Oct 182017
 
 October 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Marcel Bovis Lovers, Paris 1934

 

No, China Isn’t Fixing Its Economic Flaws (BBG)
US Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Obamacare, Trump Indicates Support (R.)
Fixing Macroeconomics Will Be Really Hard (BBG)
Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks (ZH)
Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit (R.)
Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm (BBG)
Boeing’s Attack on Bombardier Backfires (BBG)
The Gig Economy Chews Up And Spits Out Millennials (G.)
Greek Growth Data Cast Doubt On Recovery
Debt-Ridden Greece to Spend $2.4bn Upgrading its F-16 Fighter Jet Fleet (GR)
Canada Methane Emissions Far Worse Than Feared (G.)
The Lie That Poverty Is A Moral Failing Is Back (Fintan O’Toole)

 

 

Antidote for the Party Congress.

No, China Isn’t Fixing Its Economic Flaws (BBG)

In our China Beige Book, we quiz over 3,300 firms across China about the performance of their companies as well as the broader economy. Their responses reveal that much of the exuberance about China today is based on dangerous misconceptions. The first and most obvious myth is that China is actually deleveraging, as officials claim. Responses from Chinese bankers support the notion that regulators, at least for the moment, have successfully targeted certain forms of shadow financing such as wealth management products. Companies, however, don’t seem to be feeling much pressure to curb their excesses. In the second quarter, while firms reported facing moderately higher interest rates and borrowing modestly less, that only slowed the pace of leveraging instead of reversing it. And even that progress has since stalled.

Third-quarter loan applications rose, rejections fell and companies borrowed more. Interest rates at both banks and shadow financials slid. What officials are calling deleveraging – rolling back excess credit – still represents more, uneven leveraging. If the restrictions on financials do extend to companies in 2018 and deleveraging actually begins, the process could be much more traumatic for the Chinese economy than most people currently recognize. The second myth is that the Chinese economy has finally begun to rebalance away from manufacturing and investment to services and consumption. In reality, China’s stronger 2017 performance has depended almost entirely on a revival of the old economy; the improvement in both growth and jobs drew heavily upon commodities, property and, most consistently, manufacturing. Call it “de-balancing.”

[..] China hasn’t slashed overcapacity in commodities sectors. Xi has incessantly touted what he calls “supply-side reforms,” which would seem to give Chinese companies very strong incentive to report results showing such cuts. Yet for more than a year, firms have indicated the opposite. While some gross capacity has been taken offline to much fanfare, net capacity has continued to rise. From July through September, hundreds of coal, steel, aluminum and copper companies reported a sixth straight quarter of overall capacity rising, not falling.

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Getting Bernie to support the same as Trump is an achievement.

US Senators Reach Bipartisan Deal On Obamacare, Trump Indicates Support (R.)

Two U.S. senators on Tuesday reached a bipartisan agreement to shore up Obamacare for two years by reviving federal subsidies for health insurers that President Donald Trump planned to scrap, and the president indicated his support for the plan. The deal worked out by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray would meet some Democratic objectives, including reviving the subsidies for Obamacare and restoring $106 million in funding for a federal program that helps people enroll in insurance plans. In exchange, Republicans would get more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.

The Trump administration said last week it would stop paying billions of dollars to insurers to help lower-income Americans pay medical expenses, part of the Republican president’s effort to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. The subsidies to private insurers cost the government an estimated $7 billion this year and were forecast at $10 billion for 2018. Trump’s move to scuttle them had raised concerns about chaos in insurance markets. Trump hoped to make good on his campaign promise to dismantle the law when he took office in January, with Republicans, who pledged for seven years to scrap it, controlling Congress. But he has been frustrated with their failure to pass legislation to repeal and replace it.

Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans. Republicans say it is ineffective and a massive government intrusion in a key sector of the economy. The Alexander-Murray plan could keep Obamacare in place at least until the 2020 presidential campaign starts heating up. “This takes care of the next two years. After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on healthcare,” Alexander said of the deal.

[..] Senator Bernie Sanders threw his weight behind the effort. In an interview with Reuters, Sanders said Alexander was a “well-respected figure” known for bipartisanship and that the Tennessee senator’s reputation would help propel the legislation through the Senate. Trump, during comments at the White House, suggested he could get behind the Alexander-Murray plan as a short-term solution. In remarks later at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Trump commended the work by Alexander and Murray, but said: “I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”

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Nuff said: “Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time.”

Fixing Macroeconomics Will Be Really Hard (BBG)

A presentation by Blanchard and Summers provides a useful summary of how elite thinking has changed. They basically draw three lessons from the crisis: 1) the financial industry matters, 2) government should use a wider array of policies to fight recessions, and 3) recessions can last longer than expected. [..] The real sea change is the third one – the reconsideration of what recessions really are. Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time. And they assume that recessions are short-lived affairs that go away of their own accord. If these assumptions are wrong, then most of the theories written down in macroeconomics journals over the past several decades – and most of those being written as we speak – are of questionable usefulness.

Blanchard and Summers are hardly the first to raise this possibility – economists have known for decades that recessions might not be random, short-lived events, but the idea always remained on the fringes. One big reason was simple mathematical convenience – models where recessions are like rainstorms, arriving and departing on their own, are mathematically a lot easier to work with. A second was data availability – unlike in geology, where we can draw on Earth’s whole history, reliable macroeconomic data goes back less than a century. If economic fluctuations really do have long-lasting effects, it will be very hard to identify those patterns from just a few decades’ worth of history.

If macroeconomists heed Blanchard and Summers’ advice, they will have to do harder math, and they will find better data to test their models. But their challenges won’t end there. If the economy can linger in a good or bad state for a long time, it’s almost certainly a chaotic system. Researchers have known for decades that unstable economies are very hard to work with or predict. In the past, economists have simply ignored this unsettling possibility and chosen to focus on models with only one possible long-term outcome. But if Blanchard and Summers are any indication, the Great Recession might mean that’s no longer an option.

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Derivatives.

Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks (ZH)

This morning, BoE Governor Mark Carney discussed the risks of a hard Brexit during his testimony to the UK Parliamentary Treasury Committee. There was renewed weakness in Sterling during his testimony. Ironically, given the fall in Sterling, Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. We wonder whether Juncker and Barnier appreciate the threat that a “no-deal” Brexit poses for the EU’s already fragile financial system? When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”

Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts, he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe. Moving on to the possibility that there might not be a transition period, Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.” Maybe it’s Europe, not the UK, that needs the transition period most.

In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.”

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Europe borrows from the future.

Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit (R.)

The British government once hoped that the Oct. 19-20 meeting would be the moment when the Brexit negotiations could move on to discuss trade. That aspiration now seems hopeless. European leaders look set to insist on further delay until there is more progress in the first stage of talks, above all in reaching agreement on how much Britain will have to pay to settle its obligations when it leaves.

[..] If economic size and time favor the EU, the British government’s strongest card is money – one that it has played in various guises for centuries with its continental neighbors – and it is naturally reluctant to show its full hand too early. Even so May has already made an important concession. As part of the transition period of around two years that she called for in her emollient Florence speech last month, Britain would continue to pay in to the EU budget to ensure that none of the member states was out of pocket owing to the decision to leave. These net payments of around €10 billion ($11.8 billion) a year would fix the immediate problem facing the EU, the hole that would otherwise open up in its finances during the final two years of its current budgetary framework, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

But that extra money from aligning Britain’s effective date of departure with the end of the EU’s budgeting plan will not be enough, for two reasons. One is the way the EU in effect borrows from the future, by making spending commitments that it pays for later. In principle, the EU cannot borrow to pay for expenditure. But, through its accounting procedures, the EU can and does commit it to spending that will be paid for by future receipts from the member states. What this means is that even after 2020 there will still be payments due on commitments made under the current seven-year spending plan. That pile of unpaid bills, eloquently called the “reste à liquider” (the amount yet to be settled), is forecast to be €254 billion at the end of 2020.

Estimates of what Britain might owe towards this vary, but taking into account what might have been spent on British projects it could be around €20 billion. On top of that – and the second main reason why the EU is holding out for more – the EU has liabilities, notably arising from the unfunded retirement benefits of European staff estimated at €67 billion at the end of 2016, which it is expecting Britain to share. Even taking into account some potential offsets from its share of assets, Britain may face a bill of between €30 billion and €40 billion on top of the €20 billion paid during the transition period.

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Biggest threat of all to Europe may be Italy’s weaknesses.

Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm (BBG)

Bridgewater Associates is adding to its billion-dollar short against the Italian economy. The world’s largest hedge fund disclosed a $300 million bet against Eni SpA, Italy’s oil and gas giant, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bloomberg previously reported that Ray Dalio’s firm had wagered more than $1.1 billion against shares of six Italian financial institutions and two other companies. This latest bet is the hedge fund’s second-largest against an Italian company, trailing only the $310 million against Enel SpA, the country’s largest utility. Eni’s majority holder is the Italian government via state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and the Ministry of Economy. The public involvement also is reflected in the government’s role in appointing the chief executive officer. Current CEO Claudio Descalzi has been at the helm since 2014 and was reconfirmed this year.

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Airbus buys C Series for $1?!

Boeing’s Attack on Bombardier Backfires (BBG)

Boeing’s diminutive Canadian rival just found itself one heck of a wingman. The world’s largest aerospace company tried to block Bombardier’s all-new C Series jet from the U.S. by complaining to the government about unfair competition. Now that move is backfiring as Boeing’s primary foe, Airbus, takes control of the Canadian aircraft – with plans to manufacture in Alabama. The deal leaves Boeing’s 737, the company’s largest source of profit, to face a strengthened opponent in the market for single-aisle jetliners, where Airbus’s A320 family already enjoys a sales lead. The European planemaker is riding to the rescue of a plane at the center of a trade dispute that soured U.S. relations with Canada and the U.K., where the aircraft’s wings are made.

“For Boeing, its decision to wage commercial war on Bombardier has arguably had some unintended negative outcomes,” Robert Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners, said in a report. “As well as damaging relations with the Canadian and U.K. governments and some major airline customers, it has now driven Bombardier into the arms of its arch competitor.” Boeing on Tuesday held firm to its stance against the C Series, saying the deal with Airbus would have “no impact or effect on the pending proceedings at all” in the trade dispute. Boeing won a preliminary victory against Bombardier last month when President Donald Trump’s administration imposed import duties of 300% on the C Series.

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Self-employment as a means to hide unemployment.

The Gig Economy Chews Up And Spits Out Millennials (G.)

Huws says the golden age for the gig economy was some time around 2013, when companies took a smaller cut and there were fewer drivers/riders/factotums to compete with. “As Deliveroo pass on all risk to the rider, there’s nothing to stop them over-recruiting in an area and flooding the city with riders, which is exactly what we saw last winter,” says Guy McClenahan, another Brighton rider (Deliveroo maintain that the hundreds of riders in the area earn on average well above the national living wage). Over time, Uber has increased the commission it takes from drivers while reducing fares. Drivers are finding themselves working much longer hours in order to make the same pay – or far less. (There are currently no time limits on how many hours Uber drivers can work a week in the UK, but the company is testing changes and says it plans to introduce limits over a 24-hour period.)

TaskRabbit, the online platform for handymen and odd jobs, which was recently bought by Ikea, took away a rate in which contractors would earn more money for repeat commissions – and buried that news in an email about introducing the option for clients to tip. [..] Huws points out that the gig economy has always existed: cash-in-hand or on-call work or people turning up at building sites or dockyards in the hope of a day’s work. But since the 2008 crash, jobs that provide a secure income have become harder to come by. It is true that the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK is 12%, while in parts of Europe it is 40%. But that doesn’t mean much if many of those people are in precarious “self-employment” – the McKinsey Global Institute estimates this may be up to 30% of working-age adults across Europe. Huws says the notion of a career is being eroded, with young people often working a patchwork of different occupations.

[..] Huws worries about something else, too: the wellbeing of gig-economy millennial workers. This kind of employment can be “really damaging for self-esteem”, she says. As Hughes and Diggle both say, crowd work can be lonely. “Especially if you’re working a double shift,” says Diggle. “Or sometimes you don’t feel human. You’re just handing a bag over and some people take the bag, don’t look at you and close the door. And then don’t tip. One day I’ll be on stage singing, and the next I’m delivering food on my bicycle and it does feel … deflating.”

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A Greek recovery is mathematically impossible.

“..taxation on products increased 7.8%..”

Greek Growth Data Cast Doubt On Recovery

Greece was in recession last year, as revised data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) showed on Tuesday that the economy shrank 0.2% compared to 2015 against a previous estimate for zero growth. Furthermore, the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) forecast that 2017 will close with growth of just 1.3%, against a government estimate of 1.8%. That the way out of the crisis is proving more arduous and uncertain than many had predicted was underscored by the two sets of data released on Tuesday, with IOBE Director General Nikos Vettas warning that the recovery may turn out to be “short-term and fragile” unless the pending crucial structural reforms are implemented.

ELSTAT’s downward revision for 2016 is mainly based on consumer spending, which declined 0.3% compared to 2015, against a previous estimate in March 2017 for an increase of 0.6%. Even in March, when ELSTAT announced zero growth for 2016, the figures created a headache for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had previously said the economy had grown in 2016. Yesterday’s revision turned stagnation into recession for another year. It is also impressive that while the economy shrank 0.2%, taxation on products increased 7.8%, against a hike of 1.7% in 2015 and 0.8% in 2014. The revision also revealed that 2014 saw growth of 0.7%, against an estimate of 0.3% in March. That upward course was clearly interrupted by the January 2015 election.

IOBE undercut the government’s growth estimates for this year and next, with its president, Takis Athanasopoulos, saying, “Indeed, our economy is showing signs of improvement, but its rate remains below what is necessary for the country to leave the crisis behind it for good.” Next year IOBE anticipates growth of 2%, against an official forecast of 2.4%, putting the achievement of fiscal targets into question. The weak 1.3% recovery rate seen for this year, compared to the original 2.7% estimate of the budget and the bailout program, is according to IOBE due to the weak momentum of investments.

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Wonder who pays the bill. Which is not as bas as it seems.

Debt-Ridden Greece to Spend $2.4bn Upgrading its F-16 Fighter Jet Fleet (GR)

The United States has approved the possible sale of more than 120 upgrade kits from Lockheed Martin to the Greeks for their F-16 fighter jet fleet. The deal, worth $2.4bn, was announced as U.S. President Donald Trump met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington, D.C. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s defense budget targets, applauded Greece for meeting the goal of each member spending two percent of their gross domestic product on their military and highlighted the F-16 upgrade plans. “They’re upgrading their fleets of airplanes – the F-16 plane, which is a terrific plane,” Trump said ahead of a bilateral meeting. “They’re doing big upgrades.”

“This agreement to strengthen the Hellenic Air Force is worth up to 2.4 billion U.S. dollars and would generate thousands of American jobs,” Trump said during his joint press conference with Tsipras. Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sought later to downplay the cost of the deal for Greece. In a message on twitter he said that the cost to Greece will be 1.1 billion euros. “The ceiling in the budget for the upgrading of the F-16 is 1.1 billion euros”, he said. “The rest will come from aid programs and offsets”, he added. According to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) there are currently no known offsets. However, Greece typically requests offsets. Any offset agreement will be defined in negotiations between Greece and the contractor, Lockheed Martin. .

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“..the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed..”

Canada Methane Emissions Far Worse Than Feared (G.)

Alberta’s oil and gas industry – Canada’s largest producer of fossil fuel resources – could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed, new research has suggested. The pioneering peer reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on Tuesday, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta. The results were then compared with industry-reported emissions and estimates of unreported sources of the powerful greenhouse gas, which warm the planet more than 20 times as much as similar volumes of carbon dioxide.

“Our first reaction was ‘Oh my goodness, this is a really big deal,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and one of the study’s authors. “If we thought it was bad, it’s worse.” Carried out last autumn, the survey measured the airborne emissions of thousands of oil and gas wells in the regions. Researchers also tracked the amount of ethane to ensure that methane emissions from cattle would not end up in their results. In one region dominated by heavy oil wells, researchers found that the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed. The technique is used in several other sites across the province, suggesting emissions from these areas are also underestimated.

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UBI.

The Lie That Poverty Is A Moral Failing Is Back (Fintan O’Toole)

By the time he died, in 1950, Bernard Shaw, as the most widely read socialist writer in the English-speaking world, had done as much as anyone to banish the fallacy that poverty is essentially a moral failing – and conversely that great riches are proof of moral worth. His most passionate concern was with poverty and its causes. He was haunted by the notorious Dublin slums of his childhood. As his spokesman Undershaft puts it in Major Barbara: “Poverty strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.” The question – why are the poor poor? – has a number of possible answers in the 21st century, just as it had in the late 19th. A Eurobarometer report in 2010 examined attitudes to poverty in the European Union. The most popular explanation among Europeans (47%) for why people live in poverty was injustice in society.

[..] In the preface to Major Barbara, Shaw attacks “the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as if it were … a wholesome tonic for lazy people”. His great political impulse was to de-moralise poverty, and his most radical argument about poverty was that it simply doesn’t matter whether those who are poor “deserve” their condition or not – the dire social consequences are the same either way. He assails the absurdity of the notion implicit in so much rightwing thought, that poverty is somehow more tolerable if it is a punishment for moral failings: “If a man is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science instead of to trade and finance, let him be poor … Let nothing be done for ‘the undeserving’: let him be poor. Serve him right! Also – somewhat inconsistently – blessed are the poor!”

In an era when many on the left purported to despise money and romanticised poverty, Shaw argued that poverty is a crime and that money is a wonderful thing. He recognised that there is no relationship between poverty and a supposed lack of a work ethic: Eliza Doolittle is out selling her flowers late at night in the pouring rain but she is still dirt poor. (Conversely, when she is “idle” and being kept by Higgins, she leads a life of relative luxury.) And therefore the cure for poverty can never be found in moral judgments. The cure for poverty is an adequate income. “The crying need of the nation,” he wrote, “is not for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money.

And the evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft, demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply poverty.” The solution he proposed was what he called a “universal pension for life”, or what we now call a universal basic income.

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Oct 112017
 
 October 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe New York night 1929

 

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)
Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)
Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)
Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)
China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)
Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)
Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)
51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)
Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)
Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)
10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)
The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)
How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)
I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)
Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

 

 

You don’t say.

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)

Wall Street isn’t just in a bull market, it’s in an “epic” one. That is according to Morgan Stanley, which on Tuesday wrote that the equity market rally “has reached epic proportions.” “We say this not as hyperbole, but based on a quantitative perspective,” the investment bank explained. “Dispersions in valuations and growth rates are among the lowest in the last 40 years; stocks are at their most idiosyncratic since 2001; and equity hedge fund beta is at its highest since March 2008.” Simply from the perspective of price moves, the “epicness” of recent trading activity should come as no surprise to investors. The Dow DJIA, S&P 500 SPX, Nasdaq COMP, and Russell 2000 RUT have all hit repeated records this year alone, notching dozens of all-time highs. Those gains have been widespread and “perpetual,” to use Morgan Stanley’s description.

