Aug 122018
 
 August 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse View of Nôtre Dame 1914

 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003. His AKP party had won a major election victory in 2002, but Erdogan was banned from political office until his predecessor Gül annulled the ban. Which he had gotten in 1997 for reciting an old poem to which he had added the lines “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers….”

The Turkish courts of the time saw this as “an incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred..” and sentenced him to ten months in prison (of which he served four in 1999). The courts saw Erdogan as a threat to the secular Turkish state as defined by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in the 1920’s. Erdogan is trying to both turn the nation towards Islam and at the same time not appearing to insult Ataturk.

The reality is that many Turks today lean towards a religion-based society, and no longer understand why Ataturk insisted on a secular(ist) state. Which he did after many years of wars and conflicts as a result of religious -and other- struggles. Seeing how Turkey lies in the middle between Christian Europe and the Muslim world, it is not difficult to fathom why the ‘father’ of the country saw secularism as the best if not only option. But that was 90 years ago.

And it doesn’t serve Erdogan’s purposes. If he can appeal to the ‘silent’ religious crowd and gather their support, he has the power. To wit. In 2003, one of his first acts as prime minister was to have Turkey enter George W.’s coalition of the willing to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As a reward for that, negotiations for Turkey to join the EU started. These are officially still happening, but unofficially they’re dead.

In 2014 Erdogan finally got his dream job: president. Ironically, in order to get the job, Erdogan depended heavily on the movement of scholar and imam Fethullah Gülen, who, despite moving to Pennsylvania in 1999, still had (has?) considerable influence in Turkish society. Two years after becoming president, Erdogan accused Gülen of being the mastermind behind a ‘failed coup’ in 2016, after which tens of thousands of alleged Gülenists were arrested, fired, etc.

 

Fast forward to the past week. Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Turkey, ostensibly because Erdogan refuses to free an American pastor. The result was a god-almighty drop in the Turkish lira. Analysts at Goldman Sachs said if it reached 7:1 vs the USD, it would be game over for Turkish banks. It got to 6.8:1 before falling back to 6.4:1. And without support from China or the IMF, it would indeed appear the game’s up.

With a stronger dollar, investors’ urge to have their money in emerging markets fades away. And with Turkey being the ugliest horse in the EM factory (perhaps after Argentina, but that’s a whole different story), it’s only logical it would be the first emerging market to see foreign investment disappear. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and It looks something like this:

Here, Turkey’s the main outlier. Tyler Durden’s comment: “as JPMorgan showed 2 months ago, Turkey faces a secondary threat in addition to its gaping current account deficit: a massive and growing debt load. If foreign buyers of Turkish debt go on strike, or if Turkey is unable to rollover near-term maturities, watch how quickly the currency crisis transforms into a broad economic collapse.”

 

 

This next graph from the IIF shows how much debt Turkey has, and in which sectors. Not much household debt, which is positive, but a monster non-financial corporate debt, which is definitely not. NOTE: Hungary is no. 2 on this one, but look at the graph above, and you see that while Turkey has a current account DEFICIT and RISING external debt, Hungary has a current account SURPLUS and FALLING external debt. Don’t do the apples and oranges thing! Also note that Argentina’s debt is almost all government (bonds)

Along that same line, I saw Tom Luongo today compare Turkey anno now to Russia in 2014/15, but Moscow’s USD and EUR debt is about 25%, while Turkey’s is at 70%. it’s a very bad comparison. Russia has had sanctions for ages, and it’s and plenty time to adapt its economy to them. They have to hold some USD and Treasury’s, but they’re largely fine. Turkey is not.

 

 

The third graph is useful because it depicts what currencies countries’ non-financial sectors have borrowed in. Again, Turkey is an outlier, this time in its USD exposure.

 

 

And unsurprisingly, we have EU banks exposed to Turkey. What’s wrong with BBVA? What’s wrong with Draghi?

 

 

But this is easy stuff. We know all this, or we could have. Turkey has been splurging on debt at least ever since Erdogan became PM 15 years ago. He bought his popularity to a large extent with large scale infrastructure projects, without letting on the country -and its corporate sector- were financing the projects with money borrowed from abroad (he built a $100 million, 1000-room palace for himself as well).

Where I think it gets really interesting, and I’ve been keeping away a bit from what others have written the past few days, is in what Erdogan knows about this, and how long he’s known how dire the situation is, and what he’s planning to do next. Because if he knows how bad things are, and he has it for a while, he may well have orchestrated the recent fall-out with Trump et al, to use it as a political tool.

What Erdogan needs is someone to blame for his collapsing economy. And also, if he can get it, a bail-out from somewhere anywhere. Problem with the bail-out thing is, no matter what option might be available, and it’s only might be, he will be forced to relinquish a lot of the central control he’s carefully built up through constitution amendments etc.

His -maybe- options are the IMF, Russia and China. The IMF equals America, and even if they feel a loan to Istanbul is better than an outright collapse, they will take his control over the central bank away, and probably much more – austerity on steroids.

Russia might want to assist, if only to get Turkey away from NATO, which Putin sees as a growing threat now it keeps approaching his borders ever more. Greece is presently in an angry spat with Moscow because the latter is trying to frustrate the Macedonia name deal that the US has been encouraging, which would lead to Macedonia NATO membership, and even more NATO troops right on Russian borders.

But Putin hasn’t forgotten Erdogan shooting down a Russian jet fighter in 2015, and you can bet he will avenge that ‘incident’. He’s at best ambivalent about supporting Erdogan, but he recognizes the potential advantages. Then again, he also recognizes the pluses of letting Turkey slide into a position where Erdogan will be forced out and the secular state reinstated. Russia doesn’t want more Muslim states on its borders anymore than it wants more NATO. Suffice it to say Putin’s watching closely. And he’s got his moves ready.

China sees things differently; it can of course appreciate the potential of Turkey as a strategic gem, if only for its Belt and Road Initiative, but Beijing can also see the potential problems. It’s easier -and much cheaper- to buy up Greek assets for that same purpose -and for pennies on the dollar- now that the EU and US have forced the country’s economy to slide into third world territory. Still if Erdogan gets desperate enough, XI may yet jump in. But Erdogan will not be an independent actor anymore, in his own country. Xi does not dole out Christmas gifts.

 

On Saturday, Erdogan -again- summoned Turks to bring home their foreign funds and to change all dollars and euros and bonds for lira. That may seem strange -and it probably is- because the first reaction is for people to do the exact opposite as long as the lira is plunging. But it appeals to that same religious sentiment that he has founded his entire political power on. Without it, he’s done anyway.

His approach now is to blame someone else for Turkey’s economic problems. Which is nonsense for anyone who has the valid details, but remember, his gutting of the press after the alleged ‘coup’ two years ago has left precious little information available to the Turkish people.

Erdogan has said he will look for other friends than the US. As detailed above, that will not be easy unless he’s prepared to give up substantial amounts of his power. He’s not prepared for that. It’s much easier for him, let alone advantageous, to claim there’s an economic war against Turkey being leveled. And he wouldn’t even be 100% wrong.

Thing is, to prevent the latest escalation, all he would have had to do was to release an American pastor. The fact that he didn’t is perhaps more telling than anything in all this. He’s looking for someone, come country, some organization perhaps, to present as an enemy to the Turkish people.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time in Athens in the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey, whose jetfighters’ violations of Greek air space have become so routine not even the Greek press tries to keep track, would invade, and claim ownership of, some Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, even if they’re just some uninhabited rocks, to whip up nationalist sentiment back home.

Recep Tayyip has long seen this coming. His economy is collapsing, his currency is collapsing, so he’ll focus on what’s left: Turkey’s strategic position on the map, its NATO membership, the negotiations for EU membership, and most of all the support of the Muslim contingent in Turkey that solidifies his power.

I don’t really want to make any historical comparisons, they appear obvious enough. Suffice it to say this ain’t over by a long shot, and it could lead to big trouble.

And don’t let’s forget that Turkey presently hosts millions of Syrian refugees. Erdogan can just buy a bunch of dinghies (he can still afford that) and cause absolute chaos in Greece and the EU.

Who’s going to be buying lira’s on Monday?

