Jan 022019
 January 2, 2019  Posted by at 10:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »

Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora Maar pensive 1937


China Warns Cities To Cut Reliance On Property, Developers’ Shares Fall (R.)
Chinese Manufacturing Had An Even Worse December Than Expected (CNBC)
Markets Dive As China Manufacturing Weakens In Bleak Start To 2019 (G.)
The Future Might Not Belong to China (Martin Wolf)
Australian Home Prices Mark Worst Year Since 2008 (R.)
The Anti-Trump Party (Turley)
Red Paul: The Senator from Kentucky is Now Working for Vladimir Putin (M.)
MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven (Zuesse)
Reasons To Be Hopeful About The Environment In 2019 (G.)



Beijing has both actively and passively encouraged real estate sales. Now they move into “we warned you”, and shift the blame onto local government. Ominous, Xi tries to wash his hands from what he sees coming.

China Warns Cities To Cut Reliance On Property, Developers’ Shares Fall (R.)

China’s regional economies need to reduce their reliance on the property market for growth and instead focus on sustainable longer-term development, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily wrote on Wednesday. Hundreds of cities across China have seen upswings in their local property markets in recent years under a long-term plan by Beijing to further urbanize the country. In the last few years, the process of building new homes and revamping old ones has accelerated, backed by local governments keen to boost land sales and meet red-hot property demand. The total sales of China’s top 100 real estate developers soared 35 percent last year, according to private research firm CIRC.

But Beijing is concerned that some cities, looking for rapid expansion, have grown their property markets too quickly and at the expense of new industry development, adding potential froth to real estate prices. “All areas should focus on their own urbanization processes, develop their own pillar industries according to population mobility and resources, and form new points of growth to avoid the old road of relying on real estate to drive the economy,” the commentary quoted a professor at the Capital University of Economics and Business as saying. [..] The article also comes as a number of Chinese city authorities seek to ease existing curbs on their property markets, despite broader directives from Beijing to keep prices in check. Last week, the city of Hengyang rescinded an order to lift restrictions on property prices, having just introduced the easing measure a day earlier.

Read more …

So housing slumps, and so does industry. One month left till Chinese new year.

Chinese Manufacturing Had An Even Worse December Than Expected (CNBC)

Results of a private survey on China’s manufacturing for the month of December showed factory activity contracted for the first time in 19 months amid a trade dispute with the U.S. The Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ index (PMI), a private survey, fell to 49.7 in December from 50.2 in November. Analysts’ in a Reuters poll predicted the PMI to come in at 50.1 in December. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that level signals contraction. In December, two separate measures for new orders and new export orders showed contraction, the Caixin survey showed.

“That showed external demand remained subdued due to the trade frictions between China and the U.S., while domestic demand weakened more notably,” wrote Zhengsheng Zhong, director of macroeconomic analysis at CEBM Group, a subsidiary of Caixin. “It is looking increasingly likely that the Chinese economy may come under greater downward pressure,” Zhong added in the press release. [..] The slide in China’s PMI is “worrying” as there will be broader fallout on Asian exporters, said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank.

Even though China’s manufacturing PMI typically slows ahead of Chinese New Year holidays — starting on February 5 in 2019 — this particular downturn in the sector “could be even sharper than headlines suggest,” Varathan wrote in a note on Wednesday. He added that the sustained downturn in manufacturing PMI in the second half of 2018 “with emphatic year-end slide” is “potentially symptomatic of far sharper underlying demand pullback. Especially as front-running US tariffs on China fade to reveal much softer demand conditions.”

Read more …

Whoever it is who holds Chinese stocks, some incurred some big losses.

Markets Dive As China Manufacturing Weakens In Bleak Start To 2019 (G.)

