It’s never easy to gauge what exactly is happening in China, or why the CCP Politburo takes the decisions it does. Today, or overnight, is no exception to that. However, one thing that appears certain, but which I don’t see reflected in all the analyses, is that Beijing pushing the value of the renminbi (yuan) down below 7 to the USD in one fell swoop, is a major setback for Xi Jinping and his government.
Yes, China may have given up hope of reaching positive conclusions in its trade talks with the US. And yes, some may think, even in China itself, that devaluing the currency is a tool that can be useful in a potential currency war. But there’s another side to this coin. It’s not even about the value itself, or the change in it, it’s the heavy-handed way it’s executed.
China wants, and desperately needs too, for the yuan to be a force in global financial markets. In very simple terms this is true because if it then wants to buy something, it can simply print the money for it. But only about 1% of global trade today is executed in yuan. That is not nearly enough. It means China needs dollars and euros, all the time. And devaluing the yuan means the country needs even more of those.
You’d almost think: why would you want to do that? What are the long-term prospects for a move like this? You’re telling forex markets that the value of the yuan is not trustworthy, because if Xi or the PBOC decides in the next five minutes that it should go up or down by 10% or 20%, they can do it. The Fed and ECB also have tools to manipulate their currencies (re: interest rates), but none of that magnitude.
The crux of the dilemma probably lies in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which I’ve been saying for years is just China’s way to sell its overcapacity and overproduction abroad. Sure, there may be loftier goals, and surely in the glitzy brochures, but the fact remains that China has tried to be an economic miracle, doing in 10 years what took the US a century, and it never slowed down its growth, at least not voluntarily, even if that might have been a wise move.
Already lately, purchases by Chinese citizens and companies of real estate and businesses abroad have been curtailed, and not a little bit, by Beijing. There’s no better way to convince Chinese people of the miracle’s success than to let them travel the world and spend there, but that, too, may well soon be cut. It kills foreign reserves.
If Beijing could charge participating countries in the Belt and Road Initiative in yuan, and they could pay for the overcapacity’s steel and cement and what not in yuan, that could be a game-changing program for the entire planet. But these countries have no reason to hold yuan, other than the BRI itself. And they, too, were watching the overnight move above 7 and must have thought: let’s be careful now.
And to top it all off, China right now needs for these countries to pay in dollars instead of yuan, because its foreign reserves are shrinking so fast. It’s Catch-22 all the way down. China’s need for dollars goes against everything BRI stands for.
Could the move hurt the US as well? Absolutely. But the long-term view behind the tariffs, and the talks China appears to have lost faith in, is to move the US away from its near all-encompassing addiction to Chinese production, and to move at least some of that production back home. Problem of course is, that is precisely what China’s miracle growth has been built on.
If the US starts bringing production home, who is Beijing going to sell its (over-)production to? Yes, I hear you, to the BRI countries. But there it runs into the currency problems mentioned before. To Europe? The top of that trade route is also behind us. Europe will have to follow the US to an extent, and also bring factories back to the continent (and not just to Germany either).
China could perhaps sell more than it does today to Russia. But that country still does produce a lot of things, and has been forced to be much more self-sufficient due to US and EU sanctions. It’s also a mighty small market compared to 350 million North Americans and 500 million Europeans, who are on average much richer than your average Russian to boot.
There is a way for China to make the yuan more important in global trade (but devaluation is definitely not that way): Beijing could let go of its central and total control over the value of its currency, and let forex markets figure it out. That would give traders -and everyone else- faith in the value. Problem with that is, this is not how central control communist governments think.
Beijing wants both: central total control AND a prominent place in world trade. And it may take them a long time to figure out that is not going to happen, unless of course they first conquer the entire world militarily. That is not an option, at least not for the foreseeable future. Come see me next century.
It wouldn’t be the first time for me to say I can see China retreat into itself, into its own borders and culture and market (1.3 billion people!). If the Communist Party wants to remain in power, and there’s no doubt it does, this may be only possible choice going forward. If growth has indeed left the miracle -as many observers think-, it can implode in very rapid succession. And even if growth hasn’t yet evaporated, it may well very soon. Without the growth, there is no miracle anymore.
And if China can no longer grow its exports, its domestic growth will also become a thing of the past. Domestic consumption can only grow as long as exports do too. Seen from that angle, the problems with trade and the currency look downright ominous. If you need dollars that badly, and you notice that you’re already getting fewer of them, not more, you’re in trouble.
Devaluing your currency may afford you some temporary respite, but it can’t possibly solve your troubles. It can make them much worse though.
I think China has wanted too much too fast, got carried away and forgot to take care of a few potential barriers to its growth, in particular the standing its currency had and still has in the world, and the grinding need for dollars that stems from it. And the Communists have no answer to this problem.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States and the European Union were kicking off talks aimed at lowering trade barriers as officials looked to head off a brewing trade war. “This was a very big day for free and fair trade, a very big day indeed,” Trump told reporters at the White House after meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “We are starting the negotiation right now but we know very much where it’s going,” Trump said. Speaking with Juncker at his side, Trump said they had agreed in talks to “work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.”
“We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans; soybeans is a big deal,” he said, adding that Europe would also step up purchases of liquefied natural gas from the United States. “They are going to be a massive buyer of LNG,” Trump said. Trump said the talks would “resolve” both the hefty tariffs the United States had placed on imports of steel and aluminum from the EU and the tariffs Europe had slapped on U.S. goods in response. It was not clear whether the two sides made any progress on the contentious issue of possible U.S. tariffs on imports of automobiles from Europe. But Juncker said they had agreed not to impose any new tariffs while talks were taking place.
House GOP members led by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (NC) have filed formal articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to a late Wednesday announcement by Meadows over Twitter. News of the resolution comes after weeks of frustration by Congressional investigators, who have repeatedly accused Rosenstein and the DOJ of “slow walking” documents related to their investigations. Lawmakers say they’ve been given the runaround – while Rosenstein and the rest of the DOJ have maintained that handing over vital documents would compromise ongoing investigations. Not even last week’s heavily redacted release of the FBI’s FISA surveillance application on former Trump campaign Carter Page was enough to dissuade the GOP lawmakers from their efforts to impeach Rosenstein.
In fact, its release may have sealed Rosenstein’s fate after it was revealed that the FISA application and subsequent renewals – at least one of which Rosenstein signed off on, relied heavily on the salacious and largely unproven Steele dossier. In late June, Rosenstein along with FBI Director Christopher Wray clashed with House Republicans during a fiery hearing over an internal DOJ report criticizing the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation by special agents who harbored extreme animus towards Donald Trump while expressing support for Clinton. Republicans on the panel grilled a defiant Rosenstein on the Trump-Russia investigation which has yet to prove any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. “This country is being hurt by it. We are being divided,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said of Mueller’s investigation. “Whatever you got,” Gowdy added, “Finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart.”
Well, lordy be. A lawyer for The New York Times has figured out that prosecuting WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange might gore the ox of The Gray Lady herself. The Times’s deputy general counsel, David McCraw, told a group of judges on the West Coast on Tuesday that such prosecution would be a gut punch to free speech, according to Maria Dinzeo, writing for the Courthouse News Service. Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself. In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.
Stating the obvious, McCraw noted that the “prosecution of him [Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers … he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.” That’s because, for one thing, the Times itself published many stories based on classified information revealed by WikiLeaks and other sources. The paper decisively turned against Assange once WikiLeaks published the DNC and Podesta emails. More broadly, no journalist in America since John Peter Zenger in Colonial days has been indicted or imprisoned for their work.
Unless American prosecutors could prove that Assange personally took part in the theft of classified material or someone’s emails, rather than just receiving and publishing them, prosecuting him merely for his publications would be a first since the British Governor General of New York, William Cosby, imprisoned Zenger in 1734 for ten months for printing articles critical of Cosby. Zenger was acquitted by a jury because what he had printed was proven to be factual—a claim WikiLeaks can also make. McCraw went on to emphasize that, “Assange should be afforded the same protections as a traditional journalist.”
Facebook Inc. is evidently not bulletproof. The social-media behemoth’s stock lost roughly one-fifth of its value in the extended session Wednesday after its earnings report missed expectations on revenue and showed slowing user growth. Weak guidance also rattled investors. Facebook stock dropped about 7% immediately after the earnings report was released, then plummeted to a loss of more than 20% as a conference call with analysts progressed. Close to 34 million shares changed hands in the extended session, well above the average volume of 17 million shares for a regular trading session over the past month. Should the losses hold into Thursday’s regular session, Facebook would lose more than $100 billion in market capitalization and lose the stock’s gains for the year thus far.
China has withdrawn its approval for Facebook Inc’s plan to open a new venture in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing a person familiar with the matter. A Chinese government database showed that Facebook had gained approval to open a subsidiary, but the registration has since disappeared, according to checks made by Reuters. The move is a setback for Facebook, which has been struggling to gain a foothold in China, the most populous country in the world, where its website and messaging app Whatsapp remain blocked.
The incident also illustrates how difficult it can be for a U.S. company to navigate the government bureaucracy in a country where so many technology firms have tried and failed. “Terms like ‘The Great Firewall’” often gives outsiders the impression that the Chinese government is totally united on technology policy,” said Matt Sheehan, an expert on China-California relations and fellow at The Paulson Institute think tank. “In reality, within that Firewall are lots of competing fiefdoms and ongoing turf wars.” China’s decision comes amid escalating tensions with the United States after the world’s two largest economies imposed tariffs on each other’s imports.
Don’t be fooled. This market is weaker than it seems, according to David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. The S&P 500 is up more than 5% in 2018, recovering from a correction earlier in the year. The broad index was also just 1.9% removed from an all-time high reached in late January as of Tuesday’s close. However, Rosenberg notes that while momentum stocks are lifting the market, “many subsectors are well off their highs: Homebuilders. Autos. Banks. Insurance. Consumer products. Telecom. Media. Transports. Utilities. Pharma. And many more.” The S&P automobiles and components industry group is nearly 20% below its 52-week high, while insurance stocks are down 10.8% from their one-year high. The Dow transports index, meanwhile, is 6.5% below its one-year high.
“What has kept the market near record terrain are a mere six stocks — Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Facebook,” Rosenberg said in a note to clients Wednesday. “Strip out these six flashy stocks, and the overall market has done practically nothing year-to-date.” Through mid-July, Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft and Facebook had contributed nearly 80% to the S&P 500’s gains. These six names have been on fire this year. Netflix and Amazon are up 86% and 57% in 2018, respectively. Microsoft and Facebook have both risen more than 20% while Alphabet and Apple have jumped 19.8% and 14%, respectively. Rosenberg said such concentration in the stock market has not been seen since the late 1990s, just before the dot-com bubble burst. “We know from history how these cycles typically end.”
While above-average corporate profitability may sound like a good thing when taken at face value, I view it as another worrisome sign because it’s further evidence of an economy and financial markets that are being juiced by cheap credit and financial engineering. Ultra-low interest rates help to boost corporate profitability by reducing borrowing costs. Cheap credit also gives consumer spending a strong boost, which has a significant effect on our economy that is heavily driven by consumer spending. Low interest rate environments allow the government (federal, state, and local) to borrow more cheaply in the bond market and use it to boost spending, which gives the overall economy a shot in the arm. In addition, artificially-inflated financial markets boost the profitability of the financial sector.
A major risk for the stock market is the mean reversion of corporate profitability, which is a nightmarish prospect when considering how overpriced stocks currently are relative to earnings. This mean reversion is likely to occur as the result of the ending of ultra-cheap credit conditions (when corporate bonds fall back to earth) and through increased competition, which is what Milton Friedman warned about. (Note: critics may try to rebut my assertions by claiming that U.S. corporate profitability is unusually high due to corporations earning a higher percentage of earnings overseas. I’ve accounted for this by using gross national product as the denominator instead of the more commonly used GDP.)
What is particularly alarming about the current U.S. stock market bubble is the fact that it’s driven by a very narrow group of stocks, which means that there isn’t a healthy breadth, or broad strength, behind the bull market. In general, tech stocks have been leading the way – in particular, a group of stocks known as FAANG, which is an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. The chart below compares the performance of the FAANG stocks to the S&P 500 during the bull market that began in March 2009. While the S&P 500 is up approximately 300%, the FAANGs are up significantly more, with Apple rising by over 1,000%, Amazon rising more than 2,000%, and Netflix surging by over 6,000%.
If Trump imposes 25% tariffs on Chinese goods, China could simply devalue their currency by 25%. That would make Chinese goods cheaper for U.S. buyers by the same amount as the tariff. The net effect on price would be unchanged and Americans could keep buying Chinese goods at the same price in dollars. The impact of such a massive devaluation would not be limited to the trade war. A cheaper yuan exports deflation from China to the U.S. and makes it harder for the Fed to meet its inflation target. Also, the last two times China tried to devalue its currency, August 2015 and December 2015, U.S. stock markets crashed by over 11% in a matter of a few weeks.
So, if the trade war escalates as I expect, don’t worry about China dumping Treasuries or imposing tariffs. Watch the currency. That’s where China will strike back. When they do, U.S. stock markets will be the first victims. Maybe you think that’s unlikely because it would be such an extreme reaction by China. But you have to put yourself in the shoes of China’s leadership. These aren’t academic issues to China’s leaders. They go to the heart of the government’s very legitimacy. China’s economy is not just about providing jobs, goods and services. It is about regime survival for a Chinese Communist Party that faces an existential crisis if it fails to deliver. The overriding imperative of the Chinese leadership is to avoid societal unrest.
If China encounters a financial crisis, Xi could quickly lose what the Chinese call, “The Mandate of Heaven.” That’s a term that describes the intangible goodwill and popular support needed by emperors to rule China for the past 3,000 years. If The Mandate of Heaven is lost, a ruler can fall quickly. Up to half of China’s investment is a complete waste. It does produce jobs and utilize inputs like cement, steel, copper and glass. But the finished product, whether a city, train station or sports arena, is often a white elephant that will remain unused. Chinese growth has been reported in recent years as 6.5–10% but is actually closer to 5% or lower once an adjustment is made for the waste.
The US dollar has become the safest asset in the face of mounting evidence that the “beggar thy neighbor” policy and drowning structural problems in liquidity is coming to a close. The reality is that the US dollar is strengthening because of the evidence of a deeper slowdown in China and the massive imbalances built by some emerging economies in the past -large fiscal and trade deficits financed with the cheap inflow of dollars-. As the US economy improves and others face the saturation of past stimuli, it is only logical that the United States sees a high inflow of funds from abroad. And that is good. Keeps US treasury yields low, a high demand for bonds and equities, and a steady increase in capital investment into the US economy.
There are many who think that the US economy will not accept a strong dollar. Allow me to doubt it. The US only exports around 10% of GDP and less than 30% of the profits of the S & P 500 come from exports. In the past nine years, devaluing and lowering rates has hurt the middle class, savers, workers, and high productivity companies. Those that voted for the current administration to make a drastic change on the past mistakes. A devaluation policy hurts more Americans than it helps. Devaluation is simply stealing from your citizens’ savings and disposable income. A strong US dollar reduces inflationary pressures and keeps interest rates low. Both effects are positive for savers, workers, and families as the economy strengthens and wages improve.
Theresa May has urged voters not to worry about Brexit, despite her government setting out plans to stockpile food, blood and medicine in case it goes badly. She said people should take “reassurance and comfort” from news of the plans, to be implemented if the UK crashes out of the EU without an agreement in March next year. The scenario is looking increasingly likely given deep divisions in the Conservatives over Ms May’s approach, her wafer thin commons majority and the EU’s on-going resistance to what the prime minister is proposing. It comes as The Independent launched a campaign to give the British people a Final Say in a referendum on whatever is proposed at the end of Brexit negotiations, with thousands flocking to sign a petition supporting the cause.
Ireland’s deputy prime minister accused the PM of “bravado” in talking up the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, while Tory insiders claim the PM is doing so to warn her rebellious MPs of the consequence of failing to back her unpopular Brexit plans. Ms May confirmed in a TV interview that plans for stocking up on essential goods are underway, in case imports from the EU are cut off by clogged ports or regulatory disputes. But, asked if it was “alarming” for people, the prime minister told Channel 5: “Far from being worried about preparations that we are making, I would say that people should take reassurance and comfort from the fact that the government is saying we are in a negotiation, we are working for a good deal. “I believe we can get a good deal, but, it’s right that we say – because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be – let’s prepare for every eventuality.”
Imagine you’re back at school and you can’t be bothered to do any work for the most important exams of your entire academic career. Alarmed by your indifference, your parents ask what you propose to do. Imagine how they would react if you told them you were thinking of having an extended summer holiday, to put off the moment of reckoning for as long as possible. Quite frankly, this is where our government now is in the Brexit negotiations. A longer than usual summer recess seems to be the best these great minds can come up with. The problem is we are not in school, Brexit is not homework and the bullies will do more than give us a bloody nose.
The EU is like the strict exam board of governors and appears to have no time for excuses or interest in making Theresa May’s sloppy government look good. It is a measure of May’s desperation that she said in Belfast last week that the EU was trying to achieve an “economic and constitutional dislocation” of our country. That kind of talk may play well with the hard-right Brexiteers who are too painfully holding her and her government hostage, but it doesn’t impress Brussels. May needs to realise that we can all see she is now merely playing for time and there are only a finite number of options open to her: a general election, a leadership challenge or a people’s vote.
[..] The plain truth is that there is no majority in parliament for any deal. The EU thinks the prime minister’s Chequers plan is too favourable to the UK, and the Brexiteers think it’s too favourable to Brussels. A Norway deal would mean accepting free movement and paying large amounts to Brussels; a Canada-style deal means the prospect of a hard border returning to the line on the map that separates Eire and Northern Ireland. Viewed through the lens of May’s parliamentary party, there is no consensus, no coming together on any of these options. Brexit is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.
A US state lawmaker is resigning after a humiliating appearance on comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s television show during which he exposed himself and shouted racial slurs. Jason Spencer, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, had been under pressure from his own party to step down following the embarrassing appearance on Cohen’s series “Who Is America?” Spencer, 43, finally announced on Wednesday that he planned to resign on July 31. He had already lost a primary in May but he could have remained in office until November. Spencer was one of several Republican figures pranked by Cohen on the Showtime series.
Others included former vice president Dick Cheney, who signed a “waterboarding kit” and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. In the episode of “Who Is America” with Spencer, Cohen pretends to be an Israeli anti-terrorism expert, Colonel Erran Morad, offering self-defense training. At one point, Spencer is persuaded to expose his buttocks and chase Cohen while yelling “USA” and racial slurs. Spencer, in a statement this week to The Washington Post, said Cohen “took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked.” Spencer told the Post he had received death threats after introducing a bill that would ban Muslim women from publicly wearing burqas. Palin, the former governor of Alaska, denounced the show as “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.'”
Plants and animals created by innovative gene-editing technology have been genetically modified and should be regulated as such, the EU’s top court has ruled. The landmark decision ends 10 years of debate in Europe about what is – and is not – a GM food, with a victory for environmentalists, and a bitter blow to Europe’s biotech industry. It also marks a setback for UK scientists who took advantage of a legal grey area to of gene edited camelina crops, augmented with Omega-3 fish oils. Greenpeace said that the ruling meant the British government – along with Belgium, Sweden and Finland – was now obliged to “revoke” the green light for the trials until appropriate precautions had been taken.
In their ruling, the EU judges said: “Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] … It follows that those organisms come, in principle, within the scope of the GMO directive and are subject to the obligations laid down [therein].” The court sided with the French agricultural trades union, Confédération Paysanne, which brought the case, arguing that new and unconventional in vitro mutagenesis techniques were likely to be used to produce herbicide-resistant plants, with potential health risks. A study published in the journal Nature last week found that the gene-editing technology Crispr-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic distortions than expected, with potential “pathogenic consequences”. Gene editing alters the genomes of a living species by slicing genome strands in a bid to remove undesirable traits, without inserting foreign DNA.
Israeli war planes have bombed a Syrian regime airbase east of the city of Homs, the Russian and Syrian military have said. The Russian military said that two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out the strikes from Lebanese air space, and that Syrian air defence systems shot down five of eight missiles fired. Asked about the Russian statement, an Israeli military spokesman said he had no immediate comment. Syrian state TV reported loud explosions near the T-4 airfield in the desert east of Homs in the early hours of Monday. State TV initially reported that the attack was “most likely” American, a claim the Pentagon has denied.
Video footage on social media in Lebanon showed aircraft or missiles flying low over the country, apparently heading east towards Syria. At least 14 people, mostly Iranians or members of Iran-backed groups, were killed, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. Donald Trump warned on Sunday that the regime and its backers would pay a “high price” for the use of chemical weapons in the attack on rebel-held Douma that killed 42 people, but the Pentagon denied US forces were involved in Monday’s strikes. “However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable,” a Pentagon spokesman said.
Separately, the White House put out an account of a telephone conversation between Trump and Emmanuel Macron, in which the US and French presidents “agreed to exchange information on the nature of the attacks and coordinate a strong, joint response”. Macron has said chemical weapons attacks in Syria would cross a “red line” for France and that French forces would strike if the regime was proven to have been involved. However, the French army denied responsibility for Monday’s attack.
He’s a Wall Street bear who sees more monster market moves coming — with the majority of them leaving stocks deep in the red. The Bleakley Advisory Group’s Peter Boockvar warns there’s more trouble brewing, because the era of easy money is ending, thanks to global central banks hiking borrowing costs. And as fears intensify over a trade war, Boockvar expects a solution to the tariff issue will eventually come at the expense of rising rates. “We could get that resumption of higher interest rates which would then concern the markets, and then retest the [S&P 500 Index] 2500-ish type lows,” the firm’s chief investment officer told CNBC’s “Futures Now” last week.
