May 182019
 
 May 18, 2019  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edouard Manet Gypsy with a cigarette 1862

 

Half Of Americans Are Just One Paycheck Away From ‘Financial Disaster’ (MW)
Record-Setting Art Sales Confirm Global Liquidity Bubble (Colombo)
A Greek Canary in a Global Goldmine (Varoufakis)
US Media No Longer Reports Facts, But Appeals To Emotions (SHTF)
OPCW Expert Contradicts Official Douma Attack Analysis (CJ)
Free For All (Jim Kunstler)
May And Corbyn Blame Each Other As Brexit Talks Collapse (G.)
Tory Brexiteers Tell May: You Must Quit Now (Ind.)
A Brief History Of Doom: The New Kindleberger And Mackay (Steve Keen)
Cristiano Ronaldo Donates $1.5 million to Palestine for Ramadan (21Wire)
Air Pollution May Be Damaging ‘Every Organ In The Body’ (G.)

 

 

Many such surveys these days.

Half Of Americans Are Just One Paycheck Away From ‘Financial Disaster’ (MW)

Missing more than one paycheck is a one-way ticket to financial hardship for nearly half of the country’s workforce. A new study from NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent social research institution, found that 51% of working adults in the United States would need to access savings to cover necessities if they missed more than one paycheck. [Research from the Federal Reserve found that 4 in 10 Americans couldn’t afford a $400 emergency, and 22% say they expect to forgo payments on some of their bills.]


Certain communities were more prone to economic hardship in the event of missing a paycheck. Roughly two-thirds of households earning less than $30,000 annually and Hispanic households would be unable to cover basic living expenses after missing more than one paycheck, the researchers found. “Even so, notable differences remain across race, ethnicity, education groups, and locations and many individuals still struggle to repay college loans, handle small emergency expenses, and manage retirement savings,” it added. The findings were based on a survey of more than 1,000 adults. The researchers interviewed a nationally representative panel designed to be indicative of the U.S. population.

Read more …

Record numbers of dirt poor Americans while the rich don’t know what to do with their money. Not a recipe for anything long lasting.

Record-Setting Art Sales Confirm Global Liquidity Bubble (Colombo)

Art and collectibles prices have exploded in the past decade as a result of the extremely frothy conditions created by central banks. Hardly a week goes by without news headlines being made about ugly, tacky, or just plain bizarre works of art fetching tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars at auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s (often sold to rich buyers in China or Hong Kong). Make no mistake: we’re currently experiencing a massive art bubble of the likes not seen since the Japan-driven art bubble of the late-1980s that ended disastrously. Two art market records were made in the past week: the $91.1 million “Rabbit” sculpture by Jeff Koons, which set the record for the highest amount paid for a piece of art by a living artist, and the sale of Monet’s ‘Meules’ painting for $110.7 million, which set a record for an Impressionist work.


[..] In order to understand today’s art bubble, it is helpful to learn about the art bubble of the late-1980s that ultimately crashed and burned. Throughout the 1980s, Japan had a bubble economy that was driven by debt and bubbles in property and stocks. Japan’s economy was seemingly unstoppable – almost everyone in the West was terrified that Japan’s economy and corporations would trounce ours while destroying our standard of living in the process. Of course, few people knew how unsustainable Japan’s economy was at that time.

As a result of hubris and the enormous amount of liquidity that was flowing throughout Japan’s economy in the late-1980s, Japanese businesspeople and corporations started to speculate in art, often bidding previously unheard of sums that Western art collectors would never have dreamed of paying. For example, Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance paid a record $39.9 million for Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at a London auction in 1987. Ryoei “wild fellow” Saito, Chairman of the Daishowa Paper Manufacturing empire, paid $160 million for the world’s two most expensive paintings – a Van Gogh and a Renoir. At the peak of the art market in 1990, Japan imported more than $4 billion worth of art, including nearly half of all Impressionist art that was on the market. Of course, the art market plunged along with Japan’s bubble economy in the early-1990s.

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“When vultures grow fat on a corpse, they do not revive it.”

A Greek Canary in a Global Goldmine (Varoufakis)

The eurozone country that has become synonymous with insolvency is today proving to be a treasure-trove for some. Traders who bought Greek assets a few years ago have good reason to celebrate, having banked returns that no other market could have provided. But, as is often the case, an opportunity that seems too good to be true probably is. And this one could portend the next phase of our global crisis. An investor who bought German government bonds in 2013 has, by now, gained a 7% return, whereas a buyer of a Greek government bond issued at the height of the country’s debt crisis in 2012 would have earned a colossal 231% return. Two months ago, the price of the first ten-year bond issued since Greece’s bailout in 2010 surged for seven consecutive days, rising by 2.8% in a week – a better performance than any other government bond issue worldwide.

That bond rally created a psychological slipstream, which, in recent months, pulled the Athens Stock Exchange 26% higher, against the background of a European asset market inexorably bleeding capital. On the strength of these impressive numbers, it is as tempting as it would be false to herald the end of Greece’s crisis. The Greek bond and equity rally is obscuring a growing chasm between a gloomy economic reality and an unsustainably buoyant financial climate. Rather than reflecting Greece’s recovery, the traders’ high profit margins mirror continued deflationary pressures and fragmentation in Europe within a global environment of decreasing debt sustainability. The numbers from Greece, so exciting to investors far and wide, may well prove a harbinger of fresh troubles for Europe’s economy, and perhaps for the world.

Given the gaping gap between Greece’s nominal national income and its public debt, how is it possible that Greek bonds are soaring? Why is the Athens Stock Exchange rising while business remains hampered by punitive taxation, banks labor under a mountain of non-performing loans, declining unemployment reflects only emigration and some precarious jobs, net public investment is negative, and private investment in production of high value-added tradable goods is absent?

One reason is the proverbial dead-cat-bounce. Given how thin Greece’s equity market is – total capitalization is €52 billion ($58 billion) – the modest influx of capital that came in the wake of the bond rally was enough to drive the 26% rise in its index. But, despite this surge, the Greek market remains 81% below its 2009 level. As for the bond rally itself, the paradox quickly disappears once we recall how the first two bailouts shifted Greek public debt from the private sector to the shoulders of Europe’s taxpayers.

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I’m very happy I’m not the only one having signaled this for 2+ years. It’s almost worth being called a Trump supporter for. Though that is still an utterly ridiculous allegation in my case. But this is the most dangerous tendency in American society today, not Trump.

US Media No Longer Reports Facts, But Appeals To Emotions (SHTF)

The mainstream media in the United States has made a shift in the past few decades. Now, they appeal to emotions as opposed to reporting the facts. This “cultural schizophrenia” is tearing the U.S. apart at the seams. Based on the conclusions to a RAND Corporation study, the mainstream media is actively sowing discord in American society, award-winning journalist Chris Hedges tells RT. The media is focusing on making two sides hate each other instead of reporting on the facts, and the majority of the public is unaware and doesn’t care that their minds are being manipulated by their own emotional responses.

The study, which was released by RAND earlier this week, states that between 1987 and 2017, news content has shifted from event- and context-based reporting to coverage that is “more subjective, relies more heavily on argumentation and advocacy, and includes more emotional appeals.” According to RT, prime-time cable news shows and online journalism lead the way in this shift to emotional and hate-based rhetoric. It has been noticed in print journalism as well, the government-funded think tank concluded. This is contributing to what RAND termed “Truth Decay.” This is described as a shift away from facts and analysis in public discourse.

Hedges claims that the deterioration of the mainstream media is “far worse” than the RAND report suggests. And he isn’t alone in that assessment. [American journalist Matt]Taibbi says that the result of this journalistic decay and emotional fear mongering is a public addicted to hating each other. Americans have become addicted to the news that agrees with their bias, and it was set up that way on purpose. The only thing anyone will hear when they turn on the news are stories specifically crafted to manufacture outrage, make you hate the other side, and fuel the addiction to anger. –SHTFPlan

[..] It is becoming difficult to tell apart facts and opinion now, and people believe whatever they want to believe, Hedges explained. “We spent years watching CNN and MSNBC promoting this conspiracy theory that Trump was a Kremlin agent… It was all garbage but it attracted viewers,” Hedges added as an example. And, if you don’t mind your IQ dropping, turn on MSNBC for just a few minutes. It’s likely you’ll still hear something about Russiagate to keep the public pissed off beyond comprehension.

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OPCW gone. White Helmets gone. Skripal narrative gone. This is why Assange is so needed. Because we wouldn’t know these things if not for leaks. Assange built the infrastructure for them.

Note: some publications say this concerns an OPCW article. It is not, they tried to hide it.

OPCW Expert Contradicts Official Douma Attack Analysis (CJ)

[..] a few days ago the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document signed by a man named Ian Henderson, whose name is seen listed in expert leadership positions on OPCW documents from as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. It’s unknown who leaked the document and what other media organizations they may have tried to send it to. The report picks apart the extremely shaky physics and narratives of the official OPCW analysis on the gas cylinders allegedly dropped from Syrian government aircraft in the Douma attack, and concludes that “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft,” saying instead that manual placement of the cylinders in the locations investigators found them in is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.”

[..] the kindest possible interpretation of these revelations is that an expert who has worked with the OPCW for decades gave an engineering assessment which directly contradicted the official findings of the OPCW on Douma, but OPCW officials didn’t find his assessment convincing for whatever reason and hid every trace of it from public view. That’s the least sinister possibility: that a sharp dissent from a distinguished expert within the OPCW’s own investigation was completely hidden from the public because the people calling the shots at the OPCW didn’t want to confuse us with a perspective they didn’t find credible.

This most charitable interpretation possible is damningly unacceptable by itself, because the public should obviously be kept informed of any possible evidence which may contradict the reasons they were fed to justify an act of war by powerful governments. And there are many far less charitable interpretations. It is not in the slightest bit unreasonable to speculate that the ostensibly independent OPCW in fact serves the interests of the US-centralized power alliance, and that it suppressed the Henderson report because it pokes holes in the narratives that are used to demonize a longtime target for imperialist regime change. That is a perfectly reasonable possibility for us to wonder about, and the onus is now on the OPCW to prove to us that it is not the case.

Either way, the fact that the OPCW kept Henderson’s findings from receiving not a whisper of attention severely undermines the organization’s credibility, not just with regard to Douma but with regard to everything, including the establishment Syria narrative as a whole and the Skripal case in the UK. Everything the OPCW has ever concluded about alleged chemical usage around the world is now subject to very legitimate skepticism. “The leaked OPCW engineers’ assessment is confirmed as genuine, which means the final report actively concealed evidence that the Douma chemical attack was staged by jihadists and the White Helmets,” tweeted British journalist Jonathan Cook. “The OPCW’s other Syria reports must now be treated as worthless too.”

Read more …

“Both countries have borrowed themselves into a Twilight Zone of unpayable debt. Both countries are sunk in untenable economic and banking rackets to cover up their insolvency.”

Free For All (Jim Kunstler)

Here’s what will actually happen. These House majority committee chiefs are going to quit their blustering over the next week or so as they discover there is no political value — and plenty of political hazard — in extending the RussiaGate circus. In the meantime, a titanic juridical machine, already a’grinding, will discredit the whole sordid affair and send a number of hapless participants to the federal ping-pong academies. And by then, the long-suffering citizenry will barely give a shit because we will have entered the climactic phase of the Fourth Turning (or Long Emergency, take your pick), in which the operations of everyday business and governance in this country seriously crumble. The Golden Golem of Greatness will be blamed for most of that.


The internal contradictions of Globalism were already blowing up trade and financial relations between the US and China. The Trump tariffs just amount to a clumsy recognition of the fatal imbalances long at work there. As a 25 percent tax on countless Chinese products, the tariffs will punish American shoppers as much as the Chinese manufacturers. Trade wars have a way of escalating into more kinetic conflicts. The sad truth is that both China and the US are beset by dangerous fragilities. Both countries have borrowed themselves into a Twilight Zone of unpayable debt. Both countries are sunk in untenable economic and banking rackets to cover up their insolvency. China’s fate hangs on distant energy supply lines that run through bottlenecks like the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Molucca.

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They just wasted another 6 weeks, that’s all there is to say.

May And Corbyn Blame Each Other As Brexit Talks Collapse (G.)

The government and Labour have sought to blame each other after cross-party talks to find a compromise Brexit plan collapsed, leaving any remaining hopes of an imminent solution to the impasse in tatters. While both sides insisted the discussions had taken place in good faith, Theresa May said a sticking point had been Labour splits over a second referendum. Labour in turn said the government had been unwilling to compromise and that May’s imminent departure from Downing Street meant there was no guarantee any promises would be kept by a successor such as Boris Johnson. Nick Boles, the former Conservative MP who helped spearhead efforts to prevent a no-deal Brexit in March, said he now feared such a departure was almost inevitable when the EU27’s latest deadline of 31 October is reached.


“It’s game over,” he said. “We only won by one, and it’s very unclear that we would have the same level of Tory support, and for that matter Labour support. We are absolutely convinced that parliament will not find a way to stop no-deal Brexit.” The conclusion to six weeks of intermittent talks, which had angered many Conservative and Labour MPs who feared the nature of the compromise that might result, came with the release of a letter from Jeremy Corbyn to May on Friday. Despite praising the talks as constructive, the Labour leader wrote: “It has become clear that, while there are some areas where compromise has been possible, we have been unable to bridge important policy gaps between us. “Even more crucially, the increasing weakness and instability of your government means there cannot be confidence in securing whatever might be agreed between us.”

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We’re going to have Boris Johnson next. That will not end well.

Tory Brexiteers Tell May: You Must Quit Now (Ind.)

Theresa May is facing growing clamour from within her own party to quit immediately as prime minister, after the collapse of Brexit talks with Labour sounded the death knell for her EU withdrawal plans. With Tories trailing in fifth place on a humiliating 9 per cent in one poll for next week’s European parliament elections, furious backbenchers predicted certain defeat when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before the Commons in June. Brexiteers said there was no prospect of Ms May averting a “significant” rebellion by tacking towards them on totemic issues like the Irish backstop and free trade. “There’s nothing she can say,” said one former minister. “No one trusts her any more.”


[..] senior Leave-supporting backbenchers said she should scrap the legislation and hand over immediately to a new leader.Nigel Evans urged her to announce she was not waiting three weeks to discuss the timetable for her departure, as agreed with the chair of the influential 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady, but would go “forthwith”. Asked if the declaration should come within days, the committee’s joint secretary replied: “I would like her to do it now … It’s only right that the new leadership has the opportunity to become established and form a new cabinet prior to us going into the summer recess.” Former minister David Jones said the PM should recognise that “now is the time that she should stand down”. “On the Conservative benches, most people now want the PM to step down as quickly as possible,” he told The Independent. “Prolonging this is just wasting time at a time when we don’t have much time to waste.”

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A must read, I gather.

A Brief History Of Doom: The New Kindleberger And Mackay (Steve Keen)

“If readers take one lesson from this book, I hope it is this: when it comes to financial crises, we’re not in the grip of unseen and hopelessly complex forces. Such crises are neither inevitable nor unpredictable. Runaway private debt and the resulting overcapacity does a better job than any other variable in explaining and predicting financial crises. It is our job to heed those danger signs.” (Vague 2019, p. ix)


This brief book (196 pages, excluding endnotes) on the history and causes of financial crises usurps Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics, and Crashes (Kindleberger 1978) and Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Mackay 1852) as the definitive work on this vital topic. It surpasses both these works for several reasons, not the least of which is the career and experience of the author. Mackay was a journalist and gifted writer; Kindleberger, an economist with an impressive record in both public service and academia. Both of them observed financial manias and crashes from their respective professional perches, outside the financial system itself.

Vague is an ex-banker, whose fortune was carved in the financial crisis emanating from the bursting of the 1979 oil shock bubble, whose hands-on management established two of America’s biggest consumer credit card companies (First USA, which he sold Bank One in 1997, and Juniper Financial, which he sold to Barclays PLC in 2004), and whose professional access to the voluminous data he saw on the explosion in mortgage debt – from $6 trillion in 2002 to $9 trillion in 2005 – led him to anticipate the Subprime Crisis and exit banking altogether. Vague has seen financial crises from the inside – and not merely survived but prospered.


In the hands of most Americans, this experience would lead to a “How to Get Rich” book. Vague’s ambition with this book is very different: to make society richer by understanding what causes financial crises, and thereby preventing them in the first place. Vague’s banker’s perspective gives him an incomparable advantage over not only MacKay and Kindleberger, but over me as well: having seen the booms and busts of banking from the inside, he knew where to look, and what to look for. For example, I dismissed the possibility of a real-estate bubble as a catalyst to the Great Depression, because Robert Shiller’s data (Figure 1) seemed to show that house prices were flat during the 1920s, and if anything, declining. That was as far as my investigations went.

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He must be on some hit lists.

Cristiano Ronaldo Donates $1.5 million to Palestine for Ramadan (21Wire)

Portuguese footballer and Juventus striker , Cristiano Ronaldo, has donated US $1.5 million to people of Palestine during the holy month of Ramadan. Regarded as one of the world’s greatest-ever professional football players, Ronaldo is said to have made his generous donation in solidarity with the Palestinian people suffering en mass, and in particular the millions who are currently suffering under the brutal punitive ‘air, land and sea’ economic and humanitarian blockade in Gaza – where Israeli forces have been conducting regular bombing raids which have killed thousands of innocent civilians in recent years. Although sports media rarely highlights this facet of the soccer star, Ronaldo has always been close to the Palestinian cause, publicly rejecting the illegal and genocidal incursions of the Israeli regime on several occasions.


In November 2012, while Gaza was being blanketed with bombs by Israel in their Operation Pillar of Defense, Ronaldo auctioned off his Golden Boot, the prestigious award given to the best European strikers of the season, to raise funds that were later donated to the Palestinian children. The following year, in March 2013, at the end of the match between Portugal and Israel for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, he refused to exchange his shirt with an Israeli player. Although he shook hands, he excused himself by explaining that he could not wear a shirt with that country’s flag, as reported in the press.

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Keep driving.

Air Pollution May Be Damaging ‘Every Organ In The Body’ (G.)

Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review. The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found. The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream. Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 90% of the global population enduring toxic outdoor air. New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths each year – double earlier estimates – making air pollution a bigger killer than tobacco smoking.


But the impact of different pollutants on many ailments remains to be established, suggesting well-known heart and lung damage is only “the tip of the iceberg”. “Air pollution can harm acutely, as well as chronically, potentially affecting every organ in the body,” conclude the scientists from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies in the two review papers, published in the journal Chest. “Ultrafine particles pass through the [lungs], are readily picked up by cells, and carried via the bloodstream to expose virtually all cells in the body.” Prof Dean Schraufnagel, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and who led the reviews, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every organ was affected. If something is missing [from the review] it is probably because there was no research yet.”

