Sep 202019
 
 September 20, 2019  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Marc Chagall The Feast of the Tabernacles 1916

 

Interest Rate Derivatives Trading Explodes to $6.5 Trillion/Day
OECD Slashes Global Growth Outlook, Warns Germany Already In Recession (ZH)
Lagarde Urges Policymakers To Resolve Manmade Economic Threats (AFP)
How the Houthis Overturned The Chessboard (Escobar)
The Crisis Over The Attack On Saudi Oil Infrastructure Is Over (MoA)
Gantz Refuses To Meet With Netanyahu, Wants Unity Govt Without Him (RT)
Ryanair Awards $111 Million Bonus To CEO, Lays Off Up To 700 Pilots (R.)
Biodiversity Touches Every Aspect Of Our Lives (G.)
US and Canada Lose 3 Billion Birds Since 1970 (BBC)
Operation Amazon Redux (Dias)
What If This is as Good as It Gets? (Tritschler)

 

 

Famous last words: “If managed properly, they shouldn’t pose undue risks to the financial system.”

Interest Rate Derivatives Trading Explodes to $6.5 Trillion/Day

The volume of over-the-counter (OTC) interest rate derivatives traded globally soared by 141% in three years to $6.5 trillion per day in April 2019, according to the Bank for International Settlements’ new Triennial Survey of Global Derivatives Markets. In the prior survey period, April 2016, $2.7 trillion per day in trades were executed. Since 2001, the magnitude of trading volume has multiplied by a factor of 13, from $490 billion per day to $6.5 trillion per day, with a gigantic spike over the past three years: OTC derivatives are securities that are generally traded through a dealer network rather than on a centralized exchange such as the London Stock Exchange or the New York Stock Exchange.

Some derivatives can be explosive, such as the credit default swaps (CDS) that brought Lehman Brothers and AIG to their knees in the last crisis, and which still remain a threat today, especially with the U.S. government this week bowing to Wall Street pressure to dilute regulation that had been designed after the crisis to reduce the risks of these instruments. Interest rate derivatives, whose value rises and falls depending on the movement of interest rates, or sets of interest rates, tend to be more straightforward. They are often used as hedges by institutional and retail investors, banks and companies to protect themselves against changes in market interest rates. If managed properly, they shouldn’t pose undue risks to the financial system. The BIS attributed much of this 141% three-year surge in trading of these instruments to increased hedging and positioning “amid shifting prospects for growth and monetary policy.”

Read more …

The “growth is good” idea won’t die unless it’s murdered.

OECD Slashes Global Growth Outlook, Warns Germany Already In Recession (ZH)

In one of the most downbeat forecasts on the global economy that we’ve seen so far this year, the Paris-based organization of wealthy nations known as the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – warned that the global economy is heading toward a recession, and that governments aren’t doing enough in terms of fiscal stimulus to try and boost the economy. “Escalating trade policy tensions are taking an increasing toll on confidence and investment, adding to policy uncertainty, weighing on risk sentiment in financial markets, and endangering future growth prospects,” the OECD said. The advocacy for fiscal stimulus follows reports that Germany is considering a “shadow budget” to bolster public investment as Europe’s economy slides.


“Our fear is that we are entering an era where growth is stuck at a very low level,” said OECD Chief Economist Laurence Boone said. “Governments should absolutely take advantage of low rates to invest in the future now so that this sluggish growth doesn’t become the new normal.” After cutting all of its forecasts from four months ago, the OECD now sees global growth slipping below 3% to 2.9%.

Of course, this pattern of cutting GDP forecasts is nothing new. The OECD became the latest to warn about the global economy, after the Fed, the ECB and the PBOC have all eased policy to try and bolster growth in recent weeks. But the OECD is convinced that without government stimulus, the global economy is headed for a protracted downturn.

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“In perfect English and always engaging and crisply professional..”

Lagarde Urges Policymakers To Resolve Manmade Economic Threats (AFP)

Accustomed to being the first woman in influential leadership positions and speaking frankly to men in power, Christine Lagarde says manmade threats to the global economy can be “man-fixed.” Lagarde only last week left her post as head of the International Monetary Fund after eight years, the first woman to serve in that role, and she is expected to put another “first” on her resume by the end of the year: first woman to serve as president of the European Central Bank.She sees a world economy where growth is “fragile” and “under threat” from trade frictions and Brexit, and perhaps an over-reliance on the efforts of central banks like the ECB.


But while she tried to urge action during her time at the IMF — she took over in 2011 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis — she said a central bank should “stick to its mandate,” which perhaps is a clue to how she will run the ECB. Or perhaps not. She carefully avoided a commitment about how she would use her influence in the new post. In perfect English and always engaging and crisply professional, Lagarde sat down with AFP on Thursday to review her legacy at the Washington-based crisis lender, where she arrived after being the first woman finance minister of France. In bare numbers, her record is impressive: the IMF helped to avoid a global depression, 90 countries – nearly half of its members – benefitted from some form of lending or credit line during the crisis, and the lending capacity was doubled to $1 trillion.

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They showed how vulnerable the Kingdom is. That’s all it took.

How the Houthis Overturned The Chessboard (Escobar)

[..] it’s always important to consider that Arab Shiites in the Eastern province – working in Saudi oil installations – have got to be natural allies of the Houthis fighting against Riyadh. Houthi striking capability – from drone swarms to ballistic missile attacks – has been improving remarkably for the past year or so. It’s not by accident that the UAE saw which way the geopolitical and geoeconomic winds were blowing: Abu Dhabi withdrew from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s vicious war against Yemen and now is engaged in what it describes as a “peace-first” strategy. Even before Abqaiq, the Houthis had already engineered quite a few attacks against Saudi oil installations as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports.

In early July, Yemen’s Operations Command Center staged an exhibition in full regalia in Sana’a featuring their whole range of ballistic and winged missiles and drones. The situation has now reached a point where there’s plenty of chatter across the Persian Gulf about a spectacular scenario: the Houthis investing in a mad dash across the Arabian desert to capture Mecca and Medina in conjunction with a mass Shiite uprising in the Eastern oil belt. That’s not far-fetched anymore. Stranger things have happened in the Middle East. After all, the Saudis can’t even win a bar brawl – that’s why they rely on mercenaries.

The US intel refrain that the Houthis are incapable of such a sophisticated attack betrays the worst strands of orientalism and white man’s burden/superiority complex. The only missile parts shown by the Saudis so far come from a Yemeni Quds 1 cruise missile. According to Brigadier General Yahya Saree, spokesman for the Sana’a-based Yemeni Armed Forces, “the Quds system proved its great ability to hit its targets and to bypass enemy interceptor systems.”

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We Now Wait For the Next One.

The Crisis Over The Attack On Saudi Oil Infrastructure Is Over (MoA)

The crisis about the Yemeni drone and cruise missile attack on two Saudi oil installations is for now over. The Saudis and the U.S. accuse Iran of being behind the “act of war” as Secretary of State Pompeo called it. The Saudis have bombed Yemen with U.S. made bombs since 2015. One wonders how Pompeo is calling that. The Yemeni forces aligned with the Houthi Ansarallah do not deny that their drones and cruise missiles are copies of Iranian designs. But they insist that they are built in Yemen and fired from there. President Trump will not launch a military attack against Iran. Neither will the Saudis or anyone else. Iran has deterred them by explaining that any attack on Iran will be responded to by waging all out war against the U.S. and its ‘allies’ around the Persian Gulf.

Trump sent Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to hold hands with the Saudi gangster family who call themselves royals. Pompeo of course tried to sell them more weapons. On his flight back he had an uncharacteristically dovish Q & A with reporters. Pompeo said: “I was here in an act of diplomacy. While the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight to the last American, we’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this. That’s my mission set, what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve, and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way. There’s no evidence of that from his statement, but I hope that that’s the case.”

The crisis is over and we are back to waiting for the next round. A few days or weeks from now we will see another round of attacks on oil assets on the western side of the Persian Gulf. Iran, with the help of its friends, can play this game again and again and it will do so until the U.S. gives up and lifts the sanctions against that country. The Houthi will continue to attack the Saudis until they end their war on Yemen and pay reparations.

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That was his election pledge.

Gantz Refuses To Meet With Netanyahu, Wants Unity Govt Without Him (RT)

Benny Gantz, whose centrist bloc narrowly defeated Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in a snap election, says he is forming a government that will exclude the current prime minister – signaling the end of Bibi’s era may be near. The ex-IDF chief said on Thursday that he would not accept Netanyahu’s offer to discuss a unity government, keeping good on his campaign pledge to create a ruling coalition that does not include Bibi. “I am interested and intend to form a broad and liberal unity government led by me,” he wrote in a tweet.


Speaking with reports, Gantz stressed that his Blue and White alliance “will listen to everyone, but we will not accept mandates imposed on us” – an apparent swipe at Netanyahu’s insistence that the pair should meet. Blue and White won 33 seats in the Knesset in Tuesday’s snap election, while Likud only secured 31. Gantz said that the results pave the way for him to become prime minister, assuming that a coalition, minus Bibi, can be formed. If Gantz fails to secure 61 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s political deadlock could continue, forcing the third election this year.

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Blind. Completely blind.

Ryanair Awards $111 Million Bonus To CEO, Lays Off Up To 700 Pilots (R.)

Ryanair’s Chief Executive Michael O’Leary narrowly secured approval from shareholders on Thursday for a bonus scheme that could earn him 100 million euros over five years as he revealed up to 700 pilots could lose their jobs. The Irish low-cost carrier, Europe’s largest, has been battered by industrial disputes and the grounding of Boeing’s flagship 737 MAX. Having suffered from a shortage of pilots just a couple of years ago, O’Leary told investors there are now too many. He forecast the company would cut between 500 and 700 pilots as a sharp decrease in demand has seen the natural attrition rate collapse. To earn his 100 million euro bonus, O’Leary would need to reverse a near-50% fall in the company’s share price since 2017.


The share price hit a peak of 19.39 euros in August 2017 but was down 1.8 percent at 9.76 euros at 1330 GMT on Thursday. O’Leary secured the backing of 50.5% of shareholders for the scheme which will grant him 10 million share options if he doubles Ryanair’s profitability to 2 billion euros per annum and/or increase the share price to 21 euros per share. The size of the award “raises a red flag in terms of quantum and for our members,” said Jocelyn Brown of the UK Railway pension scheme, which voted against the deal. O’Leary said he was disappointed by the level of support and said he would take on investor concerns.

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Got to say I’m skeptical about the Climate Strikes today. What have all these people given up? What have they pledged to no longer do?

Biodiversity Touches Every Aspect Of Our Lives (G.)