 

 

Aug 082018
 
 August 8, 2018  Posted by at 8:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The red tree house 1890

 

Tesla Shares Soar After Elon Musk Floats Plan To Take Company Private (G.)
Securities Lawyers Shocked By Elon Musk’s Tweet (CNBC)
Alex Jones Pleads With Donald Trump To Fight ‘Censorship’ (Ind.)
US Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media (R.)
Trump’s Sanctions Causing Turmoil In Turkey (CNBC)
Turkish Banks Scramble to Stave Off Debt Crisis (DQ)
Europe ‘Needs To Get A Backbone’ On Trump’s Iran Sanctions – Ron Paul (RT)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Calls On Firms To Defy Trump Over Iran (G.)
The Blowup With Canada Is the Latest Saudi Overreach (IC)
London Is The World’s Airbnb Capital (ZH)
My Amsterdam Is Being Un-Created By Mass Tourism (G.)
First Trial Alleging Monsanto’s Roundup Causes Cancer Goes To Jury (R.)
The American Sea of Deception (TD)

 

 

$82 billion in funding arranged? Perhaps the SEC should have a word with Musk about that.

Tesla Shares Soar After Elon Musk Floats Plan To Take Company Private (G.)

Elon Musk has launched a campaign to take Tesla private on a day that included several provocative tweets, a suspension (and resumption) of trading in the company’s shares, reports of a significant Saudi investment, a surge in stock price, and an evocative, Musk-tinged appeal to the Tesla faithful: “The future is very bright and we’ll keep fighting to achieve our mission.” The ride started with Tesla’s stock rising more than 7% after Musk tweeted he was “considering taking Tesla private” and had funding in place to do so at a price of $420 (£325) per share. Shortly afterwards, Tesla published a blogpost written by Musk entitled ‘Taking Tesla private’ that had been sent to all employees.

The tweet appeared to be triggered by a report in the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia has built up a stake in Tesla worth up to $2.9bn. At $420 a share, Tesla would have an enterprise value of about $82bn including debt, well above its stock market value, which reached $63.8bn on Tuesday. Shares closed up 11% at $378. To take Tesla private, Musk would have to pull off the largest leveraged buyout in history, surpassing Texas electric utility TXU’s in 2007. Analysts say Tesla doesn’t fit the typical profile of a company that can raise tens of billions of dollars of debt to fund such a deal. In a follow up tweet, Musk wrote: “I don’t have a controlling vote now and wouldn’t expect any shareholder to have one if we go private. I won’t be selling in either scenario.”

Read more …

Social media and its consequences.

Securities Lawyers Shocked By Elon Musk’s Tweet (CNBC)

“If his comments were issued for the purpose of moving the price of the stock, that could be manipulation, it could also be securities fraud,” former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt told CNBC on Tuesday. “The use of a specific price for a potential going private transaction is highly unprecedented and therefore raises significant questions about what his intent was. So, that would have to be investigated.” [..] Five years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission had to clarify its social media policy after Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings set off a firestorm of his own.

Companies can use social media like Facebook and Twitter to announce key information and be OK under Fair Disclosure regulations as long as investors know that they can find that information on the social media accounts. Reg FD was designed to make sure investors could get information at the same time, rather than having select disclosures to some before others. The SEC’s enforcement division had investigated Hasting’s use of a personal Facebook page back in 2012 to say the streaming service’s monthly online viewing had exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time.

The SEC didn’t take any action against Netflix or Hastings but clarified its social media policy. “Personal social media sites of individuals employed by a public company would not ordinarily be assumed to be channels through which the company would disclose material corporate information,” the SEC said in a statement at the time. There might not be any SEC action this time, either, but it’s only a matter of time before an executive gets accused of making a false or misleading statement on social media, said Kevin LaCroix, an attorney focused on management liability issues. “There will be a case someday.”

Read more …

A hard one for Trump. Alex Jones is his biggest media asset. But how can Washington stop Silicon Valley?

Alex Jones Pleads With Donald Trump To Fight ‘Censorship’ (Ind.)

Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has appealed to Donald Trump to pursue an end to “censorship” after the InfoWars host was banned from all but one of the West’s major content platforms. On Monday, Apple deleted most of Mr Jones’s podcasts saying they contained hate speech; Facebook removed four of his pages down for “repeated violations of community standards”; YouTube terminated Mr Jones’s account after he violated a 90-day ban; and Spotify removed one of Jones’s podcasts for “hate content”. In a free-wheeling monologue posted online, the prominent far-right personality praised the president, condemned the mainstream press, and accused China of meddling in US elections.

“Mr President, America knows you’re real. They know the Democrats are the anti-American globalists allied with the ChiComms, radical Islam, the unelected EU, and others,” he said. “If you come out before the midterms and make the censorship the big issue of them trying to steal the election. “And if you make the fact we need an Internet Bill of Rights, and anti-trust busting on these companies, if they don’t back off right now. “And if you don’t come out and point out that the communist Chinese have penetrated and infiltrated and are way, way worse than the Russians …. then they will be able to steal the midterms and start the impeachment.” He said cracking down on China and speaking out against censorship was “the right thing to do”.

Read more …

The Atlantic Council doesn’t find the truth, it makes its own. Main Russiagate proponents.

US Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media (R.)

A day before Facebook announced that it had discovered and disabled a propaganda campaign designed to sow dissension among U.S. voters, it exclusively shared some of the suspicious pages with an online forensics team so busy it hasn’t put a nameplate on the door. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab is based in a 12-foot-by-12-foot office in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the nearly 60-year-old Council www.atlanticcouncil.org, a think tank devoted to studying serious and at times obscure international issues. Facebook is using the group to enhance its investigations of foreign interference. Last week, the company said it took down 32 suspicious pages and accounts that purported to be run by leftists and minority activists.

While some U.S. officials said they were likely the work of Russian agents, Facebook said it did not know for sure. It fell to the lab to point out similarities to fake Russian pages from 2016 during Facebook’s news conference last week. Facebook began looking for outside help amid criticism for failing to rein in Russian propaganda ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. The U.S. Justice Department won indictments against 13 Russians and three companies for using social media in that election to influence voters. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team warned last week of persistent attempts by Russia to use social media against the 2018 congressional elections as well.

Read more …

All they need to do is release a pastor.

Trump’s Sanctions Causing Turmoil In Turkey (CNBC)

The Turkish lira and benchmark sovereign bond hit a record low as the threat of U.S. sanctions added pressure to already ailing markets. The U.S. dollar rose to 5.4 against the lira on Monday before trading around 5.29 on Tuesday. Turkey’s 10-year bond fell to a record low on Tuesday, pushing its yield up to around 20 percent before hovering around 18.8 percent. Bond prices move inversely to yields. Turkish capital markets have struggled this year as the country deals with a weakening economy. The sharp moves down come after President Donald Trump threatened last month to slap “large sanctions” on the Middle Eastern nation if it refuses to free Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor.

The U.S. then announced on Aug. 1 sanctions on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers, prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with them. “This is a shot across the bow,” said Marcus Chenevix, an analyst at TS Lombard. “Now, I think the U.S. will give them time to respond. It’s not like the U.S. sees this as a pressing political matter, it just can’t seem to be backing down to these hostage tactics.” Turkey detained Brunson in October 2016, accusing him of spying and trying to overthrow the government after a failed coup earlier that year. Trump demanded in a July 26 tweet the Turkish government release Brunson.

Read more …

20% yields on bonds… As the lira has lost 25% or so of its value..

Turkish Banks Scramble to Stave Off Debt Crisis (DQ)

Highly leveraged companies currently face a potent cocktail of soaring borrowing costs and a plunging Lira. As the local currency weakens against the dollar and the euro, it gets harder and harder for local companies to service foreign currency bonds. That’s how a currency crisis becomes a debt crisis. Turkish companies are sitting on $337 billion in debt. With as much as $100 billion in debt scheduled to come due over the course of the next year, Turkish banks are under growing pressure to restructure foreign-currency denominated corporate loans as those companies struggle to service them.

The banks have proposed rules to accelerate the restructuring of company debt and allow lenders to avoid booking these loans as “non-performing loans,” a move that may help prevent defaults from piling up. As has happened in Italy since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, the banks will try to extend loans indefinitely in order to avoid gaping holes developing on their balance sheets. But it may already be too late. The downgrades, both sovereign and corporate, are coming thick and fast. On July 20, Fitch Ratings downgraded the Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Ratings (LTFC IDRs) of 24 Turkish banks and their subsidiaries, in many cases by two notches.

