Mar 252017
 
 March 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Drought hit OK farm family on way to CA 1936

 

With Health Bill Down, Trump Can Still Unleash HHS To Bedevil Obamacare (MW)
The Heart Of The American Dream Has Stopped Beating (DiMartino Booth)
Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore (Danielle DiMartino Booth)
The Swamp Drains Trump (Jim Kunstler)
It Was A Very Bad Earnings Season (Snider)
Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Kidnapping Erdogan Foe From US (WSJ)
A ‘Deaths Of Despair’ Crisis Is Gripping America (BI)
New Canadian Budget Drops Obsession With Balanced Budgets (Star)
US Debt of $20 Trillion Visualized in Stacks of Physical Cash (Demonocracy)
The Pound Is Going To Take A Huge Hit, According To Deutsche Bank (Ind.)
Leaving Euro Would Not Help France And Italy – ECB Chief Economist (Ind.)
Greece to Break Off Face-to-Face Talks With Creditors (BBG)
Where Next For Greece? (Makropolis)

 

 

Big defeat. But not a knock-out. Trump needs better advisers.

With Health Bill Down, Trump Can Still Unleash HHS To Bedevil Obamacare (MW)

In a spectacular turn of events, a shortage of support prompted Republican leadership to pull their health-care plan from a House of Representatives vote on Friday. The move means that the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare, will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” according to House Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrats, ACA supporters and opponents of the Republican American Health Care Act quickly hailed the development as a victory. But what was a legislative battle now is likely to move into the executive realm and the Department of Health and Human Services, led by longtime ACA opponent Dr. Tom Price. Experts say there is plenty that President Donald Trump’s administration can do to undermine the ACA. And any poor deterioration in the performance of the ACA could give Republicans a new opening: Trump indicated Friday that he might re-visit health care after Obamacare “explodes.”

“It’s going to be interesting to see how they balance the responsibility for ensuring the government functions with their hatred for the law,” said Spencer Perlman, director of health-care research at Veda Partners. “If they want to completely sabotage it they probably could, and call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The latter is all the more likely because the ACA works best with the help of administrative support and resources. Think of the ACA as a plant, one that requires light and tending-to, that gets inherited by a downright hostile owner. The best example of this occurred during enrollment for 2017 exchange plans. The months-long enrollment period began under former President Barack Obama’s administration, which passed the ACA, and ended under President Trump’s administration.

Enrollment, which had looked like it was on track to surpass previous years, dropped off following the transition, which many attributed to a dearth of marketing and promotional activity under Trump. Plus, the ACA’s problems — which may have helped elect Trump — still exist. Many insurers, including UnitedHealth, Humana and Aetna have exited the exchanges on which many participants purchase health insurance, contributing to a 25% on average increase in premiums. “The biggest thing that needs to be done is figuring out some way to attract young, healthy people” to exchange plans, Perlman said. But HHS, under Price’s leadership, seems unlikely to try to improve the law. And “purposefully sabotaging the exchanges and the ACA probably isn’t difficult,” said Perlman. And for that matter, HHS is “probably the only game in town right now” that can do it.

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“..55% of mortgages in active foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008..”

The Heart Of The American Dream Has Stopped Beating (DiMartino Booth)

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the new parent company of RealtyTrac, default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions slid to 933,045 last year, the lowest tally since the 717,522 reported in 2006. Is the final chapter written? Not if you live in judicial foreclosure states such as New York, New Jersey and Florida where ‘legacy’ foreclosures take years to clear. At the end of last year, 55% of mortgages in active foreclosure were originated between 2004 and 2008. Factor in what’s still in the pipeline and one in ten circa 2006 homeowners will have lost their homes before it is all said and done. That helps explain one part of the chart below which was generously shared with me by one Dr. Gates. Longtime readers of these missives will recognize the nom de plume of my inside-industry economic sleuth. His first take on this sad visual, was that, “The heart of the American Dream has stopped beating.” Did that stop your heart as it did my own?

As you can see, after a steady 40-year build, owner-occupied housing has stagnated and sits at the lowest level since 2004. This has sent the homeownership rate crashing to 63.4%, the lowest since 1967. It would be nice to think that things were looking up for would-be homeowners. But it’s difficult to be overly optimistic when the local newspaper reports that house flipping in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area rose 21% in 2016, seven times the national rate. In all, 193,000 properties nationwide were flipped for a quick inside-12-months profit last year, a 3.1 increase to a nine-year high. Moreover, the median age of a flipped home rose to a two-decade high of 37 years, about double the median age of homes flipped before the crisis hit. That translated into a median gross profit of $69,624 on a median selling price of $189,900 in 2016, a neat 49.2% margin, the highest on record. Awesome!

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Very good -and scary- from Danielle DiMartino Booth. I’ve often asked: what happened to pension funds investing in AAA paper? But there’s more: without accounting tricks dominoes would already be falling. This is not some coincidence, it’s actual policy as conducted by The American Academy of Actuaries.

Pension Crisis Too Big for Markets to Ignore (Danielle DiMartino Booth)

The question is why haven’t the headlines presaged pension implosions? As was the case with the subprime crisis, the writing appears to be on the wall. And yet calamity has yet to strike. How so? Call it the triumvirate of conspirators – the actuaries, accountants and their accomplices in office. Throw in the law of big numbers, very big numbers, and you get to a disaster in a seemingly permanent state of making. Unfunded pension obligations have risen to $1.9 trillion from $292 billion since 2007. Credit rating firms have begun downgrading states and municipalities whose pensions risk overwhelming their budgets. New Jersey and the cities of Chicago, Houston and Dallas are some of the issuers in the crosshairs.

Morgan Stanley says municipal bond issuance is down this year in part because of borrowers are wary of running up new debts to effectively service pensions. Federal Reserve data show that in 1952, the average public pension had 96% of its portfolio invested in bonds and cash equivalents. Assets matched future liabilities. But a loosening of state laws in the 1980s opened the door to riskier investments. In 1992, fixed income and cash had fallen to an average of 47% of holdings. By 2016, these safe investments had declined to 27%. It’s no coincidence that pensions’ flight from safety has coincided with the drop in interest rates. That said, unlike their private peers, public pensions discount their liabilities using the rate of returns they assume their overall portfolio will generate.

In fiscal 2016, which ended June 30th, the average return for public pensions was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5%. Corporations’ accounting rules dictate the use of more realistic bond yields to discount their pensions’ future liabilities. Put differently, companies have been forced to set aside something closer to what it will really cost to service their obligations as opposed to the fantasy figures allowed among public pensions. So why not just flip the switch and require truth and honesty in public pension math? Too many cities and potentially states would buckle under the weight of more realistic assumed rates of return. By some estimates, unfunded liabilities would triple to upwards of $6 trillion if the prevailing yields on Treasuries were used.

That would translate into much steeper funding requirements at a time when budgets are already severely constrained. Pockets of the country would face essential public service budgets being slashed to dangerous levels. What’s a pension to do? Increasingly, the answer is swing for the fences. Forget the fact that just under half of pension assets are in the second-most overvalued stock market in history. Even as Fed officials publicly fret about commercial real estate valuations, pensions have socked away 8% of their portfolios into this less than liquid asset class. Even further out on the risk and liquidity spectrum is the 10% that pensions have allocated to private equity and limited partnerships.

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“While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete.”

The Swamp Drains Trump (Jim Kunstler)

One can’t help marveling at the way the “Russian interference” motif has shifted the spotlight off the substance of what Wikileaks revealed about Clinton Foundation and DNC misdeeds onto Trump campaign officials “colluding” with Russians, supposedly to support their interference in the election. It’s true that the election is way over and the public is no longer concerned with Hillary or her foundation (which is closing shop anyway). But the switcheroo is impressive, and quite confusing, considering recently retired NSA James Clapper just two weeks ago said on NBC’s Meet the Press that there was “no evidence” of collusion Between Trump and Russia. Okay… uh, say what? On Monday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that his agency had been investigating the Trump Campaign since at least last August. Is that so…? Investigating how? Some sort of electronic surveillance?

Well, what else would they do nowadays? Send a gumshoe to a hotel room where he could press his ear on a drinking glass against the wall to eavesdrop on Paul Manafort? I don’t think so. Of course they were sifting through emails, phone calls, and every other sort of electronic communication. Trump’s big blunder was to tweet that he’d been “wiretapped.” Like the FBI patched into a bunch of cables with alligator clips in the basement of Trump Tower … or planted a “bug” in the earpiece of his bedside phone. How quaint. We also don’t have ice boxes anymore, though plenty of struggling weight-watchers across the land speak guiltily of “raiding the icebox.” But if it’s true, as Mr. Comey said, that the FBI had been investigating Trump’s campaign, the people around him, and Trump himself, since August, how could they not have captured some of Trump’s conversations?

[..] So, the long and the short of it is that the RussiaGate story is spinning out of control, and Trump’s adversaries — who go well beyond Congress into the Deep State — might be getting enough leverage to dump Trump. Either they will maneuver him and his people into some kind of perjury rap, or they will tie up the government in such a web of investigative procedural rigmarole that all the country lawyers who ever snapped their galluses will never be able to unravel it. While the nation remains entertained by all this, the Potemkin financial system will wobble, crash, and burn and the humiliation of Donald Trump will be complete. Abandoned by the Republican Party, isolated and crazed in the White House, tweeting out mad appeals to heaven, he’ll either voluntarily pass the baton to Mike Pence or he will be declared unfit to serve and removed under the 25th amendment.

The after-effects of that will be something to behold: a “lose-lose” for both old-line political parties. The Trumpists will never forgive the Republican Party, and the Democrats will have gained nothing. Don’t let the door bang you on the butt on your way out.

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What a surprise.

It Was A Very Bad Earnings Season (Snider)

With nearly all of the S&P 500 companies having reported their Q4 numbers, we can safely claim that it was a very bad earnings season. It may seem incredulous to categorize the quarter that way given that EPS growth (as reported) was +29%, but even that rate tells us something significant about how there is, actually, a relationship between economy and at least corporate profits. Keynes famously said that we should never worry about the long run for there we will all be dead, but EPS has arrived at the long run and there is still quite a lot of living to do. As late as October, analysts were projecting $29 in earnings for the S&P 500 in Q4 2016. As of the middle of the earnings reports last month, that estimate suddenly dropped to just $26.37. In the month since that time, with the almost all of the rest having now reported, the current figure is just $24.15 – a decline of over $2 in four weeks. Therefore, 29% growth is hugely disappointing because it wasn’t 55% growth as was projected when the quarter began.

It is also the timing of the downgrades that is important as it relates to both “reflation” and the economy meant to support it. All throughout last year, in the aftermath of the near-recession to start 2016, EPS estimates for Q4 (and beyond) were very stable, unusually so given the recent past. That shows us how analysts, at least, were expecting the economy to go once it got past “global turmoil.” It was the “V” shaped rebound typical for past cyclical behavior. But it wasn’t until companies actually started reporting earnings that the belief was tested and then found severely lacking. With just $24.15 for Q4, total EPS was for the calendar year less than $95, the ninth straight quarter below the $100 level. More importantly, on a trailing-twelve month basis, EPS don’t appear to be in any hurry (except in future estimates) to revisit the prior peak of $106 all the way back in Q3 2014.

 

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Like a cheap crime novel: Flynn gets paid $530,000 “on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey”, and ends up discussing kidnapping Erdogan’s enemy. Oh, and Biden knew about this conversation. So Obama knew too.

Flynn and Turkish Officials Discussed Kidnapping Erdogan Foe From US (WSJ)

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting. The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed. Mr. Woolsey told The Wall Street Journal he arrived at the meeting in New York on Sept. 19 in the middle of the discussion and found the topic startling and the actions being discussed possibly illegal.

The Turkish ministers were interested in open-ended thinking on the subject, and the ideas were raised hypothetically, said the people who were briefed. The ministers in attendance included the son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s foreign minister, foreign-lobbying disclosure documents show. Mr. Woolsey said the idea was “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.” The discussion, he said, didn’t include actual tactics for removing Mr. Gulen from his U.S. home. If specific plans had been discussed, Mr. Woolsey said, he would have spoken up and questioned their legality. It isn’t known who raised the idea or what Mr. Flynn concluded about it. Price Floyd, a spokesman for Mr. Flynn, who was advising the Trump campaign on national security at the time of the meeting, disputed the account, saying “at no time did Gen. Flynn discuss any illegal actions, nonjudicial physical removal or any other such activities.”

[..] On March 2, weeks after Mr. Flynn’s departure from the Trump administration, the Flynn Intel Group, his consulting firm, filed with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the government of Turkey. Mr. Trump was unaware Mr. Flynn had been consulting on behalf of the Turkish government when he named him national security adviser, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said this month. In its filing, Mr. Flynn’s firm said its work from August to November “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” The filing said his firm’s fee, $530,000, wasn’t paid by the government but by Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin.

[..] Mr. Woolsey said he didn’t say anything during the discussion, but later cautioned some attendees that trying to remove Mr. Gulen was a bad idea that might violate U.S. law. Mr. Woolsey said he also informed the U.S. government by notifying Vice President Joe Biden through a mutual friend. [..] Inovo hired Mr. Flynn on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey, the filing said, and Mr. Alptekin wanted information on the U.S.-Turkey political climate to advise the gas company about its Turkish investments.

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“.. he identified three kinds of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic. Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe.”

A ‘Deaths Of Despair’ Crisis Is Gripping America (BI)

[..] this isn’t the first time that social change has caused self-destructiveness on a mass scale. Indeed, 19th-century French sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote about similar problems in his time, and might refer to the plague of white middle-class mortality we see today as “a state of upheaval.” Of course, the lesson of the 2016 presidential election was that working- and middle-class whites are suffering. What Durkheim offers, though, is the argument for why the newly elected government in Washington — voted in by this very constituency — is getting the solution all wrong. The way to fix this problem is not through less government — but through more. Durkheim’s seminal work, the 1897 book “Suicide,” remains one of the most in-depth examinations of why these situations occur in society, and it is as relevant as ever. Its lessons are an indication that as a country, we are moving swiftly, carelessly in the wrong direction.

The Americans we are talking about are white and middle class. They are aged 45-55. They are losing the battle against heart disease and cancer, and they are succumbing to drugs, alcohol and suicide at rates unseen in modern history or in other developed countries. “The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30% lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30% higher than blacks by 2015,” Case and Deaton wrote. The easy thing to say is that these people are suffering from economic and social anxiety and leave it at that. What’s harder to pinpoint is what exactly that means and how to fix it. Economic conditions for minorities in the same social class and in the same communities are as hard, if not harder, than they are for middle class whites. But death rates aren’t increasing for them.