In addition to playing a critical role in providing food, fibre, water, energy, medicines and other genetic materials, biodiversity is equally important in regulating climate, water quality, pollution, pollination, flooding and storm surges. It has vital social value, providing wellbeing when walking through forests or by rivers, or green spaces in cities. Since 1970, human activities have destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems and significantly altered 75% of the ice-free land surface. Most oceans are polluted with plastics, and over 85% of wetland area has been lost. This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, although many are preventable if we improve our management of biodiversity.

The largest driver of biodiversity loss on land in recent decades has been land use change, primarily the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems to feed the world, while oceans are over-fished . This has been driven in large part by a doubling of the world’s population, a fourfold increase in the global economy, and a tenfold increase in trade. The challenge is to transform our agricultural and fishing practices, many of which are unsustainable today, into ones that produce the food we need while conserving biodiversity. For agriculture, this means using sustainable agroecological practices; less chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides; and protecting soils and pollinators.

The climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity are issues that affect each other. Global heating adversely affects genetic variability, species richness and ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity can adversely affect climate – deforestation increases the atmospheric abundance of carbon dioxide for example, a greenhouse gas. So it is essential that the issues of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are addressed together.

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The biggest threat to birds in Java is people who love them. In the west it’s Monsanto.

US and Canada Lose 3 Billion Birds Since 1970 (BBC)

Bird populations in Asia and the US are “in crisis”, according to two major studies. The first concludes there are three billion fewer birds in the US and Canada today compared to 1970 – a loss of 29% of North America’s birds. The second outlines a tipping point in “the Asian songbird crisis”: on the island of Java, Indonesia, more birds may now live in cages than in the wild. Scientists hope the findings will serve as a wake-up call. The two studies are published in the journals Science and Biological Conservation. The North America study revealed how many birds were being lost across every type of habitat – from grasslands to coasts to deserts.

While it did not directly assess what was driving this, the scientists concluded that, among multiple causes, the major factor was habitat loss driven by human activity. This study, explained lead researcher Dr Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy, was the first to “run the numbers” on bird populations. “We knew some species were declining,” he told BBC News, “but we thought that, while rare birds were disappearing, the more generalist birds – and those better adapted to human landscapes – would be filling in the gaps.” [..] the situation in Asia, as the other study has shown, is a particularly striking case of a human-driven extinction crisis.

The buying and selling of songbirds – many of which are caught from the wild – is huge business in parts of Asia, particularly on the island of Java in Indonesia. Around 75 million birds are kept as pets on Java. Many are sought after for bird singing competitions – often referred to as “Kicau-mania”. At these events, caged birds’ songs are judged on melody, duration and volume. Top prizes for the best singers can earn owners as much as £40,000 in the biggest contests. This culture, however, drives the capture of birds from the wild to satisfy demand. And that, researchers say, threatens the survival of numerous species. “The trade is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars to the Indonesian economy, so it is no surprise that it is a key regional source of both supply and demand for songbirds..

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Murder she wrote.

Operation Amazon Redux (Dias)

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT JAIR Bolsonaro is planning to push industrialization and development in the interior of the country’s Amazon basin. It is far from a new project. For more than a century, a series of Brazilian governments have sought to move into the country’s interior, developing — or, to be more precise, colonizing — the Amazon. From the populist president-turned-dictator who made one of the early industrial pushes into the forest in the 1930s to the military dictatorship that ruled the country for two decades from 1964 until 1985, the justifications have largely been the same — economic gain and geopolitical paranoia — as were the often poor results.

Take the dictatorship’s push. Known as Operation Amazon, the colonization plan hatched during the military government envisioned integrating the territory into Brazil through building roads and developing agricultural and corporate enterprises — all accomplished by settling people from the south, southeast, and northeast of the country and the coasts in the forest. As for the aim, the dictatorship’s motto for the project spoke volumes: “Occupy to avoid surrender.” The military government argued that a thinly populated Amazon might create avenues for foreign powers to invade Brazilian territory. “One aspect of the doctrine said that Brazil could not leave any empty space, because it could threaten national security,” said João Roberto Martins Filho, a professor at the Federal University of São Carlos who has spent decades researching the dictatorship.

“The idea was that it was necessary to channel activity into regions with smaller population density, and this became a state policy.” Like all the other so-called development pushes into the Amazon, the results were catastrophic — for the forest itself, but especially for the communities who already lived amid it. One highway, for instance, was designed to travel from the city of Manaus, on the Amazon River, to nearly the northern edge of the basin. “The highway is irreversible, for the integration of the Amazon into the country,” the army’s Col. João Tarcísio Cartaxo Arruda, who led the construction battalion, said in 1975, according to a document made available by the National Truth Commission.

“This road is important and must be constructed, whatever the cost. We will not change its layout, and the only burden for our battalions will be to pacify the Indians.” That pacification came through so-called demonstrations of force — using machine guns, grenades, and dynamite — against the Waimiri-Atroari tribe. In these moves and others like it, thousands of Indigenous people were massacred. In 1972, the Waimiri-Atroari had a population of 3,000; by 1983, their number was reduced to 350. The National Truth Commission estimates that at least 8,350 Indigenous people were killed by the military government.

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The beauty of aging and death. Perhaps that only exists for those who leave behind a better world then they were born in.

Paraphrased: a society is doing well when old men plant trees whose shadow they know they will never sit in.

What If This is as Good as It Gets? (Tritschler)

Whilst humans developed a limited life span and an acute awareness of that fact, the Turritopsis dohrnii, though it is in no way self-aware, developed the ability to reverse its ontogeny, to turn back its life cycle in times of threat – be it environmental or simply the threat of old age. Many might begrudge the fact this ability had been bestowed on a bobbing blob of mindless jelly. Indeed, a variety of life forms are envied for their selective advantages – speed, strength, flight, longevity, regeneration, and perhaps also that living-in-the-moment quality associated with blissful ignorance: lacking awareness of their mortality, animal kingdom dwellers are unperturbed by advancing years, and live their lives to the last breath in simple pursuit of food, play and romance.

Consciousness of selfhood, of our place in the universe, and of our relationship with all living things, comes at a cost: the certainty of our demise and, what is often worse, the demise of others. This uniquely human grasp of the inevitability of death, and of the fact it can occur without warning, embodies the potential for immense psychological distress – we share with all animals, after all, the drive for self-preservation – but it also carries the potential for a richly meaningful and purposeful life, and research appears to support this.

A growing body of experimental evidence derived from Terror Management Theory, an approach that emerged from within existential social psychology, suggests increased awareness of mortality leads, correspondingly, to increased investment in those resources that provide meaning – social and cultural structures such as family, community and social identities – and that this in turn reduces the fear of death. But if pondering death can bring a sense of purpose, of meaning, and perhaps a degree of happiness to one’s life, might pondering the issues of age do the same?

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Sep 182019
 
 September 18, 2019  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Henri Matisse Antibes 1908

 

Fed Concludes First Repo In A Decade Amid Liquidity Panic (ZH)
Big Banks Score Win As FDIC Proposes Easing Post-Crisis Derivatives Rules (R.)
Oil Steadies After Saudi Pledges To Restore Output Lost In Attacks (R.)
Without Accountability, There Can Never Be Trust in Our Government (Cates)
House Panel Asks Boeing CEO To Testify October 30 on 737 MAX (R.)
Ethiopian Crash Victims Want 737 MAX Documents From Boeing, FAA (R.)
Editorial Mistake My Ass (Mish)
Democrats Urge New Probe Of Kavanaugh, Impeachment Inquiry (R.)
Trudeau Reassures Allies Amid Alleged Spying Case (BBC)
Catastrophic Effects Of Working As A Facebook Moderator (G.)
US Government Is Suing Edward Snowden For His Book Profits (Verge)

 

 

Oh yeah, let’s save the bankers again….

Fed Concludes First Repo In A Decade Amid Liquidity Panic (ZH)

Update 4: It’s over: after a torrid 30 minutes in which the NY Fed first announced a repo operation, then announced the repo was canceled due to technical difficulties, then mysterious the difficulties went away just minutes later, at precisely 10:10am, the Fed concluded its first repo operation in a decade, which while not topping out at the $75 billion max, was nonetheless a significant $53.15 billion, split as follows: • $40.85BN with TSYs as collateral at a 2.1% stop out rate • $0.6BN with Agencies as collateral at a 3.0% stop out rate • $11.7BN with Mortgage-backed securities as collateral at a 2.1% stop out rate. While the Fed did not disclose how many banks participated in the operation, it is safe to say it was a sizable number.


Worse, the result from today’s unexpected repo operation, we can now conclude that in addition to $1.3 trillion in ‘excess reserves’, a Fed which is now cutting rates and will cut rates by 25bps tomorrow, the US financial system somehow found itself with a liquidity shortfall of $53 billion that almost paralyzed the interbank funding market. Oh, and for those wondering why the Fed did a repo, the answer is simple: it did not want to launch QE just yet. But make no mistake, once repo is insufficient, the Fed will have no choice but to escalate to the next step which is open market purchases. Which brings us to the bigger question of how long such overnight repos will satisfy the market, and how long before the next repo rate spike prompts the Fed to do the inevitable, and restart QE. At least president Trump will be delighted.

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And while we’re saving their multi-million bonuses, let’s throw them some more bones,..

Big Banks Score Win As FDIC Proposes Easing Post-Crisis Derivatives Rules (R.)

A U.S. banking regulator on Tuesday proposed easing a rule requiring banks to set aside cash to safeguard derivatives trades between affiliates, marking one of the biggest wins for Wall Street lenders under the business-friendly Trump administration. The proposal, by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, could potentially free $40 billion across the nation’s largest banks, according to a 2018 survey by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), the global trade group that has been lobbying for the rule change for years.


The proposal is subject to public comment and will likely face resistance from Democratic lawmakers and consumer groups, who have warned that chipping away at regulations put in place following the 2007-2009 financial crisis could sew the seeds of the next one. Countries across the globe introduced a slew of rules to rein in the global over-the-counter derivatives market after big bets on credit swaps brought firms including Lehman Brothers and AIG to their knees.

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Was there any damage at all? Didn’t I read that they hit a bunch of empty tanks?

Oil Steadies After Saudi Pledges To Restore Output Lost In Attacks (R.)

Oil prices were little changed on Wednesday, steadying after Saudi Arabia said it will restore by the end of the month production lost in weekend attacks on its facilities. Prices plummeted 6% on Tuesday after Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said the country had managed to restore oil supplies to customers to where they stood before the attacks on its facilities that shut 5% of global oil output by drawing from its huge inventories. But tension in the region remained elevated after the United States said it believed the attacks on the world’s top oil exporter originated in southwestern Iran. Iran has denied involvement in the strikes.


