Sep 182018
 
 September 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Development II 1939

 

Trump Orders More Russia-Related Probe Documents To Be Declassified (R.)
David Stockman Exposes The “$20 Trillion Elephant In The Room” (ZH)
An Economic Recovery Based Around High Debt Is Really No Recovery (G.)
Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis (F.)
Trump Is ‘A Symptom And Not The Cause’ Of The Trade War With China (CNBC)
UK Will Shift Brexit Stance In Its ‘Darkest Hour’ Claim EU Officials (G.)
Christine Lagarde Warns Of ‘Dire Consequences’ Of Disorderly Brexit (G.)
Monsters All the Way Down (Kunstler)
Vulnerable Migrant Groups Must be Removed from Greek Island – MSF (GR)
WikiLeaks Slams AP “Assange Letter” As Fake, Denies He Sought Russian Visa (ZH)

 

 

As I said would happen a few weeks ago. Inevitable. But what a curious choice of headline for Reuters. The docs are related to the probe, not to Russia.

Trump Orders More Russia-Related Probe Documents To Be Declassified (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump has directed the Justice Department to immediately declassify more information related to the investigation into possible election meddling by Russia, the White House said on Monday. Trump’s demands mark his latest effort to turn up the heat on the Justice Department, whom he and his Republican allies have accused of running a tainted probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Among the documents Trump ordered the Justice Department and the director of national intelligence to make public are 20 additional pages of FBI surveillance warrant applications related to his former campaign adviser Carter Page.

Trump also ordered the release of FBI interview reports with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr related to the Russia probe, and FBI interview reports related to the Page surveillance warrant applications, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Finally, Trump directed the Justice Department to release, without redactions, text messages relating to the Russia probe from former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and other officials, including FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Trump fired Comey in May 2017, originally citing the Russia probe, and then saying that the firing was not “because of the phony Russia investigation.” McCabe was fired in March by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Strzok was also recently fired, and has been criticized for sending texts disparaging Trump as a presidential candidate.

Read more …

Look at that graph. And keep looking.

David Stockman Exposes The “$20 Trillion Elephant In The Room” (ZH)

In a recent interview with Sprott Media in Vancouver, Stockman reiterated that he remains a skeptic, particularly in an era where central banks (thanks to their $20-trillion-plus aggregate balance sheet) have destroyed price discovery and contributed to the blowing of a debt bubble that – when it finally pops – will make the aftermath of the financial crisis appear tame by comparison. Stockman begins his interview by clarifying that he would be optimistic about the long-term prospects for growth and markets if it wasn’t for this $20 trillion ‘elephant in the room’.

“I am an optimist, I truly am – if it weren’t for the fact that central banks are totally out of control. So my talk centered on the Great $20 trillion elephant in the room, which is the balance sheets of all the central banks in the world, in excess of what it probably should be in a rational stable historically prudent world”. As central banks have bought up assets, they’ve repressed interest rates, rigged equity prices and provided the fuel for the explosion of debt that has occurred over the past 20 years, Stockman said.And when the music finally stops – as they say – it will be the central banks that bear the brunt of the blame.

“And it’s that $20 trillion, built up over the last two decades, that has basically distorted everything – falsified prices, repressed interest rates, caused an explosion of debt. Twenty years ago there was $40 trillion of debt in the world today there is $250 trillion worth of debt in the world. The leverage of the world has gone from 1.3 times which is stable…to 3.3 times, which basically means the world has created a huge temporary prosperity by burying itself in debt.

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Same difference.

An Economic Recovery Based Around High Debt Is Really No Recovery (G.)

Rickard Nyman and Paul Ormerod have compared economic forecasting by humans and machines in both the US and the UK, and come up with some stark conclusions. At the start of 2008 the survey of professional forecasters in the US failed to predict that within a year their country would be in a deep recession. Had US policymakers relied on machine-learning algorithms they would have been much better prepared for the trouble ahead. Even more impressive results using machine learning were obtained for the UK. There’s more, however. Nyman and Ormerod sift through all the economic and financial variables that might have been responsible for causing the downturn and come up with a conclusion that explodes the myth that overspending governments were to blame.

“The evidence suggests quite clearly that public sector debt played no causal role in generating the Great Recession” they say. “In contrast, the ratio of private sector debt to GDP does appear to have played a significant role, especially in the UK.” In truth, the idea that state profligacy caused the Great Recession has never been credible. What really happened was that the expansion of the global marketplace led to cheap goods flooding the west. Inflationary pressure abated and that persuaded central banks to cut interest rates. Financial deregulation meant the only remaining constraint on excessive borrowing – high interest rates – was removed – and so credit was cheap and readily available. The private sector loaded up on debt, which was fine so long as the assets on the other side of the balance sheet were going up in value. When the markets turned, things went pear-shaped very quickly.

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Excellent example.

Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis (F.)

Let’s say you know three people: Alexandra, Meg and Melanie. Alex owes Meg $5, and Meg owes Melanie $5. Further say that they have run into financial trouble. You, the government, believe that if this is not addressed then it could have terrible consequences for the rest of the macroeconomy. So you decide to come to the rescue by paying the $5 . . . but to whom? You have three choices, each of which costs exactly $5: i. Give the money to Alexandra, who passes it to Meg, who passes it on to Melanie. All debts are retired and the economy returns to financial health. ii. Give the money to Meg, who passes it on to Melanie. They both return to economic health, while Alexandra remains saddled with debt. iii. Give the money to Melanie, who then becomes viable once again. Alexandra and Meg remain weighed down.

Guess which one we did? The one that bailed out Wall Street while leaving Main Street indebted. This has two huge consequences. One, higher levels of debt reduce spending and therefore represent a drag on the economy. Second, they increase “financial fragility,” or the likelihood of system-wide insolvency. If the second part sounds like the financial crisis, it should. Fortunately, however, we have avoided such a consequence. Reuters suggests that the structure of debt has changed in a positive way and we should be especially thankful for the low unemployment rate which has meant that people have not had difficulty making payments.

But data from the Bank for International Settlements (displayed below) show two things: 1) the ratio appears to be making an upward turn and 2) it remains much closer to the dangerous levels of the 2000s than those of the New Economy of the 1990s. It was precisely that 2000s level that raised red flags to analysts like Steve Keen, who went on to be recognized as the economist who most accurately forecast the financial crisis. Incidentally, he’s worried again.

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It should have been resolved years ago.

Trump Is ‘A Symptom And Not The Cause’ Of The Trade War With China (CNBC)

George Yeo, Singapore’s former foreign minister, said at the conference that the “big story” here was the rise of China. The trade war is but one manifestation in the tensions between the world’s two largest economies which could go on for years, he added. There’s a growing anxiety in the U.S. about China’s rise, said Yeo, who is currently chairman of logistics company Kerry Logistics Network. He pointed to how former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said it was an “economic war” and not a trade war. “For Peter Navarro, it’s Death by China,” Yeo added, referring to Trump’s trade advisor and fierce China critic, who wrote a book of that title. “It’s not difficult for an economic war to become a political war to become a real war,” he said.

Both superpowers need to find some kind of “accommodation” in this multi-polar world, Rodrik stressed. China may say that it knows how to manage its economy, and the West needs to recognize Asia’s largest economy has its own model. “On the other hand, I think China will need to understand that it has been a free rider on the system created by the U.S., of openness, and it would have to provide a certain amount of … policy space for the Europeans and the Americans too,” he said, adding that this would be an example of “peaceful co-existence.” “China is playing the long game,” Rodrik said, and the question is how the world can accommodate such a new power. “I view Trump really as a temporary phenomenon, there are deeper issues,” he concluded.

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Oil on fire.

UK Will Shift Brexit Stance In Its ‘Darkest Hour’ Claim EU Officials (G.)

The British government will have to experience its “darkest hour” and stare into the abyss of a no-deal Brexit before it will cave in to Brussels demands, senior EU diplomats have predicted. Ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Salzburg, diplomats in Brussels privately warned that Theresa May still needed to make a significant shift on her red lines for a deal to be possible, with the Irish border issue remaining a major hurdle in the talks. The stark prediction came as a French government official said that the president, Emmanuel Macron, wanted to nail down the key terms of the future deal now, rather than allow any ambiguous drift on the major issues after 29 March 2019.

That was at odds with the UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, who had claimed over the weekend that any deal with the EU on the political declaration could be undone by MPs after Brexit, as he urged his Tory colleagues to support the Chequers proposals “for now”. Brussels wants credible assurances from May that any deal will not be unpicked by her successor. The prime minister was only to be given “a few minutes” to talk to leaders at a dinner on Wednesday night in Salzburg before the 27 talk among themselves the following day, in a sign of the low expectation that she will have anything significant to say until after the Conservative party conference.

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Let’s hope someone pays attention.

Christine Lagarde Warns Of ‘Dire Consequences’ Of Disorderly Brexit (G.)

The UK economy would rapidly start to contract in the event of a disruptive exit from the EU next spring, according to a stark International Monetary Fund report that highlights the recession risks of a no-deal Brexit. Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, added that there would be costs to the UK under any outcome that involves leaving the EU. Expressing the IMF’s growing concern at the possibility of an acrimonious divorce next March, Lagarde said: “If that happened there would be dire consequences. It would inevitably have consequences in terms of reduced growth, an increase in the [budget] deficit and a depreciation of the currency. “In relatively short order it would mean a reduction in the size of the economy.”

Lagarde said the IMF’s forecast of 1.5% growth next year was based on a smooth exit from the EU. Her remarks were seized upon by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, as evidence that the UK had to strike a deal that would safeguard jobs and prosperity. “As the IMF has said, no deal would be extremely costly for the UK as it would be for the EU,” Hammond said. “Despite contingency planning, it would put at risk the significant progress made over the past 10 years in repairing the economy.” No 10, however, pointedly refused to endorse Hammond’s gloomy predictions. When asked about what he had said, her spokesman referred to what Theresa May told the BBC in an interview broadcast earlier: “The PM said very clearly that she believes our best days are ahead of us and that we will have plans in place for us to succeed in all scenarios.”

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All roads lead to Podesta.

Monsters All the Way Down (Kunstler)

Robert Mueller’s fishing crew was out trawling for Manafort, a blubbery swamp mammal valued for its lubricating oil when, by happenstance, a strange breed of porpoise called a Podesta got caught up in the net. Turns out it was a traveling companion of the Manafort. Back in 2014, the pair swam all the way to a little country called Ukraine via the Black Sea where the Podesta used some Manafort SuperLube on then-president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych. The objective was to grease the wheel of NATO and the EU for Ukraine to become a member. But the operation went awry when Yanukovych got a better offer from the Eurasian Customs Union, a Russian-backed trade-and-security org.

And the next thing you know, the US State Department and the CIA are all over the situation and, whaddaya know, the Maidan Square in Kiev fills up with screaming neo-Nazis and Mr. Yanukovych gets the bum’s rush — and despite the major screw-up, the Manafort and the Podesta swim off with a cool few million in fees and return to the comforts of the swamp where they finally part ways. Mr. Mueller is apparently concerned about just what happened with those fees. Possibly the loot ended up getting washed and rinsed through an international banking laundromat, and somehow went unreported to the federal tax authorities.

Of course, the charge raises some interesting questions, such as: were Manafort and Podesta over in Ukraine as opportunistic freelancers, or were they part of phase one of a US government effort to get Ukraine to sign up for Team West against its old Uncle Russia, the manager of Team East? Kind of seems like that was exactly what they were doing, so it will be interesting to see whether Mr. Mueller may have stepped into a big pile of dog shit on his way to the Manafort plea session in federal court.

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Please stop it.

Vulnerable Migrant Groups Must be Removed from Greek Island – MSF (GR)

Greek authorities must remove children and other vulnerable groups from the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos as their physical and mental health is in danger, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) aid agency said on Monday. A total 615 migrants arrived on Lesvos island in the past three days, local authorities say, adding to the already overcrowded Moria migrant registration center and making living conditions hazardous to public health. The MSF suggests that at least the vulnerable groups (children, elderly, ill) must me moved to the mainland. Overall, there are 11,000 asylum seekers on Lesvos at the moment, with 9,000 of them at the Moria camp.

The policy of over-concentrating migrants and refugees in the Greek islands has led to more than 9,000 people — one third of them children — to be packed in the Moria camp, which has a maximum capacity of 3,000 people, MSF says. “Every week, Medecins Sans Frontieres teams see incidents of adolescents who have attempted suicide or make self-inflicted wounds. They also offer help in serious incidents of violence and self-harm. The lack of access to emergency medical care shows the significant gaps in the protection of children and other vulnerable groups,” the aid agency statement says.

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Picked the story up yesterday on Twitter. Tyler doesn’t do the greatest write-up, but I can’t really repost the AP thing either. WikiLeaks was very clear in its reaction:

“”Mr. Assange did not apply for such a visa at any time or author the document. The source is document fabricator & paid FBI informant Sigurdur Thordarson who was sentenced to prison for fabricating docs impersonating Assange, multiple frauds & pedophilllia.”

Pointing to this 3-year old Iceland news article: https://grapevine.is/news/2015/09/25/siggi-the-hacker-gets-3-years-in-prison/.

“Thordarson distributed these docs to Scandinavian media outlets years ago who found them to be untrustworthy. Thorsdarson, a proven serial document fabricator & media hoaxer has been released, so the docs are being recycled yet again.”

Looks like AP was had. Why they run with it anyway is unclear. Due diligence, anyone? Yeah, they claim to have talked to FIVE different Wikileaks people, all anonymous of course. AP claims to have 1000s of docs, and this is the best they can get out of all that?

WikiLeaks Slams AP “Assange Letter” As Fake, Denies He Sought Russian Visa (ZH)

For years international media outlets worked collaboratively with WikiLeaks to publish leaked files on subjects ranging from the Iraq and Afghan wars to Syria to State Department diplomatic cables, but now it’s WikiLeaks itself that media outlets are attempting to expose. An exclusive Associated Press story claims that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought to obtain a Russian visa as his legal troubles and pressures from Western politicians grew. This comes after US officials have long sought to smear Assange as a Russian asset and the WikiLeaks organization as a whole as working with Russian intelligence.

