Aug 092017
 
 August 9, 2017  Posted by at 7:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Police car, New York 1942

 

The Only Thing Keeping Italy’s Debt Alive is the ECB (DQ)
Federal Bank Regulator Drops a Bombshell as Corporate Media Snoozes (Martens)
Officials Spend Big In The Run Up To China’s Communist Party Congress (BBG)
China Is Taking on the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt (BBG)
Jeff Gundlach Predicts He Will Make 400% On Bet Against Stock Market (CNBC)
Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart (NYT)
The Economic Crash, Ten Years On (Pettifor)
Opioid Deaths In US Break New Record: 100 People A Day (RT)
New Hampshire Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Practices (R.)
Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (BBG)
Unlearning The Myth Of American Innocence (G.)
EU Nations Start Process Of Returning Refugees, Migrants To Greece (AP)

 

 

As Trump sinks into opioids and nuke threats (talking to Kim in his own language, and no, Trump does not like the Korea thing), and Google sinks into its self-dug moral morass, let’s not forget this one thing: we would not have what poses as an economy if not for central banks buying anything not bolted down. And they cannot keep doing that. And what then?

“At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019”

The Only Thing Keeping Italy’s Debt Alive is the ECB (DQ)

New statistical data from the investment bank Jefferies LLC has revealed a startling new trend that could have major implications for Europe’s economic future: Italian banks have begun dumping unprecedented volumes of Italian sovereign debt. Holdings of government debt by Italian financial institutions slumped by a record €20 billion in June – almost 10% of the total – after €9.4 billion of sales in May. As the FT reports, the selling by Italian banks is the most emphatic example yet of a broader trend: banks sold €46 billion of government paper in June across Europe, taking the total reduction since the start of this year to €257 billion. The banks’ mass sell-off is probably being driven by two main factors: first, as an attempt to preempt a pending Basel III reform package that could eliminate the equity capital privilege for EU government bonds and second, to position themselves for an anticipated autumn announcement from the ECB that it will begin tightening monetary policy.

“Maybe we are seeing an indication of Italian banks catching up with what their counterparts in Spain have known for a long time – that sovereign debt is not the place to be in a world of rising interest rates, said Jefferies’ senior European economist, Marchel Alexandrovich. But then: who’s buying it? The answer, in the case of Italy, is the ECB and its Italian branch office, the Bank of Italy, where Italian bank deposits rose by €22 billion in June and €50 billion since the start of 2017. The ECB “overbought” Italian government debt in July with purchases of €9.6 billion — its highest monthly quota since quantitative easing began. As Italian banks offload their holdings, the ECB, with Italian native and former Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi at the helm, is picking up the slack.

In doing so, the central bank surpassed its own capital key rules by which member state debt is bought in proportion to the size of each country’s economy. By contrast, the ECB’s German Bund purchases slipped below its capital key rules for the fourth month in a row, which further depressed the spread between Italian and German 10-year debt to 152 basis points, its lowest level of the year. This spread is artificial, derived from the ECB’s binge buying of European sovereign bonds, particularly those belonging to countries on the periphery. A report published in May by Astellon Capital revealed that since 2008, 88% of Italy’s government debt net issuance was acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. That was before taking into account the current sell-down of Italian bonds by Italian banks.

Read more …

As central banks buy 100% of a country’s new debt, US banks pay out more than 100% of earnings, and “share buybacks represent 72% of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies”. What better way to characterize a non-functioning economy?

Federal Bank Regulator Drops a Bombshell as Corporate Media Snoozes (Martens)

Last Monday, Thomas Hoenig, the Vice Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), sent a stunning letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee. The letter contained information that should have become front page news at every business wire service and the leading business newspapers. But with the exception of Reuters, major corporate media like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Business section of the New York Times and Washington Post ignored the bombshell story, according to our search at Google News. What the fearless Hoenig told the Senate Banking Committee was effectively this: the biggest Wall Street banks have been lying to the American people that overly stringent capital rules by their regulators are constraining their ability to lend to consumers and businesses.

What’s really behind their inability to make more loans is the documented fact that the 10 largest banks in the country “will distribute, in aggregate, 99% of their net income on an annualized basis,” by paying out dividends to shareholders and buying back excessive amounts of their own stock. Hoenig writes that the banks are starving the U.S. economy through these practices and if “the 10 largest U.S. Bank Holding Companies were to retain a greater share of their earnings earmarked for dividends and share buybacks in 2017 they would be able to increase loans by more than $1 trillion, which is greater than 5% of annual U.S. GDP.” Backing up his assertions, Hoenig provided a chart showing payouts on a bank-by-bank basis. Highlighted in yellow on Hoenig’s chart is the fact that four of the big Wall Street banks are set to pay out more than 100% of earnings: Citigroup 127%; Bank of New York Mellon 108%; JPMorgan Chase 107% and Morgan Stanley 103%.

What’s motivating this payout binge at the banks? Hoenig doesn’t offer an opinion in his letter but he does state that share buybacks represent 72% of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies. What share buybacks do for top management at these banks is to make the share price of their bank’s stock look far better than it otherwise would while making themselves rich on their stock options. If just the share buybacks (forgetting about the dividend payouts) were retained by the banks instead of being paid out, the banks could “increase small business loans by three quarters of a trillion dollars or mortgage loans by almost one and a half trillion dollars.” Hoenig also urged in his letter that there be a “substantive public debate” on what the biggest banks are doing with their capital rather than allowing this “critical” issue to be “discussed in sound bites.” Most corporate media responded to this appeal by ignoring Hoenig’s letter altogether.

Read more …

They all want to show nice numbers at the Congress. Shadow banks lend them the money to do it. In exchange for power.

Officials Spend Big In The Run Up To China’s Communist Party Congress (BBG)

In the run up to China’s blockbuster Communist Party congress later this year, officials have spent big to ensure the economy is humming along nicely when the conclave begins. It’s after that that things get interesting. With the central government’s deficit limit capped at 3%, officials usually turn on the taps around November and December, once they know they’ll have raised enough to fund a late-year splurge. Not this time. A push to smooth out spending means the fiscal pump is unlikely to go into high gear at year end, which is when economists see growth moderating toward the government’s baseline of 6.5%. While policy makers have quasi-fiscal options up their sleeve – like accelerating infrastructure project approvals or ratcheting up lending via policy banks – efforts to curb profligate local governments and limit debt may restrain those channels too.

“It’s China’s political-business cycle: this year is very important for the political transition, so they front-loaded fiscal spending to ensure a stable economic backdrop,” Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “China’s economy has a fiscal system and a shadow fiscal system. If growth really slows to threaten the target, then we’re going to see spending.” The question is, how much. China ran a fiscal deficit of 918 billion yuan ($137 billion) in the first half, or more than 2% of economic output during the period, Bloomberg calculations show. That’s a record both by value and share. The spending fueled better-than-expected economic growth of 6.9% in the first six months, and infrastructure investment surging at over 20%.

China International Capital Corp. analysts led by Liu Liu say the budgeted deficit will be 1.46 trillion yuan in the second half, versus 2.46 trillion yuan in the same period last year. The world’s second-largest economy still depends on government spending at all levels, as construction of things like roads and railways can be a key buffer when private investors start pulling back or, as now, political sensitivities make robust growth especially important. But those priorities are now clashing with the need to clamp down on indebtedness at lower levels of government, and the desire to avoid a year-end spending glut. In the past, officials have been able to use off-balance sheet spending, such as policy bank loans and funds raised through local government financing vehicles, to keep their deep pockets open.

Read more …

It’s starting to feel increasingly like a big fat Ponzi.

China Is Taking on the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt (BBG)

China’s much-vaunted campaign to tackle its leverage problem has captured headlines this year. But to understand why they’re taking on the challenge – and the threat it could pose to the world’s second-largest economy – you need to dig into the mountain. Characterized in state media as the “original sin” of China’s financial system, leverage has swelled over the past decade – partly because policy makers were trying to cushion a slowdown in growth from the old normal of 10% plus. What’s fueled the leverage has been a rapid expansion in household and corporate wealth looking for higher returns in a system where bank interest rates have been held down. The unprecedented stimulus unleashed since 2008 effectively brought to life the “monster” China’s leadership is now trying to tackle, says Andrew Collier at Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong and author of “Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China.”

Implicit backing from the central government meant borrowers had free license to take on debt. “You basically have anybody selling anything they want as they think they can’t lose,” Collier said. Deleveraging – championed by President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party Politburo in April – hasn’t truly begun, as “they’re trying to forestall the pain as long as possible,” he said. The equivalent of trillions of dollars are now held in all manner of assets in China, from high-yielding wealth management products to so-called entrusted investments. Taking the heftiest piece of the leverage mountain first, wealth management products had a precipitous rise over the past several years.

A way for borrowers who have trouble getting traditional bank loans to win funding, WMPs have grown in popularity as they typically offer savers much higher yields than banks offer on deposits. WMPs are also a hit because they give lenders a way to keep loans off of their balance sheets, and to skirt regulatory requirements when channeling funds to borrowers, according to Raymond Yeung at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong. The regulatory crackdown this year — mostly in the form of more stringent guidelines on use of financial products — has seen the amount of WMPs outstanding taper off from a peak in April, while yields on them have surged as providers competed for funds. In July, the bank watchdog is said to have told some lenders to cut the rates they offered on the products.

Read more …

“It’s not really a bear call on the S&P 500. It’s more of a bull call on volatility..”

Jeff Gundlach Predicts He Will Make 400% On Bet Against Stock Market (CNBC)

DoubleLine CEO Jeffery Gundlach expects his bet for a decline in the S&P 500 will return 400%. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t make 400% on the puts, and we don’t even need a big market decline for that to happen,” Gundlach said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Halftime Report.” He said that in his firm’s analysis, volatility is so low that it can make a big return by buying put options — bets for a decline — on the S&P 500 for December. “It’s not really a bear call on the S&P 500. It’s more of a bull call on volatility,” he said. In its slow grind higher, the S&P 500 has only closed more than 1% higher or lower on four trading days this year.

As a result of the muted market performance, the CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, has persistently held near historical lows around 10 or below this year and hit an all-time low of 8.84 on July 26. The VIX was near 10.1 midday Tuesday as the S&P 500 edged up to a record high. “I think going long the VIX is really sort of free money at a 9.80 VIX level today,” Gundlach said. “I believe the market will drop 3% at a minimum sometime between now and December. And when it does I don’t think the VIX will be at 10.” Gundlach reiterated his expectations for a snap higher in the VIX once volatility picks up, since hedge funds have piled heavily into bets that volatility will remain low.

Read more …

OK, got it. Now what?

Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart (NYT)

Many Americans can’t remember anything other than an economy with skyrocketing inequality, in which living standards for most Americans are stagnating and the rich are pulling away. It feels inevitable. But it’s not. A well-known team of inequality researchers — Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman — has been getting some attention recently for a chart it produced. It shows the change in income between 1980 and 2014 for every point on the distribution, and it neatly summarizes the recent soaring of inequality.= The line on the chart (which we have recreated as the red line above) resembles a classic hockey-stick graph. It’s mostly flat and close to zero, before spiking upward at the end. That spike shows that the very affluent, and only the very affluent, have received significant raises in recent decades.

This line captures the rise in inequality better than any other chart or simple summary that I’ve seen. So I went to the economists with a request: Could they produce versions of their chart for years before 1980, to capture the income trends following World War II. You are looking at the result here. The message is straightforward. Only a few decades ago, the middle class and the poor weren’t just receiving healthy raises. Their take-home pay was rising even more rapidly, in%age terms, than the pay of the rich. The post-inflation, after-tax raises that were typical for the middle class during the pre-1980 period — about 2% a year — translate into rapid gains in living standards. At that rate, a household’s income almost doubles every 34 years. (The economists used 34-year windows to stay consistent with their original chart, which covered 1980 through 2014.)

In recent decades, by contrast, only very affluent families — those in roughly the top 1/40th of the income distribution — have received such large raises. Yes, the upper-middle class has done better than the middle class or the poor, but the huge gaps are between the super-rich and everyone else. The basic problem is that most families used to receive something approaching their fair share of economic growth, and they don’t anymore.

Read more …

Nice try, Ann. But people have no political power left. Just look at the mess that all parties are in, in both the UK and US. So are you going to break the power of finance?

The Economic Crash, Ten Years On (Pettifor)

Challenging and dismantling gargantuan financial markets that operate beyond democratic regulatory oversight will not be easy, but it is long overdue. Some believe that the management of financial markets by governments will never be restored. I do not agree. Because of global imbalances, economic and financial tensions could lead to the onset of wars. These could dismantle global financial markets just as the two world wars did. There is a more peaceful way of restoring finance to the role of servant to, and not master of, economies and regions. For that to happen the public must realise that citizens can exercise economic power over global financial markets. The global ‘House of Finance’ is almost entirely dependent, and indeed largely parasitic, on the public sector. In other words, private finance is largely dependent for its capital gains on taxpayers like you and me.

Commercial banks do not need savings or tax revenues to lend. All they need is to provide finance to viable projects that will generate employment and income in the future – which will repay the loans. The most viable projects today are those needed to protect Britain from climate change. Any government with political spine would have insisted that the banks lend, at low affordable rates, to transformative projects in the real, productive economy where jobs are created, income generated, and society protected. And if shareholders and executives object to such conditions, then politicians should withdraw access to the Bank of England’s QE and low interest rates, and to government guarantees for deposits.

Quantitative easing – the creation of liquidity currently directed only at the financial sector – is only possible because central banks, if not directly publicly owned, are dependent for their legitimacy and money-creation powers, on taxpayers. The Federal Reserve is ultimately backed by US taxpayers. The Bank of England is a nationalised bank, whose authority is derived from Britain’s 31 million-plus taxpayers.

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” ..in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Opioid Deaths In US Break New Record: 100 People A Day (RT)

The first nine months of 2016 saw a sharp increase in opioid drug overdoses in the US compared to the prior year, according to new data by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The government is struggling to respond to the crisis. Deaths due to drug overdose peaked in the third quarter of last year – 19.7 cases for every 100,000 people, compared to 16.7 in the same period the year before, according to newly released numbers from the NCHS, which is part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Centers attributed 33,000 deaths in 2015 to opioid drugs, including legal prescription painkillers as well as illicit drugs like heroin and street fentanyl. “Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic. Today, nearly half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid,” according to the CDC.

A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says actual opioid mortality rate changes are on average 22% higher than federal statistics indicate, due to information missing from CDC records. “Opioid mortality rate changes were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona,” said the study’s author, Dr. Christopher Ruhm, a health economist at the University of Virginia. Top US officials have consistently raised the alarm about the addiction crisis in the US, but a solution is yet to be found. [..] Last week, the Trump-appointed commission on combating the drug addiction crisis in America called on the president to declare “a national emergency.”

After the meeting with Trump on Tuesday, Price said the administration will act without such a declaration. “Here is the grim reality,” the commission wrote in their letter to Trump. “Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Read more …

And this is how the opioid disaster started, and still rolls on. Easy fix (pun intended), but who’s going to do it?

New Hampshire Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Practices (R.)

New Hampshire sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP on Tuesday, joining several state and local governments in accusing the drugmaker of engaging in deceptive marketing practices that have helped fuel a national opioid addiction epidemic. The lawsuit filed in Merrimack County Superior Court claimed that Purdue Pharma significantly downplayed the risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and engaged in marketing practices that “opened the floodgates” to opioid use and abuse. The lawsuit came after the state’s top court in June overturned a ruling that barred the enforcement of subpoenas against Purdue and four other drugmakers because of the use of a private law firm by the office of the attorney general.

The complaint said the Stamford, Connecticut-based company had spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the 1990s on misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain. Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin, and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe. That year, the privately held company reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky. The lawsuit by New Hampshire, which was not among those settled, said Purdue has continued to benefit from its earlier misconduct and has since 2011 expanded the market for opioids in the state.

Read more …

No wonder with the opioid cases.

Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (BBG)

Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don’t end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won’t have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. In 2015, the American death rate—the age-adjusted share of Americans dying—rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings.

“Revised assumptions indicating a shortened longevity,” for instance, led Lockheed Martin to adjust its estimated retirement obligations downward by a total of about $1.6 billion for 2015 and 2016, it said in its most recent annual report. Mortality trends are only a small piece of the calculation companies make when estimating what they’ll owe retirees, and indeed, other factors actually led Lockheed’s pension obligations to rise last year. Variables such as asset returns, salary levels, and health care costs can cause big swings in what companies expect to pay retirees. The fact that people are dying slightly younger won’t cure corporate America’s pension woes—but the fact that companies are taking it into account shows just how serious the shift in America’s mortality trends is.

It’s not just corporate pensions, either; the shift also affects Social Security, the government’s program for retirees. The most recent data available “show continued mortality reductions that are generally smaller than those projected,” according to a July report from the program’s chief actuary. Longevity gains fell short of what was projected in last year’s report, leading to a slight improvement in the program’s financial outlook. [..] Absent a war or an epidemic, it’s unusual and alarming for life expectancies in developed countries to stop improving, let alone to worsen. “Mortality is sort of the tip of the iceberg,” says Laudan Aron, a demographer and senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It really is a reflection of a lot of underlying conditions of life.” The falling trajectory of American life expectancies, especially when compared to those in some other wealthy countries, should be “as urgent a national issue as any other that’s on our national agenda,” she says.

Read more …

Not sure where this article aims to go, but Americans entering another dimension is a nice starting point.

Unlearning The Myth Of American Innocence (G.)

I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours’ drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin’ Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory. Most of my friends’ parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in “the City”, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)

We were all patriotic, but I can’t even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I don’t remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didn’t stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us. We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star – flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens – than a country with people in it.

I have TV memories of world events. Even in my mind, they appear on a screen: Oliver North testifying in the Iran-Contra hearings; the scarred, evil-seeming face of Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega; the movie-like footage, all flashes of light, of the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf war. Mostly what I remember of that war in Iraq was singing God Bless the USA on the school bus – I was 13 – wearing little yellow ribbons and becoming teary-eyed as I remembered the video of the song I had seen on MTV. “And I’m proud to be an American; Where at least I know I’m free”. That “at least” is funny. We were free – at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didn’t even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

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Because Greece has the absolutely worst accomodations for them.

EU Nations Start Process Of Returning Refugees, Migrants To Greece (AP)

European Union countries have begun the process of sending migrants who arrived in Europe via Greece over the last five months back to have their asylum applications assessed there. EU rules oblige migrants to apply for asylum in the country they first enter. But the rules were suspended as hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Syrian refugees, entered Greece in 2015. The European Commission recommended in December that EU countries gradually resume transfers to Greece of unauthorized migrants arriving from March 15 onwards. “Some member states have made requests but transfers have not begun. Greece has to give assurances that they have adequate reception conditions,” European Commission spokeswoman Tove Ernst said Tuesday.

“Reception conditions in Greece have significantly improved since last year, which is why the Commission recommended a gradual resumption of transfers,” she said. The recommendation is not binding on EU countries. Greece’s asylum service says requests have been made to return more than 400 migrants. Seven requests have been accepted so far. In Athens, Greece’s migration minister said the returns would involve “tiny numbers.” “We will accept a few dozen people in coming months,” Yiannis Mouzalas told private Skai TV Tuesday. “This will be done provided we have the proper conditions to receive them.” Mouzalas said it was a “symbolic move” dictated by Greece’s EU obligations.

Read more …

Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 6:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Giotto Legend of St Francis, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo c.1297-1299

 

You are not an investor. One can only be an investor in functioning markets. There have been no functioning markets since at least 2008, and probably much longer. That’s when central banks started purchasing financial assets, for real, which means that is also the point when price discovery died. And without price discovery no market can function.

You are therefore not an investor. Perhaps you are a cheat, perhaps you are a chump, but you are not an investor. If we continue to use terms like ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ for what we see today, we would need to invent new terms for what these words once meant. Because they surely are not the same thing. Even as there are plenty people who would like you to believe they are, because it serves their purposes.

Central banks have become bubble machines, and that is the only function they have left. You could perhaps get away with saying that the dot-com bubble, maybe even the US housing bubble, were not created by central banks, but you can’t do that for the everything bubble of today.

The central banks blow their bubbles in order to allow banks and other financial institutions to first of all not crumble, and second of all even make sizeable profits. They have two instruments to blow their bubbles with, which are used in tandem.

The first one is asset purchases, which props up the prices for these assets, through artificial demand. The second is (ultra-) low interest rates, which allows for more parties -that is, you and mom and pop- to buy more assets, another form of artificial demand.

The most important central bank-created bubble is in housing, if only because it facilitates bubbles in stocks and bonds. Home prices in many places in the world have grown much higher than either economic growth or homebuyers’ wages justify.

In many instances they have even caused a feeding frenzy, where people are so desperate to either have a place to live or not miss out on profits that they’ll pay any price, provided rates are low enough for them to get a loan approved.

As I said a few weeks ago in Our Economies Run on Housing Bubbles, the housing bubbles created in this way are essential in keeping our economies going, because it is through mortgages -loans in general- that money is created in these economies.

If this money creation machine would stop, so would the economies. Home prices would come down to more realistic levels, but there still wouldn’t be anyone to buy them, so they would sink further. That, too, is called price discovery. For which there is a bitter and urgent need.

The Fed is an outlier in the central bank system, in that it no longer buys up too many assets. But other central banks have duly taken over. Indeed, Tyler Durden observes today via Bank of America that BoJ and ECB have bought more assets so far in 2017 than central banks ever have before. One may wonder at what point the term ‘asset’ will lose its rightful meaning to the same extent that ‘investor’ and ‘markets’ have:

A quick, if familiar, observation to start the day courtesy of Bank of America which in the latest overnight note from Michael Hartnett notes that central banks (ECB & BoJ) have bought $1 trillion of financial assets just in the first four months of 2017, which amounts to $3.6 trillion annualized, “the largest CB buying on record.” As Hartnett notes, the “Liquidity Supernova is the best explanation why global stocks & bonds both annualizing double-digit gains YTD despite Trump, Le Pen, China, macro…”

A recent graph from Citi and Haver illustrated it this way:

 

 

Note the rise in central bank balance sheets before 2008. There’s nothing innocent about it.

As an aside, I like this variation from the Twitter account of “Rudy Havenstein”, which came with the comment:

Here is a chart of the well being of the American middle-class and poor over the same period.

 

 

The Fed tries to become even more of an outlier among central banks, or at least it seems to discuss ways of doing this. Now, I don’t know what is more stunning, the fact that they go about it the way they do, or the lack of anger and bewilderment that emanates from the press and other voices -nobody has a clue what a central bank should be doing-, but the following certainly is ‘something’:

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes. Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.

The Fed-created bubbles in stocks, bonds, housing, what have you, have propped up these ‘market players’, which wouldn’t even be ‘market players’ anymore if they hadn’t. That would have made for a much saner world. These people are not ‘investors’ any more either, by the way, and they’re not the chumps either; they are the cheats, the profiteers. At your expense.

Now, with the new capital they have, courtesy of the Fed and other central banks only, certainly not their own intelligence or timing or knowledge, they get calls from Yellen and other Fed people about what the Fed can do for them this time. Yellen et al are afraid that if the Fed starts selling, the so-called ‘market players’ will too. Of course they will.

The bubble created by artificial demand cannot be allowed to burst all at once, it has to be done “gradual and predictable.” As if that is possible, as if the Fed controls the bursting of bubbles it has itself created. And Yellen is not going to call you or me, she could not care less; she’s going the call the pigs she fattened up most. The Fed is more than anything a bunch of academics, seduced exclusively by textbook theories that are shaky at best, to transfer wealth to the most sociopathic and hence seductive financial predators, at everyone else’s expense.

And that expense is humongous. At the same time that the Fed and the rest of the world’s central banks fattened their balance sheets as seen in the graph above, this is what happened to US debt vs GDP:

 

 

The Fed bubbles, intended to keep market players whole, are blown at the expense of the real economy. Imagine if all those $20 trillion and counting in central banks’ bubble blowing would have been used to prop up Main Street instead of Wall Street; everybody would have been better off except for the ‘investors’ who are not even real investors.

The problem is, the Fed has no control over its own bubbles. It may or may not devise ways to ‘deflate’ its balance sheet, but the bubbles that balance sheet gave birth to cannot be deflated in the same way. If the Fed did have ‘bubble control’, it would have chosen to keep both the stock markets (S&P) and housing prices at a much lower level, with only a gradual increase. That would have given the impression that things were still doing sort of fine, without adding the risk -make that certainty- that the while shebang would blow up. But once’s the genie’s out of the bubble…

The academics must have missed that part. In the end the Fed works for banks and affiliated ‘industries’, not for people. Even -or especially- those people that like to think of themselves as ‘investors’. Today, in the process, America’s central bank is actively destroying American people. And while the Fed’s operatives may know this or not, the people certainly don’t. They think they’re making fat profits in either stocks or housing. And they are the lucky ones; most Americans are simply drowning.

A great representation of all that’s wrong in this comes courtesy of this Lance Roberts graph. A chilling illustration of the price you pay for setting S&P records.

 

 

These days, every rising asset price, every single bubble, comes at the expense of enormous increases in debt. And there are still people who wish to claim that this is not a bubble. That it is OK to get into deep debt to purchase a home, or stocks, with leverage: can’t miss out on those rates! And sure, that is still true in theory; all you have to do is get out in time. If only the Fed can get out in time, if only you can get out in time.

‘Getting out in time’ is bubble territory by definition. It’s not investing. Investing is buying an interest in something that you expect to do well, something that you think may be successful in benefiting society in such a way that people will want to own part of it. As I write down these words, I can’t help thinking of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, simply because it is so obvious but already feels so outdated.

I’m thinking also of Uber and Airbnb and Tesla and so many other ‘innovative’ ideas. All seemingly thriving but only because there’s so much excess cash sloshing around courtesy of Bernanke and Yellen and Draghi, looking for a next bubble to ‘invest’ in. Ideas that apparently have no trouble raising another $1 billion or $10 billion ‘investment’, in the same way that the Tulip Bubble had no such trouble, or the South Sea or Dot.Com ones.

Good luck with all that, but you’ve been warned, you’re hereby on notice. The odds that you’ll be able to ‘get out in time’ are vanishingly small. And even if you do, most others just like you won’t. And neither will the Fed academics. They have the most so-called ‘money’ at their disposal, and the least sense of what to do with it. But they have their advisers in the private banking industry to tell them all about where to put it: in one bubble or another; anywhere but the real economy.

Have I mentioned yet that all these start-ups and other bubbles are being launched into a rapidly shinking economy? Or you don’t think it is shrinking? Look, there would be no need for the Fed to blow bubbles if the economy were doing fine. And if so, they wouldn’t. Even academics have an innate sense for risk overdose.

C’mon, you’re not an investor. And perhaps you won’t even end up a loser, though the odds on that are slim, but one thing’s for sure. You are a character in an epic poem about losers.