This is where Durkheim comes in. He wrote his work in the midst of another state of upheaval, as industrialization was taking over the world and old economic patterns were falling away. This was the beginning of modern life as we now know it. And it was killing people. Durkheim found that the degree to which a person is integrated in society is inversely correlated to their likelihood to engage in life-threatening behaviors and suicide. In his work, he identified three kinds of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic. Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe. [..] One of the big factors, then, in the increase in substance abuse and suicide among the white middle class could be a decline in the social framework as a result of the rapid economic changes seen over the last few decades.

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We’re getting into Steve Keen territory. At last.

New Canadian Budget Drops Obsession With Balanced Budgets (Star)

I’m intrigued by Modern Monetary Theory, which maintains governments can create (or ‘print’) money to fill public needs and can’t go into debt to themselves, though they should keep an eye on inflation.

Sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t agree that Wednesday’s federal budget was a non-event: “cynical,” a “placeholder,” “bafflegab and buzzwords” — as others wrote. I think this budget rocked, in one sense: it did a 180 on the stifling monomania of the last 30 years. I’m referring to the obsession with deficits. As recently as last election, the Liberals promised a balanced budget by the end of their first term. Now their projected deficits are even higher but that promise is gone and the thought process, transformed. Finance minister Bill Morneau blandly says, they’ll “be responsible every step along the way” and “show a decline in net debt to GDP,” which totally shifts the metric. He might as well have trilled, “Tra-la-la, we really don’t care.” It’s a damn earthquake.

For proof, look not at the opposition – Rona Ambrose predictably called it “spending out of control”- but at the journalists, who were left sputtering. It’s so radical they struggled for words. Peter Mansbridge began interviewing Morneau with: “How does it feel to know you’ll likely never have a balanced budget?” I wish Morneau had said, “I’m fine, but is there anything I can do to help you through this?” Mansbridge couldn’t stop, turning plaintively to his panel: “I tried to get him on the deficit … Is there a right and wrong any more?” Jennifer Ditchburn tried to soothe him with, “Deficit is a word they just don’t use any more.”

If I’m hyperventilating, it’s because I’ve led a cramped existence all these years, bowed under the weight of deficitism since I first heard the phrase, “Yeah, but how ya gonna pay for that?” during the 1988 election. No one knew where it came from or how it usurped all other political concerns, like a missive from heaven, or the Fraser Institute. Paul Martin adopted it, using it to sink the Canada we knew, and his own career. Yet, there’s apparently an ebb and flow to these things: a Nanos poll says Canadians now want Ottawa to run deficits as long as overall debt declines relative to GDP. That’s a pretty sophisticated alteration for ordinary folks to make intuitively; it makes you wonder if someone isn’t pulling strings somewhere and decided to drop a new backdrop (to public discourse) over the previous one.

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Nicely done. Like the music.

US Debt of $20 Trillion Visualized in Stacks of Physical Cash (Demonocracy)

Showing stacks of physical cash in following sequence: $100, $10,000, $1 Million, $2 Billion, $1 Trillion, $20 Trillion The faith and value of the US Dollar rests on the Government’s ability to repay its debt. “The money in the video has already been spent”

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Sounds reasonable.

The Pound Is Going To Take A Huge Hit, According To Deutsche Bank (Ind.)

When it comes to the pound, currency analysts at Deutsche Bank have for months proved to be some of the most bearish across the City, but they’ve just turned even more pessimistic in their outlook for the battered currency. In its latest special report on Brexit released this week, the German lender said the pound could fall as a low as $1.06 against the dollar by the end of 2017, or another 15%. “We do not see sterling (currently) fully pricing a hard Brexit outcome,” the bank wrote. “Combined with limited adjustment in the UK’s current account deficit and slowing growth, we see further downside, and forecast $1.06 in by year-end,” it added.

In an interview with Bloomberg in February, George Saravelos, the German lender’s global co-head of foreign exchange, hinted that the bank could cut its official forecast. He said at the time that sterling could still slip by 16% against the dollar to $1.05 cent as the “incredibly complicated” nature of Brexit becomes ever more clear. Most economists’ forecasts are still more optimistic than Deutsche Bank’s, but few expect the currency to recover from its post-referendum lows any time soon. According to poll of more than 60 banks and research institutions conducted by Reuters that was released earlier this month, forecasters on average expect the currency to trade at $1.23 against the dollar by the end of June, and drop to $1.21 in the subsequent three to six months.

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Praet is a true believer.

Leaving Euro Would Not Help France And Italy – ECB Chief Economist (Ind.)

The chief economist of the ECB has warned Italy and France that their economic problems would not be solved by breaking up the single currency. In an interview with Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper, Peter Praet, an executive board member of the ECB, said the idea that the euro was the root cause of high unemployment and low growth in certain European countries was a populist “deception”. “What I do worry about is the populist narrative that things were better before the euro,” he said. “This is a deception. We arrived at monetary union after disastrous experiences with floating exchange rates and some unsuccessful attempts of orderly floating. “The devaluations that populists claim is a free lunch and allows to regain competitiveness by miracle proved extremely expensive.”

With specific reference to Italy, he said: “The nostalgic alternative that everything will be all right just by returning to the lira amounts to fooling the people. The cost of a regime change would be huge and the poor would be the ones that suffer the most.” Mr Praet acknowledged that the euro had lost popularity in many European countries, but said that it had been made a “scapegoat” for other economic policy failures by politicians. However, many credible economists argue that in the absence of fiscal stimulus by core countries in Europe that run current account surpluses, the monetary restrictions of the single currency are indeed driving the economic distress of the likes of France, Italy, Portugal and Greece.

Italy’s Five Star movement, currently leading in national opinion polls, has proposed a referendum on Italy’s membership of the single currency. Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France has previously called for the reinstatement of the franc, although she did not reiterate this in the national debate among presidential candidates earlier this week ahead of April’s national elections. The level of Italy’s GDP is barely higher than when the single currency was formed in 2000 and its working age unemployment rate currently stands at 12 per cent. The French unemployment rate is just below 10% and for young people it is double that.

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An outright lie: “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.”

Greece to Break Off Face-to-Face Talks With Creditors (BBG)

Greece and the institutions managing its bailout review will break off negotiations in Brussels without having cleared a path to conclude the deliberations that would release needed rescue funds. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who was meeting with officials from the euro area and the IMF will return to Athens by Saturday. The two sides still have issues to work out, said the official, who asked not to be named in line with policy. Some progress was made and discussions will continue from their respective headquarters, according to a spokesman from the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-area’s bailout monitor. Greece is edging closer to a repeat of the 2015 drama that pushed Europe’s most indebted state to the edge of economic collapse, as the government in Athens and its creditors disagree over reforms to the pension system and the labor and energy markets.

Greece needs to complete the review in order to get the next portion of its aid payment before it has more than €7 billion of bonds come due in July. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble increased the pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to accede to creditor demands. “Greece has said it wants to stay in the euro,” Schaeuble said in an interview on Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “Greece can only do that if Greece has a competitive economy. To that end, it needs to carry out reforms, and we’re giving Greece time to do that.” [..] European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Greece and its creditors in an emailed statement to reach a deal that respects commitments made on all sides. In response to Tsipras’s letter, Juncker called on the Greeks not to reverse reforms and creditors “to give Greece the desired and necessary room for maneuver to build its own future.”

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Reasonable overview, but any talk of agreements that could lead Greece back to growth is nonsense. The EU would never sign such an agreement. Theie attitude to date has made that abundantly clear.

Where Next For Greece? (Makropolis)

In September last year, when Alexis Tsipras visited New York to speak at the UN Assembly, he held a meeting with some heavyweights of the international investment community. The Greek prime minister was reportedly advised by the participants that if he wanted to build trust in Greece as an attractive investment destination, he should shift focus from his main objective of debt relief towards ensuring Greece’s participation in the ECB’s QE programme. The investors apparently pointed out to the SYRIZA leader that such a development would have a wide range of benefits for Greece and provide the steadiest path towards regaining market access and the successful completion of the current programme, without the need to follow it up with a fourth memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Tsipras seemingly heeded the advice and, just as the second review was about to start, he charted a path out of the crisis. He set out his intention to close the review by December 2016, secure QE at the start of 2017 and dip his toe back into the markets with a small issue or two early this summer when Greece has to roll over the bond that it issued in 2014, when Antonis Samaras was prime minister. However, the timetable Tsipras identified last autumn has gone up in smoke.

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Mar 242017
 
 March 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC “Broad Street and curb market, New York” 1906

 

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)
The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)
‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)
The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)
WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)
China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)
China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)
Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)
Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)
Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)
Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)
40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)
EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)
Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

 

 

This will attract some media attention. Better do it after the markets close.

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)

President Donald Trump reportedly laid down an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Pass the health-care bill, as is, on Friday, or live with Obamacare. The hard line came after more than a day of frantic negotiations to win the support of conservative Republicans who oppose the bill, and could block its passage. A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed earlier in the day after the GOP couldn’t win over holdout lawmakers. White House budget director Mitch Mulvaney dropped Trump’s demand in a meeting with rank-and-file House Republicans, and said the administration and House Speaker Paul Ryan were done with negotiations, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. If Friday’s bill fails, Trump is resigned to live with Obamacare and move on, he said.

CNN similarly reported that the closed-door meeting ended with an ultimatum, and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told the network that the vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon. The move is a gamble by the Trump administration, which has placed much political capital in its promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the Washington Post. The GOP can’t afford more than 21 dissenting votes, but CNN counted 26 “no” votes and four more “likely” no votes. Every House Democrat is expected to oppose the bill.

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And what’s worse, no way out.

The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)

If the American Healthcare Act, President Trump’s first major legislative effort, is going to a vote in the House of Representatives as scheduled on Thursday, it is by no means clear that it will receive the 215 votes it needs for passage. When the Republican healthcare plan was first presented to the public on March 6, it left people from both sides of the political spectrum dissatisfied. While Democrats fear that the suggested bill, which would repeal large portions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would leave millions of Americans uninsured and hurt the poor and vulnerable, many Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough in erasing all traces of Obamacare.

For many years now, the American healthcare system has been flawed. As our chart illustrates, U.S. health spending per capita (including public and private spending) is higher than it is anywhere else in the world, and yet, the country lags behind other nations in several aspects such as life expectancy and health insurance coverage. This chart shows health spending (public and private) per capita in selected countries.

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Not my original observation, but true: it looks a lot like Russia in the 1990s.

‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)

In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population. The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings. They’ve now come to a compelling conclusion: It’s complicated. There’s no single reason for this disturbing increase in the mortality rate, but a toxic cocktail of factors. In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Thursday, the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.

[..] The US, particularly middle-aged white Americans, is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to this mid-life mortality uptick. “Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US,” Case and Deaton write. “In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said.

Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list. (America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net.) They also admit, though, that it’s taken decades to reverse the mortality progress in America, and it won’t be turned around quickly or easily. But there is one “no-brainer” change that could help, Case added. “The easy thing would be close the tap on prescription opioids for chronic pain.” Unlike health care and increasing taxes, opioids are actually a public health issue with bipartisan support. Deaton, for his part, was hopeful. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, he said, “All policy seems impossible until it suddenly becomes inevitable.”

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“Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013..” “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess. Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model. For example, Bebe is closing all its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.

Others, such as Sears and JCPenney, are aggressively paring down their store counts to unload unprofitable locations and try to staunch losses. Sears is shutting down about 10% of its Sears and Kmart locations, or 150 stores, and JCPenney is shutting down about 14% of its locations, or 138 stores. According to many analysts, the retail apocalypse has been a long time coming in the US, where stores per capita far outnumber that of any other country. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October. Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.

[..] as longtime retail analyst Howard Davidowitz observed in 2014, “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

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This could be a huge blow to Apple. Who wants to buy something the CIA has already tinkered with in the factory? Expect giant lawsuits too. Apple knew.

WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)

Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”, which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac Computer firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware. Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.

“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants. Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStake” are also included in this release. While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008. While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.

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A lot of cities around the world share that risk.

China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)

China faces the risk of youth disenchantment as property prices rise beyond their reach, a renowned Chinese economist said Friday. “In a regular country, wealth should be concentrated in the financial markets, not fixed assets,” said Renmin University of China Vice President Wu Xiaoqiu at a media interview at the Boao Forum in the province of Hainan. He highlighted the risks from the current property bubble in China, such as negative asset values if prices tank. More importantly, the social risks that come from the property bubble in the form of youth disenchantment with not being to afford a home will be damaging, he said. “If young people lose hope, the economy will suffer, as housing is a necessity,” he said.

Wu said he was hopeful the authorities would find a solution to constrain the froth in Chinese real estate, but admitted that repeated measures to curb speculation have so far only met with short-term success. Wu’s comments follow a People’s Bank of China survey published on Tuesday, which found that 52.2% of urban households perceived housing prices to be “unacceptably high” in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reported. In February, gains in Chinese home prices picked up pace after they slowed in the previous four months despite government efforts to curb speculation, Reuters reported on Sunday. Prices in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 22.1%, 21.1% and 13.5%, respectively, from a year ago.

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Wow.

China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)

In December 2016, Muddy Waters’ Carson Block said China’s largest dairy farm operator, Hong-Kong listed China Huishan Dairy, is “worth close to zero” and questioned its profitability in a report. Today, with no catalyst, it suddenly almost is. The stock collapsed over 90% in minutes to a record low. The sudden crash wiped out about $4.2 billion in market value in the stock, which is a member of the MSCI China Index.

In December, Muddy Waters alleged that Huishan had been overstating its spending on its cow farms by as much as 1.6 billion yuan to “support the company’s income statement.” The report also alleged that the company made an unannounced transfer of a subsidiary that owned at least four cow farms to an undisclosed related party and Muddy Waters concluded that Chairman Yang Kai controls the subsidiary and farms. Those findings came from several months of research including visits to 35 farms and five production facilities, drone flyovers of Huishan sites and interviews with alfalfa suppliers, according to the report. Muddy Waters said it has shorted Huishan’s stock.

