Jul 102018
 
 July 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Swope Trees in fog (Chile) 1939

 

Leveraged-Loan Risks Are Piling Up (WS)
UK House Prices Should Be Frozen For Five Years – Think Tank (Ind.)
24 Hours of Brexit Mayhem (Ind.)
Britain Has Gone To Huge Trouble To Humiliate Itself (Fintan O’Toole)
Novichok In Wiltshire Death ‘Highly Likely’ From Batch Used On Skripals (G.)
Nissan Says Emissions And Fuel Economy Tests Were Falsified (R.)
Trump Slams Pfizer After July 1 Drug Price Hikes (R.)
Judge Rejects Trump Request For Long-Term Detention Of Immigrant Children (R.)
Egypt Rejects Europe’s Intent To Set Up ‘Regional Disembarkation Centres’ (AW)
If You Love Greece, Help Us Get Rid Of Alexis Tsipras And His Zombie Party (G.)
When Collapse Goes Kinetic (Kunstler)
As Trial Opens, Man Dying Of Cancer Blames Monsanto’s Roundup (AFP)

 

 

Not learned a single thing in the past 10 years.

Leveraged-Loan Risks Are Piling Up (WS)

US junk-bond issuance in June plunged 31% from a year ago to just $14.5 billion, the lowest of any June in five years, according to LCD of S&P Global Market Intelligence. During the first half of the year, junk bond issuance dropped 23% from a year ago to $110.6 billion. Is investor appetite for risky debt drying up? Have investors given up chasing yield? On the contrary! They’re chasing harder than before, but they’re chasing elsewhere in the junk-rated credit spectrum: leveraged loans. Leveraged loans are another way by which junk-rated companies can raise money. These loans are arranged by banks and sold either as loans or as Collateralized Loan Obligation (CLOs) to other investors, such as pension funds or loan funds.

They’re a $1 trillion market and trade like securities. But the SEC, which regulates securities, considers them loans and doesn’t regulate them. No one regulates them. In the first half, companies issued $274 billion of non-amortizing leveraged loans, and $97 billion in revolving and amortizing leveraged loans, according to LCD, for a total of $371 billion, on par with the record set in the first half last year. This is well over triple the amount of junk bonds issued in same period ($110 billion). Many of these loans have floating interest rates, typically pegged to the dollar-Libor. And in an investment environment where the Fed has been trying to push up interest rates, Libor has surged, and floating-rate loans, whose interest payments increase as Libor ratchets higher, are very appealing to investors – despite the additional risks these higher interest payments pose for the companies that are already struggling with negative cash flows.

[..] Leveraged loans come with covenants that are supposed to protect investors during the term of the loan and in case of default. With strong covenants and good collateral, leveraged loans tend to be less risky than junk bonds issued by the same company. Alas, investors have the hots for this debt, and companies are taking advantage of it by weakening covenants, giving investors fewer protections and the company more leeway – such as paying interest with more debt rather than cash if it runs out of cash (payment-in-kind or PIK); normally, not being able to pay interest would constitute a default, but not with these “covenant lite” or “cov-lite” loans. The boom in cov-lite has started years ago and has surged to massive record proportions. When these loans default, investors are exposed to much greater losses.

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Interesting idea. Decades too late though.

UK House Prices Should Be Frozen For Five Years – Think Tank (Ind.)

UK house prices should be frozen for five years to help prevent another financial crisis, the think tank IPPR has said. The group has urged the Bank of England to freeze property prices under a separate new inflation target and said this could lead to house prices falling by around 10 per cent in real terms as other prices and wages continue to rise, making homes more affordable. Under the IPPR’s proposals, house prices would be allowed to increase “only after expectations of constantly rising house prices have been ‘reset’”. The think tank also said prices would be allowed to grow “no faster than the general consumer price inflation target of 2 per cent, meaning no further growth in the real value of people’s homes”.

The IPPR said its recommendations were part of a wider plan to “rebalance the UK economy away from finance” so as to avoid another financial crisis. According to the IPPR, the financial sector’s “dominance” since the 1980s has contributed to a strong pound, which has hurt exporters, and has attracted surplus money from other countries, which has been channelled into loans for speculative investors, including mortgage lending. This speculation over house prices, the think tank said, has helped drive up prices and at the same time made the economy more vulnerable to a crisis, because it has reduced funds available for more productive investment, created regional inequalities with disproportionate growth in London and the South East, and “concentrated market power into the hands of a small number of large banks”.

[..] Grace Blakeley, IPPR research fellow, said: “Since the 1980s, the UK’s business model has rested on attracting capital from the rest of the world, which it has channelled into debt for UK consumers. The 2008 crisis proved that this is unsustainable. “We need to move towards a more sustainable growth model, one built on production and investment rather than debt and speculation. To do this, we must break the cycle of ever-rising house prices driving property speculation, crowding out investment in the real economy.”

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A confidence vote looks inevitable.

24 Hours of Brexit Mayhem (Ind.)

Theresa May is clinging on to power following the dramatic resignation of Boris Johnson and a bruising 24 hours of conflict with Tory Brexiteers. Mr Johnson became the third minister to quit in the space of a day, accusing Ms May of pursuing a Brexit that would lock Britain into “the status of colony”. In a scathing letter, he said her plans for negotiating with Europe decided at Chequers last week equated to going into battle with “white flags fluttering”. But despite the resignations and the looming threat of a “vote of no confidence”, Ms May survived the day and finished it with a swipe at Mr Johnson, in which she appeared to question his motives for quitting.

After David Davis left his job as Brexit secretary just before midnight on Sunday, speculation grew as to whether there would be a slew of resignations, bringing down the government. He had been followed by fellow Brexit minister Steve Baker, but it was not until 3pm on Monday, when it emerged that Mr Johnson was walking, that Ms May looked at her most precarious. It was claimed that Downing Street leaked news of his resignation before he could write his letter, which the prime minister’ aides guessed would be wounding. When it came it said: “Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently, to be more nimble and dynamic, and to maximise the particular advantages of the UK as an open, outward looking global economy. “The dream is dying, suffocated by needles doubt.”

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“Instead of the Star Trek vision of boldly going where no imperial nostalgic society had gone before, this Brexit would not have enough thrust to get the UK out of the gravitational pull of the European Union”

Britain Has Gone To Huge Trouble To Humiliate Itself (Fintan O’Toole)

The best headline about British prime minister Theresa May’s short-lived triumph over the hard Brexiteers last Friday was undoubtedly the one on Pádraig Collins’s report in the Guardian: “Possum rescued after getting head stuck in Nutella jar”. Admittedly, Collins was actually reporting, not from Chequers, but from Brisbane, Australia. Yet the accompanying photograph was the perfect image of what May is trying to do. It showed the furry creature all curled up and immobilised with its head completely encased in a glass jar streaked with visible residues of sticky brown stuff. As a spokesman for the Australian RSPCA explained, the dumb animal “managed to get his head in the jar, but obviously couldn’t get it out”.

The rescuer put “towels around the possum so she could get him out of the jar without getting scratched by his claws”. The story saves me the trouble of thinking up a metaphor. The Brexiteers have their heads stuck in a jar of sticky brown stuff that seemed so sweet and enticing. May’s compromise deal and the White Paper she is still expected to publish this week are the towels wrapped round the Brexiteers’ claws so that their heads can be pulled out of the jar without her premiership getting scratched to death.

The only problem is that David Davis and Boris Johnson, having been successfully extracted, decided to bare their claws again. As any possum or two-year-old child will tell you, sticking your head inside a glass jar is quite a thrill. You get to see the world through a distorting lens that creates a comforting distance between you and reality. You can’t hear unwanted voices raising awkward questions. Brexit has so far been conducted through a glass darkly. It has been seen through glorious fantasies of imperial revival and layers of self-pity about imaginary oppression. What May has been attempting, very late in the day, is to force her more deluded colleagues to get their heads out of the jar and look directly at Brexit.

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The story is the two have been exposed to high dose of novichok. That is not possible; they would have died in instants.

Novichok In Wiltshire Death ‘Highly Likely’ From Batch Used On Skripals (G.)

Britain’s counter-terrorism chief has said it is highly likely the novichok that killed Dawn Sturgess in Wiltshire came from the same batch used four months earlier to attack a former Russian spy and his daughter at their Salisbury home. The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Neil Basu also said the substance that led to Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley falling ill on Saturday was in a vessel or container when the couple came across it. Police have opened a murder investigation after Sturgess died in hospital on Sunday at 8.26pm. Basu said: “It is both shocking and utterly appalling that a British citizen has died having being exposed to a Novichok nerve agent.

“But make no mistake, we’re determined to find out how Dawn and her partner, Charlie Rowley, came into contact with such a deadly substance; and we will do everything we possibly can to bring those responsible to justice.” Basu said Sturgess and Rowley got a high dose of novichok after handling a container containing the nerve agent. It was most likely that the container police are hunting for was linked to the attack four months earlier on the Skripals. [..] “In the four months since the Skripals and Nick Bailey were poisoned, no other people besides Dawn and Charlie have presented with symptoms. Their reaction is so severe it resulted in Dawn’s death and Charlie being critically ill. This means they must have got a high dose. Our hypothesis is they must have handled the container we are now seeking.”

Read more …

“The carmaker blamed staffing shortages for the scandal..”

Nissan Says Emissions And Fuel Economy Tests Were Falsified (R.)

Nissan has said it has found evidence of misconduct relating to exhaust emissions and fuel economy measurements for 19 models sold in Japan. The Japanese carmaker said on Monday it had discovered the testing environments for emissions and fuel economy in final vehicle inspections at most of its factories in Japan were not in line with requirements, and inspection reports were based on altered measurements. “A full and comprehensive investigation of the facts … including the causes and background of the misconduct, is under way,” Nissan said. The problems were found during voluntary compliance checks following an improper vehicle inspection scandal last year.

In October, a recall of 1.2m vehicles was triggered after Nissan said uncertified inspectors had signed off on final checks for cars sold in Japan. The carmaker blamed staffing shortages for the scandal, which caused annual operating profit to slide. Nissan said the latest misconduct did not compromise the safety of the affected models, and mileage readings were in line with levels presented in product catalogues. It was in the process of compiling data for the GT-R sports car to confirm it satisfied safety standards. The carmaker said it would take appropriate action to prevent similar problems in future.

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Time to keep promises.

Trump Slams Pfizer After July 1 Drug Price Hikes (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday took aim at Pfizer Inc and other U.S. drugmakers after they raised prices on some of their medicines on July 1, saying his administration would act in response. “Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason.” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter on Monday. “We will respond!” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar followed up with his own tweet saying that drugmakers who have raised prices have created a tipping point in U.S. drug pricing policy. “Change is coming to drug pricing, whether painful or not for pharmaceutical companies,” Azar wrote. Neither Trump nor Azar detailed what policy changes would be implemented to decrease prices.

Trump had said in May that some drug companies would soon announce “voluntary, massive” cuts in prices, but none have materialized yet. During his presidential campaign, he promised lower U.S. drug costs. Pfizer raised list prices on around 40 medicines earlier this month. Those include Viagra, cholesterol drug Lipitor and arthritis treatment Xeljanz, according to Wells Fargo. List prices do not include rebates and discounts drugmakers may offer. “The list price remains unchanged for the majority of our medicines. Our portfolio includes more than 400 medicines and vaccines. We are modifying prices for approximately 10 percent of these, including some instances where we’re decreasing the price,” Pfizer spokeswoman Sally Beatty told Reuters.

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Enough of this already. Stop it.

Judge Rejects Trump Request For Long-Term Detention Of Immigrant Children (R.)

A U.S. federal judge on Monday rejected the Trump administration’s request to allow long-term detention of illegal immigrant children, a legal setback for President Donald Trump’s push to detain immigrant families taken into custody at the U.S.-Mexico border. Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee dismissed as “dubious” and “unconvincing” the U.S. Justice Department’s proposal to modify a 1997 settlement known as the Flores Agreement, which says that children cannot be held in detention for long periods. The government made its request in June after public outcry over its policy of separating children from parents who entered the United States illegally.

