Oct 132017
 
 October 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:45 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Rembrandt Old man with a beard 1630

 

“The Cost of Missing the Market Boom is Skyrocketing”, says a Bloomberg headline today. That must be the scariest headline I’ve seen in quite a while. For starters, it’s misleading, because people who ‘missed’ the boom haven’t lost anything other than virtual wealth, which is also the only thing those who haven’t ‘missed’ it, have acquired.

Well, sure, unless they sell their stocks. But a large majority of them won’t, because then they would ‘miss’ out on the market boom… Some aspects of psychology don’t require years of study. Is that what behavioral economics is all about?

And it’s not just the headline, the entire article is scary as all hell. It reads way more like a piece of pure and undiluted stockbroker propaganda that it does resemble actual objective journalism, which Bloomberg would like to tell you it delivers. And it makes its point using some pretty dubious claims to boot:

 

The Cost of Missing the Market Boom Is Skyrocketing

Skepticism in global equity markets is getting expensive. From Japan to Brazil and the U.S. as well as places like Greece and Ukraine, an epic year in equities is defying naysayers and rewarding anyone who staked a claim on corporate ownership. Records are falling, with about a quarter of national equity benchmarks at or within 2% of an all-time high.

If equity markets in places like Greece and Ukraine, ravaged by -in that order- financial and/or actual warfare, are booming, you don’t need to fire too many neurons to understand something’s amiss. Some of their companies may be doing okay, but not their entire economies. Their boom must be a warning sign, not some bullish signal. That makes no sense. Stocks in Aleppo may be thriving too, but…

“You’ve heard people being bearish for eight years. They were wrong,” said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James, which oversees $500 billion. “The proof is in the returns.” To put this year’s gains in perspective, the value of global equities is now 3 1/2 times that at the financial crisis bottom in March 2009.

If markets crash by, pick a number, 20-30-50% next week, will Mr. Saut still claim “The proof is in the returns”? I doubt it. Though this time he might be right. As for the ‘value’ of global equities being 250% (give or take) higher than in March 2009, does that mean those who were -or still are- bearish were wrong? Or is there some remote chance that the equities are part of a giant planetwide bubble?

Aided by an 8% drop in the U.S. currency, the dollar-denominated capitalization of worldwide shares appreciated in 2017 by an amount – $20 trillion – that is comparable to the total value of all equities nine years ago. And yet skeptics still abound, pointing to stretched valuations or policy uncertainty from Washington to Brussels. Those concerns are nothing new, but heeding to them is proving an especially costly mistake.

$20 trillion. That’s a lot of dough. It’s what all equities in the world combined were ‘worth’ 9 years ago. It’s also, oh irony, awfully close to the total increase in central bank balance sheets, through QE etc. Might the two be related in any way?

 

 

Clinging to such concerns means discounting a harmonized recovery in the global economy that’s virtually without precedent – and set to pick up steam, according to the IMF. At the same time, inflation remains tepid, enabling major central banks to maintain accommodative stances.

‘Harmonized recovery’ is a priceless find. But you have to feel for anyone who believes it. And it’s obviously over the top ironic that central banks are said to be ‘enabled’ to keep rates low precisely because they fail to both understand and raise inflation. Let’s call it the perks of failure.

“When policy is easy and growth is strong, this is an environment more conducive for people paying up for valuations,” said Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley. “The markets are up in line with what the earnings have done, and stronger earnings helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.”

Oh boy. He actually said that? What have earnings done? He hasn’t read any of the warnings on P/E (price/earnings) for the (US) market in general –“the Shiller P/E Cyclically Adjusted P/E, or CAPE, ratio, which is based on the S&P 500’s average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, is above 30 when its average is 16.8”– or for individual companies (tech) in particular?

The CAPE ratio has been higher than it is now only twice in history: right before the Great Depression and during the dotcom bubble, when tech companies didn’t even have to be able to fog a mirror to attract billions in ‘capital’. And the chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley says markets are in line with earnings? Again, oh boy.

No, it’s not earnings that “..helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.” Cheap money did that. Central banks did that. As they were destroying fixed capital, savings, pensions.

 

 

The numbers are impressive: more than 85% of the 95 benchmark indexes tracked by Bloomberg worldwide are up this year, on course for the broadest gain since the bull market started. Emerging markets have surged 31%, developed nations are up 16%. Big companies are becoming huge, from Apple to Alibaba.

Look, emerging markets and developed economies have borrowed up the wazoo. Because they could. Often in US dollars. That may cause a -temporary- gain in stock markets, but it casts a dark spell over the reality of these markets. If it’s that obvious that a substantial part of your happy news comes from debt, there’s very little reason to celebrate.

Technology megacaps occupy all top six spots in the ranks of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization for the first time ever. Up 39% this year, the $1 trillion those firms added in value equals the combined worth of the world’s six-biggest companies at the bear market bottom in 2009. Apple, priced at $810 billion, is good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500.

To cast those exact same words in a whole different light, no, Apple is not ‘good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500’. Yes, you can argue that Apple’s ‘value’ has lifted other stocks too, but this has happened in a time of zero price discovery AND near zero interest rates. That means people have no way to figure out if a company is actually doing well, so it’s safer to park their cash in Apple.

Ergo: Apple, and the FANGs in general, take valuable money out of the stock market. At the same time that they, companies with P/E earnings ratios to the moon and back, buy back their stocks at blinding speeds. So yeah, Apple may be ‘good’ for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500, but at the same time it’s not good for that value at all. It’s killing companies by sucking up potential productive investment.

And Apple’s just an example. Silicon Valley as a whole is a scourge upon America’s economy, hoovering away even the cheapest and easiest money and redirecting it to questionable start-up projects with very questionable P/E ratios. But then, that’s what you get without price discovery.

 

 

Overall, U.S. corporate earnings are expected to rise 11% this year, on track to be the best profit growth since 2010. And after years of disappointments, European profits are set to climb 14% in 2017, Bloomberg data show. The expectations for both regions are roughly in line with forecasts made at the beginning of the year, defying the usual pattern of analysts downgrading their estimates as the months go by.

Come on, the European Central Bank has been buying bonds and securities at a rate of €60 billion a month for years now. How can it be any wonder that officially stock markets are up 14%? Maybe we should be surprised it’s not 114%. Maybe the one main point in all of this is that the ECB is still buying at that rate, and thereby signaling things are still as bad as when they started doing it.

Meanwhile, Asia is home to some of the world’s steepest rallies, led by Hong Kong stocks that are up 29% this year. Shares in Tokyo also hit fresh decade highs this week, bolstered by investor confidence before the local corporate earnings season and a snap election this month. “Asia will benefit from continued improving regional growth, stable macroeconomic conditions and undemanding valuations,” said BNP Paribas Asset Management’s head of Asia Pacific equities Arthur Kwong. Any pullback in Asian equities after the year-to-date rally presents a buying opportunity for long-term investors, he wrote in a note.

In Japan, so-called investor confidence is based solely on the Bank of Japan continuing to purchase anything that’s not bolted down. In China, the central bank buys the kitchen sink as well. How, knowing that, can you harp on about increased investor confidence? As if central banks taking over entire economies either isn’t happening, or makes no difference to economies? Buying opportunity?

Global economic growth has been robust in most places, with Europe finally joining the party and the euro-area economy on track for its best year since at least 2010. The region’s steady recovery has eclipsed worries about populism, which a few years ago would have been enough to derail any stock market rally.

No, global economic growth has not been ‘robust’. Stock market growth perhaps has been, but that’s only due to QE and buybacks. Still, stock markets are not the economy.

“I’ve never been so optimistic about the global economy,” said Vincent Juvyns, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “Ten years after the financial crisis, Europe is recovering and we have synchronized economic growth around the world. Even if we get it wrong on a country or two, it doesn’t change the big picture, which is positive for the equity markets.”

Oh man. And at that exact moment the ECB announces it wants to cut its QE purchase in half by next year.

Nowhere is the shifting sentiment more pronounced than in Europe, where global investors began the year with a election calendar looming like a sword of Damocles. Ten months later, the Euro Stoxx 50 Index is up 10%, Italy’s FTSE MIB Index is up 17% and Germany’s DAX Index is up 13%. The rally is even stronger when priced in U.S. dollars, with the Euro Stoxx 50 up 23% since the start of the year.

Sure, whatever. I don’t want to kill your dream, and I don’t have to. The dream will kill itself. You’ll hear a monumental ‘POP’ go off, and then you’re back in reality.

 

 

Note: Rembrandt painted the portrait above when he was just 23-24 years old.

 

 

Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

Read more …

How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

Read more …

Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

Read more …

“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

Read more …

“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

Read more …

Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

Read more …

Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

Read more …

Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

Read more …

Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

Read more …

It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

Read more …

Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

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Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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Jul 242017
 
 July 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Jackson Pollock The She Wolf 1943

 

We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame (Egon von Greyerz)
China’s Dollar Debt Specter Haunts Fed’s Policy Meetings (R.)
Federal Reserve Faces Prospect Of Global Monetary Policy Tightening (R.)
Bank of Japan Dot Plot Paints a Pessimistic Picture of Inflation (BBG)
European Banks Struggle To Solve Toxic Shipping Debt Problem (R.)
Saudi Economic Pain Will Test Resolve of Prince’s Reform Push (BBG)
While Hammond Looks For A Magic Money Tree, Labour Has Found One (G.)
Strip Mining the World (Robert Gore)
Alexis Tsipras: ‘The Worst Is Clearly Behind Us’ (G.)
European and African Ministers Discuss Plan To Tackle Flow Of Refugees (G.)
The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks (Vazza & Feletti)

 

 

Sorry for you lovely summer day, but it’s time to get serious. Excellent read. “The gullibility of people today is exacerbated by the power of the internet and social media.”

We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame (Egon von Greyerz)

“Stock investors are rejoicing about stock markets making new highs in many countries, totally oblivious of the risks or the reasons. It seems that this is an unstoppable rally in a “new normal” market paradigm. No major increase is expected in the inflation rate or the historically low interest rates. The present rally has lasted 8 years since the 2009 low. There is virtually no fear in the stock market so investors see no reason why this favorable climate would not continue for another 8 years at least. Yes, of course it could. All that is needed is that governments worldwide print another $20-50 trillion at least and that global debt goes up by another $200-500 trillion. “The gullibility of people today is exacerbated by the power of the internet and social media. Anything we read is accepted as fact or the truth, while a major part of it is just fake news.

[..] The power of the internet and other media has facilitated spreading news and propaganda to billions of people and very few can distinguish if they hear or read “real” news or “fake” news. Anyone in government is incapable of telling the truth. Automatically when someone assumes an elected position their Pinocchio nose grows extremely long since their entire purpose is then to be all things to all people in order to be re-elected. This is why virtually no elected official has a backbone nor any morals or principles. Because if they had, telling the truth would make them unelectable.

[..] The system we now have is based on Fake News, Fake Money with no morals, no principles and no moral or ethical values. In spite of, or more correctly because of, all the lawyers, government legislation, compliance and regulations, the financial system is today functioning much worse than ever with more fraud, more government intervention and more manipulation of markets. Also, clients today are secondary. Instead, it is all about lining the pockets of the bankers with their multi-billion dollar deals and multi-million dollar bonuses and options. As we experienced in 2006-9, profits are for the bankers and losses for governments and customers. During that time of the Great Financial Crisis, many Investment Bankers received the same bonuses during the crisis years as before, in spite of the fact that most of them would have gone under without the government support they benefitted from to the extent of $25 trillion.

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Yellen is lost in China. How can they keep the dollar low in the face of this? And how long for? Trump likes it, China needs it. But the numbers say no.

China’s Dollar Debt Specter Haunts Fed’s Policy Meetings (R.)

In September 2015, the U.S. Federal Reserve cited risks from China as a key reason for delaying its first interest rate hike in a decade. A wall of Chinese debt maturing in the next few years could jolt the country back into the U.S. central bank’s policy deliberations. Two years ago, it was a collapse in Chinese stocks, a surprise yuan devaluation and shrinking foreign exchange reserves that roiled financial markets that delayed the Fed, but it did raise rates three months later and has tightened further since. Now, some see risks emerging in China’s dollar-denominated bonds that could give the Fed greater pause for thought as it raises rates, even as other central banks signal a shift from ultra-easy policy. To be sure, Fed officials have not publicly flagged China’s debt as a major risk in their policy discussions.

However, debt analysts point to the possibility of another September 2015 moment in which the Fed takes its cues from concerns about China. “Back then, I said that U.S. monetary policy is not made in Washington, it’s made in Beijing,” said Joachim Fels, global economic advisor at bond giant PIMCO. “China does have a major impact on monetary policies elsewhere … This year has been smooth sailing for global central banks because there were no shockwaves from China but I expect that to change if we think beyond the next few months.” The outstanding amount of dollar bonds issued by Chinese entities has grown almost 20 times since the 2008-09 global financial crisis to just over half a trillion dollars, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements.

Since September 2015, it has grown almost 50%. China’s dollar bonds are now almost a third of the emerging market total dollar issuance, up from a quarter in September 2015 and less than 5% before the Fed first began printing money in December 2008. A fifth of China’s dollar bonds mature within a year, according to BIS data. More than half are due in the next five, Thomson Reuters data show. If U.S. borrowing costs start rising as a result of the Fed’s exit from its unconventional monetary policy, that debt would have to be rolled over at higher costs, chipping away at the real economy in China. Alternatively, Chinese companies might decide to refinance their debt in local currency, creating weakening pressure on the yuan.

Either development would reverberate globally and create a major external challenge for Fed policy. For its part, the Fed doesn’t see any immediate dangers with China’s dollar debt. “You’ll find if you look at China they certainly have dollar-denominated debt but … you’ll see that they are not as reliant on external debt as people might have thought,” Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan said in Mexico City on Friday. Also, a significant portion of Chinese dollar borrowing makes economic sense – such as companies funding overseas investment projects. And if those dollars are converted into yuan, they could help ease any weakening pressure on the Chinese currency.

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They’re stuck. Nobody wants to admit it, but they are. One way out: a huge crisis, so they can put the blame there.

Federal Reserve Faces Prospect Of Global Monetary Policy Tightening (R.)

Prospects for tighter monetary policy in Europe and other countries could pose a fresh problem for the Federal Reserve when it meets next week to ponder its plan to reduce its $4.2 trillion bond portfolio purchased after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed bought U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) for about six years in a program known as “quantitative easing” which kept interest rates at record lows to spur borrowing and economic recovery. But at its June meeting this year, as well as raising interest rates for the third time in six months, the Fed also announced a plan to begin by letting $6 billion a month in Treasuries mature without reinvestment and to increase that amount at three month intervals up to $30 billion. Similarly, the Fed said it would run down its agency debt and mortgage backed securities by $4 billion a month until it reaches $20 billion.

Now, the ECB also appears likely to decide later this year on when to scale back its monthly bond purchases. When ECB President Mario Draghi first hinted at the prospect last month, world bond yields rose sharply for a while. Moreover, Canada’s central bank raised interest rates for the first time in seven years this month, and the Bank of England is expected to raise rates next year to combat rising inflation. The Fed led the way in tightening monetary policy as the global economy recovered from the 2008 recession but must now determine how plans by other central banks’ plans may affect their own policy. While a stronger European economy has been welcomed by the Fed, lessening risks to the global economy, a move by major central banks to all tighten monetary policy simultaneously has not been seen for a decade.

“The effects of ECB tapering are not limited” to euro zone countries, Cornerstone analyst Roberto Perli wrote recently. Draghi’s comments in June drove up 10-year Treasury yields US10YT=RR by the most since the U.S. election last November, and a move by the ECB to stop printing money could prompt the Fed to slow its plans for fear that financial conditions would tighten too fast. When Fed policymakers meet on July 25-26 they will need to decide a start date for reducing their bond holdings or leave more time to evaluate what Fed Governor Lael Brainard recently cited as a possible “turning point” in global monetary policy that may affect economic growth.

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The failure of Abenomics is taking on comical forms.

Bank of Japan Dot Plot Paints a Pessimistic Picture of Inflation (BBG)

Even a quick glance at the Bank of Japan’s latest inflation forecasts makes for disappointing reading. The BOJ pushed back its timetable for hitting 2% price gains for a sixth time since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took over. And it cut its estimates for core CPI for this fiscal year and the next two. A close look at the individual projections of the board’s nine members released after its July 19-20 policy meeting is cause for even more pessimism. Eight of them see risks “tilted to downside” for their price forecast for fiscal 2019 – the year when the BOJ currently hopes to reach its inflation goal. Put another way, the chances of prices dropping below forecast are way higher than beating it. Downward pointing triangles in the dot plot below represent estimates from board members who see downside risks to their projection while circles indicate risks are evenly balanced.

There are no upward pointing triangles giving reason for optimism. When the BOJ released its previous dot plot in April, there were only six downward triangles for 2019. Kuroda said it’s “regrettable” that the BOJ has had to repeatedly push back the timing of when it will reach the inflation goal, while repeating that he still sees momentum to get there eventually. “The BOJ seems to be losing a lot of confidence in its inflation outlook,” Chotaro Morita, chief rates strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities, wrote in a report Friday. So what does this mean for policy? According to former BOJ executive director Hideo Hayakawa, the delay to fiscal 2019 is an acknowledgment that the central bank will continue stimulus even beyond 2020, as it’s very unlikely the BOJ would start cutting stimulus at the same time as the government makes a planned increase to the sales tax.

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Grossly overbuilt. No easy way out: “an estimated capital shortfall of $30 billion this year.”

European Banks Struggle To Solve Toxic Shipping Debt Problem (R.)

Dutch shipowner Vroon is finding talks with banks tough going as it tries to navigate a way out of a long slump in the shipping industry. But it is not an easy time for the lenders either. Vroon, a 127-year-old family-owned group which operates about 200 vessels and transports livestock, oil and other commodities, wants to extend its credit lines and adjust repayment schedules. But European banks that lent heavily to the sector when it boomed more than a decade ago have a heavy toxic debt burden following the 2008-09 global financial crisis and a shipping markets crash in 2010. Shipping firms and banks are caught in a vicious circle of debt, causing a credit crunch that is hindering the industry’s recovery. Overcapacity – a glut of available ships for hire – is a big concern, and another is a lack of profitability caused by problems such as slower demand and global economic turmoil.

One of the major companies, South Korean container line Hanjin, has gone under. “We have difficulty in meeting all repayment obligations that we have and that is what we are in discussion with our banks about. Those discussions are constructive but are not easy — not for us, or the banks,” Herman Marks, the chief financial officer at Vroon, told Reuters. “It is the lack of profitability for the industry that is causing the lack of availability of finance.” Shipping finance sources say the shipping industry, which transports 90% of the world’s goods including oil, food and industrial products such as coal and iron ore, has an estimated capital shortfall of $30 billion this year. Some banks are being driven out of shipping and those that remain are now more conservative in their financing, Marks said. “It is an industry that requires consolidation,” he added.

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One day we will know how poorly Saudi is doing. But not now.

Saudi Economic Pain Will Test Resolve of Prince’s Reform Push (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s drive to reduce the economy’s reliance on oil has hit a snag: its reliance on oil. More than a year after the kingdom’s dominant leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled a blueprint for the post-oil era, the drop in crude prices is making economists more skeptical about whether some of the plan’s medium-term targets can be met. The reason: lower oil revenue deprives the government of money needed to balance its books by 2020 while trying to stimulate growth to ease the transition’s burden on the population. IMF data released Friday underscored the challenge. The fund lowered its forecasts for Saudi economic growth this year to “close to zero.” Analysts at Citigroup, EFG-Hermes and Standard Chartered see a bleaker picture, expecting the economy to shrink for the first time since the global financial crisis in 2009.

Deeper economic pain will test the authorities’ resolve to pursue tough reform measures as they seek to go against the run of history, which suggests that successful diversification efforts depended largely on policies put in place before a price shock. “Unless you start seeing some economic growth drivers kicking in, which would really have to come from the government and would require higher oil prices, the pace of fiscal reforms would likely remain slower than in 2016,” when authorities cut spending and lowered costly subsidies, Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said in an interview. “We see the possibility of having a very low growth or stagnant economic environment with the deficit still remaining high,” she said. “This is a key risk.”

Brent crude prices have declined 15% this year to $48 a barrel, well below the level that the kingdom needs to balance its budget, as producers grapple with how to eliminate a global supply glut. Under an accord between OPEC and other major producers, Saudi Arabia has cut its output. The IMF revised its forecast for Saudi growth this year to 0.1% from 0.4%. And while it now expects non-oil GDP to grow 1.7% after stalling last year, the new figures compare with an earlier estimate of about 2%.

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Transaction tax. It will come.

While Hammond Looks For A Magic Money Tree, Labour Has Found One (G.)

If Hammond is to find money for higher public spending without increasing borrowing, he will either have to ditch government plans to reduce personal and corporate taxes or find new sources of revenue. One option would be for the government to embrace the idea of a financial transaction tax, AKA the Robin Hood tax. This idea, fleshed out in detail last week by Prof Avinash Persaud at an event in London, ticks all the right boxes. Persaud’s starting point is that Britain already has a financial transaction tax, and has had one for more than 300 years. It is called stamp duty, which is levied on the purchase of shares issued by British companies, and raises just over £3bn a year, half of it from citizens of other countries. Some trading activities are exempt from stamp duty and Persaud believes these exemptions should be restricted.

He also proposes that the tax should be broadened to cover transactions in corporate bonds and cash flows arising from equity and derivative transactions. He estimates that this would raise £4.7bn a year. One argument against a financial transaction tax is that it would lead to fewer transactions and so would not raise any money. Persaud said he accepted that the tax would change behaviour (indeed, that is part of the reason for having one), but that he had already made allowances for the reduction in activity in his calculations. If there was no change in behaviour, the tax would raise £13bn a year. Nor does he accept that a tougher stamp duty regime would lead to a relocation of business. Liability for the tax would depend on where the financial instruments were issued and who owned them.

A US investor, for example, would pay the tax on shares issued in the UK, but not on securities traded in the UK but not issued there. Likewise, a British investor would pay the tax on securities wherever they were issued and traded. Persaud, himself a former banker, thinks big finance is a bit of a racket. If a company wants to raise money in the City, the charges amount to 2% of the trade – a rate unchanged in more than 100 years. Put another way, all the efficiency gains since the late 19th century have been captured by those who run the industry rather than shared with the customers. It is hard to think of any other sector where this is true.

The Treasury has always been opposed to a financial transaction tax, in large part due to its institutional capture by the City. Official attitudes would change, though, with a Labour government. Why? Because Persaud’s presentation was organised by the Labour party and he was introduced by the shadow chancellor. While Spreadsheet Phil is looking for a magic money tree, John McDonnell has already found one.

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Can’t beat a good rant.