The AP has published a letter it says is from a WikiLeaks laptop and penned by Julian Assange only days after the group made world headlines by publishing hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables in 2010, however WikiLeaks immediately disputed the authenticity of the letter. The AP story begins as follows: “Julian Assange had just pulled off one of the biggest scoops in journalistic history, splaying the innards of American diplomacy across the web. But technology firms were cutting ties to his WikiLeaks website, cable news pundits were calling for his head and a Swedish sex crime case was threatening to put him behind bars. Caught in a vise, the silver-haired Australian wrote to the Russian Consulate in London. “I, Julian Assange, hereby grant full authority to my friend, Israel Shamir, to both drop off and collect my passport, in order to get a visa,” said the letter, which was obtained exclusively by The Associated Press.

Read more …

Amazon is scary.

Apr 202018
 
 April 20, 2018  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Daniel Garber The quarry 1917

 

The World’s First Total Bubble (MB)
Now Even a Fed Dove Homes in on the “Everything Bubble” (WS)
Recession Risks Are Increasing – Axel Weber (CNBC)
The Faster Tesla Makes Model 3’s, The More Money They Will Lose (SM)
Marx Predicted Our Present Crisis – And Points The Way Out (Varoufakis)
Market Power Wielded By US Tech Giants Concerns IMF Chief (G.)
Bill Gates Backs Plan to Surveil the Entire Planet From Space (Gizmodo)
Palantir Knows Everything About You (BW)
Comey Memos Already Leaked To AP (ZH)
US Sorghum Armada U-Turns At Sea After China Tariffs (R.)
EU to Reject UK Brexit Plan for the Irish Border (BBG)
Turkey Snap Election All About Power And A ‘Deteriorating’ Economy (CNBC)
Brazil Prosecutor Recommends Denying Total Oil License Near Amazon (AFP)
Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity (R.)

 

 

Australians think they won.

The World’s First Total Bubble (MB)

The regulators, yes, they’ll have to be reformed. But it doesn’t stop there. They were just the elite enablers. The corruption at the heart of the great Australian property bubble seeped into our entire economy and culture. It oozed under every door, entered every home and visited every BBQ. It bent every business. It ruined our media and distorted our politics. It infected our entire place in the world, disenfranchised from the Australian dream entire generations. It has choked our cities. And sold out the national interest to Chinese speculators, threatening our very freedom. There has never been a more comprehensive bubble in any nation. We have been engulfed by it. The world’s first total bubble.

Yet at its heart was not a miracle but prosaic bank corruption. Only the failure to assess expenditures and incomes, the failure to report accurately and honestly, the failure to advise with integrity and responsbility made any of it possible. Everything else flows outward from this black singularity. Your wealth. Your lifestyle. Your retirement plan. The roof over your head not being over someone else’s. All of it stems from the core corruption of a banking system that disgorged massive sub-prime mortgages across our firmament. I really have no idea what attempted snow job we will see next. But it is over. It is now only a matter of time before the Australian housing supernova collapses towards the banking black hole at its centre, sucked back into the void from whence it came. We’re all the royal commission now.

Read more …

Brainard. Warning about what the Fed itself has built.

Now Even a Fed Dove Homes in on the “Everything Bubble” (WS)

“If we have learned anything from the past, it is that we must be especially vigilant about the health of our financial system in good times, when potential vulnerabilities may be building,” explained Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard in a speech in Washington, D.C., this morning. This was a reference to a time-honored banker adage, now mostly forgotten after nearly nine years of easy money: Bad deals are made in good times. Brainard fills one of the seven slots on the Board of Governors. Two slots are filled by Chairman Jerome Powell and by Randal Quarles. Four slots remain vacant, waiting for Trump appointees to wend their way. She is a strong “dove” in the world of central banks, and she just pointed at why the Fed is tightening – and will continue to tighten: the Everything Bubble.

After rattling off a litany of indicators showing why and how the economy’s “cyclical conditions have been strengthening,” she added this gem, there being nothing like Fed-speak to make your day: “Currently, inflation appears to be well-anchored to the upside around our 2 percent target.” “Well-anchored to the upside” of the Fed’s target – and then she moved on to the “signs of financial imbalances.” “Financial imbalances,” in Fed speak, are asset bubbles, a phenomenon when prices are out of whack with economic reality. In a credit-based economy, assets are collateral for debt. And inflated asset prices put the financial system, meaning the lenders, at risk when those asset prices deflate. Since the Fed has to take care of the financial system, and since it blew up so wonderfully last time due to asset bubbles deflating, the Fed is right to be worried about it. At first the hawks, the rare ones; and now even the doves

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“Risks will begin materializing in 3 years ‘at the latest..'”

Recession Risks Are Increasing – Axel Weber (CNBC)

The world economy is set for one of its best years since the global financial crisis, with both developed and emerging countries growing while inflation is still subdued and monetary conditions remain largely accommodative. But such a good run could end in the next two to three years, according to UBS Chairman Axel Weber. “We’re at the end of a long recovery and, two to three years from now, at the latest, some of the risks could materialize. The recession risks are increasing,” Weber told CNBC’s Joumanna Bercetche this week at the Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank. The IMF this week kept its forecast for 2018’s global growth at 3.9 percent which, if it materializes, would be the fastest expansion since 2011.

But the agency warned that global debt levels have hit a record, and governments should start reducing their indebtedness and build buffers for “challenges that will unavoidably come in the future.” Financial institutions should also brace for such risks, said Weber, adding that he thinks banks have become better prepared compared to before the last crisis. Like many in the industry, Weber said he doesn’t think a full-fledged trade war will happen as a result of the ongoing dispute between the U.S. and China. But, he added that it’s time to reassess Beijing’s role in the World Trade Organization, especially given projections that China will one day become the world’s largest economy. Weber added that companies from around the world should be allowed to do business in China more freely.

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“..a “they will take over the world” and a “they will save the world” combination of hopes..”

The Faster Tesla Makes Model 3’s, The More Money They Will Lose (SM)

A few weeks ago, we shared a note about Tesla from the hedge fund Vilas Capital Management. The firm, which is short the shares, said “Tesla is going to crash in the next 3-6 months.” I received an update from Vilas this morning explaining why they’re even more bearish on Tesla today. The firm pared its short positions after the recent selloff. And Telsa now comprises about 98% of their short book. Clearly Vilas thinks Tesla’s reckoning is imminent. You can read the rest of Vilas’ thoughts on Tesla below:

We added meaningfully to our Tesla position in the first quarter at prices in the $340 range. We continue to believe that Tesla is extremely overvalued and that it will experience significant financial difficulties over time. All companies in a capitalistic system need to earn profits and those profits need to be attractive relative to the amount of shareholder capital employed. Tesla has never earned an annual profit. Along with digital currencies and Unicorns, Tesla appears to be caught up in a gold-rush-fever type of emotional response, both from a “they will take over the world” and a “they will save the world” combination of hopes, instead of their owners looking at the numbers.

Tesla bulls will argue that their production will rise to 5000 Model 3’s per week soon and, therefore, the stock will trade meaningfully higher. Given that the company lost $20,000 per Model S and X sold for roughly $100,000 each last year, due to the fact that it cost more to build, sell, service, charge and maintain these cars than they collected in revenue, as it is important to include all costs when evaluating a business, we predict it will impossible for Tesla to make a profit on a $35,000 to $50,000 car. As anyone with automotive experience knows, profit margins are far higher on bigger, more expensive cars. Therefore, the faster Tesla makes Model 3’s, the more money they will lose.

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Das Kapital.

Marx Predicted Our Present Crisis – And Points The Way Out (Varoufakis)

To see beyond the horizon is any manifesto’s ambition. But to succeed as Marx and Engels did in accurately describing an era that would arrive a century-and-a-half in the future, as well as to analyse the contradictions and choices we face today, is truly astounding. In the late 1840s, capitalism was foundering, local, fragmented and timid. And yet Marx and Engels took one long look at it and foresaw our globalised, financialised, iron-clad, all-singing-all-dancing capitalism. This was the creature that came into being after 1991, at the very same moment the establishment was proclaiming the death of Marxism and the end of history.

Of course, the predictive failure of The Communist Manifesto has long been exaggerated. I remember how even leftwing economists in the early 1970s challenged the pivotal manifesto prediction that capital would “nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. Drawing upon the sad reality of what were then called third world countries, they argued that capital had lost its fizz well before expanding beyond its “metropolis” in Europe, America and Japan.

Empirically they were correct: European, US and Japanese multinational corporations operating in the “peripheries” of Africa, Asia and Latin America were confining themselves to the role of colonial resource extractors and failing to spread capitalism there. Instead of imbuing these countries with capitalist development (drawing “all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation”), they argued that foreign capital was reproducing the development of underdevelopment in the third world. It was as if the manifesto had placed too much faith in capital’s ability to spread into every nook and cranny. Most economists, including those sympathetic to Marx, doubted the manifesto’s prediction that “exploitation of the world-market” would give “a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country”.

As it turned out, the manifesto was right, albeit belatedly. It would take the collapse of the Soviet Union and the insertion of two billion Chinese and Indian workers into the capitalist labour market for its prediction to be vindicated. Indeed, for capital to globalise fully, the regimes that pledged allegiance to the manifesto had first to be torn asunder. Has history ever procured a more delicious irony?

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Yeah, sure.

Market Power Wielded By US Tech Giants Concerns IMF Chief (G.)

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has expressed concern about the market power wielded by the US technology giants and called for more competition to protect economies and individuals. Speaking at a press conference to mark the start of the IMF’s spring meeting in Washington, Lagarde said breaking up companies was not the solution, but added that her organisation was monitoring their impact on prosperity, financial stability and the workplace. “Competition is needed. From competition you get productivity growth and innovation. Too much concentration, too much market power in the hands of the few is not helpful to the economy or to the wellbeing of individuals.”

Pressure has been building in the US for antitrust laws to be used to break up some of the biggest companies, with Google, Facebook and Amazon all targeted by critics. Lagarde said: “I am not sure breaking up some of the tech titans in this country [the US] or in other countries will be the right answer. It used to be the right answer, but when most of the assets are intangible, how do you break them up? How do you facilitate access and allow market disruptors to operate? I think that is where a lot of new thinking has to be done.”

The IMF is carefully monitoring new digital currencies such as Bitcoin, which it says are prone to fraud and can be used for money laundering. “We have seen a flourishing of cryptocurrencies. There are now more than 100. That has stability implications eventually. We do not think it is systemic at this point in time but regulators and supervisors have to be watchful.” Lagarde expressed concern at the growing threat of a trade war between the US and China, saying that protectionism posed a threat to the upswing in the global economy and to an international system that had served countries well.

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Facebook is peanuts.

Bill Gates Backs Plan to Surveil the Entire Planet From Space (Gizmodo)

EarthNow is a new company looking to provide satellite imagery and live video in virtually real-time. Its unsettling pitch describes a network of satellites that can see any corner of the globe and provide live video with a latency of about a second. And a look at the startup’s top investors gives a lot of confidence that this thing is happening. On Wednesday, EarthNow announced that it will emerge from the Intellectual Ventures ISF Incubator to become a full-scale commercial business. Its first round of investors is comprised of a small group of complimentary powerhouses: AirBus, the SoftBank Group, Bill Gates, and satellite-industry vet Greg Wyler.

The amount of the initial investment hasn’t been disclosed, but the announcement says the funding “focuses primarily on maturing the overall system design to deliver innovative and unique real-time Earth observation services.” That makes it sound like the company is in its very early stages, but don’t be so sure. Wyler’s OneWeb has already deployed highly advanced satellites with a blazing fast 130ms latency and its goal is to have a constellation of hundreds of satellites beaming broadband around the globe by 2020.

EarthNow will use an upgraded version of OneWeb’s technology with a lot of hardware power packed into a 500-pound unit. “Each satellite is equipped with an unprecedented amount of onboard processing power, including more CPU cores than all other commercial satellites combined,” the announcement says. The satellites will also do an onboard analysis of the live imagery using machine learning, but the company doesn’t go into detail about what it will analyze or why it would be necessary to dedicate that processing onboard.

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“Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now,..”

Palantir Knows Everything About You (BW)

High above the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, a former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group—most large financial institutions have one—used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees, ostensibly to protect against perfidious traders and other miscreants. Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir, which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations.

Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel. Over time, however, Cavicchia himself went rogue. Former JPMorgan colleagues describe the environment as Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now, with Cavicchia as Colonel Kurtz, ensconced upriver in his office suite eight floors above the rest of the bank’s security team.

People in the department were shocked that no one from the bank or Palantir set any real limits. They darkly joked that Cavicchia was listening to their calls, reading their emails, watching them come and go. Some planted fake information in their communications to see if Cavicchia would mention it at meetings, which he did. It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched, and what began as a promising marriage of masters of big data and global finance descended into a spying scandal. The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home.

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It took less than an hour.

Comey Memos Already Leaked To AP (ZH)

Update 3: President Trump is up late tonight, we suspect reading through former FBI Director Comey’s leaked memos as he exclaims: “James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.” Trump is also quick to remind Americans of one of the reasons he fired him: “Also, he leaked classified information,” and ended with a jab at the endless farce: “WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?”

Update 2: Less than an hour after Comey’s memos were released by DOJ to Congress, the 15 pages have miraculously “become available” to The Associated Press. Given that no source is provided, we assume they were leaked with the intent to embarrass President Trump. Comey’s memos detail private dinner conversations with the President in January 2017, during which Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty. Another conversation about former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is also detailed in the memos. In a memo dated Jan. 28, 2017, Comey recounted a dinner he had with Trump at the White House shortly after the president’s inauguration.

Trump asked Comey who he thought he should be in contact with in the administration, and Comey mentioned the national security adviser. The president said Flynn had “serious judgment issues,” Comey wrote in his memo. Trump then explained to Comey that when the president had complimented British Prime Minister Theresa May on being the first to congratulate him on his election, Flynn interjected that another leader had called first. That was the first time Trump learned of the other leader’s call, Comey wrote.

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Why is US farmland used to provide Chinese animal feed? Isn’t that perhaps what’s wrong with global trade?

US Sorghum Armada U-Turns At Sea After China Tariffs (R.)

