower (Bloomberg)
Loss Of Traction Puts Central Bank Mandates Under Scrutiny (Reuters)
Two Very Disturbing Forecasts By A Former Chinese Central Banker (Zero Hedge)
Jim Chanos on China: The Emperor is In His Underwear (Lynn Parramore)
Bundesbank Chief Warns Of Risks From Cheap Money (Reuters)
Investors Pull $40 Billion From Emerging Markets in Current Quarter (WSJ)
Traders Flee Emerging Markets at Fastest Pace Since 2008 (Bloomberg)
IMF Warns Of New Financial Crisis If Interest Rates Rise (Guardian)
World Set For Emerging Market Mass Default, Warns IMF (Telegraph)
Volkswagen Board Member: Staff Acted Criminally (BBC)
Volkswagen Spain Faces Criminal Complaint Over Emissions Tests (Bloomberg)
Volkswagen To Refit Cars Affected By Emissions Scandal (Reuters)
Obama Re-Defines Democracy – A Country that Supports US Policy (Michael Hudson)
Greek Crisis a Tragedy For Education System (BBC)
Frackers Could Soon Face Mass Extinction (Fortune)
Chinese Buyers Holding Back On ‘High-End’ New Zealand Property (NZ Herald)
Berlin To Curb Refugees As Merkel Faces Backlash (FT)
Risking Arrest, Thousands Of Hungarians Offer Help To Refugees (NPR)

Debt deflation.

Equities On Course For Worst Quarter Since 2011 (FT)

US and global equities are heading for their worst quarterly performance since 2011, with investors rattled by China’s economic slowdown, uncertainty over Federal Reserve policy and growing pessimism about corporate earnings. Adding to investors unease, the IMF on Tuesday warned that corporate failures were likely to jump in the developing world, after a borrowing binge in the past decade. With an array of sectors slumping since the start of July, beyond those directly influenced by the rout in commodity prices, the global equity bull run of recent years is now facing a major challenge. The S&P 500 has fallen 8.5%, the biggest decline since the third quarter of 2011. Previously high-flying sectors that led the market earlier this year, notably biotech and healthcare stocks, have fallen appreciably in recent weeks.

“The question now is are investors ready for the first down year since 2011…and the worst year since the “bad days of 2008”, said Howard Silverblatt, analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. In turn, global stock markets are poised for their worst quarterly showing since 2011, shedding more than $10tn in value. The FTSE Emerging Index has tumbled more than 21% this quarter, its worst showing since 2011, and the fifth-worst quarter this millennium. Investors have become increasingly unsettled by signs of weakening global growth and are now questioning the earnings outlook for US companies as the world’s largest economy is preparing to raise rates for the first time in nearly a decade. The US earnings season, which starts in two weeks, is shaping up as pivotal driver of sentiment, Mr Silverblatt said.

Analysts expect quarterly earnings will decline 4.6% year over year in the third quarter, and revenue to decline 3.3%, the third straight quarter of declines for top-line growth, according to the data provider, FactSet. US and global companies have sold record amounts of debt against the backdrop of a blockbuster year for mergers and acquisitions. M&A, equity capital markets, debt capital markets and syndicated lending produced fees of $16.5bn in the third quarter, the lowest total since banks billed $16.3bn in the final three months of 2011 when markets were gripped by the eurozone debt crisis. Under pressure from rising defaults linked to the energy sector, corporate bond prices are signalling broader weakness that reflects the downgrading of global growth prospects, notably for emerging markets.

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Oh well…

September 30 Is Historically Worst Day Of The Year For Investors (MarketWatch)

September has been tough for stock investors. But if history is any guide, the last day of September may deliver one more blow to already battered markets, according to the financial blog Bespoke. Looking at data as far as 1945, the S&P 500 has posted positive returns just 38% on the last day of September, making it one of the worst trading days of the year, according to Bespoke (as the included table illustrates). Earlier this month, financial blogger Ryan Detrick pointed out that the 38th, 39th and the 40th weeks of the calendar—which fall in September—tend to be the weakest of the year dating back to 1950.

September has marked a particularly rough stretch for the S&P 500 with only the week of Sept. 11 closing higher as China’s slowdown, global economic uncertainties, and lack of clarity on the timing of the Federal Reserve’s expected interest-rate hike have shaken investor confidence. According to FactSet, weekly performance in 2015 for the S&P 500 was among the worst in September. For the week, the benchmark stock-market index is off 2.3% so far, putting it on track for the second-worst week of the year after Aug. 21 when the benchmark tumbled 5.8%. If tomorrow’s trading action follows the historical trend, things could get worse for investors before they get better.

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Banks rule the world.

‘Cold Fusion’ Is Citi’s Answer to Fading Central Bank Firepower (Bloomberg)

If the world economy enters a downdraft, Steven Englander, global head of G-10 FX strategy at Citigroup, proposes a more revolutionary response, akin to the “helicopter money” once advocated by Milton Friedman. In what he calls “cold fusion,” politicians would cut taxes and boost spending. Central banks would then cover the resulting increase in borrowing by purchasing more bonds as part of a commitment to permanently expand their balance sheets. The easier fiscal policy would be covered by QE Infinity. “Politically it is difficult for central banks to outright endorse monetization of government debt, but faced with another slump and armed with ineffective policy tools, we expect that central banks will quickly give the wink and nod to fiscal measures,” Englander said in a report to clients last week.

The upshot would be greater purchasing power would be injected straight into the economy, increasing activity and inflation. Long-term bond yields would rise, yet short-term yields adjusted for inflation would turn negative. “Increasingly the absence of fiscal policy is viewed as one of the reasons for a less than satisfactory recovery,” said Englander. “With rates at zero, fiscal policy will be needed to offset any negative shock that hits global economies.” Michala Marcussen, head of global economics at Societe Generale SA in London, agrees. “In a risk scenario, we believe policy makers, faced with the abyss, would take the next step into unorthodox policy, namely fiscal expansion,” she said. “Clearly not the risk that bond markets have in mind.”

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“..relatively slow growth and over-reliance on cheap credit to cope with that funk has “zombified” global economies for years to come..”

Loss Of Traction Puts Central Bank Mandates Under Scrutiny (Reuters)

Growing anxiety that the world’s top central banks have lost control of their mission has intensified scrutiny of their mandates and independence from both political and investment circles. Far from soothing already nervy financial markets, the Fed’s decision not to raise interest rates in September raised more questions than it answered. The turbulent response of equity, commodity and emerging markets marks this as a rare, if not singular instance in recent years of markets reacting so negatively to an ostensibly dovish policy signal from the Fed. Chief among the questions is whether the world’s most influential central bank, along with many of its peers, is trapped at near zero interest rates as the economic cycle crests and inflation flatlines, due to a rapid cooling of China and other emerging economies and a commodity price slump.

The uncomfortable prospect of heading into another economic slowdown with no interest rate ammunition to fight the downturn is at the root of much that investment angst. “The relative paucity of the monetary policy toolkit increases the fragility of the expansion, with risks that an adverse shock could lead businesses and consumers to retrench and thereby transform a mid-cycle slowdown into something significantly worse,” wrote Citi chief economist Willem Buiter. Yet by subsequently insisting a rate rise was still on the cards this year, the Fed simultaneously removed any low-rates balm and confused many as to its ‘reaction function’. Just which of the global pressures that stayed its hand only two weeks ago – weakening China, emerging markets and commodity prices – will disappear again by year end?

And if the rise of the dollar is at least partly behind both those pressures and the below-target U.S. inflation rate, then surely every future push to raise rates will simply strengthen the currency again and re-ignite the same chain reaction. “You can’t run a independent, domestically-focused monetary policy in this environment,” said Salman Ahmed, chief strategist at asset managers Lombard Odier, adding that a major complication is the huge uncertainty internally at the Fed about just how the world’s second biggest economy, China, is actually performing. “What has happened is that central banks have lost control to calibrate monetary policy to only domestic economic data.” The Fed may be in the hot seat, but the Bank of England has a similar dilemma.

The Bank of Japan and ECB differ only in that there’s no domestic pressure yet to tighten policy. But their attempts to avoid deep deflation and reach explicit inflation targets seem to be similarly sideswiped by global rather than domestic developments. And that’s not changing any time soon. In a world that’s wound down very little of its overall indebtedness some seven years after the credit crash was supposed to launch a wave of ‘deleveraging’, relatively slow growth and over-reliance on cheap credit to cope with that funk has “zombified” global economies for years to come, Ahmed added. And in such a low growth world, political pressure to bring central banks into a more centrally-directed policy framework will only increase.

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“..the failure will have serious consequences on China’s financial stability..”

Two Very Disturbing Forecasts By A Former Chinese Central Banker (Zero Hedge)

Earlier today, Yu Yongding – currently a senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing but most notably a member of the PBOC’s Monetary Policy Committee from 2004 to 2006 as well as a member of China’s central planning bureau itself, the Advisory Committee of National Planning – gave a speech before the Peterson Institute, together with a slideshow. Since the topic was China’s debt, economic growth, corporate profitability, and since, inexplicably, it wasn’t pre-cleared by the Chinese department of truth, it was not cheerful. In fact it was downright scary. Among other things, the speech discussed:
• Capital efficiency – low and falling (capital-output ratio rising)
• Corporate profitability – has been falling steadily
• Share of finance via capital market – Very low
• Interest rate on loans – High
• Inflation rate – producer price Index is falling

A key observation was the troubling surge in China’s capital coefficient, first noted here two weeks ago in a presentation by Daiwa which also had a downright apocalyptic outlook on China, and wasn’t ashamed to admit that it expects a China-driven global meltdown, one which “would more than likely send the world economy into a tailspin. Its impact could be the worst the world has ever seen.” The former central banker also discussed the bursting of China’s market bubble. This, he said was created deliberately for two government purposes: 1) To enable debt-ridden corporates to get funds from the equity market, 2) To boost share prices to stimulate demand via wealth effect He admits this shortsighted approach failed and “to save the city, we bombed the city” adding that it brings “authorities’ ability of crisis managing into question.”

He also observes that the devaluation that took place on August 11 was the government’s explicit admission that its attempt to reflate an equity bubble has failed, and it was forced to find an alternative method of stimulating the economy. Of the CNY devaluaton Yu says quite clearly that it was simply to boost the economy: “In the first quarter of 2015 China’s capital account deficit is larger that than that of current account surplus” which is due to i) The Unwinding of Carry trade; ii) The diversification of financial assets by households; iii) Outbound foreign investment; and iv) Capital flight. And now that China has officially unleashed devaluation (which Yu believes should be taken to its logical end and the RMB should float) there are very material risks: “the implication of episode can be more serious than the stock market fiasco, with much large international consequences” and that “the failure will have serious consequences on China’s financial stability”

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“If you do dumb economic things, whether you’re capitalist, communist, or some hybrid, you ultimately pay the price.”

Jim Chanos on China: The Emperor is In His Underwear (Lynn Parramore)

[..] China is the only industrialized country that knows its annual GDP on Jan. 1 of that year. Because it’s planned. You can truly manufacture your growth. Now, you may end up with lots of white elephants and a banking system with lots of bad loans, and that’s the problem, whether you’re a closed system or an open system or somewhere in between (which is what I believe): a closed system with lots of leakage. At the end of the day, other countries have tried this model and it doesn’t really work that well. The Soviet Union and Japan, to some extent, in the late 80s, followed this model. If you do dumb economic things, whether you’re capitalist, communist, or some hybrid, you ultimately pay the price.

[..] We’re getting inexorably to a tipping point in China. What has made 2015 much different from 2010, other than magnitude (almost everything I saw in 2009-2010 is twice as big today: the banking system, the economy, debt to GDP), is that the veneer of technocratic excellence has been wiped away. Now the West sees that the problems. That was not the case in 2010. I was considered a crank, someone who had never been there, never spoken Mandarin. They said, you don’t know, these people are geniuses! Now I think we’ve begun to see that, no, they make the same policy mistakes that we make. They don’t always get it right.

The other thing that’s changed dramatically, and I think more ominously, is the rise of Xi Jinping, who is a much different leader than the previous two groups of party leaders. Under Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, China was open for business. As long as you don’t rock the political boat, you can go to Macau, buy your three Ferraris, have fun, make money. This is the new China. Then Xi comes in, and his first speech is a fiery speech in Guangdong Province, where he absolutely rips into the Soviet Union for being soft on Perestroika. He says, what were you guys thinking about? Why didn’t you put the troops on the street the first chance you got? That was his first speech.

One of the next things he did was – I know this sounds silly, but to me it was very telling — he told the auto show models to cover up. Think about that for a second. He truly said, they’re showing too much skin and this is an embarrassment to China. Cover up! He told the kids, go to bed earlier! I began to see that this guy is different. This guy really sees himself as father of China. Some might say that now he sees himself as an emperor. Sure enough, the cult of personality stuff started. He made the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) senior officers take an oath of personal loyalty to him. That’s very important. His nationalism, which was unmistakable and you couldn’t miss it by 2013-14, has also taken on a very anti-Western tone. Now, if there’s a problem with the stock market, it’s Western speculators. If there’s something going on, it’s the West’s fault.

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Weidmann wants everyone to be Germany. But that is no longer such a glorious prospect.

Bundesbank Chief Warns Of Risks From Cheap Money (Reuters)

The dip in oil prices will save German companies and individuals €25 billion this year, the head of the Bundesbank said on Tuesday, as he warned of the perils of keeping the cost of money too low. “The expansionary monetary policy should not go on for longer than is absolutely necessary,” Jens Weidmann told an audience near Frankfurt, saying the economic recovery in the 19-member euro zone was holding steady. The remarks from Weidmann illustrate the continued scepticism in Germany about the need to extend the ECB’s €1 trillion-plus money printing program.

While such opposition cannot prevent extra money printing, it can delay any such move. Weidmann, who also sits on the ECB’s policy-setting Governing Council, argued that cheap money, with borrowing rates at record low in the euro zone, risked that financial markets would ‘overdo it’. He also pointed to the threat that permanently low borrowing costs would keep ‘zombie’ companies afloat that should be out of business. Weidmann also criticized the negative impact of low interest rates on German savers, who he said earned a fraction of a percentage point of interest on their deposits.

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“Companies from developing countries quadrupled their borrowing to well over $18 trillion last year from around $4 trillion in 2004..”

Investors Pull $40 Billion From Emerging Markets in Current Quarter (WSJ)

Foreign capital is gushing out of emerging markets. Global investors are estimated to have yanked $40 billion from emerging-market stocks and bonds during the current quarter, the most for a quarter since the depths of the 2008 global financial crisis, according to the latest data from the Institute of International Finance. The retrenchment reflected growing tensions in some of the world’s once-highflying emerging economies, which are struggling with slower growth, substantial debt and plunging prices for commodities, which many of these economies rely on. In a report published on Tuesday, the IMF warned that emerging markets could brace for a rise in corporate failures as debt-laden firms find it harder to repay their loans and bonds as a result of sputtering growth and weakening currencies.

Companies from developing countries quadrupled their borrowing to well over $18 trillion last year from around $4 trillion in 2004, with Chinese firms accounting for a major share, according to the bank. Thanks to low interest rates in developed countries, many of the borrowings were conducted in hard currencies, such as the dollar and euro. Investor confidence in emerging markets was further shaken in the quarter by an epic stock-market crash in China, as well as Beijing’s botched efforts to prop up share prices. The selloff in emerging markets accelerated and rattled global financial markets after the Chinese central bank’s move to let its currency devalue in August fueled suspicions that China’s underlying economy might be faring worse than expected.

These concerns had a knock-on effect on commodities, driving prices down to levels not seen in six years. As the biggest buyer of many commodities from countries including Brazil, South Africa and Malaysia, China’s woes hurt these countries’ currencies. “Emerging markets are going to be a very difficult place to invest in for the next 12 to 24 months,” said David Spika, global investment strategist at GuideStone Capital, which oversees $10.7 billion in assets. Falling commodity prices hurt many emerging countries’ growth, leading to capital outflows and weakening their currencies, he said.

Many emerging countries rely on outside capital to finance their budget deficits, and the continuous outflow is already forcing some of these countries to devalue their currencies or dip into their foreign-currency reserves to defend their exchange rates. This quarter’s exodus was about evenly divided between equities and bonds, losing $19 billion and $21 billion, respectively, according to the IIF. The $40 billion outflow would rank the current quarter the worst quarter since the fourth quarter of 2008 when emerging markets saw outflows of about $105 billion.

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“It’s the trifecta of slowing investment growth, declining commodity prices and the strong dollar.”

Traders Flee Emerging Markets at Fastest Pace Since 2008 (Bloomberg)

Investors have pulled $40 billion out of developing economies in the third quarter, fleeing emerging markets at the fastest pace since the height of the global financial crisis. The quarterly outflow was the first since 2009 and the biggest since the final three months of 2008, when traders sold $105 billion of assets, according to the Institute of International Finance. The retreat came as data signaled faltering Chinese economic growth, commodity prices slumped and the Federal Reserve moved closer to an increase in the near-zero U.S. interest rates that have supported demand for riskier assets in developing nations. About $19 billion of the selloff was equities, with the remaining $21 billion in debt, the IIF said in a report Tuesday. There were outflows in all three months this quarter.

The MSCI Emerging Markets stocks benchmark has declined 20% in the past three months, on track for the biggest retreat in four years. Local-currency developing-nation bonds have lost 6.6% in dollar terms in the third quarter, according to Bank of America Corp. indexes, the biggest retreat on a quarterly basis since 2011. Currencies from Brazil to South Africa have tumbled, sending a gauge of 20 foreign-exchange rates to a record low. “The reaction we’re seeing is quite severe, but a lot of the damage has already probably taken place,” Brendan Ahern, managing director of Krane Fund Advisors LLC in New York, said by phone. “It’s the trifecta of slowing investment growth, declining commodity prices and the strong dollar.”

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Speaking in forked tongues.

IMF Warns Of New Financial Crisis If Interest Rates Rise (Guardian)

Rising global interest rates could prompt a new credit crunch in emerging markets, as businesses that have ridden the wave of cheap money to load up on debt are pushed into crisis, the International Monetary Fund has said. The debts of non-financial firms in emerging market economies quadrupled, from $4tn in 2004 to well over $18tn in 2014, according to the IMF’s twice-yearly Global Financial Stability Report. This borrowing binge has taken business debt as a share of economic output from less than half, in 2004, to almost 75%. China’s firms have led the spree, but businesses in other countries, including Turkey, Chile and Brazil, have also ramped up their debts — and could prove vulnerable as interest rates rise.

With the US Federal Reserve expected to raise interest rates in the coming months, the IMF warns that emerging market governments should ready themselves for an increase in corporate failures, as firms struggle to meet sharply higher borrowing costs. That could create distress among the local banks who have bought much of this new debt, causing them in turn to rein in lending, in a “vicious cycle” reminiscent of the credit crisis of 2008-09. “Shocks to the corporate sector could quickly spill over to the financial sector and generate a vicious cycle as banks curtail lending. Decreased loan supply would then lower aggregate demand and collateral values, further reducing access to finance and thereby economic activity, and in turn, increasing losses to the financial sector,” the IMF warns.

Its economists find that the sharp increase in borrowing has been driven largely by international factors, including the historically low interest rates and quantitative easing unleashed by central banks in the US, Japan and Europe, as they have sought to rekindle growth in the wake of the sub-prime crisis. “Monetary policy has been exceptionally accommodative across major advanced economies. Firms in emerging markets have faced greater incentives and opportunities to increase leverage as a result of the ensuing unusually favourable global financial conditions,” the IMF says.

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A deep dark hole lies right ahead.

World Set For Emerging Market Mass Default, Warns IMF (Telegraph)

The IMF has issued a double warning over higher US interest rates, which it said could trigger a wave of emerging market corporate defaults and panic in financial markets as liquidity evaporates. The IMF said corporate debts in emerging markets ballooned to $18 trillion last year, from $4 trillion in 2004 as companies gorged themselves on cheap debt. It said the quadrupling in debt had been accompanied by weaker balance sheets, making companies more vulnerable to US rate rises. “As advanced economies normalise monetary policy, emerging markets should prepare for an increase in corporate failures,” the IMF said in a pre-released chapter of its latest Financial Stability Report.

It warned that this could create a credit crunch as risks “spill over to the financial sector and generate a vicious cycle as banks curtail lending”. In a double warning, the IMF said market liquidity, or the ease with which investors can quickly buy or sell securities without shifting their price, was “prone to sudden evaporation”, particularly in bond markets, when the Federal Reserve started to raise interest rates. It said a steady growth environment and “extraordinarily accommodative monetary policies” around the world had helped to maintain a “high level” of liquidity. However, it warned that this was not the same as “resilient” liquidity that could support markets in time of stress.

Gaston Gelos, head of the IMF’s global financial stability division, said these factors were “masking liquidity risks” that could trigger violent market swings. “Liquidity is like the oil in an engine, when there’s too little of it, the machine starts stuttering,” he said. The IMF said an “illusion” of abundant liquidity may have encouraged “excessive risk taking” by some investors that could cause market ructions if many investors suddenly rushed to the exit. “Even seemingly plentiful market liquidity can suddenly evaporate and lead to systemic financial disruptions,” the IMF said. “When liquidity drops sharply, prices become less informative and less aligned with fundamentals, and tend to overreact, leading to increased volatility. In extreme conditions, markets can freeze altogether, with systemic repercussions.”

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Politicans and board members should draw their own consequences, not point to others. This guys is both.

Volkswagen Board Member: Staff Acted Criminally (BBC)

Olaf Lies, a Volkswagen board member and economy minister of Lower Saxony has told Newsnight some staff acted criminally over emission cheat tests. He said the people who allowed the deception to happen or who installed the software that allowed certain models to give false emissions readings must take personal responsibility. He also said the board only found out about the problems at the last meeting. About 11 million diesel engine cars are affected by the problem. Mr Lies told the BBC: “Those people who allowed this to happen, or who made the decision to install this software – they acted criminally. They must take personal responsibility.” He said: “We only found out about the problems in the last board meeting, shortly before the media did. I want to be quite open. So we need to find out why the board wasn’t informed earlier about the problems when they were known about over a year ago in the United States.”

He said the company had no idea of the total bill to sort out the engines and cover any legal costs arising: “Huge damage has been done because millions of people have lost their faith in VW. We are surely going to have a lot of people suing for damages. We have to recall lots of cars and it has to happen really fast.” He added that the company was strong and that rebuilding trust – and ensuring the majority of the 600,000 workers at the car giant were not blamed, was its priority. He added his apology to those already made by senior company figures and said: “I’m ashamed that the people in America who bought cars with complete confidence are so disappointed.” VW is working out how to refit the software in the 11 million diesel engines involved in the emissions scandal. Seat is the latest VW brand to reveal it, too, used the emission cheat device.

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Be good to see how different legal systems have different approaches.

Volkswagen Spain Faces Criminal Complaint Over Emissions Tests (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen AG’s three Spanish units and their chairmen are facing a criminal complaint stemming from its rigged emissions tests that accuses them of defrauding consumers and the tax authorities and damaging the environment. Manos Limpias, a public workers’ union that has pursued corruption allegations against high-profile figures in Spain including the king’s sister, filed the private suit with the National Court on Monday. The Spanish state could face a civil liability for failing to adequately supervise the automaker, according to a copy of the lawsuit seen by Bloomberg News. German prosecutors have already started a criminal probe of the car maker that will examine the role of former CEO Martin Winterkorn. Winterkorn resigned on Friday after a tumultuous week in which Europe’s biggest car manufacturer admitted to tampering with some diesel engines to cheat on U.S. emissions tests.

The complaint named Volkswagen Audi SA Chairman James Morys Muir, Volkswagen Navarra SA Chairman Ulbrich Thomas and Seat SA Chairman Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz. Volkswagen and its Seat unit have built more than 500,000 cars in Spain with the 1.6- and 2.0-liter diesel motors subject to the German investigation, Manos Limpias said in the lawsuit. Several models from Volkswagen’s other brands that are under investigation have also been sold to Spanish consumers. In addition, the German company has been claiming subsidies from the Spanish government since at least 2009 as an incentive to produce low emission cars. While Industry Ministry Jose Manuel Soria says Spain will ask Volkswagen to give back the subsidies, the government may also face a civil charges because it ordered Seat’s technical unit to conduct the emissions tests, Manos Limpias said in the document.

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“Volkswagen did not say how the planned refit would make cars with the “cheat” software comply with regulations..”

Volkswagen To Refit Cars Affected By Emissions Scandal (Reuters)

Volkswagen said on Tuesday it will repair up to 11 million vehicles and overhaul its namesake brand following the scandal over its rigging of emissions tests. New CEO Matthias Mueller said the German carmaker would tell customers in the coming days they would need to have diesel vehicles with illegal software refitted, a move which some analysts have said could cost more than $6.5 billion. In Washington, U.S. lawmakers asked the automaker to turn over documents related to the scandal, including records concerning the development of a software program intended to defeat regulatory emissions tests. In separate letters, leading Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee requested information from both Volkswagen and the EPA as part of an investigation into the controversy.

Europe’s biggest carmaker has admitted cheating in diesel emissions tests in the US and Germany’s transport minister says it also manipulated them in Europe, where Volkswagen sells about 40% of its vehicles. The company is under huge pressure to address a crisis that has wiped more than a third off its market value, sent shock waves through the global car market and could harm Germany’s economy. “We are facing a long trudge and a lot of hard work,” Mueller told a closed-door gathering of about 1,000 top managers at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters late on Monday. “We will only be able to make progress in steps and there will be setbacks,” he said. Volkswagen did not say how the planned refit would make cars with the “cheat” software comply with regulations, or how this might affect vehicles’ mileage or efficiency, which are important considerations for customers. It said it would submit the details to Germany’s KBA watchdog next month.

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Exactly what I was thinking listening to Obama. “We bring them democracy” has become a ridiculous line.

