Sep 222017
 
 September 22, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harry Callahan Chicago 1947

 

Albert Edwards: The Bank Of England’s ‘Monetary Schizophrenia’ (CW)
4-Warnings For The Bull Market (Roberts)
QT1 Will Lead to QE4 Rickards)
S&P Strips Hong Kong of AAA Rating A Day After China Downgrade (BBG)
China Hits Back At S&P’s ‘Mistaken’ Credit Downgrade (AFP)
Jamie Dimon Faces Market Abuse Claim Over Bitcoin Comments (ZH)
Spain’s Attack On Catalonia Spills Over To 100,000 Domain Names (IN)
Spain Hires Cruise Liner to House Police in Rebel Catalonia (BBG)
Greece Will Remain Under Strict Supervision For Years, EWG Chief Says (K.)
Life Unlikely Beyond 115 Year Mark Despite Medical Advances (DT)

 

 

“At the same time it is warning of a consumer credit bubble, the BoE has just increased its programme of lending to banks at preferential rates to increase bank lending in things like, yes you’ve guessed it, consumer credit!”

Albert Edwards: The Bank Of England’s ‘Monetary Schizophrenia’ (CW)

After last month admitting he was becoming tired of central bank bashing – a feeling many of his readers may relate to – Albert Edwards has launched another scathing attack. The Bank of England (BoE) was in the line of fire this time, with the SocGen strategist claiming Mark Carney’s team was leading the way when it comes to ‘monetary schizophrenia’. Edwards finds it remarkable how similar the US and UK macro situations often are. ‘This was most evident in the run-up to the 2008 global financial crisis with both the Federal Reserve and Bank of England (BoE) asleep at the wheel, building a most precarious pyramid of prosperity upon the shifting sands of rampant credit growth and illusory housing wealth,’ he said. ‘These of all the major central banks were the most culpable in their incompetence and most prepared with disingenuous excuses. And 10 years on, not much has changed.

‘The Fed and BoE are once again presiding over a credit bubble, with the BoE in particular suffering a painful episode of cognitive dissonance in an effort to shift the blame elsewhere. The credit bubble is everyone’s fault but theirs.’ Edwards sees unsecured credit at the heart of the problem, where growth has shot up by more than 10% in both the UK and US. Edwards accepts the debt time-bomb is specific to the UK. ‘We are in a QE, zero interest rate world, where central banks are effectively force-feeding debt down borrowers’ throats. They did it in 2003-2007 and they are doing it again,’ he highlights. ‘Most of the liquidity merely swirls around financial markets, but there is certainly compelling evidence now of a consumer credit bubble in both the UK and US (as well as a corporate credit bubble in the US).’

However, he finds the reaction of the BoE most ‘bizarre’, with Carney darkly warning banks of lessons of the past while recently increasing bank capital requirements on consumer loans. The perplexed Edwards points out: ‘At the same time it is warning of a consumer credit bubble, the BoE has just increased its programme of lending to banks at preferential rates to increase bank lending in things like, yes you’ve guessed it, consumer credit!

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“It may not ‘feel’ like the mania of the late 1990s to early 2000, but in terms of actually measurable data, the overall bullish consensus seems to be even greater than it was back then.”

4-Warnings For The Bull Market (Roberts)

As I have discussed many times previously, the stock market rise has NOT lifted all boats equally. More importantly, the surge in confidence is a coincident indicator and more suggestive, historically, of market peaks as opposed to further advances. As David Rosenberg, the chief economist at Gluskin Sheff noted: ‘For an investment community that typically lives in the moment and extrapolates the most recent experience into the future, it would only fall on deaf ears to suggest that peak confidence like this and peak market pricing tend to coincide with each other.” He is absolutely correct. As shown below in the consumer composite confidence index (an average of the Census Bureau and University Of Michigan surveys), previous peaks in confidence have been generally associated with peaks in the market.

For those of you unfamiliar with Texas sayings, “all hat, no cattle” means that someone is acting the part without having the “stuff” to back it up. Just wearing a “cowboy hat,” doesn’t make you a “cowboy.” I agree with the premise that leverage alone is not a problem for stocks in the short-term. In fact, it is the increase in leverage which pushes stock prices higher. As shown in the chart below, there is a direct correlation between stock price and margin debt growth. But, margin debt is NOT a benign contributor. As I discussed previously in “The Passive Indexing Trap:” “At some point, that reversion process will take hold. It is then investor ‘psychology’ will collide with ‘margin debt’ and ETF liquidity. It will be the equivalent of striking a match, lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it into a tanker full of gasoline.”

Not surprisingly, the expansion of leverage to record levels coincides with the drop in investor cash levels to record lows. As noted by Pater Tenebrarum via Acting-Man blog: “Sentiment has become even more lopsided lately, with the general public joining the party. It may not ‘feel’ like the mania of the late 1990s to early 2000, but in terms of actually measurable data, the overall bullish consensus seems to be even greater than it was back then. Along similar lines, here is a recent chart that aggregates the relative cash reserves of several groups of market participants (including individual investors, mutual fund managers, fund timers, pension fund managers, institutional portfolio managers, retail mom-and-pop type investors). It shows that there is simply no fear of a downturn:”

So much for the “cash on the sidelines” theory. When investors believe the market can’t possibly go down, it is generally time to start worrying. As Pater concludes: “As a rule, such extremes in complacency precede crashes and major bear markets, but they cannot tell us when precisely the denouement will begin.”

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“The Fed has essentially trapped itself into a state of perpetual manipulation.” All major central banks have.

QT1 Will Lead to QE4 Rickards)

There are only three members of the Board of Governors who matter: Janet Yellen, Stan Fischer and Lael Brainard. There is only one Regional Reserve Bank President who matters: Bill Dudley of New York. Yellen, Fischer, Brainard and Dudley are the “Big Four.” They are the only ones worth listening to. They call the shots. The don’t like dots. Everything else is noise. Here’s the model the Big Four actually use: 1. Raise rates 0.25% every March, June, September and December until rates reach 3.0% in late 2019. 2. Take a “pause” on rate hikes if one of three pause factors apply: disorderly asset price declines, jobs growth below 75,000 per month, or persistent disinflation. 3. Put balance sheet normalization on auto-pilot and let it run “on background.” Don’t use it as a policy tool.