“We’re late cycle in the market. We’re late cycle in the economy, and you have an intensification in a tightening of monetary policy,” he said. Boockvar, a CNBC contributor, blamed the end of quantitative easing in the United States and Europe for increasing sell-off risks. “We’re a step closer to them wanting to take away negative interest rates. But there are still trillions of dollars of global bonds that have negative yielding rates,” he added. “So, it’s this rate environment that I think is becoming more of a headwind. That really is my main concern.” He doesn’t believe the situation will abate any time soon. Boockvar contended the 10-Year Treasury yield will push back toward 3 percent — preventing the S&P 500 from cracking above its Jan. 26 record high anytime soon.
The Fed generally tightens rates until something breaks. David Rosenberg points out that since 1950 there have been 13 Fed tightening cycles, and 10 of them ended in recession (while the others have often ended in emerging market blow-ups, like the 1994 Mexican peso crisis). Surging delinquency and charge-off rates for smaller banks suggest the breaking point for the economy may come sooner than the Fed and bulls expect.
What happens to stocks during the next recession? The Federal Reserve managed to short-circuit this derating process. In 2011, when quantitative easing, or QE, really kicked in, equity re-engaged with bond yields and P/Es expanded. Like an artificial stimulant, QE inflated all asset prices away from fundamental value and from where they would otherwise have gone. We haven’t seen the lows in bond yields. In the next recession, bond yields in the U.S. will go negative and converge with those in Germany and Japan. The forward U.S. P/E bottomed at about 10.5 times in March 2009 on trough earnings. That was lower than the previous recession.
In the next recession, I would expect the P/E to bottom at about seven times, a lower low with earnings about 30% lower because of the recession. That would put the S&P lower than the 666 low of the previous crash, versus 2671 Thursday afternoon. If a recession unfolds, easy monetary policy won’t stop the market from collapsing. It will play itself out.
When will the recession hit: The Conference Board’s leading indicators look OK for now. What’s different is that problems in the real economy aren’t being reflected in the stock and bond markets. What we may see is the reverse: The stock market and parts of the credit markets collapse and cause problems in the real economy. If confidence collapses because the equity market collapses, then a recession unfolds.
Will the US be hit harder than Japan and Europe in the next bear market? It should be. Traditionally, if the U.S. goes down 20%, the German Dax, though it is cheaper, would tend to go down a little more. Maybe this time it won’t. Japan is the one market we do like now on a long-term basis, and one of the reasons is the buildup of U.S. corporate debt during these past few years. The big bubble is U.S. corporate debt. In contrast, Japan’s corporate debt is collapsing. Over half of its companies have more cash than debt. When the Fed buys U.S. Treasuries, it pulls down all yields. There has been demand for yield, so investors look at corporate bonds as an alternative. Companies have been very keen to issue them, and they have used the money to buy back stock or as a way to enrich management. This is the way QE has washed through the system here.
The forward curve of a closely watched proxy for the Federal Reserve’s policy rate has slightly inverted, signaling investors are either pricing in a mistake from central bankers or end-of-cycle dynamics, according to JPMorgan Chase. The inversion of the one-month U.S. overnight indexed swap rate implies some expectation of a lower Fed policy rate after the first quarter of 2020, the bank’s strategists including Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, wrote in a note Friday. “An inversion at the front end of the U.S. curve is a significant market development, not least because it occurs rather rarely,” they said. “It is also generally perceived as a bad omen for risky markets.”
The negative market signal comes as investors grapple with higher short term borrowing costs, which have risen in the U.S. to levels unseen since the financial crisis. While the strategists admit it is difficult to discern which of the two explanations for the curve inversion carries more weight, flow data suggests it is more likely to be rising expectations of a Fed policy mistake.
A breakdown in the relationship between dollar weakness and Asian central bank intervention poses a risk to Treasuries, stocks and all risky assets, according to Deutsche Bank. Attempts by the Trump administration to clamp down on currency manipulation have limited the ability of central banks across the region to buy U.S. assets when the dollar weakens, and dampen the appreciation of their currencies, strategist Alan Ruskin write in a note Friday. These purchases have historically limited the greenback’s downside and acted as a “put” on Treasury market weakness, he wrote. Such central bank puts are usually associated with successive Federal Reserve chairs willing to support the wider market with loose monetary policy.
While such puts have been a continuous focus for investors, markets now risk overlooking other sources of central bank support that may be slipping as the U.S.’s “synergistic relationship with China,” comes to an end, according to Ruskin. “It is not a coincidence that in this recent period of dollar weakness, Treasury bonds were also soft,” he said. “Historically, foreign central banks of sizable current account surplus countries like China, Taiwan, Korea and Thailand would have been intervening.” According to the strategist, the “end of Chimerica” means American current account deficits are no longer financed to the same degree by Asian central bank reserve recycling of corresponding trade surpluses. That reduction in demand for Treasuries from foreign reserves is coming at a time when U.S. fiscal supply is set to increase dramatically, putting extra pressure on the country’s bond market.
China is evaluating the potential impact of a gradual yuan depreciation, people familiar with the matter said, as the country’s leaders weigh their options in a trade spat with U.S. President Donald Trump that has roiled financial markets worldwide. Senior Chinese officials are studying a two-pronged analysis of the yuan that was prepared by the government, the people said. One part of the analysis looks at the effect of using the currency as a tool in trade negotiations with the U.S., while a second part examines what would happen if China depreciates the yuan to offset the impact of any trade deal that curbs exports. The analysis doesn’t mean officials will carry out a devaluation, which would require approval from top leaders, the people said.
The yuan erased early gains on Monday, weakening 0.1 percent to 6.3110 per dollar in onshore trading at 3:32 p.m. local time. While Trump regularly bashed China on the campaign trail for keeping its currency artificially weak, the yuan has gained about 9 percent against the greenback since he took office as China’s economic growth stabilized, the government clamped down on capital outflows and fears of a credit crisis receded. The Chinese currency touched the strongest level since August 2015 last month and has remained steady in recent weeks despite an escalation of trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
While a weaker yuan could help President Xi Jinping shore up China’s export industries in the event of widespread tariffs in the U.S., a devaluation comes with plenty of risks. It would make it easier for Trump to follow through on his threat to brand China a currency manipulator, make it more difficult for Chinese companies to service their mountain of offshore debt, and undermine recent efforts by the government to move toward a more market-oriented exchange rate system. It would also expose China to the risk of local financial-market volatility, something authorities have worked hard to subdue in recent years.
When China unexpectedly devalued the yuan by about 2 percent in August 2015, the move sent shock-waves through global markets. “Is it in their interest to devalue yuan? It’s probably unwise,” said Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets Hong Kong Ltd. “Because if they use devaluation as a weapon, it could hurt China more than the U.S. The currency stability has helped to create a macro stability. If that’s gone, it could destabilize markets, and things would look like 2015 again.”
A coalition of 23 child advocacy, consumer and privacy groups have filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission alleging that Google is violating child protection laws by collecting personal data of and advertising to those aged under 13. The group, which includes the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), the Center for Digital Democracy and 21 other organisations, alleges that despite Google claiming that YouTube is only for those aged 13 and above, it knows that children under that age use the site. The group states that Google collects personal information on children under 13 such as location, device identifiers and phone numbers and tracks them across different websites and services without first gaining parental consent as required by the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa).
The coalition urges the FTC to investigate and sanction Google for its alleged violations. “For years, Google has abdicated its responsibility to kids and families by disingenuously claiming YouTube — a site rife with popular cartoons, nursery rhymes, and toy ads — is not for children under 13,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the CCFC. “Google profits immensely by delivering ads to kids and must comply with Coppa. It’s time for the FTC to hold Google accountable for its illegal data collection and advertising practices.”
The group claims that YouTube is the most popular online platform for children in the US, used by about 80% of children aged six to 12 years old. Google has a dedicated app for children called YouTube Kids that was released in 2015 and is designed to show appropriate content and ads to children. It also recently took action to hire thousands of moderators to review content on the wider YouTube after widespread criticism that it allows violent and offensive content to flourish, including disturrbing children’s content and child abuse videos.
The number of buy-to-let investors in the UK rose to a record high of 2.5 million in the latest tax year, new research shows. The increase of 5% on the previous year comes despite the introduction of a host of extra taxes and regulations on the sector. In recent years, the government has brought in a 3% Stamp Duty levy, new stress tests for home loans, and ended mortgage interest tax relief. The number of landlords has increased 27% in the past five years, up from 1.97 million in 2011-12, research by London-focused estate agent Ludlow Thompson found.
Landlords now own an average of 1.8 buy-to-let properties each – a figure that has risen for the fifth consecutive year. The data suggests that landlords continue to see residential property, especially in London, as a strong investment, despite signs that house price growth has stalled or even gone into reverse in some areas in the last year. Investors have seen annual returns of almost 10% since 2000, Ludlow Thompson said. Chairman Stephen Ludlow said the rising number of landlords shows the enduring appeal of investing in buy-to-let. “The long-term picture for the buy-to-let market remains strong,” he said.
Support is growing for a fresh referendum on the final Brexit deal, according to a new poll showing the public back the idea for the first time. The survey found that 44% of people want a vote on the exit terms secured by Theresa May, amid continued uncertainty over the withdrawal agreement. That is a clear eight points ahead of the 36% who reject a further referendum, the research conducted for the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group showed. The group pointed to evidence that “Brexit is sharpening the British public’s minds” and called for MPs to respond to the people’s growing desire for a “final say”.
The referendum would be held on the details of the deal the prime minister must strike by the autumn – on both the planned transition period and a “framework” for a permanent trade and security relationship. Eloise Todd, Best for Britain’s chief executive, said voters should be allowed to choose between the details of the future on offer outside the EU, or staying inside the bloc. “Now there is a decisive majority in favour of a final say for the people of our country on the terms of Brexit. This poll is a turning point moment,” she said. “The only democratic way to finish this process is to make sure the people of this country – not MPs across Europe – have the final say, giving them an informed choice on the two options available to them: the deal the government brings back and our current terms.
Renowned trends researcher Gerald Celente says the trade war President Trump is starting against China must be fought for America to survive. Celente explains, “We have lost 3.5 million jobs (to China). Some 70,000 manufacturing plants have closed. Why would anybody be fighting Trump to do a reversal of us being in a merchandise trade deficit of $365 billion? Tell me any two people that would do business with each other and one side takes a huge loss and keeps taking it. . . So, why would people argue and fight and bring down the markets because Trump wants to bring back jobs and readjust a trade deficit that, by any standard, is destroying the nation?” Who’s to blame for the lopsided trade deficits destroying the middle class of America?
Look no further than the politicians and corporations buying them off. Celente charges, “They sold us out. The European companies and the American companies sold us out, and the people fighting Trump are also the big retailers because they’ve got their slave labor making their stuff over there. They bring it back here and mark up the price, and they make more money. If they have to pay our people to do that work, they have to pay them a living wage and they can’t make enough profit. That’s who is fighting us. . You go back to our top trend in 2017, and it was China was going to be the leader in AI (artificial intelligence) now and beyond, and that is exactly what happened. All the corporations have sold us out. . . .The murderers and the thieves sold out America.”
Celente thinks the odds are there will not be a financial crash in 2018 “because they are repatriating all that dough from overseas at a very low tax rate and because of the tax cuts from 35% to 21%. These are the facts. In the first three months of this year, there have been more stock buybacks and mergers and acquisitions activity than ever before in this short period of time because of all that cheap money going back into the corporations. That’s what’s keeping the markets up.”
Oil giant Shell was aware of the consequences of climate change, and the role fossil fuels were playing in it, as far back as 1988, documents unearthed by a Dutch news organisation have revealed. They include a calculation that the oil company’s products alone were responsible for 4% of total global carbon emissions in 1984. They also predict that changes to sea levels and weather would be “larger than any that have occurred over the past 12,000 years”. As a result, the documents foresee impacts on living standards, food supplies and other major social, political and economic consequences.
In The Greenhouse Effect, a 1988 internal report by Shell scientists, the authors warned that “by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilise the situation”. They also acknowledged that many experts predicted an increase in global temperature would be detectable by the end of the century. They went on to state that a “forward-looking approach by the energy industry is clearly desirable”, adding: “With the very long time scales involved, it would be tempting for society to wait until then before doing anything. “The potential implications for the world are, however, so large that policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part.”
It is symptomatic of the colonial-settler prerogative that has sought to eliminate the offensive presence of the natives from any profitable territory. In 21st-century Australia, the “dispersal” that began with European invasion continues through the gentrification of city suburbs where Indigenous identities persist. In the colonial argot of the 19th century, dispersal euphemistically described a bloody practice of massacre and forced dispossession of First Nations peoples, often performed as punishment for perceived theft, or any other form of resistance to the colonisers more generally. In the early and mid-20th century, blackfullas were forcibly coerced into government reserves most commonly known as “missions”.
The overarching intent of these “protection” policies was to ensure the dissolution of First Nations culture and traditional governance structures, pushing mob to develop from “their former primitive state to the standards of the white man”, as the Aboriginal Protection Board said in 1935. When the missions began to be disbanded after the second world war, it forced significant Indigenous migration from the bush to towns and cities, where we repopulated places like Fitzroy, Brisbane’s West End and particularly Redfern in great numbers. This 1950s policy of “assimilation” was essentially a state-sanctioned experiment to force Indigenous people to give up their beliefs and traditions as they adapted to urban life.
[..] Yet the place of blackfullas in Australia’s cities is under threat. Faced with rapid gentrification and associated rental and ownership price hikes, urban Indigenous populations continue to relocate to the outer suburbs, where cheaper housing is usually located. The trend could be viewed as a contemporary iteration of the dispersals of the past – decidedly less bloody, though equally impelled by capitalistic imperatives.
The coral bleaching events that have devastated the Great Barrier Reef in recent years have also taken their toll on the region’s fish population, according to a new study. While rising temperatures on the reef killed nearly all the coral in some sections, the effects on the wider marine community have been less clear. Now, scientists have begun to establish the long-term effects of bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef’s fish population. This work is essential for researchers trying to understand what will happen to coral reef ecosystems as global warming makes mass bleaching events more frequent. “The widespread impacts of heat stress on corals have been the subject of much discussion both within and outside the research community,” said PhD student Laura Richardson of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
“We are learning that some corals are more sensitive to heat stress than others, but reef fishes also vary in their response to these disturbances.” Ms Richardson and her collaborators studied reefs in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef, where around two-thirds of corals were killed in the 2016 bleaching event that followed a global heatwave. The researchers found there were “winners” and “losers” among the fish species on the reef, but overall there was a significant decline in the variety of species following bleaching. Their results were published in the journal Global Change Biology. “Prior to the 2016 mass bleaching event, we observed significant variation in the number of fish species, total fish abundance and functional diversity among different fish communities,” said co-author Dr Andrew Hoey.
“Six months after the bleaching event, however, this variation was almost entirely lost.” Predictably, the scientists noted that fish with intimate associations with corals suffered severe losses. Butterflyfish, which feed on corals, faced the steepest declines. In response to the looming threat of coral bleaching, scientists have called for “radical interventions” to save the world’s reefs. Some have suggested that more than 90% of corals could die by 2050 at the current rate of global warming.
This really is the firefighter setting his own house on fire so he can play the hero. There’s often talk of central bankers taking away the punch bowl, but we need to take away the punch bowl from them. Urgently.
Central bankers, basking in a moment of synchronized growth and a global economy less dependent on easy-money policies, are thinking about what they will do when the next economic meltdown happens. ECB President Mario Draghi said Thursday that central banks might need to reuse some of the weapons employed to fight the last war, most notably negative interest rates. Federal Reserve and ECB officials, who are gathered in Washington for the fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank, are using a tranquil period to debate the type of monetary policies central banks might pursue. The world’s two most influential central banks signaled no shifts in strategy – in the Fed’s case, to raise rates gradually and shrink its bond portfolio, and in the ECB’s, to announce a slowdown of its bond-purchase program as soon as its next policy meeting on Oct. 26.
But while current policies are stepping away from the bond-purchase programs known as quantitative easing, central bankers are opening the door for a future that could include more negative interest rates and periods of higher inflation following recession. The discussions are still largely hypothetical. Ever since the global financial crisis of 2007-09, central bankers have wished for more moments when they could gather in calm and openly spitball monetary policy ideas without the risk of derailing recovery. That moment has finally arrived. Mr. Draghi said that negative interest rates, an untested policy for the ECB until 2014, had been a success, and that the decision to push the ECB’s target rate into negative territory hadn’t hurt bank profitability as critics suggested it would.
“We haven’t seen the distortions that people were foreseeing,” Mr. Draghi said at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “We haven’t seen bank profitability going down; in fact, it is going up.” Mr. Draghi reiterated that the ECB would maintain its negative target rate “well past” the time it steps back from its bond-purchase program, underscoring growing comfort in the negative-rate strategy. And while Mr. Draghi endorsed negative rates, current and former Fed officials engaged in an unusually open discussion about changing the target for 2% inflation. That discussion was kicked off by former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who presented a paper Thursday morning at the Peterson Institute arguing the Fed could overshoot its target for 2% inflation to make up for periods of recession in which inflation ran too low.
Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said on Friday he did not see any signs of bubbles or excesses building up in U.S., European and Japanese markets as a result of heavy money printing by their central banks. Kuroda also dismissed some analysts’ criticism that the BOJ’s purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETF) were distorting financial markets or dominating Japan’s stock market. “I don’t think we have a very big share” of Japan’s total stock market capitalisation, he told reporters after attending the Group of 20 finance leaders’ gathering. The IMF painted a rosy picture of the global economy in its World Economic Outlook earlier this week, but warned that prolonged easy monetary policy could be sowing the seeds of excessive risk-taking.
Kuroda said that while policymakers should not be complacent about their economies, he did not see huge risks materializing as a result of their policies. Although major central banks deployed massive stimulus programmes to battle the global financial crisis, they have always scrutinized whether their policies were causing excessive risk-taking, he said. “I don’t think we’re seeing excesses building up and emerging as a big risk,” Kuroda said, adding that recent rises in global stock prices reflected strong corporate profits in Japan, the United States and Europe. He added that Japan’s economy was on track for a steady recovery that will likely gradually push up inflation and wages. “I don’t see any big risk for Japan’s economy. But there could be external risks, such as geopolitical ones, so we’re watching developments carefully,” he said.
Seccora Jaimes knows that she is not living in the land of opportunity. Her hometown has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, at 9.1%. Jaimes, 34, recently got laid off from the beauty school where she taught cosmetology, and hasn’t yet found another job. Her daughter, 17, wants the family to move to Los Angeles, so that she can attend one of the nation’s top police academies. Jaimes’s husband, who works in warehousing, would make much more money in Los Angeles, she told me. But one thing is stopping them: The cost of housing. “I don’t know if we could find a place out there that’s reasonable for us, that we could start any job and be okay,” she told me. Indeed, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Merced, in California’s Central Valley, is $750. In Los Angeles, it’s $2,710.
America used to be a place where moving one’s family and one’s life in search of greater opportunities was common. During the Gold Rush, the Depression, and the postwar expansion West millions of Americans left their hometowns for places where they could earn more and provide a better life for their children. But mobility has fallen in recent years. While 3.6% of the population moved to a different state between 1952 and 1953, that number had fallen to 2.7% between 1992 and 1993, and to 1.5% between 2015 and 2016. (The share of people who move at all, even within the same county, has fallen too, from 20% in 1947 to 11.2% today.) Of course, it wasn’t simply “moving” that mattered—it was that they moved to specific areas that were growing.
When farming jobs were plentiful in the Midwest, for example, people moved there—in 1900, states including Iowa and Missouri were more populous than California. Black men who moved from to the North from the South earned at least 100% more than those who stayed, according to work by Leah Platt Boustan, an economist at Princeton. Additionally, for most of the 20th century, both janitors and lawyers could earn a lot more living in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut than they could living in the Deep South, so many people moved, according to Peter Ganong, an economist at the University of Chicago. With less labor supply in the regions that they left, wages would then increase there, and fall in the regions they were moving to, as the supply of workers increased.
As a result, for more than 100 years, the average incomes of different regions were getting closer and closer together, something economists call regional income convergence. Wages in poorer cities were growing 1.4% faster than wages in richer cities for much of the 20th century, according to Elisa Giannnone, a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton. But over the past 30 years, that regional income convergence has slowed. Economists say that is happening because net migration—the tendency of large numbers of people to move to a specific place—is waning, meaning that the supply of workers isn’t increasing fast enough in the rich areas to bring wages down, and isn’t falling fast enough in the poor areas to bring wages up.
In August 2015, China engineered a sudden shock devaluation of the yuan. The dollar gained 3% against the yuan in two days as China devalued. The results were disastrous. U.S. stocks fell 11% in a few weeks. There was a real threat of global financial contagion and a full-blown liquidity crisis. A crisis was averted by Fed jawboning, and a decision to put off the “liftoff” in U.S. interest rates from September 2015 to the following December. China conducted another devaluation from November to December 2015. This time China did not execute a sneak attack, but did the devaluation in baby steps. This was stealth devaluation. The results were just as disastrous as the prior August. U.S. stocks fell 11% from January 1, 2016 to February 10. 2016. Again, a greater crisis was averted only by a Fed decision to delay planned U.S. interest rate hikes in March and June 2016. The impact these two prior devaluations had on the exchange rate is shown in the chart below.
Major moves in the dollar/yuan cross exchange rate (USD/CNY) have had powerful impacts on global markets. The August 2015 surprise yuan devaluation sent U.S. stocks reeling. Another slower devaluation did the same in early 2016. A stronger yuan in 2017 coincided with the Trump stock rally. A new devaluation is now underway and U.S. stocks may suffer again.
[..] China escaped the impossible trinity in 2015 by devaluing their currency. China escaped the impossible trinity again in 2017 using a hat trick of partially closing the capital account, raising interest rates, and allowing the yuan to appreciate against the dollar thereby breaking the exchange rate peg. The problem for China is that these solutions are all non-sustainable. China cannot keep the capital account closed without damaging badly needed capital inflows. Who will invest in China if you can’t get your money out? China also cannot maintain high interest rates because the interest costs will bankrupt insolvent state owned enterprises and lead to an increase in unemployment, which is socially destabilizing. China cannot maintain a strong yuan because that damages exports, hurts export-related jobs, and causes deflation to be imported through lower import prices. An artificially inflated currency also drains the foreign exchange reserves needed to maintain the peg.
