Aug 212017
 
 August 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Waiting for a Streetcar in Downtown Pittsburgh 1950

 

Ron Paul: 50% Stock Market Plunge ‘Conceivable,’ But Not Trump’s Fault (CNBC)
Zombies Propped Up As China’s Debt Swaps Surpass $100 Billion (BBG)
China’s Plunge Protection Team Claims “State Meddling” Stabilizes Markets (ZH)
House Of Cards: Lending Culture Is Leaving Australians Vulnerable (Abc)
Diesel Scandal Is A Risk To German Economy, Says Ministry (R.)
Britain and EU Clash Over Brexit Timetable for Trade Deal (BBG)
NAFTA Negotiations Start in Secrecy. Lobbying Heats Up (WS)
Beware the “The Cultural Civil War” Narrative (CHS)
Rob Ford, Donald Trump and the New Direction of Political Polarization (Towhey)
When Exactly Will the Eclipse Happen? (Wolfram)

 

 

Paul’s just guessing on the numbers, but the risks are obvious. And Trump will be blamed anyway.

Ron Paul: 50% Stock Market Plunge ‘Conceivable,’ But Not Trump’s Fault (CNBC)

Ron Paul’s sell-off prediction just got more severe. The former Republican Congressman from Texas believes escalating dysfunction in Washington will create even more pain for Wall Street. “A 50% pullback is conceivable,” Paul said on “Futures Now” recently. “I don’t believe it’s ten years off. I don’t even believe it’s a year off. ” According to his calculations, it would cut the S&P 500 Index in half, to 1212, and the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average would collapse to 10,837. Paul noted that there’s a lot of chaos in Washington right now, with an “unpredictable president” and those who are inclined to “tear him apart” but if the market takes that big of a tumble, he doesn’t see it as Trump’s fault.

“It’s all man-made. It’s not the fault of Donald Trump in the last week. If the market crashes tomorrow and we have a great depression, he didn’t do it in six months. It took more like six or ten years to cause all these problems that we’re facing,” he said. What’s more, it would come at the expense of businesses who are counting on reforms such as tax cuts and fewer regulations, according to Paul. Paul, who is also known for his presidential runs, originally made his case for a somewhat more benign 25% downturn on June 29 on “Futures Now.” He argued Wall Street is overestimating the strength of the economy, and the Federal Reserve kept interest rates too low for too long. He said the situation for stocks could turn ugly as soon as October. Stocks will try to bounce back on Monday from multiple losing weeks in a row. The Nasdaq just saw its fourth consecutive week of losses. Meanwhile, the Dow & S&P 500’s losing streak now sits at two weeks.

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China’s way of propping up coal and steel. Too big to fail.

Zombies Propped Up As China’s Debt Swaps Surpass $100 Billion (BBG)

Almost a year after China rolled out steps to rein in soaring corporate leverage, concerns are rising that undeserving companies are benefiting while households are getting saddled with risks. China unveiled guidelines for debt-to-equity swaps in October, part of measures to trim the world’s biggest corporate debt loads. The idea was that healthy firms would use the program to cut interest-bearing borrowings, while bloated companies would be shunned. But it hasn’t always worked out that way, even as the total value of swaps reached 776 billion yuan ($116 billion) in the second quarter when volumes jumped to a record, according to Natixis. While China’s State Council said in October that zombie firms may not take part, 55% of the swaps last quarter were in the coal and steel industries, which are plagued by overcapacity, Natixis says.

The stakes are high for lenders and even individual investors, some of whom buy wealth management products repackaged from the swaps. The absence of a clear definition of “zombie” is part of the problem, according to Fitch Ratings. Views vary on whether further guidelines on the program released this month by the banking regulator will help address these issues. The program is attracting bad companies because they see debt-to-equity swaps as a way to get a bailout, said Chi Lo, Greater China senior economist at BNP Paribas Asset Management. “You can imagine the zombie companies will be just like cancer cells that eat into the system.”

The swaps generally work like this: A bank agrees to take over a company’s debt from its original lenders. The bank sets up a unit which has other shareholders that help share risk. The unit assumes the debt and conducts a transaction with the company to convert it into equity. It can then dispose of the stake. In the most recent draft guidelines released earlier this month by the China Banking Regulatory Commission, a bank is required to own no less than a 50% stake in the unit conducting the swaps. The guidelines also say that the units can sell bonds and borrow from the interbank market.

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That’s the same claim the Fed and ECB make, just in other words.

