Apr 032018
 


Vincent van Gogh Field with Irises near Arles 1888

 

Stocks’ Second-Quarter Start Is the Worst Since the Great Depression (BBG)
Stocks Lose Critical Buyer at Worst Time (BBG)
Rising Rates Sounding Alarm Bells for Debt-Laden US Consumers (BBG)
China’s State-Owned Banks Told To Stop Local Government Loans (SCMP)
Chinese Families Are Racking Up Debt On An Unprecedented Scale (SCMP)
Young Lose Out In Britain’s Housing Wealth Boom (Times)
Swedes Turn Against Cashlessness (G.)
Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power (NW)
German Prosecutors Ask Court To Extradite Carles Puigdemont To Spain (G.)
The Peril of Psychographics (New Yorker)
Erdogan ‘Has Gone Completely Crazy’ – Greek Defense Minister (K.)
Greek Confiscations Target State Debtors With Small Arrears (K.)
‘Sentinel’ Dolphins Die in Brazil Bay. Some Worry a Way of Life Has, Too (NYT)
Underwater Melting Of Antarctic Ice Far Greater Than Thought (G.)

 

 

How’s that for a headline?

Stocks’ Second-Quarter Start Is the Worst Since the Great Depression (BBG)

If you feel like the second quarter began badly, you’d be right. U.S. stocks had their worst April start since 1929, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The S&P 500 index slumped 2.2%, a rout exceeded only by its 2.5% decline 89 years ago, a prelude to the devastating crash later that year that brought on the Great Depression. (Back then, the index only comprised 90 stocks.) China’s retaliatory trade tariffs combined with President Donald Trump’s criticism of Amazon.com Inc. to send equities into a tailspin Monday.

Shares in the online retailer tumbled, encouraging a sell-off in consumer discretionary and technology stocks. The S&P 500 closed below its 200-day moving average – a key technical support – and volatility climbed. The stock slide also looked pretty bad when compared to the beginning of other quarters. Equities lost more than on any other quarterly first day since October 2011, when stocks plummeted 2.8%, Bloomberg data show.

Read more …

Is there a buyback blackout? Or, better question: should stocks depend on buybacks to such an extent?

Stocks Lose Critical Buyer at Worst Time (BBG)

The stock market’s missing a key participant as the second quarter kicks off with a rout. Corporate America is stuck on the sidelines as the S&P 500 Index plunges to its lowest level since early February. That’s to comply with regulations under which companies refrain from discretionary stock buybacks for about five weeks before reporting earnings through the 48 hours that follow. So, with first-quarter reporting season kicking into high gear in two weeks, companies must sit on their hands while the market fizzles. The timing of discretionary buybacks has gained traction in recent years with corporate appetite dwarfing all other investors as the biggest source of demand for U.S. stocks. Strategists such as Goldman Sachs’s David Kostin have pointed out that it’s no coincidence the late-January selloff occurred during a blackout period.

S&P 500 firms have bought back almost $4 trillion of their own shares since the bull market began nine years ago, data compiled by S&P Dow Jones Indices show. That demand helped mitigate damage in early February when stocks tumbled into the first correction in two years. Goldman Sachs’ buyback desk had its busiest week ever during the rout and companies were called “basically the only buyers.” Volume in S&P 500 stocks was about 7% above the 30-day average Monday. Not everyone agrees that the buyback blackout is partly to blame for Monday’s selloff. According to Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s global head of quantitative and derivative strategy, the majority of buybacks are usually done through preset programs that are not subject to blackout.

Moreover, stocks typically go up more when repurchases are announced than when the transactions actually occur. “The whole story about blackout is misconception,” Kolanovic wrote in an email. So, what could be behind the selloff? Kolanovic’s team last week attributed the recent downturn to an “irrational response” to global trade tensions. The S&P 500 is trading at below-average valuations even as earnings growth is picking up, a sign that any weakness would be worth buying, the strategists wrote in a March 27 note.

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“..an estimated $350 trillion of contracts are based on Libor..”

Rising Rates Sounding Alarm Bells for Debt-Laden US Consumers (BBG)

A healthy economy can be a dangerous thing. Americans have a history of loading up on debt in good times, then paying dearly when the bills come due. Adding to the pain: A booming economy is often accompanied by rising interest rates, which make mortgages, credit cards and other debt much more expensive. As the U.S. Federal Reserve raises rates, there are signs that consumers could be putting themselves in peril. “When consumers are confident, or over-confident, is when they get into credit-card trouble,” said Todd Christensen at Debt Reduction Services in Boise, Idaho. The nonprofit credit counseling service has seen a noticeable uptick in people looking for help with their debt, he said.

Spending on U.S. general purpose credit cards surged 9.4% last year, to $3.5 trillion, according to industry newsletter Nilson Report. Card delinquencies are also rising. U.S. household debt climbed in the fourth quarter at the fastest pace since 2007, according to the Federal Reserve. “There are warning signs out there,” said Kevin Morrison, senior analyst at the Aite Group. Especially concerning is a surge in student and auto loans over the past decade, he said. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve is steadily hiking rates, most recently on March 21 when the federal funds rate rose a quarter point to a target range of 1.5% to 1.75%.

Libor, a benchmark rate the world’s biggest banks charge each other, is also on the rise. The 3-month Libor reached 2.3% last week, the highest since November 2008. That could be a problem for companies, especially those with lower credit ratings, looking to refinance debt. Overall, an estimated $350 trillion of contracts are based on Libor, according to its administrator, ICE.

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So the shadow banks can take over?

China’s State-Owned Banks Told To Stop Local Government Loans (SCMP)

The central Chinese government has sent a blunt message intended to dissolve the marriage between banks and local governments, the nexus in China’s debt-fuelled growth model. In a directive full of “must nots”and “shalls” posted on its website last week, China’s Ministry of Finance, under the newly appointed minister Liu Kun, told state-owned financial institutions not to provide any funding to local governments, with the exception of buying government bonds. At the first meeting of the Central Economic and Financial Commission, the supreme economic decision making body headed by Xi Jinping on Monday, the Chinese president said local governments and state-owned enterprises must cut debt further.

China’s state-owned banks were told to check the registered capital of projects sponsored by local authorities, to appraise borrowers’ real repayment capabilities and not to accept local government’s guarantees for repayment or return, according to the ministry’s directive. Banks “must not provide any form of funding directly to local governmental departments or directly via local state-owned enterprises and institutions” and “must not increase new loans to local government financing vehicles irregularly”, according to the notice. It added that banks must not lend any money to local governments to be used as capital in projects, government investment funds or public-private partnership projects, it added.

Yin Zhongqing, deputy director of the financial and economic affairs committee at the National People’s Congress, told the South China Morning Post last month that at least 20 trillion yuan of “hidden debt” had been accumulated in the past three years. The national institution of finance and development under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences last week estimated the total liabilities of local government financing vehicles was 30 trillion yuan, while another 10 trillion yuan of debt could be buried in public-private partnerships.