The agency also slashed Turkey’s sovereign rating deeper into junk territory, downgrading its Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘BB’ from ‘BB+’ with a negative outlook. Moody’s also downgraded the ratings of 17 banks in July. These downgrades will make it even more costly for Turkish banks and the Turkish government to raise funds, with the yield on Turkey’s benchmark 10-year bond soaring to an eye-watering 19% on Tuesday.

Read more …

“In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done..”

Europe ‘Needs To Get A Backbone’ On Trump’s Iran Sanctions – Ron Paul (RT)

Washington is powerful, but Europe needs to “stick to its guns” against President Donald Trump’s threats that any countries doing business with Iran will not to do business with the US, according to former Congressman Ron Paul. In an interview with RT, Paul said that while the US can “throw its weight around” the EU needs to “get some backbone” to resist Trump’s threats. “If they stick to their guns I think the United States would have to adjust our policies a bit, because how are they going to enforce that? You know, if China and Russia and other countries and India, they do business with Iran — how are we going to punish them?” he said. Paul acknowledged that standing up to Washington might be difficult if major companies are faced with the threat of losing business in the US. “In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done,” he said.

Asked about the anti-Russia sentiment currently gripping the US, Paul said that the people who are in favor of taking a very negative view of Russia — and who are pushing the narrative that Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency — are in control in both the media and in Congress. “I think it’s tragic what’s happening, because they have no proof of anything and for some reason these senators have come up with this new [Russia sanctions] bill — Graham and McCain and Menendez — just out of the clear blue, they have no evidence whatsoever of their charges that they have made,” he said. Paul, who has long advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy and taken a negative view of sanctions, said that the US tendency to blame other countries for everything, slapping them with sanctions and then complaining when they retaliate is “very, very bad foreign policy.”

Read more …

Catch 22.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Calls On Firms To Defy Trump Over Iran (G.)

The EU is set on a collision course with Donald Trump after its foreign policy chief called for Europeans to increase their business dealings with Iran in defiance of bellicose statements from the US president. As Trump vowed to block those trading with Iran from the US market, the EU stepped up efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal by encouraging its companies to ignore the White House. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said Brussels would not let the 2015 agreement with Tehran die, and she urged Europeans to make their own investment decisions. The EU, China and Russia remain signatories to the joint comprehensive plan of action under which economic sanctions on Iran have been lifted in return for the regime curtailing its nuclear aspirations.

Trump reneged on the deal in May, describing it as “a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made”. The clash risks destabilising the wider transatlantic relationship weeks after the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Trump vowed in the White House rose garden to increase tariff-free trade between the EU and the US and to move on from recent disagreements. During a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, on Tuesday, Mogherini said: “We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran, because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region but also of the world.

“If there is one piece of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation that is delivering, it has to be maintained. We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something [that] for us is a security priority.” Hours earlier, Trump had tweeted: “The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!”

Read more …

“Have the Saudis gone stark-raving bonkers?”

The Blowup With Canada Is the Latest Saudi Overreach (IC)

Have the Saudis gone stark-raving bonkers? First, they pick a fight with Canada — yeah, that Canada! Maple syrup-loving, hockey-playing, poutine-eating, liberal, multicultural Canada; the land with free health care and a prime minister who wears “Eid Mubarak” socks. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia (over)reacted to a single tweet from the Canadian foreign ministry. The tweet called on the Saudis to “immediately release” imprisoned activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif, as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” The Saudi foreign ministry lambasted the Canadians for an “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable” statement, announced the “freezing of all new trade and investment transactions” with Canada, demanding the Canadian ambassador leave the country “within the next 24 hours.”

At the same time, Saudi trolls took to Twitter to declare their loud support for … Quebec’s independence. Who knew that an absolute Persian Gulf monarchy was so passionate about a French-speaking secessionist movement 6,000 miles away? (Hey, Canadian trolls — if you even exist — my advice would be to retaliate by offering Ottawa’s backing for independence in the restless, Shia-dominated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It’ll drive them totally nuts.) And Saudi Arabia was just getting started. On Monday, the kingdom escalated the row by suspending scholarships “for about 16,000 Saudi students” studying in Canada, the Toronto Star reported, “and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.” (Can you think of a better example of biting your bigoted nose to spite your intolerant face?)

Then — and this is my favorite part of this whole bizarre episode — a Saudi group put out an image on Twitter of a Canadian airliner flying directly toward Toronto’s tallest building over a warning against interfering in others’ affairs. (The Saudi group later deleted it and apologized) Are. You. Kidding. Me?

Read more …

Destruction in its wake.

London Is The World’s Airbnb Capital (ZH)

10 years ago, in early August 2008, the website Airbedandbreakfast.com went online, marking the birth of Airbnb. Back then the three founders, Brian Cheky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk wanted to help short-term travelers find affordable accommodation and provide renters with an opportunity to make an extra buck by renting out spare rooms or even just the namesake airbed on the floor. However, as Statista’s Felix Richter notes, little did they know that 10 years later their little venture would be one of the hottest private companies in the world, valued at nearly $30 billion.

Over the years, Airbnb has developed into much more than what it was originally meant to be. These days you can rent millions of houses, apartments and rooms on the platform. For many young travelers is has become the favorite if not the only way to find accommodation when travelling. Luckily for Airbnb, its rise coincided with a steep increase in city tourism. In cities such as London, Paris or New York, where hotel rooms are often hard to find and/or expensive, Airbnb has become an affordable and popular way to experience cities in a less touristy way.

Read more …

Politicians can’t keep up with tech developments. They’re always late. They sit on their hands until someone else does something.

“..the red light district is no longer under government control at weekends. Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time.”

My Amsterdam Is Being Un-Created By Mass Tourism (G.)

The word on everyone’s lips is “Venice”. It starts as a whisper, some time in early spring, when the lines in front of the Rijksmuseum get a little longer, and the weekend shopping crowds in the Negen Straatjes begin to test your bike-navigation skills. By the time it’s July those streets are flooded. You don’t even try steering through the crowds. You’d be like Moses, except that God is not on your side, the Red Sea will not part in your favour, and the crowds will wash you away: the middle-aged couples from the US and Germany, here for the museums; and the stag parties from Spain, Italy and the UK, here in their epic attempt to drink all the beer and smoke all the pot.

So you learn to take the long way round to your destination and skip entire areas of Amsterdam – which nevertheless means that, perhaps once every summer, you’ll be down on the pavement after crashing into a distracted tourist who walked in front of your bike, and the whisper becomes a curse: “Fucking Venice!” (The Dutch like to swear in English.) “Venice”is shorthand for a city so flooded by tourists that it no longer feels like a city at all. In the famed 2013 Dutch documentary I Love Venice a tourist asks: “At what time does Venice close?” It’s very funny, except, of course, that it is not funny at all.

This year Amsterdam’s 850,000 inhabitants will see an estimated 18.5 million tourists flock to the city – up 11% on last year. By 2025, 23 million are expected. Last week the city’s ombudsman condemned the red light district as no longer under government control at weekends. Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time. [..] There are several ways to react. One is to leave town. A study shows that in the past five years 40% of couples relocated to smaller towns after their first child. Many feel this is no longer a city to raise kids.

Read more …

Hard to prove, I said it before. But a jury might decide anyway. Huge case, 5,000 more plaintiffs to come.

First Trial Alleging Monsanto’s Roundup Causes Cancer Goes To Jury (R.)

Groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson is one of more than 5,000 plaintiffs across the United States who claim Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing herbicides, including the widely-used Roundup, cause cancer. His case, the first to go to trial, began in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California four weeks ago. Johnson’s lawyer Brent Wisner on Tuesday urged jurors to hold Monsanto liable and punish them with a verdict he said would “actually change the world.” Wisner claimed Monsanto knew about glyphosate’s cancer risk, but decided to bury the information. Monsanto, a unit of Bayer following a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate, denies the allegations and says expert testimony on which Johnson and others rely does not satisfy any scientific or legal requirements.