China’s huge manufacturing sector has shrunk for the first time in 19 months, sending stock markets into a tailspin in an ominous start to 2019. The weak data released on Wednesday follows a slew of other disappointing figures from the world’s second largest economy and underline concerns that is heading for a tough 12 months. Stock markets in the region suffered. Hong Kong was down 2.7%, Shanghai off 1.2% and the ASX 200 benchmark closed down 1.6% in Sydney. In South Korea, figures showed that its crucial export industries finished the year on a poor note, sending the Kospi stock index down 1.7% at the end of trading.

Asia biggest market, Japan, was closed for a holiday. But the selling looks set to spread to Europe and the US with FTSE futures pointing to a 0.25% fall at the open and the E-Mini futures for Wall Street’s S&P 500 down 0.8%. The Australian dollar, which is seen as a proxy for the Chinese economy, lost 0.6% as it plunged as low as US70.05 cents. It was the currency’s lowest level since January 2016 and perilously close to dipping below the key trading benchmark of US70c that, once breached, could spur further falls. The Australian outlook was not helped by figures showing that house prices are now falling at their fastest rate for 10 years.

Read more …

Snippets posted by Brad De Long. I could just as easily says: the future MIGHT not belong to India, either.

The Future Might Not Belong to China (Martin Wolf)

…The view widely held in the 1980s that Japan would be “number one” turned out to be badly mistaken. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, then first secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, told the west that “We will bury you!” He proved utterly wrong…. Mistakes: extrapolating… assuming… rapid economic growth will be indefinitely sustained; and exaggerating the benefits of centralised direction… [which] in the long run… is likely to become rigid and so brittle….

China’s investment rate, at 44 per cent of GDP in 2017, is unsustainably high…. Not surprisingly, returns on investment have collapsed…. China has also hit the buffers on export-driven growth, at a lower level of income per head than other high-growth east Asian economies…. Future demand will depend on the emergence of a mass-consumer market, while growth of supply will require an upsurge in growth of “total factor productivity”…

For one and a half decades, China has benefited from the reforms introduced by Zhu Rongji, premier from 1998 to 2003. No comparable reforms have happened since his time. Today, credit is still being preferentially allocated to state businesses, while state influence over large private businesses is growing. All this is likely to distort the allocation of resources and slow the rate of innovation and economic progress…. China may well fail to replicate the success of other east Asian high-growth economies… because the distortions in its economy are so large and the global environment is going to be so much more hostile….

The most interesting other economy is not Europe, which seems destined for a slow relative decline, but India… far poorer than China … has great potential for fast catch-up growth…. The triumph of despotism is still far from inevitable. Autocracies can fail, just as democracies can thrive. China confronts huge economic challenges. Meanwhile, democracies must learn from their mistakes and focus on renewing their politics and policies…

Read more …

Everything is worst in a decade, it seems.

Australian Home Prices Mark Worst Year Since 2008 (R.)

Australian home prices skidded nearly 5% in 2018, marking their worst year since 2008, led by tighter credit conditions and waning investor interest, and analysts expect the weakness to persist this year. Property values across the country fell for the 15th consecutive month in December, with the rate of decline in Sydney and Melbourne – the two largest markets – worsening over the year, according to property consultant CoreLogic. Its index of home prices nationally dropped 1.8% in December from November, and tumbled 2.3% for the quarter – the worst quarterly decline in eight years. Values in the combined capital cities fell 1.3% in the month and 6.1% for the year.

Sydney was the worst performing capital city with prices down 1.8% in December. Regional centers fared better with prices outside the cities staying almost flat. “Access to credit has been the most significant factor weighing down housing market conditions over the year,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. Since 2015, regulators have clamped down on risky lending by banks, particularly for interest-only loans, while a raft of scandals amid a high-level government-mandated inquiry has added to an air of caution. Earlier this year, Australia’s prudential regulator did ease some of its lending restrictions, but Lawless said access to finance was likely to remain “the most significant barrier” to an improvement in housing market conditions in 2019.

“Lenders are understandably risk-averse against a backdrop of falling dwelling values, high household debt, rising supply and heightened regulatory focus following the banking royal commission inquiry,” he said. The slowdown has been greatest in Sydney where home prices stumbled nearly 9% on the year, though Melbourne was catching up with an annual drop of 7%. Sydney and Melbourne comprise about 60% of Australia’s housing market by value and 40% by number.