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“A man with a 50,000 yuan debt is responsible; 200,000 yuan of debt is financially savvy; 1 million yuan of debt is a homeowner; 10 million yuan of debt is classy; and a 1 billion yuan debt is chairman of a listed company … if you don’t have any debt, you must be a total loser.”

Chinese Families Are Racking Up Debt On An Unprecedented Scale (SCMP)

Chinese families with their long tradition of saving money are now accumulating debt at a rate never been seen before, according to data compiled by a state-backed think tank in Beijing. But the National Institution for Finance and Development also said mounting debt was not a concern because Chinese households still had far more savings than debts. The country’s household leverage ratio – or the ratio between debt incurred by families and GDP – surged to 49% at the end of last year from 17.9% at the end of 2008, going up about 3.5 percentage points annually, the think tank said in a report released on Thursday.

So in the period from 1993, when the data became available, to 2008, the household debt ratio went from 8.3% to 17.9%, with an annual rise of 0.65 percentage points. But in 2016 and 2017, that annual increase accelerated to about 4.9 percentage points, the think tank said. The rapid accumulation of household debt was the biggest factor behind the rise in China’s overall leverage last year, as the corporate sector’s debt ratio fell and local government borrowing was reined in, at least on the surface, it said.

Liu Lei, a researcher with the think tank, said at a briefing on Thursday that real household debt could be “8 percentage points” higher if special housing funds, peer-to-peer lending programmes and private micro loans were factored in. In August, Shanghai-based brokerage Haitong Securities said in a report that while China’s actual household debt ratio was not high compared to many developed countries such as the US and UK, its rate of increase was dangerous. “It took 40 years for the household debt ratio in the US to rise from a level of 20% to about 50%, but it took only less than 10 years in China,” according to the Haitong economists led by Jiang Chao.

[..] China’s excessive money printing in the last decade and skyrocketing property prices have benefited those who maximised their leverage to buy real estate, while the country’s savers bore the brunt of monetary easing, leading to a dramatic shift in attitude on saving versus borrowing. That change in attitude can be seen in a popular saying widely circulated on Chinese social media in recent years: “A man with a 50,000 yuan debt is responsible; 200,000 yuan of debt is financially savvy; 1 million yuan of debt is a homeowner; 10 million yuan of debt is classy; and a 1 billion yuan debt is chairman of a listed company … if you don’t have any debt, you must be a total loser.”

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There’s so much wrong here, where to begin? Get out while you can.

Young Lose Out In Britain’s Housing Wealth Boom (Times)

Three quarters of housing wealth in Britain is held by the over-50s, according to research revealing the generational divide in the property market. Such homeowners hold £2.8 trillion of equity. The over-65s own 43 per cent of housing wealth, £1.6 trillion, the study by the estate agent Savills found. Lawrence Bowles, a research analyst at the company, said: “The extent to which wealth is concentrated in older hands is something we have not seen in a long time.” Owners have piled up equity by living longer, paying off their mortgages and watching as prices grew steadily in the final decades of the last century. “It is looking likely that we will see more people downsizing in order to free up that equity,” Mr Bowles said.

At the other end of the spectrum, homeowners under 35 hold just £221 billion of equity but owe £223 billion in mortgage debt. This age group holds £6 of equity in every £100 compared with £75 held by their parents. First-time buyers face prices that are 5.2 times higher than average incomes, while in London prices are about 14 times higher than average earnings. In most regions, it takes about eight years for the typical first-time buyer to save a deposit. This rises to nine years in the southeast and to nearly ten in London, where the average 20 per cent deposit is now above £80,000.

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“If Putin invades…”

Swedes Turn Against Cashlessness (G.)

It is hard to argue that you cannot trust the government when the government isn’t really all that bad. This is the problem facing the small but growing number of Swedes anxious about their country’s rush to embrace a cash-free society. Most consumers already say they manage without cash altogether, while shops and cafes increasingly refuse to accept notes and coins because of the costs and risk involved. Until recently, however, it has been hard for critics to find a hearing. “The Swedish government is a rather nice one, we have been lucky enough to have mostly nice ones for the past 100 years,” says Christian Engström, a former MEP for the Pirate Party and an early opponent of the cashless economy.

“In other countries there is much more awareness that you cannot trust the government all the time. In Sweden it is hard to get people mobilised.” There are signs this might be changing. In February, the head of Sweden’s central bank warned that Sweden could soon face a situation where all payments were controlled by private sector banks. The Riksbank governor, Stefan Ingves, called for new legislation to secure public control over the payments system, arguing that being able to make and receive payments is a “collective good” like defence, the courts, or public statistics. “Most citizens would feel uncomfortable to surrender these social functions to private companies,” he said. “It should be obvious that Sweden’s preparedness would be weakened if, in a serious crisis or war, we had not decided in advance how households and companies would pay for fuel, supplies and other necessities.”

The central bank governor’s remarks are helping to bring other concerns about a cash-free society into the mainstream, says Björn Eriksson, 72, a former national police commissioner and the leader of a group called the Cash Rebellion, or Kontantupproret. Until now, Kontantupproret has been dismissed as the voice of the elderly and the technologically backward, Eriksson says. “When you have a fully digital system you have no weapon to defend yourself if someone turns it off,” he says. “If Putin invades Gotland [Sweden’s largest island] it will be enough for him to turn off the payments system. No other country would even think about taking these sorts of risks, they would demand some sort of analogue system.”

In this sense, Sweden is far from its famous concept of lagom – “just the right amount” – but instead is “100% extreme”, Eriksson says, by investing so much faith in the banks. “This is a political question. We are leaving these decisions to four major banks who form a monopoly in Sweden.”

Read more …

A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Sanders agrees about Amazon. What’s happening to the world?

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power (NW)

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined. “And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders. The senator’s comments came on the heels of a number of tweets from Trump, who has long criticized the online retailer.

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WIll Europe start chasing elected politicians?

German Prosecutors Ask Court To Extradite Carles Puigdemont To Spain (G.)

German prosecutors have asked a court to permit the extradition of former Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont to Spain. Prosecutors in the northern town of Schleswig said on Tuesday they have submitted a request to the regional court following “intensive examination” of the European arrest warrant issued by Spain. Puigdemont has been detained in Germany since 25 March. Spain accuses the 55-year-old of rebellion in organising an unauthorised referendum. The Schleswig court is likely to take several days to decide whether to extradite Puigdemont. His lawyers have urged the German government to intervene in the case, citing the “political dimension.”

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Just stop collecting the data. Problem solved.

The Peril of Psychographics (New Yorker)

In September, 2016, Alexander Nix, the C.E.O. of Cambridge Analytica, the data and messaging company that was working at the time with Donald Trump’s supposedly flagging Presidential campaign, explained his firm’s work like this: “If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key audience groups.” The fancy term for this is psychographic targeting. A few weeks later, Trump won the Presidency, against all odds and predictions, sending political operatives and journalists scrambling for explanations. “There was a huge demand internally for people to see how we did it,” Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former business-development director, told the Guardian last Friday. “Everyone wanted to know: past clients, future clients.”