Strip Mining the World (Robert Gore)

The government is a strip mining operation, plundering the dwindling residual value of a once wealthy America. Forget ostensible justifications, policy is crafted to allow those who control the government to maximize their take and put the costs on their victims, leaving devastation in their wake. Wars are no longer about defending the country or even making the world safe for democracy. They are about appropriations, not to be won, but profitably prolonged. The Middle East and Northern Africa have been a mother lode. You would think their sixteen-year war in backward and impoverished Afghanistan would be a shameful disgrace for the military and the intelligence agencies. It’s not. They’ve milked that conflict for all its worth, and now brazenly talk about a “generational war”: many more years of more of the same.

We can also look forward to generational wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The strip miners are agitating for an Iranian foray. That’s got Into The 22nd Century written all over it, a rich, multi-generational vein, perhaps America’s first 100-year war. The only rival for richest mother lode is medicine. Health care is around 28% of the federal budget, defense 21%. Medical spending no longer cures the sick; it’s the take for insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital rackets. The US spends more per capita on health care than any other nation (36% more than second-place Switzerland) but quality of care ranks well down the list. In education there is the same gap between per capita spending (the US ranks at or near the top) and value received, in this instance as measured by student performance.

What’s paid is out of all proportion to what’s received, especially at a time when computer and communications technology should be driving down the costs of education across the board. Indoctrination factories formerly known as schools, colleges, and universities dispense approved propaganda. For students, higher education is now on the government-sponsored installment plan. There’s a litany of excuses why Johnny, Joan, Juan, Juanita, Jamal and Jasmine can’t read, compute, or think, but lack of funding and student loans don’t wash. Education dollars fund teachers’ unions, their pensions, administrators, and edifice complexes; learning is an afterthought. This vein will play out as the pensions funds, and the governments that have swapped promises to fund them for educators’ votes, go bankrupt. Probably around the same time as the student loan bubble pops.

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Tsipras is trying to put the blame on Varoufakis. He won’t find that an easy road, even if many Greeks agree. And no, the worst is not behind either him or Greece.

Alexis Tsipras: ‘The Worst Is Clearly Behind Us’ (G.)

Today, Tsipras wants to dwell neither on Varoufakis – blamed widely by Greeks for the bungled “game of chicken” that led to the EU and IMF enforcing the harshest austerity measures yet – nor his nemesis, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. “Yanis is trying to write history in a different way,” he allows himself to say. “Perhaps the moment will come when certain truths are told … when we got to the point of reading what he presented as his plan B it was so vague, it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about. It was simply weak and ineffective.” Far from being a hate figure, Varoufakis held Schäuble in high esteem, Tsipras says. “I think he was his alter ego. He loved him. He respected him a great deal and he still respects him.”

Attempting to set the record straight, Tsipras says that while the Syriza government’s original strategy was one of collision politics – “in line with our mandate” – quitting the single currency, and by extension the EU, was never in question, even in the white heat of crisis when Athens was days away from default. “Leave Europe and go where … to another galaxy?” he quips. “Greece is an integral part of Europe. Without it, what would Europe look like? It would lose an important part of its history and its heritage.” Besides, Grexit would have amounted to acceptance of the “punishment plan” concocted by Schäuble that foresaw Athens taking “time out” of the bloc.

Compromise was the only option, says Tsipras, likening the measures that came with it to a ghastly medicine endured when life is at stake. “You hold your nose, you take it … You know that there is no other way … because you have tried everything else to survive, to stay alive.” Despite the firestorm of criticism he now endures, non-Greek observers say, the once firebrand leader has also shown courage in implementing policies he evidently loathes. Tsipras has managed to persuade many of those opposed to austerity to swallow the bitter pill that has kept Greece in the family of nations it has long identified with. The scenario of a “left parenthesis”, peddled by political enemies at the start of his tenure, has been put to rest.

[..] Ultimately, the great clash between Athens and the lenders keeping Greece afloat will be what is left imprinted on the collective memory, but Tsipras’s legacy, he says, will rest on something else. “It will be that I managed to take the country out of the bog in which it had been led by those who bankrupted it … and move ahead with a programme of deep reform.” That, at least, is the hope. For Greece has become an unpredictable place and, as with history itself, there are no straight lines. “No one,” he says, “can ever be sure that the crisis won’t come back.”

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They found a new term: regularize. As in: regularized refugees. This can only go horribly wrong.

European and African Ministers Discuss Plan To Tackle Flow Of Refugees (G.)

European and African ministers are to meet in Tunis on Monday to discuss a plan to try to regularise the flow of refugees from Africa to Europe to about 20,000, coupled with a much tougher strategy to deport illegal migrants from Italy and break up smuggling rings. The plan to regularise the migrant flow is being pushed by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, which warns that EU efforts to train the Libyan coastguard along with Italy’s intention to impose a new code of conduct on NGO rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean do not match the scale of the problem, or recognise the extent to which the flow of refugees and migrants is likely to become permanent. The aim is to set up screening systems for EU-bound migrants in countries en route to Libya, such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan.

The EU at a meeting in July set aside enough cash for 40,000 regularised refugees, with as many as half coming from claimants in Syria, and the remainder from Africa. Although the European commission has struggled to persuade all countries to take migrants after a similar scheme set up in following the 2015 migration crisis from Syria, the new scheme would represent a form of solidarity, and provide Italy with some relief. Italy is gripped by deep political and civil divisions on the issue, with more than 90,000 migrants reaching Italy from Libya this year. A reduction to 20,000 from Africa would represent a transformation.

Explaining the thinking, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s new special envoy to the central Mediterranean, said: “We need to regularise the system and stop these dangerous journeys into Libya. Any remedy that focuses on trying to stop the flow of migrants at sea, such as a code of conduct for a NGOs, cannot be the solution. The issue has to be addressed earlier in the countries of origin and transit. “Italy also needs to be able to process claimants so the economic migrants are returned much more quickly, or else there will be no deterrent to travel to Italy. Only a third of the migrants reaching Italy are found to be in need of international protection.” He added that by the time migrants reached Libya it was often too late.

It is thought there are 300,000 Africans from outside Libya trying to get across to Europe or to get some work in Libya. They are living in Libyan detention centres or in warehouses or so-called “connection houses” in the hands of traffickers. The refugees need to be taken out of Libya and these detention centres so they can be processed elsewhere.

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Self-similarity. The ultimate fractals.

The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks (Vazza & Feletti)

The total number of neurons in the human brain falls in the same ballpark of the number of galaxies in the observable universe.

Christof Koch, a leading researcher on consciousness and the human brain, has famously called the brain “the most complex object in the known universe.” It’s not hard to see why this might be true. With a hundred billion neurons and a hundred trillion connections, the brain is a dizzyingly complex object. But there are plenty of other complicated objects in the universe. For example, galaxies can group into enormous structures (called clusters, superclusters, and filaments) that stretch for hundreds of millions of light-years. The boundary between these structures and neighboring stretches of empty space called cosmic voids can be extremely complex. Gravity accelerates matter at these boundaries to speeds of thousands of kilometers per second, creating shock waves and turbulence in intergalactic gases.

We have predicted that the void-filament boundary is one of the most complex volumes of the universe, as measured by the number of bits of information it takes to describe it. This got us to thinking: Is it more complex than the brain? So we—an astrophysicist and a neuroscientist—joined forces to quantitatively compare the complexity of galaxy networks and neuronal networks. The first results from our comparison are truly surprising: Not only are the complexities of the brain and cosmic web actually similar, but so are their structures. The universe may be self-similar across scales that differ in size by a factor of a billion billion billion.

The task of comparing brains and clusters of galaxies is a difficult one. For one thing it requires dealing with data obtained in drastically different ways: telescopes and numerical simulations on the one hand, electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and functional magnetic resonance on the other. It also requires us to consider enormously different scales: The entirety of the cosmic web—the large-scale structure traced out by all of the universe’s galaxies—extends over at least a few tens of billions of light-years. This is 27 orde
rs of magnitude larger than the human brain. Plus, one of these galaxies is home to billions of actual brains. If the cosmic web is at least as complex as any of its constituent parts, we might naively conclude that it must be at least as complex as the brain.

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Jul 192017
 
 July 19, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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US photographer Margaret Bourke-White on top of the Chrysler Building, NYC 1931

 

America Makes China Great Again – People’s Daily (CNBC)
Pentagon Report Declares US Empire ‘Collapsing’ (Nafeez Ahmed)
A Government Can Always Afford High-Quality Health Care Provision (BIlbo)
US Dollar Will Rebound In The Second Half Of 2017 – JPMorgan (CNBC)
Foreigners Snap Up Record Number Of US Homes (CNBC)
Big Australian Banks Told To Hold More Capital, On Notice Over Mortgages (R.)
One Million Homes Left Empty Across Australia (SMH)
In Urban China, Nobody Uses Cash Or Cards Anymore (NYT)
Survivors Of 9/11 Urge May To Release Saudi Arabia Terror Report (Ind.)
West Virginians Are Fighting To Save Their Neighbors From Opioids (NewYorker)
This Isn’t the First US Opiate-Addiction Crisis (BBG)
A Despot In Disguise: One Man’s Mission To Rip Up Democracy (Monbiot)
Italy Mulls Temporary Humanitarian Visas For Migrants, Refugees (G.)

 

 

If I were Beijing, I’d be a tad worried about the implication that Chine needs the US to be great again.

America Makes China Great Again – People’s Daily (CNBC)

A Communist Party mouthpiece is crowing that malfunctioning U.S. leadership is making China “great again” on the eve of highly anticipated bilateral trade talks between the two countries. The op-ed published in the People’s Daily said the U.S. was in political chaos and suffered from a broken system, which was why Washington couldn’t get anything done. It also claimed the U.S. mess was giving China an opportunity to shine. “U.S. foreign policy is in total disarray, and world regard for the U.S. has plummeted. Indeed, America is making China ‘great again,'” the op-ed said. “Once the world’s model, the great American meltdown has turned the U.S. into some bizarre soap opera.” This isn’t the first time China has piggybacked off an American saying — remember President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” slogan?

This time around, the tone is a bit sharper, with Chinese state media not backing down ahead of annual bilateral talks that have been rebranded this year as the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue. Although both Beijing and Washington have indicated they understand the need to play nice, both sides are pushing their own agenda as expected. The U.S. wants to reduce the more than $300 billion trade deficit with China and make good on a campaign promise from President Donald Trump to pressure China on a number of fronts, such as opening up its markets to more foreign participation and to bring jobs back to America. China, on the other hand, has pushed back, saying Chinese investment has helped the U.S. But it’s clear that as the U.S. continues to face political turmoil, China is enjoying its time in the spotlight. That is, Beijing is explicitly seeking to fill the void the U.S. left as it backed out of various multilateral talks and agreements…

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Got the money? Got the money? Show me the money!

Pentagon Report Declares US Empire ‘Collapsing’ (Nafeez Ahmed)

An extraordinary new Pentagon study has concluded that the US-backed international order established after World War 2 is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing”, leading the United States to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs. The solution proposed to protect US power in this new “post-primacy” environment is, however, more of the same: more surveillance, more propaganda (“strategic manipulation of perceptions”) and more military expansionism. The document concludes that the world has entered a fundamentally new phase of transformation in which US power is in decline, international order is unravelling, and the authority of governments everywhere is crumbling. Having lost its past status of “pre-eminence”, the US now inhabits a dangerous, unpredictable “post-primacy” world, whose defining feature is “resistance to authority”.

Danger comes not just from great power rivals like Russia and China, both portrayed as rapidly growing threats to American interests, but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events. These will erupt not just in the Middle East, but all over the world, potentially undermining trust in incumbent governments for the foreseeable future. The report, based on a year-long intensive research process involving consultation with key agencies across the Department of Defense and US Army, calls for the US government to invest in more surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” US military.

[..] Observing that US officials “naturally feel an obligation to preserve the US global position within a favorable international order,” the report concludes that this “rules-based global order that the United States built and sustained for 7 decades is under enormous stress.” The report provides a detailed breakdown of how the DoD perceives this order to be rapidly unravelling, with the Pentagon being increasingly outpaced by world events. Warning that “global events will happen faster than DoD is currently equipped to handle”, the study concludes that the US “can no longer count on the unassailable position of dominance, supremacy, or pre-eminence it enjoyed for the 20-plus years after the fall of the Soviet Union.” So weakened is US power, that it can no longer even “automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.”

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I can’t really do Bill Mitchell justice in this format, but the health care debate badly needs views such as his.

A Government Can Always Afford High-Quality Health Care Provision (BIlbo)

The US is the only advanced nation that lacks universal health care. Even though it is the world’s richest nation, millions of US citizens cannot afford to see a doctor much less acquire more complex health care (for example, surgery). It it clear that in seeking private profits, the private health care insurers drive up the cost of health care which means, in nominal terms, the proportion of GDP expenditure devoted to it will rise. It is quite obvious that when private profits are included costs will rise unless efficiency is vastly improved. The ‘free market (not!)’ lobby always appeal to arguments that competitive systems are always more effective. The Commonwealth Report shows emphatically that strong (dare we call them socialist) government-dominated universal care systems like the NHS are vastly more effective than the profit-driven US system.

There also doesn’t seem to be any reason for private insurance in health care at all. And it is here that we enounter the ‘funding’ myths. Too often health care debates get stuck in irrelevant fiscal arguments about whether the government can afford to expand and/or invest in health care. The justification for private insurance is usually predicated on these ‘governments cannot afford’ to pay for the system type arguments. They are fallacious of course. In the pursuit of profits, private health insurance providers have an incentive to move towards the US model where they seek to avoid payment and set up exclusions etc. There is no ‘funding’ reason for the existence of these private insurance providers. The NHS in the UK demonstrates that clearly.

There has clearly been a strong private health industry lobby to privatise as much of the health care system as possible in places like Australia and the UK, where there are good fully-funded public systems of universal health care operating. That lobby has been powerful in the US and continually claims there will be a fiscal blow out and Americans will live in high-taxed penury forever because some latinos or blacks are getting health care for the first time as a result of the Obama changes. From a MMT perspective, the fiscal component of the debate is irrelevant.

The fiscal beat-up is framed in terms of ‘adding heavy costs’ to the ‘budget’ such that their will be soaring deficits, which will penalise future generations etc etc. What is a heavy cost? What is a soaring deficit? These are irrelevant concepts devoid of meaning. Any sophisticated society will deem health care to be a human right. The constitution of the World Health Organisation says: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without the distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” The hallmark of a sophisticated nation is maximising the potential of its citizens. That must include placing health care under the responsibility of the currency-issuing government.

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Line of the day: “Some market observers have said that a weaker dollar can help to boost earnings of S&P 500 companies and eventually justify their high valuations.”

US Dollar Will Rebound In The Second Half Of 2017 – JPMorgan (CNBC)

The current weakness in the U.S. dollar may be short lived, as a pick-up in inflation and expected rate hikes by the Federal Reserve will support the greenback in the coming months, JPMorgan Asset Management said Wednesday. “We’re thinking that the dollar will actually rebound in the second half, and this is mainly as the markets re-price in interest rates hike. We’re of the view that inflation will actually be picking up in the U.S. and currently, markets have only priced in one rate hike now till end-2018,” Jasslyn Yeo, global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, told CNBC’s “Street Signs.” “So, we think (markets) are going to do a bit of re-pricing and that will support a bit of a rebound in the dollar,” she added.

The U.S. dollar tumbled to a 10-month low on Tuesday after the Republican health-care bill aimed at replacing Obamacare failed to get enough backing to proceed to a debate. Some market observers have said that a weaker dollar can help to boost earnings of S&P 500 companies and eventually justify their high valuations. But Yeo said equity markets outside the U.S., such as Europe and Japan, have more upside potential. Yeo noted that margins in Europe are starting to improve and that could translate into stronger earnings growth, while Japan is likely to benefit from a weaker yen versus the U.S. dollar. “We still like certain spots in the U.S. market. Currently we still favor U.S. banks, which we like in terms of rate hike expectations, bond yields moving higher as well as the promise for financial deregulation in the banking system,” she said.

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Sell it all off, who cares?

Foreigners Snap Up Record Number Of US Homes (CNBC)

Foreign purchases of U.S. residential real estate surged to the highest level ever in terms of number of homes sold and dollar volume. Foreign buyers closed on $153 billion worth of U.S. residential properties between April 2016 and March 2017, a 49% jump from the period a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. That surpasses the previous high, set in 2015. The jump follows a year-earlier retreat and comes as a surprise, given the current strength of the U.S. dollar against most foreign currencies, which makes U.S. housing even more expensive. Apparently, the value of a financial safe-haven is outweighing the rising costs. Foreign sales accounted for 10% of all existing home sales by dollar volume and 5% by number of properties. In total, foreign buyers purchased 284,455 homes, up 32% from the previous year.

Half of all foreign sales were in just three states: Florida, California and Texas. Chinese buyers led the pack for the fourth straight year, followed by buyers from Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico and India. Russian buyers made up barely 1% of the purchases. But the biggest overall surge in sales in the last year came from Canadian buyers, who scooped up $19 billion worth of properties, mostly in Florida. They are also spending more, with the average price of a Canadian-bought home nearly doubling to $561,000. “There are more [baby] boomers now than ever before. It’s the demographic,” said Elli Davis, a real estate agent in Toronto who said she is seeing more older buyers downsize their primary home and purchase a second or third home in Florida. “The real estate here is worth so much more money. They all have more money. They’re selling the big city houses that are now $2 million-plus, where they went up so much in the last 10 to 15 years, so they’re cashing in.”

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Noooo, that’s not late at all…

Big Australian Banks Told To Hold More Capital, On Notice Over Mortgages (R.)

Australia on Wednesday ordered the country’s biggest banks to raise capital for the second time in two years and signalled further action to shore up their burgeoning mortgage books, potentially squeezing shareholder returns. The banking regulator said it would release a discussion paper later this year to include risk weights on mortgages among other changes, in-line with expected rules due to be finalised by global regulators. The warning on mortgages came as it raised the target for the four major banks’ common equity Tier 1 ratio – a key gauge of a lender’s strength – to at least 10.5%. That translates into an average increase of 100 basis points above the banks’ December 2016 levels. They are expected to meet the new benchmarks by January 2020.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has now ordered the big banks to boost capital twice since 2015 as it seeks to make the sector impregnable to global shocks. Australia’s major lenders – Commonwealth Bank of Australia , Westpac Banking Corp, ANZ Banking Group and National Australia Bank – hold combined market share of more than 80%, raising fears their failure could fatally weaken the broader economy. “Capital levels that are unquestionably strong will undoubtedly equip the Australian banking sector to better handle adversity in the future and reduce the need for public sector support,” APRA Chairman Wayne Byres said in a statement.

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Inevitable result of property bubbles.

One Million Homes Left Empty Across Australia (SMH)

Australia has 200,000 more homes sitting empty than it had a decade ago, new figures show, despite the country grappling with a housing supply shortage that is pushing the cost of a first home beyond many of its residents. The figures from the 2016 census have been described as “cruel and immoral” by leading UNSW urban policy expert Hal Pawson, who has warned the government must act to stem the growth in unoccupied housing. “There is gross under-occupation across Australia,” Mr Pawson said, adding that there were up to a million homes with three or more extra bedrooms than the owner required. “There is a growing realisation that our housing market is not working well. It doesn’t just create a problem for people on low incomes, it also hurts spending in the economy when housing is overvalued.”

The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show up to 11.2% of properties are now unoccupied, up from 9.8% in 2006. In the space of two decades Australia has added 2.1 million homes to its property portfolio but an extra 360,000 are being left vacant. Separate analysis by the Grattan Institute, released on Monday, found the number of Australian home owners has been falling for three decades, with the spike in home ownership restricted to baby boomers. “Falling home ownership rates for younger Australians, especially 25 to 34-year-olds where home ownership rates are down 6% in the last decade alone, are just the latest evidence that the traditional Australian dream is slipping out of their reach,” said Grattan Institute fellow Brendan Coates.

[..] “The census showed empty property numbers up by 19% in Melbourne and 15% in Sydney over the past five years alone,” he said. “Considering that thousands of people sleep rough – almost 7000 on census night in 2011, more than 400 per night in Sydney in 2017 and that hundreds of thousands face overcrowded homes or unaffordable rents – these seem like cruel and immoral revelations.”

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Better not lose your phone. Or the government can’t seeyou anymore.

In Urban China, Nobody Uses Cash Or Cards Anymore (NYT)

There is an audacious economic experiment happening in China. It has nothing to do with debt, infrastructure spending or the other major economic topics du jour. It has to do with cash – specifically, how China is systematically and rapidly doing away with paper money and coins. Almost everyone in major Chinese cities is using a smartphone to pay for just about everything. At restaurants, a waiter will ask if you want to use WeChat or Alipay – the two smartphone payment options –before bringing up cash as a third, remote possibility. Just as startling is how quickly the transition has happened. Only three years ago there would be no question at all, because everyone was still using cash. “From a tech standpoint, this is probably one of the single most important innovations that has happened first in China, and at the moment it’s only in China,” says Richard Lim, managing director of the venture capital firm GSR Ventures.

There are certain parts of the Chinese internet that have to be seen to be believed. Coming from outside the country, it’s hard to comprehend that Facebook or Google can be completely blocked until you are forced to do without them. It’s tough to fathom how critical the messenger app WeChat is for everyday life until the sixth person of the day asks to scan your QR (quick response) code – a square-shaped barcode – to connect the two of you. What’s happening with cash in China is similar. For the past three years, I have been outside mainland China covering Asian technology from Hong Kong, which has a very different internet culture from the mainland. I knew that smartphone payments were taking over in China, as the statistics were stark: in 2016, China’s mobile payments hit £42 trillion ($5.5tn), roughly 50 times the size of America’s £860bn market, according to consulting firm iResearch.

[..] Some Scandinavian countries have also weaned themselves from cash but still use cards frequently. In China, the change has been to phones. One friend didn’t realise how reliant she had become on mobile payments until her bank called her. She had left her ATM card in the machine three weeks earlier and had not noticed its absence. In practical terms, this means that two Chinese companies – Tencent, which runs WeChat, and Alibaba, whose financial affiliate, Ant Financial, runs Alipay – are sitting atop a goldmine of staggering proportions. Both companies can make money off the transactions, charge other companies to use their payment platforms and all the while collect the payments data to be used in everything from new credit systems to advertising.

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My wild guess: it’s not going to happen.

Survivors Of 9/11 Urge May To Release Saudi Arabia Terror Report (Ind.)

Survivors of the 9/11 attacks have written to Prime Minister Theresa May – urging her to make public a British government report into the extent of Saudi Arabia’s funding of Islamist extremism in the UK. The report into the significance of the financing of Islamic extremists in Britain by Saudi Arabia and other nations was commissioned by Ms May’s predecessor, David Cameron, as part of a deal to obtain political support for a parliamentary vote on UK airstrikes on Syria. Last week, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the report was not being published “because of the volume of personal information it contains and for national security reasons”. Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas suggested the refusal to make public the report was linked to a reluctance to criticise the kingdom, with which Britain has long had close strategic and economic ties.