Read more …

2019 promises to be even uglier than 2018. US politics becomes an oxymoron, the entire system, and all the blame is shifted to just one man.

Me, I’m getting tired of trying to provide some balance in the face of these things. The Democrats refuse to understand that not being Trump is not an identity, because it’s the only claim they have left at an identity.

The Anti-Trump Party (Turley)

Democrats are now defined by Trump the way that antimatter is defined by matter, with each particle of matter corresponding to an antiparticle. Take the secrecy. Democrats once were the party that fought against the misuse of secret classification laws by the FBI and other agencies. They demanded greater transparency from the executive branch, which is a position that I have readily supported. Yet, when oversight committees sought documents related to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation of Trump associates, Democrats denounced the very thought that Republicans would question the judgment of the FBI that any such disclosures would be tantamount to jeopardizing national security.

Democratic Party leaders including Pelosi declared that the oversight committees had moved beyond “dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for our national security” and “disregarded the warnings of the Justice Department and the FBI.” Likewise, House Intelligence Committee ranking minority member Adam Schiff expressed shock that the FBI was not given deference in withholding the information in the surveillance investigation.

Yet, when the information was finally forced out of the FBI, including the disclosure of previously redacted material, it was clear that the FBI had engaged in overclassification to shield not national security but to shield the bureau itself from criticism. It included discussion of the roles of high ranking FBI officials and their reliance on such sources as the Christopher Steele dossier, which were already publicly known. Democratic House members like Schiff presumably knew what was in the redactions and, nevertheless, wanted deference to the classification decisions of the FBI.

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The writer is Greg Olear. Whoever that is. But it’s published at Medium, who until now I thought had some standards. I no longer think so.

Red Paul: The Senator from Kentucky is Now Working for Vladimir Putin (M.)

[..] John McCain accused him on the Senate floor of “working for Vladimir Putin.” This quote got a lot of play in the political press, who love that sort of thing, but the consensus seemed to be that McCain was using hyperbolic language to make his point. But what if this was a bad take? Few members of Congress were more antagonistic toward Putin than John McCain. Perhaps when he called Rand Paul a Russian asset, on the floor of the US Senate, he actually meant it. Since the day John McCain called him out, Rand Paul has been a veritable lobbyist for the Kremlin.

On matters large and small, Paul has supported Moscow’s positions. He’s pushed for open and active dialogue with the nation that engaged in cyberwarfare against us. He’s argued for the lifting of sanctions on Russian individuals close to Putin. He was one of few politicians who defended Trump after his disastrous showing in Helsinki, when Trump more or less kissed the ring of the Russian dictator. He joined Trump in seeking the revocation of a security clearance on John O. Brennan, after the former CIA director denounced the Helsinki summit as “nothing short of treasonous.” In recent weeks, Paul has held with the Kremlin’s position on Syria.

Read more …

A long piece by Eric Zuesse, I haven’t read the whole thing yet.

MH17 Turnabout: Ukraine’s Guilt Now Proven (Zuesse)

Russia’s response documented beyond any question, at all, that this airliner was shot down by the Ukrainian Government, and that Western (i.e., US-allied) ‘news’media have been and are covering-up this crucial historical fact and The West’s still-ongoing lies about the downing of MH17. Those lies are the basis of US and EU anti-Russia sanctions, which remain in effect despite the basis for those sanctions having been exposed unequivocally, on September 17th, to be based on lies. Thus, continuing to hide those lies is crucial to the liars. This is the reason why Russia’s blazingly detailed presentation on September 17th has been virtually ignored — to protect the actually guilty.

