Aug 032018
 
 August 3, 2018  Posted by at 12:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


George Caleb Bingham The verdict of the people 1854

 

 

It’s been a while since we last heard from Dr. D, but here he’s back explaining why neither gold nor the yuan nor cryptocurrencies can or will replace the dollar as the reserve currency, but together they just might:

 

 

Dr. D: “Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them.” –Ogden Nash

Over the last year or two there’s been discussion about the U.S. Federal spending moving beyond $4 TRILLION dollars, and whether a $1+ trillion dollar annual deficit, on top of a $20 Trillion national debt – Federal only – is sustainable. It isn’t.

“What can’t go on, doesn’t” is the famous quote of economist Herbert Stein. Since a spiraling deficit of $1 trillion deficit on a $20 trillion debt can’t go on, what will we replace it with when it very soon doesn’t? Historically gold. Whatever gold exists in the nation’s coffers, whether one coin or 8,000 tons, is used to as the national wealth, and fronted by paper to re-boot the currency. With some additions such as oil and real estate, this was the solution in Spain, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union among hundreds of fiat defaults. Why? Because at a time of broken promises — real goods, commodities that can be seen, touched, and used – are the tangible proof of wealth, requiring no trust, and from which the human trust system of paper and letters of credit can be rebuilt.

But in these complicated, digital times perhaps that’s too simplistic. Perhaps we have grown smarter than all our fathers and this time it will be different. Will it really be the same? Let’s look at how the system works now.

Before WWI, the world was on the gold standard. This had variations, exceptions, corruptions, but on the whole there was gold in the back that was fronted by paper promises issued by private banks. The paper moved, the promises were delivered by telegraph and telephone, and the gold remained in the vaults. It was only when men felt unsure of the truth of the promise they could and did demand delivery, called the bluff, and the bank did – or ominously didn’t – deliver the gold, and thereby keep the paper system in line with reality, with real wealth, and with the economy. This method kept men and nations honest, mostly.

The main part is that the gold didn’t move: it stayed in the same vaults and its ownership changed, just like today. It didn’t matter how much gold existed: it simply changed price, just like today.

All this changed after WWI. The nations had so impoverished themselves that they could no longer repay their real debts and restore their currencies following a 1,000 year tradition of inflating during wars and deflating after. The deflation was too high for Britain and France even while removing the total wealth of Germany, and they began to cheat, double-counting the gold on their books to relieve the pressure. And so the non-gold system began. With other causes, the inflation of this change began to be felt through the Roaring 20’s, until when the phantom money was called on – as was tradition when people began to suspect that the paper they owned was no longer backed with adequate real goods – the illusion popped.

The inflation was shown to be a fraud supported by the highest powers in government and finance, and the real economy withdrew their lack of trust until the matter was fixed. It wasn’t. As the system was fundamentally unchanged and no trust was restored, the rich were protected and law and property rights were trampled in a decade of Tom Joads, the economy never recovered. Although destroying half the nations on earth restored the real balance between paper fantasy and real production, the unemployment that never existed before WWI was never cured and has continued, ever worsening to this day. But note: before, during, and after the Depression, there was the same amount of gold. The gold did nothing, it was meaningless, only the paper promises over it expanded and contracted.

With the systemic dishonesty still in place preventing the books from matching the real wealth and production, the economy soon returned to a diseased state. While gold was illegal for men to own, the rich do as they please and as tradition, removed the gold of the United States to hold them to truth and honesty from printing too much fake money for guns and butter. They withstood the 12 year bank run until, in 1971, they folded, having lost 2/3s of the national savings, gold.

 

The world was now in uncharted territory. Much more than they never returned to honesty and a gold standard after WWI, they never attempted it after WWII, going to the -Bretton Woods” standard: the world would use the US$ as the standard, and the US$ would be backed with their 20,000 tonnes of gold. Now there was no gold, no gold standard, only unbacked US$ paper, a debt you could neither call on nor prove. As Nixon’s Treasury Secretary Connally said: “the dollar may be our currency, but it’s your problem.’

Inflation started immediately, and as the U.S. still resisted re-establishing physical trust, the connection between the books and reality, they quickly spiraled into South American malaise and high inflation, as seen in the gold price. From $20/oz, or rather a dollar value of 0.029, the dollar ran to 0.0011 – 1/26th of its former price — and looked to disappear altogether. This was not unexpected as fiat currencies on average live 40 years before collapsing. If you take 1941 as the start date, the unbacked US$ would have collapsed in 1981, exactly when it did. What to do? How to re-start the system without having to actually reform, give up war, be honest, and return to trust?

Henry Kissinger had the plan. As no one on earth was on the gold standard – not really – the US$ had only two legs, its worldwide use and military force. He made use of them both by demanding the Saudis accept only US$ for oil transactions. Although U.S. production was diminishing, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were still the two largest oil producers at that time. Most other nations imported oil, especially Europe.

To have assurity of access to that oil — and not run afoul of the U.S. military – they needed to keep a substantial portion of their national accounts in US$, or more technically U.S. Treasury debt, sparking not just the ability, but the REQUIREMENT of a massive U.S. deficit. Kissinger just discovered social media: the truth that virtual things have value simply because other people use them. This was for all practical purposes the first virtual currency, existing only in room-sized mainframes in central banks worldwide. The world’s currency now looked like this:

 


(Courtesy of Dr. Willie)

A virtual currency backed by nothing, based on the usage in trade. But that isn’t a full chart and isn’t meant to be. On the side, back in the corners, the US$ was still convertible to gold for the “right kind of people”, using delivery in NY and London to banks in Switzerland. The volumes of US$ grew to trillions while the gold component withered to billions, yet still the Saudis banked billions in gold before it was recently stolen from their Swiss accounts, lawsuits pending. Why? Because there is still no trust between nations and billionaires who have a long history of cheating each other. The gold-in-hand safety valve existed to retain some trust, however distant, in the now-digital system.

 

“Gold is a currency. It is still, by all evidence, a premier currency, where no fiat currency, including the dollar, can match it.” –Alan Greenspan, 2014 interview of the Council on Foreign Relations.

So is the system still gold backed with gold as the “premier”, that is, first, real, and primary currency as Greenspan said? You tell me:


Apart from the Iraq war, the price of oil has been stable for 50 years. In 1950, two silver dimes would buy a gallon of gas. In 2018 two silver dimes are worth $2.22, or the price of a gallon of gas, minus the new taxes. Meanwhile the US$ value has dropped steadily:


Doesn’t that mean that it’s still gold and not the dollar that is the standard, the “store of value”, and the “reserve currency”, however unspoken? If not and it’s a relic, a rounding error we cannot return to, why, as Ben Bernanke was asked, do all the banks and nations still own it?

 

Back to the $20,000,000,000,000 debt the U.S. as reserve currency was REQUIRED to issue, it’s now been 40 years since 1978: what happens when the U.S. Dollar disappears as all fiat currencies do? Because it seems we would have to do something. It may be that even before 1988, people already knew this conversion, this transfer, must happen roundabout 2018:

If the old currency burns as predicted 30 years ago, what next? Will it be replaced by a gold coin or a “zero” coin, chained under the fleur-de-lis? It would seem the new currency must be trusted, which is the original problem, must be a replacement in trade, and must be large enough to handle what are now multi-billion trade and multi-trillion Forex flows. Is the answer gold? Well yes…and no. Certainly China thinks so:

And Russia:


And for that matter Germany and Holland and even Texas, who have repatriated their gold back home. But there’s one little problem:

These are the official western gold reserves; however, while the gold base remained stable, the overall financial system has expanded. This can be seen in all paper assets, but a good example can be found here:

That’s what? A 20,000-fold rise? And this is only marking “credit”, not equities or cash. We are indeed in an inflationary period: inflation in assets owned by the 1%. How out of line is this? Here’s the kindred chart in productive terms, GDP:

A 9-fold increase in ability versus 20,000-fold increase in promises. Sounds like someone won’t get paid. And you know what bankers and economists call that?

Default. Massive, system ending default, the size of WWI or the Great Depression. That’s how fiat standards end.

How big would that be? Here are some relative sizes:

Actually, that’s pretty understated. Derivatives in 2018 may be as much as $2 QUADRILLION. No one knows. Compare to this:

$3 Trillion in gold. Now that’s “official” gold and we already showed that “official” Chinese gold is 4,000 tonnes when it may be as high as 30,000 tonnes, but the principle is the same: gold is wildly smaller than the needs of the financial system. Or is it? In previous financial inflations…which I just showed we have had since 1971, in 20,000x scale…gold simply rose until it became the right size.

It’s perfectly simple. Gold rises 20,000 times or however much it must to re-back the system. It always has before, even in 1979 when the price rocketed from $35 to $880 where US debt to gold holdings ratio stabilized at a very reasonable 10:1…the classic level of fractional reserve trust. If China officially owns 5,000 tonnes, and Russia 2,000, with the west also 15,000 collectively, we have 22,000 tonnes over what BusinessInsider says is $160 Trillion in assets, and you get $7.27B/tonne or $226,000/oz.

That’s a 188x increase. 1979 was a 25x increase on an awful lot less trouble, inflation, and fraud. That’s only 7x larger. Is that unreasonable? With 40 years of inflation and very little comparative rise in gold, why shouldn’t it catch up as it did in 1979? So gold will rise and we’ll have a $200,000 gold standard? That’s what will happen?

Not so fast. We COULD have a gold standard, and China, Russia and other major nations appear ready to do so if necessary, but remember we didn’t return to the gold standard last time either. Instead, we cheated and moved to a digital standard stored in ancient mainframes. Why wouldn’t we just cheat again? Back to this:

The two problems in the original chart are trust and price. The price must restore a connection between reality -real value and real production- and price; and the “reserve currency”, the medium of exchange, must be a trusted agent or method. Why would we need coins in our pockets to make that happen? For that matter, why would we need banks, who have widely proven to be the most corrupt, untrustworthy element in the whole system? We can’t go to a new system if it’s the same as the old: that’s WHY the system failed and cycles from gold to silver, silver to paper, paper to gold. We can’t go from paper to paper, that won’t work; but we also can’t so easily go to gold, asking an 800-fold increase since 2000. It would have the same disruptions Weimar had that brought Hitler, or the Jacobins had that brought Napoleon, or that Venezuela has today. And why should we? There’s no need.

The chart above has the US/Saudi oil as the critical mass of trade that allows the US$ reserve. But that isn’t necessarily true today. Today the mass of trade is in goods to and from China. But China isn’t large enough, deep enough, or trusted enough to be the new world currency. And why should they? The reserve currency is what just hollowed out and bankrupted the United States: they would just be imitating our faults. We’d also be moving from one untrusted, unbacked currency to another, and history says that doesn’t happen. So why don’t we do this:


(Courtesy Dr. Willie)

China demands not US Treasuries in NY as collateral to ship goods as presently, and not Yuan bonds, but gold bullion posted in their hot new Shanghai market, which allows physical delivery on demand. This bullion never moves as collateral, but is simply posted by one party then released on delivery. Shanghai is already larger than London, and the largest banks are already in China, which probably has the largest economy. The West and their banks are a has-been: we’re only admitting to a reality that happened years ago.

This solves our two problems: how do we know we’re returning to fair trade, like-for-like? Real goods on container ships are trading for real goods in vaults. How do we know it’s fair, mostly? You can convert the Yuan-sponsored, gold trade note to physical delivery from Shanghai, a thing which is no longer truly possible in London and NY. Will this reversion increase the gold price? Probably. How much? Every number is a state secret, but assuming the 10:1 ratio the United States showed in 1980, let’s say it’s 1:10 of our $226,000 number above or $22,600/oz. That’s reasonable, practicable, and neither stops business nor starts wars. We can do it today, and given China, Russia, Japan, Asia, Australia, and even London appear to be joining China’s AIIB front bank, I would say it already IS happening.

Which leads to one more problem. Certainly TODAY you can take gold delivery in Shanghai, but as London, NY, and the Saudis discovered, the first thing that happens once you build a system of trust is to close the doors and cheat on it. How do we know the gold is there? Even though Shanghai is a “third party” allowing delivery, who’s to say they will be tomorrow? The banks are notorious for “hypothecating”, doubling, tripling the gold on their books with accounting fraud backed by the full faith and credibility of governments, and no one’s in the mood for trusting the Chinese any more than Wells Fargo or DeutscheBank. That would drop us back to a hard gold standard, a $220,000 price, a halt to world trade, and possible world war we were trying to avoid. We need an accounting method that is better trusted and can’t be gamed. How to fix it?

 

The gold in Shanghai has a chain of custody, no different from “London Deliverable” standards we have today. An original audit, adjusted for receipts and deliveries is all we need. Which is where we add the blockchain. With it, Shanghai cannot double the gold on their books like Europe did in 1922 or the CME does today, marking it both received and loaned, because the blockchain only allows one position, one state at a time. Gold assayed and entered by refiner is tagged to a kilo, and you can follow that kilo bar through the system, not with double counts and vanishing, ever-changing serial numbers as the Federal Reserve and the GLD ETF showed.

Can it be cheated? All systems can be cheated, that’s the nature of men. But it makes it much harder, hard enough to establish adequate trust in banks and governments that otherwise would go to war. Will it be tied to Bitcoin? Yes, but no differently than it will be tradable to the Thai bhat or the ruble. With near-zero cost conversions, all currencies, crypto or otherwise, will be far more interchangeable and thus to some extent identical. They may even disappear, as happened when Jackson closed the 2nd central bank 182 years ago and the nation essentially moved to private currencies.

What will happen to the Dollar? It will still exist, but in some new, revised form. But the US$ today is transferring 3% of the nation’s wealth from the poor to the rich via inflation. Do we really want to keep it? And if it’s not a store of value and it’s already not the reserve currency — we just showed it’s a diluted proxy for gold and oil — why should the reformed US$ be any different? The dollar will be our national currency, still diluted and still referring to the real currency: gold, the attached Trade Note, and its crypto accounting. Until the next fraud and next crisis, perhaps in 2058.

 

And that’s the long story of how we leave the present debt-backed U.S. paper dollar and move to a Yuan-sponsored gold trade note that is a gold-backed cryptocurrency. In some ways we already have. Watch and see as they have the public opening of a structure planned and established years ago.

 

 

Jun 282018
 
 June 28, 2018  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Courtesan (after Eisen) 1887

 

Same Old Greed In A Shiny New Wrapper (Felder)
Brexit To Put £29 Trillion In Derivatives Contracts At Risk – BOE (G.)
EU To Raise Pressure On May Over Chances Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)
Bank of Japan Now Owns Half the Country (ZH)
Trump Says Security Panel Can Protect US Technology From China (R.)
Whack-a-Mole: China Steps Up Property Crackdown In 30 Major Cities (R.)
Lobbyists And Business-Friendly Pundits Mourn Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory (IC)
An Upset in the Making: Joe Crowley Never Saw Defeat Coming (NYT)
Thomson Reuters Defends Its Work For ICE (IC)
How To Get Away With Financial Fraud (Davies)
After the Fall (John Lanchester)
Animals Are Becoming Nocturnal To Avoid Human Beings (Wef)

 

 

Everyone to the same side of the boat!

Same Old Greed In A Shiny New Wrapper (Felder)

The flows into tech funds of late have been absolutely astounding if not totally surprising. The FAANNG stocks have been the market darlings for quite some time now so it’s understandable investors would chase this performance just as they do during every bull market.

It’s not just tech-focused funds overweighting the FAANNG stocks. There is a huge number of non-tech-focused funds that own these stocks, as well, and in a significant way further supporting their popularity in the marketplace. You can find them represented in size today in everything from consumer discretionary, retail, media and entertainment to momentum, cloud computing, internet and social media. In fact, without Amazon and Netflix, the consumer discretionary sector would be down on the year rather than up.

What’s more, in many cases, the ownership of these companies in many funds appear to be clear violations of their implicit if not explicit mandates. To demonstrate, let’s just run through the FAANNG stocks by market cap beginning with the biggest: Apple. There are fully 92 ETFs, according to ETFdb.com, that not only own the stock but also have an overweight (relative to the S&P 500) allocation to the shares. So not only are Apple fans and traditional passive investors buying tons of Apple stock, these other ETF investors are even more aggressively acquiring shares.

What I found notable in this case was that Apple was found in both value and growth-focused ETFs. I guess this isn’t really much of a stretch theoretically. A high-growth stock can become cheap just like any other. What is strange in Apple’s case, though, is that the stock now trades at its highest price-to-free cash flow in years. At the same time, the company’s 5-year average revenue growth is now the lowest in its history. Still, these systematic funds somehow find reason to not just own it but to overweight it as both a value stock and as a growth stock.

Read more …

Deutsche Bank should be scared.

Brexit To Put £29 Trillion In Derivatives Contracts At Risk – BOE (G.)

Britain’s chief financial watchdog has warned that contracts worth trillions of pounds between UK and European Union banks remain at risk of collapse following Brexit, after Brussels’ failure to implement protective legislation. In a warning to EU officials that time is running out before next March to devise rules for EU banks, the Bank of England’s financial policy committee (FPC) said £29tn worth of contracts could be declared void. Derivatives contracts, which provide banks and corporations with protection from interest rate rises, could come to an end without fresh legislation from the UK and EU, the committee said in its latest quarterly health check on Britain’s financial services industry.

The warning will be seen as a direct response to the European Banking Authority, which argued earlier this week that the UK was dragging its feet preparing for Brexit. In an increasingly bitter war of words, EBA officials said there was little preparation by the UK authorities and individual banks for life outside the EU. The FPC hit back, saying the Treasury was well advanced in its efforts to bridge the gap between banks in London and those on the continent, but Brussels had made little obvious effort to support its own financial institutions. “The biggest remaining risks of disruption are where action is needed by both UK and EU authorities, such as ensuring the continuity of existing derivatives contracts. As yet the EU has not indicated a solution analogous to a temporary permissions regime,” it said.

Read more …

The incompetence is almost funny.

EU To Raise Pressure On May Over Chances Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The European Union’s 27 leaders are to ratchet up the pressure on Theresa May by giving her a strong warning about the growing risk of a no-deal Brexit, as countries across Europe confirmed they were intensifying work on their contingency plans for Britain crashing out of the bloc. With a complete absence of progress on key issues, including that of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, the prime minister will be pressed at a summit in Brussels to reassure her fellow leaders about her intentions. The Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, told his parliament in Copenhagen on Wednesday: “It is the first time we are saying clearly to the British that we can end, in the worst scenario, [with] no deal.”

May has agreed to address the leaders at a dinner on Thursday night after discussions with Donald Tusk, the European council president, earlier this week in Downing Street. She is expected to sketch out her intentions for the coming few weeks before they come to their conclusions on the state of the negotiations the following morning. Asked whether Tusk was more confident about the future following his last meeting with May, a senior EU official laughed, adding: “Well, I don’t think he is less optimistic.” On the so-called backstop solution for the Irish border – a default state to be in place until a free trade deal or bespoke technological solution is agreed – the official said there had “frankly been no progress, and that’s reason to express concern”.

Read more …

I made up that headline. It’s a little exaggerated. But only a little. It’s a crazy experiment Kuroda is in.

Bank of Japan Now Owns Half the Country (ZH)

The last time we looked at how much of the stock market the Bank of Japan controls, we found that as of September, Kuroda’s central bank owned a stunning 75% of all Japanese ETFs as the central bank keeps buying stocks under its ultraloose monetary policy. Since December 2010 – when The Bank of Japan held no ETFs at all – the central bank has been buying ETFs (doubling its annual buying target to 6 trillion yen in July 2016) as part of unprecedented economic stimulus. Over this period, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average has risen 89% since December 2010. It is safe to say the two are correlated. Fast forward to today, when according to the latest BOJ holdings update following even more ETF purchases, the Japanese central bank has also become a major shareholder in nearly 40% of listed companies.

According to Nikkei calculations, the bank was one of the top 10 shareholders in 1,446 listed companies out of 3,735 at the end of March. This means that just over the past year, when the BOJ was a major owner of 833 stocks, the BOJ’s equity holdings have expanded by a staggering 70%. In addition, the Central Bank bank is now the top shareholder in Tokyo Dome, Sapporo Holdings, Unitika, Nippon Sheet Glass and Aeon. This means that the BOJ has amassed an estimated 25 trillion yen ($227 billion) of equities as a result of purchasing exchange-traded funds. Putting these holdings in context, the BOJ holdings are equal to nearly 4% of the roughly 652 trillion yen aggregate market value of stocks traded on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

In justifying the BOJ’s relentless takeover of the stock market, Kuroda has said that buying up stocks is an integral part of the BOJ’s strategy to lift inflation to 2%, a program which “has fulfilled its role to a certain extent,” according to Kuroda. But, as the Nikkei adds, the size of the buying spree could complicate an eventual exit strategy from the monetary easing and also distort basic market mechanisms.

Read more …

We’re still talking.

Trump Says Security Panel Can Protect US Technology From China (R.)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s measured approach to restricting Chinese investments in U.S. technology companies, saying a strengthened merger security review committee could protect sensitive American technologies. Trump, in remarks to reporters at the White House, said the approach would target all countries, not just China, echoing comments from Mnuchin on Monday amid a fierce internal debate over the scope of investment restrictions due to be unveiled on Friday. “It’s not just Chinese” investment, Trump told reporters when asked about the administration’s plans. Mnuchin and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro sent mixed signals on Monday about the Chinese investment restrictions, ordered by Trump on May 29.

Mnuchin said they would apply to “all countries that are trying to steal our technology,” while Navarro said they would be focused specifically on China. The restrictions are being developed to help put pressure on China to address the administration’s complaints that it has misappropriated U.S. intellectual property through joint-venture requirements, unfair licensing policies and state-backed acquisitions of U.S. technology firms. Mnuchin would prefer to use new tools associated with pending legislation to enhance security reviews of transactions by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), some administration officials have said.

Read more …

Property gains have been a substantial part of ‘growth’. Watch out Xi.

Whack-a-Mole: China Steps Up Property Crackdown In 30 Major Cities (R.)

China said on Thursday it would renew efforts to crack down on property irregularities in 30 major cities from July to end-December, mobilizing powers from seven major Chinese government agencies in a concerted effort to rein in rising prices. Property prices in China have soared since 2016, prompting the government to roll out tightening measures in more than 100 cities to dampen demand amid bubble fears. But new home prices in May posted their fastest growth in nearly a year even as prices cooled in big cities, suggesting buyers are shifting to smaller cities. Policymakers have been careful not to tap on the brakes too hard, as real estate remains a major driver of the economy.

Growth in the world’s second-largest economy is at risk of slowing as the authorities try to tame rapid domestic credit growth at a time when trade tensions are causing worries for the economic outlook. The crackdown would be carried out by government entities including the housing ministry and the Ministry of Public Security, and the banking and insurance regulators, according to a notice posted on the housing ministry’s website. They would focus on stemming speculation, cracking down on illegal agencies and developers, and fake advertisements.

Among the 30 cities that will be scrutinized are the country’s four largest or top tier cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, and tier 2 provincial capitals such as Wuhan and Chengdu, and also smaller cities, such as Yichang and Foshan. The notice said targeted irregularities include manipulating prices, deliberately holding off sales, illegally providing loans for downpayment and publishing false price information that mislead buyers.

Read more …

The party swung so far right the only way to go is left.

Lobbyists And Business-Friendly Pundits Mourn Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory (IC)

Several Democratic pundits appeared on Fox Business Network to raise the alarm about the election. “The party is swinging left,” said Robin Biro, a former DNC delegate supporting Hillary Clinton. “It’s concerning for someone who is more moderate like myself.” Mark Penn, a strategist who owns several corporate lobbying and public relations firms and previously advised both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, attempted to downplay the significance of Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. Asked by Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo if Ocasio-Cortez’s win signified a drift toward socialism, Penn said no. “I just don’t think that’s where the Democratic Party is going. I think that’s where that district is going,” said Penn.