Several ships carrying cargoes of sorghum from the United States to China have changed course since Beijing slapped hefty anti-dumping deposits on U.S. imports of the grain, trade sources and a Reuters analysis of export and shipping data showed. Sorghum is a niche animal feed and a tiny slice of the billions of dollars in exports at stake in the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies, which threatens to disrupt the flow of everything from steel to electronics. The supply-chain pain felt by sorghum suppliers on the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans underscores how quickly the mounting trade tensions between the U.S. and China can impact the global agricultural sector, which has been reeling from low commodity prices amid a global grains glut.

Twenty ships carrying over 1.2 million tonnes of U.S. sorghum are on the water, according to export inspections data from the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service. Of the armada, valued at more than $216 million, at least five changed course within hours of China’s announcing tariffs on U.S. sorghum imports on Tuesday, Reuters shipping data showed. The five shipments, all headed for China when they were loaded at Texas Gulf Coast export terminals owned by grain merchants Cargill or Archer Daniels Midland would be liable for a hefty deposit to be paid on their value, which could make the loads unprofitable to deliver. Beijing, which is probing U.S. imports for damage to its domestic industry, announced Tuesday that grains handlers would have to put up a deposit of 178.6% of the value of the shipments.

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Thie red lines are far apart. Hard to see how they will resolve this.

EU to Reject UK Brexit Plan for the Irish Border (BBG)

European Union officials are set to reject a potential U.K. solution to the crucial issue of what happens to the Irish border after Brexit, deepening the stalemate in negotiations. While the U.K. hasn’t made a formal proposal, it has indicated that the bloc’s “backstop” solution for maintaining an invisible border should apply to the whole of the U.K., according to three people familiar with the EU position. It would mean the whole U.K. stays in parts of the single market and customs union as a last resort to avoid a border on the island of Ireland. But the European Commission opposes it and only wants to offer that special status to Northern Ireland, according to the people, who declined to be named.

Finding a way to avoid customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit is proving the biggest obstacle for U.K. and EU negotiators trying to get a deal on Britain’s divorce from the bloc. While both sides agree that withdrawal treaty must include a “backstop” on Ireland in case a better option doesn’t emerge from the final trade deal, they can’t agree on what it should look like. As talks fail to yield solutions, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Theresa May at home to backtrack on one her main Brexit pledges and keep the U.K. in the EU’s customs union after Brexit.

That would go a long way to solve the Irish border issue and would also please businesses that are keen on keeping cross-border trade easy. The Commission’s proposal would effectively cut Northern Ireland off from mainland Britain and May has said no British prime minister could accept that. In December, the two sides agreed on a backstop that would have applied to the whole of the U.K., rather than just Northern Ireland. The U.K. stands by that agreement, which also pledged that “no regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

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Remember: Jim Rickards predicted Turkish default recently. Erdogan may see it too.

Turkey Snap Election All About Power And A ‘Deteriorating’ Economy (CNBC)

Turkey’s president surprised markets Wednesday by announcing that he would hold snap presidential and parliamentary elections in June with experts saying the move is a sign of both panic and genius. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said elections will be held on June 24, far earlier than previously expected, saying uncertainty over Turkey’s neighbor Syria, and macroeconomic imbalances, were a reason not to delay the vote originally scheduled for November 2019. He also said the country urgently needed to make the switch to an executive presidency, implementing changes to the Turkish constitution which give the president more power.

Fadi Hakura, Turkey analyst at Chatham House, told CNBC Thursday that the move was a sign of panic amid a deteriorating economy. “Erdogan’s calling of the election is a sign of panic and despair. Erdogan has previously viewed early elections as weakness and dishonorable to democracy, but now he’s panicking over the state of the Turkish economy,” Hakura said. “The very fact he’s called brought them forward by almost a year and a half should mitigate the fallout of a worsening economy on his popularity,” he said. [..] If Erdogan wins the election, as widely expected, he will be able to consolidate power following changes to the constitution which have changed Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, concentrating power in the hands of the president.

It will not be plain sailing for the president, however, with Turkey’s economy dealing with high inflation (at 10.2 percent) fueled by fiscal and monetary policies that have promoted rampant growth — the economy expanding 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to the last reading available. The Turkish lira has been on a rollercoaster ride in recent months, reflecting wider fears on the prioritization of growth over inflation control, but the announcement of a snap election — and the likelihood that Erdogan will win – has calmed the currency somewhat.

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WIth Brazil as corrupt as it is, how long will this hold?

Brazil Prosecutor Recommends Denying Total Oil License Near Amazon (AFP)

A Brazilian prosecutor warned of “ecocide” in recommending against a drilling license for French oil major Total close to a huge coral reef near the mouth of the Amazon River. The prosecutor’s office for Amapa state said “the only way to guarantee avoiding environmental damage to the area is to deny the license.” “Authorizing oil drilling activity without adequate studies violates the international obligations that Brazil has signed,” the prosecutor’s office said late Wednesday, warning of “large-scale environmental destruction that would amount to ecocide and a crime against humanity.”

The recommendation was sent to the government environmental agency Ibama, which has 10 days to respond. On Tuesday, environmental campaigners Greenpeace said that a previously discovered coral reef had been found to extend right into where Total plans to drill. The enormous reef was found in 2016, but is only now said to overlap directly with Total’s blocks, 75 miles (120 km) off the Brazilian coast, the group said. The finding, made during a research expedition, invalidates Total’s environmental impact assessment, which is based on the reefs being located at least five miles (eight kilometers) from drilling, Greenpeace said.

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People say it won’t be that bad, because elephants do well in protected parks. But isn’t that the problem? That the best we can do is build big zoos?

Cow Could Soon Be Largest Land Mammal Left Due To Human Activity (R.)

The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world. The spread of hominims – early humans and related species such as Neanderthals – from Africa thousands of years ago coincided with the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the glyptodon, an armadillo-like creature the size of a car. “There is a very clear pattern of size-biased extinction that follows the migration of hominims out of Africa,” the study’s lead author, Felisa Smith, of the University of New Mexico, said of the study published in the journal Science on Thursday..

Humans apparently targeted big species for meat, while smaller creatures such as rodents escaped, according the report, which examined trends over 125,000 years. In North America, for instance, the mean body mass of land-based mammals has shrunk to 7.6kg (17lb) from 98kg after humans arrived. If the trend continues “the largest mammal on Earth in a few hundred years may well be a domestic cow at about 900kg”, the researchers wrote. That would mean the loss of elephants, giraffes and hippos. In March, the world’s last male northern white rhino died in Kenya. [..] Smith said “my optimist hat would like to say that it’s not going to happen because we love elephants”. But she said populations of large land mammals were falling and “declining population is the trajectory to extinction”.

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May 072017
 
 May 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt Old Man Sitting 1631

 

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)
Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)
Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)
Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)
Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)
Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)
World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)
Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)
We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)
The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)
IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)
Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)
EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)
Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

 

 

One thing nobody seems to be able to figure out. And one more thing that everyone thinks should keep on growing.

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)

Equity markets have hit multiyear highs and consumer sentiment is buoyant. Yet economic productivity remains lackluster. The Labor Department announced Thursday that worker productivity fell 0.6% since January, a much bigger drop than expected. This is neither a statistical illusion nor a hangover from the Great Recession. The productivity slowdown began long before the financial crisis, and it has worsened markedly in the past six years. The drop-off extends to wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, construction, utilities and a host of private and public services. Industries that consume and produce information technology and communications are not immune to the slowdown. From 1950 to 1970, U.S. productivity grew on average by 2.6% annually. From 1970 to 1990 it fell to 1.5%.

The information technology boom of the ’90s interrupted the slide, but since 2010 U.S. productivity growth has been in free fall. It is now roughly 0.6% a year. No wonder Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen recently called low productivity a “significant problem.” Various estimates suggest that had U.S. productivity growth not slowed, GDP would be about $3 trillion higher than it is today. How is this happening during a technological revolution? Some think the data are wrong. Economist Joel Mokyr explained in 2014 that metrics devised for a “steel-and-wheat economy” fail to capture adequately transformative advances in information technology, communications and the biosciences. Technology has reduced the cost of information, expanded consumer choice, and provided customization and better price comparison.

This progress has been mostly missed in current statistics. GDP also does not fully capture metrics like time saved from shopping online. Nor does it include the value of leisure and the well-being that technology provides its users. Many economists contend that properly counting free digital services from companies like Google and Facebook would substantially boost productivity and GDP growth. One of the highest estimates, calculated by economists Austan Goolsbee and Peter Klenow, stands at $800 billion. That’s a big number, but not big enough to fill a $3 trillion hole.

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Talking about reasons productivity is not growing…

Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)

Here is a riddle. Britain, for now at least, is loved by foreign investors. The stock of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in Britain’s assets and shares is larger than anywhere except America and Hong Kong. In the past decade overseas investors have splurged some £600bn ($772bn), equivalent to a third of British GDP, to acquire over 2,000 British firms. The textbooks say that foreign investments make a country more productive. The new arrivals should bring with them cutting-edge capital assets and best-practice management. So why over the past decade has Britain’s productivity barely improved? The question matters for all Britons. If productivity growth is low, then wage growth will be too. Many factors determine Britain’s weak productivity growth, including creaky infrastructure. But new official data suggest that foreign investors are doing a lot less to improve the economy than commonly assumed.

The figures classify FDI flows into around 100 industries. In 2015 financial services accounted for an astonishing 95% of net inflows. This could include, for instance, foreign funding for Britain’s burgeoning financial-technology sector. Finance was unusually dominant in 2015, though even in 2012-14 the industry made up around 60% of the net figure. Remove financial services, and overall in 2015 a tiny amount of net foreign investment flowed into Britain—a few billion pounds at best. Many industries saw “negative inflows”, suggesting that foreigners were actually disinvesting, selling assets they had acquired back to British firms, for instance. In 2015 they pulled around £20bn from the oil-and-gas sector. Perhaps £1.5bn drained from manufacturing. Finance aside, investors seem to see few profitable opportunities in Britain.

What foreign investment does flow into the “real” economy may make surprisingly little difference. Much of it seems to be about one big company horizontally acquiring another, perhaps with the aim of eliminating overlapping marketing costs (such as in the Kraft-Cadbury deal of 2010) or of acquiring a trophy asset (such as the Tata-Corus steelmaker deal of 2007). A chunk of investment in Britain, meanwhile, is a statistical by-product of big firms moving headquarters for tax purposes rather than anything meaningful. As Britain begins the process of leaving the EU, interest from foreign investors is only likely to shrink. If so, the prospects for the kind of foreign investment that lifts productivity will start to look even gloomier.

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Democracy and emergency. Odd pair.

Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)

French voters are heading to the polls to choose France’s next president. The presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine le Pen is the first to take place amid an ongoing state of emergency, introduced in the country after 2015 terrorist attacks. French authorities have introduced extra security measures for the poll. This time “more than 50,000 policemen, gendarmes will be deployed [across the country] on Sunday”, French interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told AFP on Thursday.Soldiers from Operation Sentinel will also “ensure security around polling stations and [will be able] to intervene immediately in case of any incident,” he added. Operation Sentinel was launched by the French Army in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of 2015 and the subsequent Paris strikes.

Paris police promised that at least 12,000 soldiers and police were to be drafted to Paris and its surrounding suburbs on Sunday, with 5,000 of securing polling stations and guaranteeing public order, as cited by AFP. People on social media have been calling for protests on May 7, regardless of the election result. The hashtags #nimacronnilepen (neither Macron, nor Le Pen) and #SansMoiLe7Mai (May 7 without me) was launched after the first round of the elections on April 23. Macron won the first round by securing 24.01 percent of the votes to le Pen’s 21.3 percent. Demonstrations have rocked France following the 1st round vote with people rallying against both candidates. “Neither fatherland, nor the boss, neither le Pen nor Macron,” banners held by protesters read. The rallies have often resulted in violence with protesters throwing stones and smoke grenades and police and officers responding with tear gas.

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“..since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power.”

Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)

Venerable French investor Charles Gave has been managing money and researching markets for over 40 years; as such France’s elder statesman of asset allocation perhaps best captures the mood ahead of the most crucial Presidential election in a generation. In conversation with Dr. Pippa Malmgren, Charles breaks down national politics to understand why voters have rejected the establishment and the market impact of both outcomes, and what to expect from tomorrow’s election. First, Gave, who says “I’m not so sure that Macron will win”, is asked by Malmgren to walk RealVision viewers through what Macron’s agenda would look like in case of a victory. Gave is unable to do so for several simple reasons:

“Well, first, nobody knows. Because during the whole campaign, all these talks were on one hand, on the other. I’m in favor of apple pie, and motherhood, you see. Basically he has, to my knowledge, very little program. So he’s running. That is what Hollande said. That he was going to make some fundamental changes without hurting people. And so Macron is a big, empty suit. That’s what he is. You did the right curriculum vitae, he went to the right schools. And you have the feeling that the guy never had an original idea in his life. He was always a good student.

And moreover, there is a strong suspicion that he’s a kind of golem created by Hollande and all these guys. So since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power. So to a certain extent, the French political system has been captured by what you can call the Technocratic class. And whether from the left or the right, it didn’t make any difference. And this Technocratic class is presenting Macron as a brand new fellow. He is nothing brand new. These guys have been in power for 50 years for God’s sakes. So this is basically nothing.

If Le Pen wins, it’s pretty simple. The bond market in France, Italy, Spain cannot open on Monday morning. And I suppose the euro is dead in the following week. And then you have to buy Europe like crazy. Southern Europe. Why Southern Europe? Because it is Germany’s markets that would bear the brunt of the selloff, as the dissolution of the euro and European Union would effectively bring about the end of Germany’s economic hegemony (while at the same time benefitting France). The Germans have made a colossal mistake, which is that they have all the production in Germany. So they’re extremely efficient, well-organized, and they have developed massive current account surpluses. Half of that surplus is in cars. The margin on cars is around 4%. Imagine that the euro breaks down.

The deutschmark comes back. The deutschmark goes up 15, 20%. And the whole German industry, all the production base in Germany, becomes bankrupt in no time at all. Compare that to France. France we have magnificent big companies that have been intelligent enough to produce everywhere in the world, to operate from everywhere in the world, and be totally independent from what’s happening in France. What they have in France is their headquarters. And that’s about it. So if Europe breaks, you should be long France on the stock market, and short Germany. Big time.”