A judge in a different case in San Diego ordered the government last month to reunite the families it had separated. The government asserted in its Flores filing that the San Diego ruling would necessitate longer-term detention of children, since that would be the only way to both reunite them with their parents and keep the parents incarcerated during their immigration proceedings. Gee rejected that argument. “Defendants advance a tortured interpretation of the Flores Agreement in an attempt to show that the … injunction permits them to suspend the Flores release and licensure provisions,” she wrote.

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“The solution to the problem will be to resettle these refugees in their countries..” “This can only happen when the conflicts raging in these countries are settled.”

Egypt Rejects Europe’s Intent To Set Up ‘Regional Disembarkation Centres’ (AW)

Egypt’s opposition to establishing camps for screening migrants heading to Europe has made the European Union’s “regional disembarkation centres” proposal seem even more implausible. Cairo’s stand has underscored the deep worries in the Egyptian administration about the country’s increasing refugee responsibilities, analysts said. “This is a burden Egypt shoulders alone, without any support from the international community,” said MP Ghada Agamy, a member of the Egyptian parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee.

Egypt said it would not be able to accommodate “regional disembarkation centres” for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe just hours after European leaders reached a controversial migration deal that included refugee centres in North Africa and “controlled centres” in European countries. Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria have rejected the idea of regional disembarkation centres. The Egyptian government said establishing refugee camps would violate the Egyptian constitution. Refugees, Egyptian parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A’al said, can live wherever they want in Egypt. “We do not establish camps here,” he said. Egyptian officials are concerned about Cairo’s ability to shoulder refugee-related burdens, analysts said, particularly at a time of economic transition.

[..] Instead of asking economically struggling countries to act as refugee hosts, European leaders need to solve the problems that cause these refugees to leave their countries in the first place, particularly the unrest that has engulfed many countries, Egyptian specialists said. “The solution to the problem will be to resettle these refugees in their countries,” said Youssef al-Metany, a refugee lawyer at local NGO Egyptian Network for International Law. “This can only happen when the conflicts raging in these countries are settled.”

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Zoe Konstantopoulou is the former president of the Hellenic parliament.

If You Love Greece, Help Us Get Rid Of Alexis Tsipras And His Zombie Party (G.)

Last week was the third anniversary of the 2015 referendum, in which the Greek people voted no to more austerity, and no to the violation of democracy by the creditors. The week before Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister who betrayed the brave no of the Greek people, visited London to present his capitulation to the troika of the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank as an achievement.

Imagine how the British people would view a prime minister elected to end privatisation, and who instead privatised almost every piece of public property; who was elected to serve peace, and who instead facilitated military action against targets in Syria and agreed to sell weapons to countries accused of committing international crimes; who was elected to protect people’s homes, and who stood by while banks seized them, leaving people homeless; who was elected to serve democracy and the independence of his country, and who instead turned it over to the EU, the IMF and the ECB. This is what Tsipras did to the Greek people.

I was a Syriza MP and president of the Greek parliament during the seven months of the first Syriza government. When Tsipras signed the toxic third memorandum in 2015, I fought hard to protect our parliamentary procedures that he and the troika violated. In spite of continuous pressure, I refused to bend our democratic rules and accept more illegal debt for our people. Together with dozens of other Syriza MPs, I voted against the monstrous agreement. Tsipras then dissolved parliament prematurely to get rid of me and the dissenting MPs.

Three years on, his capitulation to the troika has proved the disaster many of us predicted. People’s lives have become unbearable. Youth unemployment has become the norm and an estimated 8% of the population has left in search of work. The minimum salary doesn’t pay the bills, and hundreds of thousands of families go without electricity for extended periods of time. This tragedy began in 2010, but Tsipras’s so-called left government has done everything to prove that it can implement austerity better than its predecessors. It even brags about exceeding the troika’s cruel targets in cuts and taxes.

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“..the landscape as demolition derby..”

When Collapse Goes Kinetic (Kunstler)

I suppose many who think about the prospect of economic collapse imagine something like a Death Star implosion that simply obliterates the normal doings of daily life overnight, leaving everybody in a short, nasty, brutish, Hobbesian free-for-all that dumps the survivors in a replay of the Stone Age — without the consolation of golden ages yet to come that we had the first time around. The collapse of our techno-industrial set-up has actually been going on for some time, insidiously and corrosively, without shattering the scaffolds of seeming normality, just stealthily undermining them. I’d date the onset of it to about 2005 when the world unknowingly crossed an invisible border into the terra incognito of peak oil, by which, of course, I mean oil that societies could no longer afford to pull out of the ground.

It’s one thing to have an abundance of really cheap energy, like oil was in 1955. But when the supply starts to get sketchy, and what’s left can only be obtained at an economic loss, the system goes quietly insane. In the event, popular beliefs and behavior have turned really strange. We do things that are patently self-destructive, rationalize them with doctrines and policies that don’t add up, and then garnish them with wishful fantasies that offer hypothetical happy endings to plot lines that do not really tend in a rosy direction. The techno-narcissistic nonsense reverberating through the echo-chambers of business, media, and government aims to furnish that nostrum called “hope” to a nation that simply won’t admit darker outcomes to the terrible limits facing humanity.

Thus, we have the Tesla saga of electric motoring to save the day for our vaunted way of life (i.e. the landscape as demolition derby), the absurd proposals to colonize distant, arid, frigid, and airless Mars as a cure for ruining this watery blue planet ideally suited for our life-form, and the inane “singularity” narratives that propose to replace grubby material human life with a crypto-gnostic data cloud of never-ending cosmic orgasm. The psychological desperation is obvious. Apparently, there are moments in history when flying up your own butt-hole is the most comforting available option.

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But how do you prove it?

As Trial Opens, Man Dying Of Cancer Blames Monsanto’s Roundup (AFP)

A lawyer for a California groundskeeper dying of cancer took aim at Monsanto Monday as a jury began hearing the lawsuit accusing the chemical giant of ignoring health risks of its top-selling weed killer Roundup. “For the past 40 years, Monsanto has known the primary ingredient in Roundup can produce tumors in lab animals,” attorney Brent Wisner told a California state court. A jury is hearing the case brought by Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old father of two. Diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects white blood cells, Johnson used a Monsanto generic version of Roundup called “Ranger Pro” repeatedly in his job at a school in Benicia, California, after being promoted to groundskeeper in 2012.

In his opening statement, Wisner said Monsanto opted against warning consumers of the risks and that instead “they have fought science” by playing down the suspected link between the chemical herbicide and cancer. “Monsanto has gone out of its way to bully scientists and fight researchers,” he told the jury. The case in California Superior Court is the first trial in which Roundup is said to have caused cancer, a claim repeatedly denied by the chemical company. If Monsanto loses, the case could open the door to hundreds of additional lawsuits against the company recently acquired by German-based pharmaceutical and chemical group Bayer.

Johnson had little warning about the risks of Roundup, his lawyer said. “He was told you could drink it, it was completely non toxic,” Wisner said with his client sitting in the San Francisco courtroom. “You will hear testimony from him that he got drenched in it, repeatedly.” The lawyer said Johnson, who is between rounds of chemotherapy, “is actually on borrowed time, he is not supposed to be alive today.” A key to Johnson’s case will be convincing jurors that Monsanto’s pesticide — whose main ingredient is glyphosate — is responsible for the illness. Wisner contended glyphosate combined with an ingredient intended to help it spread over leaves in a cancer-causing “synergy.”

Read more …

Oct 022017
 
 October 2, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet Boulevard des Capucines 1873

 

Catalans Signal They May Declare Independence Within a Week (BBG)
Catalan Referendum Results Show 90% In Favour Of Independence (G.)
Catalan Independence Referendum Is A Smokescreen For Other Issues (Ind.)
Global Retirement Reality: A $400 Trillion Shortfall (Mauldin)
Hedge Funds Are ‘Dancing On The Rim Of A Volcano’ (BI)
CDO Redux: Credit Spreads & Financial Fraud (Whalen)
No, Trump Didn’t Botch the Puerto Rico Crisis (BBG)
Trump Urges Staff To Portray Him As “Crazy Guy” (Axios)
Egypt Fears Disaster From Largest Hydroelectric Dam In Africa (AP)
Planes, Ships, Barges: The DIY Evacuation Of Vanuatu’s Volcano Island (G.)
Climate Change Will Make Some Countries Richer – IMF (BBG)

 

 

An appeal from Puerto Rico via Nicole:

Hurricane Maria destroyed many of Puerto Rico’s local seed and organic food-producing farm crops. Please, if you can, send me seeds. Even fruit seed for the tropics – I can plant them quickly. I will hand them out to those in need – as well as start flats in order to jumpstart their crops. Thank you!

Mara Nieves
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
00901-0931

 

 

Ready for more confrontation.

Catalans Signal They May Declare Independence Within a Week (BBG)

Catalan separatist leaders signaled they may be moving toward a unilateral declaration of independence as early as this week after hundreds of activists were injured on Sunday as they sought to stop Spanish police from shutting down an illegal referendum. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont appealed to the European Union for support as he pledged to inform the regional parliament of the result of the vote in the coming days. The assembly will then act in line with the referendum law, Puigdemont said — and that could lead to a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of the notification. “The citizens of Catalonia have won the right to have an independent state,” Puigdemont said in a televised statement, flanked by members of his regional administration.

Two million Catalans backed independence out of 2.3 million votes cast in total, government spokesman Jordi Turull said at a press conference in the early hours of Monday. Just over 5 million people were eligible to vote. Before the government crackdown began, separatist leaders said they would be comfortable declaring independence with about 1.8 million votes. Puigdemont’s time frame could see him announce the formation of a Catalan republic on Oct. 6, exactly 83 years since his predecessor as regional president, Lluis Companys, also declared independence. Companys was executed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. [..] Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is wrestling with his country’s biggest constitutional crisis since Franco’s death in 1975 as Puigdemont looks to harness decades of frustration to force Catalonia out of Spain.

Heading a minority government, Rajoy is fighting to maintain his authority as allies peel off in the national parliament and his officials struggle to enforce the law in the rebel region. While a declaration of independence would have no legal force, and would most likely not be recognized by the international community, it would nevertheless constitute a historic challenge to the authority of the Spanish government and state institutions. On Sunday night, Rajoy praised police for their “calmness” in defending the constitutional order after they raided polling stations and seized ballot boxes in their efforts to shut down the vote. As forces deployed, camera phones beamed the confrontations to the world. In one video, broadcast by a local newspaper, a woman is seen being thrown down a flight of stairs.

In another, police rip ballot boxes from the hands of would-be electoral officials. “We’ve proved that our rule of law has the resources to repel an attack on democracy of this magnitude,” Rajoy said in a televised statement. “Look for no culprits other than those who organized an illegal act and have broken our common bonds. We’ve witnessed the type of behavior that would be repugnant for any democrat: the indoctrination of children, persecution of judges and journalists.”

Read more …

Just weeks ago there wasn’t even a majority in the polls.

Catalan Referendum Results Show 90% In Favour Of Independence (G.)

Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain. Jordi Turull, the Catalan regional government spokesman, told reporters early on Monday morning that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted Sunday chose yes. He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.The region has 5.3 million registered voters. Turull said the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids which resulted in hundreds of people being injured. At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt, including at least two people who were thought to have been seriously injured.

Catalonia’s regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, spoke out against the violence with a pointed address: “On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonia’s citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic. “My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.” Puigdemont had pressed ahead with the referendum despite opposition from the Spanish state, which declared the poll to be illegal, and the region’s own high court. He told crowds earlier in the day that the “police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever”. The Spanish government defended its response after hundreds of people were hurt when riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.

Read more …

Background.

Catalan Independence Referendum Is A Smokescreen For Other Issues (Ind.)

Tensions are running high in Catalonia, with riot police out in force and protesters advocating their right to vote being shot with rubber bullets. At the time of writing, more than 300 people have been injured and at least one person is currently undergoing surgery as a result of clashes between police and protesters. Police repression, the arresting of politicians and the intransigence of the Spanish government (“there will be no referendum” has been Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s favourite refrain over the last few weeks) make the temptation to simplify this into a simple left-right or good-bad discourse tantalising. But this issue is far from simple. Both sides in this debate are using the referendum to further their own political agendas.