“The message of 40 years of scientific studies is clear: this cancer is not caused by glyphosate,” Monsanto’s lawyer George Lombardi said, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2017 concluded a decades-long assessment of glyphosate risks and found the chemical not likely carcinogenic to humans. The World Health Organization’s cancer arm in 2015 classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” If it finds Monsanto liable, the jury can decide to award punitive damages on top of the more than $39 million in compensatory damages Johnson demanded. The jury is expected to start deliberating on Wednesday.

Read more …

All the Presidents’ lies.

The American Sea of Deception (TD)

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lied to Congress and the American people when he claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked” by the U.S. and a complete “surprise” to the U.S. military. President Dwight Eisenhower flatly lied to the American people and the world when he denied the existence of American U-2 spy plane flights over Russia. President John F. Kennedy lied about the supposed missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. And Kennedy lied when he claimed that the United States sought democracy in Latin America, Southeast Asia and around the world. President Lyndon Johnson lied on Aug. 4, 1965, when he claimed that North Vietnam attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. This provided a false pretext for a massive escalation of the U.S. war on Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel and millions of Southeast Asians.

Regarding Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg recalled 17 years ago that his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. military and intelligence documents “proving that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward. … A generation of presidents,” Ellsberg noted, “chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was. …” President Richard Nixon lied about wanting peace in Vietnam (his agent, Henry Kissinger, actively undermined a peace accord with Hanoi before the 1968 election) and about respecting the neutrality of Cambodia. He lied through secrecy and omission about the criminal and fateful U.S. bombing of Cambodia—a far bigger crime than the burglarizing of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex, about which he of course famously lied.

The serial fabricator Ronald Reagan made a special address to the nation in which he lied by saying, “We did not—repeat—we did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.” President George H.W. Bush falsely claimed on at least five occasions in the run-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War that Iraqi forces, after invading Kuwait, had pulled babies from incubators and left them to die.

President Bill Clinton shamelessly lied about his White House sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. He falsely claimed to be upholding international law and to be opposing genocide when he bombed Serbia for more than two months in early 1999. The serial liar George W. Bush and his administration infamously, openly and elaborately lied about Saddam Hussein’s alleged Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and about Iraq’s purported links to al Qaida and the 9/11 jetliner attacks. After the WMD fabrication was exposed, Bush falsely claimed to have invaded Iraq to spread liberty and democracy.

Read more …

Jul 252018
 
 July 25, 2018  Posted by at 12:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Empire of light 1950

 

There’s not a shade of a doubt that I’m not an expert on tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies, and I’d be the last to suggest any such thing. But I can read. Still, do correct me if I’m wrong anywhere. The whole field is so complicated -no doubt often on purpose- that there’s always the possibility that there are side issues involved for which one would need to actually be an expert.

But still. Now that EU chief Jean-Claude -‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie’- Juncker is due to arrive at the White House soon, I looked at some of the items involved. Last night Trump said that all tariffs, barriers and subsidies should be dropped between the EU and US. Why the TTiP doesn’t come anywhere close to that is anyone’s guess. Too complicated for the boys and girls?

In at least some major fields, Trump does seem to have a point or two. The US has a 2.5% tariff on European cars, while the EU slaps a 10% tariff on American cars. That’s 4x as much, or a 300% difference. Whoever said yes to that? Sure, the US has a 25% tariff on EU pickups, but nobody in Europe drives pickups, hence they don’t produce them, so that’s not consequential.

So what had Trump done? He’s threatened a 20% tariff on Beemers and Mercs, and added -for entertainment value only- that he doesn’t want to see any of them in on Fifth Avenue anymore. Cue EU carmakers warning about the cost to American customers.

That’s all fine and well, but those tariffs on personal cars are still 300% higher. So push your European government to make them equal. Easy as -American- pie. How about zero? I can see where Trump’s coming from. Issuing warnings to the American public about BMW’s getting more expensive doesn’t look entirely on the up and up.

 

Also, I was looking at agriculture. Now, I grew up in Europe, and I do have an idea about EU farm subsidies (they’re notorious even inside the EU, going all the way back to the 1950s-60s). There was a point where they were over 70% of the total EU budget. They’re 30% or even somewhat below that now, but that’s not because subsidies have gone down, it’s because the EU budget has grown exponentially.

US farm subsidies were some $23 billion last year, and a year ago the Trump administration proposed a $4.8 billion cut to that. Now that Trump has initiated a one-time $12 billion for farmers to make up for the effects of his tariff proposals, one half of America -Conservatives- cry foul because: “that’s Soviet-style politics”, and no doubt the EU will cry right with them.

But look: under the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), EU farm subsidies for the 2021-2027 period will fall a whole 5% to ‘only’ $420 billion. And that’s just a proposal, and already France, the main beneficiary of the subsidies, has declared that such a cut is unacceptable. Soviet style?

The meeting of tee-totaller Trump and wine-totaller Juncker is interesting enough in and of itself, and you bet the Donald knows what and who Juncker is, but unless Jean-Claude comes with something very substantial, the numbers I cited above would seem to be very clear. And that’s without steel, aluminum etc etc.

If your side gives its farmers almost 20 times as much as the other side, what are you going to say? You may ask for some time to adapt, but that would seem to be it. However, Juncker could never sell egalization of subsidies ‘at home’. France and others would shave his head and ass and apply tar and feathers. And Macron would fear the same fate if he gives in. As Merkel would on the car issue.

Juncker has no room to wiggle on the whole shebang. All he can do is damage control and a good glass of wine (wonder if Trump instructed his staff not to give him any, or merely cut him off after the first bottle). It’s just that Trump has noticed the policy damage, and doesn‘t like it. And you have to wonder, who ever accepted those terms, and signed treaties like that TTiP that they are engraved in?

 

If you ask me, communities and countries should always make sure they remain in control of all their basic necessities. And food is certainly one of them. Also. if any politician near you ever proposes selling the rights to your drinking water to some foreign party, tar and feathers is your reply. Let Americans make their own cars, And German and French theirs. It’s not of the same importance as food, water, shelter and clothing, but you get the drift.

Schlepping food halfway across the planet is a dangerous thing once you become dependent on it to feed your children and your community (schlepping it halfway through Europe is as well). Selling your local water rights is even worse. That’s downright insane.

But if you’re going to trade, and once you’ve excluded basic necessities, zero tariffs or at least equal tariffs seems the way to go. Just wait till Trump starts that discussion with China for real. That conversation is largely about barriers, it’s different from Europe, though -hidden- subsidies feature ‘bigly’ as well.

 

Still, summarized, though I’m far from a Trumponado, I can see his point(s). I find it much harder to see what earlier US administrations were thinking when they agreed to all this stuff. And sure, his approach is brusque and perhaps brutal, but the country he’s, for better or for worse, president of, does seem to have gotten the short end of an very extensive array of sticks.

But by all means, don’t listen to me, listen to the experts. Then again, also look at the numbers.

 

 

Jul 252018
 
 July 25, 2018  Posted by at 8:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky Lake Maggiore 1892

 

Trump Downbeat Ahead Of Trade Talks With EU (R.)
Trump’s $12 Billion Aid For Farmers Risks Unintended Consequences (CNBC)
ECB To Hold Steady Amid Heightened Risks Of A Trade War (CNBC)
Alphabet May Become The Berkshire Hathaway Of The Internet Age (CNBC)
Brexit: Raab ‘Sidelined’ As May Takes Control Of EU Negotiations (G.)
“Cliff Edge” Brexit Threatens $34 Trillion of Derivative Contracts (DQ)
UK Ministers Set To Be Given New Powers To Block Foreign Takeovers (G.)
Offshore Owners Of British Property To Be Forced To Reveal Names (G.)
The Greedy Little Nation That Sold Its Soul For House Prices (MB)
When America Was Ruled by a King (Davis)
Moon-Strzok No More, Lisa Page Spills the Beans (McGovern)
Novichok Victim Found Substance Disguised As Perfume In Sealed Box (G.)
US Intelligence Community as a Collapse Driver (Dmitry Orlov)
Holiday Hunger Should Be The Shame Of This Government And It Isn’t (G.)

 

 

The EU doesn’t have a lot of room to move. It’s made of tariffs, barriers and subsidies.