 

 

Mar 312017
 
 March 31, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 31 2017
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Rene Magritte Memory 1944

 

Last Two Times After US Reported Data Like This, Stocks Crashed (WS)
One Third Of US Car Loans Is Deep Subprime (Roberts)
The Fed Is Bedeviled by Keynes’s Paradox (DiMartino Booth)
Flynn Lawyer: Client Wants Assurances Against ‘Witch-Hunt’ Prosecution (USAT)
Who Gains When Income Grows? (Tcherneva)
Puerto Rico Is Starting To Look An Awful Lot Like Greece (Setser)
Former Australia PM: Neo-Liberalism Has Run Into A Dead End (SMH)
Why Australia Hasn’t Had a Recession in Over 25 Years (BBG)
Why Australia Is Addicted To Interest-Only Loans (AFR)
Juncker In Jaw-Dropping Threat To Trump Over Support For Brexit (Exp.)
The European Central Bank Doesn’t Understand The Economy (Steve Keen)
Why Italy’s Banking Crisis Has Gone Off the Radar (DQ)
Global Reshuffle Of Wildlife Will Have Huge Impacts On Humanity (G.)
More Than 5 Million Syrian Refugees In Neighbouring Countries Now (G.)

 

 

Many scary graphs today. Let’s start here.

Last Two Times After US Reported Data Like This, Stocks Crashed (WS)

The BEA offers various measures of corporate profits, slicing and dicing them in different ways. One of them is its headline number: “Corporate profits with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments.” It estimates “profits from current production,” based on profits before taxes, not adjusted for inflation, but with adjustments for inventory valuation (IVA) and capital consumption (CCAdj).These adjustments convert inventory withdrawals and depreciation of fixed assets (as they appear on tax returns) to the current-cost economic measures used in GDP calculations. It’s a broad measure, taking into account profits by all corporations, not just the S&P 500 companies. This measure is reflected in the first chart below.

Later, we’ll get into after-tax measures without those adjustments. They look even worse. In Q4, profits rose to $2.15 trillion seasonally adjusted annual rate. That’s what the annual profit would be after four quarters at this rate. But profits in the prior three quarters were lower. And so Q4 brought the year total to $2.085 trillion. This was down from 2015, and it was down from 2014, and it was up only 2.6% from 2013, not adjusted for inflation. This 20-year chart shows that measure. Note that the profits are not adjusted for inflation, and there was a lot of inflation over those 20 years:

Things get even more interesting when we look at after-tax profits on a quarterly basis. The chart below shows two measures: Dark blue line: Corporate Profits after tax without adjustments for inventory valuation and capital consumption (so without IVA & CCAdj). Light blue line: Corporate Profits after tax with adjustments for inventory valuation and capital consumption (so with IVA & CCAdj). Q4 profits, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, but not adjusted for inflation, were back where they’d been in Q1 2012:

By this measure, corporate profits have been in a volatile five-year stagnation. However, during that time – since Q1 2012 – the S&P 500 index has soared 70%. [..] The chart also shows that there were two prior multi-year periods of profit stagnation and even decline while the stock market experienced a massive run-up: from 1996 through 2000, leading to the dotcom crash; and from 2005 through 2008, which ended in the Financial Crisis. This peculiar phenomenon – soaring stock prices during years of flat or declining profits – is now repeating itself. The end point of the prior two episodes was a lot of bloodletting in the markets that then refocused companies – the survivors – on what they needed to do to make money. For a little while at least, it focused executives on productive activities, rather than on financial engineering, M&A, and similar lofty projects. And it showed in their profits.

Read more …

People have no money to spend. But they do need a car in the US.

One Third Of US Car Loans Is Deep Subprime (Roberts)

Given the lack of wage growth, consumers are needing to get payments down to levels where they can afford them. Furthermore, about 1/3rd of the loans are going to individuals with credit scores averaging 550 which carry much higher rates up to 20%. In fact, since 2010, the share of sub-prime Auto ABS origination has come from deep subprime deals which have increased from just 5.1% in 2010 to 32.5% currently. That growth has been augmented by the emergence of new deep sub-prime lenders which are lenders who did not issue loans prior to 2012. While there has been much touting of the strength of the consumer in recent years, it has been a credit driven mirage.

With income growth weak, debt levels elevated and rent and health care costs chipping away at disposable incomes, in order to make payments even remotely possible, terms are often stretched to 84 months. The eventual issue is that since cars are typically turned over every 3-5 years on average, borrowers are typically upside down in their vehicle when it comes time to trade it in. Between the negative equity of their trade-in, along with title, taxes, and license fees, and a hefty dealer profit rolled into the original loan, there is going to be a substantial problem down the road. [..] Auto loans, in general, have been in a huge boom that reached $1.11 trillion in the fourth quarter 2016. As noted above, 33.5% of those loans are sub-prime, or $371.85 billion.

Read more …

And that’s in a country in crisis. People are scared. “Some $11.7 trillion is sitting in bank deposits, up from $7.23 trillion at the start of 2009..”

The Fed Is Bedeviled by Keynes’s Paradox (DiMartino Booth)

The economist John Maynard Keynes warned that ultra-low interest rates would backfire on central banks seeking to spur borrowing and spending, yet they seemed surprised that the current recovery is the weakest in postwar history after cutting rates to near zero, or even below in some cases. Keynes is credited with popularizing the “paradox of thrift,” which is the economic theory that posits people tend to save more during recessions as rates fall to offset the income their savings is not generating. Of course it is the case that when you save more, you spend less. Since the U.S. economy is fueled by consumption, it also stands to reason that growth suffers as a result.

It’s been two years since Swiss Re produced a report that calculated U.S. savers had foregone some $470 billion in interest income. The analysis was based on what rates would have been had the Federal Reserve followed the Taylor Rule, which would have put rates, then at zero, at 1.7%. Even as the Fed has begun to raise rates, it is clear that hundreds of billions of dollars have been squirreled away as savers play defense to counteract the Fed’s ultraloose monetary policy. Some $11.7 trillion is sitting in bank deposits, up from $7.23 trillion at the start of 2009 shortly after the Fed cut rates to near zero, central bank data show.

Read more …

The WSJ was first, then all the media ran with it. But Flynn did NOT ask for immunity. At least not that we know. Both Nunes and Schiff deny it’s been discussed. Flyn’s lawyer doesn’t mention it. Smells like fake news. There’s so much wrong with the man, why make things up? Everyone’s salivating over potential problems he could cause for Trump, but we’ll get to that when it’s time.

Flynn Lawyer: Client Wants Assurances Against ‘Witch-Hunt’ Prosecution (USAT)

The attorney representing President Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said late Thursday that his client would not submit to questioning in the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election without protection against possible prosecution. “No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution,” attorney Robert Kelner said in a written statement. Describing his client as the target of “unsubstantiated public demands by members of congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated,” Kelner confirmed that there have been “discussions” regarding Flynn’s possible appearances before the House and Senate Intelligence committees now conducting formal inquires into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the American political system.

“Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,” Kelner said. “Out of respect for the committees, we will not comment right now on the details of discussions between counsel for Gen. Flynn and the . . . committees.” Jack Langer, spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said a deal for immunity has not been discussed. An aide to California Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s ranking Democrat, also said there had been no discussions about an immunity deal for Flynn. Earlier this week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., signaled that the committee was seeking testimony from Flynn. “You would think less of us if Gen. Flynn wasn’t on that list’’ of potential witnesses, Burr told reporters Wednesday.

Read more …

It’s gotten so out of hand you’d almost think it would be easy to mitigate.

Who Gains When Income Grows? (Tcherneva)

Growth in the US increasingly brings income inequality. A striking deterioration in this trend has occurred since the 80s, when economic recoveries delivered the vast majority of income growth to the wealthiest US households. The chart illustrates that with every postwar expansion, as the economy grew, the bottom 90% of households received a smaller and smaller share of that growth. Even though their share was falling, the majority of families still captured the majority of the income growth until the 70s. Starting in the 80s, the trend reverses sharply: as the economy recovers from recessions, the lion’s share of income growth goes to the wealthiest 10% of families. Notably, the entire 2001-2007 recovery produced almost no income growth for the bottom 90% of households and, in the first years of recovery since the 2008 Great Financial Crisis, their incomes kept falling during the expansion, delivering all benefits from growth to the wealthiest 10%. A similar trend is observed when one considers the bottom 99% and top 1%% of households.


Figure 1: bottom 90% vs. top 10%, 1949-2012 expansions (incl. capital gains)

[..] Finally, Figure 6 shows how income growth has been distributed over the different business cycles (peak to peak, i.e., including both contractions and expansions). The data for the latest cycle is incomplete, as we are still in it. The graph indicates that in the current cycle, incomes for all groups are still lower than their previous peak in 2007, however the loss is disproportionately borne by the bottom 90% of households.


Figure 6: bottom 90% vs. top 10%, 1953-2015 business cycles, (incl. capital gains)

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I made the same comparison a while back.

Puerto Rico Is Starting To Look An Awful Lot Like Greece (Setser)

About two weeks ago, Puerto Rico’s oversight board approved Puerto Rico’s revised fiscal plan. The fiscal plan is roughly the equivalent in Puerto Rico’s case of an IMF program—it sets out Puerto Rico’s plan for fiscal adjustment. Hopefully it will make Puerto Rico’s finances a bit easier to understand.* I have been a bit slow to comment on the updated fiscal plan, but wanted to offer my own take:

1) Best I can tell, the new plan has roughly 2 percentage points of GNP in fiscal adjustment in 2018 and 2019, and then a percentage point a year in 2020 and 2021. The total consolidation is close to 6% of GNP (using a GNP of around $65 billion, and netting out the impact of replacing Act 154 revenues with new tax).

2) The board adopted a more conservative baseline. Puerto Rico’s real economy is projected to contract by between 3 and 4% in 2018 and 2019 and by 1 to 2% in 2020 and 2021. I applaud the board for recognizing that the large fiscal consolidation required in 2018 and 2019 will be painful. The risks to the growth baseline—and thus to future tax revenues—should be balanced. There though is a risk that the board may still be understating the drag from consolidation. If Puerto Rico is currently shrinking by 1.5% a year without any fiscal drag, and if the multiplier is 1.5, then growth might contract by 2 to 3% in 2020 or 2021.

3) While creditors have complained that Puerto Rico isn’t doing enough, I worry that there is still too much consolidation too fast: Puerto Rico’s output is projected to fall by another 10 percentage points over the next five years, which would make Puerto Rico’s ten year economic contraction as deep as that experienced by Greece.

Read more …

“We have a comatose world economy held together by debt and central bank money..”

Former Australia PM: Neo-Liberalism Has Run Into A Dead End (SMH)

Former prime minister Paul Keating – architect of some of the most profound economic reforms in the country’s history during the 1980s – has launched a surprise critique of the liberal economic philosophy he once championed, declaring it has “run into a dead end”. Mr Keating made his remarks in response to a speech delivered by the new leader of the ACTU, Sally McManus, at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday. Ms McManus declared that “neo-liberalism” had run its course, and that experiments in privatisation had failed, slamming the government over mooted penalty rate cuts, accusing many employers of adopting “wage theft” as a business model, and declaring war on growing inequality.

“We are not saying that the people who introduced some of the policies that you could name as being neo-liberal were bad people, we are saying the experiment has run its course,” Ms McManus said, in response to questions. Earlier in her speech she had declared that “the Keating years created vast wealth for Australia but it has not been shared”. While many saw her remarks as a partial slapdown of the economic reforms of the Hawke/Keating years, Mr Keating told Fairfax Media he supported some of her assessments. “Liberal economics had [in the past] dramatically increased wealth around the world, as it had in Australia – for instance a 50% increase in real wages and a huge lift in personal wealth,” Mr Keating said.

“But since 2008, liberal economics has gone nowhere and to the extent that Sally McManus is saying this, she is right.” “We have a comatose world economy held together by debt and central bank money,” Mr Keating added.”Liberal economics has run into a dead end and has had no answer to the contemporary malaise.”

Read more …

Simple story. China and private debt.

Why Australia Hasn’t Had a Recession in Over 25 Years (BBG)

Australia is close to seizing the global crown for the longest streak of economic growth thanks to a mixture of policy guile and outrageous fortune. But the nation is creaking under the weight of its own success. While growth is being underpinned by population gains and resource exports to China, failure to spur productivity has meant stagnant living standards and electoral discontent; a property bubble fueled by record-low interest rates has driven household debt to levels that threaten financial stability; and a timid government facing political gridlock could lose the nation’s prized AAA rating as early as May because of spiraling budget deficits. Australia’s last recession – defined locally as two straight quarters of contraction – occurred in 1991 and was a devastating conclusion to eight years of reform designed to create an open, flexible and competitive economy. But it also proved cathartic, paving the way for a low-inflation, productivity-driven expansion.

As momentum started waning, China’s re-emergence as a pre-eminent global economic power sent demand for Australian resources skyrocketing, helping shield the nation from the worst of the global financial crisis. But the post-crisis return of the boom proved ephemeral, failing to boost government coffers and pushing the local currency higher, eroding competitiveness and driving another nail into the coffin of a fading manufacturing sector. [..] “There’s no country on Earth that’s derived more benefit from the rapid growth
and industrialization of China over the last 30-odd years than Australia,” said Saul Eslake, an independent economist who’s covered Australia for over three decades. “After the end of the mining-investment boom, high immigration is helping us avoid a statistical recession, but it’s also contributing to other problems” like soaring property prices and household debt.

[..] A record-low 1.5% cash rate designed to steer Australia from mining investment back toward services is creating problems of its own. Sydney house prices have more than doubled since 2009 and Melbourne’s have also soared, sending private debt to a record 187% of income. The RBA frets that anemic wage growth will force heavily indebted households to slash consumption, which could prove disastrous given their spending accounts for more than half of GDP. Australia’s banking regulator further tightened lending curbs Friday to try to cool investor demand for residential property that’s helped drive up prices. Data released hours later showed investor lending increased 6.7% in February from a year earlier, the fastest growth in 12 months.

[..] iron ore prices have more than halved since 2011, when the local dollar hit a post-float record of $1.10. The Aussie would hover at or above parity with the greenback for the next two years. The currency’s strength then saw off the car industry: two of the three manufacturers in 2013 said they were quitting Australia, with the last following suit the next year. While the currency would eventually retreat to the 70s, the damage had been done. Worse still, the trillion-dollar windfall from the boom had been spent, not saved, leaving no cash to plug yawning budget deficits or build much-needed infrastructure for an expanding population that would also support growth.

Read more …

Right. No crisis in 25 years.

Why Australia Is Addicted To Interest-Only Loans (AFR)

When the head of one of America’s largest real estate firms was shown a chart tracking the rising share of interest-only loans in Australia, he gasped in horror. As a man that has “seen many cycles”, he told an Australian bank investor that a rise in interest-only loans was a classic indicator of a dangerously over-heating market. Friday’s move by the prudential regulator to combat the rise of interest-only loans shows they tend to agree with that assessment. High but rising household debt levels, elevated property prices and ultra low interest rates has made Australian Prudential Regulation Authority Wayne Byres decidedly uneasy about the nation’s preference not to repay their loans but simply service the interest.

They have therefore told the banks that less than 30% of new mortgages can be “interest only” – which is substantially below the last reported figure of 38% of total loans. In fact, the percentage of interest-only loans has not been below 30% since 2008. And while many would dismiss comparisons between the rise of interest only lending in Australia and the teaser rate loans that lured in sub-prime borrowers in the US ahead of its 2008 housing crash, a market propped up by artificially low borrowing rates is a recipe for disaster. Australia is of course different and there have been unique forces that have fuelled our historic addiction to interest-only loans. The first is a hot-button issue – negative gearing. Since Australia’s tax code allows households to tax deduct interest payments on investor loans, the incentive is to opt for interest only loans.

It’s in the investment lending area where interest only loans are most prevalent. The banks are also aware that most interest only loans are to investors that own two or more properties and are managing their overall cash flows by servicing the interest. In fact, interest only loans reached a peak of 45% of new loans in 2014 before APRA’s 10% cap on investor lending was introduced. That coincided with a decline to an average of around 35%. The other driver behind the rise of interest only loans has been the mortgage broking industry – which intermediates about half of all loans by the big banks.

Read more …

For once he’s joking and they take him serious. When Juncker says he’s “..going to promote the independence of Austin, Texas..”, He doesn’t mean he’s literally going to do it.

Juncker In Jaw-Dropping Threat To Trump Over Support For Brexit (Exp.)

EU boss Jean-Claude Juncker this afternoon issued a jaw-dropping threat to the United States, saying he could campaign to break up the country in revenge for Donald Trump’s supportive comments about Brexit. In an extraordinary speech the EU Commission president said he would push for Ohio and Texas to split from the rest of America if the Republican president does not change his tune and become more supportive of the EU. The remarks are diplomatic dynamite at a time when relations between Washington and Brussels are already strained over Europe’s meagre contributions to NATO and the US leader’s open preference for dealing with national governments. They are by far the most outspoken intervention any senior EU figure has made about Mr Trump and are likely to dismay some European leaders who were hoping to seek a policy of rapprochement with their most important ally.

Speaking at the centre-right European People Party’s (EPP) annual conference in Malta this afternoon, the EU Commission boss did not hold back in his disdain for the White House chief’s eurosceptic views. He said: “Brexit isn’t the end. A lot of people would like it that way, even people on another continent where the newly elected US President was happy that the Brexit was taking place and has asked other countries to do the same. “If he goes on like that I am going to promote the independence of Ohio and Austin, Texas in the US.” Mr Juncker’s comments did not appear to be made in jest and were delivered in a serious tone, although one journalist did report some “chuckles” in the audience and hinted the EU boss may have been joking. The remarks came in the middle of an angry speech in which the top eurocrat railed widely against critics of the EU Commission.

[..] Mr Juncker did not criticise Britain at all during his speech, and only made reference to Brexit in relation to Mr Trump and the opportunities it presents for Europe to reform itself. However his conservative colleague Antonio Tajani, the EU Parliament president, received a rapturous ovation as he launched an impassioned defence of Europe’s “Christian values”. In a series of thinly veiled comments about immigration, a major political issue in his homeland and Malta, the Italian official said Europe should do more to defend its historic identity. He said: “We shouldn’t be ashamed of saying we’re Christian. We’re Christian, it is our history. “If we leave our identity we will have in Europe all identities but not European identities. For this we need to strengthen our identity.”

Read more …

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The European Central Bank Doesn’t Understand The Economy (Steve Keen)

In 1992, Wynne Godley predicted that the Euro would amplify any future economic downturn into a crisis: ” If a country or region has no power to devalue, and if it is not the beneficiary of a system of fiscal equalisation, then there is nothing to stop it suffering a process of cumulative and terminal decline leading, in the end, to emigration as the only alternative to poverty or starvation…”

Read more …

It’s inconvenient with the threat of elections and Beppe Grillo surging in the polls. And even without Beppe Italy is a huge threat to the EU economy.

Why Italy’s Banking Crisis Has Gone Off the Radar (DQ)

[..] an article published in the financial section of Italian daily Il Sole lays out just how serious the situation has become. According to new research by Italian investment bank Mediobanca, 114 of the close to 500 banks in Italy have “Texas Ratios” of over 100%. The Texas Ratio, or TR, is calculated by dividing the total value of a bank’s non-performing loans by its tangible book value plus reserves – or as American money manager Steve Eisman put it, “all the bad stuff divided by the money you have to pay for all the bad stuff.” If the TR is over 100%, the bank doesn’t have enough money “pay for all the bad stuff.” Hence, banks tend to fail when the ratio surpasses 100%. In Italy there are 114 of them. Of them, 24 have ratios of over 200%.

Granted, many of the banks in question are small local or regional savings banks with tens or hundreds of millions of euros in assets. These are not systemically important institutions and can be resolved without causing disturbances to the broader system. But the list also includes many of Italy’s biggest banks which certainly are systemically important to Italy, some of which have Texas Ratios of over 200%. Top of the list, predictably, is Monte dei Paschi di Siena, with €169 billion in assets and a TR of 269%. Next up is Veneto Banca, with €33 billion in assets and a TR of 239%. This is the bank that, together with Banco Popolare di Vicenza (assets: €39 billion, TR: 210%), was supposed to have been saved last year by an intervention from government-sponsored, privately funded bank bailout fund Atlante, but which now urgently requires more public funds. Their combined assets place them seventh on the list of Italy’s largest banks.

Some experts, including the U.S. bank hired last year to save MPS, JP Morgan Chase, have warned that Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca will not be eligible for a bailout since they are not regarded as systemically important enough. This prompted investors to remove funds from the banks, further exacerbating their financial woes. According to sources in Rome, the two banks’ failure would send shock waves through the wider Italian financial industry. [..] almost all of Italy’s largest banking groups, with the exception of Unicredit, Intesa Sao Paolo and Mediobanca itself, have Texas Ratios well in excess of 100%. But, as Eisman recently pointed out, the two largest banks, Unicredit and Intesa Sanpaolo, have TRs of over 90%. As long as the other banks continue to languish in their current zombified state, they will continue to drag down the two bigger banks. And if either Unicredit or Intesa begin to wobble, the bets are off.

Read more …

“Land-based species are moving polewards by an average of 17km per decade, and marine species by 72km per decade..”

Global Reshuffle Of Wildlife Will Have Huge Impacts On Humanity (G.)

Rising temperatures on land and sea are increasingly forcing species to migrate to cooler climes, pushing disease-carrying insects into new areas, moving the pests that attack crops and shifting the pollinators that fertilise many of them, an international team of scientists has said. They warn that some movements will damage important industries, such as forestry and tourism, and that tensions are emerging between nations over shifting natural resources, such as fish stocks. The mass migration of species now underway around the planet can also amplify climate change as, for example, darker vegetation grows to replace sun-reflecting snow fields in the Arctic. “Human survival, for urban and rural communities, depends on other life on Earth,” the experts write in their analysis published in the journal Science. “Climate change is impelling a universal redistribution of life on Earth.”

This mass movement of species is the biggest for about 25,000 years, the peak of the last ice age, say the scientists, who represent more than 40 institutions around the world. [..] “Land-based species are moving polewards by an average of 17km per decade, and marine species by 72km per decade” said Prof Gretta Pecl at the University of Tasmania in Australia, who led the new analysis. There are many documented examples of individual species migrating in response to global warming and some examples of extinctions. But Pecl said: “Our study demonstrates how these changes are affecting ecosystems, human health and culture in the process.” The most direct impact on humans is the movement of insects that carry diseases, such as the mosquitoes that transmit malaria shifting to new areas as they warm and where people may have little immunity.

Another example is the northward spread in Europe and North America of the animal ticks that spread Lyme disease: the UK has seen a tenfold rise in cases since 2001 as winters become milder. Food production is also being affected as crops have to be moved to cooler areas to survive, such as coffee, which will need to be grown at higher, cooler altitudes, causing deep disruption to a global industry. The pests of crops will also move, as will their natural predators, such as insects, birds, frogs and mammals. Other resources are being affected, with a third of the land used for forestry in Europe set to become unuseable for valuable timber trees in the coming decades. Important fish stocks are migrating towards the poles in search of cooler waters, with the mackerel caught in Iceland jumping from 1,700 tonnes in 2006 to 120,000 tonnes in 2010…

Read more …

Another ‘species’ on the move.

More Than 5 Million Syrian Refugees In Neighbouring Countries Now (G.)

The number of refugees who have fled Syria for neighbouring countries has topped five million people for the first time since the civil war began six years ago, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Half of Syria’s 22 million population has been uprooted by a conflict that has now lasted longer than the second world war, the figures released by the UNHCR show, with 6.3 million people who are still inside the country’s borders forced from their homes. The figure of five million refugees “fails to account for the 1.2 million people seeking safety in Europe”, the International Rescue Committee, an aid organisation, noted. Nearly 270,000 of these applied for asylum in Germany last year. The UN agency urged Europeans not to “put humanity on a ballot” in elections in France and Germany this year, where far-right candidates opposed to refugee arrivals could make gains.

A surge in violence in Aleppo, as government forces backed by Russian airstrikes retook Syria’s second city at the end of 2016, resulted in 47,000 people fleeing to neighbouring Turkey, it said. Camps for internally displaced people close to the Turkish border also hold those who have fled the fighting in northern Syria. The latest arrivals into Turkey mean the number of Syrians who have fled the country for neighbouring states stands at more than five million, four years after the UNHCR announced that one million people had fled. The five million figure includes refugees who have been resettled in Europe, but the UN high commissioner for refugees urged Europeans to do more to help share a burden that is still largely falling on countries bordering Syria, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, with more in Iraq and Egypt.

Turkey alone has nearly three million Syrians, the UNHCR pointed out. In Jordan, 657,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the UN, but the government says the true figure is 1.3 million. Tens of thousands of Syrians live in two large camps, Zaatari and Azraq, but the majority live in homes and flats, able to access the job market but competing for scarce employment.

Read more …

Mar 292017
 
 March 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dismantling clock outside Daily Telegraph building, Fleet Street, London, 1930

 

Jim Rogers Says Fed Has No Clue, Will ‘Ruin Us All’ (BBG)
Article 50: British PM May Signs Letter That Will Trigger Brexit (BBC)
Scottish Parliament Votes For Second Independence Referendum (G.)
Why Brexit Is Best for Britain: The Left-Wing Case (NYT)
ECB Needs Democratic Oversight If The Euro Is To Survive (TI)
12 People, Things That Ruined The EU (Pol.)
Le Pen Victory Five Times As Dangerous As Greek Meltdown – UBS (CNBC)
China Is Desperately Trying To Save A Too Big To Fail Dairy Company (Qz)
Huishan Dairy Turmoil Highlights China’s $8 Trillion Shadow Loan Risk (BBG)
Hong Kong Underground Banks Cash In On Flood Of Money Out Of China (BBG)
A World Without Retirement (G.)
Germany Questions Erdogan’s Turkey ‘Coup’ Narrative (BBC)
Central Europe’s Leaders Reject EU’s Relocation Of Refugees (AP)

 

 

Just so you know. Motorcycle Boy.

Jim Rogers Says Fed Has No Clue, Will ‘Ruin Us All’ (BBG)

Jim Rogers, chairman at Rogers Holdings, explains what the Federal Reserve did wrong in response to the financial crisis and how their mistakes spread to global central banks. Jane Foley, senior FX strategist at Rabobank, joins the conversation with Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

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Nothing to fear but…

Article 50: British PM May Signs Letter That Will Trigger Brexit (BBC)

Theresa May has signed the letter that will formally begin the UK’s departure from the European Union. Giving official notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it will be delivered to European Council president Donald Tusk later. In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister will then tell MPs this marks “the moment for the country to come together”. It follows June’s referendum which resulted in a vote to leave the EU. Mrs May’s letter will be delivered at 12:30 BST on Wednesday by the British ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow. The prime minister, who will chair a cabinet meeting in the morning, will then make a statement to MPs confirming the countdown to the UK’s departure from the EU is under way.

She will promise to “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” during the negotiations – including EU nationals, whose status after Brexit has yet to be settled. “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country,” she will say. “For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can – and must – bring us together.” Attempting to move on from the divisions of June’s referendum, Mrs May will add: “We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. “And, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together.”


Guardian front page today. Got to wonder why they left off Greece.

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How many referendums will it take in the end?

Scottish Parliament Votes For Second Independence Referendum (G.)

Nicola Sturgeon has won a key Holyrood vote on her plans for a second independence referendum, triggering accusations from UK ministers that her demands are premature. Sturgeon won by a 10-vote majority after the Scottish Greens backed her proposals to formally request from the UK government the powers to stage a fresh independence vote at around the time Britain leaves the EU, in spring 2019. She is due to write to Theresa May later this week, asking for Westminster to hand Holyrood the temporary powers to stage the referendum under a section 30 order. She said she would avoid writing until the prime minister had invoked article 50 to trigger the Brexit process, which she is expected to do on Wednesday. “It is not my intention to do so confrontationally, instead I only seek sensible discussion,” Sturgeon told MSPs.

