Apr 062019
 


Dante Gabriel Rossetti Monna Vanna 1866

 

Cross-Party Talks Fail As Labour Says May Unable To Compromise (G.)
France, Spain and Belgium ‘Ready For No-Deal Brexit Next Week’ (G.)
Sucker Punch (Jim Kunstler)
The Russian Collusion Hoax Meets An Unbelievable End (Nunes)
Boeing Slashes 737 Production By 20% (ZH)
Trump Says Economy Would Take Off Like ‘A Rocket Ship’ If Fed Cut Rates (CNBC)
Ray Dalio Says Capitalism Needs Urgent Reform (MW)
Kondratiev – Riding the Economic Wave (Kerevan)
EU Charges BMW, Daimler and VW With Collusion Over Emissions (G.)
Australian Housing Downturn Becomes Widespread |(ZH)
Saudi Arabia Threatens To Ditch Petrodollar (R.)

 

 

6 days to April 12. May can’t offer Labour anything the Brexiteers don’t want. And vice versa. Thing is, that was obvious 3 years ago.

The problem is not the idea of Brexit, it’s purely the execution.

Cross-Party Talks Fail As Labour Says May Unable To Compromise (G.)

Theresa May’s prospects of cobbling together a cross-party majority to convince EU leaders to grant a short Brexit delay next week appear to be slipping away after Labour claimed she had failed to offer “real change or compromise” in talks. The prime minister made a dramatic pledge to open the door to talks with Labour on Tuesday after a marathon cabinet meeting. But after two days of negotiations and an exchange of letters on Friday, Labour issued a statement criticising the prime minister for failing to offer “real change or compromise”.= “We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in parliament and bring the country together,” a spokesperson said.


The pessimistic note came after May wrote to the European council president, Donald Tusk, on Friday morning, asking for Brexit to be delayed until 30 June, while cross-party talks continue. Even before Labour’s statement, EU politicians responded with bemusement to her failure to offer a concrete plan for assembling a coalition behind a workable deal – increasing the risk that they will take a tough line at next Wednesday’s summit. May’s letter suggested that the UK was preparing to field candidates in European parliamentary elections on 23 May if no deal could be reached.

Read more …

Don’t be surprised if one country just says NO. Or more than one. For a new extension, May will need a new plan. She has none.

France, Spain and Belgium ‘Ready For No-Deal Brexit Next Week’ (G.)

France has won the support of Spain and Belgium after signalling its readiness for a no-deal Brexit on 12 April if there are no significant new British proposals, according to a note of an EU27 meeting seen by the Guardian. The diplomatic cable reveals that the French ambassador secured the support of Spanish and Belgian colleagues in arguing that there should only be, at most, a short article 50 extension to avoid an instant financial crisis, saying: “We could probably extend for a couple of weeks to prepare ourselves in the markets.” The chances of Theresa May’s proposal of an extension to 30 June succeeding appeared slim as France’s position in the private diplomatic meeting was echoed by an official statement reiterating its opposition to any further Brexit delay without a clear British plan.


May wrote to the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, on Friday to ask for the delay until 30 June while she battles to win cross-party agreement on a way forward. EU states are extremely sceptical that an extension to 30 June will resolve anything in Westminster. Tusk is pushing the EU to offer at a summit next Wednesday what he has described as a “flextension” in which the UK would be given a year-long extension with an option to come out early if the deal is ratified.

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“Mr. Mueller produced a brief of arguments pro-and-con about obstruction for others to decide upon. In doing that, he was out of order, and maliciously so.”

Sucker Punch (Jim Kunstler)

Having disgraced themselves with full immersion in the barren RussiaGate “narrative,” the Resistance is now tripling down on RussiaGate’s successor gambit: obstruction of justice where there was no crime in the first place. What exactly was that bit of mischief Robert Mueller inserted in his final report, saying that “…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him?” It’s this simple: prosecutors are charged with finding crimes. If there is insufficient evidence to bring a case, then that is the end of the matter. Prosecutors, special or otherwise, are not authorized to offer hypothetical accounts where they can’t bring a criminal case. But Mr. Mueller produced a brief of arguments pro-and-con about obstruction for others to decide upon.

In doing that, he was out of order, and maliciously so. Of course, Attorney General Barr took up the offer and declared the case closed, as he properly should where the prosecutor could not conclude that a crime was committed. One hopes that the AG also instructed Mr. Mueller and his staff to shut the fuck up vis-à-vis further ex post facto “anonymous source” speculation in the news media. But, of course, the Mueller staff — which inexplicably included lawyers who worked for the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee — at once started insinuating to New York Times reporters that the full report would contain an arsenal of bombshells reigniting enough suspicion to fuel several congressional committee investigations.

The objective apparently is to keep Mr. Trump burdened, hobbled, and disabled for the remainder of his term, and especially in preparation for the 2020 election against whoever emerges from the crowd of lightweights and geriatric cases now roistering through the primary states. It also leaves the door open for the Resistance to prosecute an impeachment case, since that is a political matter, not a law enforcement action. This blog is not associated with any court other than public opinion, and I am free to hypothesize on the meaning of Mr. Mueller’s curious gambit, so here goes: Mr. Barr, long before being considered for his current job, published his opinion that there was no case for obstruction of justice in the RussiaGate affair. By punting the decision to Mr. Barr, Mr. Mueller sets up the AG for being accused of prejudice in the matter — and, more to the point, has managed to generate a new brushfire in the press.

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Investigate the road the Steele dossier traveled. Might be all you need.

The Russian Collusion Hoax Meets An Unbelievable End (Nunes)

It is astonishing that intelligence leaders did not immediately recognize they were being manipulated in an information operation or understand the danger that the dossier could contain deliberate disinformation from Steele’s Russian sources. In fact, it is impossible to believe in light of everything we now know about the FBI’s conduct of this investigation, including the astounding level of anti-Trump animus shown by high-level FBI figures like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, as well as the inspector general’s discovery of a shocking number of leaks by FBI officials.

It’s now clear that top intelligence officials were perfectly well aware of the dubiousness of the dossier, but they embraced it anyway because it justified actions they wanted to take – turning the full force of our intelligence agencies first against a political candidate and then against a sitting president. The hoax itself was a gift to our nation’s adversaries, most notably Russia. The abuse of intelligence for political purposes is insidious in any democracy. It undermines trust in democratic institutions, and it damages the reputation of the brave men and women who are working to keep us safe. This unethical conduct has had major repercussions on America’s body politic, creating a yearslong political crisis whose full effects remain to be seen.

Having extensively investigated this abuse, House Intelligence Committee Republicans will soon be submitting criminal referrals on numerous individuals involved in these matters. These people must be held to account to prevent similar abuses from occurring in the future. The men and women of our intelligence community perform an essential service defending American national security, and their ability to carry out their mission cannot be compromised by biased actors who seek to transform the intelligence agencies into weapons of political warfare.

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The only thing they talk about is software. But if anything goes wrong, these people will be guillotined.

Boeing Slashes 737 Production By 20% (ZH)

Just a few hours after Ethiopian Airlines warned of a “stigma” associated with the 737 Max that may make them choose not to take delivery of the planes they ordered, Boeing has released a statement after-hours that the company will slash production of the 737 plane from 52 to 42 airplanes per month. Bloomberg reports that Boeing plans to coordinate with customers and suppliers to blunt the financial impact of the slowdown, and for now it doesn’t plan to lay off workers from the 737 program. “When the Max returns to the skies, we’ve promised our airline customers and their passengers and crews that it will be as safe as any airplane ever to fly,” Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement Friday after the market close.


Boeing had planned to hike output of the 737, a workhorse for budget carriers, about 10 percent by midyear, to meet the backlogs. [..] if the issues are not resolved in a timely manner and production of the 737 MAX needs to be halted for an extended period of time, it would take about 0.15% off the level of GDP, or about 0.6%-point off the quarterly annualized growth rate of GDP in the quarter in which production is stopped. [..] the value of total shipments of aircraft by domestic producers in the US totaled $129 billion in 2016. Extrapolating that figure using monthly shipments data by the aircraft and parts industry implies a similar figure for 2018, around $130 billion.

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End the Fed.

Trump Says Economy Would Take Off Like ‘A Rocket Ship’ If Fed Cut Rates (CNBC)

President Donald Trump said Friday the U.S. economy would climb like “a rocket ship” if the Federal Reserve cut interest rates. Commenting after a strong jobs report for March, Trump said the Fed “really slowed us down” in terms of economic growth, and that “there’s no inflation.” “I think they should drop rates and get rid of quantitative tightening,” Trump told reporters, referring to the Fed’s policy of selling securities to unwind its balance sheet, a stimulus put in place during the financial crisis. “You would see a rocket ship. Despite that we’re doing very well.” White House aides have called for the Fed to cut interests rates by as much as 50 basis points. Following the Fed’s most recent meeting in March, the central bank decided to maintain interest rates and hold off on any further increases this year.

As Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow did on Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell highlighted the slowing global economy. “We’re facing a worldwide slowdown [as] Europe is not doing well,” Kudlow said on Bloomberg TV. But unlike the White House, the Fed did not conclude in March that slowing global growth means the bank should begin cutting rates. Trump has been heavily critical of Powell’s decisions at the Fed, going as far as to say that “the Fed has gone crazy” with raising rates. Trump has blamed Powell’s decision-making for drops in the stock market, calling him “loco” for steadily raising rates in 2018 and saying choosing Powell for Fed chairman was the worst mistake of his presidency,

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Capitalism needs capitalism first of all. For that to happen, the Fed will have to be dismantled. You can’t have capitalism without functioning markets. Ergo: America doesn’t appear to like capitalism, or it would make sure it exists.

Ray Dalio Says Capitalism Needs Urgent Reform (MW)

Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates LP, the world’s biggest hedge fund, says capitalism has developed into a system that is promoting an ever-wider wealth gap that puts the very existence of the United States at risk. In a two-part series published on LinkedIn, the noted investor argues that capitalism is now in need of reform — and offered ways to accomplish it: ‘I have also seen capitalism evolve in a way that it is not working well for the majority of Americans because it’s producing self-reinforcing spirals up for the haves and down for the have-nots. This is creating widening income/wealth/opportunity gaps that pose existential threats to the United States because these gaps are bringing about damaging domestic and international conflicts and weakening America’s condition.’

[..] Today, however, the system has produced little or no real income growth for most people for decades, according to the Dalio essay on LinkedIn. Prime-age workers in the bottom 60% have had no real (inflation-adjusted) income growth since 1980, and the percentage of children who grow up to earn more than their parents has fallen to 50% from 90% in 1970. The wealth gap is at its widest point since the late 1930s, with the top 1% owning more than the bottom 90% combined, “which,” Dalio notes, “is the same sort of wealth gap that existed during the 1935-40 period (a period that brought in an era of great internal and external conflicts for most countries).”

Most people in the bottom 60% “are poor,” he writes. About 40% of all Americans would struggle to raise $400 in the event of an emergency, he says, citing a recent Federal Reserve study. The childhood poverty rate stands at 17.5% and has not shown meaningful improvement in decades. That, in turn, leads to poor academic achievement, low productivity and low incomes.

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It’s good when people who are not familar with it learn about Kondratieff (though I’ve seen better write-ups), but again: the Fed has become the economy, so what is real anymore?

Kondratiev – Riding the Economic Wave (Kerevan)

There is a rich literature trying to identify the cause, in particular the work of the Belgian economist, the late, great Ernest Mandel. Crudely, it works like this. Social and economic conditions mature to spark a runaway investment boom in the latest cluster of new technologies. After a period, excess investment and increased competition lower rates of profitability, curbing the boom. At the same time – because this is as much a sociological as an economic process – growth expands the global workforce, both in numbers and geographically. The new, militant workforce launches social struggles to capture some of the wealth created in the boom.


This, in turn, adds to the squeeze on profits. The peak and early down wave are characterised by violent social conflicts, whose outcome determines the length of the contraction. To date each K-wave has seen a crushing of social protest and a halt to wage growth, if not a fall in real incomes for the working class. Thus conditions accumulate for a fresh investment boom, as profitability recovers. The ultimate trigger for the new upcycle is investment in the next bunch of new technologies, which simultaneously provide monopoly profits and a new set of markets.

Where precisely are we in the Kondratiev cycle? There is a dispute about this. Economists convinced by the Kondratiev theory largely agree there was a strong up-phase following the Second World War, lasting till the early 1970s. This was driven by the collapse in European wages imposed earlier by the Nazis and by the universal adoption of Fordist, mass production techniques. This expansion turned into a downswing in the 1970s and early 1980s, as profitability declined and the revived European economies (linked through the early Common Market) eroded American competitiveness.


The dispute concerns what happened next – the era of Reagan, Thatcher, neoliberalism and globalisation, running up to the present. In 1998, the American economic historian Robert Brenner published a hugely influential account of global capitalism which claimed to identify a super downswing running from circa 1970 to the turn of the millennium. Brenner rejected the notion global capitalism had (or was likely) to regain profitability, citing excess capacity rather than working class resistance as the primary driver. He pointed to the sudden stagnation in the Japanese economy, in the 1990s, as a precursor for the West’s future.

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Youi’re going to have to go after individuals, not allow them to hide behind corporations.

EU Charges BMW, Daimler and VW With Collusion Over Emissions (G.)

The European commission has charged BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen with colluding to limit the introduction of clean emissions technology, in the preliminary findings of an antitrust investigation. The car manufacturers have 10 weeks to respond and could face fines of billions of euros – up to 10% of their global annual turnover – if their explanations are rejected. A similar cartel case the commission took out in 2014 against MAN, Volvo/Renault, Daimler, Iveco and DAF ended with €2.93bn (£2.53bn) of penalties being levied. The EU’s competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, said: “Companies can cooperate in many ways to improve the quality of their products. However, EU competition rules do not allow them to collude on exactly the opposite: not to improve their products, not to compete on quality.”


She added: “Daimler, VW and BMW may have broken EU competition rules. As a result, European consumers may have been denied the opportunity to buy cars with the best available technology.” The EU announcement follows raids on the auto manufacturers in July 2017 after allegations in Der Spiegel that they had met in secret working groups in the 1990s to coordinate a response to diesel emissions limits. Between 2006 and 2014, the commission suspects that the “circle of five” carmakers – including VW’s Audi and Porsche divisions – colluded to limit, delay or avoid the introduction of selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs) and “Otto” particle filters.

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The drought comes one drop at a time.

Australian Housing Downturn Becomes Widespread |(ZH)

After a three-decade boom, the Australian economy is finally facing a recession. The outlook for the economy is exceptionally bleak this year, as the decline in housing prices is more widespread than thought, according to a new report from CoreLogic. National home prices recorded a month-on-month decline of 0.60% in March, which CoreLogic noted was the smallest rate of monthly decline since October. “While the pace of falls has slowed in March, the scope of the downturn has become more geographically widespread,” CoreLogic head of research Tim Lawless said. All eight capital cities in Australia posted declines, with Sydney recording the most significant price drop of .90% month-on-month.

Quarterly, the value of single-family homes and condos declined 3.9%, followed by Melbourne (3.4%), Sydney (3.2%), Perth (2.9%), and Brisbane (1.1%). Prices in Canberra were unchanged. Sydney recorded the most significant annual decline of 10.9%. Melbourne followed with 9.8%. Australia’s regional housing markets have also deteriorated. Regional areas outside Sydney declined by 3.6% over the past year while regional Queensland saw a 1.6% decline. Regional Western Australia experienced a 9.5% decline over the past year, and for the past five years, values in the region have collapsed by 25.8%

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It’s not entirely Fake News, but it’s certainly No News. There’s one competitor for the USD, and that’s the renminbi, which nobody wants because it’s not traded freely. End of story.

Saudi Arabia Threatens To Ditch Petrodollar (R.)

Saudi Arabia is threatening to sell its oil in currencies other than the dollar if Washington passes a bill exposing OPEC members to U.S. antitrust lawsuits, three sources familiar with Saudi energy policy said. They said the option had been discussed internally by senior Saudi energy officials in recent months. Two of the sources said the plan had been discussed with OPEC members and one source briefed on Saudi oil policy said Riyadh had also communicated the threat to senior U.S. energy officials.


The chances of the U.S. bill known as NOPEC coming into force are slim and Saudi Arabia would be unlikely to follow through, but the fact Riyadh is considering such a drastic step is a sign of the kingdom’s annoyance about potential U.S. legal challenges to OPEC. In the unlikely event Riyadh were to ditch the dollar, it would undermine the its status as the world’s main reserve currency, reduce Washington’s clout in global trade and weaken its ability to enforce sanctions on nation states. “The Saudis know they have the dollar as the nuclear option,” one of the sources familiar with the matter said. “The Saudis say: let the Americans pass NOPEC and it would be the U.S. economy that would fall apart,” another source said.

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Mar 222019
 


Margaret Bourke-White Coney Island 1952

 

EU Leaders Decide UK’s Fate Behind Closed Doors, Leave May Waiting (Ind.)
May’s Appeal Falls Flat As EU Seizes Control Of Brexit Date (G.)
Five Percent? EU Leaders Doubt May’s Brexit Vote Chances (R.)
Cabinet Ministers Believe Risk Of No-Deal Brexit Now ‘Very Real’ (G.)
Brexit: Hundreds Of Gagging Orders Taken Out By UK Government (Sky)
‘Survivability’ Of The EU Is A Serious Question: Stephen Roach (CNBC)
Indonesian Airline Garuda Cancels Order For 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets (G.)
Australia Home Builders Start Laying Off Workers (ABC.au)
Top Oil Firms Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies (G.)
How The Car Industry Hid The Truth About Diesel Emissions (G.)
US Cold Warriors Escalate Toward Actual War With Russia (Stephen Cohen)
Los Angeles Bans Monsanto’s Roundup (RT)

 

 

April 12 is the new March 29..

“I hope we can all agree that we are at the moment of decision,” Theresa May said at a press conference in the early hours of the morning.”

Meanwhile, there’s talk about April snap elections. More likely than a 2nd referendum.

EU Leaders Decide UK’s Fate Behind Closed Doors, Leave May Waiting (Ind.)

Theresa May was left waiting while European leaders decided the future of Brexit behind closed doors. The prime minister had hoped to be handed an extension of the Article 50 period until 30 June before making a statement from Brussels in the early evening. Instead, the 27 presidents and prime ministers were locked in talks long into the night after they tore up draft proposals and produced a complicated conditional plan. Diplomats in the room painted a disorientating picture of discussions, with proposals for shorter and longer deadlines made by different countries. EU leaders ultimately agreed that the UK could have an unconditional extension until 12 April, and a further extension until 22 May if MPs approved the withdrawal agreement next week.

The so-called “flextension” would also give the UK the option of a longer delay if needed, but only on the condition of deciding to join in European Parliament elections before April 12. One EU official said: “March 29th is over. As of tonight, April 12th is the new March 29th.” Speaking after the agreement was struck, European Council president Donald Tusk said Ms May “accepts the extension scenarios”. He added: “Frankly speaking I was really sad before our meeting – now I am much more optimistic.” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker added: “This closes and completes the full package. There’s no more we can give. We’re hopeful that the agreement will be adopted by the House of Commons.” “I hope we can all agree that we are at the moment of decision,” Theresa May said at a press conference in the early hours of the morning.

Read more …

The rope to hang herself with.

May’s Appeal Falls Flat As EU Seizes Control Of Brexit Date (G.)

The EU has handed Theresa May two weeks’ grace to devise an alternative Brexit plan if her deal falls next week after the prime minister failed to convince the bloc that she was capable of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. After a marathon late-night session of talks, the EU’s leaders ripped up May’s proposals and a new Brexit timeline was pushed on the prime minister to avoid the cliff-edge deadline of 29 March – next Friday. Under the deal agreed by May, Britain will now stay a member state until 12 April if the withdrawal agreement is rejected by MPs at the third time of asking. The government will be able to seek a longer extension during that period if it can both “indicate a way forward” and agree to hold European elections.

In the unlikely event that May does win the support of the Commons when the Brexit deal goes to MPs again on Tuesday, the UK will stay a member state until 22 May to allow necessary withdrawal legislation to be passed. “The 12 April is the new 29 March,” an EU official said. Donald Tusk, the European council president, told reporters in a late-night press conference that he had several meetings through the evening to secure May’s agreement. He said: “What this means in practice is that, until that date, all options will remain open, and the cliff-edge date will be delayed. The UK government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking article 50.” Asked how long an extension could be on offer, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “Until the very end.”

[..] As their talks wound on, the EU moved towards the “flextension” delay. It was then put to May by Tusk shortly after 11pm Brussels time after eight hours of talks, with and without the prime minister. “What this model is designed for is to make it clear that no deal is not the EU’s choice, it is the UK’s choice,” a diplomatic source said. “The prime minister is braced for a long extension, but doesn’t want to take responsibility for it,” the source said. The EU had initially looked at solely offering an extension up until 22 May, the day before European elections would be held, on the condition May’s deal passed next week. But it was a lack of confidence in the prime minister following her latest performance in front of the leaders that forced the EU’s member states to act to shore up against a no-deal Brexit and allow the British parliament time to take control.

Read more …

May spoke for quite a long time, and had nothing new to say. She actually thinks she can win just because everyone’s too scared of a no-deal Brexit.

Five Percent? EU Leaders Doubt May’s Brexit Vote Chances (R.)

After British Prime Minister Theresa May reassured them she could win a crunch vote in parliament next week to ensure an orderly Brexit, EU leaders were left even more doubtful of her chances. Following more than an hour of explanations that with days left until Britain might crash out she could win over lawmakers who have twice rejected her EU withdrawal deal, May left the summit room on Thursday and the other 27 leaders conferred — finding a consensus that they were even less convinced than before, officials familiar with their discussions told Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron told the room that before coming to Brussels he had thought May had only a 10 percent chance of winning the vote. After listening to the prime minister, he said, he had cut his estimate — to five percent. To general assent, one person present said, summit chair Donald Tusk shot back that Macron was being “very optimistic”. After hours of discussion, the leaders agreed to delay Brexit beyond the deadline of next Friday — but possibly only to April 12 or into May, trying to shift responsibility for any chaotic no-deal outcome back to London from Brussels.

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They should simply all resign.

Cabinet Ministers Believe Risk Of No-Deal Brexit Now ‘Very Real’ (G.)

Cabinet ministers believe there is now a real risk of a no-deal Brexit, with sources close to them describing the mood in government as depressing and No 10 as “run by lunatics”. Senior members of the cabinet from both sides of the Brexit argument are understood to think the chances of the UK leaving without a deal have substantially increased after the prime minister set herself against a longer extension to article 50. One aide to a cabinet minister said No 10 was in “full-on bunker mode” and the prime minister’s speech from Downing Street showed “they have all taken leave of their senses”. Another soft Brexit cabinet source described the mood as “depressing” and said of no deal: “The risk is now very real.”

On the other side, one leave-supporting cabinet minister believes May has no intention of resigning if her deal fails to pass next Tuesday and that she would prefer to switch to a position of supporting no deal rather than allow a longer extension to article 50. They point to the fact that 63% of Conservative MPs opposed a delay to Brexit and opinion polls suggesting a shift in public opinion towards no deal. In this scenario, the prime minister could attempt another meaningful vote next Thursday in a high-stakes gamble that would challenge MPs to back her deal or face no deal at the last minute. On Thursday, Liz Truss, a Treasury minister who sits in cabinet, told the Sun that she did not believe the “plague of locusts stuff” around leaving without a deal, adding: “I believe No Deal is better than a long extension.”

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What secret activities are taking place? What role does the secret service play in them?

Brexit: Hundreds Of Gagging Orders Taken Out By UK Government (Sky)

Sky News can reveal that the government has taken out hundreds of gagging orders as part of its preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The orders, formerly known as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), are legally binding contracts to stop confidential conversations being talked about in public. They are typically used to maintain secrecy around corporate deals or to protect intellectual property. However, we have discovered that the use of these NDAs has become prevalent across great swathes of the UK government. Using freedom of information requests, Sky News asked departments to reveal how many NDAs each had taken out as part of their preparations for Brexit. All responded, although not all of them actually answered the question.

The Department for Transport (DfT) told us it had 79 separate NDAs by the end of February. Of these, we understand that around 50 had been signed in the preceding three months, at an average of around four per week. Although the names of those involved have obviously not been made public, we understand that the DfT’s gagging orders involve hauliers, public transport companies, infrastructure operators and petrol retailers. Some told us they felt frustrated that a government “obsession with secrecy” had hindered constructive debate and exchange of information. [..] The Home Office refused to answer the question, saying that it would be too burdensome to research the answer. However, Sky News has since confirmed that the Home Office has taken out at least 100 gagging orders, simply in relation to ports. It is unclear how many gagging orders it has in relation to the rest of its work.

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Toxic cocktail.

‘Survivability’ Of The EU Is A Serious Question: Stephen Roach (CNBC)

As U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May presses on to take Britain out of the European Union, one leading economist raised questions about the viability of the single political and economic bloc. “You have to wonder about the future of the European Union itself … this is an imperfect union and the survivability of it is, I think, a serious question,” Stephen Roach, a senior fellow at Yale University, told CNBC’s Sri Jegarajah on Friday. Even before Brexit came about, the EU faced multiple challenges over the last decade, said Roach, who’s a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia. Those challenges include a sovereign debt crisis in Greece and a standoff with Italian leaders over the country’s spending plans.

And with the U.K. — one of the largest European economies — planning to leave the bloc, it remains to be seen whether the EU has the ability to withstand more pressure coming from member states while still reeling from the shocks of the global financial crisis, said Roach. [..] “The idea that one-size-fits-all has been rejected repeatedly over the last 10 years,” he said. “In the early days there was some convergence of economic cycles, but then the asymmetric shocks in (2008 and 2009) have continued to ripple through the landscape and really challenge the idea that this is a cohesive economic zone that can be guided by one central bank,” he added.

[..] Even though the circumstances surrounding Brexit are still uncertain and pose a major risk within Europe, Roach said the event itself wouldn’t be enough to derail the global economy. What Brexit does accomplish, however, is to add to the “toxic cocktail” that threatens to hit growth, the economist said. “The downward growth pressure is in China, the weakness in Japan, the deceleration in the United States. In conjunction with uncertainties and potential shock coming out of Brexit, it’s certainly a potentially toxic cocktail for the global economy,” Roach said.

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More will follow. And we’ll see airlines and Boeing being sued for gross negligence and other crimes.

Indonesian Airline Garuda Cancels Order For 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets (G.)

Indonesia’s national carrier Garuda has cancelled a multibillion-dollar order for 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after two fatal crashes involving the plane, the company said, blaming passengers’ loss of trust in the aircraft. In what is thought to be the first formal cancellation for the model, Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan said: “We have sent a letter to Boeing requesting that the order be cancelled. “The reason is that Garuda passengers in Indonesia have lost trust and no longer have the confidence” in the plane, he said, adding that the airline was awaiting a response from Boeing. As Boeing continued to work on a fix for the planes grounded by airlines across the world, reports on Friday suggested that the manufacturer would make it compulsory for airlines buying the aircraft to have one of two optional safety features installed.