Brent crude oil futures were flat at $64.55 a barrel by 0732 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures were down 15 cents, or 0.1%, to $59.19 a barrel, after sinking 5.7% on Tuesday. “Considering limited spare (production) capacity outside Saudi Arabia and risks of renewed attacks on Saudi energy infrastructure, a risk premium is likely to stay on oil prices in the foreseeable future,” UBS analysts said in a note. Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Tuesday that average oil production in September and October would be 9.89 million barrels per day and that the world’s top oil exporter would ensure full oil supply commitments to its customers this month.

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Not sure Bill Barr is your man.

Without Accountability, There Can Never Be Trust in Our Government (Cates)

The Watergate scandal, at its heart, was about political operatives working on behalf of the Nixon administration (informally known as “The Plumbers”) attempting to plant bugs in the phones of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, so they could spy on key Democratic campaign communications. A little-remembered fact is that bugs had been successfully planted earlier; the burglars were returning to plant a new set in the phones because the first set never worked properly. It was during this second foray into DNC headquarters in the middle of the night that they were caught by an observant security guard.

So the Watergate scandal was based on an attempt to spy on political opponents, but no evidence ever surfaced that any successful spying was actually done. The first set of listening devices never functioned, and the operatives were caught while trying to replace them. That won’t be the case in the Spygate scandal, because this wasn’t an off-the-books dirty tricks group like The Plumbers running an operation against the Trump campaign. This was the federal government itself, making use of the official engines of its intelligence and law enforcement agencies and surveillance courts to spy on a political campaign and, then, a presidency. And it’s because this scandal is so much worse than Watergate that the persons responsible for it must be held accountable for their actions.

[..] The crimes here amount to a deliberate attempt to subvert the federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies and turn them into political engines of partisan policy to shield political friends and destroy political enemies. After covering up serious crimes committed by their political friends, these key government officials used their offices to manufacture crimes to use as a pretext to investigate and punish their political enemies. Unless this behavior is punished with the utmost severity, no one will ever be able to place trust in the federal government. The ball of accountability will soon end up in the court of U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

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I for one have little faith in Congress in this case. Not that I have much faith in Congress in general.

House Panel Asks Boeing CEO To Testify October 30 on 737 MAX (R.)

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee formally asked Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg on Tuesday to testify on the now grounded 737 MAX that has been involved in two deadly crashes since October 2018 that killed 346 people. The panel’s chair, Representative Peter DeFazio, also asked John Hamilton, the chief engineer of Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes division, to appear. Both executives have been asked to testify on Oct. 30. Last week, DeFazio asked Muilenburg to make several employees available for interviews as part of a congressional probe into the design, development and certification of 737 MAX aircraft. “Boeing has received the Committee’s invitation and is reviewing it now. We will continue to cooperate with Congress and regulatory authorities as we focus on safely returning the MAX to service,” a Boeing representative said in a statement.

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But will they get them? Boeing will just claim they would reveal company secrets.

Ethiopian Crash Victims Want 737 MAX Documents From Boeing, FAA (R.)

A lawyer for victims of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 said on Tuesday he wants Boeing Co and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to hand over documents about the decision to keep the Boeing 737 MAX in the air after a deadly Lion Air crash last October. A week after Lion Air Flight 610 nose-dived into the Java Sea, killing all 189 aboard, the FAA warned airlines that erroneous inputs from an automated flight control system’s sensors could lead the jet to automatically pitch its nose down, but the agency allowed the jets to continue flying. Five months later, the same system was blamed for playing a role when ET302 crashed on March 10, killing all 157 passengers and crew and prompting a worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX that remains in place.


“The decisions to keep those planes in service are key,” Robert Clifford of Clifford Law Offices, which represents families of the Ethiopian crash victims, said at a status hearing before U.S. Judge Jorge Alonso in Chicago. Nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against Boeing by at least a dozen law firms representing families of the Ethiopian Airlines crash victims, who came from 35 different countries, including nine U.S. citizens and 19 Canadians. Families of about 60 victims have yet to file lawsuits but plaintiffs’ lawyers said they anticipate more to come. Most of the lawsuits do not make a specific dollar claim, though Ribbeck Law Chartered has said its clients are seeking more than $1 billion.

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The entire Kavanaugh thing is empty, just two women trying to sell a book. Trump said he should sue them. But as a Supreme Court judge, perhaps he shouldn’t.

Editorial Mistake My Ass (Mish)

As details emerge in the New York Times Kavanaugh scandal, it’s very clear the NYT repeatedly made serious errors On September 14, the New York Times resurrected unsubstantiated and graphic rumors about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in a purposeful smear article Brett Kavanaugh Fit In With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not. The article was by disgraced NYT authors Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly to promote their upcoming book “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation.” I do not normally report on sleaze but to understand what the NYT did, I have to. Here is one controversial paragraph: “We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.”


The NYT later added this correction. “The book reports that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident. That information has been added to the article.” Making matters worse for itself, the NYT came out and blamed it all on an “editing error”. Reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly said in an interview on MSNBC that they wrote in the draft of their Sunday Review piece that a woman who Kavanaugh was said to have exposed himself to while a student at Yale had told others she had no recollection of the alleged incident. Their editors, they say, removed the reference. “It was just sort of. . . in the haste of the editing process,” said Pogrebin.

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But this is where the non-story leads to. Kamala seeks a way to reinvent her campaign, the rest just follows.

Democrats Urge New Probe Of Kavanaugh, Impeachment Inquiry (R.)

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris on Tuesday urged a House of Representatives panel to investigate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while a Democratic lawmaker filed an impeachment resolution in the wake of new allegations of sexual misconduct by the conservative judge when he was in college in the 1980s. The moves by Harris, one of 20 Democratic presidential candidates, and Representative Ayanna Pressley, a progressive on the left of the party, signaled impatience among some Democrats with congressional leaders unenthusiastic about pursuing Kavanaugh’s impeachment, though their efforts appeared unlikely to spur action.

Harris said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that the panel should “hold Mr. Kavanaugh accountable for his prior conduct and testimony.” Nadler on Monday faulted the FBI’s probe of prior sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh ahead of his narrow confirmation by the Senate in October 2018, saying in a radio interview it “apparently was a sham.” But Nadler also said his panel had its “hands full” with investigating Republican President Donald Trump. In her letter to Nadler, Harris suggested the House Judiciary Committee could create a task force and retain outside counsel if it did not have the time or resources to pursue an inquiry of Kavanaugh now.

Harris and several other Democratic presidential candidates called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment after the New York Times published an essay over the weekend detailing what it described as a previously unreported incident of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. Others include former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke.

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Only a Five Eyes spy chief. And whaddaya know, there’s Bill Browder again. See from yesteday: The Magnitskiy Myth Exploded.

Trudeau Reassures Allies Amid Alleged Spying Case (BBC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has moved to reassure allies in the wake of an alleged spying case with possible international implications. A senior intelligence official was charged last week with violating national security laws. Cameron Ortis had access to information coming from Canada’s global allies, the RCMP national police force said. Canada is in close contact with its intelligence partners over the case, Mr Trudeau says. “We are in direct communications with our allies on security,” the prime minister said while campaigning in Newfoundland on Tuesday. “We are also working with them to reassure them, but we want to ensure that everyone understands that we are taking this situation very seriously.” Canada is a member of the Five Eyes – the intelligence alliance that also includes the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.


Mr Ortis, who was a director general with the police force’s intelligence unit, is accused of breaching the Security of Information Act and the Criminal Code. The charges filed against him include the “unauthorised communication of special operational information”, possessing a device or software “useful for concealing the content of information or for surreptitiously communicating, obtaining or retaining information”, and breach of trust by a public officer. [..] Mr Ortis was looking into allegations that Russian tax fraudsters had laundered millions of dollars through Canada, a US financier told Reuters. Bill Browder, a high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he had met Mr Ortis twice in Canada in 2017 after alerting the RCMP to the matter.

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What exactly would you say is Facebook’s role in our society? How about in your life?

Catastrophic Effects Of Working As A Facebook Moderator (G.)

They describe being ground down by the volume of the work, numbed by the graphic violence, nudity and bullying they have to view for eight hours a day, working nights and weekends, for “practically minimum pay”. A little-discussed aspect of Facebook’s moderation was particularly distressing to the contractors: vetting private conversations between adults and minors that have been flagged by algorithms as likely sexual exploitation. Such private chats, of which “90% are sexual”, were “violating and creepy”, one moderator said. “You understand something more about this sort of dystopic society we are building every day,” he added. “We have rich white men from Europe, from the US, writing to children from the Philippines … they try to get sexual photos in exchange for $10 or $20.”


Gina, a contractor, said: “I think it’s a breach of human rights. You cannot ask someone to work fast, to work well and to see graphic content. The things that we saw are just not right.” The workers, whose names have been changed, were speaking on condition of anonymity because they had signed non-disclosure agreements with Facebook. Daniel, a former moderator, said: “We are a sort of vanguard in this field … It’s a completely new job, and everything about it is basically an experiment.” John, his former colleague, said: “I’m here today because I would like to avoid other people falling into this hole. As a contemporary society, we are running into this new thing – the internet – and we have to find some rules to deal with it.

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Pay him in Bitcoin.

US Government Is Suing Edward Snowden For His Book Profits (Verge)

The Justice Department has filed a civil lawsuit against Edward Snowden that would recover all proceeds of his recently released memoir, the department announced on Tuesday. The charges coincide with the official publication of the book, which is titled Permanent Record. Snowden’s memoir was allegedly not submitted to the CIA or NSA for pre-publication review, a required practice among former employees of intelligence agencies. As such, the department considers the book a breach of Snowden’s fiduciary obligations, and names the publishers as co-defendants in the suit.


Given the still-classified programs and materials discussed in the memoir, it is unlikely that the book would have been approved for publication by the agencies. Snowden remains a de facto fugitive from the US government, and would likely face charges under the Espionage Act if he returned to the country. But the new civil case could nonetheless cause problems for Snowden, potentially enjoining his publishers from releasing any of the proceeds from the book. Crucially, the suit does not seek to block the release of Snowden’s memoir, as doing so would be illegal under the First Amendment.

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From Notes on the Next War, 1935

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 302019
 


Marc Chagall The soldier drinks 1912

 

We Have A Russian Asset Sitting In The Oval Office (BI)
China Rejected Hong Kong Plan To Appease Protesters (R.)
Hong Kong Police Ban Upcoming Rally Citing Public Order Concerns (HKFP)
Saturday Protest Canceled In Hong Kong After Sudden Arrest Of Key Activists (ZH)
Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong Arrested In Crackdown On Protests (R.)
No Need Yet For Hong Kong To Use Emergency Powers: Senior Official (R.)
Hong Kong Emergency Powers ‘Would Be Used In A Measured Way’ – Adviser (SCMP)
I’m Going To Court To Stop Proroguing Parliament (Gina Miller)
BNP Paribas Plans Bid For Deutsche Bank’s Equity Derivatives (R.)
In Search of a Russiagate Scalp: The Entrapment of Maria Butina (Kiriakou)
Australia’s High Household Debt Could Complicate Rate Decisions – RBA (R.)
Australia Downgrades Outlook For Great Barrier Reef To ‘Very Poor’ (AFP)
The Amazon Is Not Earth’s Lungs (Atl.)