Only two of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors are in negative territory for the year, and for broader indexes, even mild pullbacks of 3% have basically been nonexistent for months. Volatility is near record lows. Beta refers to a measure of an assets tendency to fluctuate compared against a benchmark like the S&P 500. [..] “While investors have at times appeared reluctant to embrace the recent rally, there is evidence from last month that risk appetites are increasing,” Morgan Stanley wrote. The investment bank noted that cyclical sectors, which are more closely correlated to the pace of economic growth, have been outperforming defensive ones, just as small-capitalization stocks have outperforming larger companies. “Momentum is now strongly correlated with high beta globally, and the presence of this cohort of investors could produce continued risk-seeking behavior,” wrote the team of analysts, led by Brian Hayes, an equity strategist.

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“The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong.”

Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)

I’ve been telling you for years that the employment data produced by the US government were misleading people into thinking the economy was performing better than it really was. Now Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — finally! — agrees. Yellen, speaking before the National Association of Business Economics on Sept. 26, said, “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective or even the fundamental forces driving inflation.” That’s what she said. Internet news sites picked up that statement, but none of the major newspapers did. And the story behind Yellen’s admission and its importance would be way over the heads of TV news anchors — so they ignored it as well.

Yet Yellen’s statement is important as heck. It means that the Fed has been screwing up in thinking that the US economy was, as Yellen has often said, near full employment. But here’s the kicker — Yellen has been overestimating the strength of the job market and underestimating the amount of inflation in the economy. The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong. There will need to be years of investigation to determine that, but I’ll give you a clue now. Anyone who lives in the real world knows that the unemployment rate is far higher than the 4.2% that the Labor Department reports. And that the job growth each year — as I’ve been harping on — is mostly driven by guesstimates and adjustments made by government statisticians who apparently don’t live in the real world.

And, of course, the economy has been creating crappy-paying, benefit-lacking jobs that don’t come close to replacing the higher-quality employment that went bye-bye after the last recession. Last Friday, Labor said the jobless rate dipped in September to 4.2% from 4.4% in August — and its number crunchers also reported that 33,000 jobs were lost last month. It blamed the hurricanes. The experts were expecting the US economy to have added 100,000 new jobs despite the storms. Labor also announced that it revised August’s figures lower — from growth of 189,000 jobs to just 138,000. So instead of being reasonably good, August was blah, with nary a hurricane to blame.

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An award for not understanding?! If you ask me, the very fact that someone gets an award for ‘finding out’ that human behavior affects economies, says all you need to know about economics.

Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)

A buoyant and complacent stock market is worrying Richard H. Thaler, the University of Chicago professor who this week won the Nobel Prize in economics. “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.” The S&P 500 index has been reaching repeated records since President Donald Trump’s election last November amid steady growth in the U.S. economy and labor market, as well as expectations for lower taxes, though policy action in Washington has been limited. Thaler, who has made a career of studying irrational and temptation-driven actions among economic actors and won the Nobel for such contributions to behavioral economics, expressed misgivings about the low volatility and continued optimism among investors.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous, and it seems like when investors are nervous, they’re prone to being spooked,” Thaler said, “Nothing seems to spook the market” and if the gains are based on tax-reform expectations, “surely investors should have lost confidence that that was going to happen.” The economist said that he didn’t know “where anyone would get confidence” that tax reform is going to happen. “The Republican leadership does not seem to be interested in anything remotely bipartisan, and they need unanimity within their caucus, which they don’t have,” Thaler said. “And the president’s strategy of systematically insulting the votes he needs doesn’t seem to be optimizing anything I can think of, but maybe he’s a deeper thinker than me.”

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Schrödinger’s State. On Wikipedia, someone last night put Catalonia at no. 1 on the List of Shortest-Lived States. At 8 seconds, which is how long the applause lasted when Puigdemont said he had the mandate, only to say right after that he would hold off on executing the mandate. Wikipedia took it down.

Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that he’ll seek talks with the government in Madrid over the future of his region in Spain, rowing back from an immediate declaration of independence that threatened to turn a constitutional crisis into an economic one. Addressing the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening after days of tension in Catalonia, Puigdemont said the result of an Oct. 1 referendum had given him the mandate to pursue independence, but he would hold off for “weeks” for dialogue on the way forward with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration. Rajoy convened an extraordinary meeting of his cabinet in Madrid on Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss his next move, and is due to address the Spanish Parliament on the crisis in Catalonia later in the day.

“Today Mr. Puigdemont has plunged Catalonia into the highest level of uncertainty,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid late on Tuesday. “Neither Mr. Puigdemont nor anyone else can draw conclusions from a law that doesn’t exist, from a referendum that hasn’t taken place and from the wishes of the Catalan people which it’s trying to take over.” Pressure has piled on Puigdemont as the Spanish government and Catalan business leaders demand that he desist from pitching the region further down a path to independence that they warn would wreck the economy and tear apart Spain’s social fabric. Rajoy has consistently ruled out talks until the Catalans drop the threat of a declaration of independence that is illegal under Spanish law.

“Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said to cheers from the packed assembly, with Catalan police deployed around the parliament perimeter. “We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks, to open a period of dialogue.”

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When equity is debt.

China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)

A key Chinese initiative to rein in the world’s largest corporate-debt load has been a program swapping some loans into equity stakes. As the initiative gets going, however, it’s becoming clear the debt isn’t really going away. In a late-summer notice, central government officials said that new bonds should be used to finance the swaps, effectively moving the debt off the balance sheets of the original lenders onto those buying the new debt. The first such deal came last month, according to China Lianhe Credit Rating Co., a domestic rating firm. Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group Co., a troubled old-line industrial company, was targeted for a debt-for-equity swap. Then the Shaanxi provincial government in northwest China set up an asset-management company to raise new debt to pay off the existing lending that was designated to be swapped for an equity stake.

One criticism of the debt-for-equity initiative, which was launched a year ago, is that it keeps afloat struggling enterprises, leaving excess capacity intact and pulling down productivity. The Shaanxi example shows a further weakness: while the company won’t need to service debt any more, the new asset-management unit will – without any new source of revenue having been generated. “If the funding comes from debt, it’s really not solving the issue here because the capital is not permanent capital,” Christopher Lee, managing director of corporate ratings at S&P Global Ratings in Hong Kong. “In fact, you are adding more debt just to refinance the debt that was going to be swapped.”

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Australia lives off its bubble. It’s all that’s left.

Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)

Property-hungry Chinese investors have shrugged off the impact of tighter capital controls and continue to pour money into Australian housing. Foreign buyers are acquiring about a quarter of new housing supply in New South Wales, and China accounts for about 90% of that demand, according to Credit Suisse analysis of tax office data. Foreigners are buying 17% of new housing in Victoria, and 8% in Queensland, Credit Suisse said. While local property agents say higher state taxes on foreigners are deterring buyers, Credit Suisse isn’t so sure they will have a big impact on prices.

They point to even-higher taxes in other global cities, the relative cheapness of Australian property compared to Chinese cities, and the growing stock of wealth in China. “Local incomes are becoming less relevant in determining the outlook for house prices and regional wealth is becoming more relevant,’’ Credit Suisse analysts Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu said in the report. “We see no evidence of a slowdown in foreign demand because of the stronger capital controls introduced by Chinese authorities.” That’s not good news for locals already struggling to break into the booming housing market.

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WHy would anyone still want to buy a car or plane made with Kobe metals? Imagine the lawsuits if accidents happen.

Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)

Kobe Steel shares tumbled a further 16% on Wednesday after it admitted it may have fabricated data on iron powder products and media reported the possible sale of its real estate business. The latest disclosure comes after Japan’s No.3 steelmaker said on the weekend it had falsified data to show that its aluminum and copper products had met customer specifications, and suggests the problems could be widespread. Japanese manufacturers were thrown into turmoil by the revelation, with implications for materials used in cars, aircraft and possibly a space rocket and defense equipment.

Shares in Kobe Steel were down 15.73% at 900 yen as of 0114 GMT on Wednesday, underperforming the broader market which was steady. They fell 22% the previous day. A Kobe Steel spokesman confirmed a report on Wednesday in the Yomiuri newspaper saying the firm may have fabricated data on iron powder products used in components such as automotive gears. He said the company was investigating the issue. The Nikkei business daily meanwhile reported that Kobe Steel intended to put its real estate business on the block in an effort to shore up already shaky finances now threatened by the data falsification scandal.

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And that’s after all those trillions in support.

51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)

Fifty-one large euro zone banks are leaving themselves exposed to a sudden change in interest rates and may need to aside more capital against that risk, the European Central Bank said on Monday. The ECB is preparing to start dialing back its monetary stimulus after years of ultra-low interest rates and massive bond purchases, paving the ground for rate hikes further down the line. After simulating scenarios ranging from a sudden monetary tightening to the kind of lending freeze that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the ECB found that most of the 111 euro zone banks it tested are well prepared for interest rates shocks. But it cautioned it needed “intense discussions” with 51 of them after finding they may be making themselves vulnerable via large bets on derivative instruments and overly aggressive models for calculating risk.

A hike in interest rates could mean the banks suddenly need more capital. “What we need to do is have intense discussions and check with the banks if they’re aware of the… risk and if they have enough capital if things go wrong,” Korbinian Ibel, a senior supervisor at the ECB, said. Results of the test, which started in February, are incorporated into the ECB’s guidance on how much capital each lender on its watch should hold. Ibel said the 51 banks may, in principle, see their capital demands rise by up to 25 basis points, although any decision would depend on the individual circumstances of each firm. Similarly, the remaining 60 banks could see their guidance reduced by the same amount.

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Crypto makes it too easy for money to leave a country.

Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)

Russia will block access to websites of exchanges that offer crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, Russian Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov said on Tuesday. He called them “dubious”. Russian financial authorities initially treated any sort of money issued by non-state approved institutions as illegal, saying they could be used to launder money. Later the authorities accepted the globally booming market of crypto-currencies but want to either control the turnover or to limit access to the market “We cannot stand apart. We cannot give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors),” Shvetsov said, referring to households.

Speaking at a conference on financial market derivatives, Shvetsov said the central bank sees rising interest in crypto-currencies because of high returns from buying into such instruments. He warned, however, that crypto-currencies gradually transform into high-yielding assets from being a mean of payment. “We think that for our citizens, for businesses the usage of such crypto-currencies as an investment object carries unreasonably high risks,” he said. Russian authorities said earlier this year they would like to regulate the use of crypto-currencies by Russian citizens and companies.

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$4 million? That’s the damage?

Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)

A district court in Fukushima prefecture on Tuesday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government were liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) in the largest class action lawsuit brought over the 2011 nuclear disaster, Kyodo news agency said. A group of about 3,800 people, mostly in Fukushima prefecture, filed the class action suit, marking the biggest number of plaintiffs out of about 30 similar class action lawsuits filed across the nation. This is the second court ruling that fixed the government’s responsibility after a Maebashi district court decision in March.

All the three district court decisions so far have ordered Tepco to pay damages. Only the Chiba court decision last month did not find the government liable for compensation. The plaintiffs in Fukushima case have called on defendants for reinstating the levels of radioactivity at their homes before the disaster, but the court rejected the request, Kyodo said. Tepco has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and the company and the government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.

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Incredible. You’d expect to see this in Bombay perhaps, or Lagos.

10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)

The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system rose again last year, according to state data released on Tuesday. The increase pushed the city over a sober milestone: One in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. More than 111,500 students in New York City schools were homeless during the last academic year, a 6% increase over the year before and enough people to populate a small city. Of the overall figure, 104,000 students attended regular district public schools, while the rest were in charter schools. Statewide, 148,000 students were homeless, or about 5% of the state’s public school population.

The data was released by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children of New York funded by the state Education Department. The plight of homeless students is part of the entrenched and growing problem of homelessness confronting New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pushing a controversial plan to expand the city’s shelter system. After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students reported to the state shot up in the 2015-16 school year, reaching nearly 100,000 children, and in the last school year the numbers crossed that threshold. The count this year is the highest since the state began keeping records.

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Not great title for interesting article.

The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)

Have you ever heard of Deutsch Jahrndorf? No? I don’t blame you. The tiny Austrian village, which is situated four miles from the Danube, is utterly unremarkable, except for the fact that it sits on the border of three countries. To the east is Slovakia. To the south lies Hungary. As such, within shouting distance of one another, live three peoples speaking completely unintelligible languages. Austria belongs to the West Germanic language group, Hungary to Finno-Ugric and Slovakia to West Slavic. I thought about the exquisitely rich tapestry of European languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities as I watched the sad spectacle of Spanish riot police and Catalan separatists confronting one another on the streets of Barcelona. How on earth can the European Union unite that which history forced asunder?

The European Union, French President Emmanuel Macron has recently declared to almost universal acclaim, needs more unity, including the creation of “a eurozone budget managed by a eurozone parliament and a eurozone finance minister”. The need for the centralization of power in Brussels is, apparently, the lesson that the EU establishment has learned from the outcome of the British referendum on EU membership. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, millions of people have set their sights on independence from Spain. Foremost among their complaints is that the Catalan budget is influenced by Madrid. Independence, the Catalans feel, will rectify a grave injustice occasioned by the French capture of Barcelona in 1714. The conqueror, Duke of Anjou, became the first Bourbon king of Spain under the name of Philip V. His descendant, Philip VI, is on the throne today. In Europe, ancient lineages last as long as ancient resentments.

Therein lies the conundrum of European unification. On the one hand, people throughout much of Europe desire greater autonomy. Madrid has the vexing problem of the Basque Country to worry about as well as Catalonia. In Italy, Padania and South Tyrol in the North don’t feel like they have very much in common with the Mezzogiorno in the South. Corsica does not want to be French and Britain has only recently revisited a territorial arrangement that dates back to 1707. On the other hand, every separatist movement in Europe declares its support for the project of European unification. But, how likely is it that people annoyed by Madrid, Rome, Paris, and London will be happy to have their affairs decided upon in Brussels? Will the Catalans, resentful of subsidizing farmers in Andalusia, quietly have no problem with subsidizing Polish peasants in Lower Silesia?

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Monbiot has some nice ideas, but underestimates the degree to which our societies profit from carbon. And why bring in Labour?

How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)

We are still living in the long 20th century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine, thermal power plants, factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems, their capture by funders and lobbyists, the failure to temper representation with real participation. And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis. Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today.

A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%, and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. The index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin. But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th-century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the second world war’s military Keynesianism. In 1941 the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

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Featuring Dwayne Johnson? All we need then is a ferret to play Dijsselbloem.

I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)

When the crisis began, the tragedy that the Greek people are still living through, I began to gather material and information in an attempt to make sense of the reasons and the people – published, filmic and oral. However, what I was missing were the goings on behind the closed doors, where the representatives of the European Union and the Greek people met. On 16th July 2015, just after his resignation, I sent a text message to Yanis Varoufakis, whom I did not know personally. In that message I wrote: “Reading your interview in the New Statesman, I believe I found what I have been looking for a long time: the subject for a film, a piece of fiction, about a Europe governed by a group of cynical people disconnected from human, political and cultural concerns – obsessed with numbers and them alone.”

Soon, the arrangements were made and Michele, my wife, and I visited Yanis and Danae in Greece a few weeks later. Meanwhile I read two of his books, The Global Minotaur (London: Zed Books, 2011,2015) and the manuscript of a book he was completing at that time entitled And The Weak Suffer What They Must? (London: The Bodley Head, 2016). I was impressed by the quality and originality of their content, as well as the prose. When we met we had long conversations, in the context of which he let me know that he was about to begin writing his own account of his tenure as Greece’s finance minister, a tale of being an outsider in politics, of the negotiations in the Eurogroup – that illegitimate but ultra powerful EU body. I asked to read the manuscript. He agreed and began sending it to me chapter by chapter, as the book was being written.

Immediately I was convinced by the text’s seriousness and the accuracy of the description of the behaviour of each of the tragedy’s protagonists. Reading it saddened me, and I found myself often angered, indeed enraged, by the violence and the indifference of Eurogroup members, especially the German side, to the drama and unsustainable situation in which the people of Greece lived, and live. I decided to make a film out of this tragedy. Yanis Varoufakis gave me the rights to his book and absolute freedom to adapt it.

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Words fail.

Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

A mental health emergency is unfolding in migrant camps on Greece’s islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday. Medical staff have seen a sharp increase in people trying to get help after attempting suicide, harming themselves or suffering psychotic episodes, the humanitarian organization said in a report. More than 13,000 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for. “Every day our teams treat patients who tell us that they would prefer to have died in their country than be trapped here,” said Jayne Grimes, manager of MSF’s mental health activities on Samos.

The organization said six or seven new patients had visited its clinic on the nearby island of Lesvos each week over the summer following suicide attempts, self-harm or psychotic episodes, 50% more than the previous three months. Violence which many experienced on the journey or in Greece was one factor aggravating mental distress, MSF said. “I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I’m going crazy,” it quoted a Syrian man as saying. The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of people dying of hunger in front of him in the long-besieged town of Madaya. “I still remember the taste of the leaves and the smell of death,” he said. On Samos, more than 3,000 people are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesvos camp, about 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without flooring or heating, the UN refugee agency says.

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Oct 092017
 
 October 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Joan Miro The tilled field 1924

 

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)
The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)
Flatliners (NT)
Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)
EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)
Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)
Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)
Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)
Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)
Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)
Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)
Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)
Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

 

 

And the parasite is killing its host.

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)

The monster of economic waste—over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations—started with a little noticed change in 1982 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under President Ronald Reagan. That was when SEC Chairman John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO, redefined unlawful ‘stock manipulation’ to exclude stock buybacks. Then after Clinton pushed through congress a $1 million cap on CEO pay that could be deductible, CEO compensation consultants wanted much of CEO pay to reflect the price of the company’s stock. The stock buyback mania was unleashed. Its core was not to benefit shareholders (other than perhaps hedge fund speculators) by improving the earnings per share ratio. Its real motivation was to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth.

In a massive conflict of interest between greedy top corporate executives and their own company, CEO-driven stock buybacks extract capital from corporations instead of contributing capital for corporate needs, as the capitalist theory would dictate. Yes, due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgement” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval. What could competent management have done with this treasure trove of shareholder money which came originally from consumer purchases? They could have invested more in research and development, in productive plant and equipment, in raising worker pay (and thereby consumer demand), in shoring up shaky pension fund reserves, or increasing dividends to shareholders.

The leading expert on this subject—economics professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts—wrote a widely read article in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Profits Without Prosperity” documenting the intricate ways CEOs use buybacks to escalate their pay up to 300 to 500 times (averaging over $10,000 an hour plus lavish benefits) the average pay of their workers. This compared to only 30 times the average pay gap in 1978. This has led to increasing inequality and stagnant middle class wages. [..] In a review of 64 companies, including major retailers such as JC Penny and Macy’s, these firms spent more dollars in stock buybacks “than their businesses are currently worth in market value”! [..] The scholars concluded that “Buybacks are a way of disinvesting – we call it ‘committing corporate suicide’..