China’s Plunge Protection Team Claims “State Meddling” Stabilizes Markets (ZH)

It was two years ago, in June of 2015, when just as the Shanghai Composite was flirting with 5,000 and when literally the local banana stand guy was trading stocks, that the Chinese stock bubble burst, unleashing an unprecedented selling spree, a 40% drop in just two months, and Beijing’s nationalization of the stock market, courtesy of the domestic plunge protection team, the China Securities Regulatory Commission also known as the “National Team”. The decision by local authorities to effectively shut down price discovery had a huge confidence crushing impact on local investor confidence. As Gavekal Research put it overnight, “the lack of trust was crystallized by the decision in the summer of 2015 to “shut down” the equity markets for a while and stop trading in any stock that looked like it was heading south.

That decision confirmed foreign investors’ apprehension about China and in their eyes set back renminbi internationalization by several years, if not decades.” Understandably, with the realization that China (or any other nation for that matter), no longer has a an efficient, discounting stock market, but merely a policy tool meant to inspire confidence on the way up, and punish short sellers and “speculators” on the way down, the China Securities Regulatory Commission kept a low profile: after all why remind traders and investors that the local market only exists in the imaginations of several Beijing bureaucrats who sit down every day to decide the “fair value” of all market-traded equities. That changed last week, when for the first time in years, the Chinese Plunge Protection Team broke its silence and said that “state meddling has successfully stabilized China’s US$7 trillion stock market by curbing volatility and steering valuations to rational levels.”

For those stunned by the idiocy in the circular statement above, don’t worry it’s not just you: China indeed just said that the local market has become more efficient as a result of more manipulation. What is far more shocking, however, is that most central bankers around the world would agree with this statement.

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The banking system will fall with real estate, exposure to mortgage debt is 60%. And Australian banks own New Zealand banks.

House Of Cards: Lending Culture Is Leaving Australians Vulnerable (Abc)

A decade of housing price rises, low interest rates and relatively easy credit has left Australians carrying the second-highest level of household debt in the world. And despite efforts to tighten lending and to address problems in the lending culture, the ABC’s Four Corners program has learnt bank staff and mortgage brokers are still required to meet tough lending targets and some staff are threatened with dismissal if they do not meet the banks’ requirement to sign up more mortgages. The problems in the lending culture were acknowledged by the banks themselves earlier this year in a review conducted by the former public service chief, Stephen Sedgwick. Incentive payments and lending targets are still a primary motivator for bank staff. Internal performance expectations for Westpac bank lenders, obtained by Four Corners, include targets of six-to-nine home-finance requests a week and between two and three home-loan drawdowns a week.

Another economist who has raised the alarm is former banker Satiyajit Das. He said the 60% exposure to mortgage debt in Australia’s banks was “extremely high”. That figure “is at least 20% higher than Norway, and also higher than Canada, which is a very comparable economy to Australia”, he said. Australia’s feverish housing market has contributed but Mr Das said other countries that had experienced rapid house price rises did not have the same potentially dangerous exposure. “One of the biggest housing bubbles in the world is Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong banks have only got exposure to the housing market of around 15%,” he said. Exposure to housing debt at Australian levels, Mr Das said, would leave banks more vulnerable in the case of any housing downturn. “If there is a downturn then obviously the losses will build up quite quickly,” he said.

[..] Gerard Minack, the former head of developed market strategy at Morgan Stanley, said Australia had been led down this path by current tax arrangements and lenders who had been increasingly willing to leverage up borrowers. This, he said, had created “a massive affordability problem” that will exacerbate the pain associated with any downturn. Australia now has a household-debt-to-income ratio of 190%. “For every $1 of household income, there’s [nearly] $2 of debt,” Mr Minack said.

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Preparing Germans for a lenient attitude by their government (ahead of the Merkel re-election). Sorry guys, but carmakers are too big to fail. Can’t blame Angela…

Diesel Scandal Is A Risk To German Economy, Says Ministry (R.)

The emissions scandal ensnaring German carmakers is a risk to Europe’s largest economy, the finance ministry said on Monday. In its monthly report, the ministry named the issue, which broke out almost two years ago after Volkswagen admitted to cheating US diesel emissions tests, as a threat to Germany along with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and protectionist trade policies by the US government. But it has said it was impossible to put a figure on the potential damage it could cause. The car industry is Germany’s biggest exporter and provides about 800,000 jobs. “Risks linked to how Brexit will shape out and future US trade policies remain,” the ministry said. “In addition, the so-called diesel crisis should be classified as a new risk to the German economy even though its effects are not possible to quantify at the moment.”