“I think the national implications are being overblown,” he added. Crowley was seen as the next Democratic House leader and had won support from business executives as a leading moderate. As The Intercept reported, Crowley helped spearhead efforts against bank regulations, and, as a longtime leader of the New Democrat Coalition, was widely viewed as a point person for lobbyists to influence that caucus of centrist Democrats. He also voted in support of the Iraq War and the Patriot Act. The Wall Street-friendly wing of the Democratic Party similarly attempted to diminish Ocasio-Cortez’s victory.

Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a business-friendly Democratic think tank governed by a council of finance industry executives, told Axios that Crowley lost because of his gender and the particular dynamics of the district. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory “had more to do with the nature of her very blue district than it does with national politics,” Bennett said.

Read more …

Many similarities to Hillary’s loss.

An Upset in the Making: Joe Crowley Never Saw Defeat Coming (NYT)

It was less than three weeks until Primary Day and, on first blush, the poll that Representative Joseph Crowley had been shown by his team of advisers was encouraging: He led his upstart rival, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by 36 percentage points. It was the last poll Mr. Crowley’s campaign would conduct. Despite his many reputed strengths — his financial might as one of the top fund-raisers in Congress, his supposed stranglehold on Queens politics as the party boss, his seeming deep roots in an area he had represented for decades — Mr. Crowley was unable to prevent his stunning and thorough defeat on Tuesday night. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez bested Mr. Crowley by 15 percentage points, delivering a victory expected to make her, at 28, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

If it takes a perfect storm to dislodge a congressional leader, then Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her crusading campaign about class, race, gender, age, absenteeism and ideology proved to be just that. She and her supporters swept up Mr. Crowley in a redrawn and diversifying 14th Congressional District where the incumbent, despite two decades in Congress, had never run in a competitive primary. She flipped the levers of power he was supposed to have — his status as a local party boss and his money — against him, using that as ammunition in an insurgent bid that cut down a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi and the No. 4 Democrat in the House. No single factor led to Mr. Crowley’s defeat, more than a half-dozen officials inside and close to his campaign said in interviews, most on the condition of anonymity.

It was demographics and generational change, insider versus outsider, traditional tactics versus modern-age digital organizing. It was the cumulative weight of them all. [..] Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, in an interview on Wednesday, dismissed race as a driving factor in her win, though she had regularly highlighted her heritage on the campaign trail. “It would be a huge mistake to just say that this election happened because X demographics live here. That is to absolutely miss the entire point of what we just accomplished,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. A former organizer for Bernie Sanders, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez won across the district, carrying Mr. Crowley’s home borough of Queens by a larger margin than she won the Bronx. “She won virtually everywhere,” said Steven Romalewski, a researcher at the Center for Urban Research [..], who mapped the results.

Read more …

It’s not just Facebook and Google, everyone wants a piece of the fat pie.

Thomson Reuters Defends Its Work For ICE (IC)

The reporters at Reuters have been providing crucial, unfliching coverage of the cruel treatment of would-be immigrants under policies pushed by President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the news agency’s parent company, Thomson Reuters, has been supplying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with data from its vast stores as part of federal contracts worth close to $30 million. A letter from a Thomson Reuters executive shows that the company is ready to defend at least one of those contracts while remaining silent on the rest. Last week, advocacy and watchdog group Privacy International wrote to Thomson Reuters CEO James Smith to “express concern” over contracts between ICE and two of the company’s subsidiaries.

Thomson Reuters Special Services sells ICE “a continuous monitoring and alert service that provides real-time jail booking data to support the identification and location of aliens” as part of a $6.7 million contract, and West Publishing, another subsidiary, provides ICE’s “Detention Compliance and Removals” office with access to a vast license-plate scanning database, along with agency access to the Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting, or CLEAR, system, which Thomson Reuters advertises as holding a “vast collection of public and proprietary records.” The two West contracts are together worth $26 million. The Privacy International letter cites the practice by U.S. authorities of separating children from their parents, as well as the Trump administration’s overall “zero tolerance” approach to immigration violations.

The children — thousands of them — are typically intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection with their parents; the parents are then detained by ICE while the children, having been forcibly separated, are held in conditions that some have described in horrifying terms, under the supervision of Health and Human Services. (ICE agents have also been accused of sexual abusing hundreds of detainees, underhanded arrest tactics, and more.) Privacy International’s letter requested that Thomson Reuters “commit to not providing products or services to U.S. immigration agencies which may be used to enforce such cruel, arbitrary, and disproportionate measures.”

Read more …

Long read on how fraud takes place where no-one expects it. And on a scale that no-one thinks possible. Libor.

How To Get Away With Financial Fraud (Davies)

It is not a pleasant thing to see your industry subjected to criticism that is at once overheated, ill-informed and entirely justified. In 2012, the financial sector finally got the kind of enemies it deserved. The popular version of events might have been oversimplified and wrong in lots of technical detail, but in the broad sweep, it was right. The nuanced and technical version of events which the specialists obsessed over might have been right on the detail, but it missed one utterly crucial point: a massive crime of dishonesty had taken place. There was a word for what had happened, and that word was fraud. For a period of months, it seemed to me as if the more you knew about the Libor scandal, the less you understood it.

That’s how we got it so wrong. We were looking for incidental breaches of technical regulations, not systematic crime. And the thing is, that’s normal. The nature of fraud is that it works outside your field of vision, subverting the normal checks and balances so that the world changes while the picture stays the same. People in financial markets have been missing the wood for the trees for as long as there have been markets. Some places in the world are what they call “low-trust societies”. The political institutions are fragile and corrupt, business practices are dodgy, debts are rarely repaid and people rightly fear being ripped off on any transaction.

In the “high-trust societies”, conversely, businesses are honest, laws are fair and consistently enforced, and the majority of people can go about their day in the knowledge that the overall level of integrity in economic life is very high. With that in mind, and given what we know about the following two countries, why is it that the Canadian financial sector is so fraud-ridden that Joe Queenan, writing in Forbes magazine in 1989, nicknamed Vancouver the “Scam Capital of the World”, while shipowners in Greece will regularly do multimillion-dollar deals on a handshake? We might call this the “Canadian paradox”.

There are different kinds of dishonesty in the world. The most profitable kind is commercial fraud, and commercial fraud is parasitical on the overall health of the business sector on which it preys. It is much more difficult to be a fraudster in a society in which people only do business with relatives, or where commerce is based on family networks going back centuries. It is much easier to carry out a securities fraud in a market where dishonesty is the rare exception rather than the everyday rule.

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Long read on what happened since 2008.

After the Fall (John Lanchester)

Some of the more pessimistic commentators at the time of the credit crunch, myself included, said that the aftermath of the crash would dominate our economic and political lives for at least ten years. What I wasn’t expecting – what I don’t think anyone was expecting – was that ten years would go by quite so fast. At the start of 2008, Gordon Brown was prime minister of the United Kingdom, George W. Bush was president of the United States, and only politics wonks had ever heard of the junior senator from Illinois; Nicolas Sarkozy was president of France, Hu Jintao was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Ken Livingstone was mayor of London, MySpace was the biggest social network, and the central bank interest rate in the UK was 5.5 per cent.

It is sometimes said that the odds you could get on Leicester winning the Premiership in 2016 was the single most mispriced bet in the history of bookmaking: 5000 to 1. To put that in perspective, the odds on the Loch Ness monster being found are a bizarrely low 500 to 1. (Another 5000 to 1 bet offered by William Hill is that Barack Obama will play cricket for England. I’d advise against that punt.) Nonetheless, 5000 to 1 pales in comparison with the odds you would have got in 2008 on a future world in which Donald Trump was president, Theresa May was prime minister, Britain had voted to leave the European Union, and Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party – which to many close observers of Labour politics is actually the least likely thing on that list. The common factor explaining all these phenomena is, I would argue, the credit crunch and, especially, the Great Recession that followed.

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It may be smart but it can’t be good.

Animals Are Becoming Nocturnal To Avoid Human Beings (Wef)

On Thursday, ecologists at the University of California, Berkeley, released a study published in Science Magazine that indicates animals are adjusting their habits to avoid the stresses of human encroachment on their habitat. According to the research from Kaitlyn M. Gaynor, Cheryl E. Hojnowski, Neil H. Carter, and Justin S. Brashares, human population growth is having a profound influence on the way animals go about their business—specifically, when they choose to go about their business. It seems that a number of mammalian species have become nocturnal in an effort to avoid us. Scientists admit that this probably works for the animals, but could have potential “ecosystem-level consequences” we don’t yet fully understand.

It’s been acknowledged in the past that mammals have been adjusting to the presence of humans by moving less, retreating to remote areas, and spending less time looking for food, according to Phys.org, who spoke with Gaynor, the leader of the study. All these altered behaviors contribute to overall stress in the animals. Gaynor’s study indicates that even things like camping and hiking could be having a negative effect on wildlife. “It suggests that animals might be playing it safe around people,” said Gaynor. “We may think that we leave no trace when we’re just hiking in the woods, but our mere presence can have lasting consequences.”

Read more …

Dec 282017
 
 December 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ansel Adams Church, Taos, Pueblo 1942

 

The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been and at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.

Therefore, even if the generosity of our readership has been nothing short of miraculous, we must continue to humbly ask you for more support. Because our work is not done. Our latest essay on this is here: The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018 . It contains links to all 14 previous articles on the situation.

Here’s how you can help:

 

 

For donations to Konstantinos and O Allos Anthropos, the Automatic Earth has a Paypal widget on our front page, top left hand corner. On our Sales and Donations page, there is an address to send money orders and checks if you don’t like Paypal. Our Bitcoin address is 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT. For other forms of payment, drop us a line at Contact • at • TheAutomaticEarth • com.

To tell donations for Kostantinos apart from those for the Automatic Earth (which badly needs them too!), any amounts that come in ending in either $0.99 or $0.37, will go to O Allos Anthropos.

 

Please give generously.

 

 

S&P 500 Hits Most Overbought Level In 22 Years (MW)
Peak Good Times? Stock Market Risk Spikes to New High (WS)
Russia’s Finance Minister Confirms Upcoming Bitcoin Regulations (CCN)
Bitcoin Tumbles Over Exchange-Closure Fears (BBG)
Bitcoin’s Surging Price Drives Private Investor Demand For Derivatives (BBG)
Trump Tax Reform Blew Up The Treasury Market (ZH)
The Tax Plan Could Change How Wall Street Works (BBG)
“We’ve Centralized All Of Our Data To A Guy Called Mark Zuckerberg” (HN)
The Petro-yuan Bombshell (Escobar)
John McDonnell Warns Over ‘Alarming Increase’ In UK Household Debt (G.)
Another Fukushima? Tepco Plans To Restart World’s Biggest Nuclear Plant (G.)
Children Increasingly Used As Weapons Of War – Unicef (G.)

 

 

All the lovely things that debt buys.

S&P 500 Hits Most Overbought Level In 22 Years (MW)

Following a year in which the U.S. stock market hit a record number of records and seen basically nothing in the way of pullbacks or volatility, investors have gone all-in on stocks. Exchange-traded funds, perhaps the most popular way to get exposure to broad parts of the market, have seen record-breaking inflows over the year, with both domestic and foreign-based stock funds seeing heavy interest and no major category seeing outflows. Both retail and institutional investors have gotten in on the action and are positioning in a way that suggests both see further gains ahead. The S&P 500 has rallied about 20% over 2017, on track for its best year since 2013.

According to Torsten Sløk, Deutsche Bank’s chief international economist, “U.S. retail investors say that today is the best time ever to invest in the market,” based on data from the University of Michigan consumer sentiment report, which asks about the probability of an increase in stock prices over the coming year. Younger investors in particular are warming up to equities, according to E*Trade. The latest AAII investor sentiment survey indicates that 50.5% of polled investors are bullish on the market, meaning they expect prices will be higher in six months. That’s the highest level in nearly two years, and significantly above the 38.5% historical average. The number of bullish investors has gone up by 5.5 percentage points in the last week alone, while the percentage of bearish investors has dropped to 25.6%, down 2.5 percentage points over the last week.

Optimism has gotten so high that cash balances for Charles Schwab clients reached their lowest level on record in the third quarter, according to Morgan Stanley, which wrote that retail investors “can’t stay away.” The investment bank noted a similar trend in institutional investors, who it wrote were “loading the boat on risk,” with “long/short net and gross leverage as high as we have ever seen it.”

There have been fundamental reasons for this optimism, including a strong labor market and improving economic data. Furthermore, the recently passed tax bill will cut corporate taxes, which should boost corporate profits — which have already been enjoying their fastest year of growth since 2011. However, the incessant buying has pushed valuations to levels that are not only stretched, but stretched to a historic extent. As was recently noted by LPL Financial, the relative strength index, an indicator of technical momentum, is at its highest level since 1995, which indicates the S&P 500 is at its most overbought level in 22 years.

Read more …

Thank your central banker.

Peak Good Times? Stock Market Risk Spikes to New High (WS)

Margin debt is the embodiment of stock market risk. As reported by the New York Stock Exchange today, it jumped 3.5%, or $19.5 billion, in November from October, to a new record of $580.9 billion. After having jumped from one record to the next, it is now up 16% from a year ago. Even on an inflation-adjusted basis, the surge in margin debt has been breath-taking: The chart by Advisor Perspectives compares margin debt (red line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line), both adjusted for inflation (in today’s dollars). Note how margin debt spiked into March 2000, the month when the dotcom crash began, how it spiked into July 2007, three months before the Financial-Crisis crash began, and how it bottomed out in February 2009, a month before the great stock market rally began:

Margin debt, which forms part of overall stock market leverage, is the great accelerator for stocks, on the way up and on the way down. Rising margin debt – when investors borrow against their portfolios – creates liquidity out of nothing, and much of this new liquidity is used to buy more stocks. But falling margin debt returns this liquidity to where it came from. Leverage supplies liquidity. But it isn’t liquidity that moves from one asset to another. It is liquidity that is being created to be plowed into stocks, and that can evaporate just as quickly: When stocks are dumped to pay down margin debt, the money from those stock sales doesn’t go into other stocks or another asset class, doesn’t become cash “sitting on the sidelines,” as the industry likes to say, and isn’t used to buy gold or cryptocurrencies or whatever. It just evaporates without a trace.

After stirring markets into an eight-year risk-taking frenzy, the Fed is now worried that markets have gone too far. Among the Fed governors fretting out loud over this was Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan who recently warned about the “record-high levels” of margin debt, along with the US stock market capitalization, which, at 135% of GDP, is “the highest since 1999/2000.” “In the event of a sell-off, high levels of margin debt can encourage additional selling, which could, in turn, lead to a more rapid tightening of financial conditions,” he mused. The growth in margin debt has far outpaced the growth of the S&P 500 index in recent years. The chart below (by Advisor Perspectives) shows the percentage growth of margin debt and the S&P 500 index, both adjusted for inflation:

Read more …

Will Russia set the model for the rest of the world? Don’t be surprised if others follow.

Russia’s Finance Minister Confirms Upcoming Bitcoin Regulations (CCN)

The Russian Ministry of Finance has prepared a sweeping regulatory law that will cover many facets of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin in Russia. In an interview with state-owned television broadcaster Rossiya 24 over Christmas, Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov confirmed the ministry’s draft law on a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies. The regulation, as expected, will cover bitcoin mining rules, taxation laws for adopters and guidelines for exchanges selling cryptocurrencies. As reported by Russian news source TASS, Siluanov stated: The Ministry of Finance has prepared a draft law, currently under consideration, which will determine the procedure for issuing, taxing, buying and circulation of cryptocurrency. In conjunction, the Ministry of Finance is also reportedly preparing amendments to Russian legislation toward the broader regulation of new financial technologies and digital payments.

The developments are a remarkable contrast to legislation proposed by Russia’s Finance Ministry as recently as March 2016. At the time, the ministry proposed a 7-year prison sentence for bitcoin adopters and users. Earlier in September, Siluanov called for the Russian government to accept and understand “that cryptocurrencies are real.” “There is no sense in banning them,” Siluanov said at the time, “there is a need to regulate them.” The new laws, in its draft, is expected to be submitted to the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian Parliament) tomorrow before its anticipated adoption sometime in March 2018. The new laws were fast-tracked by authorities following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mandate to develop regulations for cryptocurrencies, mining and initial coin offerings (ICOs). The amendments to existing Russian laws to recognize cryptocurrencies will also aid in the prepping for the launch of Russia’s own national cryptocurrency – the CryptoRuble.

Read more …

Korea may be the first to copy Moscow. This is not action, it’s reaction.

Bitcoin Tumbles Over Exchange-Closure Fears (BBG)

Bitcoin resumed its tumble on Thursday after South Korea said it was eyeing options including a potential shutdown of at least some cryptocurrency exchanges to stamp out a frenzy of speculation. South Korea has been ground zero for a global surge in interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as prices surged this year, prompting the nation’s prime minister to worry over the impact on Korean youth. While there’s no immediate indication Asia’s No. 4 economy will shutter exchanges that have accounted by some measures for more than fifth of global trading, the news poses a warning as regulators the world over express concerns about private digital currencies. Bitcoin fell as much as 9% to as low as $13,828 in Asia trading, erasing modest gains after the South Korean release, composite Bloomberg pricing shows.

It’s now down about 28% from its record high reached last week. South Korea will require real-name cryptocurrency transactions and impose a ban on the offering of virtual accounts by banks to crypto-exchanges, according to a statement from the Office for Government Policy Coordination. Policy makers will review measures including the closure of crypto-exchanges suggested by the Ministry of Justice and take proper measures swiftly and firmly while monitoring the trend of the speculation. Bitcoin was trading at about a 30% premium over prevailing international rates on Thursday in Seoul – a continuing sign of the country’s obsession, and the difficulty in arbitraging between markets. “Cryptocurrency speculation has been irrationally overheated in Korea,” the government said in the statement, which comes little more than a week after the bankruptcy filing of one South Korean exchange. “The government can’t leave the abnormal situation of speculation any longer.”

Read more …

The combination of crypto and derivatives sends shivers.

Bitcoin’s Surging Price Drives Private Investor Demand For Derivatives (BBG)

Bitcoin’s surging price has driven private-investor demand for derivatives tracking the virtual currency. Trading in so-called participation notes has skyrocketed this year on Boerse Stuttgart, Europe’s largest exchange for retail derivatives. The number of executed orders jumped 22-fold from 436 in January to almost 10,000 in December.

Read more …

Beware when stirring up a complex system.

Trump Tax Reform Blew Up The Treasury Market (ZH)

Over the past week we have shown on several occasions that there once again appears to be a sharp, sudden dollar-funding liquidity strain in global markets, manifesting itself in a dramatic widening in FX basis swaps, which – in this particular case – has flowed through in the forward discount for USDJPY spiking from around 0.04 yen to around 0.23 yen overnight. As Bloomberg speculated, this discount for buying yen at future dates widened sharply as non-U.S. banks, which typically buy dollars now with sell-back contracts at a future date, scrambled to procure greenbacks for the year-end. However, as Deutsche Bank’s Masao Muraki explains, this particular dollar funding shortage is more than just the traditional year-end window dressing or some secret bank funding panic.

Instead, the DB strategist observes that the USD funding costs for Japanese insurers and banks to invest in US Treasuries – which have surged reaching a post-financial-crisis high of 2.35% on 15 Dec – are determined by three things, namely (1) the difference in US and Japanese risk-free rates (OIS), (2) the difference in US and Japanese interbank risk premiums (Libor-OIS), and (3) basis swaps, which illustrate the imbalance in currency-hedged US and Japanese investments. In this particular case, widening of (1) as a result of Fed rate hikes and tightening of dollar funding conditions inside the US (2) and outside the US (3) have occurred simultaneously. This is shown in the chart below.

What is causing this? Unlike on previous occasions when dollar funding costs blew out due to concerns over the credit and viability of the Japanese and European banks, this time the Fed’s rate hikes could be spurring outflows from the US, European, and Japanese banks’ deposits inside the US. Absent indicators to the contrary, this appears to be the correct explanation since it’s not just Yen funding costs that are soaring. In fact, at present EUR/USD basis swaps are widening more than USD/JPY basis swaps. [..] According to Deutsche, it is possible that an increase in hedged US investments by Europeans could be indirectly affecting Japan, and that market participants could also be conscious of the risk that the repatriation tax system could spur a massive flow-back into the US, of funds held overseas by US companies In fact, one can draw one particularly troubling conclusion: the sharp basis swap moves appear to have been catalyzed by the recently passed Trump tax reform.

Read more …

More ‘unintended’ consequences?!

The Tax Plan Could Change How Wall Street Works (BBG)

Leon Black recently posed a question whose answer will determine how profitable the new U.S. tax regime could make Wall Street firms like his Apollo Global Management. Publicly traded partnerships, including private equity firms Apollo, Blackstone and Carlyle Group, are taxed differently than corporations. So should they take advantage of the overhauled tax rules to pay less in taxes? Or should they use this chance to change to an Inc. from an LLC or LP, which would increase tax bills but allow them to attract investments from mutual funds that have previously been out of reach? “We’re still analyzing,’’ Black told the Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference Dec. 6. “It’s an uncertain outcome.’’

Either way, it’s most likely a money-making outcome. The tax changes are a boon for firms such as Apollo, where Black is chief executive officer. The new lower corporate rate has made it possible for bigger publicly traded partnerships to consider the change. As it is, management fees, which typically account for 30 percent or more of their earnings, are already taxed at the corporate rate. That will drop. The legislation scarcely touched the 23.8 percent rate paid on incentive fees, also called carried interest, which incur no additional levy when paid out to shareholders. If the partnerships converted to corporations, the incentive fees would be hit with a second layer of tax when they’re paid out. That would push the combined tax rate on incentive income paid out as dividends to nearly 40 percent, according to Peter Furci, co-chair of Debevoise & Plimpton’s global tax practice.

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I’m sure this guy is smart, but he misses the point here by a mile. What has happened is the data have been centralized to the NSA and CIA and their peers. Zuckerberg is just a conduit.

“We’ve Centralized All Of Our Data To A Guy Called Mark Zuckerberg” (HN)

At its inception, the internet was a beautifully idealistic and equal place. But the world sucks and we’ve continuously made it more and more centralized, taking power away from users and handing it over to big companies. And the worst thing is that we can’t fix it – we can only make it slightly less awful. That was pretty much the core of Pirate Bay’s co-founder, Peter Sunde‘s talk at tech festival Brain Bar Budapest. TNW sat down with the pessimistic activist and controversial figure to discuss how screwed we actually are when it comes to decentralizing the internet. In Sunde’s opinion, people focus too much on what might happen, instead of what is happening. He often gets questions about how a digitally bleak future could look like, but the truth is that we’re living it.

“Everything has gone wrong. That’s the thing, it’s not about what will happen in the future it’s about what’s going on right now. We’ve centralized all of our data to a guy called Mark Zuckerberg, who’s basically the biggest dictator in the world as he wasn’t elected by anyone. Trump is basically in control over this data that Zuckerberg has, so I think we’re already there. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and I don’t think there’s a way for us to stop it.” One of the most important things to realize is that the problem isn’t a technological one. “The internet was made to be decentralized,” says Sunde, “but we keep centralizing everything on top of the internet.”

To support this, Sunde points out that in the last 10 years, almost every up-and-coming tech company or website has been bought by the big five: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. The ones that manage to escape the reach of the giants, often end up adding to the centralization. We don’t create things anymore, instead we just have virtual things. Uber, Alibaba and Airbnb, for example, do they have products? No. We went from this product-based model, to virtual product, to virtually no product what so ever. This is the centralization process going on. Although we should be aware that the current effects of centralization, we shouldn’t overlook that it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of upcoming tech-based services that are at risk of becoming centralized, which could have a huge impact on our daily lives.

[..] Feeling a bit optimistic, I asked Sunde whether we could still fight for decentralization and bring the power back to the people. His answer was simple. “No. We lost this fight a long time ago. The only way we can do any difference is by limiting the powers of these companies – by governments stepping in – but unfortunately the EU or the US don’t seem to have any interest in doing this.”