Whether Cambridge Analytica’s targeting work actually swayed the outcome of the election has been a subject of debate since then—because the firm’s record is spotty, psychographic targeting in political campaigns is a relatively new concept, and it has not yet been definitely shown that C.A. successfully used these methods on behalf of Trump’s campaign. Christopher Wylie, the former C.A. employee who recently came forward to detail how the company improperly acquired personal data from fifty million Facebook users, has said that the company used that data to create a “psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”

But Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher who provided the company with the Facebook data, has described it as “not that accurate at the individual level.” Kogan’s conclusion tracks with research that has been done by the U.K.-based Online Privacy Foundation, whose research director, Chris Sumner, recently told me that psychographics are much more accurate for groups rather than individual people.

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The US and France are turning their backs on Turkey. Feel emboldened by that?

Erdogan ‘Has Gone Completely Crazy’ – Greek Defense Minister (K.)

Raising the incendiary rhetoric another notch, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos lashed out against Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday, saying that the Turkish president “has gone completely crazy.” Speaking to journalists outside the Parliament in Athens about the fate of the two Greek soldiers held in Turkey and Ankara’s provocations in the Aegean, Kammenos said there are no lines of communication with Erdogan. “We’re talking about Erdogan, who goes out and publicly insults the US and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said, adding that “Turkey has no courts while its justice system works under the orders of the sultan [Erdogan].”

The two soldiers, he said, could, under these circumstances, be held there for 15 years. “You cannot answer to a madman,” he said, referring to the Turkish leader. The two soldiers have been held for a month in Turkey without any charges being brought against them yet. Kammenos, who is also the leader of the right-wing junior coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL), said Turkish authorities have so far found nothing to prosecute the two soldiers but warned of a worst-case scenario reminiscent of the film “Midnight Express,” based on the travails of an American who served time in a Turkish prison in the 1970s.

“If you watch ‘Midnight Express,’ you will see that they kept on making up charges against him,” he said, adding that “nothing works democratically there [Turkey].” He also expressed concern that an incident could occur in the Aegean. “They may want to provoke this but you must know that the Turkish military is in a dire state at this moment,” he said, adding that, for its part, Greece “is ready.” He clarified that Greece will not take the bait but noted that if Turkey violates Greek national sovereignty, then “we will respond as we should.”

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On the poorest in Greece: “..the state conducted 1.72 million confiscations of salaries, pensions and rent payments last year..”

See, the poor owe €1.2 billion. 40,000 rich individuals and companies owe €90 billion.

Greek Confiscations Target State Debtors With Small Arrears (K.)

Over 3.3 million taxpayers owe the tax authorities amounts of less than 3,000 euros each. According to figures published by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, the state conducted 1.72 million confiscations of salaries, pensions and rent payments last year, mostly concerning small debtors. Debtors owing up to 3,000 euros account for 80.5% of all debtors, and they owe 1.2 billion euros. These debts were run up in recent years and mainly stem from failure to pay income tax and the Single Property Tax (ENFIA), whereas bigger debts to the tax authorities concern 40,000 individuals and companies and add up to 90 billion euros, originating from fines and activated guarantees. It is quite impressive that the number of state debtors has increased by some 3 million in the years of the financial crisis, climbing from 1 million in 2010 to 4.1 million today.

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“Nostalgia aside..” Nostalgia? What? Nostalgic for life? When everything’s dead, we go and be nostalgic?

‘Sentinel’ Dolphins Die in Brazil Bay. Some Worry a Way of Life Has, Too (NYT)

Something ominous was happening in the turquoise waters of Sepetiba Bay, a booming port outside Rio de Janeiro. Beginning late last year, fishermen were coming across the scarred and emaciated carcasses of dolphins, sometimes five a day, bobbing up to the surface. Since then, scientists there have discovered more than 200 dead Guiana dolphins, or Sotalia guianensis, a quarter of what was the world’s largest concentration of the species. The deaths, caused by respiratory and nervous system failures linked to a virus, have subsided, but scientists are working to unravel the mystery behind them. How, they ask, did a virus that might ordinarily have claimed a handful of dolphins end up killing scores of them?

And does part of the answer, scientists and local residents ask, lie in the bay itself, at once a testament to Brazil’s economic power and a portent of environmental risk. The dolphins are “sentinels,” said Mariana Alonso, a biologist at the Biophysics Institute at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, one of a number groups working to understand the epidemic. “When something is wrong with them, that indicates the whole ecosystem is fractured.” [..] Sepetiba Bay, 40 miles west of downtown Rio, became one of the principal gateways for Brazilian exports over the past generation. In 2017, 39 million tons of iron ore and other commodities shipped from there.

The wooden fishing boats that crisscross the bay now weave around massive merchant ships loaded with iron and steel. Though people still swim in its waters, four ports and a constellation of chemical, steel and manufacturing plants have risen on its shores. One of world’s most prominent iron ore producers, Vale, occupies a new terminal in an old fishing spot on nearby Guaiba Island. “When I was a child, buffalo roamed the farms around my village, and we had apples and coconuts,” said Cleyton Ferreira Figueiredo, 28, a convenience store cashier who, nostalgia aside, also sees advantages in the development. “Now everything is more urban, with schools and facilities. There are more jobs, and it takes me 15 minutes to get home when I finish.”

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A little scary.

Underwater Melting Of Antarctic Ice Far Greater Than Thought (G.)

Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice. Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to . The research by the at the University of Leeds suggests climate change is affecting the Antarctic more than previously believed and is likely to prompt global projections of sea-level rise to be revised upward.

Until recently, the Antarctic was seen as relatively stable. Viewed from above, the extent of land and sea ice in the far south has not changed as dramatically as in the far north. But the new study found even a small increase in temperature has been enough to cause a loss of five metres every year from the bottom edge of the ice sheet, some of which is more than 2km underwater. “What’s happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can’t see it, because it’s happening below the sea surface,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the paper. “The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland.”

The study measures the Antarctic’s “grounding line” – the bottommost edge of the ice sheet across 16,000km of coastline. This is done by using elevation data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 and applying Archimedes’s principle of buoyancy, which relates the thickness of floating ice to the height of its surface.

Read more …

Mar 312018
 
 March 31, 2018  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giotto Lamentation 1306

 

What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency? (WS)
How Many Trillions In Debt Are Linked To Soaring LIBOR? (ZH)
Bitcoin Is On Track For Its Worst First Quarter Ever (CNBC)
Tesla’s ‘Day Of Reckoning’ Is Near (CNBC)
ECB To Buy More German Bank Bonds To Keep Stimulus Flowing (R.)
UK Must Bring Home ‘Just Over 50’ Of Its Diplomats From Russia (R.)
Jammers Stop Assange From Using Internet (PA)
China’s Social Credit System Punishes Untrustworthy Citizens (ABC.au)
China ‘Environment Census’ Reveals 50% Rise In Pollution Sources (G.)
Overfishing Turns Mediterranean Dolphins Into Thieves (Ind.)