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How much time do I have?

The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)

For decades, the global economy has been defined by dissonance. There has been the Japanese recession. The financial crises in the United States and Europe. And drama in emerging markets throughout. But as central bankers, finance ministers and money managers descend on Washington this week for the fall meetings of the IMF, they will confront an unusual reality: global markets and economies rising in unison. Never mind political turmoil, populist uprisings and threats of nuclear war. From Wall Street to Washington, economists have been upgrading their forecasts for the global economy this year, with the consensus now pointing to an expansion of more than 3% — up noticeably from 2.6% in 2016. Economists from the IMF are likely to follow suit when the fund releases its biannual report on the global economy on Tuesday.

The rosy numbers are noteworthy. But what’s more startling is that virtually every major developed and emerging economy is growing simultaneously, the first time this has happened in 10 years. “In terms of positive cycles, it is difficult to find very many precedents here,” said Brian Coulton, the chief economist at Fitch, the debt ratings agency. “It is the strongest growth we have seen since 2010.” In Japan, a reform-minded government and aggressive action by the central bank have pushed growth to 1.5% — up from 0.3% three years ago. In Europe, strong domestic demand in Germany and robust recoveries in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are expected to spur 2.2% growth in the eurozone. That would be more than double its average annual growth in the previous five years.

Aggressive infrastructure spending by China; bold economic reforms by countries including Brazil, Indonesia and India; and rising commodities prices (helping countries such as Russia) have spurred growth in emerging markets. And in the United States, despite doubts about President Trump’s ability to pass a major tax bill, the economy and financial markets chug along. In fact, one of the few large economies not following an upward path is Britain, whose pending exit from the European Union is taking a toll. Having grown at an average annual pace of just over 2% from 2012 to 2016, the British economy is expanding just 1.5% this year. [..] “We are in a boom today, but we should not forget that the financial system is still relatively unstable,” said Jim Reid, a credit strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Reid, who spices up his market analyses by regaling clients with pop songs on the piano, recently published a detailed study on what he expects will be the causes of the next global financial crisis. Pick your poison: an abrupt slowdown in China, the rise of populism, debt problems in Japan or an ugly outcome to Britain’s move to leave the European Union. His overriding worry, though, is that investors and policy makers aren’t prepared for what will happen when global central banks put a halt to their easy-money policies. Since the 2008 crisis, Mr. Reid noted, central banks have accumulated more than $14 trillion in assets — an amount that exceeds the annual output of China by $3 trillion. What happens when the central banks all start to sell? “This is unprecedented,” Mr. Reid said. “And no one knows what the outcome will be.”

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Compressed volatility.

Flatliners (NT)

We find ourselves in a very unique point in history and in a world dominated by false narratives. It is a challenge to keep an analytical grip on reality, but I’ll try to tie a few threads together here to put everything in a macro context. Firstly the underlying base reality: Free money, easy money, whatever you want to call it, permeates everything we see in financial markets. Indeed I would argue price appreciation has been paid for with unprecedented and, in my view, unsustainable volatility compression. A couple of charts really highlight this. Most clearly perhaps is the precise trend line tagging we can observe in the correlated picture of price appreciation and volatility compression since the February 2016 lows:

The $VIX’s corollary, the inverse $XIV, embarked on an explosive near one way journey since the US election coinciding with over $2 trillion central bank intervention in just the first 9 months of 2017:

And it has continued to this day and just made another all time high this past week on a massive negative divergence. It is the magnitude of this volatility compression that explains the current trading environment we find ourselves in. Aside from the obvious artificial liquidity avalanche we’ve had speculated about the driver of all this and the answer may simply be the promise of even more free money, specifically tax cuts. As some of you may recall from my analysis over the past year I’ve been very clear that math ultimately will bring out truth in any narrative. In this case that notion that tax cuts pay for themselves is a fantasy. It always has been. Can it result in a short term bump in spending or even growth? Yes it is possible, especially if structured right.

But any historical analysis will show you that tax cuts, especially already coming from a relatively low base, will just add to debt via larger deficits. Recently the White House budget director finally acknowledged this very reality: “a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth” My criticism has been that all this marketing talk is simply a lie and will structurally put the country further at risk of trillion dollar deficits and a massive debt explosion that is already baked in even without tax cuts.

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But he makes no attempt to apologize?!

Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)

Schauble warned that the world was in danger of “encouraging new bubbles to form”. “Economists all over the world are concerned about the increased risks arising from the accumulation of more and more liquidity and the growth of public and private debt. I myself am concerned about this, too,” he said echoing the concern voiced just one day earlier by IMF head Christine Lagarde, said the world was enjoying its best growth spurt since the start of the decade, but warned of “threats on the horizon” from “high levels of debt in many countries to rapid credit expansion in China, to excessive risk-taking in financial markets”. Schäuble also echoed the latest warning from the BIS, which last month said that the world had become so used to cheap credit that higher interest rates could derail the global economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Schäuble defended austerity, saying the word was, “strictly speaking, an Anglo-Saxon way of describing a solid financial policy which doesn’t necessarily see more, or higher deficits as a good thing.” The soon to be former finance minister also took a pot shot at the UK: “The UK always made fun of Rhineland capitalism,” he said, contrasting Germany’s consensus-driven, social market model with Anglo-American free markets and deregulation. “[But] we have seen that the tools of the social market economy were more effective at dealing with the [financial] crisis…than in the places where the crisis arose.”

Of course, Germany’s success – almost entirely a function of the common currency which has effectively kept the Deutsche Mark from soaring – has come at the expense of crisis after crisis among Europe’s southern states. Unfortunately it has resulted in an entire generation of unemployed youth in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Still, in keeping with his dour image, Schäuble’s last words were pessimistic: “We have to ensure that we will be resilient enough if we ever face a new economic crisis,” he added. “We won’t always have such positive economic times as we have now” concluded the jolly 75-year-old. Perhaps Wolfi is worrying too much: after all, according to Janet Yellen, “we will not see another crisis in our lifetime.” And if we do, well central banks are primed and ready to injects trillions more to keep the artificial “recovery” and market “all time highs” can kicked just a little bit further.

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They’ll screw this one up, too.

EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)

Three years since their banking union began to take shape, European Union regulators are seeking fresh powers to deal with lenders in trouble. Their plan would let them stop withdrawals from a failing bank for a few days while they address the problem, with the aim of preventing a run. But this approach could easily have the opposite effect, spreading panic to the whole financial system. There’s a better way. Instead of freezing bank accounts, EU governments should enable regulators to keep a bank going while they restructure it and search for a new owner. This will require EU governments to commit additional resources for the task. The ECB and the euro zone’s Single Resolution Board have been calling for the power to freeze bank accounts – a so-called moratorium – since the swift resolution of Banco Popular in June.

They succeeded in winding down the troubled Spanish lender by selling it to rival Banco Santander, but had to do it on a weekday night with a run on deposits in progress. The regulators say that next time it might be impossible to find a buyer overnight. A moratorium would relieve that pressure and perhaps allow them to sell the bank at a better price. This approach would mirror an arrangement which is currently in place in Germany, and it’s superficially appealing: Closing a bank would certainly stop a run. But it could also have unintended consequences. Depositors may run from a bank in trouble sooner — fearing that if they wait too long they may not be able to withdraw their money. It could also lead depositors to empty their accounts as soon as the bank re-opens. Most dangerous of all, freezing accounts in one bank could spread panic to the rest of the system, as other depositors fear the same will happen to them.

The idea also puts international cooperation on bank resolution at risk. The EU regulators’ plan threatens to disrupt measures put in place after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Bank of England economists recently warned in a working paper that adopting the new moratorium might prompt banks to back out of the existing arrangements for handling financial emergencies.

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An extensive look at crypto. Much better than the headline makes you think.

Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins. Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges.

Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks, are now traded on exchanges every day. “These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,” said David L Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.” Regulators and governments are still debating how to handle cryptocurrencies, and Mr Yermack says the US Congress will ultimately have to take action. Some of the freewheeling exchanges are plagued with poor security and lack investor protections common in more regulated financial markets. Some Chinese exchanges have falsely inflated their trading volume to lure new customers, according to former employees.

There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4bn. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation. Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400m.

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Not without China, no.

Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically. The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts. The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization. The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia. This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time. Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih. Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

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Direct result of Turkey’s deal with Russia on Syria.

Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)

The U.S. and Turkey each suspended visa services for citizens looking to visit the other country, a sharp escalation of a diplomatic spat that sent the lira down more than 6% against the U.S. dollar. The moves followed the Oct. 4 arrest of a Turkish national who works at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul for alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hours after the Trump administration halted visa services in Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan’s government responded in kind, even repeating verbatim much of the U.S. statement. Both sides said “recent events” had forced them to “reassess the commitment” of the other to the security of mission facilities and personnel.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump had heaped praise on Erdogan when they met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying the Turkish leader “is becoming a friend of mine” and “frankly, he’s getting high marks.” The U.S. on Thursday called charges against the man “wholly without merit,” saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest and “by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.” Turkey responded by saying the arrested Turkish citizen wasn’t part of the U.S. Consulate’s staff but a “local employee.” The lira was at 3.7323 per dollar as of 10:37 a.m. in Singapore on Monday, down more than 3% from Friday’s close, and touched as low as 3.8533. The currency is heading for a seventh day of declines, the longest stretch since May 2016.

Relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and some Western countries soured after the failed 2016 coup. Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organizing the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the U.S. for not turning him over. “I would expect that there will be some sort of de-escalation at the leadership level – Trump and Erdogan will speak or meet,” said Murat Yurtbilir, who specializes in Turkish affairs at the Australian National University. “But the underlying problems won’t go away: the Gulen issue, Turkey’s slow switch toward Russia’s policy in Syria and the economy. ”

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But but but….

Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)

New research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) suggests the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia introduced three years ago have cost European countries billions of euro. The survey, which was conducted at the request of the European Parliament and published on Friday, showed EU exports to Russia declining annually by 15.7% since 2014. Up to 40% of that decrease was due to sanctions, it said. As a result of the penalties, Russia has lost its place as EU’s fourth largest trading partner and currently ranks fifth behind the US, Switzerland, China, and Turkey. WIFO calculated EU exports to Russia nosedived from €120 billion four years ago to €72 billion in 2016. According to the research, Cyprus was hit most as exports to Russia plunged 34.5% over the past two years. Greece suffered a 23.2% fall; Croatia’s exports were down 21%.

Austrian exports to Russia dropped by almost ten% or by €1 billion, WIFO said. Poland and the UK have lost €3 billion each. The researchers said the impact of sanctions was most damaging during the first year, as “not much progress has been made in switching trade flows to other countries.” EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in 2014 over the country’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The penalties targeted Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, along with some government officials, businessmen, and public figures. Moscow responded by imposing an embargo on agricultural produce and food and raw materials on countries that joined the anti-Russian sanctions. Since then the sides have repeatedly broadened and extended the restrictive measures.

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“You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical.”

Moreover, it contradicts the UN Charter.

Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)

What is going on in Spain is the blueprint what what other governments will do. The Spanish people themselves outside of Catalonia are deeply divided. Many see this as offensive and others see the government as offensive. We are looking at the breakup of the USA as well and do not forget the civil war to prevent separatists in America. The real issue is that people ban together for creating society and civilization and then government abuses its power and the process of decline begins. This is throughout history and it really does not matter what culture or country. It is all the same. Spain’s Constitutional Court, the puppet of Rajoy, on Thursday ordered the suspension of Monday’s session of the regional Catalan parliament. Rajoy is demonstrating that government will not tolerate losing power.

You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical. Reuters reported: “The suspension order further aggravated one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since the establishment of democracy on the 1975 death of General Francisco Franco. But Spanish markets rose on perceptions the order might ward off, at least for now, an outright independence declaration.” The structure of the EU in attempting to federalize Europe required a single federal debt. That is what they failed to do so you ended up with a half-baked cake. This is why we have the problems in Europe as we do. But make no mistake about it, this is a political problem and what happens in Europe will be a contagion as it was in 1931. This will eventually cause major problems politically in the States as well.

Justice Scalia I greatly admired. However, his letter on the separatist movement in the USA said that the civil war decided there was no right to separate. I disagree with that opinion, but that is my opinion. There are those who object to my writing about Catalonia from the Madrid side. They create a list of hateful names directed at me personally and then say I know nothing of Spain. They are making the same mistake as government. They assume that government and Rajoy is Spain. The people are the sovereign of Spain – not Rajoy nor his Constitutional Court. If you cannot see that government is supposed to be “elected” by the people, they are not to be the ruler of the people as some monarch, they you have missed the entire point of history. You can hate me all you want, but it is your life you are surrendering to government and that of your posterity. We have a choice. We either understand that government when unchecked will go too far and surrender as sheep, or we stand up and try to make the future better for our posterity.

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Someone better intervene.

Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)

A senior member of the Catalan administration called for dialogue with Spain, warning that all of Europe faces economic damage unless a resolution is found to his region’s standoff with the central government in Madrid. After a weekend of mass demonstrations in favor of Spanish unity, Raul Romeva, foreign affairs chief for the separatist government in Barcelona, insisted that the door was open for talks if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would grasp the chance of dialogue. “We need two to tango, we need the other side to be at the table,” Romeva said in an interview in Barcelona on Sunday. “We’re always going to be at the negotiation table, but to start negotiations we need the other party to negotiate with.”

The hint of an olive branch came as both sides hurtle toward crunch time in a dispute that threatens the breakup of Spain. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has vowed to press ahead with his independence drive in a declaration due as soon as Tuesday, while Rajoy pledged that “national unity will be maintained” by using all instruments available to him. “The risk of this getting a lot worse, with correspondingly bad market development for Spanish assets, is still too great for my risk appetite,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit. He predicted at least another week of pressure on Spanish and Catalan debt and assets before “things will eventually normalize.”

[..] Romeva invoked the crisis in the euro area that sent yields soaring on Spanish government debt and curbed access to finance, warning that the economic fallout of any worsening of the situation won’t be limited to Catalonia. “This simply won’t affect the Catalan economy, it’s going to affect the Spanish economy, it’s going to affect the European economy,” Romeva said. He blamed Madrid for causing the political uncertainty that’s prompted a stampede for the exit. “What causes uncertainty is the incapability of the political central state – or the Spanish state – to provide a political solution,” he said.

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Since Greece entered the bailout mechanism, foreclosures are down by 89%. Good.

Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)

Foreclosures, which have been practically frozen for the last eight years, represent the credit system’s Achilles’ heel. The impact from the paralysis of the auction system is already obvious in banks’ financial results on the reduction of nonperforming loans and threatens to undermine the target set for containing nonperforming exposures (NPEs). The ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) has asked Greek lenders to bring down their NPEs by €11.5 billion through liquidations (property auctions) up to 2019. Meeting this target requires foreclosures worth €5.5 billion per year while takings from auctions have been poor.

The foreclosures scheduled for this year only concern 5,600 properties, worth €1.1 billion. This is the smallest number of auctions in recent years, given that 2016 (when auctions were held for 4,800 properties) was practically wasted due to protracted strikes by Greece’s lawyers and notaries. This year’s figures actually concern mostly auctions demanded by the state or private lenders, while banks have only instigated few auctions, mainly concerning commercial or industrial properties. For comparison purposes, one has to see the statistics from 2009, before Greece entered the bailout mechanism, when foreclosures numbered 52,000 and their value reached €4.2 billion. This means an 89% drop since then.

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I’ve said it before: the EU is the mafia.

Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow. It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs.

Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants. Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police.

Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency. Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

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Oct 082017
 
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Fred Lyon Barbary Coast 1950

 

A friend sent me a post from the DiEM25 website last week, entitled Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees. DiEM25 is a pan-European political movement of which former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is a co-founder.

I started writing some lines as a response to my friend. Then it became a bit more. Wouldn’t you know… And then it was a whole article. So here’s my comments to it first, and then the original by someone calling themselves ‘dross22′. Now, in case I haven’t made this sufficiently abundantly clear yet, in my view Yanis’ knowledge and intellect is probably far superior to mine, and I’m a fan. But…

I don’t mean to imply that the views in the comment posted at DiEM25 are those of Yanis, but I do think it’s good to point out that these views exist within the movement. Moreover, as I wrote a few days ago, Yanis himself also thinks the EU should become ‘a federal state’. And I don’t agree with that. In fact, I think that’s a sure-fire way to absolute mayhem. Catalonia is only the latest example of why that is. Greece is an obvious other.

 

From that post on the DiEM25 site (see full text below):

[..] .. local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices.

That’s quite the hand- and mouthful. Nationalism must be eradicated and religion radically opposed. Yeah, that should get you elected… You don’t want Islam in Europe, and therefore you want to do away with Christianity too. “..a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion.” That’s 2000 years of often deeply ingrained history and culture out the door and down the toilet. And don’t even get me started on statues. Don’t you dare.

Look, I‘m not a religious person, but I would never want to even try to take anyone’s faith away from them. That’s the Soviet Union, China. That’s not Europe. Nor do I see what’s wrong with pluralism, seems kind of Orwellian to me. “..local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state.”  Say what? Why? What kind of movement is this? That’s not thinking, that’s dogma. And not a very clever kind of it.

Pluralism (differences) is the essence and the beauty of Europe. Plus, because of its divergence in language, culture etc., forget about unifying the whole continent, if that was ever desirable. I know the author specifically narrows it down to pluralism of values and lifestyle choices, but the EU already has enough rules and laws that regulate the worst of that.

Moreover, Europe has bigger issues than ‘pluralism in lifestyle choices’. Europe is in very troubled economic times, even if the media won’t tell you that. Because of that it’s all oil on fire, pluralism, immigration, the lot. People that do have jobs have much shittier jobs (gig economy my donkey) than those who went before them. Much of the EU is mired in way over-leveraged mortgages and other household and state debt, it’s just that you wouldn’t know it to listen to politicians and media. 

And that’s without mentioning bank debt, corporate debt, non-performing loans. Greece is paying the price right now for the credit casino (the house always wins) run by French/German banks. Other countries will be too in the near future. As soon as interest rates go up, there’ll be a mushroom cloud on the financial horizon. And Draghi will have emptied all his guns when it happens, saving EU banks but not EU citizens.

If by values and lifestyle you mean only that Islam should not replace Christianity in Europe, I’m your man. But that doesn’t mean Christianity should be suppressed or obliterated because of this. What you do instead is make it clear that you can be muslim, but only in as far as what it teaches does not contradict various European laws. And you actively enforce that.

 

[..] .. there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society.. [..] This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences.

[..] The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

The language is nigh unpalatable. As for (im-)migrants, it is obvious that wanting to incorporate too many of them too fast can only lead to trouble. Apart from all other discussions about values etc. After the financial crisis, it’s Europe’s main problem today. Or perhaps it’s a toss-up between finance and politics.