Read more …

Right in theory, but…

The Petro-yuan Bombshell (Escobar)

The website of the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) recently announced the establishment of a yuan-ruble payment system, hinting that similar systems regarding other currencies participating in the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will also be in place in the near future. Crucially, this is not about reducing currency risk; after all Russia and China have increasingly traded bilaterally in their own currencies since the 2014 US-imposed sanctions on Russia. This is about the implementation of a huge, new alternative reserve currency zone, bypassing the US dollar. The decision follows the establishment by Beijing, in October 2015, of the China International Payments System (CIPS). CIPS has a cooperation agreement with the private, Belgium-based SWIFT international bank clearing system, through which virtually every global transaction must transit.

What matters in this case is that Beijing – as well as Moscow – clearly read the writing on the wall when, in 2012, Washington applied pressure on SWIFT; blocked international clearing for every Iranian bank; and froze $100 billion in Iranian assets overseas as well as Tehran’s potential to export oil. In the event Washington might decide to slap sanctions on China, bank clearing though CIPS works as a de facto sanctions-evading mechanism. Last March, Russia’s central bank opened its first office in Beijing. Moscow is launching its first $1 billion yuan-denominated government bond sale. Moscow has made it very clear it is committed to a long term strategy to stop using the US dollar as their primary currency in global trade, moving alongside Beijing towards what could be dubbed a post-Bretton Woods exchange system.

Gold is essential in this strategy. Russia, China, India, Brazil & South Africa are all either large producers or consumers of gold – or both. Following what has been extensively discussed in their summits since the early 2010s, the BRICS are bound to focus on trading physical gold. Markets such as COMEX actually trade derivatives on gold, and are backed by an insignificant amount of physical gold. Major BRICS gold producers – especially the Russia-China partnership – plan to be able to exercise extra influence in setting up global gold prices. [..] The current state of play is still all about the petrodollar system; since last year what used to be a key, “secret” informal deal between the US and the House of Saud is firmly in the public domain.

Even warriors in the Hindu Kush may now be aware of how oil and virtually all commodities must be traded in US dollars, and how these petrodollars are recycled into US Treasuries. Through this mechanism Washington has accumulated an astonishing $20 trillion in debt – and counting. Vast populations all across MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) also learned what happened when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein decided to sell oil in euros, or when Muammar Gaddafi planned to issue a pan-African gold dinar. But now it’s China who’s entering the fray, following on plans set up way back in 2012. And the name of the game is oil-futures trading priced in yuan, with the yuan fully convertible into gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong foreign exchange markets.

Read more …

The UK Labour party need to cash in now on the government’s mishandling of Brexit and the country’s economy, or risk being seen as part of that government. Corbyn et al know thay could jump in the polls by denouncing Brexit itself, but they don’t have the courage to do that. So on the no. 1 problem, they’re the same as the Tories.

John McDonnell Warns Over ‘Alarming Increase’ In UK Household Debt (G.)

John McDonnell has said the UK is in the grip of a personal debt crisis with levels of unsecured borrowing predicted to hit a record of £19,000 per household by the end of this parliament. The shadow chancellor said the increase in debt, to more than £14,000 per household this year, was alarming. Analysis from Labour shows unsecured debt is on course to exceed £15,000 per household next year and could go on to exceed £19,000 per household by 2022 if it follows the current trajectory. It is understood Labour plans to focus on the issue in the new year, warning that the continuing squeeze on wages and the high level of inflation are contributing to high levels of personal debt.

On Wednesday the Resolution Foundation, a thinktank, predicted that the stagnation in real wages was set to continue throughout 2018 and may only begin to lift towards the end of the year. McDonnell said: “The alarming increase in average household debt already means many families in our country are struggling over the Christmas period. The Tories have no real answers to tackle the debt crisis gripping our country and have no solutions to offer those struggling to get by as prices run ahead of wages. “The next Labour government will introduce a £10 per hour real living wage, scrap student fees, end the public sector pay cap and cap interest on consumer credit to build an economy for the many, not the few.”

Read more …

Why go this crazy route? Well, money of course.

Another Fukushima? Tepco Plans To Restart World’s Biggest Nuclear Plant (G.)

If a single structure can define a community, for the 90,000 residents of Kashiwazaki town and the neighbouring village of Kariwa, it is the sprawling nuclear power plant that has dominated the coastal landscape for more than 40 years. When all seven of its reactors are in operation, Kashiwazaki-kariwa generates 8.2m kilowatts of electricity – enough to power 16m households. Occupying 4.2 sq km of land along the Japan Sea coast, it is the biggest nuclear power plant in the world. But today, the reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa are idle. The plant in Niigata prefecture, about 140 miles (225km) north-west of the capital, is the nuclear industry’s highest-profile casualty of the nationwide atomic shutdown that followed the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.

The company at the centre of the disaster has encountered anger over its failure to prevent the catastrophe, its treatment of tens of thousands of evacuated residents and its haphazard attempts to clean up its atomic mess. Now, the same utility, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], is attempting to banish its Fukushima demons with a push to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, one of its three nuclear plants. Only then, it says, can it generate the profits it needs to fund the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi and win back the public trust it lost in the wake of the meltdown. This week, Japan’s nuclear regulation authority gave its formal approval for Tepco to restart the Kashiwazaki-kariwa’s No. 6 and 7 reactors – the same type of boiling-water reactors that suffered meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.

After a month of public hearings, the nuclear regulation authority concluded that Tepco was fit to run a nuclear power plant and said the two reactors met the stricter safety standards introduced after the 2011 disaster.

Read more …

What hope is there for us, if there’s none for our children? And yes, all children are our children, not just the ones that live in our homes and communities.

Children Increasingly Used As Weapons Of War – Unicef (G.)

Children caught in war zones are increasingly being used as weapons of war – recruited to fight, forced to act as suicide bombers, and used as human shields – the United Nations children’s agency has warned. In a statement summarising 2017 as a brutal year for children caught in conflict, Unicef said parties to conflicts were blatantly disregarding international humanitarian law and children were routinely coming under attack. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement had become standard tactics in conflicts across Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as in Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar. Some children, abducted by extremist groups, are abused again by security forces when they are released.

Others are indirectly harmed by fighting, through malnutrition and disease, as access to food, water and sanitation are denied or restricted. Some 27 million children in conflict zones have been forced out of school. “Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, Unicef’s director of emergency programmes. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.” Much of the fighting affecting children occurred in long-running conflicts in Africa.

Read more …

Oct 182017
 
 October 18, 2017  Posted by at 2:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvator Rosa Heroic battle 1652

 

A point BOE Governor Mark Carney made recently may be the biggest cog in the European Union’s wheel (or is it second biggest? Read on). That is, derivatives clearing. It’s one of the few areas where Brussels stands to lose much more than London, but it’s a big one. And Carney puts a giant question mark behind the EU’s preparedness.

Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks

Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. [..] When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”

Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts , he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe . Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.”

In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…

If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.” [..] “I wouldn’t want to use financial stability issues as leverage. I wouldn’t want them to be addressed in a bloodless technocratic way in the interests of all the citizens.”

Sounds like Carney knows a thing or two that Juncker et al haven’t sufficiently thought through. The EU plans to move all – or most- derivatives clearing to the continent, but such a thing is anything but easy. That’s another very tangled web, and an expensive one to boot. Brussels probably wants to use the issue to put pressure on London in some way, but a hard Brexit might make that unlikely if not worse. Bloomberg from June this year:

EU Targets Derivative-Clearing Giants With Relocation Threat

“Today, a significant amount of financial instruments denominated in the currencies of the member states are cleared by recognized third-country CCPs,” according to the proposal. “For example, the notional amount outstanding at Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the U.S. is €1.8 trillion for euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives,” the commission said. “This also raises a series of concerns.”

The financial industry has lobbied hard against a location policy. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association said requiring euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives to be cleared by an EU-based clearinghouse would boost initial margin requirements by as much as 20% . The FIA, a trade organization for the futures, options and centrally cleared derivatives markets, has said forced relocation “could nearly double margin requirements from $83 billion to $160 billion.”

According to that Bloomberg piece, the notional amount outstanding of euro-denominated OTC interest-rate derivatives is some $90 trillion, 97% of which goes through the London Clearing House (LCH) based in .. well, you guessed it. Wikipedia:

LCH is a European-based independent clearing house that serves major international exchanges, as well as a range of OTC markets. Based on 2012 figures LCH cleared approximately 50% of the global interest rate swap market, and is the second largest clearer of bonds and repos in the world , providing services across 13 government debt markets.

In addition, LCH clears a broad range of asset classes including: commodities, securities, exchange traded derivatives, credit default swaps, energy contracts, freight derivatives, interest rate swaps, foreign exchange and Euro and Sterling denominated bonds and repos. LCH’s members comprise a large number of the major financial groups including almost all of the major investment banks, broker dealers and international commodity houses.

More details from Reuters, also in June:

Derivatives Body Warns EU Against Moving Euro Clearing From London

Shifting clearing of euro-denominated derivatives from London to the European continent would require banks to set aside far more cash to insure trades against defaults, a cost that would be passed on to companies, a global derivatives industry body says. [..]The London Stock Exchange’s subsidiary LCH currently clears the bulk of euro-denominated swaps, a derivative contract that helps companies guard against unexpected moves in interest rates or currencies.

Britain, however, is due to leave the bloc in 2019, putting it out of the EU’s regulatory reach. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), one of the world’s top derivatives industry bodies, said on Monday that a “relocation” in euro clearing to continental Europe would split liquidity in markets and reduce the ability of banks to save on margin by offsetting positions in the same liquidity pool.

Deutsche Bank has the world’s largest derivatives portfolio. Not all of it will be euro-denominated, but still. And I know it’s just notional amounts, but derivatives are not things one plays fast and loose with, lest the clearing becomes opaque and trouble starts.

Juncker better solve this thing. Oh, and this one too (yes, it’s quite fun to report on this):

Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit

As part of the transition period of around two years that she called for in her emollient Florence speech last month, Britain would continue to pay in to the EU budget to ensure that none of the member states was out of pocket owing to the decision to leave. These net payments of around €10 billion a year would fix the immediate problem facing the EU, the hole that would otherwise open up in its finances during the final two years of its current budgetary framework, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

[..] through its accounting procedures, the EU can and does commit it to spending that will be paid for by future receipts from the member states. What this means is that even after 2020 there will still be payments due on commitments made under the current seven-year spending plan. That pile of unpaid bills, eloquently called the “reste à liquider” (the amount yet to be settled), is forecast to be €254 billion at the end of 2020.

Estimates of what Britain might owe towards this vary, but taking into account what might have been spent on British projects it could be around €20 billion. On top of that – and the second main reason why the EU is holding out for more – the EU has liabilities, notably arising from the unfunded retirement benefits of European staff estimated at €67 billion at the end of 2016, which it is expecting Britain to share. Even taking into account some potential offsets from its share of assets, Britain may face a bill of between €30 billion and €40 billion on top of the €20 billion paid during the transition period.

The EU finances itself on the fly. It’ll have a €254 pile of unpaid bills in 3 years time. That is scary. Not for Brussels, but for its member countries. A hard Brexit, in which Britain may refuse to pay, is perhaps even scarier.

Anyway, once Juncker’s done with all that, he’ll have to move on to the next problem. Derivatives is a big cloud hanging over Europe, but this one is potentially shattering.

Ray Dalio, manager of the world’s biggest hedge fund, is shorting, placing large bets against, anything Italian, and given Italy’s size and hence importance to the EU, his bets are effectively bets against Brussels.

Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm

Bridgewater Associates is adding to its billion-dollar short against the Italian economy. The world’s largest hedge fund disclosed a $300 million bet against Eni SpA, Italy’s oil and gas giant, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bloomberg previously reported that Ray Dalio’s firm had wagered more than $1.1 billion against shares of six Italian financial institutions and two other companies.

This latest bet is the hedge fund’s second-largest against an Italian company, trailing only the $310 million against Enel SpA, the country’s largest utility. Eni’s majority holder is the Italian government via state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and the Ministry of Economy. The public involvement also is reflected in the government’s role in appointing the chief executive officer. Current CEO Claudio Descalzi has been at the helm since 2014 and was reconfirmed this year.

$1.1 billion against the banking system, $310 million against the main utility, $140 million vs pan-European insurer Generali and now $300 million vs the national oil and gas company, That adds up to quite a bit more than the Bloomberg graph says, but I’ll include it anyway.

 

 

Dalio doesn’t call the bluff of Italy, and this is not just like George Soros’ shorting the British pound in 1992, he’s calling out the entire EU and its financial system. He’s saying I don’t believe you can keep up the charade. He’s making a mockery of Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes”.

So what are Rome, Brussels and Frankfurt going to do? They can’t ignore the no. 1 hedge fund forever. They will have to pump money into Italy, in large amounts. Merkel won’t like that, neither will her new coalition partner FDP, and the Bundesbank may start legal action.

Dalio’s located the Union’s achilles heel, which is not just that Italy’s insolvent (it’s not alone in that), but that there’s a gigantic theater production being performed to give everyone the impression that things are going just swimmingly, thank you. So Dalio’s said: how much for a ticket to the show?, and paid it. And now he’s inside.

Bridgewater didn’t enter that theater for nothing. $1.85 billion is not chump change for them. Intesa Sanpaolo CEO Carlo Messina may have said that Dalio will lose his bets, but according to the IMF Italy’s non-performing loans levels were €356 billion at the end of June 2016, which is 18% of total loans for Italian banks, 20% of Italy’s GDP and one-third of total Eurozone NPLs. Intesa Sanpaolo holds a nice chunk of that.

‘Whatever it takes’ may well be too much to take for the EU, and Draghi looks outsmarted, as do Juncker and Merkel. How many billions will it take for Dalio to go away? And then, who’s next, which hedge fund, which politician, which ECB chief? Coming soon to a theater near you.

 

 

Oct 182017
 
 October 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marcel Bovis Lovers, Paris 1934

 

No, China Isn’t Fixing Its Economic Flaws (BBG)
US Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Obamacare, Trump Indicates Support (R.)
Fixing Macroeconomics Will Be Really Hard (BBG)
Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks (ZH)
Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit (R.)
Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm (BBG)
Boeing’s Attack on Bombardier Backfires (BBG)
The Gig Economy Chews Up And Spits Out Millennials (G.)
Greek Growth Data Cast Doubt On Recovery
Debt-Ridden Greece to Spend $2.4bn Upgrading its F-16 Fighter Jet Fleet (GR)
Canada Methane Emissions Far Worse Than Feared (G.)
The Lie That Poverty Is A Moral Failing Is Back (Fintan O’Toole)

 

 

Antidote for the Party Congress.

No, China Isn’t Fixing Its Economic Flaws (BBG)

In our China Beige Book, we quiz over 3,300 firms across China about the performance of their companies as well as the broader economy. Their responses reveal that much of the exuberance about China today is based on dangerous misconceptions. The first and most obvious myth is that China is actually deleveraging, as officials claim. Responses from Chinese bankers support the notion that regulators, at least for the moment, have successfully targeted certain forms of shadow financing such as wealth management products. Companies, however, don’t seem to be feeling much pressure to curb their excesses. In the second quarter, while firms reported facing moderately higher interest rates and borrowing modestly less, that only slowed the pace of leveraging instead of reversing it. And even that progress has since stalled.

Third-quarter loan applications rose, rejections fell and companies borrowed more. Interest rates at both banks and shadow financials slid. What officials are calling deleveraging – rolling back excess credit – still represents more, uneven leveraging. If the restrictions on financials do extend to companies in 2018 and deleveraging actually begins, the process could be much more traumatic for the Chinese economy than most people currently recognize. The second myth is that the Chinese economy has finally begun to rebalance away from manufacturing and investment to services and consumption. In reality, China’s stronger 2017 performance has depended almost entirely on a revival of the old economy; the improvement in both growth and jobs drew heavily upon commodities, property and, most consistently, manufacturing. Call it “de-balancing.”

[..] China hasn’t slashed overcapacity in commodities sectors. Xi has incessantly touted what he calls “supply-side reforms,” which would seem to give Chinese companies very strong incentive to report results showing such cuts. Yet for more than a year, firms have indicated the opposite. While some gross capacity has been taken offline to much fanfare, net capacity has continued to rise. From July through September, hundreds of coal, steel, aluminum and copper companies reported a sixth straight quarter of overall capacity rising, not falling.

Read more …

Getting Bernie to support the same as Trump is an achievement.

US Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Obamacare, Trump Indicates Support (R.)

Two U.S. senators on Tuesday reached a bipartisan agreement to shore up Obamacare for two years by reviving federal subsidies for health insurers that President Donald Trump planned to scrap, and the president indicated his support for the plan. The deal worked out by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray would meet some Democratic objectives, including reviving the subsidies for Obamacare and restoring $106 million in funding for a federal program that helps people enroll in insurance plans. In exchange, Republicans would get more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.

The Trump administration said last week it would stop paying billions of dollars to insurers to help lower-income Americans pay medical expenses, part of the Republican president’s effort to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. The subsidies to private insurers cost the government an estimated $7 billion this year and were forecast at $10 billion for 2018. Trump’s move to scuttle them had raised concerns about chaos in insurance markets. Trump hoped to make good on his campaign promise to dismantle the law when he took office in January, with Republicans, who pledged for seven years to scrap it, controlling Congress. But he has been frustrated with their failure to pass legislation to repeal and replace it.

Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans. Republicans say it is ineffective and a massive government intrusion in a key sector of the economy. The Alexander-Murray plan could keep Obamacare in place at least until the 2020 presidential campaign starts heating up. “This takes care of the next two years. After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on healthcare,” Alexander said of the deal.

[..] Senator Bernie Sanders threw his weight behind the effort. In an interview with Reuters, Sanders said Alexander was a “well-respected figure” known for bipartisanship and that the Tennessee senator’s reputation would help propel the legislation through the Senate. Trump, during comments at the White House, suggested he could get behind the Alexander-Murray plan as a short-term solution. In remarks later at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Trump commended the work by Alexander and Murray, but said: “I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”

Read more …

Nuff said: “Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time.”

Fixing Macroeconomics Will Be Really Hard (BBG)

A presentation by Blanchard and Summers provides a useful summary of how elite thinking has changed. They basically draw three lessons from the crisis: 1) the financial industry matters, 2) government should use a wider array of policies to fight recessions, and 3) recessions can last longer than expected. [..] The real sea change is the third one – the reconsideration of what recessions really are. Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time. And they assume that recessions are short-lived affairs that go away of their own accord. If these assumptions are wrong, then most of the theories written down in macroeconomics journals over the past several decades – and most of those being written as we speak – are of questionable usefulness.

Blanchard and Summers are hardly the first to raise this possibility – economists have known for decades that recessions might not be random, short-lived events, but the idea always remained on the fringes. One big reason was simple mathematical convenience – models where recessions are like rainstorms, arriving and departing on their own, are mathematically a lot easier to work with. A second was data availability – unlike in geology, where we can draw on Earth’s whole history, reliable macroeconomic data goes back less than a century. If economic fluctuations really do have long-lasting effects, it will be very hard to identify those patterns from just a few decades’ worth of history.

If macroeconomists heed Blanchard and Summers’ advice, they will have to do harder math, and they will find better data to test their models. But their challenges won’t end there. If the economy can linger in a good or bad state for a long time, it’s almost certainly a chaotic system. Researchers have known for decades that unstable economies are very hard to work with or predict. In the past, economists have simply ignored this unsettling possibility and chosen to focus on models with only one possible long-term outcome. But if Blanchard and Summers are any indication, the Great Recession might mean that’s no longer an option.

Read more …

Derivatives.

Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks (ZH)

This morning, BoE Governor Mark Carney discussed the risks of a hard Brexit during his testimony to the UK Parliamentary Treasury Committee. There was renewed weakness in Sterling during his testimony. Ironically, given the fall in Sterling, Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. We wonder whether Juncker and Barnier appreciate the threat that a “no-deal” Brexit poses for the EU’s already fragile financial system? When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”

Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts, he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe. Moving on to the possibility that there might not be a transition period, Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.” Maybe it’s Europe, not the UK, that needs the transition period most.

In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.”

Read more …

Europe borrows from the future.

Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit (R.)

The British government once hoped that the Oct. 19-20 meeting would be the moment when the Brexit negotiations could move on to discuss trade. That aspiration now seems hopeless. European leaders look set to insist on further delay until there is more progress in the first stage of talks, above all in reaching agreement on how much Britain will have to pay to settle its obligations when it leaves.

[..] If economic size and time favor the EU, the British government’s strongest card is money – one that it has played in various guises for centuries with its continental neighbors – and it is naturally reluctant to show its full hand too early. Even so May has already made an important concession. As part of the transition period of around two years that she called for in her emollient Florence speech last month, Britain would continue to pay in to the EU budget to ensure that none of the member states was out of pocket owing to the decision to leave. These net payments of around €10 billion ($11.8 billion) a year would fix the immediate problem facing the EU, the hole that would otherwise open up in its finances during the final two years of its current budgetary framework, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

But that extra money from aligning Britain’s effective date of departure with the end of the EU’s budgeting plan will not be enough, for two reasons. One is the way the EU in effect borrows from the future, by making spending commitments that it pays for later. In principle, the EU cannot borrow to pay for expenditure. But, through its accounting procedures, the EU can and does commit it to spending that will be paid for by future receipts from the member states. What this means is that even after 2020 there will still be payments due on commitments made under the current seven-year spending plan. That pile of unpaid bills, eloquently called the “reste à liquider” (the amount yet to be settled), is forecast to be €254 billion at the end of 2020.

Estimates of what Britain might owe towards this vary, but taking into account what might have been spent on British projects it could be around €20 billion. On top of that – and the second main reason why the EU is holding out for more – the EU has liabilities, notably arising from the unfunded retirement benefits of European staff estimated at €67 billion at the end of 2016, which it is expecting Britain to share. Even taking into account some potential offsets from its share of assets, Britain may face a bill of between €30 billion and €40 billion on top of the €20 billion paid during the transition period.

Read more …

Biggest threat of all to Europe may be Italy’s weaknesses.

Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm (BBG)

Bridgewater Associates is adding to its billion-dollar short against the Italian economy. The world’s largest hedge fund disclosed a $300 million bet against Eni SpA, Italy’s oil and gas giant, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bloomberg previously reported that Ray Dalio’s firm had wagered more than $1.1 billion against shares of six Italian financial institutions and two other companies. This latest bet is the hedge fund’s second-largest against an Italian company, trailing only the $310 million against Enel SpA, the country’s largest utility. Eni’s majority holder is the Italian government via state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and the Ministry of Economy. The public involvement also is reflected in the government’s role in appointing the chief executive officer. Current CEO Claudio Descalzi has been at the helm since 2014 and was reconfirmed this year.

Read more …

Airbus buys C Series for $1?!

Boeing’s Attack on Bombardier Backfires (BBG)

Boeing’s diminutive Canadian rival just found itself one heck of a wingman. The world’s largest aerospace company tried to block Bombardier’s all-new C Series jet from the U.S. by complaining to the government about unfair competition. Now that move is backfiring as Boeing’s primary foe, Airbus, takes control of the Canadian aircraft – with plans to manufacture in Alabama. The deal leaves Boeing’s 737, the company’s largest source of profit, to face a strengthened opponent in the market for single-aisle jetliners, where Airbus’s A320 family already enjoys a sales lead. The European planemaker is riding to the rescue of a plane at the center of a trade dispute that soured U.S. relations with Canada and the U.K., where the aircraft’s wings are made.

“For Boeing, its decision to wage commercial war on Bombardier has arguably had some unintended negative outcomes,” Robert Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners, said in a report. “As well as damaging relations with the Canadian and U.K. governments and some major airline customers, it has now driven Bombardier into the arms of its arch competitor.” Boeing on Tuesday held firm to its stance against the C Series, saying the deal with Airbus would have “no impact or effect on the pending proceedings at all” in the trade dispute. Boeing won a preliminary victory against Bombardier last month when President Donald Trump’s administration imposed import duties of 300% on the C Series.

Read more …

Self-employment as a means to hide unemployment.

The Gig Economy Chews Up And Spits Out Millennials (G.)