 

 

Again: look at dollar-denominated debt in the world. And then check interest rates. The dollar will be in great demand.

What Could Dethrone the Dollar as Top Reserve Currency? (WS)

What will finally pull the rug out from under the dollar’s hegemony? The euro? The Chinese yuan? Cryptocurrencies? The Greek drachma? Whatever it will be, and however fervently the death-of-the-dollar folks might wish for it, it’s not happening at the moment, according to the most recent data. The IMF just released its report, Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves (COFER) for the fourth quarter 2017. It should be said that the IMF is very economical with what it discloses. The COFER data for the individual countries – the total level of their reserve currencies and what currencies they hold – is “strictly confidential.” But we get to look at the global allocation by currency.

In Q4 2017, total global foreign exchange reserves, including all currencies, rose 6.6% year-over-year, or by $709 billion, to $11.42 trillion, right in the range of the past three years (from $10.7 trillion in Q4 2016 to $11.8 trillion in Q3, 2014). For reporting purposes, the IMF converts all currency balances into dollars. Dollar-denominated assets among foreign exchange reserves rose 14% year-over-year in Q4 to $6.28 trillion, and are up 42% from Q4 2014. There is no indication that global central banks have lost interest in the dollar; on the contrary:

Over the decades, there have been some efforts to topple the dollar’s hegemony as a global reserve currency, which it has maintained since World War II. The creation of the euro was the most successful such effort. Back in the day, the euro was supposed to reach “parity” with the dollar on the hegemony scale. And it edged up for a while until the euro debt crisis derailed those dreams. And now there’s the ballyhooed Chinese yuan. Effective October 1, 2016, the IMF added it to its currency basket, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR). This anointed the yuan as a global reserve currency. But not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their foreign exchange reserves are allocated. In Q4, the allocation of 12.3% of the reserves hadn’t been disclosed.

These “unallocated reserves” have been plunging. Back in Q4 2014, they still accounted for 41% of total reserves. They’re plunging because more central banks report to the IMF their allocation of foreign exchange reserves, and the COFER data is getting more detailed. So among the 87.7% of the “allocated” reserve currencies in Q4 2017, the pie was split up this way, with changes since 2014: Disappointingly for many folks, the Chinese yuan – the thin red sliver in the pie chart above — didn’t exactly soar since its inclusion in the SDR basket. Its share ticked up by a minuscule amount to a minuscule share of 1.2% of allocated foreign exchange reserves in Q4. In other words, central banks seem to lack a certain eagerness, if you will, to hold yuan-denominated assets.

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Nobody has a clue why LIBOR rises, including whoever wrote this. A wild guess: $200 trillion?! It’s that dollar-denominated debt problem again.

How Many Trillions In Debt Are Linked To Soaring LIBOR? (ZH)

[..] we have commented extensively on what may (or may not) be behind the Libor blow out: if as many claim, the move is a benign technicality and a temporary imbalance in money market supply and demand, largely a function of tax reform (including the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax) or alternatively of the $300BN surge in T-Bill supply in the past month, the Libor move should start fading. If it doesn’t, it will be time to get nervous. But no matter what the reason is behind the Libor move, the reality is that financial conditions are far tighter as a result of the sharp move higher in short-term rates in general, and Libor in particular, which for at least a few more years, remains the benchmark rate referenced by trillions in fixed income instruments.

Which brings us to a logical follow up question: ignoring the reasons behind the move, how does a higher Libor rate spread throughout the financial system, and related to that, how much notional debt is at risk of paying far higher interest expense, if only temporarily, resulting in even tighter financial conditions. For the answer, we look at the various ways that Libor, and short-term rates in general “channel” into the economy. Here, as JPMorgan explains, the key driver is and always has been monetary policy, which controls short-term rates, which affect the economy via various channels and pathways.

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45% feels like a lot.

Bitcoin Is On Track For Its Worst First Quarter Ever (CNBC)

Bitcoin is having a terrible first quarter, in fact the worst its ever seen. The price of the cryptocurrency has fallen from $13,412.44 on January 1 to $7,266.07 on March 30, marking a more than 45% decline, according to data from CoinDesk, a site which tracks the price of different digital coins. The quarter ends on Saturday. So far this quarter, $114.9 billion of market capitalization or value has been wiped off of bitcoin. The price decline this quarter is the biggest first quarter decline in bitcoin’s history. The previous biggest decline was a near 38% fall in the price in the first quarter of 2014, according to data from CoinDesk. It tracks the price of bitcoin back to the middle of 2010.

CNBC looked at bitcoin’s price performance in the first quarters of each year beginning in 2011. Bitcoin has recorded a decline in 5 of the 8 first quarters tracked, which includes the current 2018 Q1. The biggest price rise was a 599% surge in the price of bitcoin in the first quarter of 2013. Bitcoin saw a huge run up in price in 2017 and hit a record high above $19,000 towards the end of last year. But it has faced tougher regulatory scrutiny in 2018 and some of the air has come out of the market. At a G-20 meeting this month, Argentina’s central bank governor outlined a summer deadline for members to have “specific recommendations on what to do” and said task forces are working to submit proposals by July. Italy’s central bank leader told reporters after the meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that cryptocurrencies pose risks but should not be banned, according to Reuters.

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What’s the recall of 123,000 cars going to cost?

Tesla’s ‘Day Of Reckoning’ Is Near (CNBC)

Tesla’s big stock drop this month will have negative implications for its ability to raise critically-needed funds, according to Wall Street analysts. The company’s shares declined 22% in March on concerns over a fatal car crash in California last week and worries over its Model 3 production rate. Tesla’s 5.3% bond, issued last August and maturing in 2025, also fell 4% to 87.25 cents Wednesday with a yield of 7.6%, according to FactSet. The bond’s price declined 8% this month. Morgan Stanley on Wednesday warned Tesla shareholders the stock’s fall could be a “self-fulfilling” prophecy for further declines.

“A lower share price begets a lower share price … For a company widely expected to continue to fund its strategy through external capital raises, a fall in the share price can take on a self-fulfilling nature that further exacerbates the volatility of the share price,” analyst Adam Jonas wrote. Jonas said the company needs to accelerate its rate of Model 3 production if it wants to raise funds at an attractive price for the company. “The precise timing of when Tesla can achieve a 2,500/week and then a 5,000/week production run-rate for its mass market sedan can make the difference between whether Tesla is potentially raising capital from a position of weakness at a price near our $175 bear case or whether it can access capital from a position of strength with a stock price near our $561 bull case,” he wrote.