Obama Re-Defines Democracy – A Country that Supports US Policy (Michael Hudson)

In his Orwellian September 28, 2015 speech to the United Nations, President Obama said that if democracy had existed in Syria, therenever would have been a revolt against Assad. By that, he meant ISIL. Wherethere is democracy, he said, there is no violence of revolution. This was his threat to promote revolution, coups and violence against any country not deemed a “democracy.” In making this hardly veiled threat, he redefined the word in the international political vocabulary. Democracy is the CIA’s overthrow of Mossedegh in Iran to install the Shah. Democracy is the overthrow of Afghanistan’s secular government by the Taliban against Russia. Democracy is the Ukrainian coup behind Yats and Poroshenko. Democracy is Pinochet. It is “our bastards,” as Lyndon Johnson said with regard to the Latin American dictators installed by U.S. foreign policy.

A century ago the word “democracy” referred to a nation whose policies were formed by elected representatives. Ever since ancient Athens, democracy was contrasted to oligarchy and aristocracy. But since the Cold War and its aftermath, that is not how U.S. politicians have used the term. When an American president uses the word “democracy,” he means a pro-American country following U.S. neoliberal policies. No matter if a country is a military dictatorship or the government was brought in by a coup (euphemized as a Color Revolution) as in Georgia or Ukraine. A “democratic” government has been re-defined simply as one supporting the Washington Consensus, NATO and the IMF. It is a government that shifts policy-making out of the hands of elected representatives to an “independent” central bank, whose policies are dictated by the oligarchy centered in Wall Street, the City of London and Frankfurt.

Given this American re-definition of the political vocabulary, when President Obama says that such countries will not suffer coups, violent revolution or terrorism, he means that countries safely within the U.S. diplomatic orbit will be free of destabilization sponsored by the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and Treasury. Countries whose voters democratically elect a government or regime that acts independently (or even that simply seeks the power to act independently of U.S. directives) will be destabilized, Syria style, Ukraine style or Chile style under General Pinochet. As Henry Kissinger said, just because a country votes in communists doesn’t mean that we have to accept it. It is the style of “color revolutions” sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy.

In his United Nations reply, Russian President Putin warned against the “export of democratic revolution,” meaning by the United States in support of its local factotums. ISIL is armed with U.S. weapons and its soldiers were trained by U.S. armed forces. In case there was any doubt, President Obama reiterated before the United Nations that until Syrian President Assad was removed in favor of one more submissive to U.S. oil and military policy, Assad was the major enemy, not ISIL. “It is impossible to tolerate the present situation any longer,” President Putin responded. Likewise in Ukraine. “What I believe is absolutely unacceptable,” he said in his CBS interview on 60 Minutes, “is the resolution of internal political issues in the former USSR Republics, through “color revolutions,” through coup d’états, through unconstitutional removal of power. That is totally unacceptable.”

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Greece had an excellent education system for a very long time. Now that is gone too.

Greek Crisis a Tragedy For Education System (BBC)

When considering the effects of the debt crisis on Greece, most people probably think of long queues outside banks and protests in the streets. A less visible but perhaps further reaching outcome is that Greece’s education system has become one of the most unequal in the developed world. Although education in Greece is free, public schools are suffering from spending cuts imposed as a condition of the bailout agreements. In practice, over the last 30 years it has become increasingly necessary for students to pay for expensive private tuition to pass the famously difficult Panhellenic exams required to get to university. But with unemployment rising and salaries falling, many poor and middle-class families are struggling to pay for this extra tuition.

A World Economic Forum report this month ranked Greece last of 30 advanced economies for education because of the close relationship between students’ performance and their parents’ income. And a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens warns that losing talented students from poor backgrounds is a “national catastrophe” which could hinder Greece’s long-term economic recovery. Greece’s education system was designed around the principle of equality. Article 16 of the constitution guarantees free education at all levels and university admission is decided solely by performance in the nationwide Panhellenic exams. But the low quality of some public education in Greece, and the difficulty of the Panhellenic exams, has led to a parallel education system being set up.

The majority of students in Greece attend private classes called “frontistiria” or one-to-one tuition in evenings and weekends. In 2008, the year before the crisis, families with children in upper secondary education spent more than €950m on these lessons, which represented nearly 20% of these households’ expenditure – more than any other European country. “If a student does not attend frontistirio, he is a dead man for the exams,” said Dimitra Kakampoura, a 22-year-old student who took the Panhellenic exams in 2011.

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“Banks lend to oil exploration companies based on the value of their reserves. But they only audit the value of those reserves every October. Given how much oil prices have tumbled in the past year, many analysts expect banks to greatly reduce in the next month..”

Frackers Could Soon Face Mass Extinction (Fortune)

An analyst says one-third of the companies could be bankrupt by the end of next year. Doomsday may finally be coming to the fracking industry. Despite the big drop in oil prices in the past year, there have been relatively few bankruptcies in the energy industry. That may be about to change. James West, an energy industry analyst at ISI Evercore, says months of low activity have left many of the companies in the hydraulic-fracturing business either insolvent or close to it. He says as many as a third of the fracking companies could go bust by the end of next year. “This holiday will not be a time of cheer in the oil patch,” says West. So far oil and gas exploration companies, while cutting back somewhat, have continued to spend based on budgets set a year ago when oil prices were much higher.

But now West says the price of oil is catching up to them, and they may soon have to drastically cut back their spending on services. The catalyst is the banks. Banks lend to oil exploration companies based on the value of their reserves. But they only audit the value of those reserves every October. Given how much oil prices have tumbled in the past year, many analysts expect banks to greatly reduce in the next month how much they are willing to lend to oil and gas companies. Regulators, worried banks may face losses, have recently been pressuring banks to cut back their lending to oil and gas companies. On Friday, credit ratings firm Standard & Poors reported that its distressed ratio, which measures the%age of corporate borrowers that investors appear nervous may not be able to pay back their debt, had reached the highest level since 2011. The oil and gas sector accounted for the largest number of the distressed borrowers, 95 out of 270.

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Clueless Kiwis.

Chinese Buyers Holding Back On ‘High-End’ New Zealand Property (NZ Herald)

While some Chinese buyers are holding back on buying “high-end” property in Auckland, there is still demand for houses in the medium and lower end of the market, a Chinese-based real estate website says. hasn’t yet finalised its numbers for the third quarter of this year but still expects to see growth. It also predicts a massive increase in overseas investment from Chinese buyers of international property over the next few years. The Auckland housing market is cooling slightly and the boss of the city’s biggest real estate company has said Chinese property investors are disappearing from the auction room. Peter Thompson, of Barfoot and Thompson, attributes the the drop off to financial instability in China. “There are a lot less Chinese in the auction room at the moment and at the open homes,” he told the Herald on Monday.

“The market has changed and some of that is the Chinese buyers. There are more requirements in getting money out of China now and that is having an impact.”’s chief executive Simon Henry said he’d noticed a slow-down at the expensive end of the market. “We have some high-end buyers holding back since China announced a tightening of enforcement on the export of capital. “We haven’t yet crunched the numbers on the third quarter, but we believe they will still show growth over the second quarter,” Mr Henry said. “Mid-market and lower priced properties, like those bought for students, are still in demand.” Changes in the way Chinese investors can export capital were predicted to lead to a huge swell in money flooding into New Zealand, which Mr Henry said was a “good thing”. “It will lead to more than $100 million of new investment in New Zealand property over the medium to long term, as well as new investment in local business and industry.”

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Flip flopping with people’s lives.

Berlin To Curb Refugees As Merkel Faces Backlash (FT)

Berlin on Tuesday agreed measures aimed at curbing an unprecedented surge in migrants, including cuts to cash payments, as a backlash grew over the German government’s handling of the refugee crisis. The new laws are aimed at lifting some of the pressures on overworked local officials and reassuring voters that the government is in control of the migrant problem. Berlin wants the laws to take effect as soon as November. Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under mounting pressure, including from within her own CDU/CSU coalition, since she pledged to set “no upper limit” on the right to asylum and promised to accept all refugees from Syria. Officials expects 800,000 refugees this year, four times more than 2014.

In a surprise development, Joachim Gauck, German president, who is widely viewed as a liberal, on Sunday launched a thinly veiled attack on Ms Merkel’s handling of the crisis, saying: “Our reception capacity is limited even when it has not yet been worked out where these limits lie.” Cash handouts of €143 a month for a single person are seen as making Germany more desirable for migrants than other European states. Refugees will instead receive non-cash benefits, such as food vouchers. Cash payments for living expenses will largely be stopped for asylum-seekers living in official reception centres.

Berlin will also add Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro to a list of countries where would-be refugees can be safely returned in an attempt to staunch inflows of economic migrants from the western Balkans. Failed asylum-seekers will face more rapid removal procedures and big cuts in financial support. However, successful applicants will have quicker access to language courses to improve integration into society and the jobs market. Berlin pledged to double its refugee-linked support for regional and local authorities to 2 billion euros this year, rising to about €4 billion in 2016, assuming refugee inflows of 800,000 annually.

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There are good people everywhere. They’re just not in charge.

Risking Arrest, Thousands Of Hungarians Offer Help To Refugees (NPR)

Driving in rural, southern Hungary, especially at night, you’re likely to see people emerging from dark forests along the side of the road. They trudge along the highway’s narrow shoulder and sometimes flag down passing cars, asking for help. They’re migrants and refugees who’ve entered Hungary by the tens of thousands in recent months, mostly en route to Germany and other northern European countries. But it’s illegal for civilians in Hungary to help them get there. Hungarian law prohibits offering rides — even for free — to people who’ve entered the country illegally and without a visa. Another law grants Hungarian police and military extraordinary powers to search private homes if they suspect someone of harboring illegal migrants.

The laws, passed in stages earlier this year, target human traffickers, and have led to a few high-profile arrests. Back in August, it was in Hungary that 71 Syrian refugees were loaded into a northbound truck. They were found suffocated to death in the same truck, on the side of a highway in Austria, on Aug. 28. Hungarian police arrested four alleged smugglers. But the laws are also making well-intentioned volunteers think twice about helping — because they, too, could be prosecuted, fined or jailed. At a Migration Aid warehouse in downtown Budapest, volunteers stockpile crates of fruit and sleeping bags for refugees. Dozens of Hungarians stop by to help, including Gyorgy Goldschmit, who offers up his own home. His wife and child are going out of town for a few weeks and he says he has room for another family, if needed.

“My family is not going to be there, and I will be there – so it’s obvious that someone could come,” Goldschmit says. But Migration Aid can’t arrange it. Its directors understand Hungarian law. “Maybe they cannot help like this because that would be considered as helping illegally or trafficking,” Goldschmit says. “But I don’t care so much.” Like many Hungarians, Goldschmit is not afraid of prosecution. Thousands are helping. But it’s unclear how many more are dissuaded by these laws. It’s also unclear how aggressively the laws are being enforced. The highest-profile case so far involved a Hungarian man arrested in April after using a local ride-share website, through which fuel costs are shared, to give lifts to refugees.

He was acquitted after a months-long legal battle, but his case served as a well-publicized warning to anyone thinking of transporting migrants. “Basically, if I drive you across [the country] and you don’t have a visa, then I’m liable criminally,” says Marta Pardavi, a human rights lawyer with the Budapest branch of the Helsinki Committee. “We have advised volunteers doing this that there is a risk involved — the risk of a criminal procedure, of having to go to interrogations — and I think that risk is very real.”

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Sep 082015
 September 8, 2015  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Country store, Person County, NC Jul 1939

The Way of the Dragon (Beppe Grillo)
Sovereign Debt as Weapon: Subverting Democracy in Greece (Zoe Konstantopoulou)
China Has Spent $236 Billion Trying to Rescue Its Stocks (Bloomberg)
Draghi’s QE Dispenses Huge Losses to European Stock Markets (Bloomberg)
Europe To Sink Into Deflation, Triggering Next Round Of Global Market Crash (SI)
In A Quota System You Do Not Kick Cans Down The Road, But People (Münchau)
Hollande Readies Syria Air Strikes as Response to Refugee Crisis (Bloomberg)
US Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in Syria (NY Times)
Europe Seeks UN Blessing to Confront Human Smugglers in the Mediterranean (Lynch)
‘Stop Bombing, Start Resettling’: Former PM’s Plea To Australia (SMH)
How Neocons Destabilized Europe (Robert Parry)
Syrian Refugees In Hungary: ‘This Is The So-Called Developed Europe?’ (Guardian)
Cameron’s Offer Of 20,000 Syrian Refugees Over 5 Years Is Derisory (Ashdown)
Merkel Channels Bank Rescue as Germany Plans Refugee Fund (Bloomberg)
Hit By New Wave Of Refugees, Germany Warns EU Partners (Reuters)
Sweden’s PM Chides Europe’s Leaders as Refugee Crisis Deepens (Bloomberg)
At Least 10,000 Migrants To Be Ferried To Mainland Greece In Next 5 Days (AP)
Oil Falls More Than 3% On Oversupply, China Equity Losses (Reuters)
US Shale Oil Industry Hit By $30 Billion Outflows
A Dutchman ‘In Control’ Of The Greek Government (Enikos)
Writing Down €4.7 Billion In Bonds May Cost Greece €49 Billion (Bloomberg)
China’s Shift Away From Industry Drains Life From a Steel Town (WSJ)
Thomas Piketty To Advise Spain’s Anti-Austerity Party Podemos (Guardian)

“There are those who are right to call it ‘creditocracy'”

The Way of the Dragon (Beppe Grillo)

The Chinese slowdown must be worrying for the Eurozone but for now it doesn’t seem to be rushing to take corrective action – to avoid another event like that happening in 2008, as this time the countries would not be in a position to help out the banks. If double digit growth in China has been what’s kept world growth going, it’s legitimate to expect the current economic slowdown to spread to the world economy, considering, for example, that every year, China is consuming 10% of the world’s oil and more than half of the world’s copper and iron. Right now the value of the Euro is strengthening and that means its value has gone up by about half the amount it devalued in June last year. This cannot help Europe’s economy even because when considering China, China absorbs 3% of Italian exports and 6% of German exports.

Germany is the winning country in this currency war because it doesn’t need to be able to devalue its currency as it is operating with a currency that is much weaker than its own economy.

It thus doesn’t need to devalue as has happened in China because it’s already operating with a Euro that’s weak in relation to its economic fundamentals, and at the same time, it’s not obliged to revalue as happened for Switzerland at the beginning of the year. Apart from the importance of monetary sovereignty, the situation in China confirms another lesson: in a healthy economy the currency must be endogenous. That means that the optimal quantity of a currency for healthy economic growth cannot be decided by a “deus ex machina“ whether that happens to be Draghi or the commercial banks that tighten or loosen credit facilities as they see fit, but for a healthy economy the quantity depends on the demand for money and on the expectations of consumers themselves about their future income.

On the other hand, by pumping more money into the system by expanding credit from the banks and doping the consumers and the real estate markets after having anchored the exchange rate has historically been the best way to subjugate the people by using private debt to remove their opportunity of future growth, mortgaging the income of the generations to come to pay the bankers the interest on the current debt. There are those who are right to call it “creditocracy”. It was like that in Latin America after the various currencies were anchored to the US dollar. It was also like that in Greece and in the countries on the periphery of Europe where consumption was disproportionately buoyed up because of easy access to German savings guaranteed by the Euro. It’s happening in China after its currency was anchored to the US dollar.

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Zoe for president!

Sovereign Debt as Weapon: Subverting Democracy in Greece (Zoe Konstantopoulou)

On the 25th of January 2015, only seven months ago, the Greek people through general elections gave a clear and unequivocal mandate to government and to parliament to do away with these homicidal policies. Negotiations started. A special Committee of the Parliament was formed, called the Truth Committee on Public Debt, to conduct an audit and a legal assessment of the debt it issued a preliminary report last June. The report found that the state’s sovereign debt is illegal, illegitimate, odious and unsustainable. It found that the sovereign debt has been concluded through procedures which grossly violate constitutional law, parliamentary procedure and fundamental human rights and freedoms guaranteed under international law, thereby justifying the denunciation of the debt.

It found that creditors had been acting in bad faith, knowingly burdening the country with unsustainable loans to save French, German and Greek private banks. Despite these findings, Greece’s creditors insisted that the people’s mandate be neglected. On June 25th, a 48 hour ultimatum was addressed to the Greek government asking it to accept, contrary to popular mandate, a series of measures dismantling labour law, abolishing social security guarantees and legal protection for over-indebted citizens, while at the same time requiring the sell-out of the most precious public assets and public enterprises, but also major ports, airports and public infrastructure. All to be sold or given away to repay an unsustainable and odious debt.

The Hellenic Parliament accepted the Government’s proposal to hold a referendum on the ultimatum, and the Greek people, through a large majority of 62%, rejected the measures. During the referendum week, international and foreign government officials tried to influence the referendum outcome through statements terrorizing the people. The referendum was held with the banks closed and capital controls imposed as a result for the ECB’s refusal to provide liquidity after the proclamation of the referendum. And yet, democracy prevailed. The people pronounced themselves clearly and said a 62% NO to those homicidal measures. What followed is a nightmare for every democratic conscience and a disgrace.

The creditors refused to consider the referendum outcome. They insisted, under the threat of provoking a bank-failure and a humanitarian disaster, that measures harsher than those rejected be adopted. [..] An over 100 page law construed in 1 article was passed on July 15th in less than 24 hours. A 1000 page law construed in 3 articles was passed on July 22nd in less than 24 hours. An almost 400 page law was passed on August 14, in 24 hours.

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Seeing today’s last minute surge in Shanghai, this is not over.

China Has Spent $236 Billion Trying to Rescue Its Stocks (Bloomberg)

China’s government has spent 1.5 trillion yuan ($236 billion) trying to shore up its stock market since a rout began three months ago, according to Goldman Sachs. The “national team” expended about 600 billion yuan in August alone, with the total now equivalent in value to 9.2% of China’s freely-traded shares, strategists including Kinger Lau wrote in a report dated Monday. Investor concern about what will happen when the government starts to pare these holdings is overdone, they wrote, citing past experiences in Hong Kong and in the U.S. The Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled 41% since its June high to erase $5 trillion in value from mainland bourses as leveraged investors fled amid signs of deepening weakness in the economy.

To stop the plunge, officials armed a state agency with more than $400 billion to purchase stocks, banned selling by major shareholders and told state-owned companies to buy equities. The rout, coupled with a shock devaluation of the yuan, has roiled global markets. The gauge slumped the most in two weeks on Monday on speculation government-backed funds halted intervention following the conclusion of a military parade last week. China Securities Finance, the agency tasked with supporting share prices, would no longer add to holdings unless there’s unusual volatility and systemic risk, although it would remain in the stock market for years to come, the regulator said on Aug. 14.

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In the private sector, he would long have been fired.

Draghi’s QE Dispenses Huge Losses to European Stock Markets (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi’s stimulus program hasn’t quite succeeded at unleashing the desired animal spirits across Europe. Here’s the evidence: six months in, and 96% of companies in the Euro Stoxx 50 Index have actually gotten cheaper relative to earnings. The ECB’s plan to flood the financial system with cash by purchasing bonds was supposed to ignite the same celebration of risk-taking it did in the U.S. six years ago. In fact, the opposite has happened, culminating in as much as $526 billion of share values being wiped out last month. The failure of European quantitative easing to improve sentiment toward equities is a troubling sign to bulls as markets from Shanghai to New York endure their worst selloffs since 2011. Rather than set Europe apart as a haven, Draghi’s program has been marginalized in the stock market by events such as Greece’s credit impasse.

The Euro Stoxx 50 lost 9.2% in August amid concern China’s economy will subdue global growth. It rebounded 1.2% on Monday following a weekly drop. “People get very nervous when they feel there are no more policy levers left,” Graham Secker, Morgan Stanley’s head of European equity strategy, said by phone from London. “Investor confidence is extremely low at the moment, and everyone wants to de-risk. They don’t see who is going to ride to the rescue.” Going by economic data, Europe is making progress. Unemployment in the region unexpectedly fell, while German manufacturing expanded at a faster pace. Economists project Europe’s GDP will grow 1.5% this year, the most since 2011. And analysts still predict profits for companies in the currency bloc will increase 12% this year.

The figures are doing little to help stocks. In the latest rout, valuations in the Euro Stoxx 50 fell to 12.4 times projected earnings, compared with 15.3 when Draghi’s program started in March. Dragged down by exporters and commodity stocks, the gauge has tumbled 13% in the last four weeks – almost twice as much as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, where price-earnings ratios are about 19% higher. Europe’s carmakers – the companies that have most benefited from the depreciation in the euro – have seen valuations decline as much as 34% since this year’s peak. A similar drop occurred in energy share valuations, and a gauge of chemical stocks became 22% cheaper. France’s Vinci and Vivendi stand out as the only two companies in the Euro Stoxx 50 that trade at higher multiples than then.

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“Deutsche Bank expects the combined amount of forex sales from the central banks to be $1.5T in the next 16 months.” Could be much more.

Europe To Sink Into Deflation, Triggering Next Round Of Global Market Crash (SI)

Just one year after Mario Draghi reassured the market he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the inflation rate in the Eurozone will increase again, he seems to have been pushed back into a corner. The ECB once again had to reduce its economic growth expectations as well as the expectations for the average inflation rate in the Eurozone. Despite the ECB having been a huge buyer of bonds on the open market to increase the liquidity in the system, the €60 billion per month has been insufficient to create a serious trickle-down effect in the real economy. Whereas the central bank is targeting an inflation rate of 2% which it deems to be the ‘sweet point’ for a sustainably growing economy. The inflation expectation for the entire year 2015 is just 0.1% and is expected to increase to 1.5% in 2016 and 1.7% in 2017.

This also means that a negative inflation deflation in the next few months (on the back of a lower oil price) is a very realistic possibility now and it certainly looks like the ECB will have to step up its game to make sure it doesn’t lose control. But it also looks like it has maxed out some bond purchases, as one of the newly-instated updates on the bond-buying program is an increased ceiling of how much the ECB can buy of one issue. Whereas the previous ceiling was placed at 25%, the ECB has now increased this level to 33% and the market is now widely anticipating Draghi to upgrade his Bazooka to a Bazooka 2.0 as the ECB is reportedly considering to purchase more different asset classes, to extend the current program (which is scheduled to end in 12 months from now) and to expand the program from €60 billion per month to €75+ billion per month.

The different players in the currency war are now taking their next steps at a very fast pace. After the Chinese crash and the devaluation of the Yuan, the USA will now very likely hold off on increasing the benchmark interest rate, now the ECB will very likely increase the liquidity in the system by a few billions per week, but the next step will be unfolded next week when China will announce an updated status of its foreign currency reserves. Those reserves peaked at $4T in the summer of last year, but it will be very interesting to see how much of those reserves were dumped by China during its very agitated summer.

The forex reserves dropped by in excess of $40 billion in July, but this number will very likely be much higher in August, and Netherlands-based Rabobank is estimating the outflow could be in excess of $200 billion as the Chinese central bank had to dump foreign currency in an effort to rescue the Yuan from a semi-freefall. And this move could trigger another round of selling as Deutsche Bank expects the combined amount of forex sales from the central banks to be $1.5T in the next 16 months. Yes, that’s 1,500 billion dollar. And then the Federal Reserve will have to make the next move as a weaker Euro and Yuan is once again undermining the American economic growth. The domino pieces are falling. Fast.

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The Deadly Disunity Of The Europeans

In A Quota System You Do Not Kick Cans Down The Road, But People (Münchau)

Europe’s multiple crises share a common theme. Whether we are talking about banks, sovereign debt or, as now is the case, refugees, the EU finds it hard to act. What we have is a classic collective action problem, of the kind described by Mancur Olson, the political economist, in the 1960s. People have a common interest in acting but fail to do so because vested interests get in the way. Even the harrowing pictures of the dead young boy will not resolve the collective action problem. All it will do is to produce visible hyperactivity. The three crises share another common theme: each one of them is virtually intractable if you look at it from a micro perspective, from the vantage point of a Greek bank or Budapest East train station. But if you look at immigration from an EU-level perspective, the picture is much more nuanced.

The EU has 500m inhabitants. Setting aside refugees, net immigration — the difference between those coming into and those leaving the EU — was 539,000 in 2013, about 0.1 per cent of the total population. Net immigration was higher in 2010, when it stood at 750,000. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) puts the number of refugees and migrants who crossed the Mediterranean at 300,000 between January and August, compared with 219,000 for the whole of 2014. If you extrapolate this year’s number to the whole of 2015, you get to around 450,000, an extra 230,000 people compared with last year. These numbers do not capture the whole story: many immigrants, from Syria in particular, use land routes. Net immigration this year may thus well end up being the highest in recent years, but still tiny compared with the EU’s total population.

Net immigration including refugees is clearly rising. Still, this is not an immigration crisis. It is a collective action crisis. Its solution would be straightforward in the presence of a central authority empowered to take decisions. But this is not how the EU works. It works through co-ordination and harmonisation — through fiscal rules, banking regulation and neighbourhood policies. But none of them prevented the crisis, and none of them helps solve it. The problem was never a lack of rules or policies. It was the simple fact that certain things in life cannot just be co-ordinated. Nor are member states big enough to act on their own — not even Germany. Angela Merkel is, for once, on the right side of the argument. But Germany does not have the capacity to absorb all the EU immigrants.

[..] A quota system is far too crude, and politically as unsustainable as fiscal transfers between countries. Such policies breed resentment, and ultimately fail. In a quota system you do not kick cans down the road, but people.

The real alternative, in the long run, is not between co-ordination and mutualisation, but between separation and mutualisation. Those who support further European integration will be in a position to make a powerful argument that only the EU is in a position to solve the crises. The debate will not be about a transfer of power from the capitals to Brussels. It will be about whether we empower the EU with tasks that nobody else can handle and whether we give it the necessary financial resources. I fear this is not going to happen for a long time — for two reasons. The less important one is that the likes of Mr Orban will be among those to take the decision. The deeper reason is that Europeans are not yet desperate enough to accept the Logic of Collective Action, the title of Olson’s 1965 book.