[..] Both Trump and Xi are readying a “gloves off” approach to a trade war and renewed currency war. A maxi-devaluation of the yuan is Xi’s most potent weapon. Finally, China’s internal contradictions are catching up with it. China has to confront an insolvent banking system, a real estate bubble, and a $1 trillion wealth management product Ponzi scheme that is starting to fall apart. A much weaker yuan would give China some policy space in terms of using its reserves to paper over some of these problems. Less dramatic devaluations of the yuan led to U.S. stock market crashes. What does a new maxi-devaluation portend for U.S. stocks?
Skepticism in global equity markets is getting expensive. From Japan to Brazil and the U.S. as well as places like Greece and Ukraine, an epic year in equities is defying naysayers and rewarding anyone who staked a claim on corporate ownership. Records are falling, with about a quarter of national equity benchmarks at or within 2% of an all-time high. “You’ve heard people being bearish for eight years. They were wrong,” said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James Financial Inc., which oversees $500 billion. “The proof is in the returns.” To put this year’s gains in perspective, the value of global equities is now 3 1/2 times that at the financial crisis bottom in March 2009.
Aided by an 8% drop in the U.S. currency, the dollar-denominated capitalization of worldwide shares appreciated in 2017 by an amount – $20 trillion – that is comparable to the total value of all equities nine years ago. And yet skeptics still abound, pointing to stretched valuations or policy uncertainty from Washington to Brussels. Those concerns are nothing new, but heeding to them is proving an especially costly mistake. Clinging to such concerns means discounting a harmonized recovery in the global economy that’s virtually without precedent — and set to pick up steam, according to the IMF. At the same time, inflation remains tepid, enabling major central banks to maintain accommodative stances. “When policy is easy and growth is strong, this is an environment more conducive for people paying up for valuations,” said Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley.
“The markets are up in line with what the earnings have done, and stronger earnings helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.” The numbers are impressive: more than 85% of the 95 benchmark indexes tracked by Bloomberg worldwide are up this year, on course for the broadest gain since the bull market started. Emerging markets have surged 31%, developed nations are up 16%. Big companies are becoming huge, from Apple to Alibaba. Technology megacaps occupy all top six spots in the ranks of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization for the first time ever. Up 39% this year, the $1 trillion those firms added in value equals the combined worth of the world’s six-biggest companies at the bear market bottom in 2009. Apple, priced at $810 billion, is good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500.
If we use GDP as a broad measure of prosperity, we are 160% better off than we were in 1980 and 35% better off than we were in 2000. Other common metrics such as per capita (per person) income and total household wealth reflect similarly hefty gains. But are we really 35% better off than we were 17 years ago, or 160% better off than we were 37 years ago? Or do these statistics mask a pervasive erosion in our well-being? As I explained in my book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform, we optimize what we measure, meaning that once a metric and benchmark have been selected as meaningful, we strive to manage that metric to get the desired result. Optimizing what we measure has all sorts of perverse consequences. If we define “winning the war” by counting dead bodies, then the dead bodies pile up like cordwood.
If we define “health” as low cholesterol levels, then we pass statins out like candy. If test scores define “a good education,” then we teach to the tests. We tend to measure what’s easily measured (and supports the status quo) and ignore what isn’t easily measured (and calls the status quo into question). So we measure GDP, household wealth, median incomes, longevity, the number of students graduating with college diplomas, and so on, because all of these metrics are straightforward. We don’t measure well-being, our sense of security, our faith in a better future (i.e. hope), experiential knowledge that’s relevant to adapting to fast-changing circumstances, the social cohesion of our communities and similar difficult-to-quantify relationships. Relationships, well-being and internal states of awareness are not units of measurement.
While GDP has soared since 1980, many people feel that life has become much worse, not much better: many people feel less financially secure, more pressured at work, more stressed by not-enough-time-in-the-day, less healthy and less wealthy, regardless of their dollar-denominated “wealth.” Many people recall that a single paycheck could support an entire household in 1980, something that is no longer true for all but the most highly paid workers who also live in locales with a modest cost of living.
The cheating crisis engulfing Kobe Steel just got bigger. Chief Executive Hiroya Kawasaki on Friday revealed that about 500 companies had received its falsely certified products, more than double its earlier count, confirming widespread wrongdoing at the steelmaker that has sent a chill along global supply chains. The scale of the misconduct at Japan’s third-largest steelmaker pummeled its shares as investors, worried about the financial impact and legal fallout, wiped about $1.8 billion off its market value this week. As the company revealed tampering of more products, the crisis has rippled through supply chains across the world in a body blow to Japan’s reputation as a high-quality manufacturing destination. A contrite Kawasaki told a briefing the firm plans to pay customers’ costs for any affected products.
“There has been no specific requests, but we are prepared to shoulder such costs after consultations,” he said, adding the products with tampered documentation account for about 4% of the sales in the affected businesses. Yoshihiko Katsukawa, a managing executive officer, told reporters that 500 companies were now known to be affected by the tampering. Kobe Steel initially said 200 firms were affected when it admitted at the weekend it had falsified data about the quality of aluminum and copper products used in cars, aircraft, space rockets and defense equipment. Asked if he plans to step down, Kawasaki said: “My biggest task right now is to help our customers make safety checks and to craft prevention measures.”
Once again, an out-of-control industry is threatening public health on a mammoth scale Over a 40-year career, Philadelphia attorney Daniel Berger has obtained millions in settlements for investors and consumers hurt by a rogues’ gallery of corporate wrongdoers, from Exxon to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. But when it comes to what America’s prescription drug makers have done to drive one of the ghastliest addiction crises in the country’s history, he confesses amazement. “I used to think that there was nothing more reprehensible than what the tobacco industry did in suppressing what it knew about the adverse effects of an addictive and dangerous product,” says Berger. “But I was wrong. The drug makers are worse than Big Tobacco.”
The U.S. prescription drug industry has opened a new frontier in public havoc, manipulating markets and deceptively marketing opioid drugs that are known to addict and even kill. It’s a national emergency that claims 90 lives per day. Berger lays much of the blame at the feet of companies that have played every dirty trick imaginable to convince doctors to overprescribe medication that can transform fresh-faced teens and mild-mannered adults into zombified junkies. So how have they gotten away with it? The prescription drug industry is a strange beast, born of perverse thinking about markets and economics, explains Berger. In a normal market, you shop around to find the best price and quality on something you want or need—a toaster, a new car. Businesses then compete to supply what you’re looking for.
You’ve got choices: If the price is too high, you refuse to buy, or you wait until the market offers something better. It’s the supposed beauty of supply and demand. But the prescription drug “market” operates nothing like that. Drug makers game the patent and regulatory systems to create monopolies over every single one of their products. Berger explains that when drug makers get patent approval for brand-name pharmaceuticals, the patents create market exclusivity for those products—protecting them from competition from both generics and brand-name drugs that treat the same condition. The manufacturers can now exploit their monopoly positions, created by the patents, by marketing their drugs for conditions for which they never got regulatory approval. This dramatically increases sales. They can also charge very high prices because if you’re in pain or dying, you’ll pay virtually anything.
Luxury electric vehicle maker Tesla fired about 400 employees this week, including associates, team leaders and supervisors, a former employee told Reuters on Friday. The dismissals were a result of a company-wide annual review, Tesla said in an emailed statement, without confirming the number of employees leaving the company. “It’s about 400 people ranging from associates to team leaders to supervisors. We don’t know how high up it went,” said the former employee, who worked on the assembly line and did not want to be identified.
Though Tesla cited performance as the reason for the firings, the source told Reuters he was fired in spite of never having been given a bad review. The Palo Alto, California-based company said earlier in the month that “production bottlenecks” had left Tesla behind its planned ramp-up for the new Model 3 mass-market sedan. The company delivered 220 Model 3 sedans and produced 260 during the third quarter. In July, it began production of the Model 3, which starts at $35,000 – half the starting price of the Model S. Mercury News had earlier reported about the firing of hundreds of employees by Tesla in the past week.
As things stand at the moment, eighteen months from now the UK will leave the EU without any agreement on trade regulation or tariffs, either with the EU or any of the other countries with which it currently has trade agreements. The arrangements which assure the smooth running of 60 percent of our goods trade will disappear. Once we are outside the regulatory framework, many products, particularly in highly regulated areas like agriculture and pharmaceuticals, will no longer be accredited for sale in Europe. Aeroplanes will be unable to fly to and from the EU to the UK. Those goods which can still legally be traded with the EU will face lengthy customs checks. Integrated supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing processes will be severely disrupted and, in some cases, damaged beyond repair. Unless politicians do something, that’s where we are heading.
International trade and commerce doesn’t just happen. It is facilitated by a framework of agreements on tariffs, quotas and regulations. Without these, trade is either very expensive or, in some cases, simply illegal. Therefore, if the UK were to leave the EU without concluding a trade deal, things wouldn’t simply stay the same. They would be very different and very damaging. Of course, it would be disruptive for the rest of the EU too, although it is much easier to find new suppliers and customers in a bloc of 27 countries than it is in a stand alone country with no trade deals. Even so, most of us have assumed that common sense will prevail at some point. No-one in their right mind would let such a thing happen so surely both sides will do what is necessary to between now and March 2019 to avoid it.
Incredibly, though, our government, egged on by ideologues on its own back benches, has been talking up the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, apparently as a negotiating ploy to make the EU realise that we are serious about walking away. Almost as soon as the no-deal idea was suggested, Phillip Hammond said that he was not willing to set aside any money to fund it. In any organisation, that’s a sure-fire sign of a project that’s going nowhere. If the finance director won’t even stump up the cash for the planning phase, you might as well forget the whole thing. Mr Hammond said that he would wait until “the very last moment” before committing any money to prepare for a no-deal scenario. Which means it’s not going to happen because the very last moment passed some time ago, most probably before we even had the referendum.
Britain must commit to paying what it owes to the European Union before talks can begin about a future relationship with the bloc after Brexit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday. “The British are discovering, as we are, day after day new problems. That’s the reason why this process will take longer than initially thought,” Juncker said in a speech to students in his native Luxembourg. “We cannot find for the time being a real compromise as far as the remaining financial commitments of the UK are concerned. As we are not able to do this we will not be able to say in the European Council in October that now we can move to the second phase of negotiations,” Juncker said. “They have to pay, they have to pay, not in an impossible way. I‘m not in a revenge mood. I‘m not hating the British.” The EU has told Britain that a summit next week will conclude that insufficient progress has been made in talks for Brussels to open negotiations on a future trade deal.
The president of the European commission has spoken of his regret at Spain’s failure to follow his advice and do more to head off the crisis in Catalonia, but claimed that any EU intervention on the issue now would only cause “a lot more chaos”. Speaking to students in Luxembourg on Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker said he had told the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, that his government needed to act to stop the Catalan situation spinning out of control, but that the advice had gone unheeded. “For some time now I asked the Spanish prime minister to take initiatives so that Catalonia wouldn’t run amok,” he said. “A lot of things were not done.” Juncker said that while he wished to see Europe remain united, his hands were tied when it came to Catalan independence.
“People have to undertake their responsibility,” he said. “I would like to explain why the commission doesn’t get involved in that. A lot of people say: ‘Juncker should get involved in that.’ “We do not do it because if we do … it will create a lot more chaos in the EU. We cannot do anything. We cannot get involved in that.” Juncker said that while he often acted as a negotiator and facilitator between member states, the commission could not mediate if calls to do so came only from one side – in this case, the Catalan government. Rajoy has rejected calls for mediation, pointing out that the recent Catalan independence referendum was held in defiance of the Spanish constitution and the country’s constitutional court. “There is no possible mediation between democratic law and disobedience or illegality,” he said on Wednesday.
Despite his refusal to intervene, however, Juncker warned the international community that the political crisis in Spain could not be ignored. “OK, nobody is shooting anyone in Catalonia – not yet at least. But we shouldn’t understate that matter, though,” he added. he commission president also spoke more generally about the fragmentation of national identities within Europe, saying he feared that if Catalonia became independent, other regions would follow. “I am very concerned because the life in communities seems to be so difficult,” he said. “Everybody tries to find their own in their own way and they think that their identity cannot live in parallel to other people’s identity. “But if you allow – and it is not up to us of course – but if Catalonia is to become independent, other people will do the same. I don’t like that. I don’t like to have a euro in 15 years that will be 100 different states. It is difficult enough with 17 states. With many more states it will be impossible.”
The original Mad Max was little more than an extended car chase — though apparently all that people remember about it is the desolate desert landscape and Mel Gibson’s leather jumpsuit. As the series wore on, both the vehicles and the staged chases became more spectacularly grandiose, until, in the latest edition, the movie was solely about Charlize Theron driving a truck. I always wondered where Mel got new air filters and radiator hoses, not to mention where he gassed up. In a world that broken, of course, there would be no supply and manufacturing chains. So, of course, Blade Runner 2049 opens with a shot of the detective played by Ryan Gosling in his flying car, zooming over a landscape that looks more like a computer motherboard than actual earthly terrain.
As the movie goes on, he gets in and out of his flying car more often than a San Fernando soccer mom on her daily rounds. That actually tells us something more significant than all the grim monotone trappings of the production design, namely, that we can’t imagine any kind of future — or any human society for that matter — that is not centered on cars. But isn’t that exactly why we’ve invested so much hope and expectation (and public subsidies) in the activities of Elon Musk? After all, the Master Wish in this culture of wishful thinking is the wish to be able to keep driving to Wal Mart forever. It’s the ultimate fantasy of a shallow “consumer” society. The people who deliver that way of life, and profit from it, are every bit as sincerely wishful about it as the underpaid and overfed schnooks moiling in the discount aisles.
In the dark corners of so-called postmodern mythology, there really is no human life, or human future, without cars. This points to the central fallacy of this Sci-fi genre: that technology can defeat nature and still exist. This is where our techno-narcissism comes in fast and furious. The Blade Runner movies take place in and around a Los Angeles filled with mega-structures pulsating with holographic advertisements. Where does the energy come from to construct all this stuff? Supposedly from something Mr. Musk dreams up that we haven’t heard about yet. Frankly, I don’t believe that such a miracle is in the offing.
Very much in line with what I’ve been saying. China’s dollar reserves are plunging but its dollar-denominated debt soars. A devaluation looks inevitable, and it has to be big because having to do a second one is the worst of all worlds.
The Institute of International Finance reports that capital outflows swelled to a record $725 billion last year. China’s desperate to keep that capital at home to support the economy. And it’s been burning holes in its dollar reserves to support the yuan. Selling its dollar holdings to buy yuan puts footings under the yuan. Makes it more attractive. Halts the capital flight. But the fire can only burn so long before it torches the remaining reserves… A $2.99 trillion war chest or a $3 trillion war chest sounds like plenty. But as Jim Rickards explained recently, it’s not nearly as much as it sounds: “Of the $3 trillion that China has left, only $1 trillion of that is a liquid. One trillion is invested in hedge funds, private equity funds, gold mines, et cetera. That money is not liquid. It cannot be used to support the currency, so remove a trillion.”
That leaves $2 trillion: “Another trillion has to be held on what’s called a precautionary reserve to bail out their banking system. The Chinese banks are completely insolvent. That system is going to need to be bailed out sooner rather than later.” Scratch another trillion: “That leaves only $1 trillion of the original $4 trillion in liquid form. The problem is that capital flight is continuing at a rate of $1 trillion per year, so China will be devoid of usable liquid assets by late 2017.” So now what? Jim has warned that Trump could soon label China a currency manipulator. That has vast implications, as you’ll see. But it’s not just Mr. Rickards. We learn today that a group of analysts at Deutsche Bank is piping an identical tune:
“Sometime in the next few weeks, President Trump or his Treasury secretary may declare China a currency manipulator and propose penalties including tariffs on some or all imports from China unless it ceases this and other alleged unfair trade policies.” And that would invite Chinese retaliation. Tariffs of their own on American goods. And then… China might reach for the nuclear option — a “maxi-devaluation.” Jim again: “We know what Donald Trump has said. China’s going to be labeled a currency manipulator. That’s like firing the first shot in a major currency war. We could see tariffs imposed in both directions, shots in retaliation, a financial war… China will retaliate with what I call their nuclear option, which is a maxi-devaluation of the Chinese yuan.”
If China’s going to be branded a currency manipulator and have its exports slapped with a steep tariff, why not go ahead and devalue? One, it would make Chinese exports more competitive. Two, China could stop depleting its dollar reserves. It would no longer have to burn through dollars to boost the yuan. And three, it could actually halt the capital outflows. How? Many Chinese fear the government will impose stricter capital controls as the situation worsens. So they move their capital out of the country in advance. That brings greater fear of capital controls. And more incentives for capital flight. It’s a vicious cycle. But if China devalues all at once, say, 25% or 30%, it sends this message: The worst is over. You may as well keep your capital in China. There will be no further devaluation.
Germany posted a record trade surplus in 2016, which may further fuel accusations by the Trump administration that Europe’s largest economy is exploiting a “grossly undervalued” euro. Exports climbed 1.2% last year to 1.2 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion), the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden reported on Thursday, while imports rose 0.6% to 954.6 billion euros. That left Germany’s trade surplus at 253 billion euros in 2016. The report feeds into a debate kicked off late last month by Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, who told the Financial Times that Germany is gaining an unfair advantage over the U.S. and other nations with a weak currency.
ECB President Mario Draghi, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble all rejected the claim that came on the back of President Donald Trump’s promises of renegotiating or tearing up free-trade treaties. “The fact that the German economy is exporting much more than it imports is a source of concern and no reason to be proud” because weak imports are the result of a lack of investment, Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute in Berlin, said in an e-mailed statement. “The record surplus will continue to fuel conflict with the U.S. and within the EU.” Exports fell 3.3% in December from the previous month, the report said, while imports were unchanged. The country’s current-account surplus reached 266 billion euros in 2016.
The carnage continues in the U.S. major oil industry as they sink further and further in the RED. The top three U.S. oil companies, whose profits were once the envy of the energy sector, are now forced to borrow money to pay dividends or capital expenditures. The financial situation at ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips has become so dreadful, their total long-term debt surged 25% in just the past year. [..] While the Federal Government could step in and bail out BIG OIL with printed money, they cannot print barrels of oil. Watch closely as the Thermodynamic Oil Collapse will start to pick up speed over the next five years. According to the most recently released financial reports, the top three U.S. oil companies combined net income was the worst ever. The results can be seen in the chart below:
In 2011, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Conocophillips enjoyed a combined $80.4 billion in net income profits. ExxonMobil recorded the highest net income of the group by posting a $41.1 billion gain, followed by Chevron at $26.9 billion, while ConocoPhillips came in third at $12.4 billion. However, the rapidly falling oil price, since the latter part of 2014, totally gutted the profits at these top oil producers. In just five short years, ExxonMobil’s net income declined to $7.8 billion, Chevron reported its first $460 million loss while ConocoPhillips shaved another $3.6 billion off its bottom line in 2016. Thus, the combined net income of these three oil companies in 2016 totaled $3.7 billion versus $80.4 billion in 2011. Even though these three oil companies posted a combined net income profit of $3.7 billion last year, their financial situation is much worse when we dig a little deeper.
We must remember, net income does not include capital expenditures or dividend payouts. If we look at these oil companies Free Cash Flow, they have been losing money for the past two years. Their combined free cash flow fell from a healthy $46.3 billion in 2011 to a negative $8.7 billion in 2015 and a negative $7.3 billion in 2016. Now, their free cash flow would have been much worse in 2016 if theses companies didn’t reduce their CAPEX spending by nearly a whopping $20 billion.
[..] the free cash flow minus dividend payouts provides us evidence that these oil companies have been seriously in the RED since 2013, not just the past two years displayed in the Free Cash Flow chart. As we can see, the group’s free cash flow minus dividends was a negative $32.8 billion in 2015 and a negative $29 billion last year. Of course, these three companies may have sold some financial investments or assets to reduce these negative values, but a company can’t stay in business for long by selling assets that it would need to use to produce oil in the future. So, what has falling free cash flow and dividends done to ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips long-term debt? You guessed it… it skyrocketed:
More than $1 trillion of junk-rated corporate debt is slated to mature over the next five years, creating a stiff challenge for heavily-indebted businesses if the market for riskier debt were to deteriorate, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. The $1.063 trillion in maturing debt is the highest ever recorded by the ratings firm over a five-year period and also includes the highest single-year volume in 2021, when $402 billion of junk-rated corporate debt is scheduled to come due. Overall, a little more than $2 trillion of corporate debt is scheduled to mature by 2021 when factoring in $944 billion of investment-grade bonds. But it is the volume of junk-rated debt that could be of greater significance, given that investment-grade companies rarely have trouble extending debt maturities even in more difficult conditions.
As it stands, the environment remains highly favorable for junk-rated businesses, making it easy for most to access funds at their choosing. The average junk-bond yield was 5.72% Tuesday, the lowest level since September 2014. Buoyed by rising interest rates, junk-rated bank loans, which feature floating-rate coupons, have performed especially well of late, enabling U.S. companies to refinance $100 billion of loans in January, the largest monthly total in at least a decade, according to data from S&P Global Still, conditions can change quickly in the leveraged finance markets. A year ago, amid concerns that the U.S. was heading toward another recession, the average junk bond yield was nearly 10%, raising the risk that many borrowers would be unable to refinance bonds with looming maturities, hastening their descent into bankruptcy.
Donald Trump’s administration has put itself on a fresh collision course with the European Union after the president’s candidate to be ambassador in Brussels said Greece should leave the euro and predicted the single currency would not survive more than 18 months in its present form. Days after being accused of “outrageous malevolence” towards the EU for publicly declaring that it “needs a little taming”, Ted Malloch courted fresh controversy by saying Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago when it would have been “easier and simpler”. Malloch made his comments as financial markets began to take fright at the possibility of a fresh Greek debt crisis later this year. Shares fell and interest rates on Greek debt rose after it emerged that the EU was at loggerheads with the IMF over whether to give the country more generous debt relief.