Perhaps what’s an even bigger issue is that what Merkel says happens, does in the EU. In economics, and in politics, and on the migration question. There is no sovereignty left. No democracy. As I’ve written before, tell the French, or Italians, that they have no say left in their own country, that Berlin controls it all. And then wait for their response. They have not a clue. Nobody told them. They sure never signed up to be ruled by Germany. But they are.

Ergo: The EU continues to exist only by the grace of media deception. And that’s an awfully thin veneer. I don’t know the ins and outs of DiEM25, but these lines make me seasick. Prediction: It’ll all fall apart at the first serious challenge and/or debate. Too many differing views from too many different locations and languages, and not nearly sufficient critical thought. 

Love Yanis though. And love him for trying. But what he must have experienced is what we at the Automatic Earth did too in 2010/11/12. That is, when the Automatic Earth’s Nicole Foss spoke in numerous locations in Italy, and we’re very grateful to our friends all over the country to make it happen, we needed translators at every talk. What I mean is you can get the big ideas across, but the details will always fall by the wayside. And that is Europe. 

 

A common European state is therefore neither desirable nor practical. The model of the European Parliament, with more translators than members of parliament, is as wrong as it is overkill. The EU is a step too far, a bridge too far. It serves a centralization dream, and the politics and economics that come with it, but it doesn’t serve the European people. 

Catalunya is just one more example of that. Greece is still the main eyesore, but you just wait till Spanish tanks appear on Barcelona’s Ramblas and Brussels has nothing. Their official response is that the use of ‘Proportionate Force’ is fine, but if that’s how you label having police in full battle gear beat up grandmas, how can you condemn tanks in the streets? Where’s the dividing line?

The EU is a giant failure. Ironically, it has done a lot of good on issues like food standards -though it tends to produce far too much paperwork on everything-, but the essence is it has -predictably- fallen victim to its upper echelons’ power grabbing. EU leaders don’t give a hoot what Europeans think, the way the important posts are divided means they don’t have to. And in the end, Germany wins (old British soccer joke).

Berlin, the European Commission, the ECB, they’re actively killing the Union, democracy, and all the good that has come out of Brussels. There’s no stopping it. And then Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25 come along and say they ‘must’ “.. eradicate local European nationalism by creating a common European state.” 

Sorry boyos, wrong time, wrong place. Europe today must find a way to function without being anywhere near a common state, because it won’t have one for a long time. Focusing on that common state can only lead to the opposite: trouble, battle, even war between the different and numerous nation states.

 

To repeat myself once again: centralization, like globalization, only works as long as people feel they economically profit from it. In the current global and European economy, they do not, no matter what any media or politician tell you. Therefore, the focus should be on countries working together, not on becoming one state (or fiscal union, banking union). It’s not going to work, it’s going to cause major trouble, including war.

Greece may have bent over and let Berlin screw it up its donkey, but not all countries will react that way. Watch Catalonia, Hungary, Poland. And then what can Brussels do? It doesn’t have an army. Germany has a feeble one, for good reasons. NATO? The Visograd nations, Hungary etc, have different ideas about issues like immigration than Brussels and Berlin do.

How do Merkel et al plan to force them to change their ideas? Or, come to think of it, why would they want to? What Europe should be doing, but isn’t, and what a movement like DiEM25 should actively propagate, but isn’t either, is an immediate end to the deliberate creation of utter chaos in Libya, Iraq, Syria. But the European arms industry makes too much money off that chaos.

If that doesn’t stop, immigrants will keep coming. And that can only lead to more chaos in Europe too. It’s not sufficient to say you want immigration to stop. You need to take a stand against the forces that make it happen, starting with the forces in your own countries and societies (this very much includes your governments).

If you don’t focus on the basic conditions that must be fulfilled to ‘save Europe’, you will not save it. Europe is in such a crisis, or crises rather, that talking about programs and ideas from comfortable chairs is no longer a real option. Europe is very much like the orchestra on the Titanic: it keeps playing as if there is no threat ahead. And you have to tell them to stop playing. That’s your job.

Talking about what so and so would like to see by 2025 is a waste of time. But yeah, it’s comfortable, and comforting, to do it with a group of like-minded souls who fool themselves into thinking they’re smart and doing a good job. But the problem is here, now, not in 2025. And if you don’t work to solve it now, today, 2025 won’t look anything like what you have in mind.

Europeans must put a halt to European companies making billions on arms sales and oil in North Africa and the Middle East. And since these companies are protected and supported by the current leadership in Brussels and all other EU capitals, these will have to go too. That should be the focus. All the rest is the orchestra continuing to play.

Europeans don’t want a federal EU state. They don’t want to be forced to give up their national indentities, and they don’t want to lose their religions. Cue REM.

 

 

Still, Yanis has excellent ideas. As I said, I’m a fan. The way he describes his concept of parallel payment systems in the latter part of this recent video is outstanding, if you ask me. It’s the idea he never got to put into practice in Greece.

 

 

 

Here’s dross22’s full comment:

Critique of DiEM25 policy on immigrants and refugees (from DiEM 25’s official forum)

In my humble opinion the liberal way we’re approaching the refugee issue is very hard to market to the European demos. If Europe were one country and if the political climate were different, we’d have the resources to deal with the matter in the decent way we propagate. But unfortunately, Europe is currently at an advanced stage of disintegration making any discussion of a federal European state idle talk. As you all know, our mission here at DiEM is to get Europe out of the mire the establishment has got it into and then proceed to make of it a federal state. All of our very sensible and very realistic proposals take into account the fact that we’re not where we’d like to be. Yet when it comes to the refugee issue, we propagate a treatment that assumes away the current state of Europe.

Germany’s periphery and near east is divided between a collection of right-wing authoritarian states (Poland, Hungary, Ukraine etc.) and German industrial clients (Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland). In the Balkan South we have Brussels-Berlin protectorates (Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia), a debt colony and testing ground of the establishment’s policies (Greece) and states ruled by criminal syndicates (Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria). In the Romance countries (including France) we have states on the verge of fiscal breakdown, and in Germany and Brussels, the core of the establishment, we have a host of ruling incompetents that can only survive by feeding the monster they created in 2010. The feces of that monster feeds nationalistic flies and worms everywhere.

This is not a Europe that can handle the refugee issue. Indeed, all it has managed to do is let Germany bear the burden of adjustment, hence contributing significantly to AfD’s resonance in German society and forcing a desperate establishment to go as far as to bribe Turkey to stem the flow. The establishment did this hideous thing for tactical reasons and the case can be made that, in part, they owe their political survival to how they instrumentalize and adapt to the reality of xenophobia. We too have to understand quickly that racism is here to stay.

This unfortunate development is due to two things. It’s Islamist radicalism in the Mid-East and Africa, where the migrants come from, leading to terrorist activity within Europe, and a widespread plebian racism against which, given an environment where a strong left has been absent for many decades, no sufficient immune defenses exist. This is even more so in the illiberal states that succeeded the Soviet Empire. Notwithstanding their relative lack of migrants, the masses there are saturated with an almost autistic sense of nationalism.

This being the situation of the Europe we live in, there can be no doubt that our stance on the migrants is jeopardizing our electoral prospects and our ability to influence society. It’s beneficial to continue to expose the unethical deal that the establishment has with Turkey but other than that we must cease with our polemic. Instead I propose adopting a different, more sophisticated electoral strategy. We should point out that we’re not opposed to migration in principle. That in fact migration empowers, not weakens a society. But that the surrounding situation is not always the same. When European masses went to America, they were going to a place where employment was in high demand and that had familiar institutions. Today we have a Europe in the midst of an existential crisis where unemployment is high and set to rise.

This Europe will certainly not put the migrants to good use or treat them well and this will lead them to open up further to the influence of Islamic radicalism with the usual consequences. The strong patriarchalist values of the Islamic masses are a social impediment too. Even the most passionate activists must admit that those people don’t share our progressive values and breed too much, which is an ecologically unsustainable behavior. Their values can change only in a progressive environment that we don’t yet have. So what we can immediately do is subject all migrants to review and keep those with valuable skills and small families. The rest should be escorted to their countries of origin. Until Europe changes we shall enforce a moratorium on unqualified migration from those countries.

In a green Europe consumption is limited and breeding is not encouraged. Immigration from failed states, motivated (among other factors) by the desire to consume more and breed more with better safety, is undesirable. It is a liability that exposes us to the heavy ammunition from vast areas of a right-wing that, lest we forget, is stronger than we, the defeated left. In a progressive Europe, borders are internally shot down and Europeans can move and settle everywhere. But we still require European borders. There is no reason to burden ourselves with masses that are unaccustomed to the institutions of advanced societies, pose a lingering threat to our security and come with strong reactionary values. Instead of denying that fact we should point to the structural similarities of their ideology with that of the far right.

Migrants from areas within reach of the Islamist terrorist network pose a danger to our domestic security in three ways. First of all, by bringing their tribal and religious rivalries within our borders, secondly by their potential terrorist activity against European citizens and thirdly by helping our local nationalism gain ground. That local European nationalism must be eradicated by creating a common European state. But a progressive European state would inevitably require a sense of identity that, in true progressive spirit, is radically opposed to religion. It would be hypocrisy to exclude Islam. Pluralism of values is a weapon of the establishment and we have to do away with it. In a Europe that is green nobody can afford pluralism in regards to lifestyle choices. In a Europe where capital has no rights over the public, where it serves human potential and not unbridled, wasteful consumerism, there can be no pluralism.

We should give up on the migrants. I understand the sorrows of those people forced to flee their countries. But I am not willing to sacrifice the progressive future of Europe, to let bigots win and see them screw this place for good just for the sake of a small minority of people that don’t share our values and that, should the bigots win, will be subject to mass abuse anyway. The surest way to protect people with such backgrounds from the worst scenarios is to defeat the nationalist international. But this won’t be done unless we become psychologically detached from the minorities and from political correctness which are tools the establishment uses.

Let’s don’t forget that people with a migration background are vulnerable to racism too once they get comfortable. For example Turks in Germany vote en masse in favor of right-wing parties, even the AfD. I look up to people that have the remarkable courage to actively help those in need but I don’t believe this advances our movement at all. The Islamic migrants and the minorities are rather insignificant pawns that are best sacrificed as our current political situation demands. The establishment sacrifices pawns, and even rooks for its own political ends. We have to do the same.

I understand what co-founder Yanis said about the global wall and how borders divide the planet. But, in spite of their truth content, expressions such as ”borders are wounds on the face of the planet” are Soviet-era anti-colonialist slogans that today only serve to discredit those who use them. I admire someone who has the moral courage for such unorthodox opinions but these things sound crazy to the masses, especially today. There is much at stake with DiEM’s new deal and it is imperative to be more careful with our choice of words and positions. When Yanis was finance minister, he was careful not to be as open and frank as he would have been as an outsider. But he is no longer the outsider he was before 2015. None of us are. We are here to do politics and our actions and words should be subordinated to the pursuit of success in the political arena. Only success can materialize our agenda and defeat the monster of the establishment and the nationalist international.

 

 

And if you still don’t have enough then, read the Mises Institute’s Why Small States are Better.

In small states the government is closer to its citizens and by that better observable and controllable by the populace. Small states are more flexible and are better at reacting and adapting to challenges. Furthermore, there is a tendency that small states are more peaceful, because they can’t produce all goods and services by themselves and are thereby dependent on undisturbed trade.

 

 

Oct 052017
 
 October 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Juan Gris Guitar on a chair 1913

 

S&P 500 Poised To Lose $10 Trillion In Value (Pal.)
The Sum of All Fears: China Shadow Banking Hits $40 Trillion (DT)
EU Parliament Defends ‘Proportionate Force’ in Catalonia (RT)
Catalonia Chaos Begins to Squeeze Spain’s Financial Markets (DQ)
ECB To Banks: Set Aside More Cash For Bad Debt Amid €1 Trillion Problem (G.)
Investors Are Too Inured to Markets’ Repeated Records (DDMB)
Puerto Rico’s Debt Is Quietly Sitting in Mom and Pop Mutual Funds (Martens)
The Cost Of Not Understanding Sovereign Currencies (Bill Black)
Whose Bright Idea Was RussiaGate? (PCR)
Who Really Holds Power at the Fed (BBG)
Court Orders Trump Administration Reinstate Obama Emissions Rule (AP)
US Honeybee Queen Life Expectancy Halves In 10 Years (NatGeo)
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forests Overwhelmed By Climate Change (LAT)
60% Of Global Biodiversity Loss Is Down To Meat-Based Diets (G.)
Are Space, Time, And Gravity All Just Illusions? (F.)

 

 

Just so you know.

S&P 500 Poised To Lose $10 Trillion In Value (Pal.)

The last two recessions were devastating for the S&P 500. The dot-com bubble during March 2000 to October 2002 saw the Index drop -49%, while the Global Credit Crisis from October 2007 to March 2009 saw an even greater drop of -57%. Since then, the S&P 500 has been on fire, gaining 250% and breaking record highs almost daily. As the old adage goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”. If the S&P loses 57% in the next market crash, that would represent $10 trillion in value lost, and would take the Index down to 1,077. As the more cyclical sectors begin to decline, portfolio managers will begin to reallocate capital to more attractive sectors. As we noted in our previous write-up, Gold Stocks To Explode When The S&P Implodes, in the current bull market, the S&P is up 247%, while gold stocks are down -30%.

If the pattern holds, the succeeding bear market in the S&P will trigger a major gold rally, which we predict will continue into the next S&P bull. Portfolio managers will look for undervalued stocks in sectors considered safe havens. Gold stocks check all the boxes and a surge of capital will soon find its way into them. Using the materials sector as proxy to gold stocks, we saw in each of the last two bears the weighting of the sector increase. The total value drop was also less in terms of percentage compared to the overall market. We calculate inflows of $206 billion in 2000-2002, and $270 billion in 2007-2009. If the coming drop follows that of the recent recession, we can expect an inflow of at least $440 billion into gold stocks. That is a lot of money on the sidelines. And when it begins to pour in, gold stocks will explode.

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I’ve warned a thousand times on China’s shadow system. This is excellent from ‘Deep Throat’. As I’ve suggested, the shadow system is now bigger than the official one.

The Sum of All Fears: China Shadow Banking Hits $40 Trillion (DT)

Unfortunately, per the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), Shadow Bank lending has reversed course abruptly and skyrocketed since the 2015 McKinsey report. Nobody really knows how big China’s Shadow Bank ecosystem is, but the PBOC recently offered a rather shocking guess in their 2017 Financial Stability Report (pg.48). China’s Off-Balance-Sheet, un-regulated, “Shadow” loans have grown to nearly US $37 Trillion (RMB 252.3 Trillion) and have surpassed China’s US$34 Trillion, “On-Balance Sheet” bank assets as of the close of 2016. They also restated the 2015 numbers, increasing the 2015 figures to US$ 28 Trillion (RMB 189 Trillion), roughly doubling the 2015 figure.

Keep in mind, the PBOC estimating Non-Bank Shadow loans is a bit like the local Sheriff estimating “unreported financial crime”. He doesn’t have authority over the mechanics of the activity, lacks enforcement resources and therefore can’t do much about preventing the crime(s). Even if he had authority and resource, he’d have a hard time zeroing in on the metric….criminals generally don’t respond to surveys or self-report their schemes. Moreover, the Sheriff would have an incentive to under-estimate the problem and hope everything works out, since, at some point, someone is going to be held accountable. As history shows, and Chinese Bankers are well aware of this, financial scoundrels are normally exiled to horrific disgrace on a private tropical island with access to boatloads of Cayman Islands money…..so it goes.

Again, based solely on the usual, limited transparency inherent in PBOC reporting (good things are trumpeted and bad things are swept under the rug), a disclosure like this would indicate that the problem is potentially much larger than they are letting on. In the 2017 Financial Stability Report (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) the PBOC restates the Shadow Bank Assets for 2014 and 2015 (as shown by the dotted line in the chart below). To my knowledge, no other major economy has ever experienced an acceleration anywhere near these levels of Non-Bank, Shadow debt relative to GDP, much less restated it in a gigantic “ooppps….our bad” buried in a couple of paragraphs in the bowels of a report. In China….they do things big. The bigger the better. The two Charts below, prepared by Capital Economics illustrate that we’ve apparently entered uncharted waters.

Although the fiercely independent citizens, politicians and bankers of Hong Kong and Singapore might disagree, we can generalize that the leverage in those economies (tall bars on the left of the chart) is inextricably linked to the Chinese financial system. If there were ever a potential “ground-zero” for a default-induced financial contagion Shang-Hong-apore would be it. Moreover, when we examine the PBOC/CE Charts above, it wouldn’t be much of a reach to conclude that Shadow/Non-Bank Credit has become an absolutely essential tool for keeping all of the financial balls in the air. [..] Jahangir Aziz and Haibin Zhu from JP Morgan said the debts of the state-owned entities (SOEs) have alone reached 90pc of GDP or $13.3 trillion. Nearly 60pc of new credit this year is being used to repay old loans. It takes four times as much new credit to generate a given amount of extra of GDP as it did a decade ago.

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The EU leadership doesn’t give a shit what Europeans think of them (they’re not elected). Wave bye bye.

EU Parliament Defends ‘Proportionate Force’ in Catalonia (RT)

EU member states have the right to use “proportionate” force to defend the rule of law, Frans Timmermans, European Commission First Vice President, said three days after hundreds were injured by Spanish police trying to stop an independence vote in Catalonia. “It is a duty for any government to uphold the rule of law, and this sometimes requires the proportionate use of force,” Timmermans told the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a debate on Catalonia. “Respect for the rule of law is not optional – it’s fundamental,” he said. An independence referendum was held in the relatively prosperous Spanish region of Catalonia on Sunday, despite Madrid labeling it “unconstitutional.” A brutal mass police crackdown during the vote saw over 800 people, including women and the elderly, injured in Barcelona and elsewhere across the region.

“If the law does not give you what you want, you can oppose the law, you can work to change the law, but you cannot ignore the law,” Timmermans said. For the EU, “it is fundamental that the constitutions of every one of our member states are upheld and respected,” he added. According to Timmermans, the Catalan regional government “has chosen to ignore the law in organizing the referendum of last Sunday.” The leader of the largest European Parliament group, the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, has also decried the Catalan referendum as invalid during the debate. “Who leaves Spain, leaves the European Union,” including the eurozone and the single market, Webber warned the Catalan authorities.

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“..the Rajoy administration dispatched two military convoys to Barcelona today to beef up its coercive capabilities in the city..”

Catalonia Chaos Begins to Squeeze Spain’s Financial Markets (DQ)

Spain’s biggest political crisis of a generation, which has led to the complete breakdown of communication and understanding between its government in Madrid and the separatist region of Catalonia, is finally beginning to take its toll on the country’s financial markets. Spain’s benchmark index, the Ibex 35, slumped nearly 3% following its worst day of trading since the Brexit vote last June. Spain’s 10-year risk premium — the differential between the yield on its 10-year bonds and the yield on Germany’s 10-year bonds — soared to 129 basis points. And that’s despite the fact that the ECB continues to buy Spanish debt hand over fist. But it is the banks that have borne the brunt of the pain this week. On Monday, the first trading day after the independence referendum, they lost €4.84 billion in market value.