Another financial firm is already pessimistic over Telsa’s Model 3 manufacturing capability. Moody’s downgraded Tesla’s credit ratings after the close Tuesday and changed the outlook to negative from stable, citing the “significant shortfall” in the Model 3 production rate and its tight financial situation. Tesla had $3.4 billion in cash or cash equivalents at year end 2017. The company lost nearly $2 billion last year and burned about $3.4 billion in cash after capital investments. Given the company’s cash burn rate and how it has $230 million of debt due in Nov. 2018 and another $920 million in Mar. 2019, Moody’s believes the company has to raise new capital soon.

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This is a week old, but we can’t repeat often enough how insane this is. Germany’s economy is supposedly soaring, but Draghi keeps saving its banks. “To boost inflation..” Bigger nonsense was never heard. Those banks are simply not doing well. But even then, let Germany solve the mess.

ECB To Buy More German Bank Bonds To Keep Stimulus Flowing (R.)

The European Central Bank will start buying bonds from a further seven state-owned German banks under its stimulus program, it said on Thursday, in a bid to avoid running out of debt to buy after three years of massive purchases. The seven regional banks, which include the Investitionsbank Berlin and Bavaria’s LFA Förderbank Bayern, join a small group of German development lenders whose debt the ECB has already been buying as part of its efforts to boost inflation. The move slightly enlarges the pool of German debt which the ECB can tap as part of its 2.55 trillion euro ($3.14 trillion) quantitative easing scheme, thereby pushing back a looming cap on owning more than a third of any one country’s public debt.

With euro zone inflation now comfortably above 1%, the ECB is widely expected to wind down its bond purchases this year and even start raising interest rates towards the middle of 2019. With Germany running a fiscal surplus, however, finding enough German bonds to buy has already become harder for the ECB, which has reduced its purchases of debt from Europe’s largest economy more than for other large countries in recent months. The ECB has set out to buy government bonds in proportion to the amount of capital that each country has paid into the central bank, which in turn depends on the size of its economy. Deviations from this so called “capital key”, however, have been substantial, with France, Italy and Spain enjoying oversized purchases while smaller countries such as Estonia and Portugal have fallen behind.

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And the whole time I’m thinking: why do they have so many people out there? What do they do all day long?

UK Must Bring Home ‘Just Over 50’ Of Its Diplomats From Russia (R.)

Russia has told Britain it must send home “just over 50” more of its diplomats in a worsening standoff with the West over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Russia has already retaliated in kind against Britain and ejected 23 British diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. London says Moscow stood behind the attack, something Russia denies. British Ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned again on Friday and told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

On Saturday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters that meant Britain would have to cut “a little over 50” of its diplomats in Russia. “We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians,” said Zakharova. When asked if that meant London would have to bring home exactly 50 diplomats, she said: “A little over 50.”

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It doesn’t feel as if demanding internet access for Julian quite cuts it. He could be in much bigger trouble.

Jammers Stop Assange From Using Internet (PA)

Electronic jammers have been placed inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to prevent WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange having access to the internet or social media, sources say. The Ecuadorian government took the measure on Tuesday evening, stopping Assange from tweeting, using the internet or phone. He has also been refused any visitors to the embassy, where he has been living since June 2012, believing he will be extradited to the US for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. The measures follow the publication of an article in the Ecuadorian press concerning Assange’s tweets about the arrest of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany earlier this week.

In a phone call to Assange’s lawyer on Tuesday, an adviser to Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa said the WikiLeaks founder must stop tweeting about the Catalan issue. He was also asked to erase a tweet which said: “In 1940 the elected president of Catalonia, Lluis Companys, was captured by the Gestapo, at the request of Spain, delivered to them and executed. Today, German police have arrested the elected president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, at the request of Spain, to be extradited.” Assange did not erase the tweet. His lawyer was told that a decision had been taken to isolate Assange by preventing him from communicating with the outside world and that this was “by order of the president”, say sources.

The serving Ecuadorian ambassador to Washington DC Francisco Carrion tweeted on Thursday: “The decision of the government of Ecuador to prevent Assange from tweeting is correct.” The Ecuador government said in a statement: “The government of Ecuador has suspended the systems that allow Julian Assange to communicate to the outside of the Ecuador embassy in London. “The measure was adopted due to Assange not complying with a written promise which he made with the government in late 2017, by which he was obliged not to send messages which entailed interference in relation to other states.” WikiLeaks sources said there was no such agreement.

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Who needs Orwell? Or Facebook, for that matter?! Only difference is China does it openly.

China’s Social Credit System Punishes Untrustworthy Citizens (ABC.au)

Chinese authorities claim they have banned more than 7 million people deemed “untrustworthy” from boarding flights, and nearly 3 million others from riding on high-speed trains, according to a report by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission. The announcements offer a glimpse into Beijing’s ambitious attempt to create a Social Credit System (SCS) by 2020 — that is, a proposed national system designed to value and engineer better individual behaviour by establishing the scores of 1.4 billion citizens and “awarding the trustworthy” and “punishing the disobedient”.

Liu Hu, a 43-year-old journalist who lives in China’s Chongqing municipality, told the ABC he was “dumbstruck” to find himself caught up in the system and banned by airlines when he tried to book a flight last year. Mr Liu is on a “dishonest personnel” list — a pilot scheme of the SCS — because he lost a defamation lawsuit in 2015 and was asked by the court to pay a fine that is still outstanding according to the court record. “No one ever notified me,” Mr Liu, who claims he paid the fine, said. Like the other 7 million citizens deemed to be “dishonest” and mired in the blacklist, Mr Liu has also been banned from staying in a star-rated hotel, buying a house, taking a holiday, and even sending his nine-year-old daughter to a private school. And just last Monday, Chinese authorities announced they would also seek to freeze the assets of those deemed “dishonest people”.

As the national system is still being fully realised, dozens of pilot social credit systems have already been tested by local governments at provincial and city levels. For example, Suzhou, a city in eastern China, uses a point system where every resident is rated on a scale between 0 and 200 points — every resident starts from the baseline of 100 points. One can earn bonus points for benevolent acts and lose points for disobeying laws, regulations, and social norms. According to a 2016 report by local police, the top-rated Suzhou citizen had 134 points for donating more than one litre of blood and doing more than 500 hours of volunteer work. The city said the next step was to use the credit system to punish people for transgressions such as dodging transport fares, cheating in video games, and restaurant no-shows.

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Tried to make sense of this, several times. Still sounds entirely hollow.

China ‘Environment Census’ Reveals 50% Rise In Pollution Sources (G.)

China’s environment ministry has said the number of sources of pollution in the country has increased by more than half in less than a decade. Releasing preliminary results of an ongoing “environmental census”, China’s ministry of ecology and environment said the number of sources of pollution in the country stands at about 9m, compared to 5.9m in its first census, in 2010. “The objectives and scope of the second census is different from those of the first one,” said Hong Yaxiong, head of the pollution survey at the ministry, Thursday. “But overall, there are more pollution sources.” The census did not say whether pollution had increased but declines in airborne pollution in major cities have been recorded in other studies.