“Whether the eurozone survives I think is very much a question that is on the agenda,” he told Greek Skai TV’s late-night chat show Istories. “We have had the exit of the UK, there are elections in other European countries, so I think it is something that will be determined over the course of the next year, year and a half. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro,” Malloch said. The stridently Brexit-supporting businessman, who has yet to be confirmed as the US president’s EU ambassador and is seen by Brussels as a provocative nominee for the post, said he wholeheartedly agreed with Trump’s tweet from 2012 saying Greece should return to the drachma, its former currency.
“I personally think [Trump] was right. I would also say that this probably should have been instigated four years ago, and probably it would have been easier or simpler to do,” Malloch said in the interview with the show’s chief anchor, Alexis Papahelas. Seven years of arduous austerity – the price of the international bailout – had been so bad for the country that it was questionable whether what came next could possibly be worse, Malloch said. In the third bailout in as many years, Greece has lost more than 25% of its GDP due to austerity-fuelled recession, the biggest slump of any advanced western economy in modern times. Without further emergency funding from its €86bn rescue programme, Athens could face a default in July when debt repayments of about €7bn to the European Central Bank mature.
[..] The renewed focus came as the IMF revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over the IMF’s participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy. The IMF believes that the budgetary demands being imposed on Greece by Europe are unreasonable and that the country’s debts will hit 275% of national income by 2060 without fresh assistance. Malloch said: “I have travelled to Greece, met lots of Greek people, I have academic friends in Greece and they say that these austerity plans are really deeply hurting the Greek people, and that the situation is simply unsustainable. So you might have to ask the question if what comes next could possibly be worse than what’s happening now.” The biggest unknown was not a euro exit, but the chaos it would likely engender as Greece moved to a new currency, he said.
French revolution. Ironic that the central bank governor makes Le Pen’s point while trying to ‘push back’: “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” That’s exactly Le Pen’s point, it’s just that she doesn’t see the euro as ‘our currency’. For her, that means the franc.
Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot met with Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau in September and set out her party’s plans to take control of the central bank and use it to finance government spending. The meeting took place on the sidelines of Villeroy de Galhau’s public hearing in Brussels at the economic and monetary committee of the European Parliament, Monot, who also sits on the panel, said in a Feb. 4 interview. The central bank has become one of Le Pen’s key targets as she fleshes out her plans for taking control of the French economy and leaving the euro. She intends to revoke the Bank of France’s independence and use it to finance French welfare payments and service the government’s debts after abandoning the European monetary union.
While the National Front leader is ahead in polling for the first ballot on April 23, she’s still an outsider to become the next president because of the two-round system which requires broad-based support to win the run-off two weeks later. Villeroy de Galhau, who also sits on the governing council of the ECB, pushed back against her proposals in an interview on BFM television Thursday, though he didn’t mention her specifically. “It’s important that we have institutions and a currency that straddle daily turbulence,” the governor said. “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” The spread between French 10-year bonds and similarly dated German debt was the widest in more than four years earlier this week, as political uncertainty deterred investors. Villeroy de Galhau described the move as “temporary tension.”
The British economy will be healthier when its dependence on banking goes down. Not richer, but healthier. For instance, home prices can finally fall, a much needed development. There’s nothing good about a one-trick pony.
Global banks in London may have to relocate 1.8 trillion euros ($1.9 trillion) of assets to the continent after Britain withdraws from the European Union, putting as many as 30,000 U.K. jobs at risk, according to Brussels-based research group Bruegel. The assets potentially on the move represent 17% of the U.K. banking system, Bruegel said in a report published Wednesday. Based on discussions with market participants, the researchers estimate that 35% of wholesale banking activity in London can be attributed to dealings with customers inside the EU. Financial firms will have to move that business to countries inside the trading bloc after the U.K. leaves the EU in 2019, likely spelling the end of passporting, where firms seamlessly service the rest of the single market from their London hubs.
Banks, and their clients, are most concerned about a “cliff edge” Brexit, whereby all access is cut off after two years. To safeguard against that loss of access, banks are already in discussions with European regulators about setting up new bases inside the EU and have said they will start the process of moving people within weeks of the government triggering Brexit talks, expected in March. “At a minimum, it is expected that the new EU27-based entities will need to have autonomous boards, full senior management teams, senior account managers and traders, even though much of the back-office might stay in London or elsewhere in the world,” researchers led by Andre Sapir said in the report.
London-based firms will likely have to move about 10,000 employees into these new EU entities, Breugel estimates. An additional 18,000 to 20,000 people in associated professions, such as lawyers, consultants and accountants, may also have to relocate. Bruegel’s estimates are at the conservative end of the spectrum. TheCityUK industry lobby group forecasts as many as 35,000 banking jobs could be relocated, rising to 70,000 when including associated financial services. London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet has said Brexit would likely see 232,000 jobs leaving the U.K.
The Federal Reserve is dominated by academics who don’t know how finance and the economy really work, according to a former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas staffer in her new book. Danielle DiMartino Booth, an adviser to Richard Fisher when he was Dallas Fed president, says the economists who control most of the central bank’s seats of power filter their decision-making through theoretical models. That led the institution to miss the forces that created the financial crisis, and then adopt the wrong policies to put the economy back on track, she says. Ms. Booth makes her case in a book called “Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America,” set to be published Tuesday. Her book comes as other Fed critics are pushing for more diversity at the central bank.
They often focus on the dearth of women and minorities among the top officials, but some have said a broader range of educational and professional backgrounds also would widen the central bank’s perspective. Of the 17 Fed governors and regional bank presidents, 16 are white, 13 are men, and 10 have a Ph.D. in economics. Ms. Booth’s arguments echo those of her former boss, who led the Dallas Fed from 2005 to 2015, and frequently voted against the central bank’s aggressive stimulus efforts during and after the financial crisis. “If you rely entirely on theory, you are not going to conduct the right policy, because policies have consequences” that in many cases people with real-world experience are particularly well-suited to spot, Mr. Fisher said in an interview late last year.
Mr. Fisher hired Ms. Booth, a former Wall Street trader turned financial journalist, to work at the Dallas Fed in 2006 on the strength of columns she had written warning about the state of the housing market and financial markets. She eventually rose to be his appointed eyes and ears on financial markets. In her book, Ms. Booth describes a tribe of slow-moving Fed economists who dismiss those without high-level academic credentials. She counts Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and former Fed leader Ben Bernanke among them. The Fed’s “modus operandi” is defined by “hubris and myopia,” Ms. Booth writes in an advance copy of the book. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink.’”
“Global systemic risk has been exponentially amplified by the Fed’s actions,” Ms. Booth writes, referring to the central bank’s policies holding interest rates very low since late 2008. “Who will pay when this credit bubble bursts? The poor and middle class, not the elites.” Fed officials have defended their crisis-era stimulus policies, saying they lowered unemployment and helped the housing market recover. Opponents feared near-zero interest rates would cause excessive inflation and dangerous market bubbles, neither of which has happened. Ms. Booth also is among the Fed critics who see a worrisome revolving door between the central bank and the financial firms it regulates. She points to New York Fed President William Dudley, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, as an illustration of a “codependent” relationship between the central bank and markets. He and three other regional Fed bank presidents have worked for or had associations with Goldman Sachs. With this in mind, she writes, “Goldman has positioned players on the Fed’s chessboard.”
When the Italian central bank’s deputy governor joined a radio phone-in show last week, many callers asked why Italy didn’t ditch the euro and return to its old lira currency. A few years ago such a scenario, that Salvatore Rossi said would lead to “catastrophe and disaster”, would not have been up for public discussion. Now, with the possibility of an election by June, politicians of all stripes are tapping into growing hostility towards the euro. Many Italians hold the single currency responsible for economic decline since its launch in 1999. “We lived much better before the euro,” says Luca Fioravanti, a 32-year-old real estate surveyor from Rome. “Prices have gone up but our salaries have stayed the same, we need to get out and go back to our own sovereign currency.”
The central bank is concerned about the rise in anti-euro sentiment, and a Bank of Italy source told Reuters Rossi’s appearance is part of a plan to reach out to ordinary Italians. Few Italians want to leave the European Union, as Britain chose to do in its referendum last year. Italy was a founding EU member in 1957 and Italians think it has helped maintain peace and stability in Europe. And the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is pro-euro and wants more European integration though it complains that the fiscal rules governing the euro are too rigid. But the three other largest parties are hostile, in various degrees, to Italy’s membership of the single currency in its current form. The PD is due to govern until early 2018, unless elections are called sooner. The PD’s prospects of victory have waned since its leader Matteo Renzi resigned as premier in December after losing a referendum on constitutional reform, and polls suggest that under the current electoral system no party or coalition is likely to win a majority.
Italians used to be among the euro’s biggest supporters but a Eurobarometer survey published in December by the European Commission showed only 41% said the euro was “a good thing”, while 47% called it “a bad thing.” In the Eurobarometer published in April 2002, a few months after the introduction of euro notes and coins, Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion. Italy is the only country in the euro zone where per capita output has actually fallen since it joined the euro, according to Eurostat data. Its economy is still 7% smaller than it was before the 2008 financial crisis, and youth unemployment stands at 40%.
The head of Italy’s bank-bailout fund said on Tuesday the country lacked a clear strategy for shifting 356 billion euros ($381 billion) in problem loans. In an extraordinary outburst from a man picked by Rome to help tackle the problem, Alessandro Penati, whose boutique asset management firm was chosen to raise private funds for struggling banks, said he felt “bitter and disillusioned”. His comments exposed tensions within the banking sector over Italy’s rescue efforts. “There is no clear vision of the problem and no strategy,” Penati said at a financial conference in Milan, suggesting that he was virtually working alone on rescues that had revealed “horror stories” within some banks. “There is simply a reaction to a problem and this has been the main difficulty for me over these past few months – I had nobody to relate to.”
The Atlante fund, created 10 months ago following pressure from the government, gathered 4.25 billion euros from around 70 mostly private investors, including Italy’s healthier lenders, to buy up bad loans and invest in weaker banks. But the fund’s investors are already making big writedowns on the value of their stakes in Atlante, which promised them annual returns of 6%. The fund faces ever greater demands for capital and no investors willing to stump up more money. In December, Penati’s plan to buy into Italy’s biggest-ever sale of bad debts – 28 billion euros worth of loans written by struggling bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) — fell apart when the bank failed to find any other major investors.
Penati, a former economist who set up Milan-based Quaestio Capital Management, said the sale had collapsed because it had been tied to a capital raising that had been “badly devised and even more badly executed”. Monte dei Paschi (MPS) is now to be rescued by the state. “It would no longer make sense for Atlante to play a role now. The point is that state intervention is considered a way to solve all problems, but it isn’t … MPS’s bad loan problem remains and how they are going to solve it – I don’t know.”
On Tuesday the Army Corps of Engineers gave notice to Congress that within 24 hours it would grant an easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies have attempted to halt out of concern for water contamination, dangers to the climate, and damage to sites of religious significance to the tribe. The federal government dismissed those concerns in its filing. “I have determined that there is no cause for completing any additional environmental analysis,” Douglas Lamont, the acting assistant secretary of the Army, wrote in a memorandum. “The COE has full responsibility to take the reasonable steps necessary to execute the requested easement.”
Two weeks earlier, after only four days in office, Trump signed two memoranda instructing federal officials to ram forward approvals for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which had been halted by the Obama administration after people mobilized across the U.S. to stop them. On Dakota Access, the Army Corps did just what the president demanded, waiving the standard 14-day waiting period before such a permit becomes official. The tribe has been left with just one day to rally a legal response. Lawyers for the tribe say they will argue in court that an environmental impact statement, mandated by the Army Corps under Obama, was wrongfully terminated. They will likely request a restraining order while the legal battle ensues. Pipeline company lawyers have said that it would take at minimum 83 days for oil to flow from the date that an easement is granted.
Although the tribal government once supported the string of anti-pipeline camps that began popping up last spring, leaders have since insisted that pipeline opponents go home and stay away from the reservation. “Please respect our people and do not come to Standing Rock and instead exercise your First Amendment rights and take this fight to your respective state capitols, to your members of Congress, and to Washington, D.C.,” tribal chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement. Still, the easement announcement is already activating pipeline opponents to return. A “couple thousand people” are headed back to the camps, including contingents of veterans, said former congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the tribe, in a video posted to Facebook.
Hours before the final vote on the triggering of Article 50 the government quietly announced it would allow just 350 unaccompanied Syrian children to come to the UK, thousands short of the figure suggested by government sources last year. The statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said local authorities indicated “have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year” and said the country should be “proud” of its contribution to finding homes for refugees. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the decision “a betrayal of British values”. “Last May, MPs from all parties condemned the Government’s inaction on child refugees in Europe, and voted overwhelmingly to offer help to the thousands of unaccompanied kids who were stranded without their families backed by huge public support,” Mr Farron said.
“Instead, the Government has done the bare minimum, helping only a tiny number of youngsters and appearing to end the programme while thousands still suffer. At the end of December last year the Government had failed to bring a single child refugee to the UK under the Dubs scheme from Greece or Italy where many of these children are trapped.” Ministers introduced the programme last year after coming under intense pressure to give sanctuary to lone children stranded on the continent. Calls for the measure were spearheaded by Lord Dubs, whose amendment to the Immigration Act requires the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the UK and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”.
I am the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who tragically drowned September 2, 2015. The devastating image of my 2-year old nephew’s lifeless body, lying face-down on the beach in Turkey, was all over the news across the world. Two weeks ago, I got home from work and my husband showed me a video of Tulsi Gabbard talking about her visit to my home country of Syria. The things she was saying about the United States policy of regime change and how the West and the Gulf countries are funding the rebel groups who wind up with the terrorists are true. I was shocked because it’s something no other U.S. politician has the courage to say. Regime change policy has destroyed my country and forced my people to flee. Tulsi’s message was exactly what I have been trying to say for years, but no one wants to listen.
I live in Canada now, but I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Growing up, our country was peaceful, beautiful and safe. Our neighbors were Christian, Muslim, Sunni, Shia; all kinds of religion and color. We all lived together and respected each other. Syria is a secular country. In 2011, the war started in Syria. Most of my family was still in Damascus. I was always in close contact with them and talked to them on the phone on a daily basis. For a year, I heard many tragic stories of people, friends, and neighbors who I grew up with having died in this war. Ultimately, my family had to flee to Turkey. I did what everyone would do for their own family to help, I sent them money and I listened to their struggles to survive as refugees in Turkey.
In 2014, I went to Turkey to visit my family and tried to help them. What I saw and experienced is not what we all saw in the news or we heard in the radio. It was worse than I could ever have imagined. I saw people in the streets without homes, without hope. Children were hungry, begging for a piece of bread. I heard many heartbreaking stories from other refugees who were suffering so much and many who had lost loved ones in the war. After I returned to Canada, I decided I wanted to bring my family here as refugees, but I couldn’t get them approved to come in. Eventually, my brother Abdullah and his wife Rehana, like thousands of Syrians, decided they had to take the risk and trust a smuggler they thought would bring them to freedom, safety, and hope. In September 2, 2015, I heard the tragic news that my sister-in-law Rehana and her two sons drowned crossing from Turkey to Greece.
The image of my two year old nephew Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach was all over the media across the world. It was the wake up call to the world. Enough suffering. Enough killing. And most importantly, it was my wake up call. [..] Like me, many Syrians are encouraged that Tulsi met with President Bashar Assad in Syria. Tulsi recognizes that we need to talk to him because a political solution is the only way to restore peace in Syria. If the West keeps funding the rebels, we will see more people flee, more bloodshed, and more suffering. My people have suffered for at least six years. This is not about supporting Bashar. This is about ending the war in Syria. We can’t continue like this, supporting regime change. We have seen it before in Iraq, in Libya, and look what happened to them.
2016 marked another banner year for US trade, a banner year largely for other countries that at the initiative of Corporate America, whose supply chains weave all over the world, managed to load the US up with their merchandise. According to the Commerce Department’s report today, the US trade deficit in goods and services rose to $502.3 billion in 2016, the highest in four years. Exports of goods and services fell $52 billion in 2016 year-over-year to $2.21 trillion, and imports fell $50 billion to $2.71 trillion. That both exports and imports fell is a sign of weakening world trade, lackluster demand globally, and lousy economic growth in the US, where GDP in 2016 inched up by a miserable 1.6%, matching the growth rate of 2011, both having been the lowest growth rates since 2009.
Exports add to the economy and to GDP; imports subtract from GDP. And it’s a big number: the trade deficit in 2016 amounted to 2.7% of GDP. In overly simplified, scribbled-on-a-napkin-after-the-third-beer math: had trade been balanced, with imports about equal to exports, GDP growth would have been 2.7 percentage points higher in 2016. So 4.3%! OK, we’re dreaming. But that’s how a massive trade deficit whacks the economy. The overall trade balance is composed of trade in goods and services. It used to be years ago when the trade deficit in goods began to balloon that it was no big deal because America was exporting innovative services, such as complex financial services, and they would make up for the deficit in old-fashioned goods.
They did lessen the pain for a little while, and then they didn’t. And soon, even the overall US trade deficit ballooned, but it was no big deal because soaring imports showed that the US economy was healthy and brimming with consumer demand. Year after year, we heard this from economists and politicians. Beyond that, apathy was palpable. No one cared. It’s just the way it is. Dreaming of balanced trade was like so 1980s or whatever. Meanwhile, Corporate America was fine-tuning its game of offshoring production and importing from cheaper countries. The entire business model of Wal-Mart depends on it. US supply chains wind all over the globe, in search of the lowest production costs, whether it’s consumer gadgets or automotive components. It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress the Trump administration should have taken more time to inform Congress before implementing its controversial executive order temporarily blocking entry of people from seven nations. “The thinking was to get it out quick so potentially people coming here to harm us would not take advantage” of a delay, Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday. In his first congressional appearance as a cabinet member, Mr. Kelly offered a forceful defense of the order, saying it wasn’t a ban on Muslims as critics have charged, but a “temporary pause” on immigrants and visitors from countries about whose residents the U.S. can’t access solid information. He sought to take responsibility for the chaotic rollout, saying the confusion was “all on me.”
“Going forward, I would have certainly taken some time to inform the Congress and certainly that’s something I’ll do in the future,” he said. The Wall Street Journal and others have reported that Mr. Kelly had little input in the order or its rollout, which was directed by the White House. The order, issued on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 27, resulted in initial confusion and confrontation at airports around the country, as some travelers were detained for hours or sent away and protesters gathered at terminals to denounce the new rules. A federal court in Seattle temporarily put the order on hold on Friday, citing potential legal concerns. That action prompted President Donald Trump to question the judge’s credentials and say he could be to blame in the event of a terrorist attack. Mr. Kelly waded into that debate on Tuesday, likening judges to academics removed from on-the-ground realities.
“I have nothing but respect for judges, but in their world it’s a very academic, very almost in-a-vacuum discussion, and of course, in their courtrooms, they are protected by people like me, so they can have those discussions,” he said. “They live in a different world than I do. I’m paid to worst-case it, he’s paid to, in a very academic environment, make a call.” [..] Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said he backed the executive order, which a court order has put on hold. But he said it was poorly implemented. He said some U.S. permanent residents who are citizens of the targeted countries were initially not allowed to return to the country, while foreigners who aided the U.S. military and students attending American schools were “trapped overseas.”
“I applaud you for quickly correcting what I consider errors,” Mr. McCaul said. The congressman said he had suggested the approach President Donald Trump took when Mr. Trump was a candidate. His goal, Mr. McCaul said, was to help reframe the proposal from what Mr. Trump initially described as a Muslim ban, an approach he thought would have been unconstitutional.
It’s great to have the courts discuss this. That’s where it belongs. If Trump can win, we will know just how broad US presidents’ power had become, before Trump. And we can judge whether we like things that way. He either has the authority, or he doesn’t. That should be clear from the law, not a matter of taste or preference.
A lawyer seeking to reinstate Donald Trump’s travel ban was grilled by a panel of three judges on Tuesday, facing questions over the president’s inflammatory campaign promise to close America’s borders to Muslims. August Flentje, of the Department of Justice, was put on the spot over why seven Muslim-majority countries had been targeted in Trump’s executive order, as well as past statements made by the president and his ally Rudy Giuliani. The hour-long hearing before the San Francisco-based ninth circuit court of appeals was the most significant legal battle yet over the ban. The judges said they would try to deliver a ruling as soon as possible but gave no indication of when. Flentje, reportedly called up for the hearing at short notice, asked the judges for a stay on the temporary restraining order placed on Trump’s travel ban by district court judge James Robart last week.
[..] During a hearing conducted by telephone between various locations, Flentje described the ban as putting a “temporary pause” on travelers from countries that “pose special risk”. He said the seven countries targeted had “significant terrorist presence” or were “safe havens for terrorism”. Trump’s actions were “plainly constitutional”, Flentje argued, as the president sought to strike a balance between welcoming visitors and securing the nation of the risk of terrorism. “The president has struck that balance,” he said. “The district court order upset that balance.” Flentje argued that the district court restraining order was too broad, giving rights to people “who have never been to the United States” and “really needs to be narrowed”. Judge Michelle Friedland asked: “Are you arguing then that the president’s decision in the regard is unreviewable?”
Flentje replied: “Yes, there are obviously constitutional limitations.” But Judge William Canby pointed out that people from the seven countries already could not come into the country without a visa and were subject to “the usual investigations”. How many of these people had committed terrorist attacks in the US, he wondered, before pointing out it was none. Flentje pointed to Congress’s determination that they were countries of concern, an argument that Judge Richard Clifton dismissed as “pretty abstract”. Trying to regain ground, the lawyer said: “Well, I was just about to at least mention a few examples. There have been a number of people from Somalia connected to al-Shabaab [an Islamist militant group] who have been convicted in the United States.” Friedland, who was appointed by Barack Obama, interjected: “Is that in the record? Can you point us to what, where in the record you are referring?” Flentje admitted: “It is not in the record.”
“..if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much..”