 

 

The echo chamber continues unabated. It answers only to itself. James Comey even demands apologies after leaking internal FBI info to get Mueller started.

We Have A Russian Asset Sitting In The Oval Office (BI)

“It’s hard to see the bar anymore since it’s been pushed so far down the last few years, but President Trump’s behavior over the weekend was a new low.” That was the assessment an FBI agent who works in counterintelligence gave Insider of President Donald Trump’s performance at this year’s G7 summit in Biarritz, France. The agent requested anonymity because they feared that speaking publicly on the matter would jeopardize their job. Trump’s attendance at the G7 summit was peppered with controversy, but none was more notable than his fervent defense of Russia’s military and cyber aggression around the world, and its violation of international law in Ukraine.

Trump repeatedly refused to hold Russia accountable for annexing Crimea in 2014, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s move to annex it, expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and castigated other G7 members for not giving the country a seat at the table. Since being booted from the G8 after annexing Crimea, Russia’s done little to make up for its actions. In fact, by many accounts, it’s stepped up its aggression. In addition to continuing to encroach on Ukraine, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US election and was behind the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in the UK. US officials also warn that as the 2020 election looms, the Russians are stepping up their cyberactivities against the US and have repeatedly tried to attack US power grids.

“What in God’s name made Trump think it would be a good idea to ask to bring Russia back to the table?” the FBI agent told Insider. “How does this serve US national-security interests?” Trump’s advocacy for Russia is renewing concerns among intelligence veterans that Trump may be a Russian “asset” who can be manipulated or influenced to serve Russian interests, although some also speculate that Trump could just be currying favor for future business deals. A former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was FBI director, didn’t mince words when reacting to Trump’s performance at the G7 summit: “We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.”

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Lots of Hong Kong today. Let’s start here.

China Rejected Hong Kong Plan To Appease Protesters (R.)

Earlier this summer, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, submitted a report to Beijing that assessed protesters’ five key demands and found that withdrawing a contentious extradition bill could help defuse the mounting political crisis in the territory. The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. China’s role in directing how Hong Kong handles the protests has been widely assumed, supported by stern statements in state media about the country’s sovereignty and protesters’ “radical” goals.

Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest. The Chinese central government has condemned the protests and accused foreign powers of fuelling unrest. The Foreign Ministry has repeatedly warned other nations against interfering in Hong Kong, reiterating that the situation there is an “internal affair.” Lam’s report on the tumult, made before an Aug. 7 meeting in Shenzhen about Hong Kong led by senior Chinese officials that examined the feasibility of the five demands of the protesters, analyzing how conceding to some of these might quiet things down, the individuals with direct knowledge said.

In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the other demands analyzed in the report were: an independent inquiry into the protests; fully democratic elections; dropping of the term “riot” in describing protests; and dropping charges against those arrested so far. The withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry were seen to be the most feasible politically, according to a senior government official in the Hong Kong administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the move was envisioned as helping pacify some of the more moderate protesters who have been angered by Lam’s silence.

[..] The extradition bill is one of the key issues that has helped drive the protests, which have drawn millions of people into the streets of Hong Kong. Lam has said the bill is “dead,” but has refused to say explicitly that it has been “withdrawn.” Beijing told Lam not to withdraw the bill, or to launch an inquiry into the tumult, including allegations of excessive police force, according to the senior government official. Another of the three individuals, who has close ties with senior officials in Hong Kong and also declined to be identified, confirmed the Hong Kong government had submitted the report. “They said no” to all five demands, said the source. “The situation is far more complicated than most people realize.”

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Question is: how many people will come out? Some rallies saw 1.5 million of the city’s 7.5 million on the streets.

Hong Kong Police Ban Upcoming Rally Citing Public Order Concerns (HKFP)

Hong Kong police have banned both a rally and a march organised by the Civil Human Rights Front planned for Saturday, according to the group’s convener Jimmy Sham. It marked the first time that an entire event organised by the pro-democracy coalition has been prohibited owing to concerns over public order. Sham said police had cited previous confrontations between protesters and police as the reason for the ban. The event was themed around reiterating the five core demands of anti-extradition law protesters on the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s decision to impose restrictive measures on Hong Kong elections. The original plan was to rally at Chater Garden at 2:30pm then march to the China Liaison Office in Sai Wan at 3pm.


Sham said the Front will appeal the decision after speaking with lawyers: “We did not see a very clear reason [to ban the protest] in the objection letter,” he said. “We will discuss ways for residents to exercise their right to protest in a safe and legal way,” he added. “[Chief Executive] Carrie Lam has not allowed Hong Kong to return to calm, but she has used different means to make Hong Kong people even angrier.” The police previously banned the Front’s march on August 18, citing public security concerns, but approved a static rally at Victoria Park. However, protesters marched peacefully to Central nonetheless, without facing any police interference.

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China understands only fear, it would seem.

Saturday Protest Canceled In Hong Kong After Sudden Arrest Of Key Activists (ZH)

Summary: Saturday’s planned protest in Hong Kong has been canceled after the arrest of three of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest leaders on Friday; Joshua Wong, Andy Chan, and Agnes Chow. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon notes that the arrests are being described on Chinese media as a crackdown on “the activists who create chaos in Hong Kong.”

Update (0105ET): Saturday’s planned protest marking the fifth anniversary of the 2014 event which sparked the Umbrella Movement has been canceled, according to The Guardian. Bonnie Leung from the Civil Human Rights Front said: “The appeal board has just rejected our appeal. Our first principle is always to protect all the participants and make sure that no one could bear legal consequences because of participating in the protest that we organised. However, because of the appeal board’s decision, we can see no way that we can keep this principle and also continue our march and protest. Therefore the civil human rights front has no option but to cancel the march tomorrow.”

The Civil Human Rights Front would like to sincerely apologise to the public and hope you can understand what we explained and the difficulty we are facing. At the same time, we understand that the right to march and the right to protest is a human right and is very important to Hong Kong people. The CHRF will continue to apply for marches and apply for rallies. “I think the police are using all kinds of excuses to arrest all kinds of people including us. They arrested Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow this morning so there is a real danger we could face the same consequences as well. We will try our best to preserve CHRF as a legal organiser. If we do otherwise, the police may use that as an excuse to give us even more trouble in the future,” she added.

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He’s like the guy in front of the tank in Tiananmen.

Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong Arrested In Crackdown On Protests (R.)

Wong, the icon of pro-democracy demonstrations five years ago that foreshadowed the latest turbulence, is the highest-profile arrest since protests escalated in mid-June over fears Beijing was exerting greater control over the city. Two other prominent activists, Andy Chan and Agnes Chow, have also been detained. The bespectacled Wong, who was 17 when he became the face of the student-led Umbrella Movement, has not been a prominent figure in current protests which have no identifiable leaders. He was released from jail in June after serving a five-week term for contempt of court. “He was suddenly pushed into a private car on the street,” Wong’s political party Demosisto, which advocates for greater democracy in Hong Kong, said on its official Twitter account.


“He has now been escorted to the police headquarters in Wan Chai,” it said. Demosisto’s lawyers were working on the case, it said. Police said Wong and Chow, both 22, were arrested on Friday on suspicion of “organizing unorganized assembly” and “knowingly participating in unauthorized assembly”. Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party that was banned last September, was arrested at Hong Kong’s international airport on Thursday on suspicion of “participating in riots” and “attacking police” during a protest on July 13, police said. Police have refused permission for a pro-democracy march on Saturday and an appeal by organizers to allow the demonstration to proceed was turned down on Friday.

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If they don’t respond to the protesters’ demands, they will have no choice.

No Need Yet For Hong Kong To Use Emergency Powers: Senior Official (R.)

Hong Kong is a long way from having to declare emergency powers or to ask the Chinese military to intervene, a senior official with China’s parliament and pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician told Reuters, as months of protests show no sign of abating. Hong Kong has been engulfed in angry and sometimes violent protests against the government since mid-June, sparked by a now-suspended extradition bill and concerns that Beijing was trying to bring the territory under greater mainland control. Police fired water cannon and tear gas at anti-government demonstrators on Sunday, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned later that authorities would be forced to stamp down on the escalating violence.

Maria Tam, deputy director of the Chinese parliament’s Basic Law Committee, told Reuters in Beijing late on Thursday emergency legislation was not something for which Hong Kong’s government would have to ask Beijing’s permission. “The emergency legislation is something that is left behind by the colonial British government. It’s nothing to do with the Basic Law. It’s entirely in the power of the highly autonomous region,” Tam said, referring to the mini-constitution under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 return to China.

“At the moment there are still plenty of tools. We have different articles in the police force ordinance and articles in the public order ordinance which we can still invoke to control the situation. We haven’t got to the stage when we really have to engage in enacted laws by the chief executive with the executive council to, for example, enact anti-mask or interception of internet messages. We’re quite a distance from that,” she said. However, there may come a stage when Hong Kong has to do this, Tam said. “I think if its come to the stage when all the other ordinances I have mentioned have failed to work, then I suppose the chief executive may have to consider it,” she said.

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China needs Hong Kong as a trade center.

Hong Kong Emergency Powers ‘Would Be Used In A Measured Way’ – Adviser (SCMP)

The use of any emergency powers at the government’s disposal to end Hong Kong’s escalating protest crisis would have to come in a measured way rather than a blanket crackdown, to protect the city’s status as an international financial centre, a top adviser to the city’s embattled leader said on Wednesday. However, Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan said that while Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration had the option of using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, the city was nowhere near requiring such a move, which would grant the power to seize property or shut down the internet.

Chan was speaking at the latest China Conference organised by the South China Morning Post, this time focusing on Beijing’s ambitious Greater Bay Area (GBA) plan in the context of Hong Kong’s advantages and challenges. The GBA national plan is to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine other Guangdong cities into a financial and technological powerhouse to rival Silicon Valley by 2035, with the two special administrative regions playing a leading role on the strength of the unique “one country, two systems” policy under which they are governed.

[..] he cautioned that speculative news reports were unnecessarily inciting fear, and suggested the government would not turn the city upside down overnight. “I know in some countries they decide to shut down the whole internet, that’s crazy, that would be so unhelpful for all the businesspeople in Hong Kong,” Chan said. “I think whatever decision we make, it has to be very measured, and equitable, and lawful.”

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One of many court cases. They appear to be too many in too many different courts for now. Focus!