Hong said factories flouting emissions standards were the main problem. The ministry found 7.4m sources of industrial pollution, compared to a million in rural areas and 500,000 in urban locations. Five years ago, China declared a “war against pollution.” Since then, new coal plants have been barred from opening and existing ones have been ordered to cut emissions. Major cities restrict the number of cars allowed on the roads. This past winter, residents in Beijing were left without heat after their coal boilers were removed. As part of the campaign, officials this month expanded the powers of the country’s 10-year-old ministry of environmental protection to include water management, emissions reductions, agricultural pollution, and other duties previously managed by half a dozen other ministries.

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No, it’s not just the birds and the bees. Fish are gone too.

Overfishing Turns Mediterranean Dolphins Into Thieves (Ind.)

Dolphins short on prey are resorting to underhand tactics to find a meal – tearing into nets to access the fish inside. Researchers studying interactions between dolphins and fishermen in northern Cyprus found nets were six times more prone to damage when dolphins were in the vicinity. They concluded that the marauding marine mammals were therefore the most likely culprits. “It seems that some dolphins may be actively seeking nets as a way to get food,” said Dr Robin Snape, an ecologist at the University of Exeter, who led the study. Net damage is irritating for the fishermen themselves, and can cost individuals thousands of euros every year. This is particularly problematic as most operations in the region are small scale.

However, the scientists suggested the fishermen must take some share of the blame, as overfishing in the region is a likely driver for the dolphins’ unusual behaviour. Dr Snape highlighted a “vicious cycle” that is “probably driven by falling fish stocks, which also result in low catches – meaning more nets are needed and higher costs for fishers”. “Effective management of fish stocks is urgently needed to address the overexploitation that is causing this vicious cycle,” he said.

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 January 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt van Rijn The flight into Egypt – a night piece 1651

 

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)
The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)
Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)
Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)
Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)
The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)
Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)
Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)
Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)
Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)
The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s your borrowing that will do you in.

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)

I fully expect the Government’s Census Bureau to post a mind-blowing headline retail sales number for December. Hyperbolic headline economic statistics derived from mysterious “seasonal adjustments” based on questionable sampling methodology is part of the official propaganda policy mandated by the Executive Branch of Government. But I also believe that retail sales were likely more robust than saner minds were expecting because it appears that households have become accustomed to the easy credit provided by the banking system to make ends meet. Borrow money to “spend and pretend.” The Fed reported that consumer credit hit an all-time record in November. The primary driver was credit card debt, which hit a new all-time high (previous record was in 2008). Credit debt also increased a record monthly amount in November.

“Speaking of signposts, households have grown increasingly comfortable with leverage to maintain their living standards, which of course economists cheer. That’s worked for 24 straight months as credit card spending growth has outrun that of income growth” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, who was an advisor for nine years to former Dallas Fed President, Richard Fisher. The graph above shows the year over year monthly percentage change in revolving credit – which is primarily credit card debt – and real disposable personal income. Real disposable personal income is after-tax income adjusted for CPI inflation. As you can see, the growth in the use of credit card debt has indeed outstripped the growth in after-tax household income. The credit metric above would not include home equity lines of credit.

At some point, assuming the relationship between the two variables above continues along the same trend, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, credit card debt will collide with reality and there will be a horrifying number of credit card defaults. Worse than 2008-2010. [The next] chart shows household debt service payments as a percentage of after-tax income: “Debt service” is interest + principal payments. With auto loan and credit card debt, most of the debt service payment is interest. This metric climbed to a 5-year high during a period of time when interest rates hit all-time record lows. Currently the average household is unable to make more than the minimum principle payment per the information conveyed by the first graphic. What happens to the debt service:income ratio metric as households continue to pile on debt to make ends meet while interest rates rise?

Household debt service includes mortgage debt service payments. Household mortgage debt outstanding is not quite at the all-time high recorded in Q2 2008. The current number from the Fed is through Q3 2017. At the current quarterly rate of increase, an new all-time high in mortgage debt outstanding should occur during Q2 2018. However, it should be noted that the number of homes sold per quarter during this current housing bubble is below the number of units sold per quarter at the peak of the previous housing bubble. This means that the average size of mortgage per home sold is higher now than during the earlier housing bubble. This is a fact that overlooked by every housing and credit market analyst, either intentionally or from ignorance (I’ll let you decide).

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Until it does.

The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)

The New Year’s rally has pushed the S&P 500 Index to its best start since the administration of George W. Bush. Now it’s bumping against speed barriers that marked the upper limits of bull markets for decades. Up eight times in the first nine days of 2018, the S&P 500 has broken away from a trend line, its 200-day moving average, with a velocity unseen since 2013, the best year for equities in a generation. The benchmark now sits more than 11% above the level, putting it in the 92nd percentile of momentum, data going back 20 years show. Something has changed in equities. If 2017 was a slow but steady slog, 2018 has been off to the races, with shares rising at four times last year’s daily rate on the back of Donald Trump’s tax package and gathering signs of economic strength.

Forty seven companies in the S&P 500 are already up at least 10% this year, compared with just two down as much. “Even if you were the bullest of the bulls, this crazy rally start to the year took you off guard,” said Michael Antonelli at Robert W. Baird & Co. “We’ve completely run out of ways to describe what’s happening. We get asked a lot, are you seeing anything different that could explain the rally? The answer is no.” Fear of missing out is rampant not just on Wall Street but worldwide. Globally, stock funds saw a $24 billion inflow in the five days through Thursday, the sixth largest weekly total ever. Concern the U.S. stocks have jumped too much too fast prompted Morgan Stanley’s Andrew Sheets to cut the U.S. stocks’s exposure in favor of European equities this week.

Sheets isn’t the only one having a hard time keeping up. The average of 23 strategists predictions is for the S&P 500 to reach 2,914 at year-end. If stocks were to maintain the same upward trajectory they’ve exhibited in the last nine days, it would take roughly two more weeks to reach the strategists’ target. At 3.4 times its book value, the S&P 500 trades at the most expensive level since 2002, while its 14-day relative strength index reached a level unseen since 1996. The S&P 500 rose 1.6% to 2,786 this week, pushing the spread between the gauge and its 200-day moving average to 11.5%, the widest in five years.

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Because it can.

Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)

The Federal Reserve’s income from operations in 2017 dropped by $11.7 billion to $80.7 billion, the Fed announced today. Its $4.45-trillion of assets – including $2.45 trillion of US Treasury securities and $1.76 trillion of mortgage-backed securities that it acquired during years of QE – produce a lot of interest income. How much interest income? $113.6 billion. It also made $1.9 billion in foreign currency gains, resulting “from the daily revaluation of foreign currency denominated investments at current exchange rates.” For a total income of about $115.5 billion. Those are just “estimates,” the Fed said. Final “audited” results of the Federal Reserve Banks are due in March. This “audit” is of course the annual financial audit executed by KPMG that the Fed hires to do this.