In Skin in the Game, you seem to build on theories from The Black Swan that give a sense of foreboding about the world economy. Do you see another crisis coming? Oh, absolutely! The last crisis  hasn’t ended yet because they just delayed it. [Barack] Obama is an actor. He looks good, he raises good children, he is respectable. But he didn’t fix the economic system, he put novocaine [local anaesthetic] in the system. He delayed the problem by working with the bankers whom he should have prosecuted. And now we have double the deficit, adjusted for GDP, to create six million jobs, with a massive debt and the system isn’t cured. We retained zero interest rates, and that hasn’t helped. Basically we shifted the problem from the private corporates to the government in the U.S. So, the system remains very fragile.
You say Obama put novocaine in the system. How will the Trump administration be able to address this? Of course. The whole mandate he got was because he understood the economic problems. People don’t realise that Obama created inequalities when he distorted the system. You can only get rich if you have assets. What Trump is doing is put some kind of business sense in the system. You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s wrong. Instead of Trump being elected, if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much.
You’re seen as something of an oracle, given that you saw the 2008 economic crash coming, you predicted the Brexit vote, the outcome of the Syrian crisis. You said the Islamic State would benefit if Bashar al-Assad was pushed out and you predicted Trump’s win. How do you explain it? Not the Islamic State, but al-Qaeda at the time, and I said the U.S. administration was helping fund them. See, you have to have courage to say things others don’t. I was lucky financially in life, that I didn’t need to work for a living and can spend all my time thinking. When Trump was running for election, I said what he says makes sense to a grocery store owner. Because the grocery guy can say Trump is wrong because he can see where he is wrong. But with Obama, he can’t understand what he’s saying, so the grocery man doesn’t know where he is wrong.
Is it a choice between dumbing down versus over-intellectualisation, then? Exactly. Trump never ran for archbishop, so you never saw anything in his behaviour that was saintly, and that was fine. Whereas Obama behaved like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was going to do good but people didn’t feel their lives were better. As I said, if it was a shopkeeper from Aleppo, or a grocery store owner in Mumbai, people would have liked them as much as Trump. What he says makes common sense, asking why are we paying so much for this rubbish or why do we need these complex taxes, or why do we want lobbyists. You can call Trump’s plain-speaking what you like. But the way intellectuals treat people who don’t agree with them isn’t good either. I remember I had an academic friend who supported Brexit, and he said he knew what it meant to be a leper in the U.K. It was the same with supporting Trump in the U.S.
I hope against hope that the rumors are wrong and that President Donald Trump will not open the State Department door to the neocons. Crack the door to admit Elliott Abrams and the neocons will scurry in by the hundreds. Neoconservative interventionists have had us at perpetual war for 25 years. While President Trump has repeatedly stated his belief that the Iraq War was a mistake, the neocons (all of them Never-Trumpers) continue to maintain that the Iraq and Libyan Wars were brilliant ideas. These are the same people who think we must blow up half the Middle East, then rebuild it and police it for decades. They’re wrong and they should not be given a voice in this administration.
One of the things I like most about President Trump is his acknowledgement that nation building does not work and actually works against the nation building we need to do here at home. With a $20 trillion debt, we don’t have the money to do both. I urge him to keep that in mind this week when he meets with Elliott Abrams, the rumored pick for second in command to the Secretary of State. Abrams would be a terrible appointment for countless reasons. He doesn’t agree with the president in so many areas of foreign policy and he has said so repeatedly; he is a loud voice for nation building and when asked about the president’s opposition to nation building, Abrams said that Trump was absolutely wrong; and during the election he was unequivocal in his opposition to Donald Trump, going so far as to say, “the chair in which Washington and Lincoln sat, he is not fit to sit.”
Why then would the president trust him with the second most powerful position in the State Department? Abrams was equally dismissive throughout Trump’s entire candidacy. As a Never-Trumper, he repeatedly said he would neither vote for Clinton nor Trump. He likened the choice to the one the nation faced of McGovern vs. Nixon. I voted for Rex Tillerson for secretary of state because I believe him to have a balanced approach to foreign policy. My hope is that he will put forward a realist approach. I don’t see Abrams as part of any type of foreign policy realism. Elliott Abrams is a neoconservative too long in the tooth to change his spots, and the president should have no reason to trust that he would carry out a Trump agenda rather than a neocon agenda. But just as importantly, Congress has good reason not to trust him – he was convicted of lying to Congress in his previous job.
The EU faces a looming crisis which could threaten the sustainability of the eurozone as the IMF has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path despite years of attempted austerity and economic reforms. Global financiers at the IMF are increasingly unwilling to fund endless bailouts for the eurozone’s most troubled country, passing more of the burden onto the EU – at a time when Germany does not want to keep sending cash to Athens. The assessment opens up a fresh split with Europe over how to handle Greece’s massive public debts, as the IMF called on Europe to provide “significant debt relief” to Greece – despite Greece’s EU creditors ruling out any further relief before the current rescue programme expires in 2018. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Eurogroup President repeated that position last night, saying there would be no Greek debt forgiveness and dismissing the IMF assessment of Greece’s growth prospects as overly pessimistic.
“It’s surprising because Greece is already doing better than that report describes,” said Mr Dijsselbloem, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, adding that Greece was on track for a “pretty good recovery at the moment”. The renewed divisions over how to handle the Greek debt crisis has raised fresh questions over whether the IMF will be a full participant in the next phase of the Greek rescue – a key condition for backing from the German and Dutch parliaments. As Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, fights a tough reelection battle, Germany is particularly reluctant to send funds directly to Greece, with populist parties in Germany arguing that the payments amount to an unfair bailout from hard-working Germans to less deserving Greeks.
The IMF split came as Mrs May last night comfortably defeated a Brexit rebellion in the Commons as MPs rejected Labour plans to give Parliament a “meaningful” vote on the terms of a final deal. Despite suggestions that up to 30 Tory MPs could defy their party whip and back the Labour amendment just seven chose to do so. Mrs May stemmed the rebellion after the Government pledged to hold a vote in Parliament on the deal before it is sent to the European Parliament. However ministers said that MPs would have to “take or leave it”, meaning that Mrs May is prepared to walk away from Europe without a deal if Parliament rejects it. A fresh crisis over Greek debt could be triggered as soon as in July when Greece is due to repay some €7bn to its creditors – money the country cannot pay without a fresh injection of bailout cash.
Fresh worries over Greece’s debts have pushed the country’s borrowing costs sharply higher amid renewed insistence from Athens it will not swallow further austerity demands from international lenders. The yields on two-year government bonds jumped to their highest level since last June and went above 10% to reflect growing anxiety on financial markets over Greece’s ability to keep up to date with debt repayments. Yields on 10-year government bonds were also higher at above 7.8%, the highest close since November. The renewed focus on Greece’s debts came as the International Monetary Fund revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over its participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy.
The fund has made repeated warnings that Greece’s debt burden of about €330bn is unsustainable despite the government pushing through spending cuts and tax increases that have badly hit popularity ratings for the government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The IMF declined to join other international lenders – the ECB and the EU – in funding the country’s third bailout, agreed in August 2015, and it is currently deciding whether to take part in a new chunk of rescue funds needed by mid-2018. Germany has warned the IMF’s involvement is crucial if support for Greece is to continue. News of a split on the IMF board raised new questions over whether Germany will see its wish granted for the fund joining the next rescue. In its latest annual review of the Greek economy, the IMF revealed that its board members were in disagreement over whether Athens should enforce even more austerity to satisfy its lenders.
Two forms of glue hold the euro together. First, the economic costs of break-up would be great. The minute investors heard that Greece was seriously contemplating reintroducing the drachma with the purpose of depreciating it against the euro, or against a “new Deutsche mark,” they would wire all their money to Frankfurt. Greece would experience the mother of all banking crises. The “new Deutsche mark” would then shoot through the roof, destroying Germany’s export industry. More generally, those predicting, or advocating, the euro’s demise tend to underestimate the technical difficulties of reintroducing national currencies. They suggest briefly imposing capital controls to prevent holders of euros from fleeing while the new money, electronic or other, is quickly put in place.
This ignores the complexity of actually removing controls once they are adopted. Recall the experiences of Iceland and Cyprus, which required years, not days, to completely remove their “temporary” controls. The proponents advocate quickly restructuring the debts of banks, firms and households with euro-denominated liabilities, without realizing that one person’s debt is another’s asset. Moreover, because borrowing and lending occurs across borders, agreement on debt restructuring will require lengthy negotiation between countries if the country abandoning the euro is to avoid harsh retaliatory measures. This process would make the U.K.’s Brexit negotiations look like a stroll in the park.
For southern European countries, there is an additional complication. They would have a massive bill to the ECB, and by implication to the other member states that are shareholders in the ECB, in settlement of their so-called Target2 balances, liabilities incurred as a result of cross-border payments in central bank money. ECB President Mario Draghi recently made clear that countries abandoning the euro would be presented with this bill. For Italy, to pick a case not entirely at random, those balances currently stand at €360 billion ($383 billion), or approximately €6,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s about 10 times on a per capita basis what the U.K. likely owes the EU as alimony for its divorce. And if a country like Italy chooses to default on its Target2 obligations, it will be unceremoniously kicked out of the EU.
This brings us to the second form of glue: namely that European countries, Britain aside, still attach very considerable value to EU membership. That membership matters even more now that that President Trump has cast NATO into doubt and the United States is no longer seen as a reliable ally. The example of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, reduced to cozying up to Mr. Trump and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not one that many other European politicians care to follow. In a 2007 article, I too made a bet — namely that the euro, while flawed, wasn’t going away. I argued that it is the roach motel of currencies. Like the Hotel California of the song: you can check in, but you can’t check out. For 10 years I’ve been right. To be sure, past performance is no guarantee of future returns, as any prudent investor knows. Even so, unlike ambassador-in-waiting Malloch, I continue to think that shorting the euro is bad advice.
China’s foreign exchange reserves unexpectedly fell below the closely watched $3 trillion level in January for the first time in nearly six years, even as authorities tried to curb outflows by tightening capital controls. Reserves fell by $12.3 billion in January to $2.998 trillion, compared with a drop of $41 billion drop in December. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast forex reserves would fall by about $10.5 billion to $3 trillion. While the $3 trillion mark is not seen as a firm “line in the sand” for Beijing, concerns are swirling in global financial markets over the speed at which the country is depleting its ammunition to defend the currency and staunch capital outflows.
Some analysts fear a heavy and sustained drain on reserves could prompt Beijing to devalue the currency. The yuan fell 6.6% against the rising dollar in 2016, its biggest annual drop since 1994. For 2016 as a whole, China burned through nearly $320 billion of reserves, on top of a record drop of $513 billion in 2015. The yuan has found some respite in recent weeks as the dollar retreated, helped also by recent steps to curb capital outflows. But analysts expect downward pressure on the yuan to resume, especially if the U.S. continues to raise interest rates, which would likely trigger fresh capital outflows from emerging economies such as China and test its enhanced capital controls.
“What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.”
In his first few weeks in office, President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and confirmed his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The consensus is that it won’t be long before he turns his focus to China, which he calls a currency manipulator. China can weather such criticism, for now. But if Trump’s threats of trade sanctions and 45% tariffs become real, the economic impact for the world’s second-biggest economy would be meaningful and could upend financial markets, potentially leading to a global recession. With economic growth already slowing and capital fleeing the nation, China’s $11 trillion economy is operating from a position of weakness.
Here’s how it plays out: As the world’s dominant reserve currency, the dollar has no peer. IMF data show that the greenback accounts for 63.3% of global foreign-exchange reserves, with the euro next at 20.3%, followed by the British pound and Japanese yen, both at 4.5%. That means that in times of crisis, the dollar benefits from global investors seeking a haven, even if the strife and the the uncertainty emanates from the U.S. It’s possible that a trade war would drive flows into the dollar, putting upward pressure on the currency at the expense of other exchange rates. That would be on top of the natural demand for the greenback created by the anticipation of significant fiscal stimulus floated by the Trump administration and a faster pace of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve.
In terms of China, it’s important to remember that the yuan’s external value is managed by authorities in a way that isn’t compatible with a sharp appreciation pressure of the dollar vis-à-vis all other currencies. The currency is managed to achieve a stable, effective, trade-weighted exchange rate and to foster a gently crawling peg relative to the dollar. That peg would be threatened if a trade war weakened China’s economy at a faster rate than forecast. What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.
China has wiped out about a quarter of the world’s heftiest foreign-currency stockpile over the past 18 months in its quest to keep the yuan stable. According to Commerzbank, such intervention is futile. Data Tuesday showed China’s foreign reserves slipped below $3 trillion in January, the first time they’ve breached that psychologically potent level in almost six years. Yet the experiences of some fellow BRICs show that drawing down the stockpile will probably have little effect on the currency’s long-term fate, Hao Zhou, Commerzbank’s Singapore-based senior emerging-markets economist, wrote in a research note late Tuesday.
While efforts by Russia and Brazil in recent years might have cushioned the blow of currency declines, they couldn’t change the market’s dynamics. In Russia’s case, a collapse in oil prices and the imposition of economic sanctions over the Crimea crisis proved more powerful drivers than the sale of a third of the country’s foreign-currency hoard between April 2013 and March 2015. The ruble fell more than 50% versus the dollar in the period.
The Reserve Bank of Australia frequently seeks feedback on the health of the economy. It might want to call the debt counsellors soon. Homeowners, consumers and property investors around Australia are making more calls to financial helplines as three warning signs back up the spike in demand: mortgage arrears are creeping up, lenders’ bad debt provisions have increased and personal insolvencies are near an all-time high. “It’s steadily out of control – I don’t know of too many financial counselling services where demand doesn’t exceed supply,” said Fiona Guthrie, chief executive officer of Financial Counselling Australia, who says the biggest increase in calls is from people suffering mortgage stress. “There are more people who have got mortgages that they can’t afford to pay.”
Australia’s households are among the world’s most-indebted after bingeing on more than $1 trillion of mortgages amid a housing boom that’s fizzled out in parts of the country, but still roaring in Sydney and Melbourne. While most are capably servicing their debts, a worsening of credit metrics has seen executives and analysts take a more cautious tone. It’s also a key factor in the central bank’s rate decisions this year, as RBA governor Philip Lowe places financial stability at the forefront of monetary policy. The concerns are understandable. Australians’ private debt has soared to 187% of their income, from about 70% in the early 1990s, encouraged by low interest rates. In a November speech, Lowe said that while most households are managing these levels of debt, many feel they are closer to their borrowing capacity than they once were.
Russia’s air force has been ordered to prepare for a “time of war”. President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “snap check” of the country’s armed forces, accoording to defense minister Sergey Shoigu. As well as checking whether agencies and troops are ready for battle, the same order will ensure that systems are ready to fight, according to state news agency TASS. Those preparations have already begun, according to Russian ministers. “In accordance with the decision by the Armed Forces Supreme Commander, a snap check of the Aerospace Forces began to evaluate readiness of the control agencies and troops to carry out combat training tasks,” he said, according to TASS.
“Special attention should be paid to combat alert, deployment of air defense systems for a time of war and air groupings’ readiness to repel the aggression,” Shoigu added. The preparations come amid increasing concern about tensions between Russia and many of the world’s largest superpowers. Donald Trump has both condemned Russia’s military campaigns and been criticised for being too close to the country’s leaders, and Russia itself is standing in an increasingly tense relationship with some Nato countries. The country has been increasing movement of its military including the launch of the biggest Arctic military push since the fall of the Soviet Union, last month. It has also revealed plans to expand its military over 2017, including a huge boost in the number of tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft controlled by the company.
The U.S. Army will grant the final permit for the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline after an order from President Donald Trump to expedite the project despite opposition from Native American tribes and climate activists. In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said that it would allow the final section of the line to tunnel under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. This could enable the $3.8 billion pipeline to begin operation as soon as June. Energy Transfer Partners is building the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line to help move crude from the shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located. Protests against the project last year drew drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains including Native American tribes and environmental activists, and protest camps sprung up.
The movement attracted high-profile political and celebrity supporters. The permit was the last bureaucratic hurdle to the pipeline’s completion, and Tuesday’s decision drew praise from supporters of the project and outrage from activists, including promises of a legal challenge from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “It’s great to see this new administration following through on their promises and letting projects go forward to the benefit of American consumers and workers,” said John Stoody, spokesman for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. The Standing Rock Sioux, which contends the pipeline would desecrate sacred sites and potentially pollute its water source, vowed to shut pipeline operations down if construction is completed, without elaborating how it would do so.
The tribe called on its supporters to protest in Washington on March 10 rather than return to North Dakota. “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get back up,” the tribe said in the statement. “We will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back.” Less than two weeks after Trump ordered a review of the permit request, the Army said in a filing in District Court in Washington D.C. it would cancel that study. The final permit, known as an easement, could come in as little as a day, according to the filing. There was no need for the environmental study as there was already enough information on the potential impact of the pipeline to grant the permit, Robert Speer, acting secretary of the U.S. Army, said in a statement.
In a recent post on EconLog, Bryan Caplan writes, “I’m baffled that anyone with libertarian sympathies takes the UBI [universal basic income] seriously.” I love a challenge. Let me try to un-baffle you, Bryan, and the many others who might be as puzzled as you are. Here are three kinds of libertarians who might take a UBI very seriously indeed. Philosophical issues aside, what galls many libertarians most about government is the failure of many policies to produce their intended results. Poverty policy is Exhibit A. By some calculations, the government already spends enough on poverty programs to raise all low-income families to the official poverty level, even though the poverty rate barely budges from year to year. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that money in a way that helps poor people more effectively?
A UBI would help by ending the way benefit reductions and “welfare cliffs” in current programs undermine work incentives. When you add together the effects of SNAP, TANF, CHIP, EITC and the rest of the alphabet soup, and account for work-related expenses like transportation and child care, a worker from a poor household can end up taking home nothing, even from a full-time job. A UBI has no benefit reductions. You get it whether you work or not, so you keep every added dollar you earn (income and payroll taxes excepted, and these are low for the poor). But, wait, you might say. Why would I work at all if you gave me a UBI? That might be a problem if you got your UBI on top of existing programs, but if it replaced those programs, work incentives would be strengthened, not weakened.
In which situation would you be more likely to take a job: one where you get $800 a month as a UBI plus a chance to earn another $800 from a job, all of which you can keep, or one where your get $800 a month in food stamps and housing vouchers, and anything extra you earn is taken away in benefit reductions? Or, you might say, a UBI might be fine for the poor, but wouldn’t it be unaffordable to give it to the middle class and the rich as well? Yes, if you added it on top of all the middle-class welfare and tax loopholes for the rich that we have now. No, if the UBI replaced existing tax preferences and other programs that we now lavish on middle- and upper-income households. Done properly, a UBI would streamline the entire system of federal taxes and transfers without any aggregate impact on the federal budget.
Claude Monet Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son Dec 31 1874
The end of the year is always a time when there are currency and liquidity issues in China. This has to do with things like taxes being paid, and bonuses for workers etc. So it’s not a great surprise that the same happens in 2016 too. Then again, the overnight repo rate of 33% on Tuesday was not exactly normal. That indicates something like a black ice interbank market, things that can get costly fast.
I found it amusing to see Bloomberg report that: “As banks become more reluctant to offer cash to other types of institutions, the latter have to turn to the exchange for money, said Xu Hanfei at Guotai Junan Securities in Shanghai. Amusing, because I bet many will instead have turned to the shadow banking system for relief. So much of China’s financial wherewithal is linked to ‘the shadows’ these days, it would make sense for Beijing to bring more of it out into the light of day. Don’t hold your breath.
Tyler on last night’s situation: ..the government crackdown on the credit and housing bubble may be serious for once due to fears about “rising social tensions”, much of the overnight repo rate spike was driven by the PBOC which pulled a net 150 billion yuan of funds in open-market operations..”. And the graph that comes with it:
It all sounds reasonable and explicable, though I’m not sure ‘core leader’ Xi would really want to come down hard on housing -he certainly hasn’t so far-, but there are things that do warrant additional attention. The first has to be that on Sunday January 1 2017, a ‘new round’ of $50,000 per capita permissions to convert yuan into foreign currencies comes into effect. And a lot of Chinese people are set to want to make use of that, fast.
Because there is a lot of talk and a lot of rumors about an impending devaluation. That’s not so strange given the continuing news about increasing outflows and shrinking foreign reserves. And those $50,000 is just the permitted amount. Beyond that, things like real estate purchases abroad, and ‘insurance policies’ bought in Hong Kong, add a lot to the total.
What makes this interesting is that if only 1% of the Chinese population -close to 1.4 billion people- would want to make use of these conversion quota, and most of them would clamor for US dollars, certainly since its post-election rise, if just 1% did that, 14 million times $50,000, or $700 billion, would potentially be converted from yuan to USD. That’s almost 20% of the foreign reserves China has left ($3.12 trillion in October, from $4 trillion in June 2014).
In other words, a blood letting. And of course this is painting with a broad stroke, and it’s hypothetical, but it’s not completely nuts either: it’s just 1% of the people. Make it 2%, and why not, and you’re talking close to 40% of foreign reserves. This means that the devaluation rumors should not be taken too lightly. If things go only a little against Beijing, devaluation may become inevitable soon.
In that regard, a remarkable change seems to be that while China’s always been intent on keeping foreign investment out, now all of a sudden they announce they’re going to sharply reduce restrictions on foreign investment access in 2017. While at the same time restricting mergers and acquisitions by Chinese corporations abroad, in an attempt to keep -more- money from flowing out. Something that has been as unsuccessful as so many other pledges.
The yuan has declined 6.6% in value in 2016 (and 15% since mid-2014), and that’s probably as bad as it gets before some people start calling it an outright devaluation. More downward pressure is certain, through the conversion quota mentioned before. After that, first there’s Trump’s January 20 inauguration, and a week after, on January 27, Chinese Lunar New Year begins.
May you live in exciting times indeed. It might be a busy week in Beijing. As AFP reported at the beginning of December:
Trump has vowed to formally declare China a “currency manipulator” on the first day of his presidency, which would oblige the US Treasury to open negotiations with Beijing on allowing the renminbi to rise.