I’m Going To Court To Stop Proroguing Parliament (Gina Miller)

My legal team and I have been in communication with Johnson’s legal advisers since early July. They repeatedly and comprehensively reassured me that prorogation was not an option for him, and that the whole issue was of no more than “academic” interest. I was therefore stunned by the announcement on Tuesday, not least because their last reply to us was on Monday evening. Lies are being told, professional rules broken, and a ruthless prime minister is subjecting our unwritten constitution to stresses that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

As a country we have more of a political constitution than a legal one, and as such it operates via conventions and precedents. I believe those conventions and precedents mean that prorogation is not to be used in the manner Johnson has announced, and disagree with the views of the eminent former supreme court justice Jonathan Sumption when he says this is not a matter for the courts. The effect of a prorogation of this length will be to prevent parliament from fulfilling its statutory duty to scrutinise any agreement between the UK and the EU. When you add to this the fact that the government must exercise its prerogative powers in good faith, I believe there is a legal principle at stake that qualifies for judicial review. I also think that Sumption has failed to take account of the evolutionary nature of the UK constitution, and that in these unprecedented constitutional times, the legal arguments involved can also be expected to be unprecedented.

The charge the Johnson government is making against me is that I am using the courts to subvert the will of the people. But a no-deal Brexit was never the will of the people, and at no point during the EU referendum campaign did the people authorise any government to abandon not just parliamentary democracy, but the laws of the land. Our laws are ultimately all that protect us from tyranny, and before them we are all equal – prime ministers and private citizens alike. Even against the desperate time constraints imposed upon us, I am hopeful that the courts will be able to check the omnipotent power Johnson wants for himself.

• Gina Miller is a businesswoman and transparency activist, and is taking legal action to prevent Boris Johnson proroguing parliament.

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For how many pennies on the dollar?

BNP Paribas Plans Bid For Deutsche Bank’s Equity Derivatives (R.)

French lender BNP Paribas plans to bid for Deutsche Bank’s equity derivatives book and is hopeful it can beat off rival bidders to secure a deal in the next few weeks, according to sources familiar with the matter. Deutsche Bank is selling the portfolio as part of a restructuring that will see it exit equities trading and other unwanted businesses and shed 18,000 staff globally. CEO Christian Sewing is hoping the plan will turn around the bank, whose shares hit a record low this month. Deutsche Bank plans to auction its equity derivatives portfolio next month having received significant expressions of interest from banks, private equity firms and hedge funds, the sources told Reuters. It may sell the book in separate tranches rather than in its entirety, they said.

BNP is already close to taking control of Deutsche Bank’s prime brokerage business, which serves hedge fund clients. A preliminary deal was struck in July which is expected to be formalized early next month. Any equity derivatives deal would be separate from that transaction, the sources said. Reuters reported last month that Deutsche Bank’s derivatives exposure is tying up capital that could have generated income of 500 million euros a year. Reuters also reported the bank has set aside over 1 billion euros to cover the cost of offloading derivatives moved to its so-called “bad bank,” or capital restructuring unit to be wound down or sold.

The restructuring has seen the bank hive off 288 billion euros of assets into the bad bank. Equities, including equity derivatives, accounted for around 170 billion euros of those assets. Fixed-income assets, including long-dated interest rate and credit derivatives, accounted for 79 billion euros. The equity derivatives are short-dated and expected to attract a lot of interest from buyers, meaning Deutsche Bank may not have to take a discount to offload them. The bank’s longer-dated interest rate and credit derivatives are expected to be much harder to sell, as they require high levels of capital to be held against them, and could require deep writedowns [..]

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More Comey.

In Search of a Russiagate Scalp: The Entrapment of Maria Butina (Kiriakou)

Forgive me if this is burying the lede, but I also want to talk about how Maria Butina got into this predicament in the first place. We know that she was very active in the gun rights movement in both Russia and the U.S. and that she sought to improve contact between gun groups in both countries. We also know that she met and began dating Patrick Byrne, the founder and CEO of Overstock.com. We learned recently, thanks to Byrne himself, that he was a longtime FBI source and that the FBI directed him to begin dating Butina. He did so. And he reported back to the FBI that she was simply a graduate student. That wasn’t good enough for the FBI, though and, according to Byrne, he was instructed to go back to Butina, to begin a sexual relationship with her, and to again report back to the FBI. He did that, too.

In the end, the Justice Department accused her publicly of “trading sexual favors” for access, an accusation that prosecutors had to withdraw. It was patently untrue. But that didn’t stop them from accusing her in the press of being a Russian spy, which she was not. And it didn’t stop the judge from giving her three times the maximum sentence called for by the sentencing guidelines. I will ask your forgiveness again if I sound like a broken record. But this is how the FBI makes their cases. They entrap people. I’ve written extensively about how the FBI brazenly carried out a sting operation against me (unsuccessfully) that could have resulted in an espionage conviction and as much as 30 years in prison. They did the same thing to Butina.

Butina wasn’t committing a crime, so they just made something up, leaked it to the press, allowed it to influence the public and the judge, and hoped she would cave and take a plea. She did. Byrne went on CNN last week to say that two of the three people who instructed him to do all of this were James Comey, Peter Strzok, and another as-yet-unnamed individual. The operation was hatched at the top. The whole story sickens me.

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EU countries with high household debt are out of luck. They don’t make their own decisions.

Australia’s High Household Debt Could Complicate Rate Decisions – RBA (R.)

High household debt in Australia could make the economy less resilient to shocks and complicate future interest rate decisions, the country’s central bank said on Friday. A long boom in Australia’s housing market that ended in 2017 had sent the household debt to income ratio to all-time highs, prompting regulators to tighten bank lending standards which in-turn led to home prices crumbling. The recent property downturn together with miserly wage growth have squeezed household balance sheets and hurt consumer spending, a major reason why the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) cut interest rates twice since June to a record low of 1%.


“Movements in asset values and leverage may be more important for economic developments than in the past given the already high levels of debt on household balance sheets,” the RBA said in its 2019/20 corporate plan. The household debt to income ratio is above 190%, among the highest in the developed world. “Especially in the context of weak growth in household income, high debt levels could complicate future monetary policy decisions by making the economy less resilient to shocks,” it added.

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First you destroy, then you downgrade.

Australia Downgrades Outlook For Great Barrier Reef To ‘Very Poor’ (AFP)

The long-term outlook for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was downgraded to “very poor” for the first time Friday by the official agency charged with managing the world heritage site. In its latest five-yearly report on the health of the world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority singled out rising sea temperatures due to climate change as the biggest threat to the giant organism. “The significant and large-scale impacts from record-breaking sea surface temperatures have resulted in coral reef habitat transitioning from poor to very poor condition,” the government agency said. It said “strong and effective management actions are urgent at global, regional and local scales” to rescue the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site.


“The Reef is core to Australia’s identity and improving its outlook is critical,” it said, adding that in addition to countering climate change, further action was needed to halt the run-off of agricultural pollutants into reef areas. “The window of opportunity to improve the reef’s long-term future is now,” it said. The conservative Australian government has faced criticism from environmentalists for favouring an expansion of its massive coal mining and export industry over action to curb climate change. Friday’s reef report coincided with the release of new government data showing that Australia’s emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change continued a four-year rising trend during the first half of 2019.

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Science counts.

The Amazon Is Not Earth’s Lungs (Atl.)

As tongues of flame lapped the planet’s largest tract of rain forest over the past few weeks, it has rightfully inspired the world’s horror. The entire Amazon could be nearing the edge of a desiccating feedback loop, one that could end in catastrophic collapse. This collapse would threaten millions of species, from every branch of the tree of life, each of them—its idiosyncratic splendor, its subjective animal perception of the world—irretrievable once it’s gone. This arson has been tacitly encouraged by a Brazilian administration that is determined to develop the rain forest, over the objections of its indigenous inhabitants and the world at large. Losing the Amazon, beyond representing a planetary historic tragedy beyond measure, would also make meeting the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement all but impossible.

World leaders need to marshal all their political and diplomatic might to save it. The Amazon is a vast, ineffable, vital, living wonder. It does not, however, supply the planet with 20 percent of its oxygen. As the biochemist Nick Lane wrote in his 2003 book Oxygen, “Even the most foolhardy destruction of world forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply, though in other respects such short-sighted idiocy is an unspeakable tragedy.” The Amazon produces about 6 percent of the oxygen currently being made by photosynthetic organisms alive on the planet today. But surprisingly, this is not where most of our oxygen comes from.

In fact, from a broader Earth-system perspective, in which the biosphere not only creates but also consumes free oxygen, the Amazon’s contribution to our planet’s unusual abundance of the stuff is more or less zero. This is not a pedantic detail. Geology provides a strange picture of how the world works that helps illuminate just how bizarre and unprecedented the ongoing human experiment on the planet really is. Contrary to almost every popular account, Earth maintains an unusual surfeit of free oxygen—an incredibly reactive gas that does not want to be in the atmosphere—largely due not to living, breathing trees, but to the existence, underground, of fossil fuels.

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Jun 252019
 


Pablo Picasso Minotauromachie 1935

 

Interest Rates Don’t Need To Rise Much To Cause Recessions Now (Colombo)
The Federal Reserve Is About To Create A Lot More Zombies (MW)
The Solution to Trump’s Iran Mayhem (FFF)
Iran Says New US Sanctions “Permanent Closure” Of Diplomacy (AFP)
Oil Prices Drop Amid Demand Worries, But US-Iran Tensions Support (R.)
Provoking Iran Could Start a War, Crash the Entire World Economy (Pieraccini)
House Party (Jim Kunstler)
Three Years After The Brexit Referendum, What Has Changed? (Coppola)
Firms Fear For Deliveries In Shipping Pollution Shakeup (R.)
‘Climate Apartheid’: UN Expert Says Human Rights May Not Survive (G.)

 

 

The shadow Fed Funds rate is already rising sharply. Wiggle room approaches zero.

Interest Rates Don’t Need To Rise Much To Cause Recessions Now (Colombo)

As a result of debt growing faster than our underlying economy, America’s debt as a percent of GDP soared from just over 150% in the early-1980s to approximately 350% in recent years. This higher debt burden is the reason why our economy simply cannot handle interest rates as high as they were before 2008. Particularly worrisome is the fact that U.S. federal debt is at a record of over 100% of the GDP (vs. 62% before the Great Recession), which will make it a much greater challenge to keep the economy afloat in the coming recession:

As the Fed Funds rate chart below shows, the interest rate threshold necessary to trigger recessions (recessions are designated by the gray bars) keeps falling as our debt burden increases:

Though many optimists are quick to point out that the benchmark Fed Funds rate was only increased from 0% to 2.5% during the current tightening cycle, the reality is that the current tightening cycle is even more aggressive than the past several cycles when the Fed Funds rate is adjusted for quantitative easing (this is known as the shadow Fed Funds rate). According to this methodology, interest rates have increased by the equivalent of 5.41% in the current cycle versus just 3.62% before the 2001 recession and 4.26% before the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009:

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It’s like hearing my own echo.