Trump Downbeat Ahead Of Trade Talks With EU (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump took a pessimistic view of talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker set for Wednesday aimed at averting a trade war. In a tweet on Tuesday night, Trump said both the United States and the European Union should drop all tariffs, barriers and subsidies. “That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade!” Trump said. “Hope they do it, we are ready – but they won’t!” he said. Trump has accused the EU of unfair trade practices and has threatened to raise tariffs on cars imported from the bloc.

European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who will accompany Juncker, said last week that the EU was preparing a list of U.S. products to hit if the United States imposed the tariffs. Juncker will not arrive in Washington with a specific trade offer, the commission said on Monday. “I do not wish to enter into a discussion about mandates, offers because there are no offers,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a news conference in Brussels. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow has said he expected Juncker to come with a “significant” trade offer.

Read more …

EU agriculture is built on enormous subsidies. No way they can let much of that go. Imagine the protests in France. Perhaps countries, but certainly continents should focud on producing their own food, not export it. But then the tiny Netherlands is the 2nd biggest tomato exporter in the world. That’s quite an applecart to upset.

Trump’s $12 Billion Aid For Farmers Risks Unintended Consequences (CNBC)

According to the statement from the USDA, the administration “will take several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation.” The plan authorizes the agency to spend “up to $12 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated $11 billion impact of the unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods. These programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets.” “Our farmers, our producers, they don’t want bailouts,” Simon Wilson, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office, told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Tuesday. “They don’t want this help in the short term. They want long-term stability.”

Wilson added, “A lot of people have been hurt, so that’s a lot of money that’s going to have to be shared.” Payments under the largest part of the federal government’s relief plan would be targeted to producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and hogs. Some experts have warned in the past that government aid or new subsidies could distort or disrupt markets and ultimately have negative consequences for the agriculture industry. That also includes the possibility it could lead to more retaliation on other agricultural exports.

In any event, Glauber said the program is likely to be taken as “producer support” and appears to be targeted toward a drop in the market price of certain commodities, meaning it could get counted against the U.S. commitments from the WTO. “We’ve run pretty low levels of [producer] support in recent years, but it will certainly raise a lot of eyebrows and will make people look at those calculations very, very carefully,” said Glauber. “It also will look at the way we formulate those programs very, very carefully.”

Read more …

With Brexit and Trump in its face, the ECB is pretty much stuck.

ECB To Hold Steady Amid Heightened Risks Of A Trade War (CNBC)

After a surprisingly dovish meeting in June, the European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to strike a more balanced tone this week, given heightened uncertainties for the global economy. The focus will be on the ECB‘s assessments of these risks at its meeting Thursday, with investors concerned of the acute risk of a trade war escalation. “We expect Mario Draghi to aim for a ‘Goldilocks’ tone at the July 26 press conference — not too hawkish, not too dovish,” said Mark Wall, the chief economist at Deutsche Bank, in a research note. “The ECB only recently made a commitment to unchanged rates for the next year to lean against trade and volatility risks and avoid an unwarranted tightening of financial conditions.”

The ECB has committed itself to stop buying new bonds at the end of this year, but the onus clearly now is on the reinvestment of these purchases (as part of its crisis-era stimulus program) and its refined rate guidance. The euro zone’s central bank pledged to keep its key interest rate at minus 0.4 percent “at least through the summer of 2019” during its last meeting. The risks now are that the ECB is unwinding its monetary stimulus right at a time when the economy could head south. For now, its seems the ECB is convinced the region’s economy will remain resilient.

Read more …

Building empires.

Alphabet May Become The Berkshire Hathaway Of The Internet Age (CNBC)

Alphabet CEO Larry Page has long admired Warren Buffett’s business acumen in creating the industrial and investment conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. And now analysts and investors are noticing Alphabet’s investments in emerging disparate businesses are starting to bear fruit — including YouTube, autonomous cars and cloud computing — drawing comparison to Berkshire Hathaway’s success. The internet giant reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings Monday, driving Alphabet shares to a new all-time high the following day. It generated adjusted earnings per share of $11.75 versus the Wall Street consensus of $9.59 for the quarter. Alphabet also posted a $1.06 billion gain in its equity investments for the time period.

“Our investments are driving great experiences for users, strong results for advertisers, and new business opportunities for Google and Alphabet,” said Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet and Google in the earnings press release Monday. As a result one well-known investor believes Alphabet has a shot of being the Berkshire Hathaway of tomorrow. “What I’m really talking about is the diversified nature of what [Alphabet is] building away from the ad platform, in much the same way as Berkshire reinvested the float from insurance premiums into other investments. I guess I am also talking in terms of longevity, not just size,” Josh Brown said in an email Tuesday. “This quarter witnessed a host of Google’s other investments throwing off profits. Larry and Sergey were very open about their intention to create something Berkshire-like when they first announced the new structure and Alphabet.”

Read more …

She can’t escape a second vote anymore. If you have 2.5 years, and you waste the first two, that’s what happens. It’s just the illusion of control.

Brexit: Raab ‘Sidelined’ As May Takes Control Of EU Negotiations (G.)

Theresa May has taken back control of crucial negotiations with Brussels from her new Brexit secretary just hours after the government published its white paper on withdrawing from the EU. The prime minister announced she would now lead the crunch talks with the EU while Dominic Raab, who was appointed two weeks ago, would be left in charge of domestic preparations, no-deal planning and legislation. The move was swiftly characterised as a “sidelining” of the Brexit secretary by No 10’s Europe unit, led by May’s chief Brexit adviser, Olly Robbins, with the prime minister also taking officials from his department. In a written statement on the last sitting day of the Commons before the summer recess, May said: “I will lead the negotiations with the European Union, with the secretary of state for Exiting the European Union deputising on my behalf.

“Both of us will be supported by the Cabinet Office Europe Unit and with this in mind the Europe Unit will have overall responsibility for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations, drawing upon support from DExEU and other departments as required.” Robbins, appearing alongside Raab at the Commons’ Brexit committee, said: “The overall strategy for the conduct of these negotiations, she regards very much as her personal responsibility, now with the secretary of state very close at hand.” Raab described the changes as a “shifting of the Whitehall deckchairs” and said there would now be “one team, one chain of command” but pointed out that there would be “full assertion of ministerial accountability”.

Read more …

I’d swear it’s more. It’s dominoes.

“Cliff Edge” Brexit Threatens $34 Trillion of Derivative Contracts (DQ)

A messy, no-deal Brexit could throw 48 million insurance contracts and £26 trillion ($34 trillion) of derivatives deals into confusion. Nausicaa Delfas, head of international strategy at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), told delegates at a CityUK and Bloomberg event that there were “cliff-edge” risks due to uncertainty over the legality of financial contracts extending beyond the planned Brexit date, in March. The UK government has already passed regulations that would allow European banks and insurers to maintain their UK operations under current rules after Brexit. So far, the EU has refused to reciprocate, even on a temporary basis.

The EU has also ruled out extending passporting rights to UK financial institutions after Brexit. These rights allow UK-based institutions to sell financial products from the City to investors in the 27 other EU member states. Brussels has also turned down the UK government’s latest proposal for a system of “advanced equivalence” between British and EU financial services. If the EU continues to reject a temporary permissions regime and no cooperative Brexit deal is signed by the March 29 deadline, big doubts could be raised about the viability of certain derivatives contracts. And that could seriously disrupt an already highly volatile, deeply opaque, largely unregulated $600-trillion dollar industry.

Read more …

Cue Trump.

UK Ministers Set To Be Given New Powers To Block Foreign Takeovers (G.)

Ministers will have the power to block foreign takeovers across all sectors of the British economy on national security grounds under new government proposals designed to protect some of the UK’s most important and technically advanced businesses. The business secretary, Greg Clark, wants to widen the scope of the current system, which is limited to large transactions and certain industries such as defence, to cover all UK firms including small businesses as he seeks to keep vital firms and technologies out of foreign ownership. The proposals, which will be subject to a 12-week consultation, will allow ministers to halt or unwind takeovers and even the smallest asset sales that could be deemed to jeopardise Britain’s national security.