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Hollande Readies Syria Air Strikes as Response to Refugee Crisis (Bloomberg)

France is preparing for air strikes in Syria as President Francois Hollande seeks ways both to stem a flood of refugees from the Middle East into Europe and grapple with the threat of terrorism. “I’ve asked the minister of defense to begin reconnaissance flights over Syria from tomorrow that would allow for strikes against the Islamic State,” Hollande said at a press conference in Paris on Monday. Hollande, who ruled out sending troops, said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is an impediment to peace in the country. Hollande is seeking a response to Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II in tune with public opinion that remains largely hostile to a massive increase in immigration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced €6 billion to help the thousands of migrants pouring into the country.

Hollande said today that France will accept 24,000 refugees over two years. He estimates that there are 60,000 asylum seekers in France in 2015. France has warplanes in Abu Dhabi and at a Jordanian air force base. “These will be reconnaissance and intelligence flights,” Hollande said. “We want to know where the training and command sites are.” Hollande also called for “massive” aid to support camps in countries neighboring Syria so that refugees can stay as close as possible to home. “Let’s face reality,” he said. There are four million refugees in camps in countries such as Jordan and Turkey and “if we want to avoid an exodus, what we have to do is supply massive aid” so that “these people can stay as close as possible to the country from which they are fleeing.”

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Is this what the empire of evil looks like?

US Revamping Rebel Force Fighting ISIS in Syria (NY Times)

In an acknowledgment of severe shortcomings in its effort to create a force of moderate rebels to battle the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to significantly revamp the program by dropping larger numbers of fighters into safer zones as well as providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills. The proposed changes come after a Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda attacked, in late July, many of the first 54 Syrian graduates of the military’s training program and the rebel unit they came from. A day before the attack, two leaders of the American-backed group and several of its fighters were captured. The encounter revealed several glaring deficiencies in the program, according to classified assessments: The rebels were ill-prepared for an enemy attack and were sent back into Syria in too small numbers.

They had no local support from the population and had poor intelligence about their foes. They returned to Syria during the Eid holiday, and many were allowed to go on leave to visit relatives, some in refugee camps in Turkey — and these movements likely tipped off adversaries to their mission. Others could not return because border crossings were closed. The classified options now circulating at senior levels of the Pentagon include enlarging the size of the groups of trained rebels sent back into Syria, shifting the location of the deployments to ensure local support, and improving intelligence provided to the fighters. No decisions have been made on specific proposals, according to four senior Defense Department and Obama administration officials briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential planning.

“As with any difficult endeavor, we expected setbacks and successes, and we must be realistic with those expectations,” Capt. Chris Connolly, a spokesman for the American military task force training the Syrian rebels, said. “We knew this mission was going to be difficult from the very beginning.” The Pentagon effort to salvage its flailing training program in Turkey and Jordan comes as the world is fixated on the plight of thousands of refugees seeking safety in Europe from strife in the Middle East, including many fleeing violence of the Syrian civil war and oppression in areas under the control of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Officials in Washington and European capitals acknowledge that halting this mass migration requires a comprehensive international effort to bring peace and stability to areas that those refugees are now fleeing.

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Got to give them one thing: they’re impervious to shame, even embarrassment.

Europe Seeks UN Blessing to Confront Human Smugglers in the Mediterranean (Lynch)

Straining to contain their worst migration crisis in generations, European powers have begun laying the groundwork for the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the boarding and interception of people-smuggling ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The effort, which is being led by Britain, is aimed at stemming the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern and African migrants and refugees seeking to reach Europe on rickety boats from Libya, a primary transit point on the illicit human smuggling trade. Britain is hoping to see the resolution adopted before world leaders arrive in New York later this month for the start of the U.N.’s annual General Assembly debate. It has begun circulating key elements of a resolution with key Security Council members.

The diplomatic push comes at a time when Britain and other European governments have come under criticism for doing too little to absorb the waves of migrants fleeing Syria, Libya, and other Middle Eastern and African countries. Thousands of migrants have died making the dangerous boat rides to European shores, and the photograph of a drowned toddler named Aylan Kurdi stirred worldwide outrage last week. One senior European ambassador said it was Europe’s worst crisis since World War II.

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A few still do have a heart.

‘Stop Bombing, Start Resettling’: Former PM’s Plea To Australia (SMH)

Former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett has launched a blistering attack on the Federal Parliament saying the lack of national leadership is failing voters and the question of welcoming tens of thousands of refugees from Syria into Australia should not even be up for debate. Hailing Australia as a great country built on successive waves of immigration since 1788, Mr Kennett called on the federal government to quit plans to bomb Syria and spend the money on processing refugees for resettlement in Australia instead. “This country is a country that has always had its arms open wide. What I see this with this latest discussion, which is based on humanitarian grounds, is actually a wonderful opportunity for us to take over the next three years 50,000 people who are displaced of their freedoms,” he said.

He said instead of constantly looking to raise taxes, state and federal leaders should seize the opportunity of boosting the population with traditionally hard-working migrants as a different way of expanding the economy. “This shouldn’t be requiring much debate,” he said. The former Victorian leader said it was up to political leaders to stare down bigots who oppose any mass migration because of their religious beliefs or claims they not fleeing persecution. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi is being branded an “embarrassment” for saying the toddler Aylan Kurdi, pictured drowned on a Turkish beach, was not a legitimate refugee.

“There will be always be people who oppose, and there are always going to be some bigots, but leadership rises above it and the Australian public is desperately crying out for leadership,” Mr Kennett said. “The Federal Parliament has failed, absolutely failed, the people of this country for a decade,” a passionate Mr Kennett told Fairfax Media.

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A bit much throwing around of labels for my taste, but certainly worth a read.

How Neocons Destabilized Europe (Robert Parry)

The refugee chaos that is now pushing deep into Europe – dramatized by gut-wrenching photos of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey – started with the cavalier ambitions of American neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks who planned to remake the Middle East and other parts of the world through “regime change.” Instead of the promised wonders of “democracy promotion” and “human rights,” what these “anti-realists” have accomplished is to spread death, destruction and destabilization across the Middle East and parts of Africa and now into Ukraine and the heart of Europe. Yet, since these neocon forces still control the Official Narrative, their explanations get top billing – such as that there hasn’t been enough “regime change.”

For instance, The Washington Post’s neocon editorial page editor Fred Hiatt on Monday blamed “realists” for the cascading catastrophes. Hiatt castigated them and President Barack Obama for not intervening more aggressively in Syria to depose President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime neocon target for “regime change.” But the truth is that this accelerating spread of human suffering can be traced back directly to the unchecked influence of the neocons and their liberal fellow-travelers who have resisted political compromise and, in the case of Syria, blocked any realistic efforts to work out a power-sharing agreement between Assad and his political opponents, those who are not terrorists.

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We just never knew how developed Syria was before our ‘leaders’ instigated the fighting.

Syrian Refugees In Hungary: ‘This Is The So-Called Developed Europe?’ (Guardian)

In a field 500 metres north of Hungary’s border with Serbia, Mouti, a 50-year-old oil engineer, points at the muddy field around him. Several hundred mostly Syrian refugees have been camped here overnight, surrounded by a thin blue circle of Hungarian policemen. They’ve slept in the cold, if they’ve slept at all. A man lies unconscious, roused only by a splash of water. Mothers rock their babies, looking miserable. “This is the so-called developed Europe?” asks Mouti. “It’s supposed to be different to the fucking Arab world.” After the euphoria of Germany welcoming a few thousand refugees from Hungary over the weekend, reality has bitten. Just as thousands left Hungary by its north-western border, thousands more refugees are arriving by its southern one.

And many of them are being forced to camp in this field, while the Hungarian authorities wait for space to free up in reception centres across the country. Mouti and his friend Fadi, an auditor, have come all the way from Deir Ezzor, a town contested by both Islamic State and the Syrian regime. “Both of them are bombing each other,” he says, “and we were stuck in the middle.” Twenty-five days later, they’ve arrived in the EU – but it doesn’t feel much better. They are surrounded by a line of policemen and their eight children are getting sick. Fadi’s brood includes an eight-month-old son, and two boys, aged four and five. They all have colds after being forced to stay here overnight.

“We’re coming from Daesh,” says Fadi, using the pejorative Arab term for Isis, “and this is how Europe treats us?” To underline the point, a group of protesting refugees have held up a sign that reads “Daesh = Hungary”, and some of them are chanting: “Freedom”. It’s just like the situation in Syria, smiles Shoukry, a steelworker from Aleppo. Even in such a depressing situation, there is time for a bit of gallows humour.

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“David Cameron has highly developed skills in the art of following where he should be leading.” All European ‘leaders’ possess those skills.

Cameron’s Offer Of 20,000 Syrian Refugees Over 5 Years Is Derisory (Ashdown)

David Cameron has highly developed skills in the art of following where he should be leading. And so, after being taught an excruciating lesson in compassion, decency and leadership by Angela Merkel, and sensing himself behind opinion again, he has produced a plan to take in 20,000 refugees – over five years. Nothing better shows the PM’s tone deafness to the urgency of the situation than to announce this headline figure, and then add that it will take five years to implement. Not only is this response calibrated more by political expediency than compassion, he has also indicated he believes the answer to the problem is more bombing. If the best part of two years of bombing with more than enough high explosive hasn’t solved this problem, how would Britain’s widow’s mite of a few extra bombs help?

Military strikes against Isis are failing, not because we do not have enough high explosive, but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy on Syria that would make sense of the military action. But let us first consider Cameron’s refugee “plan”. Not only is he offering a derisory number of places for refugees, but the prime minister chooses to help those who are already safely housed and fed in refugee camps outside Europe, rather than those who suffer (and die too) for want of these things inside Europe. Could it be that the toxic term here is not “suffering”, but “inside Europe”, because of the effect these words have on his backbench Europhobes? If so then – irony of ironies – the desperate and the destitute tramping towards us on the dusty roads of the Balkans are hostages to Cameron’s headbangers, just as he is.

And how will we measure the success of this plan? Not by how much it assuages the suffering of those fleeing from the Syrian battlefields, obviously – for it is in no way aimed at them. By its effect on reducing the number fleeing, then? But it won’t do that either. Cameron seems to think that seeking asylum is like going to the theatre: one only does it if one has a ticket for a seat Then consider this. Cameron tells us that not helping those in flimsy boats struggling to Europe will reduce the temptation for others to take this “lethal journey”. This is exactly the same inhuman logic that government ministers gave us last Christmas when they insisted (albeit at Europe’s behest) that not saving drowning refugees in the Mediterranean was the best way to stop others following them. Hundreds had to drown before we finally saw that this immoral policy didn’t work. Do we really have to learn that lesson again?

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Angela’s in a tough spot now that she single-handedly created for herself. She’s right on one thing though: “What we are now experiencing is something that will change our country in the coming years.”

Merkel Channels Bank Rescue as Germany Plans Refugee Fund (Bloomberg)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to spend an extra €6 billion on refugees next year as thousands more migrants poured into the country over the weekend. Merkel said on Monday that Germany will add €3 billion to the 2016 federal budget and provide another €3 billion to states and municipalities to tackle Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. The chancellor said “it’s not entirely implausible” that Germany will spend an extra €10 billion in total next year to handle the influx. “We know that we were quick to save the banks,” Merkel said in Berlin. “I think we need to be just as quick in taking the necessary measures to ease the burden on the municipalities and states. What we are now experiencing is something that will change our country in the coming years.”

The plans for added funding comes as Germany and Austria spar with Hungary over the handling of refugees, with Hungary following a more hard-line approach to deter refugees. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on Sunday that his country will end emergency measures that allowed the passage of thousands of migrants over the weekend from Hungary without registering. “I can’t repeat our message to migrants often enough: ‘Please don’t come because we won’t let you through,’” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in Budapest on Monday. “New laws passed by parliament will change our border defense system. Illegal border crossing will automatically trigger imprisonment or expulsion.”

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Juncker’s big plan: resettling 160,000 refugees. Germany’s reality: 100,000 refugees entered the country just in the past month.

Hit By New Wave Of Refugees, Germany Warns EU Partners (Reuters)

Struggling to cope with record numbers of asylum seekers, Germany told its European partners on Monday they too must take in more refugees, as police in Hungary used pepper spray on desperate migrants who broke out of a reception center at the border. Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking after a weekend in which 20,000 migrants entered Germany from Hungary by train, bus and on foot, described the influx as “breathtaking” and tried to reassure German citizens that the crisis was manageable. “I am happy that Germany has become a country that many people outside of Germany now associate with hope,” she said at a news conference in Berlin.

But she and her vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, coupled their message of optimism with a warning to EU partners who have resisted a push from Berlin, Paris and Brussels to agree quotas for refugees flowing in mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “What isn’t acceptable in my view is that some people are saying this has nothing to do with them,” Merkel said. “This won’t work in the long run. There will be consequences although we don’t want that.” Gabriel said that if countries in eastern Europe and elsewhere continued to resist accepting their fair share of refugees, the bloc’s open border regime, known as Schengen, would be at risk. “This would be a dramatic political blow for Europe, but also a heavy economic blow, also for those countries that are saying they don’t want to help now,” he said.

[..] Only months after Europe narrowly averted a Greek exit from the euro zone, the refugee crisis has emerged as the bloc’s biggest challenge. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is due to unveil new proposals on Wednesday on how to distribute refugees among member states. An EU source told Reuters that under his plan, Germany would take on more than 40,000 and France 30,000 of the 160,000 asylum seekers the Commission says need to be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary, the main entry points to the EU for refugees arriving by sea and land.

The 160,000 that Juncker wants to redistribute within the EU are just a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and economic migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East who have reached Europe this year on leaky boats across the Mediterranean or over land through the Balkan peninsula. Germany has announced it is letting Syrians seek asylum regardless of where they enter the EU, suspending normal rules and accelerating a flow of migrants north and west from the edges of the bloc. Just last month, more than 100,000 asylum seekers reached Germany, which is preparing for 800,000 this year, around 1% of its population, a move with little precedent for a large Western country.

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Sweden expects fewer refugees this year than last? Good luck with that.

Sweden’s PM Chides Europe’s Leaders as Refugee Crisis Deepens (Bloomberg)

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said the rest of Europe needs to take more responsibility as his country and Germany continue to bear the heaviest burdens in absorbing refugees fleeing crisis. The European Union needs to replace today’s voluntary system with a permanent and mandatory redistribution mechanism to tackle refugee disasters, Loefven told reporters in Stockholm on Monday. The bloc should consider raising the United Nations quota for refugees it accepts to 100,000 from 20,000, he said. “We’re in the middle of an international refugee crisis,” he said. “We also have a European crisis, but I would say that Europe’s crisis isn’t a refugee crisis, it’s a responsibility crisis.” Loefven will discuss the proposals with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday.

The two are the biggest recipients in the EU of asylum seekers from Syria, accepting about 50%, according to Loefven. Together with three other EU nations, they have taken about 75% of all asylum requests. That’s not sustainable and needs to change, Loefven said. Changes are needed to the Dublin Regulation, which sets the criteria for dealing with asylum seekers, and new safe and legal ways are necessary to bring refugees into the EU, he said. The conflict in Syria, which erupted after the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has displaced more than 6 million people internally and sent more than 4 million registered refugees to other countries, according to the UN.

“Sweden is one of the few countries that has had, and will continue to show, solidarity in its refugee policy,” Loefven said. It’s concerning that there are still countries such as Hungary that are trying to escape their responsibility, he said. A combination of longer processing times, a lack of housing and jobs and stricter border controls in other EU countries is expected to lead to a drop in the number of asylum seekers to Sweden this year. About 74,000 are expected, compared with 81,000 in 2014. Costs are seen rising to about 17 billion kronor ($2 billion) this year and to 19.8 billion kronor in 2016 from about 13 billion kronor in 2014, the Swedish National Financial Management Authority said last week.

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Haven’t seen any news of payments for refugee care from Brussels to Athens having been completed. Just lip service.

At Least 10,000 Migrants To Be Ferried To Mainland Greece In Next 5 Days (AP)

Greece’s migration minister has said at least two-thirds of the estimated 15,000-18,000 refugees and economic migrants stranded in “miserable” conditions on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos will be ferried to the mainland in the next five days. Giannis Mouzalas told state ERT1 TV extra ferries were laid on Monday to transport the migrants, while some ships will serve as temporary screening and reception centers. Lesvos bears the brunt of the refugee influx, with more than 1,000 arriving daily on frail boats from nearby Turkey. Most remain stuck there for days, sleeping outdoors until they can be identified, and then find berths on crowded ferries to the mainland. Greece’s caretaker government, appointed ahead of elections Sept. 20, has set the problem as its main priority, significantly improving its predecessors’ stumbling efforts to deal with the influx.

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Oil just falls. Guessing at the reason is not helping.

Oil Falls More Than 3% On Oversupply, China Equity Losses (Reuters)

Oil fell more than 3% on Monday, hit by weaker Chinese equities and record North Sea crude production data that added to global oversupply concerns. China’s main indexes closed down on Monday as investors sold shares in the aftermath of a four-day market holiday, during which further restrictions on futures trading were announced. “Oil is only taking its cues from China,” SEB chief commodity analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said. “The price is taking little notice of constructive data like stronger (European) equities, stronger base metals and last Friday’s fall in U.S. rig count,” he said. Oil has fallen almost 60% since June 2014 on a global supply glut, with prices seesawing in recent weeks as concerns about a slowing Chinese economy caused turmoil in global stock markets.

“For commodities, the key demand-side figure to care about is not China’s GDP growing at 7% instead of 9 or 10%, it is the manufacturing price index, which has been falling for more than 40 months in a row,” JBC Energy said. OPEC is producing close to record volumes to squeeze out competition, especially from U.S. shale producers, which have so far weathered the price plunges to keep pumping oil. Saudi Arabia is set to maintain output at around 10.2 million to 10.3 million barrels per day, near this summer’s record high, in the fourth quarter as rising refinery demand offsets lower local use for power, according to industry sources. “The focus is shifting back to the still-high oversupply,” Commerzbank senior oil analyst Carsten Fritsch said.

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US Shale Oil Industry Hit By $30 Billion Outflows

US shale producers reported a cash outflow of more than $30bn in the first half of the year, in a sign of the challenges facing the US’s once-booming industry as the slump in oil prices begins to take effect. The shortfall points to a rise in bankruptcies and restructurings in the US shale oil industry, which has expanded rapidly in the past seven years but has never covered its capital expenditure from its cash flow. Capital spending by listed US independent oil and gas companies exceeded their cash from operations by about $32bn in the six months to June, approaching the deficit of $37.7bn reported for the whole of 2014, according to data from Factset, an information service.

US oil production fell in May and June, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and some analysts expect it to continue falling as financial constraints limit companies’ ability to drill and complete new wells. Companies have sold shares and assets and borrowed cash to increase production and add to their reserves. The aggregate net debt of US oil and gas production companies more than doubled from $81bn at the end of 2010 to $169bn by this June, according to Factset. Terry Marshall of Moody’s, the rating agency, said: “The capital markets have been so strong and so open for these companies that a lot of them were able to raise a lot of debt.” Capital markets have remained open for US oil and gas companies despite the crude price more than halving in the past year.

However, there are now signs that the flow of capital is slowing. US exploration and production companies sold $10.8bn of shares in the first quarter of the year, but that dropped to $3.7bn in the second quarter and under $1bn in July and August, according to Dealogic. Similarly, those companies were selling an average of $6.5bn worth of bonds every month in the first half of the year, but the total for July and August was just $1.7bn. The next hurdle facing many US oil companies is the resetting of their borrowing base: the valuation of their oil and gas reserves that banks use to determine how much they will lend.

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Greece should never accept this, no matter what happens next.

A Dutchman ‘In Control’ Of The Greek Government (Enikos)

Dutch commissar Maarten Verwey will be the head of the Task Force for Greece and will have direct access to the Prime Minister’s office, says the leading report in financial weekly Agora. The Greek government will be placed under the strict supervision of Brussels to ensure that all agreed reforms will be implemented, says the report. Verwey, the Director General of the European Commission, will head a 20-member Task Force, which will essentially write the bills for almost all areas of government policy, from corporate income tax and labour market policy to the health and welfare system.

“Verwey’s team” will have close cooperation with the troika and will prepare interim reports during the evaluation of the economy. It could also seek the assistance of the IMF, fulfilling therefore the will of the German side for the engagement of the Fund in the third memorandum. The paper says that indicative of the power entrusted on the Task Force is the fact that Verwey will have a direct line of communication with the Prime Minister’s office, in accordance with the wishes of Jean-Claude Juncker.

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Perversity written large.

Writing Down €4.7 Billion In Bonds May Cost Greece €49 Billion (Bloomberg)

Writing down €4.7 billion of privately held senior bonds to help fix Greek lenders may cost the nation €49 billion. Banks may only be able to bail in the privately held bonds if they do the same to state-guaranteed notes used as collateral for European Central Bank loans. That would potentially hand the Greek government a €49 billion obligation, even as it struggles to pay pensions and civil-service wages. Excluding the state-backed notes, also called phantom bonds, from a bail-in could lead to lawsuits from private investors. “One potential target for aggrieved private bondholders being bailed in would be the senior phantom bonds if they were not equally bailed in,” said Michael Doran, a partner at law firm White & Case.

“That creates a dilemma, as on its face, a bail-in of these bonds could trigger the sovereign guarantee, which would then leave the Greek state with a significant and perhaps unexpected liability.” Euro-area finance ministers have suggested bailing in senior bank bonds to help refinance lenders after Greece’s economic crisis spurred bad loans, deposit withdrawals and cash shortages. Policy makers have pledged to make as much as €25 billion available to support the recapitalization. Writing down the senior bonds as part of a bailout is a possible option following the completion of ECB stress tests and an asset-quality review next month. Alternatives for filling capital shortfalls include private offerings and European aid. The Greek government may also reach a deal that voids the guarantees and shields the ECB from losses.

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China simply labels its recession a ‘transition’ or a ‘shift’… And the WSJ helps. Wanna bet the mill in the article would still be open if only there were buyers? China’s reality is it has overproduced and overinvested for years, and now it can no longer keep that up.

China’s Shift Away From Industry Drains Life From a Steel Town (WSJ)

For as long as Deng Wanyin could remember, the sprawling steel mill in the outskirts of this city has been a part of his life. The 42-year-old forged steel pipes here, as his father had before him. He met his wife in the apartments the state-owned mill provided to house its workers. Their daughter was raised in the mill’s schools. One day in late March, notice came that the mill was shutting down. “When I heard the news, all I felt was an expanse of emptiness,” Mr. Deng said. “I never imagined that this would happen.” The closing of the Pangang Chengdu Steel & Vanadium Co. is leaving Mr. Deng on the sharp edge of China’s juddering economic slowdown that is unsettling global markets.

About 16,000 workers have been given buyouts, upending long-entrenched livelihoods centered on the mill, known locally as Panchenggang, after 57 years in operation. With the mill silent, the sound that dominates the area of faded shophouses and hulking apartment complexes these days is the din of crickets, rising and falling against Sichuan province’s lush greenery. The smog that used to blanket the area has thinned out, and the sharp odor of ammonia from nearby chemical factories, also closed, is gone. The uprooting of company towns is part of a painful transition as the heavy industries that for decades powered China’s rise fade amid falling demand and overinvestment. The government is trying to shift the giant economy to a new track built on consumer spending, services and technology-driven manufacturing.

Fears that the shift is proving trickier than Beijing can handle undermined the confidence of investors world-wide that China would soon re-emerge as a source of global growth. Growth in industrial production continued to sputter in July, falling to 6%, compared with more than 23% in the heyday of growth a decade ago, and the target of 7% GDP growth this year would be China’s slowest in about a quarter century.

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Podemos must watch out, and speak much louder. It must show how much the government’s numbers are being manipulated, or it will lose badly.

Thomas Piketty To Advise Spain’s Anti-Austerity Party Podemos (Guardian)

The French economist Thomas Piketty, famous for his controversial book on wealth and inequality, is to advise Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos. The author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century has agreed to join an international committee of experts that will advise Podemos on its economic programme as the party prepares to fight its first general election in December. Piketty will work with the leftwing party on developing policies to combat inequality, the theme of his bestselling 2013 book, and on measures to democratise the eurozone, Podemos said in a statement on Monday. Frustration with economic crisis, austerity and corruption in high places has fed the rise of new Spanish parties such as Podemos, which translates as “we can” and the centrist Ciudadanos (“citizens”), which are challenging the ruling rightwing People’s party and the opposition Socialists.

Podemos, which was formed last year, and Ciudadanos performed strongly in local and regional elections in May, at the expense of the two traditional parties and particularly the People’s party. Recent polls, however, suggest that support for the new parties may have peaked as the economy improves. A poll last month showed the People’s party with a clear lead over its rivals in a fragmented political landscape, but far short of the majority needed to govern alone. It showed the People’s party with 28.2%, the Socialists on 24.9%, both up from the previous poll, while Podemos and Ciudadanos had lost ground, with 15.7% and 11.1% respectively.

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Aug 102015
 August 10, 2015  Posted by at 11:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »

NPC Congressman John C. Schafer of Wisconsin 1924

Why Commodities Are Dying The Death Of 1,000 Cuts (CNBC)
The Canaries Continue To Drop Like Flies (Mark St.Cyr)
China’s Hard Landing Suddenly Gets a Lot Rougher (WolfStreet)
Quantitative Easing With Chinese Characteristics Takes Shape (Bloomberg)
China Slashes U.S. Debt Stake by $180 Billion – and Bonds Shrug (Bloomberg)
The Monetary Superpower Strikes Again (David Beckworth)
Greece Hopes to End Bailout Talks by Tuesday (Bloomberg)
Finland Throws Support Behind Greek Bailout It Says Won’t Work (Bloomberg)
Berlln Faces Isolation As Athens And Creditors Near €86 Billion Accord (FT)
Democracy At The Heart Of Fight For Greece (FT)
Analysis: Varoufakis Vs Media Manipulation (Press Project)
Portugal Cautioned By IMF Over Debt Sustainability (FT)
In Southern Europe, Bank Share Sales Can Hit Depositors Hard (WSJ)
Scotland To Issue Formal Ban On GMO Crops (Guardian)
Good For Migrants, Good For Britain (Philippe Legrain)
‘Marauding’ Migrants Threaten Standard Of Living: Foreign Secretary (Guardian)
Germany Has a Refugee Problem, and the Problem Is the Germans (FP)

“..Carlyle Group saw the holdings of a commodities fund it owns plummet from $2 billion to $50 million, due to bullish bets on a host of commodities.”