Now, a group representing US survivors of the 9/11 attacks and the relatives of some of the almost 3,000 people who died, has urged Ms May to seize the chance to release the report, even if it is not fully complete. “The UK now has the unique historic opportunity to stop the killing spree of Wahhabism-inspired terrorists by releasing the UK government’s report on terrorism financing in the UK which, according to media reports, places Saudi Arabia at its centre of culpability,” says the letter, signed by 15 people. “The longer Saudi Arabia’s complicity is hidden from sunlight, the longer terrorism will continue. They must be stopped; but who will stop them? We submit that you are uniquely situated to shine the cleansing light of public consciousness.” It adds: “We respectfully urge you to release the report now, finished or unfinished. We ask you to consider all the victims of state-sponsored, Saudi-financed terrorism, their families and their survivors in the UK and all over the world.”

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Completely insane. Lawless.

West Virginians Are Fighting To Save Their Neighbors From Opioids (NewYorker)

Michael Barrett and Jenna Mulligan, emergency paramedics in Berkeley County, West Virginia, recently got a call that sent them to the youth softball field in a tiny town called Hedgesville. It was the first practice of the season for the girls’ Little League team, and dusk was descending. Barrett and Mulligan drove past a clubhouse with a blue-and-yellow sign that read “Home of the Lady Eagles,” and stopped near a scrubby set of bleachers, where parents had gathered to watch their daughters bat and field. Two of the parents were lying on the ground, unconscious, several yards apart. As Barrett later recalled, the couple’s thirteen-year-old daughter was sitting behind a chain-link backstop with her teammates, who were hugging her and comforting her.

The couple’s younger children, aged ten and seven, were running back and forth between their parents, screaming, “Wake up! Wake up!” When Barrett and Mulligan knelt down to administer Narcan, a drug that reverses heroin overdoses, some of the other parents got angry. “You know, saying, ‘This is bullcrap,’ ” Barrett told me. “ ‘Why’s my kid gotta see this? Just let ’em lay there.’ After a few minutes, the couple began to groan as they revived. Adults ushered the younger kids away. From the other side of the backstop, the older kids asked Barrett if the parents had overdosed. “I was, like, ‘I’m not gonna say.’ The kids aren’t stupid. They know people don’t just pass out for no reason.” During the chaos, someone made a call to Child Protective Services.

At this stage of the American opioid epidemic, many addicts are collapsing in public—in gas stations, in restaurant bathrooms, in the aisles of big-box stores. Brian Costello, a former Army medic who is the director of the Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services, believes that more overdoses are occurring in this way because users figure that somebody will find them before they die. “To people who don’t have that addiction, that sounds crazy,” he said. “But, from a health-care provider’s standpoint, you say to yourself, ‘No, this is survival to them.’ They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die.”

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So?

This Isn’t the First US Opiate-Addiction Crisis (BBG)

The U.S. is in the throes of an “unprecedented opioid epidemic,” reports the Centers for Disease Control. The crisis has spurred calls for action to halt the rising death toll, which has devastated many rural communities. It’s true that there’s an opioid epidemic, a public health disaster. It’s not true that it’s unprecedented. A remarkably similar epidemic beset the U.S. some 150 years ago. The story of that earlier catastrophe offers some sobering lessons as to how to address the problem. Opioids are a broad class of drugs that relieve pain by acting directly on the central nervous system. They include substances such as morphine and its close cousin, heroin, both derived from the opium poppy. There are also synthetic versions, such as fentanyl, and medications that are derived from a mix of natural and synthetic sources, such as oxycodone.

Opioid addiction can take many forms, but the current crisis began with the use and abuse of legal painkillers in the 1990s, and has since metastasized into a larger epidemic, with heroin playing an especially outsized role. All of this is depressingly familiar. The first great U.S. opiate-addiction epidemic began much the same way, with medications handed out by well-meaning doctors who embraced a wondrous new class of drugs as the answer to a wide range of aches and pains. The pharmacologist Nathaniel Chapman, writing in 1817, held up opium as the most useful drug in the physician’s arsenal, arguing that there was “scarcely one morbid affection or disordered condition” that would fail to respond to its wonder-working powers. That same year, chemists devised a process for isolating a key alkaloid compound from raw opium: morphine.

Though there’s some evidence that opiate dependency had become a problem as early as the 1840s, it wasn’t until the 1860s and 1870s that addiction became a widespread phenomenon. The key, according to historian David Courtwright, was the widespread adoption of the hypodermic needle in the 1870s. Prior to this innovation, physicians administered opiates orally. During the Civil War, for example, doctors on the Union side administered 10 million opium pills and nearly three million ounces of opium powders and tinctures. Though some soldiers undoubtedly became junkies in the process, oral administration had all manner of unpleasant gastric side effects, limiting the appeal to potential addicts.

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The Koch brothers and the Fauxbel for economics.

A Despot In Disguise: One Man’s Mission To Rip Up Democracy (Monbiot)

In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch. Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses. James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare.

Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital. Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom. His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it. He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American south could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed privatising universities, and imposing full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism.

He urged privatisation of social security and many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government, and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy. In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse entirely. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982. None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, which through his devotee at Stockholm University Assar Lindbeck in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel memorial prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

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Well, it would create a ton of chaos…

Italy Mulls Temporary Humanitarian Visas For Migrants, Refugees (G.)

Italy has confirmed it is considering issuing temporary humanitarian visas that would allow tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived in the country from Libya to travel around the European Union. The move would provoke an immediate Austrian response, including the closure of the border with Italy at the Brenner Pass. The chances of Italy being able legally to grant unilateral humanitarian visas in this way is slight, but the threat is intended to concentrate minds in the EU after Italy failed to win clear practical support from Germany and France to take more people that have been arriving in increasing numbers from Libya.

The refugee crisis is putting growing political domestic pressure on the Democratic party (PD)-led government, with PD mayors refusing to take extra migrants and plans for legislation on citizenship being shelved at the weekend by the Italian prime minister, Paulo Gentiloni. In an interview with Il Manifesto, Mario Giro, the deputy foreign minister, said the government was looking at all options including the granting of temporary visas. Previously he had simply described the idea as speculation, and it had been dismissed by the interior minister. Giro said: “We are in a tug of war.” He said Italy wanted to avoid unilateral gestures, but was against the strict application of EU law which required migrants to remain in their first country of arrival.

“We don’t accept being turned into a European hotspot, or feeling guilty because we rescue people, so deciding what to do with the migrants who arrive is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. On Monday, the Italian foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, said the idea of humanitarian visas was not on the agenda. The EU high commissioner for external affairs, Federica Mogherini, insisted the issue was not discussed at the EU foreign affairs council meeting on Monday in Brussels. But the Italians are examining whether they could invoke the application of directive 2001/55, a measure approved following the Balkan wars, that allows the granting of humanitarian visas. It was too early to say when or how many such permits could be issued, Giro said, adding that the Italian authorities who received asylum requests already had the power to grant them.

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Jul 032017
 
 July 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Paul Klee Girl in Mourning 1939

 

Merkel Promises Full Employment In Party Platform (R.)
Theresa May Steps Back From Public Sector Pay Cap Amid Austerity Backlash (Ind.)
Donald Trump May Make ‘Sneak’ Visit To UK Within Fortnight (G.)
Maine, New Jersey Lawmakers Scramble To End Partial Government Shutdowns (R.)
Illinois House Approves Major Income Tax Hike (CTrib)
China Inc’s $7.8 Billion of Dividend Payments Will Stress the Yuan (BBG)
Japan PM Abe’s Party Suffers Historic Defeat In Tokyo Election (R.)
Abe’s Mentor Says BOJ Needs Fresh Face as Kuroda Is Out of Ideas (BBG)
Saudi Arabia, Allies Give Qatar Two More Days To Accept Demands (R.)
The Crash of 1929 (Jesse’s Café/PBS)
Italy Urges EU Ports To Take Migrants As Pressure Builds (AFP)
‘Our Future Is Slavery, The West Gets Everything’ – Congo (RT)

 

 

Note: tomorrow’s a travel day for me. Not sure about a Debt Rattle.

 

 

Plus tax relief. Plus support for young families to build new housing. Now compare that to Greece, where over half of young people are unemployed, and where taxes are being raised all the time and pensions cut. That, too, is a German decision. But Greeks don’t get to vote for or against Merkel.

Merkel Promises Full Employment In Party Platform (R.)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives will promise to all but eliminate unemployment in Germany by the year 2025 when they announce their 2017 election campaign platform on Monday. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), will present their platform for the Sept. 24 election on Monday with other already known policies such as income tax cuts worth 15 billion euros per year and promises to build flats. “A major point is that we’d like to achieve full employment,” Horst Seehofer, CSU chairman and state premier in Bavaria, said on Sunday on his way into a meeting of the conservative leadership. The CDU/CSU consider full employment to be a jobless rate of less than 3% – compared to 5.5% now.

Those “Economic Miracle” levels of unemployment have not been seen in the country since the mid-1970s. The two parties also want to add 15,000 police officers in the 16 federal states. The sister parties, however, will not agree on a joint position on refugees. The CSU wants an upper limit of 200,000 per year, which Merkel and the CDU rejects. “We agree to disagree on that,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) said in a Bild am Sonntag newspaper interview, referring to the issue that split the two parties badly since some 1 million refugees arrived in late 2015. The CDU/CSU hold a 16%age point lead over the center-left Social Democrats in opinion polls with a 40-24 lead, but would still need a coalition partner. They rule with the SPD and in the past they have ruled with the Free Democrats (FDP).

[..] Earlier on Sunday, CDU Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a radio interview there could be room to cut taxes by more than the €15 billion already announced. Germany has had balanced budgets since 2014 and the government plans to have no new borrowing in its planning through 2021. Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk radio he hoped there could be tax relief beyond that already promised €15 billion income tax cut. “We’re planning, all in all, to do more than just correcting the income taxes by €15 billion,” he said, referring to plans to reduce the country’s “cold progression” tax increases – or clandestine tax increases. [..] Schaeuble said aside from fighting “cold progression”, the Christian Democrats want to support young families to build new housing while also supporting research and development for small- to medium-sized companies.

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Messing it up as they go along.

Theresa May Steps Back From Public Sector Pay Cap Amid Austerity Backlash (Ind.)

Tory austerity appeared to be crumbling at the edges today, as Theresa May further distanced herself from a hated public sector pay freeze. Downing Street said the Government would consider potential wage increases for nurses, police officers and firefighters on a “case by case” basis after a string of top cabinet ministers signalled backing for an end to the blanket 1 per cent cap on all public servants. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the Government should now listen to the recommendations of salary review bodies ignored by ministers for almost ten years. Education Secretary Justine Greening and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are also both reported to be pushing for new deals for teachers and nurses. The Independent reported last week how the Government faced a first ever strike from the Royal College of Nursing over a crisis in the profession.

There has also been mounting pressure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour – whose party fought a successful election campaign on an anti-austerity message. A Downing Street spokesman defended the Government’s record, but pointed to potential changes ahead. He said: “Dealing with the economic mess we inherited from Labour has meant hard work and sacrifice, including for public sector workers. That hard work and those tough decisions have helped get our deficit down by three quarters, and public sector pay restraint has helped us protect jobs. “Independent public sector pay review bodies are currently reporting to Government and we are responding to them on a case-by-case basis. While we understand the sacrifice that has been made, we must also ensure we continue to protect jobs and deal with our debts.”

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What is the Queen would be received like this?:

“MPs and trade unions vowed to hold the largest demonstrations in UK history if Donald Trump made a state visit to the UK..”

Donald Trump May Make ‘Sneak’ Visit To UK Within Fortnight (G.)

Anti-Donald Trump protesters are preparing to spring into action at short notice, after it emerged that Downing Street is braced for a snap visit from the US president in the next two weeks. A formal state visit, which was expected to take place over the summer, was postponed last month, amid fears that it could be disrupted by mass protests, despite Theresa May extending the invitation personally when she visited the White House late last year. But Whitehall sources confirmed the government has now been warned that the president could visit Turnberry, his golf resort in Scotland, during his trip to Europe, between attending the G20 summit in Hamburg next weekend and joining celebrations for Bastille Day in France on 14 July.

Trump would be expected to come to Downing Street to meet the prime minister for informal talks as part of any such visit – though final confirmation would be likely to be given with just 24 hours’ notice, to minimise the risk of disruption. May invited Trump to Britain seven days after his inauguration when she became the first foreign leader to visit him in the White House. In February activists, MPs and trade unions vowed to hold the largest demonstrations in UK history if Donald Trump made a state visit to the UK, forming The Stop Trump coalition, even hiring a permanent staff member. In early June, just after the UK general election, it emerged that the US president had told May that he did not want to go ahead with the state visit to Britain until the British public supports his coming, fearing large-scale demonstrations.

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How about you borrow some more, guys? Or, you know, come clean and tell people their pensions are shot.

Maine, New Jersey Lawmakers Scramble To End Partial Government Shutdowns (R.)

Partial government shutdowns in Maine and New Jersey entered a second day on Sunday as lawmakers returned to their respective state capitals in a bid to break budget impasses that have led to the suspension of many nonessential services. In Maine, a bipartisan legislative committee met in Augusta in hopes of breaking a stalemate between Republican Governor Paul LePage and Democratic lawmakers. The shutdown came after LePage threatened to veto a compromise reached by lawmakers in the state’s $7.055 billion, two-year budget. In New Jersey, the legislature was due to reconvene to resolve a political fight over a controversial bill that Governor Chris Christie said must be passed alongside the state’s budget.

After House Republicans in Maine voted to reject a compromise deal on Saturday, the Bangor Daily News reported that Republican Minority Leader Ken Fredette presented a $7.1 billion plan he said could get the governor’s approval, but some Democrats noted that was costlier than the rejected compromise. “The Speaker thinks it is unconscionable that Maine doesn’t have a budget, especially leading into the holiday weekend,” Mary-Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon, said Sunday morning. If the budget committee meeting on Sunday in Augusta agrees on a deal, the measure would go to the full legislature. LePage has insisted on a budget with deeper spending cuts than those contemplated by lawmakers and has promised to veto any spending plan that raises taxes.

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Sign of things to come.

Illinois House Approves Major Income Tax Hike (CTrib)

The Illinois House on Sunday approved a major income tax increase as more than a dozen Republicans broke ranks with Gov. Bruce Rauner amid the intense pressure of a budget impasse that’s entered its third year. The Republican governor immediately vowed to veto the measure, saying Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan was “protecting the special interests and refusing to reform the status quo.” The measure, which needed 71 votes to pass and got 72, is designed to start digging the state out of a morass left by the lengthy stalemate. Madigan, in a statement, praised the action as “a crucial step toward reaching a compromise that ends the budget crisis by passing a fully funded state budget in a bipartisan way.”

The tax hike now heads to the Senate, but whether there will be enough votes to send it to Rauner’s desk is in question. When the Senate approved its own tax hike in late May, no Republicans voted for it and several Democrats voted against it. Senators return to the Capitol on Monday. The crucial vote in the House was the big story Sunday, though. Ultimately, pressure that had built up in districts across the state moved enough Republicans to defy the governor. With state government operating without a budget for two full years, public universities risk losing their accreditation, social service providers are closing their doors and layoffs of road construction workers are imminent.

Adding to lawmakers’ anxiety was a promised downgrade of the state’s credit rating to junk status, which could spike the cost of borrowing at a time when the state has $15 billion in unpaid bills. Left out of the House budget package was a plan for dealing with the unpaid bills, though both sides generally agree that some amount of borrowing will be needed. Rauner, a former private equity specialist from Winnetka, had spent tens of millions of dollars on legislative campaigns and TV ads to prop up the Illinois Republican Party as a counterweight to Madigan and his labor union allies. And Republican lawmakers largely had stuck by their governor — until Sunday. [..] The proposal mirrors a plan the Senate passed earlier this year and calls for raising the personal income tax rate from the current 3.75% to 4.95%, which would generate roughly $4.3 billion. An increase in the corporate income tax rate from 5.25% to 7% would bring in another $460 million.

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Bearish on the dollar? You sure?

China Inc’s $7.8 Billion of Dividend Payments Will Stress the Yuan (BBG)

The yuan’s rebound may be undermined by a seasonal hunt for dollars as Chinese companies prepare to pay dividends to shareholders overseas. Demand for the greenback and other currencies will peak at $7.8 billion in July, a substantial sum considering that local lenders settled an average of $11.8 billion in foreign-exchange for clients in the first five months of 2017. China’s currency reserves have shrunk every July in the last three years, with former regulator Guan Tao saying last week that demand for foreign-exchange surges in this period. China’s exchange rate has turned more volatile in the past two months, climbing the most in more than a year in May and then declining in June before suspected central bank intervention spurred a rally.

Goldman Sachs warned capital outflows have picked up, while recent data suggest the economy is showing signs of slowing as an official deleveraging drive crimps spending. “The need for dividend payouts will pressure the yuan and may pressure a recent increase in China’s foreign reserves,” said Xia Le at BBVA. “The yuan’s advance in the past few days is not sustainable – short-term factors such as dividend payments and long-term ones like capital outflows will work together to push the currency weaker in the coming months.” Offshore-listed Chinese firms need to pay a combined $16 billion of dividends in foreign exchange in the three months through August. That includes $2.4 billion in June and $5.9 billion for August.

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Abe will shuffle his cabinet to deflect attention from himself. But he’s in trouble.

Japan PM Abe’s Party Suffers Historic Defeat In Tokyo Election (R.)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party suffered an historic defeat in an election in the Japanese capital on Sunday, signaling trouble ahead for the premier, who has suffered from slumping support because of a favoritism scandal. On the surface, the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election was a referendum on Governor Yuriko Koike’s year in office, but the dismal showing for Abe’s party is also a stinging rebuke of his 4-1/2-year-old administration. Koike’s Tokyo Citizens First party and its allies took 79 seats in the 127-seat assembly. The LDP won a mere 23, its worst-ever results, compared with 57 before the election. “We must recognize this as an historic defeat,” former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba was quoted as saying by NHK.

“Rather than a victory for Tokyo Citizens First, this is a defeat for the LDP,” said Ishiba, who is widely seen as an Abe rival within the ruling party. Past Tokyo elections have been bellwethers for national trends. A 2009 Tokyo poll in which the LDP won just 38 seats was followed by its defeat in a general election that year, although this time no lower house poll need be held until late 2018. [..] “We must accept the results humbly,” said Hakubun Shimomura, a close Abe ally and head of the LDP’s Tokyo chapter. “The voters have handed down an extremely severe verdict.” Abe is expected to reshuffle his cabinet in coming months in an effort to repair his damaged ratings, a step often taken by beleaguered leaders but one that can backfire if novice ministers become embroiled in scandals or commit gaffes.

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If Kuroda’s out of ideas, that means Abenomics has failed. And that in turn means Abe should go too.

Abe’s Mentor Says BOJ Needs Fresh Face as Kuroda Is Out of Ideas (BBG)

Haruhiko Kuroda shouldn’t serve another term as governor of the Bank of Japan because the central bank will need fresh ideas as it moves toward exiting years of unprecedented monetary easing, according to an adviser to the prime minister. “An exit will surely come up within the next five years and we need someone who can prepare for it,” said Nobuyuki Nakahara, a former BOJ board member. “He will fall into inertia and struggle to come up with bold new ideas. It’s the same in the private sector when a corporate president stays too long,” he said. Nakahara’s comments come amid growing speculation among private economists that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will reappoint Kuroda, 72, after his five-year term ends in April.

Nakahara, who was close to Abe’s father, Shintaro, has known the prime minister since he was young and has advised him for years. In an interview on June 29, Nakahara, one of the architects of Abenomics, said he didn’t have any replacements for Kuroda in mind. But he said change at the top of the BOJ would be good because the government and central bank should strike a new accord and form a new strategy for the next five years. The current accord, issued in January 2013, says the central bank should aim for price stability at an annual inflation rate of 2%, while the government is responsible for strengthening competitiveness and the nation’s growth potential. More than four years later, the inflation target remains far off.

[..] Kuroda’s propensity to surprise markets with innovative ideas has been waning, according to Nakahara. And the strains of his record easing are particularly evident in the bank’s purchases of exchange-traded funds, which are distorting the market, he said. “They can’t keep holding ETFs forever,” he said. Nakahara offered a possible solution. How about getting companies to buy back their own shares from the BOJ? Or the BOJ could tell companies it plans to sell the shares on the market. If the companies need funding for share buybacks, the central bank could help with a loan-support program. “That’s my secret strategy,” he said.

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Really, close Al Jazeera? What an awful signal that would be. Why not close CNN then?!

Saudi Arabia, Allies Give Qatar Two More Days To Accept Demands (R.)

Four Arab states that accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism agreed to extend until Tuesday a deadline for Doha to comply with a list of demands, as U.S. President Donald Trump voiced concerns about the dispute to both sides. Qatar has called the charges baseless and says the stiff demands – including closing Qatar-based al Jazeera TV and ejecting Turkish troops based there – are so draconian that they appear designed to be rejected. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have raised the possibility of further sanctions against Qatar if it does not comply with the 13 demands presented to Doha through mediator Kuwait. They have not specified what further sanctions they could impose on Doha, but commercial bankers in the region believe that Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini banks might receive official guidance to pull deposits and interbank loans from Qatar.

According to a joint statement on Saudi state news agency SPA, the four countries agreed to a request by Kuwait to extend by 48 hours Sunday’s deadline for compliance. Foreign ministers from the four countries will meet in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss Qatar, Egypt said on Sunday. Kuwait state media said its Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah had received a response by Qatar to the demands. It did not elaborate. The four states cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism, meddling in their internal affairs and cosying up to regional adversary Iran, all of which Qatar denies. Mediation efforts, including by the United States, have been fruitless. Trump spoke separately to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE to discuss his “concerns about the ongoing dispute”, the White House said.

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For history buffs.

The Crash of 1929 (Jesse’s Café/PBS)

“…people believed that everything was going to be great always, always. There was a feeling of optimism in the air that you cannot even describe today.” “There was great hope. America came out of World War I with the economy intact. We were the only strong country in the world. The dollar was king. We had a very popular president in the middle of the decade, Calvin Coolidge, and an even more popular one elected in 1928, Herbert Hoover. So things looked pretty good.” “The economy was changing in this new America. It was the dawn of the consumer revolution. New inventions, mass marketing, factories turning out amazing products like radios, rayon, air conditioners, underarm deodorant…One of the most wondrous inventions of the age was consumer credit. Before 1920, the average worker couldn’t borrow money. By 1929, “buy now, pay later” had become a way of life.”