Potential targets under the new rules are likely to be Chinese and Russian takeovers of defence-related industries. Technology firms, including cybersecurity businesses that already have links with the Ministry of Defence, or are viewed as crucial to the development of the UK’s financial and commercial defence systems, are also expected to top the list of ministers’ national security concerns. Clark allowed the £74m takeover of the handset maker Sepura by the Hytera Corporation of China last year, making it only the second review of a transaction on national security grounds in 18 months, after the MoD raised concerns this month over the sale of Northern Aerospace to a Chinese buyer. The Competition and Markets Authority later cleared the Northern Aerospace transaction, by which time it had lapsed.

Read more …

Why would you want faceless foreigners owning your real estate?

Offshore Owners Of British Property To Be Forced To Reveal Names (G.)

Offshore owners of British property will be forced to reveal their true identities or face jail sentences and unlimited fines under draft laws that aim to end the UK’s reputation as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering. The legislation follows years of scandals involving the acquisition of high-value UK property by offshore companies, and concerns that a lack of regulation was allowing corrupt money into the housing market. The National Crime Agency said three years ago that overseas criminal gangs were using British property transactions to launder billions of pounds in corrupt funds. Parliament’s foreign affairs committee went further earlier this year, saying that corrupt Russian funds laundered through the UK, including via property, posed a threat to national security.

Under the new legislation, overseas companies that own UK properties will be required to identify their true owners on a publicly available register. The government said the register was part of a wider crackdown on money laundering in the property sector, and would make it easier for law enforcers to seize criminal assets. The anonymous ownership of property via offshore companies is perfectly legal, but it has also been a subject of concern for housing campaigners concerned about an influx of foreign money forcing up house prices.

Read more …

If it’s any consolation: you’re not alone.

The Greedy Little Nation That Sold Its Soul For House Prices (MB)

There was a time when Australia’s housing bubble was not much more than a curiosity. Contained mostly to Sydney it seemed it would pass with a little pop and be forgotten. Then there was a time when the bubble went national. And suddenly the little pop was going to be a big pop so monetary and fiscal policy began to distort in support of it. Next there was a time when moral hazard became so great that the bubble grew to engulf all policy and media, marginalising an entire generation from home ownership. Politicians routinely lied to cover the collapse in evidence based policy-making.

Finally, we come to today. When notions of managing the macro-economic levers of an economy now boil down to just one thing: • low interest rates to prevent the housing bubble bursting; • fiscal repair to prevent the bubble bursting, and • mass immigration to prevent the bubble bursting even though it is crushing living standards and gutting wages. [..] It’s all so bizarre. All we need to do is cut immigration and let house prices fall. There’ll be a period of adjustment while wages and the currency correct but it won’t be too bad. We’ll still be on the doorstep of Asia. The students and tourists will still come, in greater numbers than ever as we get cheaper, but they’ll also go home not pressuring living standards.

Broader tradables (40% of the economy) will boom. Commodity income will surge, lifting the Budget. Our maginalised youth will have much greater opportunities to advance their global opportunities as Dutch Disease ends. Incomes will ultimately be much more sustainable. Then we can all move on with a much healthier economy, polity, society and strategic outlook. The alternative is to sell our freedom to China, our standards of living to a few rich developers, our politics to carpet baggers and our society to fractious class wars. Just for higher house prices. If a more ignominious fate awaited any nation in history then I’m not aware of it.

Read more …

Did the US go down with Elvis? And in the same way?

When America Was Ruled by a King (Davis)

America emerged out of darkness and light – a proto-nation clouded by the genocide of native Americans and the enslavement of transshipped Africans but brilliantly shot through with shafts of luminescence – the liberal ideals of European philosophers such as Locke and Hume.The alternate red and white stripes of its flag have thus come to echo a nation born in the blood of its innocent victims yet ennobled, in parallel, by the spirit of the Enlightenment. Yet even after its ideals were enshrined in The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the country continued to countenance slavery, the trading of domestic, purpose-bred Africans and the brutal killing of native peoples and their vibrant communities.

Today, the historic and contemporary horrors of the American nation are ground together with its liberal principles (in some mythic bedrock mortar) to produce a culture that proclaims its goodness to its people and to the world, yet is visibly marbled with the evils of state violence against refugees and minorities, the economic oppression of a population paradoxically made comatose through over-consumption and the global havoc wreaked by its Imperial killing machine. It is this grand chiaroscuro that Eugene Jarecki explores in The King, 2018, his new documentary on the life, death and after-life of Elvis Presley, now in select release following its acclaimed debuts at the film festivals in Sundance and Cannes.

Read more …

The FBI as a Shakespearean comedy.

Moon-Strzok No More, Lisa Page Spills the Beans (McGovern)

Former FBI attorney Lisa Page has reportedly told a joint committee of the House of Representatives that when FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok texted her on May 19, 2017 saying there was “no big there there,” he meant there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was clearly a bad-luck day for Strzok, when on Friday the 13th this month Page gave her explanation of the text to the House Judiciary and Oversight/Government Reform Committees and in effect threw her lover, Strzok, under the bus. Strzok’s apparent admission to Page about there being “no big there there” was reported on Friday by John Solomon in the Opinion section of The Hill based on multiple sources who he said were present during Page’s closed door interview.

Strzok’s text did not come out of the blue. For the previous ten months he and his FBI subordinates had been trying every-which-way to ferret out some “there” — preferably a big “there” — but had failed miserably. If Solomon’s sources are accurate, it is appearing more and more likely that there was nothing left for them to do but to make it up out of whole cloth, with the baton then passed to special counsel Robert Mueller. The “no there there” text came just two days after former FBI Director James Comey succeeded in getting his friend Mueller appointed to investigate the alleged collusion that Strzok was all but certain wasn’t there.

Robert Parry, the late founder and editor of Consortium News whom Solomon described to me last year as his model for journalistic courage and professionalism, was already able to discern as early as March 2017 the outlines of what is now Deep State-gate, and, typically, was the first to dare report on its implications. Parry’s article, written two and a half months before Strzok texted the self-incriminating comment to Page on there being “no big there there,” is a case study in professional journalism. His very first sentence entirely anticipated Strzok’s text: “The hysteria over ‘Russia-gate’ continues to grow … but at its core there may be no there there.”

Read more …

And entire article from the Guardian without blaming Russia. Wow. Story still makes little sense. Why does this guy get to talk, when the Skripals are still nowhere to be found?

Novichok Victim Found Substance Disguised As Perfume In Sealed Box (G.)

The British man poisoned with the nerve agent novichok has claimed the substance that killed his girlfriend and left him critically ill came in a bottle disguised as a legitimate perfume in a sealed box. Charlie Rowley claimed his partner, mother-of-three Dawn Sturgess, fell ill within 15 minutes of spraying the bottle, which he said he had found, on to her wrists at his home in Amesbury, Wiltshire. In his first interview since he was discharged from hospital, Rowley told ITV News: “I do have a memory of her spraying it on her wrists and rubbing them together. “I guess that’s how she applied it and became ill.

I guess how I got in contact with it is when I put the spray part to the bottle … I ended up tipping some on my hands but I washed it off under the tap. “It was an oily substance and I smelled it and it didn’t smell of perfume. It felt oily. I washed it off and I didn’t think anything of it. It all happened so quick. “Within 15 minutes, Dawn said she had a headache. She asked me if I had any headache tablets. In that time she said she felt peculiar and needed to lie down in the bath. I went into the bathroom and found her in the bath, fully clothed, in a very ill state.”

Counter-terrorism detectives are working on the theory that the poisoning of Rowley and Sturgess at the end of last month is directly linked to the poisoning of the Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury in March. Experts from the top secret research facility at Porton Down in Wiltshire are trying to establish if the novichok was from the same batch. But if Rowley is correct about the perfume bottle being boxed and sealed, it may undermine the line of inquiry that the novichok that he and Sturgess came into contact with had been discarded by the attackers of the Skripals. It also opens up the possibility that there may yet be more novichok that has not been found in Wiltshire.

Read more …

“Intelligence”. Always good to see Dmitry.

US Intelligence Community as a Collapse Driver (Dmitry Orlov)

In today’s United States, the term “espionage” doesn’t get too much use outside of some specific contexts. There is still sporadic talk of industrial espionage, but with regard to Americans’ own efforts to understand the world beyond their borders, they prefer the term “intelligence.” This may be an intelligent choice, or not, depending on how you look at things. First of all, US “intelligence” is only vaguely related to the game of espionage as it has been traditionally played, and as it is still being played by countries such as Russia and China. Espionage involves collecting and validating strategically vital information and conveying it to just the pertinent decision-makers on your side while keeping the fact that you are collecting and validating it hidden from everyone else.