Spain’s governing party, the Partido Popular (PP), is a right-wing party housing a spectrum of thought from neoliberalists to the hard-line right. The ruling party in Catalonia, PDeCAT, is a centre right party of the Catalan bourgeois which has historically been the natural ally of PP and not a traditional supporter of independence. Interestingly, their move to advocate a referendum has stopped their support from dropping in recent months. Alongside this, neither the national government nor the Catalan parliament are strangers to corruption in politics. PDeCAT has been plagued with allegations of corruption, debate around which has receded significantly as demands for independence have increased. PP, for its part, has often sought conflict as a means of garnering public support.

Positioning this referendum and the spectre of independence as a threat to Spanish citizens and their economic future – as well as tugging on the strings of nationalist patriotism in demanding the continued unity of Spain – PP has engaged widespread support. In recent days, Spanish flags have poured from windows and balconies, and in towns throughout Spain people have cheered the Civil Guard – Spain’s law enforcement agency which operates on military lines – with football chants advocating the defeat of the opposition. Against this political background, Spain is beginning to emerge from the crisis of which it has been in the grasp of since 2008. However, unemployment, particularly among young people, is still extremely high, with poverty and homelessness rates continuing to rise. Both Catalan and Spanish politicians have invoked nationalism as the banner beneath which popular support can be raised, allowing the referendum and its surrounding debates to create a vacuum in which these pressing social issues are demoted.

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John Mauldin is a scary man.

Global Retirement Reality: A $400 Trillion Shortfall (Mauldin)

I wrote a letter last June titled “Can You Afford to Reach 100?” Your answer may well be “Yes;” but, if so, you are one of the few. The World Economic Forum study I cited in that letter looked at six developed countries (the US, UK, Netherlands, Japan, Australia, and Canada) and two emerging markets (China and India) and found that by 2050 these countries will face a total savings shortfall of $400 trillion. That’s how much more is needed to ensure that future retirees will receive 70% of their working income. This staggering figure doesn’t even include most of Europe.

[..] The chart below shows the percentage of GDP needed to cover government pension payments in 2015 and 2050. But consider that the percentage of tax revenues required will be much higher. For instance, in Belgium the percentage of GDP going to pensions will be 18% in about 30 years, but that’s 40–50% of total tax revenues. That hunk doesn’t leave much for other budgetary items. Greece, Italy, Spain? Not far behind. And there is other research that makes the above numbers seem optimistic by comparison. The problem that the European economies have is that for the most part they are already massively in debt and have high tax rates. And they can’t print their own currencies. Many of Europe’s private pension companies and corporations are also in seriously deep kimchee. Low and negative interest rates have devastated the ability of pension funds to grow their assets.

Combined with public pension liabilities, the total cost of meeting the income and healthcare needs of retirees is going to increase dramatically all across Europe. Macron, the new French president, really is trying to shake up the old order, to his credit; and this week he came out and began to lay the foundation for the mutualization of all European debt, which I assume would end up on the balance sheet of the ECB. However, that plan still doesn’t deal with the unfunded liabilities. Do countries just run up more debt? It seems like the plan is to kick the can down the road just a little further, something Europe is becoming really good at. In this next chart, note the line running through each of the countries, showing their debt as a percentage of GDP. Italy’s is already over 150%. And this is a chart based mostly on 2006 and earlier data. A newer chart would be much uglier.

I could go on reviewing the retirement problems in other countries, but I hope you begin to see the big picture. This crisis isn’t purely a result of faulty politics – though that’s a big contributor – it’s a problem that is far bigger than even the most disciplined, future-focused governments and businesses can easily handle. Look what we’re trying to do. We think people can spend 35–40 years working and saving, then stop working and go on for another 20–30–40 years at the same comfort level – but with a growing percentage of retirees and a shrinking number of workers paying into the system. I’m sorry, but that’s magical thinking. And it’s not what the original retirement schemes envisioned at all. Their goal was to provide for a relatively small number of elderly people who were unable to work. Life expectancies were such that most workers would not reach that point, or would at least live just a few years beyond retirement.

As I have pointed out in past letters, when Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security for people over 65 years old, US life expectancy was about 56 years. If the retirement age had kept up with the increase in life expectancy, the retirement age in the US would now be 82. Try and sell that to voters. Worse, generations of politicians have convinced the public that not only is a magical outcome possible, it is guaranteed. Many politicians actually believe it themselves. They aren’t lying so much as just ignoring reality. They’ve made promises they aren’t able to keep and are letting others arrange their lives based on the assumption that the impossible will happen. It won’t.

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“..betting on the VIX is a ‘quick way to lose money.'”

Hedge Funds Are ‘Dancing On The Rim Of A Volcano’ (BI)

The market is calm. Perhaps too calm. The lack of price swings has investors mired in a sea of complacency, which has them ignoring potential risks, says Societe Generale. The firm specifically cites the CBOE Volatility Index – or VIX – which is used to track nervousness in the US stock market. Not only is the so-called fear gauge locked near the lowest levels on record, but hedge funds are betting it’ll decline even further. Their VIX positioning is the most bearish on record, according to data compiled by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “Compare that with dancing on the rim of a volcano,” a group of SocGen strategists led by Alain Bokobza, the firm’s head of global asset allocation, wrote in a client note. “If there is a sudden eruption (of volatility) you get badly burned.”

This isn’t the first time SocGen has issued a warning about low volatility. Two weeks ago, the firm drew parallels to conditions leading up to the 2007 financial crisis. Describing the current situation as a “dangerous volatility regime,” the firm cited the strong mean-reverting tendency of price swings as a big reason why investors should be bracing themselves. Other heavyweights in the investment field have also spoken out about the low-price-swing situation that they see as untenable. In late July, JPMorgan global head of quantitative and derivatives strategy Marko Kolanovic compared rock-bottom volatility to the conditions leading up to the 1987 stock market crash. [..] Laszlo Birinyi, the investment guru who predicted the bull market and has been repeatedly correct over its 8 1/2-year run, said that betting on the VIX is a “quick way to lose money.”

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“..the large banks cannot survive without cheating customers, creditors and shareholders..”

CDO Redux: Credit Spreads & Financial Fraud (Whalen)

The moral of the story with Citi and other large banks is that there is no free lunch, but sadly no one on the FOMC seems to appreciate this subtlety. When the Fed pushes down interest rates and then manipulates credit spreads to achieve some illusory goal in terms of monetary policy, the result is a change in the behavior of investors and lenders that is profound. The fact that Citi, JPM and GS are now pushing back into the dangerous world of off-balance sheet (OBS) derivatives just illustrates the fact that the large banks cannot survive without cheating customers, creditors and shareholders. And just as retailers cannot compete with AMZN, Citi and GS certainly cannot compete against the monopoly power of the House of Morgan. In the case both of Citi and JPM, just half of the banks’ operating business comes from lending, while the remainder comes from risk bearing investments and trading.

With some $50 trillion in off-balance sheet (OBS) derivatives, which is almost six standard deviations above the $1.8 trillion peer average for large banks, Citi and JPM are now the outliers on Wall Street in terms of derivatives exposure. A move of 30bp in the OBS derivatives book of either bank would wipe out their capital. Chart One below shows the OBS derivatives exposure of Citi, JPM, GS and the other major banks. Notice that all three of the leading derivatives dealers have been increasing exposures since last year. Note too that the relatively small GS has a notional OBS derivatives book of more than $41 trillion, almost as large as that of Citi and JPM. More alarming, a move of just 7bp in the smaller bank’s OBS derivatives exposures would wipe out the capital of Goldman’s subsidiary bank. This gives GS an effective leverage ratio vs its notional OBS derivatives exposures of 8,800 to 1.

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Yesterday it was the HuffPo, now Bloomberg. Blaming Trump unfairly is a bad approach. Exit echo chamber.

No, Trump Didn’t Botch the Puerto Rico Crisis (BBG)

[..] to look at the larger context of the entire relief operation, I decided to talk to someone whose experience rivals that of General Honore: retired Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix. Now a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, Hendrix served for decades both on the high seas and in high-level staff jobs, including with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Executive Panel and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy’s Irregular Warfare Quadrennial Defense Review. Few people know more about military history than Hendrix, who has degrees from Purdue, Harvard, the Naval Postgraduate School and a Ph.D. from Kings College in London. Little wonder that in 2012 was named the service’s director of naval history.

TH: So, it seems like everybody has blasted Trump administration’s response to the Puerto Rico crisis. Has that criticism been fair?

JH: No, I don’t think so. First of all, there was a fair amount of anticipatory action that is not being recognized. Amphibious ships including the light amphibious carriers Kearsarge and Wasp and the amphibious landing ship dock Oak Hill were at sea and dispatched to Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane’s impact. These are large ships that have large flight decks to land and dispatch heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters to and from disaster sites. They also have big well-decks – exposed surfaces that are lower than the fore and aft of the ship – from which large landing craft can be dispatched to shore carrying over 150 tons of water, food and other supplies on each trip. These are actually the ideal platforms for relief operations owing to their range of assets. The ships, due to their designs to support Marine amphibious landings in war zones, also have hospitals onboard to provide medical treatment on a large scale. That these ships were in the area should be viewed as a huge positive for the administration and the Department of Defense.

TH: Your plaudits toward the White House on all this are surprising to say the least. But where does the response still need to improve?

JH: One area in which the Trump administration could possibly lend additional assistance would be looking at a more robust activation of its assets in the Defense Department’s Transportation Command to include more heavy-lift and cargo aircraft, as well as Maritime Administration shipping to move the logistics-heavy large infrastructure items on the ocean. Everything from bulldozers to transformers needs to come by ships, and it’s been decades since it was really flexed to its full capacity. This would have the dual purpose of revealing any significant weaknesses in the Transportation Command assets and readiness should we need it in a military emergency down the road.

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Does this mean everybody gets what they want?

Trump Urges Staff To Portray Him As “Crazy Guy” (Axios)

In an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, President Trump gave his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, an Art of the Deal-style coaching session on how to negotiate with the South Koreans. Trump’s impromptu coaching came in the middle of a pivotal conversation with top officials about whether or not to withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal. Sources familiar with the conversation recounted the exchange for Axios, and the White House did not dispute this account. A number of senior officials and cabinet secretaries were present for the conversation, including Defense Secretary Mattis, Agriculture Secretary Perdue, and Secretary of State Tillerson. At issue was whether the U.S. would withdraw from the Korean trade deal — an action Trump threatened but still hasn’t done.

“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer. “Ok, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied. “No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute.'” “That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued. “And by the way, I might. You guys all need to know I might. You don’t tell them 30 days. If they take 30 days they’ll stretch this out.” Why this matters: Plenty of world leaders think the president is crazy — and he seems to view that madman reputation as an asset. The downsides are obvious: the rhetoric can unnerve allies and has the potential to provoke enemies into needless, unintended war. But Trump keeps using the tactic, with varying degrees of success:

Just today, the president undercut his secretary of state by suggesting diplomacy with “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea was a waste of time — implying that only military action would resolve the conflict. “Save your energy Rex,” Trump tweeted, “we’ll do what has to be done!” We’ve never seen anything like this before. Trump’s tweet, undercutting Tillerson’s diplomatic efforts, comes a day after Tillerson acknowledged for the first time that the administration was in direct communication with North Korea. Trump’s tweet also undercuts a statement made Tuesday by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Dunford: “The military dimension today is in full support of the economic and diplomatic pressure campaign the secretary of state is leading in North Korea.”

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The kind of thing that can lead to war.

Egypt Fears Disaster From Largest Hydroelectric Dam In Africa (AP)

The only reason Egypt has even existed from ancient times until today is because of the Nile River, which provides a thin, richly fertile stretch of green through the desert. For the first time, the country fears a potential threat to that lifeline, and it seems to have no idea what to do about it. Ethiopia is finalizing construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, its first major dam on the Blue Nile, and then will eventually start filling the giant reservoir behind it to power the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa. Egypt fears that will cut into its water supply, destroying parts of its precious farmland, hampering its large desert reclamation projects and squeezing its bourgeoning population of 93 million people, who already face water shortages. Dam construction on international rivers often causes disputes over the downstream impact.

But the Nile is different: few nations rely so completely on a single river as much as Egypt does. The Nile provides over 90% of Egypt’s water supply. Almost the entire population lives cramped in the sliver of the Nile Valley. Around 60% of Egypt’s Nile water originates in Ethiopia from the Blue Nile, one of two main tributaries. Egypt barely gets by with the water it does have. Because of its population, it has one of the lowest per capita shares of water in the world, some 660 cubic meters a person. The strain is further worsened by widespread inefficiency and waste. With the population on a path to double in 50 years, shortages are predicted to become severe even sooner, by 2025. That is despite the fact that Egypt already receives the lion’s share of Nile waters: more than 55 billion of the around 88 billion cubic meters of water that flow down the river each year.

It is promised that amount under agreements from 1929 and 1959 that other Nile nations say are unfair and ignore the needs of their own large populations. Complicating the issue, no one has a clear idea what impact Ethiopia’s dam will actually have. Addis Ababa says it will not cause significant harm to Egypt or Sudan downstream. Much depends on management of the flow and how fast Ethiopia fills its reservoir, which can hold 74 billion cubic meters of water. A faster fill means blocking more water at once, while doing it slowly would mean less reduction downstream.[..] One study by a Cairo University agriculture professor estimated Egypt would lose a staggering 51% of its farmland if the fill is done in three years. A somewhat slower fill over six years would cost Egypt 17% of its cultivated land, the study claimed

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“..its 83 islands are stuck right in the middle of hurricane alley and they dot the border of the “ring of fire”..”

Planes, Ships, Barges: The DIY Evacuation Of Vanuatu’s Volcano Island (G.)

Vanuatu is no stranger to the rumblings, shakings, flood waters and wrecking winds of natural disaster. The south Pacific island nation was rated the most at-risk country in the world in a 2016 United Nations study. Its 83 islands are stuck right in the middle of hurricane alley and they dot the border of the “ring of fire” – a belt around the Pacific prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Despite their precarious situation being a day-to-day reality, the country has been galvanised by the prime minister Charlot Salwai’s order to evacuate the entire island of Ambae because of the threat that the volcano at its centre will blow. “People’s lives must be our first priority,” Salwai said. “Everybody has to go.” What followed has been Vanuatu’s own version of the Dunkirk evacuation. Folk began organising even before Salwai gave the order.

The Ni-Vanuatu – the people of this archipelago – are defined by two things: land and family. From the moment a state of emergency was announced, members of the Ambae community in Port Vila, the capital, began to mobilise. They knew better than to wait for the cash-strapped, resource-starved government and instead jury-rigged a disaster response centre at a church. Local companies began donating goods immediately. Before long they had stockpiles of water, food, bedding and other essentials ready to send. Then they chartered a ship. The MV Makila was one of the first of Vanuatu’s ragtag fleet of inter-island barges and coasters to reach Ambae with supplies. It unloaded those goods then took more than 100 passengers to safety on the nearby island of Espiritu Santo. Then it went back and did it again.

There was no hesitation, no reflection. The ships had to run. So the community members dug deep and shifted for themselves. [..] Nadia Kanegai has been a personal assistant to a prime minister, and a former political candidate herself. A past master at getting things done by Vanuatu’s often shambolic bureaucracy, she didn’t flinch at the difficulties presented by moving hundreds of her home island’s most vulnerable inhabitants to safety. She just hired a plane and told the pilot to keep flying until everyone was out. Kanegai won’t discuss how much this airlift is costing her, but whistle-stop charter flights to the outer islands typically cost the equivalent of £1,000 for a return hop. Her plane made 18 flights on the first day alone.

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Bloomberg headline “Why Russia Should Love Climate Change Deniers”. Because that sells better than Mongolia?

Climate Change Will Make Some Countries Richer – IMF (BBG)

President Donald Trump and other climate-change deniers probably don’t think of themselves as contributing to Russia’s future prosperity. But judging from a new International Monetary Fund report, that’s what they might be doing. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF offers a sobering analysis of global warming’s potential repercussions. Looking at the historical relationship between climate and economic output, it finds that poor countries in hot regions – home to a majority of the world’s population – are likely to suffer the most as average temperatures rise. Here’s a map showing the effect of a one-degree-Celsius temperature increase on per-capita GDP, with countries scaled to reflect their populations:

Gazing at the map, though, I couldn’t help but ask: What about the winners? Those green areas in the north certainly suggest that somebody stands to gain. So I downloaded the data to see which countries would get a per-capita GDP boost. Mongolia, Iceland, Finland and Russia topped the IMF’s list. Here’s the whole thing:

To be sure, this doesn’t mean that the countries will turn into a tropical paradises. For one, the researchers derived their estimates from the relatively small weather fluctuations of the past – nobody can really know what will happen if temperatures go beyond what humans have experienced. Also, don’t forget bigger natural disasters, forced migrations and all the other ills that climate change is expected to bring. That said, the data do suggest that Russia could, at least initially, be an unintended beneficiary of what amounts to a global injustice of epic proportions. Look again at that map: The poor countries in the south stand to bear the brunt of a catastrophe created largely by the wealthy countries in the middle, while the countries in the north get a windfall. That’s an outcome to which Trump, by downplaying the dangers of global warming and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, has already made a significant contribution.

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Nov 042016
 
 November 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle November 4 2016


DPC Madison Street east from Fifth Avenue, Chicago Sep 1 1900

Both US Parties Need to Worry About Poverty (BBG)
The End of a Great Industrial Power: France Car Production Collapses (Gef.)
The Sad Case Of Japan Should Serve As A Warning For China (BBG)
China Faces Looming Bulge in Currency Pressure (WSJ)
Egypt Central Bank Devalues Currency By 48% In Exchange For IMF Loan (AlJ.)
‘The FBI Is Trumpland’: Anti-Clinton Atmosphere Spurred Leaks (G.)
US Voters Fear The Media Far More Than Russian Hackers (WE)
Trump is Half Right and Half Wrong about Mosul (Di Lorenzo)
Tory MPs Warn High Court Trio Of Early Election If They Don’t Back Down (DM)
Government Pension Plans Are Headed For Disaster (Mises Inst.)
Toronto Home Prices Surge in October, Undaunted by New Rules (BBG)
Turkey Police Round Up Kurdish Party Leaders in Midnight Raids (BBG)
Turkey Appears To Have Closed Most Of The Internet (Ind.)
Historic Climate Pact Enters Into Force (AFP)
Early Closings Of US Nuclear Plants Leave Toxic Waste With Nowhere To Go (BBG)

 

 

Poverty is a problem the US flatly denies and ignores.

Both US Parties Need to Worry About Poverty (BBG)

There’s a reason presidential nominee Donald Trump’s message of a declining America is inspiring support in Republican strongholds: poverty is worsening in his party’s congressional districts, a new analysis by the Brookings Institution shows. The poverty rate increased in nearly all – 96% – of the Republican-controlled districts between 2000 and the 2010-2014 period, according to a study by Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow with the institute. She analyzed Census data and figures from the American Community Survey. The population living in poverty in all Republican districts climbed by 49%, compared with a 33% increase in Democratic areas. A big theme of this presidential election campaign that will be decided on Nov. 8 has been the battle to win low-income voters who feel left behind from the economic expansion.

Trump’s rallies have been often packed with middle-class supporters who are receiving his message to “make America great again.” Both him and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have promised to raise the minimum wage and deal with the affordability of college and childcare. Neighborhoods in Democrat-leaning districts also have a high proportion of poor people. Combined, the poverty rate in districts represented by Democrats was higher at 17.1% in 2010-14 than the 14.4% in Republican areas. However, the overall number of poor residents was larger in Red districts at 25.1 million compared with 22.7 million in Blue districts, the study found. “Poverty and opportunity should be more than a top-of-the-ticket conversation,” Kneebone said. “Challenges of poverty cut across the political divide and touch all 436 congressional districts.”

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France suffers from the same disease as all Southern European contries. As long as it stays in the Eurozone, this can only get worse.

The End of a Great Industrial Power: France Car Production Collapses (Gef.)

French industry has been contracting since the adoption of the euro. It was not able to recover after either of the 2001 or 2008 crises because the euro, a currency stronger than the French franc would be, has become a burden to France’s economy. The floating exchange rate works like an indicator of the strength of the economy and like an automatic stabilizer. A weaker currency helps to regain competitiveness during a crisis, while a stronger currency supports consumption of foreign goods. China has been accused of artificial devaluation of its currency to prop up exports, while the ECB’s policy has had an opposite effect for the economy of France and some South European countries: the euro has become too strong; whereas for Germany’s it has become too weak.

That is why the common currency has increased consumption and imports in less productive countries and strengthened German competitiveness and exports. Because of the euro France could not regain international competitiveness in the world’s market after the 2001 crisis, so its industry has been slowly dying ever since. What we are saying is not that weakening your currency is a solution to boost a never-ending growth. The floating exchange rate is a great tool for bad times, which is excellently known in Poland, where there was no recession because of, among others, a temporarily weaker national currency. France and South European countries have just given this tool over to the ECB and they were not able to have a quick recovery. Just like Germany has had with an undervalued euro in their case.

Today, according to the Eurostat, industry (except construction) makes up 14.1% of the French total gross value added, while in 1995 it was 19.2%. The EU’s average is still 19.3%, but in Germany 25.9%. Moreover, the share of industry in total employment in France is only 11.9%, also under the EU’s average (15.4%) and the German level (18.8%). One of the imprints of the dying French manufacturing under the ECB rules is automotive sector collapse. According to OICA data, the world’s car production almost doubled in the years 1997-2015 from 53 million vehicles produced yearly to 90 million. At the same time, Germany increased its car production by 20% from 5 to 6 million. What happened in France, once the proud producer of beautiful and modern vehicles?

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Deflation.

The Sad Case Of Japan Should Serve As A Warning For China (BBG)

China and Japan may seem to inhabit alternative economic universes. After more than two decades of stagnation, Japan is a fading global power that can’t seem to revive its fortunes no matter what unorthodox gimmicks it tries. By contrast, China’s ascent to superpower status appears relentless as it gains wealth, technology, and ambition. Yet these Asian neighbors have a lot in common, and that doesn’t bode well for China’s economic future. The sad case of Japan should serve as a cautionary tale for China’s policymakers. Beijing pursued almost identical economic policies to Tokyo’s to generate its rapid development. Now China’s leaders are repeating the missteps the Japanese made that tanked Japan’s economy and thwarted its revival.

30 years ago, few foresaw the decline of Japan, either. Japan was the East Asian giant poised to overtake the U.S. as the world’s top economy. Driving that ascent was an economic system that many considered superior to laissez-faire American capitalism. By fostering close, cooperative ties among the state, big corporations, and banks, Japan’s policymakers encouraged investment and guided a national industrial strategy. Bureaucrats in Tokyo interfered with markets to a degree unthinkable in the U.S. by protecting nascent industries and directing financing to favored sectors and companies. Backed by such support, Japanese companies burst onto the world stage and pushed their American competitors to the wall. But even as Japan appeared destined for greatness, its economy was, in reality, starting to rot.

Those clubby ties among finance, business, and government misallocated capital and led to wasteful investments. Growth was given a boost by cheap credit in the second half of the 1980s, but that also helped inflate debt levels and stock and property prices. When this “bubble economy” burst in the early 1990s, the financial industry was flattened. Japan has yet to fully recover. [..] The methods Beijing employed to generate rapid growth—directing finance, nurturing targeted industries, and promoting exports—are replicas of Japan’s. And since the state in China’s “state capitalism” plays an even larger economic role than Japan’s officious bureaucracy does, the Chinese government interferes with markets to a greater degree.

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More record lows every day.

China Faces Looming Bulge in Currency Pressure (WSJ)

Markets have grown more accustomed to the slow-motion decline in the value of the Chinese yuan. The currency’s next milestone, however, may usher in a more challenging period. China’s currency has fallen nearly 4% against the dollar this year, with a chunk of that move taking place over the past month, though there has been a small recovery in recent days. Recent dollar strength is certainly a factor in the minds of China’s currency managers in deciding when to intervene and when to let the yuan slide. Beijing has spent more than $500 billion in reserves to manage the yuan’s slide over the past two years on a balance-of-payments basis. Still, the yuan has slipped from 6.06 a dollar to above 6.75. That is getting close to 6.82, the level around which the yuan was pegged for an extended period from 2008 until 2010.

Currency traders could be accused of overplaying such historical levels having an effect on current trading. But in this case, it may have more than just a psychological impact. The two years in which the yuan was stuck around 6.82 was also the period of the largest inflows into the Chinese economy, to the tune of $764 billion, noted Kevin Lai of Daiwa Securities. Quantitative easing in the U.S. was in full effect and trillions flowed to emerging markets, especially China. Individuals and companies that borrowed in dollars or brought money in as a carry trade may have hung on until now, figuring they haven’t lost money on the exchange rate. But seeing the yuan get back to the rate when they brought it in could hasten transfers.

Unlike the period from 2008 to 2010, when interest-rate differentials vastly favored bringing money to China, and the exchange rate was pegged, the difference between dollar rates and yuan rates have narrowed substantially, plus the Chinese have to account for the possibility the yuan will weaken further. That explains why Federal Reserve rate increases have such a powerful effect on China’s capital flows. [..] It isn’t inevitable that the bulge of money that flowed in from 2008 to 2010 will necessarily leave. But outflows do continue to bubble below the surface. The ghosts of inflows past may yet haunt China’s future.

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Lagarde poking a stick into a hornest nest.

Egypt Central Bank Devalues Currency By 48% In Exchange For IMF Loan (AlJ.)

Egypt has devalued its currency by 48%, meeting an important demand set by the IMF in exchange for a $13bn loan over three years to overhaul the country’s economy. Thursday’s much anticipated decision by the Egyptian Central Bank followed a sharp and sudden decline this week in the value of the dollar in the unofficial market, dropping from an all-time high of 18.25 pounds to around 13 to the US currency. The devaluation pegs the Egyptian pound at 13 to the dollar, up from nearly nine pounds on the official market. The IMF’s executive board has yet to ratify the $12bn loan provisionally agreed by Egypt and the IMF in August.

Egypt’s central bank increased interest rates by three percent to rebalance currency markets following weeks of turbulence. A shortage of dollars in the economy had put the currency under intense downward pressure in recent months. A rapid slide on the black market to 18 earlier this week pushed the importers to cease buying, with the rate strengthening to 13 late on Wednesday, creating a rare opportunity for the central bank to devalue. The central bank said the new exchange rate was non-binding and would serve as “soft guidance to jumpstart the market”.

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Even this can be turned into an anti-everyone-but-Hillary piece, as the Guardian proves.

‘The FBI Is Trumpland’: Anti-Clinton Atmosphere Spurred Leaks (G.)

Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election. Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited. “The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent. This atmosphere raises major questions about how Comey and the bureau he is slated to run for the next seven years can work with Clinton should she win the White House.

The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.” The agent called the bureau “Trumplandia”, with some colleagues openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented condemnation from the party’s national security wing and who has pledged to jail Clinton if elected. At the same time, other sources dispute the depth of support for Trump within the bureau, though they uniformly stated that Clinton is viewed highly unfavorably. “There are lots of people who don’t think Trump is qualified, but also believe Clinton is corrupt. What you hear a lot is that it’s a bad choice, between an incompetent and a corrupt politician,” said a former FBI official.

Sources who disputed the depth of Trump’s internal support agreed that the FBI is now in parlous political territory. Justice department officials – another current target of FBI dissatisfaction – have said the bureau disregarded longstanding rules against perceived or actual electoral interference when Comey wrote to Congress to say it was reviewing newly discovered emails relating to Clinton’s personal server. [..] Comey’s decision to tell the public in July that he was effectively dropping the Clinton server issue angered some within the bureau, particularly given the background of tensions with the justice department over the Clinton issue. A significant complication is the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, who met with Bill Clinton this summer ahead of Comey’s announcement, which she acknowledged had “cast a shadow” over the inquiry.

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It’s only a poll of 1000, but perhaps the US voter is not completely stupid.

US Voters Fear The Media Far More Than Russian Hackers (WE)

Voters fear the media far more than Russian hackers when it comes to tampering with election results. According to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll, 46% of likely voters believe the news media is “the primary threat that might try to change the election results.” The national political establishment was the second most-suspected group at 21%, and another 13% were undecided. Foreign interests, including “Russian hackers,” ranked fourth with 10% and “local political bosses” came in last with 9% of likely voters as the main threat to truthful election results. The poll results found 51% of likely voters were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the possibility of violence erupting on election day or afterwards.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken between Oct. 20 and Oct. 24 and followed the release of private emails by the hacking group WikiLeaks that revealed cozy relationships between some prominent media stars and the Clinton campaign. The WikiLeaks dump also discovered Donna Brazile, the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, forwarded a debate question to Clinton that was later asked at a CNN Democratic town hall. Brazile at the time was a CNN contributor. The poll found 39% of likely voters believe the media is coordinating coverage with individual political campaigns, while 48% said the media is reporting “completely of its own accord.” The Gallup Poll has found trust in the media to have sunk to an historic low. A September Gallup survey found just 32% of American adults saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media,” a number that has dropped 8 %age points from last year.

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“.. keeping Boobus Americanus fooled into believing that that guy in the black pajamas with the giant sword will be in their neighborhood next week..”

Trump is Half Right and Half Wrong about Mosul (Di Lorenzo)

In his campaign stump speech Donald Trump ridicules Obama for publicly announcing four months in advance that “we” will be invading Mosul, Iraq to kick out ISIS there and capture its leaders. No element of surprise there. Twelve minutes after the announcement, said Trump, and the ISIS leaders were gone. Trump is right to mock this foolish talk. The element of surprise is what military commanders dream about. Stonewall Jackson’s famous flanking maneuver at the Battle of Chancellorsville (VA), where his 60,000-man army outflanked and surprised the 133,000-man Army of the Potomac with a crushing defeat is still to this day taught at military academies around the world.

But Obama is not that stupid. He’s just not interested in winning the “war on terra,” as Dub-Yuh called it. His main interest is keeping Boobus Americanus fooled into believing that that guy in the black pajamas with the giant sword will be in their neighborhood next week chopping off heads if we ever stop intervening in the Middle East. It’s all theater, in other words. That’s why the regime announces some big new military escalation every few months, lest Boobus forgets that he’s supposed to be frightened into acquiescing in the never-ending explosive growth of the military-industrial complex and the relentless growth of the state in general that it nourishes.

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The mess will only get deeper unless Brits stop blaming each other.

Tory MPs Warn High Court Trio Of Early Election If They Don’t Back Down (DM)

Theresa May could be forced to hold an early election if judges and Remain campaigners do not back down in the war against Brexit, Tory MPs warned last night. On a frantic day at Westminster, the Prime Minister vowed to appeal yesterday’s High Court verdict which would allow Parliament to frustrate or even scupper the process of Britain leaving the EU. No 10 sent a clear message to the courts that 17.4 million voters had backed Brexit and that they should not get in the way of ‘delivering the best deal for Britain’. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, said that – if yesterday’s verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court – a full Act of Parliament would be required to trigger Brexit.

This would allow MPs or unelected peers to table amendments that could dictate the terms of Brexit or even halt the process. But Mr Davis warned that heading down this path would be a huge mistake. And senior Tories said that, if MPs and peers did try to frustrate Brexit, a General Election was almost inevitable, suggesting Mrs May would have no option but to trigger an ‘immediate’ poll in early 2017. Last night, Mr Davis said: ‘Parliament voted by six to one to give the decision to the people, no ifs or buts, and that’s why we are appealing this to get on with delivering the best deal for Britain. ‘Parliament is sovereign and has been sovereign, but of course the people are sovereign.

‘The people are the ones who parliament represents…17.4 million of them, the biggest mandate in history, voted for us to leave the EU. ‘We’re going to deliver on that mandate in the best way possible for the British national interest. ‘The people want us to get on with it and that is what we intend to do.’ Ex-justice minister Dominic Raab said the verdict had opened ‘Pandora’s box’. He added: ‘I think the elephant in the room here is if we get to the stage where [Remainers] allow this negotiation to even begin, I think there must be an increased chance that we will need to go to the country again. ‘I think that would be a mistake and I don’t think those trying to frustrate the verdict in the referendum will be rewarded.’

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A global phenomenon. “..the political process [..] actually rewards those who underfund the present and defray costs onto future generations.”

Government Pension Plans Are Headed For Disaster (Mises Inst.)

The combined debt held by U.S. public pension plans will top $1.7 trillion next year, according to a just-released report from Moody’s Investors Services. This “pension tsunami” has already forced towns like Stockton, California and Detroit, Michigan into bankruptcy. Perhaps no government mismanaged their pension as badly as Puerto Rico, where a $43 billion pension debt forced the commonwealth to seek protection from the federal government after having defaulted on its obligations to bondholders — a default which is expected to spread to retirees in the form of benefit cuts. While the disastrous outcome of Puerto Rico’s pension plan – which is projected to completely run out of assets by 2019 – represents the worst-case scenario, the same series of events that led to its demise can be found in most public pension plans nationwide.

There are three primary culprits that can be found in nearly every state suffering from a public pension crisis: 1) The use of accounting gimmicks that are designed to shift costs onto future generations – an approach outlawed for private pension plans and rejected by both public and private plans in Canada and Europe. 2) Lawmakers, acting in their political self-interest, who have catered to the past demands of government unions to enrich their members’ benefits while passing the costs onto future generations. 3) A broken governance structure where public pension board members are actually penalized in tangible ways for acting responsibly, and are rewarded by choosing to delay the day of reckoning. Perhaps the most concise assessment of public pensions came from the former chief actuary for the nation’s largest public pension fund – CalPERS – who noted simply that: “Politics and pensions just don’t mix.”

And it’s not just “liberal” states like California who have succumbed to the siren call of public pensions. My home state of Nevada – historically thought to be a bastion of limited government thought – is in a proportionally deeper hole than our California neighbors! [..] In theory, government is ostensibly designed to override the allegedly short-sighted, greedy nature of individual actors with policies that are long-term oriented and designed to maximize the general welfare. Yet, as the case of public pensions (not to mention infrastructure spending, the national debt, entitlements, etc.) reveals, the political process actually does the exact opposite: it actually rewards those who underfund the present and defray costs onto future generations.

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Just ask yourself: who profits?

Toronto Home Prices Surge in October, Undaunted by New Rules (BBG)

Toronto home sales rose to a record and prices surged in October, showing little effect so far from new government rules designed to bring stability to the market. Sales in Canada’s biggest city rose 12% to 9,768 transactions from the same month a year earlier, while average prices jumped 21% to C$762,975 ($569,852), according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. The average price of a detached home was C$1,034,077, up 26% on the year. New listings rose 0.9% to 13,377 homes. “Until we experience sustained relief in the supply of listings, the potential for strong annual rates of price growth will persist, especially in the low-rise market segments,” Jason Mercer, the board’s director of market analysis, said in a statement on Thursday.

The market remained hot even as Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled new federal rules in October that included a stress test for home-loan borrowers and came into effect halfway through the month. The rules also stiffened requirements for low-ratio mortgage insurance and closed a tax loophole. Toronto’s march higher contrasts with Vancouver’s continued sales decline since the provincial government enacted a tax on non-Canadian home buyers. Sales in the west coast city fell 39% in October over the prior year, while prices for all residential properties climbed to an average of C$919,300, a 25% jump from a year earlier and a 0.8% decline from September.

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The west uses the Kurds when it comes to fighting ISIS, but leaves them hanging when it comes to Erdogan’s delusions.

Turkey Police Round Up Kurdish Party Leaders in Midnight Raids (BBG)

Turkish police began rounding up Kurdish lawmakers in post-midnight raids on Friday, extending a crackdown on the opposition as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consolidates power following a July 15 coup attempt. Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, co-chairs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, also known as the HDP, were among those detained, according to CNN-Turk. At Erdogan’s request, parliament had passed a law in May stripping the party’s lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution, which allows them to be charged with terrorism-related offenses. Last year, Demirtas looked to be a rising political star in Turkey. He led a pro-Kurdish party to win seats in parliament for the first time, passing the threshold of 10% of the national vote.

He also ran for president in 2014, and campaigned on a promise to prevent Erdogan from winning the power he seeks to transfer the seat of power in Turkey from parliament to an enhanced executive presidency. The police raids were carried out in Diyarbakir, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, and in the capital Ankara, according to Haberturk newspaper. Sirri Sureyya Onder, a member of parliament representing Istanbul, was also detained in Ankara, it said. Over the weekend, police arrested the elected mayors of Diyarbakir and later replaced them with government appointees. Demirtas had said that members of his party wouldn’t abide by orders to appear before courts, saying they’d become servants of the ruling party and were illegitimate.

Erdogan says the HDP is merely a front for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a group classified by Turkey and allies – including the U.S. and EU – as a terrorist organization. The HDP is the third-largest party in Turkey’s parliament, holding 59 of the legislature’s 550 seats.

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Could still be an incident, but it would fit the pattern.

Turkey Appears To Have Closed Most Of The Internet (Ind.)

Much of the internet appears to have gone down in Turkey. People in the country are having problems accessing much of the internet’s biggest websites and services, including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and more. The website Down Detector confirmed problems in the country, particularly in the west. Some have reported that the sites are simply slow, but that it is still possible to access them. Others say they are down entirely. It isn’t clear whether the outage has been caused by an intentional ban, a cyber attack or just an accident. Some reported that issues with Turk Telecom appeared to be the cause of the problems.

Turkey Blocks, a website that tracks issues with the internet in Turkey, claimed that web traffic including that for WhatsApp was subject to throttling, where connections are slowed down to the point they are unusable. It claimed that the internet ban was related to the arrest of some political activists the night before the outage went into effect. The issue began overnight but has been going on throughout the day, according to local reports. The internet in general seems to be having a rocky few weeks – recently, it went down for almost a full day after a strange cyber attack on the internet’s infrastructure that appeared to be executed by webcams.

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Yeah, yeah, CON21. Mankind is capable of producing huge amounts of hot air in more ways than one.

Historic Climate Pact Enters Into Force (AFP)

A hard-fought pact to stave off worst-case-scenario global warming enters into force Friday after record-fast ratification by nations reassembling next week for a fresh round of UN climate talks. Dubbed the Paris Agreement, it is the first-ever pact binding all the world’s nations, rich and poor, to a commitment to cap average global warming by curbing planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas. “Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said. While cause for celebration, “it is also a moment to look ahead with sober assessment and renewed will over the task ahead,” she said.

This meant drastically cutting emissions in the short term, “certainly in the next 15 years,” Espinosa pointed out a day after a UN report said current trends were steering the world towards climate “tragedy”. By 2030, said the UN Environment Programme, annual greenhouse gas emissions will be 12 to 14 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) higher than the desired level of 42 billion tonnes. The 2014 level was about 52.7 billion tonnes. 2016 is on track to become the hottest year on record, and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere passed an ominous milestone in 2015. On Friday, the Eiffel Tower in Paris as well as government and public buildings in Marrakesh, New Delhi, Sao Paulo and Adelaide, among others, will be lit up in green to mark the entry into force of the historic pact.

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“..interim storage sites while the government develops a permanent solution..” Baloney. There is no permanent solution. Yucca Mountain was discarded after a judge ruled the government had to guarantee safe storage for 100,000 years. There is no such guarantee.

Early Closings Of US Nuclear Plants Leave Toxic Waste With Nowhere To Go (BBG)

Under a 1982 law, the U.S. government, not the utilities, is responsible for disposing of radioactive waste that can take thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years to degrade. But more than a half-century after nuclear energy powered the first American home, the U.S. Department of Energy still doesn’t have a permanent solution for the waste left behind. It’s a problem that will only get worse. On October 24, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station near Blair, Nebraska, became the fifth nuclear plant to close in five years. Of 119 reactors in the U.S., 20 are now being decommissioned and a half-dozen more are expected to close prematurely, nudged out by cheap natural gas and growing use of renewables.

Beyond that, “the big wave of retirements really starts coming in around 2030,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz warned last month at an event in Washington. Among experts, the nuclear waste debate invariably turns on the fleeting nature of human institutions in dealing with an element that the Environmental Protection Agency has said must be isolated for 10,000 years to protect humans and the environment from toxic radiation. “The problem with federal agencies is that the management structure changes every few years,” said Allison Macfarlane, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which licenses and regulates civilian use of radioactive material. “In hundreds of years, will these institutions be there, will they care, will they pay?” That’s one issue. A second is where exactly to put the waste.

The safest thing to do is to bury it deep underground, below the water table and within a stable rock formation. Congress picked such a site in 1987: a desert ridge in Southern Nevada known as Yucca Mountain. The site abuts a nuclear weapons testing ground where 928 atomic tests were conducted between 1951 and 1992. While a few Nevada counties agreed with the selection, the state government didn’t, and the Yucca solution soon devolved into a decades-long political fight that crossed party lines and spanned presidential administrations. In 2010, President Barack Obama finally scrapped the plan altogether, declaring the site unworkable.

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Jun 232014
 
 June 23, 2014  Posted by at 1:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  


Russell Lee Young flood refugee in schoolhouse, Sikeston, Missouri January 1937

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? Over the weekend, the US released $572 million in ‘military aid’ to Egypt, at the same time that an Egyptian court confirmed the death sentences for 183 Muslim Brotherhood members/supporters, a Canadian and an Australian journalist were sentenced to 7-10 years maximum security prison for a conspiracy “to tarnish Egypt’s reputation and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood”, while 15 others, including two British and one Dutch journalists, got 10 years each in absentia on similar charges.

And “we” are handing them tanks and Apache helicopters? At the very moment journalists from fellow NATO member countries are being thrown in jail on opaque and convoluted charges? Excuse me? Ever heard of timing everything?

John Kerry Voices Strong Support for Egyptian President Sisi

Secretary of State John Kerry voiced strong U.S. support for Egypt’s new president and signaled that Washington will continue the flow of military aid in an American welcome of the post-coup government. Mr. Kerry is the most senior Obama administration official to meet Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the former commander of the Egyptian armed forces, since his inauguration as president earlier this month. The American diplomat stressed that Washington was eager to kick-start its strategic relationship with Cairo anew. Mr. Kerry said that the U.S. had recently released $575 million in assistance for Egypt’s military and that he was confident 10 Apache helicopters would be delivered to Egypt soon. [..]

Note that Morsy (or Morsi, Mursi), about whom I have no opinion to express, was an elected president. “We” don’t seem to like those much lately, do we? Here’s some factoids, starting with the Wall Street Journal:

Egypt Court Upholds 183 Death Sentences

An Egyptian court upheld the death sentences against Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 182 of the group’s supporters Saturday. They were among hundreds of people found guilty in April of taking part in a deadly attack on a police station last year. The incident occurred after sit-ins supporting deposed President Mohamed Morsy at squares in Cairo were broken up. “Of 683 defendants in the case, 183 were sentenced to death, four were sentenced to life imprisonment and 496 defendants were acquitted,” at Minya Criminal Court, state-run Ahram Online reported.

183 death sentences shirks eerily close to organized genocide. And I know the US is the only “civilized” nation that still has enthusiasm for executing its citizens, but 183 is a crazy number that reeks of political games far more than criminal activity. But of course we could claim that’s an internal Egyptian affair to decide. A claim we can’t make when it comes to our own journalists. Or are Australia, Canada, Britain and Holland perhaps not “our own” enough? Would Obama have refused the mass arms shipments to today’s flavor in power in Egypt if American journalists were involved?

Egypt Court Jails Al Jazeera Journalists For 7-10 Years

An Egyptian judge sentenced three Al Jazeera journalists on Monday to seven years in jail after finding them guilty on charges including helping a “terrorist organisation” by publishing lies. The three include Australian Peter Greste, Al Jazeera’s Kenya-based correspondent, and Canadian-Egyptian national Mohamed Fahmy, bureau chief of Al Jazeera English. A third defendant, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, received an additional three-year jail sentence on a separate charge involving possession of weapons. Another 11 defendants were sentenced in absentia to 10 years.

Canada’s Globe and Mail published this on the trial recently, before the sentences were delivered:

Footage Of Sheep, Australian Rock Song Part Of Prosecution’s Case Against Egyptian-Canadian Journalist

“They hand-picked only one side of the story,” Mr. Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, said in a telephone interview from Cairo after the Thursday hearing ended. The clips that were displayed to the judge, he said, were selected to include interviews with people who support the Muslim Brotherhood and footage of protests against former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the front-runner in next week’s presidential election. But prosecutors left out interviews that the Al Jazeera team had conducted with people who are supportive of the existing regime, said Adel Fahmy.

Much of the evidence presented was “ridiculous,” said Adel Fahmy. It included, without explanation, a grainy recording of the hit song Somebody That I Used to Know by the Australian musician Gotye, as well as audioclips of people telling jokes, videos of sheep, footage from other correspondents, and a documentary about football in Egypt that Mr. Greste told the judge demonstrates the journalists’ willingness to portray the country as being stable under the current military rulers. [..] U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders demanded the release of the journalists.

And it’s not as if the White House didn’t know. From the WSJ article quoted above:

On Saturday, an Egyptian court sentenced to death more than 180 members of the Brotherhood for allegedly attacking a police headquarters in southern Egypt and killing an officer and a civilian. The Egyptian government is also trying three journalists from the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network and 17 co-defendants for allegedly conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize the Egyptian state. A verdict in the case is expected on Monday.

Mr. Kerry said that he raised these issues with Mr. Sisi during a nearly two-hour session in the presidential palace in Cairo. The U.S. diplomat stressed that Mr. Sisi needed more time to address U.S. and international concerns about these cases. “He gave me a very strong sense of his commitment to make certain that the process he has put in place, a re-evaluation of human-rights legislation, a re-evaluation of the judicial process, and other choices that are available are very much on his mind,” Mr. Kerry said.

That last paragraph is a great depiction of what “we” have become. The US doesn’t stand for anything anymore, including the protection of its own people (and I do count journalists from NATO countries as our own people). But it’s not just the US. This is from an AP piece after the journalists’ verdicts:

Western governments and rights groups have voiced concern over freedom of expression in Egypt since Mursi’s ouster and the crackdown has raised questions about Egypt’s democratic credentials three years after an uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power and raised hopes of greater freedoms. “This is a deeply disappointing result. The Egyptian people have expressed over the past three years their wish for Egypt to be a democracy. Without freedom of the press there is no foundation for democracy” Britain’s ambassador to Egypt, James Watt, told Reuters after the verdict. Australia’s ambassador Ralph King also said his prime minister would make his disappointment clear after entreaties made by his government in recent days appeared to make little difference.

Instead of Britain and Australia expressing outrage over both the sentences AND Obama’s decision to hand $570 million worth of weapons to the regime that delivers the sentences, both say they’re “disappointed”. Woe be the Brits or Aussies who find themselves on the wrong side of a line their government arbitrarily draw at any given point in time that’s entirely at their discretion. You’re on your own, guys.

And I know that violent movements are once again rising in Iraq and elsewhere, and I’ve seen Obama and Kerry and Bush and Cheney and Blair’s inane claims that they never had nothing to do with none of the unrest. But even then, refusing to stand up for your own people crosses a line that frankly disgusts me.

How hard would it have been for Kerry to tell, what’s his face, Sisi, that he can can have his guns and helicopters, and support “our” cause, but only after he releases at least all westerners involved in that grotesque Al Jazeera court case? Not hard at all. So what’s going on? Does the White House maybe hate Al Jazeera as much as Egypt does? Or is this about all journalists in general who don’t toe the party line? And of course there’ll be voices who say that it’s all difficult, and diplomacy is hard etc., but it’s really not. All Obama needs to do is say give me my people back or I’ll take those $572 million worth of guns and point them at you.

We know that the truth vanished from Washington long ago. Now we find that the last scrap of morality did too.

Oh, and the world of finance today? Stocks are held up by behemoth buybacks in the US and Japan, while the latter also moves record amounts of pension funds into the stock market. The most striking line today came in a Bloomberg article on Yellen controlling bond markets, and said: “Bond Vigilantes Have All Been Quieted”. They won’t be quiet forever, promise, unless they keep being fed free money forever. Fed by the Fed.

US Stock Buybacks Near 2007 Peaks (TPit)

Buybacks peaked precisely at the top of the market in Q3 2007 then plunged over 80%. By Q2 2009, when stocks were cheapest, buybacks had nearly stopped. It seems like a clockwork of bad timing: buybacks soar when stocks go into bubble mode and collapse when stocks get cheap. But the relationship works the other way around. The purpose of buybacks is to use shareholder equity to manipulate up the stock price. It works in three ways: one, through the sheer buying pressure – especially easy during these times of super-low trading volume; two, through this form of financial engineering that boosts earnings per share by lowering the share count, though it does nothing for actual earnings; and three, through the hype surrounding the buyback announcements and even the whispers of them.

And it works even when, as for example in IBM’s case, revenues and actual earnings are crummy for two years in a row, and when the stock should be roasting in purgatory. At every earnings announcement, the stock plunges, but then over the next three months, mirabile dictu, the share price rises again, fired up by buybacks. The Wall Street hype machine uses them as bait. Investors swallow them hook, line, and sinker. But that’s all buybacks do. What they don’t do is generate future revenues and earnings, unlike R&D or capex or any of the other productive activities companies undertake. In this way, the moolah blown on buybacks simply disappears as a driving force from the economy – an issue that has been dogging the US for two decades, as the range-bound chart above shows.

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Record Japan Buybacks Salvaging Stocks (Bloomberg)

Japanese businesses left behind this year as global equities rallied to a record found a winning strategy in buying back shares the rest of the world preferred to avoid. Companies in the Topix index are acquiring their own stock at the fastest pace ever, led by NTT Docomo and Toyota., with $25 billion of announced purchases so far this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The buybacks are limiting losses in the world’s worst-performing developed equity market: Companies using the strategy have gained even as the Topix slid. The combination of record cash, cheap shares and a government-led drive to buoy return on equity is making buybacks irresistible to Japanese executives at a time when the MSCI All-Country World Index is trading at unprecedented highs.

Mitsubishi Corp. rose 6.2% this year through last week, compared with the Topix’s 2.6% drop. Japan’s biggest trading company said on May 8 it would buy back as much as 60 billion yen ($589 million) of shares, the most in seven years. “It’s a pretty big sea change,” said Kieran Calder, head of equities for Asia at Coutts & Co., which manages about 28.5 billion pounds ($48.6 billion). “Corporate mindsets are definitely changing,” he said. “It makes Japan more of a normal market.” The Topix dropped as much as 13% this year amid growing doubt Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make good on promises for reforms from loosening labor laws to reducing government support for farmers. The index is down this year after a world-beating 51% jump in 2013.

Foreign investors, which account for about 60% of market turnover, reduced holdings of Japanese shares in all but one month this year just as buybacks surged. Companies that announced purchases worth more than $100 million this year climbed an average 4.1% in 2014 through June 20. “Share buybacks have the effect of supporting the market when it’s weak,” Daiwa Securities Group Inc. quantitative analyst Masahiro Suzuki wrote in a report on June 10. “Return to shareholders is a big theme.”

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Bond. James Bond.

Sovereign Debt The ‘Ultimate Bubble’ (CNBC)

A bubble currently brewing in sovereign debt will likely burst in the next couple of years, U.S. billionaire Wilbur Ross warned on Monday. “I’ve felt for some time that the ultimate bubble, when we look back a few years from now, is going to be sovereign debt, both U.S. and other, because it’s way below any sort of reversion to the mean of interest rates,” the distressed debt investor told CNBC. “If you look at where the U.S. 10-year had averaged over the 10 preceding years, it’s around 4 percent. If it reverts back to that level at some point there will be terrible losses in the long-term Treasury market and those will probably be accentuated in other areas of fixed income.”

Ross argued that slowing issuance of assets like mortgage-backed securities and long-term Treasurys post-credit crisis, had helped to insulate the market from the full impact of the Federal Reserve’s gradual slowdown of quantitative easing – a process known as tapering. Investors have to “build in refinancing risk” when buying assets at the moment, he said The amount of cheap money in the market, as a result of quantitative easing by both the Fed and its European counterpart the European Central Bank (ECB), has been credited with the resurgence in investment in assets like peripheral euro zone bonds.

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“All on red” doesn’t even begin to cover this wager.

Pension Money Already Flowing In To Prop Up Japan’s Stocks (Zero Hedge)

With almost metronomic regularity, Japan will gush forth a headline proclaiming the ever-closer time when all the nation’s retirees savings will be greatly rotated to the stock market and away from the nation’s largest bond market in the world. This week was no exception; however, as Nikkei Asian Review reports, it appears the “all-talk” has turned to action…The Government Pension Investment Fund and other public pensions sold about 1.8 trillion yen ($17.4 billion) more in Japanese government bonds than they bought in the first three months of the year, fueling speculation that the GPIF may be rebalancing its portfolio sooner than expected. It seems rotating away from government bonds (which the GPIF has been worried about since 2011) into junk bonds and junk stocks is a far better use of ‘wealth’ – we can only imagine the GPIF risk models just got switch to ’11’. As we explained last year, Japan’s Plan B is not only not a panacea, but it is a House of Bonds Cards that would not survive an even modest gust of wind, and an even more modest contemplation into its true internal dynamics. We would urge Messrs Abe and Kuroda to come up with a fall back plan to the fall back plan before it, once again, becomes too late.

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Bond Vigilantes Have All Been Quieted (Bloomberg)

As the Federal Reserve works to extricate itself from the bond market, its influence over debt investors is only increasing and boosting the chance of a soft landing for Treasuries. While the Fed scales back the unprecedented stimulus that has inundated the world’s largest economy with more than $3 trillion of cheap cash, the differences between short- and long-term yields of U.S. government bonds indicate that investors are confident Fed Chair Janet Yellen can keep inflation in check as growth rebounds without having to ratchet up interest rates. The relative calm clashes with forecasters who say investors have grown too complacent over the direction of central bank policy with consumer prices climbing the most in more than a year and signs of labor-market strength.

Bond bulls are instead focusing on the Fed’s reduced estimate for how high rates ultimately need to rise and echoing the view of PIMCO’s Chief Economist Paul McCulley, who said this month the taming of inflation starting in the 1980s means there’s little risk in keeping borrowing costs low. “The market is giving the Fed the benefit of the doubt that Yellen and crew have everything under control,” Robert Tipp, the chief investment strategist at Prudential Financial Inc.’s fixed-income unit, which oversees about $335 billion, said in a June 19 telephone interview. “Inflation is not overheating even with job growth stable and the economy continuing to accelerate.” In the past 13 months, the gap between yields of two- and five-year Treasuries has doubled to 1.22 percentage points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. At the same time, the difference between those of five- and 30-year securities has narrowed to the least since 2009 as the long bond rallied.

Because yields on longer-dated debt usually rise more than shorter-term notes when investors see faster inflation spurring rate increases, the moves suggest a more sanguine outlook, according to Priya Misra, the New York-based head of U.S. rates strategy at Bank of America, one of 22 primary dealers obligated to bid at U.S. debt auctions. Taken together, the relationship now implies that while investors anticipate the Fed will eventually lift its benchmark rate after holding it close to zero for six years, they don’t foresee the central bank’s stimulus measures creating the kind of inflationary pressures that would force its hand, she said. “The bond vigilantes have all been quieted,” Misra said by telephone on June 19. “The idea that just the act of printing money gets you inflation has been debunked.”

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Story for your grand kids: there once was a time when people borrowed all they wanted.

Automakers Crowding Banks Out Of US Car Loan Market (Reuters)

U.S. banks looking to get in on a booming market for financing new-car sales have run into a formidable competitor: the auto manufacturers themselves. Financing arms of car companies, including Toyota, Honda, and Ford, made half of all new U.S. car loans in the first quarter, up from 37% a year earlier and the largest%age of the market in four years, according to credit data firm Experian. These companies also write the vast majority of leases, which contributed a record 26% of new car sales in the quarter, up from 23% last year and 20% in 2012. The financing arms are providing subsidies from the manufacturers, lowering monthly payments and extending loan terms to make it easier for buyers to drive away in a shiny, new vehicle. As a result, major banks are increasingly moving into riskier parts of the market to make loans.

US Bancorp, for example, for the first time ever decided to start financing used cars, an area of the market that the automakers’ finance companies have little interest in. It also started offering loans to less creditworthy borrowers. And Wells Fargo has been leveraging off a nationwide deal with General Motors to provide loans subsidized by the No. 1 U.S. automaker. Wells sees this as a way to gain more of the used car loan business at GM dealerships. The aggressive push by car companies is beginning to raise questions among industry analysts and consultants about whether it is sustainable. If interest rates rise, the automakers could find the incentives too costly unless they are prepared to take a hit to profits—with any pullback in the deals being offered customers running the risk of hurting demand. And, if used car prices weaken, the financing units could be hit with losses on vehicles coming back from leases and repossessions.

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And now Asia borrows too. Hey, their savings are gone, remember?

Are Asian Households Over Their Head In Debt? (CNBC)

Household debt in Asia is growing quickly, spurring concerns that consumers may struggle to pay their bills as interest rates show signs of heading higher. “In the last several years, consumer debt has surged across the region, financing not only purchases of new, flashy condos, but also of cars, motorcycles, and everything else the heart desires,” Frederic Neumann, an economist at HSBC, said in a note Friday. Singapore and Thailand have seen credit growth exceeding that of the U.S. during its boom, while Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and Korea have seen a bigger increase than in the U.K. during the 2001-2007 runup to the financial crisis, he said, noting academic studies suggest the pace of increase matters more in generating financial risks than the absolute level.

In what may be a sign that Singapore’s credit surge is weighing on consumers, pawnshops are on the rise in the city-state. Pledges at Singapore’s pawnshops rose to 4 million in 2012 from 2.7 million in 2007, while loans surged around 344% over the same period to 7.1 billion Singapore dollars in 2012, according to a report last month from OSK-DMG. “The trend is likely to continue due to a few factors such as the availability of cheap credit fuelled by easy monetary policies from central bankers in advanced economies since the global financial crisis,” analysts Jarick Seet and Terence Wong said in the report, starting coverage of the pawnbroker sector at Overweight. While the 2010 opening of the city-state’s casinos is likely a key driver for pawnshops’ growth, Seet and Wong also believe that the government’s clampdown on unsecured lending and credit cards means more borrowers are facing difficulties with debt payments and are turning to their local pawnbrokers.

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Chinese Switch From Cash To Credit To Buy Cars (CNBC)

In a country where owning a car has long been a symbol of luxury and success, around 85% of Chinese car buyers still buy cars with cash. But people like Chinese accountant Grace Mi and her peers in their 20s and 30s are changing the car financing game and are the ones catching the attention of global carmakers looking to boost revenue and defend margins in an increasingly competitive market. These young people are willing to buy big-ticket items like a car on credit – a behavior unheard of some 15 years ago in China – and have led carmakers to boost their financing units in the mainland. The push by automakers to steer more people to buy on credit comes as part of their broader efforts to make up for sliding margins on new-car sales in China where more companies are cutting prices to entice buyers.[..]