“Wall Street got the credit for this prosperity and Wall Street was dominated by just a small group of wealthy men. Rarely in the history of this nation had so much raw power been concentrated in the hands of a few businessmen…” “One of the most common tactics was to manipulate the price of a particular stock, a stock like Radio Corporation of America…Wealthy investors would pool their money in a secret agreement to buy a stock, inflate its price and then sell it to an unsuspecting public. Most stocks in the 1920s were regularly manipulated by insiders ” “I would say that practically all the financial journals were on the take. This includes reporters for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Herald-Tribune, you name it. So if you were a pool operator, you’d call your friend at The Times and say, “Look, Charlie, there’s an envelope waiting for you here and we think that perhaps you should write something nice about RCA.”

And Charlie would write something nice about RCA. A publicity man called A. Newton Plummer had canceled checks from practically every major journalist in New York City… Then, they would begin to — what was called “painting the tape” and they would make the stock look exciting. They would trade among themselves and you’d see these big prints on RCA and people will say, “Oh, it looks as though that stock is being accumulated. Now, if they are behind it, you want to join them, so you go out and you buy stock also. Now, what’s happening is the stock goes from 10 to 15 to 20 and now, it’s at 20 and you start buying, other people start buying at 30, 40. The original group, the pool, they’ve stopped buying. They’re selling you the stock. It’s now 50 and they’re out of it. And what happens, of course, is the stock collapses.”

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Prediction: the EU will offer more money. They simply don’t understand that some things are not about money.

Italy Urges EU Ports To Take Migrants As Pressure Builds (AFP)

The French and German interior ministers met with their Italian counterpart Marco Minniti in Paris on Sunday to discuss a “coordinated response” to Italy’s migrant crisis, hours after Minniti had called on other European countries to open their ports to rescue ships. The working dinner at the French interior ministry – also attended by EU Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos – was aimed at finding “a coordinated and concerted response to the migrant flux in the central Mediterranean (route) and see how to better help the Italians,” a source close the talks said. The four-way talks between Minniti, Thomas de Maiziere of Germany, Gerard Collomb of France and Avramopoulos will also prepare them for EU talks in Tallinn this week. “The talks went off very well,” a member of the Italian delegation told AFP after the Paris meeting, with the “Italian proposals being discussed”.

“We are under enormous pressure,” Minniti had said earlier Sunday in an interview with Il Messaggero. With arrivals in Italy up nearly 19% over the same period last year, Rome has threatened to close its ports to privately-funded aid boats or insist that funding be cut to EU countries which fail to help. “There are NGO ships, Sophia and Frontex boats, Italian coast guard vessels” saving migrants i the Mediterranean, Minniti said, referring to the aid boats as well as vessels deployed under EU border security missions. “They are sailing under the flags of various European countries. If the only ports where refugees are taken to are Italian, something is not working. This is the heart of the question,” he said. “I am a europhile and I would be proud if even one vessel, instead of arriving in Italy, went to another European port. It would not resolve Italy’s problem, but it would be an extraordinary signal” of support, he said.

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I’ve often said that the Congo is perhaps richer in resources than any other country. It should be prosperous, but instead it ranks 227th out of 230 countries for GDP per capita. That’s our doing.

From July 5, see documentary at https://rtd.rt.com/films/congo-my-precious/

‘Our Future Is Slavery, The West Gets Everything’ – Congo (RT)

RT Documentary travels to the vast, landlocked Democratic Republic of Congo, prized for its mineral resources, but plagued by centuries of colonial rule, dictatorship, civil wars and lawlessness, and meets people trying to make a living in one of the most desperate places on Earth. The documentary crew’s key to understanding the country, seven times the size of Germany, was Bernard Kalume Buleri, born in 1960, the same year DRC was granted its independence from Belgium. Buleri served as an interpreter, guide, and finally the hero and symbol of the country, having been a direct participant in some of its bloodiest chapters. “I can’t say that the Congolese, we are in control of our destiny. No, because the ones who benefit from our minerals are not the local population, but Western countries are the ones who are taking everything.

They make themselves rich, while we are getting poorer and poorer,” says Buleri. The country of almost 80 million is one of the world’s largest exporters of diamonds, coltan – essential for electronics – and has massive deposits of copper, tin and cobalt. “I’m afraid even for my children. Because they will continue in this system to be slaves forever. We’ll never be powerful enough to challenge the Western countries. So, the future will be the future of slaves,” Buleri continues. There is plenty of blame to go around for the predicament of what is also a fertile and scenic land. With almost no educated elite, DRC was poorly-prepared for its separation from Belgian rule, now best remembered for the atrocity-filled reign of King Leopold II, which may have killed as many as half of the country’s population.

The vacuum was filled by the archetype-setting African kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country for more than three decades, until he was deposed in 1997, plunging Africa into a series of continent-wide conflicts that may have resulted in as many as 5 million deaths through violence, starvation and disease. The country’s below-ground wealth means that it was never left alone for long enough to reform and wean itself off its reliance on metals and gems – the widely-mentioned “mineral curse.” The mines the RT crew passes are now owned by local warlords, chiefs and officials, with exports mostly going to China. [..] Millions of locals – perhaps as many as one-fifth of the adult population – are employed in what is known as artisanal mining, inefficient small-scale prospecting with simple handheld tools, with no safety measures or guaranteed wages. But for a country that ranks 227th out of 230 for GDP per capita, according to World Bank data, any job at all is a matter of survival.

Read more …

Apr 182017
 
 April 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Albrecht Dürer Study of the left hand of an apostle (for the Heller Altar) c.1508

 

Trump’s Next Big Policy Reversal Could Be On The TPP (CNBC)
Strong Dollar Could Cause Bond Market Crash – Martin Armstrong (USAW)
Stocks, Bonds Diverge Over Trump Tax Reform, Stimulus Odds (CNBC)
We’re Borrowing Our Way to Economic Disaster – Stockman (DR)
BMO Bundles Uninsured Mortgages in a Canadian Bond First
UK Will Never Build Enough Homes To Keep Prices Down (Tel.)
Greek Insurance Company Can Become a Weapon for China in Europe (GR)
Greek Debt Must Be Sustainable For IMF To Join Bailout – Lagarde (R.)
Taxation is Theft (Napolitano)
Is America’s Alliance with Turkey Doomed? (SCF)
Erdogan Says He Doesn’t Care What Europe Thinks About Turkey’s Vote (BBG)
Opening Of UN Files On Holocaust Will ‘Rewrite Chapters Of History’ (G.)
Critically Endangered Species Poached In World’s Protected Natural Sites (AFP)
At Least 8,500 Migrants Rescued From Mediterranean In Three Days (CNN)

 

 

And why not? He flip-flopped 5 times in one day last week, and his popularity rose.

Trump’s Next Big Policy Reversal Could Be On The TPP (CNBC)

From NATO to health care, President Donald Trump has evidenced he is comfortable making major policy flip-flops. His most recent reversal came last week, when a U.S. Treasury report declined to name China as a currency manipulator despite Trump’s repeated promises to formally accuse Beijing — a signature pledge during his campaign trail. So, what could Trump backtrack on next? One analyst said he hopes it will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the world’s largest trade deal that Trump withdrew from in January on the claim that it would hurt U.S. manufacturing. “Whoever thought that Trump would let China, a rival, off the hook on currency? If he can do that with a country that’s clearly not a friend, maybe he could reconsider reversing himself on TPP for a friend like Japan,” Sean King, senior vice president of Park Strategies, told CNBC on Tuesday.

Japan was set to be a major beneficiary of TPP, particularly the country’s auto sector that would have obtained cheaper access to U.S. markets. Tokyo, which has long lamented the trade pact would be “meaningless” without the U.S., has decided to forge ahead with the other remaining 10 participating nations to revive the deal but many are doubtful of whether the TPP will be a game-changer in Washington’s absence. Trump still has time to change his mind on TPP, King warned, noting that the treaty text remains valid until February 2018. “Trump said [TPP] was a disaster, but I’m sure the other members would be willing to make concessions to get the U.S. back in, just like South Korea was willing to make concessions to Obama for his endorsement of the U.S.-Korea [free trade agreement],” King said. “He’s certainly made greater reversals and claimed victory. Why not do this for our friends who want to stand with us against countries like China and North Korea? I’m all for it.”

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“There is no place to go but the dollar at this point.” “..you don’t collapse the core economy. It’s always the peripheral coming in.”

Strong Dollar Could Cause Bond Market Crash – Martin Armstrong (USAW)

Renowned financial expert Martin Armstrong says the biggest risk out there is the effect a strong U.S. dollar has on the global bond market. Armstrong explains, “There’s these people who keep saying the dollar is going to crash. If the dollar crashes, the world is happier and basically celebrating. You have half the U.S. debt equivalent in emerging market debt issued in dollars. If the dollar goes up, they are in trouble. Then you are going to see sovereign defaults .. The U.S. is not going to default, but as you start defaults elsewhere outside the country, it makes people begin to get concerned about sovereign debt. Sovereign debt is the worst of all. It’s not secured. If the U.S. government defaulted on its debt, what would happen? You cannot go down to the National Gallery and start lifting Picassos.”

So, a bond market crash is a distinct possibility? Armstrong says, “Yes. All these things are contagions .. The real risk is coming from Europe and Asia. That is the real risk .. There is no place to go but the dollar at this point.” If and when a global collapse comes, it will come from China or Europe. Armstrong says, “Yes, because you don’t collapse the core economy. It’s always the peripheral coming in. It was the same thing in the Great Depression. It wasn’t the fact that the U.S. defaulted. The problem was the first bank that went down was in Austria, and it happened to be owned in part by the Rothschilds. When people hear a bank owned by the Rothschilds went down, people started to sell off all other banks. Then all the countries defaulted.”

Armstrong says there is going to be a major “monetary reform” in the not so distant future, and the U.S. will end up with a dollar for domestic use and a dollar used for international trade, sort of like a “domestic dollar” and an “international trade dollar.” Armstrong says, “Yes. All it is doing is replacing the dollar as the reserve currency. That would satisfy China and Russia, and it would simply be maintained by an international board. I strongly advise against the IMF. It’s way, way too corrupt.” So, is gold a good asset to have with a coming currency reset? Armstrong says, “Yes, at that point, you are talking about a hedge against government. When you go through these monetary crises, effectively, all tangible assets rise in price, not just gold and silver. . . .

Tangible assets have a value to everybody globally. The downside is on real estate. I would never put 100% of my money in real estate because it is not moveable.” Fast-forward to now, and Armstrong predicts, “The economy is not going to come back. We are not going to see economic growth.” Where is all this taking the world? Armstrong, who is an expert on economic and political cycles, says, “You have to understand what makes war even take place? It does not unfold when everybody is fat and happy. Simple as that. You turn the economy down, and that’s when you get war. It’s the way politics works.”

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Are bonds the lesser bubble then?

Stocks, Bonds Diverge Over Trump Tax Reform, Stimulus Odds (CNBC)

Optimism that the Trump administration will be able to drive through a hefty pro-growth plan or tax package this year is fading by the day. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday became the latest official to dial back expectations for a time table that included a tax plan by August. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mnuchin said getting tax reform by August was an “aggressive timeline” and would probably be delayed because of health care. In the bond market, there was little surprise. Bond yields, which move inversely to prices, have been falling for weeks as traders have become more skeptical that Washington will adopt any pro-growth policy this year. Stocks, meanwhile, have traded side ways recently, and the S&P 500 is still up 10% since election day, boosted by hope of fiscal stimulus and tax cuts.

Mnuchin’s remarks did not surprise markets, and, in fact, stocks rallied hard based on his comments that Treasury is looking at ways to raise funds to pay for the tax plan without the controversial border-adjustment tax. “That’s exactly why the [stock] market rallied. People hate the border-adjustment tax,” said Peter Boockvar at Lindsey Group. The tax is part of the Congressional tax reform plan and would slap a 20% tax on all imports but not tax exports. Opponents claim it could cause inflation and penalize consumers, while proponents say it would encourage more manufacturing in the U.S. and level the playing field for U.S. companies. The market was not surprised by the push back in the timeline for tax reform, since President Trump last week said health care would come ahead of taxes. Ever since Congress failed to vote on health care in March, the market has become increasingly doubtful a tax plan would get done any time soon.

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“Donald Trump is a tourist in the Imperial City of Washington D.C. He’s flipping, flopping and making it up as he goes.”

We’re Borrowing Our Way to Economic Disaster – Stockman (DR)

David Stockman joined the Fox Business and the show Mornings with Maria to discuss the tax reform highlights for the current White House and GOP platform and what he views as a real threat of economic disaster in the U.S. During the discussion Stockman highlights what to expect from a border adjustment tax possibility, the creation of jobs and the impact on Wall Street in the age of Donald Trump. Stockman takes to point the cause of tax reform in the current White House. He begins the segment noting, “I think the border adjustment tax will come out of the retailers margin – and it should. We do need revenue. We need to have a consumption tax, or a value added tax or a border adjustment tax – so that we may reduce taxation on wages and income. We desperately need more jobs in this country.

If you keep taxing the payroll at 15.5%, which we’re doing today, you’re not going to encourage the creation of jobs. You’re going to take what jobs there are and impact the take-home pay of those jobs.” David Stockman was then asked about his read on Donald Trump’s border tax proposals and the possibility of what the President described as a ‘reciprocal tax.’ “He has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s making it up as he goes along. Donald Trump is a tourist in the Imperial City of Washington D.C. He’s flipping, flopping and making it up as he goes.” “The border adjustment tax, or a value added tax is the way to get at the problem he’s talking about. Every other country in the world has a value added tax. You take it off the exports and put it on the imports. There is a proper way to do it and he ought to allow the republicans on the hill who understand that to move forward.

The idea that we can have a multi-trillion dollar tax cut and not pay for it with new revenue or spending cuts is dangerous. We are at $20 trillion in debt and it is headed to $30 trillion.” When asked about the pragmatic nature of a border adjustment tax, Stockman pressed “I think it’s basic math. If you want to cut the corporate tax rate to 20%, which I think would be wonderful, you’ve got to raise $2 trillion over the next ten years to pay for it. Where are you going to get the money? Are you going to close loopholes? I doubt that. The lobby effort will kill that. You need a new revenue source. If you don’t do that you’re stuck with the current tax system. You’re stuck with massive deficits that are going to kill this country. We are basically borrowing our way to economic disaster.”

[..] We are so “deep in the soup” debt wise and have such a massive, and building deficit that you have to have revenue neutral tax cuts. The border adjustment tax is dead. Without that you are not going to reduce the corporate tax rate down to 20% or 15%, etc.” “The Trump reflation fantasy is over. It is all downhill from here. The market it heading down 20 to 30% down, the 1600 on the S&P. We’re going to have negative shock after negative shock. It is about time they sober up. On April 28th the U.S government is going to shut down. That will be spring training on the continuing resolution until we get to MOAD in the summer.”

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Never been tried before.

BMO Bundles Uninsured Mortgages in a Canadian Bond First

Bank of Montreal is bundling uninsured residential mortgages into bonds in what could be the start of a new financing market for Canadian banks as the government scales back its support for home loans. The Toronto-based lender is planning to sell debt backed by nearly C$2 billion ($1.5 billion) of prime uninsured mortgages. That’s a new development in a country where big banks have historically packaged government-insured mortgages into bonds. If the Bank of Montreal deal is successful, other Canadian banks may follow its lead, providing banks with more financing to keep making mortgages, said Marc Goldfried, CIO at Canoe Financial. The net result may be that housing prices in Canada keep rising. “Right now the banks don’t have any other way to fund it, so there’s probably some form of internal limit on this kind of mortgage financing they’ll do,” Goldfried said by phone from Toronto.

But the Bank of Montreal deal may find headwinds, said Paul Gardner, partner and portfolio manager at Avenue Investment. Canada last year tightened access to the federal insurance to help tamp down rapid home price growth in areas like Toronto and Vancouver. The federal government or Ontario could craft more legislation to cool the housing market, Gardner said. The province’s finance minister is considering a foreign-buyers tax like the one that helped cool home prices in Vancouver. Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau, Ontario finance minister Charles Sousa, and Mayor John Tory are meeting in Toronto Tuesday to discuss the housing market in the Greater Toronto Area. “Residential mortgages, my God, it’s the last thing you want to invest in right now,” Gardner said by phone from Toronto. “When the capital markets are flush with cash, it makes sense that they would try at least to issue this stuff.”

[..] The bank will offer to renew the mortgage loans at the end of their term if the borrower is not in default, and if the borrowers satisfies the bank’s underwriting criteria at the time, which mitigates some of the risk of borrowers not being able to refinance. Canadian mortgage loans generally have a five-year term, and borrowers pay down their principal at a 25-to-30-year pace meaning they usually have to refinance a significant portion of their loan every five years.

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Oh boy. If these are the kind of people you rely on for advice, you’re in trouble.

UK Will Never Build Enough Homes To Keep Prices Down (Tel.)

Britain will never build enough houses to make property affordable for young people, according to research. A study presented to the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference said those hoping to get on the ladder may have to rely on windows of opportunity created by periodic slumps in the market. However, the overall trend will remain for residential property price rises to outpace salary growth, according to economists at the University of Reading. “The increases in housing supply required to improve affordability have to be very large and long-lasting; the step change would need to be much larger than has ever been experienced before on a permanent basis,” said Geoffrey Meen, Alexander Mihailov and Yehui Wang. The government has discussed moves to increase the supply of homes but the changes are on far too small a scale to act as a brake on price rises.

House prices in the UK stood at an average of £217,500 according to the Office for National Statistics. That is 7.7-times the average full-time salary in the UK of £28,200. By contrast in 2005 the average home cost £150,500, approximately 6.5-times the then-average full time salary of £22,888. Former Bank of England policymaker Kate Barker believes the country needs an additional 60,000 homes per year on top of those already being built. But the new paper argues there is little chance of this happening. “Although higher levels of house building are certainly desirable, the paper shows that there is a limit to what can be achieved by this route,” the report found. “The required increase in supply to stabilise the price to income ratio … is not feasible – permanent increases in construction would be required that have never been achieved in history.”

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The risks of garage-selling an entire country.

Greek Insurance Company Can Become a Weapon for China in Europe (GR)

It is no secret that the Chinese see Greece as a country that could help them get their foot (and saying) in the European Union. In GreekReporter’s recent documentary Athens Chinatown, it is the Cosco managing director in Greece who says the mediterranean country offers a strategic location and it was this factor that attracted Cosco to take over the Greek port of Piraeus. Furthermore, the editor of China-Greece times also states that the Chinese “see Greece as the gate to Europe.” The past few years, silently, China has looked into many Greek investments. After acquiring the Greek Port of Piraeus, now three Chinese companies are bidding for Greece’s biggest private insurer, Ethniki Asfalistiki. However what looks like a simple bidding, could possibly be of great importance to the future of Greece.

Established in 1891, Ethini Asfalistiki has invaluable contribution to the Greek economy for over a century. It is the largest insurance company in the country with total premiums of over €440 million and 18% market share, while it is in cooperation with the banking network for the sale of bank assurance products, provides access to a broad distribution network of about 500 offices. The estimated earnings for 2016 are €52 million. Ethniki Asfalistiki is also a sister company of Greece’s Ethniki Bank (National Bank), one of Greece’s four systemic banks. Whoever gets this bid will most likely acquire the bank as well. At the same time, another Chinese group has shown interest for Piraeus Bank. If they manage to close that deal then two out of Greece’s four main banks will be controlled by the Chinese. Eventually they will be able to have an important saying in the country’s economy, and maybe that’s what they are aiming for.

While the Chinese have done serious investments in Greece, this one, in combination with everything else they control can become a decisive factor on how much of a saying does Greece want the Chinese to have on the country’s future. Letting Ethniki Asfalistiki in the hands of China is probably allowing too much of their foothold in the Greek economy, which would mean a great political influence as well. China of course would like to be able to control and play with Greece’s economy in order to advance their interests. But it is dangerous for Greece when the country’s future becomes another argument on a geostrategic dialogue between the big powers. A forced Grexit threat, for example, could definitely be on the table and be directed to the EU or the U.S.A.

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That record is definitely broken beyond repair.

Greek Debt Must Be Sustainable For IMF To Join Bailout – Lagarde (R.)

The IMF will not take part in a bailout program for Greece if it deems the country’s debt is unsustainable, the international lender’s chief Christine Lagarde said in an interview published on Tuesday. Greece needs to implement reforms agreed by euro zone finance ministers earlier this month to secure a new loan under its €86 billion bailout programme, the third since 2010. The loan is needed to pay debt due in July, but talks continue and the IMF has not yet decided whether to join the bailout. The fund’s participation is seen as a condition for Germany to unblock new funds to Greece. “If Greek debts are not sustainable based on IMF rules and reasonable parameters, we will not take part in the program,” Lagarde told German newspaper Die Welt when asked if the IMF would take part in the plan if Greek debt is not restructured.

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Minor problem: so many people are dependent on Social Security. Highly relevant going forward.

Taxation is Theft (Napolitano)

With a tax code that exceeds 72,000 pages in length and consumes more than six billion person hours per year to determine taxpayers’ taxable income, with an IRS that has become a feared law unto itself, and with a government that continues to extract more wealth from every taxpaying American every year, is it any wonder that April 15th is a day of dread in America? Social Security taxes and income taxes have dogged us all since their institution during the last century, and few politicians have been willing to address these ploys for what they are: theft. During the 2012 election, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry caused a firestorm among big-government types during the Republican presidential primaries last year when he called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. He was right. It’s been a scam from its inception, and it’s still a scam today.

When Social Security was established in 1935, it was intended to provide minimal financial assistance to those too old to work. It was also intended to cause voters to become dependent on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Democrats. FDR copied the idea from a system established in Italy by Mussolini. The plan was to have certain workers and their employers make small contributions to a fund that would be held in trust for the workers by the government. At the time, the average life expectancy of Americans was 61 years of age, but Social Security didn’t kick in until age 65. Thus, the system was geared to take money from the average American worker that he would never see returned.

Over time, life expectancy grew and surpassed 65, the so-called trust fund was raided and spent, and the system was paying out more money than it was taking in – just like a Ponzi scheme. FDR called Social Security an insurance policy. In reality, it has become forced savings. However, the custodian of the funds – Congress – has stolen the savings and spent it. And the value of the savings has been diminished by inflation. Today, the best one can hope to receive from Social Security is dollars with the buying power of 75 cents for every dollar contributed. That makes Social Security worse than a Ponzi scheme. You can get out of a Ponzi investment. You can’t get out of Social Security. Who would stay with a bank that returned only 75% of one’s savings?

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Essential reading on how the region came to be what it is.

Is America’s Alliance with Turkey Doomed? (SCF)

Shortly before his death in 1869, the pro-Western former Ottoman grand vizier and foreign minister Keçecizâde Mehmed Fuad Pasha commented, “It appeared preferable that . . . we should relinquish several of our provinces rather than see England abandon us.” In response to this commitment, the British made the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire against Russian aggression a key pillar of their foreign policy. Yet, in spite of the significance that Istanbul and London attached to their alliance in the 1850s, both sides were determined to eradicate each other by 1914. As Prime Minister Herbert Asquith put it, Britain was “determined to ring the death-knell of Ottoman dominion, not only in Europe, but in Asia as well.” In response, the Ottoman government described the British as “the greatest enemy” of not only the sultan’s empire but also of Islam itself.