The equipment alerts pilots of faulty information from key sensors. It will now be included on every 737 Max as part of changes that Boeing is rushing to complete on the jets by early next week, according to two people familiar with the changes. Airlines can decide whether to pay for upgrades to a standard plane, a common practice in the industry which enables manufacturers to charge extra. Garuda had already received one of the 737 MAX 8 planes, part of a 50-plane order worth $4.9bn at list prices when it was announced in 2014. Garuda is also talking to Boeing about whether or not to return the plane it has received, the spokesman told AFP.

[..] This month, Indonesia’s Lion Air said was postponing taking delivery of four new Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after an Ethiopian Airlines plane of the same model crashed minutes into a flight to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. That came after a Lion Air jet of the same model crashed in Indonesia in October, killing all 189 people on board.

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When recessions slowly creep up on you. They still can’t believe it: “the highest low point on record”.

Australia Home Builders Start Laying Off Workers (ABC.au)

Since building its first house in 1957, Zuccala Homes has seen its fair share of highs and lows in Melbourne’s residential construction market. With housing well and truly in a downturn, director Greg Zuccala said this was one of the worst he had seen. “Builders are just battening down the hatches and looking after their costs,” Mr Zuccala told ABC’s The Business. Melbourne house prices have fallen 9.6 per cent since their 2017 peak, and that is having big implications for home builders. “We do a bit of business with some investors, but mostly our bread and butter is owner occupiers.” That huge fall in demand for new home builds meant Mr Zuccala had to find savings.

To do that, he was forced to lay off four workers. “We’ve had to adjust things there to meet the market,” he said. “I think a lot of building companies at the moment find themselves in the same situation.” Residential construction is a $105 billion business in Australia and, as Australia’s fourth biggest sector, it accounts for 8 per cent of GDP. [..] But it is not all doom and gloom. While there is no denying Australia is in the midst of a downturn, and that is hurting the construction sector, the numbers are still good in a historical context. Nationally, new home building peaked in 2016 with about 230,000 new dwellings. “We see it bottoming out to about 175,000 over the next few years,” Mr Garrett forecast. “It’s worth emphasising, that 175,000 as a low point would still be the highest ever low point for new home building on record.”

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Best part of it is they receive that money in subsidies. Put at $5 trillion a year by one report.

Top Oil Firms Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies (G.)

The largest five stock market listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m (£153m) a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change, according to a new report. Chevron, BP and ExxonMobil were the main companies leading the field in direct lobbying to push against a climate policy to tackle global warming, the report said. Increasingly they are using social media to successfully push their agenda to weaken and oppose any meaningful legislation to tackle global warming. In the run-up to the US midterm elections last year $2m was spent on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads by global oil giants and their industry bodies, promoting the benefits of increased fossil fuel production, according to the report published on Friday by InfluenceMap.

Separately, BP donated $13m to a campaign, also supported by Chevron, that successfully stopped a carbon tax in Washington state – $1m of which was spent on social media ads, the research shows. Edward Collins, the report’s author, analysed corporate spending on lobbying, briefing and advertising, and assessed what proportion was dedicated to climate issues. He said: “Oil majors’ climate branding sounds increasingly hollow and their credibility is on the line. They publicly support climate action while lobbying against binding policy. They advocate low-carbon solutions but such investments are dwarfed by spending on expanding their fossil fuel business.”

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The ‘Dieselgate’ scandal was suppressed for years – while we should have been driving electric cars.

For Christ sake, ‘we’ shouldn’t have been driving any cars.

How The Car Industry Hid The Truth About Diesel Emissions (G.)

John German had not been looking to make a splash when he commissioned an examination of pollution from diesel cars back in 2013. The exam compared what came out of their exhausts, during the lab tests that were required by law, with emissions on the road under real driving conditions. German and his colleagues at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in the US just wanted to tie up the last loose ends in a big report, and thought the research would give them something positive to say about diesel. They might even be able to offer tips to Europe from the US’s experience in getting the dirty fuel to run a little cleaner.

But that was not how it turned out. They chose a Volkswagen Jetta as their first test subject, and a VW Passat next. Regulators in California agreed to do the routine certification test for them, and the council hired researchers from West Virginia University to then drive the same cars through cities, along highways and into the mountains, using equipment that tests emissions straight from the cars’ exhausts.

It was clear right away that something was off. At first, German wondered if the cars might be malfunctioning, and he asked if a dashboard light had come on. That didn’t really make sense, though – the cars had just passed the California regulators’ test. His partners thought there might be a problem with their equipment, and they recalibrated it again and again. But the results didn’t change. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from the Jetta’s tailpipe was 15 times the allowed limit, shooting up to 35 times under some conditions; the Passat varied between five and 20 times the limit. German had been around the auto industry all his life, so he had a pretty good idea what was going on. This had to be a “defeat device” – a deliberate effort to evade the rules.

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“Words, as Russians say, are also deeds.”

US Cold Warriors Escalate Toward Actual War With Russia (Stephen Cohen)

[..] the preceding Cold War was driven by an intense ideological conflict between Soviet Communism and Western capitalism. Where is the ideological threat today, considering that post–Soviet Russia is also a capitalist country? In a perhaps unprecedented nearly 10,000-word manifesto from March 14 in the front news pages of (again) the Post, Robert Kagan provided the answer: “Today, authoritarianism has emerged as the greatest challenge facing the liberal democratic world—a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge.” That is, “authoritarianism” has replaced Soviet Communism in our times, with Russia again in the forefront.

The substance of Kagan’s “authoritarianism” as “an ideological force” is thin, barely enough for a short opinion article, often inconsistent and rarely empirical. It amounts to a batch of “strongman” leaders (prominently Putin, of course), despite their very different kinds of societies, political cultures, states, and histories, and despite their different nationalisms and ruling styles. Still, credit Kagan’s ambition to be the undisputed ideologist of the new American Cold War, though less the Post for taking the voluminous result so seriously. The forty-year Cold War often flirted with hot war, and that, too, seems to be on the agenda. Words, as Russians say, are also deeds. They have consequences, especially when uttered by people of standing in influential outlets.

[..] Histories of the forty-year US-Soviet Cold War tell us that both sides came to understand their mutual responsibility for the conflict, a recognition that created political space for the constant peace-keeping negotiations, including nuclear arms control agreements, often known as détente. But as I also chronicle in the book, today’s American Cold Warriors blame only Russia, specifically “Putin’s Russia,” leaving no room or incentive for rethinking any US policy toward post–Soviet Russia since 1991.

Still more, as I have also long pointed out, Moscow closely follows what is said and written in the United States about US-Russian relations. Here too words have consequences. On March 14, Russia’s National Security Council, headed by President Putin, officially raised its perception of American intentions toward Russia from “military dangers” (opasnosti) to direct “military threats” (ugrozy). In short, the Kremlin is preparing for war, however defensive its intention.

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Miami and LA. Who’s next?!

Los Angeles Bans Monsanto’s Roundup (RT)

Los Angeles county authorities have banned all use of notorious weed killer glyphosate – the herbicide better known by its Monsanto/Bayer trade name, Roundup – after a second court ruling linking it to a man’s cancer. “I am asking county departments to stop the use of this herbicide until public health and environmental professionals can determine if it’s safe for further use in L.A. County and explore alternative methods for vegetation management,” Kathryn Barger of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said. The motion follows of a San Francisco court’s ruling that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he developed after using the herbicide on his Sonoma property for decades.

The verdict was the second such unfavorable ruling for Germany’s Bayer, which was fortunate enough to acquire Monsanto just last year. With legal responsibility no longer falling on Americans’ shoulders, a California court awarded plaintiff Dewayne Johnson $289 million last August, ruling the popular herbicide also caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The payout was later reduced to $78 million, but it opened the floodgates for upwards of 9,300 similar lawsuits against Bayer. While the supervisory board motion doesn’t mention the recent court verdicts, it does cite “a growing body of scientific study” suggesting glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and asks the Department of Public Works to look into possible alternatives and deliver a report with recommendations within 30 days.

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May 272018
 
 May 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edvard Munch Separation 1896

 

The ECB Is Preventing An Italian Rerun Of The Euro Crisis – For Now (MW)
Italy President Under Pressure To Accept Eurosceptic Minister (R.)
We’re Engaging In Self-Deception And Unsupported Hopefulness (Ron Paul)
Putin Warns “US Sanctions Hurt Trust In Dollar As Reserve Currency” (ZH)
Erdogan Calls On Turks To Convert Dollar, Euros Into Lira (R.)
Spain’s Ciudadanos Party Open To Alternative Candidate To Oust PM Rajoy (R.)
Daimler Threatened With Recall Of Over 600,000 Diesel Models (R.)
British Arms Exports To Israel Reach Record Level (G.)
Koreas Discuss Non-Aggression Pledge, Peace Treaty Ahead Of Summit (R.)
How Did The Swedish Matter End? (Justice4Assange)

 

 

Draghi must save Italy. Even if he doesn’t like its government.

The ECB Is Preventing An Italian Rerun Of The Euro Crisis – For Now (MW)

As a result of the ECB’s purchases, only 32% of Italian government bonds are still held by foreign investors, Solveen noted, and only a third of those are held outside the eurozone. That compares with more than 40% before the sovereign debt crisis. [..] The ECB’s deposit rate stands at negative 0.4%, while its key lending rate stands at 0%. Rates wont’ rise soon, Solveen notes, and that’s curbing the rise of short-term bond yields. It also means Italy will be able to issue new bonds with low coupons, at least in the two-to-three-year maturity range, he said, which should also anchor long-end yields.

And since the average duration of Italian bonds has risen significantly in recent years, Italy’s Treasury can shift its issuance back toward shorter-dater maturities if needed. But it’s weakness at the short end of the yield curve—the line plotting yields across all debt maturities—that might be most troubling for investors right now. “Strong selling pressure at the short end is noteworthy…, while there have been a few other such episodes since the start of QE, this is the strongest one,” said Luca Cazzulani, deputy head of fixed income at UniCredit, in Milan (see chart below).

An important near-term test looms Monday when the Treasury is due to sell 2-year zero-coupon notes and inflation-indexed BTPs. The auction round “will be closely watched and results are likely to drive BTPs more than usual,” Cazzulani said, in a note. “Considering the still fragile market environment, pressure ahead of the auction should not come as a surprise.” Both auctions are smaller than usual, which should help keep supply pressures low, he said. Solveen said that while the new government’s policies are unlikely to trigger a new sovereign debt crisis, the situation underlines the fundamental differences in economic policy thinking within the eurozone.

“The ECB’s very expansionary monetary policy and the resulting cyclical economic recovery can conceal this fact to some extent but, at the next recession at the latest, the difference could become very apparent again and prove a real test for the monetary union,” he said.

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Power games. The establishment protests.

Italy President Under Pressure To Accept Eurosceptic Minister (R.)

Italy’s would-be coalition parties turned up the pressure on President Sergio Mattarella on Saturday to endorse their eurosceptic pick as economy minister, saying the only other option may be a new election. Mattarella has held up formation of a government, which would end more than 80 days of political deadlock, over concern about the far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement’s desire to make the 81-year-old economist Paolo Savona economy minister. Savona has been a vocal critic of the euro and the European Union, but he has distinguished credentials, including in a former role as an industry minister. Formally, Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte presents his cabinet to the president, who must endorse it.

Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experiences, met the president on Friday without resolving the deadlock. “I hope no one has already decided ‘no’,” League leader Matteo Salvini shouted to supporters in northern Italy. “Either the government gets off the ground and starts working in the coming hours, or we might as well go back to elections,” Salvini said. Later 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio said he expected there to be a decision on whether the president would back the government within 24 hours. 5-Star also defended Savona’s nomination. “It is a political choice … Blocking a ministerial choice is beyond (the president’s) role,” Alessandro Di Battista, a top 5-Star politician, said.

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“Everybody’s practically euphoric and Trump is a good cheerleader. But, there is a lot of weakness behind the numbers..”

We’re Engaging In Self-Deception And Unsupported Hopefulness (Ron Paul)

When you think about it, I was born in 1935, in the middle of the Depression. I remember my early life. I remember when I was 3 years old and 5 years old and the Depression lasted through World War II and the conditions were such as I remember very clearly, but it wasn’t a big deal for me even though we lived in close quarters and we didn’t have a lot of shoes and were just skimping by. So, we went through a Depression and World War II. Those were pretty tough times and since that time — since the war issue’s always been a big issue with me — I remember the tragedies of World War II. We had relatives in Germany, so it always caught my attention. Then we had the Korean War. I could remember my mother saying, “another war this soon?”

We just got over one, so she was negative on that and then we had the Vietnam War and I knew that I probably would be drafted and that was one of the reasons that helped me move toward medicine. So, those were pretty bad times. Think of the people that were dying over those first 30 or 40 years. Things weren’t great economically either. In America, we were not even allowed to own gold. Those were conditions that existed that changed for the better to some degree. Philosophically, I think, we’re still on the wrong track overall, although some things have improved. Once again, we’re able to own gold. The United States government and I pushed it along when I was in Congress to mint gold coins again and talk about monetary policy.

Philosophically, we are making progress in some areas, though, and I give a lot of credit to the institutions that do this, like the Mises Institute and FEE. And of course, I want to participate in changing foreign policy and we keep working on that through the Ron Paul Institute. But, on the downside of all this, I see we’re on a disastrous course even though the official economic indicators look great and wonderful. Everybody’s practically euphoric and Trump is a good cheerleader. But, there is a lot of weakness behind the numbers, and we’re engaging in self-deception and unsupported hopefulness that things will be all good, there will be no inflation or high unemployment, and there’ll be no major war. I think when I look at the seeds that have been sown, the future looks rather bleak in many ways, even compared to what it was like as we finished World War II and Vietnam.

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“Breaking the rules is becoming the new rule..”

Putin Warns “US Sanctions Hurt Trust In Dollar As Reserve Currency” (ZH)

Despite his absence from Vladimir Putin’s annual economic showcase – which included such US allied luminaries as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron, China’s Vice President Wang Qishan and IMF chief Christine Lagarde – the conversation kept coming back to President Trump. Led by an unusually outspoken Putin, Macron – who seemed more enamored with Putin than the rest, agreed with the Russian president’s concerns over the erosion of trust and the specter of a global crisis brought on by Washington’s disruptions. “The free market and fair competition are being squeezed by confiscations, restrictions, sanctions,” Putin said. “There are various terms but the meaning is the same – they’ve become an official part of the trade policy of certain countries.”

The “spiral” of U.S. penalties is targeting “an ever larger number of countries and companies,” undermining “the current world order,” he said. Macron replied: “I fully share your point of view.” Such warnings only confirm Mr Putin’s world view. Without mentioning the US, he complained that the multilateral economic world order was being “crushed” by a proliferation of exceptions, restrictions and sanctions. The “darkest cloud” on the economic horizon is the “determination of some to actually rock the system,” Lagarde said, prompting Wang, a new point-man for Chinese foreign policy, to agree. “Politicizing economic and trade issues, and brandishing economic sanctions, are bound to damage the trust of others,” he said.

[..] The global economy is facing a threat of a spiraling protectionist measures that can lead to a devastating crisis, Vladimir Putin warned. Nations must find a way to prevent this and establish rules on how the economy should work. The Russian president spoke out against the growing trend of using unilateral restrictions to achieve economic advantage, as he addressed guests of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on Friday. “The system of multilateral cooperation, which took years to build, is no longer allowed to evolve. It is being broken in a very crude way. Breaking the rules is becoming the new rule,” he said. Putin sharply criticized the sanctions, saying they signal “not just erosion but the dismantling of a system of multilateral cooperation that took decades to build.”

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Which will cause them to do the exact opposite.

Erdogan Calls On Turks To Convert Dollar, Euros Into Lira (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks on Saturday to convert their dollar and euro savings into lira, as he sought to bolster the ailing currency which has lost some 20 percent of its value against the U.S. currency this year. “My brothers who have dollars or euros under their pillow. Go and convert your money into lira. We will thwart this game together,” Erdogan said at a rally in the eastern city of Erzurum ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections on June 24.

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One moment they claim to have gotten it done, the next they start all over again..

Spain’s Ciudadanos Party Open To Alternative Candidate To Oust PM Rajoy (R.)

Spain’s center-right Ciudadanos party said on Saturday it would be willing to back an unspecified neutral candidate to oust Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over a far-reaching graft case engulfing members of his People’s Party (PP). Jose Manuel Villegas, secretary-general of Ciudadanos, told a news conference his party could work with the opposition Socialists to support an alternative candidate in a no-confidence vote to unseat its former ally Rajoy, who leads a minority government beset by numerous corruption scandals. Rajoy said on Friday he would fight the no-confidence vote and finish his four-year term, ruling out early elections.

Pro-business Ciudadanos (meaning Citizens in English) declined to support the no-confidence motion put forward by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez earlier that day. But Villegas said on Saturday his party could back a “practical candidate” who was neither Sanchez nor Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. To succeed, the two parties would need to agree a joint candidate to replace Rajoy and on other questions such as calling a snap election. They would also need the backing of leftist party Podemos. A no-confidence vote requires the candidate to gather 176 or more votes in Spain’s lower house, a difficult task in the fragmented parliament where nationalists, among them two Catalan separatist parties, could be decisive if the larger parties cannot reach an agreement.

Speaking to Cope radio on Saturday, Socialist Secretary General Jose Luis Abalos said the party would not work with Catalan separatist parties and called on Ciudadanos to support Sanchez’s bid to replace Rajoy as PM in exchange for a promise to call snap elections soon after taking office. [..] The graft case, which relates to the use of a slush fund by the PP in the 1990s and early 2000s to illegally finance campaigns, has plagued Rajoy since he took office in 2011. He has always denied wrongdoing. 29 people related to the PP, including a former treasurer and other senior members, were convicted on Thursday of offences including falsifying accounts, influence-peddling and tax crimes. They were sentenced to a combined 351 years behind bars.

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They just keep at it. Jail time is required.

Daimler Threatened With Recall Of Over 600,000 Diesel Models (R.)

Daimler faces a recall order for more than 600,000 diesel-engine vehicles including C-Class and G-Class models because of suspected emissions manipulation, German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday. Germany’s KBA vehicle authority is probing concrete suspicions that the affected cars were fitted with illicit defeat devices designed to manipulate emissions levels, the magazine said, without citing sources. Daimler said on Friday it had not received a formal summons from KBA regarding its C-Class and G-Class models, a precursor to a recall, but declined to comment in detail on the Spiegel report.

The report comes a day after the KBA ordered Daimler to recall the Mercedes Vito van model fitted with 1.6 liter diesel Euro-6 engines because of engine control features to reduce exhaust emissions which KBA said breached regulations. Daimler has said it is appealing the KBA findings on the Vito and will go to court if necessary. Since rival Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating U.S. emissions tests, German carmakers including VW, Daimler and BMW have faced a backlash against diesel technology in which they have invested billions of euros.

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And that calls for a royal visit…

British Arms Exports To Israel Reach Record Level (G.)

British defence contractors are selling record amounts of arms to Israel, new figures reveal, just days after it was confirmed that Prince William will represent the UK government on a visit to the country next month. Figures from the Campaign Against Arms Trade reveal that last year the UK issued £221m worth of arms licences to defence companies exporting to Israel. This made Israel the UK’s eighth largest market for UK arms companies, a huge increase on the previous year’s figure of £86m, itself a substantial rise on the £20m worth of arms licensed in 2015. In total, over the past five years, Israel has bought more than £350m worth of UK military hardware.

Licences issued to UK defence contractors exporting to Israel last year include those for targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, missiles, weapon sights and sniper rifles. In 2016 the UK issued licences for anti-armour ammunition, gun mountings, components for air-to-air missiles, targeting equipment, components for assault rifles, components for grenade-launchers and anti-riot shields. Human rights groups have questioned the wisdom of sending a senior royal to a country whose use of lethal force last month has been the subject of concern from the UK government.

“After the appallingly excessive response of the Israeli security forces at the Gaza border, tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories are likely to be close to boiling point when Prince William makes this historic visit,” said Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director.

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Kim makes a call, and they meet less than 24 hours after. That is a big change all by itself.

Koreas Discuss Non-Aggression Pledge, Peace Treaty Ahead Of Summit (R.)

North and South Korea are discussing a possible non-aggression pledge by the United States to the North and a start of peace treaty talks to address Pyongyang’s security concerns before a North Korea-U.S. summit, a senior South Korean official said on Sunday. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a surprise second meeting on Saturday after U.S. President Donald Trump called off his talks, set for June 12 in Singapore, before floating a reinstatement of the plan.

“For the success of the North Korea-U.S. summit, we’re exploring various ways of clearing North Korea’s security concerns at the working level,” the senior South Korean presidential official told reporters. “That includes an end to hostile relations, mutual non-aggression pledge, a launch of peace treaty talks to replace the current armistice,” the official said. The two Koreas are also in talks over a three-way declaration of the end to 1950-53 Korean War but there has not been any agreement yet over a tripartite summit, the official said.

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Everyone’s deleting emails. The FBI is all over this. Assange was framed. If prosecutors are not independent, this is what you get. And she’s a lousy liar to boot.

How Did The Swedish Matter End? (Justice4Assange)

The extradition warrant from Sweden was revoked on 19 May 2017, when the prosecutor also closed the entire underlying investigation. Having obtained Mr. Assange’s testimony, the prosecutor decided it would be disproportionate to proceed. The investigation had already been found to be baseless by Stockholm’s senior prosecutor, Eva Finne, who found that the conduct alleged by the police “disclosed no crime at all”. SMS messages from the alleged complainant made public in 2015 showed that she “did not want to accuse Assange of anything”, that she felt “railroaded by police and others around her”, and “police made up the charges”.

The UK’s role in the Swedish affair was exposed in emails obtained under Freedom of Information Act which revealed that Sweden moved to drop the investigation in 2013, but the UK Crown Prosecution Service persuaded Sweden to keep it alive. Emails show the UK advised Sweden not to interview Mr. Assange in the UK in 2011 and 2012. UK prosecutors admitted to deleting key emails concerning Assange and engaged in elaborate attempts to keep correspondence from the public record. The Swedish prosecutor admitted to deleting an email from an FBI agent about Assange which she received in 2017, and claimed it could no longer be recovered (Video in English and Swedish):

Read more …

Mar 272018
 


Paul Klee Cat 1939

 

Dow Surges 670 Points But Stock Market Is On The Brink Of A Breakdown (MW)
Trump Sends To-Do List to China on Trade (WS)
America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam Part 2 (Stockman)
Integrity Has Vanished From The West (Paul Craig Roberts)
Western Allies Expel Scores Of Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Attack (G.)
New Zealand Says It Would Expel Russian Spies … But It Can’t Find Any (G.)
Whistleblower Questions Brexit Result, Says Campaigners Broke Election Law (R.)
Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules (BBG)
Theresa May Stands By Adviser Who Outed Brexit Whistleblower (G.)
Underfunded Public Pensions To Persist (R.)
Hood Ornament Buffer (Jim Kunstler)
Meeting Paris Agreement Targets Will Take Massive Cuts in Emissions (BBG)
Ultra-Thin Sun Shield Could Protect Great Barrier Reef (AFP)
Brazil Senate Considers Lifting Ban On Sugarcane Production In Amazon (G.)

 

 

What you’re watching is not real.

Dow Surges 670 Points But Stock Market Is On The Brink Of A Breakdown (MW)

The stock market surged on Monday—and it really needed to. U.S. stocks are coming off the biggest weekly decline in more than two years, and the aftermath of that drop has market technicians warning that major indexes are on the verge of a full-fledged, technical breakdown. “The extent of the deterioration in equities is very much a concern given the combination of near-term technical damage, along with the decline in longer-term momentum after having reached record overbought conditions into late January,” wrote Mark Newton at Newton Advisors, in a Monday research note. Here are some levels that the market is trying to defend or retake after last week’s withering action:

A Dow Theory sell signal was close to forming. According to MarketWatch columnist Mark Hulbert there are a number of steps, but as of Friday, the market had just to see the Dow Jones Transportation Average close below its Feb. 9 low of 10,136.61 to trigger that sell signal after the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, on Friday closed below its February low. On Monday, the transports closed up 2.1% at 10,373.21.

According to data from Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading, a little more than half of Dow components were trading below their 200-day moving averages, which hadn’t happened since 2015. Meanwhile, about 50% of the S&P 500 components were trading above their 200-day moving averages, with a break below indicating “notable technical damage has been done to this market,” O’Rourke wrote.

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All obvious.

Trump Sends To-Do List to China on Trade (WS)

Negotiations – led on the US side by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and on the Chinese side by Liu He, a newly anointed vice premier and President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser – about how to address the gigantic China-US trade imbalance have quietly begun, the infamous “people with knowledge of the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. On Saturday, Mnuchin called Liu, which was confirmed by the Treasury Department. A spokesman said that they “also discussed the trade deficit between our two countries and committed to continuing the dialogue to find a mutually agreeable way to reduce it.” Now Mnuchin is considering a trip to Beijing to pursue the negotiations, one of these people told the Wall Street Journal.

And last week, according to these people, Mnuchin and Lighthizer sent Liu a to-do list on trade with specific items the White House wants China to undertake, including:
• A reduction of the 25% tariffs that China imposes on US-made cars
• Increased purchases by China of US-made semiconductors. China would need to shift these purchases from Japanese and South Korean manufacturers, which aren’t going to be happy
• Reduce subsidies to state-owned enterprises
• Provide more regulatory transparency
• Ease restrictions on US companies in China, particularly requirements that they operate as joint ventures in which the US company’s ownership may be limited to 51%
• Giving US financial firms greater access to the Chinese market.

Clearly, in leaking these negotiations and the existence of this to-do list to the financial press, the White House is hoping to calm the markets, because the last thing it wants is to preside over a stock market plunge, though the stock market has all the best reasons to swoon, and the US-China trade situation isn’t needed to accomplish that.

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“Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever..”

America’s State Wreck Gathers Steam Part 2 (Stockman)

Last week the Donald’s incipient trade war got Wall Street’s nerves jangling, but that wasn’t the half of what’s coming. To wit, Trump has now essentially formed a War Cabinet and signed a Horribus spending bill that is a warrant for fiscal meltdown. Indeed, the two essentially comprise a self-fueling doom loop which means Washington’s descent into fiscal catastrophe is well-nigh unstoppable; it’s all over except for the screaming in the bond pits. That is, Trump’s new War Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel and Mad Dog Mattis is arguably the most interventionist, militarist, confrontationist and bellicose national security team ever assembled by a sitting President.

We cannot think of a single country that has even looked cross-eyed at Washington in recent years where one or all four of them has not threatened to drone, bomb, invade or decapitate its current ruling regime. That means Imperial Washington’s rampant War Fever owing to the Dem-left declaration of war on Russia and Putin is now about to be drastically intensified by the complete victory of the neocon-right in the Trump Administration. The result will be sharpened confrontation, if not actual outbreak of hostilities, across the full spectrum of adversaries – Iran, Russia, China, Syria and North Korea – and an escalating tempo of military operations and procurement to implement the policy.

At the same time, the Donald’s pathetic Fake Veto maneuver on Friday cemented the special interest lobbies’ absolute control over domestic appropriations. Of course, Chuckles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi crowed loudly about the $63 billion annual domestic spending increase they got in return for the Donald’s $80 billion defense add-on, but the victory was not partisan; it belonged to the Swamp creatures who suckle the politicians of both parties and own the appropriations committees lock, stock and barrel.