The vote, which split the Scottish parliament cleanly between pro- and anti-independence parties, deepened the dispute between the two governments over both the need for and the timing of the vote. David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, told the BBC the answer to Sturgeon’s request would be no. “We won’t be entering any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete,” he said. “Now is the time for the Scottish government to come together with the UK government, work together to get the best possible deal for the UK, and that means Scotland, as we leave the EU.” Mundell rejected Sturgeon’s claims that May had told her the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU and its new trade deal would be clear in about 18 months. Sturgeon said that timeframe matched her preference for a referendum just as the UK quits the EU in March 2019. He said it was too early to say how quickly a Brexit deal could be concluded or whether transitional arrangements were needed.

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“We don’t change our position according to elections..”

Why Brexit Is Best for Britain: The Left-Wing Case (NYT)

Ms. Watkins is a “Lexiteer,” as left-wing supporters of ‘Brexit’ like me are known. We were hardly a significant force among the 52% of Britons who voted to leave in the referendum of June 23. But we were an influence. A counterweight to the anti-immigrant fear mongering of the former leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, Lexiteers argued a left-wing, democratic and internationalist case for Brexit. The position was expressed crisply by Perry Anderson, the former longtime editor of New Left Review: “The E.U. is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”

Although Lexiteers have little patience for the national nihilism of “Davos Man,” the globalist elite, we are no xenophobes. We voted Leave because we believe it is essential to preserve the two things we value most: a democratic political system and a social-democratic society. We fear that the European Union’s authoritarian project of neoliberal integration is a breeding ground for the far right. By sealing off so much policy, including the imposition of long-term austerity measures and mass immigration, from the democratic process, the union has broken the contract between mainstream national politicians and their voters. This has opened the door to right-wing populists who claim to represent “the people,” already angry at austerity, against the immigrant.

It was the free-market economist Friedrich Hayek, the intellectual architect of neoliberalism, who called in 1939 for “interstate federalism” in Europe to prevent voters from using democracy to interfere with the operation of the free market. Simply put, as Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission (the union’s executive body), did: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” The union’s structures and treaties are designed accordingly. The European Commission is appointed, not elected, and it is proudly unaccountable to any electorate. “We don’t change our position according to elections” was how the commission’s vice president Jyrki Katainen greeted the victory of the anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece in 2015.

The European Parliament is not a real parliament. It is not a legislature; its deputies neither offer manifestoes nor carry out the ideas they propose to voters. Elections in improbably large constituencies, with pitifully low turnouts, change nothing. As a Parliament staff member said at the European Research Seminar at the London School of Economics, “The only people who listen to M.E.P.s are the interpreters,” referring to the members of the Parliament. The European Council, an intergovernmental body where decisive legislative power actually lies, especially for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, comprises member countries’ heads of state, who generally meet just four times a year. They are not directly elected by the inhabitants of the nations whose fate they decide. As for the union principle of “subsidiarity,” a supposed preference for decentralized governance, it is ignored in all practical matters.


Oh, those days of innocence …

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Fine, but who’s going to do it? The ECB is independent?!

ECB Needs Democratic Oversight If The Euro Is To Survive (TI)

The ECB urgently needs to increase democratic oversight and accountability if the euro is to survive the next crisis, according to a new report on the Bank’s governance by Transparency International EU entitled “Two sides of the same coin? Independence and accountability at the ECB”. The report finds that a lack of political leadership and decisive reform has led the ECB to stray into the area of political decision-making, without appropriate democratic scrutiny. This has been accompanied by a marked decline in public trust at a time when the ECB has been granted extensive new powers to supervise major European banks.

“While the ECB has saved the single currency more than once, the absence of a Eurozone finance ministry as counterpart to the ECB means that the Bank has had to stretch its mandate to breaking point,” said Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at Transparency International EU. “If the euro is to survive the next crisis, then EU Member States need to stop hiding behind the technocrats at the ECB, overcome political inertia and get serious about reforming the Eurozone”, continued Hoffmann-Axthelm. The report finds that preserving the ECB’s independence limits its accountability to citizens, and recommends that the Bank should compensate this by increasing its transparency. The ECB should take immediate steps, such as automatically publishing its decisions and opinions and being more open about the political choices it faces, rather than insisting its decisions are purely technical.

For example, at the height of the Greece crisis in 2015 the ECB repeatedly limited the ceiling on Emergency Liquidity Assistance for the country’s banks without publicly announcing it. The ECB’s discretionary powers allowed it to put pressure on Greek banks while negotiating bailout reforms with the Greek government as part of the Troika of international creditors. Similar dynamics could play out in the upcoming negotiations with Greece, and with the current recapitalisation of Italian lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which threaten the Eurozone’s current fragile stability, according to the group. “Clearly decisions which affect the fate of whole economies should have some kind of democratic oversight. The ECB should not be in a position to pull the plug on a country’s euro membership, a decision ultimately down to democratically elected politicians”, said Hoffmann-Axthelm.

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An entertaining and educational list.

12 People, Things That Ruined The EU (Pol.)

Last weekend, European leaders gathered in Rome for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. They discussed, not for the first time, how to get the EU back on track. And they told each other they are still committed to the Union and believe in its future. (We’ve heard that one before, too.) But let’s just suppose that, when the European leaders sat down for lunch at the Quirinal Palace, some of them had a little too much of the pinot grigio and waxed nostalgic about the days when the idea of a united Europe was still young and promising and beautiful. And then they talked about this week and how British Prime Minister Theresa May would send her goodbye letter and they started slurring their words, saying Grexit, Brexit, Frexit, and they finally admitted to each other that something has gone horribly wrong. When they stood up and got ready to leave, they were devastated, saying to each other: “Good God, how did it come this and, more importantly, who is to blame?” We’ve gathered a dozen suggestions.

1. Zeus Whenever Europe is in trouble, its advocates claim the EU lacks a proper narrative. The whole idea of an “ever-closer union” is still a fine one, they argue, and the only thing that’s needed for people to understand it is a memorable story. The most memorable story about Europe, of course, is the one about Zeus. The Greek God disguised himself as a white bull in order to approach a beautiful girl called Europa. When Europa, perhaps naively, climbed on his back, the God-turned-bull abducted and ravished her. No need to take the story too literally when analyzing the EU’s current malaise (no white bulls there). But it is good to keep in mind that Europe’s founding myth doesn’t exactly bode well for its future. If negative narratives about the EU seem to resonate far more than positive ones, maybe it’s because the Greek gods loaded the dice.

2. Edith Cresson Going straight from Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus, to good old Edith Cresson may seem a bit of a stretch. But as a strong contender for the title of worst European commissioner ever, the Frenchwoman does have a claim to fame, too. In the early 1990s, Cresson was a French prime minister who quickly fell out of favor and was forced to resign after less than a year in office. That apparently qualified her for a high-powered job in Brussels. As commissioner for science, research and development, Cresson famously paid her dentist to be a scientific adviser. In 1999, allegations of fraud intended to target Cresson ended up bringing down the entire Commission. To put it crudely: Cresson did to the EU what Zeus did to Europa.

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Le Pen won’t ruin the EU. That’s already been done.

Le Pen Victory Five Times As Dangerous As Greek Meltdown – UBS (CNBC)

Europe could be on track to encounter a shock wave up to five times as turbulent as the start of the euro zone debt crisis if French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was able to secure victory in May, according to a team of UBS analysts. Strategists at the Swiss banking giant stressed the prominence of the anti-immigration and anti-European Union National Front leader meant France’s fast approaching general election would be the most serious political risk event in the region this year. Le Pen, who leads in the latest opinion polls, has vowed to renegotiate the terms of France’s membership of the EU and ditch the single currency if elected as the country’s new premier in just over two months’ time.

“The systemic importance of France for the European project is such that the margin for damage limitation may well be a lot thinner than has been the case in Greece in the past or could be the case for Spain or Italy even,” UBS analysts said in a note. The bank predicted the shock of a Le Pen victory on sovereign spreads could be as dramatic as when Spain and Italy appeared to be on the brink of financial collapse in 2012. UBS forecast a move of up to 500 basis points in sovereign spreads if Le Pen entered the Élysée Palace in early May. In comparison to a peripheral economy such as Greece, when Athens was on the brink of financial collapse in 2010, sovereign spreads widened by around 100 basis points. “It is certainly arguable that risks to the euro zone’s cohesion emanating from the core are by definition more severe and harder to diffuse than those emanating from the periphery,” UBS analysts added.

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A curious case. Shares fell 85% (indefinite trading halt) and nobody seems to know why.

China Is Desperately Trying To Save A Too Big To Fail Dairy Company (Qz)

A mysterious collapse in a Chinese dairy maker’s shares last week has renewed fears that China’s financial system is so shaky that authorities can do nothing but to muddle through a credit crunch. Shares of China Huishan Dairy Holdings plunged 85% in an hour on March 24, wiping more than $4 billion from its market value. The crash, the biggest-ever intraday fall in Hong Kong, prompted an indefinite trading halt. It also caused collateral damage to firms linked to the Liaoning-based company, which has more than 11,600 employees and operates the largest number of dairy farms in China. Market observers are still trying to figure out what exactly triggered the sudden sell-off. A company statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange March 28 unearthed at least part of the mystery.

In its first public comments since the stock crash, Huishan confirmed media reports that it had missed interest payments to its creditors, and that on March 23 the Liaoning provincial government held a meeting with the company and its 20-plus creditor banks to discuss remedies. According to the statement, the Liaoning government proposed an “action plan” to solve any overdue interest payments within two weeks and to help improve Huishan’s liquidity position within a month. Some creditors—including Bank of China and Jilin Jiutai Rural Commercial Bank—pledged in the meeting that they “would continue to have confidence in the Group [Huishan] which has over 60 years of operating history,” said the statement. The company also dismissed previous reports that it had issued fake invoices, and that chairman and controlling shareholder Yang Kai had misappropriated funds to invest in real estate in Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital.

The statement confirmed that Yang’s wife Ge Kun, who is also an executive director in charge of relationships with the company’s principal bankers, has been out of contact since March 21, the same day that Yang learned of the late payments. Financial news outlet Caixin revealed more details (link in Chinese) about the bailout package, based on an interview with creditor Hongling Capital head Zhou Shiping, who was at the March 23 meeting. The Liaoning government will pay over 90 million yuan ($13 million) for land owned by Huishan to inject cash into the company. It also ordered financial institutions involved not to downgrade the company’s credit rating or file lawsuits against it.

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Huishan is a bunch of highly leveraged shadow cows.

Huishan Dairy Turmoil Highlights China’s $8 Trillion Shadow Loan Risk (BBG)

Turmoil at a small Chinese dairy company is shedding rare light on the final destination for some of the country’s estimated $8 trillion of shadow banking loans. Jilin Jiutai Rural Commercial Bank, a major creditor to embattled China Huishan Dairy., said late Tuesday it has extended a total of 1.35 billion yuan ($196 million) in credit to the dairy producer, including 750 million yuan through the purchase of investment receivables from a finance lease company. Investment receivables – a category that can include using wealth-management products, asset-management plans and trust-beneficiary rights to disguise what are in effect loans – allow banks to reduce the amount of cash they need to set aside for capital and provisions for loan losses.

The practice of recording loan-type exposures on balance sheets under categories including investment receivables has allowed hundreds of smaller Chinese banks to boost assets and profits. At the same time, it has created opaque risks that could lead to failures, bailouts or liquidity shocks with the potential to jolt national and global markets. The external public relations agency for Jiutai didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment. The bank doesn’t appear to have broken any disclosure rules on its receivables. China’s shadow banking system could lead to losses of $375 billion, CLSA estimated in September. The brokerage said such financing expanded at an annual 30% pace from 2011 through 2015 to reach 54 trillion yuan, or 79% of the nation’s GDP. But details have rarely surfaced on the specifics of individual shadow banking arrangements.

“Chinese banks are lending more and more money to companies in recent years through investment receivables, partly to circumvent regulatory or internal rules,” said Yulia Wan, a Shanghai-based banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Lenders don’t disclose enough information about where the money goes, according to Wan. In addition, the banks usually don’t provision enough for such exposures, and they fund the transactions through short-term borrowing from other financial institutions, Wan said. “This practice poses risks to both investors and banks themselves.”

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People will find a way. And then so will the money.

Hong Kong Underground Banks Cash In On Flood Of Money Out Of China (BBG)

Business is good, but Dickson Chan is worried. The Hong Kong money changer saw remittances from mainland China increase by 10% to 20% last month from the end of 2016, yet he is not sure how long the operation can last. The company he works for, Professional Foreign Currency Exchange, helps clients move cash between China and Hong Kong with a bank account in each place by squaring opposing transactions. “Now people feel that the Chinese government may tighten capital controls further and it wants more yuan depreciation, so many clients want to transfer money to Hong Kong more quickly,” Chan said from his store, located in the basement of a drab mall in Causeway Bay, the world’s second-priciest retail district. “We’re worried the Chinese government will introduce some regulations to ban this business, so now although we’re still doing it, we’re trying to raise revenues from other currencies.”

The fate of Hong Kong’s money changers shows both the reach of Chinese authorities, and the limits to their power. While a determined crackdown could kill the industry, such a response would risk spooking China’s citizens and exacerbating outflow pressures. The exodus of funds from Asia’s largest economy has spurred three years of yuan depreciation that at times roiled global markets and influenced monetary policies worldwide, and pushed up asset prices in cities from Hong Kong to Vancouver. An estimated $1.8 trillion has left Asia’s largest economy from the start of 2015 through January 2017, as the yuan lost almost 10% and returns on onshore assets dropped amid slowing economic growth. To stem the flows, the authorities have tightened capital curbs, stepping up scrutiny of residents’ foreign-currency purchases and limiting insurance buying in Hong Kong.Money changers in Hong Kong provide ways to sidestep such restrictions.

Once the cash reaches the semi-autonomous Chinese city, which has no capital controls, it can go almost anywhere. Hong Kong’s shopping districts are dotted with money changers advertising their remittance services and yuan conversion rates in simplified Chinese characters typically used on the mainland. There are 1,891 licensed money operators in the city, Hong Kong customs data show. Money changers or remittance firms need to obtain a license from the government, which requires the companies to conduct customer due diligence and keep records. As part of a sweeping effort to contain outflows, just before the new year, Chinese regulators boosted disclosure requirements for citizens converting yuan into foreign exchange — while retaining the $50,000 annual quota. Authorities busted at least 380 cases of major underground banking involving more than 900 billion yuan ($131 billion) of funds last year.

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A bit shaky in predictions etc., but this is very much is where we’re going. Retirement was an anomaly.

A World Without Retirement (G.)

We are entering the age of no retirement. The journey into that chilling reality is not a long one: the first generation who will experience it are now in their 40s and 50s. They grew up assuming they could expect the kind of retirement their parents enjoyed – stopping work in their mid-60s on a generous income, with time and good health enough to fulfil long-held dreams. For them, it may already be too late to make the changes necessary to retire at all. In 2010, British women got their state pension at 60 and men got theirs at 65. By October 2020, both sexes will have to wait until they are 66. By 2028, the age will rise again, to 67. And the creep will continue. By the early 2060s, people will still be working in their 70s, but according to research, we will all need to keep working into our 80s if we want to enjoy the same standard of retirement as our parents.

This is what a world without retirement looks like. Workers will be unable to down tools, even when they can barely hold them with hands gnarled by age-related arthritis. The raising of the state retirement age will create a new social inequality. Those living in areas in which the average life expectancy is lower than the state retirement age (south-east England has the highest average life expectancy, Scotland the lowest) will subsidise those better off by dying before they can claim the pension they have contributed to throughout their lives. In other words, wealthier people become beneficiaries of what remains of the welfare state. Retirement is likely to be sustained in recognisable form in the short and medium term. Looming on the horizon, however, is a complete dismantling of this safety net.

For those of pensionable age who cannot afford to retire, but cannot continue working – because of poor health, or ageing parents who need care, or because potential employers would rather hire younger workers – the great progress Britain has made in tackling poverty among the elderly over the last two decades will be reversed. This group is liable to suffer the sort of widespread poverty not seen in Britain for 30 to 40 years. Many now in their 20s will be unable to save throughout their youth and middle age because of increasingly casualised employment, student debt and rising property prices. By the time they are old, members of this new generation of poor pensioners are liable to be, on average, far worse off than the average poor pensioner today.

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The strongest wording I’ve seen to date.

Germany Questions Erdogan’s Turkey ‘Coup’ Narrative (BBC)

German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere has said Turkey will not be allowed to spy on Turks living in Germany. Reports say the head of Turkey’s intelligence service handed a list of people suspected of opposition sympathies to his German counterpart. The list is said to include surveillance photos and personal data. Germany and other EU states have banned local rallies in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish ministers have been seeking to campaign among ethnic Turks in a referendum on 16 April on increasing his powers. Some 41,000 people have been arrested in Turkey since a coup was defeated in July of last year.

According to Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and several public broadcasters, the head of Turkey’s intelligence service MIT, Hakan Fidan, handed Bruno Kahl a list of 300 individuals and 200 organisations thought to be linked to the Gulen movement at a security conference in Munich in February The apparent aim was to persuade Germany’s authorities to help their Turkish counterparts but the result was that the individuals were warned not to travel to Turkey or visit Turkish diplomatic addresses within Germany, home to 1.4 million voters eligible to vote in the referendum. Mr De Maiziere said the reports were unsurprising.

“We have repeatedly told Turkey that something like this is unacceptable,” he said. “No matter what position someone may have on the Gulen movement, here German jurisdiction applies and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries.” [..] “Outside Turkey I don’t think anyone believes that the Gulen movement was behind the attempted putsch,” said German spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen. “At any rate I don’t know anyone outside Turkey who has been convinced by the Turkish government.” And Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius went further, saying, “We have to say very clearly that it involves a fear of conspiracy you can class as paranoid.”

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And Brussels is toothless. But it will all come down on Greece anyway, so why bother?

Central Europe’s Leaders Reject EU’s Relocation Of Refugees (AP)

Leaders from Central Europe said Tuesday they reject a European Union policy that calls for all member states to receive migrants, protesting suggestions that the level of their compliance could be linked to the availability of EU funds to them. A meeting in Warsaw of the so-called Visegrad Group brought together Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and her counterparts from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic for talks including EUs migrant policies and a plan of sharing some 160,000 migrants among member states to ease the migrant wave pressure on Greece and Italy.

The EU recently warned of financial consequences to those who do not comply. Central European leaders said they reject the relocation plan and will not yield under the financial pressure, which they called an attempt at blackmail. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country was further sealing its borders and tightening regulations to block access to any more migrants. The Visegrad Group aspires to have a greater role in EU policies while at the same time makes a point of criticizing the bloc’s decisions. [AP]

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Mar 282017
 
 March 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 28 2017
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Dorothea Lange Abandoned cafe in Carey, Texas 1937

 

A Nation of Landowners – But For How Long? (M.)
Middle-Class, Even Wealthy Americans Sliding Inexorably Into The Red (MW)
Italy’s Monte Paschi Bailout Has Some ECB Supervisors Grumbling
NY Fed: “Oil Prices Fell Due To Weakening Demand” (ZH)
Why Did Preet Bharara Refuse to Drain the Wall Street Swamp? (Bill Black)
A Detailed “Roadmap” For Meeting The Paris Climate Goals (Vox)
In UK Access To Justice Is No Longer A Right, But A Luxury (G.)
The Curse of the Thinking Class (Jim Kunstler)
Tensions Flare As Greece Tells Turkey It Is Ready To Answer Any Provocation (G.)
Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power (BBG)
Tillerson Will Not Meet Turkey Opposition In Ankara Visit This Week (R.)
Troika Pushes Greece To Sell Up To 40% Of State-Controlled Power Utility (R.)
Fraport Greece Signs Funding Deal With 5 Lenders (K.)
Contraction Of Credit Continues Unabated In Greece (K.)
Mikis Theodorakis: ‘In Tough Times, Greeks Become Heroes or Slaves’ (GR)
Nearly 1,200 Migrants Picked Up Off Libya, Heading To Italy (R.)
Italy Calls For Investigation Of NGO Supported Migrant Fleet (Dm.)

 

 

“To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”

A Nation of Landowners – But For How Long? (M.)

Land occupies a unique position in the economy because it is essential for any activity and, given its fixed supply, an increase in demand for it can only increase its price. Meanwhile finance, which facilitates that demand, has been available in ever-greater abundance since the deregulation of mortgage lending in the 1970s and 1980s. The interaction between the inelastic supply of land and the highly elastic supply of mortgage lending lies at the heart of the house price boom over the past few decades. But while the finance part of the story is relatively new (before the 1970s mortgages were harder to get and lending restricted by the conservative practices of the building societies), the land question has been around for centuries.

Ever since Henry VIII seized the monastery lands in the early 16th century a market has been evolving in land as a privately-owned tradable commodity. What is crucial to the contemporary housing debate, and what this book illustrates brilliantly, is how the control of land is, or has at least been allowed to become, fundamental to economic and political power relations. Because land is permanent and immovable, those who own the exclusive rights to its use are able to siphon off the value of any economic output that is dependent on it. The value of a piece of land therefore reflects the level of activity conducted on or around it, as well as any speculation arising from expectations about its potential future use. This price does not reflect the efforts or ingenuity of its owner, and so it does not reward productive activity but rather penalises it in the form of rent.

This ability of landowners to extract economic rent from productive activity, or the unearned increment, was once at the centre of political discourse. It was an issue that troubled classical economists ranging from Adam Smith to Karl Marx. As the industrial revolution advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries, productivity levels improved, and so the owners of land began to enjoy the fruits of the community’s labour. A land reform movement gathered momentum towards the late 19th century and the writings of the American economist Henry George advocating a land value tax attracted a following. In 1909, a young Winston Churchill (then 35, and a Liberal) decried the land monopolist’s free ride in what remains one of the best descriptions of the dilemma:

“Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”

Churchill was careful to stress that it was the system he was attacking not the landowner himself (‘We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law’). But the law was as it was because landowners controlled parliament and indeed the Liberals’ plan for a land value tax in the People’s Budget, in support of which Churchill had been speaking, was thrown out by the House of Lords.

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How to kill a city part 832.

Middle-Class, Even Wealthy Americans Sliding Inexorably Into The Red (MW)

Not even a high six-figure salary is enough to keep New York City families out of the red. But spare a thought for the average American family, whose costs easily outpace the average income. A recent analysis from Sam Dogen at his personal finance website Financial Samurai showed how difficult it is for high earners to escape the rat race in New York City, one of the priciest places to live in the world. He analyzed a mock budget for an imaginary family of four in which the two 35-year-old breadwinners each make $250,000 a year. After factoring in taxes, 401(k)contributions, home and child care costs, the family was left with just $7,300 for the year — as if they were living “paycheck to paycheck.”

Perhaps nobody is crying for lawyers making $500,000 a year or even $250,000, but the analysis shows just how easy it is for spending habits to take a high salary and turn it into table scraps. Dogen said pressure from peers to spend more is a big contributing factor, adding “everywhere I go, and I’ve been all over the world, high income earners are secretly feeling the same squeeze.” “They are unhappy, getting divorces, and always comparing themselves to wealthier and wealthier people,” he said. “Heck, even a friend who is worth over $200 million after founding and taking public a company feels like he needs to continue working because he has to ‘keep up with the Zuckerbergs.’”

So how would the average American family fare by the same lifestyle? MarketWatch crunched the numbers and found they would be racking up approximately $27,000 in debt a year if they spent the average of what Americans spend on the same activities. This vast difference in economic stability comes even after adjusting for cheaper housing costs and lowering the number of vacations to one a year — the average in the U.S.

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Beware of any central bank announcements made the day after Christmas.

Italy’s Monte Paschi Bailout Has Some ECB Supervisors Grumbling

When the European Central Bank declared Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena solvent last December, the first step toward a state-funded rescue, some members of the 19-nation Supervisory Board weren’t fully on board. Confronted with what they saw as a political agreement to bail out the world’s oldest lender, dissenters went along with the consensus despite their concerns about the bank’s health…[..] To make sense of the Monte Paschi debate, you have to start with a 2014 law known as the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, which sets out the EU’s bank-failure rules. The law assumes that if a firm needs “extraordinary public financial support,” this indicates that it’s failing and should be wound down. In that process, investors including senior bondholders can be forced to take losses.

An exception, known as a precautionary recapitalization, is allowed for solvent banks if a long list of conditions is met. As the name suggests, this tool isn’t intended to clear up a bank’s existing problems, such as Monte Paschi’s mountain of soured loans. This temporary aid is allowed to address a capital shortfall identified in a stress test. Daniele Nouy, head of the ECB Supervisory Board, reiterated in an interview on Monday that Monte Paschi and other Italian banks in line for a bailout are “not insolvent, otherwise we would not be talking about precautionary recapitalization.” Not everyone is convinced the bank, whose woes date back many years, qualifies for this special treatment.

“It is unclear if Monte Paschi meets the BRRD’s exemption criteria, and their use has the appearance of promoting national political concerns over a stricter reading of the newly established European rules,” said Simon Ainsworth at Moody’s. “The plan could risk damaging the credibility of the resolution framework, especially given that it would mark its first major test case.” The ECB’s decision on Monte Paschi’s solvency and capital gap was announced by the lender the day after Christmas. The ECB published an explanation of the precautionary recapitalization process a day later, but said little else publicly. On Dec. 29, the Bank of Italy issued a statement that broke down the €8.8 billion rescue into its parts. Solvency in the case of a precautionary recapitalization is determined based on two criteria, the ECB said: the bank meets its legal minimum capital requirements, and it has no shortfall in the baseline scenario of the relevant stress test.

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I’ve been talking about falling oil demand for so long that when other bring it up now it seems all new again.

NY Fed: “Oil Prices Fell Due To Weakening Demand” (ZH)

[..] one aspect of price formation that is rarely mentioned is demand, which is generally assumed to be unwavering and trending higher with barely a hiccup. The reason for this somewhat myopic take is that while OPEC has control over supply, demand is a function of global economic growth and trade (or lack thereof) over which oil producers have little, if any control. And yet, according to the latest oil price dynamics report issued by the Fed, it was declining global demand that pushed prices lower in the most recent, volatile period. As the New York Fed report in its March 27 report, “Oil prices fell owing to weakening demand” and explains as follows: “A decline in demand expectations together with a decreasing residual drove oil prices down over the past week.”

While there was some good news, namely that “in 2016:Q4, oil prices increased on net as a consequence of steadily contracting supply and strengthening, albeit volatile, global demand” offsetting the “modest decline in oil prices during 2016:Q3 caused by weakening global demand expectations and loosening supply conditions,” the Fed’s troubling finding is that the big move lower since 2014 has been a function of rising supply as well as declining demand: Overall, since the end of 2014:Q2, both lower global demand expectations and looser supply have held oil prices down. And while this trend appeared to have reversed in 2016:Q2 and 2016:Q4, recent indications suggest that demand may once again be slowing, which in turn has pressured oil prices back to levels last seen shortly after OPEC’s Vienna deal.