The Anglo-Russian Great Game, waged across the vast lands stretching from Europe to Central Asia during the nineteenth century, rendered the Ottoman Empire an invaluable strategic asset in the eyes of British policymakers. Although the British public frowned upon the Ottoman Turks’ “peculiar Oriental ways,” and regarded them as “uncivilized Mohammedan barbarians” for their treatment of Christian subjects, Whitehall recognized that they could serve as a bulwark against Russia. The Ottomans, likewise, recognized the value of having Britain as an ally given the looming threats posed by their neighbors, Russia and Austria. Though the Ottomans previously regarded the British as an untrustworthy non-Muslim power, the cooperation was a win-win venture, and the two powers agreed to partner economically and militarily. The strategic collaboration between them reached its zenith in 1853 when, along with other allies, they successfully waged war against Russia in Crimea.

America’s relative indifference to the Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic was reminiscent of Otto von Bismarck’s famous remark that European Turkey “was not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” The United States and the Ottoman Empire fought World War I on opposite sides, but did not clash with each other. Moreover, while President Woodrow Wilson discussed the future of the Ottoman Empire in his Fourteen Points, the United States did not actively participate in its partition. In 1922–23, Washington merely sent observers to the Conference of Lausanne, which produced the final peace treaty between the victors of World War I and Turkey.

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Only Trump has congratulated him.

Erdogan Says He Doesn’t Care What Europe Thinks About Turkey’s Vote (BBG)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan treated a crowd of supporters gathered outside his presidential palace on Monday evening to a speech laced with invective against Europe, saying his victory in a referendum on Sunday took place under conditions that were democratic beyond compare. Erdogan belittled both domestic and foreign critics of the voting process, which culminated in a slim majority of Turks approving changes to 18 articles of the constitution that concentrate more power in his hands. A monitoring group from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – which said the referendum took place on an “unlevel playing field” – “should know its place,” he said. “We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George,’” Erdogan said, using the names as stand-ins for his European critics. “All debates about the constitutional referendum are now over.”

The OSCE’s head of mission, Tana de Zulueta, said on Monday that freedom of expression was inhibited during the campaign, that the conditions of the vote fell “well short” of international standards, and that the OSCE was inhibited from the election monitoring that it was invited to do. The vote was held under a state of emergency that’s been in place since just after a failed coup last July, and which Turkey’s security council will meet tonight to consider extending. Since the coup attempt, some 40,000 of Erdogan’s alleged opponents have been jailed, and at least 100,000 more fired by decree. The European monitoring organization’s criticisms were echoed by opposition parties inside Turkey, which are asking for the result of the vote to be annulled, as well as by the U.S. state department, whose spokesman Mark Toner cited “observed irregularities” in the way the election was carried out.

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Wonder how redacted the files are.

Opening Of UN Files On Holocaust Will ‘Rewrite Chapters Of History’ (G.)

War crimes files revealing early evidence of Holocaust death camps that was smuggled out of eastern Europe are among tens of thousands of files to be made public for the first time this week. The once-inaccessible archive of the UN war crimes commission, dating back to 1943, is being opened by the Wiener Library in London with a catalogue that can be searched online. The files establish that some of the first demands for justice came from countries that had been invaded, such as Poland and China, rather than Britain, the US and Russia, which eventually coordinated the post-war Nuremberg trials. The archive, along with the UNWCC, was closed in the late 1940s as West Germany was transformed into a pivotal ally at the start of the cold war and use of the records was effectively suppressed.

Around the same time, many convicted Nazis were granted early release after the anti-communist US senator Joseph McCarthy lobbied to end war crimes trials. Access to the vast quantity of evidence and indictments is timed to coincide with the publication on Tuesday of Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes by Dan Plesch, a researcher who has been working on the documents for a decade. The documents record the gathering of evidence shortly after the UN was founded in January 1942. They demonstrate that rape and forced prostitution were being prosecuted as war crimes in tribunals as far apart as Greece, the Philippines and Poland in the late 1940s, despite more recent suggestions that this was a legal innovation following the 1990s Bosnian conflict.

[..] By the late 1940s, the US and British governments were winding down prosecutions of Nazis. President Harry Truman made anti-communism, rather than holding Nazis to account, a priority, Plesch says. “Even action against the perpetrators of the massacre of British RAF officers attempting to escape from prison camp Stalag Luft III, a flight made iconic by films such as The Great Escape, was curtailed.”

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One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves, said polio vaccine pioneer Dr Jonas Salke, is “Are we being good ancestors?”

Critically Endangered Species Poached In World’s Protected Natural Sites (AFP)

Illegal poaching, logging and fishing of sometimes critically endangered species is taking place in nearly half of the world’s most protected natural sites, environmental campaigners WWF warned Tuesday. Natural world heritage sites such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Galapagos Islands support large populations of rare plant and animal species. But in a report WWF said species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) faced the threat of illegal harvesting and trafficking in 45% of the more than 200 natural world heritage sites on the planet. “Natural world heritage sites are among the most recognised natural sites for their universal value,” said Marco Lambertini, head of WWF International.

“Yet many are threatened by destructive industrial activities and… their often unique animals and plants are also affected by overexploitation and trafficking,” he added, stressing that “unless they are protected effectively, we will lose them forever.” Almost a third of the world’s remaining 3,890 wild tigers and 40% of all African elephants are found in UNESCO-listed sites, which are often a last refuge for critically endangered species such as the Javan rhino in Indonesia, the report said. Illegal poaching, logging and fishing inside such sites is therefore “driving endangered species to the brink of extinction”, WWF warned. The species most at risk because of illegal activity within natural world heritage sites is probably the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, which is indigenous to Mexico’s Gulf of California, Colman O’Criodain, WWF’s wildlife policy manager, told AFP.

While the vaquita itself is not being fished illegally, it is being caught in nets used to poach the totoaba – a giant Mexican fish coveted in China for its swim bladder, which itself is considered a threatened species. “When I started working on the issue of vaquita two years ago, there were 96 left. Now it is less than 30,” O’Criodain said, adding that at the current rate the tiny porpoise could be extinct within a year. According to Tuesday’s report, poaching of vulnerable and endangered animal species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers occurs in 42 of the UNESCO-listed natural sites, while illegal logging of rosewood, ebony and other valuable plant species happens in 26 of them. Illegal fishing, including of sharks and rays occurs in 18 of 39 listed marine coastal world heritage sites, it said.

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Until the world finally has the emergency UN conference I’ve been calling for, I don’t see this change. It’s a global issue, and no-one wants to touch it because it’s so politically toxic.

At Least 8,500 Migrants Rescued From Mediterranean In Three Days (CNN)

Italian authorities were still bringing migrants and refugees to shore Monday after one of the busiest weekends ever for rescue services operating in the central Mediterranean sea. At least 8,500 refugees and migrants were plucked from small boats over the past three days in 73 separate rescue operations, the Italian Coastguard told CNN Monday. Thirteen bodies were recovered, including a pregnant woman and an eight-year-old boy. It is not known how many died before they were sighted. One 35-year-old woman from the Ivory Coast was giving birth as she was pulled aboard a rescue ship, Italian newspapers reported. The youngest migrant rescued over the weekend was just two weeks old. Asar was rescued along with her mother by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS).

The Sea-Eye, a German charity boat that helped bring to safety hundreds of people stranded on rubber dinghies off the coast of Libya Sunday said in a statement it still had 210 on board “crowded closely together, exposed to the wind, the waves and the cold without protection. It said the Italian tanker La Donna and the coast guard ship CP920 was now accompanying the boat, whilst it waits for two smaller boats from the Italian island of Lampedusa, to bring the migrants to shore. The Italian Coastguard said 1004 migrants rescued on the board the ship the Panther would be disembarked in Messina in Sicily shortly. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, said in a statement it rescued more than 1,400 migrants in the central Mediterranean in 13 search and rescue operations from Friday to Sunday.

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Jan 242017
 
 January 24, 2017  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Jack Delano Cars being precooled at the ice plant, San Bernardino, CA 1943

UK Supreme Court Rules Parliament Must Have Vote On Triggering Article 50 (G.)
Global Markets Turn Back On Euro As Economic Woes Reinforce Dollar (Tel.)
Trump Withdraws From TPP Amid Flurry Of Orders (G.)
Beppe Grillo Agrees With ‘Moderate’ Trump, Blasts EU ‘Total Failure’ (Exp.)
Trump is the start of Global Regime Change (Artemis)
Protest In The Era Of Trump (Krieger)
The White House Can’t Easily Repair Its Relationship With The Media (Atl.)
Congressman Introduces Bill To Withdraw The US From The United Nations (MU)
He Is Risen… But For How Long? (Jim Kunstler)
Fed Debate Over $4.5 Trillion Balance Sheet Looms In 2017 (BBG)
Greek Island Mayors Ask PM To Transfer Refugees To Mainland (Kath.)
Thousands Of Refugee Children Sleeping Rough In Sub-Zero Serbia (G.)

 

 

A country well on its way to irrelevance.

UK Supreme Court Rules Parliament Must Have Vote On Triggering Article 50 (G.)

Parliament’s approval is needed before the government can trigger article 50 and formally initiate the UK’s departure from the European Union, the supreme court has ruled. The government’s executive powers, inherited through the royal prerogative, are not sufficient to uproot citizens’ rights gained through parliamentary legislation such as the 1972 European Communities Act, the justices have declared. The justices ruled against the government by a majority of eight to three. The eagerly awaited decision by the largest panel of judges ever assembled in Britain’s highest court routes the protracted Brexit process through parliament, handing over to MPs and peers the authority to sanction the UK’s withdrawal. A summary of the decision, which has far-reaching constitutional implications, was delivered by the president of the supreme court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury.

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So much for the overvalued dollar.

Global Markets Turn Back On Euro As Economic Woes Reinforce Dollar (Tel.)

Banks are using the euro less and less in international transactions, with financiers preferring to use dollars – indicating the euro’s declining importance in the global economy. Economists believe sustained political risk in the eurozone, fears that the currency area could fall apart, and the continuing hangover from the sovereign debt crisis have all contributed to the currency’s relative decline. Figures from the Bank of International Settlements show that the euro is being used less in international banking, while the US dollar continues to grow in importance. At the end of September, the BIS figures show, outstanding cross-border business in US dollars amounted to $13.9 trillion (£11.1 trillion), a rise of almost $60bn over previous three months.

By contrast, outstanding cross-border claims in euros fell by almost $160bn to a total of $8.1 trillion. Overall claims globally amount to $28.2 trillion, meaning the US dollar accounts for almost 50pc of the total. The euro is next with 29pc, while the yen is in third place – its $1.7 trillion of claims is 6pc of the total. Sterling is fourth at $1.3 trillion, or a 5pc share. By contrast, in 2012, the euro was a bigger player, with around $11 trillion of cross-border claims, but has faded sharply since then. Around half of the decline in recent years is due to the euro’s fall in value relative to the dollar, making the euro transactions appear smaller when they are compared in a common currency. But the other half is made up in large part by the eurozone’s own problems.

The most fundamental is the fear that the currency area will be stuck in permanent low growth, making investments risky. With the rise of anti-EU politicians such as Marine Le Pen in France there is also the worry that, in extreme circumstances, the euro could break up. “Partly as a result of the sovereign debt crisis, we know from investors outside Europe that they have a lot of question marks about the viability of the eurozone,” said David Owen, chief European economist at Jefferies. He was joined by Alastair Winter at Daniel Stewart, who said: “It may not be politically correct but there is a case that the euro may not survive much beyond this year. The dollar is popular because it offers a standard for value, a bit like the old gold standard. All of the other major currencies present problems.”

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Why not so the same with TISA etc. at the same time?

Trump Withdraws From TPP Amid Flurry Of Orders (G.)

Donald Trump has begun his effort to dismantle Barack Obama’s legacy, formally scrapping a flagship trade deal with 11 countries in the Pacific rim. The new president also signed executive orders to ban funding for international groups that provide abortions, and placing a hiring freeze on non-military federal workers. Trump’s decision not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) came as little surprise. During his election campaign he railed against international trade deals, blaming them for job losses and focusing anger in the industrial heartland. Obama had argued that this deal would provide an effective counterweight to China in the region. “Everyone knows what that means, right?” Trump said at Monday’s signing ceremony in the White House. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. It’s a great thing for the American worker.”

The TPP was never ratified by the Republican-controlled Congress, but several Asian leaders had invested substantial political capital in it. Their countries represent roughly 13.5% of the global economy, according to the World Bank. Trump’s election opponent, the Democrat Hillary Clinton, had also spoken out against the TPP. The move also intensified speculation over the future of the 17-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). There were reports that Trump would sign an executive order on Monday to begin renegotiating terms with Canada and Mexico. He did move to reinstate a ban on providing federal money to international non-government organizations that perform abortions or provide information about them. The policy also prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that lobby to legalize abortion or promote it as a family planning method.

Republican administrations have tended to institute such a ban while Democrats have reversed it, most recently President Obama in 2009. Trump signed it one day after the anniversary of the supreme court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US. Activists fear that the precedent is now under threat. The administration was criticized after footage appeared to show only one woman in the room as this executive order, along with the other two, were signed. Only four of Trump’s cabinet picks are women.

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Beppe knows the importance for Italy of ‘protectionism’. It’s the only way to keep Italian (small) business alive.

Beppe Grillo Agrees With ‘Moderate’ Trump, Blasts EU ‘Total Failure’ (Exp.)

Italy’s populist Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo has welcomed Donald Trump’s extraordinary rise to power and dismissed the European Union (EU) as a total failure. Mr Grillo described the controversial new US President as a “moderate whose image has been distorted”. He declared he was “very optimistic” about the Trump presidency which he said would reignite the US economy and stop it from playing world police enforcer. In an interview with French magazine Journal du Dimanche, the former stand-up comic expressed his fundamental agreement with Mr Trump’s populist presidential platform. He said: “I read one of his books in which he says some really sensible things on the need, for example, to bring economic activity back to the United States.

“He said what he had to say about Chinese protectionism as well.” Mr Grillo said Mr Trump would use fiscal policy to entice large companies to keep their business in the US instead of taking it south of the border to Mexico and that he would also “relaunch small and medium enterprises”. He said: “Mr Trump will also recall the US Army stationed at the four corners of the world and I agree with all this.” The Italian nationalist accused the media of twisting the “moderate message” of Mr Trump who then “simply adapted to what was being said about him”. He said: “We consequently have a deformed perception of him.” Looking closer to home, M Grillo described the EU as “a total failure” that needed to be re-imagined.

He said: “It is an enormous apparatus, with two parliaments, in Brussels and Strasbourg, to please the French. “Europe was born with Jean Monnet but then was progressively transformed. “I liked the word ‘community’ but then it was called union for the currency, which was to be common and not unique.” He continued: “I am in favour of a different Europe, where each state can adopt its fiscal and monetary system. “I want the Eurobond, a 20% devalued euro for southern European countries, protecting our products against those arriving from abroad, and a revision of the 3% deficit budgetary rule. “I no longer feel the spirit of Europe.”

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From a much longer article on volatility trading.

Trump is the start of Global Regime Change (Artemis)

Trump is the first “populist” US president since Andrew Jackson in 1829 and takes office with a mandate to reverse the course of globalization. Denial is not a strategy and it’s time to face the reality that is coming… the good, the bad, and the ugly. First off, stop underestimating this man – you don’t become leader of the free world through stupidity and luck. The rants and twitter storms are part of a strategy of media control and distraction. Trump knows that if you can’t win, then you change the rules of the game – this is what he has already done with American politics – and what he is about to do to the entire Post-Bretton Woods World Order. If you really want to know a person, watch what they do, and not what they say… or what they tweet. Trump’s business career was largely comprised of three core strategies 1) Leverage 2) Restructure 3) Brand… in that order.

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s Trump rode a generational decline in interest rates and debt binge to purchase a range of high profile real estate projects including the Grand Hyatt (1978). Trump Tower (1983), the Plaza Hotel (1988) and the Taj Mahal (1988). In the 1990s he went through a total of 6 bankruptcies due to over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City and New York. In the 2000s he pivoted to move away from debt-driven property investments to building a global brand through the “Apprentice” TV show. Trump will run the country as he ran his businesses…. He will lever, and lever, and lever, and lever… and lever… and then restructure his way to success, or whatever success is defined as by the broadest measure of popularity at any given time. Trumponomics, if it delivers, will be a supply side free for all: massive tax cuts, deficit spending to create jobs, financial and energy deregulation, business creation, and trade protectionism all driving inflation.

More importantly, Trump sees bankruptcy as a tool and not an obligation and will have no problem pushing the US to the limits of debt expansion. “I do play with bankruptcy laws, they’re very good to me!” he once said. Trump may be willing to bring the US to the brink of default if it produces middle class jobs and popularity, and what he understands is that nobody can stop him, not Europe, not China. In a Trump mindset, the US national debt and deficits, or prior commitments (e.g. NATO), are not to be taken seriously as long as we hold all the cards… namely the biggest military in the world, energy independence, world reserve currency, and the world’s largest buyer of consumer goods. He is dangerously right, these geo-political solvency tools are far more powerful than the bankruptcy laws he used to protect his casino assets… the US is just another, bigger, badder, more bankrupt casino with air craft carriers.

The media doesn’t seem to understand that Trump’s overtures to Russia and Taiwan are not diplomatic gaffes but rather forms of economic leverage. He is reminding Europe that NATO is nothing without the US, and reminding China that creditor nations lose trade wars. As a negotiating tactic, it may work … or may drive the world to a hot war… or both. Like it or not – the old rules are gone. Diplomacy has been replaced by Twitter, and the unexpected is now to be expected. Trump’s world is a zero-sum game – and this means a shock doctrine of US centric re-positioning in trade in a dramatic change from the post-World War II order. The US has the largest military, the best geography, best technology innovation, the largest economy, best demographics in the developed world, and shale-driven energy independence to boot.

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A discussion that makes a lot of sense. What is being protested? If this is unclear, isn’t that perhaps counterproductive? Can you effectively protest some of Trump’s measures after having demonized him in a wide and general fashion for a long time? Shouldn’t there be millions in the streets right NOW to protest the medieval Golden Gag Rule? Where are they?

Protest In The Era Of Trump (Krieger)

The best way to control the opposition is to lead it.

[..] I’d say the most common sign seems to have been some derivative of “Women’s Rights = Human Rights.” I unquestionably agree with this statement, which begs the question, who doesn’t? Well many of the barbaric, feudalist monarchies in the Middle East for starters. Saudi Arabia being a prime example, a place where women are not permitted to drive. Fortunately for them, their money is still green and the Clinton Foundation took plenty of it (between $10 million and $25 million to be exact). Democrats protested that by rigging the primary for her. I didn’t personally attend any of the protests, so I asked my followers on Twitter who did attend to reach out to me and tell me about what they saw. I received lengthy responses from three people. One was a Gary Johnson voter, one a Hillary voter and one didn’t vote at all.

They all pretty much confirmed what you could deduct from the signs. It was a message of “women power,” seemingly focused on women’s rights, specifically abortion and contraception. This brings me to another observation, which will serve as a segue to the final thrust of this article. It appears the emotional driver of the protest was two fold — a serious concern that certain women’s rights will be rolled back, and a form of catharsis for people still reeling from the election loss. This is interesting, because the focal point appears to be not just driven by identify politics, but on preserving already existing rights. Ok, fine, but what about all the ills currently at play? The destruction of the middle class, the surveillance state, the fact that Wall Street owns every single administration no matter who wins. What about the wars and the rapidly metastasizing military-industrial-intelligence complex.

These are things that are currently happening, and have been getting worse under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Does it make sense for all this energy to be focused on a potential threat, as opposed to all of the many ongoing unethical, destructive aspects of American life in 2017? Which brings us to the most important point of this entire article. I don’t want to be too judgmental here. While much of the messaging from the Women’s March seems to have been pretty unserious and divorced from the reality of the many serious issues plaguing the nation, I want to see a silver lining here. I think there’s little doubt that Trump’s election resulted in a certain percentage of the population finally waking up to how much trouble this country is in.

The problem is that many of these people see Trump as the problem to be eliminated, as opposed to the symptom of a sick, destructive society that he actually is. This is where the entire “resistance” can be easily co-opted by the DNC and the rapidly emerging neocon/neoliberal alliance rooted in identity politics, which poses no actual threat to the people actually in power. In this sense, all of this potentially productive energy could tragically be redirected into simply bringing back the same Democratic types that were forcefully rejected during the 2016 election.

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The Trump White House couldn’t care less. “The Media” means the Old Media, and they get that.

The White House Can’t Easily Repair Its Relationship With The Media (Atl.)

After harshly condemning the media over the weekend for its coverage of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer struck a less combative tone during a press conference on Monday. But he nevertheless continued to argue that the media is trying to undermine the president, and stood by a debunked statement that the inauguration drew the “largest audience” of all time. “I believe we have to be honest with the American people,” Spicer said at the briefing, responding to a reporter’s question about his commitment to truth-telling. He added: “I’m going to come out here and tell you the facts as I know them, and if we make a mistake I’ll do our best to correct it.”

Later, however, he lamented that there is a “constant theme to undercut the enormous support” he said Trump has. “There’s an overall frustration when you turn on the television over and over again and get told that there’s this narrative.” The press secretary’s pledge to tell the truth may indicate that the administration hopes to improve its relationship with the media, or at least the appearance of it, following criticism and mockery of Spicer’s hostile interaction with reporters over the weekend. At the same time, his insistence that the media treats Trump with a double standard, and his complaints that the media has created an anti-Trump narrative, highlights how difficult it will be to repair the relationship between the administration and the media.

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Shake the cage.

Congressman Introduces Bill To Withdraw The US From The United Nations (MU)

A new bill has been introduced which would allow the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, and is now beginning to turns heads.

Representative Mike Rogers from Alabama introduced H.R. 193 American Sovereignty Act of 2017 in early January but is just now getting media exposure. The full bill can be seen here on congress.gov. The bill requires: (1) the President to terminate U.S. membership in the United Nations (U.N.), including any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body; and (2) closure of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

The bill prohibits: (1) the authorization of funds for the U.S. assessed or voluntary contribution to the U.N., (2) the authorization of funds for any U.S. contribution to any U.N. military or peacekeeping operation, (3) the expenditure of funds to support the participation of U.S. Armed Forces as part of any U.N. military or peacekeeping operation, (4) U.S. Armed Forces from serving under U.N. command, and (5) diplomatic immunity for U.N. officers or employees.