[..] Here’s what the Fed wants you to believe… The Fed wants you to think that QT will not have any impact. Fed leadership speaks in code and has a word for this which you’ll hear called “background.” The Fed wants this to run on background. Think of running on background like someone using a computer to access email while downloading something on background. This is complete nonsense. They’ve spent eight years saying that quantitative easing was stimulative. Now they want the public to believe that a change to quantitative tightening is not going to slow the economy. They continue to push that conditions are sustainable when printing money, but when they make money disappear, it will not have any impact. This approach falls down on its face — and it will have a big impact.

Markets continue to not be fully discounted because they don’t have enough information. Contradictions coming from the Fed’s happy talk wants us to believe that QT is not a contractionary policy, but it is. My estimate is that every $500 billion of quantitative tightening could be equivalent to one .25 basis point rate hike. The Fed is about to embark on a policy to let the balance sheet run down. The plan is to reduce the balance sheet $30 billion in the fourth quarter of 2017, then increase the quarterly tempo by an additional $30 billion per quarter until hitting a level of $150 billion per quarter by October 1, 2018. Under that estimate, the balance sheet reduction would be about $600 billion by the end of 2018, and another $600 billion by the end of 2019. That would be the equivalent of half a .25 basis point rate hike in each of the next two years in addition to any actual rate hikes.

While they might attempt to say that this method is just going to “run on background,” don’t believe it. The decision by the Fed to not purchase new bonds will be just as detrimental to the growth of the economy as raising interest rates. The Fed’s QT policy that aims to tighten monetary conditions, reduce the money supply and increase interest rates will cause the economy to hit a wall, if it hasn’t already. The economy is slowing. Even without any action, retail sales, real incomes, auto sales and even labor force participation are all declining. Every important economic indicator shows that the U.S. economy is slowing right now. When you add in QT, we may very well be in a recession very soon. Because they’re getting ready for a potential recession where they’ll have to cut rates yet again. Then it’s back to QE. You could call that QE4 or QE1 part 2. The Fed has essentially trapped itself into a state of perpetual manipulation.

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Hong Kong dollar is pegged to USD.

S&P Strips Hong Kong of AAA Rating A Day After China Downgrade (BBG)

S&P Global Ratings cut Hong Kong’s credit rating a day after it downgraded China for the first time since 1999, a move that reflects the “strong institutional and political linkages” between the special administrative region and the mainland, the ratings firm said. The financial hub’s long-term issuer credit rating was lowered to AA+ from AAA, S&P said in a statement Friday. The agency lowered China’s sovereign rating Thursday to A+ from AA-, citing the risks from soaring debt, and revised its outlook to stable from negative. “We are lowering the rating on Hong Kong to reflect potential spillover risks to the SAR should deleveraging in China prove to be more disruptive than we currently expect,” S&P said in a statement, referring to the Hong Kong special administrative region.

It’s the second time this year Hong Kong’s rating has been cut in response to a China downgrade. Moody’s Investors Service in May lowered the finance hub’s rating and changed the outlook to stable from negative after it cut China for the first time since 1989. “Downgrading Hong Kong after China is a natural step,” said Mark McFarland, chief Asia economist at Union Bancaire Privee. “It has been widely anticipated that S&P would eventually follow the others and that Hong Kong would be dropped a notch too.” While S&P said Hong Kong’s credit metrics remain “very strong” based on the strength of the central government in Beijing, it faces a slew of challenges from surging property prices to the Federal Reserve’s plans to raise interest rates. Because the former British colony’s currency is pegged to the dollar, it effectively imports U.S. monetary policy.

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The only thing they can do. But claiming that China is ‘so different’ from developed nations is not terribly encouraging.

China Hits Back At S&P’s ‘Mistaken’ Credit Downgrade (AFP)

China on Friday lashed out at the decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the country’s credit rating, calling the warning against ballooning debt “mistaken” and based on “cliches” about its economy. The agency slashed China from AA-minus to A-plus on Thursday, a move that followed a similar decision in May by Moody’s stemming from concerns that the world’s second largest economy is increasingly overleveraged. “Standard & Poor’s downgrade of China’s sovereign credit rating is a mistaken decision,” the finance ministry said in a statement, adding that the move was “perplexing.” It went on to scold the company for making a decision based on “cliches” about China’s economy. The rating “ignores the unique characteristics of the capital raising structure of China’s financial markets”, it said.

“Most unfortunately, this is inertial thinking that international ratings agencies have held for a long time and is a misreading of China’s economy based on the experiences of developed countries,” the ministry said. “This misreading also overlooks the good fundamentals and development potential of China’s economy.” S&P followed the move on Friday by cutting the top-notch credit rating of Hong Kong citing the city’s close links the the mainland economy. Debt-fuelled investment in infrastructure and property has underpinned China’s rapid growth, but there are widespread concerns that years of freewheeling credit could lead to a financial crisis with global implications. Beijing has been clamping down on bank lending and property purchases, but those efforts are complicated by the government’s determination to meet its full-year growth target of around 6.5%. That compares with last year’s pace of 6.7%, which was the slowest in more than a quarter of a century.

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JPMorgan trading in what its CEO calls a fraud demands some answers.

Jamie Dimon Faces Market Abuse Claim Over Bitcoin Comments (ZH)

A week after Jamie Dimon made headlines by proclaiming Bitcoin a “fraud” and anyone who owns it as “stupid,” the JPMorgan CEO faces a market abuse claim for “spreading false and misleading information” about bitcoin. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you will be well aware of JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s panicked outburst with regard the ‘fraud’ that Bitcoin’s ‘tulip-like’ bubble is. To paraphrase: “It’s a fraud. It’s making stupid people, such as my daughter, feel like they’re geniuses. It’s going to get somebody killed. I’ll fire anyone who touches it.” One week later, an algorithmic liquidity provider called Blockswater has filed a market abuse report against Jamie Dimon for “spreading false and misleading information” about bitcoin. The firm filed the report with the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority against JPMorgan Chase and Dimon, the company’s chief executive.

Blockswater said Dimon violated Article 12 of the EU Market Abuse Regulation (MAR) by declaring that cryptocurrency bitcoin was “a fraud”. The complaint said Dimon’s statement negatively impacted “the cryptocurrency’s price and reputation”. It also said Dimon “knew, or ought to have known, that the information he disseminated was false and misleading”. “Jamie Dimon’s public assertions did not only affect the reputation of bitcoin, they harmed the interests of some of his own clients and many young businesses that are working hard to create a better financial system,” said Florian Schweitzer, managing partner at Blockswater. Blockswater said JPMorgan traded bitcoin derivatives for their clients on Stockholm-based exchange Nasdaq Nordic before and after Dimon’s statements, which Schweitzer said “smells like market manipulation”.