Read more …

 

Australia has elections this weekend

https://twitter.com/i/status/1129530852000403457

 

 

 

 

Feb 062016
 
 February 6, 2016  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Shoomaker’s saloon at 1311 E Street N.W. Washington DC 1917

Oil Market Spiral Threatens To Prick Global Debt Bubble, Warns BIS (AEP)
Gundlach Says Financials Below Crisis Prices ‘Frightening’ (BBG)
Global Financial System Risk Is Soaring Worldwide (ZH)
Standard Chartered Down 57%, Returns to 1998 (WSJ)
US Exports Fell In 2015 For First Time Since Recession (AP)
Oil Rout Threatens Vicious Cycle for US Economy (WSJ)
The Chart of Doom: When Private Debt Stops Expanding… (CHS)
Why It Would Be Wise To Prepare For The Next Recession (Wolf)
Citi: World Economy Trapped In ‘Death Spiral’ (CNBC)
Negative-Interest-Rate Effect Already Dead, Central Banks Lost Control (WS)
China’s Reserves Pose The Next Hurdle For Yuan (CNBC)
Europe’s Economic Outlook Darkens, Sends Shudder Through Markets (BBG)
LinkedIn Sheds $11 Billion In Value On Stock’s Worst Day Since Debut (Reuters)
Armed With New US Money, NATO To Strengthen Russia Deterrence (Reuters)
Why Pensions Are The New Flashpoint In Greece’s Crisis (AP)

All growth is being exposed as debt. Don’t know that it’s wise to claim that it’s oil whodunnit.

Oil Market Spiral Threatens To Prick Global Debt Bubble, Warns BIS (AEP)

The global oil industry is caught in a self-feeding downward spiral as falling prices cause producers to boost output even further in a scramble to service $3 trillion of dollar debt, the world’s top watchdog has warned. The Bank for International Settlements fears that a perverse dynamic is at work where energy companies in Brazil, Russia, China and parts of the US shale belt are increasing production in defiance of normal market logic, leading to a bad “feedback-loop” that is sucking the whole sector into a destructive vortex. “Lower prices have not removed excess capacity from the market, but instead may have exacerbated it. Production has been ramped up, rather than curtailed,” said Jaime Caruana, the general manager of the Swiss-based club for central bankers.

The findings raise serious questions about the strategy of Saudi Arabia and the core Opec states as they flood the global crude market to knock out rivals in a cut-throat battle for export share. The process of attrition may take far longer and do more damage than originally supposed. Oil exporters are embracing austerity and slashing government spending, leading to a form of fiscal tightening that is slowing the global economy. Speaking at the London School of Economics, Mr Caruana said the sheer scale of leverage in the oil and gas industry is amplifying the downturn since companies are attempting to eke out extra production to stay afloat. The risk spreads on high-yield energy bonds have jumped from 330 basis points to 1,600 over the past 18 months, amplifying the effects of the oil price crash itself.

The industry has issued $1.4 trillion of bonds and taken out a further $1.6 trillion in syndicated loans, driving up the combined energy debt threefold to $3 trillion in less than a decade. While US shale frackers hog the limelight in the Anglo-Saxon press, many of these energy groups are giant “parastatals”, such as Rosneft, Petrobras or CNOOC. The BIS said state-owned oil companies increased debt at annual rate of 13pc in Russia, 25pc in Brazil and 31pc in China between 2006 and 2014, much it in the form of dollar debt through offshore subsidiaries. These oil companies do not respond to pure market pressures since they are cash cows for government budgets. The nexus of oil and gas debt is just one part of an over-stretched financial system, increasingly exposed to the dangers of a “maturing financial cycle” and to punishing moves in the global currency markets.

Mr Caruana said an “illusion of sustainability” has blinded borrowers and debtors, lulling them into a false of security when credit was easy and asset prices were rising. This illusion can die in the blink of an eye. “The turning of the financial cycle can be quite abrupt,” he said. The BIS calculates that debt in US dollars outside the United States has surged to $9.8 trillion, a fivefold rise since 2000 and an unprecedented level for the global monetary system as a whole. While some of this dollar debt is matched by dollar assets and dollar earnings, a big chunk has been used to play the local property markets of east Asia, Latin America or eastern Europe, and another chunk has been gobbled up by “non-tradable” sectors that have no natural currency hedge if it all goes wrong. [..] The BIS seems to be telling us that reckoning can still be orderly if we face up to reality, or end in a chaotic wave of defaults if we do not. Either way, the debt must clear.

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All banks.

Gundlach Says Financials Below Crisis Prices ‘Frightening’ (BBG)

DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said it’s “frightening” to see major financial stocks trading at prices below their financial crisis levels. He cited Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse as examples in a talk outlining bearish views at a conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Friday. Both banks fell this week to their lowest levels since the early 1990s in European trading. “We see the price of major financial stocks, particularly in Europe, which are truly frightening,” Gundlach said. “Do you know that Credit Suisse, which is a powerhouse bank, their stock price is lower than it was in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009? Do you know that Deutsche Bank is at a lower price today than it was in 2009 when we were talking about the potential implosion of the entire global banking system?”

The manager of the $54.7 billion DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund said the dollar is headed lower in 2016 and that he’s buying non-U.S. currencies for the first time in five years. The euro is likely to strengthen against the greenback as the probability that the Federal Reserve will increase borrowing costs at its March meeting is virtually zero, and only 50% for the rest of the year, he told the Tiger 21 conference for high-net-worth investors. Gundlach, 56, said he’s considering buying corporate bonds later this year as prices continue to fall, including investing his personal money. “The whole question for me is when am I going to buy enormous amounts of corporate credit, because it’s crystal clear that that’s the next opportunity that’s out there,” Gundlach said. “There’s plenty of things out there that will have 100% returns. It’s a whole question of: Don’t tell me what to buy, tell me when to buy it.”

Debt related to energy and mining is still very risky, because of weakness in China’s economy and a worldwide oil glut, he said. “There’s simply no bullish case for oil right now,” Gundlach said. While he’s considering buying corporate debt, Gundlach said he’s moving away from municipal bonds, which have become overpriced. Puerto Rican general obligation bonds, which are priced for a haircut, are an exception, he said. The possibility for a workout is high because of the large number of Puerto Ricans in Florida, which is a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election, Gundlach said. “My guess is if you get defaulted on, you’re probably going to get something like 70 cents anyway,” he said.

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So are losses.

Global Financial System Risk Is Soaring Worldwide (ZH)

We warned earlier in the week that the credit risk of the world's financial institutions were on the rise and that trend has worsened as the week ends.

 

Global Bank Risk is spiking…

 

European Bank Risk is blowing out in Core and Peripheral nations…

 

And China Bank credit risk has broken to new cycle highs..

 

Some idiocysncratic names to keep an eye on…

Deutsche Bank – Europe's largest derivatives exposure (and thus epicenter of collapse should things turn out as bad as the bank's CoCos suggest) – is suffering seriously… It is becoming very clear that banks are buying protection on DB to hedge their counterparty exposure…

 

ICBC Bank is among China's largest banks (depending on the volatility of the day) and as China bank risk soars so China's sovereign risk is soaring too with devaluation and systemic crisis co-priced into these contracts…

 

National Commercial Bank – the largest Saudi bank and proxy for The Kingdom's wealth – is seeing its credit risk explode. As one analyst noted, if NCB has a crisis then Saudi military adventurism is in grave jeopardy…

 

And finally – yes it is spilling over to American banks and their "fortress" balance sheets…

 

But apart from that "storm in a teacup" – Buy The F**king Dip, right?

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Just one example.

Standard Chartered Down 57%, Returns to 1998 (WSJ)

Standard Chartered’s share price has fallen over 20% this year, reaching depths last seen in 1998, in the midst of the Asian economic crisis. The problems the bank faced back then are much the same as they are now. Back in 1997, StanChart’s share price was soaring. But following a crisis of confidence in Asia’s economy, the bank’s stock had collapsed 60% a year later. It was also still suffering from a tarnished reputation, after it was banned for a year from the Hong Kong IPO market in 1994 for creating a false market for shares. The board turned to a former senior banker from a Wall Street giant to solve its problems. Rana Talwar, a senior banker at Citigroup, was appointed head of StanChart in June 1998, a year after joining from the US bank. Talwar quickly set about re-organising the bank’s focus – binning unwanted regions (such as its British consumer finance arm) and concentrating on Asia via a series of acquisitions.

He also looked to refocus the investment bank, focusing in currency dealing, corporate banking and cash management, and eventually making some strategic deals in Asia. Fast forward almost 20 years, and new chief executive Bill Winters – an ex-JP Morgan banker – is also trying extract StanChart from a period of underperformance driven by a sputtering Asian economy, and ongoing run-ins with regulators. A new strategy is also underway, with a move toward retail, private banking and wealth management, cutting back on higher-risk corporate business and some investment banking units, such as equity capital markets. But investors have continued to sell the stock.Under Talwar, StanChart’s share price rebounded, as China’s economy kicked into overdrive. Today, while Standard Chartered’s share price continues to drop, Winters will be keen that China’s economy finds a second wind.

56.97%
The amount Standard Chartered share price has dropped since Winters joined in May 2015

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Omen.

US Exports Fell In 2015 For First Time Since Recession (AP)

The U.S. trade deficit rose in December as American exports fell for a third straight month, reflecting the pressures of a stronger dollar and spreading global weakness. Those factors contributed to the first annual drop in U.S. export sales since the Great Recession shrank global trade six years ago. The December deficit increased 2.7% to $43.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Exports fell by 0.3%, driven by sales declines of civilian aircraft, autos and farm products. Imports increased 0.3% as Americans bought more foreign-made cars and petroleum. For all of 2015, the deficit rose 4.6% to $531.5 billion. Exports fell 4.8%, the first setback since 2009 when the world was in the grips of recession. Imports also retreated 3.1%.

American exporters have been hurt by global economic weakness and a stronger dollar, which makes their products more expensive on overseas markets. A wider trade deficit is a drag on economic growth because it means fewer overseas sales by American producers and larger imports of foreign goods. The deficit subtracted about one-half percentage point from growth in 2015, a year when the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew by a modest 2.4%. Analysts say trade will also subtract from growth this year as well given that the dollar has continued to rise and China, the world’s second largest economy, is still struggling to cope with slowing growth. The U.S. deficit with China set a record in 2015, rising 6.6% to $365.7 billion. The deficit with the EU also set a record, rising 7.9% to $153.3 billion.

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The real impact of low oil prices starts to shine through even for the dimmest amongst us.

Oil Rout Threatens Vicious Cycle for US Economy (WSJ)

With oil hovering at $30 a barrel and gasoline below $2 a gallon, the pleasure of lower fuel prices is turning painful for more of the U.S. economy. The problem isn’t just the layoffs and investment cutbacks in the oil patch, two effects that have been expected since crude oil began sliding in 2014. Worries about energy-related bankruptcies and loan defaults also are helping to tighten financial conditions, weighing on a broader swath of the economy. Can the U.S. have too much of a good thing? Few economists expect the crude slump will tip the economy into recession. But the fallout could grow harder to contain if the oil-price declines are instead a symptom of broader weaknesses in the global economy, including soft demand and an oversupply of raw material, productive capacity and labor.

Cheap oil reflects a strengthening dollar, which has already crimped U.S. exports. And consumer sentiment could take a hit if the early-year stock-market declines are sustained. The bottom line: Even if cheap gas is still good for consumers, the forces behind it could be more corrosive than initially imagined. This past month’s declines in oil “are less a sign that things are about to get a lot better, and more a sign that things are in danger of getting a lot worse,” said HSBC senior economist Stephen King. Typically, markets treat higher energy prices as tax increases and lower prices as tax cuts. Indeed, cheap gasoline has been a boon to American households, which saved around $140 billion last year as a result, roughly double the savings in 2014. Gas prices averaged $1.82 a gallon last week, down from $3.68 in June 2014.

And last year’s fuel-price drop contributed around 0.5 percentage point in consumption growth, according to Jason Thomas at private-equity firm Carlyle Group. But the overall boost was weaker than expected, suggesting high household debt levels along with rising housing, health-care and college-education costs have American consumers refraining from bigger purchases. Cutbacks in the oil patch have so far “swamped whatever benefits you had on the consumer side,” said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities.

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NOTE: private debt is also what causes these crises. So adding more won’t solve the issue.

The Chart of Doom: When Private Debt Stops Expanding… (CHS)

Once private credit rolls over in China and the U.S., the global recession will start its rapid slide down the Seneca Cliff. Few question the importance of private credit in the global economy. When households and businesses are borrowing to expand production and buy homes, vehicles, etc., the economy expands smartly. When private credit shrinks-that is, as businesses and households stop borrowing more and start paying down existing debt-the result is at best stagnation and at worst recession or depression. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is The Chart of Doom, a chart of private credit in the five primary economies:

Why is this The Chart of Doom? It’s fairly obvious that private credit is contracting in Japan and the Eurozone and stagnant in the U.K. As for the U.S.: after trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and additional liquidity, and $8 trillion in deficit spending, private credit in the U.S. managed a paltry $1.5 trillion increase in the seven years since the 2008 financial meltdown. Compare this to the strong growth from the mid-1990s up to 2008. This chart makes it clear that the sole prop under the global “recovery” since 2008-09 has been private credit growth in China. From $4 trillion to over $21 trillion in seven years–no wonder bubbles have been inflated globally.

Combine this expansion of private credit in China with the expansion of local government and other state-sector debt (state-owned enterprises, SOEs, etc.) and you have the makings of a global bubble machine. In other words, the faltering global “recovery” and all the tenuous asset bubbles around the world both depend on a continued hyper-velocity rocket rise in China’s private credit. What are the odds of this happening? Aren’t the signs that this rocket ship has burned its available fuel abundant? Three out of the five major economies are already experiencing stagnant or negative private credit growth. Three down, two to go. Helicopter money-government issued “free money” to households-is no replacement for private credit expansion.

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Martin Wolf stating the obvious.

Why It Would Be Wise To Prepare For The Next Recession (Wolf)

What might central banks do if the next recession hit while interest rates were still far below pre-2008 levels? As a paper from the London-based Resolution Foundation argues, this is highly likely. Central banks need to be prepared for this eventuality. The most important part of such preparation is to convince the public that they know what to do. Today, eight-and-a-half years after the first signs of the financial crisis, the highest short-term intervention rate applied by the Fed, the ECB, the Bank of Japan or the Bank of England is the latter’s 0.5%, which has been in effect since March 2009 and with no rise in sight. The ECB and the BoJ are even using negative rates, the latter after more than 20 years of short-term rates of 0.5%, or less.

The plight of the UK might not be that dire. Nevertheless, the latest market expectations imply a base rate of roughly 1.6% in 2021 and around 2.5% in 2025 — less than half as high as in 2007. What are the chances of a significant recession in the UK before 2025? Very high indeed. The same surely applies to the US, eurozone and Japan. Indeed, the imbalances within the Chinese economy, plus difficulties in many emerging economies, make this a risk now. The high-income economies are likely to hit a recession with much less room for conventional monetary loosening than before previous recessions. What would then be the options? One would be to do nothing. Many would call for the cleansing depression they believe the world needs. Personally, I find this idea crazy, given the damage it would do to the social fabric.

A second possibility would be to change targets, possibly to ones for growth or level of nominal gross domestic product or to a higher inflation rate. It would probably have been wise to have had a higher inflation target. But changing it when central banks are unable to deliver today’s lower target might destabilise expectations without improving outcomes. Moreover, without effective instruments a more ambitious target might just seem empty bombast. So the third possibility is either to change instruments or to use the existing ones more powerfully. One instrument, not much discussed, would be to organise the deleveraging of economies. This might need forced conversion of debt into equity. But, while desirable in extreme circumstances, this would be practically difficult.

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Light at the end of the death spiral?! “Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail,..”

Citi: World Economy Trapped In ‘Death Spiral’ (CNBC)

The global economy seems trapped in a “death spiral” that could lead to further weakness in oil prices, recession and a serious equity bear market, Citi strategists have warned. Some analysts -including those at Citi- have turned bearish on the world economy this year, following an equity rout in January and weaker economic data out of China and the U.S. “The world appears to be trapped in a circular reference death spiral,” Citi strategists led by Jonathan Stubbs said in a report on Thursday. “Stronger U.S. dollar, weaker oil/commodity prices, weaker world trade/petrodollar liquidity, weaker EM (and global growth)… and repeat. Ad infinitum, this would lead to Oilmageddon, a ‘significant and synchronized’ global recession and a proper modern-day equity bear market.”

Stubbs said that macro strategists at Citi forecast that the dollar would weaken in 2016 and that oil prices were likely bottoming, potentially providing some light at the end of the tunnel. “The death spiral is in nobody’s interest. Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail,” he said in the report. Crude oil prices have tumbled by around 70% since the middle of 2014, during which time the U.S. dollar has risen by around 20% against a basket of currencies. The world economy grew by 3.1% in 2015 and is projected to accelerate to expand by 3.4% in 2016 and 3.6% in 2017, according to the IMF. The forecast reflects expectations of gradual improvement in countries currently in economic distress, notably Brazil, Russia and some in the Middle East.

By contrast, Citi forecasts the world economy will grow by only 2.7% in 2016 having cut its outlook last month. Overall, advanced economies are mostly making a modest recovery, while many emerging market and developing economies are under strain from the rebalancing of the Chinese economy, lower commodity prices and capital outflows.

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As I remarked the other day, the accelerating speed with which ‘policies’ lose steam looks very much like the Bernanke days.

Negative-Interest-Rate Effect Already Dead, Central Banks Lost Control (WS)

The Bank of Japan’s surprise Negative-Interest-Rate party for stocks set a new record: it lasted only two days. Today a week ago, the Bank of Japan shocked markets into action. As the economy has deteriorated despite years of zero-interest-rate policy and Quantitative and Qualitative Easing (QQE) – a souped-up version of QE – the BOJ announced that it would cut one of its deposit rates from positive 0.1% to negative 0.1%. Headlines screamed Japan had gone “negative,” that it had joined the NIRPs of Europe – the Eurozone countries, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. It was another desperate move, a head fake, and once the dust would settle, the hot air would go out. Now the dust has settled and the hot air has gone out.

On Thursday, January 28, the Nikkei closed at 17,041 down 19% from its Abenomics peak of 20,953 in June 2015. This situation is a bit of an embarrassment for the BOJ which has pushed Japanese asset managers of all kinds, including pension funds, particularly the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the largest such pension fund in the word, to get off their conservative stance, sell their Japanese Government Bonds which made up the bulk or entirety of their portfolios, and buy risk assets with the proceeds. This they did, near the peak of the Abenomics bubble. While the BOJ was eagerly mopping up JGBs, the asset managers bought mostly Japanese equities, but they also bought global equities and corporate bonds. And the mere prospect of all this buying, the front-running by hedge funds, and then the actual buying drove up Japanese stock prices in 2014 and early 2015.