Strong household and state spending provided most of the impulse for the German economy in the second quarter when growth was measured at 0.6%. Weaker net foreign trade dampened growth, as exports grew strongly less than imports. The ministry said it expected the industrial sector to continue its upswing also in the third quarter, pointing to robust orders and strong business sentiment indicators. But the diesel crisis could cloud the German growth outlook, it said, adding: “Given the importance of the automotive industry [the diesel crisis) must be classified in the medium term as a risk to the overall economic development.” German politicians and car bosses agreed earlier in August to overhaul engine software on 5.3m diesel cars to cut pollution and try to repair the industry’s battered reputation.

EU antitrust regulators are also investigating allegations of a cartel among a group of German carmakers, a measure that could result in hefty fines for the companies. In April, Volkswagen was ordered to pay a $2.8bn criminal penalty in the United States for cheating on emissions tests. The company is also paying $1.5bn in a civil case brought by the US government and spending $11bn to buy back cars and offer other compensation. Back in Europe, German carmakers VW, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes and BMW face questions over whether they colluded to bring down the cost of components – including some used to control diesel emissions.

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How is it possible that just one party does these negotiations?

Britain and EU Clash Over Brexit Timetable for Trade Deal (BBG)

Britain and the European Union are at odds over how soon the Brexit talks can pivot towards a trade deal just a week before negotiations are set to resume. Adopting a provocative posture, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government declared at the weekend that it’s “stepping up pressure” on the bloc to shift the discussions away from the terms of separation as soon as October. The use of fighting words in the past has not budged the EU and in a sign the U.K. will be disappointed, Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar told the Guardian that “the process will definitely take more time than we expected.”

Signs of fresh discord may unnerve investors after the pound last week under-performed all of its Group of 10 counterparts. By giving out more details of where it stands and spelling out its demands, the U.K. wants to change the narrative that it’s been too vague, and by doing so jolt the EU into talking trade sooner. With the clock ticking down to the U.K.’s March 2019 departure, and the two sides clashing over many key issues, Brexit Secretary David Davis seems bent on reviving a debate over whether talks should run in parallel rather than in the strict order the EU has laid out.

Such an ambition will draw short shrift from the EU. Its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, last week reiterated that the other 27 governments won’t allow trade talks to start until “sufficient progress” has been made resolving residency rights, the U.K.’s exit bill and the border with Ireland. The original hope was to reach this milestone in October – in time for a summit of EU leaders – but that is now in doubt amid criticism within the EU of sluggish progress and a lack of detail from the British. “There are so many difficult topics on the table, difficult issues there, that one cannot expect all those issues will be solved according to the schedule made in the first place,” Slovenia’s Cerar told the Guardian. “What is important now is that the three basic issues are solved in reasonable time.”

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The NAFTA talks may well end up being as tough as the Brexit ones.

NAFTA Negotiations Start in Secrecy. Lobbying Heats Up (WS)

The first round of re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico began on Wednesday and is scheduled to last through Sunday. And the one thing we know about it is this: Despite promises in March by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (USTR) that the negotiations would be transparent, the USTR now considers the documents and negotiations “classified” and they’ll be cloaked in secrecy. But corporate lobbyists have access. And they’re all over it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation put it this way: “Once again, following the failed model of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the USTR will be keeping the negotiating texts secret, and in an actual regression from the TPP will be holding no public stakeholder events alongside the first round. This may or may not set a precedent for future rounds, that will rotate between the three countries every few weeks thereafter, with a scheduled end date of mid-2018.”

But during his confirmation hearing in March, Lighthizer had promised to make the negotiations transparent and to listen to more stakeholders and the public. The EFF reported at the time that in response to Senator Ron Wyden question – “What specific steps will you take to improve transparency and consultations with the public?” – Lighthizer replied in writing: “If confirmed, I will ensure that USTR follows the TPA [Trade Promotion Authority, aka. Fast Track] requirements related to transparency in any potential trade agreement negotiation. I will also look forward to discussing with you ways to ensure that USTR fully understands and takes into account the views of a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including labor, environmental organizations, and public health groups, during the course of any trade negotiation.

He said that “we can do more” to ensure that we “have a broad and vigorous dialogue with the full range of stakeholders in our country.” Senator Maria Cantwell tried to have Lighthizer address the skewed Trade Advisory Committees that currently advise the USTR, by asking: “Do you agree that it is problematic for a select group of primarily corporate elites to have special access to shape US trade proposals that are not generally available to American workers and those impacted by our flawed trade deals?” Lighthizer replied: “It is important that USTR’s Trade Advisory Committees represent all types of stakeholders to ensure that USTR benefits fully from a diverse set of viewpoints in considering the positions it takes in negotiations.”

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You’re being played.