The Federal Reserve Is About To Create A Lot More Zombies (MW)

Long-term interest rates just fell off a cliff. And if you think they can’t keep falling, think again. Albert Edwards, a strategist at SG Securities, pointed out in a recent note that none of the experts surveyed by the Wall Street Journal at the start of the year predicted 10-year Treasury yields would fall below 2.5%. Current level: 2%. I guess we can toss those forecasting models out the window. He adds that mainstream economists have been saying for years that long-term rates would never end up at zero percent. Yet rates in Europe are now negative. People are paying half a percent a year for the privilege of lending money to the government of Switzerland. Even in the U.S., 10-year rates adjusted for inflation are only 0.29%. A generation ago, they were typically 2% or better.

Western economists used to say that zero percent rates were a weird and unique thing you only saw in Japan — like people eating raw puffer fish and hoping not to die. It would never catch on over here, they said. But they already have. Today European rates are even lower than those in Japan. When U.S. rates first collapsed in 2011-2012, we were assured it was a freak one-off event and was never going to happen again. When it happened again in 2016, we were told it was, well, a “two-off” event that was certainly never going to happen a third time. Now it’s happening a third time, and I guess we’re waiting for the official line on why, once again, this is just a temporary derangement and nothing to worry about.

But the Bank for International Settlements says there is something to worry about, and it’s the reason that economic growth, inflation and interest rates can’t get off the ground: zombies. No, I’m not making this up. The BIS says there are way too many zombies around, and they’re killing the economy, and it’s all the fault of low interest rates. We’re talking “corporate zombies,” of course. The BIS found that, ever since the 1980s, falling interest rates have made it easier and easier for bad companies with lousy management and terrible products and dismal prospects to stay in business long after they should have gone the way of all flesh. These “zombie” companies can stay alive — or whatever the correct term is for zombies — if they can just keep borrowing.

And when money gets cheaper, that’s great for zombies. Lower interest rates are correlated with rising numbers of zombie companies, the BIS found. And there are a lot of zombies around. The BIS reckons no fewer than 12% of the non-financial companies on major developed stock markets could be “zombie” companies, at least by a loose definition. This is an epidemic. In the early 1990s, the figure was about 2%.

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“Restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism. That’s the way to restore peace, prosperity, morality, harmony, normality, fiscal responsibility, and freedom to our land.”

The Solution to Trump’s Iran Mayhem (FFF)

Should the Nobel Peace Prize be awarded to a man who resolves his own crises and then chooses to kill innocent people with sanctions rather than bombs as a way to achieve a political end? Even a blind man can see that Trump’s actions toward Iran have been entirely belligerent, all with the aim of squeezing the Iranian citizenry and bullying their government officials into complying with his dictates or else face a “defensive” U.S. bombing attack. It’s helpful to remind ourselves of what happened here. Iran entered into a deal with the U.S. government under the presidency of Barrack Obama. Pursuant to the deal, Iran would agree not to acquire nuclear weapons and the U.S. government would lift the brutal U.S. sanctions that were impoverishing and even killing the Iranian citizenry.

Complying with the agreement, Iran gave up its nuclear weapons programs, fully expecting the U.S. government to comply with its end of the bargain by lifting its sanctions. Then Donald Trump entered the presidency and proceeded to immediately tear up the deal, knowing full well that Iran had compiled with it with the expectation that the U.S. government would fulfill its end of the bargain. Not only did Trump not lift the sanctions, he doubled down and began enforcing them even more brutally than Obama had. In other words, Iran was double-crossed by the U.S. government operating under Trump. (I wonder if North Korean officials are noticing this.)

[..] The problems began when the U.S. government abandoned its founding policies of a limited-government republic and non-interventionism and instead became a national-security state and embraced a foreign policy of empire and interventionism. This is what gave the country a huge, permanent military establishment, both domestically and in foreign countries. It also gave the nation assassinations, torture, coups, regime-change operations, alliances with dictatorial regimes, installation of dictatorial regimes, sanctions, embargoes, illegal invasions and occupations, undeclared wars, wars of aggression, terrorism, a war on terrorism, out-of-control spending and debt, and, of course, the destruction of American liberty and privacy.

[..] There is but one solution to all this mayhem: Restore America’s founding principles of a limited-government republic and its founding foreign policy of non-interventionism. That’s the way to restore peace, prosperity, morality, harmony, normality, fiscal responsibility, and freedom to our land.

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Sanctions as a military tool. May not be that wise.

Iran Says New US Sanctions “Permanent Closure” Of Diplomacy (AFP)

Iran said Tuesday US sanctions on its leaders represent the “permanent closure” of diplomacy with Washington, after President Donald Trump tightened the screws on a nation he has threatened with “obliteration”. “Imposing fruitless sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path to diplomacy with Trump’s desperate government,” ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet. Washington imposed new sanctions against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Monday ahead of blacklisting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later this week, its latest salvo in a tense standoff that has raised fears of a regional conflict.


“Trump’s government is destroying all established international mechanisms for keeping global peace and security,” he added. Tehran and Washington broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 over the hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran following Iran’s Islamic revolution. US President Donald Trump also imposed new sanctions Monday against top Iranian military chiefs, pressuring the country it has threatened with “obliteration” if a war breaks out.

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Oil prices fall in this climate. That’s remarkable.

Oil Prices Drop Amid Demand Worries, But US-Iran Tensions Support (R.)

Oil fell on Tuesday amid concerns over the outlook for crude demand, but prices were supported after Washington announced new sanctions on Iran amid mounting tensions in the Middle East. Benchmark Brent crude futures were down 34 cents, or 0.5%, at $64.52 a barrel by 0639 GMT. They dropped 0.5% on Monday. U.S. crude futures were down 24 cents, or 0.4%, at $57.66 a barrel. The U.S. benchmark rose 0.8% in the previous session. Brent climbed 5% last week and U.S. crude surged 10% after Iran shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday in the Gulf, adding to tensions stoked by attacks on oil tankers in the area in May and June. Washington has blamed the tanker attacks on Iran, which denies having any role.


U.S. President Donald Trump targeted Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top Iranian officials with sanctions on Monday, taking an unprecedented step to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of the drone. “This would appear to effectively rule out any talks or negotiations to end the crisis,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of energy and security consultancy Mathyos Advisory.

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Derivatives and oil again.

Provoking Iran Could Start a War, Crash the Entire World Economy (Pieraccini)

As if the political and military situation at this time were not tense and complex enough, the two most important power groups in the United States, the Fed and the military-industrial complex, both face problems that threaten to diminish Washington’s status as a world superpower. The Fed could find itself defending the role of the US dollar as the world reserve currency during any conflict in the Persian Gulf that would see the cost of oil rise to $300 a barrel, threatening trillions of dollars in derivativesand toppling the global economy. The military-industrial complex would in turn be involved in a war that it would struggle to contain and even win, destroying the United States’ image of invincibility and inflicting a mortal blow on its ability to project power to the four corners of the world.

Just look at how surprised US officials were about Iran’s capabilities to shot down an advanced US Drone: “Iran’s ability to target and destroy the high-altitude American drone, which was developed to evade the very surface-to-air missiles used to bring it down, surprised some Defense Department officials, who interpreted it as a show of how difficult Tehran can make things for the United States as it deploys more troops and steps up surveillance in the region.” The US dollar-based economy has a huge debt problem caused by post-2008 economic policies. All central banks have lowered interest rates to zero or even negative, thus continuing to feed otherwise dying economies.

The central bank of central banks, the Bank for International Settlements, an entity hardly known to most people, has stated in writing that “the outstanding notional amount of derivative contracts is 542 trillion dollars.” The total combined GDP of all the countries of the world is around 75 trillion dollars. With the dimensions of the problem thus understood, it is important to look at how Deutsche Bank (DB), one of the largest financial institutions in the world, is dealing with this. The German bank alone has assets worth about 40 trillion dollars in derivatives, or more than half of annual global GDP. Their solution, not at all innovative or effective, has been to create yet another bad bank into which to pour at least 50 billion dollars of long-term assets, which are clearly toxic.

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Don’t know what to call it? No worries, mate, Jim can help.

“..as if Mr. Biden might have been mistaken for a waiter in the senators’ dining room, with its old fashioned-ways and renowned bean soup.”

House Party (Jim Kunstler)

As the first of 12 presidential debates blows in at mid-week like an evil patch of bad summer weather, twenty candidates vie for the position of Ole Massa on the Democratic Party plantation, and the air is gravid with bad vibes. One highly-favored entry, Mayor Pete (Buttigieg) of charming South Bend, Indiana, stepped into (and tripped over) a big fresh patty of mule poop over the weekend at a “town hall” meeting that was called to address the June 16 shooting of one Eric Logan, 54, by a police officer dispatched to check out “a suspicious individual going through cars” at 2:30 a.m. The officer said the suspect came at him with a knife. The officer failed to switch on his body-cam, or so the police department said. Conclusions were jumped to. Then, in the wee hours just before Mayor Pete’s June 24 town hall, another black man was killed and 10 other people wounded in the shoot-up of a watering hole called Kelly’s Pub.

God knows what that was about — no police were involved in the shoot-up — but Mayor Pete caught the blame for it, of course, and the Sunday town hall meeting turned into a shriek-in by outraged “community” members. He was hardly allowed to admit his failures, issue apologies, and promise to do better. After the ordeal, Mayor Pete struggled to hold in his tears talking to the media. No doubt he will be pressured to keep ‘splainin’ these matters until either his campaign folds up its tent or he is anointed at the national convention in Milwaukee.

Leader-of-the-Pack (in the polls, anyway) Joe Biden stepped into it perhaps even deeper than Mayor Pete last week when he bragged about how well he was able to work with the old southern segregationist fossils, Herman Talmadge (GA) and James O. Eastland (MS), who were still around in the senate when “Uncle Joe” first came on the scene decades ago. “We didn’t agree on much,” the former Veep said, “but we got things done.” What’s more, the candidate averred, going perhaps a bridge too far, Senator Eastland “never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’” as if Mr. Biden might have been mistaken for a waiter in the senators’ dining room, with its old fashioned-ways and renowned bean soup.

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The divide has widened enormously. So much so that Brexit has become very dangerous.

Three Years After The Brexit Referendum, What Has Changed? (Coppola)

No-one should be fooled by the British media’s attempts to present this contest as a presidential battle like that between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. It is nothing of the kind. The people of the U.K. will have no say in who leads them. That will be decided by about 160,000 Tory party members, mainly old, white, rich and male. Representative of the population of the U.K., they are not. Both leadership candidates have offered tax policies designed to please these people. Boris Johnson’s proposal to cut taxes for the very rich and pay for it by raising payroll taxes was described by The Economist as “a shameless bribe to the elderly and prosperous Tory party members who choose the leader.”