It’s not the kind of audit that some members in Congress have been clamoring for – an audit that would try to find out what actually is going on at the Fed. No, this is just a financial audit. As the Fed points out in its 2016 audited “Combined Financial Statements,” the audit attempts to make sure that the accounting is in conformity with the accounting principles in the Financial Accounting Manual for Federal Reserve Banks. Given that the Fed prints its own money to invest or manipulate markets with – which makes for some crazy accounting issues – the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that apply to US businesses to do not apply to the Fed. This annual audit by KPMG reveals nothing except that the Fed’s accounting is in conformity with the Fed’s own accounting manual.

The Fed pays the banks interest on their “Required Reserves” and on their “Excess Reserves” at the Fed. Excess Reserves are the biggie: As a result of QE, they jumped from $1.7 billion in July 2008, to $2.7 trillion at the peak in September 2014. They’ve since dwindled, if that’s the right word, to $2.2 trillion:

When the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meets to hash out its monetary policy, it also considers what to do with the interest rates that it pays the banks on “Required Reserves” and on “Excess Reserves.” In this cycle so far, every time the Fed has raised its target range for the federal funds rate (now between 1.25% and 1.50%) it also raised the interest rates it pays the banks on “required reserves” and on “excess reserves,” which went from 0.25% since the Financial Crisis to 1.5% now:

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They’ve been working to achieve it for a decade, and now they manage to fool themselves into thinking they got it, it’s not what they want.

Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)

“I‘m disagreeing with that framework,” Rosengren said at the Global Interdependence Center in San Diego, referring to the Fed’s “balanced” approach to achieving a 2% inflation target and full employment. The Fed adopted this framework six years ago and has reaffirmed it each year since. Now, as Fed Governor Jerome Powell prepares to take the reins as Fed chief from Janet Yellen when her term ends early next month, a growing number of Fed policymakers want to rethink that framework. Rosengren’s comments Friday put the sharpest point to date on the debate, suggesting that a strict 2-percent inflation target could force the Fed to slam the brakes on the economy with aggressive rate hikes if the unemployment rate, now at 4.1%, continues to sink. It is already below the level that many economists think can be sustained without putting upward pressure on inflation.

While inflation running stubbornly below 2% has so far allowed the Fed to lift rates only gradually, that may change, Rosengren warned. “My concern is if we get too far away from where we want to be on a sustainable unemployment rate, and we use this current framework, then we will get to a situation where we have to raise rates fast enough that we will actually find it very difficult to get back to full employment without causing a recession,” Rosengren said. Rosengren suggested replacing the 2% inflation target with a target range for inflation of between 1.5% and 3%, in line with actual experience over the last 20 years. Under current conditions of low productivity and labor force growth, he said, the Fed would target inflation at the upper end of that range, and would be more patient with rate hikes.

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“Marketable borrowings..”

Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)

During yesterday’s surprisingly candid remarks by Bill Dudley, the second most important person in the Federal Reserve – the organization that is responsible for the third consecutive and largest ever yet asset bubble in history – said that one risk he was increasingly worried about was, drumroll, elevated asset prices. Because, supposedly, the Fed has little to input in how asset prices came to be where they are… Just as ominous was Dudley’s admission that the second risk he was concerned about is “the long-term fiscal position of the United States” i.e. US debt. Specifically, Dudley said that the Trump tax cut “will increase the nation’s longer-term fiscal burden, which is already facing other pressures, such as higher debt service costs and entitlement spending as the baby-boom generation retires.”

Oddly there was no mention of which administration doubled US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in under a decade, and which organization enabled this to happen by keeping rates at record low levels, while crushing savers, and bailing out habitual gamblers. In any case, now that the narrative has shifted, and Donald Trump will be scapegoated not only for the upcoming “tremendous” market crash – something he has made especially easy by taking credit for every single uptick in the S&P – but also for the inevitable fiscal collapse of the United States, it is time to provide the backing for this particular strawman, and to do that, this morning Dudley’s former employer, Goldman Sachs released a report in which the bank’s chief economist said the he is updating his Treasury issuance forecast to account for recent revised deficit projections.

As a result, US marketable borrowings will more than double from below $500 billion in 2018 to over $1 trillion in 2019 as the debt tsunami finally get going. To build up the strawman, Goldman explains that US borrowing needs will rise for three reasons: First, recently enacted tax reform legislation is estimated to raise the deficit by more than $200bn, on average, each of the next four years, and Congress looks likely approve substantial new spending as well. Second, Fed portfolio runoff will increase the amount of debt the Treasury must issue to the public. Third, the Treasury’s cash balance is likely to rise by around $200bn once a longer-term debt limit suspension is enacted, which will also necessitate additional borrowing.

Goldman expects that the “substantial increase” in borrowing needs will be announced by the Treasury when it lays out its plans at the February quarterly refunding. What Goldman has left unsaid is what happens to interest rates at a time when on one hand US debt supply is set to double and on the other the Fed is set to continue shrinking its balance sheets, the ECB and BOJ are set to accelerate (and begin) tapering their own QEs and when global inflation is expected to keep rising. What is also unsaid is just who will be the marginal buyer of this debt tsunami when central banks increasingly shift away from debt monetization.

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2018 will show us just what bad shape Britain is in.

The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)

You may never have heard of Carillion. There’s no reason you should have. Its lack of glamour is neatly summed up by the name it sported in the 90s: Tarmac. But since then it has grown and grown to become the UK’s second-largest building firm – and one of the biggest contractors to the British government. Name an infrastructure pie in the UK and the chances are Carillion has its fingers in it: the HS2 rail link, broadband rollout, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, the Library of Birmingham. It maintains army barracks, builds PFI schools, lays down roads in Aberdeen. The lot. There’s just one snag. For over a year now, Carillion has been in meltdown. Its shares have dropped 90%, it’s issued profit warnings, and it’s on to its third chief executive within six months. And this week, the government moved into emergency mode.

A group of ministers held a crisis meeting on Thursday to discuss the firm. Around the table, reports the FT, were business secretary Greg Clark, as well as ministers from the Cabinet Office, health, transport, justice, education and local government. Even the Foreign Office sent a representative. Why did Chris Grayling give the HS2 contract to a company that was already in existential difficulties? That roll call says all you need to know about the public significance of what happens next at Carillion. This is a firm that employs just under 20,000 workers in Britain – and the same again abroad. It has a huge chain of suppliers – and its habit of going in for joint ventures with other construction businesses means that a collapse at Carillion would send shockwaves through the industry and through the government’s public works programme.

To see what this means, take the HS2 rail link, where Carillion this summer was part of a consortium that won a £1.4bn contract to knock tunnels through the Chilterns. If Carillion goes under, what happens to the largest infrastructure project in Europe? What happens to its partners on the deal, British firm Kier, and France’s Eiffage? The project will need to be put back and the taxpayer will almost certainly have to step in. Imagine that same catastrophe befalling dozens of other projects across the UK and you get a sense of what’s at stake. Jobs will be cut, schools will go unbuilt (just a couple of months ago, Oxfordshire county council pulled the plug on a 10-year schools project) – and the government’s entire private finance initiative (PFI) model for building this country’s essential services will be shaken to the core.