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TV was just a first step in creating opinions from scratch. We can do much more than that now. Will we still curtail Facebook, Google?

Integrity Has Vanished From The West (Paul Craig Roberts)

Among Western political leaders there is not an ounce of integrity or morality. The Western print and TV media is dishonest and corrupt beyond repair. Yet the Russian government persists in its fantasy of “working with Russia’s Western partners.” The only way Russia can work with crooks is to become a crook. Is that what the Russian government wants? Finian Cunningham notes the absurdity in the political and media uproar over Trump (belatedly) telephoning Putin to congratulate him on his reelection with 77% of the vote, a show of public approval that no Western political leader could possibly attain. The crazed US senator from Arizona called the person with the largest majority vote of our time “a dictator.” Yet a real blood-soaked dictator from Saudi Arabia is feted at the White House and fawned over by the president of the United States.

The Western politicians and presstitutes are morally outraged over an alleged poisoning, unsupported by any evidence, of a former spy of no consequence on orders by the president of Russia himself. These kind of insane insults thrown at the leader of the world’s most powerful military nation—and Russia is a nation, unlike the mongrel Western countries—raise the chances of nuclear Armageddon beyond the risks during the 20th century’s Cold War. The insane fools making these unsupported accusations show total disregard for all life on earth. Yet they regard themselves as the salt of the earth and as “exceptional, indispensable” people.

Think about the alleged poisoning of Skirpal by Russia. What can this be other than an orchestrated effort to demonize the president of Russia? How can the West be so outraged over the death of a former double-agent, that is, a deceptive person, and completely indifferent to the millions of peoples destroyed by the West in the 21st century alone. Where is the outrage among Western peoples over the massive deaths for which the West, acting through its Saudi agent, is responsible in Yemen? Where is the Western outrage among Western peoples over the deaths in Syria? The deaths in Libya, in Somalia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Afghanistan? Where is the outrage in the West over the constant Western interference in the internal affairs of other countries? How many times has Washington overthrown a democratically-elected government in Honduras and reinstalled a Washington puppet?

The corruption in the West extends beyond politicians, presstitutes, and an insouciant public to experts. When the ridiculous Condi Rice, national security adviser to president George W. Bush, spoke of Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction sending up a nuclear cloud over an American city, experts did not laugh her out of court. The chance of any such event was precisely zero and every expert knew it, but the corrupt experts held their tongues. If they spoke the truth, they knew that they would not get on TV, would not get a government grant, would be out of the running for a government appointment. So they accepted the absurd lie designed to justify an American invasion that destroyed a country.

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Diplomats are stationed abroad to make communication possible. This does not help.

Western Allies Expel Scores Of Russian Diplomats Over Skripal Attack (G.)

The US has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who Washington says are spies, including a dozen based at the United Nations, and told Moscow to shut down its consulate in Seattle, which would end Russian diplomatic representation on the west coast. The EU members Germany, France and Poland are each to expel four Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds. Lithuania and the Czech Republic said they would expel three, and Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands two each. Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Sweden and Romania each expelled one Russian. Iceland announced it would not be sending officials to the World Cup in Russia.

Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats, while Albania, an EU candidate member, ordered the departure of two Russians from the embassy in Tirana. Macedonia, another EU candidate, expelled one Russian official. Canada announced it was expelling four diplomatic staff serving in Ottawa and Montreal who the Canadian government said were spies. A pending application from Moscow for three more diplomatic posts in Canada is being denied. Australia confirmed that it too would expel two Russian diplomats who were in the country as undeclared intelligence officers, giving them seven days to leave.

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Someone will find some for them.

New Zealand Says It Would Expel Russian Spies … But It Can’t Find Any (G.)

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, say they would expel Russian spies from the country, if there were any. More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries have been told to return to Moscow, in response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russia/UK double agent, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on 4 March. The New Zealand government has condemned the attack and supports the international action, but says there are no such “Russian intelligence agents” in the country.

The Russian ambassador to New Zealand was summoned to a meeting “to reiterate our serious concern” over the Salisbury attack. “While other countries have announced they are expelling undeclared Russian intelligence agents, officials have advised there are no individuals here in New Zealand who fit this profile. If there were, we would have already taken action,” said Ardern. She said New Zealand will review what further action it can take to support the international community over the attack. “We remain steadfast with our international partners in our shared concern about the Salisbury nerve agent attack,” Ardern said.

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There are tw0 such whistleblowers now. Here’s no. 1:

Whistleblower Questions Brexit Result, Says Campaigners Broke Election Law (R.)

A whistleblower at the heart of a Facebook data scandal on Monday questioned the result of Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum as his lawyers presented evidence that they said showed the main campaign for leaving the EU had broken the law. With just a year until Britain is due to leave the European Union, two whistleblowers – one from the British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica and one from the Vote Leave group – have alleged that Brexit campaigners funded their campaign illegally. By doing so, they have pulled Brexit into a scandal that has forced Mark Zuckerberg to apologise for how Facebook handled users’ data, and raised questions about how Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign employed data.

Vote Leave officials on Monday denied breaking election rules and said they were facing an attempt to undermine Brexit by smearing their reputations. The whistleblowers’ law firm, London-based Bindmans, released 53 pages of selected evidence on Monday. In a legal opinion, Bindmans said there was a prima facie case that Vote Leave broke election spending limits by donating to an allied group known as BeLeave, with which it was working closely.

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And this is no. 2:

Brexit Referendum Campaign Accused of Breaking Spending Rules (BBG)

Campaigners for Brexit may have conspired to break spending limits in the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on European Union membership, according to allegations by a whistle-blower who worked for one of the Leave groups. Vote Leave, the main pro-Brexit campaign, gave money to a smaller campaign group, BeLeave, and then helped direct how it was spent, according to a 50-page legal opinion by attorneys from London’s Matrix Chambers. The lawyer are acting on behalf of people who flagged potential violations in the campaign.

If that 625,000-pound ($889,000) donation had been included in Vote Leave’s accounts, it would have taken the group over its 7 million-pound spending limit. “It’s important that it’s the will of the people and not the bought will of the people that is expressed at the ballot box,” Tamsin Allen told reporters at a briefing Monday afternoon in London. Allen is a lawyer for Shahmir Sanni, a BeLeave campaigner who argues the rules were broken.

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No. 2 was outed as gay by his own government as revenge for being a whistleblower. His family in Pakistan has hired security.

Theresa May Stands By Adviser Who Outed Brexit Whistleblower (G.)

Theresa May has insisted her political secretary, Stephen Parkinson, “does a very good job”, as he faces mounting pressure over the outing of the Brexit whistleblower Shahmir Sanni. Sanni said he had endured one of the “most awful weekends” of his life after telling the Observer how Vote Leave channelled money through BeLeave, a group linked to Cambridge Analytica, to get around electoral law. On Friday Sanni was outed as gay by Parkinson, one of May’s closest advisers and a former Vote Leave official, with whom Sanni had a relationship during the campaign. Privately, some Conservative MPs believe Parkinson should stand down. “He’ll have to go,” said one backbencher.

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw challenged the prime minister in the House of Commons on Monday about what Downing Street said was a “personal statement” by Parkinson. “How is it remotely acceptable that when a young whistleblower exposes compelling evidence of law-breaking by the leave campaign, implicating staff at No 10, one of those named instead of addressing the allegations issues an officially sanctioned statement outing the whistleblower as gay and thereby putting his family in Pakistan in danger?” he said. “It’s a disgrace, prime minister, you need to do something about it.”

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As sure as death and taxes.

Underfunded Public Pensions To Persist (R.)

Investment returns have been uneven and funding levels have yet to recover. Many pension funds have meanwhile attempted to boost returns by loading up on alternative investments to levels unheard of a decade earlier. “Some just cannot grow their way out of it. We have had several years of stellar (stock market) returns and it barely improved the underfunding situation,” said Mikhail Foux, municipal credit analyst at Barclays in New York. The benchmark S&P 500 U.S. stock index has tripled in the past nine years, driven in part by unprecedented zero interest rate policies and massive monetary stimulus from central banks around the globe aimed at combating the deepest recession in a generation.

But pension returns struggled to match the broad market, and recent wobbles in U.S. equities have fed fears of another downturn. “Now what happens when markets are falling 10 to 15%?” Foux asked. In 2007, a year before the crisis began, the median funded level was 92% for state retirement and 97% for local plans, according to Wilshire Funding Studies. That fell to 68% for states and 72% for local governments by 2016, the most recent data. A lower funded ratio indicates the overall soundness of a pension fund is weaker and more money is required to meet future obligations.

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Best description yet of Stormy. Big announcements and an empty interview. Presidents showing their virility makes them more popular, not less. Ask France.

Hood Ornament Buffer (Jim Kunstler)

Newsflash: President Donald J. Trump had sex with a whore twelve years ago. Let that sink into your limbic lobes, you poor, opiated, Facebook-addled, morbidly-obese, fly-over nation of lumbering, deplorable, gun-gripping, Jesus-haunted voters. A hoor! Do you hear? Wait a minute, you say. Stormy Daniels is no such thing, She’s an actress in, and director of, adult films, an auteur, if you like, at least a sex worker, toiling in the rolling mills of eros, sweating and grunting as much as any Mahoning Valley steel worker, or hood ornament buffer on the Tesla assembly line. And anyway, three times over the years she denied having sex with that man, at least once in writing, though last night on CBS’s Sixty Minutes she stated that she actually did have sex with the Golden Golem of Greatness.

In which case, she may be some kind of a lyin’ hoor… or savior of a nation yearning to cast off the loathsome rule of this odious president-by-mistake. The Sixty Minutes make-up and costume crew knocked themselves out coming up with her on-camera look Sunday night: WalMart Shopper. That reddish blouse, for instance, which did not display Stormy’s… er… assets in the usual way (i.e., an enticing fleshy slot descending into deep milky realms of mystery), but just innocently swimming around in there like a couple of frolicking dolphins confined in an above-the-ground backyard pool. Who wouldn’t want to jump in and swim with them? Maybe not the undistractible Anderson Cooper, who did ferret out many interesting particulars of that one romantic encounter: Stormy accepted Trump’s invitation for dinner… in his hotel suite. Just the two of them, ahem.

They watched a TV show about sharks. It apparently lacked aphrodisiac punch. So he showed her a magazine with his picture on the cover, perhaps to get the point across that he was a really important person in case she didn’t already know. She said she ought to take it and spank him with it. He concurred, dropped trou, and presented the rear of his tighty-whitey small-clothes to facilitate that proposal. After that ice-breaker, he said, “I really like you!” and “You remind me of my daughter” — instantly be-sliming the proceedings with overtones of incest. Stormy went to the bathroom and emerged to find Trump perched on the bed. “Here we go,” the thought popped into her head, she says. But she didn’t say “no.”

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Not going to happen. Paris was just meant to make you feel good.

Meeting Paris Agreement Targets Will Take Massive Cuts in Emissions (BBG)

Meeting the Paris accord’s temperature targets will take massive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions within 15 years, but won’t require them to be reduced to zero, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. If those targets—between 1.5 to 2ºC (2.7 to 3.6ºF)—are overshot, the consequences would likely require both drastic cuts to emissions and geoengineering efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere, according to the paper by Katsumasa Tanaka at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan and Brian O’Neill at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. “If we overshoot the temperature target, we do have to reduce emissions to zero. But that won’t be enough,” Tanaka said in a statement.

“We’ll have to go further and make emissions significantly negative to bring temperatures back down to the target by the end of the century.” Tanaka’s team began looking at both the accord’s temperature goals and requirement that countries “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of this century,” according to the statement. The scientists created scenarios that would achieve both the temperature goals and emissions guidelines. The group concluded to do so would necessitate cutting emissions 80% by 2033 to meet the 1.5 degree target or about 66% by 2060 to meet the 2 degree mark. “In both these cases, emissions could then flatten out without ever falling to zero,” according to the statement.

[..] The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is working on a report which is expected to conclude that geoengineering will be needed to meet the 1.5 degree goal. Recognizing this difficulty, Tanaka and O’Neill looked at the possibility the targets would be missed. If the 1.5-degree mark is missed, emissions would have to fall to zero by 2070 and then be negative for the rest of the century. In the 2-degree scenario emissions would have to drop to zero by 2085 and then stay negative for a shorter period of time to get back below 2 degrees. Both scenarios would require removing carbon from that atmosphere. The researchers also looked at scenarios reducing emissions to zero by 2060 and 2100. In the first case, the temperature rose 2 degrees before declining. In the second instance, it rose above that mark by 2043 and stayed there for 100 years or more.

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Yes, of course. We’ll cover the ocean in plastic, just as we do our food. And then ourselves.

Ultra-Thin Sun Shield Could Protect Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

An ultra-fine biodegradable film some 50,000 times thinner than a human hair could be enlisted to protect the Great Barrier Reef from environmental degradation, researchers said Tuesday. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists each year, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change. Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Biology have been buoyed by test results of a floating “sun shield” made of calcium carbonate that has been shown to protect the reef from the effects of bleaching. “It’s designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said.

The trials on seven different coral types found that the protective layer decreased bleaching of most species, cutting off sunlight by up to 30 percent. “It (the project) created an opportunity to test the idea that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching,” Marsden said. Researchers from a breadth of disciplines contributed to the project, which was headed by the scientist who developed the country’s polymer bank notes. “In this case, we had chemical engineers and experts in polymer science working with marine ecologists and coral experts to bring this innovation to life,” Marsden said.

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Yeah, just great. The entire deterioration process of teh planet is fast accelerating.

Brazil Senate Considers Lifting Ban On Sugarcane Production In Amazon (G.)

A bill being rushed through Brazil’s senate would lift a ban on the cultivation of sugarcane for ethanol fuel in the Amazon, driving more deforestation and making it harder for the country to meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Deal. The bill, which has been roundly condemned by environmentalists, companies and even Brazil’s union of sugarcane producers (UNICA), marks the latest move by a conservative congress to unravel Amazon protections. Five former environment ministers have also criticised it. “This is another setback that should not thrive,” said one, José Carvalho. Under a 2009 decree, sugar cane production is not allowed in the Amazon biome.

Allowing the highly-profitable crop to be raised on deforested land in the region would push out other crops and encourage more deforestation, said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace in Brazil. It could be “one of the biggest disasters for the forest,” he said. The bill was first introduced in 2011 by Flexa Ribeiro, a senator for the centre-right Brazilian Social Democratic party in the Amazon state of Pará, and suddenly put up for a vote on Tuesday afternoon. It would allow ethanol production on vaguely-defined areas of Amazon land, including “altered areas” and “general land”. If approved on Tuesday and given presidential sanction, it could become law. Brazil’s ethanol fuel is seen as a clean fuel alternative to gasoline by millions of motorists. According to UNICA, 27m cars in Brazil, 73% of the total can use either gasoline or ethanol, as can 4m motorbikes.

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Feb 182018
 
 February 18, 2018  Posted by at 11:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jerome Liebling Butterfly Boy, Harlem, New York City 1949

 

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)
VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)
Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)
Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)
UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)
The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)
Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)
Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)
Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

 

 

The last few drops squeezed from a stone-dry stone. Buybacks kill economies.

US Tax Cuts, Repatriated Cash Used For Record Stock Buybacks (ZH)

While there is still some fringe debate what companies will do with the hundreds of billions in offshore funds repatriated to the US as part of the recently passed Trump tax reform, the discussion is largely over, especially after last week’s Cisco results. The company, which has $68 billion of overseas cash, third after AAPL and MSFT, announced that it would raise its buyback authorization by $25 billion, and revealed plans to repurchase its entire authorization of $31 billion during the next 6-8 quarters, equal to roughly 15% of its current market cap. Call it a partial LBO, courtesy of Donald Trump.

[..] Here’s what Goldman’s David Kostin said in his latest Weekly Kickstart report: “Since December, S&P 500 firms have announced buybacks totaling $171 bn. YTD announcements of $67 bn represent a 22% increase versus the same period in 2017. The buyback window has re-opened and firms are taking advantage of the recent correction; the GS Buyback Desk reported that last week was the most active week in its history.” The $171 billion in YTD stock buyback announcements is the most ever for this early in the year. In fact, it is more than double the prior 10 year average of $77 billion in YTD buyback announcements.

[..] in addition to what we first pointed out over two years ago, namely that all net debt issuance in the 21st century has been used to pay for stock buybacks… here is what John Hussman commented on this record last hurrah in stock buybacks: “Though buybacks are primarily debt-financed, they are also highest at market peaks, and contract sharply at major market troughs. Corporations are still borrowing to buy the dip at peak valuations, within a few percent of extremes associated with prospective 10-12yr market losses.”

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There was no need for better design, the Fed has traders’ backs regardless.

VIX Products Were Extremely Ill-Designed (Eric Peters)

There’s no question that, in an economy and in a financial system where there’s the level of debt that we have and the sensitivity to interest rates, rising rates are kind of a pre-condition to equity market disruptions and selloffs. I think that the level of volatility selling and its integration into risk models across virtually every type of investment strategy are contributors. And, having gone through such a long period with very, very little movement, I’d say that many people’s trading books were robust for relatively small moves. But once you’ve passed a certain move – and I think in this case it was probably the S&P down 3-ish% that triggered a whole series of different adjustments that people needed to make to their books and their option books – that then amplified the move in volatility and led to this blowup in the VIX product.

But you have to remember that these VIX products were extremely ill-designed. And they were very vulnerable to this. They’re a rare thing that you see in our industry, which is they had a predefined stop loss. And markets are pretty good at finding stop losses and triggering them. I started my career in the commodity pits, and I witnessed firsthand how the commodity pit is built around finding stop losses on the top side of the bottom side of markets. So I think the market did a great job of finding the stops – and in this case finding the weakest ones, which were in the VIX complex – and hitting them. But I don’t think that that really explains why this move happened. Why did we get the first leg down, and why are markets starting to move with very little news flow? And, again, that’s something that’s difficult to explain for a lot of people that are trying to do it.

[..] The biggest problem in the investment industry today, the portfolio construct that investors have come to rely on, which is a brilliant construct really pioneered by Ray Dalio – he naturally has done incredibly well from this, and it’s been a fantastic strategy – this risk parity strategy. And, while there’s certainly more complexity to it that just being long equities and leveraged funds, let’s just view it as that strategy for a moment. It’s essentially what the dominant portfolio has become at all the major investors, pensions, endowments, etc. in the industry. And the beauty of that portfolio has been that you’ve been able to own risk assets and then you’ve been able to own a hedge, which is a leveraged bond portfolio, and that hedge has actually paid you a positive return.

The problem is when equity valuations become very high and interest rates get very low it’s difficult for that strategy to continue to perform very well. All else being equal. Now, however, if you add modest inflation into the formula, that portfolio actually becomes pretty toxic. That’s the environment I think we’re entering into. And that’s why, ultimately, I see some of these shocks like this most recent market shock as just being trail markers on this path to a much more difficult investment environment.

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Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein: “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Virginia State Senator Richard Black: “When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,”

Until There Are Facts On Election Meddling, It’s All Just Blather – Lavrov (RT)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has again dismissed claims of Russian meddling in the US election, saying that until facts are presented by Washington, they are nothing but “blather.” Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, he said that “Until we see facts, everything else will be just blather.” When asked to comment on the indictment of Russian nationals and companies in the US over alleged meddling in the 2016 US election, the foreign minister answered:“You know, I have no reaction at all because one can publish anything he wants. We see how accusations, statements, statements are multiplying.”

On Friday, a US federal grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities accused of interfering in the 2016 election and political processes. According to the indictment, those people were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump… and disparaging Hillary Clinton” as they staged political rallies and bought political advertising, while posing as grassroots entities.

[..] Even US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to admit that there were “no allegations” that this “information warfare” yielded any results and affected the outcome of the presidential election. The underwhelming indictment was also slammed in the US. Virginia State Senator Richard Black accused FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller of deliberately dragging out the Russian meddling probe for his own gain. “To a certain extent, I think, Robert Muller is struggling to keep alive his position of a special counsel. The special counsel has already earned seven million dollars. When you become a special counsel, you have an open checkbook for the US Treasury and you are guaranteed to become a mega-millionaire if you simply can drag out the proceedings,” Black told RT.

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Maxed out. Forget the web. Think savings, pensions.

Apocalypse Now For Britain’s Retailers As Low Wages And The Web Cause Ruin (G.)

“Who’d be a retailer now?” That was the comment from City economist Jeremy Cook when the latest set of grim retail sales data was released by the Office for National Statistics last Friday. “The average Brit,” he added, “has spent the past few years living by the mantra ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.’” After a grim December, many had been hoping for a bounceback, but the figures showed that consumers were not as hardy as they once were, said Cook, and the retail sector was facing a long-term, continuing slowdown. Shoppers are being hit by declining real wages, record levels of consumer debt and the prospect of higher borrowing costs. But the wider problem is a structural shift in the way consumers spend their money.

This is threatening famous retailers and forcing a rethink about how high streets will look in years to come, and what might be done with retail parks and malls when retailers shut up shop. It is not just about shoppers preferring to buy online – although 20% of fashion sales, where the pressures are perhaps worst, have now moved to the internet. There’s been a seismic shift in the way we spend our time and money. Social media, leisure, travel, eating out, eating in – using takeaways and delivery services – and technology are all taking time and cash that would once have gone straight to shops. In food, increasing numbers of people now prefer to buy local and often. Fewer big weekly shops mean out-of-town superstores are under pressure and the big supermarkets are trying to lure in other retailers to take space they no longer need.

This rapid change in shopping habits is boosting sales at the likes of Amazon, Asos and Boohoo, but forcing radical change on British towns and cities as physical retail space becomes redundant. The past few months have seen a stream of collapses – from fashion store East to shoe chain Shoon and bed specialists Warren Evans and Feather & Black. Toys R Us is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, while House of Fraser, Debenhams and New Look are all struggling, with all three considering large-scale closures of stores or space.

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Almost funny.

UK Will Need ‘Thousands’ More Customs Officers After Brexit (R.)

The Dutch government plans to hire at least 750 new customs agents in preparation for Britain’s exit from the European Union. The Dutch parliament’s Brexit rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, who had recommended the move, said both sides of the English Channel had been slow to wake up to the reality that Britain was on course to leave the EU in 14 months’ time. “If we need hundreds of new customs and agricultural inspectors, the British are going to need thousands,” he said. Omtzigt warned that “for a trading nation like the Netherlands, you just cannot afford for customs not to work, it would be a disaster”.

In a letter to parliament on Friday, the deputy finance minister, Menno Snel, said the cabinet had “decided that the Customs and Food and Wares agencies should immediately begin recruiting and training more workers”. He said the government was working on the basis of two scenarios: that Britain leaves the EU with no deal in place, or that it leaves on similar terms to those of the EU’s recent trade deal with Canada. “The results are that … around 930 or 750 full-time employees are needed,” Snel said. “It speaks for itself that the cabinet is following the negotiations closely in order to be able to react appropriately.”

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“The real story of how Britain’s economy has been left high and dry by a doomed economic philosophy..”

The Big PFI Heist: How Big Banks Launched The Takeover Of UK Plc (Ind.)

Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), recently made an astonishing admission on BBC1’s Question Time when he stated that private finance initiatives (PFI) had been a “fraud on the people”. Beyond seemingly populist rhetoric, the real story of PFI reveals that RBS alongside other global banks, notably HSBC, were instrumental in what Sir Howard has effectively labelled a great heist. The past month has seen the demise of construction giant Carillion followed by the collapse of Capita’s market value: both firms having built huge empires by providing outsourced services to public authorities. These initial tremors might be the canary in the coal mine. Profit warnings have been issued for other government contractors, such as Interserve. The domino effect has shades of the 2007-08 financial crisis even though it is clearly not of the same magnitude.

All this has thrown up searching questions, not least around staff redundancies and pensions, bailouts, inflated dividends and executive remuneration. Yet even in the throes of this PFI and outsourcing crisis, public-private Partnerships (PPP) are far from dead and buried. On the contrary, the Naylor Review – a report recommending the disposal of NHS land and assets to generate investment – is rehabilitating PPP. Furthermore, the Government is pushing through Accountable Care Organisations (ACO), a form of PPP based on an American model of healthcare. The Government cites too the model of Alzira in Spain where a consortium of private companies not only financed and built facilities but also delivered health services.

Of course, PFI was not always a toxic brand. In 1997 it appeared to be New Labour’s magical solution to chronic underinvestment in public services in the wake of Thatcherism. As Alan Milburn – the former Labour Health Secretary described by Private Eye as an “almost maniacal convert to PFI” – put it: “It’s PFI or bust.” The argument went that Labour had inherited public services in such a diabolical state of neglect that there was no alternative to the private financing of whole swathes of infrastructure. It was a persuasive argument which seduced many. The Blairite Third Way would somehow square the circle by delivering new schools, hospitals, roads, railways and prisons without the debt or inefficiency of the public sector. It seemed too good to be true yet those who dared to question the orthodoxy du jour were swatted away.

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“..including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving..”

Software Helped Daimler Pass US Emissions Tests (R.)

U.S. investigators probing Mercedes maker Daimler have found that its cars were equipped with software which may have help them to pass diesel emissions tests, a German newspaper reported on Sunday, citing confidential documents. There has been growing scrutiny of diesel vehicles since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software on 580,000 U.S. vehicles that allowed them to emit up to 40 times legally allowable emissions while meeting standards when tested by regulators. Daimler, which faces ongoing investigations by U.S. and German authorities into excess diesel emissions, has said investigations could lead to significant penalties and recalls.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper said that the documents showed that U.S. investigators had found several software functions that helped Daimler cars pass emissions tests, including one which switched off emissions cleaning after 26 km of driving. Another function under scrutiny allowed the emissions cleaning system to recognize whether the car was being tested based on speed or acceleration patterns. Bild am Sonntag also cited emails from Daimler engineers questioning whether these software functions were legal.

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We don’t we just shoot the remaining polar bears right now, and move on?!

Global Sea Ice Hits New Record Low For January (Ind.)

The world’s sea ice shrank to a record January low last month as the annual polar melting period expanded, experts say. The 5.04 million square miles of ice in the Arctic was 525,000 square miles below the 1981-to-2010 ice cover average, making it the lowest January total in satellite records, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Combined with low levels in the Antarctic, global sea ice amounted to a record low for any first month of the year, the organisation concluded. The news comes just days after researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder said the rate at which sea levels are rising was increasing every year, driven mostly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

The NSIDC, a respected authority on the Earth’s frozen regions, which researches and analyses snow, glaciers and ice sheets among other features, said that ice in the Arctic Ocean hit “a new record low” at both the start and end of last month. In an online post, the group said: “January of 2018 began and ended with satellite-era record lows in Arctic sea ice extent, resulting in a new record low for the month. Combined with low ice extent in the Antarctic, global sea ice extent is also at a record low.” It said the Arctic experienced a week of record low daily ice totals at the start of the month, with the January average beating 2017 for a new record low. “Ice grew through the month at near-average rates, and in the middle of the month daily extents were higher than for 2017,” the report went on. “However, by the end of January, extent was again tracking below 2017.”

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• Yes, we should. Even if 50% ia an arbitrary number.

• No, we won’t.

Should We Give Up Half Of The Earth To Wildlife? (O.)