Sounds good and reasonable too, but how exactly would China go about “allowing the renminbi to rise”? It’s the last thing the currency is inclined to do right now. It would appear it would take very strict capital controls to stop the currency from plunging, and that’s about the last thing Xi is waiting for. For one thing, the hard-fought inclusion in the IMF basket would come under pressure as well. AFP continues:
China charges an average 15.6% tariff on US agricultural imports and 9% on other goods, according to the WTO.
Chinese farm products pay 4.4% and other goods 3.6% when coming into the United States.
China is the United States’ largest trading partner, but America ran a $366 billion deficit with Beijing in goods and services in 2015, up 6.6% on the year before.
I don’t know about you, but I think I can see where Trump is coming from. Opinions may differ, but those tariff differences look as if they belong to another era, as in the era they came from, years ago. Lots of water through the Three Gorges since then. So the first thing the US Treasury will suggest to China on the first available and convenient occasion after January 20 for their legally obligatory talk is: let’s equalize this. What you charge us, we’ll charge you. Call it even and call it a day.
That would both make Chinese products considerably more expensive in the States, and open the Chinese economy to American competition. There are many hundreds of billions of dollars in trade involved. And of course I see all the voices claiming that it will hurt the US more than China and all that, but what would they suggest, then? You can’t leave this tariff gap in place forever, so what do you do?
I’m sure Trump and his team, Wilbur Ross et al, have been looking at this a lot, it’s a biggie, and have a schedule in their heads for phasing out the gap in multiple steps. Steps too steep and short for China, no doubt, but then, I don’t buy the argument that the US should sit still because China owns so much US debt. That’s a double-edged sword if ever there was one, and all hands on the table know it.
If you’re Xi, and you’re halfway realist, you just know that Trump will aim to cut the $366 billion 2015 deficit by at least 50% for 2017, and take it from there. That’s another big chunk of change the core leader stands to lose. And another major pressure point for the yuan, obviously. How Xi would want to avoid devaluation, I don’t know. How he would handle it once it can no longer be avoided, don’t know that either. Trump’s trump card?
One other change in China in 2016 warrants scrutiny. That is, the metamorphosis of many Chinese people from caterpillar savers into butterfly borrowers. Or gamblers, even. It’s one thing to buy units in empty apartment blocks with your savings, but it’s another to buy them with money you borrow. But then, many Chinese still have access to few other investment options. That’s why the $50,000 conversion to USD permission as per January 1 could grow real big.
But in the meantime, many have borrowed to buy real estate. And they’ve been buying into a genuine absolute bubble. It’s not always evident, because prices keep oscillating, but the last move in that wave will be down.
If I were Xi, all these things would keep me up at night. But I’m not him, and I can’t oversee to what extent his mind is still in the ‘omnipotent sphere’, if he still has the impression that in the end, come what may, he’s in total control. In my view, his problem is that he has two bad choices to choose from.
Either he will have to devalue the yuan, and sharply too (to avoid a second round), an option that risks serious problems with Trump and other leaders (IMF), and would take away much of the wealth the Chinese people thought they had built up -ergo: social unrest-.
Either that or he will be forced, if he wants to maintain some stability in the yuan’s valuation, to clamp down domestically with very grave capital controls, which carries the all too obvious risk of, once again, serious social unrest. And which would (re-)isolate the country to such an extent that the entire economic model that lifted the country out of isolation in the first place would be at risk.
This may play out relatively quickly, if for instance sufficient numbers of people (the 1% would do) try to convert their $50,000 allotment of yuan into dollars -and the government is forced to say it doesn’t have enough dollars-. But that is hard to oversee from the outside.
There are, for me, too many ‘unknown unknowns’ in this game. But I don’t see it, I don’t see how Xi and his crew will get themselves through this minefield without getting burned. I’m looking for an escape route, but there seem to be none available. Only hard choices. If you come upon a fork in the road, China, don’t take it.
And mind you, this is all without even having touched upon the massive debts incurred by thousands upon thousands of local governments, and the grip that these debts have allowed the shadow banks to get on society, without mentioning the Wealth Management Products and other vehicles in that part of the economy, another ‘industry’ worth trillions of dollars. I mean, just look at the growth rates in these instruments:
There’s simply too much debt all throughout the system, and it’s due for a behemoth restructuring. You look at some of the numbers and graphs, and you wonder: what were they thinking?
There’s a reason presidential nominee Donald Trump’s message of a declining America is inspiring support in Republican strongholds: poverty is worsening in his party’s congressional districts, a new analysis by the Brookings Institution shows. The poverty rate increased in nearly all – 96% – of the Republican-controlled districts between 2000 and the 2010-2014 period, according to a study by Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow with the institute. She analyzed Census data and figures from the American Community Survey. The population living in poverty in all Republican districts climbed by 49%, compared with a 33% increase in Democratic areas. A big theme of this presidential election campaign that will be decided on Nov. 8 has been the battle to win low-income voters who feel left behind from the economic expansion.
Trump’s rallies have been often packed with middle-class supporters who are receiving his message to “make America great again.” Both him and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have promised to raise the minimum wage and deal with the affordability of college and childcare. Neighborhoods in Democrat-leaning districts also have a high proportion of poor people. Combined, the poverty rate in districts represented by Democrats was higher at 17.1% in 2010-14 than the 14.4% in Republican areas. However, the overall number of poor residents was larger in Red districts at 25.1 million compared with 22.7 million in Blue districts, the study found. “Poverty and opportunity should be more than a top-of-the-ticket conversation,” Kneebone said. “Challenges of poverty cut across the political divide and touch all 436 congressional districts.”
French industry has been contracting since the adoption of the euro. It was not able to recover after either of the 2001 or 2008 crises because the euro, a currency stronger than the French franc would be, has become a burden to France’s economy. The floating exchange rate works like an indicator of the strength of the economy and like an automatic stabilizer. A weaker currency helps to regain competitiveness during a crisis, while a stronger currency supports consumption of foreign goods. China has been accused of artificial devaluation of its currency to prop up exports, while the ECB’s policy has had an opposite effect for the economy of France and some South European countries: the euro has become too strong; whereas for Germany’s it has become too weak.
That is why the common currency has increased consumption and imports in less productive countries and strengthened German competitiveness and exports. Because of the euro France could not regain international competitiveness in the world’s market after the 2001 crisis, so its industry has been slowly dying ever since. What we are saying is not that weakening your currency is a solution to boost a never-ending growth. The floating exchange rate is a great tool for bad times, which is excellently known in Poland, where there was no recession because of, among others, a temporarily weaker national currency. France and South European countries have just given this tool over to the ECB and they were not able to have a quick recovery. Just like Germany has had with an undervalued euro in their case.
Today, according to the Eurostat, industry (except construction) makes up 14.1% of the French total gross value added, while in 1995 it was 19.2%. The EU’s average is still 19.3%, but in Germany 25.9%. Moreover, the share of industry in total employment in France is only 11.9%, also under the EU’s average (15.4%) and the German level (18.8%). One of the imprints of the dying French manufacturing under the ECB rules is automotive sector collapse. According to OICA data, the world’s car production almost doubled in the years 1997-2015 from 53 million vehicles produced yearly to 90 million. At the same time, Germany increased its car production by 20% from 5 to 6 million. What happened in France, once the proud producer of beautiful and modern vehicles?
China and Japan may seem to inhabit alternative economic universes. After more than two decades of stagnation, Japan is a fading global power that can’t seem to revive its fortunes no matter what unorthodox gimmicks it tries. By contrast, China’s ascent to superpower status appears relentless as it gains wealth, technology, and ambition. Yet these Asian neighbors have a lot in common, and that doesn’t bode well for China’s economic future. The sad case of Japan should serve as a cautionary tale for China’s policymakers. Beijing pursued almost identical economic policies to Tokyo’s to generate its rapid development. Now China’s leaders are repeating the missteps the Japanese made that tanked Japan’s economy and thwarted its revival.
30 years ago, few foresaw the decline of Japan, either. Japan was the East Asian giant poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s top economy. Driving that ascent was an economic system that many considered superior to laissez-faire American capitalism. By fostering close, cooperative ties among the state, big corporations, and banks, Japan’s policymakers encouraged investment and guided a national industrial strategy. Bureaucrats in Tokyo interfered with markets to a degree unthinkable in the U.S. by protecting nascent industries and directing financing to favored sectors and companies. Backed by such support, Japanese companies burst onto the world stage and pushed their American competitors to the wall. But even as Japan appeared destined for greatness, its economy was, in reality, starting to rot.
Those clubby ties among finance, business, and government misallocated capital and led to wasteful investments. Growth was given a boost by cheap credit in the second half of the 1980s, but that also helped inflate debt levels and stock and property prices. When this “bubble economy” burst in the early 1990s, the financial industry was flattened. Japan has yet to fully recover. [..] The methods Beijing employed to generate rapid growth—directing finance, nurturing targeted industries, and promoting exports—are replicas of Japan’s. And since the state in China’s “state capitalism” plays an even larger economic role than Japan’s officious bureaucracy does, the Chinese government interferes with markets to a greater degree.
Markets have grown more accustomed to the slow-motion decline in the value of the Chinese yuan. The currency’s next milestone, however, may usher in a more challenging period. China’s currency has fallen nearly 4% against the dollar this year, with a chunk of that move taking place over the past month, though there has been a small recovery in recent days. Recent dollar strength is certainly a factor in the minds of China’s currency managers in deciding when to intervene and when to let the yuan slide. Beijing has spent more than $500 billion in reserves to manage the yuan’s slide over the past two years on a balance-of-payments basis. Still, the yuan has slipped from 6.06 a dollar to above 6.75. That is getting close to 6.82, the level around which the yuan was pegged for an extended period from 2008 until 2010.
Currency traders could be accused of overplaying such historical levels having an effect on current trading. But in this case, it may have more than just a psychological impact. The two years in which the yuan was stuck around 6.82 was also the period of the largest inflows into the Chinese economy, to the tune of $764 billion, noted Kevin Lai of Daiwa Securities. Quantitative easing in the U.S. was in full effect and trillions flowed to emerging markets, especially China. Individuals and companies that borrowed in dollars or brought money in as a carry trade may have hung on until now, figuring they haven’t lost money on the exchange rate. But seeing the yuan get back to the rate when they brought it in could hasten transfers.
Unlike the period from 2008 to 2010, when interest-rate differentials vastly favored bringing money to China, and the exchange rate was pegged, the difference between dollar rates and yuan rates have narrowed substantially, plus the Chinese have to account for the possibility the yuan will weaken further. That explains why Federal Reserve rate increases have such a powerful effect on China’s capital flows. [..] It isn’t inevitable that the bulge of money that flowed in from 2008 to 2010 will necessarily leave. But outflows do continue to bubble below the surface. The ghosts of inflows past may yet haunt China’s future.
Egypt has devalued its currency by 48%, meeting an important demand set by the IMF in exchange for a $13bn loan over three years to overhaul the country’s economy. Thursday’s much anticipated decision by the Egyptian Central Bank followed a sharp and sudden decline this week in the value of the dollar in the unofficial market, dropping from an all-time high of 18.25 pounds to around 13 to the US currency. The devaluation pegs the Egyptian pound at 13 to the dollar, up from nearly nine pounds on the official market. The IMF’s executive board has yet to ratify the $12bn loan provisionally agreed by Egypt and the IMF in August.
Egypt’s central bank increased interest rates by three percent to rebalance currency markets following weeks of turbulence. A shortage of dollars in the economy had put the currency under intense downward pressure in recent months. A rapid slide on the black market to 18 earlier this week pushed the importers to cease buying, with the rate strengthening to 13 late on Wednesday, creating a rare opportunity for the central bank to devalue. The central bank said the new exchange rate was non-binding and would serve as “soft guidance to jumpstart the market”.
Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election. Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited. “The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent. This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton should she win the White House.
The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.” The agent called the bureau “Trumplandia”, with some colleagues openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented condemnation from the party’s national security wing and who has pledged to jail Clinton if elected. At the same time, other sources dispute the depth of support for Trump within the bureau, though they uniformly stated that Clinton is viewed highly unfavorably. “There are lots of people who don’t think Trump is qualified, but also believe Clinton is corrupt. What you hear a lot is that it’s a bad choice, between an incompetent and a corrupt politician,” said a former FBI official.
Sources who disputed the depth of Trump’s internal support agreed that the FBI is now in parlous political territory. Justice department officials – another current target of FBI dissatisfaction – have said the bureau disregarded longstanding rules against perceived or actual electoral interference when Comey wrote to Congress to say it was reviewing newly discovered emails relating to Clinton’s personal server. [..] Comey’s decision to tell the public in July that he was effectively dropping the Clinton server issue angered some within the bureau, particularly given the background of tensions with the justice department over the Clinton issue. A significant complication is the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, who met with Bill Clinton this summer ahead of Comey’s announcement, which she acknowledged had “cast a shadow” over the inquiry.
Voters fear the media far more than Russian hackers when it comes to tampering with election results. According to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll, 46% of likely voters believe the news media is “the primary threat that might try to change the election results.” The national political establishment was the second most-suspected group at 21%, and another 13% were undecided. Foreign interests, including “Russian hackers,” ranked fourth with 10% and “local political bosses” came in last with 9% of likely voters as the main threat to truthful election results. The poll results found 51% of likely voters were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the possibility of violence erupting on election day or afterwards.
The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken between Oct. 20 and Oct. 24 and followed the release of private emails by the hacking group WikiLeaks that revealed cozy relationships between some prominent media stars and the Clinton campaign. The WikiLeaks dump also discovered Donna Brazile, the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, forwarded a debate question to Clinton that was later asked at a CNN Democratic town hall. Brazile at the time was a CNN contributor. The poll found 39% of likely voters believe the media is coordinating coverage with individual political campaigns, while 48% said the media is reporting “completely of its own accord.” The Gallup Poll has found trust in the media to have sunk to an historic low. A September Gallup survey found just 32% of American adults saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media,” a number that has dropped 8 %age points from last year.
In his campaign stump speech Donald Trump ridicules Obama for publicly announcing four months in advance that “we” will be invading Mosul, Iraq to kick out ISIS there and capture its leaders. No element of surprise there. Twelve minutes after the announcement, said Trump, and the ISIS leaders were gone. Trump is right to mock this foolish talk. The element of surprise is what military commanders dream about. Stonewall Jackson’s famous flanking maneuver at the Battle of Chancellorsville (VA), where his 60,000-man army outflanked and surprised the 133,000-man Army of the Potomac with a crushing defeat is still to this day taught at military academies around the world.
But Obama is not that stupid. He’s just not interested in winning the “war on terra,” as Dub-Yuh called it. His main interest is keeping Boobus Americanus fooled into believing that that guy in the black pajamas with the giant sword will be in their neighborhood next week chopping off heads if we ever stop intervening in the Middle East. It’s all theater, in other words. That’s why the regime announces some big new military escalation every few months, lest Boobus forgets that he’s supposed to be frightened into acquiescing in the never-ending explosive growth of the military-industrial complex and the relentless growth of the state in general that it nourishes.
Theresa May could be forced to hold an early election if judges and Remain campaigners do not back down in the war against Brexit, Tory MPs warned last night. On a frantic day at Westminster, the Prime Minister vowed to appeal yesterday’s High Court verdict which would allow Parliament to frustrate or even scupper the process of Britain leaving the EU. No 10 sent a clear message to the courts that 17.4 million voters had backed Brexit and that they should not get in the way of ‘delivering the best deal for Britain’. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, said that – if yesterday’s verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court – a full Act of Parliament would be required to trigger Brexit.
This would allow MPs or unelected peers to table amendments that could dictate the terms of Brexit or even halt the process. But Mr Davis warned that heading down this path would be a huge mistake. And senior Tories said that, if MPs and peers did try to frustrate Brexit, a General Election was almost inevitable, suggesting Mrs May would have no option but to trigger an ‘immediate’ poll in early 2017. Last night, Mr Davis said: ‘Parliament voted by six to one to give the decision to the people, no ifs or buts, and that’s why we are appealing this to get on with delivering the best deal for Britain. ‘Parliament is sovereign and has been sovereign, but of course the people are sovereign.
‘The people are the ones who parliament represents…17.4 million of them, the biggest mandate in history, voted for us to leave the EU. ‘We’re going to deliver on that mandate in the best way possible for the British national interest. ‘The people want us to get on with it and that is what we intend to do.’ Ex-justice minister Dominic Raab said the verdict had opened ‘Pandora’s box’. He added: ‘I think the elephant in the room here is if we get to the stage where [Remainers] allow this negotiation to even begin, I think there must be an increased chance that we will need to go to the country again. ‘I think that would be a mistake and I don’t think those trying to frustrate the verdict in the referendum will be rewarded.’
The combined debt held by U.S. public pension plans will top $1.7 trillion next year, according to a just-released report from Moody’s Investors Services. This “pension tsunami” has already forced towns like Stockton, California and Detroit, Michigan into bankruptcy. Perhaps no government mismanaged their pension as badly as Puerto Rico, where a $43 billion pension debt forced the commonwealth to seek protection from the federal government after having defaulted on its obligations to bondholders — a default which is expected to spread to retirees in the form of benefit cuts. While the disastrous outcome of Puerto Rico’s pension plan – which is projected to completely run out of assets by 2019 – represents the worst-case scenario, the same series of events that led to its demise can be found in most public pension plans nationwide.
There are three primary culprits that can be found in nearly every state suffering from a public pension crisis: 1) The use of accounting gimmicks that are designed to shift costs onto future generations – an approach outlawed for private pension plans and rejected by both public and private plans in Canada and Europe. 2) Lawmakers, acting in their political self-interest, who have catered to the past demands of government unions to enrich their members’ benefits while passing the costs onto future generations. 3) A broken governance structure where public pension board members are actually penalized in tangible ways for acting responsibly, and are rewarded by choosing to delay the day of reckoning. Perhaps the most concise assessment of public pensions came from the former chief actuary for the nation’s largest public pension fund – CalPERS – who noted simply that: “Politics and pensions just don’t mix.”
And it’s not just “liberal” states like California who have succumbed to the siren call of public pensions. My home state of Nevada – historically thought to be a bastion of limited government thought – is in a proportionally deeper hole than our California neighbors! [..] In theory, government is ostensibly designed to override the allegedly short-sighted, greedy nature of individual actors with policies that are long-term oriented and designed to maximize the general welfare. Yet, as the case of public pensions (not to mention infrastructure spending, the national debt, entitlements, etc.) reveals, the political process actually does the exact opposite: it actually rewards those who underfund the present and defray costs onto future generations.
Toronto home sales rose to a record and prices surged in October, showing little effect so far from new government rules designed to bring stability to the market. Sales in Canada’s biggest city rose 12% to 9,768 transactions from the same month a year earlier, while average prices jumped 21% to C$762,975 ($569,852), according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. The average price of a detached home was C$1,034,077, up 26% on the year. New listings rose 0.9% to 13,377 homes. “Until we experience sustained relief in the supply of listings, the potential for strong annual rates of price growth will persist, especially in the low-rise market segments,” Jason Mercer, the board’s director of market analysis, said in a statement on Thursday.
The market remained hot even as Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled new federal rules in October that included a stress test for home-loan borrowers and came into effect halfway through the month. The rules also stiffened requirements for low-ratio mortgage insurance and closed a tax loophole. Toronto’s march higher contrasts with Vancouver’s continued sales decline since the provincial government enacted a tax on non-Canadian home buyers. Sales in the west coast city fell 39% in October over the prior year, while prices for all residential properties climbed to an average of C$919,300, a 25% jump from a year earlier and a 0.8% decline from September.
Turkish police began rounding up Kurdish lawmakers in post-midnight raids on Friday, extending a crackdown on the opposition as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidates power following a July 15 coup attempt. Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, co-chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, also known as the HDP, were among those detained, according to CNN-Turk. At Erdogan’s request, parliament had passed a law in May stripping the party’s lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution, which allows them to be charged with terrorism-related offenses. Last year, Demirtas looked to be a rising political star in Turkey. He led a pro-Kurdish party to win seats in parliament for the first time, passing the threshold of 10% of the national vote.
He also ran for president in 2014, and campaigned on a promise to prevent Erdogan from winning the power he seeks to transfer the seat of power in Turkey from parliament to an enhanced executive presidency. The police raids were carried out in Diyarbakir, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, and in the capital Ankara, according to Haberturk newspaper. Sirri Sureyya Onder, a member of parliament representing Istanbul, was also detained in Ankara, it said. Over the weekend, police arrested the elected mayors of Diyarbakir and later replaced them with government appointees. Demirtas had said that members of his party wouldn’t abide by orders to appear before courts, saying they’d become servants of the ruling party and were illegitimate.
Erdogan says the HDP is merely a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a group classified by Turkey and allies – including the U.S. and EU – as a terrorist organization. The HDP is the third-largest party in Turkey’s parliament, holding 59 of the legislature’s 550 seats.
Much of the internet appears to have gone down in Turkey. People in the country are having problems accessing much of the internet’s biggest websites and services, including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and more. The website Down Detector confirmed problems in the country, particularly in the west. Some have reported that the sites are simply slow, but that it is still possible to access them. Others say they are down entirely. It isn’t clear whether the outage has been caused by an intentional ban, a cyber attack or just an accident. Some reported that issues with Turk Telecom appeared to be the cause of the problems.
Turkey Blocks, a website that tracks issues with the internet in Turkey, claimed that web traffic including that for WhatsApp was subject to throttling, where connections are slowed down to the point they are unusable. It claimed that the internet ban was related to the arrest of some political activists the night before the outage went into effect. The issue began overnight but has been going on throughout the day, according to local reports. The internet in general seems to be having a rocky few weeks – recently, it went down for almost a full day after a strange cyber attack on the internet’s infrastructure that appeared to be executed by webcams.
A hard-fought pact to stave off worst-case-scenario global warming enters into force Friday after record-fast ratification by nations reassembling next week for a fresh round of UN climate talks. Dubbed the Paris Agreement, it is the first-ever pact binding all the world’s nations, rich and poor, to a commitment to cap average global warming by curbing planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas. “Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said. While cause for celebration, “it is also a moment to look ahead with sober assessment and renewed will over the task ahead,” she said.