Over the past five trading days, shares of the two biggest Catalan-based banks, Caixabank and Banco de Sabadell, have plunged respectively, 9% and 13%. So tense is the situation that the CEOs of each bank felt compelled to release a statement today reassuring customers that they have all the means and tools necessary to protect their interests. Their contingency plans include the option of abandoning their base of operations in Catalonia and moving elsewhere — to Madrid in the case of Sabadell and Mallorca in the case of Caixabank. But it wasn’t just Catalan banks that were caught up in today’s rout. Important Spanish banks with somewhat less exposure to Catalonia also saw their shares plunge.

Santander, Spain’s only global systemically important bank, was down 3.8% on the day’s trading; BBVA, Spain’s second bank which has important operations in Catalonia after acquiring the failed saving bank Catalunya Caixa in 2015, fell 3.6%; and Bankia was also down 3.6%. Standard & Poor’s today put Catalonia’s credit rating — at B+/B, it’s already deep into junk — on review for a downgrade of one notch or more, “if we believed that escalating political tensions between Catalonia’s government and Spain’s central government could put in question the full and timely refinancing of Catalonia’s short-term debt instruments or undermine the effectiveness of the central government’s financial support to Catalonia.” The threat of default moves a step closer.

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$1 trillion and now they start counting?!

ECB To Banks: Set Aside More Cash For Bad Debt Amid €1 Trillion Problem (G.)

The ECB is attempting to put a lid on the near €1tn of bad debts stored in eurozone banks by asking lenders to be more prudent about the way they handle new customers falling behind on repayments. The Frankfurt-based institution issued guidance on Wednesday intended to stop a new pile of problem debts being built up inside eurozone banks by setting out how much cash it wanted lenders to set aside for bad debts incurred from January 2018. The measures are not applicable to the existing €1tn of bad debts, which are largely a legacy of Europe’s financial problems in the aftermath of the 2008 crash and languishing on the balance sheets of banks in countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Italy. The ECB wants lenders to set aside 100% of the value of an unsecured loan within two years and gives lenders seven years to put aside the full amount of a secured loan, such as a mortgage.

The aim is to set a formal guideline for how to tackle problem loans – known as non-performing loans (NPLs) – in contrast to the current situation where there are a variety of approaches across eurozone countries. Policymakers are concerned that bad debts inside banks not only weaken lenders but also make it difficult for them to grant more loans, which in turn can impede economic growth. But they are sensitive to announcing new measures that would make banks more cautious about issuing new loans or push up the cost of borrowing. Sharon Donnery, deputy governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, who presented the latest plan by the ECB to tackle bad debts, said: “We want to prevent a build-up of insufficiently covered NPLs in the future.” The new measures are not applicable to the existing stock of bad debts for which lenders have set aside 45% of the value of their problem loans, so if the new rules had been applied it could have led to multibillion-euro provisions for lenders.

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Who did that headline?

Investors Are Too Inured to Markets’ Repeated Records (DDMB)

After several boom-and-bust cycles it’s clear many investors have exhausted the term “bubble.” Instead, they will recall this cycle with another word: “record.” The question is: Will the memories be tinged with regret? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” The stock market closes at a fresh high with such frequency it no longer triggers news flashes. The mirror image of these daily records is found in volatility, which has cascaded to record lows. The bond market, though, is where the real action has been since 2011. If the current pace of sales persists through the final quarter of this year, 2017 will mark the seventh consecutive year of record U.S. corporate bond issuance. In exchange, investors are extending issuers record lax lending terms and receiving near-record low returns. It is no longer uncommon for bonds to price at yields that are beneath an issuer’s leverage as gauged by debt as a multiple of earnings.

Moreover, three-quarters of loans sold into the $1 trillion leveraged loan market are of the “covenant-lite” variety, meaning they do not give investors protection against issuers loading themselves up with debt. Buyers have responded by pushing leveraged loan volumes up by more than half this year compared with 2016; issuance is on pace to surpass 2007’s record $534 billion. And while it isn’t at record lows, the yield spread over comparable Treasury bonds that investors receive for investment grade-rated credits has only been lower 20% of the time since 2000. In the case of high-yield credit, the spread has only been lower 14% of the time in the past 17 years.

The differentiating factor in the years 2004 through 2007, when spreads were at their tightest on record, is the relative dearth of securitization, a process by which pools of loans were divvied up into tranches engineered to disperse risk. Investors learned the hard way as the credit crisis unfolded that these “collateralized” vehicles did not perform as well as the underwriters advertised. And yet, while there’s no question the collateralized mortgage obligation, or CMO, hasn’t even flirted with a comeback, the same cannot be said of its cousin, the collateralized loan obligation. In September, CLO issuance volumes surpassed $82 billion, well past the $75 billion high end of what analysts had been forecasting for the full year. Volumes are running at twice last year’s pace and could easily surpass 2007’s record $89 billion level.

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Tax-free is not risk-free.

Puerto Rico’s Debt Is Quietly Sitting in Mom and Pop Mutual Funds (Martens)

There was likely a collective gasp at OppenheimerFunds Inc. yesterday when President Donald Trump made another of those market-moving pronouncements, telling Fox News that Puerto Rico’s debt would have to be wiped out. The President’s remarks suggested he thought the losers would be Wall Street banks. The President stated: “You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We’re gonna have to wipe that out. That’s gonna have to be — you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.” The reality is that a large percentage of Puerto Rico’s debt is held in tax-free municipal bonds and municipal bond mutual funds, owned not by Wall Street banks or tycoons, but by mom and pop investors seeking tax-free income.

(As a result of Congressional legislation, the interest on municipal bonds issued by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, its political subdivisions and public corporations, is not subject to Federal, state or local taxes. This has made the individual bonds and mutual funds particularly attractive in places like New York City and to residents of New York counties with high local taxes.) According to a semi-annual report made last month at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Oppenheimer Rochester Fund Municipals, a popular tax-free fund held by many New York investors, was sitting on a boatload of Puerto Rico municipal bonds as of June 30, 2017. The SEC filing shows over 100 different Puerto Rico bonds, issued by the Commonwealth and numerous other Puerto Rico issuers like the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp. (The fund, of course, holds a widely diversified portfolio of other bonds as well.)

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MMT.

The Cost Of Not Understanding Sovereign Currencies (Bill Black)

Jared Bernstein, Senior Fellow at the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities and former chief economist to former Vice President Joe Biden, recently published an op ed in the New York Times entitled ‘Do Republicans Really Care About the Deficit?’. Republican elites, of course, have not really cared about federal budget deficits for decades. That is a good thing that Democrats should embrace in a bipartisan spirit. Bernstein, of course, is correct that the Republicans are hypocrites about federal budget deficits, pretending to care about them when the Democrats hold power and displaying their lack of any real care when Republicans hold power and the context is tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats display a similar hypocrisy. Even Democrats like Bernstein who know that the Republicans proposed expansion of the federal budget deficit through tax cuts is not a real economic problem are primed to attack Republican hypocrisy by falsely asserting that the Republican deficits would harm the Nation. Democrats should embrace honesty as the best policy and stop embracing the politically attractive pose of claiming to be the Party that “really cares” about the federal budget deficit. That politically attractive pose is not simply dishonest and financially illiterate, it is also a trap. The Republican and New Democrat deficit strategy is to force Democrats to make an endless series of “Sophie’s choices.” Choose which excellent program to kill in order to save (temporarily) another from the chopping block because we supposedly cannot afford to provide both.

Then repeat the process. The Republicans and New Democrats constantly, and falsely, claim that the federal government cannot afford to provide medical care availability that is routinely provided in most of Europe and Canada. It is a pure myth that the United States cannot afford to provide the safety net of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We need to start with first principles. In a nation with a sovereign currency like the United States, federal tax revenues do not fund federal expenditures. If that sentence, which is indisputably correct, strikes you as bizarre then it is a measure of the force of the propaganda you have been fed throughout your life. Today would be an excellent day to free yourself from the hold of that destructive lie.

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“There is nothing more reckless and irresponsible than convincing a nuclear power that you are going to attack. ”

Whose Bright Idea Was RussiaGate? (PCR)

The answer to the question in the title of this article is that Russiagate was created by CIA director John Brennan.The CIA started what is called Russiagate in order to prevent Trump from being able to normalize relations with Russia. The CIA and the military/security complex need an enemy in order to justify their huge budgets and unaccountable power. Russia has been assigned that role. The Democrats joined in as a way of attacking Trump. They hoped to have him tarnished as cooperating with Russia to steal the presidential election from Hillary and to have him impeached. I don’t think the Democrats have considered the consequence of further worsening the relations between the US and Russia.

Public Russia bashing pre-dates Trump. It has been going on privately in neoconservative circles for years, but appeared publicly during the Obama regime when Russia blocked Washington’s plans to invade Syria and to bomb Iran. Russia bashing became more intense when Washington’s coup in Ukraine failed to deliver Crimea. Washington had intended for the new Ukrainian regime to evict the Russians from their naval base on the Black Sea. This goal was frustrated when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia. The neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony requires the principal goal of US foreign policy to be to prevent the rise of other countries that can serve as a restraint on US unilateralism. This is the main basis for the hostility of US foreign policy toward Russia, and of course there also is the material interests of the military/security complex.

Russia bashing is much larger than merely Russiagate. The danger lies in Washington convincing Russia that Washington is planning a surprise attack on Russia. With US and NATO bases on Russia’s borders, efforts to arm Ukraine and to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO provide more evidence that Washington is surrounding Russia for attack. There is nothing more reckless and irresponsible than convincing a nuclear power that you are going to attack. Washington is fully aware that there was no Russian interference in the presidential election or in the state elections. The military/security complex, the neoconservatives, and the Democratic Party are merely using the accusations to serve their own agendas. These selfish agendas are a dire threat to life on earth.

Read more …

Lots of changes.

Who Really Holds Power at the Fed (BBG)

To the casual observer, the Federal Open Market Committee September meeting in Washington might have looked like any other. But when San Francisco’s John Williams, Minneapolis’s Neel Kashkari, and the other regional Fed presidents took their seats at the big oval table, an historical anomaly glared back from the other side. In a rare alignment of events, the five voting presidents outweighed Board of Governors voters, who include Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen. It’s a gap that opened up earlier this year and which looks poised to persist, at least for the near future. This matters. There are 12 Fed presidents, chosen for five-year terms by their regional boards. The seven governors are appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the Senate for staggered 14-year terms.

Because of the retirement of Daniel Tarullo, the governor informally tasked with heading financial regulation, the Fed board has been down to four voters since May, and with Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer leaving, it’s possible the number could be down to three by the next FOMC meeting. It looks likely that Randal Quarles, Trump’s first nominee, could be confirmed before that, holding the Governors steady at four. The regional contingent, meanwhile, remains near full force, with only the Richmond Fed currently looking for a new president. At a time when the current occupant of the Oval Office could choose at least four new governors, the power of the regional presidents amounts to a stabilizing backbone and bastion of independence in an era of transition at the Fed. Yellen, Lael Brainard, and Jerome Powell are the holdouts on the board in Washington, and President Trump isn’t expected to reappoint Yellen when her term ends in February.

Thus it could fall to the Fed’s arcane system, born of populist angst, to protect monetary policy from massive upheaval. The current state of affairs underscores how this uniquely American setup, erected in stages beginning in the years before World War I, remains relevant a century later, even though many of the functional duties of the world’s most powerful central bank have changed. “The regional banks are a bizarre set of entities,” says Aaron Klein, a Brookings Institution fellow who studies the central bank. “In some ways the mission of the regional system is to bring in diverse viewpoints that challenge the political board.”

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“Prior to the rule, an estimated $100m in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico..”

Court Orders Trump Administration Reinstate Obama Emissions Rule (AP)

Rebuffing the Trump administration, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to reinstate an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The order by a judge in San Francisco came as the Interior Department moved to delay the rule until 2019, saying it was too burdensome to industry. The action followed an earlier effort by the department to postpone part of the rule set to take effect next year. US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the northern district of California said the department had failed to give a “reasoned explanation” for the changes and had not offered details why an earlier analysis by the Obama administration was faulty. She ordered the entire rule reinstated immediately.

The rule, finalized last November, forces energy companies to capture methane that’s burnt off or “flared” at drilling sites on public lands during production because it pollutes the environment. An estimated $330m a year in methane is wasted through leaks or intentional releases on federal lands, enough to power about 5m homes a year. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a leading contributor to global warming. It is far more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide but does not stay in the air as long. [..] Democratic senator Tom Udall from New Mexico said the methane rule provides badly needed revenue to states such as New Mexico for public education and other services.

Prior to the rule, an estimated $100m in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in New Mexico, Udall said, adding that the rule has helped to reduce dangerous air pollution across the west, including a methane cloud the size of Delaware that hangs over the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado.

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What Happens If the Honeybees Disappear?

US Honeybee Queen Life Expectancy Halves In 10 Years (NatGeo)

A honeybee queen, when all is right in her world, should live for two to three years. But in the United States, beekeepers have seen that life span drop by more than half over the past decade, and researchers are trying to determine why. It’s one of many questions surrounding the mystery of honeybee mortality, a disturbing phenomenon that’s linked to a mix of factors, including parasites, pesticides, and habitat loss. Aside from making a delicious natural sweetener, honeybees—which are not native to the U.S.—also provide a crucial service to agriculture: pollination. From apples to almonds, many crops would suffer without honeybees. And while about 90% of beekeepers in this country are hobbyists, the majority of hives belong to large-scale, commercial operations, says North Carolina State University entomologist David Tarpy.

Colony collapse in general could be devastating to food production. So scientists are looking for alternatives. Most honeybees in the U.S. today are of Italian heritage and vulnerable to a pest called the varroa mite. But Russian bees are more resistant to it, and backyard beekeepers have had success with them. The problem, says Tarpy, is that Russian honeybees don’t make as much honey as their Italian counterparts and “aren’t as amenable” to the migratory nature of pollinating large-scale farms. Another option, says wildlife biologist Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey, is to embrace the thousands of North American wild bee species, which are excellent pollinators, rarely sting, and are typically the size of a grain of rice. The drawback for some people is that none of the wild bee species produce honey. But, says Droege, “we can always get honey from other countries.”

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I’ve always been in awe of 5000 year old trees. They ‘saw’ the pyramids being built.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forests Overwhelmed By Climate Change (LAT)

For thousands of years, wind-whipped, twisted bristlecone pines have been clinging to existence on the arid, stony crests of eastern California’s White Mountains, in conditions inhospitable to most other life. Their growth rings provide a year-by-year account of the struggle to survive: It’s a tortuous cycle of dying off almost entirely, leaving only a few strips of bark that then continue to grow diagonally skyward or sideways along the ground. But the world’s oldest trees may never have experienced temperature increases as rapid as those of recent decades. The climatic changes have triggered a struggle for dominance, in very slow motion, between the ancient bristlecones and the younger limber pines that have been able to charge up-slope as conditions become warmer and wetter.

Scientists know that bristlecone pines will remain standing for centuries to come. But how will they cope with the intrusion of limber pines competing for sunlight, moisture, nutrients and room to grow? Which plants and animals will be first to adapt to niches in the increasingly diverse forests at elevations above 11,000 feet? [..] average ambient temperatures have risen nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, altering the precarious balance of life in the region long dominated by ancient bristlecone pines — regarded as symbols of longevity, strength and perseverance. “Whenever conditions change, there are winners and losers. And in this case, we won’t know the ultimate outcome for several thousand years,” Smithers said. “But some bristlecone pine forests could face a reduction in range if they’re crowded out … by limber pines moving into their turf.”

Bristlecone pines — named for their bottlebrush-like branches with short needles — are found in other parts of the semiarid Great Basin, which extends from California’s Sierra Nevada east to the Rockies. But the ones found in the White Mountains are the oldest. The slow growers are only about 25 feet tall and expand about 1 inch in diameter every 100 years. One of the oldest of the bunch is Methuselah, at about 4,768 years old. Its precise location is carefully guarded to avert vandalism.

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Animal feed.

60% Of Global Biodiversity Loss Is Down To Meat-Based Diets (G.)

The ongoing global appetite for meat is having a devastating impact on the environment driven by the production of crop-based feed for animals, a new report has warned. The vast scale of growing crops such as soy to rear chickens, pigs and other animals puts an enormous strain on natural resources leading to the wide-scale loss of land and species, according to the study from the conservation charity WWF. Intensive and industrial animal farming also results in less nutritious food, it reveals, highlighting that six intensively reared chickens today have the same amount of omega-3 as found in just one chicken in the 1970s.

The study entitled Appetite for Destruction launches on Thursday at the 2017 Extinction and Livestock Conference in London, in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming (CIFW), and warns of the vast amount of land needed to grow the crops used for animal feed and cites some of the world’s most vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas. The report and conference come against a backdrop of alarming revelations of industrial farming. Last week a Guardian/ITV investigation showed chicken factory staff in the UK changing crucial food safety information. Protein-rich soy is now produced in such huge quantities that the average European consumes approximately 61kg each year, largely indirectly by eating animal products such as chicken, pork, salmon, cheese, milk and eggs.

In 2010, the British livestock industry needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy used in feed. But if global demand for meat grows as expected, the report says, soy production would need to increase by nearly 80% by 2050. “The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife,” said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. “A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.”

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Author Ethan Siegel ends up being disappointed.

Are Space, Time, And Gravity All Just Illusions? (F.)

The Universe, as we know it, has a fundamental flaw staring us right in our faces, letting us know that our knowledge is incomplete. The four fundamental forces are described by two different and mutually incompatible frameworks: General Relativity for gravitation, and Quantum Field Theory for the electromagnetic and nuclear forces. Einstein’s theory on its own is just fine, describing how matter-and-energy relate to the curvature of space-and-time. Quantum field theories on their own are fine as well, describing how particles interact and experience forces. But where gravitational fields are strongest, and on the smallest of scales, we have no way of describing nature. The physics of our greatest theories breaks down. Under conventional circumstances, quantum field theory calculations are done in flat space, where spacetime isn’t curved.

We can do them in the curved space described by Einstein’s theory of gravity as well, although the calculations are far more difficult. This semi-classical approach gets us far, but it doesn’t get us everywhere. In particular, there are a few strong-field situations where we simply cannot obtain sensible answers using our current theories: • What happens to the gravitational field of an electron when it passes through a double slit? • What happens to the information of the particles that form a black hole, if the black hole’s eventual state is thermal radiation? • And what is the behavior of a gravitational field/force at and around a singularity? These questions all go unanswered without a quantum theory of gravity. The assumption we normally make is that there is a quantum theory of gravity, and we just haven’t found it yet.