Why Commodities Are Dying The Death Of 1,000 Cuts (CNBC)

Commodities are the gift that keep on not giving. The sector is in the throes of an ‘annus horribilis’, having gotten wrecked over the past few years despite massive liquidity that should have boosted their value. Bullish investor after bullish investor has tried to call a bottom, in a set of calls that now appear ill-conceived and money losing. In the past week, the S&P GSCI Commodity Index has dropped 3.4 in the past week, as crude oil plunged 7% to hit multi-month lows, and a host of metals fell alongside it. That, of course, hardly marks the first big drop for the alternative investment group. That widely watched commodity index has fallen 17% the last three months, and a whopping 42% in the past two years. It’s not just an energy issue, either.

Copper, platinum, lumber, coffee, sugar, wheat, oats and lean hogs are all down double-digit percentages this year. While each specific commodity obviously responds to its own distinct supply-and-demand dynamics, a few fundamental factors appear to be weighing on commodities as a whole. First of all, the U.S. dollar has risen nearly 8% this year against a basket of major currencies, and has rediscovered some of its strength in the past three months. A strong dollar tends to be bad for commodities, as it should mean that it takes fewer dollars to buy the same amount of a given fixed asset. And in fact, many investors bought commodities to get protection from a Federal Reserve stimulus-stoked rise in inflation that never came.

As the Fed ended its QE program—and now appears months away from raising rates—what now appears to have been a massive bubble in commodities like gold has slowly popped. But Fed fears didn’t form the only bull case for commodities. Others maintained that the global economy would heat up, leading to greater demand for industrial commodities like oil and copper. Instead, Europe has been a mess, and that great commodity consumer China has seen its economy continue to slow. The losses in the complex have been dramatic indeed. The Astenbeck commodities fund managed by famed trader Andy Hall tumbled 17% in July. And the WSJ said last week that private equity firm Carlyle Group saw the holdings of a commodities fund it owns plummet from $2 billion to $50 million, due to bullish bets on a host of commodities.

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“That was not a “canary” but rather a “dodo.”

The Canaries Continue To Drop Like Flies (Mark St.Cyr)

One would think as “canary” after “canary” falls silent either sickened with laryngitis, or worse – completely comatose, that those on Wall Street as well as the financial media itself would not only have seen, but heard, many of the warning calls that have been obvious for quite some time. Yet, history always shows; not only do they not see, but more often than not – they don’t want to see, nor hear the warning calls. Even when all the warning signs are screaming danger – not only are they ignored, they’re explained away as if those which saw or heard them, should be ignored as they’ll contend not only did one not see; but couldn’t see. What they’ll propose is: “That was not a “canary” but rather a “dodo.” After all, with a Fed that’s as interactive as this one currently is, surely what they believe they heard, or saw is impossible.

For people say they’ve spotted warning signs in these ‘markets’ for years, and none have yet produced a crisis because – they’re now extinct!” Yet, the wheezing sounds of many a Wall Street songbird has been apparent for quite a while. Again: If only one would care to look or listen. Back in April of 2014 in an article titled “The Scarlet Absence Of A Letter of Credit” I opined a few scenarios as to why this seemingly dismissed revelation by the so-called “smart crowd” should not go unnoticed. For the implications may very well portend far greater reasons too worry in the coming future. Let’s not forget this is some 16 months ago. When the financial media et al were still reciting in unison the wonders to which, “China will be the economy that leads us out of this current malaise.”

“Over the last few years since the financial melt down of 2008, we have seen what many have believed are precursors that may tip the hand of markets as to show just how unhealthy this levitating act fueled by free money has become. And yes there are always false indicators, and we all know correlation doesn’t equal causation. And even more may shrug and think, “No letter of credit, so what.” However, if there were ever a canary in a coalmine worth noting this is one not to let one’s eyes to divert from.

The issue at hand is not just the foolishness of the absence contained in a one-off LOC gamble some company would take. Far from it. It’s the desperation that could be hidden that’s a precursor one has to watch for. For the amount of desperation, or the degree that might be hidden beneath the surface to which a commodity will be sent overseas to another country, a country for all intents and purposes is using that very product as a pseudo currency to back other financial obligations without the requisite document to be paid. Is mind numbingly dangerous in its implications in my view.”

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“..568 strikes and worker protests in the second quarter, raising this year’s tally to 1,218 incidents as of June..”

China’s Hard Landing Suddenly Gets a Lot Rougher (WolfStreet)

This has become a sign of the times: Foxconn, with 1.3 million employees the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, making gadgets for Apple and many others, and with mega-production facilities in China, inked a memorandum of understanding on Saturday under which it would invest $5 billion over the next five years in India! In part to alleviate the impact of soaring wages in China. Meanwhile in the city of Dongguan in China, workers at toy manufacturer Ever Force Toys & Electronics were protesting angrily, demanding three months of unpaid wages. The company, which supplied Mattel, had shut down and told workers on August 3 that it was insolvent. The protests ended on Thursday; local officials offered to come up with some of the money owed these 700 folks, and police put down the labor unrest by force.

These manufacturing plant shutdowns and claims of unpaid wages are percolating through the Chinese economy. The Wall Street Journal: The number of labor protests and strikes tracked on the mainland by China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based watchdog, more than doubled in the April-June quarter from a year earlier, partly fueled by factory closures and wage arrears in the manufacturing sector. The group logged 568 strikes and worker protests in the second quarter, raising this year’s tally to 1,218 incidents as of June, compared with 1,379 incidents recorded for all of last year. The manufacturing sector is responsible for much of China’s economic growth. It accounted for 31% of GDP, according to the World Bank. And a good part of this production is exported. But that plan has now been obviated by events.

Exports plunged 8.3% in July from a year ago, disappointing once again the soothsayers surveyed by Reuters that had predicted a 1% drop. Exports to Japan plunged 13%, to Europe 12.3%. And exports to the US, which is supposed to pull the world economy out of its mire, fell 1.3%. So far this year, in yuan terms, exports are down 0.9% from the same period last year. As important as manufacturing is to China, this debacle is not exactly conducive to economic growth. The General Administration of Customs, which issued the report, added: “We could see relatively strong downward pressure on exports in the third quarter.”

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Qe with an extra step built in.

Quantitative Easing With Chinese Characteristics Takes Shape (Bloomberg)

China’s leaders are increasingly relying on the central bank to help implement government programs aimed at shoring up growth, in an adaptation of the quantitative easing policies executed by counterparts abroad. Rather than bankroll projects directly, the People’s Bank of China is pumping funds into state lenders known as policy banks to finance government-backed programs. Instead of buying shares to prop up a faltering stock market, it’s aiding a government fund that’s seeking to stabilize prices. And instead of purchasing municipal bonds in the market, it’s accepting such notes as collateral and encouraging banks to buy the debt.

QE – a monetary policy tool first deployed in modern times by Japan a decade and a half ago and since adopted by the U.S. and Europe – is being echoed in China as Premier Li Keqiang seeks to cushion a slowdown without full-blooded monetary easing that would risk spurring yet another debt surge. While the official line is a firm “no” to Federal Reserve-style QE, the PBOC is using its balance sheet as a backstop rather than a checkbook in efforts to target stimulus toward the real economy. “It’s Chinese-style quantitative easing,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho in Hong Kong. “But it’s not a direct central bank asset-purchase plan. China’s easing is indirect and more subtle compared with the U.S. or Japan.”[..]

While there’s been no public unveiling of the strategy, China’s leaders are putting in place plans for the central bank to finance, indirectly, a fiscal stimulus program to put a floor under the nation’s slowdown. China will sell “special” financial bonds worth trillions of yuan to fund construction projects, and the PBOC will provide funds to state banks to buy the bonds, people familiar with the matter said this month. China Development Bank and the Agricultural Development Bank of China – known as policy banks because they carry out government objectives – will issue bonds, people told Bloomberg earlier.

The Postal Savings Bank of China will buy the debt, aided by liquidity from the central bank, according to one of the people. It’s unclear whether by taking on bonds as collateral and delivering cash in return the PBOC’s official balance sheet will expand. In the U.S., the euro region and Japan, central banks have bought securities outright in secondary markets, making the quantitative easing transparent on their books.

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Dollars flowing back home.

China Slashes U.S. Debt Stake by $180 Billion – and Bonds Shrug (Bloomberg)

To get a sense of how robust demand is for U.S. Treasuries, consider that China has reduced its holdings by about $180 billion and the market barely reacted. Benchmark 10-year yields fell 0.6 percentage point even though the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt pared its stake between March 2014 and May of this year, based on the most recent data available from the Treasury Department. That’s not the doomsday scenario portrayed by those who said the size of the holdings – which peaked at $1.65 trillion in 2014 – would leave the U.S. vulnerable to China’s whims. Instead, other sources of demand are filling the void. Regulations designed to prevent another financial crisis have caused banks and similar firms to stockpile highly rated assets.

Also, mutual funds have been scooping up government debt, flush with cash from savers who are wary of stocks and want an alternative to bank deposits that pay almost nothing. It all adds up to a market in fine fettle as the Federal Reserve moves closer to raising interest rates as soon as next month. “China may be stepping away, but there is such a deep and broad buyer base for Treasuries, particularly when you have times of uncertainty,” Brandon Swensen at RBC Global Asset Management said. America has relied on foreign buyers as the Treasury market swelled to $12.7 trillion in order to finance stimulus that helped pull the economy out of recession and bail out the banking system.

Overseas investors and official institutions hold $6.13 trillion of Treasuries, up from about $2 trillion in 2006, government data show. China was a particularly voracious participant, boosting its holdings from less than $350 billion as its economy boomed and the nation bought dollars to keep the yuan from soaring. Now, the Asian nation is stepping back as it raises money to support flagging growth and a crumbling stock market, and allows its currency to trade more freely. The latest update of Treasury data and estimates by strategists suggest that China controls $1.47 trillion of Treasuries. That includes about $200 billion held through Belgium, which Nomura says is home to Chinese custodial accounts.

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Da Fed.

The Monetary Superpower Strikes Again (David Beckworth)

China’s economy has been slowing down for the past few years and many observers are worried. The conventional wisdom for why this is happening is that China’s demographic problems, its credit binge, and the related malinvestment have all come home to roost. While there is a certain appeal to these arguments, there is another explanation that I was recently reminded of by Michael T. Darda and JP Koning: the Fed’s passive tightening of monetary policy is getting exported to China via its quasi-peg to the dollar. Or, as I would put it, the monetary superpower has struck again.

The Fed as a monetary superpower is based on the fact that it controls the world’s main reserve currency and many emerging markets are formally or informally pegged to dollar. Therefore, its monetary policy is exported across the globe and makes the other two monetary powers, the ECB and Japan, mindful of U.S. monetary policy lest their currencies becomes too expensive relative to the dollar. As as result, the Fed’s monetary policy also gets exported to some degree to Japan and the Euro. This understanding lead Chris Crowe and I to call the Fed a monetary superpower, and idea further developed by Collin Gray. Interestingly, Janet Yellen implicitly endorsed this idea in a 2010 speech:

For all practical purposes, Hong Kong delegated the determination of its monetary policy to the Federal Reserve through its unilateral decision in 1983 to peg the Hong Kong dollar to the U.S. dollar in an arrangement known as a currency board. As the economist Robert Mundell showed, this delegation arises because it is impossible for any country to simultaneously have a fixed exchange rate, completely open capital markets, and an independent monetary policy. One of these must go. In Hong Kong, the choice was to forgo an independent monetary policy.

The original context of the monetary superpower argument was that the Fed was exporting its easy monetary policy to the rest of the world in the early-to-mid 2000s. Now the argument is that its normalization of monetary policy is creating a passive tightening of monetary conditions for the rest of the world, especially the dollar peggers like China.

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And then the Troika can start stalling again.

Greece Hopes to End Bailout Talks by Tuesday (Bloomberg)

The Greek government is seeking to conclude talks on a rescue program by Tuesday, leaving enough time for national parliaments to assess the deal so funds can be disbursed for an Aug. 20 payment to the ECB. The four institutions representing Greece’s creditors – the ECB, the IMF, the EC and the European Stability Mechanism – made progress over the weekend on the details of a plan that would make as much as €86 billion available to Greece, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions. Officials are optimistic an agreement will be reached, allowing Greece’s parliament to pass any new required reforms in the middle of the week and paving the way for a meeting of euro-area finance ministers at the end of the week.

The indebted nation needs a quick release of about €20 billion to create a buffer for its banks and to make loan payments. “We are trying to make swift progress in order to have a deal preferably before the 20th of August so the disbursement can be made under the new ESM program,” EC spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters on Aug. 7 in Brussels. Greece and its creditors still need to decide exactly how much money will be required for the bailout, which will be the nation’s third in five years, as well as what reforms will have to be concluded before any money is released, one of the people said. The headway comes as some members of the 19-nation common currency express skepticism that a deal can work.

Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said over the weekend that his government is ready to discuss a new aid plan for Greece but that “we should admit that this isn’t going to work.” Last week, Hans Michelbach, a Bavarian lawmaker who has argued against a deal with Greece, said he didn’t believe a rescue program could be reached in time and other financing arrangements would be needed. Even as the European governments are racing to cinch an agreement before Greece needs to pay €3.2 billion to the ECB on Aug. 20, the situation isn’t as dire as it was earlier this summer; if the leaders fail to disburse the funds in time, Greece could still request a short-term loan from a European fund that has about €5 billion available.

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They have that in common with Tsipras. Just make sure to lay the blame where it belongs.

Finland Throws Support Behind Greek Bailout It Says Won’t Work (Bloomberg)

A third Greek bailout won’t work and will only prolong the difficulties plaguing the euro area, according to Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini. But his party, the euro-skeptic the Finns, is ready to discuss another rescue package because allowing Greece to fail would only add to Europe’s costs, he said. “Truth is the strongest force,” Soini said in an interview on Saturday. “We should admit that this isn’t going to work.” Soini shares the skepticism of Greece’s ruling Syriza party, which despite its opposition to further austerity measures, is seeking €86 billion in international loans to stay afloat. Greece is struggling to strike a deal with its creditors as €3.2 billion in debt to the ECB falls due on Aug. 20.

The Finns party, which in April became part of a ruling coalition for the first time, has no choice but to support a bailout since not doing so would cause the three-party government to collapse. That would only open the door for the left-wing opposition, Soini said. “I kept my party in the opposition for four years because of this subject,” he said. “But with this government structure we can’t block the program alone and we’d be replaced.” While Finland drove a hard bargain during Greece’s second bailout, it may no longer have the clout to block a deal. Finland has already made its 1.44 billion-euro contribution to the permanent European Stability Mechanism. Should Europe decide that the future of the euro zone is at stake, a bailout won’t require unanimous backing from members; 85% is enough.

Even without an imminent bailout agreement, a European fund deployed in July to help Greece clear arrears contains about €5 billion and could be tapped again for a bridge loan. According to Soini, bridge financing will do little to solve the long-term fiscal plight Greece faces. “This bridge funding isn’t going to be final solution,” he said. “There’s no solution for this particular problem that doesn’t cost Finnish taxpayers. If Greece collapsed and Grexit would be tomorrow’s reality, we would lose €3-4 billion more or less at once. So I hope that the EU and euro zone, that in due course, we can face the facts and say enough is enough and that we must do something else.”

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Replace Schäuble.

Berlln Faces Isolation As Athens And Creditors Near €86 Billion Accord (FT)

Greece and its creditors are close to reaching an outline deal this week on the debt-laden country’s €86bn rescue programme, amid signs of growing German isolation over its tough stance towards Athens. Significant concessions by Alexis Tsipras and his negotiators in the past month have encouraged other hawkish eurozone members such as Finland to break with Berlin, which wants to hold out longer to squeeze more reforms from Athens. Even previously sceptical EU diplomats now say that a full agreement could be reached by the August 20 deadline, when Athens must make a €3.2bn debt repayment to the ECB. The cautious optimism contrasts sharply with the acrimony at last month’s eurozone summit, which came close to ushering Greece out of the currency bloc before agreeing to negotiate a deal.

The main elements of the proposed deal include spending cuts, administrative reform and privatisations. Remaining sticking points between Athens and its creditors include details of a €50bn privatisation plan and proposals for raising the planned budget surplus, excluding debt interest, to 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product in 2018 from zero this year. Officials in Brussels said an early deal was “ambitious but feasible”. But they emphasised that while this was the “preferable” way forward, the option of a €5bn bridging loan to give negotiators more time, championed by Berlin, was still on the table. As often in the past, Greek officials were the most positive about the likelihood of a breakthrough, expressing confidence that an outline deal could come by Tuesday and be approved by the Athens parliament later this week, despite political divisions and public anger over the terms.

Eurogroup finance ministers would then meet on Friday to approve the deal, leaving time next week for national parliaments in Germany, and the other creditor countries which must vote on the plan, to do so before August 20. One Greek official said: ”If there aren’t any last-minute obstacles raised by our partners, we can wrap up a deal this week.” However, Germany, the biggest creditor, was late last week still holding out for more reforms from Athens, arguing that a two- or three-week bridging loan was better than hurriedly striking an inadequate three-year deal. Jens Spahn, deputy finance minister, tweeted on Friday: “It is better done thoroughly than hastily.” An EU official said that even if Wolfgang Schäuble, Berlin’s hawkish finance minister, dug in his heels, chancellor Angela Merkel would not want Berlin isolated.

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Didn’t we pass that point a while back?

Democracy At The Heart Of Fight For Greece (FT)

The biggest question raised by Syriza’s election victory last January was not about Greece. It was whether any national population that has adopted the euro can meaningfully express a democratic choice. This is a test case of the euro itself. If monetary union and democracy are incompatible, even the euro’s most committed friends need to choose the latter. Fortunately, they are not incompatible. But European policy is premised on the opposite view. Without a change in approach, it must lead to failure. The list of pressures on Greeks’ self-determination is uniquely long. It includes, first, the extraordinary micromanagement of policy by creditors.

Second, the shameless intervention in Greek elections by European leaders who both in 2012 and in 2015 made abundantly clear they wanted Greeks to re-elect the same discredited elites. Third, the huge efforts made to avoid any plebiscitary upset, or even support, of the eurozone’s policy programme. In November 2011, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s then-president, bullied Prime Minister George Papandreou out of an attempt to establish Greek ownership of the second rescue loan (and the attached conditions) through a referendum. While the eurozone failed to scare Syriza off from holding a ballot this June, it was not for the lack of trying. Why this astonishingly prickly attitude to letting people make a choice?

The answer is as obvious as it is worrying: Europe’s leaders fear that the people will make the wrong choice. In Greece, opinion polls have been remarkably consistent about two things: most Greeks want to keep the euro as their currency, and most also reject the policies imposed by the creditor institutions previously known as the troika. That is what the “no” landslide this summer meant; and it is what Mr Papandreou’s referendum would also have shown had it not been aborted. It is the expression of this particular preference — keep the euro, but with different policies — that the eurozone political elite has done everything it can to prevent.

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Nice study. Translation could be better. The Press Project tries to give Greece an actual news outlet.

Analysis: Varoufakis Vs Media Manipulation (Press Project)

There comes a point in any crisis where we have to look at all the players involved and ask who ultimately is responsible, in other words, where does the buck stop? In the case of Greece it’s rather muddled, there are more villains than a Tarantino movie. But it appears that the former Finance minister, Yiannis Varoufakis, has found himself with the finger of blame pointing squarely at him. The “revelation” that Varoufakis had a contingency plan for Grexit after all has led to the filing of two lawsuits, one by the Mayor of Stylida and the other by the head of a new political party Teleia – which translates as ‘full-stop’ (yes really). At the moment Varoufakis is protected by political immunity and will not have to face trial unless the Greek Parliament decrees otherwise.

But as talk of ‘treason’ gains traction it’s important to remember what our frame of reference for all of these events is – the media. Everything we think we know about this crisis, every opinion we have formed and our knowledge of the people involved, including Varoufakis, starts with what we read and watch and how we then process that narrative or ‘story.’ It’s important to grasp that news narratives come with an array of potential variables that might influence how we see them, the cultural experiences of the author for example or the pre held-prejudices of the reader. The question then is how those involved, whether it’s the IMF, Greece or the EU, can push the public to accept their version of the narrative because capturing the public’s much coveted validation provides a cloak of legitimization for decisions.

The answer is media manipulation. The systematic warping of news narratives happens everyday almost everywhere. To demonstrate this we can start by doing what governments and institutions such as the EU do daily – analyze the media output. In the run-up to the Greek elections in January, when it was looking likely that Syriza would win, global news related to ‘corruption’ in Greece skyrocketed and has maintained relatively high levels until now. Yet, during the same period no major corruption scandals came to light. Syriza as a virgin government can claim to be untainted at that time. So why with the arrival of Syriza is there a corruption narrative flooding the airwaves and printing presses and sticking there? The media monitoring software reveals that this ‘corruption related to Greece’ news is present overwhelmingly in the IMF’s homeland – America. It’s important to point out here that stories starting in the US impact massively because they are regurgitated far and wide.

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Calling Troika!

Portugal Cautioned By IMF Over Debt Sustainability (FT)

Even if they had been compiled by his own spin-doctors, Portugal’s latest unemployment figures could hardly have been better for Pedro Passos Coelho, the country’s centre-right prime minister. The last batch of labour market numbers to be published before a general election in October showed the biggest quarterly drop in the country’s jobless rate for at least 17 years — falling by 1.8 percentage points in the second quarter to 11.9%. This is the lowest level since 2010, before painful austerity measures imposed under an international bailout saw unemployment soar to a record 17.5% in 2013.

Mr Passos Coelho’s ruling coalition welcomed the figures as “historic” – trumpeting them as proof that punishing spending cuts and tax increases have turned around a struggling economy and put Portugal definitively on a path towards export-led growth and sustained debt-reduction. But the day after the National Statistics Institute released the jobless figures last week, the euphoria was dashed by a series of sobering warnings from the IMF over the country’s heavy debt burden and a slackening pace of reform. Particularly stinging for the prime minister’s two-party coalition, which is neck-and-neck in the polls with the moderately anti-austerity opposition Socialists, was the IMF’s view that the government faced a “tangible risk” of failing to bring this year’s budget deficit below 3% of national output, as required under EU rules.

Government election pledges to ease austerity, partly by phasing out extraordinary tax charges introduced during the €78bn bailout, would have to be postponed or partially cancelled if insufficient spending cuts were put in place or revenues fell lower than forecast, the IMF warned. João Galamba, a Socialist politician, said that despite Mr Passos Coelho’s “long romance” with the IMF, the Fund’s latest assessment of the Portuguese economy showed that it no longer trusted the government’s forecasts and had been “surprised by its electioneering”.

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Why Spain still has bankcs that are going concerns?!

In Southern Europe, Bank Share Sales Can Hit Depositors Hard (WSJ)

When Spain’s Banco de Sabadell needed to raise nearly $2 billion for its takeover of a British bank this year, it instructed branch employees to sell shares directly to retail customers. One customer said his banker called him several times to entice him to purchase shares. Later, at the branch, the banker placed a 10-by-10-inch box of Nestlé chocolates next to a document and urged him to sign, ceding to Sabadell’s management the right to vote his shares at the annual meeting. The customer, who declined to be named, said he signed and took the chocolates. In southern Europe, which has a tradition of mutually owned or unlisted savings banks, it is a legal and long-standing practice for branch employees to sell stocks and bonds issued by the bank to people who have deposits and loans with the bank.

Sometimes, customers are encouraged to cede their shareholder voting rights to the bank, too. But the practice cost customers dearly during Europe’s financial crisis and is coming under fire anew as an inherent conflict of interest that prioritizes banks’ balance sheets over investors’ pocketbooks. In Portugal, clerks of the now collapsed Banco Espírito Santo sold €550 million ($603 million) in debt from the bank’s parent to retail customers in late 2013. The parent was already in trouble and has since gone bankrupt. Many clients have lost their entire savings. Spanish bank customers were saddled with around €3 billion of paper losses after they bought €7 billion of complex bonds from Banco Santander in 2007. Five years later, the bonds converted into shares that had plummeted in value.

Around 300,000 Bankia depositors also lost millions after they purchased shares in the lender’s ill-fated 2011 initial public offering. Bankia was bailed out in 2012. “The bank should always act in good faith and in the interest of the client,” said Fernando Herrero, spokesman for Spanish consumer association Adicae. But when a bank sells its own securities, he said, “the interest that is going to take priority is the bank’s interest in obtaining financing.”

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Might want to hold that next independence vote soon.

Scotland To Issue Formal Ban On GMO Crops (Guardian)

Scottish ministers are planning to formally ban genetically modified crops from being grown in Scotland, widening a policy divide with the Tory government in London. Ministers in Edinburgh are to apply to use recent EU powers which allow devolved administrations to opt out entirely from a more relaxed regime which is expected to see far more commercial use of GM crops around the EU. The move will reinforce a long-standing moratorium on planting GM crops in Scotland and allow the Scottish National party to further distance itself from the UK government.

Backed by agribusiness, scientific bodies and the National Farmers Union, ministers in London have already signalled that they plan to allow commercial cultivation of GM crops such as maize and oilseed rape in England, despite significant consumer resistance and opposition from environmental groups. The Scottish government announcement on Sunday was silent on whether this new legal power would extend to a ban on scientific and experimental research, but a spokeswoman confirmed that laboratory research on GMOs would continue. Scottish scientists, including those at the James Hutton Institute and the Rowett Institute, have taken a leading role in GM research. The Scottish government’s former chief scientific officer, Dame Anne Glover, who became the EC’s chief scientific adviser before the position was abolished, is a keen advocate of GM crops.[..]

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The Scottish government has been making anti-GM noises for some time, but the new Tory government has been trying to take us in the direction of GM being used in the UK, so it is very good news that Scottish ministers are taking that stance. “If you are a whisky producer or breeding high-quality beef, you ought to be worried if you don’t want GM but it is going to come to a field near you and you were worried that there was going to be some contamination. It is certainly in Scotland’s interests to keep GM out of Scotland.”