The orangutan is one of our planet’s most distinctive and intelligent creatures. It has been observed using primitive tools, such as the branch of a tree, to hunt food, and is capable of complex social behaviour. Orangutans also played a special role in humanity’s own intellectual history when, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developers of the theory of natural selection, used observations of them to hone their ideas about evolution. But humanity has not repaid orangutans with kindness. The numbers of these distinctive, red-maned primates are now plummeting thanks to our destruction of their habitats and illegal hunting of the species. Last week, an international study revealed that its population in Borneo, the animal’s last main stronghold, now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, less than half of what it was in 1995.

“I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University. For good measure, conservationists say numbers are likely to fall by at least another 45,000 by 2050, thanks to the expansion of palm oil plantations, which are replacing their forest homes. One of Earth’s most spectacular creatures is heading towards oblivion, along with the vaquita dolphin, the Javan rhinoceros, the western lowland gorilla, the Amur leopard and many other species whose numbers are today declining dramatically. All of these are threatened with the fate that has already befallen the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the baiji dolphin – victims of humanity’s urge to kill, exploit and cultivate.

As a result, scientists warn that humanity could soon be left increasingly isolated on a planet bereft of wildlife and inhabited only by ourselves plus domesticated animals and their parasites. This grim scenario will form the background to a key conference – Safeguarding Space for Nature and Securing Our Future – to be held in London on 27-28 February. The aim of the symposium is straightforward: to highlight ways of establishing sufficient reserves and protected areas to halt or seriously limit the major extinction event that humanity now faces. According to one recent report, the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and pollute or destroy habitats, and worse probably lies ahead.

[..] The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature. This point is stressed by Harvey Locke, whose organisation, Nature Needs Half, takes a far bolder approach and campaigns for the preservation of fully 50% of our planet for wildlife by 2050. “That may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit,” Locke told the Observer. “But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.” The idea is supported by E O Wilson, the distinguished Harvard biologist, in his most recent book, Half Earth. “We thrash about, appallingly led, with no particular goal other than economic growth and unfettered consumption,” he writes. “As a result, we’re extinguishing Earth’s biodiversity as though the species of the natural world are no better than weeds and kitchen vermin.”

The solution, he says, is to fill half the planet with conservation zones – though just how this division is to be decided is not made clear in his book. In any case, Hoffman points out, simply setting aside huge chunks of land or marine areas will not, on its own, save the day. “We could earmark the whole of northern Canada as a wildlife reserve but, given the paucity of animals who live in these frozen regions, that would not have a significant effect on a great many species who live elsewhere,” he said.

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Dec 252017
 
 December 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Allegory of the Planets and Continents 1752

 

Christmas Sounds A Clanging Chime Of Doom (Stewart Lee)
Cryptocurrencies Resume Selloff as Recovery Fizzles (BBG)
Once The Cryptocurrency Bubble Bursts, There May Be Real Innovation (CNBC)
China Needs Detroit-Style Bankruptcy – Central Bank Official (R.)
China Tightens Overseas Investment To Reduce Risks (F.)
China Likely To Set M2 Money Growth Target At Record Low Next Year (R.)
New York’s Vanishing Shops And Storefronts: ‘It’s Not Amazon, It’s Rent’ (G.)
The Meaty Side of Climate Change (PS)
Pope Compares Plight Of Migrants To Christmas Story (G.)
Greece Seeks To Tweak Refugee Deal As Island Tension, Criticism Grow

 

 

Who ever called these things smart?

Christmas Sounds A Clanging Chime Of Doom (Stewart Lee)

There is much we can learn from the ancient traditions of Winterval, each culture’s festive myths and rituals being equally valid, and equally instructive, irrespective of their veracity or worth. Upon the solstice night in Latveria, for example, Pappy Puffklap leaves a dried clump of donkey excrement on the breakfast table of each home. Is this so very different from the wise kings bringing the infant Christ sealed flagons of foul-smelling gas, the divine in harmony with the physical at its most pungent? There is only really one story this Christmas. The snow that decorates your cards will soon be a half-remembered folk myth. The arctic ice sheet is melting from underneath as well as above now. Did you notice, or were you grime-dancing to Man’s Not Hot at an office Christmas party, the annual arse-photocopier roped off with “police line do not cross” tape, management confused by the exact nature of their legal responsibilities to staff buttocks in the current social recalibrations?

My own Christmas sounds a note of doom. So far, I have escaped ownership of a smartphone or a tablet. With a deserved sense of superiority, I have watched the rest of you degenerate into being no-attention-span zombie scum, fixated on trivial fruit-based games and the capture of invisible Japanese imps, entirely unaware of the geography of your own surroundings, info-pigs gobbling bites of fake news headfirst from shiny troughs 24 hours a day, while our decaying planet performs its last few million fatal, and yet still beautiful, rotations before you. The screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter. But now I must become one of you. Having abandoned paper letters, and now declaring even email obsolete, my nine-year-old daughter’s school has told me I need an iPhone to receive any administrative communication.

And so, with a heavy heart, I have asked for one for Christmas, a shire horse begging for harness, a hamster requesting its own torturous wheel, Robert Lindsay asking for another series of My Family. But perhaps, like Jesus renouncing his divinity to become a mortal, finally owning an iPhone will help me to understand Observer readers, and the trivial concerns and inundations of ignorance that drive you in your futile lives. Beneath a powerful enough microscope, even a cluster of wriggling threadworm can be beautiful. I accepted my iPhone destiny on the morning of last Wednesday, but by the afternoon I wanted to renounce it. I attended the carol service of my niece’s nursery school. Upon each carved pew, the screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter, and twinkled throughout the ancient religious ritual like the stars that led the wise men to the very cradle of Christ.

As the lights dimmed and the candles flared up for a beautiful choral arrangement of the Coventry Carol, the assembled infant singers could look up and see that many of the grownups in the room, their lowered faces lit beatifically from below by the Caravaggio glow of their iPhone screens, were not the slightest fucking bit interested in them or their stupid fucking song.

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Losses persist.

Cryptocurrencies Resume Selloff as Recovery Fizzles (BBG)

The biggest cryptocurrencies resumed their decline on Sunday, failing to reverse a selloff that began when bitcoin’s unprecedented rally fell short of breaking above $20,000. A rebound on Saturday fizzled in the afternoon and traders turned pessimistic again, driving bitcoin down 13% in the past 24 hours. The drop among the 10 largest digital coins, ranging as much as 17% for iota, brings more end-of-year weakness to a market that just had its worst four-day tumble since 2015. “The West is what’s causing this selloff,” said Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at Tel Aviv-based online broker eToro, pointing to increased trading in dollars and less in yen. The recent cryptocurrency rally was so steep that investors were prone to take money off the table going into the Christmas holiday season, he said.

The retrenchment isn’t typical for cryptos, which often snap back after a few losing sessions. The last time bitcoin dropped for five successive weekdays was September and, before that, July. While the market has been volatile for most of this year, the rapid run-up has made the recent selloff sting more for digital coin enthusiasts. Traders have knocked about $160 billion in market value off the biggest cryptocurrencies in about three days, according to CoinMarketCap data. The tumble coincided with several warnings in the past week from financial authorities about elevated risk in holding digital coins. “The crypto market went to astronomical highs, so it’s got to come back to reality,” Greenspan said. “Something that goes up 150% in less than a month is probably going to have double-digit retracement.”

Bitcoin was at $13,367 as of 5 p.m. New York time. That’s almost one-third off its record high of $19,511, based on prices compiled by Bloomberg. Ethereum, the No. 2 cryptocurrency by market value, dropped about 12% in the past 24 hours, to $663.77, CoinMarketCap data show. While “nascent blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are rapidly entering mainstream finance,” some of the second-generation digital coins have a better outlook than bitcoin, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mike McGlone wrote in comments published Sunday. The whole group is akin to internet-based companies a few decades ago and exchange-traded funds more recently, he said. “Bitcoin is the crypto benchmark, but not the best representation of the technology,” McGlone wrote. Altcoins “should continue to gain on bitcoin, which has flaws and where futures can be shorted,” he said.

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it’s always possible to imagine things getting better.

Once The Cryptocurrency Bubble Bursts, There May Be Real Innovation (CNBC)

The world of cryptocurrencies is one of the most divisive topics in finance right now. On the one hand, figures like J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon have called it a “fraud” and dubbed those trading it “stupid.” On the other hand, there are those who see cryptocurrencies as one of the most revolutionary forces in finance. But amid the debate, there are a lot of people asking how to value this stuff and why bitcoin has traded nearly as high as $20,000. The answer right now is simple: There are no fundamentals. Even Robert Shiller, who won the Nobel Prize in 2013 for assessing asset prices, recently remarked that the value of bitcoin is “exceptionally ambiguous.” There’s no doubt that there is immense amount of speculation in the cryptocurrency market.

But when the bubble bursts and the hype dies down, that is where we may find value and it all comes down to the use cases for the different coins on the market. When bitcoin was created in 2009, the aim was to be an electronic cross-border payments system. The problem now is that bitcoin transactions are at record highs with faster traditional payment systems actually proving a better means. It’s hard to say bitcoin has an inherent value beyond the belief of the people trading it. But as many have said, it could become “digital gold,” in which case the price is likely to go higher. But looking forward, it’s highly likely that other digital tokens could surpass bitcoin because of their utility. Take a look at Ethereum. The company bills itself as a blockchain platform for others to build apps on.

Blockchain is the underlying technology behind bitcoin and acts as a decentralized ledger of transactions. But its uses span far beyond bitcoin. Ethereum has its own blockchain which companies like Microsoft and J.P. Morgan are experimenting with. Ethereum is specifically designed for so-called “smart contracts” which are pieces of software that execute a contract once certain conditions are met by all parties involved. This removes the need for complex paperwork and errors. Ripple is another blockchain company that is working on cross-border payments across different currencies in seconds. The digital coin created by the company called XRP, acts as a bridging currency to help facilitate transactions. Both Ethereum and Ripple have seen stunning rallies this year, but both are in the early stages of their experiments. But in the future, valuing them could be easier. For example, if Ripple began to process a fraction of the trillions of dollars that is transacted across borders, we could start to put a price on one XRP.

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Let smaller units fail. That’s a nice idea, but how does it square with central control?

China Needs Detroit-Style Bankruptcy – Central Bank Official (R.)

China needs to let local governments take responsibility for their finances, including allowing bankruptcies, as part of an effort to defuse their debt risks, a central bank official wrote on Monday. Central government control of the scale of local government bonds should be eliminated, while responsibility to issue and repay bonds should be held by the city or county that will actually use the funds, Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, wrote in a an editorial on the financial news website Yicai. “Eliminate central government control on the scale of local government bond issues, expand the scale of local government debt issues,” Xu wrote. “Whether (bonds) can be issued, and at what price, must be examined and screened by the financial markets. There does not need to be worry about local governments chaotically issuing debt.”

China’s top leadership decided at a meeting this week to take concrete measures to strengthen the regulation of local government debt next year as policymakers look to rein in a massive debt pile and reduce financial risks facing the economy. The government needs to clarify responsibility as it explores a bankruptcy system for local governments, Xu wrote, as there is still an expectation that the central government will bail out those that run into fiscal problems. “China must have an example like the bankruptcy in Detroit. Only if we allow local state-owned firms and governments to go bankrupt will investors believe the central government will break the implicit guarantee,” Xu wrote, adding that social services should be maintained.

The United States city of Detroit filed the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in July 2013, with $18 billion of debt. Xu also said that China should dismantle the hukou system of internal migration control, as free movement of people promoted equal access to public services and helped resolve imbalances in finances. In a report published on Saturday, China’s National Audit Office said China should dispel the “illusion” that the central government will pick up the bill for local government debt. But China should also increase the limit for local government debt as general government debt is primarily used for poverty relief spending, while also controlling spending on new projects.

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Xi still has a huge reserves problem. The US tax bill and the Fed keep on making it bigger.

China Tightens Overseas Investment To Reduce Risks (F.)

China has followed up earlier restrictions on outbound investment with new regulations on foreign investment by private firms. The 36-point code of conduct for private firms seeks to ensure that overseas deals are rational and legal. This is part of an effort to regulate outbound investment, which had been strongly encouraged between 2012 and 2016, in order to reduce risks. The National Development and Reform Commission, along with four other agencies, released rules that require private enterprises to invest in overseas deals that are genuine and not meant to be used for transferring assets abroad or for money laundering. Private firms are now required to report investment plans to the government, and to seek approval if the investments involve sensitive countries or industries.

Investment in projects that fit within the scope of the One Belt One Road endeavor is strongly encouraged. Outbound investment reached $170 billion in 2016, but was curtailed at the end of 2016 as yuan depreciation pressures mounted. At that time, authorities cracked down upon companies with fraudulent or “irrational” foreign investment. In addition, this past August, specific categories were created to specify banned, restricted, and encouraged overseas investment industries for mergers and acquisitions. As a result, this year saw a decline in the value of outbound direct investment, dropping 42% year-on-year in the first three quarters of this year. The new measures imposed on private firms will further reduce capital outflows and debt used to finance overseas deals.

A code of conduct for state owned enterprises investing abroad will soon be published, as China’s government attempts to make sure that capital leaving the country is being invested in sound assets. These regulations have become necessary due to China’s struggle to reduce its debt load and due to the threat of currency depreciation. While the former represents a clear and present threat to financial stability, the latter has largely disappeared from the picture but apparently remains on the radar of government officials. Debt-fueled overseas acquisitions impose a drag on the economy, which contains high levels of corporate debt already. Acquisitions that are funded by debt must ensure that overseas investments are productive, so that firms can repay the debt in a timely manner.

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How much does such a target really matter?

China Likely To Set M2 Money Growth Target At Record Low Next Year (R.)

China is likely to set its 2018 money growth target at an all-time low of around 9% to curb debt risks and contain asset bubbles, the official China Daily reported on Monday, citing economists involved in high-level policy discussions. Financial risks have become the biggest threat to the country’s economic stability in the medium and long term, the China Daily said. In the past year, deleveraging efforts in the financial system have pushed broad M2 money supply growth to its lowest since records began in 1996. In November, M2 expanded 9.1% from a year earlier, below the government’s full-year target of around 12%. The central bank has said slowing M2 growth could be a “new normal” as the government cracks down on riskier banking activities. In the past decade, the government has set its annual M2 targets between 12% and 17%.

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Homes are no longer places to line in, and stores are not building blocks of a society anymore. Everything is captive to speculation.

New York’s Vanishing Shops And Storefronts: ‘It’s Not Amazon, It’s Rent’ (G.)

Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts. The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city. Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.

A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis. The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification. “It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss. In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.” New York is famously a city of what author EB White called “tiny neighborhood units” is his classic 1949 essay Here is New York. White observed “that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village”.

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And they have the most powerful lobbyists. Case closed.

The Meaty Side of Climate Change (PS)

Last year, three of the world’s largest meat companies – JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods – emitted more greenhouse gases than France, and nearly as much as some big oil companies. And yet, while energy giants like Exxon and Shell have drawn fire for their role in fueling climate change, the corporate meat and dairy industries have largely avoided scrutiny. If we are to avert environmental disaster, this double standard must change. To bring attention to this issue, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, GRAIN, and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation recently teamed up to study the “supersized climate footprint” of the global livestock trade. What we found was shocking. In 2016, the world’s 20 largest meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these companies were a country, they would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter.

Obviously, mitigating climate change will require tackling emissions from the meat and dairy industries. The question is how. Around the world, meat and dairy companies have become politically powerful entities. The recent corruption-related arrests of two JBS executives, the brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, pulled back the curtain on corruption in the industry. JBS is the largest meat processor in the world, earning nearly $20 billion more in 2016 than its closest rival, Tyson Foods. But JBS achieved its position with assistance from the Brazilian Development Bank, and apparently, by bribing more than 1,800 politicians. It is no wonder, then, that greenhouse-gas emissions are low on the company’s list of priorities. In 2016, JBS, Tyson and Cargill emitted 484 million tons of climate-changing gases, 46 million tons more than BP, the British energy giant.

Meat and dairy industry insiders push hard for pro-production policies, often at the expense of environmental and public health. From seeking to block reductions in nitrous oxide and methane emissions, to circumventing obligations to reduce air, water, and soil pollution, they have managed to increase profits while dumping pollution costs on the public. One consequence, among many, is that livestock production now accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. That is a bigger share than the world’s entire transportation sector. Moreover, much of the growth in meat and dairy production in the coming decades is expected to come from the industrial model. If this growth conforms to the pace projected by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, our ability to keep temperatures from rising to apocalyptic levels will be severely undermined.

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Wait a minute, that’s what I said.

Pope Compares Plight Of Migrants To Christmas Story (G.)

Pope Francis has likened the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of people today who are forced to leave homelands for a better life, or just for survival, and he expressed hope that no one will feel “there is no room for them on this Earth”. Francis celebrated Christmas vigil mass on Sunday in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, telling the faithful that the “simple story” of Jesus’ birth in a manger changed “our history forever. Everything that night became a source of hope.” Noting that Mary and Joseph arrived in a land “where there was no place for them”, Francis drew parallels with today. “So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” he said in his homily.

“We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.” Francis has made concern for economic migrants, war refugees and others on society’s margins a central plank of his papacy. He said God is present in “the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognisable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door”. That perception of God should develop into “new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this Earth”, he said.

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Tsipras has lost control of the issue.

Greece Seeks To Tweak Refugee Deal As Island Tension, Criticism Grow

Pressure on the leftist-led government from the migration crisis is growing as it is faced with mounting tension at island hot spots, criticism from inside the ruling SYRIZA party, and uncertainty over calls to readjust the EU deal with Turkey. Under the deal signed by the EU and Ankara in March 2016, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greek islands are supposed to be returned to Turkey. However, during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov earlier in December, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras requested that Turkey also accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to ease overcrowding at camps.

Sources said Merkel avoided endorsing the Greek proposal which essentially violates the core of the EU-Turkey deal. Rather, the same sources said, Merkel stressed the need to bolster the presence of EU border agency Frontex along the Greek-Bulgarian border to safeguard the so-called Balkan route. Although officials in Athens have suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acceded to the request during his recent visit to Greece, the issue has been deferred to ministerial-level deliberations. Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Ankara on Thursday for talks, as Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias appeared skeptical whether Erdogan had the political will to go the extra mile.

Meanwhile, as island reception centers are bursting at the seams and pressure from SYRIZA officials is intensifying, the government has already green-lighted transfers of asylum seekers who it claims are minors or disabled. Speaking to party officials, Tsipras vowed that asylum seekers past the first stage of their application process would be relocated to the mainland. Government officials, on the other hand, offered reassurances over a recent proposal by European Council President Donald Tusk for the abolition of mandatory quotas on relocating refugees across the EU. The proposal is set to be discussed at an EU summit in June but administration officials say too many states are opposed to it.

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Oct 252017
 
 October 25, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jackson Pollock Male and female 1942

 

Clinton Campaign, DNC Paid For Research That Led To Russia Dossier (WaPo)
Gold-Backed Petro-Yuan Silliness: Reserve Currency Curse? (Mish)
Do Democrats Really Need Wall Street? (BM)
4 In 10 Canadians Can Not Cover Basic Expenses Without Adding More Debt (ZH)
Italy Faces Worst Shock In Europe As ECB Prepares To Taper Bond Buys (MW)
Don’t Blame Others For Your Problems, Germany’s Schaeuble Tells Greece (R.)
What Happened To The €8 Billion Europe Took From Greece? (EN)
Turkey Says Doesn’t Want Greece To Become ‘Safe Haven’ For Coup Plotters (R.)
Monsanto Faces Blowback Over Cancer Cover-Up (Spiegel)
EU Parliament Votes To Ban Controversial Weedkiller Glyphosate By 2022 (AFP)
Spain’s Government Prepared To ‘Discipline Disobedient Catalans’ (CNBC)
US Military Is Conducting Secret Missions All Over Africa (Vice)
Yes, The US Leads All Countries In Reducing Carbon Emissions (Rapier)
Global Wine Output Hits 50-Year Low (AFP)
Ancient Amazon Tribe Vow To Defend Their Territory Against Mining (AFP)

 

 

What a cesspool, what a shithole Washington has become. Actually, reading through today’s news, the whole world has.

Clinton, Podesta, Corker, Flake, Trump, Clapper, Comey, Mueller, Manafor, Ppmpeo, Sessions, people are simply going to walk away from it all.

And you can say good on the WaPo for publishing this, but they have thrown so much echo chamber stuff out there over the past year, this doesn’t make that right.

Clinton Campaign, DNC Paid For Research That Led To Russia Dossier (WaPo)

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said. Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research. After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary. The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day. Fusion GPS gave Steele’s reports and other research documents to Elias, the people familiar with the matter said. It is unclear how or how much of that information was shared with the campaign and the DNC and who in those organizations was aware of the roles of Fusion GPS and Steele. One person close to the matter said the campaign and the DNC were not informed by the law firm of Fusion GPS’s role.

The dossier has become a lightning rod amid the intensifying investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible connections to Russia. Some congressional Republican leaders have spent months trying to discredit Fusion GPS and Steele and tried to determine the identity of the Democrat or organization that paid for the dossier. Trump tweeted as recently as Saturday that the Justice Department and FBI should “immediately release who paid for it.”

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“Mathematically, as long as China runs surpluses, foreign holding of yuan will not match foreign holding of dollars.”

Gold-Backed Petro-Yuan Silliness: Reserve Currency Curse? (Mish)

A massive amount of hype is spreading regarding China’s alleged ambitions to dethrone the dollar. The story this time involves China’s plan is to price oil in yuan using a gold-backed futures contract. Even if that were true, the impact would be zero. Nonetheless, CNBC is now in on the hype. CNBC reports China has grand ambitions to dethrone the dollar. It may make a powerful move this year. Yuan pricing and clearing of crude oil futures is the “beginning” of a broader strategic push “to support yuan pricing and clearing in commodities futures trading,” Pan Gongsheng, director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said last month. To support the new benchmark, China has opened more than 6,000 trading accounts for the crude futures contract, Reuters reported in July. Yawn.

Jeff Brown, president at FGE, an international energy consultant has a more accurate assessment. “Most counterparties will not want anything to do with this contract as it adds in a layer of cost and risk. They also don’t like contracts with only a few dominant buyers or sellers and a government role.” Repeat after me: It’s meaningless what currency oil is quoted in. Once you understand the inherent truth in that statement, you immediately laugh at headlines like that presented on CNBC. For those who do not understand the simple logic, consider the fact that one does not need to have dollars to buy oil. Currencies are fungible. In less than a second, and at ant time day or night, one can convert any currency to any other currency. If countries want to hold dollars they can. If one wants to hold Swiss Francs, Euros, or Yen they can as well. Oil likely trades in all of those currencies right now.

Countries accumulate US dollars because the US runs a trade deficit, and those dollars will eventually return to the US. If China wants to assume the role of having the world’s reserve currency, something I highly doubt actually, it will need to have a free-floating currency and the world’s largest bond market . China will need property rights protection and a global willingness of countries to hold the yuan. To assume the role of China would have to be willing to run trade deficits instead of seeking trade surpluses via subsidized exports. Please read that last sentence over and over again until it sinks in. Mathematically, whether they like it or not, China and Japan have massive US dollar reserves as a result of cumulated trade surpluses. Mathematically, as long as China runs surpluses, foreign holding of yuan will not match foreign holding of dollars.

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More on that cesspool. Nothing to do with ideas, or convictions, or voters. Just power.

Do Democrats Really Need Wall Street? (BM)

Halloween is coming and fear mongering seems to be the order of the day — not just on the part of Republicans, but apparently no less so on the part of “centrist” and conservative Democrats who are expressing growing anxiety about offending big donors who see politics not as the pursuit of justice but as the pursuit of their interests. Douglas Schoen, said to have been Bill Clinton’s favorite pollster during his presidency, has taken to the op-ed page of The New York Times to warn center-right party members and friends that ‘all Hell will break loose’ if the Democrats embrace a platform promising “wealth redistribution through higher taxes and Medicare for all” and utilizing democracy to challenge the power of money.

Don’t be bewitched by the fantasies of folks such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Schoen counsels, for if you do, the American financial elite will not keep the party’s “coffers full.” Indeed, he argues, “Democrats should strengthen their ties to Wall Street,” for “America is a center-right, pro-capitalist nation.” “Memories in politics are short,” Schoen wrote. And he wrings his hands over the amnesia that robs people of remembering that the center-right assembled under Bill Clinton enabled him to balance the budget, limit government and protect essential programs “that make up the social safety net.” Leaving behind “that version of liberalism,” Schoen writes, has cost Democrats several elections. He even claims that Hillary Clinton lost in Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016 because she “lurched to the left.”

Yes, memories are short indeed, but they are made even shorter by the likes of Schoen. The horrors he prophesies make it clear that he does not want us to remember. He wants us to forget, and therefore to tame our aspirations for social democracy and an economy that serves everyday people instead of the 1%. Schoen wants us to forget that Hillary Clinton lost the Upper Midwest not because of her supposed “lurch to the left,” but because many working people could not erase from their minds her lavishly paid Wall Street engagements and her adamant refusal to “release the transcripts” of those flattering speeches to the bankers. To many a Rust Belt voter she was the “Goldman Sachs” candidate, something Schoen would consign to the memory hole.

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You will see this wherever a housing bubble rules the economy.

4 In 10 Canadians Can Not Cover Basic Expenses Without Adding More Debt (ZH)

[..] BNN reported that a survey released yesterday found that almost half of Canadian households don’t feel financially prepared for further interest rate increases. According to the Ipsos poll, conducted on behalf of MNP, 40% of respondents said they fear ending up in financial trouble if rates go up much higher, with one-in-three already feeling the impact of higher rates. “It’s clear that people are nowhere near prepared for a higher rate environment,” MNP President Grant Bazian said in a release. “The good news is that there seems to be at least the acknowledgement now that rates are going to climb which might make people reassess their spending habits – especially using credit.”

It gets worse: 42% of respondents said they don’t think they can cover basic expenses over the next year without going deeper into more debt. The same number said they’re within $200 of not being able to cover monthly expenses. This familiar “ponzi state” means that more than 4 in 10 Canadians effectively have no savings, which is ominously similar to US trends: as we reported earlier this year, a quarter of American adults can’t pay all their monthly bills, while 44% have less than $400 in cash. The Ipsos poll also found 70% of Canadians said they will take a more cautious approach to spending amid higher interest rates, which may be enough to choke off any economic growth and make the Canadian rate hikes a “one and one” affair.

Concern about rising rates is greater among lower-income Canadians – those who tend to rely on credit cards – according to the survey, as opposed to homeowners who said they are a bit more optimistic they can absorb a rate increase of… a whopping 1%. Geographically, over half of Albertans say they’ll be more concerned about paying off debt if interest rates rise, which is more than those in British Columbia and Quebec, where less than half said they are worried. Meanwhile, Ontarians are the least concerned (44 per cent) about their ability to pay down their debts.

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But .. but .. Draghi’s Italian… At one point, he wanted to be its PM.