Beware the “The Cultural Civil War” Narrative (CHS)

The play is as old as civilization itself: conjure up extremists (paying them when necessary), goad the formation of opposing extremists, then convince the populace that these extremists have been normalized, i.e. your friends and neighbors already belong to one or the other. This normalization then sets up the relentless demands to choose a side – the classic techniques of misdirection and false choice. Just as you’re sold a triple-bacon cheeseburger or a hybrid auto, you’re being sold a completely fabricated cultural civil war. There have always been extremists on every edge of the ideological spectrum, just as there have always been religious zealots. In a healthy society, these fringe pools of self-reinforcing fanaticism are given their proper place: they are outliers, representing self-reinforcing black holes of confirmation bias of a few.

In times of social, political and financial stress, such groups pop up like mushrooms. In times of media saturation, a relative handful can gain enormous exposure and importance because the danger they pose sells adverts and attracts eyeballs/viewers. Add a little fragmentation, virtue-signaling, demands for ideological conformity and voila, you get a deeply fragmented and deranged populace that is incapable of recognizing the dire straits it is in or recognizing the structural sources of its impoverishment and powerlessness. In other words, you get an easily mallable populace at false war with itself.

There is always common ground for those who dare to seek it. The Powers That Be are blowing up the bridges as fast as they can, whipping up fear and hatred of the Other, fanning the flames of extremism and claiming extremists are now normalized and everywhere. All of this is false. Would you buy an entirely manipulated cultural civil war if it was advertised as such? If not, then don’t buy into the false (but oh so useful to the ruling elites) narrative of an “inevitable cultural Civil War.”

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Excellent piece by G. Mark Towhey, “a key player on the team that helped elect Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto”.

Rob Ford, Donald Trump and the New Direction of Political Polarization (Towhey)

You are not a typical American. Not even close. The typical American doesn’t read lengthy articles in policy journals. The typical American gets up far too early in the morning, after too little sleep, works too hard for too long in a job that pays too little, before heading home, feeding the kids, cleaning the house, and collapsing into bed far too late. He or she has precious little time to consume news: a fleeting glimpse of pithy headlines, maybe a two-minute newscast on the radio if they drive to work or a few minutes of local TV news—mostly weather and sports scores. It is through this lens that typical Americans view the world beyond their personal experience and that of friends and family. It’s through this lens that they assess their government and judge their politicians.

These are the typical Americans who elected Donald Trump. They weren’t alone in voting for Trump, and they didn’t cast their ballots by mistake. They chose Trump because, out of the available alternatives, he best represented their view of the world. I am not a typical American, either. In fact, I’m a Canadian. I was a key player on the team that helped elect Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto—North America’s fourth largest city. I helped him craft a campaign platform that resonated with typical Torontonians and, later, helped him translate that platform into an actionable governing agenda. I helped him get things done. Three years later, Ford fired me as his chief of staff when I insisted that he go to rehab to address the personal demons that were destroying both him and his mayoralty. My experience with Ford has given me an unusual perspective on the recent presidential election, the Trump phenomenon, and the rise of a new and powerful political force that favors unorthodox candidates.

No, you and I are not typical at all. We have time to read (and, apparently, to write) long-form articles in policy journals. We can pause our breadwinning labor and child-rearing duties long enough to consider hypotheticals and to ruminate, now and then, on an idea or two. We may not recognize this as a luxury in our modern world, but we should. Amid all that rumination, however, we rarely stop to think that what motivates us does not necessarily excite typical Americans, the people who elected Donald Trump some six years after their northern cousins elected Rob Ford in Toronto. Almost by mistake, this bloc of typical citizens—overstressed, under-informed, concerned more with pragmatic quality of life issues than idealistic social goals—has become a powerful political movement. And we didn’t see them coming. Conventional political leaders seem to completely misunderstand them, and even their own champions often appear to disrespect them. They do so at their peril.

In 2010, Rob Ford was a dark horse candidate in the race to be mayor of Toronto. He later became internationally notorious for his very public battles with drug addiction and frequent appearances as a punch line in late-night television monologues. But his 2010 campaign was based on his understanding of the struggles typical residents endured and their limited time for politics. Ford boiled his campaign down to “Respect for Taxpayers” and “Stop the Gravy Train.” His message was concise and understandable. It fit on a bumper sticker. It could be passed by word of mouth from one person to the next without loss of meaning or impact. That it meant something different to everyone was not a weakness but a strength—no matter what you thought the “gravy train” was, everyone wanted it stopped.

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In case you want to know Absolutely Everything about the eclipse, here’s Stephen Wolfram.