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This has long ceased being a rational discussion. Not sure trying to make it one will fly.

Good For Migrants, Good For Britain (Philippe Legrain)

The chaos in Calais is a nightmare, not least for the 3,000 or so migrants scraping by in makeshift camps. It’s not fun for the 75,000 people of Calais either. And it’s a big disruption for British hauliers and holidaymakers who are delayed, and for people in Kent whose roads are jammed. With £200 billion worth of UK trade transiting between Dover and Calais each year, the Financial Times estimates that the lost trade, including wider costs such as retailers having to write off spoiled food and manufacturers not receiving crucial goods in time, amounts to (a surprisingly large) £250 million a day. Perhaps it would be cheaper to let the migrants come work here instead.

The poor people squatting in squalid conditions in the Jungle outside Calais have risked life and limb to get there from war-torn and repressive places such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Now they are again risking death to try to reach Britain through the Channel Tunnel. Such brave, enterprising people are surely just the kind that an open, dynamic country would want to welcome. While the disruption they are causing is large, their numbers are small. The 3,000 in Calais are a tiny fraction of the 219,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe last year. They pale into insignificance compared to the 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (local population: 4.4 million). Overall, Britain received only 31,400 asylum applications last year – and most are rejected.

Sweden, with a seventh of our population, received 75,100. The total number of refugees in the UK at the end of 2014 was 117,161: 0.18% of the population. What attracts desperate people to Britain is not the measly benefits for asylum seekers. People don’t spend thousands of pounds risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean to get £36.95 a week in benefits. If welfare was their priority, they’d stay in France. Most asylum seekers wouldn’t need to claim benefits at all if they were allowed to work. But in a futile attempt to deter “economic migrants”, Britain bans asylum seekers from working.

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Not a rational discussion, but a sliding scale into dark days not unlik the 1930s.

‘Marauding’ Migrants Threaten Standard Of Living: Foreign Secretary (Guardian)

The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has weighed in to the debate over migration with some of the government’s strongest language yet, claiming millions of marauding African migrants pose a threat to the EU’s standard of living and social structure. Senior Labour figures responded by accusing Hammond of scaremongering after he claimed Europe “can’t protect itself” if it has to take in millions of migrants from Africa. Speaking to the BBC while visiting Singapore on Sunday, Hammond said: “The gap in standards of living between Europe and Africa means there will always be millions of Africans with the economic motivation to try to get to Europe.”

He said: “So long as there are large numbers of pretty desperate migrants marauding around the area, there always will be a threat to the tunnel security. We’ve got to resolve this problem ultimately by being able to return those who are not entitled to claim asylum back to their countries of origin.” Hammond said EU laws meant migrants could be “pretty confident” that after setting foot on EU soil they would not be returned to their country of origin. “Now that is not a sustainable situation because Europe can’t protect itself, preserve its standard of living and social infrastructure if it has to absorb millions of migrants from Africa.”

Three of the candidates to be Labour’s next leader condemned Hammond’s use of language. Shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, described it as “alarmist and unhelpful”, and Liz Kendall said there should be no place for dehumanising language in the debate. Jeremy Corbyn said Hammond’s comments were part of a pattern of language designed to whip up prejudice and hostility.

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Or do we think that sliding scale is scarier when it applies to Germany?

Germany Has a Refugee Problem, and the Problem Is the Germans (FP)

Anti-refugee sentiment has touched a nerve at a time when record numbers of people are seeking shelter in Germany. The government received nearly 203,000 asylum applications last year – more than twice as many as any other country in the EU.The government received nearly 203,000 asylum applications last year – more than twice as many as any other country in the EU. And that number is expected to double by the end of this year. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and persecution, from Syria to Eritrea, are appealing to Berlin for protection. Many receive it. Of the more than 34,000 Syrians who submitted asylum applications in the first half of this year, only seven were denied permission to stay according to data from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

That comes as the European Union is wrangling over a contentious plan to overhaul its immigration system. A recent proposal would see Europe distribute asylum-seekers according to a quota system, based on a country’s size, economy, and other factors. Britain and a host of Eastern European nations have refused. Germany, which stands to take in the most asylum-seekers under the new proposal (18.4%), supports the plan: It would help regulate how many migrants Berlin is expected to shelter as waves of asylum-seekers continue to arrive. Authorities here have been unprepared for the influx. Aydan Özoguz, the Federal Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, said the government has just approved 2,000 new positions to help work through a backlog of over 240,000 asylum applications.

The responsibility for housing refugees falls on states, and they have hastily arranged makeshift reception facilities in gyms and tents. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government committed an additional 1 billion euros for support. But refugee groups say Berlin has consistently underestimated the amount of time and funds needed. “The [federal] government has reacted far too slowly in allocating more money towards shelters for asylum-seekers — that would help relieve the burden on states,” said Marei Pelzer of Pro Asyl, a refugee organization based in Frankfurt. “A lot has been discussed and announced but very little has been implemented.” “It’s still not a lot of people for such a large and rich country like Germany,” she added.

The commissioner, Aydan Özoguz, says the government has instituted some important changes – freeing up asylum-seekers to find jobs while they wait for their applications to be processed, for example. The rest takes time. “I find it a bit dishonest when people say we could have been better prepared — you can’t just create an apartment building in one year, not in the amount we need,” she said. “I think we’re doing a really good job.”

Read more …

Jul 202015
 July 20, 2015  Posted by at 7:00 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  13 Responses »

Harris&Ewing Agriculture Department, Cow jumps over moon 1920

It’s taken a while, but Nicole Foss is now coming back to the Automatic Earth for real. Here’s her take on Greece and everything that bubbles under its surface:

Nicole Foss: The project of European Union, and its single currency experiment, were politically an attempt to unite fractious nations in order to put an end to a history of horribly destructive conflict. Economically, the goals were to scale up governance in Europe, to transition from the national to the transnational level in order to wield more power as a larger trading block. As such it was very much in line with the global trend of the last thirty years towards scaling up almost everything. However, as we have observed before, such expansions are inherently fragile and self-limiting:

This in-built need to expand, sometimes to the scale of an imperium in the search for new territory, means that the process is grounded in ponzi dynamics. Expansion stops when no new territories can be subsumed, and contraction will follow as the society consumes its internal natural capital….

….A foundational ingredient in determining effective organizational scale is trust – the glue holding societies together. At small scale, trust is personal, and group acceptance is limited to those who are known well enough to be trusted. For societies to scale up, trust must transcend the personal and be grounded instead in an institutional framework governing interactions between individuals, between the people and different polities, between different layers of governance (municipal, provincial, regional, national), and between states on the international stage.

This institutional framework takes time to scale up and relies on public trust for its political legitimacy. That trust depends on the general perception that the function of the governing institutions serves the public good, and that the rules are sufficiently transparent and predictably applied to all. This is the definition of the rule of law. Of course the ideal does not exist, but better and worse approximations do at each scale in question.

Over time, the trust horizon has waxed and waned in tandem with large cycles of socioeconomic advance and retreat. Trust builds during expansionary times, conferring political legitimacy on larger scale forms of organization. Trust takes a long time to build, however, and much less time to destroy. The retreat of the trust horizon in contractionary times can be very rapid, and as trust is withdrawn from governing institutions, so is political legitimacy.

This is the predicament facing what is essentially a European imperium today – the twin threats of financial crisis and concommittant loss of trust and political legitimacy. In an awkwardly-amalgamated collective polity with a thousand year history of conflict, the risks associated with the transition from expansion to contraction are legion. We warned in 2010 of the toxic dynamic underlying European unification, and that the political fallout from what we regarded, and still regard, as the inevitable failure of that imperial structure, would be potentially catastrophic:

All aggregate human structures at all degrees of scale are essentially predatory. They all convey wealth from a necessarily expanding periphery towards the centre, where wealth is concentrated. The periphery may be either forced or enticed to join the larger structure, but that does not affect the outcome….The European periphery was sold an impossible dream – that they could by fiat have the same living standards as northern Europe. Perhaps the architects of the project believed that equalization by fiat would work, but whether their intentions were honourable or not is immaterial to the outcome….

…A credit expansion requires two sides – a predatory lending structure at the centre and and gullibility and greed in the periphery. They are mutually responsible for the outcome. In a collapse, the centre attempts to blame the periphery and impose all the consequences upon it, while holding on to all the perceived wealth. This is toxic to the larger structure. The socioeconomic disparities created in the attempt to contain the consequences in the periphery will be politically impossible to sustain…The extent to which the attempt to do this will inflame destructive old hatreds is very much larger than people currently suppose…Collective memory is long.


During our decades of economic expansion in the era of globalization, effective organizational scale has become larger and larger, undercutting the ability of smaller entities to compete, and thereby forcing them to amalgamate. Europe has been attempting to create a political entity comparable to the United States, but without the benefit of a common language, culture, identity, freedom of movement, system of transfer payments, financial regulatory regime etc. In doing so, it has created a fatally flawed entity which is nakedly predator, rather than tempered with integrative redistribution mechanisms.

The degree of true integration in Europe is a fraction of what it is in the USA, hence that integration is far more fragile:

Large, economically diverse areas can successfully share a single currency if they have deep economic links that make it possible for troubled regions to ride out crises. That means shared bank regulation and deposit insurance, so banks don’t face regional panics; a labor market that lets people move from places without jobs to places with them; and a fiscal union, which allows the government to collect taxes wherever there is money and spend it wherever there are needs….

…The European Union’s centralized budget equals only about 1% of Europe’s G.D.P., compared with more than 20% for the American federal government. A much more centralized E.U. budget, with much more money flowing through Brussels the way it flows through Washington, could provide similar macroeconomic stability to Europe by creating a fiscal union…

…An economic union can promote economic stability only if it is politically stable, so market participants can have confidence that fiscal transfers and bank guarantees will remain in place.

The price for the necessary integration is far higher than sovereign European countries have been prepared to pay. Without substantial transfer payments to blunt the disparities, the imperial structure of the eurozone acts as a mechanism to convey wealth from the periphery to the financial centre:

The core issue: Although the European Union can handle economies of widely varying types and levels of development, the euro area cannot. Greece’s gross domestic product per person was about half of Germany’s when it joined the euro in 2001. Since then, Greece’s competitiveness relative to Germany’s has slid by about 40%.

For a currency union to handle widely divergent economies, they must be deeply integrated across multiple dimensions. In the U.S., the average citizen of Mississippi makes just $20,618 a year, compared with $37,892 in Connecticut — almost as big a gap as between Greece and Germany. Yet the U.S. doesn’t worry about a “Missexit,” because the country has various mechanisms for smoothing over differences among its states…. 

….The mechanisms include large fiscal transfers– by necessity currency unions are transfer unions. Last year, 28 U.S. states sent the equivalent of 2.3% of their gross domestic product through the federal budget to the other 22 states. The biggest donor, Delaware, gave 21%. The biggest recipient, North Dakota, got 90%. By contrast, in 2011 Germany made a net contribution of 0.2% of its GDP to the EU budget, while Greece received 0.2%. Would German voters really support a tenfold jump in their contributions from 210 euros to 2,100 euros per person?

Large-scale fiscal transfers are not the only mechanism needed. Mississippi has probably run the equivalent of a current account deficit with New York ever since the Civil War. Every April, the banks in the Federal Reserve system reallocate assets and smooth over such regional imbalances. By contrast, when Greece runs a deficit with Germany — for example, due to trade with Germany or capital flight from Greece — its central bank accumulates debts to the Bundesbank indefinitely. The Bundesbank currently holds more than 500 billion euros in credits against other euro zone central banks. Again, would German taxpayers be willing to see the Bundesbank regularly write off some portion of those liabilities?

Another reason U.S. states don’t pop out of the dollar area is that they (with the exception of Vermont) have to balance their operating budgets. Only the federal government can run a long-term deficit. Again, Germany and other EU states have explicitly rejected any kind of euro-area sovereign-bond arrangement that would pool deficits. Finally, the U.S. has a deep single market for products, services and labor and a true national banking union, all of which in Europe are only partially completed projects. The lack of truly integrated markets allowed real interest rates and inflation to diverge across the euro zone, leading to a loss of competitiveness and a credit boom and bust in the south.

Thus, the euro area is stuck in a dysfunctional netherworld between a fully integrated union and a more flexible exchange rate mechanism. So Greece has to become a lot more like Germany (unlikely), the euro area needs to become a lot more like the U.S. (also unlikely), or we’ll have another crisis (very likely).

To Scale-Up or Scale-Down?

This is not, however, an argument for Europe to move now towards supranational statehood, even if such a thing were possible, which, in the absence of a common identity, is not realistic. Europe is not prepared for, nor suited for, that level of integration. As German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said:

“There can be no mutual liability in Europe. Providing debt relief and transfers won’t help any country. The problem of moral and political hazard in Europe isn’t some narrow-minded mantra,” he said.

Given that we stand on the brink of a major financial and economic contraction, further integration or aggregation would not be possible. The aggregation already achieved was a function of economic expansion, and entities which come together under such circumstances are fissile once expansion morphs into contraction. Trust determines effective organizational scale, and in the coming environment, effective organizational scale is going to get much smaller. Rather than trying to maintain an over-extended and fragile polity, Europe is going to have to rediscover small scale sovereignty.

The assumption in Europe was that regional diversity would be secondary to the unifying force of a single currency, and that a currency union could be expected to remain politically stable even in the absence of fundamental aspects of integration. This has proven over time to be disastrously incorrect. Identity remains at the national, not the supranational, level, meaning that trust has had great difficulty transcending this level in order for it to manifest in European institutions as opposed to national parliaments. True political legitimacy has therefore never been granted, and the democratic deficit in Europe has widened as a result, with supranational institutions insulating themselves from a European public increasingly at odds with its priorities. 

This is where we found ourselves at the peak of expansion, under the best conditions for broad-based trust. Past that peak, with the trust horizon sharply contracting already, conditions are rapidly worsening. As we have observed before, expansions are relatively smooth progressions, but contractions are, in contrast, full of abrupt discontinuities:

As we scaled up we built structural dependencies on the range of affordable inputs available to us, on the physical infrastructure we built to exploit them, on the trading relationships formed through comparative advantage, and on the large scale institutional framework to manage it all. Scaling down will mean huge dislocation as these dependencies must give way. There is simply no smooth, managed way to achieve this.

The situation manifesting in Greece at the moment is a prime example of this dynamic. There is a desperate attempt to manage the unmanageable, on the grounds that failure to do so would have dire consequences:

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis:”If the PM announced tonight an emergency bill for the introduction of a new currency, in 20 minutes all cash machines would be empty. There would be queues outside banks. The economy would collapse. The ECB would withdraw support for banks leading to their collapse. Until such time as the state printed a new currency, utter darkness would cover the country. 80% of households would become poverty-stricken. The vast-majority of people would rue the time and day this post-bailout default was announced. The exit from the euro for a deficit country would send us back to the neolithic period before we could even realise it.”

This is no doubt true, and the question therefore becomes whether or not this eventuality can be avoided by attempting to prop up the system in its current form in order to buy time to construct its replacement:

Yanis Varoufakis: “If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come. For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.

I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.

Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.”

The Psychology of Contraction and the Politics of Division

I agree with Varoufakis that the failure of the current system is likely to unleash the dangerously regressive forces that he mentions. The psychology of contraction is fundamentally different from that of expansion, meaning that different – negative – forces gain the upper hand. I disagree, however, that attempting to maintain the current system can prevent this from happening. Desperately trying to sustain a credit bubble that has already consumed the substance on which it was built is not a viable strategy. It is not going to buy time to construct and implement an alternative system of governance. All it can to is to facilitate an even greater degree of self-consuming catabolism, thereby guaranteeing that the crunch, when it inevitably comes, will be worse. Crisis may be postponed, but at great cost. It cannot be prevented. 

Once a credit bubble has been blown, it will eventually implode, as all structures grounded in ponzi dynamics do. When it does, as we have noted before, politics will get much uglier no matter which part of the political spectrum comes to power:

The psychology of contraction is not constructive, and leads in the direction of division and exclusion as trust evaporates. Unfortunately, trust – the glue of a functional society – takes a long time to build, but relatively little time to destroy….

….Whether the left or the right presides over contraction, we are most likely to see a much more pathological face emerge, and this will aggravate political crisis considerably. On the right this could be xenophobia, strict enforcement of tight and arbitrary norms dictated by the few, loss of civil rights, extreme poverty for most while a few live like kings, and fascism, perhaps grounded in theocracy.

On the left it could be forced collectivization, the elimination of property rights, confiscations, and a desire to punish anyone who appears to be doing relatively well, whether or not they achieved this legitimately through foresight, hard work and fiscal responsibility. In either case, liberty is likely to be an early casualty, and intolerance of differences is virtually guaranteed to increase.

We are already seeing the politics of division in Europe. Instead of defending a collective vision, European nation states are retreating into manifest self-interest and mutual recrimination:

Deeper fiscal integration in the eurozone is a “huge mistake” that could end up tearing the bloc apart, Sweden’s former finance minister has warned. Anders Borg said forcing countries to cede sovereignty could trigger a right-wing backlash across Europe, as he predicted that countries such as Sweden and Poland, which are obliged to join the euro, would not adopt the single currency for “decades”. “If you go for tighter co-operation that basically brings higher taxes to the north to subsidise the south, you build in a political divide that is not sustainable in the long term,” he said.

We are seeing divisions between the core nations of France and Germany, and an obvious failure of solidarity among the nations most likely to find themselves in the same position as Greece in the not too distant future.

France, which is itself teetering on the brink, fears German power, but is unwilling to challenge it to forcefully. Prior to the recent national humiliation of Greece, France was beginning to favour leniency:

The much more consequential U-turn is in Paris. Suddenly, Tsipras’s promises on fiscal policy are “serious, credible,” according to President Francois Hollande. In truth, of course, they are exactly as serious and credible as they have been for the past five months. Even if Tsipras becomes a born-again fiscal conservative and actually tries to keep these promises, he’ll fail — and everybody knows it. A tightening of fiscal policy as the economy falls further into recession is anti-growth and fiscally counterproductive. Those primary-surplus targets that the creditors want carved in stone are almost impossible to hit.

However, French representation in actual negotiations was apparently muted:

Yanis Varoufakis: “Only the French minister [Michel Sapin] made noises that were different from the German line, and those noises were very subtle. You could sense he had to use very judicious language, to be seen not to oppose. And in the final analysis, when Dr Schäuble responded and effectively determined the official line, the French minister would always fold.”

Other eurozone countries, many of which are poorer than Greece, resent the notion of Greek debt relief which they would be asked to help pay for: 

The arguments of Greece’s creditors have a powerful political logic. No politician from a creditor country can be seen handing over cash to Greece without strict guarantees about how it will be spent. Such politicians note that even as Greece requests further bailouts, its pension system remains relatively generous, encouraging early retirement. The share of employed Greeks between the ages of 55 and 64 is nearly half that of Germany. In 2012, for example, Greece spent 17.5% of GDP on government pensions, compared with 12.3% in Germany. Such comparisons make European voters balk over further bailouts. Politicians in Slovakia and the Baltics, nations no richer than Greece, struggle to explain to constituents why their countries should help fund Greek pensions. Fix the holes in Greece’s perpetually leaky tax system first, many constituents contend.

In addition other indebted members states were concerned about the implications for their own internal politics in the event of Greece being granted a deal:

Varoufakis was reluctant to name individuals, but added that the governments that might have been expected to be the most sympathetic towards Greece were actually their “most energetic enemies”. He said that the “greatest nightmare” of those with large debts – the governments of countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland – “was our success”. “Were we to succeed in negotiating a better deal, that would obliterate them politically: they would have to answer to their own people why they didn’t negotiate like we were doing.”

Nascent political movements comparable to Greece’s Syriza are considered a major threat in other affected countries, and a Syriza victory would be seen as empowering political discontent at home:

Michael Pettis: “Today’s Financial Times has a very worrying article explaining why Madrid wants to be seen among the hardliners in opposing a rational treatment for Greece: “when it comes to helping Greece, there will be no such thing as southern solidarity or peripheral patronage.” This is the reverse of what it should be doing. In an article for Politica Exterior in January 2012, I actually proposed, albeit without much hope, that Spain take the lead and organize the debtor countries to negotiate a sustainable agreement, but in its fear of Podemos, the Spanish equivalent of Syriza, and its determination to be one of the “virtuous” countries, it strikes me that Madrid is probably moving in the wrong direction economically. Ultimately, by tying itself even more tightly to the interests of the creditors, Rajoy and his associates are only making the electoral prospects for Podemos all the brighter.”

Meanwhile in the richer north, small political parties like the euroskeptic True Finns have a disproportionate amount of power over the fate of their southern neighbour, thanks to their role in the coalition government and the need for that government to approve a Greek deal. Although Finland could not block a bailout by itself, given the its share of the vote is determined by its contribution to the bailout fund, it could instigate a coalition of euroskeptics to derail and agreement. The issue is proving extremely divisive within Finnish domestic politics. When splinter groups in one member state have what is effectively the power of life death over people in another member state, anger and resentment are guaranteed:

The decision to push for a so-called “Grexit” came after the eurosceptic True Finns party, the second-largest in parliament, threatened to bring down the government if it backed another rescue deal for Greece….Finns party leader Timo Soini, who is also the country’s foreign minister, has repeatedly argued in favour a “Grexit”, saying it would be better for Greece to leave the euro. Finland is one of several EU countries whose national parliaments must sign off of any debt deal for Greece.

The European project, supposedly instituted to prevent future conflict, has increasingly become a potential cause of it:

Europe brings peace. Is that so? It is becoming obvious that you cannot have the economics of the Great Depression without having the politics of the Great Depression. Tsipras’s Greek Marxists and Marine le Pen’s French ‘post-fascists’ may seem moderate when set against the men and women who will come after them if this crisis does not end. Far from quelling nationalism, meanwhile, the Euro has incited it. People who were rubbing along perfectly well in the early 1990s, now look on each other with an emotion close to hatred. Greeks, Italians and Spaniards wonder why Germans, Finns and the Dutch insist that they must suffer. The Germans, Finns and Dutch wonder why southern Europeans expect to live off their taxes.

The politics of division have begun in earnest:

Yanis Varoufakis: Back in 1971 Nick Kaldor, the noted Cambridge economist, had warned that forging monetary union before a political union was possible would lead not only to a failed monetary union but also to the deconstruction of the European political project. Later on, in 1999, German-British sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf also warned that economic and monetary union would split rather than unite Europe. All these years I hoped that they were wrong. Now, the powers that be in Brussels, in Berlin and in Frankfurt have conspired to prove them right.

A Greek Deal That Pleases No One

The terms imposed upon Greece have been subjected to criticism from all sides. The deal has been described as a national humiliation, as a cruel forced-capitulation on the diplomatic rack, as a crucifixion of Greek leader Alexis Tsipras, as a coup d’etat, as a new Versailles treaty, and as the relegation of Greece to the status of a vassal state with an emasculated parliament. EMU inspectors will be able to veto Greek legislation. Greece must adopt drastic reforms, far more draconian than those they rejected in their recent referendum. They must streamline the pension system, boost tax revenue, liberalise the labour market, privatise the electricity network, extend commercial opening hours and place €50 billion worth of assets into a trust fund intended to generate privatisation revenues to pay creditors. All of this is merely to begin negotiations on a new bailout package, with no prospect of the debt relief that even the IMF insists is necessary.

The European Union does not suffer from a mere ‘democratic deficit’, as this exercise in naked monetary imperialism demonstrates:

Monday July 13 will go down in history as the day Greece lost its independence after 185 years of freedom, the day democracy died in the country that invented it and the day the European Union took a decisive step towards self-destruction. After almost 20 hours of of browbeating by EU leaders in Brussels – which one senior official compared to “mental waterboarding” – Greece was given a blunt choice: vote through a raft of draconian measures demanded by creditors or leave the Eurozone…

…Greece has essentially seen its independence eviscerated. A state whose motto is ‘Freedom or Death’ and whose national anthem is ‘Hymn to Liberty’ is now little more than a protectorate of the EU. Its parliament no longer has the power to make sovereign decisions about the issues that matter most to its citizens. Instead, it has two days to vote through a shopping-list of far-reaching reforms mandated by Brussels. Its administration is subordinate to a triumvirate of unelected officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF. And billions of euros of assets are to be stripped from the Greek state’s control and placed in a Luxembourg trust fund.

As the summit of Eurozone leaders limped to a conclusion Monday morning, some commentators compared the tortured talks to the Nice Treaty, thrashed out over four days in 2000. In fact, it more resembles the Versailles Treaty, whose punitive terms were imposed on Germany almost a century ago and poisoned international relations for decades after.

The wartime comparisons have been expressed by many commentators:

Yanis Varoufakis: “The recent Euro Summit is indeed nothing short of the culmination of a coup. In 1967 it was the tanks that foreign powers used to end Greek democracy. In my interview with Philip Adams, on ABC Radio National’s LNL, I claimed that in 2015 another coup was staged by foreign powers using, instead of tanks, Greece’s banks.”

The week’s events constitute power politics in their most unedifying form:

What we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity. “This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

What we have all seen with great clarity is that the EMU creditor powers can subjugate an unruly state – provided it is small – by shutting down its banking system. We have seen too that a small country has no defences whatsoever. This is monetary power run amok.

Phillippe Legrain, former head of the analysis team at the Bureau of European Policy Advisers and principal adviser to the president of the European Commission, has been particularly scathing in his criticism:

When finalizing my book European Spring last year, I hesitated before describing the Eurozone as a “glorified debtors’ prison.” After this weekend’s brutal, vindictive, and short-sighted exercise of German power against Greece, backed up by the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank’s (ECB) illegal threat to pull the plug on the entire Greek banking system, I take it back. There is nothing glorious about the Eurozone: it is a monstrous, undemocratic creditors’ racket.

Greece’s submission to the conditions that Germany demanded, merely to start negotiations about further funding to refinance its unsustainable debts, may stave off the prospect of imminent bank collapse and Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. But far from solving the Greek problem, doubling down on the creditors’ disastrous strategy of the past five years will only further depress the economy, increase the unbearable debt burden, and trample on democracy. Even Deutsche Bank, one of the German banks bailed out by European taxpayers’ forced loans to the Greek government in 2010, says Greece is now tantamount to a vassal state….