In eras past, a spy, if discovered, would try to bite down on a cyanide capsule; these days torture is considered ungentlemanly, and spies that get caught patiently wait to be exchanged in a spy swap. An unwritten, commonsense rule about spy swaps is that they are done quietly and that those released are never interfered with again because doing so would complicate negotiating future spy swaps. In recent years, the US intelligence agencies have decided that torturing prisoners is a good idea, but they have mostly been torturing innocent bystanders, not professional spies, sometimes forcing them to invent things, such as “Al Qaeda.” There was no such thing before US intelligence popularized it as a brand among Islamic terrorists.

Most recently, British “special services,” which are a sort of Mini-Me to the to the Dr. Evil that is the US intelligence apparatus, saw it fit to interfere with one of their own spies, Sergei Skripal, a double agent whom they sprung from a Russian jail in a spy swap. They poisoned him using an exotic chemical and then tried to pin the blame on Russia based on no evidence. There are unlikely to be any more British spy swaps with Russia, and British spies working in Russia should probably be issued good old-fashioned cyanide capsules (since that supposedly super-powerful Novichok stuff the British keep at their “secret” lab in Porton Down doesn’t work right and is only fatal 20% of the time).

Read more …

A country in downfall.

Holiday Hunger Should Be The Shame Of This Government And It Isn’t (G.)

As the summer holidays begin, many families look forward to breaks away from home, in the UK and abroad. Yet for thousands of families, the six-week school break is characterised not by play schemes and day trips in the sun, but acute financial stress, hunger and malnourishment, due to the absence of free school meals for children on low incomes that costs a family £30-£40 a week. With three million children at risk of hunger during the school holidays, the Trussell Trust has warned that food bank use spikes each summer. And last year, 593 organisations running holiday clubs across the UK provided more than 190,000 meals to over 22,000 school-aged children.

Feeding Britain, the charity set up by two Labour MPs, Emma Lewell-Buck and Frank Field, expects to provide meals for 27,000 children in 79 clubs across England this summer. In pilots in 2017, it provided a total of 43,314 meals in holiday fun clubs across eight areas, including Birkenhead, South Shields and Cornwall, in the summer holidays and October half term. Feeding Britain works with existing local charities, community groups, councils and others in the community providing funding and toolkits on how to run and roll out pilots, and creates networks for practical support. The clubs run in community centres, church halls, schools, children’s centres, libraries and parks, and they host games and activities for children, alongside breakfast, lunches, and lessons about food and nutrition for the young attendees.

Read more …

Jul 212018
 
 July 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roy Lichtenstein Hopeless 1963

 

Ecuador President Arrives In UK; Assange’s Fate Hangs In The Balance (Cogan)
Be Prepared To Shake The Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested (CJ)
One FBI Text Message In Russia Probe That Should Alarm Every American (Hill)
Anatomy of a Displacement-Projection Syndrome (Kunstler)
Trump ‘Ready’ To Put Tariffs On All $505 Billion Of Chinese Imports (CNBC)
EU Rips Up Theresa May’s Chequers Plan (Ind.)
May’s Brexit Proposals Died In Brussels In Eight Short Minutes (Ind.)
Australia’s Property Boom Is Well and Truly Over (MM)
US Loses Bid To End Children’s Climate Change Lawsuit (R.)
Judge Praises US Efforts In Reuniting Migrant Families (R.)

 

 

New UK Foreign minister says Assange faces ‘serious charges’. But “Under UK law any theoretical future bail charge would be a textbook minor charge (under three months). UK law defines “serious charge” one carrying over three years of imprisonment.”

Ecuador President Arrives In UK; Assange’s Fate Hangs In The Balance (Cogan)

Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno arrives in London today, with his administration seeking to force WikiLeaks editor and Australian citizen Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy there, where he sought and was granted political asylum in 2012. If Assange leaves the embassy he will be imprisoned by Britain for breaching bail and almost certainly face an application to extradite him to the United States to stand trial on manufactured charges of espionage. On the Moreno government’s orders, the Ecuadorian embassy in London has deprived Assange of all external communication, and all visitors apart from his lawyers, since March 28.

After six years of confinement due to the British threat of immediate arrest if he sets foot outside the small building, Assange’s health has been seriously compromised. The deprivation of communication is a vindictive attempt to add immense psychological pressure on him to leave the embassy, as well as to silence him while lurid accusations permeate the American and international media that WikiLeaks was part of a nefarious Russian conspiracy to “interfere” in the 2016 US presidential election. Ahead of Moreno’s visit to London, his national secretary of political management, Paul Granda, asserted on July 19 that “there is no specific meeting planned on Assange.” The same day, acting Ecuadorian foreign minister, Andres Teran, claimed that Moreno’s government is “not in talks with the United States” over the WikiLeaks editor.

Read more …

The silence remains eery.

Be Prepared To Shake The Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested (CJ)

“The above report that UK and Ecuador are preparing to turn Assange over to UK appears to be true,” commented journalist Glenn Greenwald on Simonyan’s statement. “Big question is whether the US will indict him and seek his extradition, the way Sessions and Pompeo vowed they would. Can’t wait to see how many fake press freedom defenders support that.” How many indeed? For all the viral, click-friendly wailing and rending of garments about Donald Trump’s “war on the press” because he says “fake news” and picks on Jim Acosta, does anyone expect the so-called free press to rush to the defense of a journalist who is being actively and aggressively persecuted with the full might of the western empire for publishing authentic documents about that very same empire?

We are about to find out if this is the part of the movie where the empire rips off the mask of freedom and democracy and reveals its true tyranny. Assange is a soft target, a controversial figure who has been on the receiving end of wildly successful smear campaigns marketed to every major political faction across the western world. He is the logical place to begin a crackdown on press freedoms and make a public example of what happens to those who shine the light of truth upon Big Brother. If we allow them to imprison Julian Assange for practicing journalism, that’s it. It’s over. We might as well all stop caring what happens to the world and sit on our hands while the oligarchs drive us to ecological disaster, nuclear annihilation or Orwellian dystopia.

If we, the many, don’t have the spine to stand up against the few and say “No, we get to find out facts about you bastards and use it to inform our worldview, you don’t get to criminalize that,” then we certainly don’t have the spine it will take to wrest control of this world away from the hands of sociopathic plutocrats and take our fate into our own hands. The arrest of Julian Assange would be the fork in the road. It would be where we collectively decide as a species whether we want to survive into the future, and if we deserve to.

Read more …

“A few minutes later Strzok texted his own handicap of the Russia evidence: “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.

One FBI Text Message In Russia Probe That Should Alarm Every American (Hill)

Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, the reported FBI lovebirds, are the poster children for the next “Don’t Text and Investigate” public service ads airing soon at an FBI office near you. Their extraordinary texting affair on their government phones has given the FBI a black eye, laying bare a raw political bias brought into the workplace that agents are supposed to check at the door when they strap on their guns and badges. It is no longer in dispute that they held animus for Donald Trump, who was a subject of their Russia probe, or that they openly discussed using the powers of their office to “stop” Trump from becoming president. The only question is whether any official acts they took in the Russia collusion probe were driven by those sentiments.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is endeavoring to answer that question. For any American who wants an answer sooner, there are just five words, among the thousands of suggestive texts Page and Strzok exchanged, that you should read. That passage was transmitted on May 19, 2017. “There’s no big there there,” Strzok texted. The date of the text long has intrigued investigators: It is two days after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee an investigation into alleged collusion between Trump and the Russia campaign. Since the text was turned over to Congress, investigators wondered whether it referred to the evidence against the Trump campaign.

This month, they finally got the chance to ask. Strzok declined to say — but Page, during a closed-door interview with lawmakers, confirmed in the most pained and contorted way that the message in fact referred to the quality of the Russia case, according to multiple eyewitnesses. The admission is deeply consequential. It means Rosenstein unleashed the most awesome powers of a special counsel to investigate an allegation that the key FBI officials, driving the investigation for 10 months beforehand, did not think was “there.”