It is curious that according to the NY Fed, at a time when OPEC vows it is cutting production, the Fed has instead found “loose” supply to be among the biggest contributors to the latest decline in oil prices. But what may be concering to oil bulls is that as the decomposition chart below shows, while oil demand was solidly in the green ever since Trump’s election victory, in recent weeks it appears to have also tapered off along with the supply contribution to declining oil prices. This seems to suggest that along with most other “animal spirits” that were ignited following the Trump victory, only to gradually fade, oil demand, and thus price, may be the next to take another leg lower unless of course Trump manages to reignite the Trumpflation trade which, however, over the past month appears to have completely faded.

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“Indeed, Bharara never mustered the courtesy to respond to Bowen’s offers to aid his office.”

Why Did Preet Bharara Refuse to Drain the Wall Street Swamp? (Bill Black)

The New York Times’ editorial board published an editorial on March 12, 2017, praising Preet Bharara as the “Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain a Swamp.” I agree with the title. At all times when he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (which includes Wall Street) Bharara knew how to drain the swamp. Further, he had the authority, the jurisdiction, the resources, and the testimony from whistleblowers like Richard Bowen (a co-founder of Bank Whistleblowers United (BWU)) to drain the Wall Street swamp. Bowen personally contacted Bharara beginning in 2005.

“You were quoted in The Nation magazine as saying that if a whistleblower comes forward with evidence of wrongdoing, then you would be the first to prosecute [elite bankers]. I am writing this email to inform you that there is a body of evidence concerning wrongdoing, which the Department of Justice has refused to act on in order to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued.” Bowen explained that he was a whistleblower about Citigroup’s senior managers and that he was (again) coming forward to aid Bharara to prosecute. Bowen tried repeatedly to interest Bharara in draining the Citigroup swamp. Bharara refused to respond to Bowen’s blowing of the whistle on the massive frauds led by Citigroup’s senior officers.

Bharara knew how to drain the Wall Street swamp and was positioned to do so because he had federal prosecutorial jurisdiction over Wall Street crimes. Whistleblowers like Bowen, who lacked any meaningful power, sacrificed their careers and repeatedly demonstrated courage to ensure that Bharara would have the testimony and documents essential to prosecute successfully some of Wall Street’s most elite felons. Bharara never mustered the courage to prosecute those elites. Indeed, Bharara never mustered the courtesy to respond to Bowen’s offers to aid his office. [..] Bharara knew how to drain the Wall Street swamp. He had the facts, the staff, and the jurisdiction to drain the Wall Street swamp. Bharara refused to do so.

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We all realize that this is never ever going to happen, right?!

A Detailed “Roadmap” For Meeting The Paris Climate Goals (Vox)

To hit the Paris climate goals without geoengineering, the world has to do three broad (and incredibly ambitious) things: 1) Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have to fall in half each decade. That is, in the 2020s, the world cuts emissions in half. Then we do it again in the 2030s. Then we do it again in the 2040s. They dub this a “carbon law.” Lead author Johan Rockström told me they were thinking of an analogy to Moore’s law for transistors; we’ll see why. 2) Net emissions from land use — i.e., from agriculture and deforestation – have to fall steadily to zero by 2050. This would need to happen even as the world population grows and we’re feeding ever more people. 3) Technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have to start scaling up massively, until we’re artificially pulling 5 gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere by 2050 — nearly double what all the world’s trees and soils already do.

“It’s way more than adding solar or wind,” says Rockström. “It’s rapid decarbonization, plus a revolution in food production, plus a sustainability revolution, plus a massive engineering scale-up [for carbon removal].” So, uh, how do we cut CO2 emissions in half, then half again, then half again? Here, the authors lay out a sample “roadmap” of what specific actions the world would have to take each decade, based on current research. This isn’t the only path for making big CO2 cuts, but it gives a sense of the sheer scale and speed required:

2017-2020: All countries would prepare for the herculean task ahead by laying vital policy groundwork. Like: scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies. Zeroing out investments in any new coal plants, even in countries like India and Indonesia. All major nations commit to going carbon-neutral by 2050 and put in place policies — like carbon pricing or clean electricity standards — that point down that path. “By 2020,” the paper adds, “all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world should have decarbonization strategies in place.”

2020-2030: Now the hard stuff begins! In this decade, carbon pricing would expand to cover most aspects of the global economy, averaging around $50 per ton (far higher than seen almost anywhere today) and rising. Aggressive energy efficiency programs ramp up. Coal power is phased out in rich countries by the end of the decade and is declining sharply elsewhere. Leading cities like Copenhagen are going totally fossil fuel free. Wealthy countries no longer sell new combustion engine cars by 2030, and transportation gets widely electrified, with many short-haul flights replaced by rail.

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Brexit hardly seems Britain’s biggest problem. It’s the gutting of an entire society that is.

In UK Access To Justice Is No Longer A Right, But A Luxury (G.)

Laws that cost too much to enforce are phoney laws. A civil right that people can’t afford to use is no right at all. And a society that turns justice into a luxury good is one no longer ruled by law, but by money and power. This week the highest court in the land will decide whether Britain will become such a society. There are plenty of signs that we have already gone too far. Listen to the country’s top judge, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who admits that “our justice system has become unaffordable to most”. Look at our legal-aid system, slashed so heavily by David Cameron and Theresa May that the poor must act as their own trial lawyers, ready to be skittled by barristers in the pay of their moneyed opponents. The latest case will be heard by seven supreme court judges and will pit the government against the trade union Unison. It will be the climax of a four-year legal battle over one of the most fundamental rights of all: the right of workers to stand up against their bosses.

In 2013, Cameron stripped workers of the right to access the employment tribunal system. Whether a pregnant woman forced out of her job, a Bangladeshi-origin guy battling racism at work, or a young graduate with disabilities getting aggro from a boss, all would now have to pay £1,200 for a chance of redress. The number of cases taken to tribunal promptly fell off a cliff – down by 70% within a year. Citizens Advice, employment lawyers and academics practically queued up to warn that workers – especially poor workers – were getting priced out of justice. But for Conservative ministers, all was fine. Loyal flacks such as Matthew Hancock (then employment minister) claimed those deterred by the fees were merely “unscrupulous” try-ons, intent on “bullying bosses”. Follow Hancock’s logic, and with all those time-wasters weeded out, you’d expect the number of successful tribunal claims to jump. They’ve actually dropped.

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“Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?”

The Curse of the Thinking Class (Jim Kunstler)

Let’s suppose there really is such a thing as The Thinking Class in this country, if it’s not too politically incorrect to say so — since it implies that there is another class, perhaps larger, that operates only on some limbic lizard-brain level of impulse and emotion. Personally, I believe there is such a Thinking Class, or at least I have dim memories of something like it. The farfetched phenomenon of Trumpism has sent that bunch on a journey to a strange land of the intellect, a place like the lost island of Kong, where one monster after another rises out of the swampy murk to threaten the frail human adventurers. No one back home would believe the things they’re tangling with: giant spiders, reptiles the size of front-end loaders, malevolent aborigines! Will any of the delicate humans survive or make it back home?

This is the feeling I get listening to arguments in the public arena these days, but especially from the quarters formerly identified as left-of-center, especially the faction organized around the Democratic Party, which I aligned with long ago (alas, no more). The main question seems to be: who is responsible for all the unrest in this land. Their answer since halfway back in 2016: the Russians. I’m not comfortable with this hypothesis. Russia has a GDP smaller than Texas. If they are able to project so much influence over what happens in the USA, they must have some supernatural mojo-of-the-mind — and perhaps they do — but it raises the question of motive. What might Russia realistically get from the USA if Vladimir Putin was the master hypnotist that Democrats make him out to be?

Do we suppose Putin wants more living space for Russia’s people? Hmmmm. Russia’s population these days, around 145 million, is less than half the USA’s and it’s rattling around in the geographically largest nation in the world. Do they want our oil? Maybe, but Russia being the world’s top oil producer suggests they’ve already got their hands full with their own operations? Do they want Hollywood? The video game industry? The US porn empire? Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?

My hypothesis is that Russia would most of all like to be left alone. Watching NATO move tanks and German troops into Lithuania in January probably makes the Russians nervous, and no doubt that is the very objective of the NATO move — but let’s not forget that most of all NATO is an arm of American foreign policy. If there are any remnants of the American Thinking Class left at the State Department, they might recall that Russia lost 20 million people in the dust-up known as the Second World War against whom…? Oh, Germany.

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“The Turkish nationalist opposition leader, Devlet Bahçeli, has gone even further, claiming that several Greek islands are under occupation and reacting furiously when Kammenos visited the far-flung isle of Oinousses. “Someone must explain to this spoiled brat not to try our patience,” he railed. “If they [the Greeks] want to fall into the sea again, if they want to be hunted down, they are welcome, the Turkish army is ready. Someone must explain to the Greek government what happened in 1922. If there is no one to explain it to them, we can come like a bullet across the Aegean and teach them history all over again.”

Tensions Flare As Greece Tells Turkey It Is Ready To Answer Any Provocation (G.)

Fears of tensions mounting in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean Seas reignited after the Turkish president raised the prospect of a referendum on accession talks with the EU and the Greek defence minister said the country was ready for any provocation. Relations between Ankara and European capitals have worsened before the highly charged vote on 16 April on expanding the powers of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western allies have argued that a vote endorsing the proposed constitutional change would invest him with unparalleled authority and limit checks and balances at a time when they fear the Turkish leader is exhibiting worrying signs of authoritarianism. Erdogan has been enraged by recent bans on visiting Turkish officials rallying “yes” supporters in Germany and the Netherlands.

Highlighting growing friction between Ankara and the bloc, he raised the spectre of a public vote on EU membership at the weekend. “We have a referendum on 16 April. After that we may hold a Brexit-like referendum on the [EU] negotiations,” he told a Turkish-UK forum attended by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. “No matter what our nation decides we will obey it. It should be known that our patience, tested in the face of attitudes displayed by some European countries, has limits.” The animus – reinforced last week when the leader said he would continue labelling European politicians “Nazis” if they continued calling him a dictator – has also animated tensions between Greece and Turkey, and Erdogan’s comments came hours after the Greek defence minister said armed forces were ready to respond in the event of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity being threatened.

“The Greek armed forces are ready to answer any provocation,” Panos Kammenos declared at a military parade marking the 196th anniversary of Greece’s war of liberation against Ottoman Turkish rule. “We are ready because that is how we defend peace.” Although Nato allies, the two neighbours clashed over Cyprus in 1974 and almost came to war over an uninhabited Aegean isle in 1996. Hostility has been rising in both areas, with the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades recently voicing fears of Turkey sparking a “hot incident” in the run-up to the referendum. “I fear the period from now until the referendum in Turkey, as well as the effort to create a climate of fanaticism within Turkish society,” he told CNN Greece. Turkey’s EU negotiations have long been hindered by Cyprus, and talks aimed at reuniting its estranged Greek and Turkish communities are at a critical juncture but have stalled and are unlikely to move until after the referendum.

But it is in the Aegean where tensions, matched by an increasingly ugly war of words, have been at their worst. After a tense standoff over eight military officers who escaped to Greece after the abortive coup against Erdogan last July – an impasse exacerbated when the Greek supreme court rejected a request for their extradition – hostility has been measured in almost daily dogfights between armed jets and naval incursions of Greek waters by Turkish research vessels. Both have prompted diplomats and defence experts to express fears of an accident at a time when experienced staff officers and pilots have been sidelined in the purges that have taken place since the attempted coup. The shaky migration deal signed between the EU and Turkey to thwart the flow of refugees into the continent has only added to the pressure.

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The falling dollar is setting up Turkey for dictatorship. The world will come to regret this.

Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power (BBG)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lambasted friend and foe alike in a campaign for vast new powers, but his political fate may hang on the one thing he’s stopped carping about: the price of money. With the April 16 vote on strengthening the presidency too close for pollsters to call, Erdogan is no longer berating the central bank and commercial lenders over borrowing costs they’ve pushed to a five-year high. He’s betting any measures taken to arrest the lira’s plunge will pay off at the ballot box. The lira’s value versus the dollar is more than just a pocketbook issue in Turkey, where millions of voters still remember the abrupt devaluations that ravaged their livelihoods in past decades and view the exchange rate as the most important indicator of the nation’s economic health.

Turkey’s trade deficit is the biggest of all top 50 economies relative to output and most of its imports and foreign debt are priced in dollars, so sharp declines in the lira can be ruinous for legions of entrepreneurs like Ramazan Saglam, who owns a print shop in a working-class neighborhood of Ankara. “I bitterly recall when the dollar jumped in 1994 and 2001 – my business collapsed both times,” Saglam said. “I’m supporting the new presidential system wholeheartedly because I don’t want to go bankrupt again.” Saglam nodded at the big red banner billowing from his second-story window to illustrate his point. The Chinese cloth and South Korean ink he used to make it were all bought with dollars, as was the American printer that produced Erdogan’s image and the slogan, “Yes. For my country and my future.”

Given the choice between paying more for credit to buy supplies and keeping the lira in check, he said he’d choose sound money every time. Supporters of the proposed constitutional changes say handing Erdogan sweeping new authority is the only way to achieve the stability that society craves and businesses need to thrive. But opponents say approving the referendum is an invitation to dictatorship, particularly since Erdogan, already the most dominant leader in eight decades, jailed or fired more than 100,000 perceived enemies after rogue army officers attempted a coup in July. “Everybody on the street tracks the exchange rate on a daily basis and Erdogan wins support as long as Turkey can keep the lira stable,” said Wolfango Piccoli, the London-based co-president of Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm. “But the challenge here is the external backdrop. They can’t really predict what’s coming.”

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The US must cease labeling the PKK a terrorist organization. Or stop backing the Kurds in Syria. Can’t have both.

Tillerson Will Not Meet Turkey Opposition In Ankara Visit This Week (R.)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not meet members of Turkish opposition groups during a one-day visit to Ankara this week where talks with President Tayyip Erdogan will focus on the war in Syria, senior U.S. officials said on Monday. Thursday’s visit comes at a politically sensitive time in Turkey as the country prepares for a referendum on April 16 that proposes to change the constitution to give Erdogan new powers. A senior State Department official said Tillerson will meet with Erdogan and government ministers involved in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. “It is certainly something we are very acutely aware of and the secretary will be mindful of while he is there,” one State Department official told a conference call with reporters, referring to political sensitivities ahead of the referendum.

American officials expect Erdogan and others to raise the case of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup last July. The focus of the Ankara talks is the U.S.-led offensive to retake Raqqa from Islamic State and to stabilize areas in which militants have been forced out, allowing refugees to return home, officials said. A major sticking point between the United States and Turkey is U.S. backing for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey considers part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has been fighting an insurgency for three decades in Turkey. But the United States has long viewed Kurdish fighters as key to retaking Raqqa alongside Arab fighters in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “We are very mindful of Turkey’s concerns and it is something that will continue to be a topic of conversation,” a second U.S. official said.

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Fire sale. The minister actually called these practices ‘cannibalistic’, and rightly so. And that’s not even the best of it. A Greek paper details how a Greek bank, Alpha Bank, lends the money to German investors to buy up Greece’s Public Power Corp. That is about as close to cannibalism as you can get. Economic warfare 101.

Troika Pushes Greece To Sell Up To 40% Of State-Controlled Power Utility (R.)

A Greek minister on Monday accused international lenders of reneging on a 2015 bailout deal by trying to force a fire-sale of its main electricity utility PPC to serve “domestic and foreign business interests.” Under terms of a 2015 bailout deal for Greece worth up to €86 billion, Public Power Corp. (PPC) is obliged to cut its dominance in the Greek market to below 50% by 2020. Although it is not clearly specified in the deal, lenders want Greece to sell some of PPC’s assets. PPC, which is 51% owned by the state, now controls about 90% of the country’s retail electricity market and 60% of its wholesale market. Greece last year launched power auctions to private operators as a temporary mechanism and has proposed that PPC team up with private companies to help achieve this target. But lenders doubt the effectiveness of the measure.

“What they want is that power production infrastructure of up to 40% – PPC’s coal-fired production- is sold. This is what they want right know, which is beyond the (2015) deal,” Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, a former energy minister, told Greek state television. Skourletis on Monday accused the lenders pressing the country to sell-off PPC units at a very low price to serve European and domestic competitors. “It is an assault which has set its sights on PPC’s assets to pass it on to specific European and domestic business interests at a humiliating price,” Skourletis said in an Op-Ed penned for the Efimerida Ton Syntakton daily.

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More warfare, more cannibalism. Airports also ‘privatized’, ‘reformed’. Alpha Bank is also the largest lender in this case. Nice partners too: “..the International Finance Corporation (€154.1 million), a member of the World Bank Group [..] is also the sole provider of euro interest rate hedging swaps..”

Fraport Greece Signs Funding Deal With 5 Lenders (K.)

Five leading financial institutions have signed a long-term financing agreement with German-Greek consortium Fraport Greece, which will soon be managing, operating, upgrading and maintaining 14 regional Greek airports under a 40-year concession contract. The agreement is for total financing of 968.4 million euros. The lenders are Alpha Bank (participating with €284.7 million), the Black Sea Trade & Development Bank (€62.5 million), the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (€186.7 million), the European Investment Bank (€280.4 million), and the International Finance Corporation (€154.1 million), a member of the World Bank Group.

IFC is also the sole provider of euro interest rate hedging swaps to help Fraport Greece hedge potential fluctuations in interest rates through the term of the loan. Over two-thirds of the total amount (€688 million) will be used to cover the upfront payment (of €1.234 billion) due to state sell-off fund TAIPED upon the airports’ delivery, while €280.4 million will be used to finance upgrading work at the 14 airports. Meanwhile, Fraport Greece recently announced a capital increase raising the company’s total capital to €650 million, most of which will go toward the upfront payment.

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But domestic credit is still collapsing. And so is the economy, of course.

Contraction Of Credit Continues Unabated In Greece (K.)

Bank of Greece figures revealed on Monday a further contraction in the financing of the Greek economy last month, a result of the general uncertainty hanging over the economy and the drop deposits at the country’s banks. The total funding of the economy was down 2% YOY in February, from -1.5% in January, while the monthly net flow of total financing was negative by €801 million, against a negative flow of €1.261 billion in January. The main factor in that decline was the drop in funding to the state, as the annual rate concerning the general government sector posted a 3.7% contraction in February against a 0.1% increase in January. In the private sector it was negative by 1.6% as funding shrank by a net €101 million. The image was somewhat different for enterprises as there was an €82 million monthly increase in the net flow of funding last month, compared with a €643 million decline in January. However, the flow of credit to private clients and nonprofit organizations dipped by €153 million or 2.7% in February.

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Wise old genius. “As soon as three Greeks get together, they start talking of who’s going to be the leader..”

Mikis Theodorakis: ‘In Tough Times, Greeks Become Heroes or Slaves’ (GR)

“During tough times, a Greek can become a hero or a slave,” said legendary Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis in an interview published in Proto Thema Sunday newspaper. The 92-year-old musician, who is also an emblematic figure of the Greek Left, spoke about Greece’s current state, the leftist government, the main opposition party and the bailout agreements. Theodorakis said that he is not shocked about the current condition Greece is in because, historically, the country has been through turmoil several times. He said the Greek spirit, like a light, shines through at the end because Greeks have an inner harmony that prevails. However, Theodorakis said, this is a hard period for Greece and this time he is afraid for the future of the country: “When the Greek is with his back against the wall, he becomes a hero or a slave.”

When asked to compare the current state of the nation with the times of the German Occupation, Theodorakis said that what Greece is going through now is worse: “I don’t remember people going through the trash to find food. I don’t remember elderly people waiting in line to get a cabbage.” Theodorakis spoke in length about the time (2012) opposition leader Alexis Tsipras and leftist legend Manolis Glezos approached him and asked him to join SYRIZA and win the upcoming elections. He said he refused to join because the young candidate did not have a plan on how to get Greece going without supervision and financial aid from the EU and the IMF. He described Greece as a train rolling on tracks laid by the EU and the IMF.

“I told him ‘if you’re planning to come to power without having a plan to change the tracks and provide Greek people with what they need, then you are opportunists and you will only succeed in destroying the country and humiliating the Greek Left’,” the composer said about Tsipras. “With great sadness, I believe that the current plight of the country confirms exactly what I said to Alexis Tsipras, here in my house, in the meeting that I mentioned earlier,” Theodorakis said. The composer said that Greeks have a lust for power: “As soon as three Greeks get together, they start talking of who’s going to be the leader,” he said characteristically.

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A new issue has come to light: where are the NGOs picking up the refugees?

Nearly 1,200 Migrants Picked Up Off Libya, Heading To Italy (R.)

Humanitarian ships rescued almost 1,200 migrants who were crossing the Mediterranean Sea at the weekend on an array of small, tightly packed boats, Doctors Without Borders said on Sunday. A young woman was found unconscious on one of the vessels and later died, the group said. Some 412 people were crammed onto a single wooden boat, while the others were picked up from huge inflatable dinghies, which had set sail from the coast of Libya. The weekend rescues mean that about 22,000 mainly African migrants have been picked up heading to Italy so far this year, while around 520 have died trying to make the crossing.

An Italian prosecutor said last week that humanitarian ships operating off Libya were undermining the fight against people smugglers and opening a corridor that is ultimately leading to more migrant deaths. The chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port city of Catania, Carmelo Zuccaro, said he also suspected that there may be direct communication between Libya-based smugglers and members of charity-operated rescue vessels. NGOs deny any wrongdoing, saying they are simply looking to save lives, but they are facing criticism in Italy, which has taken in about half a million migrants since the start of 2014.

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Italy thinks George Soros is sponsoring this.

Italy Calls For Investigation Of NGO Supported Migrant Fleet (Dm.)

Italian authorities are calling for monitoring of the funding of an NGO fleet bussing migrants into the EU from the North African coast after a report released the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has determined that the members of the fleet are acting as accomplices to people smugglers and directly contributing to the risk of death migrants face when attempting to enter the EU. The report from regulatory agency Frontex suggests that NGOs sponsoring ships in the fleet are now acting as veritable accomplices to people smugglers due to their service which, in effect, provides a reliable shuttle service for migrants from North Africa to Italy. The fleet lowers smugglers’ costs, as it all but eliminates the need to procure seaworthy vessels capable making a full voyage across the Mediterranean to the European coastline.

Traffickers are also able to operate with much less risk of arrest by European law enforcement officers. Frontex specifically noted that traffickers have intentionally sought to alter their strategy, sending their vessels to ships run by the NGO fleet rather than the Italian and EU military. On March 25th, 2017, Italian news source Il Giornale carried remarks from Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) calling for monitoring of the funding behind the NGO groups engaged in operating the migrant fleet. He stated that “the facilitation of illegal immigration is a punishable offense regardless of the intention.” While it is not a crime to enter the waters of a foreign country and pick them migrants, NGOs are supposed to land them at the nearest port of call, which would have been somewhere along the North African coast instead of in Italy.

The chief prosecutor also noted that Italy is investigating Islamic radicalization occurring in prisons and camps where immigrants are hired off the books. Italy has for some months been reeling under the pressure of massive numbers of migrants who have been moving from North Africa into the southern states of the European Union. In December 2016, The Express cited comments made by Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Vatican City, stating that Rome was on the verge of a “war” between migrants and poor Italians. The wave of migrants has also caused issues in southern Italy, where the Sicilian Cosa Nostra has declared a “war on migrants” last year amid reports that the Italian mafia had begun fighting with North African crime gangs who entered the EU among migrant populations.

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Mar 092017
 
 March 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Marjory Collins “Crowds at Pennsylvania Station, New York” 1942

 

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)
US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)
Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)
US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)
Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)
Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)
Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)
The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)
Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)
French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)
Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)
Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)
Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)
Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)
It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

 

 

How is this going to affect Apple and Microsoft sales in China?

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)

WikiLeaks’ data dump on Tuesday accounted for less than 1% of ‘Vault 7’, a collection of leaked CIA documents which revealed the extent of its hacking capabilities, the whistleblowing organization has claimed on Twitter. ‘Year Zero’, comprising 8,761 documents and files, was released unexpectedly by WikiLeaks. The organization had initially announced that it was part of a larger series, known as ‘Vault 7.’ However, it did not give further information on when more leaks would occur or on how many series would comprise ‘Vault 7’. The leaks have revealed the CIA’s covert hacking targets, with smart TVs infiltrated for the purpose of collecting audio, even when the device is powered off. The Google Android Operating System, used in 85% of the world’s smartphones, was also exposed as having severe vulnerabilities, allowing the CIA to “weaponize” the devices.

The CIA would not confirm the authenticity of the leak. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.” Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, is cited as saying in The Washington Post. WikiLeaks claims the leak originated from within the CIA before being “lost” and circulated amongst “former U.S. government hackers and contractors.” From there the classified information was passed to WikiLeaks. End-to-end encryption used by applications such as WhatsApp was revealed to be futile against the CIA’s hacking techniques, dubbed ‘zero days’, which were capable of accessing messages before encryption was applied. The leak also revealed the CIA’s ability to hide its own hacking fingerprint and attribute it to others, including Russia. An archive of fingerprints – digital traces which give a clue about the hacker’s identity – was collected by the CIA and left behind to make others appear responsible.

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The Trump bull is alive for now.

US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)

U.S. private employers added 298,000 jobs in February, well above economists’ expectations, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 190,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 247,000. Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised up to 261,000 from an originally reported 246,000 increase. The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment. Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 193,000 jobs in February, down from 237,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have changed by 190,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to tick down to 4.7% from the 4.8% recorded a month earlier.

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How much of it will be put to good use, and how much merely siphoned off?

Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)

President Donald Trump pushed his White House team on Wednesday to craft a plan for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that would pressure states to streamline local permitting, favor renovation of existing roads and highways over new construction and prioritize projects that can quickly begin construction. “We’re not going to give the money to states unless they can prove that they can be ready, willing and able to start the project,” Mr. Trump said at a private meeting with aides and executives that The WSJ was invited to. “We don’t want to give them money if they’re all tied up for seven years with state bureaucracy.” Mr. Trump said he would was inclined to give states 90 days to start projects, and asked Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, to provide a recommendation.

He expressed interest in building new high-speed railroads, inquired about the possibility of auctioning the broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers, and asked for more details about the Hyperloop, a project envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would rapidly transport passengers in pods through low-pressure tubes. “America has always been a nation of great promise, because we dream big,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to really dream big now.” The president called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan last month in his address to a joint session of Congress and added that the projects would be financed through public and private capital. The White House was considering a repatriation tax holiday to generate about $200 billion in funding, but other sources also were being considered, a senior administration aide said.

In the meeting, the president said he aimed to win approval for an infrastructure plan once Congress finishes deliberations on health care and a reform of tax laws. Mr. Trump suggested that an infrastructure plan may be part of the tax-reform debate. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Vice President Mike Pence, who sat across from the president during the meeting, said that Congress is “committed to the president’s vision.” “There’s a great of interest in Congress in doing this,” Mr. Pence said. “But there’s also just as much interest in listening to leaders in the private sector to identify the capital and identify the needs to be able to finance this in a way that really captures the energy of the American economy.”

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Time to acknowledge demand isn’t coming back?