….That’s the point of brutalizing Greece: to deter anyone else from getting out of line. Why vote for parties that challenge the Berlin Consensus if they will be beaten into submission, too? Created to bring Europeans closer together, the Eurozone is now held together by little except fear.

Even former staunch europhiles on the political left are increasingly seeing the European project in a very different light:

At first, only a few dipped their toes in the water; then others, hesitantly, followed their lead, all the time looking at each other for reassurance. As austerity-ravaged Greece was placed under what Yanis Varoufakis terms a “postmodern occupation”, its sovereignty overturned and compelled to implement more of the policies that have achieved nothing but economic ruin, Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast.

“Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage,” writes George Monbiot, explaining his about-turn. “All my life I’ve been pro-Europe,” says Caitlin Moran, “but seeing how Germany is treating Greece, I am finding it increasingly distasteful.” Nick Cohen believes the EU is being portrayed “with some truth, as a cruel, fanatical and stupid institution”. “How can the left support what is being done?” asks Suzanne Moore. “The European ‘Union’. Not in my name.”

Many commentators feel that critical lines were crossed and the damage to the European Union could ultimately prove to be fatal:

George Friedmann: Germany could not accept the Greek demand. It could not risk a Greek exit from the European Union. It could not appear to be frightened by an exit, and it could not be flexible. During the week, the Germans floated the idea of a temporary Greek exit from the euro. Greece owes a huge debt and needs to build its economy. What all this has to do with being in the euro or using the drachma is not clear. It is certainly not clear how it would have helped Europe or solved the immediate banking problem. The Greeks are broke, and don’t have the euros to pay back loans or liquefy the banking system. The same would have been true if they left the European Union. Suggesting a temporary Grexit was a fairly meaningless act — a bravura performance by the Germans. When you desperately fear something in a negotiation, there is no better strategy than to demand that it happen….

…Germany crossed two lines. The lesser line was that France and Germany were not linked on dealing with Greece, though they were not so far apart as to be even close to a breach. The second, and more serious, line was that the final negotiation was an exercise of unilateral German power. Several nations supported the German position from the beginning — particularly the Eastern European nations that, in addition to opposing Greece soaking up European money, do not trust Greece’s relationship with Russia. Germany had allies. But it also had major powers as opponents, and these were brushed aside. 

These powerful opponents were brushed aside particularly on two issues. One was any temporary infusion of cash into Greek banks. The other was the German demand, in a more extreme way than ever before, that the Greeks cede fundamental sovereignty over their national economy and, in effect, over Greece itself. Germany demanded that Greece place itself under the supervision of a foreign EU monitoring force that, as Germany demonstrated in these negotiations, ultimately would be under German control….

…The situation in Greece is desperate because of the condition of the banking system. It was the pressure point that the Germans used to force Greek capitulation. But Greece is now facing not only austerity, but also foreign governance. The Germans’ position is they do not trust the Greeks. They do not mean the government now, but the Greek electorate. Therefore, they want monitoring and controls. This is reasonable from the German point of view, but it will be explosive to the Greeks.

In World War II, the Germans occupied Greece. As in much of the rest of Europe, the memory of that occupation is now in the country’s DNA. This will be seen as the return of German occupation, and opponents of the deal will certainly use that argument. The manner in which the deal was made and extended by the Germans to provide outside control will resurrect historical memories of German occupation. It has already started.

Friedmann’s point about not trusting the Greek electorate is an important one. This is not the first time in Europe in recent years that electorates have been sidestepped or subverted for having inconvenient collective opinions. Elections themselves could become increasingly problematic:

Varoufakis said that Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister and the architect of the deals Greece signed in 2010 and 2012, was “consistent throughout”. “His view was ‘I’m not discussing the programme – this was accepted by the previous [Greek] government and we can’t possibly allow an election to change anything.

 “So at that point I said ‘Well perhaps we should simply not hold elections anymore for indebted countries’, and there was no answer. The only interpretation I can give [of their view] is, ‘Yes, that would be a good idea, but it would be difficult. So you either sign on the dotted line or you are out.’”

Interestingly, much angst over the deal can also be found domestically in Germany, where there is considerable concern over the country’s reputation in Europe. The Greek debacle is being referred to as a diplomatic disaster:

Chancellor Angela Merkel may appear to be the victor in the Greek bailout standoff but many Germans looked on in dismay at the heavy cost to the country’s image. Merkel and her hardline finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, drove a tough bargain at the marathon negotiations, in line with Berlin’s stated goal of defending the cause of fiscal rectitude. But while Merkel, often called Europe’s de facto leader, has grown used to Nazi caricatures on the streets of Athens, a backlash appeared to be mounting this time at home too. Commentators of all political stripes said they feared that Berlin’s “bad cop” stance in Brussels had brought back “ugly German” stereotypes of rigid, brutal rule enforcers.

“The German government destroyed seven decades of post-war diplomacy on a single weekend,” news website Spiegel Online said. “There is a fine line between saving and punishing Greece. This night the line has disappeared,” tweeted Mathias Mueller von Blumencron of the conservative standard-bearer Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as the details of the German-brokered austerity-for-aid deal emerged. “Merkel managed to revive the image of the ugly, hard-hearted and stingy German that had just begun to fade,” the centre-left daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote. “Every cent of aid to Greece that the Germans tried to save will have to be spent two and three times over in the coming years to polish that image again.”

It is difficult to see how this situation could be described as other than the worst way for the European project to proceed:

Greece’s economy is in tatters, its creditors are fuming and Europe’s institutions are in despair. Much to Britain’s disgust even non-euro countries have been sucked into the nightmare: a bridge loan designed to keep Greece afloat while the bail-out talks proceed looks set to tap a fund to which all EU countries have contributed.

But wasn’t this week’s agreement a triumph for the shock troops of austerity? Hardly. Finland’s coalition, formed only two months ago, tottered at the prospect of funding a third Greek bail-out. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has admitted that it would violate an election pledge he made in 2012. One euro-zone diplomat says that 99% of her compatriots would say “no” to the bail-out if offered a Greece-style referendum. Even Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and Mr Tsipras’s chief tormentor, is damaged. The deal, crafted largely by Mrs Merkel, Mr Tsipras and François Hollande, France’s president, has exposed the German chancellor to competing charges: of cruelty abroad and of leniency at home, notably among Germany’s increasingly irritable parliamentarians, who must vote twice on the Greek package.

Europe’s single currency, designed to foster unity and ease trade between its members, has thus become a ruthless generator of misery for almost all of them.

Liquidity Crunch and a Cash-Only Economy

As we have consistently maintained at TAE, cash is king in a period of deflation, and the conversion to a cash-only economy can unfold very rapidly once credit instruments cease to be regarded as credible promises to repay. Like Cyprus in March 2013, the Greek economy is rapidly transitioning to cash-only as the liquidity crunch, or liquidity asphyxiation, to use Yanis Varoufakis’ term, deepens. The banks are on the verge of collapse. Capital controls allow for withdrawals of only €60 per day, and pensioners are only able to access €120 per week [update: that changed today]. Tourists are finding they cannot change foreign currency for scarce euros. People fear bank account haircuts. Medicines, particularly insulin, and access to medical care are very limited as the healthcare system has converted to pay-as-you-go, in cash. The power system struggles to cope as consumers cannot pay their bills. Purchases cannot be made outside the country, so vital imports are not possible, meaning that stocks of raw materials are being run down. Operations may shortly cease for many businesses:

Constantine Michalos, head of the Hellenic Chambers of Commerce and a food importer, said the economy has reached near paralysis. “There is no system in place for Greek companies to transfer money about. Our life-blood has been shut off,” he said. “People are depleting their stocks. We are going to start seeing shortages of meat by the end of the week.”

The network of chambers in the Greek islands reports that the local payments system is breaking down since nobody wants to accept transfers into backing accounts that could be seized at any moment. “The ferry operators are demanding cash up front to bring in fuel and supplies,” he said. “The whole is economy shifting to cash. You can’t really import anything, and 40pc of Greek GDP is based on imports,” said Haris Makryniotis, who helps small businesses for Endeavor Greece.

Businesses have little remaining room for manoeuver :

Whereas individuals may be able to survive off €60 a day, at least for a while, businesses cannot. One particular problem is that Greek businesses rely heavily on imports (especially of raw materials) which they can no longer access easily; this means that, for example, a lightbulb factory reliant on copper from Chile can only make lightbulbs as long as its existing inventory holds out. Exports also fall; Greek manufacturers have already had to cancel orders from buyers abroad and more will follow soon. Domestic suppliers have begun to insist on up-front cash payments (those that didn’t already, at least). This causes similar supply-chain problems; as drivers and petrol stations demand payment in cash, which isn’t readily available, delivery delays grow, occasionally leading fruit and vegetables to go off. Redundancies are already starting to happen as businesses slim down to counter losses.

Whereas some of the bigger businesses with bank accounts abroad or foreign income streams are able to circumvent some of these controls by using their foreign bank accounts to pay suppliers, most family-run businesses and smaller firms—the backbone of the Greek economy—are not so lucky. In theory, they can apply to a special bank committee that assesses applications; in practice this is proving wholly insufficient….

…Greece is a more cash-reliant economy than other European countries and small businesses in particular pay both suppliers and employees in cash. Capital controls have quickly thrown normal pay arrangements into chaos, and businesses are increasingly resorting to delayed payments, forced holiday for employees, and layoffs. 

Companies with large cash flows, such as supermarkets, have stopped putting all their cash earnings back into banks and are holding on to over 50% of it, according to one senior Greek banker. Those who still use banks for deposits say they do so in order to pay staff electronically. Cash-heavy businesses that have stopped paying into banks have started to pay staff directly in cash.

Greece’s slow slide into a cash-only economy has significant repercussions for the state—including a smaller tax take as cash transactions and payments reduce the (already low) share of exchanges reported to the Greek government.

This is what a liquidity crunch looks like in practice, and very much what we have been warning about at TAE since its inception. Finance is the operating system, and when the operating system crashes, nothing moves. In a complex system, that translates rapidly into cascading system failure. Without liquidity to act as the lubricant in the engine of the economy, it is not longer possible to connect buyers and sellers, or producers and consumers. In a cash-only economy, where credit instruments have ceased to be viable, there is very little cash available, and of what little there is, people hold on to as much as they can because they are unsure when they may come by any more of it. This means the velocity of money – the prime determinant of the level of economic activity that can be supported – remains extremely low. As we have said before:

2008 did not demonstrate what a liquidity crunch really means, but this time we are going to find out. As with many aspects of financial crisis, Greece is the canary in the coalmine….For a long time, money will be the limiting factor, and finance will be the key driver to the downside, just as was the case in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Resources will remain available, at least initially, but no one will have the means to pay for them during a period of economic seizure.

As we have discussed at TAE before, prices diverge under conditions of liquidity crunch. As a much larger percentage of a much smaller money supply starts competing for the essentials, they receive relative price support. In contrast domestic good of little immediate essential value become virtually worthless very quickly:

Some Greeks of means are reportedly going on spending binges, buying expensive goods in order to empty their bank accounts. When the rumour of a haircut to deposits over €8000 surfaced earlier this week, people apparently tried to find ways to bring their accounts below that level (by buying things on their debit cards or transferring money to friends with a lower balance).

Most Greeks are living off meagre salaries, have little money in their accounts and are prioritising the basics. Food and petrol sellers have been the big winners, so to speak, of the past week as people hoard dry foods and fill up on petrol to prepare for potential severe shortages in future. For most other businesses, selling less-essential goods and services, business is very bad. Many report drops in sales of 25%-50%. Demand for non-essential food items, for example, is reportedly down around 30%. Domestic production is falling as a consequence, which suggests that a sharp rise in unemployment may soon follow.

To the extent that they can, people are hoarding cash (and have been in modest amounts since January, when Syriza came to power). Around €45 billion is estimated to be stuffed in sock-drawers, under mattresses and in safes in people’s homes. These hoards will support some segments of the Greek population well if the crisis continues, but the cashpiles seem to be distributed in highly uneven fashion.

Debt to GDP is past the point of no return in Greece, meaning that default is inevitable. Austerity is merely frog-marching the country in that direction even more quickly, as it suppresses economic growth. With the rate of growth less than the rate of interest paid on debt, Greece is in an exploding debt scenario. The greater the extent to which austerity forces economic contraction, the larger the debt will loom in comparison to falling GDP. Debt relief is not on offer, maturity extensions will make little difference, and assets set aside to cover debt from privatization revenues are not going to attract the expected valuations under conditions of distressed assets prices. Their contribution to debt repayment is therefore being grossly overestimated in the Troika’s calculations:

“It’s just a continuation of failed policy packages, and if anything it’s worse,” says Charles Wyplosz, professor of economics at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva. “It hasn’t worked, it won’t work.”…

….Greece’s paralyzed banks could prove the biggest brake on such an economic bounce, however. The banks, which have suffered from deteriorating asset quality and massive deposit flight, need a faster and bolder recapitalization than Europe is currently offering, Mr. Gros says. “Creditors will have to deliver here. They will sabotage their own program if they don’t,” he says….

….Like the previous bailout programs, the aim is to put Greece’s debt on a downward trajectory as a proportion of its GDP. But the math looks strained: Greek debt avoids skyrocketing only because lenders say Greece will raise €50 billion from privatizing public assets, the proceeds of which would mostly go toward paying down debt. Previous bailout plans also assumed large privatization revenues. Only a fraction have materialized. The problem was and remains that Greece doesn’t have assets that it can sell for such high prices in the foreseeable future

The dismal prospect for Greece under this agreement is a downward spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy, as the shift from to the psychology of expansion to the psychology of contraction has cascading impacts:

Value-added tax rates — your basic regressive sales tax — will jump by ten percentage points or more, to 23%, including for hotels and restaurants and including on the Greek islands. This will divert tourists to Turkey and elsewhere, damping Greece’s largest industry. Also, it will drive small businesses even further to cash and tax evasion. This means other tax revenues will also fall. Tax revenues will rise at first, but then they will fall short of targets, both because economic activity falls and evasion rises. As this happens, the new program requires that public spending be cut automatically. Since most public spending goes for pensions and wages, this means that pensions and wages will be cut. Since pensioners and civil servants live on these payments, they will cut their spending — and tax revenues will fall further. In the labor market, extreme deregulation will proceed. Collective bargaining will be suppressed; wages will therefore fall. As a result, wage labor will go off-the-books, into cash, even more than it already has, and pension contributions will decline again. The resulting tax losses will feed back into pension cuts.

Privatization will work through a required new fund that will, supposedly, hold €50 billion in Greek assets to be sold off (notwithstanding the difficulty that, according to the economy minister, public assets on that scale do not exist). Anyhow the state electricity company will be sold, and electric rates will rise. As all this happens, even more people will default on their mortgages. The judicial code will be rewritten to facilitate mass foreclosures, so far held in abeyance.  The non-performing-loans of the banking system will then go from disastrous to catastrophic. Now then, under these conditions, what do you think will happen to the banks.

It is possible that a surge of “confidence” will now bring cash deposits back to the banks, new inter-bank loans from North Europe, new lending to small businesses, new jobs and economic growth.  Possible, but not likely. Much more likely, with every increase of the ceiling on Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), and every relaxation of capital controls, people in Greece will line up to pull cash from the banking system. They will do this because they have to, in order to live. They will do this because cash avoids taxes. They will do it because any fool can see that the banks are doomed. So deposits will go down, the ELA will go up, still more loans will go bad, and the banks will continue as zombies until — at some point — the European Central Bank gives up and closes them down, this time for good. Greek depositors will then lose what little remains.

Single Currency or Glorified Exchange-Rate Mechanism?

The single currency was intended to transcend the difficulties of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism which preceded it, becoming an irreversible unifying force for its member states. Currency pegs are notorious for providing a field day for speculators, as Britain discovered to its cost the day sterling was driven from the ERM, despite the government raising interest rates by 5% in a single day. A single currency, in contrast, is indivisible, providing no cracks within which wedges may be driven in order to profit from exploiting economic disparities.

Europe wished to convince the financial world of its new-found seamlessness by ‘graduating’ from ERM to single currency, but irreversibility and seamlessness are in the eye of the beholder. They depend on confidence, as does every facet of the financial world. Where there is a clear disparity between the level of primary loyalty (to the nation state) and the scale at which the currency operates (Europe-wide), there is clearly a problem. Allowing currency notes to be distinguished on the basis of country of issue (by serial number) creates another potentially exploitable weakness. Nevertheless, the eurozone was presenting a united front until the specter of Grexit emerged.

The negotiating position recently presented by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, suggesting a temporary ‘time-out’ of the single currency for Greece, has opened Pandora’s box with a vengeance:

For its entire life, the euro was conceived as a currency from which there could be no exit. This was not accidental: the disasters that befell the Exchange Rate Mechanism in the early 1990s convinced European leaders that the only way to create a lasting single currency was never, ever, to countenance anyone leaving it. The euro was “irreversible”, to use the word Mario Draghi has frequently used.

Except, tonight in Brussels it transpired that it is far from irreversible. That euro finance ministers are now actively discussing giving Greece a “time-out” from the currency.

Now, one should insert a major note of caution at this stage. The clause quoted above was not agreed by all the euro members here in Brussels. It was put into square brackets, meaning it is yet to be agreed by all member states. It may well be excised by the time the leaders have honed the draft document away to produce their final statement.

Nonetheless, it was on the table. And that means that to some extent, the genie is now out of the bottle. Brussels is officially discussing how to engineer Greece’s departure. The euro is not irreversible.

The significance of this move was noted immediately:

Yanis Varoufakis: “Anyone who toys with the idea of cutting off bits of the euro zone hoping the rest will survive is playing with fire. Some claim that the rest of Europe has been ring-fenced from Greece and that the ECB has tools at its disposal to amputate Greece, if need be, cauterize the wound and allow the rest of euro zone to carry on. I very much doubt that that is the case. Not just because of Greece but for any part of the union. Once the idea enters peoples’ minds that monetary union is not forever, speculation begins … who’s next? That question is the solvent of any monetary union. Sooner or later it’s going to start raising interest rates, political tensions, capital flight.”

Varoufakis is right. The risk distinctions might not begin immediately, but they will happen, and speculation will exploit them by exert huge pressure on credit spreads. Interest rates are a risk premium, and raising or lowering them creates self-fulfilling prophecies. The perception that a country represents a greater risk of default results in higher interest rates, which in turn increase the debt burden and raise the actual risk of default. similarly, the perception that a country represents a relative safe haven creates circumstances of greater actual safety as interest rates fall and lower the debt burden. Safe become safer, while the riskier are marched over a cliff. In expansionary times, investors largely ignore risk and credit spreads narrow. In contractionary ones, we can expect spreads to blow out to record levels as risk aversion suddenly increases. The effect will be to pick off countries one by one, beginning with the one perceived to be weakest. Reality is less important than perception in driving this dynamic. As the psychological shift occurs, the impact cascades as a positive feedback loop to the downside.

Varoufakis’ description of the long negotiation process is interesting. It seems clear from his account that the German negotiating team was determined to achieve a Grexit:

The reason five months of negotiations between Greece and Europe led to impasse is that Dr Schäuble was determined that they would. By the time I attended my first Brussels meetings in early February, a powerful majority within the Eurogroup had already formed. Revolving around the earnest figure of Germany’s Minister of Finance, its mission was to block any deal building on the common ground between our freshly elected government and the rest of the Eurozone.

Thus five months of intense negotiations never had a chance. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone. This is no theory of mine. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!

Germany had, after all, not been keen on allowing broad-based European participation in the eurozone from the beginning:

There were bitter fights between France and Germany in the run-up to the launch of the euro. Germany’s desire to limit the euro to a small club consisting of itself, France and some like-minded fiscally austere allies, such as the Netherlands, conflicted with France’s desire for a broader euro.

France, seeking to end the ability of Spain and Italy to competitively devalue at the expense of French exporters, wanted those southern European countries inside the euro. Germany’s efforts were undercut when a slowdown ensured it missed some of the stringent criteria it had insisted be a test for euro membership. With Germany and France both fudging their way in, there was no way to keep the so-called Club Med countries out.

The desire to squeeze Greece out of the euro might arguably be seen as an attempted kindness:

On July 14th, one day after the euro summit, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s bristly finance chief, declared that many of his colleagues in Berlin thought Greece would be better off leaving the euro than submitting to its demands. (He did not need to add that he shares that belief.)

Needless to say, it was not perceived this way, and even if it was meant to be of benefit to Greece, the threat to the eurozone through the questioning of irreversibility is still huge:

In an odd way, the only European politician who was really offering Greece a way out of the impasse was Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, even if his offer was made in a graceless fashion, almost in the form of diktat. His plan for a five-year velvet withdrawal from EMU – a euphemism, since he really meant Grexit – with Paris Club debt relief, humanitarian help, and a package of growth measures, might allow Greece to regain competitiveness under the drachma in an orderly way. Such a formula would imply intervention by the ECB to stabilise the drachma, preventing an overshoot and dangerous downward spiral. It would certainly have been better than the atrocious document that Mr Tsipras must now take back to Athens….

…For the eurozone this “deal” is the worst of all worlds. They have solved nothing. Germany and its allies have for the first time attempted to eject a country from the euro, and by doing so have violated the sanctity of monetary union. Rather than go forward in times of deep crisis to fiscal and political union to hold the euro together – as the architects of EMU always anticipated – they have instead gone backwards. They have at a single stroke converted the eurozone into a hard-peg currency bloc, a renewed Exchange Rate Mechanism that is inherently unstable, at the whim and mercy of populist politicians playing to the gallery at home. The markets are already starting to call it ERM3.

The risk of Grexit still exists, since no one seriously believes that Tsipras and Syriza can deliver on all the promises required of them. Even the attempt is likely to amount to political suicide. There could be a parliamentary revolt. With confidence so shaken, reopening the banks could yet result in a major bank run. Cash is king and, given the opportunity, people will likely be determined to get their hands on as much of it as they can. Debt to GDP is past the point of no return and everyone knows it. In the absence of very substantial debt relief, this agreement is nothing more than an attempt to kick the can further down the road, with no Plan B should that fail. And the can kickers are almost out of road.

The clear risk is contagion, with speculators picking off one country at a time. Dr Schäuble appears to believe that contagion is not a risk, as the Greek economy is relatively small:

“If you look at Greece, it’s not a major part of the economy of the eurozone as a whole. Most participants of financial markets are telling us that markets have already priced in whatever will happen. You can’t see any contagion.”

However, relative size is not the issue:

The warnings were echoed by Eric Rosengren, head of the Boston Federal Reserve, who said Europe risks sitting off uncontrollable contagion if it mishandles the Greek crisis, even though Greece may look too small to matter.

“I would say to some European analysts who assume that a Greek exit would not be a problem, people thought that Lehman wouldn’t be a problem. If you measured the size of Lehman relative to the size of the US economy it was quite small,” he told a group at Chatham House.

Economies do run run mechanically in accordance with the law of physics. They are not machines where action and reaction are proportionate. Economies operate in psychological space, as they are composed of people. Financial and economic outcomes represent the sum of millions and millions of short term, self-interested decisions made by market participants. Psychological shifts can have very rapid and apparently disproportionate effects. As the psychology of contraction takes hold, contagion is virtually guaranteed.

Dr Schäuble’s anti-democratic proposal for a European budget commissioner, with veto powers over national budgets, would neither have prevented the current crisis, nor addressed its aftermath, as it rests on a fatally flawed mechanistic model of financial systems that completely fails to incorporate vital aspects of the eurozone reality:

Yanis Varoufakis: “Before the crisis, had Dr Schäuble’s fiscal overlord existed, she or he might have been able to veto the Greek government’s profligacy but would be in no position to do anything regarding the tsunami of loans flowing from the private banks of Frankfurt and Paris to the Periphery’s private banks. Those capital outflows underpinned unsustainable debt that, unavoidably, got transferred back onto the public’s shoulders the moment financial markets imploded. Post-crisis, Dr Schäuble’s budget Leviathan would also be powerless, in the face of potential insolvency of several states caused by their bailing out (directly or indirectly) the private banks. In short, the new high office envisioned by the Schäuble-Lamers Plan would have been impotent to prevent the causes of the crisis and to deal with its repercussions.”

Governments are not in a position to control credit expansions, as so much of the process happens privately, particularly in the shadow banking system. Credit expansions are possible even under a gold standards, as we saw in the Roaring 20s, prior to The Great Depression. As we have discussed before, credit expansions have characterized bubbles throughout history and governments have been powerless to prevent them:

Neglecting the vital role of ephemeral credit in the composition of the effective money supply in manic times is a major omission, as it is the virtual nature of credit that defines such periods, and its abrupt loss that leads to the severity of the depression conditions that inevitably follow.


The eurozone crisis is typically cast as a geopolitical clash of nations:

Countries that don’t play ball with Germany will see their banking system used against their democratically elected politicians. The banking system is the soft underbelly and the Germans are prepared to orchestrate bank runs in member states to get their way. This is not only new, it is outrageous.

This is overly simplistic, however, as the centre of the imperial structure is not in this case a state – Germany – but the private financial system itself, which has been heavily involved in orchestrating the circumstances leading to the current crisis and arranging to benefit fro the inevitable fallout:

The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein. Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt, and in the process almost doubled it. And just as with the American subprime crisis, and the current plight of many American cities, Wall Street’s predatory lending played an important although little-recognized role.

In 2001, Greece was looking for ways to disguise its mounting financial troubles. The Maastricht Treaty required all eurozone member states to show improvement in their public finances, but Greece was heading in the wrong direction. Then Goldman Sachs came to the rescue, arranging a secret loan of 2.8 billion euros for Greece, disguised as an off-the-books “cross-currency swap”—a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign-currency debt was converted into a domestic-currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate.

As a result, about 2% of Greece’s debt magically disappeared from its national accounts. Christoforos Sardelis, then head of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, later described the deal to Bloomberg Business as “a very sexy story between two sinners.” For its services, Goldman received a whopping 600 million euros ($793 million), according to Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over from Sardelis in 2005. That came to about 12% of Goldman’s revenue from its giant trading and principal-investments unit in 2001—which posted record sales that year. The unit was run by Blankfein.