“It will be even harder for Huishan to get funded in the capital market after the report, amid a couple of earlier allegations that have raised some red flags to investors,” said Robin Yuen at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong. Still, Huishan’s shares and operations are unlikely to “collapse” due to its high share concentration and sufficient cash flow generated by its dairy business, he said by telephone. About 73% of Huishan’s shares are held by Champ Harvest Ltd., a company that’s in turn 90% owned by Yang. A buying spree by Yang had supported the shares last year, making it a painful trade for short sellers. A one-year rally of about 80% through a peak in June had made the shares expensive.

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“If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.”

Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)

For the last three years, the political establishment in Italy and beyond have had a field day attacking, ridiculing, and vilifying Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement. Europe’s media have tarred him with the brush of populism. In 2013 The Economist labelled him a clown on its front cover. Yet his party still leads the polls. And that lead is growing. A new Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper has put Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement on 32.3% – its highest ever reading. It placed 5.5 points ahead of the governing PD, on 26.8%, after the PD dropped more than three%age points in a month, as former prime minister Matteo Renzi battles to reassert his authority following a walkout by a left-wing faction. Internal political battles are nothing new in Italy. The country enjoys a hard-earned reputation for political instability and paralysis, having seen 63 governments come and go since 1945.

The problem this time around is that internal weakness and strife in Italy’s traditional center-left and center-right parties could end up gifting the next election to a party that refuses to play by the book. If it wins the next elections, which could be brought forward to as early as June this year, 5-Star Movement has pledged to hold a referendum of its own – albeit a non-binding one – on Italy’s membership of the euro. As polls have shown, there is much broader public apathy toward the single currency than in just about any other euro zone nation. Grillo’s plan could also receive the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is determined to pull off a political comeback and is talking of restoring the Italian Lira.

As Reuters reports, such a scenario could spook financial markets “wary of both the 5-Star’s euroskepticism and the threat of prolonged political instability in Italy,” which boasts a public debt burden of over €2 trillion (133% of GDP). In any normal situation that would be a problem. But Italy is not in a normal situation; it is on the cusp of a potentially very large financial crisis that, if mishandled, could bring down Europe’s entire financial system. Unlike many other Eurozone economies like Spain, Ireland Portugal, Italy did not experience a real estate or stock market bubble in the 2000s; nor were its banks heavily exposed to the financial derivatives that helped spread the fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis all around the world. As such, Italy has not had cause to bail out its financial system — until now.

[..] Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra: a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. It’s the reason why economists including Deutsche Bank’s Marco Stringa are calling Italy, not France or Greece, the “main risk” to euro-area stability. From a Eurozone-stability point of view, and from a bondholder point of view, the best-case scenario would be the rescue of Italy’s banks, with taxpayers bearing most of the brunt. That should help steady investor nerves and put an end to the gathering exodus of funds out of Italian assets. But even then, the social, political and economic price to be paid in a country already with public debt of over €2 trillion, youth unemployment of almost 40%, and an economy that is 12% smaller than it was 10 years ago, will almost certainly be way too high. If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.

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He’s blowing up the EU without noticing a thing.

Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday criticised Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for saying Germany should provide more money for Greece and the European Union overall. Schaueble told Deutschlandfunk radio he was annoyed by Gabriel’s suggestion because it “goes in the wrong direction completely” and sent the wrong message. He added that Europe’s problem was not primarily money but that its money needed to be used in the right way. On whether Greece can stay in the euro zone, Schaeuble said: “Greece can only do that if it has a competitive economy.” He said the country needed to carry out reforms and that would take time, adding: “But if the time is not used to carry out reforms because that’s uncomfortable, then that’s the wrong path.”

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Feels like a funeral party.

Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)

Greece has stuck to its objections to a declaration to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary, officials in Brussels and Athens said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing setback for the bloc as it seeks to rebuild unity ahead of Brexit. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining states will mark the anniversary on Saturday at a gathering in Rome overshadowed by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. London is due to formally trigger the divorce negotiations next week. Athens has threatened not to sign the Rome declaration charting the future of the post-Brexit EU, making a link between agreeing to the text and separate talks on reforms that lenders are seeking from Greece in exchange for new loans. “The negotiations on the draft Rome Declaration have ended as the text was finalized by the EU27,” an EU source said. “Only Greece has a general reservation on the text.”

Greece has said it wants the Rome text to spell out more clearly the protection of labor rights. Greece’s separate debt talks with international lenders are now stuck over this specific issue. One diplomat in Brussels said the issue may now only be resolved at the highest level with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Another EU diplomat said any attempt by Athens to win leverage on the international debt talks by holding off in Rome should not succeed: “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one.” As well as Greece, Poland indicated on Thursday it might also refuse to endorse the declaration, though diplomats played down the threat. Warsaw is particularly opposed to a ‘multi-speed Europe,’ an idea promoted by Germany, France and Brussels, among others, to help improve decision-making in the post-Brexit EU.

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“Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)

Greece will support a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday but needs the bloc’s backing against IMF demands on labour reforms, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said ahead of a Summit in Rome on Friday. In a letter addressed to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Tsipras called for a clear statement on whether the declaration would apply to Greece, as talks over a key bailout review hit a snag again. “We intend to support the Rome Declaration, a document which moves in a positive direction,” Tsipras said. “Nevertheless, in order to be able to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they apply also to Greece. Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Earlier this week, Greece threatened not to sign the Rome declaration, demanding a clearer commitment protecting workers’ rights – an issue on which it is at odds with its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans. The disagreements among Athens, the EU and the IMF – which has yet to decide whether it will participate in the country’s current bailout – have delayed a crucial bailout review. As leaders prepared for the summit, Greek ministers were negotiating with lenders’ representatives in Brussels pension cuts and labour reforms, including freeing up mass layoffs and on collective bargaining. The latest round of talks ended inconclusively late on Thursday, according to Greek officials. [..] Greece has cut pensions 12 times since it signed up to its first bailout in 2010. It has also reduced wages and implemented labour reforms to make its market more flexible and competitive.

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Just imagine that. And then talk about recovery. No, all you need to do is reform!

40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)

Four in 10 Greek businesses (40.3%) consider it likely that they will have to close shop within the year, according to a survey by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), presented by the ANA-MPA news agency on Thursday. According to the survey, around 18,700 businesses will close in the first six months of the year, forcing thousands to join growing unemployment lines in the crisis-hit country. The majority of shutdowns, according to GSEVEE, will be in and around the capital and will concern the manufacturing sector, while some 34,000 jobs will be lost by the closure of companies that are currently considered high risk. 7 in 10 businesses have reported increasing liquidity problems and a shortage of capital from the market, with the number of firms indebted to the state and their suppliers growing by 10% compared to last year.

Over four in five small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) admit to being exposed to credit risks, seeing a slump in economic activity and operating with the prospect of shrinking rather than expanding in the near future. In terms of employment, the forecasts for the first half of the year do not bode well, as for every two businesses (8.1% of the total) that plan to hire new staff, another three will be letting people go. GSEVEE estimates that 2,000 salaried jobs will be lost by June, without accounting for the impact on employment of the projected shutdowns. Moreover, 40% of those businesses that do plan to hire staff in the first half of 2017 said they won’t be offering payroll positions, but part-time or outsourced work.

Sentiment is also bleak, with 58.8% of respondents expecting conditions to deteriorate and just 11% seeing a possible improvement through June. As such, just 3.6% of businesses plan to make new investments and 6.4% have applied to investment funding programs for that period. “There needs to be a national plan for the country irrespective of who is in power, and politicians need to learn how to make decisions and give orders,” GSEVEE President Giorgos Kavvathas was quoted by the ANA-MPA news agency as saying. “Moreover, the uncertainty of the situation concerning the outcome of the negotiation [with foreign creditors] exacerbates fears and risks, which in turn make small businesses and the self-employed more vulnerable.”

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Could be another scary spring and summer.

EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)

European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday underlined the need to safeguard a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb human smuggling in the Aegean, noting that some 3 million refugees were in Turkey waiting to cross into Greece in a bid to reach Western and Northern Europe. In comments during a visit to Athens, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea. Reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean, the first point of arrival for most migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey, are already overcrowded. A woman and a child were injured in clashes between Afghan and Algerian migrants on Chios on Wednesday night.

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We’re on track for multiple records.

Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

More than 250 African migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Thursday after a charity’s rescue boat found five corpses close to two sinking rubber dinghies off Libya. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply alarmed” after the Golfo Azzuro, a boat operated by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, reported the recovery of the bodies close to the drifting, partially-submerged dinghies, 15 miles off the Libyan coast. “We don’t think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP. “It seems clear that they sunk.” She added that the inflatables, of a kind usually used by people traffickers, would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.

“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed.” Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata, according to the rescue boat’s medical staff. Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)’s Europe bureau, said NGO boats patrolling the area had been called to the aid of a third stricken boat on Thursday afternoon, raising fears others may have perished on what Proactiva called “a black day in the Mediterranean.”

Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels. Nearly 6,000 people have been picked up by Italian-coordinated rescue boats since the end of last week, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to nearly 22,000, a significant rise on the same period in previous years. Aid groups say the accelerating exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers. Prior to the latest fatal incident, the UN had estimated that at least 440 migrants had died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017. Its refugee agency estimates total deaths crossing the Mediterranean at nearly 600.

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Jun 242015
 
 June 24, 2015  Posted by at 11:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC KKK services, Capital Horse Show grounds, Arlington 1938

70 Million Americans Are Teetering On The Edge Of Financial Ruin (MarketWatch)
Marine Le Pen: Just Call Me Madame Frexit (Bloomberg)
The Delphi Declaration On Greece And Europe (Paul Craig Roberts)
Berlin Insists Greek Parliament Approves All Reforms By Monday (FT)
Europe Is Destroying Greece’s Economy For No Reason At All (WaPo)
Greek Public Stops Paying Off Personal Debts As Uncertainty Grows (FT)
A -Last- Shield Against Poverty, Pensions Are Greece’s Top Priority (AP)
This Is A Deal That Heaps More Misery On Greeks (Guardian)
Creditors’ Economic Plan For Greece Is Illiterate And Doomed To Fail (Guardian)
Whatever Happens To Greece, It Will End In Contagion (MarketWatch)
Tsipras: Angel Of Mercy Or Trusty Of Central Bankers’ Debt Prison? (Stockman)
Debt Default Risk Not Just A Greece Story (FT)
A Derivatives Bomb Exploded In The First Week Of June (IRD)
Beware Bond-Liquidity Traps When Hunting Yield, Pimco Says (Bloomberg)
TTIP Is A Corporatist Scam And Not A Real Free Trade Deal: Ukip (Independent)
Will Seizure of Russian Assets Hasten Dollar Decline? (Ron Paul)
Espionnage Élysée – NSA Spied On French Governments, Presidents (Wikileaks)
Hollande Calls Emergency Meeting After U.S. Spying Reports (Bloomberg)
World’s Big Economies Are About to Feel the Impact of China Slowdown (Bloomberg)
Shell Fights To Prevent The Release Of Arctic Drilling Audit (Greenpeace)
Russia Surpasses Saudi Arabia as China’s Biggest Oil Supplier (Bloomberg)
Cellulosic Ethanol is Going Backwards (Robert Rapier)

Spell ‘recovery’.

70 Million Americans Are Teetering On The Edge Of Financial Ruin (MarketWatch)

In the past few years, the job market has vastly improved and home prices have rebounded — yet Americans are becoming even more irresponsible when it comes to saving for emergencies. According to a survey of 1,000 adults released by Bankrate.com on Tuesday, nearly one in three (29%) American adults (that’s roughly 70 million) have no emergency savings at all – the highest percentage since Bankrate began doing this survey five years ago. What’s more, only 22% of Americans have at least six months of emergency savings (that’s what advisers recommend) – the lowest level since Bankrate began doing the survey. These findings mirror others – all of which paint an abysmal picture of Americans’ ability to withstand an emergency. For example, a survey released in March by national nonprofit NeighborWorks America also found that roughly one third (34%) of Americans don’t have emergency savings.

Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, says these low savings reflect that households haven’t seen their incomes ramp up and thus “household budgets are tight.” Plus, he adds “people don’t pay themselves first – they wait until the end of the month to save what’s left over and then nothing is left over.” The problem with this lack of savings is that emergencies can and do happen, and when they do, you may be forced into an expensive solution like credit cards or personal loans – and in extreme cases having to declare bankruptcy. Indeed, half of Americans had experienced an unforeseen expense in the past year, according to a 2014 survey by American Express; of those, 44% had a health care-related unforeseen expense and 46% had one related to their car – both of which tend to be things you can’t avoid paying.

Thus, advisers recommend that most Americans have at least six months worth of income in their emergency fund — and more if they have children or other dependents. To build this up, “start an automatic transfer to a savings account and set a task to revisit and increase the amount in a month,” says Robert Schmansky, the founder and a financial adviser at Clear Financial Advisors. “See how much you can increase the amount until it becomes noticeable and then stop.” Scott Cole, the founder of Cole Financial Planning, says to put the money in an FDIC-insured, high-yield savings account. Schmansky says that you want this account to be separate from your checking account “to prevent frivolous withdrawals.” He adds that while it’s important to find a good rate, it’s “equally important” that the money is accessible and the bank has “a long history of paying higher than market rates” as “too many banks in the past that started out as high yield payers dropped those rates after some time.”

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She’s going to blow up the whole thing. Unless someone else is first.

Marine Le Pen: Just Call Me Madame Frexit (Bloomberg)

Marine Le Pen, a frontrunner in France’s 2017 presidential election, says a Greek exit from the euro is inevitable. And if it’s up to her, France won’t be far behind. “We’ve won a few months’ respite but the problem will come back,” Le Pen said of Greece in an interview at her National Front party headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris, on Tuesday. “Today we’re talking about Grexit, tomorrow it will be Brexit, and the day after tomorrow it will be Frexit.” Le Pen, 46, is leading first-round presidential election polls in France, ahead of President Francois Hollande, ex-leader Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. She’s the only one of the four calling for France to exit the euro, banking on people’s exasperation with the Greek crisis and Britain’s proposed referendum on the European Union to win over voters.

“I’ll be Madame Frexit if the European Union doesn’t give us back our monetary, legislative, territorial and budget sovereignty,” Le Pen said. She’s calling for an orderly breakup of the common currency, with France and Germany sitting around the table to dismantle the 15-year-old monetary union. Since she took over from her father as head of the National Front in 2011, Marine Le Pen has done her best to push the anti-immigration party into the French political mainstream. She came third in the 2012 presidential race and currently has two members in the country’s National Assembly for the first time since 1997. The combination of tepid economic growth and high unemployment at home, together with hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern immigrants seeking jobs or asylum in Europe, has given Le Pen increased traction.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed concern about the level of support Le Pen will receive in 2017 and how that power might weigh on French economic policy. “She knows perfectly well that if France leaves, there’s no more euro,” Le Pen said. Although Le Pen hasn’t given a full, detailed plan of how she would lead her country out of the euro, she says she doesn’t believe France would be shut out of the borrowing market or rejected by investors as a result.