US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)

Oil is on track to break through the key psychological level of $50 a barrel after a ninth straight rise in U.S. crude stockpiles came at exactly the wrong moment, analysts said Wednesday. The amount of crude oil in U.S. storage rose to another record high on Wednesday, jumping 8.2 million barrels from the previous week, the Energy Information Administration reported. The increase was more than four times what analysts expected. Weekly figures also showed U.S. oil production continuing to tick up toward 9.1 million barrels a day, the highest level in more than a year. That provided further evidence that rising American output is confounding efforts by OPEC, Russia and 10 other exporters to reduce global oil inventories by curbing their own output. The data sent U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude prices plunging more than 5% to a nearly three-month low.

The plunge through a number of lows on Wednesday puts oil on a path to test the December low of $49.95 a barrel, said John Kilduff at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “From there you could accelerate,” he told CNBC, adding that $50 “was the fail-safe.” Kilduff’s downside target, once oil breaks below $50 a barrel, is $42. For the last three months, oil has traded in a range between $49.61 and $55.24. According to Kilduff, all the elements are in place for oil to break below its three-month range: lack of cohesion among OPEC members, bearish statements from oil ministers at CERAWeek conference by IHS Markit and subdued refinery activity as operators perform seasonal maintenance in the United States. On Tuesday, Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih warned at CERAWeek that the kingdom would only support OPEC’s intervention in markets for a “restricted period of time” and would not “underwrite the investments of others at our own expense and long-term interests.”

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Snippets from an interview. The euro was doomed from the start because of conditions put on it.

Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)

But the trouble is, you see, they didn’t have to have a single currency combined with the 60% limit on government debt and the 3% limit on government deficits. If they simply had a currency and made no rules whatsoever about that, then it would have been feasible, potentially, to say okay, well it’s not working as well as we would like it to, but not imposing austerity on economies in a downturn, which is what they ended up doing courtesy of those rules. Maybe we need a treasury to make it work better, but it wasn’t just the fact that it was only the central bank, it was also the rules on government spending.

[..] another part of it, which is quite intriguing, I heard in Berlin just recently, is that also, one of the other rules they agreed to, or one of the other objectives they agreed to, not a rule, was to target a 2% rate of inflation. Now what you actually had happen was that Germany hit about 1%, France actually hit about 2%, Italy hit about 3%, the three major trading partners of course on the block. Well, that means, as a result, over every year, German manufacturers were gaining a 2% cost advantage over Italian manufacturers. Which ultimately means of course that people don’t buy Lamborghinis and Fiats anymore, they buy Mercedes, because for the same features they’re cheaper.

It’s not about labour productivity alone, it’s about the rate of inflation, which comes down to the rate of wage change, because the Germans suppressed the rate of wage change, the rate of inflation was lower, and that was 1% below the level they agreed to. Now, if they’d agreed to 2%, and France did 2%, and Italy maybe suppressed its wage change and they hit 2%, you wouldn’t have these imbalances. But they’ve built up over 15 – going on close to 20 years now – and those level of imbalances mean that, fundamentally, Italian industry can’t compete with German industry, not because of productivity differences so much but wage costs combined with that.

[..] That’s why Trump’s complaining about Germany having an undervalued currency, and he’s bloody right on that front. If you can run a 9% of GDP trade surplus, which is the level Germany’s now hit, a lot of that is with the rest of the world, the EU itself overall is balanced, so there’s a huge imbalance – Germany’s got a huge trade surplus with the rest of Europe, but it’s also got it with the rest of the world, and on that scale I think Germany’s trade balance now is the same scale as China’s. Now that’s ludicrous.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with Europe is that transparency and the EU don’t mix. In this case it’s clear why: the ECB was used as a -very blunt- tool for political pressure. Their defense is basically: if we become transparent, we’re no longer independent. And people buy that?!

Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has joined forces with the German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi in a bid to clarify whether the ECB had a legal right to limit the liquidity of Greece’s banks in 2015. The duo told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (8 March) that they were collecting signatures for a petition to ECB president Mario Draghi, asking him to disclose two legal opinions commissioned by the bank. The first study was ordered in February, before the ECB decided to limit the access of Greek banks to ECB funding and opted instead to open access to the emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) – a fund with more restrictive access conditions. The decision was taken a few days after the radical left-wing Syriza party came to power, with Varoufakis as finance minister.

The second study, in June 2015, was about the ECB’s decision to freeze the amount of money available through the ELA after the Greek government’s decision to hold a referendum on the bailout conditions required by the country’s creditors. The measure was taken over concerns that Greek banks would become insolvent because of the deadlock in bailout talks. It also put more pressure on the Greek government to accept the lenders’ conditions. To avoid a bank run, where large numbers of people withdraw money from their deposit accounts at the same time, the government introduced capital controls. This meant that Greek people were only able to withdraw a maximum of €60 per day. The measure prevented a capital run, but also put pressure on Athens to agree to creditors’ terms for a third bailout.

Varoufakis, who was finance minister at the time, said this was a breach of the independence of the bank. “The ECB has the capacity to close down all the banks of a member state. At the same time, it has a charter which grants it – supposedly – complete independence from politics. And yet, there is no central bank, at least in the West, which has less independence of the political process,” Varoufakis said. He said Draghi was “completely reliant” on the decisions of an “informal group of finance ministers”, referring to the fact that the Eurogroup, which gathers the finance ministers of the 19 eurozone countries, isn’t enshrined in EU treaties. “It is apparent that Draghi didn’t feel that the was on solid legal ground when proceeding with the closing of Greek banks,” Varoufakis said.

[..] In September 2015, Fabio De Masi already asked Draghi for the opinions. But the ECB chief, in a letter made public by the MEP, said the bank does not plan to publish the legal opinions because this would “undermine the ECB’s ability to obtain uncensored, objective and comprehensive legal advice, which is essential for well-informed and comprehensive deliberations of its decision-making bodies”. “Legal opinions provided by external lawyers and related legal advice are protected by legal professional privilege (the so-called ‘attorney-client privilege’) in accordance with European Union case law,” Draghi said. “Those opinions were drafted in full independence, on the understanding that they can only be disclosed by the addressee and only shared with people who need to know in order to take reasoned decisions on the issues at stake,” he added.

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No cashless society there.

Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)

As worries over the future of the euro zone heat up, the union’s biggest member is doubling down on the single currency in an underappreciated way. Germany’s central bank is by far the biggest issuer of cash in the bloc, with the Bundesbank the source of more euro banknotes in circulation than all of its peers combined. The size of the imbalance is underscored by new data from the ECB, showing nations’ contributions towards the Eurosystem’s consolidated financial statement. Each national central bank, or NCB, has a notional banknote allocation that’s tied to its share of Eurosystem capital. At the end of last year, there were €1.1 trillion euros ($1.25 trillion) in circulation, breaking down like this:

That accounts for how euro cash would be distributed in theory. In order to find out how much cash is actually issued you have to make adjustments that take into account variations in demand, which push the number higher in some countries and lower in others. The adjustments look like this:

The Bundesbank has, since the introduction of the euro in 2002, put a net €327 billion into circulation above its on-paper allocation. By combining the figures in the two charts, we arrive at a true picture of the origin of banknotes in the European economy:

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“The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks.”

The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)

The bias of the press is getting so bad, they are undermining everything they were supposed to stand for. This is a critical aspect in the decline and fall of an empire, nation, or city state. Once the news is compromised, confidence not just in the press, but in everything crumbles. The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks. They lobby for their special deals and the support the status quo. The New York Times at least admitted their coverage of the election was biased. They apologized, but nothing has really changed. “As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly.”

Even if Trump met with Putin, exactly what does that infer? Did it alter the election? No. Even Obama admitted that no hack altered the vote count. So what is the issue? The press aids the Democrats in trying to blame Putin for Hillary’s loss. But there is not a single shred of evidence that ANY of the leaked emails from the Democrats was ever altered or was fake. The Democrats simply got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and blame Putin. So what is all this Russia thing about? It seems to be just a diversion to discredit Trump and stop the agenda of any reform. A simple technical analysis of Democrat v Republican shows that the former is in a major decline and their agenda has been dying. In fact, look out for 2018-2019. Sheer chaos is coming.

In Europe, political forces are also in a state of denial. The EU is collapsing and the politicians refuse to surrender their goals. Instead, they lash out at what they are calling “populism” as with the election of Trump, BREXIT, and the developments in France. The will of the people is not worth anything when it goes against their dreams. So in both cases, we are witnessing the demise of the West. All of this political fighting is setting the stage for the shift from the West to the East of financial power. The wheel of fortune spins. We lost. What is accomplished by overthrowing Trump? What is accomplished by forcing Europe to remain in the EU with unelected people controlling everything from Brussels? If the press succeeds in overturning Trump, what is accomplished? Do they really think everything can go back to the way it was before?

[..] the media in the USA has degenerated to fake news, but in Europe the very same trend has emerged. This is a serious nail in our coffin and mainstream media has indeed become the sword of our own destruction. Can we prevent this outcome? No. All we can do is hopefully learn from our mistakes and this time try to create a system that prevents such an oligarchy from rising. All Republics historically collapse into oligarchies. As we head into 2018, this is going to get really bad. This is going to be a turning point of great importance in the political world.

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A president without a party. Or a program. Doesn’t seem to add up.

Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)

Currently riding high in the polls, Emmanuel Macron, the self-styled “beyond left and right” candidate for the French election, has been tipped to become the next president in May. But if he does, will he actually run the country? This question might sound odd but the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister. The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded.

So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly. So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

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This is what happens everywhere, in varying ways. In France, both establishment blocks look to be cast aside.

French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)

The old order is fading in France. Every election since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic more than half a century ago has seen at least one of the major parties in the presidential runoff and most have featured both. With Republicans and Socialists consumed by infighting and voters thoroughly fed up, polls suggest that neither will make it this year. For the past month, survey after survey has projected a decider between Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old rookie who doesn’t even have a party behind him, and Marine Le Pen, who’s been ostracized throughout her career because of her party’s history of racism. “We’ve gone as far as we can go with a certain way of doing politics,” said Brice Teinturier, head of the Ipsos polling company and author of a book on voters’ disillusionment. “Everyone feels the system is blocked.”

Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, said in an interview with Le Monde Tuesday he may back Macron because he doesn’t “identify” with the more extreme platform put forward by his party’s candidate Benoit Hamon. De Gaulle’s latest standard-bearer Francois Fillon has spent the past week facing down rebellions in his party triggered by a criminal probe of his finances. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls hasn’t campaigned for Hamon since losing to him in the primary and Socialist President Francois Hollande hasn’t even endorsed his party’s candidate either. Instead, senior figures from the Socialist camp are endorsing Macron, with former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe the latest to offer his backing on Wednesday. “There’s a breakdown of parties in France,” Francois Bayrou, a two-time centrist candidate who is now backing Macron, said Tuesday on RMC Radio. “There are hostile battles between factions within each party, which has ruined the parties and ruined the image of politics.”

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Crazy that such differences still persist.

Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)

On International Women’s Day, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies to prove they pay all employees the same regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality, The country’s government announced a new law that will require every company with 25 or more staff to gain a certificate demonstrating pay equality. Iceland is not the first country to introduce a scheme like this – Switzerland has one, as does the US state of Minnesota – but Iceland is thought to be the first to make it a mandatory requirement. Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said that “the time is right to do something radical about this issue.” “Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that,” he said.

The move comes as part of a drive by the Nordic nation to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022. In October, thousands of female employees across Iceland walked out of workplaces at 2.38pm to protest against earning less than men. After this time in a typical eight-hour day, women are essentially working without pay, according to unions and women’s organisations. Iceland has been at the forefront of establishing pay equality, having already introduced a minimum 40% quota for women on boards of companies with more than 50 employees. The country has been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running, but despite this, Icelandic women still earn 14 to 18% less than men, on average.

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“Cleaning up the plant [..] is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).” Uh, no, it will cost far more than $189 billion, and it’s to NOT clean up the plant. They have no idea how to do it. It’s all just fantasy.

Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)

Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week. As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel. Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.

The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”. Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn). The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago. The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.

[..] Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”. The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government. “The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”

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And it will remain in recession for a long time.

Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)

Household consumption and a rebound in investment drove economic growth in the euro zone in the last three months of last year, the latest data from EU statistics office Eurostat shows. Eurostat confirmed its earlier estimate that the economy of the 19 countries sharing the euro grew 0.4% quarter-on-quarter and 1.7% year-on-year. It said household consumption added 0.2 % points to the final quarterly growth number and capital investment added another 0.1 points, rebounding from a 0.1 point negative contribution in the third quarter. Growing inventories added another 0.1 points and government spending another 0.1 points while net trade subtracted 0.1 points.

Greece was the only country that was in negative territory, with GDP declining by 1.1% compared with the last quarter of 2015 and by 1.2% compared to the third quarter of 2016. Combined, the eurozone continued steady recovery, with the economy growing by 1.7% year on year and 0.4% on a quarterly basis. Messages were positive in the eurozone core. Germany grew by 1.8% and France by 1.2%, while the third largest economy of the euro, Italy, increasing by 1%. Impressive was the growth of Spain as it reached 3%. Social protection spending in Greece represented 20.5 % of the country’s GDP in 2015.

This is slightly higher than both the Eurozone average ratio (20.1% of GDP) and the EU28 average ratio (19.2% of GDP). Social protection expenditure in EU member-states ranged from 9.6% of GDP in Ireland to 25.6% of GDP in Finland in that year. Eight member-states (Finland, France, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Greece and Belgium) spent more than 20% of GDP on social protection while Ireland, the Baltic states, Romania, Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic spend less than 13%.

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“Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022.”

Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)

Farmers who travelled to Athens from Crete have clashed with riot police in the latest unrest on the streets of the Greek capital, prompted by the government’s austerity policies. The confrontation occurred outside the agriculture ministry, where farmers wielding staffs engaged with police firing teargas to prevent them from entering the building. More than 1,100 stockbreeders and farmers arrived on overnight ferries in the early hours of Wednesday, to protest against increases in tax and social security contributions demanded by the creditors keeping Greece afloat. Footage showed the farmers, many wearing black bandanas, smashing the windows of riot vans with shepherds’ staffs, setting fire to rubbish bins and hurling rocks and stones.

When the agriculture minister, Evangelos Apostolou, initially refused to meet a 45-member delegation representing protesters, anger peaked. “Dialogue is one thing, thuggery quite another,” the minister said, before attempts at further talks also foundered. Greek farmers, long perceived to be the privileged recipients of generous EU funds, have historically been exempt from taxation. However, the barrage of cuts and increases in the price of everything from fuel to fertilisers will hit them hard. Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022. Prof George Pagoulatos, who teaches European politics and economy at the University of Athens, said: “Farmers, in many ways, are a classic example of one of Greece’s protected groups. “In certain rural constituencies, like Crete, they are also electorally very influential.”

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Wages have become too low to pay for pensions. 23% unemployment. Almost half of Greeks depend on pensions to stay alive. More cuts are inevitable. The only way is down.

It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

The constant decline in salaries and the rise of flexible forms of employment are undermining the sustainability of the country’s social security system despite the numerous interventions in terms of pensions. According to social security experts, the slide in the average salary means that it now takes the contributions of 10 workers to pay one pension; before the crisis it required the contributions of four workers. The deterioration of that ratio highlights the system’s viability problem. The main feature of that problem is that the contributions of today’s workers go in their entirety toward covering the pensions of today’s pensioners.

According to data from the new Single Social Security Entity (EFKA), the analysis of employers’ declarations from May 2016 showed that the average salary of 1.4 million workers with full employment amounted to €1,176 per month. The average monthly gross earnings of the 588,000 part-time workers amounted to just €394; their number increased by about 11% from a year earlier. The same data show that bigger enterprises pay higher salaries: Businesses with fewer than 10 employees have an average full-employment salary that amounts to just 58.9% of that paid to employees of companies with more than 10 workers.

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Mar 042017
 
 March 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC Pine Street below Kearney after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire 1906

 

Yellen Points To March Rate Hike As Fed Signals End Of Easy Money (R.)
The Fed Is Embarking On A Path That Usually Ends With A Recession (Udland)
A Selloff Is Looming As Fear Stalks The Stock Market Rally (MW)
Medicine In The USA Is A Hostage Racket (Jim Kunstler)
Chevron Warns Future Oil Drilling May Be ‘Economically Infeasible’ (Ind.)
Germany-Turkey War Of Words Escalates (BBC)
UK Could Quit EU Without Paying A Penny (G.)
Greece Should Be Added to ECB’s QE Bond-Buying List (BBG)
To Solve Refugee Crisis, Stop Funding Terrorism – Tulsi Gabbard (TAM)
Austria To Stop Giving Food, Shelter To Rejected Asylum Seekers (ZH)
US Considers Separating Women And Children Who Enter Country Illegally (G.)
Parents Fearing Deportation Pick Guardians For US Children (R.)

 

 

‘The end of easy money’ will only come through collapse.

Yellen Points To March Rate Hike As Fed Signals End Of Easy Money (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s long-stalled ‘liftoff’ of interest rates may finally get airborne this year as policymakers from Chair Janet Yellen on Friday to regional leaders across the United States signaled that the era of easy money is drawing to a close. Yellen capped off a seemingly coordinated push from the central bank on Friday when she cemented the view that the Fed will raise interest rates at its next meeting on March 14-15, and likely be able to move faster after that than it has in years. It’s a welcome turn for the Fed chair, who has hoped to get rates off the ground throughout her three-year tenure, and now sees the economy on track and investors aligned around the idea.

“At our meeting later this month, the committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate,” Yellen said at a business luncheon in Chicago. “The process of scaling back accommodation likely will not be as slow as it was in 2015 and 2016,” she added. Stocks were up slightly, and futures tied to rate-hike expectations moved little on Yellen’s remarks. The comments from Fed speakers this week had already pushed market pricing of a March hike to 80%. The Fed has struggled for the past three years to raise interest rates off the zero lower bound as the U.S. economy slowly healed after the Great Recession. Issues from sluggish inflation globally to the dampening effect of a strong dollar and low energy prices blew them off course. By contrast, 2017 may be the year the Fed is able to follow through on its forecast of three rate hikes.

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Central bank manipulation is a craziness that can end in one way only.

The Fed Is Embarking On A Path That Usually Ends With A Recession (Udland)

Stocks are at record highs. And while the Trump administration’s early days have been filled with internal political chaos, the market’s reaction has continued to remain positive. On Wednesday, when U.S. stocks had their best day of the year, the popular SPY ETF, which tracks the S&P 500, saw $8.2 billion in new inflows, its single-best day since December 2014. But something else happened on Wednesday that should have equity bulls quite a bit more concerned: markets got behind the idea the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in March and, perhaps, be more aggressive about raising rates in than previously expected.On Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled that a March rate hike is on the table and said the pace of the Fed raising rates in 2017 would likely exceed that seen in 2015 and 2016.

And while an accomodative Fed has been seen as a backstop for markets during the post-crisis bull run higher, a tighter Fed is bad news for stocks because when rates begin to rise, the end of the bull market has already been signaled. As we highlighted in our daily market outlook post, David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff wrote Thursday that, “Monetary policy is profoundly more important to the markets and the economy than is the case with fiscal policy, though all the Fed is doing now is removing accommodation.” Rosenberg added that, “there have been 13 Fed rate hike cycles in the post-WWII era, and 10 landed the economy in recession. Soft landing are rare and when they have occurred, they have come in the third year of the expansion, not the eighth.”


The gray bars mark recessions. Ahead of recessions, rates usually rise. Right now, rates are set to rise.

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Fear vs greed.

A Selloff Is Looming As Fear Stalks The Stock Market Rally (MW)

Wall Street’s so-called fear index has started to move in lockstep with stock prices and that has one money manager warning of an impending selloff even as market sentiment remains fairly stable. Jesse Felder, founder of the Felder Report and an alumni of Bear Stearns, on Friday shared a chart that showed an increasingly positive correlation between the S&P 500 and the CBOE Market Volatility Index. “Normally stocks and the VIX move in opposite directions…and it makes sense that rising stock prices mean less fear and vice versa,” said Felder. However, that reverse relationship has started to change in recent days as expectations of a market correction mount.

The VIX is a measure of the market’s expectation for volatility over the next 30 days and is calculated from the implied volatilities of S&P 500 index options. A low reading indicates a placid market while a higher number suggests elevated uncertainty. “The options market is pricing in greater volatility ahead even though stocks don’t yet reflect this same dynamic,” Felder told MarketWatch. “Over the past few years this signal has preceded anywhere from a 2% to a 10% correction.”

That this trend comes on top of the 10-year Treasury yield’s nearly 40% surge over the past year as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy suggest risky assets such as equities will face significant selling pressure. Analysts are projecting the Fed to raise interest rates three times this year, a view reinforced by comments from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Friday that a rate hike at the next Federal Open Market Committee in mid-March is likely. “The Fed looks like it will take its third step toward tightening here soon so it might pay to remember the old Wall Street adage ‘three steps and a stumble.’ For these reasons, I think the chance of a major reversal is higher than it has been in the past,” he said.

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“Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix.”

Medicine In The USA Is A Hostage Racket (Jim Kunstler)

The ObamaCare quandary. A fiasco for sure. Under it, not uncommonly, a family pays $12,000-a-year for a policy that carries a $5,000 deductible. That’s an interesting number in a land were most people don’t even have enough ready cash for routine car repairs. The cruel and idiotic injustice of such a set-up could only happen in a society that has normalized pervasive lying, universal accounting fraud, and corporate racketeering. I personally doubt the existing health care system can be reformed. Anyway, we’re starting in the wrong place with it. The part that nobody talks about is the psychopathic pricing system that drives medicine. The average cost for a normal (non-surgical) hospital childbirth in America these days is $10,000. WTF? An appendectomy: between $9,000 and $20,000 depending on where. WTF?

These days, a hip replacement runs about $38,000. Of course, you will never find out what a treatment or procedure costs before-the-fact. They simply won’t tell you. They’ll say something utterly ridiculous like, “we just don’t know.” You’ll find out when the bills roll in. Last time I had a hip replacement, I received a single line-item hospital charge report from the insurance company that said: “Room and board, 36 hours… $23,000.” Say what? This was apart from the surgeon’s bill and the cost of the metal implant, just for occupying a bed for a day and a half pending discharge. They didn’t do a damn thing besides take my blood pressure and temperature a dozen times, and give me a few hydrocodone pills.

The ugly truth, readers, is that medicine in the USA is a hostage racket. They have you in a tight spot at a weak moment and they extract maximum payment to allow you to get on with your life, with no meaningful correlation to services rendered — just whatever they could get. Until these racketeers are compelled under law to post their prices openly and transparently, no amount of tweaking the role of insurers or government policy will make any difference. Note, too, that there is a direct connection between the outrageous salaries of hospital executives and their non-transparent, dishonest, and extortionist pricing machinations. The pharma industry is, of course, a subsidiary racket and needs to be subject to the kind of treatment the Department of Justice used to dispense to the likes of the Teamsters Union.

The healthcare system probably will not be reformed, but rather will collapse, and when it does, it will reorganize itself in a way that barely resembles current practice. For one thing, citizens will have to gain control over their own disastrous behavior, especially their eating, or else suffer the consequences, namely an early death. Second, the hospital system must be decentralized so that localities are once again served by small hospitals and clinics. The current system represents a mergers-and-acquisitions orgy that went berserk the past quarter century. The resulting administrative over-burden at every medical practice in the land is a perfectly designed fraud machine for enabling rackets. Preliminary verdict: congress will get nowhere in 2017 trying to fix this mess. Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix. The coming debacle in finance, markets, and currencies will speed its demise.

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Because of climate legislation.

Chevron Warns Future Oil Drilling May Be ‘Economically Infeasible’ (Ind.)

In an industry first, one of the world’s biggest oil companies has warned it could face legal action over climate change. Chevron, the California-based multinational, admitted it could be the subject of “governmental investigations and, potentially, private litigation” because of its role in causing global warming. And the firm added that regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions might also render the “extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible”. Environmentalists suggested the decision to admit the threat to the company could be a reaction to legal case brought last year against Exxon Mobil by the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, which alleges the fossil fuel company tried to discredit climate science despite knowing the risks in order to make money.

Chevron was one of a number of oil firms targeted in a campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US to “stop funding climate disinformation”. And, in an official filing about the state of its financial health to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company lays out possible reasons why it might have been in its interest to cast doubt on scientific evidence that its products are causing a problem. Laws requiring the reduction of emissions – like legislation that could be in the UK Government’s long-delayed Emissions Reduction Plan – “may result in increased and substantial … costs and could, among other things, reduce demand for hydrocarbons”, Chevron said in a section called “risk factors”.

“In the years ahead, companies in the energy industry, like Chevron, may be challenged by an increase in international and domestic regulation relating to greenhouse gas emissions,” it said. “Such regulation could have the impact of curtailing profitability in the oil and gas sector or rendering the extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible.”

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Makes me fear for Greece.

Germany-Turkey War Of Words Escalates (BBC)

A row between Ankara and Berlin over a series of cancelled Turkish political rallies in Germany is continuing to escalate. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Berlin of “aiding and harbouring” terror. He said a German-Turkish journalist detained by Turkey was a “German agent” and a member of the outlawed Kurdish militant group, the PKK. A source in Germany’s foreign ministry told Reuters the claims were “absurd”. Earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respected local authorities’ decisions to cancel rallies that Turkey’s justice and economy ministers had been scheduled to address. Turkey is trying to woo ethnic Turkish voters ahead of a key referendum. About 1.4 million Turks living in Germany are eligible to vote in the April referendum, in which President Erdogan aims to win backing for sweeping new powers.

The constitutional changes would boost Mr Erdogan’s presidency and significantly weaken parliament’s role. Turkish officials have been angered after local German officials withdrew permission for rallies in Gaggenau, Cologne and Frechen. Gaggenau authorities had said there was insufficient space for the rally, while Cologne officials said they had been misled about the purpose of the event. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who had been due to speak in Gaggenau, said he saw “old illnesses flaring up” between the two Nato allies. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the German government of backing opposition to Mr Erdogan’s planned constitutional changes. He said: “You are not Turkey’s boss. You are not a first class [country] and Turkey is not second class. We are not treating you like that, and you have to treat Turkey properly. “If you want to maintain your relations with us, you have to learn how to behave.”

Germany’s foreign ministry said the central government had nothing to do with the cancellations, and Ankara should refrain from “pouring oil on the fire”. The growing row is troubling for Chancellor Merkel because she persuaded Turkey to help block the surge of migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – into the EU. Separately, the Dutch government on Friday described plans for a Turkish referendum campaign rally in Rotterdam as “undesirable”. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was reportedly meant to attend the rally scheduled for 11 March. Ties between Berlin and Istanbul are also strained over Turkey’s arrest of Deniz Yucel, a journalist who works for Die Welt. Mr Yucel “hid in the German embassy as a member of the PKK and a German agent for one month”, Mr Erdogan said. “When we told them to hand him over to be tried, they refused.” German’s foreign ministry called the spy claims “absurd”. Ms Merkel, referring to the case earlier, told reporters in Tunis: “We support freedom of expression and we can criticise Turkey.”

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The EU’s position in the talks will weaken as the union crumbles.

UK Could Quit EU Without Paying A Penny (G.)

The UK could walk away from the European Union in 2019 without paying a penny, the House of Lords has said, in a report bound to raise tensions with Brussels in the run-up to Brexit talks. The British government would have no legal obligation to either pay a €60bn Brexit bill mooted by the European commission or honour payments into the EU budget promised by the former prime minister David Cameron, according to analysis by the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee. In a report published on Saturday, the committee argues that the British government would be on strong legal ground if it chose to leave the EU without paying anything, adding that Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting any money.