The bet seemed to work out. Wealth had been created out of nothing. A few more years of this, and it might actually resolve the Japanese underfunded pension crisis. Then the party stopped, and Japanese stocks swooned. In the second quarter of fiscal 2015 (June through August), the most recent report available, the GPIF lost ¥7.9 trillion, or 5.6%! It was its first quarterly loss since 2008 during the Financial Crisis. Its decision to yield to the pressures of the government and the BOJ to plow into Japanese stocks, global equities, and corporate bonds, when they were at the peak, has turned into a fiasco. So now the BOJ is trying to re-inflate these assets. For over two years, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has been giving whatever-it-takes and no-limits speeches that were once lapped up by hedge funds and that fueled the big Abenomics rally, but that have since become ineffectual, and perhaps the butt of many jokes, as Japanese stocks continued to swoon.

Hence, on Friday last week, the bazooka: negative rates. After some volatility, the Nikkei soared 2.8% for the day. On Monday, it gained another 2%. But then the hot NIRP air came out of the market, and the Nikkei has dropped every single day since. Today, it closed at 16,819, having given up all of the two-day NIRP party gains, plus some. It’s now down 19.7% from its Abenomics high. Pension fund beneficiaries in Japan will be ecstatic when they learn what this strategy is doing to their future. [..] The bitter irony for Japanese pension funds? The very JGBs that they sold to the BOJ upon the BOJ’s urging have since soared in price, while the prices of the risk asset they bought upon the BOJ’s urging have plunged.

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Happy Lunar New Year. First, on Sunday China reserves numbers. ‘Eagerly anticipated’ though everyone knows they’re made up.

China’s Reserves Pose The Next Hurdle For Yuan (CNBC)

China has recently struggled to shore up the yuan amid hefty capital outflows. Reserves data over the weekend may offer a glimpse of the severity of the challenge. Analysts are generally calling for a drawdown of around $100 billion, following a decline of $107.9 billion in December. Reserves plunged by $512.66 billion in 2015, a record drop for the country, to $3.33 trillion, a move attributed in part to Beijing’s moves to prop up the yuan. In addition, China suffered almost $700 billion of capital flight in 2015, according to the Institute of International Finance. Local companies rushed to repay overseas loans as the yuan depreciated, while global investors grew increasingly wary of the country’s economic slowdown and Chinese authorities’ interventions in the financial markets.

The reserve data due Sunday will be closely watched, even though China’s financial markets will be closed for the Lunar New Year holiday for the next week. “Global markets aren’t closed. I think we’ll see some contagion effect there if we see a very significant drainage coming through,” Steve Brice at Standard Chartered Wealth Management told CNBC’s Street Signs. “If there were a trend acceleration we’ve seen in December and extended to January that would lead to people putting more pressure on the Chinese authorities to be more clear on their communications.” China’s policymakers have struggled recently to implement changes to the currency, attempting to move from a dollar-peg to a trade-weighted basket.

The move was targeted at shifting the currency towards an exchange rate that better reflects China’s trade links as well as divert attention away from the dollar/yuan exchange rate, which has risen sharply amid the divergence in monetary policy between the U.S. and China. The PBOC has also let market forces play a greater role in setting the value of the yuan although its recent actions have increased rather than curb confusion. In January, the central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), guided the currency sharply lower without providing much indication to the market about its endgame – one factor in the China market selloff that triggered a global stock rout amid expectations the yuan would fall further. That spurred policymakers to intervene in the market by keeping the currency from falling further, but propping up the yuan also likely required selling dollars.

That’s opened up concerns about whether China’s reserves, the world’s largest, could become too depleted. Using IMF methodology, Khoon Goh, senior foreign-exchange strategist at ANZ, estimates that China will need a minimum of around $2.7 trillion in reserves if it keeps a fixed exchange-rate regime without capital controls. That leaves China only around a half a year of continuing to stabilize the yuan at the current drawdown rate, Goh said in a note Friday. Others have expressed concern about how the currency policy is affecting the reserves — and expectations of when the yuan will be allowed a freer float.

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Lipstick’s washing off the pig.

Europe’s Economic Outlook Darkens, Sends Shudder Through Markets (BBG)

Hints of investor optimism in Europe were snuffed out this week, as the darkening economic outlook registered across the continent and sent stocks and credit markets sliding. While market turmoil at the start of this year was sparked by a selloff in commodities and Chinese stocks, the reality of Europe’s own woes hit home as companies reported dismal earnings, and policy makers and institutions lined up to cut economic forecasts and warn of further risks. The European Commission cut its prediction for 2016 growth in the 19-nation bloc to 1.7% from 1.8% and said the largest economies of Germany, France and Italy will all perform worse than predicted just three months ago. While the ECB may spur into action again, moves in the euro and stocks suggest President Mario Draghi may be losing his ability to convince investors he can anesthetize the region from risks.

“Markets had a very rough start,” said Andreas Nigg at Vontobel Asset Management in Zurich. “There’s only so much central bankers, even Draghi, can do. Each incremental dose probably has a lower impact than the previous one. The weaker-than-expected economic growth and the associated increased likelihood of a recession led to selling of risky assets.” The blunt truth is that the euro area is still struggling to recover nearly six years after it first bailed out Greece, while European leaders are trying to tackle their latest crisis and stem the inflow of refugees. The doom and gloom nixed a nascent stock-market recovery in Europe, with a drop of 3.6% in the region’s shares this week almost completely erasing the rebound from the previous two. The losses have left the Stoxx Europe 600 Index down 9.9% this year, its worst start since 2008. It’s trading near its lowest valuation since July relative to a gauge of global equities.

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New tech, too, is just a bubble.

LinkedIn Sheds $11 Billion In Value On Stock’s Worst Day Since Debut (Reuters)

LinkedIn shares closed down 43.6% on Friday, wiping out nearly $11 billion of market value, after the social network for professionals shocked Wall Street with a revenue forecast that fell far short of expectations. The stock plunged as much as 46.5% to a more than three-year low of $102.89, registering its sharpest decline since the company’s high-profile public listing in 2011. The rout in the stock cost LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman about $1.2 billion based on his 11.1% stake in the company he co-founded, according to Reuters calculations. At least nine brokerages downgraded the stock to “hold” from “buy”, saying the company’s lofty valuation was no longer justified.

“With a lower growth profile, we believe that LinkedIn should not enjoy the premium multiple it has grown accustomed to,” Mizuho analysts wrote in a note. At least 36 brokerages cut their price targets, with Pacific Crest halving its target to $190. Their median target dropped 34% to $188, according to Reuters data. LinkedIn forecast full-year revenue of $3.60-$3.65 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $3.91 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. “This would imply that LinkedIn will grow around 15% in 2017 and 10% in 2018,” Mizuho analysts said. Underscoring the slowdown in growth, LinkedIn said online ad revenue growth slowed to 20% in the latest quarter from 56% a year earlier.

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Told you -along with Ron Paul-, we should have dismantled it. Now NATO is a real and clear danger to all of us.

Armed With New US Money, NATO To Strengthen Russia Deterrence (Reuters)

Backed by an increase in U.S. military spending, NATO is planning its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia but will reject Polish demands for permanent bases. Worried since Russia’s seizure of Crimea that Moscow could rapidly invade Poland or the Baltic states, the Western military alliance wants to bolster defenses on its eastern flank without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces permanently. NATO defense ministers will next week begin outlining plans for a complex web of small eastern outposts, forces on rotation, regular war games and warehoused equipment ready for a rapid response force. That force includes air, maritime and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel.

The allies are also expected to offer Moscow a renewed dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which has not met since 2014, about improved military transparency to avoid surprise events and misunderstandings, a senior NATO diplomat said. U.S. plans for a four-fold increase in military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion in 2017 are central to the strategy, which has been shaped in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The plans are welcomed by NATO whose chief, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, says it will mean “more troops in the eastern part of the alliance … the pre-positioning of equipment, tanks, armored vehicles … more exercises and more investment in infrastructure.”

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The only way I see to make any pensions sytem “remain viable” is to introduce basic income instead.

Why Pensions Are The New Flashpoint In Greece’s Crisis (AP)

Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare. Hemmed in by a grim economic reality and tough-talking bailout creditors, the leftwing-led government in Athens is now attempting the seemingly impossible: to reform the pension system without cutting pensions, largely through a steep increase in social security contributions. The overhaul, which creditors are demanding in return for rescue loans, means Greeks who have a job — and who are outnumbered by the unemployed and retired — have to pay for the rest Unions are up in arms about the move, which has become the main hurdle in Greece’s negotiations with its European creditors and the IMF.

Critics say the reform will heap the most pain on self-employed professionals and farmers, forcing them to pay up to three quarters of their income in pension contributions and taxes. They warn the majority will be forced to change jobs or emigrate — accelerating the brain drain the country has suffered since the crisis started in 2010. “We are fighting for our very survival,” said Georgios Stassinos, head of the country’s biggest engineers’ union. If the reforms are adopted, he said, “the country will be left without engineers, doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and economists.” The head of Greece’s bar associations, Vassilios Alexandris, said the new system would reduce some lawyers’ net incomes to as little as 31% of their gross intakes, from the current 46%. “Professionals will not pay their (pension) contributions, not out of choice but because they will be unable to,” he said.

In Greek cities, a wave of protests has become known as the necktie revolution, from a series of demonstrations by formally-dressed professionals. The discontent is even more obvious in the countryside, where farmers have manned highway blockades for over two weeks. Costas Alexandris, a farmers’ union leader in the northeastern area of Thrace, said he stands to pay 75% of his income in taxes and contributions next year under the government’s proposals, which include taxation on subsidies and a leap in farmers’ pension contributions from 7 to 28%. But if Greece wants to make its pensions system viable, it has few options. Current retirees have already seen their pensions cut repeatedly under austerity programs since 2009 and the retirement age has been raised from about 62 to 67.

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Jul 052015
 
 July 5, 2015  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


NPC Wilkins-Rogers Milling Co., Washington, DC 1926

Germany vs Greece: “Marx Is Claiming It Was Offside” (WaPo)
In Bad Faith (Ashoka Mody)
EU Warns Of Armageddon If Greek Voters Reject Terms (AEP)
Why I’d Vote ‘No’ On Greece’s Referendum (Brett Arends)
How a Greek Default Could Hammer Bonds (Carl B. Weinberg)
Quartet Of Crises Threatens Europe’s Core (Reuters)
Europe Can’t Afford To Let Athens Go Under, Says Varoufakis (Reuters)
Mirage of Economic Turnaround Masked New Greek Crisis in the Making (WSJ)
Our Heretic (And Not-So-Simple) Views On The Greek Referendum (ZH)
Euro Area Said to Weigh Push for Aid Deal Even If Greeks Vote No (Bloomberg)
The Greek Bluff In All Its Glory: Presenting The Grexit “Falling Dominoes” (ZH)
4th of July Fireworks: World War III With China Dead Ahead (Paul B. Farrell)
It’s Too Late To Save Our World, So Enjoy The Spectacle Of Doom (Guardian)

“Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics..”

Germany vs Greece: “Marx Is Claiming It Was Offside” (WaPo)

Many top English-speaking economists are either alarmed or aghast over Europe’s handling of the crisis in Greece. Several Nobel Prize winners say it has been exacerbated, time and again, by an unnecessarily rigid approach by Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse and decision-maker. Greece simply cannot repay its debts, economists argue, no matter how much the country slashes public services or raises taxes. So by insisting it keep on trying, the thinking goes, Germany seems to be intent on punishing Greece. The Germans see it differently, saying what they are doing may be painful, but necessary, to get the country on a sustainable footing for the long term. To understand the massive gap in opinion, it might help to watch a Monty Python sketch from 1974 about a soccer match between Germany and Greece.

In the match, the two countries are represented by their foremost philosophers. For much of the game, the two sides do nothing but talk. Then, in the final minute, there is movement. Socrates scores past German goalie Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who lived from 1646 to 1716, to win. The German philosophers G.W.F. Hegel, Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx then dispute the goal with the referee, Confucius. “Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics. Kant via the categorical imperative is holding that ontologically it exists only in the imagination,” the announcer says. “Marx is claiming it was offside.”

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Exactly my argument for why Troika negotiators should all be fired: “The IMF’s report is important because it reveals that the creditors negotiated with Greece in bad faith.”

In Bad Faith (Ashoka Mody)

On July 2, the IMF released its analysis of whether Greek debt was sustainable or not. The report said that Greek debt was not sustainable and deep debt relief along with substantial new financing were needed to stabilize Greece. In reaching this new assessment, the IMF stated it had learned many lessons. Among them: Greeks would not take adequate structural reforms to spur growth, they would not sell enough of their assets to repay their debt, and they were unable to undertake sufficient fiscal austerity. That left no choice but to grant Greece greater debt relief and to provide new financing to tide Greece over till it could stand on its own feet. The relief, the IMF, says must be provided by European creditors while the IMF is repaid in whole.

The IMF’s report is important because it reveals that the creditors negotiated with Greece in bad faith. For months, a haze was allowed to settle over the question of Greek debt sustainability. The timing of the report’s release—on the eve of a historic Greek referendum, well after the technical negotiations have broken down—suggests that there was no intention to allow a sober analysis of the Greek debt burden. Paul Taylor of Reuters tells us that the European authorities worked hard to suppress it and Landon Thomas of the New York Times reports that, until a few days ago, the IMF had played along. As a result, the entire burden of adjustment was to fall on the Greeks before any debt reduction could even be contemplated. This conclusion was based on indefensible economic logic and the absence of the IMF’s debt sustainability analysis intentionally biased the negotiations.

As an international organization responsible for global financial stability, it is the IMF’s role to explain clearly and honestly the economic parameters of a bailout negotiation. The Greeks, many said, benefited from low interest rates and repayments stretched out over many years. Therefore, no debt relief was needed. But, of course, as the IMF now makes clear, if a country has to repay about 4 percent of its income each year over the next 40 years and that country has poor growth prospects precisely because repaying that debt will lower growth, then debt is not sustainable. If this report had been made public earlier, the tone of the public debate and the media’s boorish stereotyping of Greeks and its government would have been balanced by greater clarity on the Greek position.

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Ambromance.

EU Warns Of Armageddon If Greek Voters Reject Terms (AEP)

Greece risks a collapse of the medical system, power black-outs, and an import blockade, if the Greek people reject creditor demands in a make-or-break referendum tomorrow, the EU’s highest elected official has warned. Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said the EU authorities may have to prepare emergency loans to keep basic public services functioning and to prevent the debt-stricken country spinning out of control next week. “Without new money, salaries won’t be paid, the health system will stop functioning, the power network and public transport will break down, and they won’t be able to import vital goods because nobody can pay,” he said. Mr Schulz earlier called for the elected Syriza government to be replaced by “technocrat” rule until stability is restored.

The alarmist warnings are part of an escalating pressure campaign by European leaders as Greeks decide their destiny in what has become – despite attempts by Syriza to present it otherwise – an in-out vote on euro membership after five years of economic depression and mass unemployment. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, said his country is on “war-footing” and accused the eurozone of trying to terrify Greek voters into submission. “What they’re doing with Greece has a name: terrorism. Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people. It’s about spreading terror,” he told El Mundo. The complete break-down in trust between Syriza and the EU-IMF inspectors comes as polls show the “No” side neck and neck, each driven by powerful emotions in the bitterly divided country.

An estimated 40,000 people gathered for a rally for “No” side on Friday in front of the Greek parliament, drawn by a star-casting of Greek singers and defiant appearance by premier Alexis Tsipras. Some 18,000 thronged a nearby stadium for the “Yes” campaign, blowing whistles and waving Greek and EU flags, many afraid that Greece would be blown out of the EU altogether after 34 years, and cast into oblivion. The crisis has reached a point where the Greece’s manufacturing system is grinding to a halt. Crucial imports and raw materials have been stuck in ports since imposition of capital controls and the shut-down of the banking system a week ago. Industrialists cannot pay suppliers outside the country unless they are deemed a top priority by an emergency payments committee at the Greek treasury.

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“..why would you dig around under the sofa and behind the fridge to find the last few pennies so you could ship them off to Brussels?”

Why I’d Vote ‘No’ On Greece’s Referendum (Brett Arends)

While America celebrates its Declaration of Independence this weekend, the people of Greece are preparing for their own awesome display of democracy. Sunday’s referendum in Greece is about much more than economics, financial reform and the terms of debt repayments.It is about Greek independence — or its continued submission to the dictatorship of the so-called troika.The Greeks will make their own decisions. But if I were among them, I would certainly vote “no” to the troika. It isn’t even difficult. Here’s why.

1. Six years of a Great Depression is enough. Greek output has fallen 25% since the crisis began. Imports have plunged by 40%. A million people have lost their jobs. The official unemployment rate is now 25%, and it is north of 60% among young people. This is a social catastrophe. It is destroying jobs and lives. It is serving no purpose. Enough is enough.

2. If austerity were going to work, it would have done so by now. The Greek government has already tightened its belt even more than demanded, as the IMF has admitted. The country has turned big government deficits into government surpluses (before interest payments). When they struck their deal with the troika in 2010, the Greeks were expected to cut their gross national debts by this year to $350 billion. Instead, they’ve cut them down to $316 billion, 10% lower. They’ve tightened so far that by last summer the price of Greek government bonds had rallied 400% from their crisis lows. Belt tightened. House in order. Confidence restored. Right? Yet the economy has just kept going down and down and down.

3. The troika is crazy.They keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In 2010, they said a policy of austerity would produce a “V-shaped” recovery. Ha ha! In 2013, they took another look at the situation and basically concluded: • The Greeks have done everything we asked of them and more. • It hasn’t worked. • Huh. How ’bout that? Their prescription: more austerity. And here we are again in 2015. The economy’s even worse. The solution? Er … even more austerity. Would you really take the advice of a crazy doctor?

4. Austerity doesn’t make sense anyway.It’s based on single-entry book-keeping — or the logical “fallacy of composition,” the belief that the whole is just a bigger version of each individual part. Yes, any person can make himself richer by raising his income and cutting his spending. But a society overall can’t do that, because my spending is your income and your spending is my income. Simple math. It’s like thinking that everyone at the poker table can win by playing well. So even if the Greek government keeps balancing its budget, that alone won’t make Greece overall somehow richer. It will simply transfer money from the private sector to the state (and thence to Brussels).

For that matter, while any person can run out of money, a country can’t. It doesn’t make any sense. Money is an accounting system — a form of IOU. How can everyone be forced to sit at home twiddling their thumbs because “there isn’t any money to go around”? And why, if that were the case, would you dig around under the sofa and behind the fridge to find the last few pennies so you could ship them off to Brussels?

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It’s getting scary out there.

How a Greek Default Could Hammer Bonds (Carl B. Weinberg)

Greece is on the verge of defaulting on €490 billion in loans, bond obligations, central-bank liquidity assistance, and interbank balances. Who will bear those losses? Greece’s creditors, which are all public entities across the euro zone, and that are on the hook for some €335 billion in loan guarantees. How will those losses be covered? Bonds will have to be sold that will roughly equal the increase in annual debt purchases by the European Central Bank announced last January. This is a hit to the European financial system nearly as big as Lehman Brothers’ balance sheet was in 2008. There are precious few alternatives left for Greece or Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. His government has walked out of talks with its creditors, and he has called a national referendum for July 5.