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Good cop bad cop.

Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)

Spanish and Dutch finance ministers have agreed to push for a Brexit deal that keeps Britain as close to the European Union as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra met earlier this week and discussed their common interests in Brexit, according to the person, who declined to be identified. Both have close trade and investment ties and are concerned about the impact of tariffs. They are also worried about losing U.K. contributions to the EU budget, the person said. The pound jumped to the strongest level since the referendum in 2016, trading 1.2% higher at $1.3690.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish Economy Ministry stressed that both ministers support chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s efforts, and said they’re not working together toward a soft Brexit deal. Earlier, a Spanish economy ministry official said that the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. A spokesman for Hoekstra declined to comment. The 27 remaining EU nations maintained a united front in the first phase of divorce talks, though the solidarity is already showing signs of strain as national interests diverge in the face of future trade discussions. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned countries to be disciplined and stick together to protect all their interests, in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. EU countries have delegated the job of negotiations to Barnier.

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Steve reply to the one-dimensional Oxford Review of Economic Policy’s latest issue.

Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)

Modern Economics is as conformist, and bland, as country and western music. This leaves radical thinkers singing the Blues as their voices go unheard. I’ve had an epiphany about my place in the Universe, and I owe it to the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and its special issue on “Rebuilding Macroeconomic Theory.” I am Elwood Blues, and the Universe (the part I inhabit anyway) is Bob’s Country Bunker. Halfway through the classic movie The Blues Brothers, Jake Blues cons the band into performing at a bar called Bob’s Country Bunker. When his incredulous brother Elwood asks the bar owner’s wife “What kind of music do you usually have here?” she cheerily replies “Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country and Western”.

So that’s it. I’m a Blues singer, and I’m surrounded by Country and Western fans—otherwise known as Mainstream Economists. Their musical spectrum ranges from Hank Williams to Dolly Parton, and if I play anything outside it — say, some Otis Redding or Muddy Waters — they’ll throw beer bottles at me. Sometimes, even full ones. Suddenly, it all makes sense. This epiphany arrived, not as a Divine revelation, but as a tweet (as they would, were Moses alive today; so much more convenient than stone tablets) on January 1, as the Review touted its soon-to-be-released special issue.

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“..how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?”

Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)

The moral panic of “the Resistance” is back in DefCon 1 mode overnight just as the righteousness orgasm of the Golden Globe Awards was wearing off. Mr. Trump’s casual question to a couple of Senators vis-à-vis immigration policy — “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” — pushed the “racism” button at Resistance Central and CNN staged yet another of the orchestrated anxiety attacks it has perfected over the past year. The spotlight in this three-ring circus of perpetual offense, indignation, and alarm shifts back from the alleged sufferings of movie actresses to another intersectional victim group from the Dem/Prog pantheon of oppressed minorities: would-be immigrants-of-color. The President’s vulgar animus proves the charge that at least half the country is a lynch mob.

Of course, the most interesting feature of this neurotic zeitgeist is the displacement dynamic among the political Left as its frantic virtue-signaling attempts to distract everybody else in the room from its own dark and shameful emotions about the composition of American culture. As a born-and-bred Boomer (ex-)liberal from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I can assure you from direct experience that this group has, at best, ambiguous feelings about the lower orders of mankind — my Gawd, did he actually say that? — and, at worst, a certain unmanageable contempt that stirs deep fears of moral failure. Mr. Trump’s remark raises another interesting question that has not received much analysis amidst the latest panic: namely, how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?

I would avouch, contrary to the limp narrative of boom times, that the USA is visibly whirling around the drain in just about every way that matters. Except for the centers of financialization — New York, Washington, San Francisco — most of our cities are hollowed-out wrecks, and visitors to San Francisco will tell you that the place is literally a shithole, from the army of homeless people who, by definition, have no bathrooms. Our ghastly suburbs, where so many formerly middle-class Americans are now marooned in debt, despair, and civic alienation, have no prospects for serving as a plausible living arrangement anymore, and were so badly built in the first place that their journey to ruin is destined to be an epically short leap that will amaze historians of the future roasting ‘possums around their campfires.

All of the important activities in this land have been converted into odious rackets, by which I mean nakedly dishonest money-grubbing scams, especially the two sectors that used to be characterized by first, doing no harm (medicine), and seeking the truth (education). But everything else we do is infected by engineered falsehood and mendacity, including the news media, the law, banking, government, retail commerce, you name it. We’re living in a culture of pervasive control fraud, in which authorities set up looting and asset-stripping operations without any restraint.

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They should be testing us, not the other way around.

Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)

Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Not to worry. Scientists are talking about species-wide abilities, not the fact that one’s father or mother makes unpredictable appearances in the looking glass. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old.

But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans. Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings in the journal PLoS One. Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development.

Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses. Dr. Reiss said dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence. They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.” Foster, the male, was almost 14 months when the study started. He had a particular fondness for turning upside down and blowing bubbles in front of the one-way mirror in the aquarium wall through which the researchers observed and recorded what the dolphins were doing.

The animals also passed a test in which the researchers drew a mark on some part of the dolphin’s body it could not see without a mirror. In this so-called mark test, the animal must notice and pay attention to the mark. Animals with hands point at the mark and may touch it. The dolphins passed that test at 24 months, which was the earliest researchers were allowed to draw on the young animals. Rules for animal care prohibited the test at an earlier age because of a desire to have the animals develop unimpeded. During testing, the young animals were always with the group of adults they live with, and only approached a one-way mirror in the aquarium wall when they felt like it.

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A loss of 2% oxygen is all it takes.

The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

The ocean is losing its oxygen. Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union. The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution. Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms. The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization. In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the first time just how much oxygen human civilization has already drained from the oceans.

Compiling more than 50 years of disparate data, gathered on research cruises, from floating palaces of ice in the arctic to twilit coral reefs in the South Pacific, Schmidtko’s team calculated that the Earth’s oceans had lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960. Two% might not sound that dramatic, but small changes in the oxygen content of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in the ancient past are thought to be responsible for some of the most profound events in the history of life. Some paleontologists have pointed to rising oxygen as the fuse for the supernova of biology at the Cambrian explosion 543 million years ago. Similarly, the fever-dream world of the later Carboniferous period is thought to be the product of an oxygen spike, which subsidized the lifestyles of preposterous animals, like dragonflies the size of seagulls.

On the other hand, dramatically declining oxygen in the oceans like we see today is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in earth history. “[Two%] is pretty significant,” says Sune Nielsen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “That’s actually pretty scary.” Nielsen is one of a group of scientists probing a series of strange ancient catastrophes when the ocean lost much of its oxygen for insight into our possible future in a suffocating world. He has studied one such biotic crisis in particular that might yet prove drearily relevant. Though little known outside the halls of university labs, it was one of the most severe crises of the past 100 million years. It’s known as Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.

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