The peers stress, however, that if the government wants goodwill from EU countries and a deal on access to European markets, agreement on the budget will be important. “The UK appears to have a strong legal position in respect of the EU budget post-Brexit and this provides important context to the article 50 negotiations,” said Lady Falkner of Margravine, the Liberal Democrat peer who chairs the sub-committee. “Even though we consider that the UK will not be legally obliged to pay into the EU budget after Brexit, the issue will be a prominent factor in withdrawal negotiations. The government will have to set the financial and political costs of making such payments against potential gains from other elements of the negotiations.”

[..] The peers’ argument will be toxic to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose staff drew up the mooted bill ranging from €55bn-€60bn. This covers the UK’s share of EU civil staff pensions, unpaid bills and decommissioning nuclear power plants. Barnier is expecting the UK to pay into the EU budget in 2019 and 2020, putting the UK on the hook for payments worth £12.4bn, agreed by Cameron in 2013. The EU’s €1tn, seven-year budget was negotiated in late 2013 by EU leaders including the British prime minister. It is due to expire at the end of 2020, although bills may be trickling in until 2023. This reflects that payments for EU-funded infrastructure projects, such as roads or airports, are not settled until two to three years after being promised.

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There is no reason for the ECB not to include Greece. Never was. It’s pure economic strangulation.

Greece Should Be Added to ECB’s QE Bond-Buying List (BBG)

Greece and its creditors look poised to strike a deal that will allow the nation to draw down aid and avoid defaulting on its debts in July. That sounds good, but it is, in fact, just a fudge. What’s needed instead is for the country to regain access to capital markets in its own right. To help make that happen, the European Central Bank should add Greek bonds to the list of securities eligible for purchase under its quantitative easing program.

The deal Greece is about to agree with its European partners and the IMF is the latest in a long line of compromises that have failed to address the core issue – that Greece’s debts, now 170% of economic output, are so burdensome they are preventing a recovery. The IMF is right to argue that Greece needs additional debt relief on the €174 billion it owes to the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism. With elections looming this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, however, details about that relief will probably have to wait until next year; voters don’t want to hear about Greek bailouts right now. But the ECB can act swiftly to include Greek bonds in its asset purchase program.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told ECB President Mario Draghi that she’s willing to let inclusion in his QE program be used as an incentive to persuade Greece to agree to the new deal, the Greek news service Kathimerini reported on Wednesday, without identifying the source of its information. Draghi has made a new agreement between Greece and its lenders a condition of adding Greek debt to the 60 billion euros of bonds the central bank will buy from April, as it scales back the monthly program from 80 billion euros. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers last week that he’s hopeful the latest bailout review can be completed by March 20, when euro-region finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels.

While Greek yields have declined in recent weeks, they remain too high for the country to attempt to tap the markets. Greece’s two-year borrowing cost of about 7%, for example, compares with just 2% for Italy and 1.7% for Spain, both of which have benefited from the support of ECB purchases:

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“..never once laying blame to the U.S. military establishment for spending over $1 billion a year arming Syrian rebels.”

To Solve Refugee Crisis, Stop Funding Terrorism – Tulsi Gabbard (TAM)

Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the politician who previously accused the U.S. of arming ISIS, is still calling on the U.S. government to stop its disastrous regime change policies in the Middle East. According to a press release made public on Tuesday, Gabbard has again called for the U.S. to stop aiding terrorists like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Gabbard’s guest at the presidential address to Congress, a Kurdish refugee activist, also called for an end to the U.S. policy of “regime change in Syria.” Gabbard said:

“In the face of unimaginable heartbreak, Tima has been a voice for the voiceless, a champion for refugees worldwide, and a strong advocate for ending the regime change war in Syria. I am honored to welcome her to Washington tonight as we raise our voices to call on our nation’s leaders to end the counterproductive regime change war in Syria that has caused great human suffering, refugees, loss of life, and devastation. We urge leaders in Congress to pass the Stop Arming Terrorists Act and end our destructive policy of using American taxpayer dollars to provide direct and indirect support to armed militants allied with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.”

Gabbard also reportedly told Russian state-owned news station RT: “For years, our government has been providing both direct and indirect support to these armed militant groups, who are working directly with or under the command of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, all in their effort and fight to overthrow the Syrian government.” The activist, Tima Kurdi, is more widely known as the aunt of a three-year-old boy who drowned on the shores of Turkey in September 2015. The image went viral on social media and was easily manipulated by the mainstream media to further the United States’ agenda in the region, never once laying blame to the U.S. military establishment for spending over $1 billion a year arming Syrian rebels.

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Welcome to Europe. It’s the same as America.

Austria To Stop Giving Food, Shelter To Rejected Asylum Seekers (ZH)

In a bill aimed at encouraging asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, Austrian lawmakers are considering halting the provision of food and accommodation to migrants who are denied asylum and refuse to leave the country. Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than 1 percent of its population, as it was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis when hundreds of thousands of people crossed its borders, most on their way to Germany. As Reuters notes, it has since tightened immigration restrictions and helped shut down the route through the Balkans by which almost all those people – many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere – arrived. Asylum applications fell by more than half last year.

Asylum seekers in Austria get so-called basic services, including free accommodation, food, access to medical treatment and €40 pocket money a month. But now, Austria’s centrist coalition government on Tuesday agreed on a draft law which would allow authorities to stop providing accommodation and food to rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. “The first thing is basically that they don’t get anything from the Austrian state if they don’t have the right to stay here. Is that so hard to understand?” As Politico reports, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the law, which will need approval by parliament, was designed to encourage rejected asylum seekers to leave voluntarily.

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This is getting too absurd.

US Considers Separating Women And Children Who Enter Country Illegally (G.)

Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by US authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials. Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal. The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, in the “least restrictive setting” until they can be taken into the care of a US relative or state-sponsored guardian.

Currently, families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and allowed to remain in the United States until their cases are resolved. A federal appeals court ruling bars prolonged child detention. Donald Trump has called for ending so-called “catch and release”, in which people who cross illegally are freed to live in the United States while awaiting legal proceedings. Two of the officials were briefed on the proposal at a 2 February town hall for asylum officers by US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum chief John Lafferty. A third DHS official said the department was actively considering separating women from their children but has not made a decision. About 54,000 children and their guardians were apprehended between 1 October 2016, and 31 January 2017, more than double the number caught over the same time period a year earlier.

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The sadness is deafening.

Parents Fearing Deportation Pick Guardians For US Children (R.)

Parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation under the Trump administration are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) advocacy group has been receiving about 10 requests a day from parents who want to put in place temporary guardianships for their children, said spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera. Last year, the group said it received about two requests a month for guardianship letters and notarization services. At the request of a nonprofit organization, the National Lawyers Guild in Washington D.C. put out a call this week for volunteer attorneys to help immigrants fill out forms granting friends or relatives the right to make legal and financial decisions in their absence.

In New Jersey, immigration attorney Helen Ramirez said she is getting about six phone calls a day from parents. Last year, she said, she had no such calls. “Their biggest fear is that their kids will end up in foster care,” Ramirez said. President Donald Trump’s administration has issued directives to agents to more aggressively enforce immigration laws and more immigrants are coming under scrutiny by the authorities. For parents of U.S. citizens who are ordered removed, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts to make provisions” for their children, said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. She said that might include access to a lawyer, consular officials and relatives for detained parents to execute powers of attorney or apply for passports and buy airline tickets if the parents decide whether or not to take the children with them.

Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based non-profit that analyzes the movement of people worldwide, said that while putting contingency plans in place is a good idea, he does not think the level of fear is justified. During the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the likelihood of both parents being deported was slim, Capps said. He doubts there will be a huge shift under Republican Trump toward deporting both parents. “The odds are still very low but not as low as they were – and this is just the beginning of the administration,” he said.

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Feb 012017
 
 February 1, 2017  Posted by at 10:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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William Henry Jackson North from Brink Wood, Pen Mar Park, Maryland 1906

Trump Trade Chief Navarro Accuses Germany Of Abusing Euro For Own Gain (Tel.)
ECB Has An Inflation Problem … Called Germany (Pol.)
Japan Rejects Trump Accusation Of Devaluing Yen In Currency War (G.)
EU Chair Tusk Labels Trump A ‘Threat’ As Europeans Debate US Ties (R.)
Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives (Martens)
Theresa May to Trigger Brexit on March 9 (DM)
UK MPs Set For Vote On Triggering Brexit Talks With EU (BBC)
UK Faces Return To Inequality Of Thatcher Years (G.)
Trump Wants Assad to Stay in Power (AHT)
Germany Sends Tanks To Lithuania For NATO Mission (R.)
We Need The State Now More Than Ever. But Our Belief In It Has Gone (G.)
The UK and Greece after Brexit (Kate Smith)

 

 

“The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU — ergo, this is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress.”

Trump Trade Chief Navarro Accuses Germany Of Abusing Euro For Own Gain (Tel.)

Sterling completed its best January against the dollar in six years after Donald Trump and a key adviser renewed an attack on countries that “exploit” their weak currencies. The value of the pound climbed as high as $1.2593 against the dollar after the US president heavily criticised China and Japan for “play[ing] the money market”. His comments followed a meeting with pharmaceutical executives in which he pledged to bring back drug manufacturing to the US. The rise in sterling’s value on Tuesday rounded off its best January performance against the dollar since 2011 and its first positive start to the year in half a decade. It came as Mr Trump’s trade chief put the US on a collision course with Germany after he accused Berlin of using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the US and the rest of the EU.

Peter Navarro, who heads the US president’s new National Trade Council, described the single currency as an “implicit Deutsche Mark” that gave Germany a competitive advantage over its trade partners. The economics professor also said Germany was the main obstacle to a trade deal between the US and European bloc as he dismissed a revival of TTIP talks. “A big obstacle to viewing TTIP as a bilateral deal is Germany, which continues to exploit other countries in the EU as well as the US with an ‘implicit Deutsche Mark’ that is grossly undervalued,” Mr Navarro said. “The German structural imbalance in trade with the rest of the EU and the US underscores the economic heterogeneity within the EU — ergo, this is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress.”

Mr Trump has highlighted a preference for “one-on-one” trade deals. He pulled the US out of the TPP with 11 Pacific Rim nations on his first full day in office. Mr Navarro told the Financial Times the UK’s decision to leave the EU had “killed” a similar trade deal between the US and Europe. Mr Trump has signalled that the US will engage in trade talks with the UK. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, said the country had no influence over the euro exchange rate. “I neither want to nor can I do something to change the situation,” she told reporters in Stockholm. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, has warned that the country’s persistent current account surplus has contributed to imbalances and hindered growth in the eurozone. Analysis by the OECD suggests the euro is trading below its “fair value”. Data published by the think-tank shows the the euro is the most undervalued currency among the dollar’s major peers.

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To repeat for a 1000th time: inflation numbers are meaningless unless money velocity is considered. And velocity is certainly not rising in southern Europe. That in turn would mean if it is rising in Germany – something I haven’t seen any proof of but let’s say it is -, what we see here is a huge threat to the eurozone. Because what is good for Germany is not good for others, and the others will have had enough of it.

ECB Has An Inflation Problem … Called Germany (Pol.)

The eurozone has reached its inflation target for the first time in four years, but ECB chief Mario Draghi has no time to rest on his laurels: He must now brace for renewed attacks on his easy-money policy in Germany. Overall inflation for the 19 countries that use the euro in January came in at a preliminary 1.8% – within a whisper of the ECB’s official target of “below, but close to, 2%,” but core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was unchanged from December at 0.9%, making any immediate change in policy unlikely. However, with German elections looming this September, and top-selling tabloid Bild featuring a “horror curve” showing that despite the spike in inflation –which was even higher in Germany, at 1.9% in January – savers are still earning nothing thanks to the policy of negative rates to spur spending elsewhere in the eurozone, Draghi’s problems are more political than economic.

“Someone has to put a stop to Draghi,” said Jörg Meuthen from the far-right, Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has high hopes of entering the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) for the first time in September. The party is keen to play on the collective German memory of hyperinflation in the first decades of the 20th century. Other inflation hawks, including mainstream figure like Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, are frustrated with Draghi’s insistence that he cannot tailor monetary policy for the eurozone to the needs of the Germany economy, which is growing much more robustly than neighboring countries who still need the ECB’s support.

With Euroskeptic populists challenging the established order in elections this year in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the ECB will come under increasing pressure to explain why it is doing what it’s doing, said Anatoli Annenkov, economist at Société Générale. While he assumes a slow recovery in core inflation, “we had years and years of downside surprises and now that it is going up, we might also see upside surprises,” he said. Beyond Brexit and fears of protectionist policies from the new U.S. administration, the ECB is bracing for internal pressure from the largest economy in the eurozone. In his most recent press conference, Draghi attempted to project unity among the ECB’s governing council in support of the €2.3 trillion bond-buying program designed to stimulate the eurozone economy.

But that façade crumbled just days later when German executive board member Sabine Lautenschläger suggested it might be time to bring the policy to an end. “All preconditions for a stable rise in inflation exist. I am thus optimistic that we can soon turn to the question of an exit,” she said in a speech last week. Her former boss, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, has also signaled that the ECB should let economic data — rather than its previous commitment to keeping quantitative easing running until the end of 2017 — dictate its policy in the coming months.

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Really? Japan would try and deny this?

Japan Rejects Trump Accusation Of Devaluing Yen In Currency War (G.)

Japan has rejected Donald Trump’s claims that Tokyo was deliberately weakening the yen to gain an unfair trade advantage over the US. Trump told a meeting of pharmaceutical companies on Tuesday that Japan, along with China and Germany, were guilty of “global freeloading” for using regulation and currency devaluation in their trade dealings with the US. The president’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, also accused Germany of using a “grossly undervalued” euro to gain an unfair advantage over the US and other EU countries. In unusually frank comments, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Trump’s criticism “completely misses the mark”. Suga added that the Bank of Japan’s pursuit of monetary easing was intended to boost inflation, not weaken the yen against the dollar.

Japan’s policy was in line with G7 and G20 agreements, he said, adding that Tokyo would continue to respond to “one-sided” currency moves by other countries. Vowing to end the emasculation of US trade, Trump’s said: “You look at what China’s doing, you look at what Japan has done over the years. … they play the money market, they play the devaluation market and we sit there like a bunch of dummies.” According to a transcript of Tuesday’s meeting, Trump said other countries “live on devaluation”. Trump’s outburst, which suggests he could backtrack on his wish to see higher US interest rates, came at the end of the worst January for the dollar for three decades. But that follows a huge rise in the dollar on the back of his election win in November when promises of a huge stimulus for the US economy sent the greenback to 14-year highs.

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Said many times before: Tusk got his job solely because of his Putin-bashing as PM of Poland.

EU Chair Tusk Labels Trump A ‘Threat’ As Europeans Debate US Ties (R.)

Donald Trump has joined Russia, China and radical Islam as a threat to the European Union, EU leaders were told on Tuesday by the man chairing a summit where they will debate relations with the United States. European Council President Donald Tusk, a conservative former premier of Poland, wrote to EU national leaders to lay out themes for discussion when they meet in Malta on Friday to discuss the future of their Union as Britain prepares to leave. In vivid language that reflects deep concern in Europe at the new U.S. president’s support for Brexit, as well as his ban on refugees and people from several Muslim countries, Tusk called on Europeans to rally against eurosceptic nationalists at home and take “spectacular steps” to deepen the continent’s integration.

Saying the EU faced the biggest challenges of its 60-year history, Tusk named an “assertive China”, “Russia’s aggressive policy” toward its neighbors and “radical Islam” fuelling anarchy in the Middle East and Africa as key external threats. These, “as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration, all make our future highly unpredictable,” he said. Laying out issues leaders may address in a 60th anniversary declaration at Rome in March, Tusk said the EU unity built after World War Two and the Cold War was needed “to avoid another historic catastrophe”. He also said Americans should not weaken Transatlantic ties fundamental to “global order and peace”.

“The disintegration of the EU will not lead to the restoration of some mythical, full sovereignty of its member states, but to their real and factual dependence on the great superpowers: the United States, Russia and China,” Tusk wrote to the EU leaders. “Only together can we be fully independent.” Senior officials discussed a possible EU response to Trump at a meeting in Brussels on Monday where some governments stressed that Europeans should not be hasty to alienate a key ally, diplomats said. “We don’t want to get fired,” one senior EU diplomat said in reference to Trump’s reality TV catchphrase. Another said that because the full U.S. administration was not yet in place, Europeans should be cautious: “No government in Europe can respond in a coherent manner to this series of orders and tweets,” the diplomat said.

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“Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated.”

Donald Trump Has a Goldman Sachs Problem: Derivatives (Martens)

Following a plunge of over 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday, Trump pivoted to something he thought would please his financial backers on Wall Street. He called the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010 by the Obama administration a “disaster” and promised to “do a big number” on it soon. The Dow closed down 122 points — now wary of Trump’s fire-ready-aim leadership on complex matters. The legitimate fear across Wall Street right now is that Trump’s zero-vetting approach to rule-by-Executive-Order could leave Wall Street in the same chaotic state as the airports experienced from his ham-fisted approach to immigration. But it’s not just Trump that Wall Street needs to fear: it’s Goldman Sachs as well. Trump has stuffed his administration with so many Goldman Sachs progeny that his administration is now regularly referred to as Government Sachs.

Goldman Sachs has a unique vested interest in repealing chunks of Dodd-Frank while making sure that the Glass-Steagall Act is not reinstated. That’s because when it comes to derivatives, Goldman Sachs is keeping a lot of secrets. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is the regulator of national banks. Each quarter it publishes a report on the derivative holdings of the biggest Wall Street banks and their holding companies. Its most recent report shows that as of September 30, 2016 Goldman Sachs Bank USA (a taxpayer-backstopped, FDIC insured bank where it holds its derivatives) had “credit exposure to risk-based capital” of 433%. That figure was more than double that of JPMorgan Chase (216%) and six times that of Bank of America (68%).

There’s another big problem with Goldman Sachs: it has a miniscule asset base compared to the big guns on Wall Street but it’s attempting to play in the big leagues in terms of derivatives. As the chart above shows, Goldman Sachs is the third largest holder of derivatives on Wall Street with $45.48 trillion in notionals (face amount). (As of 2015, the entire GDP of the United States was only $18 trillion.) But Goldman only has $880 billion in assets. That ratio compares to JPMorgan Chase with $2.5 trillion in assets and $50.6 trillion in derivatives and Citigroup with $1.8 trillion in assets and $51.78 trillion in derivatives. The amount of these derivatives is insane on all levels but, clearly, Goldman stands out starkly in its ratios.

There’s another highly disturbing aspect of Goldman’s derivatives. Dodd-Frank legislation mandated that derivatives at the big Wall Street banks move into the sunshine by moving out of over-the-counter contracts whose details are known only to the buyer and seller and onto some type of centrally cleared platform. Dodd-Frank was signed into law on July 21, 2010. It’s almost six years later and yet the OCC’s report of September 30, 2016 shows that of the total derivatives held by Goldman Sachs only 24% are centrally cleared versus 76% at Goldman that remain over-the-counter. Again, that’s a far higher %age of over-the-counter contracts than at its peer banks on Wall Street.

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5 weeks.

Theresa May to Trigger Brexit on March 9 (DM)

Theresa May has set a target date of launching the formal Brexit process on March 9. The Government is aiming to push through its EU Bill through Parliament by March 7, which would allow the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 at a summit of European leaders on March 9 and 10. MPs will start debating the crucial Brexit legislation today and fiery clashes are expected in the commons chamber as the SNP, Lib Dems and dozens of Labour MPs say they will defy June’s vote to leave the EU and vote against triggering Article 50. Ministers told the House of Lords yesterday that it hopes to have the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill approved by March 7. The following day – March 8 – is the Budget, before Mrs May travels to Brussels for the long-awaited Brexit showdown with her EU counterparts.

The PM has promised to trigger Article 50, the formal mechanism for quitting the EU, by the end of March. But she does not want to get off on the wrong foot with EU leaders by clashing with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which effectively gave birth to the EU. She could tell her European counterparts of her timetable at a meeting in Malta on Friday. The timetable could be knocked off course if the Lords initiate what is known as parliamentary ‘ping-pong’ by sending the bill back to the Commons with a series of amendments. And in a sign of the trouble ahead for Mrs May, a senior Tory told the Independent: ‘What we are seeing now is a huge raft of amendments being tabled. ‘There are cross party talks going on about this. It’s not going to be plain sailing for the Prime Minster.’

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How much chaos is Britain capable of?

UK MPs Set For Vote On Triggering Brexit Talks With EU (BBC)

MPs are to vote later on whether to give Theresa May the power to get Brexit negotiations under way. The government is expected to win, with most Conservative and Labour MPs set to back its European Union Bill. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a rebellion by some on his side, while the SNP and Liberal Democrats are also promising to oppose ministers. The vote, which will follow two days of parliamentary debate, is expected at about 19:00 GMT. On Monday, politicians made impassioned speeches for and against the bill, which, if passed, will allow Mrs May to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by her own deadline of 31 March. This would get formal Brexit negotiations with the EU started, with the UK expected to leave the 28-member group in 2019.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said MPs had to implement a decision made by the people in last June’s referendum, which the Leave campaign won by 51.9% to 48.1%. Doing otherwise would be viewed “dimly”, he warned. Mr Corbyn has imposed a three-line whip – the strongest possible sanction – on his MPs to back the bill, which is only two lines long. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer called the vote a “difficult decision” for Labour – most of whose MPs supported Remain in the referendum – but it had to “accept the result”. Two shadow ministers have quit Labour’s front bench in order to oppose the bill, while MPs Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown told the Commons they would also vote against it. A government source said up to 30 Labour MPs were expected to defy Mr Corbyn.

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Cameron and Osborne worked on this for years.

UK Faces Return To Inequality Of Thatcher Years (G.)

Pressure on the government to help struggling Britons has intensified after a leading thinktank warned that falling living standards for the poor threatened the biggest rise in inequality since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. The Resolution Foundation said Theresa May would need to make good on her pledge to support “just about managing” households as it released a report showing that rising inflation and an end to recent strong jobs growth would hit the least well-off hardest. Its warnings chime with other forecasts for a squeeze on family budgets on the back of sluggish wage growth, welfare cuts, rising global oil prices and the pound’s sharp fall since the Brexit vote. The drop in sterling has made imports more expensive and there are already signs that is being passed on to consumers, with inflation hitting its highest level for more than two years in December.

The Resolution Foundation’s study found that the current parliament would be the worst for living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since the early years of Thatcher’s 1979-90 premiership for inequality. Since its sharp increase in the early 1980s – a period of high unemployment, factory closures and a cut in the top rate of tax from 83% to 60% – inequality has broadly remained flat. But the Resolution Foundation forecast that between 2015 and the next general election in 2020 incomes for the poorest half of households will fall by 2%. That compares with a rise of 4% during the last parliament and 1% between 2005 and 2010 – the five-year period that included the deepest recession since the 1930s.

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain has enjoyed a welcome mini-boom in living standards in recent years. But that boom is slowing rapidly as inflation rises, productivity flatlines and employment growth slows. “The squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis tended to hit richer households the most. But this time around it’s low- and middle-income families with kids who are set to be worst affected. “This could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds on living standards – the weak income growth of the last parliament and rising inequality from the time Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.

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Curious piece, sources ‘a tad‘ shaky, but it could still well be right.

Trump Wants Assad to Stay in Power (AHT)

A Syrian diplomatic source underlined that the visit by 130 US figures, including three former secretaries and congresspersons, is a “good omen” in the relations between Damascus and Washington. According to the source, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who had last week said that she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a recent trip to the war-torn country, stressed during the meeting that “affairs are going on in a way that an unprecedented opening is seen in the relations between the two sides in different fields”. Referring to three existing scenarios on Syria, she said that the first option is continued war which doesn’t benefit any sides and the US administration will likely oppose it; the second option is the victory of dissidents which is opposed by Trump and he even dismisses interactions with them.

The third option is Assad’s continued ruling over Syria as the best person to manage the country provided that certain considerations will receive attention in the formation of the government, the Syrian source said. According to the source, Gabbard has indirectly spoken about a US plan to pave the ground for Trump’s showoff by annihilation of the ISIS in Raqqa like what was done by former US President Barack Obama. “Raqqa city is a political card important for the world since it is considered as the ISIS’s first base; meantime, ending the war is Raqqa militarily is easy since there are no tunnels and tall buildings in there which facilitates any military measure to annihilate terrorism,” the Syrian diplomatic source said. Back from a weeklong trip to Syria [she] defended her meeting with the war-torn country’s president, saying there’s no possibility of a viable peace agreement unless Bashar Assad is part of the conversation.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said she originally had no intention of sitting down with Assad, according to a statement issued by her office detailing her travels. But she changed her mind when the opportunity arose. “I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering,” Gabbard said. Gabbard said that the U.S. has “waged wars of regime change” in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Yet each has resulted “in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda” and the Islamic State group, she said. “My visit to Syria has made it abundantly clear,” Gabbard said. “Our counterproductive regime change war does not serve America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the interest of the Syrian people.”

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Germany moving soldiers and equipment through Europe is scary enough. The purpose makes it worse.

Germany Sends Tanks To Lithuania For NATO Mission (R.)

Germany began sending tanks and other equipment to Lithuania on Tuesday as part of a NATO mission to beef up the defense of eastern Europe and send a signal of resolve to Russia, which has denounced the build-up as an act of aggression. The German army command said it was sending about 200 vehicles, including 30 tanks, by train to Lithuania along with 450 troops, the first of whom arrived last week. The transports would continue until late February. Seven decades after the end of World War Two, the movement of German troops to eastern Europe, even on a NATO mission, remains a sensitive issue both in Germany and the region. On Monday the U.S. military deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states and southeastern Europe in its biggest build-up since the Cold War.

The movements are part of a strategy agreed by NATO leaders last July to reassure member states that were once part of the Soviet bloc and have been alarmed by Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The 28-nation Western alliance decided to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression. The deployments focus on Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which fear Moscow could try to destabilize them by cyber attacks, territorial incursions or other means. Russia denies such intentions and has described NATO’s behavior as aggressive and threatening.

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Good luck with that. A state may be beneficial, but not the ones we see around us.

“Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He said it was a joke; it turned out to be a prophecy.”

We Need The State Now More Than Ever. But Our Belief In It Has Gone (G.)

We’re often told that the state and the market have entirely different roles. But meet any number of the people paying the price for Britain’s crash, and you’ll see that they play almost identical parts using similar language and similar bureaucracy. And far from protecting low-paid workers from the depredations of the market, the state wants to hurl more people into it under the pretence that they are shirkers. None of this fits with how social democrats view the state. Having attended my fair share of Labour and other leftwing political meetings, I know that a staple feature is that some grey-haired man in a jumper will leap up towards the end and launch into a good-hearted defence of the state. Public investment, social security, industrial strategy: all will circle back to the state; all will be met with murmurs of approval. And all are a million miles away from the experiences I regularly hear while reporting.