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Good cop bad cop. Or should I say: here’s how you can tell who’s the boss in Europe?!

Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)

A rift emerged between Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker last night after she reportedly accused him of ‘inflaming’ Brexit talks by leaking details of his row with Theresa May. The German Chancellor’s relations with the EU Commission president are said to have ‘soured’ after Mr Juncker described Mrs May as living in ‘another galaxy’ following a recent dinner. According to German newspaper Der Spiegel, which has close links with Merkel’s government, she believes the leaking of private conversations – blamed on Juncker – ‘is not helpful in heating up the mood in this way’. The Der Spiegel article, headlined ‘Merkel angered by Juncker at Brexit dinner’, said it had made her mood ‘sour’ towards him. Juncker’s ‘another galaxy’ comment was made in a telephone call with Mrs Merkel after he clashed with Mrs May over dinner in Downing Street 11 days ago.

Juncker reportedly told Mrs Merkel: ‘It went very badly. She is in a different galaxy.’ The leak was blamed on Mr Juncker or his formidable German chief of staff, Martin Selmayr. In remarks clearly aimed at Mr Juncker, a furious Mrs May responded to the leaks last week by accusing ‘the bureaucrats of Brussels’ of trying to influence the General Election. But a defiant Mr Juncker took another swipe at Britain on Friday by claiming at a European Union summit in Italy that the English language was already ‘losing its importance in Europe’. The Der Spiegel article echoed public comments made by Mrs Merkel on Friday in which she struck a markedly more conciliatory tone towards Mrs May than outspoken Mr Juncker. She stressed that she would approach Brexit negotiations ‘fairly and constructively’. Mrs Merkel denied she aimed to cause trouble in the Brexit talks and said she wanted ‘clarity and security as quickly as possible’ for EU residents in Britain, including about 100,000 Germans.

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Germany’s much less serene than it seems.

Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)

The bizarre case of a racist soldier allegedly plotting an attack while posing as a Syrian refugee and several abuse scandals have sparked a war of words between Germany’s defence minister and the military. It is a dangerous political battle for Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman in charge of the armed forces, who is often mentioned as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The mother-of-seven has sternly criticised military “attitude and leadership problems”, highlighted by the case of the soldier and by recent sexual abuse and hazing scandals. This in turn has made her a target of chastened rank-and-file soldiers who charge she is tarring them all while dodging personal responsibility after more than three years on the job.

The escalating conflict started with the arrest a week ago of 28-year-old army lieutenant Franco Albrecht, who was stationed at a Franco-German base near Strasbourg. He came to the notice of the authorities after Austrian police caught him with a loaded handgun at the Vienna airport in February. The subsequent investigation found that, amid Germany’s 2015 mass influx of refugees, he had created a fake identity as a Damascus fruit seller called “David Benjamin”. Incredibly, the German who speaks no Arabic managed to gain political asylum, a spot in a refugee shelter and monthly state benefits for his fictitious alter ego. Prosecutors charge that Albrecht harboured far-right views and, with at least one co-conspirator, plotted an attack with the apparent aim of discrediting foreigners.

Media reports say he kept “death lists” with the names of top politicians, including former president Joachim Gauck, some cabinet ministers and left-leaning, anti-fascist MPs. It has since emerged that the lieutenant had expressed rightwing extremist views in a master’s thesis he submitted in 2014, in which he theorised about the end of Western civilisation through immigration. In the paper seen by AFP, he argued that immigration was causing a “genocide” in western Europe, adding that “this is a mathematical certainty”. However, the paper was buried, without disciplinary action – something the minister attributed to a “misunderstood esprit de corps” and superior officers who “looked the other way”.

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I’ve mentioned the power of Chinese shadow banking a thousand times. That power is still growing.

World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)

The World Bank has warned that Chinese local governments remain addicted to off-budget borrowing, despite Beijing’s efforts to impose fiscal discipline on localities and curb ballooning debt. Runaway growth of local government debt is widely seen as a huge risk for China’s economy and financial system. Provinces, cities and counties borrowed heavily to spend on infrastructure to keep economic growth humming after the 2008 financial crisis. But the practice has continued and economists warn that returns on new investment are falling and white elephants are common. Many projects do not produce enough cash flow to service their debt. In 2014 China moved to eliminate borrowing through special-purpose vehicles, which local officials had used to circumvent a legal ban on direct borrowing.

Under the moniker of “close the back door, open the front door”, China’s parliament ended the legal ban, enabling localities to borrow within clear limits set by Beijing. Meanwhile, local government finance vehicles were ordered to cease disguised fiscal borrowing. To deal with legacy debt, Rmb8tn ($US1.2tn) in outstanding local government funding vehicle (LGFV) borrowing was converted into on-budget provincial debt through a bond swap. But growth of LGFV debt has actually accelerated since 2015, the World Bank warned in a confidential March presentation obtained by the Financial Times. Despite the swap programme, “LGFVs continued to borrow and increase their liabilities at a very rapid pace” in 2015-16, the bank’s lead China economist John Litwack and analyst Luan Zhao said.

Local governments and their LGFVs account for “the vast majority of public expenditures and public investment”, they noted, adding that “government and LGFV finances [are] intertwined in complicated ways, making separation difficult in practice”. Growth of LGFV liabilities accelerated from 22% in 2014 to 25% in 2015 and stayed high at 22% in the first half of 2016, the authors found. The presentation noted that Beijing’s effort to stop the use of LGFVs as quasi-fiscal entities may have unintentionally encouraged them to increase borrowing. Local fiscal authorities are now forbidden from officially monitoring LGFV finances, since to do so would imply that the government stands behind their debt. “Instructions to no longer even monitor finances of LGFVs can give a dangerous impression of ‘free money’,” the presentation warned.

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Especially in euro countries, governments need mortgage loans for money/credit creation. Their governments and central banks lost that ability.

Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)

After spending the last few years groggily getting back onto its feet following the collapse of one of the most spectacular — and destructive — real estate bubbles of this century, Spain’s economy is once again being primed for another property boom. In the last quarter prices registered a year-on-year rise of 4.5%. Rents are also surging, though the country is still home to over half a million vacant properties. The cost of renting in Madrid and Barcelona, which between them account for 16% of those vacant properties, has reached historic highs, according to a new study by the online real estate market place Idealista. In Madrid, rents have risen on average by 27% since 2013; in Barcelona they’ve surged over 50%.

This trend is being driven by two main factors: the recent explosion in tourist rentals, as well as a general shift in consumer behavior as more and more people choose (or have little choice but) to rent rather than buy property. While rents soar, Spain’s mortgage market, the biggest source of profits for the nation’s banks, is also showing signs of life. In 2016 the number of mortgages issued rose by just over 10% to 281,328. But that’s merely a fraction of the 1,324,522 mortgages signed in 2006, just before the bubble burst. The banks would like nothing better than to issue more and bigger mortgages, but even with interest rates at their lowest point in history, most people either can’t afford the current prices or don’t want to take on more debt. Spain’s fragile coalition government is determined to change that.

In its latest budget announcement it revealed plans to set aside billions of euros in 2018 for publicly funded mortgage subsidies. Young people under the age of 35 who are earning gross incomes of less than €1,600 per month will be eligible for payments of up to €10,800 to help them buy their first home. There will also be rental subsidies for people under the age of 35, for up to half the price of the rent. [..] In Spain today there are roughly two million fewer people under the age of 40 in full-time employment than there were in 2006, due to a variety of factors: demographics (i.e. there are now fewer people under the age of 40), rampant job destruction, and the mass exodus of young Spaniards to greener pastures. Even for many of those that chose to stay behind and actually found work, the reality is still alarmingly bleak.

According to the Spanish daily ABC, of the 1.7 million job contracts signed in December last year, over 92% were for temporary jobs. Since the Financial Crisis, precarity has become the ubiquitous reality for most young Spaniards. Many end up earning so little in jobs that offer scant, if any, financial security that they have little choice but to stay at home with their parents, sometimes well into their thirties. According to data released this week by Eurostat, the average Spaniard does not move out of the family residence until they are 29 years old. If Spain’s new, dwindling generation of “workers” cannot afford to leave home, who will buy or rent the properties sitting idle on the balance sheets of the banks, “bad bank” Sareb, and the global private equity firms that piled into the market a few years ago?

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We are designed to ignore distant danger, so we can better prepare for what’s near.

We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)

[..] the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale.

Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy. Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please. The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.

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China is a major factor in this, as much as growing population is.

The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)

Elephants are in big trouble. Even if we beat poaching and illegal trade, their potential doom has been sealed in projections for population growth, and has already been priced into the commonly accepted solutions to how we humans plan to feed ourselves well into the century – by looking to Africa to be our next big breadbasket. Africa is home to 1.2 billion people, but by 2050 that number is likely to double, and may well double again by the end of the century to reach well over 4 billion. Globally, we may exceed 11 billion souls. This is of course a cause for celebration and a testament to the huge strides we’ve made in public health. We’ve all but beaten polio and yellow fever, mother and child mortality has plummeted, and we’re making headway in the fight against malaria.

Another cause for celebration is the confidence, energy and entrepreneurship in many parts of the African continent – a spirit that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It’s easy to see we’re on the cusp of enormous positive change. The obvious flipside is the environmental disaster waiting to happen. This has been compounded by number crunchers who are leaving the future of our planet’s fragile ecosystems out of the equation as they try to come up with answers about how to fill billions of bellies. Several scenarios for cropland expansion – many of them focusing on Africa’s so-called “spare land” – have already effectively written off its elephants from having a future in the wild. These projections have earmarked a huge swathe of land spanning from Nigeria to South Sudan for farming, or parts of west Africa for conversion to palm oil plantations.

Economies are already being structured for the future, and are locking us into an unsustainable path to the tune of Feed the World – but with Africa providing the food. Some models suggest that 29% of the existing elephant range is affected by infrastructure development, human population growth and rapid urban and agricultural expansion; that may rise to 63% by 2050. If we continue like this, elephants will see more of their migration routes become narrow corridors before being eventually severed. Inevitably, as competitors for space, elephants will fight it out with us. But being the dominant species on this planet, we will win. And Africa will become a giant farm.

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ROund 2 of democracy and emergency.

IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)

The European Commission will bring down its 2017 growth estimate for Greece next week, a eurozone official said on Friday, adding that the IMF wants main opposition New Democracy to make a commitment not to reverse the reforms that the government has agreed to in the context of the bailout review should it come to power. “This is important for them,” the official said of the IMF’s demand, while adding that the eurozone has not asked for such a commitment, although it agrees it is always better to have consensus on the reforms applied. The same official said that the Commission will reduce its estimate for the Greek economic recovery this year from 2.7% “to around 2%” on May 11.

Sources say that a downward revision by the Commission of its forecast to 1.9% would not lead to a shift in its general estimate regarding Greece’s fiscal course, so it does not entail the risk of any new measures. The latest IMF forecast regarding the Greek economy was for a 2.2% expansion. If all goes well, the disbursement of the next bailout tranche will take place just before the July repayment deadline, when Greece must pay €7.4 billion to its creditors. As the European official said, if there is a final agreement at the May 22 Eurogroup, which is the optimum scenario, it will take four to five weeks for the tranche payment to clear the parliaments of eurozone member-states where necessary.

If one also takes into account the time needed for the approval by the IMF council, it will take up to six weeks, which means early July. The amount of the tranche will come to about 7 billion euros, plus the funds needed for the state to pay off its expired debts to suppliers and taxpayers until the next review comes up. The disbursement will be paid in a lump sum, but only after all prior actions have been ratified by Greece. The second review had no fewer than 140 prior actions required, of which 40 have been satisfied. Of the remainder there are about 80 that either require new legislation or presidential decrees.

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“..what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.”

Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)

Peace, sweetness and light break out in the Balkans as we’re told that the EU, the eurogroup, the IMF, Greece, the ECB and Uncle Tom Cobley agree over a Greek debt deal. Except, of course, that agreement hasn’t been reached, because the major point at issue is still being glossed over. That major point being that Greece simply isn’t going to repay all of that debt. So we still need to work out who is going to lose money, and when. Debts which cannot be repaid will not be repaid. That’s why we have bankruptcy in the first place. Or, when it comes to sovereign nations, we have debt rescheduling and IMF programmes instead of bankruptcy. When the Greek crisis first blew up, what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.

This is similar to the approach taken by Iceland – which has already recovered while Greece languishes – and is what the IMF has been doing for decades in other places. The one thing standing between Greece and this approach was the euro. In order to protect the integrity of the single currency, debts to the private sector banks were refinanced by public money from varying combinations of the EU itself, the ECB, the eurogroup (the group of eurozone finance ministers), the IMF and so on. This is the crucial point. There are no private sector capitalists left. If there were, we could simply say “you lost your money, better luck next time”. Instead there are only official creditors, run by politicians, who have their voters wondering what has happened or will happen to their money. For it is still true that Greece cannot repay those debts, and therefore Greece will not repay them.

All that can change is who will lose money and when. Unsurprisingly, politicians are keen to delay the inevitable until they have retired and are collecting their pensions. That the Greeks have to see theirs cut in the interim is just bad luck. This may sound terribly cynical but allow me explain the thinking. There are the true federalists happy to sacrifice a country on the altar of the euro and ever closer union, as long as the losses – losses of their own voters’ money – come to light later.

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But Merkel will not, and that’s what counts.

EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron will support Greece and be Athens’ ally if he is elected, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency in an exclusive statement, one day before the second round of the elections in France. “I have no doubt that with Emmanuel Macron as President, yes, Greece will continue to have a friend in France, a president friend and a government friend, and this is why these elections are also important for the Greeks,” Moscovici said, adding he has worked with Macron in the past for the Greek program.

“I know Emmanuel Macron very well. We worked together when I was finance minister, when he was deputy secretary-general next to Francois Hollande, to find positive positions concerning Greece, for Greece. France is a country who’s a friend of Greece. It will remain [a friend]” he continued. Moscovici said that being friend of Greece means, on the one hand, to encourage and follow the efforts for reforms until the end but it also means solidarity from its partners.

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Europe must find an actual response to this, or face a lot of struggle. There are too many people living in all these countries.

Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

As the refugee crisis enters its fourth year, the demographics of the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores are undergoing an unprecedented shift. Syrians have so far made up the largest group of migrants attempting treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, followed by Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans and sub-Saharan Africans. But as smugglers in Libya continue to expand their ruthless human trade, their counterparts in Asia are seeing an opportunity. In the first three months of last year just one Bangladeshi arrived in Italy, but the number for 2017 stands at more than 2,800, making the country the largest single origin of migrants currently arriving on European shores.

Those rescued in the Mediterranean Sea have told aid workers they paid more than $10,000 each to be taken from Dhaka to Dubai or Turkey and onwards to Libya, where the violence and chaos engulfing the fractured country is fuelling powerful smuggling networks. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the emerging route had dramatically changed the demographics of asylum seekers arriving in Italy, who until now have largely hailed from sub-Saharan Africa. “The thing that’s really changing is the main nationality of the migrants, and the number coming from Bangladesh,” IOM’s Flavio di Giacomo told The Independent.

“By the end of March last year only one Bangladeshi had arrived in Italy – and this year the number is more than 2,831 for the same period.” Some migrants taken ashore in Sicily and Apulia said their trip to Libya was organised by an “agency” that provided them with a working visa for between $3,000 and $4,000. “From Bangladesh, they first travelled to Dubai and Turkey, and finally reached Libya by plane,” an IOM spokesperson said. “At the airport, an ‘employer’ met them and took their documents.”

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Jan 192017
 
 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 11:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Photograph: Palani Mohan/Getty Images

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump, Before Putin (AP)
Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker (R.)
Jamie Dimon Says Eurozone May Not Survive (BBG)
In Europe We See Only One Loser From Brexit – And It Won’t Be Us (Quatremer)
Marine Le Pen Centers Presidential Run on Getting France Out of Eurozone (WSJ)
By Ripping NATO, Trump Makes Europe Nervous and Arms Trade Happy (BBG)
Steve Keen Exposes Next Global Economic Shockwaves (FinFeed)
How Deutsche Bank Made €367 Million Disappear at Monte dei Paschi (BBG)
Earth Breaks Heat Record In 2016 For Third Year In A Row (AFP)
‘A Cat In Hell’s Chance’ (Simms)
Over Half of World’s Wild Primate Species Face Extinction (G.)
If you were an elephant … (Foster)

 

 

I’m sorry, I’m trying, but I just can’t NOT find this funny. My article earlier today: He’s Just Not That Into You.

Anxious European Leaders Seek An Early Audience With Trump, Before Putin (AP)

European leaders, anxious over Donald Trump’s unpredictability and kind words for the Kremlin, are scrambling to get face time with the new American president before he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose provocations have set the continent on edge. One leader has raised with Trump the prospect of a U.S.-EU summit early this year, and the head of NATO — the powerful military alliance Trump has deemed “obsolete” – is angling for an in-person meeting ahead of Putin as well. British Prime Minister Theresa May is working to arrange a meeting in Washington soon after Friday’s inauguration. For European leaders, a meeting with a new American president is always a sought-after – and usually easy-to-obtain – invitation.

But Trump has repeatedly defied precedent, making them deeply uncertain about their standing once he takes office. Throughout his campaign and in recent interviews, Trump has challenged the viability of the EU and NATO, while praising Putin and staking out positions more in line with Moscow than Brussels. “There are efforts on the side of the Europeans to arrange a meeting with Trump as quickly as possible,” Norbert Roettgen, the head of the German Parliament’s foreign committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, told AP. In fact, eager to stage an early show of Trans-Atlantic solidarity, Donald Tusk – the former Polish prime minister who heads the EU’s Council of member state governments – invited Trump to meet with the EU early in his administration, according to a EU official.

But a senior Trump adviser essentially rebuffed the offer, telling the AP this week that such a gathering would not be a priority for the incoming president, who wants to focus on meetings with individual countries, not the 28-nation bloc. Trump backs Britain’s exit from the EU, casting the populist, anti-establishment movement as a precursor to his own victory. In a recent joint interview with two European newspapers, Trump said of the EU, “I don’t think it matters much for the United States.” Such rhetoric alone was enough to set off alarm bells in Europe. And Trump’s praise for Putin and promise of closer ties to Moscow have deepened the uncertainty.

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“..he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc..”

Hands off EU, Trump; We Don’t Back Ohio Secession: Juncker (R.)

Donald Trump should lay off talking about the break-up of the European Union, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday, pointing out that Europeans do not push for Ohio to secede from the United States. In pointed remarks on the eve of Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president, Jean-Claude Juncker said the new administration would realize it should not damage transatlantic relations but added it remained unclear what policies Trump would now pursue. Juncker told Germany’s BR television, according to a transcript from the Munich station, that he was sure no EU state wanted to follow Britain’s example and leave the bloc, despite Trump’s forecast this week that others would quit:

“Mr. Trump should also not be indirectly encouraging them to do that,” Juncker said. “We don’t go around calling on Ohio to pull out of the United States.” Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said he had yet to speak to Trump — contrary to what the President-elect said earlier this week. Juncker said Trump had confused him with European Council President Donald Tusk. “Trump spoke to Mr. Tusk and mixed us up,” said Juncker, taking a jab at the American billionaire’s grasp of his new role. “That’s the thing about international politics,” he said. “It’s all in the detail.”

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If even Jamie Dimon can understand it…

Jamie Dimon Says Eurozone May Not Survive (BBG)

The euro region could break up if political leaders don’t get to grips with the discontent that’s spurring support for populist leaders across the continent, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said. Dimon said he had hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region “the euro zone may not survive,” Dimon, 60, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with John Micklethwait. “What went wrong is going wrong for everybody, not just going wrong for Britain, but in some ways it looks like they’re kind of doubling down,” Dimon said in the interview Wednesday at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Unless leaders address underlying concerns, “you’re going to have the same political things about immigration, the laws of the country, how much power goes to Brussels.” Dimon’s remarks on Europe were unusually pessimistic, coming in a wide-ranging interview in which he also criticized regulations that he said stunt economic growth. But he reiterated optimism for President-elect Donald Trump. Minutes later, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein also expressed concern about Europe, telling CNBC that leaders are facing a backlash in the midst of a long, complicated process to create an economic bloc. “That’s complicated, that’s very hard to do,” said Blankfein. “It’s not done, and it’s not accomplished. We’re finding the pain of that.” [..] The bottom line is that Europe must become more competitive, Dimon said. “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

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Journalist Jean Quatremer is Mr. Europe. He’s been called an ‘ayatollah of European federalism’.

In Europe We See Only One Loser From Brexit – And It Won’t Be Us (Quatremer)

When someone wants the impossible, in French we say that they want “the butter, the money from the butter, and the dairymaid’s smile”. In more vulgar usage we say they want something rather more from the dairymaid than a smile. This is precisely what we can take away from Theresa May’s speech on the “hard Brexit” she wants. It is “hard” only for the other 27 states but “soft” for Britain – because May wants to keep all the benefits of EU membership and concede nothing in return. That is not really a surprise since she had already announced it in October during the Conservative party conference. She even considers that any other kind of agreement would be unacceptable, because it would amount to “punishing” the British.

May is threatening to turn Britain into a tax haven by way of retaliation, if, by some misfortune, the Europeans refuse to bend to the demands of Her Glorious Majesty’s subjects. We might think we are dreaming, but no: it is either arrogance or recklessness (or, more likely, a mixture of the two). Let’s sum up: on the one hand, of course, May would like a clear, “clean break” with the union, which means no longer sitting in its institutions, contributing to the budget or respecting EU law. On the other hand, she does not want the status of some kind of “partial or associate” member, which would imply having to meet EU’s requirements in all kinds of areas.

Thus far, we get it: the UK will be treated like any other third country – Zimbabwe, for instance. That’s clear and “clean”. But after that it gets complicated, at least for a continental mind that lacks the subtleties of reflection of a product of Oxbridge. Because May considers it possible for British companies to retain the greatest possible access to the single market, in particular to negotiate sectoral customs agreements with the union. And that’s where things get interesting. Because customs duty or no, importing goods into a market presupposes compliance with local norms and standards: to be clear, if the British want to export their cars (which are in fact German or Japanese cars) to the continent, they need to respect European laws. That means submitting (I know, what an awful word) to those laws. So in reality, the clear, “clean break” could only concern one part of UK industry – the part that manufactures for the local market.

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Le Pen is smartening up. She’s a true contender now.

Marine Le Pen Centers Presidential Run on Getting France Out of Eurozone (WSJ)

National Front leader Marine Le Pen is seeking to turn May’s presidential election into a referendum on the European Union by detailing a strategy to pull France from the bloc and its single currency if she wins. She last ran in 2012 with an initial promise of a sharp and sudden break from the euro, but this time Ms. Le Pen has sought broader support from a splintered French electorate. She says she would organize an orderly exit rather than crashing out with unpredictable consequences. If elected, she and top National Front officials say, her administration will spend its first six months negotiating the creation, along with other disappointed euro nations, of a basket of shadow European currencies. A newly reinstated franc, she says, would eventually be pegged to that basket, replacing the euro.

Ms. Le Pen says other countries struggling to meet European rules would be willing to enter into talks on pulling the EU apart. The threat of having to leave the euro, she says, has been used to blackmail Greece and other Southern European countries into implementing austerity programs their people reject. “The euro has not been used as a currency, but as a weapon—a knife stuck in the ribs of a country to force it to go where the people don’t want to go,” Ms. Le Pen said this month. “Do you think we accept living under this threat, this tutelage? It’s absolutely out of the question.”

[..] An attempt by France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy, to pull out would be far more challenging than Brexit, which doesn’t touch on currency questions. A “Frexit” would likely unleash chaos across the currency union and undermine the broader EU in a way Britain’s departure wouldn’t. No country has attempted to leave the euro, and French polls show that while people want to claw back control from Brussels, a majority wouldn’t vote to leave the currency. The complications of an exit weren’t as clear to Ms. Le Pen in 2012, when she garnered only 17.9% of the presidential vote with her push for a clean break with the euro. “We set off on the idea in 2012 of an immediate exit, slamming the door,” said Jean-Richard Sulzer, a senior economic adviser to Ms. Le Pen. “Things were said too quickly, but this time Marine is much more prudent.”

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Yeah, why not blame Trump for that too.

By Ripping NATO, Trump Makes Europe Nervous and Arms Trade Happy (BBG)

Donald Trump is right to say America’s NATO allies aren’t paying their fair share. But, to the delight of the arms industry, that may be changing. Trump himself is the change-maker. He reaffirmed his skepticism about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and his readiness to make deals with Russia, in European media interviews published last weekend. Trump isn’t famous for his policy consistency, but those positions have held fairly steady – leaving European leaders wondering whether they can still rely on the American security umbrella. “Let’s not fool ourselves,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week. “There is no infinite guarantee.”

So Merkel’s Germany, and many other European nations, are boosting military budgets. The plans predate Trump, and under NATO rules they should’ve been carried out long ago. The alliance expects its members to spend 2% of GDP on defense. But it’s no secret that most of them don’t. The shortfall added up to about $121 billion last year at 2010 prices, according to Bloomberg calculations based on NATO country estimates.

Since Trump is promising to increase America’s already enormous military budget too, the prospect of a European arms-shopping spree is a win-win for suppliers. Investors have noticed: From Raytheon to Lockheed Martin to Thales, defense contractors have hit all-time highs since Trump’s election. “This is the best market for defense in many years, across the board,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. NATO was established after World War II to protect western democracies against the Soviet Union. A key tenet is that an attack on any alliance member is considered an attack on all. And that’s what Trump has questioned. If Russia moved against one of NATO’s Baltic members, Trump told the New York Times in July, he’d come to their aid only after reviewing whether they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

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Brilliant! Please don’t miss this!

It’s just that I thought Steve made his own Melania doll (no kidding.) And then she started talking.

Steve Keen Exposes Next Global Economic Shockwaves (FinFeed)

Steve, who is Trump going to be pouring drinks for, as in economic growth and benefits, in 2017?

Steve Keen: He is trying to pour it just for his own economy. And this is going to be the dramatic challenge he faces. Because he is someone who actually knows a lot about money and banks and debt, having used it extensively in his own professional career.

Lelde Smits: And succeeded and failed and hopefully learnt from the failures.

Steve Keen: He’s turned failure into success in many, many ways, and let’s not go there in terms of how beneficial that was for his various suppliers but he understands going bankrupt, he understand re-organisation, he understands finance.

Lelde Smits: So where is this liquid in 2017?

Steve Keen: He’s going to realise at some point he owns his own bank now. Because he’s running the country he is going to spend.

Lelde Smits: So we have the Federal Reserve right?

Steve Keen: The Federal Reserve is there and can top him up as much as it likes.

Lelde Smits: So when does this stop Steve? That’s the magic question.

Steve Keen: It never has to stop. He’s going to enable the American economy to spend dramatically. Taxation is going to be cut. There will be an increase in government spending. There will be a large deficit coming out of that. So the government is going to be creating a lot of money and running a lot of infrastructure projects and so on. There are 4 million Americans who aren’t employed now who were employed in 2000. They are people who are going to get jobs in construction and start spending domestically and so on. And Trump is going to see that as boosting up the American economy. It’s all about Buy America, Made in America and so on.

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How different do we think this is from what happened with Goldman and Greece? How to hide losses 101.

How Deutsche Bank Made €367 Million Disappear at Monte dei Paschi (BBG)

On Dec. 1, 2008, most of the world’s banks were still panicking through the financial crisis. Lehman Brothers had collapsed. Merrill Lynch had been sold. Citigroup and others had required multibillion-dollar bailouts to survive. But not every institution appeared to be in free fall. That afternoon, at the London outpost of Deutsche Bank, the stolid-seeming, €2 trillion German powerhouse, a group of financiers met to consider a proposal from a team led by a trim, 40-year-old banker named Michele Faissola. The scion of an Italian banking family, Faissola was the head of Deutsche’s global rates unit, a division that created and sold financial instruments tied to interest rates. He’d been studying the problems of one of Deutsche’s clients, Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which, as the crisis raged, was down €367 million ($462 million at the time) on a single investment.