Its choices are to accept “help” in the form of new loans to replace old loans (and accept austerity conditions), negotiate a debt restructuring with creditors, or default. The government has said it doesn’t want new loans—it wants debt relief. An IMF report on Thursday said that without at least $36 billion in new money over the next three years, Greece can’t meet its obligations without debt reduction. The government appears ready to renege on its debt obligations. So Greece’s creditors are going to lose money—a lot of money. Since these creditors are public entities, the losses will be borne, initially, by the public. You can’t find public-sector exposure in the national accounts of lending governments because they are off-balance-sheet contingent liabilities that don’t exist until they are needed.

But they add up to hundreds of billions of euros in guarantees for everything from the European Stability Mechanism, or ESM, to the ECB, to the interbank clearing system. Bonds will have to be sold to cover those markers. Issuance on this scale promises to be a blow for a market already vulnerable to a price correction. Talks between the Greek government and its creditors have nothing to do with saving Greece or bailing it out. This crisis is about managing the resolution of bad Greek assets in a way that inconveniences creditor governments the least, forcing the least net new public borrowing, and minimizing financial system risks. The best way to do that is to avert a hard default, even if it means kicking the can down the road.

Consider the ESM, Greece’s biggest creditor. Under its previous name, the European Financial Stability Facility, it loaned Greece €145 billion. If Greece defaults, the ESM, a Luxembourg corporation owned by the 19 European Monetary Union governments, will have to declare loans to Greece as nonperforming within 120 days. Accounting rules and regulators insist that financial institutions write off nonperforming assets in full, charging losses against reserves and hitting capital. Here’s the rub: The ESM has no loan-loss contingency reserves. Its only assets—other than loans to Greece—are loans to Ireland and Portugal. Its liabilities are triple A-rated bonds sold to the public.

How do you get a triple-A rating on a bond backed entirely by loans to junk-rated sovereign borrowers? Well, the governments guarantee the bonds, and because they are unfunded off-balance-sheet liabilities, they aren’t counted in their debt burdens—unless borrowers default. If Greece defaults hard, governments will be on the hook for €145 billion in guarantees on those loans to the ESM. We expect credit-rating agencies to insist that these unfunded guarantees be funded. After all, unfunded guarantees are worthless guarantees.

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Forgot one: Marine Le Pen. A much bigger crisis than Britain could ever be.

Quartet Of Crises Threatens Europe’s Core (Reuters)

Four great crises around Europe’s fringes threaten to engulf the European Union, potentially setting the ambitious post-war unification project back by decades. The EU’s unity, solidarity and international standing are at risk from Greece’s debt, Russia’s role in Ukraine, Britain’s pursuit of opt-outs and Mediterranean migration. Failure to cope adequately with any one of these would worsen the others, amplifying the perils confronting “Project Europe”. Greece’s default and the risk, dubbed ‘Grexit’, that it may crash out of the shared euro currency is the most immediate challenge to the long-standing notion of an “ever closer union” of European states and peoples.

“The longer-term consequences of Grexit would affect the European project as a whole. It would set a precedent and it would further undermine the raison d’être of the EU,” Fabian Zuleeg and Janis Emmanouilidis wrote in an analysis for the European Policy Center think-tank. Though Greece accounts for barely 2% of the euro zone’s economic output and of the EU’s population, its state bankruptcy after two bailouts in which euro zone partners lent it nearly €200 billion is a massive blow to EU prestige. Even before the outcome of Sunday’s Greek referendum was known, the atmosphere in Brussels was thick with recrimination – Greeks blaming Germans, most others blaming Greeks, Keynesian economists blaming a blinkered obsession with austerity, EU officials emphasizing the success of bailouts elsewhere in the bloc.

While its fate is still uncertain, Athens has already shown that the euro’s founders were deluded when they declared that membership of Europe’s single currency was unbreakable. Now its partners may try to slam the stable door behind Greece and take rapid steps to bind the remaining members closer together, perhaps repairing some of the initial design flaws of monetary union, though German opposition is likely to prevent any move toward joint government bond issuance. The next time recession or a spike in sovereign bond yields shakes the euro zone, markets will remember the Greek precedent.

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€1 trillion.

Europe Can’t Afford To Let Athens Go Under, Says Varoufakis (Reuters)

Europe will lose a trillion euros if it allows Greece to go under, the country’s finance minister said on Saturday, accusing creditors of ‘terrorizing’ Greeks into accepting austerity in a referendum on bailout terms. After a week in which Greece defaulted, closed its banks and began rationing cash, Greeks vote on Sunday on whether to accept or reject tough conditions sought by international creditors to extend a lending lifeline keeping the country afloat. Their decision could determine Greece’s future as a member of the single currency. Addressing a crowd of over 50,000 in central Athens, left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged them to spurn the deal, rejecting warnings from Greece’s European partners that this may bring an exit from the euro and even greater hardship.

A slew of opinion polls on Friday gave the “Yes” camp, which favors accepting the bailout terms, a slender lead but all were within the margin of error and pollsters said the vote was too close to call. Only one had the “No” vote advocated by the government winning. Tsipras’ finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said there was too much at stake for Europe to cast Greece adrift. “As much for Greece as for Europe, I’m sure,” Varoufakis told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “If Greece crashes, a trillion euros (the equivalent of Spain’s GDP) will be lost. It’s too much money and I don’t believe Europe could allow it.” “What they’re doing with Greece has a name: terrorism,” said Varoufakis. “Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people. And when it’s about spreading terror, that is known as terrorism.”

Athens’ 18 partners in the euro zone say they can easily absorb the fallout from losing Greece, which accounts for barely 2% of the bloc’s economic output. But it would represent a massive blow to the prestige of Europe’s grand project to bind its nations into a union they said was unbreakable. “For Europe, this would be easy to manage economically,” Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling said in an interview with online newspaper Die Presse. For Greece, however, “it would indeed be considerably more dramatic.” Schelling said Greece would need humanitarian aid in case of a Grexit but described fears of widespread poverty as exaggerated and part of “a propaganda war”.

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“The consequence, as Greece heads in to a momentous referendum Sunday, is a country broken both socially and economically.”

Mirage of Economic Turnaround Masked New Greek Crisis in the Making (WSJ)

Last year, Greece looked as if it were on the way up. The economy was growing—at one point, faster than Germany’s. International investors jostled to buy the government’s bonds. Banks were rebuilding. Politicians talked about a “clean exit” from Greece’s yearslong bailout: no more loans, no more money, no more humiliating reviews by bureaucrats from Brussels. But many Greeks were still on the way down. Katerina Papalevizopoulou was out of work. Her husband had lost his job driving a truck and was driving a cab. In 2014, he made around €7,000 ($8,000), down from €9,000 the year before and half of what he had earned in 2008. They owe €70,000 on a mortgage on their apartment here. They sold their wedding rings. They sent their car to the scrap yard, for €250. They sent their boy, now 10, to live with his grandparents outside the city.

“I don’t want my son to be around this,” Ms. Papalevizopoulou says in their small and cluttered apartment. “If you want to look at my fridge, my pantry, it is empty,” she says. She apologizes that she has nothing to offer visitors. “The priest brings me food,” she says. For many Greeks, any economic improvement has been a mirage, even before the financial chaos of recent weeks. Debt burdens have become harder to bear. Wages have tumbled, pushed down by policies intended to make Greek workers more competitive internationally. Social services have been cut to help close the budget gap. As a result, Greek households have cut their own spending—and they have fallen behind on their debts. The consequence, as Greece heads in to a momentous referendum Sunday, is a country broken both socially and economically.

The rupture has helped elevate Alexis Tspiras, leader of the radical-left party Syriza, to prime minister. It has also been a force behind him as he has urged Greece to vote “no” to a deal with its European creditors. And no matter what outcome—a break with Europe or a rapprochement—the economic devastation means Greece will need a lot of fixing. Its banking system may be first in line, and a look at the country’s mortgage market shows why. When it entered the euro in 2001, Greece had a relatively small amount of consumer borrowing: Its banks had extended €24 billion in loans to domestic households at the end of that year. By the end of 2009, just before the debt crisis exploded, the figure had quadrupled to €99 billion.

Greece has high rates of homeownership, which Greek banks have financed with mortgages. Those are now in trouble. The crumbling economy has pushed many in the middle class to the lower middle class and many in the working class into poverty. Delinquencies on loans have soared. The four big Greek banks reported in the first quarter that between 32% and 39% of their Greek loans were nonperforming. And the pace of souring loans appears to have increased sharply this year: National Bank of Greece, the country’s largest lender, reported that €154 million in Greek mortgages became overdue, by 90 days or more, in the fourth quarter of last year. For the first quarter of this year, the figure jumped to more than €280 million.

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Germans are sold a story that sells well. But fair or realistic it is not.

Our Heretic (And Not-So-Simple) Views On The Greek Referendum (ZH)

Conventional wisdom has it as follows: Tsipras is a hardline communist, who overplayed his hand with the troika (or “the three institutions”, as he calls them). The referendum was a last-ditch play to retain power by stoking a nationalistic response to the standoff with creditors. We believe the current stand-off with Greece’s creditors is just part of the ongoing tug-of-war between Germany and the IMF on a possible haircut on Greek debt. The background of this conflict is as follows: the US (which exerts substantial influence on the IMF) is “pro Keynesian” while Germany is “pro austerity”.

The slowdown in the European economy is obviously affecting the US economy as well; hence the US interest is clearly justified. The USA has been nudging Europe to engage in some good-old Keynesian deficit-spending. Obviously, the deficit spending does not need to happen in Germany, whose economy is doing very well, thank you. It needs to happen in places like Greece, but then the question arises, how could this deficit be financed? Well, the markets are certainly not willing to finance Greece, so that leaves few people in the room able to do this. Rich Germany obviously comes to mind, but then this is a major no-no for German voters and politicians.

(West) Germany engaged in the mother of all expansionary policies (and fiscal transfers) at the time of reunification with East Germany, when it set a 1:1 conversion rate of the East German mark into the DEM, while the exchange rate applicable for East German exports had been at 1 to 4.3. Rightly or wrongly, it is widely accepted in Germany that the dismal performance of Germany during the rest of nineties is due to those very policies— justifiable perhaps at the time by a duty of solidarity. Quite understandably, the German public doesn’t feel such a strong duty of solidarity vis-à-vis Greece. Any German politician suggesting a large-scale fiscal transfer to Greece would be skewered. Any haircut on Greek official-sector debt would be seen as (and be) just that: a fiscal transfer to Greece.

One last background note: the German public seems convinced that Germany has already paid its dues when it comes to Greece. This is only partially true: the restructuring of Greek debt was at its heart an effort to convert private unsustainable debt into official unsustainable debt –saving major European banks in the process (including Deutsche Bank, which managed to stay afloat by engineering achieving a risk-weight asset density of 14% in 2008).

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It was St. Augustine who said: Charity Is No Substitute For Justice Withheld.

Euro Area Said to Weigh Push for Aid Deal Even If Greeks Vote No (Bloomberg)

Euro-area finance ministers may be ready to start work on a third bailout agreement for Greece after Sunday’s referendum, even if voters reject the bloc’s last aid proposal, according to two officials familiar with negotiations. A broad majority of finance chiefs have agreed to examine an official request from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for aid from the European Stability Mechanism, the people said, asking not to be identified because the talks are confidential. That process could begin as soon as next week, one of them said. Officials on both sides of the negotiations are preparing to accelerate efforts to release aid for Greece irrespective of whether voters reject creditors’ aid terms in the referendum or inflict a defeat on the Tsipras government by delivering a “yes” vote.

With the banking system on lock down to shield it from deposit outflows ahead of the ballot, polls suggest the result is too close to call. The Eurogroup is waiting for the outcome of the referendum, a spokesman for Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance chief who leads meetings of euro-area ministers, said in a text message. While European leaders have framed the referendum as a vote on Greece’s future in the euro, the cost of a Greek exit may ultimately be greater than the bill for keeping the country in the currency. Finance ministers are no longer contemplating a Greek exit, said one of the officials. “We’re waiting for the referendum result,” German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters in Berlin. “An ESM program would depend on a request from the Greek government.” Activating the ESM “is not a straightforward process,” he said.

The quickest way to release aid for Greece may be to hand over €3.3 billion in profit that the ECB made buying Greek debt during an earlier phase of the crisis. Finance ministers and some national parliaments would need to approve such a payment, which would likely be part of a broader third bailout deal. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Friday he expects a deal to be done even if voters reject the euro area’s latest offer. Finance ministers discussed the request for a third bailout during a conference call on July 1. One of the officials said that Dijsselbloem intends to ask Greece’s creditors to make a swift assessment of any new proposals to speed up a disbursement. “We will come back to your request for financial stability support from the ESM only after and on the basis of the outcome of the referendum,” Dijsselbloem wrote in a July 1 letter to Tsipras.

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“Oh, and if France gets downgraded, Germany’s pro rata share of funding the EFSF jumps to a mindboggling €1.385 trillion, or 56% of German GDP!”

The Greek Bluff In All Its Glory: Presenting The Grexit “Falling Dominoes” (ZH)

Earlier today, Yanis Varoufakis reiterated his core thesis driving the entire Greek approach from day 1 of its negotiations with the Eurogroup: “Europe [stands] to lose as much as Athens if the country is forced from the euro after a referendum on Sunday on bailout terms.” This is merely a recap of what we said 4 years ago when in July of 2011 we explained “How Euro Bailout #2 Could Cost Up To 56% Of German GDP”, recall:

… the bottom line is that for an enlarged EFSF (which is what its blank check expansion today provided) to be effective, it will need to cover Italy and Belgium. As AB says, “its firepower would have to rise to €1.45trn backed by a total of €1.7trn guarantees.” And here is where the whole premise breaks down, if not from a financial standpoint, then certainly from a political one: “As the guarantees of the periphery including Italy are worthless, the Guarantee Germany would have to provide rises to €790bn or 32% of GDP.” That’s right: by not monetizing European debt on its books, the ECB has effectively left Germany holding the bag to the entire European bailout via the blank check SPV.

The cost if things go wrong: a third of the country economic output, and the worst case scenario: a depression the likes of which Germany has not seen since the 1920-30s. Oh, and if France gets downgraded, Germany’s pro rata share of funding the EFSF jumps to a mindboggling €1.385 trillion, or 56% of German GDP!

Several years later, in anticipation of precisely the predicament Europe finds itself today, the ECB did begin to monetize European debt, which has since become the biggest European risk-shock absorber of all, and the one which the ECB is literally betting the bank on: just count the number of times the ECB has sworn it has the tools and can offset any Greek risk contagion simply by buying bonds. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The reason is precisely in the contagion threat inherent in Europe’s alphabet soup of bailout mechanism as we explained four years ago in the post above, and as Carl Weinberg of High-Frequency Economics did hours ago in today’s edition of Barrons. Here is how the Greek contagion would spread, laid out in all its simplicity, should there be a Grexit, an outcome which the ECB could catalyze as soon as Monday in case of a “No” vote by raising ELA collateral haircuts:

The [Greek] government appears ready to renege on its debt obligations. So Greece’s creditors are going to lose money—a lot of money. Since these creditors are public entities, the losses will be borne, initially, by the public.

This crisis is about managing the resolution of bad Greek assets in a way that inconveniences creditor governments the least, forcing the least net new public borrowing, and minimizing financial system risks. The best way to do that is to avert a hard default, even if it means kicking the can down the road.

That, once again, is the Varoufakis all-in gamble, a gamble which assumes the ECB will be rational enough (in a game theory context) to appreciate the fallout of a Grexit on Europe’s creditors.

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Oh, that young Farrell guy again…

4th of July Fireworks: World War III With China Dead Ahead (Paul B. Farrell)

World War III? OK, so you’re distracted by Trump vs. Christie? By Wall Street hyping a bull-market recovery? So we forget war, they’re “over there,” nightly news clips of faraway killer bombs. Wrong, WWIII really is getting closer. At the launch of the Iraq War, the Bush team warned us of the “mother of all national security issues … by 2020 there is little doubt that something drastic is happening … warfare defining human life.” Pentagon generals are planning ahead for that 2020. But most Americans are more interested in their next gadget. Wake up. USA Today headline: “CIA veteran Morell: ISIS’ next test could be a 9/11-style attack.” That warning’s from an insider with George W. Bush in 2001 when hijacked airliners hit the World Trade Center. Twice acting CIA director, says USA Today’s Susan Page.

With Obama in the situation room when word came “Navy Seal Team Six had killed Osama bin Laden.” Morell’s new book, “The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism From Al Qa’ida to ISIS,” makes clear America is already fighting World War III today. Worse, WWIII will go on for decades, “for as far as I can see,” says the CIA insider. Yes, WWIII is hot news with the Pentagon brass. The Wall Street Journal just reviewed “The Ghost Fleet” by Peter Singer and August Cole. Singer’s “one of Washington’s pre-eminent futurists.” He’s now “walking the Pentagon halls with an ominous warning for America’s military leaders: World War III with China is coming.”

In fact, even America’s advanced new F-35 fighter jets may be “blown from the sky by their Chinese-made microchips and Chinese hackers easily could worm their way into the military’s secretive intelligence service … and the Chinese Army may one day occupy Hawaii.” Speculation? No, the Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum reminded us Chinese hackers have already got into “White House computers, defense industry plans and millions of secret U.S. government files.” Singer’s “written authoritative books on America’s reliance on private military contractors, cybersecurity and the Defense Department’s growing dependence on robots, drones and technology,” and why that puts national security at high risk.

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“How surreal do the signs and warnings have to become before we stop in our tracks? Are whales required to fall from the sky?”

It’s Too Late To Save Our World, So Enjoy The Spectacle Of Doom (Guardian)

In the middle of a week of record temperatures, as if unaware of the irony, the business community celebrated the consolidation of its attempts to force the government’s hand to agree to a third filth-generating runway at Heathrow, tipping all species on Earth towards extinction. Everything will die soon, except for cockroaches, and Glastonbury favourite the Fall, who will survive even a nuclear holocaust, though they will still refuse to play their 80s chart hits. In Norfolk on Thursday, the tarmac melted, and ducklings became trapped in sticky blackness. When a lioness whelped in an ancient Roman street, Caesar thought something was up. Here, solid matter transmuted to hot liquid and swallowed baby birds whole. How surreal do the signs and warnings have to become before we stop in our tracks?

Are whales required to fall from the sky? Does Tim Henman have to give birth to a two-headed cat on Centre Court? CBI director John Cridland says: “The government must commit to the decision now, and get diggers in the ground at Heathrow swiftly by 2020.” Head of the Institute of Directors Simon Walker says: “There can now be no further delay from politicians.” And Segro chief executive David Sleath merely bellows: “Get on with it!”, like some selfish Top Gear presenter demanding his steak dinner after dawdling, the planet itself the powerless BBC employee he punches in the face. The business community has thrown its executive toys out of the pram, and now there are chrome ball bearings on strings everywhere, tripping up unpaid interns and making life difficult for immigrant cleaners scrabbling under desks on less than minimum wage.