Perhaps it’s string theory; perhaps it’s an alternative approach like loop quantum gravity, causal dynamical triangulations, or asymptotic safety. But since 2009, a new, exciting, and assumption-challenging approach has taken the scene by storm: the idea that gravity itself isn’t a real, fundamental force, but an illusory, emergent one. Pioneered by Erik Verlinde, the idea is that gravity emerges from a more fundamental phenomenon in the Universe, and that phenomenon is entropy. Sound waves emerge from molecular interactions; atoms emerge from quarks, gluons and electrons and the strong and electromagnetic interactions; planetary systems emerge from gravitation in General Relativity. But in the idea of entropic gravity — as well as some other scenarios (like qbits) — gravitation or even space and time themselves might emerge from other entities in a similar fashion.

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Oct 012017
 
 October 1, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Catalunya October 1 2017

 

I’ve seen a lot of videos and photos of the Catalonia attempt to hold a referendum today (Tyler has a “nice” series of them), and what struck me most of all, apart from the senseless violence police forces were seen to engage in, is the lack of violence on the side of protesters.

So when I see the Interior Ministry claim that 11 policemen were injured, That is hard to take serious. Not that the Catalans had no reason to resist or even fight back. That hundreds of protesters, including scores of grandma’s, are injured is obvious from watching the videos. Since rubber bullets were used in large numbers, fatal injuries are quite possible.

Policemen hitting peaceful older ladies till they bleed is shocking, and we are all shocked. Many of us will be surprised too, but we shouldn’t be. Spain is still the land of Franco, and his followers continue to exert great influence in politics, police and military. And it’s not just them: one video from Madrid showed people singing a fascist theme from the Franco era.

 

 

That’s the shape the EU knowingly accepted Spain as a member in, and that shape has hardly changed since. The total silence from Brussels, and from all its capitals, speaks volumes. Belgian PM Michel said earlier today that he doesn’t want to talk about other countries’ politics, and that’s more than I’ve seen anyone else say. It’s of course a piece of gross cowardly nonsense, both Michel’s statement and the silence from all others.

Because this very much concerns the EU. As Julian Assange tweeted “Dear @JunckerEU. Is this “respect for human dignity, freedom and democracy”? Activate article 7 and suspend Spain from the European Union for its clear violation of Article 2.” (Article 7 of the European Union Treaty: “Suspension of any Member State that uses military force on its own population.”) Sure, technically the Guardia Civil is not military, but are Juncker, Michel and above all Merkel really going to try and hide behind that?

Assange also re-tweeted this: “Claude Taylor Breaking: contact with Ecuadorian Govt says they plan on removing Julian Assange from their Embassy in London. Expect his arrest to follow.” Assange’s reaction: “DC based ex-White House claims I’m to be arrested for reporting on Spain’s censorship & arrests in Catalonia. Dirty.”

But that should not be a surprise either. We know from the example of Greece, and the treatment of refugees, what the morals of Europe’s ‘leaders’ are. Their morals are bankrupt. In that sense, they fit in seamlessly with those of Mariano Rajoy’s governing PP party in Spain.

 

 

Still, this is not why people want to be part of the EU. So unless very strong statements come from the various capitals, and very soon, given that they’re already way too late, the EU as a whole will find itself in such a deep crisis it might as well pack its bags and go home. Wherever home may be for these career politicians.

If you’re void of any and all ethics and morals, which is what that silence shouts out very loudly, you can’t lay any claim at all to the right to make decisions for anyone at all. That is true for Rajoy and his party, and it’s just as true for all other deadly silent European leaders.

And this is by no means over, it hasn’t started yet. Here’s a map of close vs open polling stations in Catalonia, via Assange. ‘Nuff said. What will Rajoy’s next move be? Locking up everyone? The entire Catalan governing party that organized the referendum? Make no mistake: the Spanish military have long threatened they would destroy Catalonia before allowing it independence.

 


Catalan polling stations. Green=open. Red=closed

 

Philosopher Anna M. Hennessey, who has lived in both Spain and in Catalonia, put it this way:

Franco was victorious and did not lose his war, as Hitler and Mussolini lost theirs, but this must not mean that we should let the dictator’s toxic ideological infrastructure persist any further into the twenty-first century. Supporting Catalonia is a necessary step in putting an end to fascism in Europe.

When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia

People in the United States, especially those from the 1980s onward, know little of Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the long dictatorship that followed. This knowledge is helpful in understanding the situation in Spain and Catalonia right now. The judge (Ismael Moreno) who is set to decide on sedition charges against Catalan activists for attempting to hold a democratic referendum on October 1st, for example, has roots that are deeply connected to Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the military leader who initiated the Civil War, won it, and then went on to rule as Head of State and dictator in Spain for almost forty years.

Franco is a major figure of twentieth-century fascism in Europe. A purge of Francoist government officials never took place when the dictatorship ended in the 1970s, and this leadership has had a lasting impact on how Spain’s government makes its decisions about Catalonia, a region traumatized during and after the war due to its resistance to Franco’s regime. The lingering effects of Franco’s legacy are at this point well-documented and need to be a part of the discourse that surrounds what is quickly unraveling in Barcelona.

[..] Like the Spanish government, the Spanish police force was never purged of its Francoist ties following the dictatorship. It is a deeply corrupt institution [..] Manuel Fraga Iribarne, one of Franco’s ministers during the dictatorship, founded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The party is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal of its own. Spain’s royal family is similarly linked to Franco and has also been brought to trial for its own set of corruption charges. It is impossible to ignore the fascist bedrock upon which modern Spain is founded, or to ignore the reality that this foundation has to do with the way Spain treats Catalonia.

And so we can see the dream of a united Europe die. At least one that most people will feel comfortable living in. And if you can’t achieve that, why have a union to begin with? Democracy in Europe is dying in Brussels, it’s dying in Greece and the Mediterranean, and it died today in the streets of Barcelona and other Catalan locations.

Are all Europeans simply going to sit back and wait till it dies where they live, too? My bet is they will only do that until they no longer see the EU as economically beneficial to them. And as of today, because of Catalunya, economics will no longer be the only consideration. Because Spain will not be thrown out, not even suspended. There will be lots of empty strong words, but not all Europeans are all that stupid.

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau has called for Rajoy to resign, but she knows as well as anyone that that will not be enough, and it won’t change a thing. Rajoy is merely one representative of a fascist system that is the underbelly of Spain, waiting for its opportunity to raise its ugly head. It’s found that opportunity today, and the whole world is silent. Well, the ‘leaders’ are.

 

And while we’re talking disaster, I can’t help myself from briefly addressing Puerto Rico. The anti-Trump echo chamber is louder than ever, and it’s getting absurd. I can’t see what part of it is Trump’s doing, and what is due to other sources, but it simply seems not true that help is not moving forward. In a destruction as complete as Puerto Rico, there are limits to what can be done in a limited amount of time.

All the criticism of Trump at some point becomes criticism of other people involved as well. The mayor of San Juan gets lauded as a hero in certain circles, but is she really? How about the US military, how about FEMA? They look to be doing a good job, and FEMA seems to have learned a lot from Katrina 12 years ago.

Again, I don’t know how much of that is Trump, but if I may be cynical, he’s smart enough to know how his response could or would be used against him, so he would be really thick if he let the situation get worse than it should be. Earlier today Cate Long, an expert on Puerto Rico due to its debt fiasco, and hence with a lot of contacts there, tweeted:

“Federal govt has leapfrogged Puerto Rico govt & made direct connection with 78 municipalities. Central to powerful supply chain & relief.”

While the Huffington Post, not exactly Trump cheerleaders, posted this:

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution”

Speaking today exclusively and live from Puerto Rico, is Puerto Rican born and raised, Colonel Michael A. Valle (”Torch”), Commander, 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth with a population of more than 3 million.

Since the ‘apocalyptic’ Cat 4 storm tore into the spine of Puerto Rico on September 20, Col. Valle has been both duty and blood bound to help. Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground.

[..] some truck drivers from outside the island have been brought in, and more are coming, however it’s not a fix-all. “We get more and more offers to help, but there is no where to stay, we can’t take any more bodies, there’s no where to put them.” Col. Valle says, adding that their “air mobility” is good, and reiterating that getting more supplies or manpower is not the issue. When asked three times what else Washington can do to help, or anyone for that matter, three times Col. Valle answered, “It’s going to take time.”

Maybe it’s time to exit your echo chamber?

 

 

Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Paul Cézanne Curtains 1885

 

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)
Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)
China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)
The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)
King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)
The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)
Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)
‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)
Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)
EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)
EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)
ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)
French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)
Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)
Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

 

 

The last step before the fall.

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)

The toxic combination of “competition from other lenders” and slowing mortgage demand is cited by senior executives of mortgage lenders as the source of all kinds of headaches for the mortgage lending industry. Primarily due to this competition amid declining of demand for mortgages, the profit margin outlook has deteriorated for the fourth quarter in a row, according to Fannie Mae’s Q3 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. And the share of lenders that blamed this competition as the key reason for deteriorating profits “rose to a new survey high.” Demand is down for all three types or mortgages: • Mortgages eligible for guarantees by Government Sponsored Enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“GSE Eligible”), indirectly backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages not eligible for GSE guarantees (“Non-GSE Eligible”), not backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages guaranteed by Government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae, directly backed by taxpayers.

And how are lenders combating this lack of demand and the deteriorating profit margins that are being pressured by competition? They’re loosening lending standards. Fannie Mae’s report: Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs. Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. This chart shows the net share of lenders reporting loosening their lending standards for each type of loan (= the share of lenders reporting loosening credit standards minus those reporting tightening standards):

In many urban markets home prices have soared far beyond their peaks during the prior crazy housing bubble. That bubble ended with such spectacular results, in part because lending standards had been loosened so that more people could be stuffed into more homes, and more expensive homes that they couldn’t afford, and whose prices then plunged when the scheme fell apart. This time around, home prices, according to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, are now about 5% above the prior crazy bubble peak that imploded with such fanfare:

Read more …

Everything’s a casino now.

Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)

If a surge in covenant-lite levered loans is any indication that debt and equity markets are nearing the final stages of their bubbly ascent, then perhaps now is a good time for investors to take their profits and run. As the Wall Street Journal points out this morning, levered loans volumes in the U.S. are once again surging, eclipsing even 2007 levels, despite the complete implosion of bricks-and-mortar retailers and continued warnings that “the market is getting frothy.” Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. n Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, according to LCD, more than triple the number four years ago.

Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. “If feels like the market is getting frothy,” said Henrik Johnsson at Deutsche Bank. “We’re overdue a correction.” Meanwhile, volumes are surging even as traditional lender protections have become basically nonexistent. As S&P LCD points out, over 70% of levered loans issued so far in 2017 are considered “covenant-lite” versus only 30% of those issued in 2007. Before the financial crisis, the boom in leveraged loans was one of the signs of markets overheating. As the crisis intensified in 2008, investors in U.S. leveraged loans lost nearly 30%, according to the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.

Regulators are taking note. In its last quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted the growth of covenant-lite loans and pointed out that U.S. companies are more leveraged than at any time since the beginning of the millennium. That could harm the economy in the event of a downturn or a rise in interest rates, said the BIS consortium of central banks.

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Not quite yet. But they will.

China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)

The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac, the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday, before some rebounded on Tuesday. Record home sales and buoyant earnings helped spur an unprecedented rally this year for Chinese developers, especially large firms positioned to wrest market share through debt-fueled acquisitions.

Top of that list are the nation’s two most indebted developers – China Evergrande Group and Sunac – whose shares swelled 459% and 391% respectively. Some investors were starting to question how long the astonishing share gains could last, even before a raft of housing curbs over the weekend. “The drop of property stocks today brings a reality check,” Andy Wong at Pictet Asset Management said in a briefing Monday. “In the past few months investors have been focusing purely on growth. But it’s never wise to totally ignore the risk of leverage.” Sunac shares have plunged almost 16% from a Sept. 19 high, amid the general pall over the sector and news that a financial firm is scrutinizing its loans to Sunac, China’s most leveraged developer.

Evergrande shares have tumbled more than 12% in the past three trading sessions, matching the decline in a Bloomberg index of 22 mainland developers. Even with the recent selloff, Chinese developers remain among the world’s best-performing stocks this year. Evergrande and Sunac two top stocks in the MSCI All-Country World Index this year. Part of that rally was stoked by a housing market boom that buoyed developers’ earnings in the first half, sending sales soaring and boosting profit margins to the highest levels in three years, according to calculations based on earnings reports.

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It’s where the excess cash has gone.

The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)

Since 2007, a tremendous wave of innovation has swept across the financial sector, affecting almost every aspect of finance. New robo-adviser startups like Betterment and Wealthfront have begun dispensing financial advice based on algorithmic calculations, with little to no human input. Crowdfunding firms like Kickstarter and Lending Club have created new ways for companies and individuals to raise money from dispersed networks of individuals. New virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have radically changed our understanding of how money can and should work. These financial technology (or “fintech”) markets are populated by small startup companies, the exact opposite of the large, concentrated Wall Street banks that have for so long dominated finance.

And they have brought great benefits for investors and consumers. By automating decision-making and reducing the costs of transactions, fintech has greased the wheels of finance, making it faster and more efficient. It has also broadened access to capital to new and underserved groups, making finance more democratic than it has ever been. But revolutions often end in destruction. And the fintech revolution has created an environment ripe for instability and disruption. It does so in three ways. First, fintech companies are more vulnerable to rapid, adverse shocks than typical Wall Street banks. Because they’re small and undiversified, they can easily go under when they hit a blip in the market. Consider the case of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which was the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange until an apparent security breach took it down in 2014, precipitating losses that would be worth more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

Second, fintech companies are more difficult to monitor than conventional financial firms. Because they rely on complex computer algorithms for many of their essential functions, it’s hard for outsiders to get a clear picture of the risks and rewards. And because many of their technologies are so new and innovative, they may fall outside the reach of old and outdated regulatory structures. The recent proliferation of “initial coin offerings,” for example, has left regulators around the world scrambling to figure out how to respond. Third, fintech has not developed the set of unwritten norms and expectations that guide more traditional financial institutions.

In 2008, when Lehman Brothers was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the heads of the largest Wall Street investment banks gathered in New York to coordinate their actions and prevent further panic. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the fintech world. The industry is so new, and the players so diverse, that companies have little incentive to cooperate for the greater good. Instead, they prioritize aggressive growth and reckless behavior.

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If this is not a wake-up call for you…

King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese. But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards. “Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.” The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed.

The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules. The situation further frustrates one of the many challenges already facing a government that has sought a form of bankruptcy protection after its debts swelled past $70 billion: boosting revenue by collecting money that slips through the cracks. In fact, the power blackout only exacerbates a situation that has always been, to a degree, a fact of life in Puerto Rico. Outside the island’s tourist hubs, many small businesses simply never took credit cards, with some openly expressing contempt for tax collectors and others claiming it was just a question of not wanting to deal with the technology.

But those were generally vendors of bootleg DVDs, fruit stands, barbers — not major supermarkets. Now, the better part of the economy is in the same boat. Cash was in short supply. Many Puerto Ricans were still living off what money they thought to withdraw ahead of the storm. Most ATMs on the island still weren’t working because of the power outage or because no one had refilled them. In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.”

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Washington has been a casino for decades.

The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” – especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company – country.” Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) – including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company – he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag.

We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.” To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

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People are being left behind everywhere.

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

Economic Prosperity Quintiles

As MishTalk.com’s Mike Shedlock writes below, the study notes: “America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet.” Distress is based on an evaluation of seven metrics.
• No high school diploma
• Housing vacancy rate
• Adults not working
• Poverty rate
• Median income ratio
• Change in employment
• Change in business establishments

Change in Distress Quintiles

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Merkel acts like an empress.

‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)

Despite gains made by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the breaking up of the ‘grand coalition’ could mark a positive step for Germany, according to voters who responded to our online callout. Here voters in Germany tell us why they think the AfD made gains, and what hopes they have for the future of the country’s politics.

‘A lot of people feel left behind’ – Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn My second vote was a tactical one. I gave it to the Linke. I knew that we’ll need a very strong voice against the AfD. I am pleased though, that the SPD decided to go into opposition to redefine themselves. A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.

The impact of the newly arrived is big. Some people are scared. Some that have been living in Germany for a long time feel disadvantaged. We can live together and be united in our diversity. I see this in school every day. If we treat each other with respect, then we do not need to fear. It is a long and strenuous way. But it is also very rewarding and fun to walk down that lane. At dinner I really had to get hold of myself to not cry in front of my children. I physically felt sick. A Nazi party being the third biggest party in Germany! I am still devastated.

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More Europe is dead.

Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel already faces complex coalition negotiations with at least three other parties. Now French President Emmanuel Macron wants in on the act. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on Tuesday, Macron will make proposals for re-shaping Europe that he acknowledges will require Merkel’s support to push through. While he isn’t seeking to interfere in German domestic politics, it makes sense to air the ideas before a coalition is formed rather than after, an official in his office told reporters. Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned overhauls of areas ranging from defense and immigration to the economy. Yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished.

“There was this expectation that the election would strengthen the German-French alliance, all kinds of reforms would be tackled and then we’re on the road to fiscal union,” Oliver Adler, head of economic research at Credit Suisse in Zurich, said in an interview. “This now seems politically very unlikely.” Macron will press ahead with his vision of remaking European institutions anyway, seeking to set the direction of debate. While a key element of his reform package is intended to reinforce the euro against future shocks, his speech won’t be all about the single currency area. Macron will propose as many as 10 projects in his speech, including a European agency for innovation and a system to improve start-up funding, a larger Erasmus student-exchange project, increased anti-terrorism cooperation, and a “digital plan” that includes a joint effort to push the EU Commission for a plan to tax Internet giants such as Apple and Google.

The goal is to have a roadmap in place by the summer of 2018 that will equip the EU for its next decade, according to the French official. Macron intends to discuss his plans with fellow EU leaders at a summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn at the end of this week. He may struggle to engage Merkel after Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic election challenger, upset her own plans by announcing his intention not to renew their respective parties’ coalition of the past four years.

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Politicians don’t understand technology.

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)

A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission’s original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called “link tax” or ancillary copyright and the upload filter. Regarding the upload filter, the text offers two alternatives:

Option A maintains the Commission’s original proposal of having in place an upload filter which will be under the control of platforms and other companies that are hosting online content. Although it removes mentions to “content recognition technologies”, in reality, there is no way to “prevent the availability” (another expression which remains in the text) of certain content without scanning all the content first. Option B is, at best, a more extreme version of Option A. In fact, it seems so extreme that it almost makes the first option look like a reasonable compromise. This may, of course, be the “diplomatic” strategy. In this extreme option, the text attacks again the liability regime of the e-commerce Directive – which, bizarrely, would not be repealed, leaving us with two contradictory pieces of EU law but adds a “clarification” of what constitutes a “communication to the public”.