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Good to see that there are still some people awake.

The Delphi Declaration On Greece And Europe (Paul Craig Roberts)

The Delphi Conference on the European/Russian crisis created by Washington issued a declaration repudiating the EU attack on the Greek nation. The Delphi Declaration asks the European peoples, especially the Germans, to do the right thing and object to the plunder of Greece by the One%. This appeal to good will is likely to fall on deaf ears even though the pillage of Greece will create a precedent that can then be applied to Italy, Spain, France, and even Germany.

THE DELPHI DECLARATION: European governments, European institutions and the IMF, acting in close alliance, if not under direct control of big international banks and other financial institutions, are now exercising a maximum of pressure, including open threats, blackmailing and a slander and terror communication campaign against the recently elected Greek government and against the Greek people. They are asking from the elected government of Greece to continue the “bail-out” program and the supposed “reforms” imposed on this country in May 2010, in theory to “help” and “save” it.

As a result of this program, Greece has experienced by far the biggest economic, social and political catastrophe in the history of Western Europe since 1945.It has lost 27% of its GDP, more than the material losses of France or Germany during the 1st World War. The living standards have fallen sharply, the social welfare system all but destroyed, Greeks have seen social rights won during one century of struggles taken back. Whole social strata were completely destroyed, more and more Greeks are falling from their balconies to end a life of misery and desperation, every talented person who can leaves from the country. Democracy, under the rule of a “Troika”, acting as collective economic assassin, a kind of Kafka’s “Court”, has been transformed into a sheer formality in the very same country where it was born!

Greeks are experiencing now the same feeling of insecurity about all basic conditions of its life, that French have experienced in 1940, Germans in 1945, Soviets in 1991. In the same time, the two problems which this program was supposed to address, the Greek sovereign debt and competitiveness of the Greek economy have, both, sharply deteriorated. Now, European institutions and governments are refusing even the most reasonable, elementary, minor concession to the Athens government, they refuse even the slightest face-saving formula, if it could be. They want a total surrender of SYRIZA, they want its humiliation, its destruction. By denying to the Greek people any peaceful and democratic way out of its social and national tragedy, they are pushing Greece into chaos, if not civil war.

By the way, even now, an undeclared social civil war of “low intensity” is waged inside this country, especially against the unprotected, the ill, the young and the very old, the weaker and the unlucky. Is this the Europe we want our children to live? We want to express our total, unconditional solidarity with the struggle of the Greek people for its dignity, its national and social salvation, for its liberation from the unacceptable neocolonial rule “Troika” is trying to impose on a European country. We denounce the illegal and unacceptable agreements successive Greek governments have been obliged, under threat and blackmail, to sign, in violation of all European treaties, of the Charter of UN and of the Greek constitution.

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IMF has already said no.

Berlin Insists Greek Parliament Approves All Reforms By Monday (FT)

Greece’s parliament will have only a few days to pass all the economic reforms Athens promises its creditors to unlock desperately need bailout aid, putting intense pressue on prime minister Alexis Tsipras to build domestic political support for controversial concessions. Berlin has insisted on full and immediate legislative approval of measures that may be agreed at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Wednesday even though officials now concede a deal may come too late for Athens to meet a €1.5bn debt repayment to the IMF due on June 30. People briefed on Berlin’s thinking said months of fraught negotiations since the radical anti-austerity government came to power have undermined trust in Greece’s ability to fuflill its promises.

German officials want Greek parliamentary approval before an extension of its bailout programme is presented to the Bundestag before it expires on Tuesday. Greek authorities have already begun preparations for a hasty and potentially rancorous parliamentary debate over the weekend amidst growing signs Mr Tsipras’ new reform plan – which would be presented to eurozone leaders on Thursday — faces fierce resistance at home. A handful of more radical members of Mr Tsipras’ governing Syriza party have already vowed to mutiny over the proposal, and thousands of Greek pensioners took to the streets of Athens on Tuesday evening to decry the plans. “We have nothing, no money, we cannot live like this anymore,” shouted Thomas Yanakakis, 63, with tears in his eyes. “Enough is enough. Everyone must take to the streets now to stop this.”

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Well, unless you’re into SM.

Europe Is Destroying Greece’s Economy For No Reason At All (WaPo)

The real question is why Europe is forcing Greece to do any more austerity at all. It’s already done so much that, before this latest showdown, it actually had a budget surplus before interest payments. And that’s all it should shoot for, really: the point at which it doesn’t need any more bailouts from Europe. Anything more than that, though, would just inflict unnecessary — and self-defeating! — harm to the economy. When interest rates are zero, like they are now, budget cuts of 3% of GDP would, by Paul Krugman’s calculation, make the economy shrink something like 7.5%. So even though you have less debt, your debt burden isn’t much better since you have less money to pay it back.

There’s only one reason to make Greece do more austerity, and it makes no sense at all. That’s to try to make it pay back what it owes. Indeed, one European official said that the entire point of this was that they “want to get our money back some day.” The problem, though, is everybody knows Greece will never do that. Its debt should have been written down in 2010, but it wasn’t because it was “bailed out” to the extent that it was given money to then give to French and German banks. The longer Europe pretends this new debt will be paid back, the longer Greece’s depression will go on. Now, it’s true that Europe has lowered the interest rates and extended the maturities on Greece’s debt so far out that, for now at least, it’s like a lot of it doesn’t exist.

But eventually it will, and at that point they’ll either need to extend-and-pretend some more or hope that Greece has returned to growth. Until then, Greece will be stuck in its economic Groundhog Day. It keeps trying to resist these pointless budget cuts that just keep it in a perpetual state of high unemployment, but then gives in at the last minute. On second thought, history is just repeating itself as tragedy over and over again.

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What I hear from Athens is that this is not quite accurate, it’s what happened 3 years ago.

Greek Public Stops Paying Off Personal Debts As Uncertainty Grows (FT)

Margarita sits cross-legged on a shiny parquet floor in a small Athens apartment, surrounded by piles of cardboard boxes. Within them are her family’s possessions. “I never expected to set up house in my late parents’ place,” the 42-year-old says. Her husband George, a banker made redundant three years ago, is overseeing workers installing security shutters in the two-bedroom, one-balcony space, while her 16-year-old daughter Christina brews coffee in a cramped kitchen. The Athenian family, who asked for their surname not to be used, moved to a downtown residential district from a villa in the northern suburbs to avoid defaulting on their mortgage. “We restructured it twice, thanks to my old colleagues at the bank but we still couldn’t keep up with the payments,” says George, now a struggling investment consultant.

“Things were looking pretty bleak but then we found a tenant so we could move out.” The family still owes a year’s worth of school fees at the private international school their daughter attended, which George admits is not a priority. He is no longer embarrassed by his inability to pay, he says, because so many other parents are in the same situation. Such strategic defaults have become a way of life among Greece’s formerly affluent middle-class. Many borrowed heavily as local banks competed to offer consumer loans at accessible interest rates after Greece joined the euro in 2001. When the crisis struck they resisted changes to their lifestyle, convinced that it was only a blip on a continuous upward path to income levels matching those of Italy and Spain.

But they have since been forced to make harsh adjustments. With their own savings depleted and the country’s immediate future so uncertain — will Greece default on its debts and leave the euro? — many have simply stopped making payments altogether, virtually freezing economic activity. Tax revenues for May, for example, fell €1bn short of the budget target, with so many Greek citizens balking at filing returns. That has put more pressure on the country’s leftwing government as it desperately scrapes up cash to pay wages and salaries and foreign creditors. The government, itself, has contributed to the chain of non-payment by freezing payments due to suppliers. That has had a knock-on effect, stifling the small businesses that dominate the economy and building up a mountain of arrears that will take months, if not years, to settle.

Business-to-business payments have almost been paused, one Athens businessman says. “They are just rolling over postdated cheques”. For Greek banks, mortgage loans left unserviced by strategic defaulters have become a particular headache, especially since the Syriza-led government says it is committed to protecting low-income homeowners from foreclosures on their properties “There’s a real issue of moral hazard… Around 70% of restructured mortgage loans aren’t being serviced because people think foreclosures will only be applied to big villa owners”, one banker said.

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When you cut an economy by 25%, pensions automatically weigh heavier.

A -Last- Shield Against Poverty, Pensions Are Greece’s Top Priority (AP)

Unlike most eurozone members, Greece’s welfare system is relatively weak, with effectively no social housing or rent assistance programs, while the jobless only receive benefits and state health coverage for up to one year. Families are left to provide the safety net. Pensioner Assimina Griva, who helps run a community center for the retired in a hillside suburb of Athens, illustrates what many Greeks live. With her monthly pension of €600 she gives financial assistance to her son, who was laid off from the steel industry and otherwise depends on his wife’s salary of €400. “I help my child, and I keep €100 for the whole month,” says Griva. The problem, experts agree, is that the system is speeding toward insolvency.

State spending on pensions has risen from 11.7% of GDP before the financial crisis to 16.2% as the economy shrank. The average in the European Union is about 12%. The burden on the state is set to grow dramatically as the number of pensioners — currently 2.6 million out of a total population of 11 million — is set to keep rising. Greece has the sixth oldest population in the world, according to United Nations data. Over 20% of Greeks are aged 65 and over, a share the EU statistics agency expects to jump to 33% in 2060. Added to that is the impact of the financial crisis. High unemployment, undeclared labor, and arrears from struggling businesses have hammered state revenues.

A 2012 write-down of Greece’s privately-held national debt saw pension funds’ reserves lose more than half their value, as they were required by law to buy government bonds. “The pension system in Greece is not sustainable. But how could it be?” Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said at a business conference in Berlin this month. “We want to reform it … (But) pensions have already been cut by 40%. Forty%! Is cutting further a reform? I don’t think it is a reform. Any butcher can take a clever and start chopping things down. We need surgery.”

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At last, the world press shows some signs of working neurons.

This Is A Deal That Heaps More Misery On Greeks (Guardian)

For Greece, the small concessions the creditors now seem prepared to make on pensions and tax increases on the poor will at least allow Alexis Tsipras to save face with his electorate and overcome the difficulty of getting the proposals through his parliament. But he will also have seen off the threat of capital controls being imposed to stop any further outflow of money from Greece and a humiliating take-it-or-leave-it message from the creditors should the ECB have pulled the plug and stopped providing emergency liquidity assistance to the beleaguered Greek banking system. Yet the reality is also that the extra austerity will now be tougher for Greece to bear and the cost of restoring the economy will be much greater.

Just as the rest of the eurozone is showing small signs of recovery the Greek economy has gone back into recession, with GDP falling by 0.4% in the last three months of 2014 and by 0.2% in the first three months of 2015. The signs are that the decline has continued, with unemployment rising again to 26%. Many companies have gone out of business as activity stalled during the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations and banks’ non-performing loans now account for some 35% of their total lending. As a result, the effort required to restore health to the economy will be much greater. It is hard to imagine it now, but strong tourist receipts last year brought the first rise in Greek GDP after a five-year decline in which the economy had slid by 25% under the IMF-inspired austerity programme.

The recent reversal has wiped out much of that progress. Years of austerity loom. More bailout money, but also more hardship and no – or very slow – growth. In itself that is not a recipe for social and political tranquillity. The creditor institutions, the old troika of the IMF, the ECB and the European commission, will be as visible as ever. So actually, not much advance on the status quo of the last few years. This gets us back to the perennial elephant in the room whenever Greece is discussed. The truth is, there won’t be sustainable growth again until the huge debt overhang (180% of GDP) is dealt with decisively. Greece would need to grow by at least 4% a year to service its current debt. If forced down that road, nothing can be seen ahead for the Greek people but continuous belt-tightening and misery.

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“Einstein had a definition for this – insanity..”

Creditors’ Economic Plan For Greece Is Illiterate And Doomed To Fail (Guardian)

One of the insights gleaned during the Great Depression was that it does not make a lot of sense for governments to try to balance budgets during a severe downturn, because tax increases and spending cuts reduce demand. That deepens the slump, leaving an even bigger hole in the public finances. In Greece, though, it as if the clock has been turned back to the pre-FDR days when Herbert Hoover was US president. Weak growth means that Athens continues to miss the deficit targets the troika sets for it. The troika responds by insisting on additional savings to put the budget back on track. Paul Krugman posted a chart last week based on IMF data that illustrates what happened to the underlying public finances of the eurozone members in 2014.

This measure of budgetary discipline looks at the primary budget surplus – the gap between revenues and spending excluding debt interest payments – adjusted for the state of the economic cycle. Measured in this way, Greece ran a surplus of more than 5% of GDP last year, comfortably higher than any other eurozone country. It is, however, not enough for the troika. In order to avoid a debt default and a run on its banks that would threaten its continued membership of the single currency, Greece has now had to table proposals that will suck an additional €8bn out of the economy in the next 18 months. Consumer spending will be hit by an increase in VAT and higher pension contributions, while investment will be dampened by a one-off levy and an increase in corporation tax.

Greece has a number of severe economic problems. It suffers from a lack of demand, and a five-year slump has pushed it into deflation. Falling prices have added to the real, inflation-adjusted burden of the government’s debt, which currently stands at 175% of GDP. A fresh dose of austerity will make all these problems worse. One way for Greece to get out of its mess would be for it to leave the euro, devalue its currency and renege on all or part of its debt. That is not an option if it stays in the single currency, which the public wants. Another way out would be for the creditors to cut Greece some slack. That would involve immediate debt relief and more realistic targets. The troika, though, will continue with policies that have failed before in the hope that they will succeed this time. Einstein had a definition for this – insanity.

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“..the single currency’s most troublesome state will remain inside the euro as long as Greek nuisance value (GNV), both political and economic, is held to be lower inside the system (I) than it would be outside (O)..”

Whatever Happens To Greece, It Will End In Contagion (MarketWatch)

Acres of column inches have been expended on Greece and the future. Here are eight succinct truths to guide observers through the next few days.

1. There will be no quick and easy end to the Greek affair. Unstable disequilibria can last a long time. For four centuries, Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire. Tonight’s unhappy meeting of eurozone leaders will not be the last time they gather to consider an intractable imbroglio.