Clearly, many people would be in favor of such a move and many would oppose it. Many who would support the move believe that the United Nations Agenda 30 is a blueprint for a unipolar world order with a destructive agenda, as Zerohedge reported last year. Regardless of one’s beliefs or opinions on the UN being a front for  a new world order, this bill is a direct and bold move against the elite’s plans. For any nation to reclaim true sovereignty from the United Nations is setting a powerful example for the rest of the world. It sends a message that a country does not need a global governing body, but instead can run itself without global oversight.

Essentially, if the U.S. reclaimed sovereignty from the United Nations, it would be the equivalent of what Britain did by reclaiming it’s sovereignty from the European Union…times 10. Perhaps the biggest revelations to come from such news would be the eventual exposure of the level of theft, deception and criminal activity done by the registered corporation known as The United Nations (yes it is a registered corporation).

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“..the ruins of industry stand like tombstones on the landscape.”

He Is Risen… But For How Long? (Jim Kunstler)

Returning to the first forty-eight hours of the new regime, first the ceremony itself: there was, to my mind, the disturbing sight of Donald Trump, deep in the Capitol in the grim runway leading out onto the inaugural dais. He lumbered along, so conspicuously alone between the praetorian ranks front and back, overcoat open, that long red slash of necktie dangling ominously, with a mad gleam in his eyes like an old bull being led out to a sacrificial altar. His speech to the multitudes was not exactly what had once passed for presidential oratory. It was not an “address.” It was blunt, direct, unadorned, and simple, a warning to the assembled luminaries meant to prepare them for disempowerment. Surely it was received by many as a threat.

Indeed an awful lot of official behavior has to change if this country expects to carry on as a civilized polity, and Trump’s plain statement was at face value consistent with that idea. But the disassembly of such a vast matrix of rackets is unlikely to be managed without generating a lot of dangerous friction. Such a tall order would require, at least, some finesse. Virtually all the powers of the Deep State are arrayed against him, and he can’t resist taunting them, a dangerous game. Despite the show of an orderly transition, a state of war exists between them. Anyway, given Trump’s cabinet appointments, his “swamp draining” campaign looks like one set of rackets is due to be replaced by a new and perhaps worse set.

Trump was correct that the ruins of industry stand like tombstones on the landscape. The reality may be that an industrial economy is a one-shot deal. When it’s gone, it’s over. Even assuming the money exists to rebuild the factories of the 20th century, how would things be produced in them? By robotics or by brawny men paid $15-an-hour? If it’s robotics, who will the customers be? If it’s low-wage workers, how are they going to pay for the cars and washing machines? If the brawny men are paid $40 an hour, how would we sell our cars and washing machines in foreign markets that pay their workers the equivalent of $1.50 an hour. How can American industry stay afloat with no export market? If we don’t let foreign products into the US, how will Americans buy cars that are far more costly to make here than the products we’ve been getting? There’s no indication that Trump and his people have thought through any of this.

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Eric Rosengren, stop it, you’re killing me: “If you think the economy is growing more rapidly then you want..”

Fed Debate Over $4.5 Trillion Balance Sheet Looms In 2017 (BBG)

It’s time to talk about the balance sheet. Eight years after the Federal Reserve launched the first of three controversial bond-buying campaigns to help save the U.S. economy, its holdings are stuck at $4.5 trillion, and the question of when to let them shrink is beginning to simmer. Several policy makers have pushed publicly to get the debate started. How the discussion plays out could have big implications for the pace of future interest-rate hikes and for the dollar. “They should start framing this for the market,” said Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc. Investors need to hear what the “balance of policy” will be between the balance sheet and the central bank’s main tool, the federal funds rate, he said.

The sheer weight of the balance sheet helps hold down long-term U.S. borrowing costs, which is why the Fed bought bonds in the first place. If officials allow holdings to mature without continuing their current practice of reinvesting the principal, they could push yields higher by reducing demand in the bond market. The topic has shot to renewed prominence as the outlook for the U.S. economy has brightened. The Fed has raised rates twice in the last 13 months and penciled in three quarter-point moves this year. Moreover, newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump has put expansionary fiscal policy on the horizon. If fiscal stimulus begins to overheat the economy, the Fed might tighten policy more sharply. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he’d prefer to use the balance sheet to do some of that lifting, echoing remarks by his Boston colleague Eric Rosengren.

“If you think the economy is growing more rapidly then you want, you can either continue to raise short-term rates, or you can also do balance sheet in conjunction with that,” Rosengren said in a Jan. 9 interview. At the very least, he said, the Fed should be talking about the issue soon. San Francisco Fed President John Williams, Atlanta’s Dennis Lockhart, Philadelphia’s Patrick Harker and Dallas chief Robert Kaplan have all agreed. None of them has expressed urgency, and the topic may not be on the agenda when the Federal Open Market Committee convenes again on Jan. 31. But each knows it can take the FOMC several meetings to make big decisions, and they are likely eyeing where rates will be a year from now. Rosengren is thought by Fed watchers to favor four hikes this year. “I don’t think it’s something they’ll do in 2017,” said Mark Zandi at Moody’s. “My guess is they view this as a 2018 project.”

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It’s not in Tsipras’ hands. The EU demands the refugees stay on the islands so they cannot move further north. The EU also makes sure conditions on the islands are miserable with the idea that this keeps others from coming to Europe. And thirdly, they claim moving refugees to the mainland would violate the treaty with Turkey.

Greek Island Mayors Ask PM To Transfer Refugees To Mainland (Kath.)

The mayors of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros on Monday jointly presented their demands for measures to ease severe overcrowding at migrant reception centers on their islands during a meeting in Athens with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. According to government sources, the meeting was held in a cordial climate and both sides agreed it remained imperative that an agreement between Ankara and the EU to curb human smuggling across the Aegean must not be allowed to collapse. However, though the sources described the mayors’ demands as “logical,” it remained unclear what action, if any, the government plans to respond with. In the meeting with Tsipras, which was also attended by senior officials of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE), the mayors emphasized that the situation on the islands was very tense and required immediate action.

They called for the transfer of hundreds of migrants to facilities on the Greek mainland, the improvement of the asylum process so that migrants can leave islands without delay, and measures to boost local economies which have been hit hard by the refugee crisis on top of the country’s financial crisis. Separately, in comments to the News247.gr website, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas remarked that the mass transfer of migrants to the Greek mainland would lead the EU-Turkey deal “to collapse.” He added that while in 2015 refugees accounted for 70 to 80% of arrivals, now 70% of arrivals are economic migrants. According to a report by the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, the interior and defense ministers of several Balkan and Central European countries are planning to meet in Vienna on February 8 to discuss ways of bolstering their borders against illegal immigration.

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Europe’s shameful disgrace deepens and widens.

Thousands Of Refugee Children Sleeping Rough In Sub-Zero Serbia (G.)

Hundreds of new refugees and migrants, many of them children, are arriving in Serbia every day despite the prospect of sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures and reports of violent treatment, Save the Children has said, as it calls on the EU to do more to help. The EU-Turkey deal, which was supposed to stem the flow of refugees arriving in Europe by boat, has meant many refugees are being forced to take a deadlier land route to cross the Balkans, with children as young as eight experiencing harsh weather conditions, dog bites and violent treatment by police and smugglers. Although Serbia is not part of the European Union, it borders Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and has become a transit point for those hoping to reach western Europe. About 6,000 people are stuck in Serbia not able to cross the border into Hungary, which is the direction of travel most would like to take.

Serbia does have asylum centres but when space becomes available, many migrants and refugees are too anxious to go to them, fearing that they will be detained indefinitely or deported illegally. Many of them are turning to smugglers for help instead, charities claim. In the past two months, Save the Children estimates that 1,600 cases of illegal push-backs from Hungary and Croatia have been alleged by refugees and migrants, who have been forced – often violently – back into Serbia, despite already having crossed its border. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) confirmed in its weekly briefing that it was continuing to receive hundreds of reports of foreign nationals being expelled from EU countries in the Balkans and sent back to Serbia.

An average of 30 cases a day of “unlawful and clandestine push-backs” highlights a disregard for the human right to an individual assessment of the need for international protection, according to Save the Children. Belgrade “risks becoming a dumping zone, a new Calais where people are stranded and stuck” the humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières has warned.

[..] Save the Children estimates that there are up to 100 refugees and migrants arriving in Serbia every day and is supporting the government to refurbish safe spaces and support services prioritising lone children. About 46% of refugee and migrant arrivals in Serbia are children and 20% are unaccompanied. The UNHCR said at least five refugees had died of cold since the start of the year. “Saving lives must be a priority and we urge state authorities across Europe to do more to assist and protect refugees and migrants,” a UNHCR spokeswoman, Cecile Pouilly, told a press briefing in Geneva on Friday. This week, the Serbian authorities made additional temporary space available to get people off the snowy streets and into shelters. The charities have warned, however, that it still far from enough to meet the needs of people who are sleeping rough.

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Jan 202017
 
 January 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Unknown Masterpiece 2016-7

Trump’s Tweets Are Little Different From FDR’s Fireside Chats (MW)
Fortress Washington Braces For Anti-Trump Protests, New Yorkers March (R.)
Executive Actions Ready To Go As Trump Prepares To Take Office (R.)
Mnuchin Says Long-Term Strength of US Dollar Is Important (BBG)
German Opposition Leader Calls For Security Union With Russia, End Of NATO (DW)
The ‘Ever Closer European Union’ Principle Is “Buried And Gone” (MT)
Chinese Growth Slips To 6.7% In 2016, The Slowest For 26 Years (AFP)
China GDP Beats Expectations But Debt Risks Loom (R.)
There’s an Unexplained $9 Billion Gap in India’s Cash Supply (BBG)
Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)
Stiglitz Tells Davos Elite US Should “Get Rid Of Currency” (Black)
US Government Caught Massively Fabricating Student Loan Default Data (ZH)
EU Migration Commissioner Urges NGOs To Manage Funds With Transparency (KTG)

 

 

Nice angle. Circumventing the press is nothing new.

Trump’s Tweets Are Little Different From FDR’s Fireside Chats (MW)

Donald Trump, arguably, has already changed the office of the presidency forever, with his prolific tweets, some of which, at least in the lead-up to his Friday inauguration, have endorsed specific companies, lashed out at impersonations and in some case even laid the groundwork for complex policies. Cabinet appointees have found themselves walking back his remarks with some regularity this week. Some observers embrace the transparency of the unfiltered Trump experienced on Twitter. The public wasn’t ruffled one bit when a newly elected Trump’s staff blew off the protocol for press pool reports and end-of-day signoffs. Trump’s delivery mechanism may be relatively new, but the motivation isn’t.

Circumventing the press, and even the carefully crafted press release, is a presidential tack that can be traced as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” which leveraged the radio medium to deliver Roosevelt directly into American living rooms, said Andrew Card, in an MSNBC interview. Card, White House chief of staff to the second President Bush, also served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. FDR delivered his first radio address on March 12, 1933, in the middle of the crisis of confidence over the U.S. banking system. The intent? Reassure the public as if the president had stopped by personally. It was only after the broadcast’s relative success that they eventually earned the “fireside chat” familiarity. Trump’s tweets are the president-elect’s way to get closer to Americans, too, said Card. And that’s not without risk. Trump’s words represent “empathy” but don’t always reflect “judgment,” said Card.

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Are they all protesting the same thing? Where were they 8 years ago?

Fortress Washington Braces For Anti-Trump Protests (R.)

Washington turned into a virtual fortress on Thursday ahead of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, while thousands of people took to the streets of New York and Washington to express their displeasure with his coming administration. Some 900,000 people, both Trump backers and opponents, are expected to flood Washington for Friday’s inauguration ceremony, according to organizers’ estimates. Events include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and a parade to the White House along streets thronged with spectators. The number of planned protests and rallies this year is far above what has been typical at recent presidential inaugurations, with some 30 permits granted in Washington for anti-Trump rallies and sympathy protests planned in cities from Boston to Los Angeles, and outside the U.S. in cities including London and Sydney.

The night before the inauguration, thousands of people turned out in New York for a rally at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and then marched a few blocks from the Trump Tower where the businessman lives. The rally featured a lineup of politicians, activists and celebrities including Mayor Bill de Blasio and actor Alec Baldwin, who trotted out the Trump parody he performs on “Saturday Night Live.” “Donald Trump may control Washington, but we control our destiny as Americans,” de Blasio said. “We don’t fear the future. We think the future is bright, if the people’s voices are heard.” In Washington, a group made up of hundreds of protesters clashed with police clad in riot gear who used pepper spray against some of the crowd on Thursday night, according to footage on social media. The confrontation occurred outside the National Press Club building, where inside a so-called “DeploraBall” event was being held in support of Trump, the footage showed.


JFK inaugural parade 1961

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Nice detail: “Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia…”

Executive Actions Ready To Go As Trump Prepares To Take Office (R.)

Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama’s policies. Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Aides said Trump would not wait to wield one of the most powerful tools of his office, the presidential pen, to sign several executive actions that can be implemented without the input of Congress.

“He is committed to not just Day 1, but Day 2, Day 3 of enacting an agenda of real change, and I think that you’re going to see that in the days and weeks to come,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, telling reporters to expect activity on Friday, during the weekend and early next week. Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. He has harshly criticized the agency and its outgoing chief, first questioning the CIA’s conclusion that Russia was involved in cyber hacking during the U.S. election campaign, before later accepting the verdict.

Trump also likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany. Trump’s advisers vetted more than 200 potential executive orders for him to consider signing on healthcare, climate policy, immigration, energy and numerous other issues, but it was not clear how many orders he would initially approve, according to a member of the Trump transition team who was not authorized to talk to the press. Signing off on orders puts Trump, who has presided over a sprawling business empire but has never before held public office, in a familiar place similar to the CEO role that made him famous, and will give him some early victories before he has to turn to the lumbering process of getting Congress to pass bills.

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The contradictions people seek don’t appear to exist.

Mnuchin Says Long-Term Strength of US Dollar Is Important (BBG)

Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers the long-term strength of the U.S. dollar is important and said President-elect Donald Trump’s comments that the currency was too high weren’t meant as a longer-run policy. The dollar’s “long-term strength – over long periods of time – is important,” Mnuchin said in response to questions at his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee in Washington. “The U.S. currency has been the most attractive currency to be in for very, very long periods of time. I think that it’s important and I think you see that now more than ever.” At the same time, he said the greenback is currently “very, very strong, and what you see is people from all over the world wanting to invest in the U.S. currency.”

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index extended its gains on Thursday. The currency has appreciated more than 5% since Trump won the Nov. 8 election on expectations he will boost economic growth through tax cuts and spending increases. Trump expressed concern about the dollar’s recent appreciation in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this month, saying the currency was “too strong.” That prompted speculation that his administration might reverse longstanding tradition in the U.S. to support a strong-dollar policy. “When the president-elect made a comment on the U.S. currency, it wasn’t meant to be a long-term comment,” Mnuchin said. “It was meant to be that perhaps in the short term the strength in the currency, as a result of free markets and people wanting to invest here, may have had some negative impacts on our ability in trade.”

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You can’t keep Germany vested against Russia for too long for opaque reasons. History says so.

German Opposition Leader Calls For Security Union With Russia, End Of NATO (DW)

The parliamentary leader of Germany’s largest opposition party has urged the dissolution of the NATO alliance. Her remarks come after US president-elect Donald Trump described it as “obsolete.” German opposition leader Sahra Wagenknecht on Tuesday added her voice to calls to dissolve NATO in the wake of US President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial remarks concerning the military alliance “NATO must be dissolved and replaced by a collective security system including Russia,” Wagenknecht told Germany’s “Funke” media group. Wagenknecht, who leads the opposition Left Party in parliament, added that comments made by the future US president “mercilessly reveal the mistakes and failures of the [German] federal government.”

In an interview published by German tabloid “Bild,” Trump described NATO as an “obsolete” organization. “I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago,” he said. “We’re supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States,” Trump added. Germany’s Left Party has previously called for warmer ties with Russia and scrapping the security alliance, measures which appear to be policy concerns for the incoming US administration. The Left Party is Germany’s largest opposition group in parliament, and holds seats in several state legislatures.

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Rutte is smart enough to feel the ghost of the times contradicting everything he ran on in the past, but he wants to use it to remain in power. Pragmatism?! It all plays into the hands of Wilders. 2 months to Dutch elections.

The ‘Ever Closer European Union’ Principle Is “Buried And Gone” (MT)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz clashed over the strategy to relaunch the Union, illustrating the deep division at Europe’s helm in front of the global audience of the World Economic Forum 19 January. Hundreds of business leaders and political figures attending the Davos forum witnessed how fundamentally disunited Europeans are when they are confronted with challenges and the solutions needed to overcome them. Schulz, who stepped down as president of the European Parliament this week, praised the achievements of the past and the need to push forward EU integration. But Rutte told the Socialists and Democrats (S&D group) MEP to “leave out those romantic ideas”, adding that “that is the fastest way to dismantle Europe”.

Europe needs a “pragmatic approach and to stop lofty speeches”, Rutte said. He called for tangible results on migration, security or the internal market in the effort to create jobs. He even went as far to say that the ‘ever closer union’ principle is “buried and gone”. The ‘ever closer union’ goal is seen as the driving force behind the EU project. It was enshrined in the founding Treaty of Rome that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. While the Dutchman said that the experiences of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand could not be “a model for the future”, Schulz punched back responding he was not a “romantic” but a “German”. He got an applause when he recalled how the emotional ties after World War II brought peace and prosperity to the continent.

The fight between the two started right from the get-go as Rutte insisted more efforts from France and Italy to reform their economies are needed to save Europe. He warned that if countries failed to meet their promises, it would be harder for Northern leaders like him to convince their citizens about the need to tighten their belts. “At the end, this will have a devastating impact on EU integration”, he warned. But Schulz told the Dutch leader to be “very prudent” about dictating to other countries what they should do, as this could further divide the European bloc. He said that it is the European Commission and Council, and not “several member states”, who are responsible for fiscal and macroeconomic recommendations made to national governments.

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Fake news.

Chinese Growth Slips To 6.7% In 2016, The Slowest For 26 Years (AFP)

China’s economy has grown at its slowest rate in more than a quarter-century as Beijing braces itself for an uncertain outlook that could see a trade stand-off with Donald Trump. After a tumultuous start to 2016, the country’s leaders used huge monetary stimulus to steer the world’s number two economy to hit their annual target and also record the first quarterly pick-up in two years. The Asian superpower is a crucial driver of global growth but Beijing is trying to reduce its heavy reliance on exports and state-backed investment and instead focus on domestic consumer spending to drive expansion. However, the transition has proved bumpy, with the crucial manufacturing sector struggling in the face of sagging global demand for its products and excess industrial capacity left over from an infrastructure boom.

This led to the economy growing 6.7% last year, in line with forecasts but down from 6.9% in 2015, and the worst reading since 1990. The government targeted 6.5-7.0%. The October-December increase of 6.8% also marked the first quarterly improvement since the final three months of 2014. The national statistics bureau called the figure a “good start” for the government’s goal of achieving 6.5% annual growth through to 2020. “China’s economy was within a proper range with improved quality and efficiency. However, we should also be aware that the domestic and external conditions are still complicated and severe,” the bureau said in a statement. It added that the coal and steel industries had cut overcapacity, but structural reform should be the “mainline” this year, urging policymakers to focus on “fending off risks” to stability.

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Beats expectations with a 26-year low. Wow.

China GDP Beats Expectations But Debt Risks Loom (R.)

China’s economy grew a faster-than-expected 6.8% in the fourth quarter, boosted by higher government spending and record bank lending, giving it a tailwind heading into what is expected to be a turbulent year. But Beijing’s decision to prioritize its official growth target could exact a high price, as policymakers grapple with financial risks created by an explosive growth in debt. China’s debt to GDP ratio rose to 277% at the end of 2016 from 254% the previous year, with an increasing share of new credit being used to pay debt servicing costs, UBS analysts said in a note. The fourth quarter was the first time in two years that the world’s second-largest economy has shown an uptick in economic growth, but this year it faces further pressure to cool its housing market, the impact of government efforts at structural reforms, and a potentially testy relationship with a new U.S. administration.

“We do not expect this (Q4 GDP) rebound to extend far into 2017, when a slowdown in the property market and steps to address supply shortages in the commodity sector ought to drag again on demand and output,” said Tom Rafferty, regional China manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit. The economy expanded 6.7% in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday, near the middle of the government’s 6.5-7% growth target but still the slowest pace in 26 years. Economists polled by Reuters had expected 6.7% growth for both the fourth quarter and the full year. Housing helped prop up growth again in the fourth quarter, with property investment rising a surprisingly strong 11.1% in December from 5.7% in November, even as house prices showed signs of cooling in some major cities.

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The mayhem is far from over.

There’s an Unexplained $9 Billion Gap in India’s Cash Supply (BBG)

India’s unprecedented ban on high-denomination currency bills has led to a mismatch in cash supply that has flummoxed some economists and data crunchers. Indians withdrew about 600 billion rupees ($9 billion) more than the 9.1 trillion rupees of currency in circulation as of Jan. 13, according to a report submitted by the Reserve Bank of India to a parliamentary panel on Wednesday. A copy of the document was seen by Bloomberg News. “This is usually not the case,” said Sujan Hajra, chief economist at Anand Rathi Securities in Mumbai, who was a director at the RBI from 1993-2006. He added that cash with public should be lower than currency in circulation “but then you don’t have demonetization usually.”

Clarity will emerge only once the central bank reconciles and publishes final figures, he said. The central bank has refused to share the amount of invalidated bills that have been deposited and said on Jan. 5 that it is still counting the notes to eliminate errors. In a shock move late on Nov. 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled 15.4 trillion rupees of the 17.7 trillion rupees in circulation and pledged to swap the worthless notes with fresh bills. Between Nov. 9 to Jan. 13, the RBI printed about 5.53 trillion rupees of new notes and put in circulation 25,197 million bank notes aggregating 6.78 trillion rupees, taking total currency in circulation to about 9.1 trillion rupees, according to the RBI’s document on Wednesday. As on Jan. 13 the public had withdrawn close to 9.7 trillion rupees from bank counters and cash-dispensing machines, the document said.

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Apples and oranges, but still. Amazon sucks money out of communities. Support your local dealer!

Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)

Amazon.com has been crowing about its plans to create 100,000 American jobs in the next year, but as with other recent job-creation announcements, that figure is meaningless without context. What Amazon won’t tell us is that every job created at Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn’t want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did. Amazon has revolutionized the way Americans consume. Those who want to shop for everything from books to diapers increasingly go online instead of to the malls. And for about half of those online purchases, the transaction goes through Amazon.

For the consumer, Amazon has brought lower prices and unimaginable convenience. I can buy almost any consumer product I want just by clicking on my phone or computer — or even easier, by just saying: “Alexa: buy me one” — and it will be shipped to my door within days or even hours for free. I can buy books for my Kindle, or music for my phone instantly. I can watch movies or TV shows on demand. But for retail workers, Amazon is a grave threat. Just ask the 10,100 workers who are losing their jobs at Macy’s. Or the 4,000 at The Limited. Or the thousands of workers at Sears and Kmart, which just announced 150 stores will be closing. Or the 125,000 retail workers who’ve been laid off over the past two years.