When Exactly Will the Eclipse Happen? (Wolfram)

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon gets in front of the Sun from the point of view of a particular location on the Earth. And it so happens that at this point in the Earth’s history the Moon can just block the Sun because it has almost exactly the same angular diameter in the sky as the Sun (about 0.5° or 30 arc-minutes). So when does the Moon get between the Sun and the Earth? Well, basically every time there’s a new moon (i.e. once every lunar month). But we know there isn’t an eclipse every month. So how come? Well, actually, in the analogous situation of Ganymede and Jupiter, there is an eclipse every time Ganymede goes around Jupiter (which happens to be about once per week). Like the Earth, Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun lies in a particular plane (the “Plane of the Ecliptic”).

And it turns out that Ganymede’s orbit around Jupiter also lies in essentially the same plane. So every time Ganymede reaches the “new moon” position (or, in official astronomy parlance, when it’s aligned “in syzygy”—pronounced sizz-ee-gee), it’s in the right place to cast its shadow onto Jupiter, and to eclipse the Sun wherever that shadow lands. (From Jupiter, Ganymede appears about 3 times the size of the Sun.) But our moon is different. Its orbit doesn’t lie in the plane of the ecliptic. Instead, it’s inclined at about 5°. (How it got that way is unknown, but it’s presumably related to how the Moon was formed.) But that 5° is what makes eclipses so comparatively rare: they can only happen when there’s a “new moon configuration” (syzygy) right at a time when the Moon’s orbit passes through the Plane of the Ecliptic.

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Aug 192017
 
 August 19, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fred Stein Man in pushcart, New York 1944

 

We’re Racing Towards Another Private Debt Crisis (Graeber)
China Moves To Curb Overseas Acquisitions As Firms’ Debt Levels Rise (G.)
Wells Fargo Troubles Shift From Phony Bank Accounts To Real Ones (R.)
Total Eclipse (Jim Kunstler)
A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand (Paul Craig Roberts)
The Truth Will Not Be Googled (Connelly)
Greek Pensioners Set For Another Blow (K.)
The Super Gangs Behind Africa’s Poaching Crisis (G.)
Want To Fight Climate Change? Don’t Invest In Tesla (MW)

 

 

David Graeber on the all too obvious. So yeah, let’s have that inquiry.

We’re Racing Towards Another Private Debt Crisis (Graeber)

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt. For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And – this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That’s what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don’t do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe. These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.” As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt. We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened. Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there’s a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90% of MPs don’t even understand where money comes from (they think it’s issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

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It’s getting serious.

China Moves To Curb Overseas Acquisitions As Firms’ Debt Levels Rise (G.)

The Chinese government has served notice on the country’s foreign investment spree in football clubs, skyscrapers and Hollywood as it moves to curb rising levels of debt among domestic companies. The announcement of restrictions in a range of sectors follows a buying spree around the globe during which Chinese firms and business tycoons have taken control of assets including Legendary Entertainment, the US film producer behind Jurassic World and Warcraft, buildings such as the Cheesegrater in London, and English football clubs including Southampton and Aston Villa. The curbs were announced in a document released on Friday by the state council, China’s cabinet, in the latest move to halt a string of foreign acquisitions. This week the IMF described China’s credit-fuelled economic strategy as dangerous, in a strongly worded statement warning that the country’s approach risks financial turmoil.

Raising concerns that some of the companies involved may be taking on too much debt, the council said: “There are great opportunities for our nation’s companies to embark on foreign investment, but they also face numerous risks and challenges.” It added that through the new guidance, the government hopes to promote the “rational, orderly and healthy development of foreign investment while effectively guarding against risks”. The document limits overseas investments in areas such as hotels, cinemas, the entertainment industry, real estate and sports clubs. It also bans outright investments in enterprises related to gambling and the sex industry. The Chinese government had already flagged hotels as an area of concern, having reportedly asked the insurance group Anbang to sell the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

One of China’s biggest conglomerates, Wanda Group, also bowed to pressure from the government when it abandoned the $1bn (£780m) purchase of the entertainment company Dick Clark Productions earlier this year. In 2016 Wanda bought Legendary Entertainment for $3.5bn, having become the world’s biggest cinema operator in 2012 with its purchase of a majority stake in US chain AMC for $2.6bn. At the same time, the document encourages companies to plough money into projects related to the “Belt and Road” project, President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative that seeks to link China with other parts of Asia and eastern Europe through multibillion-dollar investments in ports, highways, railways, power plants and other infrastructure.

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Why is Wells Fargo a going concern? Close it.

Wells Fargo Troubles Shift From Phony Bank Accounts To Real Ones (R.)