Italy Faces Worst Shock In Europe As ECB Prepares To Taper Bond Buys (MW)

The entire eurozone will face a crucial test when the European Central Bank begins to wind down its asset-buying program, but one country stands to lose the most as the monetary punch bowl is taken away: Italy. Saddled with mountains of debt and a looming election, the southern European nation will likely struggle to find buyers for its government bonds when the European Central Bank stops snapping up Italian debt over the coming years, according to Christian Schulz, European economist at Citigroup. That means yields are set to rise, potentially strangling the country’s nascent recovery. “It comes at a difficult time. At the moment political uncertainty is rising and the ECB pulling out of the market just makes [the end of quantitative easing] so much harder on Italy than other countries,” Schulz said.

“They have a huge pile of debt, which makes the country much more sensitive to interest rate changes than countries with smaller piles of debt,” he said. Italy has particularly benefited from the ECB’s quantitative easing program that began in 2015, as it’s been one of the biggest bond issuers in the currency union. The central bank has purchased 300 billion euros ($352.9 billion) of Italian bonds under the program, which is more than three times the net bond issuance for the country during that period, according to Schulz. That means the ECB has not only bought pretty much all new bonds issued in Italy since 2015, but also existing bonds from other investors. The ECB is widely expected to announce some sort of tapering at its monetary policy setting meeting on Thursday, and most economists expect the asset purchases to end altogether in late 2018.

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” Schaeuble said Greece had decided to cut pensions instead of taxing wealthy ship-owners..” Not true.

Don’t Blame Others For Your Problems, Germany’s Schaeuble Tells Greece (R.)

Outgoing German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged debt-wracked Greece to stop blaming others for its financial woes and stick to a reform agenda instead of relying on debt relief. Schaeuble, a leading advocate of Greece’s tough austerity programs and one of Germany’s most powerful politicians, was elected speaker of its lower house of parliament on Tuesday. The 75-year-old lawyer, whose no-nonsense approach on austerity made him a popular hate figure among Greeks, told Greek Skai TV that Athens must take responsibility for its fiscal difficulties and act on them. “When you ask others for loans, you cannot insult them for granting the loans. It doesn’t make sense. Greece’s problems are Greece’s problems,” the conservative Christian Democrat said in an interview aired in Greece on Tuesday.

Asked if he ever suggested a “time out” on Greece’s participation in the euro zone, he said he had discussed the option “as a currency devaluation tool” with a former finance minister, who rejected it saying Greece would implement reforms. Schaeuble said he warned Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras while the latter was still in opposition in 2014 that the Greek politician would not be able to meet his pre-election platform of zero austerity. Tsipras, Schaeuble said, told him he wanted to remain in the euro without any conditions. “I responded that I wished, for his sake, that he didn’t win that election because he wouldn’t be able to keep his promises,” Schaeuble said in comments translated from German to Greek.

Seven months after he was elected, Tsipras was forced to cave into lenders’ demands for more belt-tightening. He was re-elected saying the bailout, the country’s third since 2010, was a product of blackmail. Greece is eyeing a bailout exit in 2018. Asked if the Greek case had become a personal issue for him, Schaeuble said: “Obviously in Greece I was a bogeyman, or at least for some media.” Politicians, he said, had a habit of using lenders as an excuse to impose cutbacks. “That saddened me somewhat, because nobody ever wanted to harm Greece,” he said. By way of example, Schaeuble said Greece had decided to cut pensions instead of taxing wealthy ship-owners – contrary to what the leftist Syriza party promised before elections. “This wasn’t a German parliament decision, it was a Greek government decision,” he said.

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Anything to say on this, Wolfgang? Where I come from this is called ordinary blackmail.

What Happened To The €8 Billion Europe Took From Greece? (EN)

In 2012 with Greece on the verge of bankruptcy, fellow Eurozone states rallied round to rescue one of their own. Part of the bailout package they agreed was to use almost 27 billion euros to buy up Greek debt to prevent a vicious circle that would see the country facing more and more expensive borrowing costs. At the time, the countries agreed that they should not profit from this action and that the interest paid to them by Athens linked to the bonds they had bought should be returned. To this day, that interest amounts to almost €8 billion (More precisely €7,838,000,000, according to an email sent by EU finance commissioner Pierre Muscovici to MEPs). Some of this money has been sent back to Greece but much of it remains in the hands of other European countries. And they seem determined not to reveal how much.

“For legal reasons, it’s not possible for member states to declare the amounts paid by their central banks to Greece,” said a source at the European Commission, citing the principle that central banks should not disclose details about their investments to avoid unduly influencing the behaviour of markets. For once, it seems, that Europe is united on the issue – Ireland, Italy, Spain and even Greece all refused to disclose how much had been returned and how much they were still holding. In Luxembourg, the press revealed that the government had handed back to Greece €28.3 million and was committed to returning the entire €40.2 million of interest it had accrued.

According to Euronews’ calculations, the Bundesbank, due to its position as the largest of Europe’s central banks earned €2 billion of interest since 2012 on the debt they purchased from Greece. France took €1.58 billion and Italy €1.37 billion. Documents obtained by Euronews confirm the figure for France, officials from other countries would not confirm or deny the amounts by the time this story was published.

Under the Securities Market Programme, Eurozone central banks bought up Greek government bonds, pushing up the prices for that debt and thereby lowering the interest rates Athens needed to pay to borrow. This offset to a degree the impact of market fears about the country’s economy which had obliged the government to pay significantly higher rates to secure the money it needed to keep operating. As a result of this programme, the countries participating received interest from Greece on the bonds they had purchased.

It was this money that they agreed to return under the 2012 bailout deal. When Alexis Tsipras swept to power in 2015 and rejected a proposed deal to extend the bailout, Eurozone finance ministers agreed to freeze these payments, having returned €4.3 billion relating to the debt buyup and a separate programme known as ANFA. The withholding of this money, according to Christopher Dembik, an economist at Saxo Bank, serves as a “kind of punishment” combined with a “means to pressure” Greece to fulfill its bailout obligations.

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What Greece moves close to the US.

Turkey Says Doesn’t Want Greece To Become ‘Safe Haven’ For Coup Plotters (R.)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Greece on Tuesday to not become a “safe haven” for plotters of last year’s coup attempt, citing the 995 people who have applied for asylum since the failed putsch. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, Cavusoglu said asylum seekers needed to be evaluated to determine those linked to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Turkey for masterminding the putsch. “We would not want our neighbor Greece, with whom we are improving our ties, to be a safe haven for Gulenists. We believe these applications will be evaluated meticulously and that traitors will not be given credit,” Cavusoglu said.

Responding to Cavusoglu’s comments, Kotzias said the decisions on asylum seekers were made by the Greek judiciary and had to be respected even if “it doesn’t please some”. Relations between Turkey and Greece were further strained in May after a Greek court ruled to not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece following last year’s coup attempt. Turkey alleges the men, who fled to Greece in a military helicopter as the July coup unfolded, were involved in efforts to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan and has repeatedly demanded they be sent back. Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Ankara, drawing an angry rebuke from Turkey and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over issues from territorial disputes to ethnically split Cyprus.

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Lies, threats and ghostwriting.

Monsanto Faces Blowback Over Cancer Cover-Up (Spiegel)

Some companies’ reputations are so poor that the public already has low expectations when it comes to their ethics and business practices. That doesn’t make it any less shocking when the accusations against them are confirmed in black and white. Agricultural chemicals giant Monsanto is under fire because the company’s herbicide, Roundup (active ingredient: glyphosate), is suspected of being carcinogenic. Permission to sell the chemical in the European Union expires on December 15 with member states set to decide on Wednesday whether to renew it for another 10 years. And now, the longstanding dispute about glyphosate has been brought to a head by the release of explosive documents. Monsanto’s strategies for whitewashing glyphosate have been revealed in internal e-mails, presentations and memos.

Even worse, these “Monsanto Papers” suggest that the company doesn’t even seem to know whether Roundup is harmless to people’s health. “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen,” Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer wrote in one of the emails. “We have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.” The email, sent on Nov. 22, 2003, is one of more than 100 documents that a court in the United States ordered Monsanto to provide as evidence after about 2,000 plaintiffs demanded compensation from Monsanto in class-action suits. They claim that Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer, in them or members of their family.

The documents suggest the company concealed risks, making their publication a disaster for the company. The matter is also likely to be a topic of discussion at Bayer, the German chemical company in the process of acquiring Monsanto. “The Monsanto Papers tell an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation and the withholding of information,” says Michael Baum, a partner in the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, which is bringing one of the US class actions. According to Baum, Monsanto used the same strategies as the tobacco industry: “creating doubt, attacking people, doing ghostwriting.”

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First of multiple steps. The European Commission has totally different ideas.

EU Parliament Votes To Ban Controversial Weedkiller Glyphosate By 2022 (AFP)

The European Parliament Tuesday called for the controversial weedkiller glyphosate to be banned by 2022 amid fears it causes cancer, a day before EU states vote on whether to renew its licence. MEPs approved a resolution which is not binding but will add fresh pressure on the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, which has recommended the licence for the herbicide be renewed for 10 years. Glyphosate critics, led by environmental campaigners Greenpeace, are calling for an outright ban in Europe and on Monday activists handed the EU a petition signed by more than 1.3 million people backing such a move.

Experts from the EU’s 28 member states are due to vote on the commission recommendation on Wednesday, just as a row escalates over claims that US agro giant Monsanto unduly influenced research into its weedkiller’s safety. MEPs criticised the commission’s proposal, saying it “fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment (and) fails to apply the precautionary principle”. They called for a halt to non-professional use of glyphosate when its licence runs out in December 15 and for its use to end near public parks and playgrounds. Opponents of glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, point to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded it was “probably carcinogenic”.

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Madrid better be careful.

Spain’s Government Prepared To ‘Discipline Disobedient Catalans’ (CNBC)

Spain’s central government is prepared to discipline Catalan citizens who chose to disobey direct rule from Madrid, the Spanish government’s official representative in Catalonia told CNBC. “The Spanish government is going to have the responsibility of taking decisions of a disciplinary nature if there is a rejection, by any functionaries, of any of the orders that they receive,” Enric Millo told CNBC on Monday, according to a translation. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked unprecedented constitutional powers on Saturday, vowing to curtail some of the freedoms of Catalonia’s parliament, sack some of its political players and force regional elections within six months. A vote in the national Senate to implement this direct rule is scheduled for Friday.

In response, the far-left CUP party — a key supporter of Catalonia’s pro-independence minority government in the regional parliament — described Madrid’s actions as an aggression against all Catalans. The secessionist group also urged Catalan citizens to engage in “massive civil disobedience.” Millo said he was hopeful the “large majority” of public servants based in the northeast of Spain would resist calls from separatist leaders to disobey the constitution. However, when he was asked what preparations had been made for those who ignored Madrid’s direct rule, Millo said that it would be the politicians who had decided to break with “democratic legality” that would be dealt with first. “These people will resign … And therefore, although they may not agree, they will not have any type of responsibility, validity, nor any type of authorization in any institutional decision. They will be left without any responsibilities,” he said.

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Colonialism 2.0

US Military Is Conducting Secret Missions All Over Africa (Vice)

U.S. troops are now conducting 3,500 exercises, programs, and engagements per year, an average of nearly 10 missions per day, on the African continent, according to the U.S. military’s top commander for Africa, General Thomas Waldhauser. The latest numbers, which the Pentagon confirmed to VICE News, represent a dramatic increase in U.S. military activity throughout Africa in the past decade, and the latest signal of America’s deepening and complicated ties on the continent. With the White House and the Pentagon facing questions about an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger in which four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed, Secretary of Defense James Mattis reportedly indicated to two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Friday that these numbers are only likely to increase as the U.S. military shifts even greater attention to counterterrorism in Africa.

“You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham after the briefing. “You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field.” But the U.S. military has already seen significant action in Africa, where its growth has been sudden and explosive. When U.S. Africa Command, the umbrella organization for U.S. military operations on the continent, first became operational in 2008, it inherited 172 missions, activities, programs, and exercises from other combatant commands. Five years in, that number shot up to 546. Today’s figure of 3,500 marks an astounding 1,900 percent increase since the command was activated less than a decade ago, and suggests a major expansion of U.S. military activities on the African continent.

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But…

Yes, The US Leads All Countries In Reducing Carbon Emissions (Rapier)

Last week, in an interview with Fox News, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed: “We are leading the nation – excuse me – the world with respect to our CO2 footprint in reductions.” The Washington Post fact-checked this claim and rated it “Three Pinocchios,” which means they rate the claim mostly false. They further wrote that Pruitt’s usage of data appeared to be a “deliberate effort to mislead the public.” I agree that this is a nuanced issue, but the data mostly support Pruitt’s claim. According to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, since 2005 annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined by 758 million metric tons. That is by far the largest decline of any country in the world over that timespan and is nearly as large as the 770 million metric ton decline for the entire EU.

By comparison, the second largest decline during that period was registered by the United Kingdom, which reported a 170 million metric ton decline. At the same time, China’s carbon dioxide emissions grew by 3 billion metric tons, and India’s grew by 1 billion metric tons. Thus, I don’t think it’s the least bit misleading to claim that the U.S. is leading the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The Washington Post gets into per capita emissions, and indeed despite the decline, U.S. per capita emissions are still among the highest in the world. However, the Washington Post story claimed: “The United States may have had the largest decrease in carbon emissions, but it is still the largest per capita emitter.” That’s not accurate either. According to World Bank data, U.S. per capita carbon dioxide emissions rank 11th among countries.

So, we are not the largest per capita emitter, but we do emit 2.2 times as much on a per capita basis as China. But, China has 4.3 times as many people, and that matters from an overall emissions perspective. China’s lower per capita carbon dioxide emissions are more than offset by its greater population, so China emits over 70% more carbon dioxide annually than the U.S. The story quoted Pruitt a second time: “We have reduced our CO2 footprint by over 18%, almost 20%, from 2000 to 2014.” The Post also disputes this claim, citing EPA numbers that stated “energy-related CO2 emissions” have fallen by 7.5% since 2000. I am not sure why anyone is using numbers from 2000, as U.S. carbon dioxide emissions continued to rise until 2005. That’s when they began to fall.

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Can’t say that makes me feel happy.

Global Wine Output Hits 50-Year Low (AFP)

Worldwide wine production tumbled 8.2% this year to hit a 50-year low due to unfavourable climate conditions, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) said Tuesday. The total output of 246.7 million hectolitres was due in large part to steep drops in the top three wine producing countries: Italy, France and Spain. “This drop is consecutive to climate hazards, which affected the main producing countries, particularly in Europe,” said the Paris-based OIV, an intergovernmental organisation that provides scientific and technical advice on vines and wine. In Italy production slumped 23% to 39.3 mhl, while in France the drop was 19% to 36.7 mhl. Production in Spain fell 15% to 33.5 mhl.

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Symbol of all our troubles as a species.

Ancient Amazon Tribe Vow To Defend Their Territory Against Mining (AFP)

They appear silently, seemingly from nowhere: a dozen figures, naked except for bright red loincloths, blocking the dirt road. These are the Waiapi, an ancient tribe living in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest but now fearing invasion by international mining companies. Leading AFP reporters to a tiny settlement of palm-thatched huts hidden in foliage, the tribesmen streaked in red and black dye vow to defend their territory. They brandish six-foot (two-meter) bows and arrows to reinforce the point. “We’ll keep fighting,” says Tapayona Waiapi, 36, in the settlement called Pinoty. “When the companies come we’ll keep resisting. If the Brazilian government sends soldiers to kill people, we’ll keep resisting until the last of us is dead.”

The Waiapi indigenous reserve is in pristine rainforest near the eastern end of the Amazon river. It is part of a much larger conservation zone called Renca, covering an area the size of Switzerland. Surrounded by rivers and towering trees, the tribe operates almost entirely according to its own laws, with a way of life at times closer to the Stone Age than the 21st century. Yet modern Brazil is barely a few hours’ drive away. And now the center-right government is pushing to open Renca to international mining companies who covet the rich deposits of gold and other metals hidden under the sea of green.

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Sep 192016
 
 September 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 19 2016


Jack Delano Chicago & North Western Railroad locomotive shops 1942

BIS Flashes Red Alert For a Banking Crisis in China (AEP)
BIS Warning Indicator for China Banking Stress Climbs to Record (BBG)
China Relies on Housing Bubble to Keep GDP Numbers Elevated (CNBC)
Chinese Yuan Borrowing Rate Hits Second Highest Level On Record (R.)
Oil Investors Flee as OPEC Freeze Hopes Face Supply Reality (BBG)
The Death Of The Bakken Field Has Begun (SRSrocco)
Canada To Impose Nationwide Carbon Price (R.)
1000s of VW Lawsuits To Be Filed By The End Of Monday, All in Print (BBG)
Many Car Brands Emit More Pollution Than Volkswagen (G.)
The Ongoing Collapse of Economics (Caswell)
WaPo 1st Paper to Call for Prosecution of its Own Source -After Pulitzer- (GG)
‘People’s Candidate’ Le Pen Vows To Free France From EU Yoke (AFP)
Merkel Suffers Drubbing In Berlin Vote Due To Migrant Angst (R.)
Why Won’t The World Tackle The Refugee Crisis? (Observer)

 

 

“..China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution”

BIS Flashes Red Alert For a Banking Crisis in China (AEP)

China has failed to curb excesses in its credit system and faces mounting risks of a full-blown banking crisis, according to early warning indicators released by the world’s top financial watchdog. A key gauge of credit vulnerability is now three times over the danger threshold and has continued to deteriorate, despite pledges by Chinese premier Li Keqiang to wean the economy off debt-driven growth before it is too late. The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution. It is also significantly higher than the scores in East Asia’s speculative boom on 1997 or in the US subprime bubble before the Lehman crisis.

Studies of earlier banking crises around the world over the last sixty years suggest that any score above ten requires careful monitoring. The credit to GDP gap measures deviations from normal patterns within any one country and therefore strips out cultural differences. It is based on work the US economist Hyman Minsky and has proved to be the best single gauge of banking risk, although the final denouement can often take longer than assumed. Indicators for what would happen to debt service costs if interest rates rose 250 basis points are also well over the safety line. China’s total credit reached 255pc of GDP at the end of last year, a jump of 107 percentage points over eight years. This is an extremely high level for a developing economy and is still rising fast.

Outstanding loans have reached $28 trillion, as much as the commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale is enough to threaten a worldwide shock if China ever loses control. Corporate debt alone has reached 171pc of GDP, and it is this that is keeping global regulators awake at night. The BIS said there are ample reasons to worry about the health of world’s financial system. Zero interest rates and bond purchases by central banks have left markets acutely sensitive to the slightest shift in monetary policy, or even a hint of a shift. “There has been a distinctly mixed feel to the recent rally – more stick than carrot, more push than pull,” said Claudio Borio, the BIS’s chief economist. “This explains the nagging question of whether market prices fully reflect the risks ahead.”

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really? “..the state’s control of the financial system and limited levels of overseas debt may mitigate against the risk of a banking crisis.”

BIS Warning Indicator for China Banking Stress Climbs to Record (BBG)

A warning indicator for banking stress rose to a record in China in the first quarter, underscoring risks to the nation and the world from a rapid build-up of Chinese corporate debt. China’s credit-to-GDP “gap” stood at 30.1%, the highest for the nation in data stretching back to 1995, according to the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements. Readings above 10% signal elevated risks of banking strains, according to the BIS, which released the latest data on Sunday. The gap is the difference between the credit-to-GDP ratio and its long-term trend. A blow-out in the number can signal that credit growth is excessive and a financial bust may be looming. Some analysts argue that China will need to recapitalise its banks in coming years because of bad loans that may be higher than the official numbers.

At the same time, the state’s control of the financial system and limited levels of overseas debt may mitigate against the risk of a banking crisis. In a financial stability report published in June, China’s central bank said lenders would be able to maintain relatively high capital levels even if hit by severe shocks. While the BIS says that credit-to-GDP gaps exceeded 10% in the three years preceding the majority of financial crises, China has remained above that threshold for most of the period since mid-2009, with no crisis so far. In the first quarter, China’s gap exceeded the levels of 41 other nations and the euro area. In the U.S., readings exceeded 10% in the lead up to the global financial crisis.

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“.. the importance of the property sector to China’s overall economic health, posed a challenge. It contributes up to one-third of GDP..”

China Relies on Housing Bubble to Keep GDP Numbers Elevated (CNBC)

Policymakers in China were facing the dilemma of driving growth while preventing the property market from overheating, an economist said Monday as prices in the world’s second largest economy jumped in August. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 9.2% in August from a year earlier, accelerating from a 7.9% increase in July, an official survey from the National Bureau of Statistics showed Monday. Home prices rose 1.5% from July. But according to Donna Kwok, senior China economist at UBS, the importance of the property sector to China’s overall economic health, posed a challenge. It contributes up to one-third of GDP as its effects filter through to related businesses such as heavy industries and raw materials.

“On the one hand, they need to temper the signs of froth that we are seeing in the higher-tier cities. On the other hand, they are still having to rely on the (market’s) contribution to headline GDP growth that property investment as the whole—which is still reliant on the lower-tier city recovery—generates…so that 6.5 to 7% annual growth target is still met for this year,” Kwok told CNBC’s “Street Signs.” The data showed prices in the first-tier cities of Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 31.2% and 23.5%, respectively. Home prices in the second tier cities of Xiamen and Hefei saw the larges price gains, rising 43.8 percent and 40.3 percent respectively, from a year ago.

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Liquidity.

Chinese Yuan Borrowing Rate Hits Second Highest Level On Record (R.)

Hong Kong’s overnight yuan borrowing rate was fixed at the highest level in eight months on Monday after the long holiday weekend. China’s financial markets were closed from Thursday for the Mid-Autumn Festival, and Hong Kong’s markets were shut on Friday. The CNH Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate benchmark (CNH Hibor), set by the city’s Treasury Markets Association (TMA), was fixed at 23.683% for overnight contracts, the highest level since Jan. 12. Traders said the elevated offshore yuan borrowing rates in the past week were due to tight liquidity in the market and rumors that China took action to raise the cost of shorting its currency.

“Normal lenders of the yuan, like Chinese banks, have refrained from injecting liquidity into the market recently due to speculation that the yuan will depreciate toward certain levels like 6.68, 6.7 per dollar,” said a trader in a local bank in Hong Kong. “(The yuan’s) inclusion into the SDR basket nears, so the central bank would like to maintain the offshore yuan near the stronger side,” said the trader, adding that seasonal reasons including national holidays and caution near the quarter-end also drains yuan liquidity from the market. The U.S. dollar traded near a two-week high against a basket of major currencies on Monday after U.S. consumer prices rose more than expected in August, bolstering expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

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Really, it’s about demand.

Oil Investors Flee as OPEC Freeze Hopes Face Supply Reality (BBG)

Oil speculators headed for the sidelines as OPEC members prepare to discuss freezing output in the face of signs the supply glut will linger. Money managers cut wagers on both falling and rising crude prices before talks between OPEC and other producers later this month. The meeting comes after the International Energy Agency said that the global oversupply will last longer than previously thought as demand growth slows and output proves resilient. “It’s a cliff trade right here,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capita, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “There’s more uncertainty than usual in the market because of the upcoming meeting. People are waiting for the outcome and a number think this is a good time to stand on the sidelines.”

OPEC plans to hold an informal meeting with competitor Russia in Algiers Sept. 27, fanning speculation the producers may agree on an output cap to shore up prices. Oil climbed 7.5% in August after OPEC announced talks in the Algerian capital. [..] World oil stockpiles will continue to accumulate into late 2017, a fourth consecutive year of oversupply, according to the IEA. Just last month, the agency predicted the market would start returning to equilibrium this year. OPEC production rose last month as Middle East producers opened the taps, the IEA said. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE pumped at or near record levels and Iraq pushed output higher, according to the agency. “OPEC is out of bullets,” said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group. “Even if they agree on a production freeze it will be at such a high level that it will be meaningless.”

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“..the energy companies producing shale oil in the Bakken are in the hole for $32 billion. ”

The Death Of The Bakken Field Has Begun (SRSrocco)

The Death of the Great Bakken Oil Field has begun and very few Americans understand the significance. Just a few years ago, the U.S. Energy Industry and Mainstream media were gloating that the United States was on its way to “Energy Independence.” Unfortunately for most Americans, they believed the hype and are now back to driving BIG SUV’s and trucks that get lousy fuel mileage. And why not? Americans now think the price of gasoline will continue to decline because the U.S. oil industry is able to produce its “supposed” massive shale oil reserves for a fraction of the cost, due to the new wonders of technological improvement. [..] they have no clue that the Great Bakken Oil Field is now down a stunning 25% from its peak just a little more than a year and half ago:

Some folks believe the reason for the decline in oil production at the Bakken was due to low oil prices. While this was part of the reason, the Bakken was going to peak and decline in 2016-2017 regardless of the price. This was forecasted by peak oil analyst Jean Laherrere. [..] I took Jean Laherrere’s chart and placed it next to the current actual Bakken oil field production:

As we can see in the chart above, the rise and fall of Bakken oil production is very close to what Jean Laherrere forecasted several years ago (shown by the red arrow). According to Laherrere’s chart, the Bakken will be producing a lot less oil by 2020 and very little by 2025. This would also be true for the Eagle Ford Field in Texas. According to the most recent EIA Drilling Productivity Report [8], the Eagle Ford Shale Oil Field in Texas will be producing an estimated 1,026,000 barrels of oil per day in September, down from a peak of 1,708,000 barrels per day in May 2015. Thus, Eagle Ford oil production is slated to be down a stunning 40% since its peak last year.

Do you folks see the writing on the wall here? The Bakken down 25% and the Eagle Ford down 40%. These are not subtle declines. This is much quicker than the U.S. Oil Industry or the Mainstream Media realize. And… it’s much worse than that. The U.S. Oil Industry Hasn’t Made a RED CENT Producing Shale. Rune Likvern of Fractional Flow has done a wonderful job providing data on the Bakken Shale Oil Field. Here is his excellent chart showing the cumulative FREE CASH FLOW from producing oil in the Bakken: [..] the BLACK BARS are estimates of the monthly Free Cash flow from producing oil in the Bakken since 2009, while the RED AREA is the cumulative negative free cash flow. [..] Furthermore, the red area shows that the approximate negative free cash flow (deducting CAPEX- capital expenditures) is $32 billion. So, with all the effort and high oil prices from 2011-2014 (first half of 2014), the energy companies producing shale oil in the Bakken are in the hole for $32 billion. Well done…. hat’s off to the new wonderful fracking technology.

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Lofty.

Canada To Impose Nationwide Carbon Price (R.)

Canada will impose a carbon price on provinces that do not adequately regulate emissions by themselves, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said on Sunday without giving details on how the Liberal government will do so. Speaking on the CTV broadcaster’s “Question Period,” a national politics talk show, McKenna said the new emissions regime will be in place sometime in October, before a federal-provincial meeting on the matter. She only said the government will have a “backstop” for provinces that do not comply, but did not address questions on penalties for defiance. Canada’s 10 provinces, which enjoy significant jurisdiction over the environment, have been wary of Ottawa’s intentions and have said they should be allowed to cut carbon emissions their own way.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau persuaded the provinces in March to accept a compromise deal that acknowledged the concept of putting a price on carbon emissions, but agreed the specific details, which would take into account provinces’ individual circumstances, could be worked out later. Canada’s four largest provinces, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, currently have either a tax on carbon or a cap-and-trade emissions-limiting system. But Brad Wall, the right-leaning premier of the western energy-producing province of Saskatchewan, has long been resistant to federal emissions-limiting plans. McKenna said provinces such as Saskatchewan can design a system in which emissions revenues go back to companies through tax cuts, which would dampen the impact of the extra cost brought by the carbon price.