Amazon and other online sellers have decimated some sectors of the retail industry in the past few years. For instance, employment at department stores has plunged by 250,000 (or 14%) since 2012. Employment at clothing and electronics stores is down sharply from the earlier peaks as more sales move online. “Consumers’ affinity for digital shopping felt like it hit a tipping point in Holiday 2014 and has rapidly accelerated this year,” Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a research note in December. And when he says “digital shopping,” he really means Amazon, which has increased its share of online purchases from about 10% five years ago to nearly 40% in the 2016 holiday season. It’s only going to go higher, as Amazon aggressively targets other sectors such as groceries and even restaurants with delivery services for restaurant-prepared meals.

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Important points by Simon Black.

Stiglitz Tells Davos Elite US Should “Get Rid Of Currency” (Black)

half a world away at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz made remarks earlier this week that the US should “get rid of currency.” He means paper currency, as in the US should not only get rid of $100 bills… but ALL paper currency– 50s, 20s, 10s, 5s, and even 1s. You guessed it. Stiglitz suggests that regular people don’t need paper money, and that it’s only useful for drug dealers, terrorists, tax evaders, and money launders. This thinking is so 20th century, and it’s simply wrong. ISIS is a great example. The US military has literally blown up more than a billion dollars worth of ISIS’s stockpiles of physical cash during airstrikes. But this hasn’t affected their terrorist activities one bit. That’s because the most notorious terrorist group on the planet famously uses both the world’s oldest currency (gold) and the world’s newest currency (Bitcoin).

Professor Stiglitz has likely never been anywhere near a terrorist, so he likely doesn’t have a clue how they conduct financial transactions. Stiglitz also relies on the old claim that cash facilitates illicit activity. Again, this thinking only highlights a Dark Ages mentality. In the today’s world, drug dealers and prostitutes accept credit cards. No matter what you’re selling on a street corner, whether it’s hot dogs or marijuana, there are plenty of solutions (like Stripe, Square, or PayPal) to easily allow anyone to accept credit card payments. But these intellectuals seem stuck in a Pablo Escobar fantasy that drug dealers have entire rooms filled with cash. What Stiglitz, and perhaps many law enforcement agencies, fail to realize is that one of the biggest tools in masking illegal activity is actually Amazon.com. Specifically, Amazon gift cards.

[..] These guys just don’t get it. Cash isn’t about tax evasion or illegal activity. It’s about having a choice. Any rational person who actually looks at the numbers in the banking system has to be concerned. In many parts of the world, banks are pitifully capitalized and EXTREMELY illiquid. This is especially the case in Europe right now where entire nations’ banking systems are teetering on insolvency. In the United States, liquidity is also quite low, and banks play all sorts of accounting games to hide their true financial condition. Plus, never forget that the moment you deposit funds at a bank, it’s no longer YOUR money. It’s the bank’s money. As a depositor, you’re nothing more than an unsecured creditor of the bank, and they have the power to freeze you out of your life’s savings without even giving you a courtesy call. Physical cash provides consumers another option. If you don’t want to keep 100% of your savings tied up in a system that’s rigged against you and has a long history of screwing its customers, you can instead choose to hold physical cash.

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Wonder what the new administration will make of this.

US Government Caught Massively Fabricating Student Loan Default Data (ZH)

Ever since 2012 we have warned that one of the biggest threats arising from the US student loan bubble – which is no longer disputed by anyone except perhaps members of the outgoing administration – is not that it is soaring at an unprecedented pace, that’s obvious for anyone with the latest loan total number over $1.4 trillion, rising at a pace of nearly $100 billion per year, but that the government – either on purpose or due to honest miscalculation – was not correctly accounting for the true extent of delinquencies and defaults. Today, we finally got confirmation that, as speculated, the US government was indeed fabricating student loan default data, making it appear far lower than it was in reality. An the WSJ reported overnight “many more students have defaulted on or failed to pay back their college loans than the U.S. government previously believed.”

The admission came last Friday, when the Education Department released a memo saying that it had overstated student loan repayment rates at most colleges and trade schools and provided updated numbers. This also means that the number of loan defaults in various cohorts is far greater than previously revealed. A spokeswoman for the Education Department said that the problem resulted from a “technical programming error.” And so, the infamous “glitch” strikes again. How bad was the data fabrication? When The Wall Street Journal analyzed the new numbers, the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country. In other words, virtually every single number was made to appear better than it actually was. And people mock China for its own “fake data.”

According to an analysis of the revised data, at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years. This is a stunning number and suggests that the student loan crisis is far greater than anyone had anticipated previously. It also means that the US taxpayer will be on the hook for hundreds of billions in government-funded loans once attention finally turns to who is expected to foot the bill for years of flawed lending practices.

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Translation: the EU has no idea, none at all, where its hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds have gone. It’s how the aid industry is set up. And the refugees still suffer for no reason other than profit, politics and greed.

EU Migration Commissioner Urges NGOs To Manage Funds With Transparency (KTG)

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urged non-governmental organizations involved in the care of refugees and migrants to manage funds with more transparency. “NGOs must manage available funds with transparency,” Avramopoulos said on Wednesday and called on international organizations operating in the country “to step up their efforts to provide immediate assistance to those in need in the islands.” Avramopoulos was visiting the hot spot of Moria and the refugee camp of Kara on Lesvos together with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas and EU’s official responsible for NGOs funding, Philippe de Broers.

On his part, Mouzalas said “We covered 70% of the needs in the camps with less money than the money received by NGOs and institutional organizations.” Mouzalas added that the European Commission needed to take tight control of the funds given to NGOs for refugees and migrants. “We have asked the European Commission and the DG Echo (i.e. DG EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)” for tighter control “and we have stated that we can not we control to this money” he said. Criticism against the NGOs and international organizations comes after a bad weather front left thousands of refugees and migrants exposed to extreme weather conditions with heavy snow fall and polar cold.

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Dec 302016
 
 December 30, 2016  Posted by at 10:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Memphis, Mississippi River landing, Belle of the Bends and Belle of Calhoun 1906

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)
Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)
Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)
“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)
Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)
Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)
The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)
Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)
China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan
China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)
Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)
The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)
A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

 

 

Can’t find a good western source on this all too obvious theme. Typical. The underlying idea seems to be that Obama should have tried to create even more chaos, deliver more weapons to the ‘rebels’. The US should have never toppled Saddam, nor Gaddafi, and we should be glad that Putin called a halt to the mayhem. Now get the US out of there, and on the double.

America over the past decades -in which it was a superpower- could have been, and should have been, a force for good, and for peace. It has instead been nothing but the exact opposite.

Putin’s Cease-Fire in Syria Boxes Out Obama (USN)

Russia and Turkey announced early Thursday they had secured a cease-fire agreement for the civil war in Syria, potentially clearing the way to a peace deal and leaving little, if any, role for the U.S. to play in the future of the war-torn country. The American failure to find a diplomatic or military solution to the conflict, which rages adjacent to an extraordinarily complicated international effort to defeat the Islamic State group, has left some traditional allies in the region worried about what leverage the U.S. has left to protect their interests in the Middle East. Very few details have emerged about the agreement, which was organized by Moscow and Ankara and backed the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Reuters reported Wednesday that the plan could involve splitting the county into semi-autonomous Russian, Turkish and Iranian zones of influence within Assad’s government.

Perhaps the most notable question centers on the involvement of the Free Syrian Army, the U.S.-backed umbrella organization of the opposition movement which has fractured in recent months. It denies having participated in the cease-fire talks. Moscow’s leadership on the agreement, however, follows its deep involvement in Syria over the last year that has successfully shirked American calls for Assad to step down. So it’s also unclear how the U.S. could exercise any leverage over the events in Syria in the future or encourage any of the actors involved to consider American interests, including issuing humanitarian aid to the 8 million displaced Syrians displaced from their homes, supporting willing partners on the ground to fight the Islamic State group, and creating a unity government.

“If the cease-fire does spread to the point where any settlement begins, we’re going to find ourselves in the very awkward position of being the largest single aid donor to Syria and having somehow to deal in humanitarian and recovery terms with a government and structure we had no hand in creating,” says Anthony Cordesman, a former senior adviser to the departments of State and Defense, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ‘That’s certainly going to create future problems.”

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“Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team..”, “.. a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership..” But kind words for Kerry.

Russia: “No Enemy Of The United States Could Have Done Worse” (RT)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has posted a scathing Facebook comment on US President Barack Obama’s approval of new anti-Russian measures, arguing Obama’s “bitter” and “helpless” team did a disfavor to the White House’s reputation. Zakharova wrote that the outgoing president did not manage to leave “any” major foreign policy achievements as part of his legacy and instead of “putting an elegant period” to his two presidential terms has “made a huge blot” with his latest decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two diplomatic compounds in the US.

“Today America, the American people were humiliated by their own president. Not by international terrorists, not by [the] enemy’s troops. This time Washington was slapped by own master, who has complicated the urgent tasks for the incoming team in the extreme,” Zakharova wrote, labeling the current administration “a group of foreign policy losers, bitter and narrow-minded.” “Today, Obama officially admitted it,” she wrote. Zakharova then offered her sympathy to Secretary of State John Kerry, who, she argued, had also suffered under the current administration as he was unable to do his job properly, being constantly “mocked” and “let down” by his own colleagues. “Mr. Kerry, in this difficult moment for the United States, let me convey you the words of sympathy – you have done all what was possible to avert your country’s collapse in foreign policy,” she said, giving credit to Kerry’s diplomatic skills.

“Out of this group of spoilers, I pity only Kerry. He was not an ally. But he tried to be a professional and maintain his human dignity.” Zakharova also said that with its incoherent foreign policy, Obama’s administration has inadvertently debunked a long-cherished myth of America’s exceptionalism that claims a special place in the world. “This is it, [the] curtain [has dropped]. The bad performance is over. The whole world, from the front row to the balcony, is watching a devastating blow to America’s prestige and its leadership, dealt by Barack Obama and his semi-literate foreign policy team, which has exposed its main secret to the world – exceptionalism was a masked helplessness.” “No enemy of the United States could have done worse,” Zakharova concluded. She promised that the US won’t have to wait too long for Moscow’s response. “Tomorrow there will be official statements, countermeasures, and much more,” she wrote.

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Smooth transition.

Obama’s Sanctions Target Trump, Not Putin (Duran)

Barack Obama ends his Presidency with the announcement of yet more sanctions against Russia. These target Russia’s two intelligence agencies which were supposedly concerned with the alleged cyber attacks during the US election – the FSB and the GRU – and what appear to be three institutions involved in IT work – the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, the Special Technology Centre, and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor. In addition to these five entities four high ranking officials of the GRU have also been added to the sanctions list. Obama has also announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, giving them just 72 hours to leave, and has closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US.

He has also said that he will provide Congress with a report on Russian cyber activity during this and previous US election cycles. Like many of Obama’s other recent moves, this one is not really targeted at Russia. The additional sanctions will hardly affect Russia, though the wholesale expulsion of Russian diplomats will undoubtedly complicate the work of Russian diplomatic missions in the US. The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump. By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth. If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true.

If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge. It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force. Like so many of Obama’s other moves in the last weeks of his Presidency, it is an ugly and small minded act, seeking to undermine his successor as President in a way that is completely contrary to US tradition.

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You’re looking for -finally!- proof, and what you get is a disclaimer.

“Grizzly Steppe” – FBI, DHS Release “Report” On Russian Hacking (ZH)

As part of the “evidence” meant to substantiate the unprecedented act of expelling 35 Russian diplomats and locking down two Russian compounds without a major concurrent political or diplomatic incident, or an act of war, and which simply provides an outlets for the Democrats to justify the loss of their candidate in the US presidential election (sorry, Putin did not tell the rust belt how to vote), the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI released a 13-page “report” on the Russian action done “to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election”, i.e., hack it.

As the DHS writes, “this document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.” Where things get awkward, however, is at the very start of the report, which prefaced by a broad disclaimer, according to which nothing in the report is to be relied upon and that everything contained in it may be completely false. No really: “this report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within. DHS does not endorse any commercial product or service referenced in this advisory or otherwise.”

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US intelligence looks hell-bent on founding its credibility exclusively on gossip and propaganda.

Russia’s ‘Grizzly Steppe’ Cyberattacks Started Simply, US Says (BBG)

The attack against U.S. democracy began in the summer of 2015 with a simple trick: Hackers working for Russia’s civilian intelligence service sent e-mails with hidden malware to more than 1,000 people working for the American government and political groups. U.S. intelligence agencies say that was the modest start of “Grizzly Steppe,” their name for what they say developed into a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with this year’s presidential election. Prodded to produce evidence by Russia, which has denied a role in hacking – and by an openly skeptical President-elect Donald Trump – the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did so Thursday. They issued a 13-page joint analysis just as President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russian government organizations and individuals and expelled 35 Russian operatives.

While Trump said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said he “will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.” As president-elect he’s entitled to see the classified details behind the public report. The initial hackers sent e-mails that appeared to come from legitimate websites and other Internet domains tied to U.S. organizations and educational institutions, according to the report. Those who were fooled into clicking on the “spearphishing” e-mails provided a foothold into the Democratic National Committee – although the party organization wasn’t identified by name in the report – and key e-mail accounts for material that would later be leaked to damage Hillary Clinton in her losing campaign against Trump.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens,” according to a joint statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “The U.S. government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, rejected the U.S. conclusions. “We categorically disagree with any of the groundless allegations or charges against Russia,” he said on a conference call. “These actions by the current administration in Washington are unfortunately a manifestation of an unpredictable and you could even say aggressive policy.”

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Are they going to threaten him?

Trump Says He’ll Weigh Intelligence Findings on Russian Hack (BBG)

President-elect Donald Trump said he’ll meet next week with U.S. intelligence officials to discuss their findings that Russia hacked Democratic Party e-mails to meddle in the 2016 election, signaling a possible shift from his previous dismissals of Russian involvement. In his first statement following President Barack Obama’s action on Thursday to sanction Russian intelligence officials and agencies for the hacking, Trump released a statement, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

Trump, who has pledged to seek better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly has expressed skepticism about the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the pilfering and release of e-mails from DNC and party officials in order to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He once said the hacking could have been the work of “somebody sitting in a bed someplace” and told reporters Wednesday that “we ought to get on with our lives” instead of rehashing the cyberattack. Obama’s actions put Trump in a bind less than a month before his inauguration. He will have to decide whether to reverse course when he takes office Jan. 20, which would effectively reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and put him at odds with the Republican leaders in Congress who called the sanctions a necessary step.

The Russian government said it would announce on Friday its response to Obama’s move and emphasized that it soon will be dealing with Trump. “Right now we just are not in a position to sit here and respond to all of these details before we have a full-blown intelligence report on this particular matter,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s appointee as chief of staff, said on Fox News Thursday night. “We just need to get to a point ourselves where we can talk to all of these intelligence agencies and find out once and for all what evidence is there, how bad is it.”

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Not terribly strong, but it’s Stone. Think he could get a movie financed on the theme?

The Russians Are Coming (Oliver Stone)

As 2016 draws to a close, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. – the Times has added the issue of ‘fake news’ to reassert its problematic role as the dominant voice for the Washington establishment. Certainly this is true in the case of Russia’s ‘hacking’ the 2016 election and putting into office its Manchurian Candidate in Donald Trump.

Apparently the CIA (via various unnamed intelligence officials), and the FBI, NSA, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (who notoriously lied to Congress in the Snowden affair), President Obama, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and Congress agree that Russia, and Mr. Putin predominantly, is responsible. Certainly the psychotic, war-loving Senator John McCain is right up there alongside these patriots, calling President Putin a “thug, bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.” He actually said this — the man whose sound judgment chose Sarah Palin as his VP nominee in ’08. And the Times followed by printing the story in its full glory on page one, clearly agreeing with McCain’s point of view.

I don’t remember Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan, in the darkest days of the 1950s/80s, ever singling out a Russian President like this. The invective was aimed at the Soviet regime, but never were Khrushchev or Brezhnev the target of this bile. I guess this is a new form of American diplomacy. If a black youth in our inner cities were killed or a Pakistani wedding party were murdered by our drones, would President Obama be singled out as a murderer, bully, thug? Such personalization is a sign of sickness in our thinking and way beneath what should be our standards.

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We’ll have to wait for the -gruesome- proof on this too. “The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

Russia: Mass Graves Full Of Tortured Civilians Discovered In Aleppo (TAM)

Russian military forces have discovered mass graves in eastern parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo, with many of the bodies reportedly showing signs of torture. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian defense ministry, announced the horrifying discovery on Monday. “Many of the corpses were found with missing body parts, and most had gunshot wounds to the head,” he said, according to RT. Until recently, the eastern portion of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city and industrial and financial center, was under the control of so-called “moderate” rebels, many of whom have received both intelligence and material support from the United States and its allies in the Middle East.

Last week, Russian and Syrian military forces oversaw the evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo. Prior to that, the rebel-held portion of the city had been controlled by two main factions, Jabhat al-Nusra, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda also known as the Nusra Front, and Ahrar al-Sham, another extremist group that receives U.S. support despite being designated a terrorist organization. In an apparent attempt to court the U.S. government by distancing itself from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front recently attempted to “rebrand” itself. Despite efforts to market themselves as kinder, gentler terrorists, the group has continued to commit atrocities, including burning buses intended to be used in the evacuation and even blocking food aid from reaching Aleppo’s starving residents.

WikiLeaks’ archive of diplomatic cables reveals that the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have sought to overthrow the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad since at least 2006, and support for extremist fighters remains a key part of that strategy. Konashenkov promised a full investigation into the war crimes of rebel forces in Aleppo, suggesting in his statement that the results would surprise many people who receive their news from Western mainstream media sources. He said: “The completion of a uniquely large-scale humanitarian operation by the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Aleppo will destroy many of the myths that have been fed to the world by Western politicians. The results of only an initial survey of Aleppo neighborhoods abandoned by the so-called ‘opposition’ will shock many.”

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Good luck with that: “The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading..”

China Faces Stiff Battle to Sideline the Dollar in Valuing Yuan

China took another step to degrade the dollar in defining the value of its currency, in an effort that cuts against its rival’s stubbornly strong hold on the global financial system. An arm of the People’s Bank of China, which last year started setting the yuan against a basket of currencies, on Thursday said it’s adding 11 units to that reference group. The move lowers the dollar’s weighting by 4 percentage points, to 22.4% – little more than twice the share for South Korea’s won, a new entrant. While the logic of determining the yuan’s value against the currencies of its trading partners is clear, the problem is that the dollar is still the dominant reference in the perception of the public and the market. The U.S. currency is on one side of 88% of all foreign-exchange trading. “The dollar-yuan rate will still be the benchmark that determines sentiment,” said Hao Hong at Communications International Holdings.

“The basket is just a reference, so the change in the index’s composition and the efforts of keeping it stable will do little to boost confidence.” The yuan’s retreat against the CFETS RMB Index, the basket set by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System, has been more moderate this year than against the dollar, as the currencies of China’s trading partners have also declined. In recent weeks it’s even advanced. That offers an image of stability that would appeal to a Communist leadership that’s striving to maintain economic growth in excess of 6.5% and reduce leverage, all while heading off any exodus of domestic capital. The challenge is that China’s swelling middle class, along with its ultra-wealthy, are looking to diversify some of their increasing pool of savings overseas. Prospects for higher U.S. interest rates only increase the allure of the dollar.

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They need money, bad.

China To Relax Curbs On Foreign Investment In Banking, Securities (R.)

China will focus on freeing up foreign investment in banking, insurance, securities and futures market trading firms as part of a wider opening up of the services sector, the country’s state planner said in a document released on Friday. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) did not give any details or time frame on relaxing restrictions for foreign investment in the financial services sector. At a press conference held after the release of the document, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the NDRC, said that the government will maintain “some controls”, but did not elaborate. Businesses that the NDRC earmarked for opening up in the manufacturing sector included rail transportation equipment, motorcycles, edible fats and oils, and fuel ethanol.

The NDRC also said China will lift restrictions on foreign investment in unconventional oil and gas production, which usually refers to development of shale deposits. Industry experts noted China has already allowed foreign companies such as Shell and BP to explore and develop shale oil and gas in joint ventures with Chinese firms. China will also “orderly” open up sensitive areas such as telecoms, education, internet to foreign investment, as well as relaxing foreign investment restrictions on credit-rating services, the NDRC document said. The new list of areas marked for liberalization differ slightly from draft foreign investment guidelines that China published earlier this month.

In the draft, restrictions in critical banking and securities sectors remained largely unchanged, though a reference to 49 percent foreign investment caps on some types of securities companies appeared to have been removed. Beijing is facing mounting criticism from foreign governments over its closed markets. Despite repeated pledges to increase access for foreign firms, critics say it has not followed through on its reform agenda.

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A bit confusing, but do watch Poland.

Who Wants To Keep Gas Flowing Through Ukraine And Why? (SC)

This past year of 2016 set a new record for the export history of Gazprom, Russia’s biggest gas company. Its chairman, Alexey Miller, has claimed that by the end of the year Gazprom will have shipped a total of 180 billion cubic meters to non-CIS countries. Gazprom had only planned to export between 166 and 170 billion cubic meters of gas in 2016 (in 2015, 158.56 billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to non-CIS countries). But even this new high is not the limit. Gazprom’s latest calculations envision a further uptick in shipments in 2017, and those will primarily be to the EU. The key factors here are, first and foremost, the weather conditions (this winter promises to be a more severe one in Europe than last year), and second – the jump in demand for gas in Europe that has been seen in recent months in the face of lower domestic production in EU countries.

The biggest consumers of Russian gas are still Germany (47.4 billion cubic meters in 2015), Turkey (27 billion), Italy (24.4 billion), Great Britain (22.5 billion), and France (10.5 billion). And Russian gas shipments play a very important role in ensuring the energy security of Southeastern Europe. In 2015 Bulgaria purchased 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from the companies that make up the Gazprom Group, while Greece bought 2 billion cubic meters, Serbia – 1.9 billion cubic meters, and Croatia – 0.6 billion cubic meters. The market price for Russian gas has taken some interesting twists and turns. It is worth noting that that figure has risen right along with the increase in supply. This proves once again that the close interdependence of European consumers and Russian energy suppliers is «overriding» the market formula: simultaneous growth in both supply and price is an atypical phenomenon in a market environment.

However, it proves once again that any moves aimed at «replacing» Russian gas or «displacing» Russia from the EU gas market might be disruptive for Europe’s energy sector. The attempts by some countries to block Russian gas supplies look particularly irrational in this context. This primarily applies to Poland, which rushed to the European Court to appeal the European Commission’s decision to allow Gazprom greater access to the OPAL pipeline that links Nord Stream with the gas-transit system of Central and Western Europe. The Polish media cites the official spokesperson for the Polish Ministry of Finance, Joanna Wajda, in its reports that Warsaw has already asked the EU to suspend the implementation of the European Commission decision. The EC’s official reaction to this proposal is still unknown, but it will be interesting to see.