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Democracy 2017.

Spain’s Attack On Catalonia Spills Over To 100,000 Domain Names (IN)

The offices of the .cat registry were raided by Spanish police this morning. The Guardia Civil officers entered the .cat registry’s offices around 9am local time this morning and have seized all computers in the domain registry’s offices in downtown Barcelona. The move comes a couple of days after a Spanish court ordered the domain registry to take down all .cat domain names being used by the upcoming Catalan referendum. The .cat domain registry currently has over 100 thousand active domain names and in light of the actions taken by the Spanish government it’s unclear how the registry will continue to operate if their offices are effectively shutdown by the Spanish authorities. The seizure won’t impact live domain names or general day to day operations by registrars, as the registry backend is run by CORE and leverages global DNS infrastructure. However it is deeply worrying that the Spanish government’s actions would spill over onto an entire namespace.

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Why do you think the Catalans want out? Spain is answering that.

Spain Hires Cruise Liner to House Police in Rebel Catalonia (BBG)

Spain has discreetly hired ferries to be moored in the Port of Barcelona as temporary housing for possibly thousands of police specially deployed to keep order in rebel Catalonia and help suppress an illegal independence referendum. The country’s interior ministry asked Catalan port authorities to provide a berth for one ship until Oct. 3 – two days after the planned vote – saying it was a matter of state, a spokeswoman for the port said by phone Wednesday. The vessel, known as “Rhapsody,” docked in the city about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, she said. The aim is to amass more than 16,000 riot police and other security officers by the Oct. 1 referendum, El Correo newspaper reported on its website. That would exceed the number of Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who serve both the Catalan and central governments.

Spain is putting more boots on the ground in the northeastern region as it arrests local officials, raids regional-government offices and takes control of payroll administration in the run-up to the referendum. The ballot initiative, passed by the Catalan Parliament and declared illegal by the country’s highest court, has escalated a years-long stand-off between pro-independence campaigners and Spain’s central administration in Madrid. As well as the “Rhapsody,” with capacity for 2,448 people, the ministry also hired another vessel to dock in Barcelona with a third headed for the port of Tarragona, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west along the coast, El Confidencial website reported. The “Rhapsody” is operated by the Italian shipping company Grandi Navi Veloci SpA, the port spokeswoman said.

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Without debt relief all streets are dead ends.

Greece Will Remain Under Strict Supervision For Years, EWG Chief Says (K.)

The Greek economy will remain under close supervision for years after the completion of the third bailout deal, the president of the Euro Working Group (EWG), Thomas Wieser told insider.gr in an interview published on Wednesday. Even though he is confident the cash-strapped country will be able to recover, Wieser says that a lot of work needs to be done first, starting with the timely completion of the third bailout review. He also suggests that additional measures may be needed in 2019 and 2020 depending on the course of the budget next year. Asked whether he believes this will be Greece’s last memorandum, the Austrian-American economist says “three programs have already been implemented in the space of eight years and the political desire for yet another is zero. The rest of the eurozone also wants the third program to be the last one.”

Wieser adds that Greece’s ability to tap international lending markets by the end of the program in August 2018 will be a “decisive factor for the Greek government to push ahead with reforms.” “In other words, knowing that the program is ending in a few months is a huge incentive to get the reforms done,” he says, adding that a successful completion of the program is within reach given the government’s limited fiscal obligations. Wieser appears confident that Greece will successfully wrap up the upcoming review within the fall even though the government needs to push through 95 so-called prior actions, saying the majority has already been legislated. However, he adds, Greece may need additional measures after August 2018 depending on whose scenario plays out: the IMF’s pessimistic outlook, or the upbeat projects of the European institutions and the Greek government.

Greece will also remain under supervision – as have Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus – until 75% of its debts are paid off, and this will be much stricter “in the first few years at least, than, say, it was for Ireland,” Wieser adds. Regarding debt relief, Wieser tells insider.gr that “an analysis will be conducted in the summer of 2018 and a decision taken upon the completion of the program.”

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Freedom exists because there are limits and boundaries. Living forever is not freedom.

Life Unlikely Beyond 115 Year Mark Despite Medical Advances (DT)

Researchers claim to have discovered the maximum age ‘ceiling’ for human lifespan. Despite growing life expectancy because of better nutrition, living conditions and medical care, Dutch scientists say our longevity cannot keep extending forever. Women can only live to a maximum of 115.7 years, they said, while men can only hope for 114.1 years at the most. The research by statisticians at Tilburg and Rotterdam’s Erasmus universities said, however, there were still some people who had bent the norm. The research by statisticians at Tilburg and Rotterdam’s Erasmus universities said women could live to a maximum of 115.7 years, while men could only hope for 114.1 years at the most. However, they did concede that there were exceptions, like Jeanne Calment, the French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days old – the longest life ever recorded.

Lifespan is the term used to describe how long an individual lives, while life expectancy is the average duration of life that individuals in an age group can expect to have – a measure of societal wellbeing. The team mined data over 30 years from some 75,000 Dutch people whose exact ages were recorded at the time of death. “On average, people live longer, but the very oldest among us have not gotten older over the last thirty years,” Prof John Einmahl said. “There is certainly some kind of a wall here. Of course the average life expectancy has increased,” he said, pointing out the number of people turning 95 in the Netherlands had almost tripled. “Nevertheless, the maximum ceiling itself hasn’t changed,” he said.

The Dutch findings, to be published next month, come in the wake of those by US-based researchers who last year claimed a similar age ceiling. However, that study by Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York found that exceptionally long-lived individuals were not getting as old as before. Einmahl and his researchers disputed that, saying their conclusions deduced by using a statistical brand called ‘Extreme Value Theory’, showed almost no fluctuation in maximum lifespan.

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Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Chile 1963

 

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)
Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)
US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)
Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)
Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)
JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)
America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)
IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)
UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)
We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)
Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)
China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)
Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

 

 

As EU President Juncker this morning unveils his vision of more Europe all the time, here’s what Europe is really like:

42% of Greek mortgage loans are non-performing. Today’s sale prices are 70-80% lower than in 2008. And that’s before 200-300,000 homes will be forced onto the market this fall.

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax. Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks’ may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

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Forget about more Europe, or you’ll wind up with a whole lot less Europe.

Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)

Technical experts representing the country’s creditors started visiting the country’s ministries in Athens on Monday, paving the way for the third bailout review, which has long ceased to be viewed as a simple matter and is increasingly burdened with problems. Pressure for a satisfactory conclusion to the review will grow with the planned visit on September 25 of Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who will meet with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Responding to a question by Kathimerini, Dijsselbloem’s spokesman said that the head of the Eurogroup will discuss eurozone issues and certainly the progress of the adjustment program. Government officials estimate that the discussion on the course of the review and the Greek program may be combined with the expiry of Dijsselbloem’s mandate at the Eurogroup chair at year-end.

The Dutch minister – whose last visit in Athens and his meeting with his counterpart at the time, Yanis Varoufakis, was quite eventful – would obviously like to leave on a positive note in regards to the Greek program. It has been rumored that he may seek another office in the eurozone. Sources from Brussels also say that the top European Commission’s top representative, Declan Costello, will also be coming to Athens in the next few days. In addition to the main cluster of 113 prior actions, of which 95 should be implemented by year-end, the creditors have expressed their objections and doubts about recent legislative moves made by the government, such as the labor law passed last Thursday.

Sources say that the creditors have also expressed concerns about clauses related to the reduced value-added tax on agricultural supplies, the opening up of closed professions, as well as the civil service. A large number of the 95 prior actions the government must implement in record time have a high degree of difficulty, and government officials believe this may require revisions on family benefits, the operation of the sell-off hyperfund and its subsidiaries, the opening up of the energy market, etc.

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How would the US pay for all the shiny trinkets?

US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)

In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.” Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?” The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank.That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.” In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded. Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter.

So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt. Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

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Xi demands peace for the Party Congress. Brokerages have been told: no holidays during Congress.

Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)

China’s yuan fixing is back in focus, with a run of surprises moving the market in recent days. The central bank set its reference rate – which limits onshore moves to 2% on either side – at a weaker than expected level for the third day in a row Wednesday. The rates, and the removal of a reserve requirement rule on the trading of foreign-exchange forwards, are fueling bets that authorities want to limit gains after the onshore yuan surged more than 4% against the dollar in the three months through Sept. 7. The People’s Bank of China set Wednesday’s fixing at 6.5382 per dollar, compared with the average forecast of 6.5355 in a Bloomberg survey of 19 traders and analysts. The authorities have had greater opportunity to sway the fixing either way since May, with the introduction of a “counter-cyclical factor” to the rate-setting mechanism.

“The PBOC still wants a relatively stable yuan,” said Nathan Chow at DBS. “Even if it strengthens or weakens, the pace needs to be controlled, and in an orderly and gradual manner. This will be easier for exporters to manage risks. The market expectation is that there should be no big changes or surprises before the party congress next month.” The yuan’s rally began to falter on Friday as the removal of the reserve rule made it less expensive to bet on yuan declines. The monetary authority weakened Tuesday’s fixing by the most in eight months following an overnight surge in a gauge of the greenback, pushing the onshore spot rate lower.

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“There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas..”

Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)

China’s move last week to ban initial coin offerings (ICO) has caused chaos among start-ups looking to raise money through the novel fund-raising scheme, prompting halts, about-turns and re-thinks. China is cracking down on fundraising through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting ICOs in a market that has ballooned this year in what has been a bonanza for digital currency entrepreneurs. The boom has fueled a jump in the value of cryptocurrencies, but raised fears of a potential bubble. “This is not unlike the dotcom bubble of 2000,” said a partner at a venture capital fund in Shanghai, who didn’t want to be named because of the issue’s sensitivity. “There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas, and these will eventually be weeded out. But even from the big dotcom bust, you still have gems.”

“One of the reasons regulators stepped in was that the ICO fever extended beyond the traditional crypto community. The timing was an attempt to pre-empt this before it goes into a much broader mass market in China,” the partner said. Investors in China contributed up to 2.6 billion yuan ($394 million) worth of cryptocurrencies through ICOs in January-June, according to a state-run media report citing National Committee of Experts on Internet Financial Security Technology data. Pre-ICO roadshows featuring elaborate standing room-only presentations at 5-star hotels drew a diverse crowd, including grandmothers – a likely tipping point for regulators. The hype and subsequent crackdown came as China focuses on economic and social stability ahead of next month’s congress of the Communist Party, a once-in-five-years event.

Beijing is also waging a broader campaign against fraudulent fundraising and speculative investment, which analysts attribute to China’s underdeveloped financial regulation and lack of legitimate investment options. While several start-ups said the exuberance had got out of control and they had expected Beijing to act, they said last week’s move panicked investors and caused confusion.

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Worse than tulip bulbs.

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)

Bitcoin “is a fraud” and will blow up, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said on Tuesday. Speaking at a bank investor conference in New York, Dimon said, “The currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart.” Dimon said that if any JPMorgan traders were trading the crypto-currency, “I would fire them in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous.” Dimon’s comments come as the bitcoin, a virtual currency not backed by any government, has more than quadrupled in value since December to more than $4,100.

[..] “It is worse than tulips bulbs,” Dimon said, referring to a famous market bubble from the 1600s. JPMorgan and many of its competitors, however, have invested millions of dollars in blockchain, the technology that tracks bitcoin transactions. Blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet. Dimon said such uses will roll out over coming years as it is adapted to different business lines. Financial institutions are hoping blockchain can be adapted to simplify and lower the costs of processes such as securities settlement, loan trading and international money transfers. Dimon predicted big losses for bitcoin buyers. “Don’t ask me to short it. It could be at $20,000 before this happens, but it will eventually blow up.” he said.

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From Reagan’s Budget Director.

America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)

Maybe the Democrats did win the 2016 election. Or at least the the Deep State and its accomplices among the beltway political class, K-Street lobbies and the media did. That’s because the media won a giant victory against something they deplore and despise more than anything else — the public debt ceiling. They sanctimoniously admonish that it’s a relic of the nation’s fiscally benighted past. They operate on a belief that this is an episodic tendency to threaten America’s credit and to offer Capitol Hill an opening to grandstand about the fiscal verities is a blight on orderly governance. So the Donald’s latest burst of impetuosity — agreeing with Sen. Schumer to permanently abolish the public debt ceiling — has descended on the beltway like manna from heaven.