This meant drastically cutting emissions in the short term, “certainly in the next 15 years,” Espinosa pointed out a day after a UN report said current trends were steering the world towards climate “tragedy”. By 2030, said the UN Environment Programme, annual greenhouse gas emissions will be 12 to 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) higher than the desired level of 42 billion tonnes. The 2014 level was about 52.7 billion tonnes. 2016 is on track to become the hottest year on record, and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed an ominous milestone in 2015. On Friday, the Eiffel Tower in Paris as well as government and public buildings in Marrakesh, New Delhi, Sao Paulo and Adelaide, among others, will be lit up in green to mark the entry into force of the historic pact.
“..interim storage sites while the government develops a permanent solution..” Baloney. There is no permanent solution. Yucca Mountain was discarded after a judge ruled the government had to guarantee safe storage for 100,000 years. There is no such guarantee.
Under a 1982 law, the U.S. government, not the utilities, is responsible for disposing of radioactive waste that can take thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years to degrade. But more than a half-century after nuclear energy powered the first American home, the U.S. Department of Energy still doesn’t have a permanent solution for the waste left behind. It’s a problem that will only get worse. On October 24, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station near Blair, Nebraska, became the fifth nuclear plant to close in five years. Of 119 reactors in the U.S., 20 are now being decommissioned and a half-dozen more are expected to close prematurely, nudged out by cheap natural gas and growing use of renewables.
Beyond that, “the big wave of retirements really starts coming in around 2030,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz warned last month at an event in Washington. Among experts, the nuclear waste debate invariably turns on the fleeting nature of human institutions in dealing with an element that the Environmental Protection Agency has said must be isolated for 10,000 years to protect humans and the environment from toxic radiation. “The problem with federal agencies is that the management structure changes every few years,” said Allison Macfarlane, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which licenses and regulates civilian use of radioactive material. “In hundreds of years, will these institutions be there, will they care, will they pay?” That’s one issue. A second is where exactly to put the waste.
The safest thing to do is to bury it deep underground, below the water table and within a stable rock formation. Congress picked such a site in 1987: a desert ridge in Southern Nevada known as Yucca Mountain. The site abuts a nuclear weapons testing ground where 928 atomic tests were conducted between 1951 and 1992. While a few Nevada counties agreed with the selection, the state government didn’t, and the Yucca solution soon devolved into a decades-long political fight that crossed party lines and spanned presidential administrations. In 2010, President Barack Obama finally scrapped the plan altogether, declaring the site unworkable.
Jack Delano “Lower Manhattan seen from the S.S. Coamo leaving New York.” 1941
Brexit is nowhere near the biggest challenge to western economies. And not just because it has devolved into a two-bit theater piece. Though we should not forget the value of that development: it lays bare the real Albion and the power hunger of its supposed leaders. From xenophobia and racism on the streets, to back-stabbing in dimly lit smoky backrooms, there’s not a states(wo)man in sight, and none will be forthcoming. Only sell-outs need apply.
The only person with an ounce of integrity left is Jeremy Corbyn, but his Labour party is dead, which is why he must fight off an entire horde of zombies. Unless Corbyn leaves labour and starts Podemos UK, he’s gone too. The current infighting on both the left and right means there is a unique window for something new, but Brits love what they think are their traditions, plus Corbyn has been Labour all his life, and he just won’t see it.
The main threat inside the EU isn’t Brexit either. It’s Italy. Whose banks sit on over 30% of all eurozone non-performing loans, while its GDP is about 10% of EU GDP. How they would defend it I don’t know, they’re probably counting on not having to, but Juncker and Tusk’s European Commission has apparently approved a scheme worth €150 billion that will allow these banks to issue quasi-sovereign bonds when they come under attack. An attack that is now even more guaranteed to occcur than before.
Still, none of Europe’s internal affairs have anything on what’s coming in from the east. Reading between the lines of Japan’s Tankan survey numbers there is only one possible conclusion: the ongoing and ever more costly utter failure of Abenomics continues unabated.
It’s developing in pretty much the exact way I said it would when Shinzo Abe first announced the policies in late 2012. Not that it was such a brilliant insight, all you had to know is that Abe and his central bank head Kuroda don’t understand what their mastodont problem, deflation, actually is, and that means they are powerless to solve it.
That Abe said somewhere along the way that all that was needed was his people’s confidence to make Abenomics work, says more than enough. The multiple flip-flops over a sales-tax increase say the rest. People don’t become more confident just because someone tells them to; that has the opposite effect. Deflation results from reduced spending, which in turn comes from not only decreasing confidence as well as a decrease in money people have available to spend.
That modern economics sees everything not spent as ‘savings’ adds significantly to the failure -on the part of Abe, Kuroda and just about everyone else- to understand what happened in Japan over the past 2-3 decades. To repeat once again, inflation/deflation is the velocity of money multiplied by money- and credit supply. The latter factor has in general gone through the roof, but that means zilch if the former -velocity- tanks.
That this velocity is -still- tanking, in Japan as well as in the western world, is due to, more than anything else, an unparalleled surge in debt. At some point, that will catch up with any economy and society. Even if they are growing, which our economies are not. Growth has been replaced with credit, and credit is debt. It’s safe to say that money velocity cannot possibly ‘recover’ until large swaths of debt have been cancelled, one way or another.
For Japan we saw this week that “..household spending fell for the third straight month in May and core consumer prices suffered their biggest annual drop since 2013..” (Reuters) while “..The Topix index dropped about 9% in June, plunging on June 24 with the Brexit vote, the most since the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. The yen strengthened about 8% against the dollar in June..“ (Bloomberg).
Japan has an upper-house election in a little over a week, and it seems like Abe can still feel comfortable about his position. A remarkable thing. The country needs to stop digging, it’s in a more than 400% debt-to-GDP hole, but Abe won’t listen. The rising yen is suffocating what is left of the economy, as are the negative interest rates, but all the talk is about ‘further easing’.
Still, Japan is outta here, and this has been obvious for a long time to the more observant observer. In the case of China, it is a more recent phenomenon, and it will even be disputed for a while to come. It’s also one that will have a much more devastating effect on the west. We’ve seen problems in various markets in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong, but the real issues on the mainland are still to be sprung on us.
Mainland stock exchanges are as good a place as any to begin with. The combined tally for Shanghai and Shenzhen looks like this -data till June 23-; yes, that’s a loss of over 40% in the past year.
Beijing has been trying very hard to paper over these numbers, even quit supporting it all for a while through 2014, only to do a 180º when they didn’t like what they saw (foreign reserves drawdown), and now PBoC injections have gone bonkers: $316 billion in one month would mean $4 trillion on a yearly basis in what is really nothing but monopoly money.
Meanwhile, corporate bonds are, perhaps partly because of volatility, becoming an endangered species. Maybe the PBoC can do something there as well, the way Draghi does in Europe (must be high on the agenda), but there’s already so much bad debt we hardly dare watch.
China must and will try to keep boosting exports by devaluing the yuan. It’s just waiting for an opportunity to do it without being accused of currency manipulation. Perhaps it can create that opportunity?! Create a crisis and then use it?! Regardless, this Reuters headline yesterday sounded very tongue in cheek:
China’s central bank would tolerate a fall in the yuan to as low as 6.8 per dollar in 2016 to support the economy, which would mean the currency matching last year’s record decline of 4.5%, policy sources said. The yuan is already trading at its lowest level in more than five years, so the central bank would ensure any decline is gradual for fear of triggering capital outflows and criticism from trading partners such as the United States, said government economists and advisers involved in regular policy discussions. Presumptive U.S. Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump already has China in his sights, saying on Wednesday he would label China a currency manipulator if elected in November.
Note: remember Japan above? The yen rose 8% against the USD just in June, as the yuan fell by just 4.5% in all of 2015 (6.8% over the past 2 years). Now you go figure what’s happening to Japan-China trade. And the yuan is still hugely overvalued. But the desire to be part of the IMF basket of currencies comes with obligations. Trump doesn’t help either.
I said in the beginning of this year that a 30% devaluation was something of a minimum, and that certainly continues to stand. So yeah, creating a crisis may be the only way out. An accident in the South China Sea perhaps. Combined with a ‘tolerance’ for a 50% weaker yuan….
All of the above leads us to the title of this essay: deflation is coming in from the east. China’s economy’s already in deflation, even though it will take some time yet to be acknowledged. A very ‘nice’ report from Crescat Capital provides a bunch of clues.
In July of 2014, we wrote about the huge imbalance with respect to China’s M2 money supply and nominal GDP relative to the US. At the time, China’s M2 money supply was 71% higher than the US but its economy was 56% smaller, which we said was an indication of the overvaluation of the Chinese currency. Since that time, the yuan has fallen by only 6.8% relative to the dollar. We haven’t seen anything yet.
Today, the circumstances have significantly worsened. Money supply has continued to grow faster than GDP. With over $30 trillion of assets in its banking system and an underappreciated non-performing loan problem, we are convinced that China is headed for a twin banking and currency crisis. Money velocity has reached historically low levels which reflects China’s extreme credit imbalance and its crimping impact on its ability to generate future real GDP growth.
Just as worrying as the immense amount of credit built up, China has been reporting major downward revisions in its balance of payments (BoP) accounts. For more than a decade, China had been reporting an impossible twin surplus in its BoP accounts. When we wrote about this issue in 2014, we emphasized the likelihood of massive illicit capital outflows that not been accounted for. At that time, according to the State Administration of Foreign Exchange of China (SAFE), China had accumulated a BoP imbalance that was close to $9.4 trillion surplus since 2000 which we believed represented capital outflows that should have been recorded in the capital account.
The same accumulated BoP number today, revised by SAFE several times since, is now a deficit of about $2.8 trillion. Essentially, with its revisions, the SAFE has acknowledged even more capital outflows over the last 16 years than we had initially identified. On the capital account side, there was a downward revision of $10.1 trillion – from a $4.2 trillion surplus to a $5.9 trillion deficit. On the current account side, the revisions show that Chinese exports have not been as strong as initially reported over the last decade and a half. China’s current account surplus has been reduced by $2.1 trillion– going from $5.1 trillion to $2.9 trillion over the last 16 years. What we initially considered to be a $9.4 trillion imbalance has been more than proven by a $12.2 trillion revision.
Those are some pretty damning numbers, if you sit on them for a bit. There was another graph that came with that report that takes us head first into deflationary territory. China’s velocity of money:
That is utterly devastating. It’s what we see in the US, EU and Japan too, but ‘we’ have thus far been able to export our deflation -to an extent- to … China. No more. China has started exporting its own deflation to the west. Beijing MUST devalue its currency anywhere in the range of 30-50% or its export sector will collapse. It is not difficult.
That it will have to achieve this despite the objections of Donald Trump and the IMF is just a minor pain; Xi Jinping has more pressing matters on his mind. Like pitchforks.
The ‘normal’ response in economics would be: in order to fight deflation, increase consumer spending (aka raise money velocity)! But as we’ve seen with Japan, that’s much easier said than done. Because there are reasons people are not spending. And the only way to overcome that is to guarantee them a good income for a solid time into the future, in an economy that induces confidence.
That is not happening in Japan, or the US or EU, and it’s now gone in China too. Beijing has another additional issue that (formerly) rich countries don’t have. This is from a recent Marketwatch article on Andy Xie:
[..] Xie said China’s trajectory instead resembles the one that led to the Great Depression, when the expansion of credit, loose monetary policy and a widespread belief that asset prices would never fall contributed to rampant speculation that ended with a crippling market crash. China in 2016 looks much the same, according to Xie, with half of the country’s debt propping up real-estate prices and heavy leverage in the stock market – indicating that conditions are ripe for a correction. “The government is allowing speculation by providing cheap financing .. China “is riding a tiger and is terrified of a crash. So it keeps pumping cash into the economy. It is difficult to see how China can avoid a crisis.”
And then check this out:
China’s GDP grew 6.9% in 2015, its slowest pace in a quarter-century. For 2016, Beijing has set a GDP target of 6.5% to 7%; The latest spate of global uncertainties prompted Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank to trim their forecasts to 6.4% and 6.6%, respectively. The export sector, long a driver of Chinese growth, is sputtering due to global saturation and household consumption is barely 30% of China’s GDP, Xie said. In the U.S., household consumption accounted for more than 68% of GDP in 2014, according to the World Bank.
Yeah, China is supposed to be going from an export driven- to a consumer driven economy. Problem with that seems to be that those consumers would need money to spend, and to earn that money they would need to work in export industries (since there is not nearly enough domestic demand). Bit of a Catch 22. And definitely not one you would want to find yourself in when the global economy is tanking.
The more monopoly money Beijing prints, the more pressure there will be on the yuan. And if they themselves don’t devalue the yuan, the markets will do it for them.
Kyle Bass says China’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is “freezing up” (see the third graph above), which threatens to undermine the $3.5 trillion market for the wealth management products Chinese mom and pops invest in. He expects a whopping $3 trillion in bank losses, an amount equal to the entire corporate bond market (!) “to trigger a bailout, with the central bank slashing reserve requirements, cutting the deposit rate to zero and expanding its balance sheet – all of which will weigh on the yuan.”
With the yuan down by as much as it would seem to be on course for, wages and prices in the west will plummet. This wave of deflation is set to hit western economies already in deflation and already drowning in private debt, and therefore equipped with severely weakened defenses.
Leonard Cohen once wrote a song called “Democracy Is Coming To The USA”. Maybe someone can do a version that says deflation is coming too. Not sure that’s good for democracy, though.
A sharp, one-off devaluation of the yuan is among options China’s central bank might consider to stem capital outflows and shift market psychology to appreciation from depreciation, according to Barclays. The risk of such a move, which Barclays says would need to be in the region of 25% to alter perceptions, is rising as China’s foreign-exchange reserves plunge, analysts Ajay Rajadhyaksha and Jian Chang wrote in a report. Based on the current pace of decline in those holdings, there’s a six- to 12-month window before they drop to uncomfortable levels and measures such as capital controls or monetary tightening may also have to be looked at to curb the exodus of money, they said. All those options carry elements of danger.
Another rapid yuan depreciation could spook investors just as concern about the state of the global economy is growing and other central banks would likely follow, countering the beneficial impact on Chinese exports, the analysts said. Strict capital controls won’t work in an export-driven economy, while a move to policy tightening could slow growth and cause credit defaults, they said. “A devaluation of this magnitude seems impossible to ‘sell’ to the rest of the world,” according to the analysts at Barclays, the world’s third-biggest currency trader. “The People’s Bank of China will probably have to take more aggressive measures to stem outflows,” said head of macro research Rajadhyaksha in New York and Hong Kong-based chief China economist Chang.
[..] Chinese policy makers are trying to counter record outflows and prop up the yuan, while opening up the capital account and keeping borrowing costs low to revive growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. The balancing act challenges Nobel-winning economist Robert Mundell’s “impossible trinity” principle, which stipulates a country can’t maintain independent monetary policy, a fixed exchange rate and free capital borders all at the same time.
Standard Chartered dropped the most in more than three years after reporting a surprise full-year loss, as revenue missed estimates and loan impairments almost doubled to the highest in the bank’s history. The stock dropped as much as 12% as the London-based bank said its pretax loss was $1.5 billion in 2015, down from profit of $4.2 billion a year earlier. Excluding some one-time items, pretax profit was $834 million. CEO Bill Winters is attempting to unwind the damage caused by predecessor Peter Sands’ revenue-led expansion across emerging markets, which left the bank riddled with bad loans when the commodity market crashed and growth stalled from China to India.
Since June, Winters has raised $5.1 billion from investors, scrapped the dividend and announced plans to cut 15,000 jobs to help save $2.9 billion by 2018, while seeking to restructure or exit $100 billion of risky assets. “While our 2015 financial results were poor, they are set against a backdrop of continuing geo-political and economic headwinds and volatility across many of our markets,” Winters said in the statement. “We expect the financial performance of the group to remain subdued during 2016.”
[..] Implicit in the whole misbegotten wealth effects doctrine is the spurious presumption that the Wall Street gambling apparatus can be rented for a spell by the central bank. So doing, our monetary central planners believe themselves to be unleashing a virtuous circle of increased spending, income and output, and then more rounds of the same. At length, according to these pettifoggers, production, income and profits catch-up with the levitated prices of financial assets. Accordingly, there are no bubbles; and, instead, societal wealth continues to rise happily ever after. Not exactly. Central bank stimulated financial asset bubbles crash. Every time.
The Fed and other practitioners of wealth effects policy do not rent the gambling apparatus of the financial markets. They become hostage to it, and eventually become loathe to curtail it for fear of an open-ended hissy fit in the casino. Bernanke found that out in the spring of 2013, and Yellen three times now – in October 2014, August 2015 and January-February 2016. But unlike the last two bubble cycles, where our monetary central planners did manage to ratchet the money market rate back up to the 6% and 5% range, by 2000 and 2007, respectively, this time an even more obtuse posse of Keynesian true believers rode the zero bound right to the end of capitalism’s natural recovery cycle.
Accordingly, the casinos are populated with financial time bombs like never before. Worse still, the central bankers are now so utterly lost and confused that they are all thronging toward the one thing that will ignite these time bombs in a fiery denouement. That is, negative interest rates. This travesty reflects sheer irrational desperation among central bankers and their fellow travelers, and will soon illicit a fire storm of political revolt, currency hoarding and revulsion among even the gamblers inside the casino. Besides that, they are crushing bank net interest margins, thereby imperiling the solvency of the very banking system that the central banks claim to have rescued and fixed.
We will treat with some of the time bombs set to explode in the sections below, but first it needs to be emphasized that the third bubble collapse of this century is imminent. That’s because both the global and domestic economy is cooling rapidly, meaning that recession is just around the corner. Based on the common sense proposition that the nation’s 16 million employers send payroll tax withholding monies to the IRS based on actual labor hours utilized – and without any regard for phantom jobs embedded in such BLS fantasies as birth/death adjustments and seasonal adjustments – my colleague Lee Adler reports that inflation-adjusted collections have dropped by 7-8% from prior year in the most recent four-week rolling average.
As far as the OECD is concerned, monetary policy is being forced to take too much of the strain. Its chief economist Catherine Mann made the point that lasting recovery required three things: stimulative monetary policy; activist fiscal policy; and structural reform. The OECD wants the second of these ingredients to be added to the recipe in the form of increased spending on public infrastructure, something it says would more than pay for itself at a time when governments can borrow so cheaply.
The Paris-based thinktank says collective action by the world’s leading economies is needed because a go-it-alone approach will result in the effects of stronger demand being blunted by higher imports. It will make the case for higher investment spending at this week’s meeting of the G20 in Shanghai, almost certainly to little effect. Central banks will argue that they still have plenty of ammunition left, even though as the years tick by it becomes more and more apparent that relying solely on monetary policy is the equivalent of pushing on a piece of string. Central banks now have one last chance to live up to their exalted reputations. A prolonged period of low but positive interest rates carries the risk that it will create the conditions for asset price bubbles. That risk is amplified by quantitative easing.
All the dangers associated with low but positive borrowing costs apply to negative interest rates – but with some added complications. One is that it affects the profitability of banks, by squeezing lending spreads, at a time when many of them have yet to make a full recovery from the last crisis. Another is that central banks will overcook things and that the deeper into negative territory interest rates go now the higher they will have to go later. Perhaps though the biggest danger is to the reputation of central banks. Throughout the crisis, the assumption has been that the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the ECB, the Bank of Japan and all the other central banks are in control of a tricky situation. Central bankers give the impression that they can model the impact of interest rates and QE on growth and inflation; that is part of their mystique.
Now, it may be that it is simply taking time for central banks to get to grips with a protracted and complex crisis. Everything may work out well in the end, with inflation returning to target and interest rates back to more normal levels. The absence of supportive fiscal policy could be making an already tough job that much tougher. But the longer this goes on the more the suspicion grows that central bankers aren’t quite so clever as they think they are, and that what is dressed up as a carefully calibrated policy response is really just blundering around in the dark. Central banks have been conducting a gigantic experiment over the past seven years and Tyrie will want to know from Carney whether he actually knows what he is doing. It is a perfectly fair question.
China, Japan and other overseas central banks are leaving more of their dollars with the U.S. Federal Reserve as they have liquidated their U.S. Treasuries holdings to raise cash in an effort to stabilize their currencies, government data show. Foreign central banks’ reduced ownership of U.S. government debt, especially older issues, have bloated the bond inventories of U.S. primary dealers and kept U.S. money market rates elevated in recent months, analysts said. Primary dealers, or the top 22 Wall Street firms that do business directly with the Fed, held $113.5 billion worth of Treasuries in the week ended Feb. 10, the most since October 2013. As Wall Street holds more Treasuries, foreign central banks have piled more money into the Fed’s reverse purchase program where they earn interest income.
“They have been selling their Treasuries holdings and using more the Fed’s reverse repo program,” Alex Roever, head of U.S. interest rate strategy at J.P. Morgan Securities in New York, said on Monday. On Monday, the New York Federal Reserve’s executive vice president Simon Potter said the Fed’s repo program for foreign central banks has increased because “the constraints imposed on customers’ ability to vary the size of their investments have been removed, the supply of balance sheet offered by the private sector to foreign central banks appears to have declined, and some central banks desire to maintain robust dollar liquidity buffers.” On Feb. 17, overseas central banks held $246.65 billion in reverse repos, up from $129.78 billion a year earlier, Fed data released last week showed.
During Deutsche Bank’s share price meltdown a couple of weeks ago, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, said he had “no concerns” about the health of Germany’s largest bank. But what could he actually do if he really were worried? Last year Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, proclaimed that the era of too-big-to-fail banks was over, meaning that politicians (via their taxpayers) will no longer be able to rescue banks. If Mr Carney is right about that, it would indeed be some achievement. It was in 1984 that Stewart McKinney, a US congressman, popularised the phrase “too big to fail” when he described the near collapse of Continental Illinois Bank, which at the time was the seventh-largest bank in the US. The issue came back to haunt policymakers in 2008 with the plethora of bank rescues.