Huws says the golden age for the gig economy was some time around 2013, when companies took a smaller cut and there were fewer drivers/riders/factotums to compete with. “As Deliveroo pass on all risk to the rider, there’s nothing to stop them over-recruiting in an area and flooding the city with riders, which is exactly what we saw last winter,” says Guy McClenahan, another Brighton rider (Deliveroo maintain that the hundreds of riders in the area earn on average well above the national living wage). Over time, Uber has increased the commission it takes from drivers while reducing fares. Drivers are finding themselves working much longer hours in order to make the same pay – or far less. (There are currently no time limits on how many hours Uber drivers can work a week in the UK, but the company is testing changes and says it plans to introduce limits over a 24-hour period.)

TaskRabbit, the online platform for handymen and odd jobs, which was recently bought by Ikea, took away a rate in which contractors would earn more money for repeat commissions – and buried that news in an email about introducing the option for clients to tip. [..] Huws points out that the gig economy has always existed: cash-in-hand or on-call work or people turning up at building sites or dockyards in the hope of a day’s work. But since the 2008 crash, jobs that provide a secure income have become harder to come by. It is true that the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK is 12%, while in parts of Europe it is 40%. But that doesn’t mean much if many of those people are in precarious “self-employment” – the McKinsey Global Institute estimates this may be up to 30% of working-age adults across Europe. Huws says the notion of a career is being eroded, with young people often working a patchwork of different occupations.

[..] Huws worries about something else, too: the wellbeing of gig-economy millennial workers. This kind of employment can be “really damaging for self-esteem”, she says. As Hughes and Diggle both say, crowd work can be lonely. “Especially if you’re working a double shift,” says Diggle. “Or sometimes you don’t feel human. You’re just handing a bag over and some people take the bag, don’t look at you and close the door. And then don’t tip. One day I’ll be on stage singing, and the next I’m delivering food on my bicycle and it does feel … deflating.”

Read more …

A Greek recovery is mathematically impossible.

“..taxation on products increased 7.8%..”

Greek Growth Data Cast Doubt On Recovery

Greece was in recession last year, as revised data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) showed on Tuesday that the economy shrank 0.2% compared to 2015 against a previous estimate for zero growth. Furthermore, the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) forecast that 2017 will close with growth of just 1.3%, against a government estimate of 1.8%. That the way out of the crisis is proving more arduous and uncertain than many had predicted was underscored by the two sets of data released on Tuesday, with IOBE Director General Nikos Vettas warning that the recovery may turn out to be “short-term and fragile” unless the pending crucial structural reforms are implemented.

ELSTAT’s downward revision for 2016 is mainly based on consumer spending, which declined 0.3% compared to 2015, against a previous estimate in March 2017 for an increase of 0.6%. Even in March, when ELSTAT announced zero growth for 2016, the figures created a headache for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had previously said the economy had grown in 2016. Yesterday’s revision turned stagnation into recession for another year. It is also impressive that while the economy shrank 0.2%, taxation on products increased 7.8%, against a hike of 1.7% in 2015 and 0.8% in 2014. The revision also revealed that 2014 saw growth of 0.7%, against an estimate of 0.3% in March. That upward course was clearly interrupted by the January 2015 election.

IOBE undercut the government’s growth estimates for this year and next, with its president, Takis Athanasopoulos, saying, “Indeed, our economy is showing signs of improvement, but its rate remains below what is necessary for the country to leave the crisis behind it for good.” Next year IOBE anticipates growth of 2%, against an official forecast of 2.4%, putting the achievement of fiscal targets into question. The weak 1.3% recovery rate seen for this year, compared to the original 2.7% estimate of the budget and the bailout program, is according to IOBE due to the weak momentum of investments.

Read more …

Wonder who pays the bill. Which is not as bas as it seems.

Debt-Ridden Greece to Spend $2.4bn Upgrading its F-16 Fighter Jet Fleet (GR)

The United States has approved the possible sale of more than 120 upgrade kits from Lockheed Martin to the Greeks for their F-16 fighter jet fleet. The deal, worth $2.4bn, was announced as U.S. President Donald Trump met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington, D.C. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s defense budget targets, applauded Greece for meeting the goal of each member spending two percent of their gross domestic product on their military and highlighted the F-16 upgrade plans. “They’re upgrading their fleets of airplanes – the F-16 plane, which is a terrific plane,” Trump said ahead of a bilateral meeting. “They’re doing big upgrades.”

“This agreement to strengthen the Hellenic Air Force is worth up to 2.4 billion U.S. dollars and would generate thousands of American jobs,” Trump said during his joint press conference with Tsipras. Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sought later to downplay the cost of the deal for Greece. In a message on twitter he said that the cost to Greece will be 1.1 billion euros. “The ceiling in the budget for the upgrading of the F-16 is 1.1 billion euros”, he said. “The rest will come from aid programs and offsets”, he added. According to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) there are currently no known offsets. However, Greece typically requests offsets. Any offset agreement will be defined in negotiations between Greece and the contractor, Lockheed Martin. .

Read more …

“..the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed..”

Canada Methane Emissions Far Worse Than Feared (G.)

Alberta’s oil and gas industry – Canada’s largest producer of fossil fuel resources – could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed, new research has suggested. The pioneering peer reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on Tuesday, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta. The results were then compared with industry-reported emissions and estimates of unreported sources of the powerful greenhouse gas, which warm the planet more than 20 times as much as similar volumes of carbon dioxide.

“Our first reaction was ‘Oh my goodness, this is a really big deal,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and one of the study’s authors. “If we thought it was bad, it’s worse.” Carried out last autumn, the survey measured the airborne emissions of thousands of oil and gas wells in the regions. Researchers also tracked the amount of ethane to ensure that methane emissions from cattle would not end up in their results. In one region dominated by heavy oil wells, researchers found that the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed. The technique is used in several other sites across the province, suggesting emissions from these areas are also underestimated.

Read more …

UBI.

The Lie That Poverty Is A Moral Failing Is Back (Fintan O’Toole)

By the time he died, in 1950, Bernard Shaw, as the most widely read socialist writer in the English-speaking world, had done as much as anyone to banish the fallacy that poverty is essentially a moral failing – and conversely that great riches are proof of moral worth. His most passionate concern was with poverty and its causes. He was haunted by the notorious Dublin slums of his childhood. As his spokesman Undershaft puts it in Major Barbara: “Poverty strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.” The question – why are the poor poor? – has a number of possible answers in the 21st century, just as it had in the late 19th. A Eurobarometer report in 2010 examined attitudes to poverty in the European Union. The most popular explanation among Europeans (47%) for why people live in poverty was injustice in society.

[..] In the preface to Major Barbara, Shaw attacks “the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as if it were … a wholesome tonic for lazy people”. His great political impulse was to de-moralise poverty, and his most radical argument about poverty was that it simply doesn’t matter whether those who are poor “deserve” their condition or not – the dire social consequences are the same either way. He assails the absurdity of the notion implicit in so much rightwing thought, that poverty is somehow more tolerable if it is a punishment for moral failings: “If a man is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science instead of to trade and finance, let him be poor … Let nothing be done for ‘the undeserving’: let him be poor. Serve him right! Also – somewhat inconsistently – blessed are the poor!”

In an era when many on the left purported to despise money and romanticised poverty, Shaw argued that poverty is a crime and that money is a wonderful thing. He recognised that there is no relationship between poverty and a supposed lack of a work ethic: Eliza Doolittle is out selling her flowers late at night in the pouring rain but she is still dirt poor. (Conversely, when she is “idle” and being kept by Higgins, she leads a life of relative luxury.) And therefore the cure for poverty can never be found in moral judgments. The cure for poverty is an adequate income. “The crying need of the nation,” he wrote, “is not for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money.

And the evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft, demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply poverty.” The solution he proposed was what he called a “universal pension for life”, or what we now call a universal basic income.

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Jun 132017
 
 June 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Les femmes d’Alger Version 0 1955

 

The Average Stock Is Enormously, Tremendously Overvalued (Katsenelson)
72% Of US Businesses Are Not Profitable (Simon Black)
UBS Has Some Very Bad News For The Global Economy (ZH)
Fed To Raise Interest Rates, Give More Detail On Balance Sheet Winddown (R.)
EU Plans to Force Relocation of Euro Clearing After Brexit (BBG)
Norway Central Bank Explains How Money Is Created (Norges Bank)
Qatar Spends $8 Million To Airlift 4,000 Cows (BBG)
Things To Come (Jim Kunstler)
Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To ‘Failsafe’ Arctic Seed Vault (G.)
EU To Open Case Against Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic Over Refugees (R.)
ECB Unlikely to Include Greece in QE in Coming Months (BBG)
Greek Debt Deal ‘Not Far’ Says New French Finance Minister (AFP)
One Dead As 6.3-Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Greek Islands Lesbos, Chios (AFP)

 

 

No markets, no discovery, just smoke.

The Average Stock Is Enormously, Tremendously Overvalued (Katsenelson)

We are constantly looking for new stocks by running stock screens, endlessly reading (blogs, research, magazines, newspapers), looking at holdings of investors we respect, talking to our large network of professional investors, attending conferences, scouring through ideas published on value investor networks, and finally, looking with frustration at our large (and growing) watch list of companies we’d like to buy at a significant margin of safety. The median stock on our watch list has to decline by about 35–40% to be an attractive buy. But maybe we’re too subjective. Instead of just asking you to take our word for it, in this letter, we’ll show you a few charts that not only demonstrate our point, but also show the magnitude of the stock market’s overvaluation and, more importantly, put it into historical context.

Each chart examines stock market valuation from a slightly differently perspective, but each arrives at the same conclusion: the average stock is overvalued somewhere between tremendously and enormously. If you don’t know whether “enormously” is greater than “tremendously” or vice versa, don’t worry, we don’t know either. But this is our point exactly: When an asset class is significantly overvalued and continues to get overvalued, quantifying its overvaluation brings little value. Let’s demonstrate this point by looking at a few charts. The first chart shows price-to-earnings of the S&P 500 in relation to its historical average. The average stock today is trading at 73% above its historical average valuation. There are only two other times in history that stocks were more expensive than they are today: just before the Great Depression hit and in the 1999 run-up to the dot-com bubble burst.

We know how the history played in both cases—consequently stocks declined, a lot. Based on over a century of history, we are fairly sure that, this time too, stock valuations will at some point mean revert and stock markets will decline. After all, price-to-earnings behaves like a pendulum that swings around the mean, and today that pendulum has swung far above the mean. What we don’t know is how this journey will look in the interim. Before the inevitable decline, will price-to-earnings revisit the pre-Great Depression level of 95% above average, or will it maybe say hello to the pre-dot-com crash level of 164% above average? Or will another injection of QE steroids send stocks valuations to new, never-before-seen highs? Nobody knows. One chart is not enough. Let’s take a look at another one called the Buffett Indicator. Think of this chart as a price-to-sales ratio for the whole economy, that is, the market value of all equities divided by GDP. The higher the price-to-sales ratio, the more expensive stocks are.

Read more …

What does this say about where the S&P is?

72% Of US Businesses Are Not Profitable (Simon Black)

Total Household Wealth is exactly what it sounds like– the total net worth of every person in the United States, from Bill Gates down to the youngest newborn baby. So when you add up all the 330+ million folks in the Land of the Free and tally up their combined net worth, the total is $94 trillion. The thing is that the VAST majority of that wealth, especially the incredible growth over the last 8 years, has been from increases in just two asset classes: real estate and the stock market. In fact, stocks and real estate alone account for roughly 2/3 of the wealth increase since 2009. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Now, simultaneously, we see plenty of other interesting data, also published by the Federal Reserve and US federal government. Both the Fed and Census Bureau, for example, tell us that over 80% of businesses in the US are “nonemployer” companies, i.e. businesses which only employ one person (the owner), and often provide his/her primary source of income.

Yet according to the Federal Reserve, only 35% of these small businesses are profitable. Most are operating at a loss. In other words, only 35% of the companies which make up 80% of American businesses are profitable. You’re probably already doing the arithmetic– this means that a whopping 72% of all US businesses are NOT profitable. That hardly sounds like record wealth to me. Shifting gears, there’s the little factoid that an astounding 40% of young Americans are living with their parents– the highest%age in the last 75 years. And who can blame them considering student debt in the Land of the Free also hit a record $1.4 trillion three months ago, more than double the amount since the Great Recession. Speaking of record debt, US credit card debt passed a record $1 trillion, and total US consumer credit hit a record $3.8 trillion last month. Again, all of this hardly seems like ‘wealth’ to me.

Then there’s the issue of wages, which have remained essentially flat since the 2009 Great Recession if you adjust for inflation. According to the US Department of Labor, inflation-adjusted wages, aka “real hourly compensation” in the US fell an annualized 0.9% last quarter, and fell a dismal 5.6% in the previous quarter. Adjusted for inflation, the average American isn’t making any more money. Once again, this is a pitiful excuse for ‘wealth.’ American businesses aren’t more productive either. The same Labor Department report shows that productivity in the Land of the Free was flat in the first quarter of this year. And productivity actually declined in 2016– something that hasn’t happened in at least the last 50 years. Not to mention total economic growth in the Land of the Free has been pretty pitiful, logging a pathetic 1.6% last year. And GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was just 1.2% on an annualized basis. The US economy has exceed hasn’t surpassed 3% growth in more than 10-years.

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Oversaturated with debt.

UBS Has Some Very Bad News For The Global Economy (ZH)

[..] fast forwarding just over three months later, where are we now? To answer that question, overnight UBS released its much anticipated update on the current state of the global credit impulse, and it’s nothing short of a disaster. As Kapteyn writes in what may have been the most eagerly awaited report in recent UBS history, “we have been inundated with questions about the chart below, first published in March. Yes, the global credit impulse is still falling. And yes, it matters because the correlation of this global credit impulse with global domestic demand is 0.61.” But it’s what follows next that should send shivers down the spine of anyone still clutching to the failed “recovery” narrative:

From peak to trough the deceleration in global credit growth is now approaching that during the global financial crisis (-6% of global GDP), even if the dispersion of the decline is much narrower. Currently 55% of the countries in our sample have experienced a -0.3 standard deviation deterioration in their credit impulse (median over 12 months) compared to 77% of countries in Dec ’09 when the median decline was -1.4 stdev.” Here is what the stunning collapse in the credit impulse looks like as of today:

While we urge all readers to get in touch with their friendly UBS sales coverage for the full report, here is a quick primer from UBS on what the current data is telling us, not so much about China where the credit impulse slowdown was discussed previously, but about the world’s biggest economy. From UBS: The credit impulse in the US has also turned down, seemingly on the back of a sharp drop in demand for C&I loans. The slowdown is more visible in the bank loan data than the Flow of Funds data we are using to calculate the credit impulse (the FoF is 3x as broad and includes non-bank credit as well). But the slowdown is nonetheless at odds with confidence being expressed about investment and future borrowing plans.

The US credit impulse was running at 0.7% GDP back in September 2016 and by March had fallen to -0.53% GDP (recovering somewhat in April based on bank loan data). Why does this matter? Because as UBS shows in the chart below, in the US the correlation between activity and the impulse is very strong, and the lack of credit growth could constrain an acceleration in GDP from weak Q1 levels (the credit impulse suggests domestic demand growth should be close to 1% rather than the 2+% which consensus is currently tracking).

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Yawn.

Fed To Raise Interest Rates, Give More Detail On Balance Sheet Winddown (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise its benchmark interest rate this week due to a tightening labor market and may also provide more detail on its plans to shrink the mammoth bond portfolio it amassed to nurse the economic recovery. The central bank is scheduled to release its decision at 2 p.m EDT on Wednesday at the conclusion of its two-day policy meeting. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference at 2:30 pm EDT. “The expectation of a rate hike…is widely held, and has been reinforced by the most recent round of Fed communications,” said Michael Feroli, an economist with J.P. Morgan. Economists polled by Reuters overwhelmingly see the Fed raising its benchmark rate to a target range of 1.00 to 1.25% this week.

The Fed embarked on its first tightening cycle in more than a decade in December 2015. A quarter%age point interest rate rise on Wednesday would be the second nudge upwards this year following a similar move in March. Since then, the unemployment rate has fallen to a 16-year low of 4.3% and economic growth appears to have reaccelerated following a lackluster first quarter. However, other indicators of the economy’s health have been more mixed. The Fed’s preferred measure of underlying inflation has retreated to 1.5% from 1.8% earlier in 2017 and investors are growing increasingly doubtful policymakers will be able to stick to their anticipated pace of tightening of three interest rate rises this year and next.

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There’s money in derivatives yet.

EU Plans to Force Relocation of Euro Clearing After Brexit (BBG)

Firms that clear euro-denominated derivatives may be forced to relocate to the European Union from London after Brexit under EU proposals to be rolled out on Tuesday, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Under the European Commission’s plans for overhauling supervision of clearinghouses that are based outside the bloc, firms deemed systemically important to the EU financial system could be required to accept direct oversight by the bloc’s authorities, the person said, asking not to be named because the proposals aren’t yet public. Firms could also be forced to move their euro clearing operations to a location inside the EU, the person said.

This so-called location requirement has spurred warnings from the industry of skyrocketing costs, and has helped to turn clearing into a political football as the EU and U.K. prepare for divorce negotiations. In a June 8 letter to Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s financial-services policy chief, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association said a survey of data from 11 banks showed that requiring euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives to be cleared by an EU-based clearinghouse would boost initial margin by as much as 20%. The proposals to be published on Tuesday are largely in line with initial plans floated last month by the commission, the EU’s executive arm.

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Central banks and shunned economists seem to be the only ones who understand this.

Norway Central Bank Explains How Money Is Created (Norges Bank)

Today, there are two forms of central bank money. One of the forms is common knowledge – banknotes and coins. The other, bank reserves at Norges Bank, is less well known. The sum total of banknotes and coins and bank reserves at Norges Bank is about NOK 85 billion.[5] But the total money supply is much larger than this. Customer deposits in banks are also money. These deposits, referred to as deposit money, total more than NOK 2 trillion in Norway. This money is created by banks, not by Norges Bank. Chart 1 shows the money supply and the supply of banknotes and coins in Norway since 1960. In Norway, the money supply mainly comprises deposit money in banks.[6] In the early 1960s, banknotes and coins accounted for a fifth of the money supply. Current accounts and cheques were already becoming commonplace.

Since then, banks’ deposit money has increased dramatically, and today, banknotes and coins make up less than 2.5% of the money supply. In other words, virtually all the money we use has been created by banks. So how do banks create money? The answer to that question comes as quite a surprise to most people. When you borrow from a bank, the bank credits your bank account. The deposit – the money – is created by the bank the moment it issues the loan. The bank does not transfer the money from someone else’s bank account or from a vault full of money. The money lent to you by the bank has been created by the bank itself – out of nothing: fiat – let it become. The money created by the bank does not disappear when it leaves your account. If you use it to make a payment, it is just transferred to the recipient’s account.

The money is only removed from circulation when someone uses their deposits to repay a bank, as when we make a loan repayment.[7] The money supply is therefore only reduced when banks’ claims on the rest of the economy decrease. Banks also fund lending by raising loans themselves instead of creating money in the form of deposits. In order to reduce risk, banks also use other forms of investment in addition to lending.[8] Nevertheless, the money supply is growing at almost at the same pace as total bank credit. To sum up: banks create money out of nothing and withdraw it when loans are repaid. Growth in total bank credit is normally matched by growth in the money supply.[9] This does not sound encouraging. Is money an illusion? Why is today’s privately issued deposit money often perceived to be as safe as money issued by the central bank?

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Flying pigs would have been even nicer.

Qatar Spends $8 Million To Airlift 4,000 Cows (BBG)

Call it the biggest bovine airlift in history. The showdown between Qatar and its neighbors has disrupted trade, split families and threatened to alter long-standing geopolitical alliances. It’s also prompted one Qatari businessman to fly 4,000 cows to the Gulf desert in an act of resistance and opportunity to fill the void left by a collapse in the supply of fresh milk. It will take as many as 60 flights for Qatar Airways to deliver the 590-kilogram beasts that Moutaz Al Khayyat, chairman of Power International Holding, bought in Australia and the U.S. “This is the time to work for Qatar,” he said. Led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar stands accused of supporting Islamic militants, charges the sheikhdom has repeatedly denied.

The isolation that started on June 5 has forced the world’s richest country by capita to open new trade routes to import food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry. The central bank said domestic and international transactions were running normally. Turkish dairy goods have been flown in, and Iranian fruit and vegetables are on the way. There’s also a campaign to buy home-grown produce. Signs with colors of the Qatari flag have been placed next to dairy products in stores. One sign dangling from the ceiling said: “Together for the support of local products.” “It’s a message of defiance, that we don’t need others,” said Umm Issa, 40, a government employee perusing the shelves of a supermarket before taking a carton of Turkish milk to try. “Our government has made sure we have no shortages and we are grateful for that. We have no fear. No one will die of hunger.”

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“..they had no idea what to do about it, except maybe try to escape the moment-by-moment pain of their ruined lives with powerful drugs. And then, a champion presented himself..”

Things To Come (Jim Kunstler)

As our politicos creep deeper into a legalistic wilderness hunting for phantoms of Russian collusion, nobody pays attention to the most dangerous force in American life: the unraveling financialization of the economy. Financialization is what happens when the people-in-charge “create” colossal sums of “money” out of nothing — by issuing loans, a.k.a. debt — and then cream off stupendous profits from the asset bubbles, interest rate arbitrages, and other opportunities for swindling that the artificial wealth presents. It was a kind of magic trick that produced monuments of concentrated personal wealth for a few and left the rest of the population drowning in obligations from a stolen future. The future is now upon us. Financialization expressed itself in other interesting ways, for instance the amazing renovation of New York City (Brooklyn especially).

It didn’t happen just because Generation X was repulsed by the boring suburbs it grew up in and longed for a life of artisanal cocktails. It happened because financialization concentrated immense wealth geographically in the very few places where its activities took place — not just New York but San Francisco, Washington, and Boston — and could support luxuries like craft food and brews. Quite a bit of that wealth was extracted from asset-stripping the rest of America where financialization was absent, kind of a national distress sale of the fly-over places and the people in them. That dynamic, of course, produced the phenomenon of President Donald Trump, the distilled essence of all the economic distress “out there” and the rage it entailed.

The people of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin were left holding a big bag of nothing and they certainly noticed what had been done to them, though they had no idea what to do about it, except maybe try to escape the moment-by-moment pain of their ruined lives with powerful drugs. And then, a champion presented himself, and promised to bring back the dimly remembered wonder years of post-war well-being — even though the world had changed utterly — and the poor suckers fell for it. Not to mention the fact that his opponent — the avaricious Hillary, with her hundreds of millions in ill-gotten wealth — was a very avatar of the financialization that had turned their lives to shit. And then the woman called them “a basket of deplorables” for noticing what had happened to them.

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The permafrost is not all that perma.

Multi-Million Dollar Upgrade Planned To ‘Failsafe’ Arctic Seed Vault (G.)

The Global Seed Vault, built in the Arctic as an impregnable deep freeze for the world’s most precious food seeds, is to undergo a multi-million dollar upgrade after water from melting permafrost flooded its access tunnel. No seeds were damaged but the incident undermined the original belief that the vault would be a “failsafe” facility, securing the world’s food supply forever. Now the Norwegian government, which owns the vault, has committed $4.4m (NOK37m) to improvements. The vault is buried 130m inside a mountain in the Svalbard archipelago and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. The vault was opened in 2008, sunk deep into the permafrost, and was expected to provide protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters” and “to stand the test of time”.

But the vault’s planners had not anticipated the extreme warm weather seen recently at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year. “The background to the technical improvements is that the permafrost has not established itself as planned,” said a government statement. “A group will investigate potential solutions to counter the increased water volumes resulting from a wetter and warmer climate on Svalbard.” One option could be to replace the access tunnel, which slopes down towards the vault’s main door, carrying water towards the seeds. A new upward sloping tunnel would take water away from the vault.