Not Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or even the Great Texas Porker, Lyndon Johnson, dared to utter the thought of it — at least not in polite company. Suddenly, and notwithstanding all the good he has done disrupting the status quo, the Donald has become the foremost enemy of America’s very financial survival. The Federal budget is a Fiscal Doomsday Machine. The depository of American wars and entitlements have run rampant. Under the pile drivers of a global empire and the retiring baby boom, it is rapidly propelling the nation toward fiscal catastrophe. That grim outcome is virtually guaranteed if the only remaining safety brake — the debt ceiling — is summarily abolished. Due to entitlements, debt service and the slow pipeline of appropriated spending there is no such thing as an annual Federal budget or accountability for how much Uncle Sam spends and borrows.

Instead, the $4.1 trillion that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the Federal government will spend in FY 2018, and the $563 billion it will borrow, reflects the dead hand of the past. Entitlements and other mandatory spending alone is projected to reach $2.566 trillion or 63% of total FY 2018 outlays. Another $307 billion will be required for interest on the nation’s $20 trillion public debt, while upwards of half the $1.22 trillion for so-called “discretionary” or appropriated programs also reflects funds appropriated years ago. Altogether, $3.5 trillion, or 85% of outlays, will be essentially baked into the cake before a single Congressional vote is taken on anything regarding the FY 2018 budget.

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They just want to lend more.

IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)

The IMF is resisting putting a moratorium on Barbuda’s sovereign debt repayments in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma on the tiny Caribbean island. Barbuda is said to have lost around 90% of its structures in the wake of the storm and the national repair and reconstruction bill has been estimated at $150m. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has also said that around half or the island’s population of 1,600 is now homeless. Yet Antigua and Barbuda have debt with the IMF of around $15.8m and a coalition of US faith institutions have been calling on the Fund to pause the repayments of states battered by the hurricane. However, the IMF’s special representative to the UN, Christopher Lane, reportedly suggested late last week that the Fund would rather lend more money to the island, rather than stop collecting the repayments due.

“Our general view is that we’d rather put new money in than to have moratoria,” he said, according to Court House News. Stressing that were technical and political difficulties in simply stopping the debt collection he said: “We borrow money from our members who lend. So we’d have to get agreement from the lending parties.” “We might borrow money from the United States and loan that to Antigua. If we don’t get paid back on time, we’d have to make an arrangement with the source of the funds themselves. It gets a bit arcane, but there’s a number of constraints on how we operate. We’re like a bank. We borrow and lend.”

In a letter to the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on 7 September the Jubilee USA network wrote: “We invite the IMF to implement an immediate moratorium on debt payments for countries severely impacted by the Category 5 storm until they have rebuilt and recovered.” “For example, the nation of Antigua and Barbuda has almost $3m in debt payments due to the Fund today and a debt payment moratorium could immediately be put into rebuilding Barbuda where almost the entire population is homeless.” The group also urged that further IMF reconstruction payments to Barbuda, and other affected islands, should be in the form of grants, rather than loans.

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All major banks are.

UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)

The UK’s high street banks are an accident waiting to happen and could struggle in another financial crisis, according to a report published on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the run on Northern Rock. The report criticises the annual health checks – stress tests – that have been conducted by the Bank of England since the crisis and concludes that the methodology used by Threadneedle Street is flawed and the tests not gruelling enough. [..] Kevin Dowd, a professor of finance and economics at Durham University and a long-standing critic of the stress tests, said the Bank does not use the correct measures to assess the health of the banking system. Dowd is also a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing thinktank. His analysis – which the Bank of England has previously rejected – focuses on the health check of the major lenders published last November.

Those tests were based on a number of hypothetical scenarios including house prices falling and the global economy contracting by 1.9%. Royal Bank of Scotland failed the test and Barclays and Standard Chartered would both have struggled to cope. Dowd argued that the scenarios were “hardly doomsday” and disputes the way banks’ capital strength is measured. “The stress tests are about as useful as a cancer test that cannot detect cancer. They seek to demonstrate a financial resilience on the part of UK banks that simply isn’t there,” said Dowd in the report. “Our banking system is an accident waiting to happen.” The Bank uses the value of assets as calculated by the banks rather than their value on the markets which, he argued, would give a more accurate assessment of their financial health. “It is disturbing that 10 years on from Northern Rock, the best measures of leverage – those based on market values – indicate that UK banks are even more leveraged than they were then,” said Dowd.

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“American warfare in 7 different countries..”

We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)

As Congress takes up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will insist it vote on my amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. Why? Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries. Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions. Our military trains our soldiers to be focused and disciplined, yet the politicians who send them to fight have for years ignored those traits when developing our foreign policy. The result? Trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe, while we find ourselves 16 years into the war in Afghanistan wondering what our purpose there even is any more, or if we’ll ever bring our troops home.

If we don’t get this rudderless foreign policy under control now, we’ll still be asking the same questions another 16 years down the road. It’s time to demand the policymakers take their own jobs as seriously as the men and women we ask to risk it all for our nation. Doing so means restoring constitutional checks and balances. Congress has no greater responsibility than defending our country, and the Founders entrusted it with the power of declaring war because they wanted such a weighty decision to be thoroughly debated by the legislature instead of unilaterally made by the Executive branch. Yet Congress has largely abdicated its role anyways, and its sidekick status was plainly evident when former President Obama proposed a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS while insisting he really had all the authority he needed – it being more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” afterthought than an acknowledgement of any required step.

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Not a lot of insight into what’s wrong with US Democrats.

Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)

When U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ introduces his Medicare-for-All legislation on Wednesday, advocates of a single-payer, government-sponsored health care hope it will be the end of a bitterly fought policy battle that has roiled the Democratic Party for generations. Since Democratic President Harry Truman first proposed a government-sponsored universal health care system in 1945 — and since a Democratic president and Democratic congress first enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s — progressives have hoped that the United States would follow other industrialized countries by guaranteeing health care to all citizens. Indeed, many of the original proponents of Medicare hoped the system would ultimately be expanded to cover the entire country — as former Social Security commissioner Robert Ball wrote, “We expected Medicare to be a first step toward universal national health insurance.”

And although the intervening years saw the rise of Republican President Ronald Reagan, who derided “socialized medicine,” some Democrats continued to champion the idea. The party’s 1992 presidential contender Jerry Brown ran for the White House promising to support single-payer. But when Bill Clinton defeated him and won the presidency, the Clinton administration opted to back health care reforms that preserved the existing private insurance system — even as Hillary Clinton made favorable comments about single-payer. A generation later, Barack Obama also retreated from single-payer, and instead pushed the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes the private insurance system.