David Cameron, an electoral promise to oppose the third runway sticking in his throat like an undigested salmon bone, can only duck his cowardly head and hope some terrible atrocity or a Wimbledon win wafts our attention away. When I was a child, my grandmother always referred to our pet dog’s excrement as “business”, so to this day, when I envisage “the business community”, I imagine a vast pile of sentient faeces issuing its demands while smoking a Cuban cigar, an image that seems increasing accurate as the decades pass. The destruction of all life on Earth is inevitable if fossil fuel use continues unabated. (Legal. Please advise. Are we allowed to say this now without being shouted down by Nigel Lawson?)

The business community’s genius move in the third runway debate has been to change the dialogue from an argument which should have been between building a runway and not building a runway at all, and trying to restructure our society to avoid the need for a third runway, into an argument about where exactly it was best to position this massive portent of our world’s forthcoming doom. It’s like offering an innocent man who doesn’t want to be hanged the chance to be poisoned instead.

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Mar 142015
 
 March 14, 2015  Posted by at 7:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley General Motors exhibit, San Francisco 1939

Why The Dollar Is Rising As The Global Monetary Bubble Craters (David Stockman)
American Mystery Story: Consumers Don’t Spend Even In Booming Job Market (BBG)
Surprise: US Economic Data Have Been the World’s Most Disappointing (Bloomberg)
Why We’re At Risk Of A QE Trap: Richard Koo (CNBC)
Roubini Greek Doom Scenario Is So Bad It May Keep the Euro Intact (Bloomberg)
Merkel’s Office Denies ‘Private Feud’ Between Greece And Germany (Guardian)
Power Struggle in Brussels and Berlin over Fate of Greece (Spiegel)
Tsipras Reaches Out to Euro Region Amid Spat With Germany (Bloomberg)
Schism Between Germany And Greece Grows Wider By The Day (Guardian)
US Seeks Billions From Global Banks For Currency Manipulation (Bloomberg)
The Fed Gives A Giant F##k You to Working Class Americans (Beversdorf)
Oil Plunges On Bloated US Supply (CNBC)
Shale Producer Whiting Draws Exxon, Others as Suitors (Bloomberg)
The Coming Chinese Crackup (WSJ)
Japan’s Orwellian Politics About Ukraine (Eric Zuesse)
Hillary’s Email Mess Gets Messier (Pam Martens)
For David Brooks, The Rich Are People, the Poor Are Numbers (Matt Taibbi)
California Has About One Year Of Water Left. Will You Ration Now? (NASA)

“Won’t you make money shorting the doomed dollar? Heavens no! At least not any time soon.”

Why The Dollar Is Rising As The Global Monetary Bubble Craters (David Stockman)

Contra Corner is not about investment advice, but its unstinting critique of the current malignant monetary regime does not merely imply that the Wall Street casino is a dangerous place for your money. No, it screams get out of harms’ way. Now! Yet I am constantly braced with questions about the US dollar and its impending demise. The reasoning seems to be that if America is a debt addicted dystopia—-and it surely is—- won’t the US dollar sooner or later go down in flames as the day of reckoning materializes? Won’t you make money shorting the doomed dollar? Heavens no! At least not any time soon. The reason is simply that the other three big economies of the world—Japan, China and Europe—are in even more disastrous condition.

Worse still, their governments and central banks are actually more clueless than Washington, and are conducting policies that are flat out lunatic—–meaning that their faltering economies will be facing even more destructive punishment from policies makers in the days ahead. Indeed, Draghi, Kuroda and the commissars of red capitalism in Beijing make Janet Yellen and Stanley Fischer (Fed Vice-Chairman) appear to be slightly sober. So as trite as it sounds, the US dollar is the cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry. And on a relative basis, its is going to look even cleaner as two decades of monetary madness around the world finally hit the shoals. You have to start with a stark assessment of the other three major economies.

To hear the Wall Street analysts and economists tell it, Japan, China and Europe are just variants of the US economy with different mixes of pluses and minuses, experiencing somewhat different stages of the economic cycle and obviously shaped by their own diverse brands of domestic politics and economic governance. Yet despite these surface difference, the non-US big three economies are held to be just part of a global economic convoy heading for continued economic growth, rising living standards and higher stock market prices. Actually, not so. Japan is a bankrupt old age colony. China is the most monumental credit and construction Ponzi in human history. Europe is a terminal victim of socialist welfare and statist dirigisme. All three are attempting to defer the day of reckoning via a resort to a final spasm of money printing and central bank manipulation that is so desperate and crazy that it can only end in disaster.

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See: The American Story Is A Mystery Only to Economists

American Mystery Story: Consumers Don’t Spend Even In Booming Job Market (BBG)

It’s an American mystery story: More people have jobs and extra pocket money from lower gas prices, but they aren’t buying as much as economists expected. The government’s count of how much people shelled out at retailers fell in February for a third consecutive month. Payrolls are up 863,000 over the same period. The chart below shows retail sales and payrolls generally move in the same direction, until now. The divergence could portend lower levels of economic growth if Americans’ usually reliable penchant to spend is less than what it once was.


YoY growth in U.S. retail and food services sales (red) against YoY change in non-farm payrolls (blue).
Sources: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics

“The expenditures that add up to gross domestic product are coming in a lot softer than employment,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC. “Why would retailers be hiring if sales are falling? Why would they be boosting hours if sales are falling and why would they be paying more?” Also, take a look at the household saving rate. It’s gone up as gas prices fell:

Ben Herzon, a senior economist at Macroeconomic Advisers, isn’t that worried yet. As usual, the data is quirky. First, he notes, “it was crazy cold in February.” Aside from stocking up on milk in the snowstorm, staying indoors was probably a more attractive option for most shoppers. Purchases at online retailers in February showed a 2.2% increase, the largest since March 2014. In the region from the Mississippi River to the East Coast, Americans in 23 states lived through a “top-10-coldest February” in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data back to the start of 1895. Herzon notes that lower gas prices also depressed the count in prior months. The government is adding up dollars spent, so fewer dollars to fill a gas tank results in lower sales.

That even bleeds into narrower measures of retail sales because grocery stores such as Safeway, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club also sell gasoline. Herzon is counting on a March rebound. There won’t be the weather to blame anymore, and gas prices have rebounded off their lows of late January and early February. The average price of a gallon of unleaded gas $2.45 Wednesday compared with $2.06 Feb. 1, according to AAA. “Payroll employment has been great, and it is generating a lot of labor income that you think would be spent,” Herzon said. “March should be a rebound. Our story would be wrong if it doesn’t happen.”

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How wrong Bloomberg usually is.

Surprise: US Economic Data Have Been the World’s Most Disappointing (Bloomberg)

It’s not only the just-released University of Michigan consumer confidence report and February retail sales on Thursday that surprised economists and investors with another dose of underwhelming news. Overall, U.S. economic data have been falling short of prognosticators’ expectations by the most in six years. The Bloomberg ECO U.S. Surprise Index, which measures whether data beat or miss forecasts, fell to the lowest since 2009, when the nation was in the deepest recession since the Great Depression. There’s been one notable exception to the gloom, and it’s a big one: payrolls. The economy added 295,000 jobs in February and 1.3 million over four months, a reflection of a healthier labor market in which the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest in almost seven years.

Most everything else? Blah. This month alone, personal income and spending, manufacturing as measured by the Institute for Supply Management, auto sales, factory orders, and retail sales have all come in a bit weak. Citigroup keeps economic surprise indexes for the world, and its scoreboard shows the U.S. is most disappointing relative to consensus forecasts, with Latin America and Canada next, as of March 12. Emerging markets were supposed to be hurt by falling oil prices but are now delivering positive surprises. U.S. policymakers frequently talk about weakness in Europe and China, though both are exceeding expectations. And there’s one rub. The surprise shortfall in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean the world’s largest economy is in dire straights. It’s just falling short of some perhaps overly elevated expectations.

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“When no one is borrowing money, monetary policy is largely useless..”

Why We’re At Risk Of A QE Trap: Richard Koo (CNBC)

The problem with central banks’ massive bond-buying programs is that if consumers and businesses fail to borrow money to stimulate economic growth, the policy is rendered mostly “useless,” one Nomura economist said Friday. The U.S. and U.K. embarked on asset-purchase, or QE programs, following the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. Japan joined the QE club in 2013 and the ECB began its 1 trillion euro ($1.06 trillion) bond-buying stimulus this week. “Both the U.S. and Europe are facing the same problem– which is that we are in a situation where the private sector in any of these economies is not borrowing money at zero interest rates or repairing balance sheets following what happened in the crisis,” Richard Koo, Chief Economist at Nomura, told CNBC on the side lines of the Ambrosetti Spring Workshop in Italy.

“When no one is borrowing money, monetary policy is largely useless,” he added. In the run-up to the launch of QE in the euro zone, loans to the private sector, which are a gauge of economic health, contracted. Data published late last month showed that the volume of loans to private firms and households fell by 0.1% on year in January, compared with a 0.5% drop in December. According to Koo, major central banks are holding reserves far in excess of levels they need because of the monetary stimulus. This has not led to a rise in private sector spending because big economies are struggling with a balance sheet recession – a situation where companies are focused on paying down debt rather than spending or investing – increasing the risk of QE trap.

“In a national economy if someone is saving money, you need someone to borrow money and this is the part that is missing. They [central banks] are pumping money but no one is borrowing, so you get negative interest rates and all sorts of distortions,” Koo said. He added that instead of looking to raise interest rates, the U.S. Federal Reserve should first focus on reducing its balance sheet which stands at over $4 trillion. The Fed, which meets next week, is widely expected to raise rates this year against a backdrop of improving economic data. “They [Fed policy makers] should not rush into a rate rise; they should reduce the balance sheet when people are not worried about inflation,” Koo said.

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Roubini’s scenario? Anyone could have told you this.

Roubini Greek Doom Scenario Is So Bad It May Keep the Euro Intact (Bloomberg)

Nouriel Roubini isn’t called “Dr. Doom” for nothing. He tends to be a glass half-empty kind of guy who worries a lot about looming crises. But in an interesting twist, when it comes to Greece, the economic professor’s not that concerned. Here’s why: the doomsday scenario he envisions if the country exited the euro zone is so bleak for the whole region that policy makers both in Athens and across Europe will never let it happen. It’s true other analysts are speculating that officials in Germany and other EU countries are more willing now to entertain the idea of a Greek exit, but that’s not how Roubini sees it.

Borrowing costs would soar for nations such as Italy and Spain and Europeans would race to withdraw cash from their bank accounts, according to Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Even Germany – Greece’s main nemesis as it negotiates a new financial aid package from European leaders — recognizes this risk, he said in a Bloomberg Television interview Friday. “It doesn’t make sense to have a Greek exit,” he said. “There would be massive contagion.” While bond buyers are selling Greek bonds, they seem complacent about the risk to the rest of the euro region and have been pouring money into debt of Italy, Spain and Portugal, sending yields on those nations’ debt to record lows.

Spanish and Italian 10-year bonds are yielding just 1.2%. Greek debt, meanwhile, has been falling. Yields on Greece’s 10-year bonds rose to 10.7% Friday from 8.6% on Feb. 24. Rates on its 3-year notes have climbed to 19% from 12.4%. So, maybe investors are right to dismiss concerns that a Greek exit would infect all of Europe, even as the nation with one-quarter of its working-age population unemployed faces very real deadlines for making debt payments. While Greece made a €350 million loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund Friday, it faces another financial hurdle on March 20, when the government has to pay the IMF another €346 million and refinance €1.6 billion of treasury bills.

Tensions have risen between Greece and Germany since the election of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Jan. 25. Tsipras won on a platform of ending the austerity his Syriza party blames Chancellor Angela Merkel for pushing. Roubini says that, even though Germany has been vocal about its displeasure with Greece’s antics, everyone understands the potential consequences of failing to keep the region intact – which is why it won’t unravel. Dr. Doom almost sounds a little optimistic.

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“If one country leaves this union, the markets will immediately ask which country is next. And that could be the beginning of the end.”

Merkel’s Office Denies ‘Private Feud’ Between Greece And Germany (Guardian)

The spokesman of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has denied a “private feud” has broken out between Berlin and Athens, as the radical Syriza government battles to avoid leaving the single currency – a risk euro-watchers have dubbed “Grexident”. As Athens rushes to implement economic reforms and convince its creditors to extend emergency funding, Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s official spokesman, insisted Greece’s economic future should not be reduced to a face off between the two nations. “I neither see a private feud nor do I view the whole issue of Greece and how it solves its problems as a bilateral German-Greek topic”, he said, reiterating that Merkel wants Greece to stay inside the single currency.

Tensions between Greece and Germany have been running high, after Syriza rekindled a row over war reparations to the Greek people earlier this week. On Friday, France’s economics minister, Pierre Moscovici, said in a German magazine interview that a Greek exit from the euro would be a “catastrophe”, despite some analysts having sought to play down the consequences. “All of us in Europe probably agree that a Grexit would be a catastrophe – for the Greek economy, but also for the euro zone as a whole,” he told Der Spiegel. “If one country leaves this union, the markets will immediately ask which country is next. And that could be the beginning of the end.”

Greece has been granted a four-month window to implement economic reforms after striking a last-minute deal with its creditors to extend its €240bn bailout. Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s controversial finance minister, insisted his party would be able to satisfy the 20 February agreement – even if that means delaying some of its election promises. “We have a commitment, all of us, to reach an agreement by 20 April,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Italy. “If this means that, for the next few months that we have negotiations, we suspend or we delay the implementation of our [election] promises, we should do precisely that in the context to build trust with our partners,” he said. However, he is likely to face pressure from within his own party to live up to the anti-austerity rhetoric of the election campaign.

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Must read from Der Spiegel. Watch Juncker. I’ve said it before, he will play a role.

Power Struggle in Brussels and Berlin over Fate of Greece (Spiegel)

Many in the ECB are aware that they are operating at the very fringes of legality. French Executive Board member Benoît Coeuré issued a public warning a few days ago that the ECB is not allowed to finance the Greek government. Doing so, he said, is illegal. Draghi, said an official in Berlin, “could cut Greece off at any moment.” But, the official added, he doesn’t dare. Which means it is up to the politicians to find the way forward. And finding that path has become dependent on the ongoing conflict between Juncker and the EU member states, led by the chancellor. It has long been apparent that the Commission president wants to prevent a Grexit at all costs, at least since he received the Greek prime minister in Brussels five weeks ago as though welcoming a long lost friend.

Two weeks after that, Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici presented a plan that looked more like a package for growth than like strict requirements for Greece. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had nothing but praise for the paper. The other Euro Group finance ministers weren’t nearly as enthusiastic. In the end, the Moscovici paper proved largely irrelevant, but it had, from Juncker’s perspective, had its effect. It was a demonstration of power; he had simply wanted to send a message to Merkel. The conflict between Brussels and Berlin is a fundamental one. Juncker is taking the position that Christian Democrats have supported for decades.

The European Union, in his view, is the answer to the horrors of the wars that destroyed Europe in the first half of the 20th century – and the Continent’s salvation, he believes, lies in further deepening the ties that bind the European Union together. It is no accident that he presented former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s book last fall. The book is called “Out of Concern for Europe,” and many have interpreted it as indirect criticism of Merkel’s approach to the EU. Though Merkel is a Christian Democrat herself, she has broken with the Kohl line. For her, Europe is not a matter of war and peace, but of euros and cents. Merkel has used the euro crisis to reduce the European Commission’s power and to return some of it to member-state capitals. From this perspective, she could be seen as a 21st century de Gaulle.

Juncker would like to get in her way and the Greece crisis is the instrument that has presented itself. “We have to keep the shop together,” Juncker has said repeatedly in background sessions with journalists in recent weeks. This Friday, Juncker received Tsipras in Brussels yet again, with the Greek prime minister also holding talks with European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Juncker entered office wanting to make the Commission, the European Union’s executive body, more powerful and more political — and thus far, he has been successful. He defanged the European Stability Pact, that German invention that was to prevent euro-zone member states from taking on too much debt. And he has ensured that France’s Socialist government receive an additional two years to reduce its budget deficit.

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Syriza is becoming a comedy act. Hard to predict.

Tsipras Reaches Out to Euro Region Amid Spat With Germany (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reached out to Greece’s creditors, saying he’ll iron out the kinks in relations with the rest of the euro area days after his government lodged a complaint about the German finance minister. Tsipras, speaking as his country met a loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund of about €350 million, said that Greece has already starting delivering the action required to release more bailout funding and that he expects the euro region to do its part. “We will solve all these misunderstandings,” Tsipras told reporters in Brussels on Friday before meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The Greek people need to hear a “hope message,” he said.

Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, are negotiating with the euro region to release more funds from the country’s €240 billion bailout amid concern that his government could run out of cash at any moment. The Greece Public Debt Management Agency issued a payment order to be transferred to the IMF and the money will be deposited today, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said by telephone. Greek bonds fell, with the 10-year government bond yield gaining 29 basis points to 10.71% at 1:17 p.m in Athens. The Athens Stock Exchange dropped 1.1% to 785.53. The next financial hurdle comes on March 20, when the government has to pay the IMF another €346 millions and refinance €1.6 billion of treasury bills. That’s at the same time as EU leaders including Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be meeting for a two-day summit in Brussels.

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“Ya boo to that, says Jens Weidmann [..] See if I care, says Varoufakis.”

Schism Between Germany And Greece Grows Wider By The Day (Guardian)

It is the politics of the playground. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, is accused of calling his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis “foolishly naive” in his dealings with the media. Athens lodges a formal complaint with Berlin, saying a minister of a country that is a “friend and ally” cannot go around insulting a colleague. Ya boo to that, says Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank. Greece is losing the trust of its partners and it is only right that the ECB should think very hard about whether it wants to extend its exposure to the crisis-ridden country. See if I care, says Varoufakis. I have never had the trust of the German government. What matters is that I have the trust of the Greek people at a time when the ECB is “asphyxiating” the country.

This outbreak of undiplomatic language might sound funny, but it isn’t. The schism between Germany and Greece is growing wider by the day. Unless Berlin and Athens can come to an amicable agreement, something that looks increasingly less likely, there are only two possible outcomes: Greece capitulates or Greece leaves the euro. Schäuble clearly believes that Greece has no intention of going back to the drachma. Varoufakis has said as much, as has the new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. However, if Greece wants to remain inside the single currency, it is going to need the cooperation and financial support of the other members of the club, including Germany. Greece is going to have to do what it is told by the troika of the ECB, the EU and the IMF at some point, so it makes no sense for Athens to start dredging up memories of German occupation in the second world war.

Varoufakis is making it even more likely that the rest of the eurozone will play hardball with Greece. It is not clear if Schäuble really said the words “foolishly naive” – but that would be a fair judgment if the end result is abject capitulation to whatever the troika demands. But as the Labour peer Meghnad Desai points out in an OMFIF blog, there is a way out for the Syriza-led coalition. That is to call a referendum on the basis of who governs Greece. As Desai notes, Tsipras and Varoufakis could say they had underestimated how difficult it would be to end austerity and it was up to the Greek people whether they wanted year after year of externally-imposed pain or exit from the eurozone.