This clarification establishes that platforms (and its users) would be liable for the copyright infringing content uploaded by its users. The proposals in this leak highlight a very dangerous roadmap for the EU Member States, if they were to follow the Presidency’s lead. The consequences of these flawed proposals can only be prevented if civil society and EU citizens firmly raise their voices against having a censorship machine in the EU. We will be turning on our call tool at savethememe.net before each of the key votes in the European Parliament. Make use of the tool, and call your representatives to stop the #censorshipmachine!

Read more …

Oh, get real: “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track. The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile. EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3% of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

Greece had a 0.7% budget surplus in 2016, and is projected to maintain its fiscal position within EU rules’ limits this year. “In the light of this, the Council (of EU states) found that Greece fulfils the conditions for closing the excessive deficit procedure,” the EU said in a note. “After many years of severe difficulties, Greece’s finances are in much better shape. Today’s decision is therefore welcome”, Estonia’s finance minister Toomas Toniste said. The EU states’ decision confirmed a proposal by the EU executive commission in July to end the disciplinary procedure for Greece. The economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the decision was “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

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Good cop bad cop. Rinse and repeat.

ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)

The ECB may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders. The IMF has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon. The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline. “The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament. “And what the SSM plans to do next year is to have a stress test, possibly frontloading the stress test, and basically the SSM sent a letter to the IMF concerning exactly this expected line of action,” Draghi said.

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Maybe Macron can do some good too.

French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)

France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France – Europe’s biggest food producer a- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer. But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term “the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides”. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto. The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France’s biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was “out of the question” for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors. “A sudden ban, no — a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening,” said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert. Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research. The EU’s chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing. But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

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Can mankind rid the earth of its presence? Stay tuned.

Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)

A “sixth mass extinction” is already under way, scientists are now warning us. Species such as the Bengal tiger and blue whale are vanishing at an alarming rate, and mournful eulogies are being written on how those born in 20 years’ time may never see an African elephant. But who is writing the eulogy for our food? Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply -known as agrobiodiversity- are just as endangered and are getting almost no attention. Take some consumer favourites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.

These crops are the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, 940 cultivated species are threatened. Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet is the biggest cause of early death and disability. Globally, 2 billion people are undernourished, while 2 billion are obese and at risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Focusing on large-scale intensive production of starchy crops for calories rather than nutritious diets has led to serious levels of obesity around the world, from the US to Kenya. Our agrobiodiversity base can be a source of affordable, nutritious food – provided we don’t let it disappear.

[..] About 33% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be degraded, lacking the nutrients essential for growing crops. Agrobiodiversity once again has a solution. Planting cold-tolerant legumes and forages throughout winter has helped farmers in France naturally reduce weed infestation as well as increasing soil’s nutrient content and capacity to hold water. Natural remedies such as this can enhance the sustainability of farms worldwide, reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

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“Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species”. In India, there used to be 100,000 varieties of rice. Today, there’s a big struggle going on to preserve a few dozen. There are many different banana species, but we all eat just one, the Cavendish. Which is under severe threat from a global fungus and could be gone in 5-10 years.

Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday. “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising. There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered. Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

Read more …

Sep 202017
 
 September 20, 2017  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Automat 1927

 

Australia: A Delusional, Stuffed, Basket Case, Bubble, Third World Economy (MB)
With QT On The Way, This Market ‘Is Headed For A Brick Wall’ (Boockvar)
Where Deutsche Bank Thinks The Next Financial Crises Could Happen (CNBC)
Just 4% Own Over 95% Of Bitcoin (HowMuch)
MPs Want Public Inquiry Into UK’s £200 Billion Household Debt Crisis (G.)
Millennials Spend Three Times More Of Income On Housing Than Grandparents (G.)
New Zealand Jet Fuel ‘Debacle’ Disrupts Flights, Exports (G.)
Bain, KKR, Vornado Suffer Wipeout in Toys ‘R’ Us Bankruptcy (BBG)
Manafort Calls On DOJ To Release His Intercepted Phone Calls (ZH)
Trump Warned Saudis Off Military Move on Qatar (BBG)
Putin Orders To End Trade In US Dollars At Russian Seaports (RT)
Eurozone ‘Bouncing Back’? Tell That To The People Of Spain And Greece (DiEM25)
Greece’s Bailout Review Is Leaving Markets Jittery (BBG)
EU’s Dombrovskis: Greek Government Chose To Increase Taxes (K.)
Lesvos Mayor Issues Warning On Refugee Numbers (K.)

 

 

Now there’s a headline.

Australia: A Delusional, Stuffed, Basket Case, Bubble, Third World Economy (MB)

Australia is doomed to become a third-world country unless its government starts “something like the Apollo program” to inspire its citizens into becoming a technology economy, Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie told the AFR Innovation Summit 2017. “Australia is basically a property bubble floating inside a mining bubble inside a commodities bubble inside a China bubble, and that lucky free ride is about to go pop,” he said. The government was focused on “new ways to tax things” in reaction to its looming revenue problem, while neglecting education with proposed cuts to university funding of $1.2 billion, the biggest in 20 years. “Why not try and grow the biggest line of tax, income tax, by encouraging people to study in the right areas like science and engineering, instead of making these cuts which will push the cost of an electrical engineering degree at UNSW above $34,000, while slashing the HECS repayment threshold at the same time,” Mr Barrie said.

…Where is the growth come from? Mr Barrie asks. Governments have achieved growth from a property bubble “like no other”, says Mr Barrie. To paint this picture he says there are cranes in Sydney right now than in most American states combined and that being in postcodes with restricted lending. He is trawling fast through a broad range of figures that highlight Australia’s “basket case” economy including figures around low wage growth, unaffordable housing, manufacturing losses. Mr Barrie [says] we are “delusional” after 26 years of growth based on bubbles: mining, commodities and now property. Mr Barrie is slamming the economy’s structure (it’s hard to keep up, he’s moving fast). “Our economy is completely stuffed. We can’t rely on property to make us…we need serious structural change.”

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It’s not rocket science.

With QT On The Way, This Market ‘Is Headed For A Brick Wall’ (Boockvar)

We’re finally here. About nine years after quantitative easing (QE) began, quantitative tightening (QT) is about to start. On Wednesday, after the Federal Open Market Committee releases its statement, Janet Yellen will follow with a press conference that she will do her best to make as boring as possible. Every Fed member I suppose is praying for boring because of the epic bubbles that QE and seven years of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) has created in just about everything. They want this to unfold as orderly and as quietly as possible. Wishful thinking I believe. I also expect the FOMC to lay the groundwork for a December rate hike with the market currently 50/50 on that. If one believes that the stock market still is a discounting mechanism, then there’s nothing to fear with QT and maybe it will actually be like “watching paint dry” as Fed members so desperately want it to be. After all, the S&P 500 is at an all time high.

If you think, like me, that the stock market is not the same discounting tool as it once was because of the major distortion and manipulation of markets via central market involvement and the dominance of machines that are reactive instead of proactive in response to news, then we must review the previous experiences when major Fed changes took place. After all, they were all well telegraphed as this week’s likely news has been. I expect no different an outcome this time and I believe the market – with the S&P at an all-time high – is headed for a brick wall the deeper QT gets. Before I get to that, let me remind everyone that the third mandate of QE was higher stock prices. Ben Bernanke in rationalizing the initiation of QE2 in a Washington Post editorial back in November 2010 said in regards to QE1 and the verbal preparation for QE2, “this approach eased financial conditions in the past and, so far, looks to be effective again.

Stock prices rose and long term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate the most recent action.” He then went on to say “higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.” Well, the belief in the wealth effect hasn’t worked in this expansion. Hence, the record high in stocks last week and the 2.9% year over year rise in core August retail sales, both below the 5 year average and well less than the average seen in the prior two expansions.

After QE1 ended when we knew exactly the full size and expiration date (March 31st, 2010), the market topped out three weeks after and then fell 17%. After QE2 ended when we also knew the exact amount and deadline (June 30th, 2011), the market peaked one week later and then fell about 20%. Around the time QE3 ended with the lead up being a very methodical process of tapering, stocks had a hissy fit of about 10% only saved by James Bullard who hinted that maybe they won’t end QE.

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And there’s more. Isn’t it great to have all these options?!

Where Deutsche Bank Thinks The Next Financial Crises Could Happen (CNBC)

The Great Central Bank Unwind Central banks including the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of England are embarking on what has been called the “Great Unwind” – the winding-down of quantitative easing programs which included trillions of dollars’ worth of asset purchases and record low interest rates that have bolstered economies, financial markets and banking systems. Calling the “Great Unwind” a “journey into the unknown,” the strategists warned that “history would suggest there will be substantial consequences of the move especially given the elevated level of many global asset prices” adding that “even if the unwind stalls as either central banks get cold feet or if the economy unexpectedly weakens, we will still be left with an unprecedented global situation and one which makes finance inherently unstable.”

Out of ammunition? The strategists said there was a danger that central banks and governments could find themselves without ammunition to tackle a recession should one occur, given their already near zero interest rates, creaking balance sheets, and a backdrop of high levels of government debt. “Could the next recession be the one where policy makers are the most impotent they’ve been for 45 years or will they simply go for even more extreme tactics and resort to full on monetization to pay for a fiscal splurge? It does feel that we’re at a crossroads and the next downturn could be marked by extreme events given the policy cul-de-sac we seem to be nearing the end of,” Reid et al warned.

More QE if inflation disappoints? Since the financial crisis of ten years ago, persistently low inflation has been a constant headache for central banks, the Deutsche Bank strategists noted, a situation they found “fairly incredible” given the phenomenal level of central bank and government stimulus. “Although not our base case, given the recent inflation and Trump’s fiscal challenges, it’s not infeasible that markets could be blindsided by a return to more QE rather than less…If central banks do end up conducting increased QE again, the risk is we again go back to negative rates and worries about the banking system and the plumbing of the financial system.”

Italy – Crisis ‘waiting to happen?’ Turning to the euro zone’s third largest economy, Deutsche Bank’s strategists warned of more political and economic uncertainty from Italy. “A country nearing an election and with high populist party support, with a generationally underperforming economy, a comparatively huge debt burden, and a fragile banking system which continues to have to deal with legacy toxic debt holdings ticks a number of boxes to us for the ingredients of a potential next financial crisis.”

A China crisis?Conceding that China’s economy had so far avoided a hard landing predicted by many economists, Deutsche Bank warned that China still needed to transition its economy “from manufacturing to services and investment to consumption,” a process with Deutsche Bank said “needs to take place in the context of also containing the rapid growth of credit in our view.” “Rapid credit expansion due to an insatiable demand for debt fuelled growth, compounded by a hugely active shadow banking system, as well as an ever expanding property bubble fuelled fears for economists that China could inevitably make a hard landing and send shockwaves through the world’s financial markets. However, the economy has seemingly defied the odds.” “However, future growth cannot forever rely on debt and investment alone…The warning signs are there and the fundamental vulnerabilities remain. The greater issue might be ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the credit bubble pops.”

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That is scary.

Just 4% Own Over 95% Of Bitcoin (HowMuch)

Bitcoin has been making a lot of news lately. The cryptocurrency shot up in value by over 200% in 2017, making many people fear that the market is in a bubble. Last week, China decided to close its bitcoin exchanges, which caused investors around the world to panic about the currency’s long-term viability. But HowMuch.net asks, how many people own bitcoin, and how is the currency distributed around the world? Check out our new visualization. Our graph represents the entire bitcoin market, which has a value of around $60 billion. For comparison, that’s bigger than several well-known companies, like Fed-Ex and General Motors. We then divided the value of the bitcoin market by address. As you can see, over 95% of all bitcoins in circulation are owned by about 4% of the market. In fact, 1% of the addresses control half the entire market.

There are a couple limitations in our data. Most importantly, each address can represent more than one individual person. An obvious example would be a bitcoin exchange or wallet, which hold the currency for a lot of different people. Another limitation has to do with anonymity. If you want to remain completely anonymous, you can use something called CoinJoin, a process that allows users to group similar transactions together. This makes it seem like two people are using the same address, when in reality they are not. So it’s a complex situation. but let’s try to break bitcoin down as simple as possible. Bitcoin is just a type of money, like dollars and euros. The main difference is that there isn’t a sovereign government backing the currency, and it instead lives online. This is possible thanks to something called the blockchain.

Banks and companies must keep detailed records of where they send money, marking it possible to detect fraud and criminal activity. The blockchain works differently because it breaks each transaction into tiny components, routes the pieces through a computer network, and directs them to a recipient who can then re-assemble the code together. If you don’t have the right key, you can’t own a bitcoin. And if you aren’t at the right digital address (think your home network’s IP address), then you can’t receive bitcoin. The technology is hard to understand, and it presents challenges for companies and people who want to use it. That’s why folks typically turn to a vendor like Coinbase to handle their transactions. You know how you carry physical money in your personal wallet? Think of Coinbase as a digital wallet.

You use it to buy stuff and pay for services. But be careful—people can steal your digital wallet, and the thieves can be untraceable. And that’s the issue. There’s only a very limited number of bitcoin wallet providers out there. It’s not like you can just go to your local bank and buy some bitcoin. The big takeaway from all this is that if you are considering purchasing some bitcoin, you have very limited options. There are only a few key players in the game where you can park your investment. And if you do make that purchase, understand that it is highly speculative and unregulated, so prepare for a bumpy ride.

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And then what? Jubilee?

MPs Want Public Inquiry Into UK’s £200 Billion Household Debt Crisis (G.)

The chairs of two powerful parliamentary committees have urged the government to set up an independent public inquiry into the £200bn of debt amassed by households. The call by Rachel Reeves, the Labour chair of the business select committee, and Frank Field, the Labour head of the work and pensions select committee, comes as the Conservative-led Treasury select committee plans to hold meetings around the country to examine the impact of debt on individuals and households. “Debt is a huge emotional burden for people,” said Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury select committee. She added that “unstable personal finances” often emerged as problems raised by her constituents in Loughborough.

The £200bn of debt amassed on credit cards, personal loans and car deals is now at the same level it reached before the 2008 financial crisis and there are fears that rises in interest rates could put more households under pressure. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned on Monday that interest rates were likely to rise in response to rising inflation and skills shortages brought on by Brexit that will increase pressure on wages. Field said people in his Birkenhead constituency on the Wirral were being pushed into destitution by the actions of loan sharks and finance companies that heaped extra pain on low income households with sky-high interest charges. He said: “We need a commission to assess the current situation. There are so many moving parts that a proper investigation goes beyond the remit of any single committee.”

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Probably true in many countries.

Millennials Spend Three Times More Of Income On Housing Than Grandparents (G.)

Millennials are spending three times more of their income on housing than their grandparents yet are often living in worse accommodation, says a study launched by former Conservative minister David Willetts that warns of a “housing catastrophe”. The generation currently aged 18-36 are typically spending over a third of their post-tax income on rent or about 12% on mortgages, compared with 5%-10% of income spent by their grandparents in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite spending more, young people today are more likely to live in overcrowded and smaller spaces, and face longer journeys to work – commuting for the equivalent of three days a year more than their parents. The research by Willetts’ intergenerational commission at the Resolution Foundation thinktank also reveals that today’s 30-year-olds are only half as likely to own their own home as their baby boomer parents.

They are four times as likely to rent privately than two generations ago, a sector which has the worst record for housing quality, the report claims. The report’s authors argue that the housing crisis is a huge part of public anxiety about the country’s direction, a factor in the result of the EU referendum last year and in the general election in June. A young family today has to save for 19 years on average to afford a typical deposit compared with three years for the previous generation, the report states. “This is the biggest problem facing the younger generation,” said Willetts. “It depresses their living standards and quality of life. It is very important for the Tory party to open up the route to home ownership again. A lot of twentysomethings also have horror stories of bad landlords and we need to help them as well.”

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There’s a lesson about redundancy somewhere in here.

New Zealand Jet Fuel ‘Debacle’ Disrupts Flights, Cars, Exports (G.)

New Zealand’s jet fuel crisis is worsening by the day with airlines restricting ticket sales, politicians limiting travel to essential flights only on some routes in the final days of the election campaign and all but the most critical exports halted. Rationing is set to continue for another week after a digger on Thursday struck the sole jet fuel, diesel and petrol supply pipe to Auckland, the country’s biggest city and major transport hub for international visitors. Three thousand people a day are being affected by cancelled domestic and international flights. Another 6,000 people will be impacted by delays or disruptions to normal service, Air New Zealand said, and it had taken the “unusual” step of restricting ticket sales to all but essential or compassionate travel to try and manage the shortage.

As a result of the tightening fuel shortage, all airlines stopping in Auckland are only able to upload 30% of their normal capacity of jet fuel and the government has instructed its employees to cancel all non-essential travel. Export goods are being off-loaded from domestic and international flights unless they are at risk of rotting to lighten the load. Some international routes have been cancelled altogether or diverted to Australia and Fiji until the crisis is resolved.

Although the jet fuel supply pipe is privately owned and operated, opposition Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has criticized the government’s lack of investment in vital infrastructure in Auckland, as the ruling National party instructed its staffers and candidates around the country to restrict campaigning in the final days of the general election to save on jet fuel. “One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt,” said Ardern on Tuesday. [..] Petrol and diesel supplies have also been affected by the damaged pipe, with both fuels being driven overland to Auckland from other supply points in the North Island, and the defence force called in to assist with transportation and logistics, including the naval tanker HMNZS Endeavour.

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Wait. They had written their investments down to zero, so how can they suffer a wipeout? is it possible they dumped a whole lot of losses into the black hole?

Bain, KKR, Vornado Suffer Wipeout in Toys ‘R’ Us Bankruptcy (BBG)

Bain Capital, KKR and Vornado Realty Trust stand to have their Toys “R” Us Inc. investment erased as the retailer they bought in 2005 for $7.5 billion seeks bankruptcy protection. The three firms and their co-investors sank $1.3 billion of equity into the takeover of the Wayne, New Jersey-based toy company, financing the rest with debt, according to company filings. The debt included senior loans in which they held a stake. Partly offsetting the loss is more than $470 million in fees and interest payments that Toys “R” Us awarded the firms over time. Toys “R” Us, which has 1,600 stores in 38 countries, filed for bankruptcy late Monday. The filing in Richmond, Virginia, estimated that the company has more than $5 billion in debt, which costs about $400 million a year to service.

The buyout was part of a vast wave of debt-enabled takeovers by private equity firms from 2005 to 2007 that saw deal prices soar to tens of billions of dollars. The wave crashed at the onset of the financial crisis in 2009. The biggest of that era’s private equity deals was the $48 billion buyout of Texas utility TXU, now called Energy Future Holdings Corp. The company went belly-up in 2014, obliterating $8.3 billion of equity put in by KKR, TPG Capital, Goldman Sachs and co-investors.