After paying customers millions of dollars for opening phony accounts they did not want, Wells Fargo has said it is now grappling with the possibility it harmed customers by closing real accounts they needed, leaving them without access to funds. Wells, the third-largest U.S. bank, disclosed in a regulatory filing on Aug. 4 that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is looking into the matter, one of many regulatory probes the bank faces over its treatment of depositors and borrowers. A Reuters review of the regulator’s complaints database found several instances of customers reporting financial hardship in recent years after Wells Fargo unexpectedly froze or closed their accounts. Some of the complaints described fraudulent deposits of unknown origin.

Others said they were victims of identity theft and Wells Fargo closed their accounts and refused to reopen them or open new ones. One customer said the bank closed an account after a hacker changed personal information, and then Wells Fargo improperly sent funds to the wrong address. The complaints had consistent themes of confusion about why accounts were frozen or closed, and reflected desperation over being unable to access money, as well as frustration over not getting help from Wells Fargo’s customer service. “I moved money from my mother’s savings account into her checking account the day before she passed away,” one Wells Fargo customer wrote. “This checking account has been ‘locked’ by the fraud department for almost 3 months … Now her debts are delinquent and mortgage about to go into foreclosure.”

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Rename the capital!

Total Eclipse (Jim Kunstler)

I’d like to hear to hear an argument as to why the Washington Monument should remain dedicated to that vicious slave-driver and rebellious soldier, and indeed the name of the city that is the federal seat of government. Or the District of Columbia (after Columbus, who initiated the genocide of Native Americans). Or America, cribbed out of Amerigo Vespucci, the wicked Florentine cartographer who ascertained that the place called Brazil today was not the east coast of Asia but actually a New World — and so all our troubles began![..] Just as empires tend to build their most grandiose monuments prior to collapse, our tottering empire is concocting the most monumentally ludicrous delusions before it slides down the laundry chute of history.

It’s as if the Marx Brothers colluded with Alfred Hitchcock to dream up a melodramatic climax to the American Century that would be the most ridiculous and embarrassing to our posterity. In the meantime, many citizens await Monday’s spectacle of a total solar eclipse in parts of the country. They apparently don’t realize that another eclipse has been underway for months: the total eclipse of reality across the entire landscape of the USA. Now that has been an event to behold, not just some twenty-minute freak of astronomy. What’s being blacked out is the perilously fragile condition of the financial system — a great groaning Rube Goldberg contraption of accounting fraud, grift, statistical deceit, and racketeering that pretends to support the day-to-day activities of our national life.

For months, the recognition of this oncoming financial monster has been blocked by the hallucination of gremlins from the Kremlin infiltrating the recent presidential election. But just as that mirage was dissolving, along comes the treacherous invasion of the Confederate statues. It begins to look like the final piece of the puzzle in the Deep State’s quest to eject Donald Trump from the oval office. His response to the deadly statue situation (“…why not Washington and Jefferson…?”) was deemed so obtuse and unfeeling that even the rodents of his own nominal Republican Party want to jump his ship of state.

So, the set-up could not be more perfect! The country will now get down to the business of a months-long 25th Amendment circle-jerk at the very moment that the financial system flies apart. The damage from the financial clusterfuck will be much more real, and much worse, than anything that might be spun out of the anti-statue crusade hogging the headlines today. It will be interesting to see whether the old legacy media even reports on it as it happens, or whether they will cook up new and more bizarre entertainments to distract the public from what might be the ultimate swindling of a lifetime.

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The echo chamber causes hearing damage.

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand (Paul Craig Roberts)

The liberal/progressive/left are enjoying their drunkfest of denunciation. I can’t say I have ever witnessed anything like it. These are the people who sat on their hands for 16 years while Washington destroyed in whole or part seven countries. Not being satisfied with this level of warmongering and crimes against humanity, Washington orchestrated a conflict situation with Russia. Americans elected a president who said he would defuse this dangerous conflict, and the liberal/progressive/left turned on him. In contrast, one person is killed after the hated Charlottesville protest event was over, and there is endless absurd outrage against the president of the US. Three New York Times presstitutes yesterday blamed the crisis on Trump, declaring him “increasingly isolated in a racial crisis of his own making.”

Apparently, Trump is responsible for the crisis because he blamed both protest groups for the violence. But isn’t that what happened? Wasn’t there violence on both sides? That was the impression I got from the news reporting. I’m not surprised that Trump got the same impression. Indeed, many readers have sent emails that they received the same impression of mutual violence. So Trump is being damned for stating the truth. Let’s assume that the impression Trump and many others got from the news is wrong. That would make Trump guilty of arriving at a mistaken conclusion. Yet, he is accused of instigating and supporting Nazi violence. How is it possible to transform a mistake into evil intent? A mistaken impression gained from news reporting does not constitute a “defense of white nationalist protesters.”