But can taxpayers around the world really breathe a sigh of relief that next time it will not be down to them to pay for the bailout of their banks? Nobody knows. Indeed, just last week Neel Kashkari, one of the architects of the $700bn taxpayer bailout of US banks in 2008 and the head of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, said that he thought “too big to fail” remained alive and well. We all know what the new rule book says; that when one of the world’s largest banks becomes close to going bust, then it is up to all of its debt and equity holders to pay for the rescue. That bit is clear. But financial history is littered with examples of rule books being ignored in the teeth of a crisis.
That is what happened in 2008, when governments trampled over rules that placed limits on deposit guarantees and refused to call on senior bondholders to suffer the losses that they were contractually expected to bear. Faced with contagion risk and fears of systemic failures, governments break rules. To some extent we can ask the markets to judge Mr Carney’s claim that “too big to fail” has really ended against Mr Kashkari’s scepticism. An April 2014 IMF report estimated that the too-big-to-fail subsidy — the lower funding costs enjoyed by the world’s largest banks — totalled up to $630bn per annum. If true, then removing that subsidy would destroy the profits of these big banks.
Yet the fact that share prices for most banks, whilst weak, have not totally collapsed suggests that markets, at least, either do not believe that the subsidy was ever that big, or that the age of “too big to fail” is still not over. There have always been two ways to address this too-big-to-fail challenge. One approach — the one which hitherto has been favoured by most regulators — is to place the cost of bailouts on the private sector and therefore to remove the cost of failure from taxpayers. Yet as Mr Kashkari makes clear, there remains considerable doubt over whether such a course of action will really work in practice. And until a major bank nears collapse, such doubts will inevitably remain.
Insane. That’s how Jonathan Tepper, chief executive officer at research firm Variant Perception, described Australia’s housing sector in a word, painting the picture of a market that’s strikingly similar to that of the U.S. prior to the financial crisis. A local 60 Minutes segment that aired on Sunday titled “Home Groans” chronicled some of the eye-popping events in the nation’s real estate market, with amateurs owning (and under water on) multiple homes with no tenants, interest-only loans increasing in prominence, price-to-income ratios at elevated levels, and home auctions attended by the community and captured for the small screen.
Much of the clip centers on the coal town of Moranbah, which the narrator deems to be a canary in the coal mine for the nation’s housing market as a whole, and the financial and emotional plight of those who got caught up in the boom. According to an owner, the value of one property in the Queensland town has declined by roughly 80%. Perhaps the juiciest tidbit, however, is a claim that John Hempton, a hedge fund manager at Bronte Capital and long-time Australian property bear, and Tepper—who’s called housing busts in the U.S., Spain, and Ireland—put on Twitter:
Tepper later added that this offer came from a “major brand lender.” While most discussions of frothy housing markets focus on the low cost of credit (and central banks’ role in that), the ability to access credit is arguably more important. A borrower may be willing to take on a dangerous amount of leverage to be part of a seemingly can’t-miss opportunity, but in the end, the bank still has the final say on whether to provide the funds. Australia hasn’t had a recession since the early 1990s, but it’s tough to see the nation avoiding one in the event that Tepper’s prophesied 30% to 50% crash in home values comes to pass. Of course, investors have also been warning of an Australian housing bubble for almost as long.
We are searching for an insight. Each time we think we see it… like the shadow of a ghost in an old photo… it gets away from us. It concerns the real nature of our money system… and what’s wrong with it. Here… we bring new readers more fully into the picture… and try to spot the flaw that has doomed our economy. Let’s begin with a question. After the invention of the internal combustion engine, people in Europe… and then the Americas… got richer, almost every year. Earnings rose. Wealth increased. Then in the 1970s, after two centuries, American men ceased making progress. Despite more PhDs than ever… more scientists… more engineers… more capital… more knowledge… more Nobel Prizes… more college graduates… more machines… more factories… more patents… and the invention of the Internet… after adjusting for inflation, the typical American man earned no more in 2015 than he had 40 years before.
Why? What went wrong? No one knows. But we have a hypothesis. Not one person in 1,000 realizes it, but America’s money changed on August 15, 1971. After that, not even foreign governments could exchange their dollars for gold at a fixed rate. The dollar still looked the same. It still acted the same. It still could be used to buy booze and cigarettes. But it was flawed money. And it changed the whole world economy in a fundamental way… a way that is just now coming into focus. The Old Testament tells us that God chased Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden with this curse: “By the sweat of your brow, you will earn your food until you return to the ground.” From then on, you worked… you earned money… you could buy bread. Or lend it out. Or invest it.
Dollars – or any form of real money – were compensation… for work, for risk taking, for accumulating knowledge and capital. Money is information. It tells us how much reward we’ve earned… how much things cost… how much profit, how much loss, how much something is worth… how much we’ve saved, how much we’ve spent, how much we need, and how much we’ve got. Ultimately, only a market-chosen money can be sound. The market chose gold as the most marketable commodity. There were no meetings or committees deciding on this, it happened spontaneously – governments simply usurped it. Money doesn’t have to be “hard” or “soft” or expensive or cheap. But it has to be honest. Otherwise, the whole system runs into a ditch. But the new money was a phony. It put the cart ahead of the horse.
This was money that no one ever had to break a sweat to get. It was based on credit – the anticipation of work, not work that had already been done. Money no longer represented wealth. It now represented anti-wealth: debt. So, the economy stopped producing real wealth. The Fed could create money that no one ever earned and no one ever saved. It was no longer the real thing, but a counterfeit. In this way, effort and reward were cut off from one another. The working man still had to labor. But it was the banker, gambler, speculator, lender, financier, investor, politician, or inside operator who made the money. And the nature of the economy changed. Instead of rewarding the productive Main Street economy, it rewarded insiders… and the financial sector.
World trade is as bad as it has been at any point since the global financial crisis in 2008. The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of how much it costs to transport raw materials, in November dropped below 500 for the first time, and it has kept falling. The index was as high as 1,222 in August, and it has fallen 84% from a recent peak of 2,330 in late 2013. The index measures how much it costs to ship dry commodities, meaning raw materials like grain and steel, around the world. It is frequently used as a so-called canary in the coal mine for the state of the global economy and how well international trade is performing. If the price is low, it suggests trade is slowing.
Analysts at Deutsche Bank led by Amit Mehrotra have been watching the fall closely. The drop has been so bad that ships are being scrapped faster than they are being built. Here are the main points in a recent note:
• Total dry bulk capacity declined by almost 1M tons (net) last week as the pace of deliveries slowed and scrapping remained elevated.
• Around 16 ships were sold for scrap last week totaling 1.6M tons. This more than offset 9 new deliveries, translating to a net reduction of 7 vessels.
• Last week’s scrapping would represent an annualized pace of 11% of installed capacity, which is almost double the all-time high of 6.3% set in 1986.
• Year-to-date scrapping is up 80% versus same time last year.
It’s bad news, as it means that ship owners expect demand for cargo transport to remain weak long into the future. And they’re generally very good at predicting trends in global trade. This graph from Capital Economics shows just how closely the Baltic Dry index tracks world trade volumes.
OPEC and U.S. shale may need a relationship counselor. After first ignoring it, later worrying about it and ultimately launching a price war against it, OPEC has now concluded it doesn’t know how to coexist with the U.S. shale oil industry. “Shale oil in the United States, I don’t know how we are going to live together,” Abdalla Salem El-Badri, OPEC secretary-general, told a packed room of industry executives from Texas and North Dakota at the annual IHS CERAWeek meeting in Houston. OPEC, which controls about 40% of global oil production, has never had to deal with an oil supply source that can respond as rapidly to price changes as U.S. shale, El-Badri said. That complicates the cartel’s ability to prop up prices by reducing output.
“Any increase in price, shale will come immediately and cover any reduction,” he said. The International Energy Agency earlier on Monday gave OPEC reason to worry about shale oil, saying that total U.S. crude output, most of it from shale basins, will increase by 1.3 million barrels a day from 2015 to 2021 despite low prices. While U.S. production from shale is projected to retreat by 600,000 barrels a day this year and a further 200,000 in 2017, it will grow again from 2018 onward, the IEA said. “Anybody who believes that we have seen the last of rising” U.S. shale oil production “should think again,” the IEA said in its medium-term report.
Standard & Poor’s cut its corporate credit ratings on BP, Total SA and Statoil ASA , citing the Europe-based oil and gas companies’ persistent weak debt coverage measures over 2015-2017. The ratings agency on Monday cut the long- and short-term corporate credit ratings on BP Plc to ‘A minus/A-2’ from ‘A/A-1’ with a stable outlook. S&P lowered the long- and short-term corporate credit ratings on Total S.A. to ‘A plus/A-1’ from ‘AA-/A-1 plus’ and assigned a negative outlook. The ratings agency also cut the long- and short-term corporate credit ratings on Statoil ASA to ‘A plus/A-1’ from ‘AA minus/A-1 plus’ and assigned a stable outlook. Standard and Poor’s had lowered its ratings on some U.S. exploration & production companies after price assumption revisions earlier this month.
The sea stretched toward the horizon last New Year’s Eve as the Theo T, a red-and-white tug at her side, slipped quietly beneath the Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge in Texas. Few Americans knew she was sailing into history. Inside the Panamax oil tanker was a cargo that some on Capitol Hill had dubbed “Liquid American Freedom” – the first U.S. crude bound for overseas markets after Congress lifted the 40-year export ban. It was a landmark moment for the beleaguered energy industry and one heavy with both symbolism and economic implications. The Theo T was ushering in a new era as it left the U.S. Gulf coast bound for France.
The implications – both financial and political – for energy behemoths such as Saudi Arabia and Russia are staggering, according to Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank and a former venture capitalist. “It’s a game changer,” he said. For the Saudis and their OPEC cohorts, who collectively control 40% of the globe’s oil supply, the specter of U.S. crude landing at European and Asian refineries further weakens their grip on world petroleum prices at a time they are already suffering from lower prices and stiffened competition. With Russia also seeing its influence over European energy buyers lessened, the two crude superpowers last week tentatively agreed to freeze oil output at near-record levels, the first such coordination in a decade and a half.
The political effects need not wait until U.S. shipments become more plentiful, Mills said. “In geopolitics, psychology matters as much as actual transactions,” he said. Meanwhile, the U.S. is also poised to make its first shipments of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from shale onto world markets within weeks, about two months later than scheduled. Cheniere Energy Iexpects to have about 9 million metric tons a year of LNG available for its own portfolio from nine liquefaction trains being developed at two complexes in Texas. That’s enough to power Norway and Denmark combined for a year.
[..] Beyond corporations, the Dec. 18 lifting of the export ban by Congress and President Barack Obama created geopolitical winners and losers, too. The U.S., awash in shale oil, has gained while powerful exporters like Russia and Saudi Arabia, for whom oil represents not just profits but also power, find themselves on the downswing. The U.S. remains a net importer, but its demand for foreign oil has fallen by 32% since its peak in 2005. Meanwhile, plummeting oil and gas prices, driven in part by the U.S. shale revolution, have already eroded OPEC and Russia’s abilities to use natural resources as foreign policy cudgels. They are also squeezing petroleum-rich economies from Venezuela to Nigeria that rely heavily on crude receipts to fund everything from military budgets to fuel subsidies.
Oil prices are unlikely to significantly rebound for at least a few years, the International Energy Agency projected on Monday, as a top official with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said he wouldn’t rule out taking additional steps to stabilize the market. The new IEA projections and the statements by OPEC’s secretary-general, which came as oil ministers, executives and analysts gathered for the annual IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston made one point abundantly clear: No one is immediately coming to the rescue for struggling oil producers. Oil rallied Monday following the IEA’s projection that shale production is poised to fall this year by about 600,000 barrels a day, and by 200,000 barrels a day in 2017.
But Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, which tracks the global oil trade on behalf of industrialized nations, and OPEC’s Abdalla el-Badri, who represents the cartel of major exporters, both agreed that market signals continue to point to depressed prices. “Everybody is suffering,” said Mr. el-Badri, noting that the rapid fall in crude had caught many member nations by surprise. “This is historical,” said Mr. Birol. “In the last 30 years, we have never seen oil investment decline two-consecutive years.” A preliminary agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia to freeze output at January levels was a “first step” toward creating market stability, he said. Iran, whose oil exports have only recently been freed from Western sanctions, has yet to agree. “If this is successful, maybe we can take other steps in the future,” Mr. Birol said, declining to specify what those could be. He also asserted OPEC’s continued relevance on the world scale. “We are not dead. We are alive and alive and alive. You will see us for many years.”
Investment in the UK’s embattled oil and gas industry is expected to fall by almost 90pc this year, raising urgent industry calls for the Government to reform its North Sea tax regime to safeguard the industry’s future. Oil firms have been forced to dramatically slash costs in order to survive a 70pc cut in oil prices since mid-2014, but the severe drop in investment threatens thousands of North Sea jobs, said Oil and Gas UK (OGUK). The trade group says that firms have forced down the cost of oil production from $29.30 a barrel in 2014 to just under $21 a barrel in 2015. But despite improving efficiency and cutting operating costs almost half of the UK’s oilfields will struggle to make a profit if oil prices remain at $30-a-barrel levels for the rest of the year.
The financial risk means many have axed or delayed investment decisions, and OGUK said that investment in new projects could fall as low as £1bn this year, compared with a typical average of £8bn a year. OGUK boss Deidre Mitchell said: “This drop in activity is being felt right across the supply chain, which contracted by a quarter in the last year and is expected to fall further in the coming year as current projects near completion. “With demand for goods and services falling, ongoing job losses are the personal cost to individuals and families across the UK.” North Sea job losses could reach a total of 23,000, and Aberdeen is expected to take the brunt of the economic hit. Securing the future of the region has already climbed the political agenda this year with both the Scottish and Westminster governments pledging hundreds of millions of pounds in support.
In for a penny, in for a pound. With falling oil prices eroding Canada’s revenue base, newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fully embracing deficits, with his finance minister hinting Monday the country will run a deficit of about C$30 billion ($22 billion) in the fiscal year that starts April 1. It’s one of the biggest fiscal swings in the country’s history that, in just four months since the Oct. 19 election, has cut loose all the fiscal anchors Trudeau pledged to abide by even as he runs deficits. The government’s bet is that appetite for more infrastructure spending and a post-election political honeymoon will trump criticism over borrowing and unmet campaign promises. “It looks like the Liberals want to front load as much bad news as possible in the hope when the election occurs in four years things will be better,” said Nik Nanos, an Ottawa-based pollster.
Trudeau swept to power in part by promising to put an end to an era of fiscal consolidation the Liberals claimed was undermining Canada’s growth, which has been lackluster since the recession in 2009. Still, he has tried to temper worries by laying out three main fiscal promises: annual deficits of no more than C$10 billion, balancing the budget in four years and reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio every year. On Monday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau indicated none of those three promises will be met. A fiscal update – released a month before the government’s first budget is due – showed Canada’s deficit in the year that begins April 1 is on pace to be C$18.4 billion, even before the bulk of the government’s C$11 billion in spending promises and any other stimulus measures are accounted for. The same document shows the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio will be rising in the coming fiscal year, not falling. Morneau also reiterated that balancing the budget in the near term would be “difficult.”
Thousands of refugees and migrants gathered at Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on Monday, heightening concern that they will become trapped over the coming days. Some 4,000 people were estimated to have congregated at the Idomeni border crossing after FYROM refused to allow any Afghans at all or Iraqis and Syrians who did not have passports to cross from Greece. Athens said it had launched diplomatic efforts to convince Skopje to allow the Afghans, who make up around a third of arrivals, through. But the FYROM government said its decision was triggered by actions to its north. Austria, which is not accepting more than 80 refugees a day has called a summit with Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, FYROM, Serbia, Slovenia and Kosovo tomorrow to attempt to coordinate their reaction to the refugee crisis.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico expressed doubts about whether the EU’s plans to reach a deal with Turkey next month on limiting the flow of migrants and refugees would be effective. “If that does not work, and I am very pessimistic, and all of us in Europe will insist on proper protection of external borders, there will be nothing left but protecting the border on the line of Greece-Macedonia and Greece-Bulgaria,” he said. FYROM’s action on its border was already having a knock-on effect in other parts of Greece yesterday. Thousands of migrants arriving at Piraeus from the Aegean islands, where almost 8,000 people arrived between Friday and Sunday, were held back at the port to avoid further overcrowding at Idomeni. Some were taken to the new transit center at Schisto.
“Our biggest fear is that the 4,000 migrants who are in Athens head up here and the place will become overcrowded,” Antonis Rigas, a coordinator of the medical relief charity Doctors Without Borders, told Reuters. Despite the rise in arrivals over the weekend, bad weather cut the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece by 40% last month compared to December, the European Union’s border agency Frontex said. But the number was still nearly 40 times higher than a year before. Frontex said most of the 68,000 people that reached Greece last month were Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.
Greece has been making frantic appeals to Macedonia to open its frontier after a snap decision to tighten border controls by the Balkan state left thousands of people stranded. By midday on Monday up to 10,000 men, women and children had been trapped in Greece, with most marooned in the north. Another 4,000, newly arrived from islands off Turkey’s Aegean coast, were stuck in Athens’s port of Piraeus. The backlog came after Macedonia refused entry to Afghan refugees, claiming it was reacting to a similar move by Serbia. Amid rising tension and fears of the collapse of the passport-free Schengen zone,Greece lambasted the policies being pursued by countries to its north.
Speaking on state-run ERT television, the Greek migration minister, Yiannis Mouzalas, said: “Once again the European Union voted for something, it reached an agreement, but a number of countries lacking the culture of the European Union, including Austria, unfortunately violated this deal barely 10 hours after it had been reached.” Neighbouring countries along the Balkan corridor had in turn become enmeshed in “an outburst of scaremongering”. “The Visegrád countries have not only not accepted even one refugee; they have not sent even a blanket for a refugee,” he added, referring to the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. “Or a policeman to reinforce [EU border agency] Frontex.” Skopje said on Monday it had tightened restrictions after Austria imposed a cap on transit and asylum applications, triggering a domino effect down the migrant trail.
As officials scrambled to find accommodation for the newcomers, Athens’s leftist-led government was engaged in desperate diplomatic efforts to ease the border controls. Greece has become Europe’s main entry point for the vast numbers fleeing war and destitution in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Last year, more than 800,000 people – the majority from Syria – passed through the country en route to Germany and other more prosperous EU member states. With the pace of arrivals showing no sign of abating – a record 11,000 people were registered on Aegean islands in the space of three days last week – Athens has been in a race against the clock to improve hosting facilities including ‘hot spot’ screening centres and camps.
Mounting questions over Turkey’s desire to stem the flow, and Greece’s ability to handle it, have fuelled fears that if nations take unilateral action to seal frontiers, hundreds of thousands will end up trapped in Europe’s most chaotic state. Battling its worst economic crisis in modern times, Athens is ill-equipped to deal with the emergency.
Greek police started removing migrants from the Greek-Macedonian border on Tuesday after additional passage restrictions imposed by Macedonian authorities left hundreds of them stranded, sources said. The migrants had squatted on rail lines in the Idomeni area on Monday after attempting to push through the border to Macedonia, angry at delays and additional restrictions in crossing. Greek police and empty buses had entered the area before dawn, a Reuters witness said. In one area seen from the Macedonian side of the border, about 600 people had been surrounded by Greek police, the witness said. There were an estimated 1,200 people at Idomeni, in their vast majority Afghans or individuals without proper travel documents.
A crush developed there on Monday after Macedonian authorities demanded additional travel documentation, including passports, for people crossing into the territory. Some countries used by migrants as a corridor into wealthier northern Europe are imposing restrictions on passage, prompting those further down the chain to impose similar restrictions for fear of a bottleneck in their own country. But there are concerns at what may happen in Greece, where a influx continues unabated to its islands daily from Turkey. On Tuesday morning, a further 1,250 migrants arrived in Athens by ferry from three Greek islands. Some of them had bus tickets to Idomeni, but it was unclear if they would be permitted to travel north from Athens.
Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris is absolutely right: “Refugees don’t eat people.” We are not sure if the reverse is true, as current events do not allow for any kind of certainty in the matter. For many leaders and citizens in a number of countries, refugees have already proved expendable, ready for sacrifice. A mass whose feelings don’t count, whose hopes for a better life bring laughter to those already enjoying it. This mass only acquires any significance when incorporated into the strategies of geopolitical players. In order for these strategies to succeed, it is no longer necessary to sacrifice parts of the cronies’ powers, in other words the unknown soldiers, as is usually the case when it comes to typical confrontations between countries. Being foreign and often of a different religion, the refugees are a great substitute and are inexpensive.
They constitute hundreds of thousands of pawns being moved on the map by chess-playing marshals constantly launching threats and blackmailing each other. We see this happening in bilateral and multilateral summit meetings in Brussels, London, Geneva, Vienna and Ankara, where talks focus on reaching a truce in the Syrian conflict, the allocation of refugees in European states and Turkey’s obligations, not to mention the precise rewards for fulfilling these obligations. A crucial element is that one of the biggest taboos of the post-Nazi era, threatening references to a Third World War, are forfeited during these meetings. Greece is not among the big players. It never has been. It is nowhere near Turkey in terms of size, population figures or diplomatic cynicism, which during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dominance has increasingly acquired delusions of grandeur.
When it comes to the refugee-migrant issue, Greece is just a pipeline, in between two taps over which it has no control. In the east, the entry tap can be opened and closed as the Turkish government pleases, depending on what suits its interests at the time: from showing a bit of good behavior through a partial containment of flows to playing the tough guy, by turning a blind eye to the smuggling rings. At the same time, Greece has very little influence over the exit tap at the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia border. The neighboring country appears to be treating the current situation as a major opportunity to promote its broader interests, hence offering its services to the so-called Visegrad Four and Western Balkan countries.
No matter what else is going on, Greece must continue to honor its agreements, making the absence of morals and justice in the international political arena even more painfully clear.