A former Svalbard coal miner, Arne Kristoffersen, told the Guardian most coal mines on the islands had upward sloping entrance tunnels: “For me it is obvious to build an entrance tunnel upwards, so the water can run out. I am really surprised they made such a stupid construction.” Hege Njaa Aschim, the Norwegian government’s spokeswoman for the vault, said: “The construction was planned like that because it was practical as a way to go inside and it should not be a problem because of the permafrost keeping it safe. But we see now, when the permafrost is not established, maybe we should do something else with the tunnel, so that is why we have this project now.”

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Hollow threats.

EU To Open Case Against Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic Over Refugees (R.)

The European Union’s executive will decide on Tuesday to open legal cases against three eastern members for failing to take in asylum-seekers to relieve states on the front lines of the bloc’s migration crisis, sources said. The European Commission would agree at a regular meeting to send so-called letters of formal notice to Poland and Hungary, three diplomats and EU officials told Reuters. Two others said the Czech Republic was also on the list. This would mark a sharp escalation of the internal EU disputes over migration. Such letters are the first step in the so-called infringement procedures the Commission can open against EU states for failing to meet their legal obligations. The eastern allies Poland and Hungary have vowed not to budge. Their staunch opposition to accepting asylum-seekers, and criticism of Brussels for trying to enforce the scheme, are popular among their nationalist-minded, eurosceptic voters.

Speaking in Hungary’s parliament earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said: “We will not give in to blackmail from Brussels and we reject the mandatory relocation quota.” A spokeswoman in Brussels did not confirm or deny the executive would go ahead with the legal cases, but referred to an interview that Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker gave to the German weekly Der Spiegel last week. “Those that do not take part have to assume that they will be faced with infringement procedures,” he was quoted as saying. Poland and Hungary have refused to take in a single person under a plan agreed in 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, which had been overwhelmed by mass influx of people from the Middle East and Africa. Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was quoted as saying on Monday by the state news agency PAP: “We believe that the relocation methods attract more waves of immigration to Europe, they are ineffective.”

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Not going to happen, it would solve many of Greece’s problems, and Germany is not done with it yet.

ECB Unlikely to Include Greece in QE in Coming Months (BBG)

The ECB is unlikely to include Greek bonds in its asset-purchase program for the foreseeable future, a person familiar with the matter said, as European creditors aren’t prepared to offer substantially easier repayment terms on bailout loans to improve the nation’s debt outlook. Euro-area finance ministers will meet in Luxembourg on June 15 to discuss debt-relief measures that the ECB has said are needed before it will consider purchasing Greek bonds. The so-called Eurogroup is expected to complete a review of Athens’s rescue program that would allow for the disbursement of at least €7.4 billion in aid needed for a similar amount of bond repayments in July. An agreement among the ministers will likely allow the IMF – whose participation in the rescue program is a requirement for many nations – to commit in principle to a conditional loan, said the person.

But the extent and wording of debt-relief commitments probably won’t convince the Governing Council of the ECB to buy Greek bonds. And while the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is relying on quantitative easing to aid Greece’s return to the public debt market, the ECB won’t factor fiscal consequences into its policy-making decisions and excessive emphasis on QE inclusion would be misguided, according to the person. [..] The ECB’s quantitative easing is scheduled to continue until December 2017, with economists saying purchases will be gradually tapered throughout 2018. This would leave little time for purchases of Greek bonds before the program’s end.

Meanwhile, France, which is trying to bridge differences on the debt issue, has proposed automatically reducing loan repayments when Greece misses growth targets, according to two people with knowledge of the talks. European officials see the proposal as a step in the right direction but doubt it will be enough to convince the ECB to include Greece in its bond purchase program if the IMF maintains its position that the country’s debt is unsustainable. Other euro-area member states so far have opposed France’s proposal, the people said.

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Is Macron going to stand up to Merkel and Schäuble? I’m not convinced.

Greek Debt Deal ‘Not Far’ Says New French Finance Minister (AFP)

A deal on debt relief for Greece is “not far,” France’s new finance minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday ahead of crunch eurozone talks on the issue on Thursday. “I am optimistic that we will have a good solution. We are not far from agreement,” Le Maire said ahead of a meeting with Greek PM Alexis Tsipras. “We are really doing our best to find an agreement,” he had said earlier after seeing his Greek counterpart Euclid Tsakalotos. “It’s difficult. It’s complicated,” he said. At the June 15 meeting, Le Maire said he planned to propose a “mechanism” of “flexibility” to lessen Greek debt repayment based on its economic growth. “It’s a mechanism which should allow us to revise certain (debt) parameters based on Greek growth,” he told reporters.

The issue of debt relief for Greece has sharply divided its international creditors, the EU and the IMF, for months in the latest round of talks. The impasse has held up a tranche of bailout cash which Greece needs to repay loans in July, and Athens says its fragile recovery has also been impaired. Tsipras has said he will ask EU leaders to resolve the issue at the end of June if no solution is forthcoming on Thursday. “Piling drama on the problem helps no one,” he said on Monday. The Europeans expect Greece’s economy to grow strongly and its government to bring in large surpluses in revenue in the coming years, allowing it to pay down its debts. But the IMF is less optimistic, arguing there must be further relief for Athens before it can label its debt sustainable and justify loaning Greece any more cash.

New French President Emmanuel Macron last month called Tsipras after his election, saying he was in favour of “finding a deal soon to alleviate the weight of Greece’s debt over time.” Macron’s position puts him at odds with Germany where Greek debt relief – following three different bailouts with public money for the country since 2010 – is seen as a vote loser ahead of general elections in September. Macron explained his thinking about Greece in an interview to the Mediapart website two days before his election. “I am in principle in favour of a concerted restructuring of Greek debt and in keeping Greece in the eurozone. Why? Because the current system is unsustainable,” he said.

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Wonder what the older, religious people on Lesbos must be thinking by now. It once was a quiet place.

One Dead As 6.3-Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Greek Islands Lesbos, Chios (AFP)

A woman died and 10 people were hurt on Monday when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios and the Aegean coast of western Turkey, officials said. The middle-aged victim had been trapped for around seven hours in the ruins of her home in the Lesbos village of Vrisa, the area that bore the brunt of the strong quake and where several homes collapsed. “Our fellow citizen who was trapped in the house that collapsed in Vrisa was pulled out dead,” Lesbos mayor Spyros Galinos said in a tweet. The earthquake also struck the Aegean coast of western Turkey after 1200 GMT.

Video footage shot by a Vrisa resident on a cellphone showed masonry from several single and two-level homes clogging the streets. “It’s a difficult situation, we are facing a disaster,” Christiana Kalogirou, governor of the north Aegean region, told Greek state TV station ERT, adding: “Some 10 people are injured.” “The army is bringing in tents so people can spend the night,” she said, adding that the south of Lesbos had taken the brunt of the quake. The tremor, felt as far as Athens and Izmir in Turkey, damaged at least three churches and shops in south Lesbos, local owners said, while rock slides blocked some roads.

Read more …

May 132017
 
 May 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Subway Steps New York 1943

 

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)
UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)
Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)
$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)
The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)
US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)
Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)
EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)
A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)
Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)
Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)
Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)
China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)
Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)
IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

 

 

Edward Snowden @Snowden: “In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking @NSAgov if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals.”

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen NSA Tool (NYT)

Hackers exploiting malicious software stolen from the National Security Agency executed damaging cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries worldwide, forcing Britain’s public health system to send patients away, freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere. The attacks amounted to an audacious global blackmail attempt spread by the internet and underscored the vulnerabilities of the digital age. Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in – with a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met.

By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, according to security firms tracking the spread. Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa.[..] The hackers’ weapon of choice on Friday was Wanna Decryptor, a new variant of the WannaCry ransomware, which encrypts victims’ data, locks them out of their systems and demands ransoms. Researchers said the impact and speed of Friday’s attacks had not been seen in nearly a decade, when the Conficker computer worm infected millions of government, business and personal computers in more than 190 countries, threatening to overpower the computer networks that controlled health care, air traffic and banking systems over the course of several weeks.

One reason the ransomware on Friday was able to spread so quickly was that the stolen N.S.A. hacking tool, known as “Eternal Blue,” affected a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows servers. Hours after the Shadow Brokers released the tool last month, Microsoft assured users that it had already included a patch for the underlying vulnerability in a software update in March. But Microsoft, which regularly credits researchers who discover holes in its products, curiously would not say who had tipped the company off to the issue. Many suspected that the United States government itself had told Microsoft, after the N.S.A. realized that its hacking method exploiting the vulnerability had been stolen.

Privacy activists said if that were the case, the government would be to blame for the fact that so many companies were left vulnerable to Friday’s attacks. It takes time for companies to roll out systemwide patches, and by notifying Microsoft of the hole only after the N.S.A.’s hacking tool was stolen, activists say the government would have left many hospitals, businesses and governments susceptible. “It would be deeply troubling if the N.S.A. knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” Patrick Toomey, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Friday. “These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.”

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Don’t just blame the hospitals. Blame the government that squeezes them so dry they have to choose patients over computers.

UK Health Service, Targeted in Cyberattack, Ignored Warnings for Months (NYT)

Britain’s National Health Service ignored numerous warnings over the last year that many of its computer systems were outdated and unprotected from the type of devastating cyberattack it suffered on Friday. The attack caused some hospitals to stop accepting patients, doctor’s offices to shut down, emergency rooms to divert patients, and critical operations to be canceled as a decentralized system struggled to cope. At some hospitals, nurses could not even print out name tags for newborn babies. At the Royal London Hospital, in east London, George Popescu, a 23-year-old hotel cook, showed up with a forehead injury. “My head is pounding and they say they can’t see me,” he said. “They said their computers weren’t working. You don’t expect this in a big city like London.”

In a statement on Friday, the N.H.S. said its inquiry into the attack was in its early phases but that “at this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed.” Many of the N.H.S. computers still run Windows XP, an out-of-date software that no longer gets security updates from its maker, Microsoft. A government contract with Microsoft to update the software for the N.H.S. expired two years ago. Microsoft discontinued the security updates for Windows XP in 2014. It made a patch, or fix, available in newer versions of Windows for the flaws that were exploited in Friday’s cyberattacks. But the health service does not seem to have installed either the newer version of Windows or the patch.

“Historically, we’ve known that N.H.S. uses computers running old versions of Windows that Microsoft itself no longer supports and says is a security risk,” said Graham Cluley, a cybersecurity expert in Oxford, England. “And even on the newest computers, they would have needed to apply the patch released in March. Clearly that did not happen, or the malware wouldn’t have spread this fast.” Just this month, a parliamentary research briefing noted that cyberattacks were viewed as one of the top threats facing Britain. The push to make medical records systems more interconnected might also make the system more vulnerable to attack. Britain plans to digitize all patient records by 2020.

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The anti-Trump battle will be fought with financial weapons. And the Donald is walking into that trap.

Hurricane Bearing Down on the Casino (Stockman)

Yesterday I said the Donald was absolutely right in canning the insufferable James Comey, but that he has also has stepped on a terminal political land-mine. And he did. That’s because the entire Russian meddling and collusion narrative is a ridiculous, evidence-free attempt to re-litigate the last election. And now that the powers that be have all the justification they need. And what is already an irrational witch-hunt will be quickly turned into a scorched-earth assault on a sitting president. I have no idea how this will play out, but as a youthful witness to history back in 1973-1974 I observed Tricky Dick’s demise in daily slow motion. But the most memorable part of the saga was how incredibly invincible Nixon seemed in early 1973. Nixon started his second term, in fact, with a massive electoral landslide, strong public opinion polls and a completely functioning government and cabinet.

Even more importantly, he was still basking in the afterglow of his smashing 1972 foreign policy successes in negotiating detente and the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty with Brezhnev and then the historic opening to China on his Beijing trip. So I’ll take the unders from anyone who gives the Donald even the 19 months that Nixon survived. After all, Trump lost the popular vote, is loathed by official Washington, barely has a functioning cabinet and is a whirling dervish of disorder, indiscipline and unpredictability. To be sure, the terms of the Donald’s eventual exit from the Imperial City will ultimately by finalized by the 46th President in waiting, Mike Pence. But I’m pretty sure of one thing: Between now and then, there is not a snow ball’s chance in the hot place that Donald’s severance package will include the ballyhooed Trump Tax Cut and Fiscal Stimulus.

Markets slipped today because of carnage in the retail sector (which I’ve been warning readers about). But these fantasies are apparently still “priced-in” to a market that has now become just plain stupid. What is surely coming down the pike after the Comey firing, however, is just the opposite. That is, Washington will soon become a three-ring circus of investigations of Russia-gate and the “hidden” reasons for Trump’s action. The Imperial City will get embroiled in bitter partisan warfare and the splintering of the GOP between its populist and establishment wings. In that context, what passes for “governance” will be reduced to a moveable Fiscal Bloodbath that cycles between debt ceiling showdowns and short-term continuing resolution extensions.

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The swamp that can’t be drained without causing explosions.

$500 Trillion in Derivatives “Remain an Important Asset Class” – NY Fed (WS)

Economists at the New York Fed included this gem in their report on a two-day conference on “Derivatives and Regulatory Changes” since the Financial Crisis: “Though the notional amount [of derivatives] outstanding has declined in recent years, at more than $500 trillion outstanding, OTC derivatives remain an important asset class.” An important asset class. A hilarious understatement. Let’s see… the “notional amount” of $500 trillion is 25 times the GDP of the US and about 7 times global GDP. Derivatives are not just an “important asset class,” like bonds; they’re the largest “financial weapons of mass destruction,” as Warren Buffett called them in 2003.

Derivatives are used for hedging economic risks. And they’re used as “speculative directional exposures” – very risky one-sided bets. It’s all tied together in an immense and opaque market interwoven with the banks. The New York Fed: The 2007-09 financial crisis highlighted weaknesses in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets and the increased risk of contagion due to the interconnectedness of market participants in these markets. This chart from the New York Fed shows how derivatives ballooned 150% – or by $360 trillion – in less than four years before the Financial Crisis. They ticked down during the Financial Crisis, then rose again during the Fed’s QE to peak at $700 trillion. After the end of QE, they declined, but recently ticked up again to $500 trillion. I added in red the Warren Buffett moment:

The vast majority of the derivatives are interest rate and credit contracts (dark blue). Banks specialize in that. For example, according to the OCC’s Q4 2016 Report on Derivatives, JPMorgan Chase holds $47.5 trillion of derivatives at notional value and Citibank $43.9 trillion. The top 25 US banks hold $164.7 trillion, or 8.5 times US GDP. So even a minor squiggle could trigger some serious heartburn.

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Try use “normal” and “derivatives” in one sentence and put on a straight face.

The Great Misconception of a Return to “Normal” (Econimica)

Since 2009, there has been ongoing discussion of the size & composition of major central bank balance sheets (I’m focusing on the Federal Reserve Bank, European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan) but little discussion of why these institutions felt (and continue to feel) compelled to “buy” assets. The chart below highlights the ongoing collective explosion of these bank “assets” since 2009 after a previous period of relative stability. These institutions clearly have the capability and willingness to digitally conjure “money” from nothing and have felt compelled to remove over $10 trillion worth of assets from the markets since 2009. This swap of illiquid assets for liquid cash had (and continues to have) the effect of squeezing the prices of the remaining assets higher (more money chasing fewer assets=price appreciation).

A prime example of that squeeze, the US stock market total valuation (represented by the Wilshire 5000, below) is $10 trillion higher than the “bubble” peak of 2008…and $11 trillion higher than the 2001 “bubble” peak. Likewise, US federal debt since 2008 has increased by…you guessed it, $10 trillion. The narrative seems to be that 2009 was a one off event and that the central banks role was and still is to “stabilize” the situation until things “normalize”. But right there…that idea that 2009 was a “one-off” or “abnormal” couldn’t be more wrong. So what is “normal” growth, at least from a consumption standpoint? Normal is never the same twice…it is ever changing and must be constantly rediscovered.

To determine “normal” growth in consumption, all we need do is figure the change in the quantity of consumers (annual population growth) and the quality of those consumers (their earnings, savings, and utilization of credit). The chart below details the ever changing “normal” that is the annual change in the under 65yr/old global population broken down by wealthy consuming nations (blue line) and the rest of the (generally poor) world (red line). The natural rate of growth in consumption has been declining ever since 1988 (persistently less growth in the population on a year over year basis)…but central banks and central governments have substituted interest rate cuts and un-repayable debt to maintain an unnaturally high consumption growth rate.

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If we don’t put a stop to this, we have no chance. This is where it all begins and ends.

US Nears $100 Billion Arms Deal For Saudi Arabia (R.)

The United States is close to completing a series of arms deals for Saudi Arabia totaling more than $100 billion, a senior White House official said on Friday, a week ahead of President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Riyadh. The official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the arms package could end up surpassing more than $300 billion over a decade to help Saudi Arabia boost its defensive capabilities while still maintaining U.S. ally Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors. “We are in the final stages of a series of deals,” the official said. The package is being developed to coincide with Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Trump leaves for the kingdom on May 19, the first stop on his maiden international trip.

Reuters reported last week that Washington was pushing through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others already in the pipeline, ahead of Trump’s visit. The United States has been the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighter jets to command and control systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years. Trump has vowed to stimulate the U.S. economy by boosting manufacturing jobs. The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security, the official said. “We’ll see a very substantial commitment … In many ways it is intended to build capabilities for the threats they face.” The official added: “It’s good for the American economy but it will also be good in terms of building a capability that is appropriate for the challenges of the region. Israel would still maintain an edge.”

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How many executives in jail, you said?

Wells Fargo Bogus Accounts Balloon To 3.5 Million (R.)

Wells Fargo may have opened as many as 3.5 million unauthorized customer accounts, far more than previously estimated, according to lawyers seeking approval of a $142 million settlement over the practice. The new estimate was provided in a filing late Thursday night in the federal court in San Francisco, and is 1.4 million accounts higher than previously reported by federal regulators, in what became a national scandal. Keller Rohrback, a law firm for the plaintiff customers, said the higher estimate reflects “public information, negotiations, and confirmatory discovery.” The Seattle-based firm also said the number “may well be over-inclusive, but provides a reasonable basis on which to estimate a maximum recovery.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez in an email said the new estimate was “based on a hypothetical scenario” and unverified, and did not reflect “actual unauthorized accounts.” Nonetheless, it could complicate Wells Fargo’s ability to win approval for the settlement, which has drawn opposition from some customers and lawyers who consider it too small. “This adds more credence to the fact there is not enough information to assess whether the settlement is fair and adequate,” Lewis Garrison, a partner at Heninger Garrison Davis in Birmingham, Alabama who represents some objecting customers, said in an interview. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco is scheduled to consider preliminary approval at a May 18 hearing. The accounts scandal mushroomed after Wells Fargo agreed last September to pay $185 million in penalties to settle charges by authorities including the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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They better be thorough, or individual countries must each formulate their own responses.

EU To Decide Future Of Uber, Airbnb In Europe (NE)

An opinion issued by the European Court of Justice on May 11 could prevent people from using or working for services such as Uber and Airbnb. The opinion from the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice follows a case that has been brought by Spanish taxi drivers against the ride sharing service Uber. It found that Uber should be regulated like a transportation company, not as an “information society service”. If the opinion is upheld, these services could be required to apply for specific licences or be restricted in number as is the case with taxis in various European cities in an attempt to keep prices artificially high.

The court is slated to deliver a final ruling on whether Uber should be classified as a transport company or as a passive internet intermediary, in the coming months. Usually, the judges follow the opinion of the Advocate General. It remains to be seen whether the case will impact other so-called sharing economy services as Airbnb. Speaking after the opinion was issued, Dan Dalton, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) spokesman on the EU internal market said: “The opinion given today has huge implications for innovative, consumer driven digital services all across Europe… It is right that there are safeguards for consumers, but applying analogue era regulation to the digital world only strangles innovation and entrenches privileged monopolies.”

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Beppe always had one goal first: get rid of corruption. The WSJ can talk all it wants about M5S teething problems, but there are bigger issues here.

A Populist Storm Stirs in Italy (WSJ)

Europe’s establishment breathed a sigh of relief after the pro-European Union centrist Emmanuel Macron was elected French president this week. But another populist storm is brewing in Italy, where the euroskeptic 5 Star Movement has remained strong. Fueled by discontent with slow growth, high unemployment and disillusionment with mainstream politicians, 5-Star has won local elections in Rome, Turin and elsewhere, partly on the strength of its leaders’ call for a referendum on Italy’s use of the European single currency. Pollsters say about 30% of Italian voters support the movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, a level of popularity that has stood firm despite a series of high-profile stumbles, especially by its mayor in Rome.

The self-described association of free citizens has replaced the center-left Democratic Party at the top of most polls ahead of national elections to be held by May 2018. Now, the group that has flouted the rules of the game for establishment parties in Italy is experiencing growing pains as it prepares for the possibility of taking power. The prospect of Mr. Grillo and his supporters winning and forming a government has made investors nervous and pushed up yields on Italian bonds in recent months. On Friday, the spread between Italian and German 10-year sovereign bond yields was 1.85 percentage points, nearly five times the corresponding spread between French and German bonds.

Mr. Grillo and 5 Star waged a successful campaign to block constitutional changes sought by former Democratic Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, effectively forcing him from office in December. Since then, a caretaker government has run Italy. The movement has vowed to institute tougher anticorruption laws and deliver a minimum guaranteed income for all working-age and retired Italians if it emerges from upcoming elections as head of a minority government or in a governing coalition with other euroskeptic parties.

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There is no support for a beefed up EU or eurozone. Besides, Macron will be fighting the unions over the summer.

Macron To Visit Germany To Seek Support For A Beefed Up Eurozone (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will take power as French president on Sunday and immediately face the twin challenges of European Union reform and loosening strict labour laws in France. After walking up the red carpet to the Élysée Palace on Sunday morning, being briefed on the nuclear deterrent by the outgoing Socialist leader François Hollande, and making his first speech, Macron will on Monday fly to Berlin to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. It is traditional for French leaders to make Berlin their first European trip. The pro-European centrist Macron wants to boost the French-German motor at the heart of Europe and press for closer cooperation, including creating a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive election victory over the far-right Marine Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”.

But if Macron is to push for eurozone reform, he must also prove to Berlin and other European allies that he can deliver the changes he has promised on France’s sluggish economy and deficit problem. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in an interview with the weekly Spiegel, kept up his country’s pressure on France to reduce its budget deficit to the EU ceiling of 3%. “France can make it,” he said. Macron, 39, France’s youngest elected leader, vowed during his campaign that he would immediately loosen France’s rigid labour regulations, giving businesses more power over setting working hours and deciding working conditions. He said that if needed, he would push through these changes by decree soon after taking office. Trade unions and leftwing demonstrators are warning of street protests if changes are not handled carefully.

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Jim waxes nostalgic on Nixon.

Blood Sports (Jim Kunstler)

I remember that sweaty August day that he threw in the towel. (I was a young newspaper reporter when newspapers still mattered.) It was pretty much a national orgasm. “NIXON RESIGNS!” the headlines screamed. A moment later he was on the gangway into the helicopter for the last time. Enter, stage right, the genial Gerald Ford…. Forgive me for getting caught up in the very nostalgia I castigate. And now here we are in the mere early months of Trumptopia about to hit the replay button on a televised inquisition. In my humble opinion, Donald Trump is a far more troubling personality than Tricky Dick ever was, infantile, narcissistic, at times verging on psychotic, but the RussiaGate story looks pretty flimsy. At this point, after about ten months of NSA-FBI investigation, nothing conclusive has turned up about Trump’s people “colluding” with Russia to gain unfair advantage in the election against You-Know-Who.

Former NSA chief James Clapper has publicly stated twice in no uncertain terms that there’s no evidence to support the allegations (so far). And there remains the specter of the actual content of the “collusion” — conveniently ignored by the so-called “Resistance” and its water-carriers at The New York Times — the hacked emails that evince all kinds of actual misbehavior by Secretary of State HRC and the DNC. The General Mike Flynn episode seems especially squishy, since it is the routine duty of incoming foreign affairs officials to check in with the ambassador corps in Washington. Why do you think nations send ambassadors to other countries? The upshot of all this will be a political circus for the rest of the year and the abandonment of any real business in government, at a moment in history when some very weighty black swans circle above the clouds waiting to crash land. Enjoy the histrionics if you dare, and pay no attention to collapsing economy as it all plays out.