The evidence here proves that those sanctions, themselves, are nothing but frauds against the public, and crimes against Russia — ongoing additional crimes, which have been, and remain, effectively hidden till now. The reader can see and consider here all of the conclusive evidence in the MH17 case — it can be reached via the present article’s links. Unlike the ‘news’-reports in The West’s ‘news’-media, the presentation here is not presuming readers’ trust, but is instead providing to all readers access to the actual evidence — evidence that is accepted by both sides. That’s what the links here are for: examination by any skeptics.

Read more …

if you need to look at Macron and the UN for such reasons, forget it.

Reasons To Be Hopeful About The Environment In 2019 (G.)

[..] 2019 may indeed be a breakthrough year. Public opinion is mobilising around the world and politicians and businesses are paying attention. There will be a series of high-profile events that will engage the public and governments and may provide a better way forward than was managed last year. Chief among them is the promise of António Guterres, the UN secretary general, to hold a summit for world leaders that will require them to face up to the dangers of climate change head on. Guterres is uncompromising, warning in Poland that it would be “immoral and suicidal” not to take firm and urgent action commensurate with the scale of the problem.

Leaders will be put on the spot, and will come under very public pressure as coalitions of civil society groups seek to put their case around the summit and in the lead-up to it. The role of women, who are among the most vulnerable to climate change, will be highlighted, and the role of young people, who will have to live with the consequences of their elders’ mistakes in a warming world. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is also holding a One World Summit, planned for the summer, at which the focus will be on persuading businesses to take a leading role, investing in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and changing the way they use energy.

There are clear signs of hope on climate change also in the rapidly falling cost of renewable energy technology, which is now competitive with fossil fuels. And the keep it in the ground campaign has succeeded in encouraging many investors to move their money out of fossil fuel stocks.

Read more …

Jan 222018

Winslow Homer Mending the nets 1881


Yes, it’s 10 years ago today, on January 22 2008, that Nicole Foss and I published our first article on the Automatic Earth (the first few years on Blogger). And, well, obviously, a lot has happened in those 10 years.

For ourselves, we went from living in Ottawa, Canada to doing a lot of touring starting in 2009, to support Nicole’s DVDs and video downloads. We visited Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, US of course, with prolonged stays in France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, times that I miss a lot here and there, to now with Nicole settled in New Zealand and my time divided between Athens, Greece and the Netherlands.

We met so many people both online and in the flesh in all these countries it’s impossible to remember everyone of them, and every town we found ourselves in. Overall, it was a humbling experience to have so many people share their views and secrets, especially since we never stayed at hotels (or very rarely), we were always invited to stay with our readers. Thank you so much for that.

Since we started publishing 8 months before the fall of Bear Stearns, and we very much predicted the crisis that followed (we had been doing that before as well, since 2005 at the Oil Drum), we were the first warning sign for many people that things were going off the rails.

There are still to this day people expressing their gratitude for that. Others, though, not so much. And that has to do with the fact that governments, media and central banks came together to create the illusion of an economic recovery, something many if not most people still believe in. Just read the headlines and the numbers, on housing markets, stocks, GDP, jobs. Unfortunately, it was an illusion then and it still is now.


To get back to 10 years ago: Nicole and I decided to leave the Oil Drum because they didn’t want us to write about finance. Given what happened with Lehman while we were leaving, and as said with Bear Stearns later, it would appear that finance was indeed the hot issue back then, more than peak oil or associated themes.

The main reason we wanted to focus on finance was that we realized it was the most imminent of all the crises mankind faced and still faces. Energy and environmental issues are real and threaten our way of life, but before they hit us, the mother of all financial crises will.

What has changed, and increased, a lot over the past decade is the media. They have moved, more than before, into a kind of la la land where narratives are invented and presented with the express intention of keeping people feeling good about themselves in the face of all the distortion and disasters they face.

The big move in energy is not so much peak oil, but a meme of moving away from oil. ‘Renewable energy’ is all the fad, and it works, because it holds the promise that we can maintain our levels of energy consumption, and our lifestyles in general, pretty much up to some undefined moment in the future. For all you know, a seamless transition.