2. Greece holds a lot of the cards. No doubt some kind of deal will be done to prevent — for the moment at least — full-scale ejection from the euro EURUSD, +0.3761% bloc.

As I wrote four months ago, the single currency’s most troublesome state will remain inside the euro as long as Greek nuisance value (GNV), both political and economic, is held to be lower inside the system (I) than it would be outside (O). For the time being, GNV-I is — just — less than GNV-O. All sorts of Greek maneuvering — whether talks with President Vladimir Putin or speculation about a Greek exit bringing down the euro “house of cards” — are useful ploys to stoke up European fears of GNV-O.

3. The funds that are now leaving Greek banks to the tune of €1 billion a day, whether being taken abroad or simply kept under the mattress, are all effectively liabilities of the European Central Bank, to be paid ultimately (if things go wrong) by European taxpayers. The ECB, as an unelected body run by technocrats, cannot by itself pull the plug on Greece and declare the banks insolvent. The Greek government has no great wish to bring in exchange controls (although soon it may be forced to) since withdrawn euros represent a negotiating tool against its creditors and a store of value that many Greeks can use to hedge against a return of the drachma.

4. The IMF is unlikely to get its money back on time. An internal IMF assessment two years ago ruled that the Fund’s exceptional loan to Greece in 2010 was made on far-too-optimistic assumptions about the country’s debt sustainability and ability to carry out adjustment, breaching the IMF’s own rules. U.S. taxpayers will lose money. So please forget any idea that Congress will agree on IMF governance and voting reforms any time in the next few years.

5. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will be a big loser. The pressure is on her to hold the euro area together and maintain Germany’s European credentials without damaging the pocketbooks of German taxpayers and turning the euro into an overt transfer union. This is an impossible task. Her biggest adversaries are likely to be within her own coalition with the Social Democratic Party, which, however unfairly, will publicly blame her for any unsavory outcome. Shaming Merkel over Greek debt may be unscrupulous, but if it delivers the SPD a chance of winning the 2017 election, then the party will seize it.

6. Karl Otto Pöhl, the former Bundesbank president who died in December, was right when he said, a few days after the May 2010 bailout, that it was decided to save (roughly in that order) rich Greeks, and French and German banks. The Bundesbank’s qualms over the ECB’s purchases of the bonds of Greece and other peripheral countries, publicly though impotently voiced at the time, were never likely to derail the action. But we will hear more of them now that taxpayers in Germany and other creditor countries start to weigh up the bill.

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Behind the curtains.

Tsipras: Angel Of Mercy Or Trusty Of Central Bankers’ Debt Prison? (Stockman)

Draghi and his posse of financial dimwits have created what amounts to a hideous financial scam – a disgrace to any notion of central banking which existed before 2008. Had he not announced he would massively monetize euro sovereign debt in July 2012, Greece would have been bankrupt long ago, and the peripheral borrowers like Italy, Spain and Portugal would have had their day of fiscal reckoning, too. The eurozone would have blown sky high, and the ECB would be no more. Likewise, were not the ECB now supplying $125 billion of funding to the Greek banking system—or actually more than its current level of fast vanishing deposits – the latter would have crashed and burned months ago, thereby triggering a crisis which would have eventually destroyed the euro.

Ironically, the angel of mercy now hovers in the form of Greece’s intrepid prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. Too be sure, his left-wing statist economics is a complete abomination that would cause the Greek people catastrophic suffering if were ever to be implemented. But he is absolutely correct on the matter of political self-governance: “We have no right to bury the European democracy in the land where it was born.” That’s the essence of the issue. If Greece’s democracy is to survive, it must be cut loose from the destructive regime of superstate dictation from Brussels and monetary falsification from Frankfurt. Ironically, going back to the Drachma would put Greece’s politicians right were they were before they were betrayed by the false monetary regime of eurozone central banking.

They would be forced to run a primary surplus because they would not be able to borrow on world markets after a massive default on the debt forced upon them by the eurozone, ECB and IMF. But the mix of taxing the rich, cutting the pensioners, catching the tax cheats, selling state assets, shrinking the bureaucracy and squeezing the crony capitalist leeches which feed on the Greek state would be up to them, not the inspectors and pompous bureaucrats from the IMF and European superstate. More importantly, faced with a honest bond market and real bond vigilantes, the Greek state would rediscover the requisites of sustainable fiscal governance. If they should ever again choose to run large fiscal deficits in the future, they would have to deal with an altogether different kind of committee. Namely, the pricing committee of their bond underwriters syndicate.

If the bond vigilantes needed a 15% yield to buy the state’s debt based on the facts and fiscal prospects at hand, there would not ensue months and years of can-kicking, phony restructuring plans and promises and endless PR maneuvers and leaks to the financial press. Greece’s politicians would be required to either hit the bid or cut the pension checks the very next day. Tsipras is now confronted with this kind of hard choice in an altogether different venue. If he sells out Greece one more time to the paymasters of his country’s crushing debt, it will be only a matter of time before another Greek prime minister will be forced to walk the same plank on which he now totters. By doing what’s right for Greek democracy, by contrast, he would prove to be an angel of mercy. There is no way that the euro and ECB could survive a Greexit, nor could worlwide Keynesian central banking survive the blow of their demise.

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Emerging markets.

Debt Default Risk Not Just A Greece Story (FT)

Gripped by the prospect of default in Greece? You may be looking in the wrong direction. The southern European nation may have the world’s highest debt burden, equal to 175% of its economy or gross domestic product, but according to credit rating agencies that does not make Greece the riskiest borrower for bond investors. That title is held by Ukraine, presently engaged in fighting a war with pro-Russian separatists as well as battling creditors over $15bn of debt the country says it cannot afford to service. The difference between Greece and Ukraine is reflected in the prices at which the sovereign debt of the two countries trades. Prices for Greek bonds have crashed over the past year as investors took fright at the political success of the anti-austerity Syriza party, yet they remain above 50 cents in the euro – considered a benchmark default level.

Ukraine’s equivalent bonds trade below 50 cents in the dollar, suggesting a far higher risk of a default. Indeed, this week, Ukraine was declared a “credit event”, triggering insurance payouts in the credit derivatives market. According to credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, default is all but certain. All told, 11 countries, including Greece, are currently at serious risk of defaulting according to global credit rating agency Moody’s. Around the world the euphoric credit boom in emerging markets driven by low interest rates in the US, Europe and Japan now appears vulnerable, piling on the pressure for borrowers. A weakening trend in EM sovereign credit that began in 2013 has continued this year thanks to the slowdown in Chinese economic growth, weakness in commodity prices and higher US dollar borrowing costs, according to UBS.

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Interesting two-week old piece.

A Derivatives Bomb Exploded In The First Week Of June (IRD)

(June 9): I believe the illogical movement in 10yr Treasury yields reflects the fact the Fed is losing control of its tight grip on the bond market and longer term interest rates. Note that German bunds have also experienced a similar spike up in interest rates and volatilty. In the context of my view that there was a derivatives accident somewhere in the global banking system in the last two weeks, it could well have been an OTC interest rate swap bomb that detonated. As of the latest OCC quarterly report on bank derivatives activity (Q4 2014), JP Morgan held $63.7 trillion notional amount of derivatives, $40 trillion of which were various interest rate derivatives.

If you look at the ratio of interest rate derivatives to total holdings for the top 4 U.S. banks, they all own roughly same proportion of interest rate derivatives as % of total holdings. Deutsche Bank is reported to have about a $73 trillion derivatives book. If we assume that ratio of interest rate derivatives is likely similar to JP Morgan’s, it means that DB’s potential derivatives exposure to interest rates is around $46 trillion. Interestingly, the price of the 10yr moved abruptly higher after the Fed ended QE. This is the opposite of what many of us would have expected. It wasn’t until early February that 10yr bond price began to decline (yields move higher). The 10yr bond price also crashed through its 200 day moving average – an ominous technical signal. Both of these events happened within the last week.

Again, I believe that this action in the bond market is pointing to the fact that the Fed is losing control of the markets. I also believe that the catalyst for this loss of control is a big derivatives accident of some sort in the last two weeks. Another clear indication that something has melted down “behind the scenes” recently is an ominous market call by self-made hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, founder and CEO of Elliott Management. In his latest letter to investors, released the last week of May, he stated that the best trade in a generation is to short “long term claims on paper money.

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Too late.

Beware Bond-Liquidity Traps When Hunting Yield, Pimco Says (Bloomberg)

Investors risk falling into liquidity traps as they seek to boost yields depressed by the ECB’s €1.1 trillion bond-buying program, according to Pimco. The search for yield has caused investors to buy riskier and less frequently traded bonds, which may be hard to sell quickly, said Mike Amey at Pimco, which oversees about $1.59 trillion of assets. Overall bond trading has slumped since the global financial crisis because banks have cut inventories to preserve capital in response to tighter regulations. “If you want to find some yield-enhancing assets, then make sure you’re paid for tighter liquidity,” said Amey, a speaker at Euromoney’s Global Borrowers & Investors Forum in London, which starts Tuesday. “If you’re going to take a liquidity premium, be prepared to hold the asset for years.”

One measure of bond-market liquidity is down 10% in the past year and 90% since 2006, RBS said in March. In the U.S., less than 5% of the market changes hands each month, down from about 20% in 2007, according to a November report by the Bank for International Settlements. “My biggest worry for the market going forward is liquidity,” said Kris Kowal at DuPont Capital Management, which oversees $30.8 billion of assets. Investors are “trading illiquidity for a bit more yield, and I don’t think that’s the right approach at this stage in Europe’s economic cycle.”

Structured securities and loans are among the most illiquid assets, said Wilmington, Delaware-based Kowal, who is also speaking at the Euromoney conference. Investors who need liquidity should hold cash or highly traded government bonds, Amey said. The ECB’s quantitative easing will continue to provide liquidity for the time being, said David Zahn, head of European fixed income at Franklin Templeton Investments, which manages about $890 billion of assets. Still, he is ensuring that his funds have enough liquidity to meet redemptions and to act on new opportunities.

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Why does the right have to be the only side that gets it right?

TTIP Is A Corporatist Scam And Not A Real Free Trade Deal: Ukip (Independent)

A proposed deal between the United States and European Union is a “corporatist scam”, Ukip’s MP has said. Douglas Carswell said that TTIP, which stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, was not what its proponents made it out to be. “Ukip [is] making clear we are the most staunchly free trade party in the UK,” he tweeted. “TTIP is not free trade. It’s a corporatist scam.” Tellingly, the message was retweeted by Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, a leading contender for his party’s nomination for Mayor of London. TTIP’s proponents say it is a free trade deal that would benefit both the United States and European Union.

One controversial aspect of drafts of the deal would be to establish a quasi-judicial trade court to which the two blocs would be subject. This could allow large corporations to ‘sue’ national governments for enacting any policy that potentially harmed their profits. Critics say that this would erode democracy and increase corporate power. The deal is also controversial because of the secret way in which it is been negotiated, with press and campaigners relying heavily on leaks to determine its direction. A Ukip spokesperson told the Independent that the party feared the destruction of public services by the deal.

“Ukip is a party that believes that free trade between people is the surest way to greater prosperity,” he said. “However the TTIP agreement is not a free trade deal, but one that favours big multinational corporates over the interests of smaller businesses, and most importantly the democratic right of people to set policy through elections. “TTIP as it currently stands could hand the NHS lock, stock, and barrel to huge corporations against the wishes of the British people.”

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Long term risk.

Will Seizure of Russian Assets Hasten Dollar Decline? (Ron Paul)

While much of the world focused last week on whether or not the Federal Reserve was going to raise interest rates, or whether the Greek debt crisis would bring Europe to a crisis, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague awarded a $50 billion judgment to shareholders of the former oil company Yukos in their case against the Russian government. The governments of Belgium and France moved immediately to freeze Russian state assets in their countries, naturally provoking the anger of the Russian government.[..] The US government is desperately trying to cling to the notion of a unipolar world, with the United States at its center dictating foreign affairs and monetary policy while its client states dutifully carry out instructions.

But the world order is not unipolar, and the existence of Russia and China is a stark reminder of that. For decades, the United States has benefited as the creator and defender of the world’s reserve currency, the dollar. This has enabled Americans to live beyond their means as foreign goods are imported to the US while increasingly-worthless dollars are sent abroad. But is it any wonder after 70-plus years of a depreciating dollar that the rest of the world is rebelling against this massive transfer of wealth? The Europeans tried to form their own competitor to the dollar, and the resulting euro is collapsing around them as you read this.

But the European Union was never considered much of a threat by the United States, existing as it does within Washington’s orbit. Russia and China, on the other hand, pose a far more credible threat to the dollar, as they have both the means and the motivation to form a gold-backed alternative monetary system to compete against the dollar. That is what the US government fears, and that is why President Obama and his Western allies are risking a cataclysmic war by goading Russia with these politically-motivated asset seizures. Having run out of carrots, the US is resorting to the stick. The US government knows that Russia will not blithely accept Washington’s dictates, yet it still reacts like a petulant child flying into a tantrum whenever Russia dares to exert its sovereignty.

The existence of a country that won’t kowtow to Washington’s demands is an unforgivable sin, to be punished with economic sanctions, attempting to freeze Russia out of world financial markets; veiled threats to strip Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup; and now the seizure of Russian state assets. Thus far the Russian response has been incredibly restrained, but that may not last forever. Continued economic pressure from the West may very well necessitate a Sino-Russian monetary arrangement that will eventually dethrone the dollar. The end result of this needless bullying by the United States will hasten the one thing Washington fears the most: a world monetary system in which the US has no say and the dollar is relegated to playing second fiddle.

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Golden rule: If they can do it, they will.

Espionnage Élysée – NSA Spied On French Governments, Presidents (Wikileaks)

Today, 23 June 2015, WikiLeaks began publishing “Espionnage Élysée”, a collection of TOP SECRET intelligence reports and technical documents from the US National Security Agency (NSA) concerning targeting and signals intelligence intercepts of the communications of high-level officials from successive French governments over the last ten years. The top secret documents derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications of French Presidents Francois Hollande (2012–present), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012), and Jacques Chirac (1995–2007), as well as French cabinet ministers and the French Ambassador to the United States.