Jeremy Hunt’s approach is more subtle: lowering corporation tax to match Ireland’s rate is still a bung to the rich, but it can be dressed up in supply-side economic language to give the impression of benefiting wider U.K. society. Americans might recall that President Trump’s corporate tax cuts were advertised as benefiting middle-income people through trickle-down effects, though they have primarily benefited the very rich. The Economist – hardly a bastion of lefty economics – was decidedly lukewarm about Hunt’s proposal, pointing out that corporation tax had already been cut considerably and it might be better to tax cashflows rather than profits.

But this contest is really about Brexit. Tory party members are overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU, and very frustrated by what they see as May’s delay. They want Brexit now, even if that means leaving with no deal. And they will vote for the candidate they think is most likely to deliver that regardless of the consequences. A recent poll showed that most of them would accept the breakup of the U.K. and/or the death of their own party as the price of Brexit.

Boris Johnson set up this scene of him and his girlfriend after reports of police being called to a big fight the two had. And then someone added a few words. Priceless.

 

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“This is expected to push up the price of diesel fuel for trucks by as much as 100 percent.”

Excellent. Needless transport is our biggest scourge.

Firms Fear For Deliveries In Shipping Pollution Shakeup (R.)

U.S. furniture company RC Willey Home Furnishings is so concerned that new global clean air rules will cause transport disruption that it brought forward the shipment of arm chairs and sofas from China by two months. The tougher regulations, set by the United Nations shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), come into force on Jan 1. Costs will rise for ships towards the end of this year and there will be a knock on effect for trucks and other transporters that move goods around the world. For shipping companies it is the biggest shakeup in decades and adds to the pressures of an economic slowdown and the threat of an escalating trade war between the United States and China.

While consumers are not expected to pay more for goods, higher transport bills and disruption to company deliveries could further dent economic growth. Ship owners must cut sulphur emissions to 0.5% from 3.5%. They can do this by using low-sulphur fuel, installing exhaust gas cleaning systems or opting for other, more expensive, clean fuels such as liquefied natural gas or traveling more slowly. Jeff Child, president of Berkshire Hathaway’s RC Willey Home Furnishings, moved the delivery of about 450 containers from September and October to July and August. He wants to avoid any disruption in the peak fourth quarter as ships prepare for the changes, including refitting equipment. “We just don’t want to get caught in a situation where it affects our inventory,” he told Reuters.

Analysts say the container industry, which transports consumer goods such as sofas, designer clothes and bananas, will be one of the worst hit with extra costs of about $10 billion. The world’s two biggest container shipping lines – Denmark’s Maersk and Swiss headquartered MSC – say they face annual extra costs of over $2 billion each. Twenty-five logistics company executives told Reuters they would pass along any IMO-related costs, such as ship upgrades or more expensive fuel, to customers. “The sulphur cap will further put pressure on ocean freight rates and we… will have to pass those costs on to remain competitive,” Peder Winther, global head of ocean freight with Swiss transportation company Panalpina Group said.

[..] “Higher fuel prices would result in higher transport costs,” said Peter Nagle, an economist with the World Bank’s Development Prospects Group. “This would have the potential to lead to slower economic growth and trade.” Trucking companies will also suffer. The IMO rules do not apply to them but they will face new competition from ships for lower sulfur fuel. This is expected to push up the price of diesel fuel for trucks by as much as 100 percent.

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But nobody listens to the UN anymore.

‘Climate Apartheid’: UN Expert Says Human Rights May Not Survive (G.)

The world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers, a report from a UN human rights expert has said. Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the impacts of global heating are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law. Alston is critical of the “patently inadequate” steps taken by the UN itself, countries, NGOs and businesses, saying they are “entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat”. His report to the UN human rights council (HRC) concludes: “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.”

The report also condemns Donald Trump for “actively silencing” climate science, and criticises the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, for promising to open up the Amazon rainforest to mining. But Alston said there were also some positive developments, including legal cases against states and fossil fuel companies, the activism of Greta Thunberg and the worldwide school strikes, and Extinction Rebellion. In May, Alston’s report on poverty in the UK compared Conservative party welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. Ministers said his report gave a completely inaccurate picture, but Alston accused them of “total denial of a set of uncontested facts”.

Alston’s report on climate change and poverty will be formally presented to the HRC in Geneva on Friday. It said the greatest impact of the climate crisis would be on those living in poverty, with many losing access to adequate food and water. “Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75% of the costs of the climate crisis, the report said, despite the poorest half of the world’s population causing just 10% of carbon dioxide emissions.

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Jun 242019
 


Pablo Picasso Sleeping girl 1935

 

Free Money Socialism (Henrich)
Iran Goes For “Maximum Counter-Pressure” (Escobar)
Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency ‘Poses Risks To Global Banking’ -BIS (G.)
Google’s Chrome Web Browser “Has Become Spy Software” (ZH)
Austerity, Inequality Fuelling Mental Illness – Top UN Envoy (G.)
Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats – and Vice Versa (Atl.)
400 Pilots Sue Boeing In Class Action Over 737 MAX Cover-Up (ABC.au)
How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean (BR)
Blow To Turkey’s Erdogan As Opposition Wins Big In Istanbul (R.)
Turkey Warns EU Not To Interfere On Cyprus EEZ Issue (K.)
Greek Armed Forces On Standby For Turkish Moves In East Med, Aegean (K.)

 

 

Very close to what I’ve been saying.

Free Money Socialism (Henrich)

According to Jay Powell the Fed’s primary mission is now to “sustain the economic expansion.” I’ve never used the term “manipulation” before, but let’s just be clear what “sustain the economic expansion” really means: To prevent natural market forces from taking hold. That’s manipulation. Business cycles are natural. They serve a purpose, they lay the foundation for new growth, they weed out the excess, they permit for a reset of an aging expansion, for a renewed flourishing of innovation, new solutions, creativity, and yes growth. Of course because of all this recessions bring about temporary pain, but nobody wants pain anymore, and hence central bankers with hero magazine covers have now taken on a new role, that of preventing a recession altogether.

No more cleansing, no more resets, but only ever more excess and propagating the notion that they alone can prevent the cleansing process from taking place with their favorite and only method: Free Money. Oh yes, the free money whores are here again. Hurry back into stocks: “Now, interest rates are coming down en masse. Investors who adjusted their portfolios for a high-rate environment must readjust. That means leaning into growth stocks again, scouring Asia for opportunities, and earning income from investments that won’t succumb to the low-rate trend and will also hold up in a shaky economy”. Barron’s calls the Fed flip flop “graceful”. I call it disgraceful.

Just stop. It’s 2019, wealth inequality is higher than ever, corporate debt is higher than ever, and growth is slowing. Innovation is hampered by a system that has benefitted the few which have grown into bloated monopolies, and the entire system itself remains held afloat by massive and ever more expending debt. After all there is zero intellectual integrity to anything that is being propagated. In recent times Fed chairs have bemoaned rising wealth inequality, oh how un-American it all is, and rising corporate debt being a threat to the economy, but then they proceed to again exacerbate both by promising more easy money, their default solution in the misguided attempt to bail investors out from all pain and any bad decisions.

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“The key in the analysis is what is called notional. They are so far out of the money that they are said to mean nothing. But in a crisis the notional can become real.”

Iran Goes For “Maximum Counter-Pressure” (Escobar)

The facts are stark. Tehran simply won’t accept all-out economic war lying down – prevented to export the oil that protects its economic survival. The Strait of Hormuz question has been officially addressed. Now it’s time for the derivatives. Presenting detailed derivatives analysis plus military analysis to global media would force the media pack, mostly Western, to go to Warren Buffett to see if it is true. And it is true. Soleimani, according to this scenario, should say as much and recommend that the media go talk to Warren Buffett. The extent of a possible derivatives crisis is an uber-taboo theme for the Washington consensus institutions. According to one of my American banking sources, the most accurate figure – $1.2 quadrillion – comes from a Swiss banker, off the record.

He should know; the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank of central banks – is in Basle. The key point is it doesn’t matter how the Strait of Hormuz is blocked. It could be a false flag. Or it could be because the Iranian government feels it’s going to be attacked and then sinks a cargo ship or two. What matters is the final result; any blocking of the energy flow will lead the price of oil to reach $200 a barrel, $500 or even, according to some Goldman Sachs projections, $1,000. Another US banking source explains; “The key in the analysis is what is called notional. They are so far out of the money that they are said to mean nothing.

But in a crisis the notional can become real. For example, if I buy a call for a million barrels of oil at $300 a barrel, my cost will not be very great as it is thought to be inconceivable that the price will go that high. That is notional. But if the Strait is closed, that can become a stupendous figure.” BIS will only commit, officially, to indicate the total notional amount outstanding for contracts in derivatives markers is an estimated $542.4 trillion. But this is just an estimate. The banking source adds, “Even here it is the notional that has meaning. Huge amounts are interest rate derivatives. Most are notional but if oil goes to a thousand dollars a barrel, then this will affect interest rates if 45% of the world’s GDP is oil. This is what is called in business a contingent liability.”

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“If even modestly successful, Libra would hand over much of the control of monetary policy from central banks to these private companies.”

Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency ‘Poses Risks To Global Banking’ -BIS (G.)

Facebook’s plan to operate its own digital currency poses risks to the international banking system that should trigger a speedy response from global policymakers, according to the organisation that represents the world’s central banks. Although the move of big tech firms such as Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba into financial services could speed up transactions and cut costs, especially in developing world countries, it could also undermine the stability of a banking system that has only just recovered from the crash of 2008. Echoing warnings from many tech experts, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said that while there were potential benefits to be made, the adoption of digital currencies outside the current financial system could reduce competition and create data privacy issues.

“The aim should be to respond to big techs’ entry into financial services so as to benefit from the gains while limiting the risks,” said Hyun Song Shin, economic adviser and head of research at BIS. “Public policy needs to build on a more comprehensive approach that draws on financial regulation, competition policy and data privacy regulation.” The warning from the BIS on Sunday comes only days after Facebook announced it would launch its own digital currency, Libra, in 2020. It will allow its billions of users to make financial transactions across the globe in a move that could potentially shake up the world’s banking system.

Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, last week added his voice to concerns being expressed over big tech’s move into finance, warning that Libra could shift power into the wrong hands. Hughes, who is co-chair of the Economic Security Project, an anti-poverty campaign group, said: “If even modestly successful, Libra would hand over much of the control of monetary policy from central banks to these private companies. If global regulators don’t act now, it could very soon be too late.”

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Very easy for a government to counter. Should make one suspicious as to why they don’t.

Google’s Chrome Web Browser “Has Become Spy Software” (ZH)

Google’s Chrome is essentially spy software according to Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler, who spent a week analyzing the popular browser and concluded that it “looks a lot like surveillance software.” Fowler has since switched to Mozilla’s Firefox because of its default privacy settings, and says that it was easier than one might imagine.