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Draghi need to buy Greek bonds, and bring down those rates.

Greece and the Bond Market. Friends Reunited? (BBG)

Greece is considering tapping the capital markets for the first time in three years. Let’s hope its second attempt to regain market access goes more smoothly for investors than its first. A bond sale in July or September is being considered – if a deal on debt relief is reached, and the ECB adds Greek debt to the shopping list of securities it can buy through its quantitative easing program, according to the Wall Street Journal. The news comes as the U.S. presses European officials to ease Greece’s debt burden at informal talks during the Group of Seven gathering currently taking place in Italy.Investors can be forgiven if they feel a sense of déjà vu.In April 2014, Greece sold €3 billion of 4.75% bonds repayable in 2019 in its first issue for almost four years.

The country had sought to raise €2.5 billion; orders from more than 550 investors, though, exceeded €20 billion, and, five months later, the bond was increased by a further €1 billion. The then PM Antonis Samaras called the sale “one more decisive step toward exiting the crisis.”Except … it turned out Greece was about to get worse, not better. The day after the sale, the price of the bonds slipped by a bit more than half a point. By the end of the year, they’d lost almost 20% of their value. And by the middle of 2015, they slumped to as low as 40% of face value as the government was forced to introduce capital controls in an effort to stanch the flood of money leaving the country’s banking system. The bond price recovered as the Greek government dropped its defiance against the terms demanded by its lenders, implemented pension and labor market reforms and accelerated the sale of government assets.

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Does Brussels really want China to buy up Greece?

China’s Xi Offers Indebted Greece Strong Support (R.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the prime minister of deeply indebted Greece strong support on Saturday, saying the two countries should expand cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications. Xi told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece was an important part in China’s new Silk Road strategy. “At present, China and Greece’s traditional friendship and cooperation continues to glow with new dynamism,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Xi as saying. Cooperation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications should be “deep and solid”, Xi added, without giving details. Tsipras is in Beijing to attend a summit to promote Xi’s vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment called the Belt and Road initiative.

Greek infrastructure development group Copelouzos has signed a deal with China’s Shenhua Group to cooperate in green energy projects and the upgrade of power plants in Greece and other countries, the Greek company said on Friday. The deal will involve total investment of €3 billion, Copelouzos said in a statement, without providing further details. China has been investing heavily in Greece in recent years. Its biggest shipping company, COSCO Shipping, bought a majority stake in Piraeus Port Authority last year under a plan to turn Greece into a transhipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Asia and Eastern Europe. Xi said China and Greece should focus their efforts on turning the Piraeus port into an important international transhipment hub and key part of the new Silk Road, the Chinese ministry said.

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Yanis says Greece’s future is Kosovo, Steve Keen said Somalia. They’re both right.

Varoufakis Accuses Tsipras, Tsakalotos Of Giving In To Creditors (K.)

In an interview Friday on Skai TV, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis hit out at his erstwhile government colleagues, accusing both his successor Euclid Tsakalotos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of giving in to the country’s international creditors. “There is no new agreement, just a new surrender,” he said of the latest deal with Greece’s lenders. “The first memorandum burned Papandreou, the second Samaras, the third Tsipras. The fourth will require a new prime minister,” he said. As for Greece’s prospects, his prediction was bleak. “We will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Never seen a more broken record.

IMF, Eurozone Say Need More Time To Reach Greek Debt Relief Deal (R.)

The IMF and eurozone government lenders need more time to reach an agreement on debt relief for Greece because the eurozone is still not sufficiently clear in its intentions, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said on Friday. Top eurozone officials and Lagarde met on Friday morning to discuss debt relief for Athens which eurozone finance ministers, or the Eurogroup, promised in May 2016, but under strict conditions. “We will carry on working on this debt relief package. There is not enough clarity yet. Our European partners need to be more specific in terms of debt relief, which is an imperative,” Lagarde told reporters in the city of Bari in Italy. German Finance Ministers Wolfgang Schaeuble, also at the meeting of the G7 advanced economies in Bari, asked if he would be prepared to ease the conditions for debt relief, said: “We are prepared to stick to what we have agreed in May 2016. That is the basis on which we are working … I am still in favor of getting a solution, at least a political solution, in the Eurogroup on the 22nd of May.”

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Apr 252017
 
 April 25, 2017  Posted by at 7:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)
Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)
Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)
The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)
Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)
Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)
Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)
Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)
China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)
Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)
Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)
Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)
Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)
At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

 

 

They’ve been doing this forever: “..the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

Trump Slaps 20% Duty on Canada Lumber, Intensifying Trade Fight (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump intensified a trade dispute with Canada, slapping tariffs of up to 24% on imported softwood lumber in a move that drew swift criticism from the Canadian government, which vowed to sue if needed. Trump announced the new tariff at a White House gathering of conservative journalists, shortly before the Commerce Department said it would impose countervailing duties ranging from 3% to 24.1% on Canadian lumber producers including West Fraser Timber. “We’re going to be putting a 20% tax on softwood lumber coming in – tariff on softwood coming into the United States from Canada,” Trump said Monday, according to a tweet by Charlie Spiering at Breitbart News. A White House official confirmed the comment.

The step escalates an economic battle among neighboring countries that normally have one of the friendliest international relationships in the world. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross amplified Trump’s remarks in a statement afterward that also referenced a fight over a new Canadian milk policy that U.S. producers say violates Nafta. “It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” Ross said, adding “it became apparent that Canada intends to effectively cut off the last dairy products being exported from the United States.” He said the Commerce Department “determined a need” because of unfair Canadian subsidies to the lumber industry to impose “countervailing duties of roughly one billion dollars.” In a dig at NAFTA, which Trump has said he wants to renegotiate, Ross added, “This is not our idea of a properly functioning Free Trade Agreement.”

[..] The so-called countervailing duties, which counter what the U.S. considers Canadian subsidies, came in below some analyst expectations. CIBC analyst Hamir Patel forecast the initial combined countervailing and anti-dumping duties could reach 45 to 55%, he said in an April 23 note. The U.S. may also apply anti-dumping duties if it determines Canadian firms are selling for below costs. That decision is expected in June. “It definitely could’ve been a heck of a lot worse,” Kevin Mason at ERA Forest Products Research said by phone. “I think a lot of people were bracing for a higher duty.”

[..] Most of the softwood in Canada is owned by provincial governments, which set prices to cut trees on their land, while in the U.S. it’s generally harvested from private property. The fees charged by Canadian governments are below market rates, creating an unfair advantage, U.S. producers say. Canada disputes that. Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. Trade Representative, said at his confirmation hearing last month that he views the lumber dispute as the top trade issue between the U.S. and Canada. Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden told Lighthizer the fight is the “longest-running battle since the Trojan War.”

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Huffin’-and-a-puffin’.

Trump Summons Entire Senate To White House Briefing On North Korea (G.)

The entire US Senate will go to the White House on Wednesday to be briefed by senior administration officials about the brewing confrontation with North Korea. The unusual briefing underlines the urgency with which the Trump administration is treating the threat posed by Pyongyang’s continuing development of nuclear weapons and missile technology. It follows a lunch meeting Trump held with ambassadors from UN member states on the security council on Monday where he emphasised US resolve to stop North Korea’s progress. “The status quo in North Korea is unacceptable and the council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Trump said at the meeting. “North Korea is a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve.”

On Friday the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is due to chair a security council foreign ministers’ meeting on the issue in New York, at which the state department said he would call once more for the full implementation of existing UN sanctions or new measures in the event of further nuclear or missile tests. “This meeting will give the security council the opportunity to discuss ways to maximise the impact of existing security council measures and to show their resolve to response further provocations with appropriate new measures,” said Mark Toner, state department spokesman. Senators are to be briefed by the defence secretary, James Mattis, and Tillerson on Wednesday. Such briefings for the entire senate are not unprecedented but it is very rare for them to take place in the White House, which does not have large secure facilities for such classified sessions as Congress.

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Not going to be easy. Trump’s too desperate to get a deal done.

Trump Advisers To Lay Out Tax Plan For Top Republicans Tuesday (BBG)

President Donald Trump will call for cutting taxes for individuals and lowering the corporate rate to 15% to fulfill a promise he made during his campaign, according to a White House official. The president on Wednesday plans to make public the broad outlines of what he wants to change in the tax code, though the details likely will be left until later negotiations among congressional leaders and officials from Treasury. Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will brief House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the leaders of congressional tax-writing committees – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

While Trump and Ryan broadly agree on sharply cutting individual income and corporate taxes, there are areas of disagreement between the two. On the campaign, Trump called for a corporate tax rate of 15%; Ryan wants 20%, and he has warned that cutting it an additional 5 percentage points could prevent the ultimate tax plan from being revenue neutral. Without Democratic support, a plan would have to be revenue neutral to meet the criteria set by lawmakers to make tax changes permanent. “I’m not sure he’s going to be able to get away with that,” Hatch told reporters Monday. “You can’t very well balance the budget that way.”

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Demand goes down because people have less money to spend. All the rest is humbug.

The Oil Market Has One Big Problem: People Aren’t Buying Enough Gas (CNBC)

Lackluster gasoline demand is once again raising concerns that the oil market won’t be able to escape the doldrums. Demand for U.S. gasoline has recovered since January, but remained below 2016 levels throughout much of this year. Now, analysts are worried weak consumption will cause gasoline stockpiles to keep building and eventually result in weaker crude oil demand and pricing. U.S. gasoline futures were down more than 1% on Monday, reflecting demand concerns as refiners emerge from the winter maintenance season and prepare to turn out more fuel. Meanwhile, U.S. crude settled 39 cents lower at $49.23, extending last week’s deep losses. “As gas prices drop, that creates an undertow for the entire crude oil market,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.

Part of the problem is a tough comparison with extraordinarily low gasoline prices last year. The national average gasoline price on Monday was nearly 28 cents above last year’s level, according to GasBuddy.com. “I’m in the camp that says last year was a little bit of the anomaly,” Kloza said. “Gas was so cheap that we drove a little bit more almost capriciously. This year, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.” In a troubling sign, the nation’s gasoline station operators have reported at industry conferences that their sales are down 1.5 to 2% this year, according to Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. “When you hear retailers telling you that their demand is down you’ve got to be a believer,” he told CNBC. Lipow said he fears that trend will carry through for the balance of 2017. Demand is certain to rise as the summer driving season ramps up, but Lipow sees stockpiles remaining relatively high.

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Stark raving madness. A housing market that is rising at ‘only’ 9.5% per year is labeled ‘rational’.

Canadians’ Confidence In Housing Hits Record High (HPoC)

The experts are getting louder in their warnings that a housing bubble has formed in some parts of Canada, but Canadians don’t seem worried. In fact, confidence in the housing market hit a record high in the latest weekly Bloomberg-Nanos index — even as respondents turned negative on their own personal finances. The survey found 48.5% of Canadians expect house prices to rise in the next six months, the highest level recorded in the survey since 2008. Fewer than 11% expect to see house prices decrease. “Bullish sentiment on real estate in Canada continues to drive consumer confidence,” pollster Nik Nanos said in a statement. “Household expectations have improved by roughly 10% since the start of the year as the effects of the oil price shock have stabilized and the focus has moved toward rising property values,” Bloomberg economist Robert Lawrie said.

“In recent weeks, however, consumer sentiment regarding personal finances began drifting lower, with extended household balance sheets perhaps the next focus of concern for policymakers.” High debt levels are precisely why many market observers are growing concerned about Canada’s priciest housing markets, namely the Toronto and Vancouver regions. House prices in Toronto jumped 33% in March from a year earlier, to an average of $916,567. While Vancouver’s house prices have moderated over the past six months, they remain elevated, with the benchmark price at $919,300 in March.

National Bank of Canada, which co-publishes the Teranet house price index, warned recently that “irrational exuberance” may be setting into some Canadian housing markets, noting that more than half of Canada’s regional markets are seeing price growth above 10% annually. With mortgages ballooning, Canadian household debt has repeatedly hit record highs in recent years, and now stands at $1.67 of debt for every dollar of disposable income. Those elevated debt levels are the main reason one why the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a Geneva-based “central bank of central banks,” warned recently that Canada has the second-highest risk of a financial crisis, behind only China.

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Essential and repeated here a 1000 times: “Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst.”

Housing’s Echo Bubble Now Exceeds the 2006-07 Bubble Peak (CHSmith)

A funny thing often occurs after a mania-fueled asset bubble pops: an echo-bubble inflates a few years later, as monetary authorities and all the institutions that depend on rising asset valuations go all-in to reflate the crushed asset class. Take a quick look at the Case-Shiller Home Price Index charts for San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR. Each now exceeds its previous Housing Bubble #1 peak:

It seems housing bubbles take about 5 to 6 years to reach their bubble peaks, and about half that time to retrace much or all of the gains. Bubbles have a habit of overshooting on the downside when they finally burst. The Federal Reserve acted quickly in 2009-10 to re-inflate the housing bubble by lowering interest rates to near-zero and buying over $1 trillion of mortgage-backed securities. When bubbles are followed by echo-bubbles, the bursting of the second bubble tends to signal the end of the speculative cycle in that asset class. There is no fundamental reason why housing could not round-trip to levels below the 2011 post-bubble #1 trough.

Consider the fundamentals of China’s remarkable housing bubble. The consensus view is: sure, China’s housing prices could fall modestly, but since Chinese households buy homes with cash or large down payments, this decline won’t trigger a banking crisis like America’s housing bubble did in 2008. The problem isn’t a banking crisis; it’s a loss of household wealth, the reversal of the wealth effect and the decimation of local government budgets and the construction sector. China is uniquely dependent on housing and real estate development. This makes it uniquely vulnerable to any slowdown in construction and sales of new housing. About 15% of China’s GDP is housing-related. This is extraordinarily high. In the 2003-08 housing bubble, housing’s share of U.S. GDP barely cracked 5%. Of even greater concern, local governments in China depend on land development sales for roughly 2/3 of their revenues.

If you need some evidence that the echo-bubble in housing is global, take a look at this chart of Sweden’s housing bubble. Oops, did I say bubble? I meant “normal market in action.”

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“..we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops.”

Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble: Ultra-Low Mortgage Rates Are Dangerous (G.)

Between autumn 1977 and Christmas 1979, interest rates rose from 5% to 17%. If you were a young boomer whose biggest cost was a variable rate mortgage, that would have hurt. In 2009, by contrast, interest rates were cut to a record low of 0.5%, and stayed there for the better part of a decade. When eventually they did move again, it was down. You don’t know you’re born. Except, of course, you do – because, if you’re reading this and you’re under 40, there’s a pretty good chance you’re still stuck paying rent. Yes, interest rates are low; no, this is not particularly helpful. Even if you do have a mortgage, it’s probably a fixed rate one because, let’s be honest, those rates are going up again one day. But not, it seems, today. The Yorkshire Building Society has just launched a new mortgage that charges an interest rate of just 0.89%. “We are very pleased to offer borrowers the lowest mortgage rate ever available,” said a spokesman.

“The cost of funding has fallen in recent weeks and, as a financially strong building society with no external shareholders to satisfy, we have the ability to pass this on to borrowers.” (“We used to dream of mortgages at under 1%,” say the boomers.) So does that means that owning a home is now cheaper than it’s ever been? Well, no, of course not. For one thing, this isn’t a fixed rate deal. It’s actually a (bear with me on this) two-year-long discount of 3.85% to the standard variable rate (SVR) of 4.74%. That means it’s very, very unfixed indeed: a normal tracker mortgage moves in response to Bank of England rates; an SVR one moves in response to the lender’s whims. Accepting this mortgage means placing a bet that the Yorkshire Building Society will be nice to you. It also comes with an unusually high arrangement fee of £1,495, but this shouldn’t bother you, because you probably can’t get that rate anyway. To even be considered, you need a deposit worth 35% of the value of your home.

[..] But there’s another, more sinister, reading of the recent rash of ultra-low mortgage rates: it suggests we may be in the latter stages of a bubble. As prices rise further and further out of reach, lenders need to find more and more ingenious tricks to keep rich people pumping their cash into an overheated market. The punch bowl has to keep going round, or the party stops. But bubbles tend to burst. Prices can’t rise forever: one day, interest rates must surely rise. When the inevitable happens, there is a danger that those who took advantage of this deal may find their equity wiped out – and the rate they’re paying will shoot through the roof.

That would obviously be very sad for those who are affected; for those shut out of home ownership, though, it may be no bad thing. That’s because nine years of record-low interest rates have probably contributed to the fact that house prices have soared out of reach; and higher prices have meant increasingly unattainable deposits. A rise in interest rates could, paradoxically, make housing more affordable.

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Companies guaranteeing each other’s crappy debt. What could go wrong? Problem is, Beijing had let them do it for years.

Rising Defaults In China Reveal Hidden Debt (BBG)

Rising defaults in China are unearthing hidden debt at companies across the country. Small firms that can’t get loans by themselves have been winning banks over by getting other companies to guarantee their borrowings. The companies making those pledges exclude them from their balance sheets, leaving creditors in the dark. Borrowers often extend the guarantees for each other, raising the risk that failures could ricochet, at a time when increasing borrowing costs have already added to strains. China’s banking regulator has ordered checks of such cross-guaranteed loans, Caixin reported Friday. Scrutiny is mounting after a corn oil producer in the eastern province of Shandong said last month it had guaranteed debt of a neighboring aluminum product manufacturer which is now stuck in a cash crunch.

Just days before that, a local government financing vehicle in China’s southwest had to repay an auto parts maker’s loans it had guaranteed after the latter defaulted. “Disclosure of such guarantees isn’t timely,” said Qiu Xinhong at Shenzhen-based First State Cinda. “Sometimes, it’s like a buried mine and you don’t know when the risks will explode.” This debt minefield could be big. The amount of loan guarantees at privately held firms in China is equivalent to 11% of their equity, and at LGFVs is 18%, according to Citic Securities. The load is even heavier at weaker borrowers. About 44% of issuers rated lower than AA- have a ratio of more than 30%, according to Everbright Securities. The phenomenon is less common in the U.S. because banks don’t require such guarantees to offer loans, according to Fitch Ratings.

“If companies in the same region offer a huge amount of guarantees for each other’s debt, it would form a guarantee web and deepen interconnections among the companies,” said Gang Meng, director of rating at Golden Credit Rating International Co. in Beijing. “If one company has to repay debt for its guaranteed company, risks would quickly ripple to other companies in the web, which will result in a butterfly effect.” [..] Guarantors don’t mark the pledges on their balance sheets and often disclose them only on an annual basis. Such shadow debts pose rising risks after central bank tightening pushed up onshore corporate bond yields to two-year highs and defaults on local notes surged to a record.

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The distinction between state banks and shadows has become very murky.

China Markets Reel as $1.7 Trillion in Shadow Funds Unwinds (BBG)

A $1.7 trillion source of inflows into Chinese markets has suddenly switched into reverse, roiling the nation’s money management industry and sending local bonds and stocks to their biggest losses of the year. The turbulence has centered on so-called entrusted investments – funds that Chinese banks farm out to external asset managers. After years of funneling money into such investments, banks are now pulling back in response to a series of regulatory guidelines over the past three weeks that put a spotlight on the risks. Critics have blamed entrusted managers for adding leverage to China’s financial system and reducing transparency.

The banks’ withdrawals helped erase $315 billion of stock market value over the past six days and sent bond yields to the highest level in nearly two years, highlighting the challenge for Chinese authorities as they try to rein in shadow banking activity without destabilizing financial markets. While the government has plenty of firepower to prop up asset prices if it wants to, forecasters at Australia & New Zealand Banking predict the selloff will deepen this year. “We are seeing an exodus of funds,” said He Qian at HFT Investment Management, which oversaw about 189 billion yuan ($27.5 billion) as of last year. He was one of about half-a-dozen asset managers and analysts who said banks have started scaling back their entrusted investments.

The arrangements have become an important part of China’s shadow finance system. When banks sell wealth-management products – the ubiquitous savings vehicles that offer higher yields than deposits – the firms sometimes farm out client money to entrusted managers such as hedge funds and mutual funds. The managers invest the cash in bonds, stocks and other securities, hoping to generate enough income to cover the banks’ promised returns to WMP clients – plus some extra for themselves.

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You better look good than feel good.

Naked Selfies Used As Collateral For Chinese Loans (AFP)

Hundreds of photos and videos of naked women used as collateral for loans on a Chinese online lending service have leaked onto the web, highlighting regulatory problems in the fast-growing peer-to-peer marketplace. A 10-gigabyte file posted on the internet exposed the personal details of more than 160 young women who were asked to provide the explicit material to secure money through online lending platform Jiedaibao. Launched by JD Capital in 2015, Jiedaibao allows lenders to operate anonymously but requires borrowers to reveal their real names when making transactions. Loan amounts and interest rates can be customised to meet the needs of users – often people who have a hard time accessing loans through more traditional financial institutions, like banks.

Interest on the “nude loans” reached an astonishing 30% a week, according to the Global Times newspaper. Lenders told female borrowers that if they failed to repay the loans, their nude photos would be sent to their families and friends, whose information was also required for some transactions, the article said. Material in the file put on the web last Wednesday showed some borrowers also promised to repay loans with sexual favours, according to screen captures posted on social media websites. In a statement on its official Twitter-like Weibo account, Jiedaibao said it had tracked down the accounts of several borrowers through photos and ID information circulated online and had frozen the suspected lenders’ accounts. “The ‘nude loans’ deals were mainly initiated and completed offline, and Jiedaibao only played the role of a money transfer platform in the deals,” the statement said.

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Derivatives used this way are instruments of massive wealth destruction. Why use different rates for each side of the deal? “..the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate..”

Italy Is the Euro-Area’s Swaps Loser Facing $9 Billion Bill (BBG)

Derivatives burdened Italy’s public debt again last year for a record amount of €8.3 billion ($9 billion), making the country the biggest swaps loser in the euro region. Losses related to swaps held by the nation added €4.25 billion to the country’s debt while net liabilities’ burden totaled €4.07 billion, based on data released Monday by EU statistics office Eurostat. In the 2012-2016 period, the burden totaled €29.6 billion, also a euro-area record. Italy’s derivative-related losses and net liabilities were higher than those for the whole euro region combined both in 2016 and in the five-year period as some countries actually saw the swaps helping to alleviate their debts. Governments across the euro region have used derivatives to manage their debt-financing costs and to hedge against sudden changes in rates and excessive exchange-rate volatility.

Those deals have sometimes backfired with the effect of pushing nations’ debts even higher. In the existing interest-rate swaps the Italian Treasury “usually pays a flow anchored to a fixed rate, while receiving one indexed to the 6-month Euribor rate,” the government said earlier this month in an annex to its annual Economic and Financial Document. Since starting from November 2015, the Euribor stayed negative and the impact on the flow indexed to that rate was that the Treasury had to pay money to its counterparts, instead of being paid by them, the document also said. Italy’s public debt rose last year to €2.2 trillion, or 132.6% of the country’s GDP, Eurostat said in a separate report on Monday.

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it’s important to get it right.

Ontario To Pay Guaranteed Incomes To The Poor (AFP)

Ontario has launched a pilot program to provide a guaranteed basic income to a few thousand people to test its effects on recipients and public finances, the Canadian province announced on Monday. Provincial premier Kathleen Wynne said the program would provide a “basic income” for three years to 4,000 people living under the poverty line. “We want to find out whether a basic income makes a positive impact in people’s lives,” Ms Wynne said, adding that “everyone should benefit from Ontario’s economic growth.” Income support payments will be as high as Can$16,989 (£9,800) a year for an individual, or Can$24,027 for a couple, plus an additional Can$6,000 for the disabled.