Losing that much money was bad; having to include it in the bank’s yearend report to the public, as required by Italian law, was arguably much worse. Monte dei Paschi was the world’s oldest bank. It had been operating since 1472 [..] . If investors were to find out the extent of its losses in the 2008 credit crisis, the consequences would be unpredictable and grave: a run on the bank, a government takeover, or worse. At the Deutsche meeting, Faissola’s team said it had come up with a miraculous solution: a new trade that would make Paschi’s loss disappear. The bankers in the room had seen some financial sleight of hand in their day, but the maneuver that Faissola’s staffers proposed was audacious.

They described a simple trade in two parts. For one half of the deal, Paschi would make a sure-thing, moneymaking bet with Deutsche Bank and use those winnings to extinguish its 2008 trading losses. Of course, Deutsche doesn’t give away money for free, so for the second half of the deal, the Italians would make a bet that was sure to lose. But while the first transaction was immediate, the second would play out slowly, over many years. No sign of the €367 million sinkhole would need to show up when Paschi compiled its yearend financial reports.

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New records set in 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Earth Breaks Heat Record In 2016 For Third Year In A Row (AFP)

Last year, the Earth sweltered under the hottest temperatures in modern times for the third year in a row, US scientists said Wednesday, raising new concerns about the quickening pace of climate change. Temperatures spiked to new national highs in parts of India, Kuwait and Iran, while sea ice melted faster than ever in the fragile Arctic, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Taking a global average of the land and sea surface temperatures for the entire year, NOAA found the data for “2016 was the highest since record keeping began in 1880,” said the announcement. The global average temperature last year was 1.69 Fahrenheit (0.94 Celsius) above the 20th century average, and 0.07 degrees F (0.04 C) warmer than in 2015, the last record-setting year, according to NOAA.

This was “not a huge margin to set a new record but it is larger than the typical margin,” Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA global climate monitoring, said on a conference call with reporters. A separate analysis by the US space agency NASA also found that 2016 was the hottest on record. The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva confirmed the US findings, and noted that atmospheric concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane reached new highs. The main reason for the rise is the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, which send carbon dioxide, methane and other pollutants known as greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and warm the planet. The mounting toll of industrialization on the Earth’s natural balance is increasingly apparent in the record books of recent decades. “Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2016),” said NOAA.

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Denial is a river in the Arctic.

‘A Cat In Hell’s Chance’ (Simms)

What’s so special about 2C? The simple answer is that it is a target that could be politically agreed on the international stage. It was first suggested in 1975 by the environmental economist William Nordhaus as an upper threshold beyond which we would arrive at a climate unrecognisable to humans. In 1990, the Stockholm Environment Institute recommended 2C as the maximum that should be tolerated, but noted: “Temperature increases beyond 1C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” To date, temperatures have risen by almost 1C since 1880. The effects of this warming are already being observed in melting ice, ocean levels rising, worse heat waves and other extreme weather events.

There are negative impacts on farming, the disruption of plant and animal species on land and in the sea, extinctions, the disturbance of water supplies and food production and increased vulnerability, especially among people in poverty in low-income countries. But effects are global. So 2C was never seen as necessarily safe, just a guardrail between dangerous and very dangerous change. To get a sense of what a 2C shift can do, just look in Earth’s rear-view mirror. When the planet was 2C colder than during the industrial revolution, we were in the grip of an ice age and a mile-thick North American ice sheet reached as far south as New York. The same warming again will intensify and accelerate human-driven changes already under way and has been described by James Hansen, one of the first scientists to call global attention to climate change, as a “prescription for long-term disaster”, including an ice-free Arctic.

Nevertheless, in 1996, a European Council of environment ministers, that included a young Angela Merkel, adopted 2C as a target for the EU. International negotiators agreed the same in 2010 in Cancun. It was a commitment repeated in the Paris Climate Accord of 2015 where, pushed by a new group of countries called the Climate Vulnerable Forum, ambitions went one step further, agreeing to hold temperature rises to “well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”.

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I don’t know how much longer I can witness this. At what point do we set up a private army?

“The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25 million km of roads by 2050..”

Over Half of World’s Wild Primate Species Face Extinction (G.)


Top row l-r: brown-headed spider monkey, chimpanzee, Western gorilla; Bottom row l-r: Bornean orangutan, Siau Island tarsier, ring-tailed lemur. Composite: Alamy and Getty Images

More than half of the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and lorises are now threatened with extinction as agriculture and industrial activities destroy forest habitats and the animals’ populations are hit by hunting and trade. In the most bleak assessment of primates to date, conservationists found that 60% of the wild species are on course to die out, with three quarters already in steady decline. The report casts doubt on the future of about 300 primate species, including gorillas, chimps, gibbons, marmosets, tarsiers, lemurs and lorises. Anthony Rylands, a senior research scientist at Conservation International who helped to compile the report, said he was “horrified” at the grim picture revealed in the review which drew on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, peer-reviewed science reports and UN databases.

“The scale of this is massive,” Rylands told the Guardian. “Considering the large number of species currently threatened and experiencing population declines, the world will soon be facing a major extinction event if effective action is not implemented immediately,” he writes in the journal Science Advances, with colleagues at the University of Illinois and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The most dramatic impact on primates has come from agricultural growth. From 1990 to 2010 it has claimed 1.5 million square kilometres of primate habitats, an area three times the size of France. In Sumatra and Borneo, the destruction of forests for oil palm plantations has driven severe declines in orangutan populations. In China, the expansion of rubber plantations has led to the near extinction of the northern white-cheeked crested gibbon and the Hainan gibbon, of which only about 30 or animals survive.

More rubber plantations in India have hit the Bengal slow loris, the western hoolock gibbon and Phayre’s leaf monkey. Primates are spread throughout 90 countries, but two thirds of the species live in just four: Brazil, Madagascar, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In Madagascar, 87% of primate species face extinction, along with 73% in Asia, the report states. It adds that humans have “one last opportunity” to reduce or remove the threats facing the animals, to build conservation efforts, and raise worldwide awareness of their predicament. The market for tropical timber has driven up industrial logging and damaged forest areas in Asia, Africa and the neotropics. Mining for minerals and diamonds have also taken a toll. On Dinagat island in the Philippines, gold, nickel and copper mining endanger the Philippine tarsier. In the DRC, hunters working around the tin, gold and diamond mine industry are the greatest threat to the region’s Grauer’s gorilla. The industries at work in tropical forest areas are expected to be served by an extra 25 million km of roads by 2050, further fragmenting the primates’ habitats.

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If you were an elephant … You would still feel love, hurt and grief.

“Perhaps one of the reasons we’re so keen to deny non-human creatures minds, consciousness and personhood is that, if they’re people, they’re embarrassingly better people than we are. They build better communities; they live at peace with themselves and aren’t, unlike us, actively psychopathic towards other species. ”

If you were an elephant … (Foster)

If you were an elephant living wild in a western city, you’d be confused and disgusted. You’d have one two-fingered hand swinging from your face – a hand as sensitive as tumescent genitals, but which could smash a wall or pick a cherry. With that hand you’d explore your best friends’ mouths, just for the sake of friendship. With that hand you’d smell water miles away and the flowers at your feet. You’d sift it all, triaging. Category 1: immediate danger. Category 2: potential threat. Category 3: food and water. Category 4: weather forecasts – short and long range. Category 5: pleasure. Grumbles from trucks and cabs would shudder through the toxic ground, tickle the lamellar corpuscles in your feet and ricochet up your bones. You’d hear with your feet, and your femurs would be microphones.

As you walked 10 miles for your breakfast you’d chatter with your friends in 10 octaves. A nearby human would throb like a bodhran as subsonic waves bounced around her chest. Even if it swayed with grass instead of being covered in concrete and dog shit, the city would be far, far too small for you. You’d feel the ring roads like a corset. You’d smell succulent fields outside, and be wistful. But you’d make the most of what you had. You’d follow a labyrinth of old roads, relying on the wisdom of long-dead elephants, now passed down to your matriarch. You’d have the happiest kind of political system, run by wise old women, appointed for their knowledge of the world and their judgment, uninterested in hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake, and seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.

No room here for the infantile phallocentric Nietzscheanism that is destroying modern human culture. If you were a boy you’d be on the margins, drifting between family groups (but never allowed to disrupt them) or shacked up with your bachelor pals in the elephant equivalent of an unswept bedsit (though usually your behaviour would be gentler, more convivial and more urbane than cohabiting human males). Your function would be to inseminate, and that’s all. Government would be the business of the females. You’d be a communitarian. Relationality would be everything. It’s not that you couldn’t survive alone, although there would certainly be a survival benefit from being a member of a community, just as humans live longer if they are plugged into a church, a mosque or a bowling club.

Yes, at some level your altruism might be reciprocal altruism, where you scratch my back if I scratch yours, or kin selection, where you are somehow persuaded to sacrifice yourself if your death or disadvantage will preserve a gene in a sufficiently closely related gene-bearer. But at a much more obvious and important level you’d be relational – joyously shouldering the duties that come with community – because it made you happy. Why do elephants seek out other elephants? Not primarily for sex, or for an extra arsenal of receptors to pick up the scent of poachers, or because they assume that the others will have found particularly nutritious food, but because they like other elephants.

[..] As an elephant, you’d have a mind. You would, no doubt at all, be conscious. All the evidence agrees. None – absolutely none – disagrees. You’d have a sense of yourself as distinct from other things. When you looked out contemptuously at humans, wondering why they ate obviously contaminated food, opted to be miserable and alone, or wasted energy on pointless aggression and anxiety, it would be your contempt, as opposed to generic elephantine contempt, or reflexive contempt that bypassed your cerebral cortex, or the contempt of your sister. It would be you looking out, and you’d know it was you.


Photograph: Palani Mohan/Getty Images

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Sep 262016
 
 September 26, 2016  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Fire at Thomas Somerville plant, Washington DC 1926

Asian Markets Drop As Pessimism Increases Ahead Of OPEC Meeting (MW)
Deutsche Bank Slumps to Fresh Record Low on Capital Concerns (BBG)
China’s Smaller Banks Are Funding Each Other’s Lending (BBG)
China Launches $52.5 Billion Restructuring Fund For State-Owned Firms (R.)
A Weaker Currency Is No Longer the Economic Elixir It Once Was (BBG)
US Home Prices Rose 76% Since 1999 As Real Income Grew Less Than 2% (BBG)
Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Honeymoon Is About to End (BBG)
The Know-Nothing Economists Who Created This Mess Blast Trump’s Plan (MW)
Amazon “Tweaks” Hillary Book Stats: ‘5-Star’ Reviews Double Overnight (ZH)
Cracks Showing In Germany’s Fragile Truce With The ECB (R.)
German Minister: Britain Won’t Stop EU Army (Pol.)
50% Of Guns In America Owned By Just 3% Of Population (ZH)
African Elephants ‘Suffer Worst Decline In 25 Years’ (AFP)

 

 

And Europe’s falling faster.

Asian Markets Drop As Pessimism Increases Ahead Of OPEC Meeting (MW)

Asian shares were broadly lower Monday, as relief over a delay by the U.S. Federal Reserve in raising interest rates wore off. Japan’s Nikkei was down 0.8%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index retreated 0.7%. South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.4%. “Asia Pacific investors are bracing for a sell day after European and U.S. traders took some hard won risk off the table,” wrote Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, in a note. On Friday, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both fell 0.6% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.7% as energy stocks slid with oil prices Friday. Investors were also pessimistic on Monday over any breakthroughs in oil-production cuts when OPEC gathers for an informal meeting later this week.

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Merkel’s comments weigh in.

Deutsche Bank Slumps to Fresh Record Low on Capital Concerns (BBG)

Deutsche Bank shares dropped to a record low amid concerns that the lender’s capital buffers will be undermined by mounting legal charges including a settlement tied to the sale of U.S. securities The shares dropped 4.2% to €10.93 at 9:15 a.m. in Frankfurt, an all-time low. The 38-member Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index slipped 1.5%, with Deutsche Bank the worst performer. A potential $14 billion bill to settle a U.S. probe into residential mortgage-backed securities is more than twice the €5.5 billion ($6.2 billion) Deutsche Bank has set aside for litigation. The lender also faces inquiries into legal issues including currency manipulation, precious metals trading and billions of dollars in transfers out of Russia, complicating CEO John Cryan’s efforts to bolster profitability and capital ratios.

Germany’s biggest bank would be “significantly under-capitalized” even assuming enough provisions to cover an eventual settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, Andrew Lim at Societe Generale said in a note earlier this month. A settlement range of $3 billion to $3.5 billion would leave the German lender room to settle other legal issues, while any additional $1 billion in litigation charges would erode 24 basis points in capital, JPMorgan analysts wrote. Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out any state assistance for Deutsche Bank in the year heading into the national election in September 2017.

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Big warning sign. Circle jerking tail eating snakes.

China’s Smaller Banks Are Funding Each Other’s Lending (BBG)

[..] China’s banking regulator told city banks last week to learn the lesson of the global financial crisis and get back to traditional businesses. CLSA estimates total debt may reach 321% of GDP in 2020 from 261% in the first half. “Contagion risks are definitely rising,” said Liao Qiang, Beijing-based senior director for financial institution ratings at S&P Global Ratings. “The pace of the development is concerning. If this isn’t stopped in time, the central bank will lose some control and flexibility of its monetary policy.” Shanghai Pudong Development Bank said in an e-mailed response on Sept. 24 it has been using appropriate financing and its regular deposits and interbank borrowing have been developing properly and in synchronization.

Total liabilities will be kept under control in the long run and all liquidity gauges meet regulatory requirements, it said. Rising short-term borrowing doesn’t mean its risks have climbed as well, the bank said. “City commercial banks should change as soon as possible the situation of allocating more funds into investing than lending, and developing their off-balance-sheet businesses too fast,” Shang Fulin, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said. The PBOC resumed longer-term reverse repos to boost borrowing costs in August and deputy governor Yi Gang said in a television interview earlier this month that the nation’s short-term goal is to curb leverage. It gauged demand for such auctions today. The benchmark 10-year government bond yield climbed slightly, to 2.73% from a decade low of 2.64% on Aug. 15.

[..] The higher the reliance on wholesale funds and investment in illiquid assets, the greater the risk of a liquidity crunch, said Christine Kuo at Moody’s. “When banks face fund withdrawals by other financial institutions, this will in turn prompt them to call back their own funds,” she said. Banks are also buying each others’ wealth-management products and accounting for the transactions as investment receivables. A record 26.3 trillion yuan of WMPs were outstanding as of June 30, doubling over two years, official data showed. Investment receivables at 25 listed banks grew 13.4% in the first half to 11 trillion yuan.