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Athens is bloody cold as we speak. That map is pretty clear.

The New Year’s Arriving With a Frigid Bang (BBG)

A deep freeze is about to descend on North America, Europe and Asia thanks to record high temperatures across the Arctic. How’s that? “Think of it like a seesaw,” said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather in Bethesda, Maryland. If winter temperatures rise north of Alaska, that “forces an equal-opposite downward-southward push. The cold essentially has to go somewhere else.” Meteorologists theorize the phenomenon works this way: Warmth in the northern polar region helps lock in jet-stream kinks that drag cold air south and sets up conditions that weaken the polar vortex, the pressure zone that usually traps the chill in the northernmost part of Earth. Frigid thermometer readings are, as a result, delivered to the Northern Hemisphere. So, warm Arctic, cold continents.

Forecasts show how drastic it could be. For example, Chicago’s high on Monday is expected to be 43 degrees Fahrenheit (about 6 Celsius) and its low 33, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. By Friday, the high is predicted to be 18 and the low just 5. Climate change and the recently ended El Nino conspired over the last three years to heat the planet to record levels. The ice cap dwindled. In September it was the smallest in scope since 2007; its winter growth has been the slowest in chronicled history. Sea ice keeps the air above it cold, and in November in the Arctic it hit a record low, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For several weeks, as as consequence, a large part of the Arctic has been hotter than normal.

“We have a buoy north of Alaska that went over to freezing around the 10th of December, which is about a month later than it normally happens,” said Jim Overland, a research oceanographer at the U.S. Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, who made his first trips to Arctic ice in the 60s.

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Flowers grow at the weirdest places.

A 2016 Love Story: The Macedonian Cop and The Iraqi Refugee (AFP)

The scene was hardly conducive to romance: she was a sick Iraqi in a wave of refugees trying to enter Serbia, while he belonged to the stern Macedonian police force keeping guard. But Noora Arkavazi, a Kurdish Muslim, and Orthodox Christian Bobi Dodevski quickly fell in love after they met at the muddy border in early March – and celebrated their wedding four months later. Bobi recalls the rainy day he first saw Noora in no man’s land between the two Balkan countries, when he was working only by chance after swapping shifts with a colleague. “It was destiny,” the affable 35-year-old tells AFP over tea in his small apartment in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo, where he now lives happily with his young wife.

Noora, 20, hails from Diyala, an eastern province plagued with violence in the Iraqi conflict. She says at one point Islamic State jihadists kidnapped her father, an engineer, and demanded thousands of dollars for his return. Early in 2016, Noora and her brother, sister and parents abandoned their home and began a long journey west, crossing the border into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and eventually entering Macedonia. Their path was one well-trodden by hundreds of thousands of people escaping war or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and like many of their fellow travellers, the Arkavazis had set their sights on Germany. While her family continued on their odyssey, Noora stayed put in Macedonia after Cupid’s arrow struck. “I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany,” she says. “I didn’t imagine a big surprise for me here.”

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Dec 152016
 
 December 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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William Henry Jackson Hand cart carry, Adirondacks, New York 1902

Dollar at 14-Year Peak as Fed Rejuvenates Trump Rally (R.)
Dollar Jumps as Fed Pulls the Trigger While Stocks, Debt Decline (BBG)
Fed Fallout Escalates: China Bond Market Crashes Most On Record (ZH)
Higher US Interest Rates Next Year Could Make Big Problems For China (CNBC)
Shadow Banking in China Appears to Have Made a Roaring Comeback (BBG)
Trump Meets With Tech Titans: “No Formal Chain Of Command Around Here” (CNBC)
Canada’s Gravity-Defying Household Debt Swells to C$2 Trillion (BBG)
EU Politicians Believe UK Post-Brexit Trade Deal Could Take Decade (G.)
Ex-UK Ambassador: Clinton Emails Leaked By “Disgusted” Dem. Whistleblower (DM)
US Accuses Vladimir Putin Of “Personal Involvement” In Election Hack (ZH)
Eurozone Suspends Short-Term Debt Relief for Greece (WSJ)
Greek Opposition Leader To Seek Backing In Brussels For Snap Polls (Kath.)

 

 

Moving fast. A lot of global debt gets much more expensive to pay off.

Dollar at 14-Year Peak as Fed Rejuvenates Trump Rally (R.)

The dollar rose to a 14-year peak against a basket of major currencies on Thursday after the Federal Reserve boosted the number of projected interest rate hikes for 2017, rejuvenating the month-long Trump rally and knocking emerging market currencies. The Fed’s 25 basis-point interest rate increase on Wednesday was widely anticipated by financial markets though they appeared to have been caught out by the central bank signal of three hikes in 2017, up from around two flagged at its September policy meeting. The relatively hawkish Fed stance came as U.S. president-elect Donald Trump takes over with promises to boost growth through tax cuts, spending and deregulation. “The rate hike projections for 2017 being increased to three shows that Fed’s board is having to factor in the impact of Trump’s policies,” said Junichi Ishikawa at IG Securities in Tokyo.

The dollar index extended its overnight rally and was up 0.5% at 102.270. It touched 102.620, its highest since January 2003. The euro was down 0.2% at $1.0512 after sliding to $1.0468, a trough not seen in 21 months. The greenback set a 10-month high of 117.860 yen early on Thursday and was last up 0.3% at 117.390. The allure of higher U.S. yields took a predictable toll on emerging Asian currencies. The Chinese yuan fell to its lowest levels in more than eight years, after the central bank set the daily mid-point at the lowest since mid 2008. Low-yielding currencies such as the Singapore dollar and Korean won came under pressure, as investors grew anxious over the risk of capital being sucked out of regional economies toward dollar-based assets.

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Yellen hiked rates and dotplot.

Dollar Jumps as Fed Pulls the Trigger While Stocks, Debt Decline (BBG)

The dollar rallied, while Treasury yields spiked as the Federal Reserve signaled a steeper path for in interest rates going forward after their first hike to borrowing costs in 2016. U.S. equities slumped the most since October. The greenback climbed to its strongest level in 10 months versus the yen, advancing against most of its major peers as as traders speculated that U.S. rates may be elevated faster than previously thought. Utilities and energy shares drove the S&P 500 Index down 0.8% as two-year Treasury yields soared to their highest level in seven years. The dollar’s gains sent oil tumbling as gold also retreated. Emerging-market currencies were among the biggest decliners, while Asian index futures diverged amid the yen’s drop.

“The bottom line is that this is more hawkish than the markets expected,” said Dennis Debusschere at Evercore ISI in New York. “I don’t think the shift higher in the dots was priced in. The consensus going in was that they’d wait until they had details of the fiscal program before they actually raised the rate forecast, and they did that before they saw the details.” What was only the second U.S. rate increase in a decade tied off a volatile year for markets, with investors whipsawed by ructions in Chinese trading, then the shock wins for Brexit and Donald Trump. The Fed moving further into tightening territory puts it at the vanguard of a shift globally from easing monetary policy toward an increased focus on fiscal stimulus.

After hiking by 25 basis points, the central bank said it expects three rate increases in 2017, up from two in its September forecasts. Speaking to reporters after the decision, Fed Chair Janet Yellen sought to downplay the significance of that change in the projections. “This is a very modest adjustment in the path of the federal funds rate,” Yellen said during the press conference. The decision to raise rates is “a vote of confidence in the economy,” she said, noting that some fed officials, but not all, incorporated the assumption of a change in fiscal policies when making their forecasts.

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“.. it appears the final bastion of safety has cracked”.

Fed Fallout Escalates: China Bond Market Crashes Most On Record (ZH)

After a bubblicious surge higher over the last few months (as China’s hot money swishes from one trending-higher market to another), China’s bond market is collapsing. As Chinese money-markets tighten into new year, yuan weakens, and capital outflows accelerate, so it appears the final bastion of safety has cracked. Chinese bond futures crashed overnight by the most on record, erasing in a week the gains of the last 18 months. The rally began in 2014, buoyed by slowing economic growth and a monetary-easing cycle that kicked off in November that year. Now that is over…

As Chinese liquidity pressures ripple up from the short-term repo markets…

Offshore Yuan has tumbled 5 handles since The Fed raised rates…

And Japanese stocks cannot hold a bid despite the weaker yen. It appears Janet’s message about Trump’s fiscal plan is starting to sink in.

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“They’re playing whack-a-mole constantly. They try to bring down one bubble, and something pops up somewhere else. They do that, and something comes up somewhere else..”

Higher US Interest Rates Next Year Could Make Big Problems For China (CNBC)

Rising interest rates in the United States have an obvious effect on the world’s biggest economy — but less obvious is the impact those rates could have on the second biggest. Higher interest rates in the United States could make it harder for China to manage its exploding debt, as the Asian giant increasingly depends on borrowing in order to keep growing — while simultaneously trying to block capital from fleeing for more fruitful shores in America. “If the Federal Reserve [keeps increasing] interest rates in the United States, the single biggest casualty of that this time is going to be China, because there’s so much money just waiting to leave” the country, said Ruchir Sharma at Morgan Stanley. Sharma spoke Tuesday evening as part of a panel at the Asia Society in New York.

Sharma pointed out that over the last year, China has moved from one bubble to another: commodities, stocks and, currently, real estate. That is not a sustainable way for China to grow, he said, especially considering that China’s “debt increase over the last five years has been 60 percentage points as a share of its economy.” “They’re playing whack-a-mole constantly. They try to bring down one bubble, and something pops up somewhere else. They do that, and something comes up somewhere else,” said Sharma, who noted that housing prices in China’s largest cities have increased between 30 and 50% over the last 18 months alone. Fed officials on Wednesday approved the first U.S. interest rate increase in a year. The 0.25 percentage point hike was widely expected, but the more aggressive pace for future increases outlined by the Fed — three next year instead of the two that were previously expected — was not.

Rising U.S. rates typically mean better yields for U.S. Treasurys and a stronger U.S. dollar. And indeed, both bond yields and the greenback immediately moved higher after Wednesday’s announcement. “I certainly think we could hit a 3 (percent on the 10-year Treasury yield) by the first quarter” of next year, Rick Rieder, CIO, global fixed income at BlackRock, told CNBC on Wednesday. The 10-year was last at 3% in January 2014. [..] the ability to keep financing its “massive debt binge” is impaired, Sharma said, if too much money bleeds out of the system. And China needs a lot of money — and more and more of it — to keep hitting the largely arbitrary 6% GDP growth rate that Beijing has mandated for the country. “Today in China, it’s taking $4 in debt to create a dollar of GDP growth,” said Sharma

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Oh no, it was never gone. It’s only been growing the whole time.

Shadow Banking in China Appears to Have Made a Roaring Comeback (BBG)

Time to don the tin hats? Chinese shadow-banking activity registered a surprise jump in November, throwing into sharp relief how policy makers are struggling to make good on their vow to rein in the runaway loan growth that threatens the stability of the financial sector. Often cast as one of the weakest links in the global financial system given the potential threat it poses to Asia’s largest economy, shadow credit – which consists of trust loans, entrusted loans and bank-acceptance bills –rose sharply to 479 billion yuan ($69 billion), after having dropped to 55 billion yuan in October. The surprise rebound may be a reaction to expectations for continuing yuan weakness as companies look to increase their local-currency liabilities at the expense of dollar-denominated obligations.

“Today’s surprising data will likely trigger some regulatory concerns,” David Qu, China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking, wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday, citing the size and opacity of off-balance sheet lending from trust companies, brokerages, micro-lenders, pawn-shops and even real-estate companies. The rise could reflect “short-term speculation due to expectations of renminbi depreciation and producer-price inflation,” analysts at Nomura Holdings Inc, led by Zhao Yang, wrote in a report on Wednesday. Efforts to curtail shadow lending may exacerbate this month’s liquidity squeeze, as the yield on 10-year government bonds shoots up to 3.24% from 2.74% at the end of October – their highest level in more than a year.

“If Chinese regulators start to restrict shadow banking activities, there may be spillover effects to the bond market due to liquidity tightening,” Qu adds, referring to the prospect that redemptions from wealth-management funds would force asset managers to trim their bond positions. Last month’s credit binge wasn’t confined to the shadow financial system. Total social finance, the broadest measure of new lending, expanded the most since March at 1.74 trillion yuan, up from 896.3 billion yuan in October. [..] The 11.8% increase on a year-on-year basis was driven by household lending growth, reflecting how property curbs have yet to kick in, as well as expansion in the shadow-banking sector.

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Tens of billions eating crow at that table. Trump knows exactly what Bezos, Cook etc. said about him not long ago. Eric Schmidt just about ran Hillary’s campaign.

Trump Meets With Tech Titans: “No Formal Chain Of Command Around Here” (CNBC)

A confab of tech titans had a “productive” meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told CNBC, as Trump moved to mend fences with Silicon Valley before taking office in January. Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Oracle, IBM, Cisco and Tesla were among the C-suite executives in attendance, with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Tesla CEO Elon Musk expected to get private briefings, according to transition staff. During the campaign, Trump issued a number of barbs directed at Bezos and his businesses, but at the meeting both men appeared nothing but complimentary. “I found today’s meeting with the president-elect, his transition team, and tech leaders to be very productive,” Bezos said.

“I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere.” Though many tech leaders actively opposed his election, Trump said at the meeting he was interested in helping tech do well — and that the executives can call any time, since there’s no formal chain of command. “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation,” Trump said. “There’s no one like you in the world….anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you. You can call my people, call me — it makes no difference — we have no formal chain of command around here.”

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As someone commented on Twitter: “Carney’s baby is all grown up”.

Canada’s Gravity-Defying Household Debt Swells to C$2 Trillion (BBG)

The appetite for bank borrowing remained unabated in the third quarter, setting fresh records for total credit and mortgage borrowing, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday. The widely-followed ratio of household debt to after-tax income rose to another record high of almost 167%. The numbers will intensify concern among policy makers the economy has become over-reliant on bank borrowing, and is vulnerable to a housing downturn and rising interest rates. The latest report covers the three months before Finance Minister Bill Morneau tightened mortgage lending rules again in October, a move designed to discourage Vancouver and Toronto home buyers from signing larger mortgages than they could handle.

“Household indebtedness continues to defy gravity and remains the Achilles heel of the Canadian economy,” said Charles St-Arnaud at Nomura Securities, who has worked in Canada’s finance department and central bank. “Continued increase in yields and job losses remain the biggest risks.” Credit-market debt climbed to C$2.005 trillion ($1.53 trillion) from C$1.980 trillion in the prior quarter. Those obligations jumped by 1.3% in the third quarter, faster than the 0.9% gain in household income. Total consumer debt exceeded the size of Canada’s economy for a second straight quarter, accounting for 101.2% of gross domestic product in the July-to-September period. Debts have climbed alongside the Vancouver and Toronto housing boom, fueled by job growth and rock-bottom borrowing costs.

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Elections, anyone?

EU Politicians Believe UK Post-Brexit Trade Deal Could Take Decade (G.)

Europe’s politicians believe a trade deal with the UK could take up to a decade or more and could still fail in the final stages, Downing Street has been warned by the UK’s ambassador to the EU. Sir Ivan Rogers, who conducted David Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU prior to the referendum, is reported to have told the prime minister that European politicians expected that a deal would not be finalised until the early to mid-2020s, according to the BBC. That deal could still be rejected by any of the 27 national parliaments during the ratification process. It is understood Rogers was reporting back conversations he had had with European politicians, rather than giving his own advice to the British government. “It is wrong to suggest this is advice from our ambassador to the EU,” a Number 10 spokesman said. “Like all ambassadors, part of his role is to report the views of others.”

Former Tory minister Dominic Raab, a leave campaigner, said it was “reasonable to set out a worst-case scenario of five to 10 years to iron out all the detail of a trade deal.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The crucial question is whether we maintain barrier-free trade in the meantime, in which case there’s no real problem. I have to say it’s very unlikely in the interim that the EU would want to erect trade barriers.” The reports come after Brexit secretary, David Davis, told a select committee hearing that “everything is negotiable” within a year and a half of the formal article 50 notification in March. The deal would then take about six months to be agreed by European leaders, the European parliament and the British parliament, he said.

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Try these on for size: “Murray is a controversial figure who was removed from his post as a British ambassador amid allegations of misconduct.” Misconduct? Well: “Murray was a vocal critic of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan while serving as ambassador between 2002 and 2004, a stance that pitted him against the UK Foreign Office.”

Ex-UK Ambassador: Clinton Emails Leaked By “Disgusted” Dem. Whistleblower (DM)

A Wikileaks envoy today claims he personally received Clinton campaign emails in Washington D.C. after they were leaked by ‘disgusted’ whisteblowers – and not hacked by Russia. Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, told Dailymail.com that he flew to Washington, D.C. for a clandestine hand-off with one of the email sources in September. ‘Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,’ said Murray in an interview with Dailymail.com on Tuesday. ‘The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.’ His account contradicts directly the version of how thousands of Democratic emails were published before the election being advanced by U.S. intelligence.

Murray is a controversial figure who was removed from his post as a British ambassador amid allegations of misconduct. He was cleared of those but left the diplomatic service in acrimony. His links to Wikileaks are well known and while his account is likely to be seen as both unprovable and possibly biased, it is also the first intervention by Wikileaks since reports surfaced last week that the CIA believed Russia hacked the Clinton emails to help hand the election to Donald Trump. Murray’s claims about the origins of the Clinton campaign emails comes as U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly confident that Russian hackers infiltrated both the Democratic National Committee and the email account of top Clinton aide John Podesta. In Podesta’s case, his account appeared to have been compromised through a basic ‘phishing’ scheme, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly told members of Congress during classified briefings that they believe Russians passed the documents on to Wikileaks as part of an influence operation to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump. But Murray insisted that the DNC and Podesta emails published by Wikileaks did not come from the Russians, and were given to the whistleblowing group by Americans who had authorized access to the information. ‘Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,’ Murray said. ‘The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.’ He said the leakers were motivated by ‘disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.’

‘I don’t understand why the CIA would say the information came from Russian hackers when they must know that isn’t true,’ he said. ‘Regardless of whether the Russians hacked into the DNC, the documents Wikileaks published did not come from that.’ Murray was a vocal critic of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan while serving as ambassador between 2002 and 2004, a stance that pitted him against the UK Foreign Office.

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“The former CIA official said the Obama administration may feel compelled to respond before it leaves office. “This whole thing has heated up so much,” he said. “I can very easily see them saying, `We can’t just say wow, this was terrible and there’s nothing we can do.'”

Well, if Obama is truly getting involved, he has 4 days in which to turn 37 Republican electors against Trump. As for the potential fallout, which may include various forms of social conflict should the Trump victory be overturned in the 11th hour at the Electoral College, then Putin will truly win as a result of what may then follow.

US Accuses Vladimir Putin Of “Personal Involvement” In Election Hack (ZH)

And just like that the narrative of Russia hacking the presidential election has escalated to the highest possible level, and has officially jumped the shark. Moments ago, following a month-long barrage of unsubstantiated stories in the press accusing the Russian government of indirectly hacking the US presidential election, which culminated with last night’s 8,000 word NYT expose, and which followed a schism between the FBI and CIA, in which the former disputed the latter’s “fuzzy and ambiguous” claims that Russia sought to influence the presidential elections, moments ago the NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe with “a high level of confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

Perhaps because the official narrative has so far been unable to gather traction with the previous “shotgun approach” in which just “Russia” was accused of handing the election to Trump, four short days before the Electoral College vote, the narrative has changed and it now involves the very pinnacle of Russia’s government: the president himself. Citing two senior officials with direct access to the information, NBC reports that “new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.” So why did Putin hack a few million rust belt Americans into believing that their lives under Obama, and by extension Hillary, were bad enough that they demanded a change? NBC provides the following spoonfed logic:

Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.

Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, “the Russian government wanted to elect Donald Trump.” And this is where the latest turn in the story falls apart, because even NBC – which will blast this report on prime time TV to all America – admits “the FBI and other agencies don’t fully endorse that view”, but it adds “few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats.”

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As I said, looks like Tsipras has had enough.

Eurozone Suspends Short-Term Debt Relief for Greece (WSJ)

Greece’s European creditors suspended proposed debt-relief measures for the country after the Greek government surprised them by announcing it would boost welfare benefits for low-income pensioners, a sign of escalating tensions over the country’s bailout. The moves come as Athens and its international creditors—which include the eurozone and the IMF—are struggling to conclude their latest review of the country’s rescue plan of as much as €86 billion ($92 billion) in loans. “The institutions have concluded that the actions of the Greek government appear to not be in line with our agreements,” a spokesman for Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who presides over the group of his eurozone counterparts, said in a statement on Twitter.

“No unanimity now for implementing short-term debt measures,” he added. The step puts further pressure on Greece’s government, which is considering calling snap elections in 2017 as it grapples with slumping popularity and is losing hope of winning concessions on deeper debt relief or austerity from the eurozone and the IMF. Greece’s embattled Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras surprised Greeks and the country’s creditors last week with handouts that his government hadn’t previously discussed with bailout supervisors, which represent eurozone governments and the IMF. Mr. Tsipras promised 1.6 million pensioners a Christmas bonus of between €300 and €800. He also suspended a planned increase in sales tax for Aegean islands that have received large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere.

Eurozone officials expressed frustration that the country’s creditors were not told in advance by Greece of its plans—widely seen as a lure to voters ahead of elections—and said the new measures would have to be assessed to determine whether they were in line with the country’s bailout commitments. “We will adhere to the [bailout] program to the letter, but whatever outperformance in revenue arises by following to the program, we will not ask anyone in order to give this money to those most in need,” Mr. Tsipras said Tuesday from the small island of Nisyros.

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Can you imagine the opposition in your country doing this? They would risk being persecuted for treason. In Europe, it’s the new normal. But he might as well ask Putin.

Greek Opposition Leader To Seek Backing In Brussels For Snap Polls (Kath.)

In talks with officials on the sidelines of a summit of the European People’s Party in Brussels that started Wednesday, conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is to press his argument that Greece needs snap elections to sweep away the current leftist-led government and bring in a more reform-friendly administration. Mitsotakis is to meet Thursday with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, among others.

ND sources are hoping that EU officials will welcome Mitsotakis’s call for political change, coming as it does just a few days after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras unsettled the country’s creditors by announcing Christmas bonuses for thousands of pensioners and vowing to keep in place a value-added tax discount for remote islands that the government had promised its lenders to revoke. The meetings come as ND leads leftist SYRIZA by a wide margin in opinion polls. Mitsotakis’s argument is that snap polls would not be destabilizing, as they had been in January 2015, as ND is a reformist power compared to the SYRIZA coalition with Independent Greeks which the conservative party describes as “unreliable and opportunistic” in its policy-making.

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