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“Lower Saxony, home state to Volkswagen doesn’t offer electronic filing for civil litigation.”

1000s of VW Lawsuits To Be Filed By The End Of Monday, All in Print (BBG)

There was one thing Andreas Tilp and Klaus Nieding needed most for taking a wave of Volkswagen investor cases to court: a pickup truck. Nieding had a load of 5,000 suits sent Friday from his office in Frankfurt to Braunschweig, about 350 kilometers (218 miles) away. Tilp’s 1,000 or so complaints will arrive in a transport vehicle Monday, traveling more than 500 kilometers from his office in the southern German city of Kirchentellinsfurt. There was no other way to do it: Lower Saxony, home state to Volkswagen doesn’t offer electronic filing for civil litigation. The court in Braunschweig, the legal district that includes VW’s Wolfsburg headquarters, is expecting thousands of cases by the end of the day.

Investors are lining up to sue in Germany, where VW shares lost more than a third of their value in the first two trading days after the Sept. 18 disclosure of the emissions scandal by U.S. regulators. Monday is the first business day after the anniversary of the scandal and investors fear they have to sue within a year of the company’s admission that it had equipped about 11 million diesel vehicles with software to cheat pollution tests. The lawsuits disclosed so far are seeking 10.7 billion euros ($11.9 billion). The Braunschweig court has said it will release the total number this week. Volkswagen has consistently argued that it has followed all capital-markets rules and properly disclosed emissions issues in a timely fashion.

The super-sized filing is yet another example of the sheer scale of the scandal that’s haunted VW for a year. It forced the German carmaker into the biggest recall in its history to fix the cars or get them off the road entirely, the fines already levied are among the steepest against any manufacturer, and the carmaker has built up massive provisions to absorb the hit.

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What are the odds VW sponsored the report?

Many Car Brands Emit More Pollution Than Volkswagen (G.)

A year on from the “Dieselgate” scandal that engulfed Volkswagen, damning new research reveals that all major diesel car brands, including Fiat, Vauxhall and Suzuki, are selling models that emit far higher levels of pollution than the shamed German carmaker. The car industry has faced fierce scrutiny since the US government ordered Volkswagen to recall almost 500,000 cars in 2015 after discovering it had installed illegal software on its diesel vehicles to cheat emissions tests. But a new in-depth study by campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) found not one brand complies with the latest “Euro 6” air pollution limits when driven on the road and that Volkswagen is far from being the worst offender.

“We’ve had this focus on Volkswagen as a ‘dirty carmaker’ but when you look at the emissions of other manufacturers you find there are no really clean carmakers,” says Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at T&E. “Volkswagen is not the carmaker producing the diesel cars with highest nitrogen oxides emissions and the failure to investigate other companies brings disgrace on the European regulatory system.” T&E analysed emissions test data from around 230 diesel car models to rank the worst performing car brands based on their emissions in real-world driving conditions. Fiat and Suzuki (which use Fiat engines) top the list with their newest diesels, designed to meet Euro 6 requirements, spewing out 15 times the NOx limit; while Renault-Nissan vehicle emissions were judged to be more than 14 times higher. General Motors’ brands Opel-Vauxhall also fared badly with emissions found to be 10 times higher than permitted levels.

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Exposed. But too late.

The Ongoing Collapse of Economics (Caswell)

If we accept the rapidly growing body of evidence and authority suggesting that many of the core concepts of conventional macroeconomics are bollox, and that economists don’t really know what they’re doing, then the important question becomes ‘What next?’ As conventional macroeconomic theory crumbles in the face of facts, what will replace it? One of the primary contenders is Modern Monetary Theory, which focuses on money itself (something which, believe it or not, conventional macroeconomic theory doesn’t do). Another possibility is that macroeconomics will learn from complexity and systems theory, and that its models (and, hopefully, their predictive ability) will become more like those used in meteorology and climate science.

Anti-economist Steve Keen is working in this direction, influenced by the Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH) of Hyman Minsky, whatever that is. But wherever macroeconomics is going, it’s clear that the old order is collapsing. The theoretical orthodoxy that has guided the highest level of economic management for many decades is crumbling. Either economics is an objective science or it’s not. And if economics is not an objective science, then we quickly need an economics that is. Countless livelihoods and lives will be deeply affected by the revolution we are witnessing in theoretical macroeconomics. It may be dry, it may be boring, it may be theoretical, and it may seem incomprehensible. But it’s hard to think of any discussion that’s more important.

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Not looking good.

WaPo 1st Paper to Call for Prosecution of its Own Source -After Pulitzer- (GG)

Three of the four media outlets which received and published large numbers of secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden – The Guardian, The New York Times and The Intercept – have called for the U.S. Government to allow the NSA whistleblower to return to the U.S. with no charges. That’s the normal course for a newspaper, which owes its sources duties of protection, and which – by virtue of accepting the source’s materials and then publishing them – implicitly declares the source’s information to be in the public interest. But not The Washington Post.

In the face of a growing ACLU-and-Amnesty-led campaign to secure a pardon for Snowden, timed to this weekend’s release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the Post Editorial Page not only argued today in opposition to a pardon, but explicitly demanded that Snowden – their paper’s own source – stand trial on espionage charges or, as a “second-best solution,” “accept [] a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency.” In doing so, The Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own paper’s source – one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. But even more staggering than this act of journalistic treachery against their paper’s own source are the claims made to justify it.

The Post Editors concede that one – and only one – of the programs which Snowden enabled to be revealed was justifiably exposed – namely, the domestic metadata program, because it “was a stretch, if not an outright violation, of federal surveillance law, and posed risks to privacy.” Regarding the “corrective legislation” that followed its exposure, the Post acknowledges: “we owe these necessary reforms to Mr. Snowden.” But that metadata program wasn’t revealed by the Post, but rather by the Guardian.

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Soon one of many.

‘People’s Candidate’ Le Pen Vows To Free France From EU Yoke (AFP)

French far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen on Sunday vowed to give her country back control over its laws, currency and borders if elected president next year on an anti-EU, anti-immigration platform. Addressing around 3,000 party faithful in the town of Frejus on the Cote d’Azur, Le Pen aimed to set the tone for her campaign, declaring in her speech: “The time of the nation state has come again.” The FN leader, who has pledged to hold a referendum on France’s future in the EU if elected and bring back the French franc, said she was closely watching developments in Britain since it voted to leave the bloc. “We too are keen on winning back our freedom…. We want a free France that is the master of its own laws and currency and the guardian of its borders.”

Polls consistently show Le Pen among the top two candidates in the two-stage presidential elections to take place in April and May. But while the polls show her easily winning a place in the run-off they also show the French rallying around her as-yet-unknown conservative opponent in order to block her victory in the final duel. In Frejus, Le Pen sought to sanitise her image, continuing a process of “de-demonisation” that has paid off handsomely at the ballot box since she took over the FN leadership from her ex-paratrooper father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2011. “I am the candidate of the people and I want to talk to you about France, because that is what unites us,” the 48-year-old politician said in a speech that avoided any reference to the FN which is seen as more taboo than its leader.

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What would happen if she decides not to run next year?

Merkel Suffers Drubbing In Berlin Vote Due To Migrant Angst (R.)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives suffered their second electoral blow in two weeks on Sunday, with support for her Christian Democrats (CDU) plunging to a post-reunification low in a Berlin state vote due to unease with her migrant policy. The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) polled 11.5%, gaining from a popular backlash over Merkel’s decision a year ago to keep borders open for refugees, an exit poll by public broadcaster ARD showed. The result means the AfD will enter a 10th state assembly, out of 16 in total.

Merkel’s CDU polled 18%, down from 23.3% at the last election in 2011, with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) remaining the largest party on 23%. The SPD may now ditch the CDU from their coalition in the German capital. The blow to the CDU came two weeks after they suffered heavy losses in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The setbacks have raised questions about whether Merkel will stand for a fourth term next year, but her party has few good alternatives so she still looks like the most likely candidate.

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Perhaps there’s a contradiction hiding in realizing that globalization is moving in reverse, but still expecting global responses to crises.

Why Won’t The World Tackle The Refugee Crisis? (Observer)

It is now the greatest movement of the uprooted that the world has ever known. Some 65 million people have been displaced from their homes, 21.3 million of them refugees for whom flight is virtually compulsory – involuntary victims of politics, war or natural catastrophe. With just less than 1% of the world’s population homeless and seeking a better, safer life, a global crisis is under way, exacerbated by a lack of political cooperation – and several states, including the United Kingdom, are flouting international agreements designed to deal with the crisis. This week’s two major summits in New York, called by the United Nations general assembly and by President Barack Obama, are coming under intense criticism before the first world leaders have even taken their seats.

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and refugee charities are among those accusing both summits of being “toothless” and saying that the declaration expected to be ratified by the UN on Monday imposes no obligations on the 193 general assembly nations to resettle refugees. The Obama-led summit, meanwhile, which follows on Tuesday, is designed to extract pledges of funding which critics say too often fail to materialise. Steve Symonds, refugee programme director at Amnesty, said: “Funding is great and very much needed, but it’s not going to tackle the central point of some sharing of responsibility. The scale of imbalance there is growing, and growing with disastrous consequences.”

He said nations were sabotaging agreements through self-interest. “It’s very, very difficult to feel any optimism about this summit or what it will do for people looking for a safe place for them and their families right at this moment, nor tackle the awful actions of countries who are now thinking, ‘If other countries won’t help take responsibility, then why should we?’ and are now driving back desperate people. “Compelling refugees to go back to countries where there is conflict and instability doesn’t help this awful merry-go-round going on and on.”

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Mar 222016
 
 March 22, 2016  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Ford Motor Co., McReynolds & Sons garage, L Street, Washington DC 1926

US Existing Home Sales Tumble 7.1% In Warning For Housing Market (Reuters)
Companies Haven’t Fudged Their Numbers This Much Since 2009 (Yahoo)
Beware of Draghi Dropping Hints (FT)
Central Banks Creep Toward Uncomfortable Role as Central Planners (WSJ)
The ECB and The Mississippi Company Bubble (Macleod)
Germany Must Leave Eurozone To Save It: Mervyn King (CNBC)
Government Debt Could Bring China’s Credit Party To A Halt (MW)
China’s Debt Burden Is Only Going To Get Bigger (BV)
Home Is Where the Inflation Is (BBG)
Get Ready For An Australian Recession By 2017 (Steve Keen)
Regulator Warns Canadian Banks on Oil and Gas Reserves (WSJ)
Petrobras Posts Record $10 Billion Loss (Reuters)
Erdogan To Include Journalists, Politicians in ‘Terrorist’ Definition (Ind.)
The Uses of Disorder (Jim Kunstler)
Carbon Emission Release Rate ‘Unprecedented’ In Past 66 Million Years (G.)
The EU’s Deal With Turkey Is a No-Win Situation (Fortune)
Greece Appeals For EU Logistics Aid For Migrant Deal To Work (Reuters)
EU Rights Chief Demands More Protection For Refugees (AP)
Greece Sets Up Detention Camps As Refugee Deal Hits Delays (AP)

The US will keep doing what it can to prop up this bubble.

US Existing Home Sales Tumble 7.1% In Warning For Housing Market (Reuters)

U.S. home resales fell sharply in February in a potentially troubling sign for America’s economy which has otherwise looked resilient to the global economic slowdown. The National Association of Realtors said on Monday existing home sales dropped 7.1% to an annual rate of 5.08 million units, the lowest level since November. Sales have been volatile and prone to big swings up and down in recent months following the introduction in October of new mortgage regulations, which are intended to help homebuyers understand their loan options and shop around for loans best suited to their financial circumstances. February’s decline weighed on investor sentiment, with the S&P 500 stock index falling after the data was released. Sales fell across the country, including a 17.1% plunge in the U.S. Northeast.

Economists had forecast home resales decreasing 2.8% to a pace of 5.32 million units last month. Sales were up 2.2% from a year ago. The median price for a previously owned home increased 4.4% from a year ago to $210,800. The housing report runs counter to data showing strong job growth and a stabilization of factory output, which had taken a hit from weaker demand overseas and a strong U.S. dollar. Housing continues to be supported by a tightening labor market, which is starting to push up wage growth, boosting household formation. But a relative dearth of properties available for sale remains a challenge. “Finding the right property at an affordable price is burdening many potential buyers,” said NAR economist Lawrence Yun.

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Beware when accountants become society’s most creative people.

Companies Haven’t Fudged Their Numbers This Much Since 2009 (Yahoo)

Almost all of the companies in the S&P 500 have announced their quarterly earnings, and now Wall Street’s number crunchers are finalizing their conclusions as to what actually happened during the last three months of 2015. Unfortunately, it’s become an increasingly challenging task to understand the true financial performance of the big publicly traded companies because of the widening of something called the “GAAP gap.” Don’t worry: this topic isn’t as scary a concept as it sounds. In a nutshell, there’s a standard known as generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, which encourages some uniformity in how companies will report financial results. Unfortunately, the strict standards of GAAP often force companies to report big one-time, non-recurring items that will distort quarterly earnings, in turn making them a poor reflection of underlying operations.

And so, many companies will make adjustments for these items and separately report adjusted or non-GAAP financial results. All of that’s well and good. But there’s an unsettling trend we’ve been witnessing: the gap between GAAP and non-GAAP numbers is widening. Specifically, this “GAAP gap” is widening in such a way that more and more costs and expenses are being removed to make underlying profits look higher. “The gap between GAAP (reported) and pro forma (adjusted) EPS continued to widen in 4Q, with the GAAP/Pro forma ratio of 0.74 still at its most extreme levels since 2009,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Savita Subramanian said on Monday. “Trailing four-quarter (2015) GAAP EPS came in at $87 vs. $118 for pro forma EPS.”

It’s jarring to hear that any metric has returned to levels last seen during the financial crisis. Unfortunately, it’s hard to conclude what the implications are here because the issues are tied to just a few industries that are facing their own unique issues. “As was the case last quarter, the chief contributor to “GAAP gap” has been Energy asset impairments/write-downs, followed by M&A costs within Health Care,” Subramanian continued. “The Energy sector alone contributed to nearly half of the “GAAP gap” this quarter.” While this is certainly a top worth keeping an eye on, it would probably be a mistake to jump to any sweeping conclusions about the market and the economy. “We found that while a widening GAAP gap is not a leading indicator of a market downturn, companies with increasing deviations tend to systematically underperform the market,” Subramanian said.

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One day we’ll understand just how crazy this is.

Beware of Draghi Dropping Hints (FT)

It is a risky game, taking central bankers at their word. Investors should be wary of what central bankers appear to be saying or signalling. Like some politicians, economists and even journalists, they often change their mind. Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, is a case in point. Don’t be fooled by Mr Draghi when he signals that interest rates have been cut as low as they can go, as he did at the ECB’s March policy meeting. After reducing the deposit rate to minus 0.4%, he could not have been clearer when he said: “We don’t anticipate that it will be necessary to reduce rates further.” Although he kept the option of further cuts open, he outlined his unease about negative rates and their impact on the region’s commercial banks. Consequently, some investors and commentators think interest rates have hit their floor in the euro zone.

But Mr Draghi has made similar assertions after cutting rates before. In June 2014, he reduced rates to minus 0.1% and said: “For all practical purposes we have reached the lower bound.” In September 2014, he dropped rates to minus 0.2% and said: “We are at the lower bound where technical adjustments are not going to be possible any longer.” There is an obvious pattern. Mr Draghi signals the floor has been reached, only to change his mind later. The likely reason for his “no lower” signals is that he does not want to scare markets. Bank stocks, bonds and credit default swaps, which are a kind of insurance against default, have all been rocked by worries about negative rates and their impact on the banking business. There are also concerns for banks in euro zone countries such as Austria, Portugal and Spain, where mortgage rates could go negative in the event of the ECB cutting further, as these mortgages are linked to euro zone money market rates.

In other words, banks in Austria, Portugal and Spain may end up paying customers for lending to them, which would be bad news for their balance sheets. The Bank for International Settlements warned in a report this month that there was great uncertainty over the potential for deeper cuts into negative territory. However, “Life Below Zero”, a research paper by HSBC, the bank, suggests that the ECB could cut rates much further. It says that the Swiss National Bank currently operates the most negative rate of all the world’s leading central banks (minus 0.75%). If the costs incurred by Swiss banks were applied to the euro zone banking system, then the ECB’s deposit rate would be much more negative, at minus 1.8%. The ECB could also tier rates. At the moment, the ECB charges about 90% of its bank reserves at negative rates.

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“It’s capitalism with Chinese characteristics.”

Central Banks Creep Toward Uncomfortable Role as Central Planners (WSJ)

Are central banks heading back to an era of rationing money? The question may sound daft when policy makers are pumping gushers of cash into several of the world’s major economies. But as the central banks become more desperate to boost inflation and growth, they are starting to break one of the modern tenets of the profession by funneling that cash directly to what they regard as “good” uses. The past two weeks brought interventions by the Bank of Japan and ECB, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The Bank of Japan’s conditions for companies to qualify for exchange-traded funds it would like to buy sound like they come from a well-meaning government minister, not a monetary authority concerned about overall growth and inflation.

Companies could qualify by offering an “improving working environment, providing child-care support, or expanding employee-training programs.” The central bank wants financiers to create a new breed of ETFs it would like to buy. The ETFs would hold only shares of companies that are increasing capital spending, expanding spending on research and development or boosting what the Bank of Japan calls “human capital.” The latter means pay raises for staff, taking on more people or improving human resources. All these are eminently reasonable things to demand of companies, especially Japanese firms. All would probably be good for the economy, too. However, they have nothing to do with monetary policy. The basic aim of central banks is to adjust the overall economy while leaving the market and government to decide the best use of capital, decisions that are inherently political.

The problem, as Neal Soss, vice chairman of research at Credit Suisse, puts it, is “these are very, very challenging times for the economic orthodoxy,” and if governments won’t step up with an expansionary fiscal policy, central banks have little choice but to fill the gap. To be fair, Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda is hardly drawing up a Soviet-style five-year plan. Only ¥300 billion ($2.7 billion) a year will be spent “with the aim of supporting firms that are proactively investing in physical and human capital.” The worry is that the Bank of Japan has only just begun. “It’s a massive politicization of credit: Here are the legitimate things for lending, and here are the illegitimate things,” said Russell Napier, an independent strategist and author of “Anatomy of the Bear,” a study of 70,000 Wall Street Journal articles during major bear markets. “It’s capitalism with Chinese characteristics.”

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It’s awfully similar indeed. So why do we allow it to happen?

The ECB and The Mississippi Company Bubble (Macleod)

Last week, the ECB extended its monetary madness, pushing deposit rates further into negative figures. It is extending quantitative easing from sovereign debt into non-financial investment grade bonds, while increasing the pace of acquisition to €80bn per month. The ECB also promised to pay the banks to take credit from it in “targeted longer-term refinancing operations”. Any Frenchman with a knowledge of his country’s history should hear alarm bells ringing. The ECB is running the Eurozone’s money and assets in a similar fashion to that of John Law’s Banque Generale Privée (renamed Banque Royale in 1719), which ran those of France in 1716-20. The scheme at its heart was simple: use the money-issuing monopoly granted to the bank by the state to drive up the value of the Mississippi Company’s shares using paper money created for the purpose.

The Duc d’Orleans, regent of France for the young Louis XV, agreed to the scheme because it would provide the Bourbons with much-needed funds. This is pretty much what the ECB is doing today, except on a far larger Eurozone-wide basis. The need for government funds is of primary importance today, as it was then. In Law’s day, France did not have a central bank, such as the Bank of England, managing the issue of government debt, let alone a functioning government bond market. The profligate spending of Louis XIV had left the state three billion livres in debt, which was the equivalent of 1,840 tonnes of gold. This was about 85% of the world’s estimated gold stock at that time, at the livre’s conversion rate into Louis d’Or. John Law would almost double that by June 1720, with unbacked livre notes issued by his bank.

Today, the assets being overvalued for the governments’ benefit are government bonds themselves, but the principal is the same. There is no need to use a separate, Mississippi-style vehicle, because there is a fully functioning government bond market. Banque Generale created the bank credit for France’s upper and middle classes to buy Mississippi Company shares, driving up the price and making yet higher prices a certainty. Law had set up a money-making machine for those with a modicum of wealth, but the ten% down-payment required to subscribe for Mississippi shares made speculation available to the servant classes as well. The result was virtually everyone in Paris was caught up in the speculative fever, and Mississippi shares increased from the 15 livres deposit to 18,000 livres fully paid at the peak in June 1720. The term “millionaire” dated from that time.

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Simplistic. if Germany goes, so must Holland. And Austria. And then Belgium. France.

Germany Must Leave Eurozone To Save It: Mervyn King (CNBC)

Germany has grown too powerful and should leave the euro zone in order to save the union, former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said Monday. “That would be the best way forward, and I would hope that many of my American friends would stop pushing the Europeans to throw money at the problem and say we must make the euro successful,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The tragedy of the euro zone, said King, is that Germany entered the project in a bid to bind itself into Europe so that no European country would ever again fear the country’s power. But now Germany is more powerful economically and politically than it was when the euro was adopted, he said. Germany also sacrificed the Deutsche mark in the process, “the one really successful symbol of post-war German reconstruction,” he said.

While the United States, the U.K., and some European countries need to export and invest more while consuming less, Germany and China need to spend more and export less, King said. “Unless we’re prepared to tackle that problem head-on, which will involve some restructuring of the economy, then we shall just continue down this path of ever-lower rates and no growth,” he said. Last week, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned European leaders that monetary policy alone would not be enough to jump-start the economy and that governments needed to do their job by pushing through structural reforms. “I made clear that even though monetary policy has been really the only policy driving the recovery in the last few years, it cannot address some basic structural weaknesses of the euro zone economy,” Draghi told reporters.

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It’s just a matter of what comes first: run out of credit or run out of growth. Since ever more credit is needed to produce one ‘unit’ of growth, diminishing returns rule the day.

Government Debt Could Bring China’s Credit Party To A Halt (MW)

China’s economy may have run out of growth before it ran out of credit, but no one told its companies. One of the biggest China puzzles today is the seemingly never-ending ability of its corporates to access new supplies of credit, without running into trouble or someone saying no. Some analysts warn that we are looking in the wrong place for distress; it could be building in the government bond market. This year, China’s easy money policy has been most graphically on display through an unprecedented overseas buying spree by its companies. The latest Chinese company throwing its checkbook around is insurer Anbang with a $13.1 billion cash offer for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Earlier ChemChina broke China’s record for outbound merger and acquisition activity with an offer to buy Syngenta in cash for $44.1 billion.

In fact, in the first three months of this year, China outbound M&A activity has rocketed to $102.7 billion, almost equal to the record total of $107.5 billion for the whole of 2015, according to data from Dealogic. Heavily geared balance sheets appear no hindrance to connected mainland companies being able to access funding. On Monday, Shanghai shares rallied after more, cheaper money was promised to China’s brokers for margin financing. Yet it was possible to detect a hint of caution from the central bank governor at the weekend after the chorus of upbeat commentaries on the economy from China’s leaders in recent weeks. Zhou Xiaochuan said that “lending as a share of [gross domestic product], especially corporate lending as a share of GDP, is too high” and also that a high leverage ratio is more prone to macroeconomic risk.

Corporate gearing in China is now widely estimated at some 160% of GDP. It is these kinds of concerns that have led Moody’s to downgrade the outlook on China’s sovereign rating at the beginning of March. Other analysts are also turning their attention to central government debt — which has long been viewed as manageable — as these funding needs could emerge as a new fault line of distress. Societe Generale said in a new report the government bond market faces an unprecedented supply glut due to combined local and central government bond issuance. As the market has yet to factor in this exponential growth in government paper, it could lead to disruption, which could potentially spill over into the corporate bond market, they warn.

The upswing in issuance is due to an expanded local government debt swap program (where bad loans from special funding vehicles were swapped for debt) and central and local government fiscal deficits. In total, SG calculates this year could see a total net issuance of 7.58 trillion yuan, up by 2.66 trillion yuan from 2015. And this paper will keep coming. The latest audit report put the amount of local government debt eligible for being swapped into bonds at a massive 15.4 trillion yuan.

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Until it no longer can.

China’s Debt Burden Is Only Going To Get Bigger (BV)

China’s debt burden is only going to get bigger. Total borrowing has grown rapidly to reach about 250% of GDP last year, raising concerns about runaway credit. But pressure to meet unrealistic economic growth targets will delay any sustained effort to bring debt back down. The government’s latest five-year plan highlights the dilemma. Prime Minister Li Keqiang pledged that the world’s second-largest economy will expand by at least 6.5% a year, in real terms, until 2020. Meanwhile, planners expect total “social financing” – a broad measure of private sector credit – to grow by 13% in 2016 alone. So even if inflation reaches the optimistic target of 3%, debt will outstrip nominal GDP.

Extend those trends, and borrowing will hit about 290% of annual output by 2020. Central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan has expressed concerns about rising corporate debt levels but there’s little sign that China is reining in credit. Banks extended new loans worth 3.5 trillion yuan ($540 billion) in the first two months of 2016, a third more than in the same period of last year. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are using domestic debt to help finance an overseas M&A binge which totals nearly $100 billion this year, according to ThomsonOne. Though a healthier stock market would allow corporations to deleverage by issuing more equity, the collapse of last year’s bubble has made investors understandably skittish.

The government could perhaps take on a greater burden: official borrowing was about 44% of GDP last year, according to Breakingviews calculations based on data from the Bank for International Settlements. That’s well below the level in developed countries. However, this excludes borrowing by state-owned entities and local governments. Moody’s puts these contingent liabilities at between 50 and 70% of GDP. That leaves consumers, whose borrowings are just 39% of GDP. So households have plenty of scope to load up on mortgages and credit cards. A consumer credit boom might help deliver growth targets while also shifting the economy towards greater consumption. Whoever does the borrowing, however, debt levels will keep rising. As in the rest of the world, deleveraging will have to wait.

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More or less correct.

Home Is Where the Inflation Is (BBG)

The U.S. Federal Reserve has had a tough time getting inflation back up to desired levels. There’s one area, though, where it may be having a bigger effect than some of its major foreign counterparts: house prices. Comparing house prices across borders can be a fraught enterprise, given the idiosyncratic nature of housing markets and statistics. That said, after the U.S. housing bust tanked the global economy, the Bank for International Settlements started collecting and publishing data for a large number of countries. Though still imperfect, the data allow for some rough comparisons. The latest numbers, updated Friday, show the U.S. on a run: Over the year through September 2015, house prices exceeded consumer-price inflation by 5.9% – more than in the euro area, Japan or the U.K.

That put them up almost 15% in inflation-adjusted terms since the economy hit bottom in mid-2016, just short of the U.K. Although many factors can affect house prices, much of the difference is probably attributable to central-bank policy – pushing up house prices, after all, is one of the goals of monetary stimulus. The Fed and the Bank of England moved quickly and decisively to push down short-term and long-term interest rates in 2009 and beyond, while the ECB was relatively slow to respond to economic malaise and the Bank of Japan had already used much of its ammunition (though Japan’s demographics play a role, too).