An assertion by the New York Times cannot turn the absence of intent into intent. What the Establishment is trying to do is to push Trump into the arms of white supremacists, which is where they want him. Clearly, there is no basis for this charge. It is a lie, an orchestration that is being used to delegitimize President Trump and those who elected him. The question is: who is behind this orchestration? The orchestration is causing people to run away from Trump or is being used as an excuse by them to further the plot to remove him from office. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum headed by Stephen A. Schwarzman ran away, just as members of the Carter Center’s board deserted President Jimmy Carter when he criticized Israel for its apartheid policy toward the Palestinians. The New York Times says that the armed services chiefs are running away. And the entire Republican Party.

The hypocrisy is stunning. For 16 years the armed services chiefs, the New York Times and the rest of the presstitute media, both political parties and the liberal/progressive/left have participated actively or passively in massive crimes against humanity. There are millions of dead, maimed, and displaced people. Yet one death in Charlottesville has produced a greater outpouring of protest. I don’t believe it is sincere. I don’t believe that people who are insensitive to the deaths of millions at the hands of their government can be so upset over the death of one person. Assume that Trump is responsible for the death of the woman. How much blood is it compared to the blood on the hands of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama?

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Too much monopoly, too much power.

The Truth Will Not Be Googled (Connelly)

While web-hosting services have been criticised for cancelling the registration of neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, progressive left-leaning sites are losing Google ranking and traffic because of a deliberate move to censor “fake” news by the internet search giant. New data released by World Socialist Websites (WSWS) revealed that sites such as Wikileaks, The Intercept, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Organisation, CounterPunch and many other organisations with the audacity to provide context about the activities of federal governments not reported in mainstream publications have experienced a significant drop in traffic after Google altered its algorithm. (WSWS is an online news and information service founded by the International Committee of the Fourth International, the leadership of the world socialist movement).

Earlier this week, internet hosting provider, GoDaddy, announced it had cancelled US neo-Nazi website, Daily Stormer, for posting an attack on Heather Heyer, the protester who was murdered at the Klan rally in Charlottesville last week. Google and CloudFlare likewise cancelled its registration after the site tried to move its hosting over to their respective services. But while these hosting services are being congratulated by some – and condemned by others on free-speech grounds – for ensuring that those looking to commit violence have to work slightly harder to get access to their like-minded Nazi communities, those who own the means of transmission – namely Google, Facebook and Twitter – are still preventing the rest of us from accessing information that allows people to make sense of the world around us.

Earlier this month, Google altered its algorithm – allegedly in an attempt to address the ‘fake news’ problem – and in doing so, a broad array of anti-establishment news organisations, whistleblower, civil-rights and anti-war websites were censored from its search listings. But most people were too distracted by the opinions of some low-level engineer on Google’s diversity hiring policies and its intolerance of conservative views in the workplace to take notice. The data released by WSWS shows that since Google altered its algorithm, Wikileaks experienced a 30% decline in traffic from Google searches. Democracy Now fell by 36%. Truthout dropped by 25%. Its own traffic dropped by 67% percent over the same period. Alternet saw a 63% decline in traffic. Media Matters saw a 36% drop in traffic. Counterpunch.org fell by 21%. The Intercept fell by 19%.

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Ongoing.

Greek Pensioners Set For Another Blow (K.)

Pension applications submitted after May 13, 2016 – after the so-called Katrougalos law was legislated – reveal significant cuts in pension payments. According to the relevant data, five categories of pensioners will suffer cuts due to the new way pensions are calculated. Overall, experts estimate that by the year 2020 some 200,000 retirees will receive pensions that do not correspond to the amount of money they contributed to the funds during their working lives. In some cases, pensioners will receive 30% less than what they would have received had the Katrougalos law not come into effect. The overall reduction is estimated at 12 to 16%. The hardest hit will be civil servants, especially those who have worked for more than 30 years and belong to the categories of University and Technological Education. Other categories of pensioners that will be negatively impacted are those who made above-average contributions to the IKA social security foundation for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, those who made medium or large contributions to the TEVE fund for the self-employed will also lose out. Others who can expect to be affected by pension cuts are people who contributed for 30 years to the retailer’ insurance fund (TAE) or the professional drivers’ pension fund (TSA). The new pension system, however, will favor retirees with monthly gross earnings below €700 and less than 30 years of insurance – in line with the declaration made by former labor minister Giorgos Katrougalos that the new system would be classless and favor people with low incomes. This category includes people insured for 20 to 30 years with IKA, who will retire with a gross remuneration of around €1,000, or the former social security fund for professional drivers (TSA). Those insured at several public enterprises (DEKO) and bank funds will also be entitled to an increase in their pension because they pay very high contributions.

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Man is losing the world to his own greed. Selling mother earth.

The Super Gangs Behind Africa’s Poaching Crisis (G.)

“It’s not hundreds of groups involved in ivory trafficking – there are just a handful of networks operating across Africa,” says Paula Kahumbu, a conservationist and elephant expert who runs Wildlife Direct, a Kenyan organisation working to stop the ivory trade and which deploys teams to closely observe trials such as Ali’s. lose scrutiny of cases – including making copies of court documents and video recording proceedings – keeps courts and judges honest and prevents the disappearance of files that so often scuppers trials. Wildlife Direct’s pressure was instrumental in ensuring Ali’s case went the distance. At the end, says Kahumbu, there was “a phenomenal sense of achievement”. “It was a huge surprise,” says Ofir Drori, an Israeli wildlife activist and co-founder of the Eagle Network, a group responsible for the prosecution of hundreds of traffickers, big and small, over the years, and who was involved in tracking Ali.

“Every Kenyan will tell you: what’s supposed to happen is that if you belong to a strong syndicate, you’re out.” It was the syndicate aspect that interested Gretchen Peters. A former foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Peters had become fascinated by the links between drugs and terrorism that she saw in the Taliban’s heroin operation, and by the hidden connections between other forms of criminality. Ditching journalism, she decided to tackle wildlife crime. Peters set up the Satao Project – named after one of Kenya’s magisterial “tusker” bull elephants, killed by a poacher’s poisoned arrow in 2014 – to investigate criminal gangs in 2015 but quickly ran into the underlying problem: corruption. “If there’s a network that is moving illegal goods from one country to another, there are inevitably government officials involved, protecting them or looking the other way,” she says. “It is impossible for that not to be happening.”

Hired by the US department of state, Peters began by studying ivory supply chains in Tanzania and Kenya, but her investigations quickly enveloped Uganda too and spread into other forms of trafficking. There is in East Africa, she says, “a regional ecosystem moving ivory, drugs and guns … a matrix of different organisations that collaborate to move illegal goods along the Swahili coast.” The overlap between drugs and ivory smuggling came as no surprise to her. “I’m not aware of any syndicate trafficking ivory transnationally that is only moving ivory,” she says. No illicit commodity is as profitable as drugs, so: “When you get up to the traffickers they’re almost inevitably moving narcotics too.”

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Thermodynamics 101.

Want To Fight Climate Change? Don’t Invest In Tesla (MW)

Morgan Stanley identified 39 stocks that generate at least half their revenue “from the provision of solutions to climate change,” something it said was a central component of investing to make a difference, as opposed to just a making a buck. “In our view, impact investing needs to begin with companies whose products and services have a notable positive environmental or social impact,” wrote Jessica Alsford, an equity strategist at the investment bank. Not surprisingly, alternative-energy companies ranked the highest in terms of their positive impact, and the “top five climate-change impact stocks” were all manufacturers of solar and wind energy: Canadian Solar, China High Speed Transmission, GCL-Poly, Daqo New Energy and Jinko Solar. Not among the top companies? Electric-car makers, including Tesla. Elon Musk’s company has been an investor favorite for years, even eclipsing Ford and General Motors in market cap.

Tesla shares are up nearly 66% so far this year, but the good it may have been doing for portfolios may not translate to it doing good for the planet. Morgan Stanley said this was one of the “biggest surprises” of its study. The bank grouped the “climate-change impact stocks” into four sector categories: utilities, renewable manufacturers, green infrastructure companies and transportation stocks. It then analyzed them on a number of metrics, including “the CO2 [carbon dioxide] savings achieved from the products and services sold by the companies,” as well as secondary and tertiary factors centered around the environmental impact of the making of these products. This is where Tesla, along with China’s Guoxuan High-Tech, fall short.

“Whilst the electric vehicles and lithium batteries manufactured by these two companies do indeed help to reduce direct CO2 emissions from vehicles, electricity is needed to power them,” Morgan Stanley wrote. “And with their primary markets still largely weighted towards fossil-fuel power (72% in the U.S. and 75% in China) the CO2 emissions from this electricity generation are still material.” In other words, “the carbon emissions generated by the electricity required for electric vehicles are greater than those saved by cutting out direct vehicle emissions.” Morgan Stanley calculated that an investment of $1 million in Canadian Solar results in nearly 15,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide being saved every year. For Tesla, such an investment adds nearly one-third of a metric ton of CO2.

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