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Doesn’t sound like real restructuring.

China Launches $52.5 Billion Restructuring Fund For State-Owned Firms (R.)

A private equity fund worth 350 billion yuan ($52.5 billion) has been launched in China to help with the restructuring of state firms, a newspaper run by Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. The China State-owned Enterprises Restructuring Fund will be managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), according to the Economic Information Daily. The report said 10 state-owned enterprises have established the fund to help with restructuring of state firms, including M&A deals, as part of government efforts to advance supply side reform. The 10 firms have provided initial registered capital of 131 billion yuan, the newspaper said.

No detail was provided on the source of the rest of the equity fund. The 10 firms include China Mobile, China Railway Rolling Stock, China Petroleum & Chemical and China Chengtong, a restructuring platform supervised by SASAC that will lead the fund. China is embarking on a revamp of its massive but debt-ridden state sector, which has struggled under a system that requires firms to maximize economic gains while fulfilling government policy objectives. The government has vowed to create innovative and globally competitive enterprises through mergers, asset swaps and management reforms.

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Caveat: a weak currency doesn’t automatically spur more exports. But they should also ask where exports would be if the currency had remained strong. Maybe they would have plummeted. Maybe global trade is falling fast.

A Weaker Currency Is No Longer the Economic Elixir It Once Was (BBG)

A weaker currency, once the cure-all for ailing economies around the world, isn’t the panacea it once was. Just look at Japan, where the yen plunged 28% in the two years through 2014, yet net exports to America still fell by 10% in the span. Or at the U.K., where the pound’s 19% tumble in the two years through 2009 couldn’t stave off a 26% decline in shipments to the U.S. In fact, since the turn of the century, the ability of exchange-rate movements to affect trade and growth in major economies has fallen by more than half, according to Goldman Sachs. The findings suggest that weaker currencies may not provide much assistance to officials in countries like Japan and the U.K. that are relying on unprecedented easy-money policies to help boost tenuous growth and inflation.

On the flip side, the data also indicate that concerns U.S. growth will be derailed as rising interest rates drive investors into the dollar are also overblown. A shift in the structure of advanced-economy trade to less price-elastic goods and services, combined with the prolonged effects of the financial crisis, have stunted the sensitivity of trade volumes relative to global exchange rates, according to Goldman Sachs analysts led by Jari Stehn. “If you’re a central banker, yes you’re paying attention to currency levels, but the more-developed market economies aren’t reacting to currency debasing policies like they used to,” said Philippe Bonnefoy, the founder of hedge fund Eleuthera. “The impact has been diluted.”

Global central banks have cut policy rates 667 times since 2008, according to Bank of America Corp. During that period, the dollar’s 10 main peers have fallen 14%, yet Group-of-Eight economies have grown an average of just 1%. Since the late 1990s, a 10% inflation-adjusted depreciation in currencies of 23 advanced economies boosted net exports by just 0.6% of GDP, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with 1.3% of GDP in the two decades prior. U.S. trade with all nations slipped to $3.7 trillion in 2015, from $3.9 trillion in 2014.

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“Since 1999 year-end through 2015 home prices have risen 76% while household mean real income has grown less than 2%..”

US Home Prices Rose 76% Since 1999 As Real Income Grew Less Than 2% (BBG)

U.S. home prices appear to be getting out of hand again as the gap between home price growth and household real income growth is close to where it was just before the housing collapse. It’s also notable, and worrying, that the housing market is back in a “flipping frenzy” with non-bank actors climbing aboard to fund the speculation. Since 1999 year-end through 2015 home prices have risen 76% while household mean real income has grown less than 2%; the millennium-to-date gap between the two growth rates peaked at 84% during 2005-2006 and has risen back to 74% as of 2015 year-end. Gap at year-end 2007 was 75%. This millennium through 2015 has seen average new and existing home sale prices rise 84% and 55%, respectively, despite the lack of income growth.

Existing and new home sales average prices peaked at $280.2k in June 2015 and $384k in Oct. 2014, respectively; both peaks exceeded levels seen during housing boom. Over the same period outstanding home mortgage debt has risen 14%, though it’s notable that with the end of easy mortgage credit it has fallen 11% from its June 2008 peak. Concurrent with this 11% fall, the homeownership rate (63.8% at 2015 year-end) has slid back to levels last seen in the mid-1960s. Monthly U.S. single-family home price y/y growth hit a post-crisis peak of 10.85% in Oct. 2013 and has since leveled off at ~5% each month since July 2015; this is still easily outpacing growth in real income.

The disconnect between home price growth and the lack of real income growth has led homebuilders’ to turn to the higher-end of the market and for Ginnie Mae to take the lead in mortgage lending. GNMA offers taxpayer-guaranteed loans to first-time homebuyers who have lower credit scores and smaller down payments than those who obtain loans through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Whereas from 2005-2007 GNMA pct share of net MBS issuance was ~2% each year, during 2014, 2015 and 2016 YTD it is ~67%, according to BofAML data. Another severe downturn in home prices would be unlikely to play out in the agency MBS market in like manner to 2007-2008 as the Fed now holds ~33% of the outstanding universe and the U.S. taxpayer now guarantees almost all of the market with Fannie and Freddie remaining under government conservatorship.

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A big bad hornet’s nest. And that’s before the economic poisoned chalice is served.

Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Honeymoon Is About to End (BBG)

Along Canada’s evergreen-draped west coast, the fate of a multi-billion-dollar energy project and a nation’s reconciliation with its dark, colonial past hang in the balance. Beating rawhide drums and singing hymns, occupiers of Lelu Island—where Malaysia’s state oil company plans a $28 billion liquefied natural gas project—assert indigenous claims to the area where trees bear the markings of their forefathers and waters run rich with crimson salmon they fear the project will obliterate. “The blood of my ancestors is on my hands if I don’t defend this land,” says Donald Wesley, 59, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe which has inhabited the area for more than 6,000 years.

That claim is about to test Justin Trudeau, the country’s telegenic 44-year-old prime minister, who swept to power a year ago vowing to be many things to many people—to tackle climate change, revive the economy, and reset Canada’s fraught relationship with its indigenous communities. Those pledges are set for collision in British Columbia—home to more First Nations communities than any other province and the crucible where a resource economy seeks to reinvent itself. Trudeau has promised to decide on the LNG project on Lelu Island by Oct. 2. He has big spending plans to spur growth in a commodities downturn, and B.C., the birthplace of Greenpeace, is where most energy projects able to support that growth are located.

Indigenous groups, essential to public support, are divided, with some seeking to preserve their habitat and traditions, and others arguing that the projects offer a path out of poverty, addiction and suicide. Facing five major energy initiatives in B.C., Trudeau will choose which constituency to abandon. He’s allowed a hydroelectric dam to proceed; pending are decisions on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway crude pipeline, Petroliam Nasional’s LNG project on Lelu Island, a pipeline expansion by Kinder Morgan, as well as a ban on crude oil tankers. He’s said to want at least one pipeline, and favor Kinder Morgan. Trudeau says regularly it’s a prime minister’s job to get the country’s resources to market, and a pipeline approval would demonstrate Canada can get major projects completed as warnings mount that the complex web of regulatory rules is spurring a flight of capital.

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“It was refreshing to hear that Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore responded to a question from Pethokoukis about all the red ink in Trump’s plan with, “Whether it’s going to pay for itself, I don’t really care.”

The Know-Nothing Economists Who Created This Mess Blast Trump’s Plan (MW)

Establishment economists ranging from austere neoliberals to spendthrift Keynesians are united in branding Donald Trump’s proposed economic policies as “disastrous.” He must be on to something. These economists are the distinguished experts, after all, who have championed the globalization that gutted American manufacturing, promoted the offshoring and outsourcing of American jobs, encouraged American companies to keep trillions (trillions!) of dollars of profit abroad, and enabled the tax inversions allowing American companies to move to the country most willing to beggar its neighbor. These are the celebrity academics who have championed the deficit-reducing, budget-balancing, tax-cutting policies that have crippled our infrastructure, degraded our schools, and cut public services from police and fire protection to garbage collection.

And now this gaggle of Washington insiders is warning us that Trump’s policies will throw the country into recession, ignite a trade war, launch the national debt into the stratosphere, and create more unemployment rather than jobs. Why, really, should anyone listen to them? There is Mark Zandi, whose title as chief economist of Moody Analytics makes this sometime adviser to Barack Obama and backer of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton seem nonpartisan, even though he clearly is not. Not surprisingly, Zandi had his team at Moody’s produce some modeling this summer that concluded that Trump’s economic proposals would result in a less global economy, lead to larger government deficits and more debt, will largely benefit very high-income households, and will result in a weaker U.S. economy.

The implication is that these are all bad things. Those for whom Trump’s economic message resonates might consider a less global U.S. economy a good thing. To brand deficits and debts as terrible you would first have to prove that they do more harm than good.

[..] those establishment economists who through several administrations have served so ably on the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, in the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve — the people, in short, who have delivered us into the economic morass they blithely call secular stagnation — are training their heavy artillery on poor, dumb Trump. Progressive economist Joseph Stiglitz, who chaired the CEA under President Bill Clinton, gives Trump an “F” in economics because the nominee apparently doesn’t understand the principle of comparative advantage in global trade — as if we lived in a world where currency manipulation, dumping subsidies, and substandard environmental and labor conditions don’t keep this pristine economic principle from working its magic.

And conservative analyst James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, labeled Trump’s economic plan “a complete and utter joke” as he took the Republican nominee to task for potentially adding $2.6 trillion to $3.9 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years — even though the $9 trillion in debt added during the 7.5 years of the Obama administration has caused no detectable harm. It was refreshing to hear that Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore responded to a question from Pethokoukis about all the red ink in Trump’s plan with, “Whether it’s going to pay for itself, I don’t really care.” High time someone influencing policy fully appreciated the dynamic flexibility of a fiat currency in government finance. We don’t really need to care whether the plan “pays for itself” in the short term, if it does indeed produce the accelerated growth promised.

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For entertainment purposes only.

Amazon “Tweaks” Hillary Book Stats: ‘5-Star’ Reviews Double Overnight (ZH)

Two short weeks ago, we exposed the gaping difference between Amazon reader reviews of Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” book (14% 5-Stars) and Donald Trump’s “Great Again” book (74% 5-Stars)… As The New York Times reported at the time, the book was a disaster. Both Mrs. Clinton and her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, have promoted the book on the campaign trail, but the sales figure, which tallies about 80% of booksellers nationwide and does not include e-books, firmly makes the book what the publishing industry would consider a flop. [..] So, as with everything else in this ‘new normal rigged’ world, something had to be done and WaPo-owner Jeff Bezos’ Amazon reviews appear to have been ‘tweaked’ – more than doubling Hillary’s top reviews.

But, as WND.com explains, Amazon’s steps to ‘fix’ Hillary’s book rviews has resulted in 5-star ratings with scathingly negative comments… If you can’t even win when the rules are changed in your favor, things must be REALLY bad. That’s how it looks for Hillary Clinton’s new 2016 campaign book, “Stronger Together,” co-authored with running mate Tim Kaine. WND reported just days ago when the book was being savaged on Amazon.com with negative reviews, with 81% one-star ratings and an average of only 1.7. Clinton supporters lashed out at “trolls” they said were criticizing the book only because they oppose the Democrat’s presidential candidacy. WND previously reported there were more than 1,200 reviews, and the number grew to than 2,000.

But Thursday afternoon, there were only 255, with many of the most critical reviews removed by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, which created an army of 20 reporters and researchers to investigate the life of Donald Trump. Victory for the Clinton book, however, remains out of grasp, with the negative, one-star responses, outnumbering positive, five-star responses nearly 2-1. The one-star ratings Thursday were 62%, to 35% for five-star ratings.

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“..the political landscape in Germany has become decidedly more toxic for the ECB over the past months.”

Cracks Showing In Germany’s Fragile Truce With The ECB (R.)

Michael Stuebgen, a conservative member of the German parliament, was speaking with the head of a local savings bank recently about the ECB’s QE program. “He told me the bond market was being emptied out,” Stuebgen recalled. “He likened it to going into a supermarket where everything has been bought up. You might find a shriveled old carrot or potato. Pretty soon you’re starving.” Stuebgen, a spokesman on European affairs for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in the Bundestag, credits the ECB and its President Mario Draghi with saving the euro zone from collapse four years ago. But conversations like the one with the banker have convinced him that its policies, in particular the massive bond-buying program known as QE, have gone too far. He is not alone.

[..] Instead of changing course, as Stuebgen and his colleagues want, the ECB is widely expected to announce an extension of its QE program by the end of the year. The program is due to expire in March. As early as next month, it could also announce steps to broaden the scope of what it can buy in response to a dwindling pool of available assets. The most controversial change would be abandoning the so-called “capital key”, which limits the proportion of government bonds the ECB can buy from any given member state, based on its size and economic weight. “The big challenge for Mario Draghi will be to prepare the Bundestag and German public for a further easing of monetary policy,” said Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute and a former senior official at the ECB.

That message is unlikely to go down well in Berlin. In addition to concerns about the distorting effects of QE on financial markets and the impact of low interest rates on German savers and insurers, the political landscape in Germany has become decidedly more toxic for the ECB over the past months.

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Better get rid of the EU before they acutally do this.

German Minister: Britain Won’t Stop EU Army (Pol.)

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s defense minister, does not believe the U.K. will stand in the way of deepened defense cooperation between EU member countries, she told Reuters in an interview Sunday night. Von der Leyen said she was confident Britain would “make good its promise that it will not hinder important EU reforms.” Michael Fallon, Britain’s defense secretary, said earlier this month Britain will veto measures to build an EU army for as long as it remains a member of the bloc. Von der Leyen said she told Fallon the plans were not directed against Britain, but “designed for a strong Europe” instead.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said during a speech in London last week that a British veto was “counterproductive and anyway not possible in this case.” EU defense ministers will discuss common military proposals on Monday and Tuesday. Federica Mogherini, the European Commission’s foreign policy chief, said earlier this month that member countries could combine their defense capabilities via a so-far unused provision in the Lisbon Treaty.