Around 70% of car buyers in the United States and other developed countries take out loans, according to a Deloitte report in 2012 and the reason global carmakers are trying to seize on the rise in auto financing in China is because the sector is highly profitable. The financing unit of Ford Motor contributed nearly a quarter of the Deerborn, Michigan-based company’s overall profit last year while rival GM saw 12% of its profit come from its finance unit. “China’s car market remains primarily a cash market, but it is starting to move to credit,” John Lawler, head of Ford’s operations in China, told Reuters in an interview. “It’s a demographic and generational phenomenon. Those people who finance cars are primarily younger buyers.”

China’s central bank gave the sector a boost in early June when it cut the amount of money auto financing firms need to set aside as reserves in a bid to stimulate the economy which is showing signs of slowing. Global carmakers have been funding their financial units’ expansion by selling off their loans in the form of asset-backed securities to beef up their operations in China. That frees up money they can use to lend to Chinese consumers. So far this year, the financing units of Ford, BMW, Volkswagen, Nissan and Toyota have each issued around 800 million yuan ($128.85 million) of asset-backed securities.

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Good counterweight to the happy happy China numbers coming out today.

China Beige Book, Manufacturing PMI Paint Opposing Pictures Of Economy (ZH)

S&P 500 futures are jumping exuberantly as Japan and China PMIs print above expectations and back in expansion territory (Japan best in 3 months, China best in 7 months). This is China’s best 2-month PMI rise since Oct 2010 (which makes perfect sense amid the collapsing housing market and CCFD ponzi probe) – which provides the perfect propaganda meme that targeted RRR cuts workl. However, while stocks don;t care to scratch the surface, there are 2 glaring similarities that could become a problem. Both China and Japan saw employment drop (Japan’s first in 11 months) and furthermore both China and Japan saw input prices rise and output prices decline – not exactly the margin expansion dream everyone is hoping for… and all this as China’s Beige Book shows the slowdown deepening on weak investment.

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“The banks still haven’t looked under the hood.” Wow! They’ve been looking for weeks now, and they still haven’t found their stuff? That’s scary. Every bank involved has had their guys in Qingdao for a month. They can’t find a thing?

Qingdao Fraud Probe Leaves China’s Warehouse Sector Under Scrutiny (Reuters)

Shaken by a fraud investigation into metal financing in the world’s seventh-busiest port, banks and trading houses have been made painfully aware of the risks they face storing commodities in China’s sprawling warehouse sector. The probe at Qingdao port centers around a private metals trading firm suspected of duplicating warehouse certificates in order to use a metal cargo multiple times to raise financing. Some banks have asked clients to shift metal, used as collateral for loans, to more regulated London Metal Exchange (LME) warehouses outside China or those owned and operated by a single warehouse firm to limit their exposure. “The banks still haven’t looked under the hood,” said an executive at a bank involved in commodity financing in China, referring to China’s warehousing sector.

At the heart of the issue is China’s roaring commodity financing business, which has helped drive up stockpiles of commodities at ports to record levels, stored in warehouses not always regulated to the same extent as elsewhere. Though many global firms are involved in the warehouse industry in China, there has been outsourcing to local firms to cut overheads and avoid dealing with complex local regulations. Using commodities as collateral in financing in China is common practice and not illegal, but issuing receipts to repeatedly mortgage an asset is fraud and could leave more than one creditor holding claims to the same collateral. Illustrating how difficult it may be to unravel competing claims, China’s CITIC Resources said that a court had been unable to secure more than 100,000 tonnes of alumina stored at Qingdao port. Traders said there was a risk the metal could have been already claimed before part of Qingdao Port was sealed off, adding that at least two trading houses had moved metal out as soon as news of the scandal broke.

In Qingdao, sources with knowledge of the probe said authorities were looking at whether the firm under focus, Decheng Mining, had secured multiple warehouse receipts because an affiliate managed logistics at the port’s Dagang bonded zone. “Warehouse receipts are not title documents, they are documents of entitlement. But they are being used as title documents for sales and purchase and transfer of ownership,” said a person at a warehouse company with operations in Qingdao. “Everywhere else outside of China, a warehouse receipt is cut for one party.” [..]A warehouse operator and a banker said agreements with clients meant there could be limited liability for a cargo, capping a payment at around $100,000, depending on specific terms and conditions. For example, a shipment of 10,000 tonnes of copper would be worth about $68 million at current prices.

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Hussman, always good for a solid perpective.

This Time is Different, Yet with the Same Ending (Hussman)

There is one critical feature of the market advance of recent years that differs from prior bull market advances, and while it’s related to quantitative easing, the distinction is not quite as simple as that. In the market advances that culminated in the 1929, 1972, 1987, 2000 and 2007 pre-crash peaks, a combined syndrome of overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions emerged in each instance. These syndromes can be defined in numerous and largely overlapping ways, but in general, once these syndromes appeared, steep market losses typically followed in fairly short order. In instances where they didn’t, the syndrome was usually a one-off outlier driven by a short spike in bullishness. Still, in no case did one observe repeated, increasingly severe overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes persisting entirely uncorrected and without consequence.

The fact that there have been no historical exceptions to this pattern prior to the recent half-cycle has posed quite a challenge for us in recent years. It forced us to adapt by imposing restrictions (based on factors such as market action across a range of risk-sensitive instruments) to mute our defensiveness even in conditions where historically-informed measures of prospective market return/risk are blazing red. We don’t get to re-live the recent cycle in a way that shows the effectiveness of any of that, but I expect it to be evident enough over the completion of the present cycle and the ones that follow, even in the event quantitative easing becomes a more frequent policy (though the unwinding challenges appear likely to make the whole episode regrettable).

The Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing has produced a historically prolonged period of speculative yield-seeking by investors starved for safe return. The problem with simply concluding that quantitative easing can do this forever is that even speculative assets have to compete with zero. When a safe zero return is above the medium or long-term return that one can estimate for a very risky asset, the rationale for continuing to hold the risky asset becomes purely dependent on expectations of immediate short-term price gains. If speculative momentum starts to break, participants often try to get out the door simultaneously – especially if there is some material event that increases general aversion to risk. That’s the dynamic that produces market crashes.

I’m not saying a market crash is imminent, but it is a risk because very reliable valuation methods (that have remained reliable even in the recurring bubbles since the late-1990’s) presently estimate negative prospective nominal total returns for the S&P 500 on every horizon of 7 years or less, and an annual total return of about 1.9% over the coming decade.

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France is the new Greece.

French Manufacturing, Services Reveal Risk for Europe’s Recovery (Bloomberg)

French manufacturing and services contracted for a second month in June, highlighting the euro area’s struggle to sustain its economic recovery. A Purchasing Managers Index for both industries in the region’s second-largest economy decreased to 48.0 from 49.3 in May, Markit Economics said today in London. Economists had forecast an unchanged reading, according to a Bloomberg News survey. A reading of 50 or higher signals expansion. The French economy has fared worse than that of the euro area for the past three quarters and added to concern of policy makers at the European Central Bank, who unveiled unprecedented stimulus earlier this month to rekindle growth and boost prices in the 18-nation region.

The International Monetary Fund gave a bleak assessment of the euro economy last week, noting that output is still below pre-crisis levels, unemployment “unacceptably high” and inflation “worryingly low.” “There remained little sign of any turnaround in the performance of France’s economy at the end of the second quarter,” said Paul Smith, senior economist at Markit. “On these trends, the economic underperformance of France seems set to persist well into” the second half of the year, he said.

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The Chinese buy up America with freshly printed Monopoly money. What’s not to like about that?

Ni Hao, Y’all: US Hinterlands Woo Chinese Firms (AP)

Burdened with Alabama’s highest unemployment rate, long abandoned by textile mills and furniture plants, Wilcox County desperately needs jobs. They’re coming, and from a most unlikely place: Henan Province, China, 7,600 miles away. Henan’s Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group opened a plant here last month. It will employ more than 300 in a county known less for job opportunities than for lakes filled with bass, pine forests rich with wild turkey and boar and muddy roads best negotiated in four-wheel-drive trucks. “Jobs that pay $15 an hour are few and far between,” says Dottie Gaston, an official in nearby Thomasville.

What’s happening in Pine Hill is starting to happen across America. After decades of siphoning jobs from the United States, China is creating some. Chinese companies invested a record $14 billion in the United States last year, according to the Rhodium Group research firm. Collectively, they employ more than 70,000 Americans, up from virtually none a decade ago. Powerful forces — narrowing wage gaps, tumbling U.S. energy prices, the vagaries of currency markets — are pulling Chinese companies across the Pacific. Mayors and economic development officials have lined up to welcome Chinese investors. Southern states, touting low labor and land costs, have been especially aggressive. In the case of the Pine Hill plant, tax breaks, some Southern hospitality and a tray of homemade banana pudding helped, too. “Get off the plane and the mayor is waiting for you,” says Hong Kong billionaire Ronnie Chan.

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The US Healthcare System: Most Expensive Yet Worst In The Developed World (ZH)

One month ago we showed that when it comes to the cost of basic (and not so basic) health insurance, the US is by far the most expensive country in the world and certainly among its “wealthy-nation”peers (in a world in which indebtedness is somehow equivalent to wealth), which in the context of the irreversible socialization of American healthcare, was in line with expectations. It would be logical then to think that as a result of this premium – the biggest in the world – the quality of the healthcare offered in the US among the best, if not the best, in the world. Unfortunately, that would be wrong and, in fact, the reality is the complete opposite: as a recent study by the Commonweath Fund, looking at how the US healthcare system compares internationally, finds, “the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity.” In other words: most expensive, yet worst in the developed world.

From the report: “The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, but this report and prior editions consistently show the U.S. underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance. Among the 11 nations studied in this report—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity. In this edition of Mirror, Mirror, the United Kingdom ranks first, followed closely by Switzerland.”

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Anyone surprised?

Poverty Hits Twice As Many British Households As 30 Years Ago (Guardian)

The number of British households falling below minimum living standards has more than doubled in the past 30 years, despite the size of the economy increasing twofold, a study on poverty and deprivation in the UK claims . According to the study, 33% of households endure below-par living standards – defined as going without three or more “basic necessities of life”, such as being able to adequately feed and clothe themselves and their children, and to heat and insure their homes. In the early 1980s, the comparable figure was 14%.

The research, billed as the most detailed study ever of poverty in the UK, claims that almost 18 million Britons live in inadequate housing conditions and that 12 million are too poor to take part in all the basic social activities – such as entertaining friends or attending all the family occasions they would wish to. It suggests that one in three people cannot afford to heat their homes properly, while 4 million adults and children are not able to eat healthily. Having someone in the household in work does not prevent British families from facing tough living conditions, according to the research, undertaken by the Poverty and Social Exclusion project (PSE). It found that many households that were struggling had at least one adult in work. Experts who produced the research, which will be discussed at a conference in London on Thursday, are calling on the government to take action to counter the problems they have pinpointed.

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Scary as all hell.

Out Of Control Ebola Outbreak Just ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’ (NBC)

An “out of control” outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that’s being called the deadliest ever is far from over and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, experts predict. And health workers who have been fighting the outbreak, which spans three countries and has killed more than 300 people, say they are certain many cases are going unreported as they see gruesome infections, dangerous myths and people fleeing the virus, potentially spreading it further. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Robert Garry, a microbiology professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine who’s been leading relief and investigation efforts in Sierra Leone for the Viral Hemorraghic Fever Consortium. Dr. Mwayabo Kazadi, from the health unit for Catholic Relief Services, agreed that many cases could go uncounted and undiagnosed in the region, where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia come together. “When you don’t have a proper health system in place, it is pretty difficult,” Kazadi said.

Garry says team members arrived in at least one village to find it deserted, and the body of an Ebola victim left unattended in a house. It’s not hard to imagine what happened, but it makes it impossible to track down people who might have been infected and get them to hospitals for what care can be provided, and to prevent them from infecting others. A Doctors Without Borders official said Friday that the outbreak was out of control. And the numbers make it clear this is the biggest outbreak yet of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976. The virus, which causes a particularly nasty form of hemorrhagic fever, has killed 337 people out of 528 infected. “This is the biggest outbreak we have ever actually seen of Ebola,” Kazadi said. “It’s the biggest both in numbers and in terms of geography,” Garry agreed.

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