Then the deal turned sour. After the 9/11 attacks, bond yields plunged, resulting in a big loss for Greece because of the formula Goldman had used to compute the country’s debt repayments under the swap. By 2005, Greece owed almost double what it had put into the deal, pushing its off-the-books debt from 2.8 billion euros to 5.1 billion. In 2005, the deal was restructured and that 5.1 billion euros in debt locked in. Perhaps not incidentally, Mario Draghi, now head of the European Central Bank and a major player in the current Greek drama, was then managing director of Goldman’s international division.

….Goldman was the biggest enabler. Undoubtedly, Greece suffers from years of corruption and tax avoidance by its wealthy. But Goldman wasn’t an innocent bystander: It padded its profits by leveraging Greece to the hilt—along with much of the rest of the global economy. Other Wall Street banks did the same.

This is essentially the private equity model that has been employed against many companies, where a company is acquired (in a leveraged deal that costs the purchaser almost none of their own money) then asset-stripped, saddled with and sold back to the public as a worthless shell. Wall Street and its European counterparts do not only assets strip companies, they asset strip countries, and in the process shift the burdens onto the citizenry:

Michael Hudson: “It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor. And it’s a continuation of Thatcherism and neoliberalism. The problem isn’t simply that the troika wants Greece to balance the budget; it wanted Greece to balance the budget by lowering wages and by imposing austerity on the labor force. But instead, the terms in which Varoufakis has suggested balancing the budget are to impose austerity on the financial class, on the tycoons, on the tax dodgers.

And he said, okay, instead of lowering pensions to the workers, instead of shrinking the domestic market, instead of pursuing a self-defeating austerity, we’re going to raise two and a half billion from the powerful Greek tycoons. We’re going to collect the back taxes that they have. We’re going to crack down on illegal smuggling of oil and the other networks and on the real estate owners that have been avoiding taxes, because the Greek upper classes have become notorious for tax dodging.

Well, this has infuriated the banks, because it turns out the finance ministers of Europe are not all in favor of balancing the budget if it has to be balanced by taxing the rich, because the banks know that whatever taxes the rich are able to avoid ends up being paid to the banks. So now the gloves are off and the class war is sort of back. Originally, Varoufakis thought he was negotiating with the troika, that is, with the IMF, the ECB, and the Euro Council.

But instead they said, no, no, you’re negotiating with the finance ministers. And the finance ministers in Europe are very much like Tim Geithner in the United States. They’re lobbyists for the big banks. And the finance minister said, how can we screw up this and make sure that we treat Greece as an object lesson, pretty much like America treated Cuba in 1960?”

Big Capital controls state machinery for its own benefit, writing the rules by which it is regulated and subverting the political process away from the common good. While it is tempting to view Germany as rich, in control and acting as the eurozone enforcer, Germans have not generally benefitted from their position at the centre of the European project. In fact ordinary Germans, as with the middle class everywhere, have seen their living standards eroded considerably:

German workers have barely seen wages rise for the 14-year stretch. In the short life of the euro, working Germans have fared worse than the French, Austrians, Italians and many across southern Europe. Yes, we’re talking about the same Germany: the mightiest economy on the continent, the one even David Cameron regards with envy. Yet the people working there and making the country more prosperous have seen barely any reward for their efforts. And this is the model for a continent….

….What the single currency has done is make Germany’s low-wage problems the ruin of an entire continent. Workers in France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the eurozone are now being undercut by the epic wage freeze going on in the giant country in the middle. Flassbeck and Lapavitsas describe this as Germany’s “beggar thy neighbour” policy – “but only after beggaring its own people”.

Greek debt resulted not only from problems within Greece itself (corruption, non-payments of taxes etc), but from profligate and predatory lending by private banks with no regard for creditworthiness. When these loans went bad, along with hedge fund bets on national solvency, the financial institutions were bailed out and made whole by taxpayers, who were then saddled with even more unrepayable debt in a huge transfer of public wealth into private hands. Wealth conveyance from the periphery to the centre has accelerated enormously all over the world in the era of globalization, and the eurozone has reflected that dynamic. The global financial elite has seen their share expand exponentially:

While Germany has played a major role it in the subjugation of Greece it is worth asking who truly benefits from economic negotiations that have stopped making economic sense. Could it be the large banks who, following a similar model imposed on countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa since the 1970’s, continue to extract wealth from the poorest people on earth? Has not almost every development in the EU in the past ten years served to consolidate the power of financial institutions at the expense of the citizenry?

The regulatory framework developed after the Great Depression has been progressively dismantled, opening the doors again to the ruthless exploitation typical of periods of economic laissez faire, while protecting the financial elite from the consequences of reckless gambling with other people’s money:

The 1930s regulation that made capitalism a functioning economic system has been repealed. Today in the Western world capitalism is a looting mechanism. Capitalism not only loots labor, capitalism loots entire countries, such as Greece which is being forced by the EU to sell of Greece’s national assets to foreign purchasers….

….Even the language used in the West is deceptive. The Greek “bailout” does not bail out Greece. The bailout bails out the holders of Greek debt. Many of these holders are not Greece’s original creditors. What the “bailout” does is to make the New York hedge funds’ bet on the Greek debt pay off for the hedge funds. The bailout money goes not to Greece but to those who speculated on the debt being paid. According to news reports, Quantitative Easing by the ECB has been used to purchase Greek debt from the troubled banks that made the loans, so the debt issue is no longer a creditor issue.

The corporatocracy has been taking shape for over thirty years, widening inequality both within and between states as wealth is accumulated at the top of the financial food chain:

The Greeks and the U.S. working poor endure the same deprivations because they are being assaulted by the same system—corporate capitalism. There are no internal constraints on corporate capitalism. And the few external constraints that existed have been removed. Corporate capitalism, manipulating the world’s most powerful financial institutions, including the Eurogroup, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve, does what it is designed to do: It turns everything, including human beings and the natural world, into commodities to be exploited until exhaustion or collapse. In the extraction process, labor unions are broken, regulatory agencies are gutted, laws are written by corporate lobbyists to legalize fraud and empower global monopolies, and public utilities are privatized…

…The Greek government kneels before the bankers of Europe begging for mercy because it knows that if it leaves the eurozone, the international banking system will do to Greece what it did to the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1973 in Chile; it will, as Richard Nixon promised to do in Chile, “make the economy scream.” The bankers will destroy Greece. If this means the Greeks can no longer get medicine—Greece owes European drug makers 1 billion euros—so be it. If this means food shortages—Greece imports thousands of tons of food from Europe a year—so be it. If this means oil and gas shortages—Greece imports 99% of its oil and gas—so be it. The bankers will carry out economic warfare until the current Greek government is ousted and corporate political puppets are back in control.

Human life is of no concern to corporate capitalists. The suffering of the Greeks, like the suffering of ordinary Americans, is very good for the profit margins of financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs. It was, after all, Goldman Sachs—which shoved subprime mortgages down the throats of families it knew could never pay the loans back, sold the subprime mortgages as investments to pension funds and then bet against them—that orchestrated complex financial agreements with Greece, many of them secret. These agreements doubled the debt Greece owes under derivative deals and allowed the old Greek government to mask its real debt to keep borrowing. And when Greece imploded, Goldman Sachs headed out the door with suitcases full of cash.

I am very much in agreement with John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, when he observes that the interests of the elite do not align with the interests of states or their inhabitants, particularly in relation to the European project. Differences can be exploited though arbitrage, but harmonisation would have removed many of these differences. Whereas a single currency is useful for the purpose of efficiently transferring profits, true European integration would have removed opportunities to play on side against another:

That’s part of the game: convince people that they’re wrong, that they’re inferior. The corporatocracy is incredibly good at that…It’s a policy of them versus us: We are good. We are right. We do everything right. You’re wrong. And in this case, all of this energy has been directed at the Greek people to say “you’re lazy; you didn’t do the right thing; you didn’t follow the right policies,” when in actuality, an awful lot of the blame needs to be laid on the financial community that encouraged Greece to go down this route….

…What I didn’t realize during any of this period was how much corporatocracy does not want a united Europe. We need to understand this. They may be happy enough with the euro, with one currency – they are happy to a certain degree by having it united enough that markets are open – but they do not want standardized rules and regulations. Let’s face it, big corporations, the corporatocracy, take advantage of the fact that some countries in Europe have much more lenient tax laws, some have much more lenient environmental and social laws, and they can pit them against each other.

What would it be like for big corporations if they didn’t have their tax havens in places like Malta or other places? I think we need to recognize that what the corporatocracy saw at first, the solid euro, a European union seemed like a very good thing, but as it moved forward, they could see that what was going to happen was that social and environmental laws and regulations were going to be standardized. They didn’t want that, so to a certain degree what’s been going on in Europe has been because the corporatocracy wants Europe to fail, at least on a certain level.

The corporatocracy makes little attempt to disguise its power grabs these days, being secure enough in its consolidation of power to feel that no longer necessary. However, the greater the extent to which the citizenry recognizes the underlying dynamic, the angrier and more alienated they become. They are becoming increasingly opposed to the entire project of European Union, seeing it as a facilitation of exploitation. Euroskepticism in on the rise all over the continent, and that has the potential to damage the fabric of European society as it leads in the direction of increasing distrust of neighbouring countries:

As I watch what is happening in Greece, I feel myself to be increasingly Eurosceptic and wondering too if Eurosceptism is not code for the anti-German sentiment that currently abounds. If the European project that once seemed so noble now comes down to the European Central Bank, which is not in any way independent but acts as a thuggish bailiff to further impoverish Greece, what actually is it? If Germans believe they should not have to pay for the mistakes of Greek governments, then they do not see the crisis of Greece for what it is: a crisis of all Europe. Bailouts have been funded for the financial sector since 2008. To simply blame Greece is unsustainable.

The contagion that the financiers fear has already happened, but not exactly in the way they say. When the workings of the eurozone are held up to the light, the gaping deficit is one of democracy. Unelected commissioners, unaccountable banks all laughably scrabbling on to the crowded moral high ground. All this depends on an agreed script: corrupt Greeks as shirkers, hard-working Germans as strivers. All of the deals have actually been about protecting German and French banks from debt write-offs.

People are realising that elected officials have no power, and that democracy is increasingly illusory. The outward appearance of democracy remains, but the substance has been eroded to the point of travesty. This is dangerous, given that it drives a greater and greater loss of political legitimacy, even for smaller scale governance institutions, and that greatly increases the risk of widespread civil unrest:

Now it seems that both sides of the Greek referendum were voting for an illusion. One of the most touching aspects of Greek life is people’s obsessional respect for parliamentary democracy. Syriza itself is the embodiment of a leftism that always believed you could achieve more in parliament than on the streets. For the leftwing half of Greek society, though, the result is people continually voting for things more radical than they are prepared to fight for.

I asked one of Syriza’s grassroots organisers, a tough party cadre who had been agitating for a “rupture” with lenders for weeks, whether he could put his members onto the streets to keep order outside besieged pharmacies and supermarkets. He shook his head. The police, or more probably the conscript army would have to do it….

….The rest of leftwing Greece is mesmerised by parliament.

Little does it understand how scant was the power its ministers actually wielded from their offices. And now the realisation dawns: the Greek parliament has no power inside the eurozone at all. It has the power only to implement what its lenders want.

The financial system has acted as a highly effective parasite on the real economy, as it does during every bubble once the magic of leverage is rediscovered. However, parasite that get too greedy kill the host, and that is exactly what the financial system stands on the verge of doing. The end is likely when financial institutions turn on each other, as we saw with the failure of Lehman brothers in 2008:

Bankers, it turns out, are often the first to start a run on other banks….

….But the lesson the good citizens of the other crisis countries will draw may not be what their financial masters suppose. It may be, above all, get to cash, as quickly as possible.

An Alternate Way Forward for Greece

The immediate price for Greece of a Grexit from the eurozone would be huge. The human cost would be particularly high as even greater suffering would unfold. Varoufakis has described the eurozone as being like the Hotel California, where you can enter, but never leave. However, the proposed deal will do nothing to prevent this eventuality. Nor will the effort at kicking the can down the road be used to buy to time to build any form of alternative. It is far more likely merely to drag out the suffering. As difficult, and no doubt politically suicidal, as it would be, leaving the euro is almost certainly the way to get the inevitable pain over with as quickly as possible. 

This newspaper [The Economist] has always opposed a Greek departure from the euro because of the economic shock it would bring and the political chaos that could follow. But faced with a programme that infantilises Greek citizens, endlessly saps its creditors’ energies and offers little hope of improvement, it is easy to see why some are tempted by the alternative.

It has been done before:

If Greece restores the Drachma, social, private and financial interests can be re-aligned; prosperity can be reignited. Issued through the central bank and domestic retail banks, the Drachma can underpin a programme of public works expenditures, and in parallel, through multiplier processes, the spending of newly earned income to revive private activity in Greece. Through the Drachma, jobs and prosperity can be restored. The expertise to facilitate such a transition exists, moreover the very nature of money guarantees precedent on which action can be based.

It has been done before – successfully. The last time the world threw off the chains of private wealth was in the 1930s. Then, Britain led the way. In September 1931, financial interests demanded high interest rates and austerity as the impact of the Great Depression hammered the people. At this point Britain, like Greece today, became defiant. The UK threw off its fetters and left the gold standard – the Euro of a century ago.

We have argued before that humanity gets itself into trouble when it allows the scale at which it operates to increase to an unmanageable extent, where reflexivity is lost and unstoppable momentum develops for us to throw ourselves collectively off the nearest cliff. We are about to learn this lesson again, as we do at the peak of every bubble:

Even at the peak of expansion, international scale institutions struggled to achieve popular legitimacy, due to the obvious democratic deficit, lack of transparency, lack of accountability and insensitivity to local concerns. Even under the most favourable circumstances, true internationalism appears to be a bridge too far from a trust perspective. For this reason, world government and a global currency were never a realistic prospect, as much as some may have craved and others dreaded them. Even a transnational European single currency has suffered from a fatal disparity between the national level of primary loyalty and the international level of currency governance, and as such has no future

When the path you are on has no future, taking a different path, however painful, is the only realistic option.

Italy’s Beppe Grillo takes an optimistic view of the Greek future in the event of a Grexit:

The chaos in Athens has, he says, been wildly overstated. “I went there with bread, cheese and nylon socks, to help. I thought there would be people on the ground, screaming, ‘Aaaaaah!’ Instead, I found a splendid city, the restaurants were full. There were many tourists. You ate well — with €18 or €20. It was clean. I am sure that if they take back the drachma, they’ll have a year of trouble but then they will become paradise on earth with 10 million people.”

Jul 132015

NPC Fordson tractor exposition at Camp Meigs, Washington DC 1922

The World’s Awash In $5 Trillion In Excess Liquidity (Bloomberg)
Greece Capitulates to Creditors’ Demands to Cling to Euro (Bloomberg)
Greek Fury Meets Resignation at Demands for Concessions
Greece Wins Euro Debt Deal – But Democracy Is The Loser (Paul Mason)
How The Greeks Could Have The Last Laugh: Adopt The Renminbi (David McWilliams)
The Euro – A Fatal Conceit (MM)
A Greek Exit Could Not Be More Costly Than The Current Path (Mitchell)
Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)
Killing the European Project (Paul Krugman)
Germany Showing ‘Lack Of Solidarity’ Over Greece: Stiglitz (AFP)
How Fascist Capitalism Functions: The Case Of Greece (Zuesse)
Russia Considering Direct Fuel Deliveries To Help Greece (AFP)
Greek Government’s Majority In Question, Says Labor Minister (Reuters)
Was This Humiliation Of Greeks Really Necessary? (Helena Smith)
Greek Deal Makes Versailles Look Like A Picnic – Steve Keen (BallsRadio)
Greece Today, America Tomorrow? (Ron Paul)
Chinese Buyers Turn Kiwis Into Renters In Their Own Country (NZ Herald)
China’s Rich Seek Shelter From Stock Market Storm In Foreign Property (Guardian)
How China’s Stock-Market Muddle May Spread (MarketWatch)
China’s Market-Tracking ETFs Roiled By Share Suspensions (FT)

Zombie money.

The World’s Awash In $5 Trillion In Excess Liquidity (Bloomberg)

If you’re worried the Federal Reserve will topple the debt markets, consider this: there’s rarely been so much cash available in the world to buy assets such as bonds. While the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates sent bonds worldwide to the biggest-ever quarterly loss, JPMorgan Chase says the excess money in the global economy – about $5 trillion – will support demand and bolster asset prices. Since 1990, there have been four periods when households, companies and investors held such a surplus. Each time, markets rallied. “The world is awash with unprecedented excess liquidity,” said Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a strategist at JPMorgan, the top-ranked firm for U.S. fixed-income research by Institutional Investor magazine. “Fed tightening won’t change that.”

The cash cushion has surged in recent years as the world’s central banks injected trillions of dollars into the financial system to jump-start demand after the credit crisis. Now all the extra money that’s sloshing around may help extend the three-decade bull market in bonds even as a stronger U.S. economy pushes the Fed closer to boosting rates from rock-bottom levels. Bonds suffered a setback last quarter as signs of inflation in both the U.S. and Europe sparked an exodus after yields fell to historical lows. They lost 2.23%, the most since at least 1996, index data compiled by Bank of America show. This month, worries over Greece’s financial ruin and China’s stock-market meltdown have pushed investors back into the safety of debt securities. Yet Wall Street is still bracing for a selloff, especially in U.S. Treasuries, once the Fed moves to raise rates that it’s held near zero since 2008.

The U.S. 10-year note, the benchmark used to determine borrowing costs for governments, businesses and consumers, yielded 2.45% as of 9:12 a.m. Monday in London. Forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg say the yield will approach 3% within a year. Although JPMorgan provided plenty of caveats, the company’s analysis suggests it might not play out that way. Helped by bond-buying stimulus in the U.S., Japan and Europe, and increased bank lending in emerging markets, the amount of cash in circulation now totals $67 trillion globally, compared with about $62 trillion of estimated demand, data compiled by the bank show. That happens when the amount of money in the world exceeds the value of the global economy, financial assets and the cash that individuals hoard in response to risk.

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How real is the deal?

Greece Capitulates to Creditors’ Demands to Cling to Euro (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surrendered to European demands for immediate action to qualify for up to €86 billion euros ($95 billion) of aid Greece needs to stay in the euro. After a six-month offensive against German-inspired austerity succeeded only in deepening his country’s economic mess and antagonizing his European counterparts, there was no face-saving compromise on offer for Tsipras at a rancorous summit that ran for more than 17 hours. “Trust has to be rebuilt, the Greek authorities have to take on responsibility for what they agreed to,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the meeting ended just before 9 a.m. in Brussels Monday. “It now hinges on step-by-step implementation of what we agreed.”

The agreement shifts the spotlight to the parliament in Athens, where lawmakers from Tsipras’s Syriza party mutinied when he sought their endorsement two days ago for spending cuts, pensions savings and tax increases. They have until Wednesday to pass into law key creditor demands, including streamling value-added taxes, broadening the tax base to increase revenue and curbing pension costs. While the summit agreement averted a worst-case outcome for Greece, it only established the basis for negotiations on an aid package, which would also include €25 billion to recapitalize its weakened financial system.

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“The government is trying to get the least bad, the least catastrophic deal..”

Greek Fury Meets Resignation at Demands for Concessions

Greek officials and media reacted with fury to the latest European demands for spending cuts and tax hikes, with some resorting to imagery from World War II and the U.S.- led war on terror to describe their predicament. Greece is being “waterboarded” by euro-area leaders, Nikos Filis, the parliamentary spokesman for the ruling Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, said on ANT1 TV Monday morning. He accused Germany of “tearing Europe apart” for the third time in the past century. Newspapers leveled similar allegations at Germany, which led the hard-line camp at all-night talks that ended with an agreement on the terms needed to open a third bailout for Europe’s most-indebted country. EC President Donald Tusk, announcing the deal after 17 hours of negotiations, said it would entail “strict conditions” and end the threat of Greece exiting the euro.

“The government is trying to get the least bad, the least catastrophic deal,” Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on ERT TV. “Talk of a Grexit shouldn’t take place when Greece has its back to the wall.” The tone of Greek reaction illustrates the obstacles for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as he seeks domestic approval for a deal that creditors called the country’s last chance to stay in the euro. European leaders insisted Greece’s parliament now approve measures including placing state assets in a dedicated fund in exchange for as much as €86 billion in new financing. “The agreement is difficult, but we averted the transfer of public property abroad, we averted the plan to cause a credit crunch and the collapse of the financial system,” Tsipras said after the summit.

“We put up a hard fight for the past six months and we fought to the end in order to get the best out of it, to get a deal which will allow the country to stand on its feet and the Greek people to keep fighting.” According to the initial text for a deal presented to European leaders, Greece needs to pass laws by July 15 to raise sales taxes, cut pension payments, alter the bankruptcy code and enforce automatic spending cuts if the next budget misses its targets. A key sticking point was the involvement of the IMF, which Tsipras at one point called “criminal.” Those measures will be difficult for Tsipras to sell to a public that voted decisively in a July 5 referendum to reject an earlier austerity package that was less onerous than the measures under discussion now. The premier, who was elected on an anti-austerity platform in January, also faces the challenge of keeping Syriza together through upcoming parliamentary votes.

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“Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.”

Greece Wins Euro Debt Deal – But Democracy Is The Loser (Paul Mason)

The eurozone took itself to the brink last night, and we will only know for certain later whether its reputation and cohesion can survive this. The big powers of Europe demonstrated an appetite to change the micro-laws of a smaller country: its bakery regulations, the funding of its state TV service, what can be privatised and how. Whether inside or outside the euro, many small countries and regions will draw long-term negative lessons from this. And from the apparently cavalier throwing of a last-minute Grexit option into the mix by Germany, in defiance of half the government’s own MPs. It would be logical now for every country in the EU to make contingency plans against getting the same treatment – either over fiscal policy or any of the other issues where Brussels and Frankfurt enjoy sovereignty.

Parallels abound with other historic debacles: Munich (1938), where peace was won by sacrificing the Czechs; or Versailles (1919), where the creditors got their money, only to create the conditions for the collapse of German democracy 10 years later, and their own diplomatic unity long before that. But the debacles of yesteryear were different. They were committed by statesmen. People who knew what they wanted and miscalculated. It was hard to see last night what the rulers of Europe wanted. What they’ve arguably got is a global reputational disaster: the crushing of a left-wing government elected on a landslide, the flouting of a 61 per cent referendum result. The EU – a project founded to avoid conflict and deliver social justice – found itself transformed into the conveyor of relentless financial logic and nothing else.

Ordinary people don’t know enough about the financial logic to understand why this was always likely to happen: bonds, haircuts and currency mechanisms are distant concepts. Democracy is not. Everybody on earth with a smartphone understands what happened to democracy last night.

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How The Greeks Could Have The Last Laugh: Adopt The Renminbi (David McWilliams)

The other day Enda Kenny speculated aloud that Greece should follow Ireland. Michael Noonan thinks that too. Apparently, they should do what we did and, if Greece did, there’d be no problems. Maybe we should examine this proposal because what is on the table for Greece right now makes little sense. Is there an alternative for an inventive Greece – one that might follow Ireland’s blueprint? Before we answer that, let’s examine what’s on the table for Greece right now. The German/EU offer maintains that the price for staying in the Euro is possibly 10 to 15 years of austerity with no alternative industrial model. There should be no debt forgiveness and there should be years of low to zero growth as the Greeks grind out a meagre existence largely from tourist euros.

Because there is no capital, this will occur at a time when Greek tourist assets will plummet and those that are worth something, such as tourist hotels, will be bought off by German and other investors for half nothing. In time, the Greeks will end up as workers in the tourist industry, working for foreign owners of the assets. The profits from these assets will be repatriated back to Germany, boosting the German current account surplus, while the wages for this labour will be spent in Greece on imported goods, which may or may not be made in Germany. Basically Jamaica with ouzo! Over time, the Greek standard of living will remain low and Greek people with talent will have no choice but to emigrate. There may be some pick-up in the economy but as long as there is huge debt-servicing costs, this pick-up will largely go to servicing past debts.

If there is some new EU loan made available to Greece, this will simply be borrowing from tomorrow not to pay for today but to pay for yesterday. The Greeks should do all this in order to have the privilege of paying for this stuff in the Euro. It seems a high price to pay for a currency, don’t you think? But the alternative is, according to the EU, to revert to the drachma, watch the currency fall, watch the drachma value of Greece euro debts rise, allow the national balance sheet to implode and ensure that the banks collapse. In other words, flirt with short-term Armageddon.

[..] Okay, but how can Greece get lots and lots of foreign investment into the country while still using a currency that is strong and in so doing, change irrevocably their economy? How can they move onto a higher productivity level without all these debt repayments? They can do it by adopting the Chinese Renminbi! Yes, you read it right. There’s no point for the Greeks in going back to the drachma if that will destroy its banking system. Why not do what Ireland has done over the years and adopt some other country’s currency? What’s in it for China? Everything!

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“Imagine that the euro had never been introduced … do you seriously think that we would have a crisis as deep as what we have seen over the past seven years in Europe?”

The Euro – A Fatal Conceit (MM)

Imagine that the euro had never been introduced and we instead had had freely floating European currencies and each country would have been free to choose their own monetary policy and fiscal policy. Some countries would have been doing well; others would have been doing bad, but do you seriously think that we would have a crisis as deep as what we have seen over the past seven years in Europe? Do you think Greek GDP would have dropped 30%? Do you think Finland would have seen a bigger accumulated drop in GDP than during the Great Depression or during the banking crisis of 1990s? Do you think that European taxpayers would have had to pour billions of euros into bailing out Southern European and Eastern European governments? And German and French banks!

Do you think that Europe would have been as disunited as we are seeing it now? Do you think we would have seen the kind of hostilities among European nations as we are seeing now? Do you think we would have seen the rise of political parties like Golden Dawn and Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain? Do you think anti-immigrant sentiment and protectionist ideas would have been rising across Europe to the extent it has? Do you think that the European banking sector would have been quasi paralyzed for seven years? And most importantly do you think we would have had 23 million unemployed Europeans? The answer to all of these questions is NO!