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Feel safe?

50% Of Guns In America Owned By Just 3% Of Population (ZH)

A recent Harvard study of the demographics of gun ownership in the United States yielded a fairly shocking discovery, namely the emergence of the Obama gun “Super Owner.” The study, entitled “The Stock and Flow of US Firearms: Results from the 2015 National Firearms Survey”, was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and found that just 14% of all gun owners, or 7.6mm adults and 3% of the total U.S. population, possessed 50% of all guns owned by civilians in the country. Moreover, with a total stock of 270mm civilian-owned guns in the U.S., that implies that these “super owners” possess an average of nearly 18 guns per person.

“Gun owning respondents owned an average of 4.85 firearms (range: 1-140); the median gun owner reported owning approximately two guns. As can be seen in Figure 3, approximately half (48%) of gun owners report owning 1 or 2 guns, accounting for 14% of the total US gun stock, while those who own 10 or more guns (8% of all gun owners), own 39% of the gun stock. Put another way, one half of the gun stock (~130 million guns) is owned by approximately 86% of gun owners, while the other half is owned by 14% of gun owners (14% of gun owners equals 7.6 million adults, or 3% of the adult US population).”

Another startling discovery in the data, though “oddly” not highlighted in the report, is that the surge in gun ownership per capita seemed to coincide with the start of the Obama presidency and growing rhetoric over new gun regulations. Per the chart below, over the past 20 years, gun ownership per U.S. adult hovered around 1 from 1993 through 2007 but then surged starting in 2008 as an Obama presidency became increasingly likely. This trend is also reflected in annual guns sales which floated between 4-6mm units per year before surging in 2008.

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Tears. I still have tears left.

African Elephants ‘Suffer Worst Decline In 25 Years’ (AFP)

Africa’s elephant population has suffered its worst drop in 25 years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said Sunday, blaming the plummeting numbers on poaching. Based on 275 estimates from across the continent, a report by the conservation group put Africa’s total elephant population at around 415,000, a decline of around 111,000 over the past decade. It is the first time in 25 years that the group’s African Elephant Status Report has reported a continental decline in numbers, with the IUCN attributing the losses in large part to a sharp rise in poaching. “The surge in poaching for ivory that began approximately a decade ago – the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s – has been the main driver of the decline,” said IUCN in a statement.

Habitat loss is also increasingly threatening the species, the group said. IUCN chief Inger Andersen said the numbers showed “the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant”. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species,” she said. The IUCN report was released at the world’s biggest conference on the international wildlife trade, taking place in Johannesburg. Thousands of conservationists and government officials are seeking to thrash out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species. A booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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Dec 022014
 
 December 2, 2014  Posted by at 11:39 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies Gus Hodges, 11, and brother Julius, 5, Norfolk VA Jun 1911

Oh man, I wanted to keep this short, what I wanted to say looked so straight-forward. But then, in this convoluted world of pretense, is anything ever anymore? Please allow me to start off with something I wrote yesterday in Oil, Gold And Now Stocks? concerning the nonsense spouted by New York Fed President Bill Dudley, who claimed that money not spent by Americans on gas would actually boost the economy if -and that’s still an if – they spent it on anything else. I said they’d still have the same amount of money to spend, so how can it be a boost? Sure, you can say that a lot of the oil is imported, which would transfer profits abroad, but then so are most of the trinkets people can may buy at WalMart with their gas savings. .

Today Zero Hedge’s Tyler Durden turns that theme into not one, but two different posts. First this morning, ‘Central Bankers’ Say The Darndest Things – Bill Dudley Edition, and then just now the second take on the topic, with a very good explanation of what it is Dudley, perhaps the second-most important man in the American financial world – if he’s not numero uno-, gets so wrong, intentionally or not.

Fed Fischer’s Complete & Bizarre Nonsense: Oil Price Collapse “Making Everybody Better Off”

“I’m not very worried,” explains Fed Vice Chairman Stan Fischer in a very Bernanke-“contained”-like nonchalance about the total collapse of oil prices (and US oil producer stocks). Sharply lower oil prices will boost spending and aid U.S. growth, Fischer stated in a mind-blowingly naive speech for the 2nd-most-important-monetary-policy-maker-in-the-world, adding that lower oil prices were “a phenomenon that’s making everybody better off.” We don’t understand his ignorance: as Raul Ilargi Meijer noted earlier, Fischer is talking about money that would otherwise also have been spent, only on gas. There is no additional money, so where’s the boost? This is just complete and bizarre nonsense. As Bloomberg reports:

Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer and New York Fed President William C. Dudley, speaking at separate events yesterday in New York, both stressed the positive economic impact from the steepest decline in oil prices for five years. “I’m not very worried,” Fischer told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The lower inflation that we’ll get from the lower price of oil is going to be temporary.” He also said lower oil prices were “a phenomenon that’s making everybody better off.”

Perhaps Mr. Fischer should ask the owners of oil producer and servicer stocks, the workers in Texas and North Dakota, as well permits collapse..

Here’s some 1st grade math…
• Money people have to spend (the number that is US CONSUMPTION) = X
• Money people have to spend on Gas = GAS
• Money people have to spend on everything else = EVERYTHINGELSE
• Therefore: X = GAS + EVERYTHINGELSE

Now if Gas becomes cheaper by 30%… the savings are merely spent on more of everything else OR ‘saved’ – there is not boost in US consumption… How does it make X any bigger? How does that make anyone better off? Just don’t tell Fischer, Dudley, or anyone on CNBC this!!!

Will Dudley, or the press that covers him, learn anything from this? Does he really not understand why what he says in gibberish, or does he do it on purpose? Do the press too? Will we ever know? All we can do is point it out, and hope people understand it with us.

But I was thinking about another topic today, and it happened to come up in a comment on my article on both The Automatic Earth and Zero Hedge, by an old friend and commenter I hadn’t seen in a while. I started off yesterday saying:

“Is the Plunge Protection Team really buying oil now? That would be so funny. Out of the blue, up almost 5%? Or was it the Chinese doing some heavy lifting stockpiling for their fading industrial base?”

And got this comment:

The Chinese have a “fading” industrial base?! The most spectacular industrial development story of all time, over decades, and they are “fading”?! Are we living on the same planet?

To which I said:

Big things fade too. Or as the French say: Un éléphant se trompe énormement.

Un éléphant se trompe énormement. In English: the bigger you are, the bigger your mistakes. There’s also a wordplay in there with the sound elephants make and a trumpet (trompette in French). But yeah, China’s industry is fading, and I don’t want to get into semantics about the meaning of the term fading. Two days ago, I posted ths from Bloomberg:

China Factory Gauge Drops as Shutdowns Add to Slowdown

A Chinese manufacturing gauge fell as factory shutdowns aggravated a pullback in the economy [..] The government’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to an eight-month low of 50.3 in November, compared with the 50.5 median estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey and October’s 50.8. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.

“Today’s official PMI reading points to continued downward pressure on manufacturing activity,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China analyst in Singapore at Capital Economics. “The recent cut in the benchmark rate will do little to boost economic activity unless followed by a loosening of quantitative controls on lending, which policymakers will remain cautious about given concerns over mounting credit risk.” The final reading of another manufacturing PMI for November from HSBC and Markit was 50.0. It was unchanged from a preliminary reading.

My comment then: ‘It’s close to contraction, and that’s a long way away from 7.5% growth.’

Between the lines, we’ve been able to see for a while that China is quite a ways away from that 7.5% growth target, and a near contraction PMI reading would certainly seem to confirm that suspicion. Of course, nearly everything we get from China are ‘official’ numbers, and having faith in those wouldn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Which made it sort of amazing to see an official government report issued that Jamil Anderlini wrote about for the Financial times on Friday, but which Reuters had already covered 10 days before that. These are government researchers, and that makes you wonder what the message is, and how it’s sent: is Beijing exaggerating the waste for political purposes, or acknowledging just a part of it? My bet would always be on number 2, Xi and Li are not sitting pretty or relaxed these days, and making their own faults look even bigger than they are does not seem to be the way they would go. Here’s some excerpts from Anderlini’s piece:

China Has ‘Wasted’ $6.8 Trillion In Investment

“Ghost cities” lined with empty apartment blocks, abandoned highways and mothballed steel mills sprawl across China’s landscape – the outcome of government stimulus measures and hyperactive construction that have generated $6.8 trillion in wasted investment since 2009, according to a report by government researchers. In 2009 and 2013 alone, “ineffective investment” came to nearly half the total invested in the Chinese economy in those years, according to research by Xu Ce of the National Development and Reform Commission, the state planning agency, and Wang Yuan from the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, a former arm of the NDRC.

China is this year on track to grow at its slowest annual pace since 1990, and the report highlights growing concern in the Chinese leadership about the potential economic and social consequences if wasteful investment leaves projects abandoned and bad loans overloading the financial system. The bulk of wasted investment went directly into industries such as steel and automobile production that received the most support from the government.

To wit: iron ore stocks are down 50%. That’s all China not buying anymore, plus the industry that invested hoping they would. Overcapacity everywhere. US shale, you name it. What does not have overcapacity these days? Oh well, yeah, care for the poor and the elderly, you’re right. I sit corrected.

Mr Xu and Ms Wang said ultra-loose monetary policy, little or no oversight over government investment plans and distorted incentive structures for officials were largely to blame for the waste. “Investment efficiency has fallen dramatically [in recent years],” they say in the report. “It has become far more obvious in the wake of the global financial crisis and has caused a lot of over-investment and waste.” [..]

Much of the investment in recent years has been funnelled into real estate projects, but apartment sales and prices have fallen this year, leading to fears of an impending property crash. Most of the industries that feed the real estate sector, such as steel, glass and cement, are awash with overcapacity and have been hit hard by the property downturn.

Misallocation of capital and poor investment decisions are not the only explanation for the enormous waste in China’s economy. A significant portion of China’s post-crisis stimulus binge was simply stolen by Communist Party officials with direct responsibility for boosting growth through investment, according to separate estimates by Chinese and overseas economists. Jonathan Anderson, founder of Emerging Advisors Group, the consultancy, estimates that about $1tn has gone missing in China in the past half-decade as a result of weak oversight and the enormous opportunity provided by the investment boom. “That translates into maybe 5% of GDP per year worth of skimming off the top,” he says.

“Think about it: every local government wakes up one morning in 2009 and finds that the central authorities have lifted every single form of credit restriction in the economy,” he says. “With no one watching the till, it would be awfully hard to resist the temptation to sidetrack the funds, squirrelling them away in related official accounts or paying them out through padded contracts to other connected suppliers and friends.”

That last bit doesn’t cover he situation. Beijing has relied on the shadow banking system, not just tolerated it, to get China to grow at the numbers it has. And local governments have taken the bait, and taken the shadow loans, so they would look good to their superiors, building whatever they could build, useful or not, roads, bridges, apartment buildings.

I don’t know if we will ever know the size of the shadow banks in China, but there can be no doubt that it’s mind shattering. And if an official government report says $6.8 trillion was spent on nothing, do we even want to know how much shadow loans were spent that way?

In 2009 and 2013, the report says, ‘half the total invested in the Chinese economy’ was ‘ineffective investment’, i.e. money wasted on bridges to nowhere. A more or less accepted number for total official Beijing ‘invested’ is $15 trillion in 5 years, and we now know that the ‘waste’ got bigger as time went on, and totaled about half of the total investment. And that’s just what Beijing put in; it’s anybody’s guess what da shadows added, and how much of that never went anywhere.

Here’s an idea of how that compares to the US, itself not exactly a slacker when it comes to stimulus:

Reuters, 10 days earlier, said this about the report:

China Wasted $6.9 Trillion On Bad Investment Post 2009

China has acknowledged that it is overly-dependent on investment to power the world’s second-biggest economy, but re-ordering the growth model takes time. Investment contributed to 42% of China’s economic growth between January and September this year. Exhorting caution, Xu and Wang said China wasted between 4.7 trillion yuan and 13.2 trillion yuan each year between 2009 and 2013 on investment with zero efficiency. The money wasted on such projects peaked in 2013 at 13.2 trillion yuan, or 47% of China’s total fixed capital formation for that year, their calculations showed. Investment quality had fallen so much recently that nearly two-thirds of the 67 trillion yuan that China wasted from 1997 were spent after 2008.

I don’t know if you can still follow it, but this adds up to absolute insanity. The $6.8 trillion number for money spent on ‘zero efficiency’ is but a cautious estimate by people who both have no access to, and are not supposed to know about, the Chinese equivalent of Don Corleone and the five families. Here’s a bunch of GDP numbers in the west for comparison, PPP GDP data from Wikipedia, for perspective:

France Population 66 million, GDP $2.6 trillion
Britain Population 64 million, GDP $2.45 trillion
Germany Population 87 million, GDP $3.6 trillion
Japan Population 126 million, GDP $4.8 trillion
USA Population 319 million, GDP $16.8 trillion
China Population 1,357 million, GDP $16.1 trillion

When you see those numbers, the $6.8 trillion spent on absolutely nothing productive in China should make you cringe and shudder. China took a big lighter and burned off half of Britain or France’s GDP each and every year just to look better. And not because it was so independently rich and could easily afford it, but because it wanted to look richer than it was, if only for a day, or a year. We all have had that wish at times.

And that’s without adding in the shadow banks, who were pivotal in making the local officials look even twice as grandiose than Beijing’s loose policies were already allowing them to be. China has been running on free debt for years, and who cares about paying it back? It’s no different from the US, is it? Or Europe, or Tokyo. It’s all just a big collection of big debt bubbles. And China looks like it might well be the biggest of them all.

If that PMI number, shaky as it may be both because it comes from the Communist Party and because of its own inherent flaws, dives below 50, and China starts contracting and moving even further away from it 7.5% growth target, I’d literally say there’s no telling what will happen. But it won’t be pretty, that I can tell. It won’t even be funny. Look at all the steel, copper, aluminum, producers in the west who have heavily invested in and on China growth. And don’t get me started on oil producers. Yeah, China’s going to stockpile and save the industry. Sure.

China, like the entire world, is doing much worse then anyone’s willing to tell you. But the entire world still is. And so is China. Enter Elephant stage left.