The figures will be reduced for those holding part-time jobs – they will receive 50 cents less for each dollar earned. As a concrete example, a single person with a yearly salary of Can$10,000 will receive an additional payment of Can$11,989. The 4,000 participants, aged 18 to 65, have been chosen at random in three cities: Hamilton and Lindsay in the Toronto suburbs and Thunder Bay in the province’s west. The province estimates the cost of the program at Can$50 million a year. Ontario is the most heavily populated Canadian province, with 38% of the country’s 36.5 million inhabitants. 13% of Ontario residents live below the poverty line, according to Statistics Canada.

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What the FBI did has already been declared illegal in New Zealand courts.

Kim Dotcom Wants FBI Director Comey Questioned By New Zealand Police (IBT)

FBI Director James Comey is currently in New Zealand and if Kim Dotcom has his way, Comey could find himself being questioned by the New Zealand police. The internet entrepreneur, who is wanted by the United States on multiple charges including fraud and copyright infringement, filed a complaint with the police Tuesday against the FBI director for what Dotcom called theft of his data by the agency. The alleged theft happened when the police raided Dotcom’s home Jan. 20, 2012, as part of investigations instigated by the U.S. The charges against him are based on the now-defunct website Megaupload that he operated, where users could share content with each other.

Some of that content was illegal to share, but according to New Zealand laws, internet service providers are not held responsible for the actions of their users. In his complaint Tuesday, Dotcom’s lawyer urged the police to urgently question Comey, who is in New Zealand for a conference. The grounds for the complaint are that the FBI received copies of data that was taken from Dotcom’s home during the 2012 raid, an act which courts in the country have held to be illegal, according to the complaint.

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The value you put on someone else’s life inevitably becomes the value of your own life.

At Least 16 Refugees Drown as Boat Sinks off Greece’s Lesbos (R.)

At least 16 people, including two children, drowned after an inflatable boat carrying refugees and migrants sank off Greece’s Lesbos island, authorities said on Monday. They are believed to be the first confirmed deaths in Greek waters this year of migrants or refugees making the short but dangerous crossing from Turkey on overcrowded rubber dinghies. Nine bodies were recovered in Greek territory and another seven in Turkish waters, Greek and Turkish coastguard officials said. Two survivors have been rescued. The two women, one of whom is pregnant, told the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR that 20 to 25 people were on board when the dinghy capsized around 1900 GMT on Sunday. The women are from Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Though fewer than 10 nautical miles separate Lesbos from Turkish shores, hundreds of people have drowned trying to make the crossing since Europe’s refugee crisis began in 2015. In that year, Lesbos was the main gateway into the European Union for nearly a million Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. But a deal in March 2016 between the EU and Ankara has largely closed that route. Just over 4,800 people have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year, according to UNHCR data. An average of 20 arrive on Greek islands each day. “The number of people crossing the Aegean to Greece has dropped drastically over the past year, but this tragic incident shows that the dangers and the risk of losing one’s life remains very real,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Greece representative.

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Apr 112017
 
 April 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Carole Lombard 1934

 

54% Of Canadians Think Home Prices Will Never Fall (BNN)
Wild Housing Speculation Drives Entire Canadian Economy (WS)
Third of US Car Owners Can’t Afford Surprise Repairs (UT)
The Retail Apocalypse’s Terrifying Impact On One Corner Of Wall Street (BI)
China Is Playing a $9 Trillion Game of Chicken With Savers (BBG)
Currency-Issuing Governments Never Have To Worry About Bond Markets (Bilbo)
Recessions Are Never Desirable Events And Are Always Avoidable (Bilbo)
So Many Triggers (Thomas)
American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction (Caldwell)
How Erdogan’s Referendum Gamble Might Backfire (Spiegel)
Share of Member States in EU GDP (EC)
Austria FinMin Calls For €1 Billion EU Investment In Greece (R.)
JP Morgan Report Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Greece (Amna)
Refugee Community Center Set To Open On Lesvos (K.)

 

 

Stupefying. “Of those in the younger generation who are already in the housing market, more than four of every five plan to sell..”

54% Of Canadians Think Home Prices Will Never Fall (BNN)

More than half of the country believes home prices will never fall, according to a new poll from CIBC. Despite lofty valuations in the Toronto and Vancouver housing markets, 54% of respondents to the CIBC poll say housing prices will rise indefinitely, while only 40% think prices will decline over the course of the next five years. David Madani, senior Canadian economist at Capital Economics, thinks the unbridled optimism is just one more sign the Toronto housing market is in bubble territory. “The fact that the majority of Canadians still think home prices can continue to shoot up is sort of testament to the fact we’re in a full-blown housing bubble,” he said in an interview with BNN. According to the poll, those high prices are keeping homeowners on the sidelines, with 62% of respondents saying they’re reluctant to sell their home, lest they become buyers again.

Home prices in Toronto are up more than 30% over the course of the last year, and prices in Vancouver have risen more than 14%. Those who are looking to sell are largely of the baby boomer cohort, with more than two-thirds of respondents older than 55 saying they plan to downsize to a smaller home or condo. CIBC says boomers are motivated to sell not just due to the ease of maintaining a smaller home, but also as a boost to their retirement savings. What’s less clear is who they’re going to sell their home to: 52% of the millennial generation either don’t believe they’ll ever own a home, or are unsure if home ownership is in their future, according to the CIBC poll. Of those in the younger generation who are already in the housing market, more than four of every five plan to sell, with 63% complaining the mortgage and housing costs are making them cash-poor.

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It drives it and will make it crumble. But Justin isn’t listening.

Wild Housing Speculation Drives Entire Canadian Economy (WS)

Here’s another data point on the Canadian housing bubble, how immense it really is, and how utterly crucial wild housing speculation has become to the Canadian economy. Housing starts surged to 253,720 units in March seasonally adjusted, the highest since September 2007, according to Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. Of them, 161,000 were multi-family starts of condos and rental units in urban areas. In Toronto, one of the hot beds of Canada’s house price bubble, housing starts jumped by 16,600 units, all of them condos and apartments, defying any expectation of a slowdown. Housing starts are an indication of construction activity, a powerful additive to the local economy with large secondary effects. Housing construction gets fired up by the promise of ever skyrocketing housing prices, and thus big payoffs for developers, lenders, real estate agents, and the entire industry.

National home price data covers up the real drama in certain cities, particularly Vancouver (British Columbia) and Toronto (Ontario), but it does show by how much Canadian housing prices have overshot the already lofty US housing prices. The chart below by Stéfane Marion, Chief Economist at Economics and Strategy, National Bank of Canada, compares US home prices per the Case-Shiller 20-City index to Canadian home prices per the Teranet-National Bank 26-market index. Both indices are based on similar methodologies of comparing pairs of sales of the same home over time. The shaded areas denote recessions in Canada. Note that during the housing crisis in the US, there was only a blip in Canada’s housing market:

How important is real estate and housing construction to the Canadian economy? Hugely important! It accounts for an ever larger proportion of the Canadian economy. For all of Canada, according to data by Statistics Canada, housing construction and real estate activities combined account for 15.5% of GDP, up from 14.7% in 2011. This chart shows housing construction and real estate activities in the largest four provinces as percent of the province’s GDP in 2015, and for Canada overall. StatCan data for 2016 are not yet available. Note British Columbia: 22% of its economy is based on residential construction and real estate activities – due to Canada’s number one housing hot-bed Vancouver:

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As I said last week: it seems there’s an article on this theme every week now.

Third of US Car Owners Can’t Afford Surprise Repairs (UT)

Nearly one-in-three American motorists cannot pay for vehicle repairs without taking on debt, according to a new study from AAA. The study estimates 64 million drivers could not pay out-of-pocket for an average repair bill of $500 to $600. There are about 210 million licensed motorists in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. About 76% of men said they could afford the expense, while only 62% of women could do the same. “We were a little shocked at the results,” said Michael Calkins, AAA manager of technical services. “That one-third of American drivers couldn’t afford the cost of a $500 auto repair is a little concerning.”

AAA suggests motorists adhere to a scrupulous vehicle maintenance schedule and set aside $50 a month to build a fund for maintenance and unexpected repairs. But some motorists don’t – or can’t. About one-third of U.S. drivers delay or skip recommended car maintenance, Calkins said, a possible lingering repercussion of the 2008 recession. Motorists pay later for putting off vehicle maintenance now, as worn-down parts increase the likelihood of costly roadside breakdowns, Calkins said. A car-care fund can help motorists stick to their maintenance schedules, but for many low-income families, $50 a month is a big ask, said Asley Orr, executive director of Good News Mountaineer Garage, a nonprofit that donates used cars to West Virginians who need transportation to work.

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Who owns the stores and malls? Who owns the debt that keeps them going until it doesn’t?

The Retail Apocalypse’s Terrifying Impact On One Corner Of Wall Street (BI)

One of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades is killing off malls across the US and taking some Wall Street investments with it. Struggling with online competition, huge retailers like Sears, JCPenney, and Macy’s are closing hundreds of stores that typically anchor malls, meaning they occupy the largest spaces at mall entrances and drive most shopper traffic. When a big store shuts down, it triggers a chain reaction that can end with the shopping mall being unable to collect enough rent to cover its debts, forcing it to default. By one measure, as many as a third of the malls in the US are at risk of facing this situation. This has become a nightmare for investors who are expecting to collect on those debts. They own bonds – called commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBSs – that are backed by the mall properties’ rents.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to one element of the financial crisis. Back then, mortgage-backed securities, which pooled homeowners’ mortgages into a multitrillion-dollar financial market, were part of the problem. They encouraged risky lending, and together with derivatives on the bonds that were ginned up by Wall Street, they left banks and investors with massive losses that threatened the financial system. Nobody is predicting anything that dire today, but CMBSs, which Morgan Stanley says account for nearly 10% of the $3.6 trillion commercial real-estate mortgage market, work similarly. They pool debt payments from several malls or other commercial properties and then splice them so that investors can buy the segment and take on the kind of risk they want.

What’s happening in the retail market, though, is worse than anyone who invested in the bonds could’ve imagined a few years ago. “Malls are hard to turn around once they go downhill,” said Steve Jellinek, vice president of CMBS analytical services for Morningstar Credit Ratings. As a result, many CMBS investments are getting wiped out, and “retail lending has really taken a beating,” he said. About $48 billion in loans backed by mall properties are at risk of default, according to Morningstar.

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This is how the Chinese see Beijing, first as full of hot air (true), and second as capable of making good on any and all losses (not true): “Cracking down on implicit guarantees is just like curbing home prices,” she says. “It’s something that the government needs to say, but it’s not something they will eventually do.”

China Is Playing a $9 Trillion Game of Chicken With Savers (BBG)

Like many individual investors in China, Yang Mo has no idea what’s in the wealth management products that make up a big chunk of her net worth. She says there’s really no point in finding out. Sure, WMPs invest in all kinds of risky assets, but the government would never let a big one fail, she explains. “It’s not how the Chinese government does things, and it’s not even Chinese culture,” says Yang, a 29-year-old public relations professional in Beijing. Hers is a common refrain in Asia’s largest economy, where savers have poured $9 trillion into WMPs and similar products on the assumption that they’ll get bailed out if the investments sour. Even after news in February that policy makers are drafting rules to make it clear that state guarantees don’t exist, Yang is undaunted.

She says she’ll only withdraw money from WMPs in the unlikely event that they start to suffer losses. “Cracking down on implicit guarantees is just like curbing home prices,” she says. “It’s something that the government needs to say, but it’s not something they will eventually do.” Yang’s steadfast faith in bailouts illustrates the dilemma for authorities as they try to reduce moral hazard and improve the pricing of risk in China’s financial system: It may require a major WMP blowup to shake investors out of their complacency, an event that could wreak havoc on banks that increasingly rely on the products for funding. [..] WMPs – a key part of China’s shadow banking system – are getting squeezed as the nation’s central bank increases interest rates to discourage excessive leverage.

That’s not only putting pressure on products that use borrowed funds to meet their fixed return targets, it’s also weighing on the Chinese bond market, where WMPs allocate the biggest portion of their funds. For as long as they can, banks will make investors whole when WMPs run into trouble because they fear the reputational damage of a failed product, according to Hong. At some point, though, WMP shortfalls may be too large for the banks to cover, forcing policy makers to decide whether they’re willing to allow losses. Intervention is becoming less likely, if the new draft rules are anything to go by. Regulators are working on language that would make clear there are no state guarantees on asset-management products – which include WMPs, trusts, mutual funds and other products – people familiar with the matter said in February.

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Snippets from a great and long article by Australian economist Bill Mitchell. Everything they tell you about austerity is a lie.

Currency-Issuing Governments Never Have To Worry About Bond Markets (Bilbo)

How many times have you heard a politician claim they had to cut government spending and move the fiscal balance to surplus because they had to engender the confidence of the bond markets. Apparently, this narrative alleges that if bond markets are not ‘confident’ (whatever that means) then they will stop begging treasury departments for more debt issues and the government, in question, will run out of money and then pensions will stop being paid and the public service will be sacked and public trains and buses will stop running and before we know it the skies will blacken and collapse on us. The narrative ignores the usual statistics that bid-to-cover ratios are typically high (hence my ‘begging’ terminology) which are supplemented by well documented cases where the bond dealers (including banks etc) do actually beg central banks to stop driving yields down in maturity segments where these characters have pitched their “business model” (read: where they make the most profits).

The facts are exactly the opposite to the neo-liberal pitch. Currency-issuing governments never need to worry about how bond markets ‘feel’. Essentially, the bond markets are irrelevant to the ability of such a government to design and implement its fiscal plans. And, the central bank always can counteract any tendencies that the bond markets might seek to impose where governments do actually issue debt. [..] Nothing a student learns in a mainstream macroeconomics course at university (at any level – and the deception becomes worse the in later years as the student enters graduate school) about the relative powers of governments and bond markets is true. [..] So next time you hear an economist or a politician talk about how bond markets have to be satisfied and they use that as a justification for hacking into public spending (and driving up unemployment and poverty rates) you know they are lying and are frauds.

The bond traders never have to be satisfied. They can be forced to live on crumbs by the central bank if it so chooses. [..] The narrative that asserts that governments have to assuage the sentiments of the bond markets – which is an oft-repeated claim to justify job-destroying and poverty-inducing austerity – is just fake. It is a lie. It is just one of many lies that the elites use to pursue their biased austerity. Biased because they never advocate cutting spending or government support that helps them. They just support cuts that help the most disadvantaged who have little political voice and so can be disregarded. The point is that currency-issuing governments never have to worry about bond markets. And it would be better if the government eliminated the public debt market altogether – then the bond traders would have to do something productive for a living and get off the corporate welfare teat!

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More Bill Mitchell.

Recessions Are Never Desirable Events And Are Always Avoidable (Bilbo)

Bloomberg published an article last week (April 7, 2017) that it should not have published given that the article offers only fake knowledge to its readership. The article in question – Australia’s Delayed Recession Fallout Is Showing Up in Its Jobs Data – carried the sub-title “There may be trouble ahead” and purported to argue that because the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus allowed our nation to avoid a recession in 2009 we now have to ‘pay the piper’ and take our medicine and suffer a recession anyway. The proposition is ridiculous to say the least. The article uses as authority some nonsensical statements from a “business management consultant”, who doesn’t appear to have a very sound grasp of either history or what is actually going on. This is another case of misinformation.

The fact is that the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus in 2008 and 2009 saved the economy from recession. The current slowdown and parlous labour market is not some delayed effect from that. Rather, it is because the Australian government caught the ‘fiscal surplus bug’ obsession, and began a misguided pursuits of surpluses, irrespective of what the external and private domestic sectors were doing. It caused an immediate slowdown and all the virtuous dynamics that were accompanying the stimulus-led growth (for example, fall in household debt and the rise in the household saving ratio) were reversed, as we would expect. Far from being delayed effects, the poor jobs data is because current fiscal policy is too restrictive. Simple solution: expand the discretionary fiscal deficit (preferably with a large-scale public sector job creation strategy).

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“..Deutsche is ten times larger than Lehman Brothers..”, ” (90% of Deutsche’s revenue has been from derivative trading, which is what brought down Lehman.)”

So Many Triggers (Thomas)

Deutsche Bank has announced that it will create more shares, selling them at a 35% discount. Existing shareholders have not been pleased and, in the first four days since the offer was announced, the value of existing shares dropped by 13% as shareholders began dumping them. So why on earth would Germany’s foremost bank do something so rash? Well, in recent years, the bank has been involved in many arbitrations, litigations, and regulatory proceedings as a result of fraudulent activities, including the manipulation of markets. Having been found guilty, they presently owe $7.2 billion to the US Department of Justice and are now facing an additional $10 billion litigation bill. Unfortunately, the bank is already broke and, should Deutsche actually be able to sell the new shares, the $8.6 billion they hope to receive will still not save them from bankruptcy.

Business has also not been so good. They’ve lost nearly $2 billion in the last two years, instituted a hiring freeze, cut bonuses by 80%, and are facing a $2.5 million civil penalty to pay to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for failure to report transactions and, not surprisingly, have been downgraded. The German government has stated that they will not bail out Deutsche and, indeed, under the EU agreement, they cannot do so. It’s safe to say that Germany’s largest bank will soon go the way of the dodo. For those who don’t live in Europe, this may not seem all that significant. However, Deutsche is the bank that funds the euro system, which they can now no longer do. Further, Deutsche is ten times larger than Lehman Brothers, an American bank that famously went down in 2008, heralding in that year’s economic crash. (90% of Deutsche’s revenue has been from derivative trading, which is what brought down Lehman.)

Upon the collapse of Deutsche Bank, four major US banks would be expected to become insolvent in a matter of days. The ripples would then continue to spread outward into the economic system as a whole. For many years, I’ve made repeated reference to the fact that the Western powers have been headed south economically, repeatedly relying on strategies that would provide short-term gain but would ultimately create long-term pain. They’ve been remarkably consistent and steadfast in this trend and, at this point, Deutsche is merely the latest trigger that may bring down the system.

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Chilling.

American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction (Caldwell)

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor. Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2% of the population. Salisbury, Massachusetts (pop. 8,000), was founded in 1638, and the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years.

Last summer, Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), saw twenty-eight overdoses in four hours. Episodes like these played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015. The death toll far eclipses those of all previous drug crises. And yet, after five decades of alarm over threats that were small by comparison, politicians and the media have offered only a muted response. A willingness at least to talk about opioid deaths (among other taboo subjects) surely helped Donald Trump win last November’s election. In his inaugural address, President Trump referred to the drug epidemic (among other problems) as “carnage.” Those who call the word an irresponsible exaggeration are wrong.

Jazz musicians knew what heroin was in the 1950s. Other Americans needed to have it explained to them. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, with bourgeois norms and drug enforcement weakening, heroin lost none of its terrifying underworld associations. People weren’t shooting it at Woodstock. Today, with much of the discourse on drug addiction controlled by medical bureaucrats, it is common to speak of addiction as an “equal-opportunity disease” that can “strike anyone.” While this may be true on the pharmacological level, it was until quite recently a sociological falsehood. In fact, most of the country had powerful moral, social, cultural, and legal immunities against heroin and opiate addiction. For 99 percent of the population, it was an adventure that had to be sought out. That has now changed.

America had built up these immunities through hard experience. At the turn of the nineteenth century, scientists isolated morphine, the active ingredient in opium, and in the 1850s the hypodermic needle was invented. They seemed a godsend in Civil War field hospitals, but many soldiers came home addicted. Zealous doctors prescribed opiates to upper-middle-class women for everything from menstrual cramps to “hysteria.” The “acetylization” of morphine led to the development of heroin. Bayer began marketing it as a cough suppressant in 1898, which made matters worse. The tally of wrecked middle-class families and lives was already high by the time Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914, threatening jail for doctors who prescribed opiates to addicts. Americans had had it with heroin. It took almost a century before drug companies could talk them back into using drugs like it.

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Referendum on April 16: “..some pollsters see the “no” camp ahead by as much as 10%.”

How Erdogan’s Referendum Gamble Might Backfire (Spiegel)

Support for the presidential system is crumbling. Erdogan may be giving the impression that the entire country is behind him, with his speeches resembling religious masses. On Sunday a week ago, tens of thousands cheered him on in Ankara. But some pollsters see the “no” camp ahead by as much as 10%. Even previously loyal Erdogan supporters, including party functionaries, don’t understand why the president so desperately wants this referendum. According to polls, one third of AKP voters are fluctuating between yes and no. The new system would concede powers to the president that even the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, didn’t have.

The president would be able to appoint ministers and 12 of 15 constitutional judges, and he would have the power to dissolve parliament any time he wanted to. The position of prime minister would also be eliminated. Erdogan claims the reform is necessary to secure stability and prevent further coup attempts. But he already has more power than any other politician in recent Turkish history. Campaign posters plasterd with Erdogan’s visage hang everywhere in Bursa. The balconies are decorated with Turkish flags and vehicles drive through the streets blaring AKP election songs. The AKP is trying to create excitement, and that shouldn’t be too difficult here in Bursa. The city is Turkey’s fourth-largest and a higher-than-average share of residents voted for the AKP in the November 2015 parliamentary election.

For a long time, the residents of Bursa were the way Erdogan wanted them to be: hard-working and pious. The city has developed into an industrial center and the government built brand new residential neighborhoods, with shopping malls and mosques. But since the attempted coup, the economy has collapsed and many storefronts now stand empty. Mumcu’s cousin, who runs a textile company, says that his revenue has dropped from €50 million to €2 million in the past year.

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Germany and France are half of EU GDP. The rest are mere pawns.

Share of Member States in EU GDP (EC)

In 2016, the GDp of the European Union (EU) amounted to €14 800 billion (bn) at current prices. Over half of it was generated by three Member States: Germany, the United Kingdom and France. With a GDP worth €3 100bn in 2016, Germany was the leading EU economy, accounting for over a fifth (21.1%) of EU GDP. It was followed by the United Kingdom (16.0%), France (15.0%), Italy (11.3%), Spain (7.5%) and the Netherlands (4.7%). At the opposite end of the scale, eleven Member States had a GDP of less than 1% of the EU total. They were: Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Hungary. As regards the 19 Member States which form the euro area, their cumulated GDP stood at €10 700 bn in 2016, meaning that they accounted all together for 72.5% of the EU GDP. Germany (29.2%) and France (20.7%) made up half of the euro area GDP.

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Schäuble is shaking his head.

Austria FinMin Calls For €1 Billion EU Investment In Greece (R.)

The European Union should consider a one-billion-euro special investment programme to spur growth in debt-ridden Greece, Austria’s finance minister told daily Der Standard in an interview published on Monday. Hans Joerg Schelling said Greece would only be able to get back on track and regain access to capital markets if it was able to generate sustainable growth in the mid- and long-term. It was important to help the country participate in a pick-up in growth in the euro zone, he added. There was no immediate comment from Athens which has called for more help and debt relief as it struggles to cope with its financial crisis and attain a budget surplus of 3.5% of economic output, excluding debt servicing outlays next year.

“You must assess whether to start a big investment programme through the European Investment Bank or maybe with the (European bailout fund) ESM… to get an additional boost (for the Greek economy),” the paper quoted Schelling as saying. “I would define a scale of one billion euros.” Schelling, seen as a possible successor to Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said one project could be an investment in renewable energy to make Greece less dependent on energy imports. The European Investment Bank (EIB) launched a one billion euro credit line to Greek banks in December, mainly to be used for on-lending to small and medium sized companies and firms promoting youth employment.

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JP Morgan doesn’t understand the state the Greek economy is in.

JP Morgan Report Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Greece (Amna)

The decision reached by Eurozone finance ministers in Malta concerning Greece increases the chances of a solution for completing the second review of the Greek programme before May 22, according to a report by J. P. Morgan released on Monday. The U.S. banking and financial services giant said the decisions appears to have clarified most of the obstacles that were delaying talks for concluding the review and point to a higher possibility of a good outcome for Greece. J.P. Morgan’s central scenario, to which it gives an 85 pct probability, predicts that the next step will be the return of the institutions’ missions to Greece to finalise the technical details that will support a staff-level agreement (SLA).