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Peanuts.

US Seeks Billions From Global Banks For Currency Manipulation (Bloomberg)

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking about $1 billion each from global banks being investigated for manipulation of currency markets, according to two people familiar with the talks. The figure is a starting point in settlement discussions, with some banks being asked for more and some less than $1 billion. One bank that has cooperated from the beginning is expected to pay far less, one of the people said. Penalties of about $4 billion are on the table, according to one of the people, though the number could change markedly. Banks are pushing back harder than in some previous negotiations, including those for mortgage-backed securities, and the final penalties could be lower, people close to the talks said.

The discussions, which have begun in earnest in recent weeks, could lead to settlements that would resolve U.S. accusations of criminal activity in the currency markets against Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan, RBS and UBS. The government has also said it is preparing cases against individuals. Prosecutors are also pressing Barclays, Citigroup, JPMorgan and the Royal Bank of Scotland to plead guilty, people familiar with the matter have said. In the worldwide investigation into currency-rigging, six banks have already agreed to pay regulators about $4.3 billion. The Justice Department’s move signals that investigations are giving way to wrangling over issues such as whether the banks plead guilty to antitrust or fraud charges, what behaviors the banks will admit to in settlement documents and how much they will pay.

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Hats off to Beversdorf.

The Fed Gives A Giant F##k You to Working Class Americans (Beversdorf)

I was shocked today by the absolute gaul of the Fed releasing a statement about Net Worth in America reaching record levels. Now I get that they are under extreme pressure to sell the story that everything is rainbows and butterflies. But surely they understand that working class Americans are going along with the story because they really don’t have any say in our nation’s policies anymore. That doesn’t mean they want it thrown in their faces that the Fed has spent 6 years now inflating the wealth of the top 10% so much that it actually lifts the total wealth of the nation’s citizens to record highs. The ugly reality is that the bottom 80% of Americans experienced none of that gain. That’s right a big ole goose egg.

And so when the Fed via its ass pamper boy, Steve Liesman, start banging on about the fact that some sliver of society is being handed extraordinary wealth while the working class has lost 40% of their net worth since 2007, well a big fuck you right back at ya bub! The Fed is very aware that the bottom 80% of Americans own less than 5% of US equity markets. And so the Fed is very aware that its manipulation of stock prices such that it creates immense unearned wealth to those in the markets doesn’t reach the bottom 80%. So why celebrate the results of the stock market price manipulation?? It is embarrassing that our policymakers are either that inconsiderate or that stupid to celebrate such a brutal dislocation between the haves and have nots.

I don’t know what one can even say about the Fed making a celebratory statement like that today. It is somewhat beyond words. And really paints the picture as to how little thought goes into the lives and well being of the bottom 80%. Just to give you something to compare and contrast the situation of the bottom 80% here in the US to counter the Fed’s celebration today. I want you to think about how lucky we are not being in one of the PIIGS nations of Europe. These are the nations that are essentially bankrupt and just hanging on by the kindness of the Troika.

So there it is. While the average net worth of Americans is 4th in the world pulled up by the top 10%, the median net worth of Americans comes in the 19th spot. Yep, behind Spain, Italy and Ireland so 3 of the 5 PIIGS nations. Meaning the bottom 80% in these broke ass barely hanging on nations have more wealth than the bottom 80% of us here in America. So I’d like to ask the Fed, is it that you just hate the working class here in America and thus like to torment them or are you truly that stuck up your own asses that you just cannot see the light? Celebrating the fact you did today is downright nasty you lowlife scoundrel pieces of shit. It’s akin to a family showing off and celebrating a new born baby at the funeral of another family’s child. It is just a very ugly thing to do. Even if it wasn’t meant to be malicious it looks very much like a giant FU.

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“The industry has been watching oil supplies surge to 80-year highs..”

Oil Plunges On Bloated US Supply (CNBC)

Oil prices plunged on the double whammy of a surging dollar and a new report that raised worries about a U.S. oil glut that could send crude dramatically lower. The drop in oil also slammed the stock market, reeling too from the stronger dollar. The Dow tumbled more than 145 points to 17,749, while the S&P 500 lost 12 points to 2053. West Texas Intermediate futures for April fell 4.7% to settle at $44.84 per barrel, and Brent, the international benchmark, was trading below $55 per barrel. For WTI, the closing low of the year was $44.45 per barrel on Jan. 28, though it touched an intraday low of $43.58 per barrel on Jan. 29.

Oil analysts have expected the market to challenge those lows on strong U.S. supply, and a report Friday from the International Energy Agency fed those fears. The IEA said U.S. production increased by 115,000 barrels a day in February and the growing inventories threaten to drive prices lower. Oil was also hurt by gains in the dollar. The dollar index rose to a 52-week high, crossing above 100. “This has been a building situation—the massive inventory increases of the past several weeks and the production level showing no sign of relenting despite the decline in the rig count,” said John Kilduff analyst and founder at Again Capital. “What’s setting us up for another selloff is that we’re hitting a slack demand period in between the winter heating fuel season and the summer driving season.”

The industry has been watching oil supplies surge to 80-year highs, and inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for WTI futures contracts continue to balloon. “There’s speculation the tanks in Cushing could get full or reach capacity,” said Kilduff. “If no further oil could get into that delivery point, it would send a ripple effect into the futures market and beyond. It could create a break.” He also said it could send cash prices lower across the U.S. and possibly globally. While some analysts expect to see $40 as a floor, other say it could be much lower if buyers don’t step up and the spiral is rapid. “If we test that low, going back to the $30s could be in the cards,” said Kilduff.

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Can’t be a good isgn that the largest Bakken producer must sell itself.

Shale Producer Whiting Draws Exxon, Others as Suitors (Bloomberg)

Whiting Petroleum, the North Dakota oil explorer, has attracted interest from Exxon Mobil and Continental Resources Inc. as it explores a sale of the entire company, people with knowledge of the situation said. Hess and Statoil are also looking at Denver-based Whiting. Whiting has set up a data room for potential buyers to evaluate the company’s financial information and asked them to submit bids next week, the people said. The discussions are ongoing and there’s no guarantee a deal will be reached. A potential deal for Whiting, the largest producer in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, may be the first in an anticipated pickup of merger activity for U.S. energy producers as they grapple with heavy debt and an oil selloff.

Continental, Exxon, Hess and Statoil are already among the 10 largest holders of acreage in the Bakken, a giant slab of oil-soaked rock that lies beneath Montana, North Dakota and parts of Canada, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Consolidation is likely to pick up in the oil patch this year as larger U.S. and international buyers seek to “snatch up” valuable shale producers, according to a statement from Paulson & Co., which owns 8.1% of Whiting. Whiting is probably exploring a sale along with other strategic alternatives, including selling assets, raising debt and selling shares in order to address “investor liquidity concerns,” Phillip Jungwirth, an analyst with Bank of Montreal, wrote in a research note last week.

Bloomberg News reported in February that Whiting was exploring selling up to $700 million of oil and natural gas processing assets. “While some reports implied Whiting was a distressed seller, we don’t view this as the case,” Jungwirth wrote. “We’d expect interest in Whiting to come from larger Bakken peers that are looking to expand their footprint.” Buying a shale producer such as Whiting is cheaper than it has been at any time in recent years as companies used new technology to unlock a boom in North American supplies, flooding world markets and depressing prices. The value of reserves held by about 75 drillers based on their reserves fell by a median of 25% by the end of 2014 compared to the previous year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Tyler Durden ran this week-old piece, which I had also missed. Don’t miss.

The Coming Chinese Crackup (WSJ)

Predicting the demise of authoritarian regimes is a risky business. Few Western experts forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union before it occurred in 1991; the CIA missed it entirely. The downfall of Eastern Europe’s communist states two years earlier was similarly scorned as the wishful thinking of anticommunists—until it happened. The post-Soviet “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan from 2003 to 2005, as well as the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, all burst forth unanticipated, China-watchers have been on high alert for telltale signs of regime decay and decline ever since the regime’s near-death experience in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Since then, several seasoned Sinologists have risked their professional reputations by asserting that the collapse of CCP rule was inevitable. Others were more cautious—myself included. But times change in China, and so must our analyses. The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think. We don’t know what the pathway from now until the end will look like, of course. It will probably be highly unstable and unsettled. But until the system begins to unravel in some obvious way, those inside of it will play along—thus contributing to the facade of stability.

Communist rule in China is unlikely to end quietly. A single event is unlikely to trigger a peaceful implosion of the regime. Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’état. With his aggressive anticorruption campaign—a focus of this week’s National People’s Congress—he is overplaying a weak hand and deeply aggravating key party, state, military and commercial constituencies. The Chinese have a proverb, waiying, neiruan—hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Mr. Xi is a genuinely tough ruler. He exudes conviction and personal confidence. But this hard personality belies a party and political system that is extremely fragile on the inside.

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How much longer for Abe?

Japan’s Orwellian Politics About Ukraine (Eric Zuesse)

Yukio Hatayama, who during 2009 and 2010 had been the first and only non-LDP, or non-one-party-state, Prime Minister of Japan (and he was then quickly ousted by the LDP), said in Crimea on Tuesday, March 10th, that Japan should not be so totally controlled by the U.S. Government, and that, “It’s shameful that information from Japanese and Western media is one-sided.” Hatayama also praised “the happy, peaceful life in Crimea,” as opposed to the war-torn and economically collapsing Ukraine, which the IMF, EU and especially the U.S., keep lending money to pay Ukraine to bomb the residents in Ukraine’s strongly anti-fascist eastern area. Japan’s LDP Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, promptly dismissed the Hatayama statement by saying that it came from a “gaffe-prone” man. Telling the truth is a ‘gaffe.’

Mitsuhiro Kimura, leader of another small anti-U.S.-control-of-Japan party, travelled with Hatayama, and supported this initiative for increasing trade and cultural exchanges with Crimea and with Russia generally. He said that this visit was “historic,” and that “Maybe it will give us a chance to influence Japan’s foreign policies and change them.” The Agence France Presse report on this event referred to Kimura’s party as “the right-wing political group Issuikai,” implicitly suggesting thereby that opposition to U.S. control of Japan is “right-wing.” This propaganda effort aimed to insinuate that since the U.S. had defeated the fascist Government of Japan in 1945, the LDP, which the U.S. installed in Japan post-War, can only be the opposite of fascist.

On 17 May 2007, Britain’s conservative Economist had headlined “Japan’s Ultra-Nationalists: Old Habits Die Hard,” and it reported that Kimura was rabble-rousing, and that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Kimura and other “ultra-nationalist” politicians in Japan constituted a “threat to democracy.” The Economist also noted, however, ironically, that: “It was Mr Abe’s own grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who as prime minister cemented ties between the government, the uyoku dantai and the mob back in 1960, when he enlisted yakuza help against left-wing opponents of Japan’s alliance with America.“ Abe is considered, by the U.S. and its allies, to be “conservative,” instead of “far-right.”

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“The Department of State acknowledged receipt of the request but the AP has received nothing under that request after more than five years.”

Hillary’s Email Mess Gets Messier (Pam Martens)

There’s an old adage that goes: “never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” It’s generally interpreted to mean don’t go to war with the press. That would surely include syndicated reporters working for the Associated Press, which says in a lawsuit filed yesterday that it has “one billion readers, listeners and viewers.” Despite the sage advice, Hillary Clinton is now in a full blown war with the press over how she became the Decider in Chief over which government emails would be preserved from her time as Secretary of State versus the tens of thousands that she elected to erase, ruling them to be about personal matters.

AP has filed its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State because the Federal agency has defied the Freedom of Information Act and stonewalled AP reporters for as long as five years over requests for records pertaining to Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State. The lawsuit suggests a Department of State flagrantly ignoring Federal FOIA laws. One section reads: “In early March 2015, Secretary Clinton confirmed reports that she used a personal email account, rather than a government account, for government business during her tenure at State. Although AP’s FOIA requests have been pending for years, State first asked Secretary Clinton to turn over emails from that personal account only last summer.

Secretary Clinton reportedly provided about 50,000 pages of printed emails to State late last year, and has said she wants those emails to be released to the public. State’s failure to ensure that Secretary Clinton’s governmental emails were retained and preserved by the agency, and its failure timely to seek out and search those emails in response to AP’s requests, indicate at the very least that State has not engaged in the diligent, good-faith search that FOIA requires.” Not only have Clinton’s emails been denied to AP reporters, but her daily calendar of appointments, record of phone calls and meetings have also been withheld for the past five years. All of this opacity is raising curiosity in the press as to just what might be hiding in these troves of unreleased documents.

The earliest request filed by the AP was by reporter Robert Burns on March 9, 2010, according to the lawsuit. Burns requested “a copy of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s daily calendar of appointments, phone calls, and meetings, from the first day of the Obama Administration to the present,” i.e., “from 1/20/2009 to [March 9, 2010].” The Department of State acknowledged receipt of the request but the AP has received nothing under that request after more than five years.

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Vintage Taibbi.

For David Brooks, The Rich Are People, the Poor Are Numbers (Matt Taibbi)

Everybody gets on famed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s case for quoting cab drivers, but say this about Friedman: At least he talks to somebody outside his own house. The same can’t be said for his colleague on the Times editorial page, David Brooks, who with this week’s “The Cost of Relativism” column has written roughly his 10 thousandth odious article about how rich people are better parents than the poor, each one apparently written without the benefit of actually talking to any poor people. The column is a review of a new book by the academic Robert Putnam called Our Kids, about a widening gap in the way the children of different classes are raised in America.

Putnam begins his book by telling a story about his childhood in the Fifties in Port Clinton, Ohio, when both rich and poor children grew up in two-parent households where the fathers had steady jobs. Since, then, Putnam argues, deindustrialization has led to increasingly segregated communities for the wealthy on the one hand, and a sharp decline in stability for poor children on the other. Here’s Brooks describing the findings: Roughly 10% of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households. Nearly 70% of children born to high school grads do… High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity.

Brooks then goes on to relate some of the horrific case studies from the book – more on those in a moment – before coming to his inevitable conclusion, which is that poor people need to get off the couch, stop giving in to every self-indulgent whim, and discipline their wild offspring before they end up leaving their own illegitimate babies on our lawns: Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Brooks has devoted an extraordinary amount of his literary efforts over the years to this subject, focusing particularly on declining marriage rates among the poor. He wrote a piece last winter that ludicrously pooh-poohed the issue of income inequality, citing certain “behaviors” among the poor that “damage their long-term income prospects” and cause a “fraying” of the social fabric, single motherhood being an example.

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Dry.

California Has About One Year Of Water Left. Will You Ration Now? (NASA)

Given the historic low temperatures and snowfalls that pummeled the eastern U.S. this winter, it might be easy to overlook how devastating California’s winter was as well. As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too. Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins – that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined – was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014.

That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir. Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century. Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

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Mar 262014
 
 March 26, 2014  Posted by at 7:40 pm Earth Tagged with: , , ,  


Detroit Publishing Co Galveston Flood disaster cyclorama, Coney Island 1904

If there’s one thing that defines why we, and the world we live in, are doomed, it can be found – once more – in a recent spat of (leaked) reactions to the upcoming new IPCC report. We’ve come a long way since skeptics started budging in the way creationists demand equal time on the new Cosmos series – only more successful – and now we’re way past mere skepticism. Not only has it become totally acceptable to pooh pooh and hush hush climate change, we’ve arrived at the point where we go look for positive angles.

The first step in the new message is that things are not nearly as bad as we were once told, as is so craftfully put in words by the subtle change from ‘mitigation’ to ‘adaptation’. Throwing in the term ‘resilience’ further enforces the positive notion. As the Telegraph puts it:

Climate Change: The Debate Is About To Change Radically

The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due out next week. If the leaked draft is reflected in the published report, it will constitute the formal moving on of the debate from the past, futile focus upon “mitigation” to a new debate about resilience and adaptation.

The new report will apparently tell us that the global GDP costs of an expected global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees Celsius over the 21st century will be between 0.2% and 2%. To place that in context, the well-known Stern Review of 2006 estimated the costs as 5-20% of GDP. Stern estimates the costs of his recommended policies for mitigating climate change at 2% of GDP – and his estimates are widely regarded as relatively optimistic (others estimate mitigation costs as high as 10% of global GDP).

Achieving material mitigation, at a cost of 2% and more of global GDP, would require international co-ordination that we have known since the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change simply was not going to happen. Even if it did happen, and were conducted optimally, it would mitigate only a fraction of the total rise, and might create its own risks. And to add to all this, now we are told that the cost might be as low as 0.2% of GDP. At a 2.4% annual GDP growth rate, the global economy increases 0.2% every month.

See? We would be robbing ourselves by paying any further attention to Nicolas Stern, who just 8 years ago exaggerated the economical costs of climate change as much as 1000%. Has Stern now been found out to be a charlatan? Well, that too, and the science has greatly improved, through the addition of think tanks and scientists that know before they start researching that all dire warnings are just bogus anyway.

And no-one can seriously expect us to do anything drastic like shaking up the comfort we live in if the dollar cost is so low in comparison to the inconveniences we would have to suffer, can they?

So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government’s own evaluation criteria, with a global cost of 2% of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe – just maybe – we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth. Can anyone seriously claim, with a straight face, that that should be regarded as an attractive deal or that the public is suffering from a psychological disorder if it resists mitigation policies?

But don’t let’s stop there; It’s not only that monetary costs are now claimed to be less than thought before, no, climate change should even be seen as offering opportunities:

Global warming poses risks, but also opportunities: IPCC

“Although it focuses on a whole analytical and sometimes depressing view of the challenges we face, it also looks at the opportunities we face,” said Christopher B. Field, the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This can not only help us to deal with climate change but ultimately build a better world.”

This is of course just another way of saying: “how much money can we make from destroying the world we live in?” But that’s undoubtedly not how the IPCCs Mr Field would like you to see it. The IPCC long ago stopped being a serious research organization. Institutes and corporations who felt threatened in their ability to make money and hold on to power have successfully infiltrated it and demanded “equal airtime”.

And that’s a perfect reflection of the societal model we live in. Every single thing in our lives gets reduced to its dollar value. And if it’s too costly, sorry, but we must throw it out. Every plant, every river, every animal, every sunset and every human being only have a value insofar as it can be expressed in dollar terms.

Which is bad news for polar bears and lions and rhinos – and ultimately people, first in Africa, Asia, South America, then at home -, since they have value only as tourist attractions. And isn’t it much more convenient and cost effective to dump a few of each in a zoo somewhere so we can simply drive to go see them, instead of going on safari’s or Arctic cruises?

Nature is useless on its own; it only has a perceived value where we can stick a price tag on it. No matter that nature is where we come from and are an integral part of, and it never came with a bottom line until we invented one. Despite the fact that we have very little idea of how nature actually works. But then, that is the core of our tragedy, isn’t it? We manage to fool ourselves into believing that we are mighty smart. That’s a surefire way to get everything that really counts all wrong.

Our children and children’s children are going to find out that the only thing we really know about complex systems is that we don’t know much of anything about them. And that when risking to disturb them, the precautionary principle should always be the first thing on our minds.