The documents also contain the “selectors” from the target list, detailing the cell phone numbers of numerous officials in the Elysee up to and including the direct cell phone of the President. Prominent within the top secret cache of documents are intelligence summaries of conversations between French government officials concerning some of the most pressing issues facing France and the international community, including the global financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis, the leadership and future of the European Union, the relationship between the Hollande administration and the German government of Angela Merkel, French efforts to determine the make-up of the executive staff of the United Nations, French involvement in the conflict in Palestine and a dispute between the French and US governments over US spying on France.

A founding member state of the European Union and one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, France is formally a close ally of the United States, and plays a key role in a number of US-associated international institutions, including the Group of 7 (G7), NATO and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The revelation of the extent of US spying against French leaders and diplomats echoes a previous disclosure in the German press concerning US spying on the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials. That disclosure provoked a political scandal in Germany, eventuating in an official inquiry into German intelligence co-operation with the United States, which is still ongoing.

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And nothing will be done. Or they risk exposure of what France itself does.

Hollande Calls Emergency Meeting After U.S. Spying Reports (Bloomberg)

French President Francois Hollande has called a high-level emergency meeting for 9 a.m. on Wednesday after WikiLeaks reported that the U.S. had spied on him and two of his predecessors. The meeting with the defense, interior, foreign and justice ministers will “evaluate the nature” of the report posted on the WikiLeaks website, said an official in Hollande’s office who asked not to be identified. WikiLeaks, which has published unauthorized documents since it started in 2006, reported that the NSA spied on Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac from 2006 to 2012, listening in on discussions about the euro debt crisis and French relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, including secret meetings of French government ministers about the possibility of Greece leaving the euro area.

The NSA also eavesdropped on French complaints about U.S. spying, WikiLeaks said. “We are not targeting and will not target the communications of President Hollande,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, which advises the White House on its foreign policy. “We do not conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose.” Sarkozy’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment. Agence France-Presse reported that his office had said the spying as reported was “unacceptable in general, and certainly between allies.” WikiLeaks has been releasing documents about U.S. wiretapping since 2010, detailing how the NSA spied on world leaders including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

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You betcha.

World’s Big Economies Are About to Feel the Impact of China Slowdown (Bloomberg)

Emerging markets and commodity suppliers have grappled with reduced demand from China as a property downturn weighed on the world’s second-largest economy. U.S., Japanese and German exporters did better, supplying capital goods like machines that China still demanded. That may soon change, according to a study of global exposure to China by UBS Group AG economists Donna Kwok, Wang Tao and Jennifer Zhong. “As the multiyear Chinese property downshift continues to unfold beyond this year, we may see a longer-term decline in China’s appetite for foreign industrial imports,” the analysts wrote in a report June 22. “Commodity, reprocessing, and developed country exporters alike should brace themselves for the impact of weakening China demand this year, irrespective of whether U.S. or EU imports pick up.”

That’s not good news for a world economy increasingly reliant on China. China quadrupled the number of countries to which it was the biggest export market in the decade to 2014, the UBS analysts wrote. In the same period, the U.S. almost halved the number of countries for which it held the same title. In terms of exports as a share of GDP, nearly all countries UBS covers saw their China exposure rise; some doubled – Japan, South Korea, U.S., Brazil, Canada, Chile – while some tripled – Germany, the EU – and some even quadrupled, like Australia. For commodity exporters including South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and Brazil, the impact of a slowing China has been predictably negative.

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Just to show you who’s really in power.

Shell Fights To Prevent The Release Of Arctic Drilling Audit (Greenpeace)

Shell is fighting to prevent the public release of an audit of their Arctic drilling operations. Last week, in response to Greenpeace’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Shell argued to government regulators that the entire document is “confidential business information” and should be kept from public disclosure. The problem is that – in order to comment on Shell’s Exploration Plan – the public should have had access to this document months ago. The deadline for that passed on 1 May yet the government department in charge – Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) – has had the first part of Shell’s audit since November 2014. With Shell’s fleet already heading north to Alaska the failure to disclose is becoming more serious every day.

After Shell’s disastrous 2012 attempt at drilling in the Arctic Ocean — which ended with one of their drilling rigs beached on an Alaskan island and eight felony charges related to violations on the other rig — Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a review of Shell’s operations to find out what went wrong, including an audit of Shell’s Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS). The audit was designed to ensure “that the management and oversight shortcomings identified with respect to all aspects of the company’s 2012 operation have been addressed and that the company’s management structure and systems are appropriately tailored to Shell’s Arctic exploration program” – before the firm was to drill again in the Arctic.

The audit was meant to be a full third party assessment – but Shell paid for the audit and was allowed to handpick the auditor (Houston-based Endeavor Management). A SEMS audit assesses the management and operational systems put in place on offshore oil rigs to protect worker safety and the environment, such as analysing potential hazards and operating procedures. The auditor will typically review documents and systems as well as conduct interviews and site visits. It was also disclosed that the audit would be split into two parts. Stage 1 would take place in Shell’s Anchorage, AK office, and Stage 2 would take place on board the drillship Noble Discoverer once it was operating in the waters of the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf.

The in-office portion of the audit was completed in 2014 and the audit report was provided to BSEE towards the end of that year. However, this document has never been made public and Greenpeace submitted a FOIA request for its release. Despite the promise that the audit would be a requirement “before” Shell was allowed to return to the Arctic, Stage 2 has yet to be completed and will presumably happen this summer while Shell is drilling.

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Sanctions?

Russia Surpasses Saudi Arabia as China’s Biggest Oil Supplier (Bloomberg)

Russia surpassed Saudi Arabia to become China’s top crude supplier as the fight for market share in the world’s second-largest oil consumer intensifies. China imported a record 3.92 million metric tons from its northern neighbor in May, according to data emailed by the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs. That’s equivalent to 927,000 barrels a day, a 20% increase from the previous month. Saudi sales slumped 42% from April to 3.05 million tons. China is becoming a key market for global oil exporters as surging output from shale fields from Texas to North Dakota allows the U.S., the biggest crude consumer, to rely less on overseas supplies. The Asian nation will account for more than 11% of world demand this year, the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicted this month.

“This is a clear sign of how spoilt Asia is for choice these days, with Middle Eastern crude now having to compete with oil from other regions,” Amrita Sen at Energy Aspects said in an e-mail. “Russia is increasingly looking east and the various deals made between Rosneft and China are likely to see more Russian crude head to China permanently.” Russia is China’s top crude supplier for the first time since October 2005 as it seeks new markets for its crude amid western sanctions over its dispute with Ukraine. Rosneft in 2013 agreed to supply 365 million tons over 25 years to China National under a $270 billion deal. The same year, the company agreed an $85 billion, 10-year deal with China Petrochemical. Russia isn’t the only crude shipper to overtake Saudi Arabia last month. Angola sold 3.26 million tons to China, 14% more from April, rising two places to take second spot.

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As we always predicted.

Cellulosic Ethanol is Going Backwards (Robert Rapier)

In last month’s article Where are the Unicorns?, I discussed the fact that the commercial cellulosic ethanol plants that were announced with great fanfare over the past couple of years are obviously running at a small fraction of their nameplate capacity. In fact, April was a record month for cellulosic ethanol production according to the EPA’s database that tracks this information, but that meant that at least 8 months into the learning curves for these plants actual production for that month was only about 6% of nameplate capacity. May’s numbers are now in, and the situation has gotten worse. After reporting 288,685 gallons of cellulosic ethanol in April, May’s numbers only amounted to 114,018 gallons.

This is only about 2.4% of the nameplate capacity of the announced commercial cellulosic ethanol plants. If we use year-to-date numbers, the annualized capacity is still less than 3% of nameplate capacity for facilities that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Let that soak in. POET alone spent $275 million, with U.S. taxpayers footing more than $100 million of that bill. Abengoa reportedly received $229 million from taxpayers for its project. For this (plus however much that was spent by INEOS), the combined plants are running at an annualized capacity of 1.7 million gallons of ethanol, which would sell on the spot market today for $2.6 million.

We can conclude from this that the three companies with announced commercial cellulosic ethanol facilities – INEOS, POET, and Abengoa – are finding the going much tougher than expected. I believe that the costs to produce their cellulosic ethanol are higher than the price they will receive for the ethanol. This is the sort of monthly cash drain that led to the shutdown of everyone else that ever tried to produce cellulosic ethanol commercially.

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Jun 212015
 
 June 21, 2015  Posted by at 10:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Army of the James at completed Dutch Gap canal, James River, Virginia 1864

Hollande Is Implored to End ‘Financial Blackmail’ of Greece (Bloomberg)
The Fight To End Greece’s Great Euro Depression (Telegraph)
Greek Episodes Of Despair And Drama As Moment Of Truth Nears (Helena Smith)
Greece, The Euro and Gunboat Diplomacy (Karl Whelan)
As Greece Stares Into The Abyss, Has Spain Escaped From Crisis? (Observer)
Greek PM Prepares Last-Ditch Offer To Avoid Default On Debts (Observer)
The Greek Crisis Reveals The EU’s Democratic Deficit (Coppola)
Rising Child Poverty Across Britain ‘Halts Progress Made Since 1990s’ (Observer)
‘It’s Time To Hold Physical Cash’: Senior UK Fund Manager (Telegraph)
Steal from Taxpayers, Blame the Poor (Paul Buchheit)
Russia Slams Renewed EU Sanctions, Says Measure Is ‘Hopeless’ (RT)
Ukraine is a ‘Black Hole’ for European Taxpayers’ Money: German Media (Sputnik)
Powerful People In The West And In Kiev Do Not Want Peace – Stephen Cohen (RT)
Nomi Prins: There Is No Saving This Global Financial System (KWN)
Liars, Cowards, Freaks & Fools: Trump for President? (Paul Craig Roberts)
Why the Pope’s Environment Encyclical Is a Big Deal (Newsweek)
All Kangaroos Are Left-Handed (Discovery)
The Latest Global Temperature Data Are Literally Off The Chart (Guardian)
The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Here (Stanford.edu)

Potential big deal. Hollande’s chance to show -independent- leadership. France is pivotal to Europe, but it must speak up to make that count.

Hollande Is Implored to End ‘Financial Blackmail’ of Greece (Bloomberg)

French President Francois Hollande received an appeal from a group of lawmakers including some from the ruling Socialist Party and other political figures to end the “financial blackmail” of Greece by its European creditors. The message of France “cannot be a docile reminder of the rules at a time when the house is burning,” the lawmakers said in an open letter to Hollande published on the website of France’s Communist Party. “We are asking you to take the initiative to unblock the talks between the euro group and the Greek political authorities.” The letter highlights the domestic political pressure Hollande faces to help broker a deal between Greece and its creditors as the region’s most indebted nation is on the brink of a default.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hollande spoke by phone on Friday after a meeting of euro area finance ministers failed to advance toward an agreement with Greece. So far the two biggest economies in the 19-nation euro bloc have presented a united front against Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has spent his five months in power trying to roll back the austerity policies underpinning the country’s bailout. At the finance minister’s meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin pressed hardest for a compromise, while his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble stayed largely silent and ministers from other countries stepped up the pressure on Greece, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The French lawmakers, including Socialists such as Pouria Amirshahi and Fanelie Carrey-Conte, told Hollande to place France “at the side of the people of Greece.” “Bring explicit support to the healthy measures taken by the Greek authorities, notably those addressing the humanitarian crisis in the country” they said. “Accept the principle of a restructuring of Greek debt, of which a large part is notoriously illegitimate.”

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“There Is No Europe Without Greece.”

The Fight To End Greece’s Great Euro Depression (Telegraph)

Nikos Athanassiou, a 61-year-old Athenian pensioner, is at the heart of Greece’s struggle to maintain its fragile 14-year membership of the euro. Like many of his compatriots, Nikos took early retirement having worked most of his life labouring in the country’s now defunct construction industry, aged 58. He is one of the 2.6m pensioners in Greece who have become the unlikely battleground in the latest game of brinkmanship between the radical Left government and its paymasters. A member of Communist Party of Greece (KKE), Nikos spends his retirement resisting Troika-imposed cuts to public services as a union representative for his local district in northern Athens “It is my duty to demand dignity for Greeks. We are collapsing as a country,” says Nikos.

His resolve is not unusual in a society where the bulk of proposed cuts will hit the elderly and newly retired. The IMF is demanding the Greek government slash €1.8bn in pensions spending in 2016. At 16.2pc of GDP, Greece’s outlay is highest in the eurozone. Even with overhauls to the retirement age and spending cuts, this will still only fall to 14.3pc in 45 years time – the third highest in the EU. Nikos’s pension is €750 a month. He is among nearly half of all Greek pensioners who provide the sole source of income to support three generations of one family. But his pension is barely enough to provide for his seven-year old granddaughter and her parents. “When I think about my granddaughter’s future, I panic. I want her to live in an independent Greece – not a protectorate.”

Resentment against creditors’ determination to suck more funds from the country’s pension system is rife. Greeks have already seen a 40pc fall in their pension provision over five years – a shrinkage that has been ruled unconstitutional by the country’s highest administrative court. One of the reasons the spending ranks so highly is due less to generosity of individual pensions than it is the extreme recession that has shrunk GDP to almost pre-euro levels. Greece’s radical Left government has vociferously defended pensions as one of the last remaining safety nets in a country where 45pc of the elderly live below the poverty line. The issue has become the immovable “red line” in Greece’s struggle to finally end what the ruling Syriza party have dubbed a “ritual humiliation.”

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One week in the life of a shattered society.

Greek Episodes Of Despair And Drama As Moment Of Truth Nears (Helena Smith)

Sunday: Five years is a long time to be in crisis. It’s freefall by a thousand cuts; loss in myriad ways, hard choices that never get easier. Last week, as Greece descended into drama, a young man appeared on the marble steps of the neoclassical building opposite my home. Head in hand, he sat there from Sunday to Wednesday, in the beating sun, a wheelie bag in front of him, a slice of cardboard perched on top that read: “I am homeless. Help please!”

When you live in Athens you do not flinch at the signs of decay: to do so would be to give in. But somehow the sight of this forlorn figure – a waif of a man, eyes fixed only at his feet, the embodiment of wounded pride, brought home as never before that Greeks are in crisis. Was he giving up or making a hard choice? If he was 22, and he barely seemed that, his entire adult life had been spent in crisis. This is the great tragedy of Greece. It has not only been needlessly impoverished – it now eats up its own. The elderly woman who occasionally rifles through the rubbish bins on the corner of the square my office overlooks – often carrying a Louis Vuitton bag – is so glad she was born at the end of the 1946-49 civil war. “At least then it could get better. Today it can only get worse.”

Monday: For five years we have all felt as if we are on a runaway train, hurtling into the unknown. Sometimes the train picks up speed, sometimes it slows down, but never enough to stop. This week, as the drumbeat of default, impending bankruptcy and disastrous euro exit thudded ever louder, the train felt as if it might derail altogether. Had a lunatic got hold of the controls? On Monday morning it began to feel like it. For me, the day started at 2am when I received a text from Euclid Tsakalotos, the point-man in negotiations between Athens and the troika.

“We made huge efforts to meet them halfway,” he wrote hours after talks reached an impasse over a reform-for-cash deal that could save Greece. “But they insisted on pension and wage cuts.” By mid-morning, global stock markets were tumbling. By midday, the world had learned that, without an agreement, Greece might not be able to honour an end-of-month debt repayment to the IMF worth €1.6bn. By midnight, newscasters, looking decidedly nervous, had broken their own taboo: many were talking openly of euro exit.

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“..unnecessary cowardice, confusion and hubris..”

Greece, The Euro and Gunboat Diplomacy (Karl Whelan)

Original decision to provide a bail out is the source of the current crisis. Time for Europe to share the blame and financial consequences.

With everyone talking about Greece being on the verge of exiting the euro after Monday’s summit meeting, it seems to be forgotten that the current crisis is not really about Greece’s currency arrangements at all. The Greek people are not demanding a return to the drachma and few within the country are arguing for the competitive benefits a currency devaluation would entail. And there are no formal rules that Greece is breaking that must lead to an exit from the euro because, legally, the euro is a fixed and irrevocable currency union. This crisis is about more basic things: Debt and power. Indeed, the current stand-off looks a lot more like the classic gunboat diplomacy conflicts of the 19th century than it does the currency crises of the 20th century.

Europe’s governments and the IMF made an enormous mistake in bailing out Greece’s private creditors in 2010 and then overseeing a botched debt restructuring in 2012. In turn, the Greek governments of this era made the mistake of accepting official loans to pay off private creditors, perhaps not realising they were jumping out the frying pan straight into the fire. Now the Greeks are learning that defaulting on private creditors is one thing (not so hard it turns out, once you’ve got Lee Buchheit in your corner) but defaulting on governments of rich European countries is quite something else. Blaming the euro for the current impasse is actually pretty strange because the euro’s founding fathers explicitly warned member states to not to get themselves into this situation.

The story of the demise of Europe’s “no bailout clause” is an interesting one. Rather than an inevitable crisis, one can credibly argue that the decisions that landed us in the current situation did not need to be taken and were taken as a result of unnecessary cowardice, confusion and hubris. I reviewed many papers on prospects for the euro written by economists in the 1990s. I was struck by the consensus that the fiscal limitations of the Stability and Growth Pact would generally be honoured, that euro members that got into fiscal troubles would not be bailed out by other countries and this would lead to sovereign defaults when countries did get into fiscal problems.

By and large, the policy heavyweights of the day, such as Rudi Dornbusch, believed there was a “categorical no-bailout injunction.” As such, it was expected that markets would understand that European governments were more likely to default once their devaluation option was taken away and that financial markets would price the sovereign debt of countries differently depending on the health of their public finances.

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Note the pattern: Spain ‘recovers’ through increasing inequality.

As Greece Stares Into The Abyss, Has Spain Escaped From Crisis? (Observer)

While the big picture is undoubtedly improving – big investors are returning to a country that barely three years ago was widely expected to need a Greece-style sovereign bailout – Spain is still mired in a period of transition. Even the IMF report that welcomed Spain’s impressive growth rate – one of the strongest in Europe – also stressed the shaky jobs outlook, noting that unemployment was “still painfully high” and that “vulnerabilities remain”. “Spain has returned to about 95% of where it was in 2008,” says Professor Javier Diaz-Giménez of the IESE business school in Madrid. “That means 2008 is still a benchmark people look back at with nostalgia. At current growth rates, the economy will get back to where it was in 2008 at the end of next year. It’s a very late recovery.”

One of the biggest worries for those yet to see any improvements in their lives is whether even a sustained recovery will be enough to repair the damage. Jobs are starting to return, currently at a rate of 400,000-500,000 a year, but more than three million were lost during the downturn, so the new jobs represent only a small improvement in an unemployment rate, which is still running at almost 24%. In Greece, which now finds itself on the edge of the economic precipice, the rate is 26%. Inequalities, meanwhile, are deepening, leaving some to wonder whether the crisis is even over at all. “The economy is certainly not improving for those without a job or a home,” says Lotta Tenhunen, a social activist in Madrid. The group she works with, PAH, campaigns on behalf of those evicted after falling into arrears on their mortgage payments, and became especially prominent at the height of the recession. In Vallecas, it still meets every week: “People and families are still being driven out of their homes – and the rate is still rising.”

Prospects for the young are particularly bleak. About half of under-25-year-olds in the labour force are without a job, and this threatens to leave the country with a listless lost generation for whom unemployment is the norm. The ranks of the long-term jobless are also swelling. “It is not just the headline unemployment figure that is worrying; it is also the type of unemployment,” says Antonio Barroso of consultancy Teneo Intelligence. “40% of unemployed people are over the age of 45, so difficult to retrain and bring back into the labour market. You also have to look at the types of jobs being created. Most new positions are temporary contracts, where people are left in a precarious position with very few rights – this does not breed confidence.”

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“Speculation is rife that Greece’s creditors at the EU, ECB and IMF would offer a six-month extension of the bailout programme..”

Greek PM Prepares Last-Ditch Offer To Avoid Default On Debts (Observer)

The race to save Greece from economic collapse intensified on Saturday night as its beleaguered leader conducted a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiations before an EU summit on Monday that is expected to decide the country’s fate. Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, met senior officials in an attempt to devise a package of reforms that would secure emergency funds and avoid the nation defaulting on its massive debts. It will be the third such proposal that Athens has made to its creditors in as many weeks. “We will try to supplement our proposal so that we get closer to a solution,” Greece’s minister of state, Alekos Flabouraris, told broadcaster Mega TV. “We are not going [to the summit] with the old proposal. Some work is being done to see where we can converge, so that we achieve a mutually beneficial solution.”

Flabouraris, widely seen as a mentor to the young prime minister, said Tsipras would hold crucial talks with the head of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The Greek cabinet will meet in an emergency session on Sunday with Tsipras also dispatching senior officials to Brussels. The frantic diplomacy came as Greece’s eurozone partners warned that, after five months of fruitless talks, the game was up for Tsipras’s radical leftwing government. The country, which has been thrown two lifelines since 2010, has until 30 June to secure €7.2bn (£5.1bn) in bailout funds. Failure to release the loans will result in default, as Greece owes €1.6bn to the IMF at the end of the month. Among the measures that the Syriza-led coalition was reportedly working on on Saturday were reductions in early retirement schemes.

Pension and VAT reforms, along with labour deregulation, remain sources of friction between the two sides. Speculation is rife that Greece’s creditors at the EU, ECB and IMF would offer a six-month extension of the bailout programme – disbursing more than €10bn in aid to tide the country over the summer – if agreement was reached. Discussions over a third bailout Athens will inevitably also require would be kicked down the road. Speaking to the Observer, Athens’s chief negotiator, Euclid Tsakalotos, described the prospect of a short-term deal as perhaps the worst possible outcome. Prolongation of the political uncertainty – and scenarios of Greece’s enforced exit from the euro – would, he said, do nothing for the country’s economic recovery.

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Coppola still leaves me with a host of questions. Yanis wrote yesterday that his proposals were never even read because that would mean they’d need to be sent to Bundestag. Whether that automatically implies a vote, I don’t know.

The Greek Crisis Reveals The EU’s Democratic Deficit (Coppola)

The Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has stirred up something of a hornet’s nest. He has spilled the beans on the less-than-transparent negotiating tactics of the EU institutions – the European Commission and the ECB. The Irish finance minister, Michael Noonan, complained that he had not seen the proposals put forward by the EU institutions for consideration by the Greek government. This is a serious criticism. Failure to brief finance ministers adequately before a Eurogroup meeting is negligent, although perhaps understandable in a rapidly-changing situation. It means that the ministers are unable to make informed decisions, so they must either rubber-stamp proposals without considering then properly, or defer everything.

Kicking cans down the road is of course a Eurogroup specialty, but it really shouldn’t be forced on finance ministers through inadequate briefing. Exactly why Mr. Noonan was not briefed is unclear. Did he miss the briefing? Was it an oversight by hard-pressed bureaucrats? Were other ministers briefed? We don’t know. But it is worrying that a mistake like this can be made in such finely balanced negotiations. One false move could spell disaster. The EU negotiators must be more careful. But Mr. Varoufakis added another complaint to Mr. Noonan’s. He said that he had been prevented from briefing EU finance ministers on his own proposal ahead of the meeting. And he blamed the Germans:

In fact, as our German counterpart was later to confirm, any written submission to a finance minister by either Greece or the institutions was “unacceptable”, as he would then need to table it at the Bundestag, thus negating its utility as a negotiating bid.

I find this hard to believe. In effect, it means that anything presented to the Eurogroup in writing is deemed by the Germans to be a firm recommendation requiring a vote by the German Parliament. If this is true, then it makes negotiations far more difficult. Complex proposals have to be written down, even if they are not the final word, because otherwise there is a significant risk of misunderstanding. Even more importantly, it raises serious questions about the role of the Eurogroup. If all the Eurogroup can ever see is a finished product, they can never do more than rubber-stamp decisions made by unelected bureaucrats behind the scenes. This is not a good way of running a supposedly democratic polity. Mr. Varoufakis makes a very similar criticism:

The euro zone moves in a mysterious way. Momentous decisions are rubber- stamped by finance ministers who remain in the dark on the details, while unelected officials of mighty institutions are locked into one-sided negotiations with a solitary government-in-distress. It is as if Europe has determined that elected finance ministers are not up to the task of mastering the technical details; a task best left to “experts” representing not voters but the institutions. One can only wonder to what extent such an arrangement is efficient, let alone remotely democratic.

And in his final paragraphs, he accuses the Eurogroup of being not fit for purpose. Hmm. Whether or not this criticism is justified, I can’t for the life of me see how saying it publicly is helpful to the Greek cause. It’s only going to annoy people.

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Shame on you!

Rising Child Poverty Across Britain ‘Halts Progress Made Since 1990s’ (Observer)

Child poverty is on course for the biggest rise in a generation, reversing years of progress that began in the late 1990s, leading charities and independent experts claimed on Saturday. The stark prognosis comes before the release of government figures which experts believe will show a clear increase for the first time since the start of the decade. It also comes as the chancellor George Osborne and work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith announced they had agreed a plan to slash a further £12bn a year from benefits spending. In a joint letter they pledged to attack the “damaging culture of welfare dependency”, and said it would take “a decade” or more to return the welfare budget to what they called “sanity”.

The introduction of the bedroom tax and cuts in benefits between 2013 and last year are blamed for fuelling the rise in the number of families whose income is below 60% of the UK average – the definition of relative poverty. Calculations from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have suggested that progress between the late 1990s and 2010 has been reversed and that the number of children living in relative poverty rose from 2.3 million in 2013 to 2.6 million in 2014. The Child Poverty Action Group says that with the government committed to implementing another £12bn of cuts in a new round of austerity, the problem will grow.

As tens of thousands of people joined an anti-austerity march through London on Saturday, Alison Garnham, the charity’s chief executive, said ministers were failing too many children. “The government can no longer claim that deficit reduction is about protecting children’s futures now that it’s being made to confront a child poverty crisis, with the biggest rise in a generation now expected of its own making,” she said. “With child poverty expected to rise by nearly a third in the decade to 2020 as a result of its policies, it’s clear the government’s approach is failing.”

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Pretty soon, we’ll all be Greeks.

‘It’s Time To Hold Physical Cash’: Senior UK Fund Manager (Telegraph)

The manager of one of Britain’s biggest bond funds has urged investors to keep cash under the mattress. Ian Spreadbury, who invests more than £4bn of investors’ money across a handful of bond funds for Fidelity, including the flagship Moneybuilder Income fund, is concerned that a “systemic event” could rock markets, possibly similar in magnitude to the financial crisis of 2008, which began in Britain with a run on Northern Rock. “Systemic risk is in the system and as an investor you have to be aware of that,” he told Telegraph Money. The best strategy to deal with this, he said, was for investors to spread their money widely into different assets, including gold and silver, as well as cash in savings accounts.

But he went further, suggesting it was wise to hold some “physical cash”, an unusual suggestion from a mainstream fund manager. His concern is that global debt – particularly mortgage debt – has been pumped up to record levels, made possible by exceptionally low interest rates that could soon end, and he is unsure how well banks could cope with the shocks that may await. He pointed out that a saver was covered only up to £85,000 per bank under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme – which is effectively unfunded – and that the Government has said it will not rescue banks in future, hence his suggestion that some money should be held in physical cash. He declined to predict the exact trigger but said it was more likely to happen in the next five years rather than 10.

The current woes of Greece, which may crash out of the euro, already has many market watchers concerned. Mr Spreadbury’s views are timely, aside from Greece. A growing number of professional investors (see comment, right) and commentators are expressing unease about what happens next. The prices of nearly all assets – property, shares, bonds – have been rising for years. House prices have risen by 26pc since the start of 2009, and by 68pc in London. The FTSE 100 is up by 75pc. Although it feels counter-intuitive, this trend of rising prices should continue if economies remain weak, because it gives central banks licence to keep rates low and to carry on with their “quantitative easing” programmes.

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The MO.

Steal from Taxpayers, Blame the Poor (Paul Buchheit)

It’s a vicious circle of hypocrisy: Americans dependent on the safety net are urged to “get a job” by the same free-market system that pays them too little to avoid being dependent on the safety net. According to the Economic Policy Institute, $45 billion per year in federal, state, and other safety net support is paid to workers in the bottom 20% of wage earners. Thus the average U.S. household is paying almost $400 to employees in low-wage industries such as food service, retail, and personal care. Paul Ryan said that social programs “turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.” But 63% of eligible working-age poor Americans are employed, and 73% are members of working families.

Yet in a show of hypocrisy by some of the leading safety net critics, Congress has killed or blocked or ignored numerous attempts to create better jobs for underemployed Americans. A Demos study found that raising wages to $25,000 per year (about $12.50 per hour) for full-time retail workers would lift 734,075 people out of poverty. It would probably help a lot more. An analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals that about 22 million workers are underpaid (about a sixth of the total), over half of them in food service, cashiering, personal care, and housekeeping. Paying everyone $12.50 (assuming full-time) would cost an extra $80 billion. That’s about 3% of total 2014 corporate profits. Three%, compared to the 95% spent by S&P 500 companies on investor-enriching stock buybacks and dividend payouts.

About two-thirds of low-wage workers are employed by large corporations with over 100 employees. The very worst offender is probably Walmart, which pays its estimated 1.4 million U.S. employees so little that the average Walmart worker depends on about $4,400 per year in taxpayer assistance, for food stamps and other safety net programs. As Walmart was depending on us, the taxpayers, to pay $4,400 a year to each of its employees, the company was spending the equivalent of $5,000 per U.S. employee for price-boosting stock buybacks.

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The EU will split on this soon enough.

Russia Slams Renewed EU Sanctions, Says Measure Is ‘Hopeless’ (RT)

The Russian Foreign Ministry has slammed the EU’s “pushy sanctions strategy” as “political blackmail,” and said it is “absolutely hopeless” as it won’t make Russia give up its “national interests and principled position.” Coming in response to the EU’s extension of sanctions over what Brussels called “the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol,” the Russian statement said “it was time” to accept that those territories are an “integral part of the Russian Federation” and that the situation “can’t be changed by methods of economic and political blackmail.” Sanctions against Russia are “absolutely hopeless,” the ministry said, adding that “it is a mistake to expect that [the sanctions strategy] will make us sacrifice national interests and [our] principled position on key issues.”

As the prolonged restrictions target Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the Foreign Ministry sees the sanctions as unacceptable “discrimination” against people in Crimea “on a political and territorial basis.” Recalling “historical examples,” the ministry condemned the move as “a collective punishment” of “the residents of the [Crimean] peninsula who made a free choice” for reunification with Russia. “It was hard to imagine that Europe would face this in the 21st century,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement said. On Friday, the EU extended economic sanctions against Crimea until June 23, 2016, and said it still doesn’t recognize Crimea’s reunification with Russia, calling it an “illegal annexation.”

The restrictions include a ban on imports from Crimea or Sevastopol into the EU, investment and tourism services, as well as the export of certain products and technology to Crimean companies. The EU sanctions against Russia were imposed over the Ukrainian crisis. They targeted access to foreign loans and the oil and gas industry. Moscow responded with countersanctions that hit European food producers. However, the toll the conflict is taking on the EU economy is higher than Brussels initially anticipated.

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German media should be way more vocal on this. And the rest of Europe too.

Ukraine is a ‘Black Hole’ for European Taxpayers’ Money: German Media (Sputnik)

In the coming weeks, Kiev will receive the €600 million tranche of the third EU loan package for Ukraine. It will be a new financial burden for ordinary EU taxpayers because there is no hope that the debt will be paid off, a German business newspaper reports. The €600 million euro tranche of financial aid for Ukraine is taking money from ordinary European taxpayers with no chance to return, the German newspaper Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten reports. Earlier, Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said the EU completed all the procedures for the new tranche. “I’m very glad that the Verkhovna Rada [the Ukrainian Parliament] ratified the memorandum on the third package of financial aid of €1.8 billion.

I’m sure that within several weeks Kiev will receive the first tranche of €600 million,” Hahn said. “Thus, there is a new financial burden for our taxpayers. There is no hope that the money will return,” the newspaper claims. In May, Ukraine’s National Railroad Company declared bankruptcy. Part of its debt is due to be restructured. In total, its debt has reached $500 million. During the last year only, European taxpayers lost €200 million to save the company, the article reads. The Ukrainian protective wall along the border with Russia is also funded by EU taxpayers. The electrified barrier with mines and barbed wire is planned to be 2,000-kilometer-long and will cost nearly €100 million, DWN points out.

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“..there is a war party in every capital and even in the White House itself.”

Powerful People In The West And In Kiev Do Not Want Peace – Stephen Cohen (RT)

RT: A few weeks ago US Vice President Joe Biden said that “everybody wants an end to this conflict in Ukraine, but the question is on whose terms and how will it end.” Are the terms to end this conflict are still being negotiated and if so what options are on offer?

Stephen Cohen: My perspective is different from that of Vice President Biden. We are now after all in almost two years – a year and a half – of a new Cold War between the US and Russia – an exceedingly dangerous confrontation over Ukraine, which I think and I’ve said this for months could easily become as dangerous as the Cuban missile crisis was. The politics of this have now spread far and wide including in Europe. It seems to me, and this is my fundamental analysis, that in almost every capital – Washington, Brussels and certainly in Kiev, and even to some degree in Moscow – there is what I call a peace and a war party.

The Minsk agreements, which were agreed upon by the Chancellor of Germany, the President of France, the President of Ukraine and of course President Putin of Russia represented then a peace party. It set out in addition to a ceasefire in Ukraine very far reaching, fundamental terms of negotiation to end the civil war in Ukraine, to end the proxy war between the West and Russia. It’s clear to me that there are powerful people in the West and in Kiev who do not want a negotiated settlement.

RT: Vice President Biden, who recently said that he talks to either PM Yatsenyuk or President Poroshenko on almost a weekly basis – that’s what he said – do you think that Biden belongs to the peace or war camp when he is on the phone with them? Does he preach reconciliation?

SC: He says he talks to them three times per week not once a week. But we have evidence, something very dramatic just happened. As you know, in late May Secretary of State John Kerry went to Sochi. First he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then, remarkably, he met for four hours with President Putin. It was absolutely clear from what was said in Sochi at the press conferences afterwards that Kerry’s mission had been to say that the US, the Obama administration, now fully backed the Minsk agreement. That would put Kerry in the peace party.

It was kind of a surprise because he had been taking a very hard line. However, look what then happened. Kerry was attacked, literally criticized, for having gone to Sochi by members of the Obama administration. The most vivid example reported in the New York Times last Sunday I think was that a former very close policy aide to Vice President Biden told the reporter they didn’t know why Kerry had gone to Sochi, and that he had sent bad messages and that his trip had been counterproductive. So you conclude from this – and it confirms my thesis – that there is a war party in every capital and even in the White House itself.

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For those who still needed confirmation.

Nomi Prins: There Is No Saving This Global Financial System (KWN)

Eric King: “You mentioned that we are in unprecedented times. And the concern is that when the 2008 collapse unfolded there was all this money printing and the banks were bailed out. It really fell on the shoulders of the taxpayers, but the concern as you said is that this leverage is growing. There are over one quadrillion dollars of derivatives. With the leverage totally ramped up in (terms of) the central banks’ (balance sheets), who will save the financial system (this time around)? Who will save the banks? There are all these bail-ins that have been written into law in the West and it seems like the next move is just to steal money from the public. Who will save the system this time when it implodes?

Nomi Prins: “When it implodes it will implode more dangerously. The IMF and the Fed have different ideas about whether rates should stay low or go up. In this particular round the IMF won. They want rates to stay low because they don’t know what’s going to happen to the global financial system if the availability of cheap money goes away…. “Right now everyone knows, whether they admit it or not, that (cheap money) is the only thing that’s keeping this (global financial) system afloat. It isn’t production. It isn’t savings of individuals because nobody has any money to save. So there is no there, there.

The only policy that these central banks have is to continue to do more of the same. And the only thing that does is continue to push this next crisis, or the second leg of the current crisis as I look at it, down the road. There is no saving this (global financial) system. All they can do is continue to push the current policies to make it look as if things are operating functionally — as if these banks are solvent and as if these markets are somehow elevated on the basis of value and not on the basis of the cheap money that they are infusing into the system. That’s all they can do. They just hope that somewhere along the line this will work out.”

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That’s right, might as well elect the biggest dunce.

Liars, Cowards, Freaks & Fools: Trump for President? (Paul Craig Roberts)

Perhaps it has occurred to you as it has to me that the United States is no longer capable of producing political leadership. In the current issue of Trends Journal, Gerald Celente describes the eight candidates (at the time he went to press) for the US presidential nomination as “Liars, cowards, freaks & fools.” Celente put it well. If you look at the sorry collection that aspires to be the CEO of what continues to be described as the “exceptional, indispensable, most important country with the largest economy and military, the world’s only Superpower, the Uni-power,” you see a collection of nobodies. America is like the last days of Rome when contenting factions fought to put their puppet on the throne.

There is no known politician in America who measures up to Vladimir Putin’s ankle, or to the knee of China’s leaders, or to the waist of Ecuador’s, Bolivia’s, Venezuela’s, Argentina’s, Brazil’s, or to the chests of India’s and South Africa’s. In Europe, the UK, Australia, and Canada, the natural leaders are also frozen out of the corrupt system. In the US, “leadership” positions depend on financial support from the ruling economic interests. American presidents and politicians represent about six powerful private interest groups and no one else. After Celente went to press, Donald Trump announced to much mirth. A “con man” they say, but what else is the President of the United States? Do you think you weren’t conned by Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama? What universe do you live in?

In actual fact, Trump might be our best candidate to date. By all accounts, he is very rich. Thus, he doesn’t need the office in order to become rich by selling out America to interest groups. By all accounts, Trump has a healthy ego. Thus, he could be capable of standing up to the powerful interest groups that generally determine the governance of the American serfs. Trump’s ego might even be strong enough for him to stand up to the Israel Lobby, something my former colleague, Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said publicly that no American President was capable of doing. As Celente makes clear in the current Trends Journal, all politicians are con men or con women.

We are going to have them regardless, so why not try a rich one who might decide to break with tradition and serve the interests of the citizenry. This would be a unique accomplishment, affording Trump the elevation in history books that would satisfy his ego. When a person reaches Trump’s state, does he need another couple of billion dollars or is historical recognition as the savior, however temporary, more valuable? This is not my endorsement of Trump for President. It is merely my speculations on how we might think of how large egos might be brought into our service. When we put the Clintons in office, they decided to make money so that they could outdo Hollywood and show their arrival with the $3 million they spent on their daughter’s wedding. For Trump, $3 million is pocket change.

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Let’s first see where it goes.

Why the Pope’s Environment Encyclical Is a Big Deal (Newsweek)

The pope’s encyclical on climate change is a big deal. Sure, past popes have written on the importance of protecting the environment, on favoring the poorest and on rethinking our direction as a species. But this is a major piece of work, and an ardent call from one of our world’s major leaders for us to work together to address this existential problem. Most interesting and heartening to me is Francis’s linking of the fate of the poor and the future of climate change. This point is well documented in research on the injustice of climate change. For example, Bradley Parks and I found that the poorest nations of the world are far more likely to suffer the impacts of climate-related disasters, and are also far less responsible for the problem.

The timing of the pope’s remarks is also very important. This year countries are both negotiating to reach a global agreement in Paris in December and also individually putting forward their own pledges on what they will do, called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) in the cumbersome U.N. lingo. The pope’s statement puts it very plainly to those leaders of nations who might be laggards: It’s time to face climate change very thoughtfully, justly and aggressively. Finally, having this strong and very considered statement about the urgency and moral imperative of addressing climate change coming from a religious leader is very proper, and part of an important larger movement.

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Just to put you on the wrong paw (do skippys have paws?).

All Kangaroos Are Left-Handed (Discovery)

All kangaroos are left-handed, according to new research. Previously it was thought that “true”-handedness, meaning predictably using one hand over the other, was a feature unique to primates. The new research, published in the journal Current Biology, not only negates that but also goes one step further: kangaroos are even more true-handed than we are. “According to a special-assessment scale of handedness adopted for primates, kangaroos pulled down the highest grades,” said project leader Yegor Malashichev in a press release. “We observed a remarkable consistency in responses across bipedal species in that they all prefer to use the left, not the right, hand.”

Malashichev, a researcher from Saint Petersburg State University in Russia, and his team observed that wild kangaroos show a natural preference for their left hands when performing particular actions, such as grooming their noses, picking leaves, or bending tree branches. Left-handedness was particularly apparent in eastern grey and red kangaroos. The kangaroos that they studied were at various locations in the wild at Tasmania and Australia. The term “hand” really does apply here, because kangaroos have five-fingered hands that somewhat resemble human hands, save for the kangaroos’ long claws in place of fingernails. Not all marsupials were found to exhibit such handedness. The researchers determined that red-necked wallabies, for example, prefer their left hand for some tasks and their right for others.

Generally speaking, these wallabies use their left forelimb for tasks that involve fine manipulation and the right for tasks that require more physical strength. The researchers also found less evidence for handedness in species that spend their days in the trees. The discovery about kangaroos was unexpected because, unlike other mammals, kangaroos lack the same neural circuitry that bridges the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Now the researchers are very curious about marsupial brains, which differ from those of other mammals in additional respects too. Such studies could yield important insight into neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia and autism, the researchers said, noting links between those disorders and handedness.

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Doesn’t leave much space for ‘interpretation’.

The Latest Global Temperature Data Are Literally Off The Chart (Guardian)

Just today, NASA released its global temperature data for the month of May 2015. It was a scorching 0.71°C (1.3°F) above the long-term average. It is also the hottest first five months of any year ever recorded. As we look at climate patterns over the next year or so, it is likely that this year will set a new all-time record. In fact, as of now, 2015 is a whopping 0.1°C (0.17°F) hotter than last year, which itself was the hottest year on record. Below, NASA’s annual temperatures are shown. Each year’s results are shown as black dots. Some years are warmer, some are cooler and we never want to put too much emphasis on any single year’s temperature. I have added a star to show where 2015 is so far this year, simply off the chart. The last 12 months are at record levels as well. So far June has been very hot as well, likely to end up warmer than May.

So why talk about month temperatures or even annual temperatures? Isn’t climate about long-term trends? First, there has been a lot of discussion of the so-called ‘pause.’ As I have pointed out many times here and in my own research, there has been no pause at all. We know this first by looking at the rate of energy gain within the oceans. But other recent publications, like ones I’ve written about have taken account of instrument and measurement quality and they too find no pause. Second, there has been a lot of discussion of why models were running hotter than surface air temperatures. There was a real divergence for a while with most models suggesting more warming. Well with 2014 and 2015, we see that the models and actual surface temperatures are in very close agreement.

When we combine surface temperatures with ocean heat content, as seen below, a clear picture emerges. Warming is continuing at a rapid rate.

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What we do best.

The Sixth Mass Extinction Is Here (Stanford.edu)

Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich calls for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat before the window of opportunity closes. There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence. That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. “[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.

Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss. There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago.

However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis. The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate. “If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.

Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible. Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

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