We would have been much better off without the euro. The euro is a major economic, financial, political and social fiasco. It is disgusting and I blame the politicians of Europe and the Eurocrats for this and I blame the economists who failed to speak out against the dangers of introducing the euro and instead gave their support to a project so economically insane that it only could have been envisioned by the type of people the British historian Paul Johnson called “Intellectuals”.

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It’ll happen yet anyway.

A Greek Exit Could Not Be More Costly Than The Current Path (Mitchell)

It appears the Germans (with their Finish and Slovak cronies) have lost all sense of reason, if they ever had any. Germany has the socio-pathological excuse of having suffered from an irrational inflation angst since the 1930s and has forgotten its disastrous conduct during the 1930s and 1940s and also the generosity shown it by allied nations who had destroyed its demonic martial ambitions. Finland and Slovakia have no such excuse. They are just behaving as jumped-up, vindictive show ponies who are not that far from being in Greece’s situation themselves. Sure the Finns have a national guilt about their own notorious complicity with the Nazis in the 1940s but what makes them such a nasty conservative allies to the Germans is an interesting question.

It also seems to be hard keeping track with the latest negotiating offer from either side. But the trend seems obvious. The Greeks offer to bend over further and are met by a barrage of it is going to be hard to accept this , followed by a Troika offer (now generalised as the Eurogroup minus Greece which is harsher than the last. And so it goes from ridiculous to absurd or to quote a headline over the weekend. From the Absurd to the Tragic, which I thought was an understatement. There are also a plethora of plans for Greece being circulated by all and sundry, most of which hang on to the need for the nation to run primary fiscal surpluses, with no reference to the scale of the disaster before us (or rather the Greek people). It is surreal that this daily farce and public humiliation (like the medieval parading of recalitrants in stocks) is being clothed as “governance”. Only in Europe really.

We now know that the Eurogroup is not content to destroy the credibility of the Greek government and have the Greek prime minister come cap in hand begging for money and agreeing to turn his back on the sentiments of his own people, expressed so strongly last Sunday. The latest document from the Recession Cult has demanded even deeper measures from Athens, which Euclid Tsakalotos has apparently acceded to.

They now want a primary surplus target of 3.5% of GDP by 20183 , much deeper pension cuts, widespread product market deregulation, a more comprehensive privatisation program (so that the northern capital owners can get their hands on Greek assets for cheap), massive deregulation of the labour market, wind-back legislation since the beginning of 2015 which have not been agreed with the institutions and run counter to the program commitments and put all of that on top the harsh austerity that has already been pushed leading into the referendum. The sentiment is that Germany is not going for an exit for Greece but total submission and probably a new government by the end of the week .

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One man has not given up.

Dr Schäuble’s Plan for Europe: Do Europeans Approve? (Yanis Varoufakis)

Article to appear in Die Zeit on Thursday 16th July 2015 – Pre-publication summary: Five months of intense negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup never had a chance of success. Condemned to lead to impasse, their purpose was to pave the ground for what Dr Schäuble had decided was ‘optimal’ well before our government was even elected: That Greece should be eased out of the Eurozone in order to discipline member-states resisting his very specific plan for re-structuring the Eurozone.

This is no theory. How do I know Grexit is an important part of Dr Schäuble’s plan for Europe? Because he told me so!

I wrote this article not as a Greek politician critical of the German press’ denigration of our sensible proposals, of Berlin’s refusal seriously to consider our moderate debt re-profiling plan, of the European Central Bank’s highly political decision to asphyxiate our government, of the Eurogroup’s decision to give the ECB the green light to shut down our banks.

I wrote this article as a European observing the unfolding of a particular Plan for Europe – Dr Schäuble’s Plan. And I am asking a simple question of Die Zeit’s informed readers:

Is this a Plan that you approve of?
Do you consider this Plan good for Europe?

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Killing the European Project (Paul Krugman)

Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro. Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Can anything pull Europe back from the brink? Word is that Mario Draghi is trying to reintroduce some sanity, that Hollande is finally showing a bit of the pushback against German morality-play economics that he so signally failed to supply in the past. But much of the damage has already been done. Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this? In a way, the economics have almost become secondary. But still, let’s be clear: what we’ve learned these past couple of weeks is that being a member of the eurozone means that the creditors can destroy your economy if you step out of line. This has no bearing at all on the underlying economics of austerity.

It’s as true as ever that imposing harsh austerity without debt relief is a doomed policy no matter how willing the country is to accept suffering. And this in turn means that even a complete Greek capitulation would be a dead end. Can Greece pull off a successful exit? Will Germany try to block a recovery? (Sorry, but that’s the kind of thing we must now ask.) The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it.

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“Here you have the advanced countries trying to undermine a global effort to stop tax avoidance. Can you have a better image of hypocrisy?”

Germany Showing ‘Lack Of Solidarity’ Over Greece: Stiglitz (AFP)

Prominent economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz accused Germany on Sunday of displaying a “lack of solidarity” with debt-laden Greece that has badly undermined the vision of Europe. “What has been demonstrated is a lack of solidarity by Germany. You cannot run a eurozone without a basic modicum of solidarity. It is really undermining the common sense of vision, the sense of common solidarity in Europe,” the Colombia University professor and former World Bank chief economist told AFP. “I think it s been a disaster. Clearly Germany has done a serious blow, undermining Europe,” he said.

“Asking even more from Greece would be unconscionable. If the ECB allows Greek banks to open up and they renegotiate whatever agreement, then wounds can heal. But if they succeed in using this as a trick to get Greece out, I think the damage is going to be very very deep.” Stiglitz is in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for this week s international development financing summit, which is presented as crucial for United Nations efforts to end global poverty and manage climate change by 2030. He is supporting the creation of an international tax organisation within the UN to fight against tax evasion by multinationals, although this has yet to win Western agreement.

International tax rules that allow large companies to avoid tax end up costing developing countries $100 billion every year, according to Oxfam. “European leaders and the West in general are criticising Greece for failure to collect taxes,” Stiglitz said. “The West has created a framework for global tax avoidance… Here you have the advanced countries trying to undermine a global effort to stop tax avoidance. Can you have a better image of hypocrisy?”

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Very strong from Zuesse.

How Fascist Capitalism Functions: The Case Of Greece (Zuesse)

There is democratic capitalism, and there is fascist capitalism. What we have today is fascist capitalism; and the following will explain how it works, using as an example the case of Greece. Mark Whitehouse at Bloomberg headlined on 27 June 2015, “If Greece Defaults, Europe’s Taxpayers Lose,” and presented his ‘news’ report, which simply assumed that, perhaps someday, Greece will be able to get out of debt without defaulting on it. Other than his unfounded assumption there (which assumption is even in his headline), his report was accurate. Here is what he reported that’s accurate: He presented two graphs, the first of which shows Greece’s governmental debt to private investors (bondholders) as of, first, December 2009; and, then, five years later, December 2014.

This graph shows that, in almost all countries, private investors either eliminated or steeply reduced their holdings of Greek government bonds during that 5-year period. (Overall, it was reduced by 83%; but, in countries such as France, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, and Belgium, it was reduced closer to 100% — all of it.) In other words: by the time of December 2009, word was out, amongst the aristocracy, that only suckers would want to buy it from them, so they needed suckers and took advantage of the system that the aristocracy had set up for governments to buy aristocrats’ bad bets — for governments to be suckers when private individuals won’t.

Not all of it was sold directly to governments; much of it went instead indirectly, to agencies that the aristocracy has set up as basically transfer-agencies for passing junk to governments; in other words, as middlemen, to transfer unpayable debt-obligations to various governments’ taxpayers. Whitehouse presented no indication as to whom those investors sold that debt to, but almost all of it was sold, either directly or indirectly, to Western governments, via those middlemen-agencies, so that, when Greece will default (which it inevitably will), the taxpayers of those Western governments will suffer the losses. The aristocracy will already have wrung what they could out of it.

Who were these governments and middlemen-agencies? As of January 2015, they were: 62% Euro-member governments (including the European Financial Stability Facility); 10% IMF, and 8% ECB; then, 17% still remained with private investors; and 3% was owned by “other.” Whitehouse says: “Ever since the region’s sovereign-debt crisis first flared in 2010, European nations have been stepping in for Greece’s private creditors – largely German and French banks — by lending the country [Greece] the money to pay them off. Thanks to this bailout [of ‘largely German and French banks’], banks and [other private] investors have much less at stake than before.”

So: what got bailed-out was private investors, not ‘the Greek people’ (such as the ‘news’ media assert, or try to suggest). For example, a reader’s comment to Whitehouse’s article says: “A reasonable assumption is that a large part of the Greek debt to the Germans was the result of Greek consumption of German goods and services bought with the German provided credit. In that case, the Germans have lost the Greek goods and services that could have potentially been bought with the money that is owed to them.” But this is entirely false: that “consumption” was by the aristocracy, not by the public, anywhere or at any time. After all: It’s the aristocracy that get bailed-out — not the public, anywhere.

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“..we are studying the possibility of organising direct deliveries of energy resources to Greece, starting shortly.”

Russia Considering Direct Fuel Deliveries To Help Greece (AFP)

Russia is considering direct deliveries of fuel to Greece to help prop up its economy, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Sunday, quoted by Russian news agencies. “Russia intends to support the revival of Greece’s economy by broadening cooperation in the energy sector,” Novak told journalists, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. “Accordingly we are studying the possibility of organising direct deliveries of energy resources to Greece, starting shortly.”

Novak said that the energy ministry expected “to come to an agreement within a few weeks,” but did not specify what type of fuel Russia would supply. Greece’s left-wing leadership has made a show of drawing closer to Moscow in recent months as the spat with its international creditors has grown more ugly. In June, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a visit to Russia sealed a preliminary agreement for Russia to build a €2 billion gas pipeline through Greece, extending the TurkStream project, which is intended to supply Russian gas to Turkey.

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Greek politics will get a shake-up. But only Syriza can govern.

Greek Government’s Majority In Question, Says Labor Minister (Reuters)

The strength of the Greek government’s majority is in question and no-one can blame lawmakers who won’t agree to the terms of a cash-for-reforms deal with the country’s creditors, Labor Minister Panos Skourletis said on Monday. Eurozone leaders argued late into the night with near-bankrupt Greece at an emergency summit, demanding that Athens enact key reforms this week to restore trust before they will open talks on a financial rescue. “Right now there is an issue of a governmental majority (in parliament),” Skourletis told state TV ERT. “I cannot easily blame anyone who cannot say ‘yes’ to this deal.” “We aren’t trying to make this deal look better, and we are saying it clearly: this deal is not us,” he added.

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This is a question?

Was This Humiliation Of Greeks Really Necessary? (Helena Smith)

In return for a third bailout – this time staggered over three years and amounting to €53bn – Greeks essentially have been told to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And that is the good scenario. The alternative – Grexit – would have bypassed purgatory but taken crisis train passengers straight to hell. Greeks know that the next 48 hours will define them and Europe, too. But whatever happens, they also know the choice is one between a complete march into the unknown or a conscious decision to take measures that – for a time, at least – will inflict further damage on a country already hollowed out by the eviscerating effects of austerity. Either way, the future is bleak.

In this, Tsipras’s brinkmanship has not helped: trust is so eroded between the leadership in Athens and creditors abroad that aid, if given, will not be handed magnanimously. Almost everyone I know now fears that Greece will be left to rot in the eurozone. Politically, there is tumult on the horizon. That, in the early hours of Saturday, so many government MPs refused to give their vote to the proposed package of pension and budget cuts, tax rises and administrative reform does not portend well. Many Greeks may now credit Tsipras for convincing Europe’s fiscally obsessed creditors that the country’s debt burden remains the cause of its woes (as indeed it does), but that will not cut much ice with hardliners in his party.

Events have moved at such giddying speed that ironically most Greeks do not appear to blame Tsipras for ignoring the resounding rejection that he himself had urged when the economic demands of lenders were put to popular vote last weekend. The referendum, like so much else, has become part of the blanket of crisis. That the measures were less severe than the ones the government ultimately accepted has, in a further irony, been similarly played down. Greece, in truth, has skated so close to the edge – apocalyptic scenarios more real than ever before – that Tsipras’s spectacular U-turn has come as a welcome relief. Across an ever-fractious political spectrum, he has been applauded for putting his country before his party.

In the event of financial rescue, the hope is that Tsipras finally tackles the maladies that have so pervasively held back the country’s potential. Like no other party in power, Syriza is well placed to tackle the age-old malignancies of tax evasion, cronyism and corruption. But the leader will also face conflict on the streets. In the back alleys of Athens, where activists work in dark offices stacked with freshly painted placards and banners – the ammunition of the war against austerity – the battle is already on. “There will be demonstrations every day,” vowed Petros Papakonstantinou of the anti-capitalist bloc Antarsya. “And we will press for a general strike. That won’t be easy when the left is in power.”

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In fine form.

Greek Deal Makes Versailles Look Like A Picnic – Steve Keen (BallsRadio)

This interviewed was recorded before the deal was supposedly struck, but the sentiment still stands. Just how much does Greece have to give away. Too much says economist Steve Keen.

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“Even as its economy collapses and the government makes cuts in welfare spending, Greece’s military budget remains among the largest in the European Union..”

Greece Today, America Tomorrow? (Ron Paul)

The drama over Greece’s financial crisis continues to dominate the headlines. As this column is being written, a deal may have been reached providing Greece with yet another bailout if the Greek government adopts new “austerity” measures. The deal will allow all sides to brag about how they came together to save the Greek economy and the European Monetary Union. However, this deal is merely a Band-Aid, not a permanent fix to Greece’s problems. So another crisis is inevitable. The Greek crisis provides a look into what awaits us unless we stop overspending on warfare and welfare and restore a sound monetary system. While most commentators have focused on Greece’s welfare state, much of Greece’s deficit was caused by excessive military spending.

Even as its economy collapses and the government makes (minor) cuts in welfare spending, Greece’s military budget remains among the largest in the European Union. Despite all the handwringing over how the phony sequestration cuts have weakened America’s defenses, the United States military budget remains larger than the combined budgets of the world’s next 15 highest spending militaries. Little, if any, of the military budget is spent defending the American people from foreign threats. Instead, the American government wastes billions of dollars on an imperial foreign policy that makes Americans less safe. America will never get its fiscal house in order until we change our foreign policy and stop wasting trillions on unnecessary and unconstitutional wars.

Excessive military spending is not the sole cause of America’s problems. Like Greece, America suffers from excessive welfare and entitlement spending. Reducing military spending and corporate welfare will allow the government to transition away from the welfare state without hurting those dependent on government programs. Supporting an orderly transition away from the welfare state should not be confused with denying the need to reduce welfare and entitlement spending.

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New Zealand better beware. Wait till housing collapses on top of the logging and dairy crashes.

Chinese Buyers Turn Kiwis Into Renters In Their Own Country (NZ Herald)

Mainland Chinese money snapped up at least 80% of residential sales in parts of Auckland in March but were nearer 90% in May, a whistle blower from the industry says. The Herald reported at the weekend Labour data that showed people of Chinese descent accounted for 39.5% of the almost 4000 Auckland transactions between February and April. Yet Census 2013 data showed ethnic Chinese who are New Zealand residents or citizens account for only 9% of Auckland’s population. The property insider – who wanted to protect their identity because they feared for their job – said the situation was much more serious than the Labour data suggested. The numbers should be more than doubled due to the weight of capital coming out of Mainland China, the whistle blower said.

One big Auckland real estate agency, where many salespeople are of Chinese ethnicity, was selling almost every single property throughout many suburban areas to people living in China, the insider said. In some cases, those buyers had a New Zealand connection “but it’s one group disenfranchising the other. It’s really taken off in the last 18 months. I’ve been studying the figures since October.” “The Kiwis, South Africans and British have dropped out of the market because they just can’t compete with the Chinese. The people living in China buy the places the Kiwis are trying to get, then those places are rented out the next day,” the insider said. That showed the person is in an important position in the property sector with extensive access to information unavailable to the public revealing who the buyers really are.

“We’re becoming tenants in our own country. It’s utterly outrageous. The Chinese are interested in Panmure, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Epsom, Remuera, the North Shore – not so much the west.” In some cases, a single Chinese resident was spending up to $15 million on Auckland properties and the higher the bidding at auctions went, the happier they were. “They simply don’t care how much they pay. It’s not related to the CV. If they pay another $400,000 more, that’s $400,000 they’re better off as it’s $400,000 they have shifted out of Mainland China. If they continue vacuuming up all the existing properties at the current rate of consumption, what will that do? The Chinese will outbid everyone at the auction. I’m sick of the phone bidder from Guangzhou. I’m relieved that someone at last is talking about this,” the insider said of Twyford’s data.

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“ implies that this is a capital movement rather than just individuals looking to park money.“

China’s Rich Seek Shelter From Stock Market Storm In Foreign Property (Guardian)

Real estate agents in Australia, Britain and Canada are bracing for a surge of new interest in their already hot property markets, with early signs that wealthy Chinese investors are seeking a safe haven from the turmoil in Shanghai’s stock markets. Sydney agent Michael Pallier said in the past week alone he has sold two new apartments and shown a A$13.8m (US$10.3m) house in the harbourside city to Chinese buyers looking for an alternative to stocks. “A lot of high-net-worth individuals had already taken money out of the stock market because it was getting just too hot,” Pallier, the principal of Sydney Sotheby’s International Realty, said. “There’s a huge amount of cash sitting in China and I think you’ll find a lot of that comes to the Australian property market.”

Around 20% has been knocked off the value of Chinese shares since mid-June, although attempts by authorities to stem the bleeding are having some effect. Many wealthy Chinese investors had already cashed out. Major shareholders sold 360bn yuan (US$58bn) in the first five months of 2015 alone, compared with 190bn yuan in all of 2014 and an average of 100bn yuan in prior years, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. While much of that money may initially be parked in more liquid assets like US Treasury bonds and safe-haven currencies such as the Swiss franc, there is growing evidence that foreign property sales may receive a boost.

“There is anecdotal evidence that Chinese buyers have intensified their interest in safe-haven global property markets, including London, as a result of the recent stock market volatility,” said Tom Bill, head of London residential research at Knight Frank. Ed Mead, executive director of realtor Douglas & Gordon in London, said his firm had seen two buyers from China looking to buy whole blocks of flats. “It is unusual to see the Chinese block buying, it implies that this is a capital movement rather than just individuals looking to park money.“

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“../Beijing’s panicky policy actions may reveal that the economy is in worse shape than is being let on.”

How China’s Stock-Market Muddle May Spread (MarketWatch)

Despite China’s troubled stock markets finding a floor last week, do not expect any quick return to normality. The dramatic stock rout and subsequent heavy-handed interference by authorities will not be easily forgotten. It has not just rattled investor confidence, but also damaged the political credibility of President Xi Jinping. For China’s legions of retail investors, the heavy losses have been compounded by wholesale stock suspensions — with half of Shenzhen and Shanghai stocks still not trading. This is a likely to fuel anxiety so long as investors are trapped in stock positions with no liquidity. It is also likely to lead to a sea change in investor mood from only weeks earlier, when some were even selling the roof over their head to buy equities.

There may be a nasty surprise when the first post-suspension bid prices come in. Albert Edwards at Société Générale highlights the experience in 2008, when Pakistan suspended trading on the Karachi Stock Exchange to try to “put a floor” under stocks after a share-price slump. This episode left authorities’ reputation in tatters, and when the market reopened, it quickly lost another 52%. For foreign investors, many of the bizarre interventions by Beijing last week will have raised a number of other, more fundamental questions about the competence of China’s leadership and the true state of the economy. One area of renewed uncertainty is the ongoing policy commitment to allowing market forces to play a larger role in the economy, a part of Beijing’s larger reform program.

The reintroduction of a ban on initial public offerings and spate of stock suspensions set a worrying precedent and will refocus attention on political risk. This, in turn, will place a cloud of doubt over plans for liberalizing interest rates, the capital account and the domestic bond market. Foreign investors are likely to think twice as they face the risk that the government may simply suspend reforms if prices start going against them. These recent actions suggest the voices of conservatives opposed to market reforms are in the ascendancy. Perhaps the more worrying take-away is that Beijing’s panicky policy actions may reveal that the economy is in worse shape than is being let on.

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More losses.

China’s Market-Tracking ETFs Roiled By Share Suspensions (FT)

A wave of stock suspensions has played havoc with exchange traded funds tracking Chinese markets, causing wild price swings and big price gaps between passive funds and the assets they track. More than 1,400 companies — more than half of all listings — are on trading halts in China, in an effort to shield themselves from the dramatic equity market sell-off that has wiped trillions of dollars off the value of Chinese stocks. The suspensions have left a number of ETFs holding frozen shares or derivatives linked to them, even as the funds themselves continue to trade. One Hong Kong-listed ETF that tracks China’s small-cap board, the ChiNext, traded every day last week, despite more than two-thirds of the underlying shares it reflects being suspended.

On Friday, the CSOP ChiNext ETF jumped by a fifth, while the index itself rose only 4.1%. Concerns have been growing globally over the potential mismatch between the liquidity of the underlying collateral that ETFs hold and that of their units. The Bank of International Settlements warned last month that the growth of passive funds may have created a “liquidity illusion” in bonds, although analysts say the problems currently facing Chinese equity ETFs are specific to the idiosyncrasies of that market. Chinese shares have tumbled in the past month, as millions of retail investors unwind leveraged bets on the market. Beijing has responded with various supportive measures, including bans on short selling, and on stock sales by large shareholders.

The central bank has also been funnelling money to brokerages to help them buy equities. Trading volumes for many China-tracker ETFs have doubled over the past two weeks, as market volatility has risen. ETFs have experienced wild daily price swings as investors use passive funds for price discovery of suspended Chinese assets. Last Thursday, the Deutsche X-Trackers Harvest CSI 300 ETF, which trades in New York, rose 20%. The extent of share suspensions has made ETFs “one of the only tradable instruments” for global investors looking to manage their exposure to Chinese stocks, said Warren Deats, head of Asia-Pacific portfolio trading at Barclays. Such funds are performing like futures contracts, he added, with investors using them to estimate the true level of the market — a view echoed by fund providers.

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Jul 052015

Unknown Magazine and cannonballs at Battery Rodgers, Alexandria 1863

I hardly ever go out in the morning, the first 7-8 hours of every single day are taken up by reading and writing. But today I did, to feel the mood in the city. Not sure I got it, though. Everything’s quiet. It may not help that I’m staying smack in the middle of the Acropolis tourist area (still haven’t figured out why 90% of them are American).

Not sure if many Greeks even really understand what is going on, and who can blame them, they have every reason to be scared more than anything else.

And I’m still trying to wrap my head around the trouble just about everyone seems to have with the simplest and most basic exercise in direct democracy that’s taking place right now. The referendum here today has been called manipulative, opaque, some say there’s not enough time, others claim Tsipras is merely trying to save face in the face of defeat, courts have been called in to rule on its legality.

But this place here is where democracy started. And votes were held just like the one today, all the time. To be rid of despot rule, to let the people decide. And sure, in the beginning it wasn’t all the people, just the alleged wise men, but it was a start. So why do we now find this simplicity so hard to stomach?

Put another way: is this because for Americans the 4th of July is these days more about stuffing your faces surrounded by your equally overweight families than it is about honoring the Founding Fathers? It’s quite possible, that our troubles with processing and absorbing direct democracy are somehow linked to that.

That Americans and Europeans have precious little understanding and appreciation left of what happened that led to the US celebrating, commemorating, its Independence Day in the first place. And therefore can’t see how and why it couldn’t have been accomplished without the example set right here in Greece many many years earlier.

Maybe that’s why a thousand pundits feel free to question the very principle of democracy. Or to at least try and hang all sorts of conditions and reservations on it. But it’s not that hard really: a government asks its people what they think about a certain issue.

That’s a democratically elected government’s prerogative. It couldn’t really get any more basic than that. And of all the freedoms we have, maybe the one that makes us question the very principle those very freedoms are derived from, is not the best choice. Maybe there are better and more productive freedoms to occupy ourselves with.

And it can’t be that the unfolding Greek drama hasn’t given us enough material to hold against the light of democratic principles. The Troika machinations, culminating in the oppression of data vital to the negotiations, from those same negotiations, is just one example. A damning one, though, but still.

For democracy to function, it must first of all be allowed to function. That requires revealing all relevant information. It also requires all parties who are not party to a vote to keep their mouths shut. If you look at it from that point of view, Brussels and Berlin seem to have little understanding and respect for what democracy is. For them it seems to be something to be manipulated with impunity.

And that does matter: democracy, to function, needs to be respected. Mere lip service doesn’t cut it.

Whatever the result of the vote is today, Greece is in for more hard times. A No vote would lead the little, little people in Brussels to engage in more strong arm tactics. And I see no reason to doubt that voting Yes is tantamount to sticking one’s head in a noose.

Who would want to live at the mercy of an institution populated by little people who actively try to keep vital numbers behind in a discussion held against the backdrop of hunger, suicide and despair in a country whose interests it is supposed to serve? But that’s just me. And I don’t have a vote.

If you look through Greek history, the country could claim an entire calendar full of Independence Days. The US has just the one, and it owes it to the ancient Greeks. Maybe that’s something to ponder when waking up from those glucose-induced stupors this morning.

That like it or not, this is where the democracy was born that allowed for America to become a nation of free people. The same democracy celebrated from sea to shining sea every Fourth of July. And also the same democracy that is under threat, in Greece, in Europe as a whole, and very much in the US too.

It looks to me that we’ve all become quite far removed from what Independence Day is about, in Brussels, Berlin and Washington. And we should feel lucky if Athens today can give us back some of what has been lost in the translation and erosion of history.

Democracy is a fragile child. It needs to be fed and nurtured and caressed around the clock. Or it will wither away before our very eyes. The Greeks taught us all a valuable lesson before. Here’s hoping they can again.

And at the same time add yet another Independence Day to their long and rich calendar.