Now, things appear once again to be shifting. Even as Sanders has declared that his Medicare-for-All bill is not a litmus test, Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum are flocking to his legislation. On the progressive side, Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Al Franken (MN) have signed onto the legislation. Within the party establishment, former Vice President Al Gore has expressed support, as has conservative former Sen. Max Baucus — one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act whom single-payer advocates saw as a nemesis. With polls showing rising support for government-sponsored health care, the party’s long civil war over the issue may be over, potentially allowing a more unified party to campaign on Medicare-for-All in 2018.

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China has hardly enough land to feed its people.

China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)

China plans to roll out the use of ethanol in gasoline nationally by 2020, state media reported on Wednesday citing a government document, as Beijing intensifies its push to boost industrial demand for corn and clean up choking smog. It’s the first time the government has set a targeted timeline for pushing the biofuel, known as E10 and containing 10% corn, across the world’s largest car market, although it has yet to announce a formal policy. Mandates requiring that a minimum amount of biofuel must be blended into fuel for the nation’s cars, similar to the United States and Brazil, are currently set at a provincial level. “This news has greatly boosted confidence inside the industry,” said Michael Mao, analyst with Sublime China Information, adding that without government support ethanol would likely be too expensive to survive in the market.

Shares in biofuel producers rallied on the news, with Shandong Longlive Bio-Technology Co surging 10%, on track for its biggest one-day gain since December 2015. Major producer COFCO Biochemical Anhui Co, a listed unit of state-owned grains trader COFCO, was up almost 6%. A renewed effort to promote the nation’s fledging biofuels industry will be a further blow to major oil producers. On Saturday, the government said it has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels. The news comes after the government said late last year it would aim to double ethanol output by 2020 amid growing pressure to whittle down mountains of ageing corn in state warehouses.

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Some good points, but needs much more work.

Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time. For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required.

Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction. The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

[..] A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions. After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse. [..] Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element.


Illustration: Sebastien Thibault

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Jul 152017
 
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Hieronymus Bosch The Conjurer 1502

 

Big Banks Continue Winning Streak, With Street at Least (BBG)
‘It’s Almost An Embarrassment Being An American’ – Jamie Dimon (G.)
US House Backs Massive Increase In Defense Spending (R.)
US Deficits To Jump $248 Billion Over Next Two Years Due To Tax Shortfall (R.)
We Do These Things Because They’re Easy (CHS)
The New Silk Road Will Go Through Syria (Escobar)
One Of Worst Droughts In Decades Devastates South Europe Crops (R.)
People Not Amused by EU Efforts to “De-Cash” their Lives (DQ)
Just 13% of Greeks Trust Their Government (K.)
World’s Large Carnivores Being Pushed Off The Map (BBC)

 

 

What happens when markets don’t function. Manipulation is the name of the game.

Big Banks Continue Winning Streak, With Street at Least (BBG)

U.S. bank earnings have kicked off without any tumult. Investors should be grateful for that increasing sense of dependability, though they appear to be looking for more. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and PNC Financial Services each delivered second-quarter results on Friday that topped Wall Street’s expectations. On a measure of earnings per share, each bank has improved its respective streaks of beating or meeting analysts’ estimates:Reliability Factor The U.S. banks that reported earnings on Friday lengthened their streak of surpassing or matching expectations which, to be fair, are managed by bank executives:

The business of fixed-income trading, which has been a bright spot over the past year, has received outsize attention as it has fallen from grace after a long stretch of low volatility and tepid volumes, as expected. Instead, its quarterly gyrations should be accepted by shareholders just as they withstand changes in the weather, according to JPMorgan’s chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon. He has a point – the diversity of JPMorgan combined with the size of its overall corporate and investment bank, which houses the fixed-income trading business, gives the bank a level of flexibility. That defense might not stick if JPMorgan’s other businesses weren’t performing, but they are. The bank posted quarterly net income of $7 billion in the three months ended June 30.

That was its biggest haul ever, driven in part by a significant jump in net interest income, a direct result of the Federal Reserve’s rate increases. Its efforts to bulk up asset and wealth management, where revenues have roughly doubled since 2006, have borne fruit. Net income for the business climbed 20% compared with results in the same period last year to a record $624 million. And for now, despite broad concerns about auto and credit card loans, there’s no need to worry about widespread cracks. The bank’s so-called net charge-off rate, which measures delinquencies, remains minimal. [..] Bank stocks have rallied in part because the expected growth in their respective earnings per share, or EPS, in 2018 far exceeds that of the benchmark index:

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Because you get to make record profits while others only get deeper into debt? Is that what Dimon is talking about?

‘It’s Almost An Embarrassment Being An American’ – Jamie Dimon (G.)

JP Morgan just had the most profitable 12 months ever for a US bank – but it wasn’t enough for Jamie Dimon, the bank’s boss. “It’s almost an embarrassment being an American traveling around the world and listening to the stupid shit Americans have to deal with in this country,” Dimon told journalists after the bank released its latest quarterly results on Friday. The world’s largest bank reported a profit of $7.03bn for the second quarter, 13% higher than last year. It has made $26.5bn over the past 12 months, a record profit for a US bank. But Dimon, who last year turned down Donald Trump’s offer to become treasury secretary, seemed more concerned about low rates of growth in the US and the health of the American body politic.

He blamed bad policy for “holding back and hurting the average American” and financial journalists for concentrating on the bank’s trading results when they should be focusing on policy. “Who cares about fixed-income trading in the last two weeks of June? I mean, seriously,” Dimon said after a reporter asked about the health of the bonds markets. “That is the weather,” he said of changes in the markets. “It goes up and down, this and that, and that’s 80% of what you guys focus on.” Dimon said financial journalists would be better off concentrating on the “bad policies” that are hurting average Americans. “It’s almost an embarrassment being an American traveling around the world and listening to the stupid shit Americans have to deal with,” he said. “At one point, we would have to get our act together, do what we’re supposed to do to the average American.”

[..] “We need infrastructure reform,” he said. “We need corporate tax reform. We need better skills and education. If we don’t focus on these things, we are hurting average Americans every day. “The USA has to start to focus on policy which is good for all Americans, and that is regulation, tax, education, we have to get those things done. You guys [journalists] should be writing a lot more about that stuff. That is holding it back and hurting the average American citizen if we don’t do it.

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Or is Dimon embarrassed over this?

US House Backs Massive Increase In Defense Spending (R.)

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of a massive annual defense bill on Friday, leaving out controversial amendments on transgender troops and climate policy but backing President Donald Trump’s desire for a bigger, stronger military. The vote was 344-81 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets military policy and authorizes up to $696 billion in spending for the Department of Defense. Underscoring bipartisan support for higher defense spending in Congress, 117 Democrats joined 227 Republicans in backing the measure. Only eight Republicans and 73 Democrats voted no. But the measure faces more hurdles before it can become law, notably because it would increase military spending beyond last year’s $619 billion bill, defying “sequestration” caps on government spending set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Trump wants to pay for a military spending increase by slashing nondefense spending. His fellow Republicans control majorities in both the House and Senate, but they will need support from Senate Democrats, who want to increase military spending, for Trump’s plans to go into effect. The House NDAA also increases spending on missile defense by 25%, adds thousands more active-duty troops to the Army, provides five new ships for the Navy and provides a 2.4% salary increase for U.S. troops, their largest pay raise in eight years. And it creates a new Space Corps military service, pushed by lawmakers worried about China and Russia’s activities in space, but opposed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

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Oh well, money’s cheap after all.

US Deficits To Jump $248 Billion Over Next Two Years Due To Tax Shortfall (R.)

The budget deficit for President Donald Trump’s first two years in office will be nearly $250 billion higher than initially estimated due to a shortfall in tax collections and a mistake in projecting military healthcare costs, budget chief Mick Mulvaney reported on Friday. In a mid-year update to Congress, Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, revised the estimates supplied in late May when the Trump administration submitted its first spending plan. Since then, Mulvaney said, the deficit projected for the current fiscal year has increased by $99 billion, or 16.4%, to $702 billion. For 2018, the deficit will be $149 billion more than first expected, increasing by 33% to $589 billion.

The figures come as the administration is facing widespread doubts among economists and analysts that it can erase government deficits largely by boosting economic growth and changing laws like the Affordable Care Act. ACA reform is facing a difficult path in Congress, and the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said the administration’s growth and deficit reduction plans were optimistic. The letter from Mulvaney said the bulk of the problem this year and next stems from lower-than-expected tax collections. Individual and corporate income taxes and other collections for this year are expected to be $116 billion less than the administration anticipated in May. Tax receipts in 2018 are expected to be $140 billion less than initially estimated.

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A reference to JFK. Our next discovery will be that debt is a harsh mistress.

We Do These Things Because They’re Easy (CHS)

We are now totally, completely dependent on expanding debt for the maintenance of our society and economy. Every sector of the economy–households, businesses and government–all borrow vast sums just to maintain the status quo for another year. Compare buying a new car with easy, low-interest credit and saving up to buy the car with cash. How easy is it to borrow $23,000 for a new $24,000 car? You go to the dealership, announce all you have to put down is a trade-in vehicle worth $1,000. The salesperson puts a mirror under your nose to make sure you’re alive, makes sure you haven’t just declared bankruptcy to stiff previous lenders, and if you pass those two tests, you qualify for a 1% rate auto loan. You sign some papers and drive off in your new car. Easy-peasy!

Scrimping and saving to pay for the new car with cash is hard. You have to save $1,000 each and every month for two years to save up the $24,000, and the only way to do that is make some extra income by working longer hours, and sacrificing numerous pleasures–being a shopaholic, going out to eat frequently, $5 coffee drinks, jetting somewhere for a long weekend, etc. The sacrifice and discipline required are hard. What’s the pay-off in avoiding debt? Not much–after all, the new auto loan payment is modest. If we take a 5-year or 7-year loan, it’s even less. By borrowing $23,000, we get to keep all our fun treats and spending pleasures, and we get the new car, too. At the corporate level, it’s the same story: borrow a billion dollars and use it to buy back shares.

Increasing the value of the corporation’s shares by increasing profit margins and actual value is hard; boosting the share price with borrowed money is easy. It’s also the same story with politicians and the government: cutting anything is politically painful, so let’s just float a bond, i.e. borrow money to pay for what was once paid out of tax revenues: maintaining parks, repaving streets, funding pensions, etc. This dependence on expanding debt for maintaining the status quo is a global trend. Debt is exploding in China in every sector, and the same is true in other nations, developed and developing alike. Borrowing more money from the future is easy, painless and requires no trade-offs, sacrifices or accountability–until the debt-addicted economy collapses under its own weight of debt service and insolvency.

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“..all those elaborate plans depend on no more war. And there’s the rub.”

The New Silk Road Will Go Through Syria (Escobar)

Amid the proverbial doom and gloom pervading all things Syria, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sometimes yield, well, good fortune. Take what happened this past Sunday in Beijing. The China-Arab Exchange Association and the Syrian Embassy organized a Syria Day Expo crammed with hundreds of Chinese specialists in infrastructure investment. It was a sort of mini-gathering of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), billed as “The First Project Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction”. And there will be serious follow-ups: a Syria Reconstruction Expo; the 59th Damascus International Fair next month, where around 30 Arab and foreign nations will be represented; and the China-Arab States Expo in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui province, in September.

Qin Yong, deputy chairman of the China-Arab Exchange Association, announced that Beijing plans to invest $2 billion in an industrial park in Syria for 150 Chinese companies. Nothing would make more sense. Before the tragic Syrian proxy war, Syrian merchants were already incredibly active in the small-goods Silk Road between Yiwu and the Levant. The Chinese don’t forget that Syria controlled overland access to both Europe and Africa in ancient Silk Road times when, after the desert crossing via Palmyra, goods reached the Mediterranean on their way to Rome. After the demise of Palmyra, a secondary road followed the Euphrates upstream and then through Aleppo and Antioch. Beijing always plans years ahead. And the government in Damascus is implicated at the highest levels.

So, it’s not an accident that Syrian Ambassador to China Imad Moustapha had to come up with the clincher: China, Russia and Iran will have priority over anyone else for all infrastructure investment and reconstruction projects when the war is over. The New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road Initiative (Obor), will inevitably feature a Syrian hub – complete with the requisite legal support for Chinese companies involved in investment, construction and banking via a special commission created by the Syrian embassy, the China-Arab Exchange Association and the Beijing-based Shijing law firm. Few remember that before the war China had already invested tens of billions of US dollars in Syria’s oil and gas industry. Naturally the priority for Damascus, once the war is over, will be massive reconstruction of widely destroyed infrastructure.

China could be part of that via the AIIB. Then comes investment in agriculture, industry and connectivity – transportation corridors in the Levant and connecting Syria to Iraq and Iran (other two Obor hubs). What matters most of all is that Beijing has already taken the crucial step of being directly involved in the final settlement of the Syrian war – geopolitically and geo-economically. Beijing has had a special representative for Syria since last year – and has already been providing humanitarian aid. Needless to add, all those elaborate plans depend on no more war. And there’s the rub.

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Southern Europe: getting poorer and hotter.

One Of Worst Droughts In Decades Devastates South Europe Crops (R.)

Italian durum wheat and dairy farmer Attilio Tocchi saw warning signs during the winter of the dramatic drought to come at his holding a mile away from the Tuscan coast. “When it still hadn’t rained at the beginning of spring we realized it was already irreparable,” he said, adding that he had installed fans to try and cool his cows that were suffering in the heat. Drought in southern Europe threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops including olives and almonds. Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70%.

“This year was not bad, it was catastrophic. I can’t remember a year like this since 1992 when I was a little child,” said Joaquin Antonio Pino, a cereal farmer in Sinlabajos, Avila. Pino said many of his fields had not even been harvested, because crop revenues would not cover the wages of laborers who gathered them. While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine. Spanish soft wheat imports are expected to rise by more than 40% to 5.6 million tonnes in the 2017-2018 marketing year, according to Agroinfomarket. The drought has helped support EU wheat futures, which have risen around 6% since the beginning of June, although the prospect of a larger harvest in France this year should ensure adequate overall supplies in the trading bloc.

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Germans love cash.

People Not Amused by EU Efforts to “De-Cash” their Lives (DQ)

In January 2017 the European Commission announced it was exploring the option of imposing upper limits on cash payments, with a view to implementing cross-regional measures as soon as 2018. To give the proposal a veneer of respectability and accountability the Commission launched a public consultation on the issue. Now, the answers are in, but they are not what the Commission was expecting. A staggering 95% of the respondents said they were opposed to a cash ceiling at EU level. Even more emphatic was the answer to the following question: “How would the introduction of restrictions on payments in cash at EU level benefit you, or your business or your organisation (multiple replies are possible)?” In the curious absence of an explicit “not at all” option, 99.18% chose to respond with “no answer.”

In other words, less than 1% of the more than 30,000 people consulted could think of a single benefit of the EU unleashing cross-regional cash limits. Granted, 37% of respondents were from Germany and 19% from Austria (56% in total), two countries that have a die-hard love for physical lucre. Even among millennials in Germany, two-thirds say they prefer paying in cash to electronic means, a much higher level than in almost any other advanced economy with the exception of Japan. Another 35% of the survey respondents were from France, a country that is not quite so enamored with cash and whose government has already imposed a maximum cash limit of €1,000. By its very nature the survey almost certainly attracted a disproportionate number of arch-defenders of physical cash.

As such, the responses it elicited are unlikely to be a perfect representation of how all Europeans would feel about the EU’s plans to introduce maximum cash limits. Nonetheless, the sheer strength of opposition should (but probably won’t) give the apparatchiks in Brussels pause for thought. The biggest cited concern for respondents was the threat the cash restrictions would pose to privacy and personal anonymity. A total of 87% of respondents viewed paying with cash as an essential personal freedom. The European Commission would beg to differ. In the small print accompanying the draft legislation it launched in January, it pointed out that privacy and anonymity do not constitute “fundamental” human rights.

Be that as it may, many Europeans still clearly have a soft spot for physical money. If the EU authorities push too hard, too fast in their war on cash, they could provoke a popular backlash. In Germany, trust in Europe’s financial institutions is already at a historic low, with only one in three Germans saying they have confidence in the ECB. The longer QE lasts, the more the number shrinks.

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When they were elected in January 2015, Syriza’s approval rating was some 75%. But when you turn your back on your promises, and then unleash more austerity….

Just 13% of Greeks Trust Their Government (K.)

Just 13% of Greeks trusted the government in 2016, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) biennial Government at a Glance report, placing Greece among the four member states with the sharpest decline in confidence in their administrations. According to the report, which was published by the Paris-based organization on Thursday and shows 2016 data, Greece joins Chile, Finland and Slovenia in recording a significant loss of trust between citizens and the government, slipping to 13% in 2016 from 19% in 2014. Confidence has also declined over the past decade across the OECD’s member states, though at a rate of 3%, coming to 42% in 2016 from 45% in 2007.

In terms of specific sectors, Greeks have lost faith across the board, with the Greek health system having the trust of just 31% of citizens from 35% in the 2015 study for 2014, public education of 44% from 45% and the judicial system of 42% from 44%. A new area added in this year’s survey is the police, where confidence was high last year at 69%. Across the OECD, average confidence in the health system came to 70%, education to 67% and justice to 55%.

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You’d almost wish they would fight back.

World’s Large Carnivores Being Pushed Off The Map (BBC)

Six of the world’s large carnivores have lost more than 90% of their historic range, according to a study. The Ethiopian wolf, red wolf, tiger, lion, African wild dog and cheetah have all been squeezed out as land is lost to human settlements and farming. Reintroduction of carnivores into areas where they once roamed is vital in conservation, say scientists. This relies on human willingness to share the landscape with the likes of the wolf. The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, was carried out by Christopher Wolf and William Ripple of Oregon State University. They mapped the current range of 25 large carnivores using International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List data. This was compared with historic maps from 500 years ago.

The work shows that large carnivore range contractions are a global issue, said Christopher Wolf. “Of the 25 large carnivores that we studied, 60% (15 species) have lost more than half of their historic ranges,” he explained. “This means that scientifically sound reintroductions of large carnivores into areas where they have been lost is vital both to conserve the large carnivores and to promote their important ecological effects. “This is very dependent on increasing human tolerance of large carnivores – a key predictor of reintroduction success.” The researchers say re-wilding programmes will be most successful in regions with low human population density, little livestock, and limited agriculture. Additionally, regions with large networks of protected areas and favourable human attitudes toward carnivores are better suited for such schemes.

“Increasing human tolerance of large carnivores may be the best way to save these species from extinction,” said co-researcher William Ripple. “Also, more large protected areas are urgently needed for large carnivore conservation.” When policy is favourable, carnivores may naturally return to parts of their historic ranges. This has begun to happen in parts of Europe with brown bears, lynx, and grey wolves. The Eurasian lynx and grey wolf are among the carnivores that have the smallest range contractions. The dingo and several types of hyena are also doing relatively well, compared with the lion and tiger.

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