Toys “R” Us appeared stable out of the gate. The $7.5 billion price worked out to about 7.5 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – not outlandish by today’s standards. With about $1 billion a year in Ebitda, the company was able to cover the interest on its $5.5 billion of debt and fund store improvements with more than $200 million to spare. But the ravages of the financial crisis, competition from online rivals and price wars blew up that safety cushion. KKR and Vornado, which are publicly traded, had previously written their investments in the company down to zero. As a result, the bankruptcy won’t affect their earnings going forward.

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“..it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged..”

Manafort Calls On DOJ To Release His Intercepted Phone Calls (ZH)

Less than 24 hours after CNN triggered the latest outbreak of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ by relaying information from anonymous sources that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manfort has been under surveillance by the FBI since 2014, Manafort has fired back by calling on the Department of Justice to release all transcripts of his tapped phone calls so that the American public “can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there.” Per the Daily Caller: “Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is calling on the Justice Department to release transcripts of any intercepted communications he may have had with foreigners. Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant, also called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the leak of details of secret surveillance warrants obtained by U.S. investigators.

“Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there,” Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement. Manafort’s spokesman goes on to demand that the DOJ launch an immediate investigation into who continues to commit federal felonies with reckless abandon by leaking details of confidential FISA warrants to the media. Whether or not Manafort committed a crime — and he has not been charged with anything — the leak of information about FISA warrants is a federal crime, Maloni noted in his statement.

“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” Maloni said. Information about FISA warrants is classified and tightly held by government officials and the federal judges that approve them. Unauthorized disclosures of FISA information is also a felony. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the leak of FISA information is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In his statement, Maloni called on the Justice Department’s watchdog to “immediately” open an investigation into the leak and to “examine the motivations behind the previous Administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent.”

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No, I’m not going to talk about his UN speech yesterday. That’s all just confirmation bias.

Everyone involved denies any of this ever actually happened.

Trump Warned Saudis Off Military Move on Qatar (BBG)

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates considered military action in the early stages of their ongoing dispute with Qatar before Donald Trump called leaders of both countries and warned them to back off, according to two people familiar with the U.S. president’s discussions. The Saudis and Emiratis were looking at ways to remove the Qatari regime, which they accused of sponsoring terrorism and cozying up to Iran, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. Trump told Saudi and U.A.E. leaders that any military action would trigger a crisis across the Middle East that would only benefit Iran, one of the people said. More recently, the Trump administration has quietly sent high-level messages to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to try to defuse the quarrel.

Trump, who initially sided with the Saudi-led bloc, had a change of heart because of evidence that a prolonged dispute with Qatar will serve as an advantage to Iran, according to a U.S. official familiar with his thinking. Trump met with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. Asked by a reporter if he had warned Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. against military action in the country, Trump responded, “No.” At the same meeting, Trump confronted the Qatari leader with what one U.S. official said is evidence that Qatar is still engaged in terrorism-related activity and told him it has to stop.

[..] Trump said on Tuesday that the U.S. is pushing for an end to the Gulf dispute. “We are right now in a situation where we’re trying to solve a problem in the Middle East,” he said. “I have a very strong feeling that it will be solved, and pretty quickly.” Those comments reflected how Trump has changed his thinking on the Qatar dispute in the past 10 days or so, becoming more sympathetic with the Qataris after previously backing the Saudi-led bloc and saying his priority is to clamp down on terror financing, according to the U.S. official familiar with his thinking.

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There’s no reason for it to happen in other currencies.

Putin Orders To End Trade In US Dollars At Russian Seaports (RT)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed the government to approve legislation making the ruble the main currency of exchange at all Russian seaports by next year, according to the Kremlin website. To protect the interests of stevedoring companies with foreign currency obligations, the government was instructed to set a transition period before switching to ruble settlements. According to the head of Russian antitrust watchdog FAS Igor Artemyev, many services in Russian seaports are still priced in US dollars, even though such ports are state-owned. The proposal to switch port tariffs to rubles was first proposed by the president a year and a half ago.

The idea was not embraced by large transport companies, which would like to keep revenues in dollars and other foreign currencies because of fluctuations in the ruble. Artemyev said the decision will force foreigners to buy Russian currency, which is good for the ruble. In 2016, his agency filed several lawsuits against the largest Russian port group NMTP. According to FAS, the group of companies set tariffs for transshipment in dollars and raised tariffs from January 2015 “without objective grounds.” The watchdog ruled that NMTP abused its dominant position in the market and imposed a 9.74 billion rubles fine, or about $165 million at the current exchange rate. The decision was overturned by a court in Moscow in July this year.

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Everyone thinks corporate tax cuts are the solution?!

Eurozone ‘Bouncing Back’? Tell That To The People Of Spain And Greece (DiEM25)

EU citizens living under squeezed financial circumstances could be forgiven for wondering whether European Commission President Juncker was having a joke at their expense when he spoke recently about how Europe’s economy is finally bouncing back. After a tumultuous decade triggered by the global financial crisis in 2007, the Eurozone’s growth figures are being compared favourably to America’s, with production up 3.2% against last year. However, evidence points to a wide chasm between people’s lived experiences and Juncker’s message of triumph. It is doubtful that the citizens of Spain and Greece, for example, would agree with his assessment. According to the Commission, 30% of Spaniards are at risk of social exclusion due to poverty and income inequality.

The proportion of children in Spain living below the poverty line increased by 9% between 2008 and 2014, to 30.5%, and Spain is in 7th place on the OECD list of countries where inequality has risen the most since 2010. Greece, meanwhile, is at top of this ranking. Now, ‘growth’ may be used to express the success of a country’s economic performance. But how impressive is it really, when the Troika’s austerity-driven politics is causing so much human suffering in countries like Greece and Spain? According to the OECD, countries have continued the trend towards implementing tax policy reforms to boost growth. French President Macron is proposing to cut corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% by 2022. Yet the use of tax levers, primarily cuts to corporation tax, as a means to draw inward investment has been disputed by top economists.

“The way you get a productive economy is changing the fundamentals, says John Van Reenen of the LSE. “You get your people to be more skilled, or you have your infrastructure working efficiently. You’re never really going to get there just by reducing corporate tax.” So what’s the alternative? It is possible to pursue a successful strategy without crucifying ordinary people in the process, and Portugal is leading the way. The country adopted left wing alternatives to austerity policies in 2015 and is now reporting an impressive recovery. It is a model from which governments can learn.

Read more …

That’s the intention.

Greece’s Bailout Review Is Leaving Markets Jittery (BBG)

Greece faces two possible outcomes. Officials from both the government and creditors say the aim is to finish the third bailout review by the end of the year, giving the country time to raise more funds in the market and paving the way for its successful program exit. Concluding the review by the end of the year, or even in the early months of next year, would help Greece gain much-needed investor confidence. Prolonged negotiations, on the other hand, could weigh on investor sentiment and hamper the country’s effort to exit its bailout next summer and finance itself. “Investments are at a very low level and, as a result, Greece is growing much slower than it should and, in fact, slower than many of its eurozone partners,” Vettas said.

Greek investment was stagnant in 2016 and fell during the first two quarters of this year. If Greece’s bailout runs out before the country completes all the reforms it has agreed to, it could put at risk any plans for debt relief from the euro area, something the government has sought for years. Greece’s partners agreed to ease the country’s debt at the end of its bailout, provided agreed reforms are successfully concluded. Key sticking points in the review include Greece’s budget for 2018, and whether the country is taking sufficient measures to hit bailout-prescribed targets. Greece is expected to have a primary surplus, which excludes interest payments, of 3.5% of GDP next year, a target that seems more difficult as tax receipts have failed to yield expected revenue, Greek and EU officials say.

Meanwhile, politically contentious issues such as privatizations, the reform of public administration as well as an overhaul of the labor market may be raised in the upcoming talks. Greek banks’ handling of nonperforming loans is also expected to come under fire as is a restructuring of social benefits. Tsipras’s administration has yet to find resources in the budget to avoid cutting some popular benefits. The IMF’s demand for a new asset-quality review for Greek banks may be another bone of contention, this time between the Fund and the ECB. The Greek government and Frankfurt say that such a review will harm the nation’s lenders because they need to focus on addressing the NPL issue. A solution, they say, may be to wait for the results of the banks’ regular stress tests, which are expected before the end of the bailout program, without a new asset-quality review.

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Being blamed for being strangled.

EU’s Dombrovskis: Greek Government Chose To Increase Taxes (K.)

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis has told Kathimerini in an exclusive interview that a successful conclusion to the third review of Greece’s third international bailout by the end of the year would send money markets a convincing message that the program is on track and close to its end – although it’s still rather early to discuss a so-called “clean exit,” he said. The Latvian politician also explained it was the government’s decision to raise taxes instead of cutting public spending, and income tax has now failed to meet revenue expectations.

Regarding talk about a “clean exit” from Greece’s third bailout at the end of next summer, Dombrovskis indicated that such a discussion was “premature” and that the priority now is to focus on completing the third bailout review by the end of the year. He said 95 prior actions, some of which have been legislated, must still be implemented. The EU official underlined the importance of Greece meeting a primary surplus target of 3.5% next year and creating a more beneficial environment for potential investors as part of efforts to boost much-needed growth.

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And on and on.

Lesvos Mayor Issues Warning On Refugee Numbers (K.)

Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos has written to the government and the European Commission asking that immediate action be taken to reduce the number of refugees on the island. In the letter sent to European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos and Greek Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, Galinos says there are now more than 6,000 refugees and migrants on the island, which is far more than existing facilities can cope with. The Lesvos mayor attributed this to a steady rise in arrivals and insufficient efforts to reduce the numbers at hotspots. Galinos claimed the island is being “held hostage” and called for immediate action by authorities. He ruled out the possibility of more temporary facilities being built on the island. “Lesvos’s ability to offer hospitality is limited to its current infrastructure,” the mayor wrote.

Read more …

Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Eugene Delacroix Greece expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1826

 

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, famous for his imbibition capacity and uttering -not necessarily in that order- the legendary words “when it becomes serious, you have to lie”, presented his State of the Union today. Which is of pretty much limited interest because, as Yanis Varoufakis’ book ‘Adults in the Room’ once again confirmed, Juncker is nothing but ventriloquist Angela Merkel’s sock puppet.

But of course he had lofty words galore, about how great Europe is doing, and how that provides a window for more Europe, in multiple dimensions. Juncker envisions a European Minister of Finance (Dutch PM Rutte immediately scorned the idea), and he wants to enlarge the EU by inviting more countries in, like Albania, Montenegro and Serbia (but not Turkey!).

Juncker had negative things to say about Britain and Brexit, about Poland, Prague and Hungary who don’t want to obey the decree about letting in migrants and refugees, and obviously about Donald Trump: Brussels apparently wants ‘to make our planet great again’.

What the likes of Jean-Claude don’t seem to be willing to contemplate, let alone understand or acknowledge, is that the EU is a union of sovereign countries. The meaning of ‘sovereignty’ fully escapes much of the pro-EU crowd. And if they keep that up, it will break the union into pieces.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary must accept their migrant ‘quota’, as decided in Brussels, and that, too, constitutes an infringement on these countries’ sovereignty. And don’t forget, sovereignty is not something that can be divided into separate parts, some of which can be upheld while others are discarded. A country is either sovereign or it is not.

The single euro currency is already shirking awfully close to violating sovereignty, if not passing over an invisible line, and a European Finance Minister would certainly constitute such a violation. At some point, the politicians in all these countries will have to tell their voters that they’re about to surrender -more of- their sovereignty and become citizens of Merkel Land. But they don’t want to do that, because as soon as people would realize this, the pitchforks would come out and the union would be history.

The EU will be able to muddle on for a while longer, but Europe is not at all doing great economically (however, to maintain the illusion ECB head Draghi buys €60 billion a month in ‘assets’), and when the next crisis comes people will demand their sovereignty back. It really is that simple. And what will the negotiations look like to make that happen? 27 times Brexit?

 

The real Europe is not the one Juncker paints a portrait of. The real Europe is Greece. That’s where you can see the economic reality as well as the political one. Greece has no sovereignty left to speak of, despite the fact that it is guaranteed it in EU law. Europe’s political reality is about raw power. About the rich waterboarding the poor, to the point that they are turned from sovereign citizens of their countries into lost souls in debt prisons.

This week, another chapter has been added to the dismal annals of the Greek adventures in the European Union. It’s like the Odyssee, I kid you not. Like the previous chapters, this one will not solve the Greek crisis, or even alleviate it, but instead it will deepen it further, and not a little bit. This chapter concerns the forced auctioning of -real estate- properties.

Not to Greeks, 90% of whom can’t afford to buy anything at all, let alone property, but to foreigners, often institutional investors. At the same time, bad loans, including mortgage loans, will be offloaded for pennies on the dollar to that same class of ‘investors’. Once the Troika is done with this chapter, Greece will have seen capital destruction the likes of which the world has seldom if ever witnessed.

People in the country have a hard time understanding the impact:

Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower

Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”

[..]Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH [..] told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”

He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”

A 10% drop? Excuse me? Even in the center of Athens, rental prices for apartments that are not yet absorbed by Airbnb have plummeted. With so many people making just a few hundred euro a month that is inevitable. You can rent a decent place for €200 a month, and if you keep looking I’m sure you can find one for €100. An 80% drop?! But property prices would only go down by 10% in a market that has 20 times more unsold properties than it sells in a year?

The Troika creditors found they had to deal with attempts to prevent the wholesale fire sale of Greek properties. They now think they’ve found the solution. First, they will force the government to lower official valuations concerning the so-called “primary residence protection”, which protected homes valued at below €300,000 from foreclosure. Second, they will bypass the associations of notaries who refused to cooperate in ‘physical’ auctions, as well as protesters, by doing the fire sale electronically:

E-Auctions Of Foreclosed Property For First Time This Month In Greece

Environment and Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis confirmed the development in statements to a local television station, announcing the relevant justice ministry is ready to begin electronic auctions in the middle of next week.At the same time, Stathakis noted that a law protecting a debtor’s primary residence from creditors will be expanded until the end of 2018. According to reports, the e-auctions will take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday over a four-hour period, i.e. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Some 5,000 foreclosed commercial properties will be up for sale by the end of the year, which translates into 1,250 properties per month, on average.

Currently, the primary residence protection against foreclosure extends to properties valued (by the State tax bureau) at under €300,000, a very high threshold that shields the “lion’s share” of mortgaged residential real estate in the country, if judged by current commercial property values in Greece. Creditors and local lenders have called for a decrease in the protection threshold, a prospect that is very likely.

The development is also expected to generate another round of acrimonious political skirmishing, given that both leftist SYRIZA, and its junior coalition partner, the rightist-populist Independent Greeks party, rode to power in January 2015 on a election campaign platform that included an almost universal protection of residential property from bank foreclosures and auctions.

Associations representing notaries – professionals who in Greece are law school graduates specializing in drawing up contracts and maintaining registries of deeds, property transactions, wills etc. – had also blocked old-style auctions from taking place in district courts by ordering their members not to take part. The e-auction process aims to bypass this opposition, as well as disruptions and occupations of courtrooms by anti-austerity protesters.

The claim is that Greek banks must be made healthy again by removing bad loans from their books. The question is if selling both properties and bad loans to foreign institutional investors for pennies on the buck is a healthy way to achieve that. But yeah, if 50% of your outstanding loans are bad, you have a problem. Still, at the same time, the problem with that is that many if not most of those loans have turned sour because of the neverending carrousel of austerity measures unleashed upon the country. It’s a proverbial chicken and egg issue.

If Brussels were serious about Greek sovereignty, it would make sure that Greek homes were to remain in Greek hands. You can’t be sovereign if foreigners own most of your real estate. By bleeding the country dry, and forcing the sale of Greek property to Germans, Americans, Russians and Arabs, the Troika infringes upon Greek sovereignty in ways that will scare the heebees out of other EU nations.

It’s not for nothing that the entire Italian opposition is talking about a parallel currency next to the euro. That is about sovereignty.

5,000 Greek Properties Under the Electronic Auction System by End of 2017

Auctions of foreclosed properties to settle bad debts are seen as key to returning Greek banks to health by helping reduce the burden of non-performing loans. These currently stand at roughly €110 billion, or 50% of the banks’ total loans. Under pressure from its lenders, in the summer of 2016 the Greek government passed measures allowing the sale of delinquent mortgages and small business loans to international funds, a move seen by many as yet another betrayal by the SYRIZA-led government.

Greek banks won’t return to health, they’ll simply shrink the same way the people do who can’t afford to rent a home or eat decent food. Austerity kills entire societies, including banks. If Mario Draghi would decide tomorrow morning to include Greece in his €60 billion a month QE bond-buying program, and Greece could use that money to stop squeezing pensions and wages, and no longer raise taxes and unemployment, both the people AND the banks could return to health. It would take a number of years, but still.

 


Attica! Attica!

 

Whatever you call what happens to Greece, and what’s been happening for nearly 10 years now, whether you call it fiscal waterboarding or Shock Doctrine, it is definitely not something that has a place in a union of sovereign nations bound together in mutual respect and dignity. And that will ensure the demise of that union.

 

Another aspect of the fire sale is the valuation of the properties austerity has caused to crumble (so many buildings in Athens are empty and falling apart, it’s deeply tragic, at times it feels like the entire city is dying). The press calls it a hard task, but that doesn’t quite cover it.

It’s not just about mortgages, many Greeks simply give up their properties because they can’t afford the taxes on them. People that inherit property refuse to accept their inheritance, even if it’s been in their families for generations, and it’s where they grew up. In that sense, it may be good to lower valuations to more realistic levels. But tax revenues will plunge along with the valuations, and the government is already stretched silly. Add a new tax, then?

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax.

Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Yeah, there’s the health of the banks again. And the government. And the people. A wholesale fire sale is the worst possible thing that could happen at this point in time. Greece needs help, stimulus, hope, not more austerity and fire sales. Juncker and his Berlin ventriloquist have this all upside down and backwards, squared. The one thing the EU cannot afford itself to do, is the one thing it engages in.

They may as well pack in the whole thing today, and go home. Actually, that would be by far the best option, because more of this will inevitably lead to the very thing Europe prides itself in preventing for the past 70 years: battle, struggle, war, fighting in the streets, and worse. If the EU cannot show it exists for the good and benefit of its people, it no longer has a reason to exist.

Saving the banks in the richer countries by waterboarding an entire other country is not just the worst thing they could have thought of, it’s entirely unnecessary too. The EU and ECB could easily have saved Greece from 90% of what it has gone through, and will go through going forward, at virtually no cost at all. But yes, German, French, Dutch banks would likely have had to cut the bonuses of their bankers, and their vulture funds couldn’t have snapped up the real estate quite that cheaply.

Summarized: the EU is a disgrace, morally, politically, economically. I know that French President Macron on the one side, and Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement on the other, talk about reforming the EU. But the EU is the mob, and you don’t reform the mob. You dismantle their organization and then you lock them up.

 

 

Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

Read more …

How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

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Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

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“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

Read more …

“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

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Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

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Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

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Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

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Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

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It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

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Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

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Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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