If its predictions are correct, the report said, there will be great progress over the next few weeks, while the sequence of events will be the signature of the SLA, passing of the measures agreed by the Greek Parliament and the completion of the review ensuring future disbursements and further details on debt relief measures. As a part of this positive scenario, J.P. Morgan said, it was also expected that Greece will become eligible for inclusion in the ECB’s quantitative easing programme in the summer. “We give an 85 pct probability to this development. This is the most positive result for the Greek bond market and we expect that 10-year Greek bonds will have price/yield rations of about 85 euros/5.5-6 pct with this scenario,” the report says. Even if the worst of the three scenarios it has drawn up should be proved right, J.P. Morgan said that an accident leading to Grexit was extremely unlikely after last Friday’s decisions and that in its medium-term outlook on Greek bonds “the reward for the risk remains attractive.”

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Fantastic. The Automatic Earth and its very generous readers play a substantial role in this. Thank you so much for making it possible.

Refugee Community Center Set To Open On Lesvos (K.)

Just a 10-minute walk from the municipal-run camp of Kara Tepe and a bit over a half-hour from the Moria migrant camp north of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, a community center currently under construction on a 1.5-acre site aspires to become a magnet for individuals stranded on the eastern Aegean island by offering a wide range of activities. Run by the Swiss Cross charity, the center, which is set to open in the coming days, was built by migrants with the help of volunteers who arrived here from different parts of Europe. The project is called “One Happy Family.” The facility will provide a coffee shop (complete with nargile), a home cinema, a library and a garden.

The O Allos Anthropos (Fellow Man) group has agreed to provide about 1,000 servings of food [daily]. The entire project will cost 200,000 euros, which includes rent for the first 12 months. “The Swiss are very good at organizing, while the Greeks are good at hospitality, so great things can come out of that mix,” Achilleas Peklaris, a writer and journalist now working for Swiss Cross, told Kathimerini. After doing charity work in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Swiss Cross moved to Lesvos, prompted by the tragic deaths of Moria camp residents living outdoors in tents in freezing conditions this past winter.

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Feb 012017
 
 February 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson North from Brink Wood, Pen Mar Park, Maryland 1906

Trump Trade Chief Navarro Accuses Germany Of Abusing Euro For Own Gain (Tel.)
ECB Has An Inflation Problem … Called Germany (Pol.)
Japan Rejects Trump Accusation Of Devaluing Yen In Currency War (G.)
EU Chair Tusk Labels Trump A ‘Threat’ As Europeans Debate US Ties (R.)
Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives (Martens)
Theresa May to Trigger Brexit on March 9 (DM)
UK MPs Set For Vote On Triggering Brexit Talks With EU (BBC)
UK Faces Return To Inequality Of Thatcher Years (G.)
Trump Wants Assad to Stay in Power (AHT)
Germany Sends Tanks To Lithuania For NATO Mission (R.)
We Need The State Now More Than Ever. But Our Belief In It Has Gone (G.)
The UK and Greece after Brexit (Kate Smith)

 

 

“The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU — ergo, this is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress.”

Trump Trade Chief Navarro Accuses Germany Of Abusing Euro For Own Gain (Tel.)

Sterling completed its best January against the dollar in six years after Donald Trump and a key adviser renewed an attack on countries that “exploit” their weak currencies. The value of the pound climbed as high as $1.2593 against the dollar after the US president heavily criticised China and Japan for “play[ing] the money market”. His comments followed a meeting with pharmaceutical executives in which he pledged to bring back drug manufacturing to the US. The rise in sterling’s value on Tuesday rounded off its best January performance against the dollar since 2011 and its first positive start to the year in half a decade. It came as Mr Trump’s trade chief put the US on a collision course with Germany after he accused Berlin of using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the US and the rest of the EU.

Peter Navarro, who heads the US president’s new National Trade Council, described the single currency as an “implicit Deutsche Mark” that gave Germany a competitive advantage over its trade partners. The economics professor also said Germany was the main obstacle to a trade deal between the US and European bloc as he dismissed a revival of TTIP talks. “A big obstacle to viewing TTIP as a bilateral deal is Germany, which continues to exploit other countries in the EU as well as the US with an ‘implicit Deutsche Mark’ that is grossly undervalued,” Mr Navarro said. “The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU — ergo, this is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress.”

Mr Trump has highlighted a preference for “one-on-one” trade deals. He pulled the US out of the TPP with 11 Pacific Rim nations on his first full day in office. Mr Navarro told the Financial Times the UK’s decision to leave the EU had “killed” a similar trade deal between the US and Europe. Mr Trump has signalled that the US will engage in trade talks with the UK. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, said the country had no influence over the euro exchange rate. “I neither want to nor can I do something to change the situation,” she told reporters in Stockholm. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, has warned that the country’s persistent current account surplus has contributed to imbalances and hindered growth in the eurozone. Analysis by the OECD suggests the euro is trading below its “fair value”. Data published by the think-tank shows the the euro is the most undervalued currency among the dollar’s major peers.

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To repeat for a 1000th time: inflation numbers are meaningless unless money velocity is considered. And velocity is certainly not rising in southern Europe. That in turn would mean if it is rising in Germany – something I haven’t seen any proof of but let’s say it is -, what we see here is a huge threat to the eurozone. Because what is good for Germany is not good for others, and the others will have had enough of it.

ECB Has An Inflation Problem … Called Germany (Pol.)

The eurozone has reached its inflation target for the first time in four years, but ECB chief Mario Draghi has no time to rest on his laurels: He must now brace for renewed attacks on his easy-money policy in Germany. Overall inflation for the 19 countries that use the euro in January came in at a preliminary 1.8% – within a whisper of the ECB’s official target of “below, but close to, 2%,” but core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was unchanged from December at 0.9%, making any immediate change in policy unlikely. However, with German elections looming this September, and top-selling tabloid Bild featuring a “horror curve” showing that despite the spike in inflation –which was even higher in Germany, at 1.9% in January – savers are still earning nothing thanks to the policy of negative rates to spur spending elsewhere in the eurozone, Draghi’s problems are more political than economic.

“Someone has to put a stop to Draghi,” said Jörg Meuthen from the far-right, Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has high hopes of entering the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) for the first time in September. The party is keen to play on the collective German memory of hyperinflation in the first decades of the 20th century. Other inflation hawks, including mainstream figure like Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, are frustrated with Draghi’s insistence that he cannot tailor monetary policy for the eurozone to the needs of the Germany economy, which is growing much more robustly than neighboring countries who still need the ECB’s support.

With Euroskeptic populists challenging the established order in elections this year in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the ECB will come under increasing pressure to explain why it is doing what it’s doing, said Anatoli Annenkov, economist at Société Générale. While he assumes a slow recovery in core inflation, “we had years and years of downside surprises and now that it is going up, we might also see upside surprises,” he said. Beyond Brexit and fears of protectionist policies from the new U.S. administration, the ECB is bracing for internal pressure from the largest economy in the eurozone. In his most recent press conference, Draghi attempted to project unity among the ECB’s governing council in support of the €2.3 trillion bond-buying program designed to stimulate the eurozone economy.

But that façade crumbled just days later when German executive board member Sabine Lautenschläger suggested it might be time to bring the policy to an end. “All preconditions for a stable rise in inflation exist. I am thus optimistic that we can soon turn to the question of an exit,” she said in a speech last week. Her former boss, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, has also signaled that the ECB should let economic data — rather than its previous commitment to keeping quantitative easing running until the end of 2017 — dictate its policy in the coming months.

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Really? Japan would try and deny this?

Japan Rejects Trump Accusation Of Devaluing Yen In Currency War (G.)

Japan has rejected Donald Trump’s claims that Tokyo was deliberately weakening the yen to gain an unfair trade advantage over the US. Trump told a meeting of pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday that Japan, along with China and Germany, were guilty of “global freeloading” for using regulation and currency devaluation in their trade dealings with the US. The president’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, also accused Germany of using a “grossly undervalued” euro to gain an unfair advantage over the US and other EU countries. In unusually frank comments, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Trump’s criticism “completely misses the mark”. Suga added that the Bank of Japan’s pursuit of monetary easing was intended to boost inflation, not weaken the yen against the dollar.

Japan’s policy was in line with G7 and G20 agreements, he said, adding that Tokyo would continue to respond to “one-sided” currency moves by other countries. Vowing to end the emasculation of US trade, Trump’s said: “You look at what China’s doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. … they play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.” According to a transcript of Tuesday’s meeting, Trump said other countries “live on devaluation”. Trump’s outburst, which suggests he could backtrack on his wish to see higher US interest rates, came at the end of the worst January for the dollar for three decades. But that follows a huge rise in the dollar on the back of his election win in November when promises of a huge stimulus for the US economy sent the greenback to 14-year highs.

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Said many times before: Tusk got his job solely because of his Putin-bashing as PM of Poland.

EU Chair Tusk Labels Trump A ‘Threat’ As Europeans Debate US Ties (R.)

Donald Trump has joined Russia, China and radical Islam as a threat to the European Union, EU leaders were told on Tuesday by the man chairing a summit where they will debate relations with the United States. European Council President Donald Tusk, a conservative former premier of Poland, wrote to EU national leaders to lay out themes for discussion when they meet in Malta on Friday to discuss the future of their Union as Britain prepares to leave. In vivid language that reflects deep concern in Europe at the new U.S. president’s support for Brexit, as well as his ban on refugees and people from several Muslim countries, Tusk called on Europeans to rally against eurosceptic nationalists at home and take “spectacular steps” to deepen the continent’s integration.

Saying the EU faced the biggest challenges of its 60-year history, Tusk named an “assertive China”, “Russia’s aggressive policy” toward its neighbors and “radical Islam” fuelling anarchy in the Middle East and Africa as key external threats. These, “as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration, all make our future highly unpredictable,” he said. Laying out issues leaders may address in a 60th anniversary declaration at Rome in March, Tusk said the EU unity built after World War Two and the Cold War was needed “to avoid another historic catastrophe”. He also said Americans should not weaken Transatlantic ties fundamental to “global order and peace”.

“The disintegration of the EU will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China,” Tusk wrote to the EU leaders. “Only together can we be fully independent.” Senior officials discussed a possible EU response to Trump at a meeting in Brussels on Monday where some governments stressed that Europeans should not be hasty to alienate a key ally, diplomats said. “We don’t want to get fired,” one senior EU diplomat said in reference to Trump’s reality TV catchphrase. Another said that because the full U.S. administration was not yet in place, Europeans should be cautious: “No government in Europe can respond in a coherent manner to this series of orders and tweets,” the diplomat said.

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“Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated.”

Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives (Martens)

Following a plunge of over 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday, Trump pivoted to something he thought would please his financial backers on Wall Street. He called the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010 by the Obama administration a “disaster” and promised to “do a big number” on it soon. The Dow closed down 122 points — now wary of Trump’s fire-ready-aim leadership on complex matters. The legitimate fear across Wall Street right now is that Trump’s zero-vetting approach to rule-by-Executive-Order could leave Wall Street in the same chaotic state as the airports experienced from his ham-fisted approach to immigration. But it’s not just Trump that Wall Street needs to fear: it’s Goldman Sachs as well. Trump has stuffed his administration with so many Goldman Sachs progeny that his administration is now regularly referred to as Government Sachs.

Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated. That’s because when it comes to derivatives, Goldman Sachs is keeping a lot of secrets. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is the regulator of national banks. Each quarter it publishes a report on the derivative holdings of the biggest Wall Street banks and their holding companies. Its most recent report shows that as of September 30, 2016 Goldman Sachs Bank USA (a taxpayer-backstopped, FDIC insured bank where it holds its derivatives) had “credit exposure to risk-based capital” of 433%. That figure was more than double that of JPMorgan Chase (216%) and six times that of Bank of America (68%).

There’s another big problem with Goldman Sachs: it has a miniscule asset base compared to the big guns on Wall Street but it’s attempting to play in the big leagues in terms of derivatives. As the chart above shows, Goldman Sachs is the third largest holder of derivatives on Wall Street with $45.48 trillion in notionals (face amount). (As of 2015, the entire GDP of the United States was only $18 trillion.) But Goldman only has $880 billion in assets. That ratio compares to JPMorgan Chase with $2.5 trillion in assets and $50.6 trillion in derivatives and Citigroup with $1.8 trillion in assets and $51.78 trillion in derivatives. The amount of these derivatives is insane on all levels but, clearly, Goldman stands out starkly in its ratios.

There’s another highly disturbing aspect of Goldman’s derivatives. Dodd-Frank legislation mandated that derivatives at the big Wall Street banks move into the sunshine by moving out of over-the-counter contracts whose details are known only to the buyer and seller and onto some type of centrally cleared platform. Dodd-Frank was signed into law on July 21, 2010. It’s almost six years later and yet the OCC’s report of September 30, 2016 shows that of the total derivatives held by Goldman Sachs only 24% are centrally cleared versus 76% at Goldman that remain over-the-counter. Again, that’s a far higher %age of over-the-counter contracts than at its peer banks on Wall Street.

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5 weeks.

Theresa May to Trigger Brexit on March 9 (DM)

Theresa May has set a target date of launching the formal Brexit process on March 9. The Government is aiming to push through its EU Bill through Parliament by March 7, which would allow the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 at a summit of European leaders on March 9 and 10. MPs will start debating the crucial Brexit legislation today and fiery clashes are expected in the commons chamber as the SNP, Lib Dems and dozens of Labour MPs say they will defy June’s vote to leave the EU and vote against triggering Article 50. Ministers told the House of Lords yesterday that it hopes to have the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill approved by March 7. The following day – March 8 – is the Budget, before Mrs May travels to Brussels for the long-awaited Brexit showdown with her EU counterparts.

The PM has promised to trigger Article 50, the formal mechanism for quitting the EU, by the end of March. But she does not want to get off on the wrong foot with EU leaders by clashing with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which effectively gave birth to the EU. She could tell her European counterparts of her timetable at a meeting in Malta on Friday. The timetable could be knocked off course if the Lords initiate what is known as parliamentary ‘ping-pong’ by sending the bill back to the Commons with a series of amendments. And in a sign of the trouble ahead for Mrs May, a senior Tory told the Independent: ‘What we are seeing now is a huge raft of amendments being tabled. ‘There are cross party talks going on about this. It’s not going to be plain sailing for the Prime Minster.’

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How much chaos is Britain capable of?

UK MPs Set For Vote On Triggering Brexit Talks With EU (BBC)

MPs are to vote later on whether to give Theresa May the power to get Brexit negotiations under way. The government is expected to win, with most Conservative and Labour MPs set to back its European Union Bill. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a rebellion by some on his side, while the SNP and Liberal Democrats are also promising to oppose ministers. The vote, which will follow two days of parliamentary debate, is expected at about 19:00 GMT. On Monday, politicians made impassioned speeches for and against the bill, which, if passed, will allow Mrs May to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by her own deadline of 31 March. This would get formal Brexit negotiations with the EU started, with the UK expected to leave the 28-member group in 2019.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said MPs had to implement a decision made by the people in last June’s referendum, which the Leave campaign won by 51.9% to 48.1%. Doing otherwise would be viewed “dimly”, he warned. Mr Corbyn has imposed a three-line whip – the strongest possible sanction – on his MPs to back the bill, which is only two lines long. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called the vote a “difficult decision” for Labour – most of whose MPs supported Remain in the referendum – but it had to “accept the result”. Two shadow ministers have quit Labour’s front bench in order to oppose the bill, while MPs Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown told the Commons they would also vote against it. A government source said up to 30 Labour MPs were expected to defy Mr Corbyn.

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Cameron and Osborne worked on this for years.

UK Faces Return To Inequality Of Thatcher Years (G.)

Pressure on the government to help struggling Britons has intensified after a leading thinktank warned that falling living standards for the poor threatened the biggest rise in inequality since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. The Resolution Foundation said Theresa May would need to make good on her pledge to support “just about managing” households as it released a report showing that rising inflation and an end to recent strong jobs growth would hit the least well-off hardest. Its warnings chime with other forecasts for a squeeze on family budgets on the back of sluggish wage growth, welfare cuts, rising global oil prices and the pound’s sharp fall since the Brexit vote. The drop in sterling has made imports more expensive and there are already signs that is being passed on to consumers, with inflation hitting its highest level for more than two years in December.

The Resolution Foundation’s study found that the current parliament would be the worst for living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since the early years of Thatcher’s 1979-90 premiership for inequality. Since its sharp increase in the early 1980s – a period of high unemployment, factory closures and a cut in the top rate of tax from 83% to 60% – inequality has broadly remained flat. But the Resolution Foundation forecast that between 2015 and the next general election in 2020 incomes for the poorest half of households will fall by 2%. That compares with a rise of 4% during the last parliament and 1% between 2005 and 2010 – the five-year period that included the deepest recession since the 1930s.

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain has enjoyed a welcome mini-boom in living standards in recent years. But that boom is slowing rapidly as inflation rises, productivity flatlines and employment growth slows. “The squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis tended to hit richer households the most. But this time around it’s low- and middle-income families with kids who are set to be worst affected. “This could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds on living standards – the weak income growth of the last parliament and rising inequality from the time Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.

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Curious piece, sources ‘a tad‘ shaky, but it could still well be right.

Trump Wants Assad to Stay in Power (AHT)

A Syrian diplomatic source underlined that the visit by 130 US figures, including three former secretaries and congresspersons, is a “good omen” in the relations between Damascus and Washington. According to the source, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who had last week said that she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a recent trip to the war-torn country, stressed during the meeting that “affairs are going on in a way that an unprecedented opening is seen in the relations between the two sides in different fields”. Referring to three existing scenarios on Syria, she said that the first option is continued war which doesn’t benefit any sides and the US administration will likely oppose it; the second option is the victory of dissidents which is opposed by Trump and he even dismisses interactions with them.

The third option is Assad’s continued ruling over Syria as the best person to manage the country provided that certain considerations will receive attention in the formation of the government, the Syrian source said. According to the source, Gabbard has indirectly spoken about a US plan to pave the ground for Trump’s showoff by annihilation of the ISIS in Raqqa like what was done by former US President Barack Obama. “Raqqa city is a political card important for the world since it is considered as the ISIS’s first base; meantime, ending the war is Raqqa militarily is easy since there are no tunnels and tall buildings in there which facilitates any military measure to annihilate terrorism,” the Syrian diplomatic source said. Back from a weeklong trip to Syria [she] defended her meeting with the war-torn country’s president, saying there’s no possibility of a viable peace agreement unless Bashar Assad is part of the conversation.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said she originally had no intention of sitting down with Assad, according to a statement issued by her office detailing her travels. But she changed her mind when the opportunity arose. “I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering,” Gabbard said. Gabbard said that the U.S. has “waged wars of regime change” in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Yet each has resulted “in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda” and the Islamic State group, she said. “My visit to Syria has made it abundantly clear,” Gabbard said. “Our counterproductive regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.”

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Germany moving soldiers and equipment through Europe is scary enough. The purpose makes it worse.

Germany Sends Tanks To Lithuania For NATO Mission (R.)

Germany began sending tanks and other equipment to Lithuania on Tuesday as part of a NATO mission to beef up the defense of eastern Europe and send a signal of resolve to Russia, which has denounced the build-up as an act of aggression. The German army command said it was sending about 200 vehicles, including 30 tanks, by train to Lithuania along with 450 troops, the first of whom arrived last week. The transports would continue until late February. Seven decades after the end of World War Two, the movement of German troops to eastern Europe, even on a NATO mission, remains a sensitive issue both in Germany and the region. On Monday the U.S. military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War.

The movements are part of a strategy agreed by NATO leaders last July to reassure member states that were once part of the Soviet bloc and have been alarmed by Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The 28-nation Western alliance decided to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression. The deployments focus on Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which fear Moscow could try to destabilize them by cyber attacks, territorial incursions or other means. Russia denies such intentions and has described NATO’s behavior as aggressive and threatening.

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Good luck with that. A state may be beneficial, but not the ones we see around us.

“Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He said it was a joke; it turned out to be a prophecy.”

We Need The State Now More Than Ever. But Our Belief In It Has Gone (G.)

We’re often told that the state and the market have entirely different roles. But meet any number of the people paying the price for Britain’s crash, and you’ll see that they play almost identical parts using similar language and similar bureaucracy. And far from protecting low-paid workers from the depredations of the market, the state wants to hurl more people into it under the pretence that they are shirkers. None of this fits with how social democrats view the state. Having attended my fair share of Labour and other leftwing political meetings, I know that a staple feature is that some grey-haired man in a jumper will leap up towards the end and launch into a good-hearted defence of the state. Public investment, social security, industrial strategy: all will circle back to the state; all will be met with murmurs of approval. And all are a million miles away from the experiences I regularly hear while reporting.

[..] At the end of 2015, a team of academics held a series of two-day discussions with small groups of members of the public across Europe. They were asked only one big question: what should the government do for your children’s generation? Of all the countries, the British were easily the most pessimistic about what could be done – behind even Slovenia. The British liked the NHS and pensions, but thought both would be gone in a generation. They didn’t talk about the good things that could be done by government. Trade unions came up just once in the entire two days. “I found it quite shocking,” recalls Peter Taylor-Gooby, of the University of Kent. “Of all the groups we interviewed, the British had this mood of resigned, reluctant individualism.”

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He said it was a joke; it turned out to be a prophecy. Three decades of both right and left privatising, outsourcing and deregulating have shrunk the public imagination about what their representatives in government can achieve. Put that alongside the shattering of the working class, the smashing of trade unions, and the diminishment of so many other social institutions. The need for the state and collective action hasn’t diminished, but the public belief in it has gone. The state is now either invisible or hostile. This has happened without the pundits and politicians noticing, but its consequences could shape politics for decades.

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Editorial in Kathemerini bytThe new British ambassador in Athens, who wastes not one word on what has happened to Greece courtesy of the EU. Not one word! No compassion for the people of Greece, no understanding, not consolation, no hope. Not one word on what Britain intends to do to help Greece. No, the UK wants Greek help. She either doesn’t know what’s going on, or she chooses to blindly ignore it. In both cases, she should not be where she is. She talks about Britain only, as if Britain is the main victim here. Me, me, me. Well, f**king stay home then. Athens now has this dimwit and Victoria Nuland lackey Geoffrey Platt as US ambassador.

The UK and Greece after Brexit (Kate Smith)

As the new British ambassador in Athens, I begin my mission in Greece at a challenging time. I’ve been struck by the anxiety and even sadness expressed by many Greeks about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Much of that is based in uncertainty about what this means for the future of Europe, and for the relationship between the United Kingdom and Greece. That’s understandable. And that was why Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech last week sought to provide as much clarity as possible for our partners about what the United Kingdom is seeking from the forthcoming negotiations and beyond. Above all, we intend to remain the best friend and neighbor possible to our European partners. We are not seeking to undermine the European Union. Indeed it is in the best interests of the UK that the EU should succeed.

A prosperous, stable Greece is a critical element in that, and I believe Greece has a strong interest in the specific outcomes to which the prime minister committed the UK government to pursue on 23 January. First – the prime minister said repeatedly in her speech that our cooperation with all European partners on defense, security and foreign policy, including intelligence sharing, will continue. The security of our citizens is not negotiable. With Greece, that means the highly valued collaboration we have with partners in the Greek armed forces, police, coast guard and customs on migration, counterterrorism, and organized crime will remain a priority. Second, our aim of a bold and ambitious free-trade agreement, which gives British and European companies the maximum freedom to trade across our markets, can only be of benefit to Greece.

The United Kingdom is the second biggest export market for Greece’s pharmaceutical products, and third largest for agricultural products; while the freedom for the British financial and professional services to continue to trade across borders will benefit both the City of London and the Greek shipping sector, one of its most important customers. Third: There is much concern about the status of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit. Britain values very highly the contribution of Greeks who live and work and study in the UK – for example the hugely talented Greek clinical staff in, for example, the National Health Service – as well as the 10,000 Greek students in our universities. The rights and benefits of current students, and those starting in academic year 17/18, are secure to the end of their courses. And we want to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens already living in Britain, as well as the rights of British nationals in other member-states, as early as we can. Greece’s support on this would be very welcome.

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