The question, then, is whether higher house prices will do any good. In the short term, they increase inequality, because the benefit accrues to relatively wealthy property owners and raises the bar for poorer folks who want to own. The expectation is that this wealth effect will translate into greater spending and investment that will benefit everyone. There are some signs that may be happening – the U.S. economy is certainly doing better than the euro area’s. Still, real median household income – though rising – only slightly exceeds its pre-recession level. Price gains are undoubtedly a relief for millions of U.S. homeowners who came out of the crisis owing more on their mortgages than their houses were worth. Now the rest of the economy just has to catch up.

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I’m sure Steve will come back to the BIS source data, this time for other countries.

Get Ready For An Australian Recession By 2017 (Steve Keen)

For the last 25 years, Australian politicians of both Liberal and Labor hue have been able to brag that, under their stewardship, Australia has avoided a recession. Those bragging rights are about to come to an end. During the life of the next Parliament -and probably by 2017- Australia will fall into a prolonged recession. Whichever party is in opposition at the time will blame the incumbent, but in reality this recession has been set up by the sidestep both parties have used to avoid downturns for the past quarter century: whenever a crisis has loomed, they’ve avoided recession by encouraging the private sector to borrow and spend.

The end product of that is starkly evident in a new database on private and government debt published by the Bank of International Settlements. Australia’s most famous recession sidestep was during the GFC, when it was one of only two countries in the OECD to avoid experiencing two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth (the other country was South Korea). Since then, the private sectors of the advanced countries have collectively de-levered, reducing their debt levels from about 170 to 160% of GDP. Australia, in stark contrast, has levered up. Our private debt to GDP ratio is now more than 20% higher than when the GFC began, and more than 50% higher than in the USA (see Figure 1).

This credit sidestep has worked because the extra debt-financed expenditure lifted aggregate demand and income well above what it would have been in the absence of a debt binge (see Figure 2).

Unfortunately for Australia’s next Prime Minister, there are two catches to this trick. The obvious catch is that getting that much extra demand out of credit necessarily increases debt much faster than it increases income — hence the runaway ratio of debt to GDP shown in Figure 1 —and this can’t go on forever. The less obvious one is that when debt is at stratospheric levels that apply in Australia today, total demand falls even if the debt ratio merely stabilises. The logic is pretty simple: your spending in a year is the total of what you earn plus what you borrow, and the same maths applies to the economy as a whole. If nominal GDP grows this year at the 2.8% rate it has averaged for the last five years, then GDP in 2016 will be roughly $1,634 billion. If private debt continues to grow at its average rate of 6.9% per year, it will reach $3,414 billion —an increase of $220 billion over the year.

Total private sector demand (which is spent on both goods and services and asset purchases) will be $1,855 billion. What about 2017, if private debt grows at the same rate as GDP itself, so that the debt ratio stabilises? Then GDP will be $1,680bn, and private debt will rise from $3,414bn to $3,509bn — an increase of just $96bn over the year (compared to $220bn the year before). The sum of the two will be $1,775bn — 4.3% less than the year before. This is the inevitable debt crunch coming Australia’s way, but conventional economists are oblivious to this danger because they’ve brainwashed themselves to ignore private debt as just a “pure redistribution”, to quote Ben Bernanke. This deluded textbook thinking is why Bernanke didn’t see the GFC coming.

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But American banks’ exposure is much higher.

Regulator Warns Canadian Banks on Oil and Gas Reserves (WSJ)

Canada’s banking regulator is urging the country’s major banks to review their accounting practices to ensure they have sufficient reserves as the commodity-price collapse takes a toll on the economy. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions wants lenders to scrutinize their collective allowances, reserve funds that act as cushions to absorb potential future loan losses, the regulator’s chief said in an interview. “We want them to take a good look at their accounting practices,” said Superintendent of Financial Institutions Jeremy Rudin. “They should support loss-absorbing capacity and the ability to manage through difficult times in general,” he added.

The regulator is giving the country’s six biggest banks this guidance on their accounting as they face mounting criticism from some analysts that they haven’t amassed enough reserves to cover soured loans to the energy sector. That criticism was a recurring theme during calls following their fiscal first-quarter results, in which many banks warned of rising provisions for credit losses but assured investors their rainy-day cushions were adequate. Canadian bank shares have tumbled over the past year as the price of oil has collapsed, but the S&P/TSX Composite Bank Index is now up about 16.77% from its low in February, reflecting a rebound in oil. Still, oil prices remain an overhang for banks, underscoring the size of the energy industry in the Canadian economy and concerns that lenders will eventually be stung by higher loan losses.

Energy loans totaled 49.7 billion Canadian dollars ($38.2 billion) for the country’s six biggest banks during the November-to-January quarter, according to a report by TD Securities. Bank of Nova Scotia, Canada’s third-largest bank by assets, has the biggest direct oil and gas exposure at 3.6% of total loans. Some analysts are skeptical about the lenders’ reserving practices in part because U.S. banks, including J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo, have set aside millions more for their reserves as they brace for bigger energy-related losses.

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Brazil is a game of dominoes.

Petrobras Posts Record $10 Billion Loss (Reuters)

Brazil’s state-controlled oil company Petrobras posted its biggest-ever quarterly loss on Monday after booking a large writedown for oil fields and other assets as oil prices slumped and refinery projects faltered. Petróleo Brasileiro as the company at the epicenter of Brazil’s massive corruption scandal is commonly known, had a consolidated net loss of 36.9 billion reais ($10.2 billion) in the fourth quarter, according to a securities filing. The bigger-than-expected shortfall was 48% larger than the 26.6 billion-real loss a year earlier, the previous record. It also turned the company’s full-year 2015 result, which was positive through September, into a full-year loss. For a second year in a row, CEO Almir Bendine said, Petrobras will not pay dividends to either its government or non-government investors and it plans to make no bonus payments to employees.

The result caught analysts and investors by surprise. The largest fourth-quarter loss expected in a Reuters survey of analysts was 9.7 billion reais. Petrobras common shares fell 5.5% in after-hours electronic trading in New York, after the results were released. The red ink at Petrobras was driven by a 46% decline in the price of benchmark Brent crude oil, a drop that has driven up losses and caused writedowns throughout the global oil industry. Of the 46.4 billion reais written off in the quarter, 83% was for oil fields. A year earlier, writedowns were also the cause of Petrobras losses, although they were largely related to the giant price-fixing, bribery and political kickback scandal that has roiled the company and help fuel calls for the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

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Who needs enemies with friends like…

Erdogan To Include Journalists, Politicians in ‘Terrorist’ Definition (Ind.)

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan has claimed the definition of a terrorist should be changed to include their “supporters” – such as MPs, civil activists and journalists. It comes after three academics were arrested on charges of terrorist propaganda after publicly reading out a declaration that reiterated a call to end security operations in the south-east of Turkey, a predominantly Kurdish area. Mr Erdogan has said the academics will pay a price for their “treachery”. A British national was also detained on Tuesday despite having ordered the arrests, after he was found with pamphlets printed by the Kurdish linked People’s Democratic Party (HDP). “It is not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should also be defined as terrorists, regardless of their title,” President Erdogan said on Monday, adding that this could be a journalist, an MP or a civil activist.

His comments came the day after a suicide bomb attack in the country’s capital of Ankara killed at least 34 people and wounded 125 others when a car bomb was detonated near a main square in the Kizilay neighbourhood. Violent action between the government and the PKK – which is being blamed by authorities for the Ankara bombing – has reached its worst level for 20 years since fighting restarted last July. Hundreds of civilians, militants and security forces have been killed since the summer. President Erdogan has already threatened the future of Turkey’s highest court after it ruled that holding two journalists in pre-trial detention was a violation of their rights to freedom of expression. The journalists, Cumhuriyet newspaper editor Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul, were arrested on charges of revealing state secrets and attempting to overthrow the government. They reportedly face calls for multiple life sentences from prosecutors and will stand trial later in March.

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“It would be an awesome and wondrous event if the nation landed on November 8 with both parties in complete disarray..”

The Uses of Disorder (Jim Kunstler)

Many thoughtful and patriotic citizens entering the Kubler-Ross free-fire zone of desperate bargaining with reality are at work attempting to chart an orderly course around the Godzilla-like figure of Trump looming outside the desecrated once-shining city of American democracy. I doubt there is such an orderly way through this political bad weather. When storms hit, things break up. It can be argued endlessly whether times produce the man or vice versa, but except in the most schematic and wishful sense, is there any question that Donald Trump is unfit for the office he’s seeking? Personally, I am tortured by the question: why him? Why this vulgarian who can’t string together two sequentially coherent thoughts? Are there in this land of 320 million-plus people no other men or women with comfortable fortunes and better minds bold enough to take on the matrix of mafias running our affairs into the ground? Apparently not.

Then there is the question — only nascently theoretical at this point — of where such an orderly course of decision and action might lead this country. For Trump, it seems to be a restoration of the 1950s, when armies of “breadwinner” factory workers churned out cornucopias of Maytag washers and Zenith black-and-white televisions, and the less numerous Wogs of the outside world busied themselves with basket-weaving, and Atoms For Peace would make electric power “too cheap to meter,” and popular entertainment came in the chaste form of Dinah Shore urging the upward-aspiring masses to “see the USA in your Chevrolet!” That was, of course, the time of Trump’s childhood (and my own), and if there is anything more certain than night following day, it is that America is not going back to that sunny moment.

Trump and I are way past done growing up as human organisms and America is done growing as a techno-industrial political economy. People decline and die and are replaced by new people, and political economies wither and morph into sets of new activities and relations. The forces of history want to take us to this new disposition of things, and just about everything on the American scene these days is a manifestation of resistance to that journey. The destination is a much re-scaled and down-scaled edition of daily life in a de-globalized economy, with far fewer luxuries and a greater demand for earnestness, purposeful work, generosity-of-spirit, and plain dealing. These are not qualities exhibited by Trump, who represents only the poorly-articulated and grandiose wish to “make America great again.”

The institutional collapse of the Republican Party is in full swing now thanks to Trump. By the way, it could easily be matched by an equally brutal collapse of the Democratic Party if the head of the FBI makes any criminal referrals in the matter of the Clinton Foundation’s entanglements in official State Department business via an email slime trail. It would be an awesome and wondrous event if the nation landed on November 8 with both parties in complete disarray and more than a couple of rump factions posting candidates with dubious legitimate credentials to stand for election. In over two hundred years we have not seen a national election postponed, or canceled.

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Not since the dinosaurs died off. [..] “at the start of the PETM, no more than 1bn tonnes of carbon was being released into the atmosphere each year. In stark contrast, 10bn tonnes of carbon are released into the atmosphere every year by fossil fuel-burning and other human activity.”

Carbon Emission Release Rate ‘Unprecedented’ In Past 66 Million Years (G.)

Humanity is pumping climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere 10 times faster than at any point in the past 66m years, according to new research. The revelation shows the world has entered “uncharted territory” and that the consequences for life on land and in the oceans may be more severe than at any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Scientists have already warned that unchecked global warming will inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world. But the new research shows how unprecedented the current rate of carbon emissions is, meaning geological records are unable to help predict the impacts of current climate change. Scientists have recently expressed alarm at the heat records shattered in the first months of 2016.

“Our carbon release rate is unprecedented over such a long time period in Earth’s history, [that] it means that we have effectively entered a ‘no-analogue’ state,” said Prof Richard Zeebe, at the University of Hawaii, who led the new work. “The present and future rate of climate change and ocean acidification is too fast for many species to adapt, which is likely to result in widespread future extinctions.” Many researchers think the human impacts on the planet has already pushed it into a new geological era, dubbed the Anthropocene. Wildlife is already being lost at rates similar to past mass extinctions, driven in part by the destruction of habitats. “The new results indicate that the current rate of carbon emissions is unprecedented … the most extreme global warming event of the past 66m years, by at least an order of magnitude,” said Peter Stassen, a geologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium, and who was not involved in the work.

The new research, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, examined an event 56m years ago believed to be the biggest release of carbon into the atmosphere since the dinosaur extinction 66m years ago. The so-called Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) saw temperatures rise by 5C over a few thousand years. But until now, it had been impossible to determine how rapidly the carbon had been released at the start of the event because dating using radiometry and geological strata lacks sufficient resolution. Zeebe and colleagues developed a new method to determine the rate of temperature and carbon changes, using the stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon. It revealed that at the start of the PETM, no more than 1bn tonnes of carbon was being released into the atmosphere each year. In stark contrast, 10bn tonnes of carbon are released into the atmosphere every year by fossil fuel-burning and other human activity.

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“Franck Düvell is an associate professor and senior researcher at The University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society.”

The EU’s Deal With Turkey Is a No-Win Situation (Fortune)

As of this year, 2.7 to 3.5 million Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, and others have escaped to Turkey from the various evils and conflicts in the region, while 1 million moved on to the European Union. Policy failed to prevent this, and the EU is now entrenched in a moral panic over what is equivalent to a mere 0.2% of the population. Its recent deal with Turkey to send back irregular migrants in exchange for visa-free travel and billions in aid is not only a human rights violation, but could turn out to be a total PR stunt. The primary root of the refugee crisis stems back to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. But a secondary root lies in the lack of access to protection in the countries outside of the EU. Notably in Turkey, non-Syrians have to wait eight years for asylum interviews, Syrians only get temporary protection, and access to regular employment and social services is restricted for both groups.

They endure severe poverty and years in limbo. Meanwhile, the continuation of the flow is partly driven by women and children following their husbands who made the journey last year. Until the summer of 2015, the EU failed to agree on preventive policies, and Turkey bemoaned that it was left alone with the refugee crisis while failing to stop the outflow. Meanwhile, the EU kept relatively quiet, embracing an almost laissez faire attitude. But then numbers exploded and borders were practically overrun, eventually collapsing under the sheer weight of the number of people. In some incidences, refugees protested, occasionally hurling stones, replicating the actions during the Arab Spring and once more demonstrating for human dignity. Their suffering added a Ghandi-esc dimension to their claims. Human agency supported by a myriad of facilitators proved stronger than state policy.

The EU-Turkey “deal” refers to stopping and returning “irregular migrants” and “migrants not in need of international protection” in exchange for refugees to be resettled from Turkey. But 85% of all arrivals are from countries with many refugees, so the numbers affected would be comparably small. But then it also lists Syrians, hence refugees, to be returned. So far, Turkey has already struggled to stop the outflow within the limits of the law, and now turns to violent and illegal measures. The deal is thus inconsistent—and in case refugees are returned—highly legally questionable. The deal is also practically questionable. Which border gates will be used? Are there ferries, planes, and busses available to ship tens of thousands of people back to Turkey? Where will the returned be kept? How will their human dignity be secured?

How will the people who are resettled in exchange from Turkey to Europe be selected? Does Turkey have the political will and capacity to prevent human rights violations like destitution, or to change its legislation and extent refugee status to non-Europeans? In order to make the deal work, Turkey would (a) need to grant a refugee status that complies with EU and international law, and (b) rapidly develop and, more importantly, implement an integration strategy that could justify containing and simultaneously convincing refugees to stay in Turkey. And in the EU, many political parties and several governments need to drop their objections to visa liberalization for Turkey. And Member states that have so far refused to resettle refugees would need to change their position. All of this seems rather unrealistic.

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Insane that this was not done BEFORE the deal was signed.

Greece Appeals For EU Logistics Aid For Migrant Deal To Work (Reuters)

Greece appealed to EU partners on Monday for logistical help to implement a deal with Turkey meant to stem an influx of migrants into Europe, as people – many unaware of the tough new rules – continued to come ashore on Greek islands. Economically battered Greece, for months at the epicenter of Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War Two, is struggling to mount the massive logistics operation needed to process asylum applications from the many hundreds of migrants still arriving daily along its shoreline. Turkish officials arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos on Monday to help realize the deal, which requires new arrivals from March 20 to be held until their asylum applications are processed and for those deemed ineligible to be sent back to Turkey from April 4 onwards.

“We must move very swiftly and in a coordinated manner over the next few days to get the best possible result,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after meeting EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens. “Assistance in human resources must come quickly.” Under the EU-Turkey roadmap agreed last Friday, a coordination structure must be created by March 25 and some 4,000 personnel – more than half from other European Union member states – deployed to the islands by next week. Avramopoulos said France, Germany and the Netherlands had already pledged logistics and personnel. “We are at a crucial turning point … The management of the refugee crisis for Europe as a whole hinges on the progress and success of this agreement,” he said.

However, on Monday, the day after the formal start of an agreement intended to close off the main route through which a million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe last year, authorities said 1,662 people had arrived on Greek islands by 7 a.m. (0500 GMT), twice the official count of the day before.

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Too late.

EU Rights Chief Demands More Protection For Refugees (AP)

The Council of Europe commissioner for human rights is calling for additional measures to protect the rights of migrants now that a deal has been reached by the EU and Turkey. Nils Muiznieks said the deal’s legal and procedural safeguards should apply to all people – not just Syrians – reaching Greece or any EU country. Such safeguards should likewise extend to anyone who is returned to Turkey. He also called on Greece and Turkey to limit the use of detention of migrants to “exceptional” cases and take steps to ensure there are no collective returns. Muiznieks described the deal, which officially came into effect on Sunday, as “just a patch to plug one of the holes in the highly dysfunctional approach of European states to migration.”

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People come to you for help and you lock them up?!

Greece Sets Up Detention Camps As Refugee Deal Hits Delays (AP)

Greece detained hundreds of refugees and migrants on its islands Monday, as officials in Athens and the European Union conceded a much-heralded agreement to send thousands of asylum-seekers back to Turkey is facing delays. Migrants who arrived after the deal took effect Sunday were being led to previously open refugee camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios and held in detention, authorities on the islands said. EU countries are trying to avoid a repeat of the mass migration in 2015, when more than a million people entered the bloc. Most were fleeing civil war in Syria and other conflicts, traveling first to Turkey and then to the nearby Greek islands in dinghies and small boats. Efforts to limit migration have run into multiple legal and practical obstacles.

Under the deal, Greek authorities will detain and return newly arrived refugees to Turkey. The EU will settle more refugees directly from Turkey and speed up financial aid to Ankara. The two sides, however, are still working out how migrants will be sent back. “We are conscious of the difficulties,” EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said in Brussels. “And we are working 24-7 to make sure that everything that needs to be in place for this agreement to be implemented soon is happening.” Commission officials said support staff needed to implement the deal -including hundreds of translators and migration officers- would not start arriving until next week. Returns, they said, cannot start until Greece changes its law to recognize Turkey as a “safe country” for asylum applications.

The human rights group Amnesty International sharply criticized the plan. “Turkey does not offer adequate protection to anyone,” Iverna McGowan, the head of Amnesty’s EU office, told The Associated Press, accusing Turkey of routinely forcing Syrians back across the border.

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Dec 242015
 
 December 24, 2015  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC “Poli’s Theater, Washington, DC. Now playing: Edith Taliaferro in “Keep to the Right” 1920

Half The Country Is Either Living In Poverty Or Damn Near Close To It (AN)
Most Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MarketWatch)
The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 2 (Stockman)
Extreme Oil Bears Bet on $25, $20 and Even $15 a Barrel in 2016 (BBG)
US Banks Hit By Cheap Oil As OPEC Warns Of Long-Term Low (FT)
Oil Crash Is a Party Pooper as Holiday Affairs Lose Their Luster (BBG)
New Saudi Budget Expected to Be Squeezed by Low Oil Prices (WSJ)
OPEC Faces A Mortal Threat From Electric Cars (AEP)
The Trouble With Sovereign-Wealth Funds (WSJ)
China Tackles Housing Glut To Arrest Growth Slowdown (Xinhua)
German Emissions Scandal Threatens To Engulf Mercedes, BMW (DW)
Australia Approves Expansion of Barrier Reef Coal Terminal (WSJ)
Japanese Court Clears Way For Restart Of Nuclear Reactors (BBG)
On the 19th day of Christmas… [Am 19. Tag der Weihnachtszeit…] (Orlov)
Greek Banking Sector Cut In Half Since 2008 (Kath.)
No Further Cuts To Greek Pensions, Tsipras Tells Cabinet (Kath.)
Donald Trump: An Evaluation (Paul Craig Roberts)
20 Refugees Drown; 2015 Death Rate Over 10 Human Beings Each Day (CNN)

Yeah, recovery. Sure. “Jobs gained since the recession are paying 23% less than jobs lost..”

Half The Country Is Either Living In Poverty Or Damn Near Close To It (AN)

Recent reports have documented the growing rates of impoverishment in the U.S., and new information surfacing in the past 12 months shows that the trend is continuing, and probably worsening. Congress should be filled with guilt — and shame — for failing to deal with the enormous wealth disparities that are turning our country into the equivalent of a 3rd-world nation.

Half of Americans Make Less than a Living Wage According to the Social Security Administration, over half of Americans make less than $30,000 per year. That’s less than an appropriate average living wage of $16.87 per hour, as calculated by Alliance for a Just Society (AJS), and it’s not enough — even with two full-time workers — to attain an “adequate but modest living standard” for a family of four, which at the median is over $60,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. AJS also found that there are 7 job seekers for every job opening that pays enough ($15/hr) for a single adult to make ends meet.

Half of Americans Have No Savings A study by Go Banking Rates reveals that nearly 50% of Americans have no savings. Over 70% of us have less than $1,000. Pew Research supports this finding with survey results that show nearly half of American households spending more than they earn. The lack of savings is particularly evident with young adults, who went from a five-percent savings rate before the recession to a negative savings rate today. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman summarize: “Since the bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families.”

Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Can’t Afford to Fix Their Cars The Wall Street Journal reported on a Bankrate study, which found 62% of Americans without the available funds for a $500 brake job. A Federal Reserve survey found that nearly half of respondents could not cover a $400 emergency expense. It’s continually getting worse, even at upper-middle-class levels. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a JP Morgan study’s conclusion that “the bottom 80% of households by income lack sufficient savings to cover the type of volatility observed in income and spending.” Pew Research shows the dramatic shrinking of the middle class, defined as “adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars.” Market watchers rave about ‘strong’ and even ‘blockbuster’ job reports.

But any upbeat news about the unemployment rate should be balanced against the fact that nine of the ten fastest growing occupations don’t require a college degree. Jobs gained since the recession are paying 23% less than jobs lost. Low-wage jobs (under $14 per hour) made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, but accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained in the first three years of the recovery. Furthermore, the official 5% unemployment rate is nearly 10% when short-term discouraged workers are included, and 23% when long-term discouraged workers are included. People are falling fast from the ranks of middle-class living. Between 2007 and 2013 median wealth dropped a shocking 40%, leaving the poorest half with debt-driven negative wealth. Members of Congress, comfortably nestled in bed with millionaire friends and corporate lobbyists, are in denial about the true state of the American middle class. The once-vibrant middle of America has dropped to lower-middle, and it is still falling.

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Damning.

Most Americans Have Less Than $1,000 In Savings (MarketWatch)

Americans are living right on the edge — at least when it comes to financial planning. Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website GOBankingRates.com. “It’s worrisome that such a large%age of Americans have so little set aside in a savings account,” says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance analyst for the site. “They likely don’t have cash reserves to cover an emergency and will have to rely on credit, friends and family, or even their retirement accounts to cover unexpected expenses.”

This is supported by a similar survey of 1,000 adults carried out earlier this year by personal finance site Bankrate.com, which also found that 62% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (26%), borrowing from family and/or friends (16%) or using credit cards (12%). And among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used some or all of their savings in the Great Recession, according to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of over 4,000 adults released last year. Of course, paltry savings-account rates don’t encourage people to save either.

In the latest survey, 29% said they have savings above $1,000 and, of those who do have money in their savings account, the most common balance is $10,000 or more (14%), followed by 5% of adults surveyed who have saved between $5,000 and just shy of $10,000; 10% say they have saved $1,000 to just shy of $5,000. Just 9% of people say they keep only enough money in their savings accounts to meet the minimum balance requirements and avoid fees. But minimum balance requirements can vary widely and be hard to meet for some consumers. They can vary anywhere between $300 a month and $1,500 a month at some major banks.

Some age groups are less likely to have savings than others. Some 31% of Generation X — who are roughly aged 35 to 54 for the purpose of this survey — while being older and presumably more experienced with money than their younger cohorts, actually report a savings account balance of zero, which is the highest%age of all age groups. Around 29% of millennials — aged 18 to 34 — and 28% of baby boomers — aged 55 to 64 — said they have no money in their savings account. Baby boomers (17%) and seniors aged 65 and up (20%) have the most money saved of any age group while less than 10% of millennials and approximately 16% of Generation X have $10,000 or more saved.

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“High powered central bank credit has exploded from $2 trillion to $21 trillion since the mid-1990’s..”

The Keynesian Recovery Meme Is About To Get Mugged, Part 2 (Stockman)

Our point yesterday was that the Fed and its Wall Street fellow travelers are about to get mugged by the oncoming battering rams of global deflation and domestic recession. When the bust comes, these foolish Keynesian proponents of everything is awesome will be caught like deer in the headlights. That’s because they view the world through a forecasting model that is an obsolete relic – one which essentially assumes a closed US economy and that balance sheets don’t matter. By contrast, we think balance sheets and the unfolding collapse of the global credit bubble matter above all else. Accordingly, what lies ahead is not history repeating itself in some timeless Keynesian economic cycle, but the last twenty years of madcap central bank money printing repudiating itself.

Ironically, the gravamen of the indictment against the “all is awesome” case is that this time is different – radically, irreversibly and dangerously so. High powered central bank credit has exploded from $2 trillion to $21 trillion since the mid-1990’s, and that has turned the global economy inside out. Under any kind of sane and sound monetary regime, and based on any semblance of prior history and doctrine, the combined balance sheets of the world’s central banks would total perhaps $5 trillion at present (5% annual growth since 1994). The massive expansion beyond that is what has fueled the mother of all financial and economic bubbles. Owing to this giant monetary aberration, the roughly $50 trillion rise of global GDP during that period was not driven by the mobilization of honest capital, profitable investment and production-based gains in income and wealth.

It was fueled, instead, by the greatest credit explosion ever imagined – $185 trillion over the course of two decades. As a consequence, household consumption around the world became bloated by one-time takedowns of higher leverage and inflated incomes from booming production and investment. Likewise, the GDP accounts were drastically ballooned by a spree of malinvestment that was enabled by cheap credit, not the rational probability of sustainable profits. In short, trillions of reported global GDP – especially in the Red Ponzi of China and its EM supply chain – represents false prosperity; the income being spent and recorded in the official accounts is merely the feedback loop of the central bank driven credit machine.

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More casino. That’s all that‘s left.

Extreme Oil Bears Bet on $25, $20 and Even $15 a Barrel in 2016 (BBG)

Oil speculators are buying options contracts that will only pay out if crude drops to as low as $15 a barrel next year, the latest sign some investors expect an even deeper slump in energy prices. The bearish wagers come as OPEC’s effective scrapping of output limits, Iran’s anticipated return to the market and the resilience of production from countries such as Russia raise the prospect of a prolonged global oil glut. “We view the oversupply as continuing well into next year,” Jeffrey Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a note on Tuesday, adding there’s a risk oil prices would fall to $20 a barrel to force production shutdowns if mild weather continues to damp demand.

The bearish outlook has prompted investors to buy put options – which give them the right to sell at a predetermined price and time – at strike prices of $30, $25, $20 and even $15 a barrel, according to data from the New York Mercantile Exchange and the U.S. Depository Trust & Clearing. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, is currently trading at about $36 a barrel. The data, which only cover options deals that have been put through the U.S. exchange or cleared, is viewed as a proxy for the overall market and volumes have increased this week as oil plunged. Investors can buy options contracts in the bilateral, over-the-counter market too. Investors have bought increasing volumes of put options that will pay out if the price of WTI drops to $20 to $30 a barrel next year, the data show. The largest open interest across options contracts – both bullish and bearish – for December 2016 is for puts at $30 a barrel.

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2016 will be a very bad year for US energy lenders. And that’s not just the banks.

US Banks Hit By Cheap Oil As OPEC Warns Of Long-Term Low (FT)

US banks face the prospect of tougher stress tests next year because of their exposure to oil in a sign of how the falling price of crude is transforming the outlook not just for energy companies but the financial sector. OPEC on Wednesday lowered its long-term estimates for oil demand and said the price of crude would not return to the level it reached last year, at $100 a barrel, until 2040 at the earliest. In its World Oil Outlook it said energy efficiency, carbon taxes and slower economic growth would affect demand. Crude oil’s price on Tuesday hit an 11-year low below $36, piling further pressure on banks that have large loans to energy companies or significant exposure to oil on their trading books.

The US Federal Reserve subjects banks with at least $50bn in assets, including the US arms of foreign banks, to an annual stress test, that is designed to ensure they could keep trading through a deep recession and a big shock to the financial system. Today’s oil prices are about 55% below their level when the Fed set last year’s stress test scenarios in October 2014. That test included looking at how banks’ trading books would fare if there was a one-off 68% fall in oil prices sometime before the end of 2017. Banks’ loan books were not tested against falls in oil prices. Banks including Wells Fargo have recently spoken about the dangers of low oil prices that could make exploration companies and oil producers unable to pay their loans.

There are now five times as many oil and gas loans in danger of default to the oil and gas sector as there were a year ago, a trio of US regulators warned in November. Michael Alix, who leads PwC’s financial services risk consulting team in New York, warned the price of oil would weigh much more heavily on the assessors when drawing up next year’s bank stress tests. “It would test those institutions [banks] for both the direct effects [of oil price falls] on their oil or commodity trading business but importantly the indirect effects [of] lending to energy companies, lending in areas of the country that are more dependent on energy companies and energy-related revenues.”

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No kidding: “You can’t have a $2 million Christmas party while at the same time laying off half your workforce..”

Oil Crash Is a Party Pooper as Holiday Affairs Lose Their Luster (BBG)

The Grinch nearly stole Christmas in the oil patch this year. Thanks to the lowest crude and natural gas prices in more than a decade, Norwegian oil and natural gas producer Statoil cut its holiday party budget by about 40% from 2014. KBR Inc. and Marathon Oil opted for smaller affairs with less swank. One Houston hotel said its seasonal party business is down 25% from 2014. Pricey wine and champagne are off the menu. The industry has shed more than 250,000 jobs and idled more than 1,000 rigs as crude prices fell by more than half since last year. Oil services, drilling and supply companies are bearing the brunt of the downturn and account for more than three quarters of the layoffs, according to industry consultant Graves & Co. “You can’t have a $2 million Christmas party while at the same time laying off half your workforce,” said Jordan Lewis at Sullivan Group, a Houston event planning company.

Independent power generators have also been stung by cheap electricity amid declining gas prices. The heating and power plant fuel slid recently to the lowest level since 1999, and is heading for the biggest annual drop since 2006 as the lack of demand leaves stockpiles at a seasonal record. The commodity rout and the layoffs that followed have dampened holiday festivities. Several hundred Statoil employees were invited earlier this month to Minute Maid Park, where Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros play, for a party that featured scaled back entertainment and décor, spokesman Peter Symons said. At the Houston-based oil and gas construction firm KBR, management canceled this year’s companywide party. Instead, individual departments were encouraged to hold their own gatherings from potlucks to group socials, spokeswoman Brenna Hapes said.

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Like all the rest, they’ll go to war to hide their troubles.

New Saudi Budget Expected to Be Squeezed by Low Oil Prices (WSJ)

The drastic slide in global crude prices is expected to force Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, to slash spending and cut back on the billions of dollars it spends on generous benefits for its citizens in next year’s budget. The oil-rich kingdom spent hundreds of billions of dollars at home in the past decade to bolster its economy and dole out subsidies that provide cheap energy and food for its 30 million people, as it enjoyed years of high crude prices. But the price of oil has fallen by more than half since the middle of last year, forcing the government to dip into reserves, reassess its spending plans and look for ways to diversify sources of revenue. “I’m worried that prices would go up,” said a man waiting for his SUV to be filled in a gas station in northern Riyadh this week.

“There is a lot of talk but I think the government has put this into account,” he said, adding that he expects the increase in prices to be small. Saudi Arabia exports about seven million barrels of oil a day and those revenues make up around 90% of the government’s fiscal revenues, and around 40% of the country’s overall gross domestic product. Saudi Arabia sees the need to cut output to boost prices but so far has been reluctant to do it alone. Officials say that preserving the country’s share of the global market is more important. The 2016 budget, expected to be unveiled in the coming days, will be the first major opportunity for the government to publicly outline a strategy to cope with a prolonged period of cheap oil and soothe the nerves of both the public and investors in the Middle East’s largest economy.

It isn’t clear whether ambitious and sensitive policy changes—such as privatizations and the cutting of energy subsidies—will be included. But even if energy subsidies are cut, the government is unlikely to immediately target consumers, who have become accustomed to some of the lowest gas prices in the world. Any reduction would risk a backlash from the public. “My expectation is that it will start gradually, and that it will target non-consumers first,” said Fahad Alturki, chief economist at Riyadh-based firm Jadwa Investment, of potential subsidy cutbacks. “We won’t see a radical change….The change will be gradual, with a clear road map—and it may not be part of the budget.”

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Ambrose is the posterchild for techno-happy. The thinking is that all it takes is for a lot of money to be thrown at the topic. Mind you, the projection is for the number of cars to double in 25 years. That is a disaster no matter what powers the cars. The magic word is ‘grid-connected vehicles’, but that grid would then have to expand, what, 4-fold?

OPEC Faces A Mortal Threat From Electric Cars (AEP)

OPEC remains defiant. Global reliance on oil and gas will continue unchanged for another quarter century. Fossil fuels will make up 78pc of the world’s energy in 2040, barely less than today. There will be no meaningful advances in technology. Rivals will sputter and mostly waste money. The old energy order is preserved in aspic. Emissions of CO2 will carry on rising as if nothing significant had been agreed in a solemn and binding accord by 190 countries at the Paris climate summit. OPEC’s World Oil Outlook released today is a remarkable document, the apologia of a pre-modern vested interest that refuses to see the writing on the wall. The underlying message is that the COP21 deal is of no relevance to the oil industry. Pledges by world leaders to drastically alter the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions before 2040 – let alone to reach total “decarbonisation” by 2070 – are simply ignored.

Global demand for crude oil will rise by 18m barrels a day (b/d) to 110m by 2040. The cartel has shaved its long-term forecast slightly by 1m b/d, but this is in part due to weaker economic growth. One is tempted to compare this myopia to the reflexive certainties of the 16th Century papacy, even as Erasmus published in Praise of Folly, and Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church. The 407-page report swats aside electric vehicles with impatience. The fleet of cars in the world will rise from 1bn to 2.1bn over the next 25 years – topping 400m in China – and 94pc will still run on petrol and diesel. “Without a technology breakthrough, battery electric vehicles are not expected to gain significant market share in the foreseeable future,” it said. Electric cars cost too much. Their range is too short. The batteries are defective in hot or cold conditions.

OPEC says battery costs may fall by 30-50pc over the next quarter century but doubts that this will be enough to make much difference, due to “consumer resistance”. This is a brave call given that Apple and Google have thrown their vast resources into the race for plug-in vehicles, and Tesla’s Model 3s will be on the market by 2017 for around $35,000. Ford has just announced that it will invest $4.5bn in electric and hybrid cars, with 13 models for sale by 2020. Volkswagen is to unveil its “completely new concept car” next month, promising a new era of “affordable long-distance electromobility.” The OPEC report is equally dismissive of Toyota’s decision to bet its future on hydrogen fuel cars, starting with the Mirai as a loss-leader. One should have thought that a decision by the world’s biggest car company to end all production of petrol and diesel cars by 2050 might be a wake-up call.

Goldman Sachs expects ‘grid-connected vehicles’ to capture 22pc of the global market within a decade, with sales of 25m a year, and by then – it says – the auto giants will think twice before investing any more money in the internal combustion engine. Once critical mass is reached, it is not hard to imagine a wholesale shift to electrification in the 2030s. Goldman is betting that battery costs will fall by 60pc over the next five years, driven by economies of scale as much as by technology. The driving range will increase by 70pc. This is another world from OPEC’s forecast.

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They’re all invested in hubris.

The Trouble With Sovereign-Wealth Funds (WSJ)

Kazakhstan’s $55 billion sovereign-wealth fund helped pull the country through the global financial crisis and offered funding for the country’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. But the collapse in oil prices has hit Kazakhstan and its fund, Samruk-Kazyna JSC, hard. In October, the fund borrowed $1.5 billion in its first syndicated loan to help a cash-strapped subsidiary saddled with a troubled oil-field investment. “Our oil company lost lots of its revenues,” says the fund’s chief executive, Umirzak Shukeyev. “Currently, we are trying to adjust to the situation.” Funds like Samruk are at a critical juncture. For years, sovereign-wealth funds—financial vehicles owned by governments—swelled in size and number, fueled by rising oil prices and leaders’ aspirations to increase economic growth, invest abroad and boost political influence.

A new wave of sovereign funds came from African countries like Ghana and Angola. Asian nations joined in with funds like 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. The world’s sovereign-wealth funds together have assets of $7.2 trillion, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, which studies them. That is twice their size in 2007, and more than is managed by all the world’s hedge funds and private-equity funds combined, according to JP Morgan. The number of funds tracked by the Institute of International Finance is up 44% to 79 since the end of 2007. Nearly 60% of sovereign-wealth-fund assets are in funds dependent on energy exports. Now, some funds are shrinking or are being tapped by governments as oil revenues fall.

That is forcing them to borrow or sell investments, potentially pressuring global markets just as other investors are pulling back from risk. Saudi Arabia’s central bank, which functions in some ways like a sovereign-wealth fund as it holds significant reserves that are invested widely, has sold billions in assets this year. Norway says it plans to tap its fund, the world’s largest, for the first time in 2016. The stress from low energy prices comes at a sensitive time. At least two funds are embroiled in controversy. 1MDB, which amassed $11 billion in debt, is the subject of at least nine investigations at home and abroad. One of its main financial backers was an Abu Dhabi fund. The head of South Korea’s fund stepped down in the wake of a public outcry over his plan to invest in the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Adnan Mazarei, deputy director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, says the worry is sovereign-wealth funds will be forced to sell during a period of already turbulent markets. “A withdrawal of assets by sovereign-wealth funds against the background of liquidity concerns could lead to large price movements,” he says. “Nobody knows how much or when but the concern is there.”

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Behind the curve by a mile and a half: “China will roll out policy to transform 100 million farmers into registered urban residents..”

China Tackles Housing Glut To Arrest Growth Slowdown (Xinhua)

China will continue to actively destock its massive property inventory over concerns that the ailing housing market could derail the economy.Along with cutting overcapacity and tackling debt, destocking will be a major task in 2016, according to a statement released on Monday after the Central Economic Work Conference, which mapped out economic work for next year.Attendees of the meeting agreed that rural residents that move to urban areas should be allowed to register as residents, which would encourage them to buy homes in the city. Property developers have been advised to reduce home prices, according to the statement.”Obsolete restrictive measures [in the property market] will be revoked,” said the statement, without specifying which “restrictive measures” it was referring to.

To rein in house prices, China has been trying to curb real estate speculation, with policies such as “home purchase restriction” that only allows registered residents to buy houses. It is believed the restrictive policies mainly affected the property markets in third- and fourth-tier cities, which saw the most supply glut. The property market took a downturn in 2014 due to weak demand and a supply glut. This cooling continued into 2015, with sales and prices falling, and investment slowing. Property investment’s GDP contribution in the first three quarters of this year hit a 15-year low of 0.04%. The property market is vital to steel and cement manufacturers, as well as furniture producers; its poor performance would breed financial risks.

GDP growth during the January-September period eased to 6.9%, down from 7.4% posted for the whole of 2014. Policymakers believe the housing inventory will be lessened as long as rural residents are encouraged to buy. Nearly 55% of the population live in cities but less than 40% are registered to do so. There are around 300 million migrant workers but most are denied “hukou” (official residence status). In addition to housing rights, a hukou gives the holder equal employment rights and social security services, and their children are allowed to be enrolled in city schools. Starting next year, China will roll out policy to transform 100 million farmers into registered urban residents, according to Xu Shaoshi, head of the National Development and Reform Commission, on Tuesday. No deadline for completion was specified.

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Be that way: “Should you in any way present the accusation that my client manipulated its emissions data, we will act against you with all necessary sustainability and hold you responsible for any economic damage that my client suffers as a result.”

German Emissions Scandal Threatens To Engulf Mercedes, BMW (DW)

The environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and German state broadcaster ZDF presented the results of nitric oxide tests they had conducted on two Mercedes and BMW diesel models. They appeared to show similar discrepancies between “test mode” and road conditions that hit Volkswagen earlier this year, triggering one of the biggest scandals in German automobile history. In response to the report released on December 15, a law firm representing Daimler, which owns Mercedes, sent a letter to the DUH that read, “Should you in any way present the accusation that my client manipulated its emissions data, we will act against you with all necessary sustainability and hold you responsible for any economic damage that my client suffers as a result.”

In defiance of another threat by the Schertz law firm, the DUH published the threatening letter in full on its website. “We have been massively threatened two more times, demanding that we take down the letter – we have told them we won’t,” DUH chairman Jürgen Resch told DW on Wednesday. “For me it’s a very serious issue, because in 34 years of full-time work in environmental protection, and dealing with businesses, I have never experienced a business using media law to try and keep a communication – and a threatening letter at that – secret. “How are we supposed to do our work as a consumer and environmental protection organization when industry forbids us from making public certain threats it makes?” an outraged Resch added. “I think the threat itself is borderline legal coercion.”

In a short documentary broadcast on December 15, ZDF tested three diesel cars – a Mercedes C200 CDI from 2011, a BMW 320d from 2009, and a VW Passat 2.0 Blue Motion from 2011 – and showed that all three produced more nitric oxide on the road than they did in an official laboratory test. “The measurement results show that the cars behave differently on the test dynamometer than when they are driven on the road,” said the laboratory at the University of Applied Sciences in Bern, Switzerland, which carried out the tests. The discrepancies researchers found were not small – while all three cars kept comfortably below the European Union’s legal nitric oxide limit (180 milligrams per kilometer) in the lab, they all went well over the standard on the road, where the BMW recorded 428 mg/km (2.8 times its lab result), the Mercedes hit 420 mg/km (2.7 times its lab result), and the VW Passat reached 471 mg/km (3.7 times its lab result).

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Anything for a buck.

Australia Approves Expansion of Barrier Reef Coal Terminal (WSJ)

Australia approved the expansion of a shipping terminal close to the Great Barrier Reef on Tuesday, drawing criticism from environmentalists who say an area of outstanding natural beauty is threatened by the decision. Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he would allow the extension the Abbot Point terminal—used to ship coal to markets in Asia—with 30 conditions to help protect the environment, including a requirement that dredge material be dumped on land instead of in water near the World Heritage-listed reef. The expanded port will serve one of the world’s largest coal mines that is being developed by Adani Group in Queensland, a state in eastern Australia where the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is also located.

The Indian conglomerate aims to use the port to ship as much as 60 million tons of thermal coal annually to its power plants in India. “The port area is at least 20 kilometers from any coral reef and no coral reef will be impacted,” said a spokeswoman for Mr. Hunt, adding: “All dredge material will be placed onshore on existing industrial land.” The government of Queensland, which receives an estimated 6 billion Australian dollars (US$4.3 billion) a year from reef tourism, has yet to approve the expansion, but isn’t expected to block it with the government hoping to unlock a new wave of resource projects. The extension of Abbot Point will lead to the dredging of more than 1 million cubic meters of mud and rock nearby to the reef.

Environmentalists have been equally critical of Adani’s plans to build its Carmichael coal mine and associated infrastructure in the region—because of the potential impact on a native Australian lizard and another vulnerable species. Pro-environment groups said the federal government’s approval of the port expansion wouldn’t only harm wildlife, but also run counter to Australia’s pledge at the Paris global climate conference this month to work toward curbing emissions from fossil fuels such as coal, among the country’s top exports. “The Abbot Point area to be dredged is home to dolphins and dugongs which rely on the sea grass there for food,” said Shani Tager, a Greenpeace campaigner. “It’s also a habitat for endangered marine life like turtles and giant manta rays, and is in the path of migrating humpback whales. “It’s reckless and pointless to gouge away at a pristine habitat to build a port for a coal mine nobody needs,” she added.

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One more accident away from civil war.

Japanese Court Clears Way For Restart Of Nuclear Reactors (BBG)

A Japanese court has cleared the way for Kansai Electric Power to restart two of its nuclear reactors early next year. The Fukui District Court on Thursday removed an injunction preventing the operation of Kansai Electric’s Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 nuclear reactors, Tadashi Matsuda, a representative for the citizen’s group that initiated the case, said by phone. The court also rejected a demand by local residents to block the resumption of reactor operations at Kansai Electric’s Ohi plant. The ruling was earlier reported by broadcaster NHK. “We think that today’s decisions are a result of the understanding that safety at Takahama and Ohi is guaranteed,” Kansai Electric said in a statement. Residents of Fukui who oppose the restarts plan to appeal the ruling to a higher court, according to Matsuda.

Kansai Electric, the utility most dependent on nuclear power before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, aims to restart Takahama No. 3 in late January or February, according to a company presentation last month. It is slated to be the third Japanese reactor to restart under post-Fukushima safety rules. Firing up both units will boost Kansai Electric’s profits by as much as 12.5 billion yen ($104 million) a month, according to Syusaku Nishikawa, a Tokyo-based analyst at Daiwa Securities. The two reactors at the Takahama facility, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Kyoto, were commissioned in 1985 and have a combined capacity of 1,740 megawatts.

Operations of the units were suspended in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that caused a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi facility. The units received restart approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority in February, though court challenges stopped them from resuming operation. On Tuesday, Fukui prefecture Governor Issei Nishikawa granted his approval for the restarts. While not enshrined in law, local government approval is traditionally sought by Japanese utilities before they return the plants to service.

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Very much worth reading by Dmitry. I can’t copy the whole thing, but do read it.

On the 19th day of Christmas… [Am 19. Tag der Weihnachtszeit…] (Orlov)

You see, the Ukraine produces over half of its electricity using nuclear power plants. 19 nuclear reactors are in operation, with 2 more supposedly under construction. And this is in a country whose economy is in free-fall and is set to approach that of Mali or Burundi! The nuclear fuel for these reactors was being supplied by Russia. An effort to replace the Russian supplier with Westinghouse failed because of quality issues leading to an accident. What is a bankrupt Ukraine, which just stiffed Russia on billions of sovereign debt, going to do when the time comes to refuel those 19 reactors? Good question! But an even better question is, Will they even make it that far? You see, it has become known that these nuclear installations have been skimping on preventive maintenance, due to lack of funds.

Now, you are probably already aware of this, but let me spell it out just in case: a nuclear reactor is not one of those things that you run until it breaks, and then call a mechanic once it does. It’s not a “if it ain’t broke, I can’t fix it” sort of scenario. It’s more of a “you missed a tune-up so I ain’t going near it” scenario. And the way to keep it from breaking is to replace all the bits that are listed on the replacement schedule no later than the dates indicated on that schedule. It’s either that or the thing goes “Ka-boom!” and everyone’s hair falls out. How close is Ukraine to a major nuclear accident? Well, it turns out, very close: just recently one was narrowly avoided when some Ukro-Nazis blew up electric transmission lines supplying Crimea, triggering a blackout that lasted many days.

The Russians scrambled and ran a transmission line from the Russian mainland, so now Crimea is lit up again. But while that was happening, the Southern Ukrainian, with its 4 energy blocks, lost its connection to the grid, and it was only the very swift, expert actions taken by the staff there that averted a nuclear accident. I hope that you know this already, but, just in case, let me spell it out again. One of the worst things that can happen to a nuclear reactor is loss of electricity supply. Yes, nuclear power stations make electricity—some of the time—but they must be supplied with electricity all the time to avoid a meltdown. This is what happened at Fukushima Daiichi, which dusted the ground with radionuclides as far as Tokyo and is still leaking radioactive juice into the Pacific.

And so the nightmare scenario for the Ukraine is a simple one. Temperature drops below freezing and stays there for a couple of weeks. Coal and natural gas supplies run down; thermal power plants shut down; the electric grid fails; circulator pumps at the 19 nuclear reactors (which, by the way, probably haven’t been overhauled as recently as they should have been) stop pumping; meltdown!

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And what is left is being sold to investor funds.

Greek Banking Sector Cut In Half Since 2008 (Kath.)

The unprecedented crisis that has been squeezing the country since 2009 has seen domestic banks shrink to half the size they were seven years ago. According to data compiled by Kathimerini, some 50,000 jobs have been lost in the sector since 2008, of which 25,000 are in Greece and 25,000 abroad. The total number of branches has been reduced by 3,500 to 4,200 from 7,715 at the end of 2008. Local lenders have also halted operations at 1,700 branches in Greece as well as 2,175 cash machines. The number of branches in Greece has dropped by 42.3%, employees by 36% and ATMs by 28.7%. There are 49.3% fewer branches abroad and 51.7% fewer employees.

The storm within the banking system and the domestic economy is best reflected in the level of deposits and loans: The total deposits of €240 billion six years ago have now been cut in half to €120 billion. The sum of outstanding loans may be 35% less than in 2009 in theory, at €204 billion, but in reality the reduction is far greater, as €100 billion of that €204 billion is not being serviced. Therefore the real picture of the banking system shows deposits of 120 billion and serviced loans of less than €110 billion, meaning that the credit sector has halved since end-2008. Bank officials say that contraction was inevitable given the 25% decline of GDP from 2009 to 2015, with forecasts pointing to a greater recession in 2016.

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If the troika wants it, it’ll happen anyway.

No Further Cuts To Greek Pensions, Tsipras Tells Cabinet (Kath.)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pledged there will be no further cuts to pensions adding that social security reform is necessary for the completion of the nation’s bailout program review by foreign creditors. “This red line is non-negotiable: we will not reduce main pensions for a 12th time,” Tsipras told his cabinet on Wednesday. Tsipras said the bailout agreement did not mandate fresh cuts to pensions. “What the agreement calls for is cuts in spending; it does not say that these will come by reducing pensions,” he said.

Previous cuts, Tsipras said, had brought Greek pensions down by an average 45%. However, they had failed to ensure the sustainability of the country’s social security system. The government is trying to build a viable system without disrupting social cohesion, the leftist PM said. Tsipras said that pension reform is the final prerequisite for wrapping up the assessment of the Greek program so that talks on debt relief can proceed. “The goal is to complete the first review as soon as possible while keeping in place a safety net for the weakest,” he said.

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Well written.

Donald Trump: An Evaluation (Paul Craig Roberts)

Donald Trump, judging by polls as of December 21, 2015, is the most likely candidate to be the next president of the US. Trump is popular not so much for his stance on issues as for the fact that he is not another Washington politican, and he is respected for not backing down and apologizing when he makes strong statements for which he is criticized. What people see in Trump is strength and leadership. This is what is unusual about a political candidate, and it is this strength to which voters are responding. The corrupt American political establishment has issued a “get Trump” command to its presstitute media. Media whore George Stephanopoulos, a loyal follower of orders, went after Trump on national television. But Trump made mincemeat of the whore.

Stephanopoulos tried to go after Trump because the world’s favorite leader, President Putin of Russia, said complimentary things about Trump, and Trump replied in kind. According to Stephanopoulos, “Putin has murdered journalists,” and Trump should be ashamed of praising a murderer of journalists. Trump asked Stephanopoulos for evidence, and Stephanopoulos didn’t have any. In other words, Stephanopoulos confirmed Trump’s statement that American politicians just make things up and rely on the presstitutes to support invented “facts” as if they are true. Trump made reference to Washington’s many murders. Stephanopoulos wanted to know what journalists Washington had murdered. Trump responded with Washington’s murders and dislocation of millions of peoples who are now overrunning Europe as refugees from Washington’s wars.

B ut Trumps advisors were not sufficiently competent to have armed him with the story of Washington’s murder of Al Jazerra’s reporters. Here is a report from Al Jazeera, a far more trustworthy news organization than the US print and TV media:

“On April 8, 2003, during the US-led invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayoub was killed when a US warplane bombed Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Baghdad. “The invasion and subsequent nine-year occupation of Iraq claimed the lives of a record number of journalists. It was undisputedly the deadliest war for journalists in recorded history.

“Disturbingly, more journalists were murdered in targeted killings in Iraq than died in combat-related circumstances, according to the group Committee to Protect Journalists. “CPJ research shows that “at least 150 journalists and 54 media support workers were killed in Iraq from the US-led invasion in March 2003 to the declared end of the war in December 2011.” “’The media were not welcome by the US military,’” Soazig Dollet, who runs the Middle East and North Africa desk of Reporters Without Borders told Al Jazeera. ‘That is really obvious.’”

A political candidate with a competent staff would have immediately fired back at Stephanopoulos with the facts of Washington’s murder of journalists and compared these facts with the purely propagandistic accusations against Putin which have no basis whatsoever in fact. The problem with Trump is the issues on which the public is not carefully judging him. I don’t blame the public. It is refreshing to have a billionaire who can’t be bought expose the insubstantialality of all the Democratic and Repulican candidates for president. A collection of total zeros. Unlike Washington, Putin supports the sovereignty of countries. He does not believe that the US or any country has the right to overthrow governments and install a puppet or vassal. Recently Putin said: “I hope no person is insane enough on planet earth who would dare to use nuclear weapons.”

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3700 deaths in the Mediterranean in 2015. We don’t have enough shale or tears left to do them justice. We’re morally gone.

20 Refugees Drown; 2015 Death Rate Over 10 Human Beings Each Day (CNN)

The Turkish coast guard launched a search and rescue mission after at least nine migrants drowned off the nation’s coast. Eleven people remain missing and 21 have been rescued, the coast guard said Thursday. There was no information on their country of origin. The International Organization for Migration released a report this week saying more than a million migrants had entered Europe this year. The figures show that the vast majority – 971,289 – have come by sea over the Mediterranean. Another 34,215 have crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria and Greece by land. Among those traveling by sea, 3,695 are known to have drowned or remain missing as they attempted to cross the sea on unseaworthy boats, according to IOM figures. That’s a rate of more than 10 deaths each day this year.

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