“My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality. Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages.

And that’s not the half of it.= Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail. -Washington Post”

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Iceland?!

Austerity, Inequality Fuelling Mental Illness – Top UN Envoy (G.)

Austerity, inequality and job insecurity are bad for mental health and governments should counteract them if they want to face up to the rising prevalence of mental illness, the UN’s top health envoy has said. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian to coincide with a hard-hitting report to be delivered to the UN in Geneva on Monday, Dr Dainius Puras said measures to address inequality and discrimination would be far more effective in combatting mental illness than the emphasis over the past 30 years on medication and therapy. “This would be the best ‘vaccine’ against mental illness and would be much better than the excessive use of psychotropic medication which is happening,” said Puras, who as the UN’s special rapporteur on health reports back to the UN human rights council in Geneva.

He said that since the 2008 financial crisis, policies that accentuated division, inequality and social isolation have been bad for mental equilibrium. “Austerity measures did not contribute positively to good mental health,” he said. “People feel insecure, they feel anxious, they do not enjoy good emotional wellbeing because of this insecurity situation.” “The best way to invest in the mental health of individuals is to create a supportive environment in all settings, family, the workplace. Then of course [therapeutic] services are needed, but they should not be based on an excessive biomedical model.”

Puras said there had been an overemphasis on trying to cure mental illness like physical illness, through “good medicine”, without thinking about the social factors that cause or contribute to some mental disorders. The prescription of psychotropic drugs to deal with mental illness, particularly antidepressants, has soared across the developed world in the past 20 years.

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What do Americans understand these days?

Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats – and Vice Versa (Atl.)

Unfortunately, the “Perception Gap” study suggests that neither the media nor the universities are likely to remedy Americans’ inability to hear one another: It found that the best educated and most politically interested Americans are more likely to vilify their political adversaries than their less educated, less tuned-in peers. Americans who rarely or never follow the news are surprisingly good at estimating the views of people with whom they disagree. On average, they misjudge the preferences of political adversaries by less than 10 percent. Those who follow the news most of the time, by contrast, are terrible at understanding their adversaries. On average, they believe that the share of their political adversaries who endorse extreme views is about 30 percent higher than it is in reality.


Perhaps because institutions of higher learning tend to be dominated by liberals, Republicans who have gone to college are not more likely to caricature their ideological adversaries than those who dropped out of high school. But among Democrats, education seems to make the problem much worse. Democrats who have a high-school degree suffer from a greater perception gap than those who don’t. Democrats who went to college harbor greater misunderstandings than those who didn’t. And those with a postgrad degree have a way more skewed view of Republicans than anybody else. It is deeply worrying that Americans now have so little understanding of their political adversaries. It is downright disturbing that the very institutions that ought to help us become better informed may actually be deepening our mutual incomprehension.

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And that’s just in one airline.

400 Pilots Sue Boeing In Class Action Over 737 MAX Cover-Up (ABC.au)

More than 400 pilots have joined a class action against American plane manufacturer Boeing, seeking damages in the millions over what they allege was the company’s “unprecedented cover-up” of the “known design flaws” of the latest edition of its top-selling jet, the 737 MAX. Boeing’s 737 MAX series— first announced in 2011 and put to service in 2017 — is the fourth generation of its 737 aircraft, a widely popular narrow-body aircraft model that has been a mainstay of short-haul aircraft routes across the globe. By March 2019, the entire global fleet was suspended by a US presidential decree, following the second fatal crash involving a 737 MAX that killed 157 people in Ethiopia.

The first crash involving the 737 MAX jet happened off the coast of Indonesia in October 2018, killing 189 people. In the time since the two fatal crashes, some of the families of the 346 people killed have sought compensation, while aircraft carriers — such as Norwegian Air — have sought compensation from the American manufacturer for lost revenue as a result of the plane’s global ban. This latest lawsuit filed against Boeing marks the first class action lodged by pilots qualified to fly the 737 MAX series, who have alleged that Boeing’s decisions have caused them to suffer from monetary loss and mental distress since the jet’s suspension.

The originating plaintiff, known as Pilot X —who has chosen to remain anonymous for “fear of reprisal from Boeing and discrimination from Boeing customers” — lodged the statement of claim on Friday, which seeks damages for them and more than 400 colleagues who work for the same airline. In court documents seen by the ABC, the claim alleges that Boeing “engaged in an unprecedented cover-up of the known design flaws of the MAX, which predictably resulted in the crashes of two MAX aircraft and subsequent grounding of all MAX aircraft worldwide.” They argue that they “suffer and continue to suffer significant lost wages, among other economic and non-economic damages” since the fleet’s global grounding. The class action will be heard in a Chicago court, with a hearing date set for October 21, 2019.

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History lesson” “The Caribbean archipelago was ground zero for U.S. imperial banking.”

How Wall Street Colonized the Caribbean (BR)

Scrubbed from the pages of glossy coffeetable books, the history of U.S. imperialism can be found in the archives of Wall Street’s oldest, largest, and most powerful institutions. A deep dive into the vaults and ledgers of banking houses such as Citigroup, Inc., and J. P. Morgan Chase and Co. reveals a story of capitalism and empire whose narrative is not of morally pure and inspiring economic growth, technological innovation, market expansion, and shareholder accumulation, but rather of blood and labor, stolen sovereignty and pilfered resources, military occupation and monetary control. Sugar comingles with blood, chain gangs cross spur lines, and the magical abstractions of finance are found vulgarized in the base manifestations of racial capitalism.

This history of bankers and empire is also a Caribbean history. The Caribbean archipelago was ground zero for U.S. imperial banking. Wall Street’s first experiments in internationalism occurred in Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, often with disastrous results—for those countries and colonies, and often for the imperial banks themselves. Yet where there was expansion, there was also pushback. The internationalization of Wall Street was met with local resistance, refusal and revolt. And just as the history of imperialism has been excised from popular narratives, so too has this history of Caribbean anti-imperialism and autonomy. The history of imperial banking and racial capitalism begins at the end of the nineteenth century, at the historical horizon where the project of U.S. settler colonialism that spurred the financing of the West became the enterprise of U.S. territorial colonialism in the Caribbean and Asia.

Buoyed by unprecedented wealth and boosted by the expansionist jingoism following the victory over Spain in the Caribbean and the Pacific, New York City’s bankers and merchants believed that the organization of an imperial banking system—one that could compete with Europe’s long-established institutions—was critical to the global rise of the city and to the consolidation of Wall Street’s position in international finance, trade, and commerce. With these ambitions, bankers and business-people set their sights on asserting control over the trade and finance of the Americas. They sought to control local central banks, establish U.S. branch banks, take over commodity financing, reorganize monetary systems on a dollar basis, and refinance European-funded sovereign debt.

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He’s losing it. Beware. Next move will be to suggest Turkey’s under threat, call for patriotism.

Blow To Turkey’s Erdogan As Opposition Wins Big In Istanbul (R.)

Turkey’s opposition has dealt President Tayyip Erdogan a stinging blow by winning control of Istanbul in a re-run mayoral election, breaking his aura of invincibility and delivering a message from voters unhappy over his policies. Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) secured 54.21% of votes, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency – a far wider victory margin than his narrow win three months ago. The previous result was annulled after protests from Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, which said there had been widespread voting irregularities. The decision to re-run the vote was criticized by Western allies and caused uproar among domestic opponents who said Turkey’s democracy was under threat.


On Sunday, tens of thousands of Imamoglu supporters celebrated in the streets of Istanbul after the former businessman triumphed over Erdogan’s handpicked candidate by almost 800,000 votes. “In this city today, you have fixed democracy. Thank you Istanbul,” Imamoglu told supporters who made heart signs with their hands, in an expression of the inclusive election rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his campaigning. “We came to embrace everyone,” Imamoglu said. “We will build democracy in this city, we will build justice. In this beautiful city, I promise, we will build the future.”

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The EU has no choice anymore.

Turkey Warns EU Not To Interfere On Cyprus EEZ Issue (K.)

Turkey has warned the European Union that any intervention on their part on the issue of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) would negatively affect relations between Greece and Turkey, as well as any prospects for an end to the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus. The warning was made through a non-paper sent to 27 of the EU’s 28 member-states on June 16, Cyprus’ “Fileleftheros” newspaper reports. Turkey didn’t send the note to Cyprus, whose government it does not recognize. The non-paper says the EU would be wise not to act as a judge in the dispute on sea borders and that a similar stance would further discourage efforts to solve the “Cyprus problem” and would cause Greek-Turkish relations to deteriorate.


Turkey claims that the area where one of its drillships has begun exploring for oil and natural gas, soon to be joined by a second, is within Turkey’s continental shelf and that no islands, Cyprus included, can constitute a “full” EEZ. Turkey repeats its views on “equal rights” between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots, that-is, between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied north of the island, which Turkey alone has recognized as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and says the best solution is the appointment of a mixed commission with representatives of both sides. Failing that, Turkey says, it is determined to protect the rights of the Turkish-Cypriot resources in the area. The non-paper ends with the hope that, in the decisions to be taken by the EU, “common sense” will prevail.

Read more …

Greece will not give in.

Greek Armed Forces On Standby For Turkish Moves In East Med, Aegean (K.)

As Turkey continues with its provocative behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean, despite European Union calls for it to desist from drilling for oil in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Greece’s armed forces are on standby to deal with a possible escalation of tensions in the East Med or the Aegean, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, the key question being pondered in Athens is how to react in the event that Turkey decides to conduct seismic research or drilling within Greece’s continental shelf or its EEZ. The biggest concern is about a potential Turkish intervention east of Rhodes and south of Kastellorizo.

On the political level, Athens has done what it can, underlining the potential repercussions of Turkey’s provocative behavior on stability in the broader region. The statement by the EU last week, though vague, was welcomed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as “the first clear and decisive” condemnation of Turkey by the bloc “after decades of violations of international law.” On the operational level, however, it is less clear what Greece’s response should be. The country’s armed forces will be on high alert over the summer as defense officials prepare a series of plans to deal with a possible Turkish intervention. The plans are primarily based on Hellenic Navy maneuvers, as Turkey is currently using research ships and drilling vessels to entrench its presence in the region.

However, the Hellenic Air Force would likely play a supportive role in any response. Asked last week whether Greece can count on military support from the EU or the United States in the event of an incident, Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis told reporters that Greece will have to plan to deal with such a scenario independently. “There is no such promise, nor any such issue at the moment, but as I’ve said before, when we need to do something we expect that we will basically be alone.” Athens also holds little faith in promises by French President Emmanuel Macron to send French Navy ships to the Aegean if necessary, as such pledges have been made in the past.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 032018
 
 August 3, 2018  Posted by at 12:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


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: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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Dec 282017
 
 December 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


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: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


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. .

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“..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.

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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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