[..] At the end of 2015, a team of academics held a series of two-day discussions with small groups of members of the public across Europe. They were asked only one big question: what should the government do for your children’s generation? Of all the countries, the British were easily the most pessimistic about what could be done – behind even Slovenia. The British liked the NHS and pensions, but thought both would be gone in a generation. They didn’t talk about the good things that could be done by government. Trade unions came up just once in the entire two days. “I found it quite shocking,” recalls Peter Taylor-Gooby, of the University of Kent. “Of all the groups we interviewed, the British had this mood of resigned, reluctant individualism.”

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan claimed the nine most terrifying in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” He said it was a joke; it turned out to be a prophecy. Three decades of both right and left privatising, outsourcing and deregulating have shrunk the public imagination about what their representatives in government can achieve. Put that alongside the shattering of the working class, the smashing of trade unions, and the diminishment of so many other social institutions. The need for the state and collective action hasn’t diminished, but the public belief in it has gone. The state is now either invisible or hostile. This has happened without the pundits and politicians noticing, but its consequences could shape politics for decades.

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Editorial in Kathemerini bytThe new British ambassador in Athens, who wastes not one word on what has happened to Greece courtesy of the EU. Not one word! No compassion for the people of Greece, no understanding, not consolation, no hope. Not one word on what Britain intends to do to help Greece. No, the UK wants Greek help. She either doesn’t know what’s going on, or she chooses to blindly ignore it. In both cases, she should not be where she is. She talks about Britain only, as if Britain is the main victim here. Me, me, me. Well, f**king stay home then. Athens now has this dimwit and Victoria Nuland lackey Geoffrey Platt as US ambassador.

The UK and Greece after Brexit (Kate Smith)

As the new British ambassador in Athens, I begin my mission in Greece at a challenging time. I’ve been struck by the anxiety and even sadness expressed by many Greeks about Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Much of that is based in uncertainty about what this means for the future of Europe, and for the relationship between the United Kingdom and Greece. That’s understandable. And that was why Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech last week sought to provide as much clarity as possible for our partners about what the United Kingdom is seeking from the forthcoming negotiations and beyond. Above all, we intend to remain the best friend and neighbor possible to our European partners. We are not seeking to undermine the European Union. Indeed it is in the best interests of the UK that the EU should succeed.

A prosperous, stable Greece is a critical element in that, and I believe Greece has a strong interest in the specific outcomes to which the prime minister committed the UK government to pursue on 23 January. First – the prime minister said repeatedly in her speech that our cooperation with all European partners on defense, security and foreign policy, including intelligence sharing, will continue. The security of our citizens is not negotiable. With Greece, that means the highly valued collaboration we have with partners in the Greek armed forces, police, coast guard and customs on migration, counterterrorism, and organized crime will remain a priority. Second, our aim of a bold and ambitious free-trade agreement, which gives British and European companies the maximum freedom to trade across our markets, can only be of benefit to Greece.

The United Kingdom is the second biggest export market for Greece’s pharmaceutical products, and third largest for agricultural products; while the freedom for the British financial and professional services to continue to trade across borders will benefit both the City of London and the Greek shipping sector, one of its most important customers. Third: There is much concern about the status of EU nationals in the UK after Brexit. Britain values very highly the contribution of Greeks who live and work and study in the UK – for example the hugely talented Greek clinical staff in, for example, the National Health Service – as well as the 10,000 Greek students in our universities. The rights and benefits of current students, and those starting in academic year 17/18, are secure to the end of their courses. And we want to guarantee the rights of all EU citizens already living in Britain, as well as the rights of British nationals in other member-states, as early as we can. Greece’s support on this would be very welcome.

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Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John Vachon Big Four Cafe, Cairo, Illinois 1940

Obama’s Blunder; Trump’s Gambit (Rickards)
Trump Rally May Not Last Long – Marc Faber (CNBC)
This Stock Rally Is More Hope Than Substance (WSJ)
China, Others are Dumping US Treasurys as Never Before (WS)
The Longer China’s Record M&A Spree Lasts, The Stranger The Deals Get (BBG)
ECB Bond Buying Props Up Oil, Cars, Guns, Drones, Gambling, Handbags (DQ)
EU Agrees Dutch Demands On Ukraine Deal To Avoid ‘Present For Russia’ (R.)
Justin Trudeau: ‘Globalisation Isn’t Working For Ordinary People’ (G.)
Crackdown On Cash Is An Attack On The Poor And A Reward For Banks (Soos)
Why Are the Media Taking the CIA’s Hacking Claims at Face Value? (Nation)
Turkey Has Back-Up Plans If EU Fails To Keep Visa-Free Travel Promises (AFP)
“Without Antibiotics, Essentially You Do Not Have Modern Medicine” (R.)
The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature (G.)

 

 

We need more refreshing views like this. Actual thinking people.

Obama’s Blunder; Trump’s Gambit (Rickards)

[..] Russia is a more natural ally of the U.S. than China. Russia is a parliamentary system, albeit with autocratic overtones; China is a Communist dictatorship. Russia has empowered the Orthodox Church in recent decades, while China is officially atheistic. Russia is encouraging population growth while China’s one child policy and sex-selective abortions resulted in the deaths of over twenty million girls. These cultural aspects – elections, Christianity, and family formation – provide Russia with a natural affinity to western nations. Russia is also superior to China militarily despite recent Chinese advances. That makes Russia the more desirable ally in any two-against-one scenario.

The most powerful argument for embracing Russia to checkmate China is energy. The U.S. and Russia are the two largest energy producers in the world. U.S. energy production is set to expand with the support of the Trump administration. Russian production will expand also based in part on initiatives led by Rex Tillerson of Exxon, soon to be Secretary of State. China has few oil and natural gas reserves and relies heavily on dirty forms of coal and some hydropower. The remainder of China’s energy needs is met through imports. An energy alliance between the U.S. and Russia, supported by Saudi Arabia, could leave the Chinese economy and, by extension, the standing of the Communist Party of China, in jeopardy. That threat is enough to insure Chinese compliance with U.S. aims.

An emerging U.S.-Russian entente could also lead to the alleviation of western economic sanctions on Russia. This would open the door to an alliance between Germany and Russia. Those two economies have near perfect complementarity since Germany is technology rich and natural resource poor, while Russia is the opposite. Isolation of Russia is a fool’s errand. Russia is the twelfth largest economy in the world, has the largest landmass of any country in the world, is a nuclear power, has abundant natural resources, and is a fertile destination for direct foreign investment. The Russian culture is highly resistant to outside pressure, but open to outside cooperation. Just as fifty years of U.S. sanctions failed to change Cuban behavior, U.S. sanctions will not change Russian behavior except for the worse.

Engagement, not confrontation is the better course. The new Trump administration gets this. [..] Fortunately it’s not too late to reestablish a balance of power that favors the United States. China is a rising regional hegemon that should be constrained. Russia is a natural ally that should be empowered. The U.S. has blundered in its foreign policy for the past eight years. A new Trump administration has an opportunity to reverse those blunders by building bridges to Russia, and it seems to be moving in that direction.

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“..Ronald Reagan and Herbert Hoover also began their tenures with huge rallies, followed by crashes…”

Trump Rally May Not Last Long – Marc Faber (CNBC)

If President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric ends up fueling a trade war with China, it’s the U.S. that will take it on the chin, Marc Faber, the publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report, told CNBC on Friday. “Mr. Trump is not particularly keen on China,” Faber told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday. “There may be some trade war escalation or trade restrictions with China, which in my view would rather be negative for the U.S. than for China.” Trump has certainly set his sights on China. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency in order to give its exports an advantage over U.S.-made goods, and he threatened to slap a tariff of up to 45% on Chinese imports.

While China’s yuan has fallen against the U.S. dollar in recent months, policymakers on the mainland have been intervening to support the currency, not weaken it. But Faber, who is also known as Dr. Doom for his usually pessimistic predictions, noted that China wouldn’t be easily cowed. “China does not depend on the U.S. The U.S. is still its largest export destination as a country, but taken together, all the emerging markets are for China much more important,” Faber noted. China exported about $482 billion in goods to the U.S. last year, more than any other country exported to the United States, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The U.S. exported about $116 billion in goods to China in 2015, putting its goods trade deficit $366 billion.

[..] “We have a credit bubble in China, like, by the way, everywhere else in the world. It’s just bigger in China and that, in my view, will have to be deflated,” he said. Dr. Doom also wasn’t trusting Wall Street’s rally since Trump’s election, nothing that Presidents Ronald Reagan and Herbert Hoover also began their tenures with huge rallies, followed by crashes. On Thursday, the Dow Jones rose 59.71 points, or 0.3%, to close at 19,858.24, after climbing at one point to a mere 50 points away from hitting the 20,000 mark. Faber said that the U.S. market was getting toppish. “If you want to be in equities, the U.S. market is now at the most expensive level compared to Europe, Japan and emerging economies it’s ever been,” he said.

Despite Thursday’s gains, “there were more new 12-month lows than new highs.” He wasn’t optimistic on how much further the market can run. “In March 2017, the U.S. bull market will be eight years old. By any standard, this is a very aging bull market. By June 2017, the economic recovery will be eight years old. By any standard, a recovery that is very mature,” he noted. Faber was also pessimistic about the market’s prospects under the Trump administration. “We have to be very careful when we talk about investments. We have a lot of volatility coming toward us. I think that in general people are far too optimistic about the U.S. becoming again a great country,” he said. “I doubt that one man alone can do it.”

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“When you have an adrenaline rush you don’t feel pain. It’s when the adrenaline wears off that you feel it.”

This Stock Rally Is More Hope Than Substance (WSJ)

Janet Yellen may not have an armored horse, but her effect on the bull market looks very like the ineffective stab of a picador. The stock market bull seemed to be badly hurt after the U.S. Federal Reserve chairwoman’s words on Wednesday. The Fed raised interest rates and said policy makers expected three rate increases next year, while Ms. Yellen said the economy is near full capacity and doesn’t need fiscal stimulus—suggesting rates will rise even faster if president-elect Donald Trump goes ahead with promised tax cuts. But after their stumble, stocks regained their feet on Thursday, with the S&P 500 recovering to where it was before Fed Day. A mere picador is never enough to take down a bull.

The true danger to this latest bull run—the Trump rally—comes from itself. The genius of a matador is to wear out the bull by persuading it to keep charging, entrancing the audience in the process. The stock market has been attracted by the flourishes of Mr. Trump, the appealing prospect of tax cuts and infrastructure spending. The question for the next month is whether the bull will be worn out before Mr. Trump even takes office. When markets move a long way very fast, they become vulnerable. Late investors who pile on to little more than momentum have less confidence in their positions. The more momentum builds, the more it hurts if the bull trips and those momentum investors jump off. This market has moved very fast indeed.

The post-election rotation from defensive stocks to economically sensitive cyclical shares has been the biggest of any similar period since the bounce back after the Lehman crash. The 10-year bond’s losses have almost matched the selloff of the 2013 taper tantrum. And the dollar has surged 9% against the yen, taking it to its strongest since 2002 against a basket of currencies. There are plenty of reasons to worry about whether Mr. Trump’s policies will be implemented quickly, or will be as big-league as he has said. So long as those remain worries for another day, the market can keep rising. David Bloom, head of foreign-exchange strategy at HSBC, says investors who missed out on the fast moves in stocks, bonds and the dollar after the election are now being sucked into the trade to avoid missing out. “We’re in a euphoric time,” he said. “When you have an adrenaline rush you don’t feel pain. It’s when the adrenaline wears off that you feel it.”

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We can only imagine where the dollar would be without this mass sell-off.

China, Others are Dumping US Treasurys as Never Before (WS)

All kinds of things are now happening in the world of bonds that haven’t happened before. For example, authorities in China today halted trading for the first time ever in futures contracts of government bonds, after prices had swooned, with the 10-year yield hitting 3.4%. Trading didn’t resume until after the People’s Bank of China injected $22 billion into the short-term money market. What does this turmoil have to do with US Treasurys? China has been dumping them to stave off problems in its own house…. The US Treasury Department released its Treasury International Capital data for October, and what it said about the dynamics of Treasury securities is a doozie of historic proportions. Net “acquisitions” of Treasury bonds & notes by “private” investors amounted to a negative $18.3 billion in October, according to the TIC data.

In other words, “private” foreign investors sold $18.3 billion more than they bought. And “official” foreign investors, which include central banks, dumped a net $45.3 billion in Treasury bonds and notes. Combined, they unloaded $63.5 billion in October. In September, these foreign entities had already dumped a record $76.6 billion. They have now dumped Treasury paper for seven months in a row. Over the past 12 months through October, they unloaded $318.2 billion. A 12-month selling spree in this magnitude has never occurred before. There have been a few months of timid net selling in 2012, and some in 2013, and a few in 2014, but no big deal because the Fed was buying under its QE programs. But then, with QE tapered out of the way, the selling picked up in 2015, and has sharply accelerated in 2016.

This chart (via Trading Economics), going back to the early 1980s, shows just how historic this wholesale dumping (circled in red) of US Treasury bonds and notes by foreign entities has been: The chart is particularly telling: It shows in brutal clarity that foreign buyers funded the $1 trillion-and-over annual deficits during and after the Financial Crisis, with net purchases in several months exceeding $100 billion. The other big buyer was the Fed. But since last year, the world has changed. China, once the largest holder of US Treasurys, has been busy trying to keep a lid on its own financial problems that are threatening to boil over. It’s trying to prop up the yuan. It’s trying furiously to stem rampant capital flight. It’s trying to keep its asset bubbles, particularly in the property sector, from getting bigger and from imploding – all at the same time. And in doing so, it has been selling foreign exchange reserves hand over fist.

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Beijing’s own policies come back to bite it hard. Fully predictable too.

The Longer China’s Record M&A Spree Lasts, The Stranger The Deals Get (BBG)

It’s no wonder the country’s regulators are getting concerned. This month, Chinese agencies including the National Development and Reform Commission said they’re closely watching “irrational” outbound purchases in sectors including entertainment and real estate, without naming specific deals. The heightened scrutiny coincides with a broader government effort to limit capital outflows, posing a risk to global takeover volumes after Chinese firms began rivaling their U.S. counterparts as the biggest buyers of overseas assets this year. For the Wall Street bankers helping to sell Western companies, the changing regulatory environment could make a delicate balance even trickier. Advisers need to court a widening pool of Chinese acquirers while at the same time making sure the companies are savvy enough to complete their deals.

“The M&A landscape has shifted focus to Chinese buyers,” said Brian Gu at JPMorgan Chase, the top-ranked adviser on Chinese outbound acquisitions tracked by Bloomberg this year. “How to solicit credible potential Chinese buyers now becomes an essential part of a pitch for any global sell-side mandates.” More than 360 Chinese companies announced their first cross-border acquisitions in the initial 11 months of this year, with the combined size of the transactions more than doubling from the full year 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sifting through those new ranks of Chinese acquirers takes some work. When EQT Partners decided to sell Germany’s EEW Energy from Waste, its bankers at Morgan Stanley arranged for executives to meet potential buyers in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong weeks before it began soliciting bids.

[..] While Chinese policy makers have been supportive of outbound acquisitions that help domestic companies gain foreign technology and strengthen industries seen as important drivers of economic growth, the worry is that some deals are being used as a way to move money offshore or make quick profits by re-listing acquired businesses at higher valuations in China. “Some of these companies invest outside of their core competency because they want to get money out of China, as they see the Chinese yuan will continue to depreciate,” said Christopher Balding, a professor at Peking University’s HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, without naming any specific deals.

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Nice piece of research from Don Quijones. Title is mine, couldn’t help myself.

ECB Bond Buying Props Up Oil, Cars, Guns, Drones, Gambling, Handbags (DQ)

In June 2016, the ECB activated its corporate bond buying program, ostensibly to revive the Eurozone’s stalled economy. The program has been shrouded in secrecy, as the ECB has refused to reveal the identity of most of the companies, divulging only the International Securities Identification Number (ISIN) of the bonds, but not the amounts. The ECB coordinates the overall effort, but the actual buying is done by the national central banks. Now the non-profit Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has cracked the code, so to speak: Finding the names via the ISIN code is a simple job. CEO has looked them all up to see what investments the ECB has found worthy of public money. Unfortunately, a lack of transparency at the ECB means the amounts held in bonds of individual corporations are not revealed.

While many pension funds do release this information, it seems that the common national bank for hundreds of millions of European citizens is unable to! Nevertheless, a lot can be learned from the lists… For instance, the fact that Europe’s oil majors have been particularly spoiled, with the ECB splurging on bonds issued by Shell no less than 11 times. The central bank bought bonds from Italian oil company Eni 16 times, Spain’s Repsol six times, Austrian OMV six times, and Total 7 times. Gas companies have also fared remarkably well. When counting the purchase of bonds in Spain, for example, 53% are from companies involved in the natural gas sector. The corresponding number in Italy is an astounding 68%. Also well favored are Europe’s biggest car companies, in particular those from Germany, with Daimler and BMW tied in top spot with 15 purchases apiece. The ECB also bought seven times bonds issued by Volkswagen, despite the reputational and financial fallout from its emissions scandal.

And it bought Renault bonds three times. Other companies on CEO’s list of coddled giants include Thales, a French producer of missiles, rifles, armored vehicles, and military drones, which has been engulfed in a spate of corruption scandals in recent years; France’s three major water corporations, Suèz, Vivendi, and Veolia; Novomatic, an Austrian-based gambling company owned by billionaire Johan Graf; and luxury goods companies like LVMH, producer of Moët & Chandon champagne, Hennessy cognac, and Louis Vuitton women’s handbags. These are just some of the corporations benefiting handsomely from a bond-buying binge that has already reached some €46 billion (as of Nov. 25, 2016). When the ECB buys these bonds, it inflates the bond prices and pushes their yields down, which is the purpose, and it thus lowers the cost of capital for this companies even further. By the end of the program, which is “scheduled” to finish in September, 2017, the ECB is expected to have lavished around €125 billion on them.

But that’s not the worst of it. As we reported in August, the ECB has admitted that it is not only buying already-issued bonds trading in secondary markets, as the public was initially led to believe; it is also buying bonds from companies via so-called “private placements.” These debt sales are not open to the broader market, so there’s no need for a prospectus. Only a small number of institutional investors participate. Private placements are not unusual. What’s new is that the ECB is using them to buy bonds. This was done discreetly, but it was leaked – and the ECB had some explaining to do. The central bank’s new role as “debt-buyer of first resort” raises a whole litany of concerns. It grants the ECB an almost god-like grip over Europe’s financial markets. And according to The Wall Street Journal, Citigroup figured “that bonds eligible for ECB purchases have already outperformed ineligible bonds by roughly 30% since the bond-buying program was announced in March.”

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A Dutch referendum in April voted down the EU association deal with Ukraine. PM Rutte now pretends that with a few minor tweaks it’s acceptable regardless. Rutte will now take it to his parliament for approval, which would overwrite the referendum result. Democracy. They’re handing the entire continent to Wilders and Le Pen on a platter. Oh, and who does Rutte blame for his behavior? You got it, Russia.

EU Agrees Dutch Demands On Ukraine Deal To Avoid ‘Present For Russia’ (R.)

EU leaders agreed on Thursday to additional Dutch demands over a landmark deal establishing closer ties with Ukraine, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said. The EU’s so-called association agreement with Ukraine is central to the former Soviet republic’s efforts to move closer to the West. Mass street protests toppled a pro-Russian Ukrainian president in 2014 after he tried to ditch it. The Netherlands is the only EU country that has not ratified the deal, which fosters closer political ties and aims to free up trade between Ukraine and the bloc, after Dutch voters rejected it in a referendum last April. The Hague has asked the EU for additional guarantees to ensure the deal does not lead to EU membership for Ukraine.

Asked if all 28 EU leaders have arrived to a common position on the Dutch demand, Muscat said: “Yes, there is agreement.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will now take it to his parliament for approval, which would overwrite the referendum result. Rutte told reporters before the talks that it was crucial to get a united European stance in the face of an emboldened Russia. “Russia is an increasing risk, look what happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and rockets being placed between Poland and Lithuania. You cannot, as the Netherlands … break this unity, that is why I’m so motivated to get this done,” he said.

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Justin is trying to make me believe that building pipelines is the way to go towards a “carbon-free economy”. Sure. He’s turning into soundbite man.

Justin Trudeau: ‘Globalisation Isn’t Working For Ordinary People’ (G.)

[..] A silver lining for Trudeau may lie in Trump’s pledge to resurrect plans for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. When the Obama administration rejected the plan last year, Trudeau said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the decision. When Trudeau called Trump to congratulate him after the election, the two briefly spoke about Keystone, said Trudeau, adding that it remains to be see how the US will move forward with plans for the pipeline. Any reluctance to move forward on climate change south of the border could be a boon for Canadian companies across various sectors, said Trudeau. “I know Canada is well positioned to pick up some of the slack and when people finally realise that it’s a tremendous business opportunity to lead on climate change, Canada will already have a head start.”

[..] Last week’s announcement of a national carbon price is a key part of Trudeau’s environmental policy – one that has been derided by environmentalists for enabling the expansion of fossil fuels, compensated by initiatives that include investments in clean tech and promises to phase out federal subsidies for oil and gas companies. The policy saw Trudeau recently approve a liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia as well as two pipelines that will offer Alberta’s oil sands nearly a million barrels a day in increased capacity. The approvals have sparked broad opposition among environmentalists, some First Nations and several of the communities affected by the planned infrastructure projects. “There is a number of people out there who’ve always [believed] if you stop pipeline, you stop the oil sands,” said Trudeau. “Well, actually as we’ve seen, it doesn’t work that way and what we end up with is much more oil by rail.”[..]

The government’s environmental policy takes a long view on the transition to a carbon-free economy, said Trudeau. “It’s not going to happen in a day, or in a week, but it will happen over years and perhaps a decade or two,” he said. “I know there are people out there extremely passionate about the environment, who don’t think I made the right decision on approving a couple of pipelines. But I think that everyone can see at least what it is we’re trying to do and that we’re consistent with what I’ve always said which is, you protect the environment and you build a strong economy at the same time.” The double-barrelled approach, said Trudeau, echoes his government’s broader effort to address the tensions currently wreaking havoc on the political status quo around the world. “People get that we need jobs, we need a protected environment,” he said. “On the other hand, if people have no jobs, if they have no opportunity, they’re not going to worry about protection of the air and water if they can’t feed their kids.”

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I don’t know that throwing in the drug legalization topic is very relevant. Just ‘hands off!’ should do it.

Crackdown On Cash Is An Attack On The Poor And A Reward For Banks (Soos)

The Coalition government recently announced a taskforce to investigate and recommend ways to deal with the so-called black economy. This primary revolves around business transactions conducted in cash to evade taxes. Other justifications concern the illicit drug trade and welfare fraud. The plan is to clamp down on this aspect of the black economy to make it more difficult for workers, businesses and households to evade tax, boosting taxation revenue. It is estimated the black economy accounts for about 1.5% of GDP or $21bn. There is also speculation that the $100-dollar bill may be removed from circulation. The Coalition government’s explanations seem sensible, with the mass media generally supportive. Yet, there are robust arguments why the Australian public should oppose this move – mostly because the government is trying to deal with problems it created itself.

The drug trade in Australia is thriving and constitutes a considerable portion of the black economy. This illegal trade, however, only exists because the government criminalises it. The primary reason offered is that it prevents the production and consumption of dangerous substances for recreational purposes. It clearly does nothing of the sort. By criminalising drugs, product is manufactured in unregulated and uncertain conditions, leading to vastly inferior quality relative to that in the legal and regulated pharmaceutical industry. Huge monopolistic profits are reaped by drug cartels and those in the supply chain, leading to a significant loss of taxable income. None of this would happen if the drug trade was legalised – and there is growing acceptance that it should be.

In short, the government cannot use the pretext of clamping down on an industry which is presently illegal by claiming the cash transactions facilitates the existence and growth of it when it is the government’s own criminalisation policy which brought it into existence. By legalising, billions of dollars of taxes could be raised through the GST, income tax and externality/sin taxes. Another area of alleged concern is welfare fraud. Recipients of welfare payments can work in the black economy, making a modest income without reporting it. If this were properly reported, welfare payments would be reduced. Again, this is a problem government has itself created. While the government and certain sections of the mass media pretend Australia has an out-of-control welfare system, the facts demonstrate Australia has some of the smallest welfare expenditures relative to GDP, easily the most well-targeted and has the highest “target-efficiency” (each dollar in spending reduces income inequality the most) in the OECD.

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I’d like to ignore this tale (who reads the WaPo anymore), but the Nation has a passable one: “..the CIA has “(1) attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically-elected, (2) attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries, (3) grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, (4) dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries, (5) attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.”

Why Are the Media Taking the CIA’s Hacking Claims at Face Value? (Nation)

In 1977, Carl Bernstein published an exposé of a CIA program known as Operation Mockingbird, a covert program involving, according to Bernstein, “more than 400 American journalists who in the past 25 years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Bernstein found that in “many instances” CIA documents revealed that “journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.” Fast-forward to December 2016, and one can see that there isn’t much need for a covert government program these days.

[..] The high-profile anchors and analysts on CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC who have cited the work of The Washington Post and The New York Times seem to have come down with a bad case of historical amnesia. The CIA, in their telling, is a bulwark of American democracy, not a largely unaccountable, out-of-control behemoth that has often sought to subvert press freedom at home and undermine democratic norms abroad. The columnists, anchors, and commentators who rushed to condemn Trump for not showing due deference to the CIA seem to be unaware that, throughout its history, the agency has been the target of far more astute and credible critics than the president-elect.

In his memoir Present at the Creation, Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote that about the CIA, “I had the gravest forebodings.” Acheson wrote that he had “warned the President that as set up neither he, the National Security Council, nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it.” Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, President John F. Kennedy expressed his desire to “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” The late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan twice introduced bills, in 1991 and 1995, to abolish the agency and move its functions to the State Department which, as the journalist John Judis has observed, “is what Acheson and his predecessor, George Marshall, had advocated.”

[..] To see what a corrosive effect outside powers can have on democratic processes, one need look no further than the 1996 Russian presidential election, in which Americans like the regime-change theorist Michael McFaul (later US Ambassador to Russia from 2012–14) interfered in order to keep the widely unpopular Boris Yeltsin in power against the wishes of the Russian people. For its part, the CIA has a long history of overthrowing sovereign governments the world over. According to historian William Blum, the CIA has “(1) attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically-elected, (2) attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries, (3) grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, (4) dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries, (5) attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.”

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Yada yada

Turkey Has Back-Up Plans If EU Fails To Keep Visa-Free Travel Promises (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday Turkey had back-up plans if the EU failed to keep its promise over visa-free travel for Turks to the passport-free Schengen zone. Turkey and the EU signed a controversial deal in March, in which Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants landing on Greek islands in return for incentives including €3 billion in funds and visa-free travel. “If we do not get the expected outcome regarding the visa issue… if promises are not fulfilled, Turkey will no doubt have a plan B and it will have a plan C,” Erdogan warned during a news conference with his Slovenian counterpart in Ankara.

“We do not have to say ‘yes’ to every decision made about us. The EU has given us nothing so far,” he added, without elaborating. Ties between Brussels and Ankara have been strained since a failed July 15 coup in Turkey. The rocky relationship worsened after the European Parliament voted last month in favour of halting long-stalled membership talks with Turkey over its post-coup crackdown, a non-binding vote which Erdogan branded worthless. Turkey accuses the EU of failing to show enough solidarity after the failed putsch while Brussels has repeatedly urged Turkey to act within the rule of law as it arrests tens of thousands of people suspected of links to coup plotters.