It’s a nonsense narrative, which originates not just in wishful thinking, but much more than that in widespread ignorance about what energy actually is and does, and what qualities oil and gas bring to the table that no other energy source can.

We must have written a hundred articles about such themes as energy return on energy invested (EROEI), and that the EROEI on renewables doesn’t allow for our present complex societies to continue as they are. Renewables are not useless by any means, but switching to them from oil will mean a huge simplification from our present lives. More than anything, probably, we have to ask if that would be such a bad thing.

But that is a question we avoid at all costs, because it is a threatening one. It implies we may have to do with less, and that’s not what we’re hardwired to do. Like any other species, we always want more. This is so ingrained in our world that our economies depend squarely on a perpetual need to strive for more tomorrow than we have today. Not as individuals, perhaps, but certainly as a group.

More trinkets, more gadgets, more energy. And for a -relatively- long time, more people. Relatively, because population growth is a recent phenomenon. It started at the very moment we began to have sources of ‘free’ or ‘surplus’ energy. Give any species a source of ‘surplus’ energy, and it will use it up as fast as it can, and proliferate to achieve that, until the surplus is gone. We are no different.


Of course, as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics holds, the use of energy produces waste. More energy use produces more waste. One source may be slightly less polluting than another, but it’s thermodynamics that dictates the limits here. No energy source is fully renewable, and clean energy is just an advertizing term. And with an energy return too low to run complex societies on, those are hard limits. The only way out is to use less energy, but our economic models are geared towards the opposite, as are our brains.

Meanwhile, we’re saddling our children with the consequences of our prolific use of energy. Species extinction runs a hundred or a thousand times faster than is ‘natural’, ever more of our arable land is too polluted or wasted to produce food, and the grand mass of plastics in our oceans exceeds that of the living creatures that fed us for a very long time, taking the numbers of these creatures down so fast our grandchildren will have to eat jellyfish.

Ironically (and there’s lots of irony in the story of our tragic species), we produce more food per capita today than ever before, but its distribution is so warped that one group of us throw away more than we consume, while another goes hungry. And to top it off, much of what we eat lacks nutrition, and is often even downright toxic for us; it makes us fat and it makes us sick.

Then again, our entire environment is also fast becoming toxic. We’re a bloated, obese, asthmatic, allergic and cancer-riddled species, and yet we call ourselves a success. It’s all about the narrative.


But as Nicole and I said 10 years ago, and still do, it’s finance that will be the first crisis to hit. It will hit so hard it’ll make any other crises, environment and energy, feel like an afterthought. Pension plans across the board will prove to be a Ponzi, housing will collapse, shares will crumble, scores of people will lose all their savings and their jobs, their homes.

This is because, in an ostensible effort to ‘save’ our societies and economies, our -central- bankers and politicians decided to put everything on red, and loaded another $20 trillion into the upper shelf of the financial world, the very shelf that was most rotten to begin with in more than one sense of the word. And they’re not the ones paying the heftiest price for this stupidest bet of all times, you are.


All in all, the only possible conclusion we can draw is that in the past 10 years, things have indeed changed. Thing is, they have changed for the worse. Much worse. And the recovery narrative can’t and won’t hold. Question is who realizes this, and what they are planning to do with the knowledge.

Friend of the Automatic Earth Nomi Prins said recently that in her view, the Fed is scared to death of causing a global financial crash. I think they may have recognized the inevitability of that crash quite a while ago, and they’re working to minimize the impact on themselves and their buddies and masters.

A global central bank tightening looks an easy sale now that people have swallowed the recovery myth whole. The crash that will lead to might take long enough to develop for them to deny any responsibility.

And then we’re all on our own. The political ramifications will be gigantic. Because the incompetence and corruptness of incumbent politicians will be exposed, and governments overthrown.

Nothing we couldn’t have, and didn’t, see coming in January 2008. Best advice today, as it was back then: get out of debt.

And thank you so much for 10 years of reactions, responses, comments, your hospitality, and all other forms of support -including financial of course.