Assigning dollar values to everything we see around us is a convenient simplification of things, and it guarantees that those who already have most dollars stay on top, but there’s nothing smart about it when you look at it in terms of complex systems or the precautionary principle.

But the worst part must be that it doesn’t make anyone any happier, either. And that we’re not capable of understanding that. We don’t know what makes us happy. We need other people to tell us what does. And there’s a lot of other people who see profit opportunities in that.

Anyway, this is why we’re doomed: if we don’t understand the consequences of our actions, then we just ignore them. Thinking that if we don’t understand them, how bad can they be? Since we are very smart, right? Thing is, if we were so smart, why do we feel the need to almost infinitely simplify our view of the planet’s almost infinitely complex system, by attaching price tags to everything? Either from a rational, scientific point of view, or from an emotional point of view, how does that make sense?

The US Is Now Spending 26% Of Available Tax Revenue To Pay Interest (Sovereign Man)

By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had become a has-been power whose glory days as the world’s superpower were well behind them. They had been supplanted the French, the British, and the Russian empires in all matters of economic, military, and diplomatic strength. Much of this was due to the Ottoman Empire’s massive debt burden. In 1868, the Ottoman government spent 17% of its entire tax revenue just to pay interest on the debt.

And they were well past the point of no return where they had to borrow money just to pay interest on the money they had already borrowed. The increased debt meant the interest payments also increased. And three years later in 1871, the government was spending 32% of its tax revenue just to pay interest. By 1877, the Ottoman government was spending 52% of its tax revenue just to pay interest. And at that point they were finished. They defaulted that year.

This is a common story throughout history. The French government saw a meteoric rise in their debt throughout the late 1700s. By 1788, on the eve of the French Revolution, they spent 62% of their tax revenue to pay interest on the debt. Charles I of Spain had so much debt that by 1559, interest payments exceeded ordinary revenue of the Habsburg monarchy. Spain defaulted four times on its debt before the end of the century.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an unsustainable debt burden soundly tolls the death knell of a nation’s economy, and its government. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a rocket scientist to figure out what the real numbers are; governments have a vested interest in not being transparent about their debts and interest payments.

[..] … total US interest payments in Fiscal Year 2013 were a whopping $415 billion, roughly 17% of total tax revenue. Just like the Ottoman Empire was at in 1868. Here’s the thing, though– it’s inappropriate to look at total tax revenue when we’re talking about making interest payments. The IRS collected $2.49 trillion in taxes last year (net of refunds). But of this amount, $891 billion was from payroll tax. According to FICA and the Social Security Act of 1935, however, this amount is tied directly to funding Social Security and Medicare. It is not to be used for interest payments.

Based on this data, the amount of tax revenue that the US government had available to pay for its operations was $1.599 trillion in FY2013. This means they actually spent approximately 26% of their available tax revenue just to pay interest last year… a much higher number than 17%. This is an unbelievable figure. The only thing more unbelievable is how masterfully they understate reality… and the level of deception they employ to conceal the truth.

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You’re Still Giving the Big Banks a Handout (Bloomberg)

The largest U.S. banks and their lobbyists have been trying hard to counteract the growing impression that they present an unacceptable threat to the economy. In a new series of papers, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York offers some evidence that they probably won’t like. Critics of the big banks assert that repeated government bailouts have created a perverse incentive: The bigger and more systemically important a bank becomes, the more certain its creditors can be that they will get rescued in an emergency. Such too-big-to-fail status, the logic goes, allows banks to borrow more cheaply than they otherwise would — a taxpayer subsidy that encourages them to take the kind of risks that lead to disasters.

The contributions from the New York Fed economists support this narrative in two ways: They place a value on the big banks’ funding advantage, and they suggest that banks with government support do tend to take bigger risks. Looking at new bond issues from 1985 to 2009, New York Fed Vice President Joao Santos estimates that the largest banks paid 0.31%age point less when they issue A-rated debt than when their smaller peers did (after controlling for some idiosyncratic features of the bonds). He also found that the discount was significantly greater than what large companies enjoyed in other industries, undermining bank lobbyists’ argument that the funding advantage stems from the general benefits of size rather than from their too-big-to-fail status.

The study has some important blind spots. Its bond data go only through 2009, so it can’t show what, if anything, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law may have done to reduce the taxpayer subsidy. Also, when grouping bonds by rating category, it ignores the rating uplift the largest banks receive thanks to the expectation of government support. This would have the effect of underestimating their funding advantage — a problem common among studies of the too-big-to-fail subsidy.

Perhaps more interesting is a separate paper in which Santos and two co-authors find that banks make more bad loans when they have a reasonable expectation of getting bailed out in a crisis. Specifically, the authors look at a special credit rating, issued by Fitch, that assesses the likelihood of government support. A one-notch increase in the rating — say, from A-minus to A — is associated with an 8% increase in a bank’s ratio of non-performing loans.

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Hundreds Rush To Rural Chinese Banks After Solvency Rumours (Reuters)

Hundreds of people rushed on Tuesday to withdraw money from branches of two small Chinese banks after rumours spread about solvency at one of them, reflecting growing anxiety among investors as regulators signal greater tolerance for credit defaults. The case highlights the urgency of plans to put in place a deposit insurance system to protect investors against bank insolvency, as Chinese grow increasingly nervous about the impact of slowing economic growth on financial institutions. Regulators have said they will roll out deposit insurance as soon as possible, without giving a firm deadline.

Domestic media reported, and a local official confirmed, that ordinary depositors swarmed a branch of Jiangsu Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank in Yancheng in economically troubled Jiangsu province on Monday. The semi-official China News Service quoted the bank’s chairman, Zang Zhengzhi, as saying it would ensure payments to all the depositors. The report did not say how the rumour originated. Chen Dequn, a resident in Yandong, just outside Yancheng, said she saw a crowd of about 70 to 80 people gathering in a branch of Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank in her town on Tuesday. “At the moment there are about 70 or 80 people in there. Normally there’d only be about 10,” she told Reuters by telephone.

Officials at another small bank, Rural Commercial Bank of Huanghai, said they had faced similar rushes by depositors, triggered by rumours of insolvency at Sheyang. “We will be holding an emergency meeting tonight,” an official at the bank’s administration office told Reuters, but declined to comment further. Why Yancheng investors suddenly lost confidence in the security of their bank deposits is not clear, given that the Sheyang bank is subject to formal reserve requirements, loan-to-deposit ratios and other rules to ensure it keeps sufficient cash on hand to meet demand. Bank failures in China are virtually unknown, as Chinese banks are considered to operate under an implicit guarantee from the government.

Finally, money market interest rates have eased since February, and traders say liquidity in the interbank market – where banks like Sheyang can tap short-term funds to meet depositor demand – remains relatively relaxed. “It’s true that these rumours exist, but actually (the bank going bankrupt) is impossible. It’s a completely different situation from the problem with the cooperatives,” said Zhang Chaoyang, an official at the propaganda department of the Communist Party committee in Tinghu district, where the bank branch is located. Zhang was referring to an incident that rattled depositors in Yancheng in January, when some rural cooperatives – which are not subject to the supervision of the bank regulator – ran out of cash and locked their doors.

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High Debt, Slow Sales Loom Over Chinese Property Firms (SCMP)

All eyes are now on a few Chinese real estate developers particularly vulnerable to slow sales and tight credit, as mainland China’s property market enters a new downturn. On the watch list are Hopson Development, Renhe Commercial, Glorious Property and Coastal Greenland, all suffering from either weak sales or high debt ratios, according to global ratings agencies. These companies are scheduled to announce annual results Thursday or Friday.

Glorious Property issued a profit warning last week, saying that lower gross profit margin, provision for impairment losses on some unsold units and smaller gains in the fair value of investment properties would result in “a significant decrease” in net profit for last year. At the end of June, Glorious Property (36%) and Hopson (42.8%) had the lowest ratio of cash versus short-term debt among all mainland Chinese developers rated by Moody’s.

Adding to their cash strain is the extra caution being exercised by domestic banks when lending to developers after the collapse of a small private property firm in Ningbo and the first onshore debt default by a solar energy firm earlier this month that shattered the long-held belief that Beijing would always bail out struggling firms. “In this environment, we believe financiers and investors will become more selective and favour borrowers with relatively strong credit quality, thereby further pressuring the liquidity of financially weak developers,” said Franco Leung, a property analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

Both Leung and Matthew Kong from Standard & Poor’s ruled out the possibility of any short-term systemic risk, while expecting bigger developers to become even stronger. “The key lies in developers’ sales execution this year,” Kong said. “But bankruptcies are less likely, as they can opt to sell assets to peers and quit the market.” Shou Bainian, chief executive of Greentown China, said on Monday: “If their assets are good, there is still hope (of survival).” “But if their assets are not so good, neither is their reputation – then it will become more difficult.”

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China Poised To Ramp Up Its Stimulus Policies (SMH)

Signs that China’s economy is coming off the boil are fuelling speculation that the country’s government will step in with new stimulus measures and could even cut official interest rates. But any stimulus measures are expected to stop short of the massive economic “pump priming” undertaken by the country in 2008-09, when the central government announced a four trillion yuan package.

“Can growth stabilise without a major change of policy stance? We believe it cannot, as tight labour market conditions suggest that potential growth has already dropped to around 7% or below,” analysts at Japanese broker Nomura said in a note. “From a cyclical perspective the cumulative policy tightening since mid-2013 will likely damage investment momentum in coming quarters unless the policy stance loosens.”

While the Chinese government has sought to pursue its long-term policy of reforming the country’s economy and shifting it away from investment-led growth, Nomura said it could turn back to its short-term goals if, as expected, the growth target for this year is not reached. China set a growth target of 7.5% this year, the same level of economic expansion it had targeted over the past two years. Economists have said that recent data, such as a weakening in manufacturing activity, meant that the government would have loosen fiscal and monetary policies if it wants to met its GDP target.

“When short-term objectives are challenged, the government usually shifts its focus toward promoting growth. We have witnessed this ‘two-step forward, one-step back’ style of policy swings in the past,” the analysts wrote. The latest reading of manufacturing activity, from HSBC’s March preliminary survey, showed that the sector had shrunk for the third-straight month. It also followed a fall in exports and weaker industrial output figures. Some economists have also revised down their outlook for Chinese growth.

Policy levers that the central government looks most likely to pull include cuts to banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) to boost growth amid high overall financing costs. Nomura’s analysts are tipping RRR cuts of 50 basis points in the second-quarter of this year, and further easing of 50 basis points in the third-quarter. The supply of credit through bank loans and total social financing is also expected to rise, while the likelihood of interest rate cuts is increasing, the analysts wrote.

Economists said the recent weakening of the yuan, while seen as being part of the People’s Bank of China’s attempts to punish speculators betting on the continued rise of the renminbi, could also provide some relief to local exporters. At the same time, the weakening of the currency, which analysts believe was through the central bank’s intervention in foreign exchange markets, has lowered domestic interest rates and made funding cheaper for borrowers.

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Morgan Stanley Dismisses Talk of China Minsky Moment (Bloomberg)

Morgan Stanley is sticking to its buy recommendation on Chinese stocks, saying concern that there’ll be a “significant market disruption” in the world’s second-largest economy is overstated. China’s consumption and services are bigger than officially reported, giving the economy more room to cope with slowing productivity growth, the Morgan Stanley analysts said. The government’s reforms and its “formidable” financial resources will help policy makers transform the economy without triggering a debt crisis, the analysts wrote in a report in which they kept their overweight calls on both Chinese and Russian equities.

The economy’s slowdown and rising debt levels pushed the Hang Seng China Enterprise Index (HSCEI), which tracks Chinese firms listed in Hong Kong, into a bear market on March 20. While Morgan Stanley’s analysts said that debate is mounting about whether China is approaching a “Minsky moment,” a term used to explain an asset collapse following the exhaustion of credit expansion, they said they remain bullish. “The apparent deterioration in productivity and diminishing returns to leverage are not as severe as the consensus thinks when one takes into account true activity” in the consumer and service sectors of the economy, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Jonathan Garner wrote in the note.

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China Finds The Credit Habit Hard To Kick (Satyajit Das)

China has had a 35-year addiction to cheap credit. The 2007/2008 global financial crisis and the resulting rare synchronous recessions in the developed world exposed China’s economy, especially its export sectors, to a large external demand shock – slowing growth. The recovery has been driven by a significant expansion in credit (known as TSF – total social financing). Post-crisis, new lending by Chinese banks has been consistently about 30% or more of GDP. About 90% of this lending was directed towards investment in building, plant, machinery and infrastructure, especially by state-owned enterprises.

According to the World Bank, almost all of China’s growth since 2008 has come from “government-influenced expenditure”. This expansion led to a rapid increase in the level of debt. Most estimates now put Chinese government (including local government), corporate and household debt at about 200-250% of GDP, up from about 140-150% in 2008. According to a 2013 report by China’s National Audit Office, Chinese government debt, including local government debt, is about 55% of GDP –about $5 trillion (£3 trillion) – an increase of about 60% from 2010.

But the official Chinese government debt figure may not be complete, as it may exclude debts from local governments and central departments outside the finance ministry. If these items are included, China’s government debt including contingent liabilities would be higher, perhaps 90% of GDP. There has been a parallel increase in private sector debt. Corporate debt has increased sharply, approaching 150% of GDP. Traditionally considered compulsive savers, Chinese households have increased borrowing levels from about 20-30% to 40-50% of GDP. Inflation has driven increases in household borrowing, with sharply higher home prices requiring greater borrowings and devaluation of purchasing power encouraging debt-fuelled consumption.

China’s overall debt is high, especially when benchmarked against comparable emerging markets. Many Asian emerging markets had lower debt and higher per capita GDP before the Asian monetary crisis of 1997/1998. The rapid rate of increase in debt is also seriously concerning. An increase in debt of about 30% of GDP in five or less years is regarded as problematic. Several economies – Japan in the late 1980s, South Korea in the 1990s, not to mention the US and UK in the early 2000s – experienced similar rapid growth rates in credit, resulting in serious financial crises.

Another measure is the credit gap – the difference between increases in private sector credit growth and economic output. Research studies have found that 33 countries with credit gaps experienced a subsequent rapid slowdown in growth, typically by at least 50%. In China, the credit gap since 2008 is over 70% of GDP. Chinese credit intensity (the amount of debt needed to create additional economic activity) has increased. China now needs about $3-$5 to generate $1 of additional economic growth, although some economists put it even higher, at $6-$8. This is an increase from the $1-$2 needed for each dollar of growth 8 to 10 years ago.

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Hong Kong’s Soaring Bank Exposure to China Sparks Credit Concerns (Reuters)

In just a few years, Hong Kong banks have ramped up lending to China from near zero to $430 billion, fueling concerns about their credit exposure to the mainland at a time when sliding economic growth and defaults are making investors nervous. Even a modest increase in non-performing loans would have a significant impact on Hong Kong bank profits, suggesting the sector will be a sensitive indicator of China’s debt markets in the year ahead.

A landmark domestic bond default earlier this month and headlines of bankruptcies – highlighted last week by Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate Co – have underscored concerns that an unprecedented surge in company debt in China is now showing signs of unraveling. “The quality of these loans extended by Hong Kong banks to Chinese companies has not been tested,” said Mirza Baig, head of foreign exchange and interest rate strategy at BNP Paribas in Singapore. “That is a concern in the backdrop of the rapid rise in exposure.”

Foreign bank claims on China hit $1 trillion last year, up from nearly zero 10 years ago, Bank of International Settlements data shows. The biggest portion of that is provided by Hong Kong, according to analyst estimates of the BIS data. The $430 billion in loans outstanding represents 165% of Hong Kong’s GDP, figures in Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) reports show.

Data from the HKMA, the city’s de-facto central bank, showed a similar astonishing rise. By the end of 2013, Hong Kong banks’ net claims on China as a percentage of their total loan book was nearing 40 percent, compared with zero in 2010. The rival financial center of Singapore has ramped up its China loans as well, but its exposure is the equivalent of 15% of its GDP, figures from its monetary authority show.

Local banks in both these centers have taken over lending that foreign banks once dominated, drawn by cheap funding rates following the global financial crisis, a voracious appetite from Chinese borrowers and healthy growth in the world’s second-biggest economy.

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Bank of Japan Decision on Extra Easing Possible in May (Bloomberg)

The Bank of Japan could decide as soon as mid-May whether further stimulus is needed to keep inflation on track for its 2% target after a sales-tax bump next month, an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “If the BOJ judges that the economy has fallen off its projected path, it will act appropriately and flexibly, and further easing is possible,” Etsuro Honda said in an interview at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo yesterday. “I believe the BOJ will act if it sees changes in price expectations.”

While Honda, 59, said he’s become more confident the economy will withstand the higher levy as inflation expectations take root and price gains accelerate, the first indications of the extent of the blow will appear in May. Honda said he sees “considerable” room for the BOJ to boost the pace it buys exchange-traded funds should it deem more stimulus is needed. The economy is forecast to contract an annualized 3.5% in the three months from April, when the sales levy will rise to 8% from 5%. Abe is lifting the tax in an effort to rein in the world’s biggest debt burden, even as he tries to end 15 years of deflation with fiscal and monetary stimulus and steps to boost private-sector growth.

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Bundesbank Opens The Door To QE Blitz (AEP)

The last bastion is tumbling. Even the venerable Bundesbank is edging crablike towards quantitative easing. It seems that tumbling inflation in Germany itself has at last shaken the monetary priesthood out of its ideological certainties. Or put another way, the Pfennig has dropped that euroland is just one Chinese shock away from a deflation trap, an outcome that would play havoc with the debt dynamics of southern Europe, render the euro unworkable, and ultimately inflict massive damage on Germany.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann was not exactly panting for QE in comments to Market News published this morning, it has to be said, but the tone marks a clear shift in policy. “The unconventional measures under consideration are largely uncharted territory. This means that we need a discussion about their effectiveness and also about their costs and sideeffects”, he said. “This does not mean that a QE programme is generally out of the question. But we have to ensure that the prohibition of monetary financing is respected”.

At least we can put to rest the bogus argument that EU Treaty law (Article 123) prohibits QE by the European Central Bank. This claim was always a smokescreen. Bond purchases are what used to be known as open market operations, a tool of central banks dating back into the mist of monetary history. Purchasing bonds across the board (not just the bonds of insolvent states) is a plain vanilla liquidity management tool.

Mr Weidmann says he prefers negative interest rates as the first resort. This is an admission that the ECB is alarmed by the strength of the euro as it hovers near the pain barrier of $1.40, since negative rates are a sure-fire way to drive down the currency. “If you wanted to counter the consequences of a strong appreciation of the euro for the inflation outlook, negative rates would, however, appear to be a more appropriate measure than others”, he said. Quite so.

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ECB Bank Stress Tests Hit Legal Blind Spot (BusinessWeek)

The European Central Bank will soon find out how hard it can be to keep a secret. The ECB’s plan to keep its health check on euro-area lenders under wraps until the completion of a stress test in October could be undermined by national rules requiring disclosure far sooner. Domestic regulators may order banks to tap the market immediately if an Asset Quality Review ending in July shows they need more capital, according to law firms including Clifford Chance LLP.