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Horror story.

“Without Antibiotics, Essentially You Do Not Have Modern Medicine” (R.)

For nearly two years, a killer stalked the patients of Providence Alaska Medical Center. It was a bacteria called Acinetobacter baumannii, a common cause of infections in hospitals. This one was different. After a rash of mild cases in early 2011, doctors began seeing highly drug-resistant infections in patients, said Dr Megan Clancy, an infectious-disease specialist at the Anchorage, Alaska, hospital. And the bacteria was attacking more patients than just the severely ill ones who are the usual victims of drug-resistant “superbugs.” Clancy took emergency measures. Infected patients were isolated. Staff and visitors had to adhere to strict hand-washing and other infection-control protocols. Furniture and equipment were scrubbed to remove a microbe that can stubbornly persist on all sorts of surfaces.

Clancy also contacted outside researchers for help. They found that a strain of the bacteria had acquired a rare combination of traits. Bacteria typically are either highly resistant to drugs or highly virulent. This strain was both. Doctors quickly burned through the antibiotics used as the second and third lines of defense against superbugs. This strain shook them off. “When you start running out of medications, it gets pretty desperate,” Clancy said. Eventually, they turned to colistin. This powerful antibiotic was largely abandoned in the 1960s for its toxic side effects. Out of necessity, it has become in recent years a weapon of last resort against the worsening superbug scourge.

But in some of the Alaska cases, even colistin didn’t work. For public health officials, that’s the nightmare scenario. “It’s the worst of all possible worlds: You have a bacteria that is good at establishing infection, and it can’t be treated with antibiotics,” said Dr Robert Clifford, a microbiologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who studied the outbreak.

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Needs much more attention. This is how we kill the living world.

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature (G.)

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests. New roads also pave the way to further exploitation by humans, such as poaching or mining, and new infrastructure.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km. Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people. The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads. The scientists considered that land up to a kilometre on each side of a road was affected, which they believe is a conservative estimate.

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Dec 102016
 
 December 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein Interior of migratory fruit worker’s tent, Yakima, Washington 1936

Donald Trump Team Takes Aim At CIA (CNN)
A Rising Stock Market Does Not Signal Economic Health (FEE)
Economist Streeck Calls Time On Capitalism (G.)
Nobel Economics Prize Winner: ‘The Euro Was A Mistake’ (EA)
Beware Of Panic Buying In Bank Stocks (MW)
Trump Has Unleashed The Stock Market’s ‘Animal Spirits’ (MW)
The Bond Market Doesn’t Believe Draghi (BBG)
Why China Can’t Stop Capital Outflows (Balding)
EU Launches New Investigation Into Chinese Steel Imports (R.)
ECB Refuses To Help Italy’s Crisis-Hit Monte dei Paschi Bank (G.)
60% Of Americans Who Usually Fly Home For The Holidays, Won’t This Year (MW)
Greece Under Fire Over Christmas Bonus For Low-Income Pensioners (G.)
Greece Seamen Strike: Angry Farmers Throw Flares, Set Offices On Fire (KTG)
Broken Men in Paradise (NYT)

 

 

Tried to find a better source for this, not as one-sided as CNN, but does it really matter anymore at this point? Anyone who wants to believe more secret and anonymous ‘news’ about Russia and the US elections, can and will. Others find it hard to believe that the WaPo comes with yet another unsubstantiated ‘story’. CNN calls this ‘revelations’, but that really is not the word. And saying things like “the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community” can probably best be seen as an attempt at comedy.

Donald Trump Team Takes Aim At CIA (CNN)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team slammed the CIA Friday, following reports the agency has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help him win. In a stunning response to widening claims of a Russian espionage operation targeting the presidential race, Trump’s camp risked an early feud with the Intelligence community on which he will rely for top secret assessments of the greatest threats facing the United States. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition said in a terse, unsigned statement. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”

The sharp pushback to revelations in The Washington Post, which followed an earlier CNN report on alleged Russian interference in the election, represented a startling rebuke from an incoming White House to the CIA. The transition team’s reference to the agency’s most humiliating recent intelligence misfire – over its conclusion that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — threatens to cast an early cloud over relations between the Trump White House and the CIA. The top leadership of the agency that presided over the Iraq failure during the Bush administration has long since been replaced. But the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community about the incoming President’s attitude to America’s spy agencies.

CNN reported this week that Trump is getting intelligence briefings only once a week. Several previous presidents preparing for the inauguration had a more intense briefing schedule. Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation into Russia’s hacking told CNN last week that the US intelligence community is increasingly confident that Russian meddling in the US election was intended to steer the election toward Trump, rather than simply to undermine or in other ways disrupt the political process. On Friday, the Post cited US officials as saying that intelligence agencies have identified individuals connected to the Russian government who gave Wikileaks thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Trump has repeatedly said there is no evidence to suggest that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with which he has vowed to improve relations, played a nefarious role in the US election. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said in an interview for the latest issue of Time magazine, adding that he thought intelligence community accusations about Russian interventions in the election were politically motivated.

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“The Economy Isn’t A Thing”.

A Rising Stock Market Does Not Signal Economic Health (FEE)

The headlines tell us that the Dow Jones is up around 1,000 points since Donald Trump won the election on November 8th. The conventional wisdom is that this shows how much confidence people have in Trump’s ability to generate a healthy American economy. The argument is that if people are willing to buy stock in American firms, this indicates their belief that those firms will see improving profits over the next few years. They then draw the conclusion that more profitable firms indicate a healthier American economy. Although this argument is correct about stock prices reflecting an increasing belief in the profitability of US firms, it makes a major error in assuming that profitable firms necessarily mean a better economy. First, it’s important to understand that phrases like “a healthier economy” are themselves problematic. The “economy” is not the thing we should be concerned about. In fact, in some fundamental sense there’s no such thing as “the economy.”

As Russ Roberts and John Papola memorably put it in the music video “Fight of the Century:”
The economy’s not a car.
There’s no engine to stall.
No experts can fix it.
There’s no “it” at all.
The economy is us

Things are not “good/bad for the economy.” They are good or bad for the people who comprise the market process, specifically in our capacity as consumers. All the economy amounts to is people engaging exchanges in order to better satisfy their wants. What we should care about is whether or not people are able to better satisfy those wants. And “better satisfy” here means not just more and better goods and services, but at cheaper prices too. Lower prices mean that consumers have income left over to purchase goods they otherwise couldn’t, enabling them to better satisfy their wants by satisfying more of them. In a genuinely free market, the profitability of firms is a good reflection of their ability to better satisfy the wants of consumers. Our willingness to pay for their goods and services reflects the fact that we receive value from those products, so their profits are at least a general signal of having created that value and satisfied consumer wants.

Trump’s policies may well enrich many firms, but they will impoverish the average American. In fact, consumers get much more value out of most innovations than is reflected in the profits of firms. A famous study by economist William Nordhaus estimated that profits made up only about 2.2% of the total benefits created by innovations. If you doubt this, ask yourself how much it would take for you to give up your smartphone and its connectivity. Then multiply that by all of the smartphone users in the world. Then compare that to the profits made off smartphones. The total value to consumers will dwarf the profits of smartphone producers. However, when markets aren’t free, profits do not necessarily reflect value creation. Firms who profit through privileges, protections, and subsidies from governments demonstrate that they are able to please political actors, not that they can deliver value to consumers by better satisfying their wants.

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Can’t give the article the space it deserves here.

Economist Streeck Calls Time On Capitalism (G.)

Nothing in his work prepares you for meeting Streeck (pronounced Stray-k). Professionally, he is the political economist barking last orders for our way of life, and warning of the “dark ages” ahead. His books bear bluntly fin-de-siecle titles: two years ago was Buying Time, while the latest is called How Will Capitalism End? (spoiler: not well). Even his admirers talk of his “despair”, by which they mean sentences such as this: “Before capitalism will go to hell, it will for the foreseeable future hang in limbo, dead or about to die from an overdose of itself but still very much around, as nobody will have the power to move its decaying body out of the way.”

What does such gloom look like in the flesh? Small glasses, neat side parting and moustache, a backpack, a smart anorak and at least a decade younger than his 70 years. Alluding to Trump’s victory, he cheerily declares “What a morning!” as if discussing the likelihood of rain, then strolls into the gallery. [..] At a time when macroeconomists have failed and other academics have retreated into disciplinary solipsism, Streeck is one of the few to have risen to the moment. Many of the themes that will define this year, this decade, are in his work. The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them.

This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU – and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the 2012 lectures later collected in Buying Time: “Professionalised political science tends to underestimate the impact of moral outrage. With its penchant for studied indifference … [it] has nothing but elitist contempt for what it calls “populism”, sharing this with the power elites to which it would like to be close … [But] citizens too can “panic” and react “irrationally”, just like financial investors … even though they have no banknotes as arguments but only words and (who knows?) paving stones.”

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The structure of the EU makes it impossible for it to survive. That’s what these people miss.

Nobel Economics Prize Winner: ‘The Euro Was A Mistake’ (EA)

The European Union should embark on a process of decentralisation and return certain areas of decision making to the member states if it wants to survive and thrive, according to Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner Oliver Hart. Today (9 December), Hart and his colleague, Bengt Holmström, will receive the top prize for their work on contract theory, which covers everything from how CEOs are paid to privatisation. Hart told EFE that he believes the keyword in EU politics is now “decentralisation” and that Brussels has “gone too far in centralising power”. The British-born economist said that “if it abandons this trend, the EU could survive and flourish, otherwise, it could fail”.

The Harvard University professor insisted that the EU member states are not “sufficiently homogeneous” to be considered one single entity, adding that trying to make the EU-28 into one was an “error”. Hart said that the concerns felt by the member states about decision making and centralisation of power in Brussels should be addressed by returning competences to the EU capitals. The Nobel winner conceded that the EU should retain control of “some important areas”, like free trade and free movement of workers, the latter of which he admitted is “ultimately, an idea that I personally like, although I understand that there are political worries”.

His prize-winning colleague, Holmström, also told EFE that the EU needs to “redefine its priorities, limiting its activities and its regulatory arm, in order to focus on what can be done on the essential things”. The Finnish economist, who also teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said that Brussels needs to rejig its system of governance and its basic rules in order to make them “clearer and simpler”. Hart argued that “the euro was an mistake” and said that it’s an opinion that he has maintained ever since the monetary union was first introduced. The economist added that it “wouldn’t be a sad thing at all” if in the future Europe abandoned the single currency and that the British were “very clever” to stay out of it.

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Wait till January.

Beware Of Panic Buying In Bank Stocks (MW)

Buying of banking stocks has reached panic proportions, suggesting a trend reversal over the next couple of weeks may be likely. The SPDR Financial Select Sector exchange-traded fund rose 0.2% Friday, closing at the highest level since Feb. 1, 2008. Financials have been the best performer of the S&P 500’s 11 key sectors since Donald Trump was elected president, with the sector tracking stock (XLF) soaring 18.8% since Nov. 8, compared with a 5.6% gain in the S&P 500 index. The XLF produced this week its best rolling one-month (22 sessions) %age gains since August 2009, as the financial crisis was ending. Investors appear to be banking that President-elect Donald Trump will provide a Goldilocks scenario for financials, as his promises of lower regulations, lower corporate taxes and a revived economy that results in higher longer-term interest rates are just right for the sector.

A number of technical warnings signs have flashed, however, suggesting the postelection buying frenzy is petering out. On Thursday, 73% of the S&P 500 financial sector hit 52-week highs, the most since Feb. 13, 1997, and the second highest%age since 1990, according to Jason Goepfert, president of Sundial Capital. His research suggests that the previous five-largest surges in 52-week highs in financials produced a median loss of 1.9% over the next week, and a decline of 2.5% over the next two weeks. In comparison, his data showed the average for all days was a gain of 0.2% in a week and a 0.4% rise in two weeks. “There is no doubt that momentum is impressive in the sector—the problem is that it seems to have entered panic mode and that rarely lasts,” Goepfert wrote in a note to clients.

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Question is, how long for?

Trump Has Unleashed The Stock Market’s ‘Animal Spirits’ (MW)

You don’t have to call it a Trump rally. But some market specialists appear to be struggling to pin a name to the recent moves across global markets, which has pushed the S&P 500, DJIA, the Nasdaq – and most recently the Dow Jones Transportation Average – into record territory since President-elect Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over rival Hillary Clinton. The Dow scored its 14th record close on Friday. Steve Barrow at Standard Bank said in a Nov. 30 research note that “whatever fears might exist in some quarters about Trump’s win, some sort of animal spirits might have been spurred.” So-called animal spirits is an oft-used term on Wall Street coined by famed economist John Maynard Keynes to describe gut instinct.

Or as Keynes explained, “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction”. A certain verve to scoop up assets has certainly appeared to be at play since early November. Indeed, the Dow industrials as of Friday’s close have risen nearly 8% since the election outcome, the broad-stock benchmark S&P 500 index has climbed 5.6%, while the Nasdaq has picked up 4.8% over the same 30-day period. The Nasdaq scored its first record close since Nov. 29 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the small-cap focused Russell 2000 which is most sensitive to economic prospects for the country, has jumped more than 15.2% since Nov. 8. To be sure, the U.S. has been a shining star compared with its weaker sisters abroad when it comes to economic growth. The ECB on Thursday said it planned on scaling back elements of its stimulus program but noted that it would extend it “if necessary.”

Barrow speculates that global growth has mostly stagnated in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis because the market didn’t put much faith in the tools, namely asset-repurchases and ultralow rates, that have been put in place by central bankers. By contrast, Trump has proposed a raft of fiscal-stimulus measures to upgrade the U.S.’s ailing infrastructure. The market now appears to be betting, in part, that the incoming leader of the free world will make good on those promises, which could inject a dose of spending that could create jobs and break a trend of economic stagnation. As a result infrastructure companies, commodities associated with construction and bank shares, among other asset classes, vaulted higher. Wall Street is euphoric over the possibilities.

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People like Draghi have come to rely on docile markets. Once that’s gone….

The Bond Market Doesn’t Believe Draghi (BBG)

The beatings will continue until morale improves, the saying goes. That’s one interpretation of the ECB’s somewhat convoluted rejig of its quantitative easing program this week. By insisting he’s not tapering bond buying while simultaneously reducing the monthly purchases and extending the time frame, President Mario Draghi is sending a mixed message that likely reflects disagreements among his Governing Council members. Cutting the program to €60 billion per month from €80 billion throws a bone to those who worry that it’s time to withdraw the monetary medicine; lengthening the timeline until the end of next year pacifies policy makers who fear the patient isn’t yet on the road to recovery.

But in financial markets, bond yields are effectively tightening monetary conditions on the central bank’s behalf, suggesting investors are beginning to anticipate an improved economic outlook. That could play out in two ways: Either bonds are correct, and the ECB will find itself tapering properly next year, or bonds are wrong, in which case Draghi will have to make good on his pledge to do more if needed. The 10-year German bond yield has climbed to about 0.4% from a low of almost -0.2% in July. That’s still a ridiculously low level; the average in the past two decades is about 3.4%, and for most of the 1990s the range was between 5% and 9%. Nevertheless, it amounts to a significant tightening in monetary conditions in just three months as the yield curve has steepened:

Also, don’t forget that the euro zone remains a fractured economic landscape. Germany, with an unemployment rate of 6%, will find it easier to withstand rising borrowing costs than Italy, where the jobless rate is almost twice as high. And the Italian yield curve has replicated the move seen in Germany, at higher levels that have doubled 10-year yields to 2% since August:

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“China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis…”

Why China Can’t Stop Capital Outflows (Balding)

How China manages its currency is likely to be the global economic story of 2017. Despite the government’s best efforts, capital continues to leave the country at a brisk pace, with a balance-of-payments deficit through the third quarter of $469 billion. Attempts to arrest this flow probably won’t work. But they may well create new risks. Capital outflows began gathering steam in 2012, when the government liberalized current-account payment transactions in goods and services. Enterprising Chinese figured out that while they couldn’t officially move money abroad to buy a house via the capital account – individuals are barred from moving more than $50,000 out of the country each year – they could create false trade invoices that would allow them to deposit money where they needed it.

The result was a huge discrepancy between payments recorded for imports and the declared value of goods passing through customs, amounting to $526 billion in hidden outflows last year. The problem has only worsened in 2016. French investment bank Natixis estimates that outflows will total more than $900 billion this year, despite new restrictions on yuan movements, including prohibitions on using credit and debit cards to pay for insurance products in Hong Kong. Last week, the government added yet another restriction. It announced that all international capital-account transactions of more than $5 million will need to be approved by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. This has businesses deeply concerned, given that the administration likely doesn’t have the manpower for the sheer number of transactions it will need to review.

And if such restrictions can be placed on the capital account, it seems only a matter of time until they’re imposed on goods and services transactions. All of which raises a simple question: Why is Beijing working so hard to prop up the yuan and crack down on outward capital flows? The common answer is that it fears the trade consequences of a declining yuan. But that’s not it. Since the government devalued the yuan on Aug. 11, the combined value of imports and exports has fallen by only 8%, even as the value of the yuan has fallen 8% against the U.S. dollar. Any coming decline in the currency won’t make much difference, given the weak global economy and the product mix China is buying and selling.

The real reason is that the government is concerned about the implications of further liberalizing. China’s rickety banks, with delinquency rates of 30%, are receiving regular liquidity injections from the PBOC. Money market rates have been rising, from under 2% this summer to above 2.3% in Shanghai today. Allowing international capital mobility could easily trigger larger withdrawals – and hence liquidity crunches for banks already feeling the pinch of bad loans. In other words, China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis.

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This is far from over.

EU Launches New Investigation Into Chinese Steel Imports (R.)

The EU has launched an investigation into whether Chinese producers of certain corrosion-resistant steels are selling into Europe at unfairly low prices, in its latest action against cheap Chinese steel imports. The European Commission has determined that a complaint brought by EU steelmakers association Eurofer merits an investigation, the EU’s official journal said on Friday. The EU has imposed duties on a wide range of steel grades after investigations over the past few years to counter what EU steel producers say is a flood of steel sold at a loss due to Chinese overcapacity.

Some 5,000 jobs have been axed in the British steel industry in the last year, as it struggles to compete with cheap Chinese imports and high energy costs. G20 governments recorecognized in September that steel overcapacity was a serious problem. China, the source of 50% of the world’s steel and the largest steel consumer, has said the problem is a global one. In October, the European Commission set provisional import tariffs of up to 73.7% for heavy plate steel and up to 22.6% for hot-rolled steel coming from China. Those investigations are set to conclude in April.

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Feels political. They could have announced this just as easily a week ago, before the referendum. Now a crisis threatens that may help make the case for interim technocrats to step in, and keep Grillo out.

ECB Refuses To Help Italy’s Crisis-Hit Monte dei Paschi Bank (G.)

Fears that the Italian government will have to prop up Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) are mounting after the European Central Bank refused to give the world’s oldest bank more time to find major investors to back a €5bn (£4.2bn) cash injection. Trading in the troubled bank’s shares was repeatedly halted on the Italian stock exchange on Friday. The MPS share price closed 10% lower as the bank’s board held a meeting that had already been scheduled before the reports that the ECB had rejected its calls for an extension to the deadline to bolster its financial position. The ECB [..] decision may have closed the door to a private sector solution, under which major investors including the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar would pump billions into the bank.

But MPS said on Friday night that its board would next meet on Sunday night and that it was pressing on with its private sector solutions Even so there were concerns that the Italian government would still have to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. ECB officials had told Reuters they hoped the refusal to extend the deadline would pave the way for similar support for other Italian banks which are struggling with €360bn of bad loans.

It appeared to leave the Italian government with little option but to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. The bank has capital above regulatory minimums.

[..] The eurosceptic Five Star Movement, the second most popular party in Italy, said the government needed to step into the fray. “MPS can only be saved by state aid in order to avoid bail-in rules [that hurt] small savers, as happened a year ago,” the party’s MEPs said in a statement on founder Beppe Grillo’s blog. “This is not the time to fear the EU and a possible infraction procedure. The consequences of a disordered bail-in would be disastrous to say the least, almost apocalyptic if one considers the size of MPS.” They added that it was time to “slam our fists at the table in Brussels … while not giving a damn about the deficit”.

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Not as bad as numbers suggest perhaps, but not exactly encouraging wither.

60% Of Americans Who Usually Fly Home For The Holidays, Won’t This Year (MW)

Rising travel costs, airport delays, and other stressors mean fewer people will be flying home for the holidays this December. Almost 60% of people who normally fly home for the holidays will not this year, a survey of more than 1,000 visitors to travel deals website Airfarewatchdog found; 36% of whom say because it is too expensive and 21% would prefer to drive than deal with delays and long lines. An additional 13% said “the skies are too crowded” to fly home this year. It’s also not cheap: 70% of people who fly home for the holidays spend between $500 and $1,000 and 20% spend more than $1,000, according to a study of more than 1,000 users from travel assistant app Mezi.

Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, making such steep spending a major yearly commitment. Still, 18% of respondents in the Airfarewatchdog study said they fly home every year and still plan to do so. Air travel makes up a small%age of holiday travel – less than 10% in 2015, according to travel and automotive services non-profit AAA. But whether driving or flying home for the holidays, the majority of Americans are stressed out – 65% of people say they have anxiety about going home for the holidays, including 72% of women and 58% of men. The top sources of dread for these respondents include being bored and having nothing to do, conflict with family members, and questions about their relationship status.

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Makes you wonder how Schäuble spends Christmas. Scrooge comes to mind, prominently.

Greece Under Fire Over Christmas Bonus For Low-Income Pensioners (G.)

A goodwill gesture to ease the plight of those hardest hit in Greece by tax increases and budget cuts has backfired spectacularly on the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with the country’s international creditors making clear he has acted out of step. In the starkest case yet of how closely watched loan-reliant Athens is, lenders reacted with unusual alacrity on Friday after the leftist leader announced a one-off Christmas bonus for 1.6 million low-income pensioners. “The programme includes clear commitments to discuss all measures related to programme objectives with the institutions in advance,” an EU spokeswoman said. “The commission was not made aware of all the details of the announcements before they were made. We will now need to study them.”

Retirees have been among those most affected by the gruelling regime of austerity the debt-stricken country has been forced to enact in exchange for over €300bn in emergency rescue funding. Once unassailable, Tsipras’s own popularity has plummeted amid scenes of pensioners being teargassed and beaten as they took to the streets in protest. Under the scheme – announced in a televised address following a nationwide strike when anti-austerity demonstrations had swept the country – Tsipras said handouts of €617m would be given to those living on €800 or less a month. [..] State minister Alekos Flambouraris, the 42-year-old politician’s closest mentor, said creditors had not been forewarned as the money came out of the surplus Greece had managed to achieve through stringent belt-tightening.

[..] social tensions are also spiralling. “Tsipras is worried and that is why he made this move,” Grigoris Kalomoiris, chief policy maker at the union of public sector employees Adedy, told the Guardian. “Come January there will be more cuts to salaries and pensions in very real terms. We are all being pushed to breaking point. This, believe me, is the calm before the storm.” Ignoring creditor anger, Tsipras’s beleaguered administration dug in its heels late on Friday, saying the bonus did not threaten fiscal targets and would not be rescinded. “It is up to the Greek government to distribute expenditure in the way it sees most fit and socially correct, as long as agreed goals are reached,” the prime minister’s office said. “Greece is not a colony.”

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No ferries for 9 days?! In Greece, land of ferries?!

Greece Seamen Strike: Angry Farmers Throw Flares, Set Offices On Fire (KTG)

The port of Heraklion on the island of Crete turned into a battle field when hundreds of raging farmers attacked striking seamen and set the ticket offices of ANEK shipping company on fire on Friday evening. Angry about the ongoing strike of the seamen, the farmers threw flares at a ferry docked at the port. The sailors of Blue Horizon ferry answered with water drops. A farmer from Ierapetra had claimed that the ferry captain had put in operation the machines so that the ferry depart from the pier and that the lines were cut at risk of injuring farmers. The farmers were shouting “traitors” and some climbed on the lines. They kept demanding that the ferry opens its doors so that they can ship their products to the mainland.

Almost at the same time, a group of farmers moved to the ticket offices of shipping company ANEK and set it on fire. Hundreds of angry and determined farmers arrived at the port of Heraklion around 5pm and declared that they will not step back until 150 trucks loaded with vegetables get on board and leave for Piraeus. The harbormaster of Heraklion was injured and taken to the hospital with an ambulance. He was reportedly when he hit at a door during the incidents. In the 9th day of the seamen strike, the farmers are in rage as they cannot forward their products to the mainland and abroad, thus losing thousands of euros.

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I’m not at all a fan of these kinds of comparisons, but what exactly sets Australian ‘policy’ apart from German concentration camps?

Broken Men in Paradise (NYT)

MANUS, Papua New Guinea — The plane banks over the dense tropical forest of Manus Island, little touched, it seems, by human hand. South Pacific waters lap onto deserted beaches. The jungle glistens, impenetrable. At the unfenced airport, built by occupying Japanese forces during World War II, a sign “welcomes you to our very beautiful island paradise in the sun.” It could be that, a 60-mile-long slice of heaven. But for more than 900 asylum seekers from across the world banished by Australia to this remote corner of the Papua New Guinea archipelago, Manus has been hell; a three and a half year exercise in mental and physical cruelty conducted in near secrecy beneath the green canopy of the tropics.

A road, newly paved by Australia as part payment to its former colony for hosting this punitive experiment in refugee management, leads to Lorengau, a capital of romantic name and unromantic misery. Here I find Benham Satah, a Kurd who fled persecution in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah. Detained on Australia’s Christmas Island after crossing in a smuggler’s boat from Indonesia and later forced onto a Manus-bound plane, he has languished here since Aug. 27, 2013. Endless limbo undoes the mind. But going home could mean facing death: Refugees do not flee out of choice but because they have no choice. Satah’s light brown eyes are glassy. His legs tremble.

A young man with a college degree in English, he is now nameless, a mere registration number — FRT009 — to Australian officials. “Sometimes I cut myself,” he says, “so that I can see my blood and remember, ‘Oh, yes! I am alive.’ ” Reza Barati, his former roommate at what the men’s ID badges call the Offshore Processing Center (Orwell would be proud), is dead. A fellow Iranian Kurd, he was killed, aged 23, on Feb. 17, 2014. Satah witnessed the tall, quiet volleyball player being beaten to death after a local mob scaled the wall of the facility. Protests by asylum seekers had led to rising tensions with the Australian authorities and their Manus enforcers.

The murder obsesses Satah but constitutes a mere fraction of the human cost of a policy that, since July 19, 2013, has sent more than 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees to Manus and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, far from inquiring eyes. (Unable to obtain a press visa to visit Manus, I went nonetheless.) The toll among Burmese, Sudanese, Somali, Lebanese, Pakistani, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Iranian and other migrants is devastating: self-immolation, overdoses, death from septicemia as a result of medical negligence, sexual abuse and rampant despair. A recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report by three medical experts found that 88% of the 181 asylum seekers and refugees examined on Manus were suffering from depressive disorders, including, in some cases, psychosis.

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On a lighter note: