René Magritte After the water, the clouds 1926
Might as well do it this way. May survives confidence vote and can now prepare to defend the deal whose certain defeat made her delay Tuesday’s Parliament vote, a delay which led to the confidence vote in the first place. She still can’t win that one. It’s not so much May who is cooked, it’s the country.
No 10 will not be happy with today’s front pages, which are all about Theresa May’s survival in the no-confidence vote, but paint the win as less of a triumph for May than a pyrrhic victory. Let’s start with the good news for the prime minister. Two papers have come out in support of the her, with the Express featuring a picture of a smiling May and the headline: “Now just let her get on with it”.
The Mail is similarly supportive: “Now let her get on with the job!”, saying that “despite two months of sabre-rattling by her hardline opponents, and deadlock over Brexit, almost two-thirds of Tory MPs backed her”.
Others were less sympathetic. “Time to call it a May”, says the Sun, never one to miss the chance of putting a pun in a headline. The Sun says the prime minister was “left wounded last night after a battering by Tory Brexit rebels”.
The Mirror has: “It’s lame duck for Christmas”, saying May’s “goose is cooked”. The paper describes her as “wounded” and “battered” and says she only managed to survive the no-confidence vote “by promising not to fight the next election”.
Britain’s -Tory- elites still see Ireland as some backward place way beneath them. “The Irish really should know their place.”
A Tory grandee recently sidled up to me to express grave reservations about the Brexit process. “We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this,” the former minister said about the negotiating tactics of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. The Conservative MP was exasperated that the Republic of Ireland (population: 4.8m) has been able to shape the EU negotiating stance that has put such pressure on the UK (population: 66m). “This simply cannot stand,” the one-time moderniser told me. “The Irish really should know their place.” The remarks explained why Conservatives from both sides of the Brexit divide are so troubled by the negotiations. They also explain why Theresa May might find that any concessions from the EU over the Northern Ireland backstop may fall short of the demands of Tory MPs.
Over the last few months Tory MPs have asked in private how the Irish Republic can believe its relationship with the EU trumps its relationship with the UK. They cite economic reasons (the Irish Republic’s strong trading links with the UK) and the historical relationship. The MPs do of course acknowledge that left a troubled legacy. One minister familiar with Anglo-Irish relations points out that these Tories should bear in mind one date and one word to explain both the Irish and the EU’s approach. The date is 1973: when the Irish Republic joined the EEC at the same time as the UK and Denmark. That was the moment when Ireland took a giant political leap at the same time as the UK.
But it turned out to be arguably the biggest unilateral strategic move since Partition in the 1920s – a move that defined the modern Irish Republic as an independent state within Europe, with a wholly different approach to its larger neighbour.
I’m afraid I missed something along the way. If you run for office in the US and someone tries to blackmail you, you can’t get rid of them, you need to have lawsuits, court cases etc., interfere with your campaign. Not doing so is illegal. But, as Candace Owens said today,
“Congress has a slush fund, made up of tax dollars, that is used to pay off & silence their alleged sexual assaults and affairs. To date, over 200 million dollars in 200 settlements have been paid since 1998. But tell us more about Trump’s possible campaign finance violations…”
Moreover, a US judge just sentenced Stormy Daniels to paying Trump’s legal costs. But he was still in the wrong? How is that possible?
Michael Cohen has warned that he has more to say about what he called the ”dirty deeds” of Donald Trump as the president’s former lawyer and fixer was sentenced to three years in prison for facilitating payments to two women who have had alleged affairs with Mr Trump. Cohen was sentenced to 36 months for tax fraud and for his role in the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and the former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had affairs with Mr Trump before the 2016 presidential election. The judge in a district court in New York also handed Cohen an extra two months for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.
The payments have implicated Mr Trump directly in criminal conduct according to a court filing from prosecutors last week, which said that Cohen was working in coordination with the president. Cohen’s adviser Lanny Davis, who was his attorney for the case, said after the sentencing that Cohen will disclose more information concerning Mr Trump, once Robert Mueller wraps up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials. “At the appropriate time, after Mr Mueller completes his investigation and issues his final report, I look forward to assisting Michael to state publicly all he knows about Mr Trump – and that includes any appropriate congressional committee interested in the search for truth and the difference between facts and lies,” Mr Davis said in a statement.
Why is anyone still listening to Yellen?
The corporate debt scaring policy experts like former Fed Chair Janet Yellen isn’t throwing too much of a fright into market participants. In fact, some of them are continuing to load up on lower-grade corporate debt because it’s managed to be a better performer than some of the investments considered to be safer. “Offense is the best defense,” Hans Mikkelsen, credit strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told clients in a note pointing out that BBB-rated companies are outperforming their A-rated counterparts. BBB is the last rung before junk, and the increasing level of company bonds going to that level is causing concern.
Some investors worry that the companies whose debt is in danger of slipping into high-yield territory will have trouble meeting their obligations during the next economic downturn. But Mikkelsen thinks those concerns are misplaced. The S&P 500 Triple-B investment-grade corporate bond index is down 2.9 percent year to date, which is not good. However, the group is outperforming the broader S&P 500/MarketAxess Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index, which is off 3.5 percent in 2018. The outperformance grows when isolating for risk-adjusted excess returns and runs counter to history when credit spreads are widening. Higher-quality bonds usually outperform in those cases, Mikkelsen noted.
“This outperformance of BBBs is noteworthy as one of [the] key investor concerns this year remains the possibility that large BBB-rated capital structures get downgraded to high yield during the next downturn,” Mikkelsen wrote. “We think this outperformance reflects in part a low recession probability being priced into credit spreads, as well as the fact that most large BBBs are unlikely to get downgraded to [high-yield] anytime soon as they tend to have stable cash flows and significant financial flexibility.”
When do we start talking bailouts?
On Tuesday, the US KBW Bank index, which tracks the largest 24 US banks and serves as a benchmark for the banking sector, dropped 1.2%, the fifth day in a row of declines, to the lowest close since September 7, 2017. The index is now back where it had been on December 1, 2016. Two years of big gains gone up in smoke. [..] But no, the index doesn’t include Goldman Sachs – which is big in other ways but not as a bank, and which has skidded 35% from its all-time peak in February. The index has now dropped 22.5% since the post-financial crisis peak on January 26:
So far in Q4, the index has dropped 14%. Unless a miraculous banking-Santa-Claus rally pulls banks out of their dive by the end of the quarter, a 14% decline would make it the worst quarterly decline since Q3 2011. If tax selling kicks in, given the losses bank-stock investors have taken so far this year, it could get worse in the coming days. Not even in Q3 2015, during the oil bust, when investors were fearing that banks would take steep losses on their loans to the oil industry, did shares drop this much.
The index is now back where it had first been a couple of years before its crazy peak in February 2007. Said peak occurred about a year before Bear Stearns toppled. During the subsequent collapse of banks stocks, it looked like the index would hit zero. After the bottom in March 2009, the Fed’s strategies to benefit the banks and those that owned them took hold, at the expense of depositors and other classes of US stake holders, such as renters or future home buyers. And it worked. But that era is now over. And the tax cut too has been baked in, and banks are left to fend for themselves:
Those negative rates will come back to haunt Draghi. But when their damage becomes obvious, he’ll be living quietly in some splendid villa on Lake Como.
The European Central Bank is all but certain to formally end its lavish bond purchase scheme on Thursday but will take an increasingly dim view on growth, raising the odds that its next step in removing stimulus will be delayed. The long-flagged end of bond buys must be irreversible for the sake of credibility, but with France and Italy in political turmoil, a global trade war still looming large and growth slowing, ECB chief Mario Draghi will be keen to emphasize that other forms of support will remain. This leaves Draghi with yet another delicate balancing act: appear confident enough to justify the end of the 2.6 trillion euro ($2.95 trillion), four-year-long bond buying program, but also sound sufficiently concerned to keep investors expectations about further policy tightening relatively cool.
“Ending quantitative easing now looks more like the ammunition is running out rather than (being) based on a convincing economic outlook,” Societe Generale economist Anatoli Annenkov said. The ECB’s problem is that growth is weaker than policymakers thought even just weeks ago while the predicted rise in underlying inflation has failed to materialize, putting in doubt some of the bank’s assumptions about the broader economy. Overall inflation, the ECB’s primary objective, may be near the target now but falling oil prices suggest a dip in the months ahead and a solid rise in wages is not feeding through to prices, leaving the bank with an unexplained disconnect.
Highlighting this complication, the ECB is likely to cut growth and underlying inflation projections and may take a dimmer view on risks, all while Draghi argues that growth is merely falling back to normal after a recent run.
What a failure Draghi has been. Same goes for all central bank heads in the past decades. They make sure banks are fine at the expense of citizens.
ECB President Mario Draghi has to tread a fine line once again as he gives his latest update on euro area monetary policy on Thursday. While steering the bank out of its QE program and stressing interest rates and reinvestments going forward, Draghi is faced with an economy that may be slowing and a dreary inflation outlook. “We expect the ECB to announce at its meeting next Thursday an end to net-purchases under the APP programme,” said Natixis’ Dirk Schumacher in a note. “While there has been a clear weakening in the economic environment, the ECB will argue that the reinvestment of the stock of bond holdings will ensure a continuing accommodative policy stance justifying an end of the program,” he added.
On Thursday, the ECB also will publish its newest staff projections for economic growth and inflation for the next three years. While it is expected that the central bank will lower its outlook for growth for the next two years, the numbers are also expected to remain just punchy enough to underline the case to exit their purchase program. Another big topic for Thursday will be the design of the ECB’s reinvestments. “The ECB will likely maintain its guidance that it will fully reinvest the proceeds and thus keep its bond holdings constant ‘for an extended period of time’ and ‘for as long as necessary’ to put inflation on track towards its target,” said Florian Hense, Economist with Berenberg.
Might work if Le Pen joins the left.
Left-of-center lawmakers in France have tabled a motion of no confidence in the French government following repeated protests and scenes of violence. The “gilets jaunes” (“yellow vests”) crisis started as a demonstration against a carbon tax policy and planned fuel tax increases, but have morphed into wider discontent at the leadership of President Emmanuel Macron. Now representatives from the French Communist Party, the Socialist Party and the far-left populist movement France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) have come together to table the motion against Macron’s government.
The government of Georges Pompidou in 1962 was successfully toppled by such a motion but few believe this one will pass as Macron’s centrist La République En Marche! party enjoys a strong majority in the 577-seat house. “The French political system makes it extremely difficult to remove a President from office,” said the Deputy Director of Research at Teneo Intelligence in a note Wednesday. “The only political tool available to the opposition to expel Macron is the constitution’s impeachment procedure, which no one is currently considering,” he added.
Seems appropriate, but what symbols are left for the much worse years to come?
Japan has chosen the character for ‘disaster’ to symbolise 2018. The public chose the symbol following a series of natural disasters. In July, 200 people died in floods and millions were evacuated from their homes, and mere days later 65 people died in a heatwave that hospitalised more than 20,000 people. The country was also hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 and was rocked by its strongest typhoon for 25 years. These numerous natural disasters have had an adverse effect on the Japanese economy, and the country’s GDP has gradually shrunk over the last three months, by 1.2 per cent.
The country also experienced societal problems this year, as stories of sexual harassment in the workplace and suicide rates came to light. The master of the ancient temple in Kyoto, Seihan Mori, wrote the symbol for ‘disaster’ in dark ink on traditional white washi paper to mark the vote. The competition has been run by the Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation since 1995. In the annual poll, 21,000 of the 190,000 people who voted picked the character to summarise the years events, but the symbol for peace was a close runner-up.
What kind of headline is this, Reuters? The UK has refused Assange medical care for years, and now you make it look like Ecuador, not Assange himself. makes it happen?
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange received a series of medical exams, Ecuador’s top attorney said on Wednesday, in line with a new set of rules for his asylum at the Andean country’s London embassy that prompted him to sue the government. Assange first took asylum in the embassy in 2012, but his relationship with Ecuador has grown increasingly tense, with President Lenin Moreno saying he does not like his presence in the embassy. The government in October imposed new rules requiring him to receive routine medical exams, following concerns he was not getting the medical attention he needed. The rules also ordered Assange to pay his medical and phone bills and clean up after his pet cat.
Inigo Salvador told reporters Ecuador did not have access to results of the tests, which were conducted by doctors Assange trusted, out of respect for his privacy. But he said Assange, who has sued Ecuador arguing that the new rules violate his rights, appeared coherent and lucid to him. On Wednesday, Assange appeared via videoconference in an Ecuadorean court to appeal a previous ruling that had upheld the new rules. Assange is concerned that Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and extradite him to the United States, but Ecuador has said the United Kingdom told it he would not be extradited.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors have been conducting a lengthy criminal probe into Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets when Assange ran the operation. A lawyer for Assange said he did not know the results of the medical tests, and called on Ecuador to produce documentation proving that the UK would not extradite him to any country where his life was at risk.
“..accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities..”
Julian Assange has accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities, and slammed attempts to block his journalistic work as a more subtle way of silencing than the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Suggesting there were “facts of espionage” inside the embassy, the WikiLeaks co-founder expressed concern during a hearing in Quito on Wednesday that Ecuadorean intelligence is not only spying on him, but sharing the data it has harvested with the FBI. Ecuadorean intelligence clearly spent a sizable amount of money equipping the embassy for surveillance, Assange added.
He accused Ecuadorean authorities of “comments of a threatening nature” relating to his journalistic work and compared attempts to silence him to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured and cut up in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October, but “more subtle.” The comparison elicited a harsh reaction from Ecuadorean Prosecutor General Inigo Salvador, who accused Assange of biting the hand that feeds him. Assange told the Ecuadorean court that the living conditions in the embassy were so detrimental to his health that they may put him in the hospital – and suggested that may be the point, because once he leaves the building, he’s fair game for UK and US authorities.
[..] Assange was in court appealing a strict set of rules handed down in October governing his conduct, which he has called a violation of human rights. He submitted 15 “facts of evidence” along with letters from individuals and groups barred from visiting him at the embassy. An earlier attempt to sue his hosts over the restrictive measures was ultimately dismissed by a judge last month, while Assange rejected E
That stuff is very bad news.
The synthetic drug, fentanyl, has surpassed heroin as the deadliest drug in the United States, taking more than 18,000 lives in 2016, federal health officials said Wednesday. In 2016, the latest year for which full data is available, “29 percent of all drug overdose deaths mentioned involvement of fentanyl,” said the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic narcotic that has been blamed for the deaths of rock stars including Prince and Tom Petty. It works on the brain like morphine or heroin, but is 50 to 100 times more potent, and can easily lead to overdose.
The rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States has tripled from 1999 through 2016, as the nation grapples with a persistent opioid epidemic. Fentanyl-related drug overdose deaths have doubled each year from 2013 through 2016, “from 0.6 per 100,000 in 2013 to 1.3 in 2014, 2.6 in 2015, and 5.9 in 2016,” said the report. Meanwhile, deaths from heroin and methamphetamine more than tripled from 2011 to 2016. Heroin was the top cause of drug overdose death from 2012 to 2015, said the report. The prescription painkiller Oxycodone ranked highest in 2011.
Every word of this is broken. Time defends the MSM against Trump, but he didn’t create fake news. I like the term ‘abuse of truth’, that verges on doublespeak, as does ‘..the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news”. And c’mon, free and fair press? Who believes that?
Despite the White House ramping up its rhetoric, the United States remains a free and fair press, Ben Goldberger the assistant managing editor of Time magazine told CNBC on Wednesday. The year 2018 has been marked by manipulation, abuse of truth, along with efforts by governments to instigate mistrust of the facts, the magazine said in an essay when it named killed and imprisoned journalists as Person of the Year for 2018 on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt that the rhetoric from the White House about the demonization of the media as ‘the enemy of the people,’ or the willingness to dismiss anything including credible news reporting as fake news, is incredibly worrisome and chilling,” Goldberger said. “But that said, I return to what I said about the United States — this remains a free and fair press.” “Journalists here enjoy legal protections that are the envy of those in virtually every other country,” he added.