The risk is that market volatility could rise if multiple announcements cast doubt on the ECB’s control of a process designed to clean up balance sheets. Officials from the 128 lenders in the appraisal are meeting supervisory staff in Frankfurt today for an update on the Comprehensive Assessment, which includes both the AQR and the stress test. The ECB has said the exam will be more credible than previous efforts to restore trust to the financial system.

“This is the biggest blind spot in the ECB’s program,” said Nicolas Veron, a fellow at the Bruegel institute in Brussels and the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “The banks are still subject to national law, and it’s not clear to me that the ECB had fully integrated this into their planning for the Comprehensive Assessment. They don’t seem to have a very clear stance.” The ECB has said the AQR and stress test are related stages in a single exercise and there will be no partial reporting of results before the process finishes in October. The central bank will become the euro area’s bank supervisor on Nov. 4.

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Mirage of the ‘new economy’ (Caixin)

The current Internet boom, centered around social networking, e-commerce and online gaming, has not produced a significant productivity boost for the economy and likely will not in the future. The boom is mostly about redistributing existing demand from offline to online. As most hot businesses have gained market share with cheap financing and without profit, it is doubtful that the demand re-slicing is entirely due to a more efficient channel of distribution. Cheap financing, i.e., a liquidity bubble, may have been the main engine for the Internet boom.

The bubble may not inflict much damage on its own because the amount of financing is small relative to the overall size of investment in the global economy. The danger to China is that it offers false hope that it can revive the economy. The false hope becomes an excuse not to implement painful structural reforms. If one envisions a rising tide to lift the economy ahead, where is the incentive to reform?

How a product is sold is insignificant compared to the product itself. Steve Jobs had the iPhone to sell. Whether the phones are sold online or through posh Apple stores is not important. A sustainable economy is based on businesses that make better products at lower costs over time. An economy full of colorful middlemen and no unique or high-value products cannot go far.

China’s only path forward is to increase efficiency on the supply side and shift the savings to the household sector as an increase in real purchasing power. This requires major reductions in government and state-owned enterprise spending, and boosting competition by eliminating government-approved market access. A necessary condition is for the high-yield debt bubble to burst.

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Brazil at risk of recession as S&P downgrades debt to near junk (AEP)

Brazil’s sovereign debt is one step away from junk after Standard & Poor’s downgraded Latin America’s powerhouse economy, prompting a furious reaction from the Brazilian treasury. The rating agency cut Brazil’s debt one notch to BBB-, citing “fiscal slippage”, bad economic management, and one-off tricks that flattered the public accounts. It warned of a widening trade deficit and weak growth for years to come.

Marcelo Carvalho from BNP Paribas said the former darling of the BRICs quartet is staring “down the barrel of a recession”, a viewed echoed on Tuesday by Mark Mobius from Templeton Emerging Markets. The economy escaped recession with a rebound in the fourth quarter but has relapsed this year as punitive borrowing costs exact their toll. Carlyle Group had to inject $67m this month into its Urbplan real estate venture as unsold malls and commercial projects build up in the major cities. Rental prices fell 15% in Sao Paulo last year.

Marcelo Ribera from the hedge fund Pentagono Asset Management in Brazil said the country’s “decade-long bubble” has burst, warning that the real is likely to fall by 40% against the dollar as the excesses are purged from the system. Brazil, Russia, and Turkey are each on the brink of recession after tightening monetary policy to defend their currencies. All three neglected reforms during the boom years and now face much harsher global conditions as the US Federal Reserve turns off the spigot of dollar liquidity.

Brazil’s authorities rejected S&P’s claims as completely “unfounded”, insisting that the country has a primary budget surplus of 1.9% of GDP, “one of the highest in the world”. The downgrade is a harsh blow for President Dilma Rousseff as she prepares to host the World Cup and braces for elections this year, though the government is unlikely to change policy. S&P said Brazil has yet to feel the full impact of a 350 basis point rise in interest rates. Yields are now an eye-watering 13%, or 7% in real terms. This has sucked in a rush of foreign money but at a high economic cost.

Brazil has come down to earth with a thud after the glory days of the commodity boom, when the economy seemed near take-off as the top supplier of iron ore and grains for China. It became a textbook case of the “Dutch disease”, suffering from an overvalued currency that “hollowed out” core industry. Industrial output is barely higher today than in 2008, a picture more like Italy than an Asian tiger.

Neil Shearing from Capital Economics said private sector credit has soared by over 40 percentage points of GDP in a decade, the third most extreme case after China and Thailand. This sort of increase is often the precursor for banking crises in emerging markets. “The lessons from history are ominous. The fall-out tends to be especially painful when lending is funded by borrowing from overseas and denominated in foreign currencies”, he said. “This is a particularly toxic combination since, when the bubble bursts, investors tend to pull the plug, exchange rates collapse and the local currency cost of servicing debt jumps. This in turn causes default rates to soar and the economic downturn to deepen.”

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Ukraine Only Has Enough Gasoline For A Month (Zero Hedge)

Nothing to see here, move along. While it appears the Russians are willing to pay the price of modest sanctions from the west to ‘liberate’ their fellow countrymen, the fallout from further tension with Ukraine could “boomerang” once again on the divided nation. As RBC Ukraine reports, the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry Yuriy Prodan said at a press conference today that “oil reserves will last for 28-29 days” in Ukraine. After that, the negotiation begins as Ukraine already owes billions for previously delivered gas – as Ukraine’s storage levels more than halved in the last 3 months.

Via RBC Ukraine,

Stocks of petroleum products in Ukraine will last for 28-29 days, said at today’s press conference, the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry Yuriy Prodan. “Speaking on the situation with oil, then ensure there is quite stable. Today oil reserves will last for 28-29 days,” – he said, the ” RBC-Ukraine . ”

At the same time, the Minister noted the significant risk reduction in the supply and rising gas prices. As of March 25, 2014 in Ukrainian underground gas storage facilities located 7 billion cubic meters of gas. “Up there can be about 2 billion is not the quantity that scares experts, it would be possible to hold only a week. It all depends on what kind of regime will be whether we can take about 20 million cubic meters. Meters of gas to reverse and so on “- said Prodan.

According to the company “Ukrtransgaz” abnormally warm winter 2013 2014 has reduced gas extraction from underground storage by an average of 37% compared to the same period last year: it was 60 million cubic meters per day. In late December 2013. occupied at the time the post of Minister of Energy and Coal Industry of Edward Stawicki reported that Ukrainian gas reserves in underground storage is 16.5 billion cubic meters.

We suspect any further military intervention will only crimp this supply even faster.

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Lithuania Pleads For US Gas Exports To Counter Russia (BBC)

Lithuania’s energy minister has called on the US Senate to speed up the export of natural gas to Europe. Jaroslav Neverovic said that Lithuania was being forced to pay a “political price” for being entirely dependent on Russian gas supplies. The crisis in Ukraine has led to calls for the US to ease its current restrictions on gas exports. Some analysts have suggested that doing so would help challenge Russia’s dominance in the sector.

In his statement to a US Senate committee, Mr Neverovic urged members to do everything within their power to release natural gas resources “into the world market”. “A law enacted in your country some 75 years ago denies us access to your abundant and affordably priced energy resources,” he said. The energy minister said customers in Lithuania were having to pay 30% more for natural gas than other European nations, because they were “beholden to a monopolistic supplier.” “This is not just unfair,” said Mr Neverovic. “This is abuse of monopolist position.”

The crisis in Ukraine has seen the US and European Union impose sanctions targeting members of the Russian political elite. They have had their European and US assets frozen, and travel bans have been put in place to restrict their movements. However, some analysts have argued that these moves are symbolic and any sanctions would only work if they impacted the wider Russian economy.

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Milk Row Threatens To Sour Greece’s Latest Bailout Deal (Reuters)

Greece’s government risks another rebellion over bailout terms this week after milk producers lobbied against a move to free up prices as part of efforts to make the economy more competitive. The country’s international lenders want it to ditch rules, such as limiting the shelf life of fresh milk to five days, that effectively deter importers. But Greek dairy producers and lawmakers representing farming constituencies are fighting the move to call milk up to 11 days old ‘fresh’ – the latest in a long line of last-minute disruptions to Greece’s bailout reviews with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Six lawmakers from within the ruling coalition – three from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party and three from the Socialist PASOK – have opposed the proposal that will be submitted to parliament on Friday as part of an omnibus reform bill that Greece must pass to secure bailout aid. If they vote against it, Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos could be forced to expel them, further reducing the government’s slim majority of just 153 seats in the 300-seat assembly.

The bill – which will pave for the way for up to 10 billion euros ($14 billion) of aid – is expected to pass after last-minute wrangling, but the row has highlighted how powerfullobbies can undermine the country’s bailout lifeline. “You don’t need to be an expert to understand that extending the shelf life is aimed at allowing milk from abroad to be labelled as fresh,” PASOK lawmaker Mihalis Kassis told Greek radio at the weekend. “If that’s a prerequisite by the (EU/IMF) troika then we deserve what we get.”

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U.S. Farmers Mark Spring by Planting GMO Corn Banned in China (Bloomberg)

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd. , two of the world’s largest grain traders, are facing a new obstacle in their quest to expand corn exports to China – U.S. farmers. Six months after China began rejecting shipments of a genetically modified corn, Bunge says it won’t take deliveries of the variety developed by Switzerland’s Syngenta AG. ADM will test the corn and may reject it as well. Even so, farmers will soon begin planting it this spring, more interested in its high yield for the domestic market than for exports.

Exporters and farmers going in two different directions on GMO corn underscores a new set of challenges faced by international agricultural commodity traders. Even as demand continues to grow in line with the global population, China and other countries have been slower than the U.S. to approve new types of crops amid concerns about food safety and threats to biodiversity from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. China’s curbs on some modified corn threaten to block millions of tons of imports and in so doing cut into the profits of international trading houses.

“It’s a significant issue for major North American traders,” said Andrew Russell, a New York-based analyst for Macquarie Group who recommends buying ADM and Bunge shares. “Anything that puts Chinese growth potential at risk is a significant issue.” Traders rerouting shipments originally destined for China to other markets may lose $30 to $50 a ton, said Tim Burrack, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer who’s also the former chairman of the U.S. Grains Council’s trade committee.

China may also be motivated by wanting to protect domestic corn prices after a record harvest, said Burrack, 62. “When China needs corn imports, they will ramp up the approval process.” White Plains, New York-based Bunge isn’t buying the Syngenta GMO corn, an insect-repelling variety called Agrisure Viptera, or another modified variety from the Swiss company called Agrisure Duracade. ADM, the world’s largest corn processor, said in a Feb. 21 statement it won’t accept Duracade until the GMO is approved by China and other major importers. And the company remains uncommitted to Viptera.

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The Priciest Baseball Park in the Whole Atlantic Ocean (Bloomberg)

Something odd happens to the neighborhood around Marlins Park, Miami’s new $650 million baseball stadium, when you overlay 21st-century sea-level rise projections. It sinks below the waterline. It’s a shame. The park has a retractable, cloud-white roof to shield players and spectators from the summer sun. It recycles, sips energy and water, and is plugged into public transit. It has 27 flood gates, and was built one foot higher than floods are supposed to reach in once-in-500-year storms. The total, publicly financed package, with debt servicing, could cost Miami $2.4 billion by 2049.

If the Atlantic inches in as projected, eventually it might not matter how many flood gates there are. Oceans are swelling as they absorb heat, and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have been melting faster since the early 1990s. Sea-level rise estimates for later this century have been revised upward, to a global average of a foot and a half to three feet by 2100, without aggressive carbon-cutting, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

South Florida is a national leader in understanding the changing world. But politics and even policy change much more quickly than bureaucracy. That makes Marlins Park a symbol for cities in transition, a future relic from a time when the people who could build really cool things worked more or less independently from the people who monitored how fast the seas were rising.

The same potential problem exists wherever cities are laying down infrastructure expected to last into the second half of the century. Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project, a generation in the making, wasn’t driven by late 21st-century storm surge considerations. Oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have never been built with permanent sea-level rise in mind. Another newish baseball stadium, Nationals Park, stands yards from Washington’s Anacostia River. Marlins Park checked enough LEED boxes to make it “the most sustainable stadium in Major League Baseball,” according to the team’s website.

Green building standards became common before a city’s ability to bounce back from large-scale shocks, or resilience, surfaced as a popular idea. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed its widely used LEED building practices to promote efficiency in the use of energy, water and materials, and other practices related to construction, safety and maintenance; not necessarily to help people live through some of the charms that might await us in a hotter world — extreme heat, stronger storms and encroaching seas, to name three.

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IPCC Report Downplays Economic Impacts Of Climate Change (SMH)

An upcoming United Nations report on climate change has been altered after the expert review stage, with changes added that downplay the economic impacts of a warming planet, according to one of the reviewers. Bob Ward, an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also said alterations to the economics chapter of the draft report sent to governments included an assessment of a paper by the chapter’s own convening lead author Richard Tol that contained at least one error.

An added section also included a line likely to be hotly contested if it survives a final review by IPCC delegates gathered this week in Yokohama, Japan, to approve the Working Group II report: “Estimates agree on the size of the impact (small relative to economic growth) but disagree on the sign.” Mr Ward said disagreement over whether the sign of climate change’s economic impact is positive or negative “is patently not supported by the evidence presented”.

Of the data assessed, only one study out of about 18 suggests there would be a significant positive impact on gross domestic product from global warming, Mr Ward told the IPCC in an email seen by Fairfax Media. Earlier analysis of economic costs by one of the assessed papers – by Professor Tol – also “excluded a long list of important impacts, including those relating to recreation, tourism, extreme weather, fisheries, construction, transport, energy supply and morbidity,” said Mr Ward, who is also a policy director at the London School of Economics.

Professor Tol, who is a professor at University of Sussex in the UK, said Mr Ward’s complaints were reviewed “and found that most of them were unfounded”. One typo was identified and a dropped minus sign was re-instated. “Both errors have been corrected,” Professor Tol said. In a paper published last year, Professor Tol stated that “the impact of a century of climate change is roughly equivalent to a year’s growth in the global economy,” and that “carbon dioxide emissions are probably a negative externality”.

Professor Tol is a member of the academic advisory council for The Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate change sceptic think tank founded by the UK’s Lord Lawson. The council also includes prominent Australian sceptics Bob Carter and Ian Plimer, according to its website. Unless resolved in the final week, a row over the contents of UN report may cast a cloud over some of its major findings, which include the prospect of widespread social dislocation of climate change and big impacts for eco-systems such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

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Climate Change: The Debate Is About To Change Radically (Telegraph)

The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due out next week. If the leaked draft is reflected in the published report, it will constitute the formal moving on of the debate from the past, futile focus upon “mitigation” to a new debate about resilience and adaptation.

The new report will apparently tell us that the global GDP costs of an expected global average temperature increase of 2.5  degrees Celsius over the 21st century will be between 0.2 and 2%. To place that in context, the well-known Stern Review of 2006 estimated the costs as 5-20% of GDP. Stern estimates the costs of his recommended policies for mitigating climate change at 2% of GDP – and his estimates are widely regarded as relatively optimistic (others estimate mitigation costs as high as 10% of global GDP).

Achieving material mitigation, at a cost of 2% and more of global GDP, would require international co-ordination that we have known since the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change simply was not going to happen. Even if it did happen, and were conducted optimally, it would mitigate only a fraction of the total rise, and might create its own risks. And to add to all this, now we are told that the cost might be as low as 0.2% of GDP. At a 2.4% annual GDP growth rate, the global economy increases 0.2% every month.

So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government’s own evaluation criteria, with a global cost of 2% of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe – just maybe – we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth. Can anyone seriously claim, with a straight face, that that should be regarded as an attractive deal or that the public is suffering from a psychological disorder if it resists mitigation policies?

The 2014 Budget recognised reality, with the Government now introducing special measures to keep energy prices low for energy intensive firms – abandoning what little pretence remained that it was attempting to prevent climate change by limiting energy use so as to limit CO2 emissions. The new IPCC report – though it remains as robust as ever in saying that there will be climate change and its effects will be material (points that relatively few mitigation policy sceptics deny) – has a marked change of focus from the 2007 report.

Whereas previously the IPCC emphasised the effects climate change could have if not prevented, now the focus has moved on to how to make economies and societies resilient and to adapt to warming now considered inevitable. Climate exceptionalism – the notion that climate change is a challenge of a different order from, say, recessions or social inclusion or female education or many other important global policy goals – is to be down played. Instead, the new report emphasised that adapting to climate change is one of many challenges that policymakers will face but should have its proper place alongside other policies.

Quite so. It has been known since the late 1970s that there would be material warming during the 21st century and we will need to adapt to it. At present, though, in the UK we still carry the legacy of a panoply of enormously expensive but futile policies that were designed to be pieces of a global effort to mitigate that is just not going to happen. Our first step in adapting to climate change should be to accept that we aren’t going to mitigate it. We’re going to have to adapt. That doesn’t mean there might not be the odd mitigation-type policy, around the edges, that is cheap and feasible and worthwhile. But it does mean that the grandiloquent schemes for preventing climate change should go. Their day is done. Even the IPCC – albeit implicitly – sees that now.

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Global warming poses risks, but also opportunities: IPCC (AP)

Along with the enormous risks global warming poses for humanity are opportunities to improve public health and build a better world, scientists gathered in Yokohama for a climate change conference said Tuesday. The hundreds of scientists from 100 countries meeting in this Japanese port city are putting finishing touches on a massive report emphasizing the gravity of the threat the changing climate poses for communities from the polar regions to the tropics.

“Although it focuses on a whole analytical and sometimes depressing view of the challenges we face, it also looks at the opportunities we face,” said Christopher B. Field, the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This can not only help us to deal with climate change but ultimately build a better world.”

Japan’s awareness of the severity of climate change has been driven home by record temperatures of over 40 C , and in Yokohama, by unusually heavy snows this winter, said the environment minister, Nobuteru Ishihara.

Japan plans to release an adaptation plan of its own by the summer of 2015 that would focus on a more “eco-friendly lifestyle,” he said. That includes improvements in energy efficiency ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.

“We aim to take full environmental consideration so that the Tokyo Games will be the ‘environmental Olympics,’” Ishihara said.

Japan is struggling to rein in its own emissions of greenhouse gases after it shut down its nuclear plants following the disaster in Fukushima after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Increased burning of natural gas, coal and oil to compensate for lost generating capacity have undone much of the progress the country had made in cutting carbon emissions.

While each region faces its own mix of challenges, research conducted by thousands of scientists around the world underscores the need for urgent measures, J. Lengoasa, deputy head of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a recorded message to Tuesday’s meeting.

He said countries in Africa already spend $7 billion to $15 billion a year on climate adaptation. “Time is running out. We must take action,” he said. “It is our obligation and our duty to inform the world of the prospects and risks that lie ahead.”

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