Read more …

The US meddles more than anyone else.

Anatomy of a Displacement-Projection Syndrome (Kunstler)

“For more than a decade, Russia has meddled in elections around the world, supported brutal dictators and invaded sovereign nations — all to the detriment of United States interests.” — The New York Times

The Resistance sure got a case of the vapors this week over Mr. Trump’s failure to throttle America’s arch-enemy, the murderous thug V. Putin of Russia, onstage in Helsinki, as any genuine Marvel Comix hero is expected to do when facing consummate evil. Instead, the Golden Golem of Greatness voiced some doubts about the veracity of our “intelligence community” — as the shape-shifting Moloch of black ops likes to call itself, as if it were a kindly service organization in Mr. Rogers neighborhood, collecting dimes for victims of childhood cancer. If I may be frank, the US Intel community looks like a much bigger threat to American life and values than anything Mr. Putin is doing, for instance his alleged “meddling” in US elections.

This word, meddling, absolutely pervades the captive Resistance news outlets these days. It has a thrilling vagueness about it, intimating all kinds of dark deeds without specifying anything, as consorting with Satan once did in our history. The reason: the only specific acts associated with this meddling include the disclosure of incriminating emails among the Democratic National Committee leadership, and a tiny gang of Facebook trolls making sport of profoundly idiotic and dysfunctional American electoral politics. The brief against Russia also contains vague accusations of “aggression.” It is hard to discern what is meant by that — though it apparently warms the heart of American war hawks and their paymasters in the warfare industries.

They allege that Russia “stole” Crimea from Ukraine. Consider: Crimea had been a province of Russia since the 1700s. Ukraine itself was a province of the USSR when Nikita Khrushchev put Crimea under Ukraine’s administrative control in 1956, a relationship which became obviously problematic after the breakup of the soviet mega-state in 1990 — and became even more of a problem when the US State Department and our CIA stage-managed a coup against the Russia-leaning Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Crimea is the site of Russia’s only warm water naval bases. Do you suppose that even an experience American CIA analyst might understand that Russia would under no circumstances give up those assets? Please, grow up.

Read more …

China will have to move.

Trump ‘Ready’ To Put Tariffs On All $505 Billion Of Chinese Imports (CNBC)

President Donald Trump has indicated that he is willing to slap tariffs on every Chinese good imported to the U.S. should the need arise. “I’m ready to go to 500,” the president told CNBC’s Joe Kernen in a “Squawk Box” interview aired Friday. The reference is to the dollar amount of Chinese imports the U.S. accepted in 2017 — $505.5 billion to be exact, compared with the $129.9 billion the U.S. exported to China, according to Census Bureau data. Thus far in the burgeoning trade war, the U.S. has slapped tariffs on just $34 billion of Chinese products, which China met with retaliatory duties. By sheer dollar volume, the Chinese won’t be able to come close to the U.S. in a tit-for-tat battle.

Trump’s comments point to a willingness to push the envelope as far as the U.S. needs to get Chinese tariff concessions, along with a pledge to stop allegedly stealing American technology. “I’m not doing this for politics, I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country,” Trump said. “We have been ripped off by China for a long time.” Trump said the U.S. is “being taken advantage of” on a number of fronts, including trade and monetary policy. Yet he said he has not pushed the tariffs out of any ill will toward China. “I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to do well,” he said. “I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair.”

Read more …

As we all knew they would.

EU Rips Up Theresa May’s Chequers Plan (Ind.)

Prospects for a Brexit deal have been dealt a severe blow after the European Union’s chief negotiator took apart Theresa May’s latest proposals – just hours after she ruled out further compromise on her side. Speaking in Brussels after a meeting with EU national ministers, Michel Barnier raised a wide variety of serious concerns about the Chequers white paper plan for customs control and single market regulation for goods. Mr Barnier said Ms May’s complicated proposal for customs would likely create huge amounts of new paperwork, warning: “Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy.” The chief negotiator, who said he had told member states to prepare for a no-deal scenario, also raised concerns about the PM’s plan to keep the UK following a “common rulebook” of single market regulations for goods.

The intervention emphasises the deadlock between the two sides, with Tory eurosceptics not allowing the embattled prime minister much room for manoeuvre in Westminster in order to meet Mr Barnier’s concerns. The PM had hoped her white paper proposals would allow frictionless trade with the EU, but Mr Barnier said a plan to exclude UK services from following EU rules could give a “significant competitive advantage” to Britain and that agreeing to such a policy might not be in the EU’s own best interests. Mr Barnier also suggested it would be unreasonable to exempt some goods such as animal feed from having to follow the rules, as proposed by Ms May, stating: “We have a duty of care to protect consumers in the single market, and on which basis could we accept the free circulation of goods?”

Read more …

How will history look back on this incredible mess?

May’s Brexit Proposals Died In Brussels In Eight Short Minutes (Ind.)

The Brexit “negotiations” have always been best understood as the kind of negotiations that occur between a particularly irritating toddler and its wearied parent. So it came as a surprise to no one when on Friday morning Britain, having stood around doing not very much for two years, the car now almost fully loaded, finally decided that actually it did want to go to the toilet after all, it was met with a firm “no”. You will know, traditionally, what happens next in such matters. The Brexit journey will not smell nice for anyone, but it will be Britain that suffers the most.

That, via a speech in Belfast, just over two years on from the referendum and with six meaningful weeks of negotiating time left, Theresa May finally put some concrete proposals to the EU and Michel Barnier immediately came out of his office in Brussels to reject them is, of course, laughable. Not least as the proposals that have taken two years for her government to “agree” on have only been “agreed” in the sense that her brexit secretary and foreign secretary didn’t agree with them, and so left the government – from which point on the “agreement” has disintegrated in plain sight.

Read more …

Said it before: the Aussie houding bubble is so big it threatens the entire economy.

Australia’s Property Boom Is Well and Truly Over (MM)

House prices in Australian capital cities have been booming for the better half of the last two decades. With our capital cities expanding at lightning rates thanks to international and state migration, it seemed like the boom would never end. The extent of our booming economy has been so incredible, it has become the norm for us in Australia. Australians aren’t really conditioned to expect stock market or real estate falls or depressions. But like all things, what goes up must come down. As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week: ‘Only half the properties that went to auction in Sydney and Melbourne on the weekend found buyers. ‘Australian property owners are waking up to the mother of all housing debt hangovers. That’s what happens, you see, when you go on an unprecedented credit binge, fuelled by cheap credit and loose lending standards.’

The Australian Financial Review also confirmed that our debt-fuelled housing boom was coming to an end: ‘Generally the wider market [in Sydney] has cooled with transaction numbers falling, selling periods extending and prices declining.’ ‘Melbourne has eclipsed Sydney as the nation’s worst-performing capital with prices falling by about 5 per cent in recent months, according to recent analysis by investment bank Morgan Stanley.’ For years your Money Morning editors have been warning that Australia’s real estate has been looking more and more like a bubble. Only recently have mainstream economists and newspapers started to agree.

[..] This is a controversial view as it has the potential to undermine the stability of our whole nation’s economy. Our banking sector is built on a foundation of housing mortgages, and the banks make up a massive proportion of our stock market (around 30% of the ASX). However, with Australian property prices having boomed for so many years, it’s no surprise a correction is on the horizon. Now, if the housing boom is actually over, that doesn’t mean your house is suddenly worthless. If you own your home, you can still live in it just as happily as before. But investors with too much debt, overly dependent on rising prices, may be in trouble. The trouble is, with so much debt in the system, it could be difficult to correct or even slow down the housing bubble without triggering a full-on crash. One that could have disastrous effects for the wider economy.

Read more …

Case originated in 2015.

US Loses Bid To End Children’s Climate Change Lawsuit (R.)

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Trump administration’s renewed bid to dismiss a lawsuit by young activists who say the U.S. government is ignoring the perils of climate change. By a 3-0 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government fell short of the “high bar” needed to dismiss the Oregon case, originally brought in 2015 against the administration of President Barack Obama. Twenty-one children and young adults, ages 11 to 22, accused federal officials and oil industry executives of violating their due process rights by knowing for decades that carbon pollution poisons the environment, but doing nothing about it.

The government contended that letting the case proceed would be too burdensome, unconstitutionally pit the courts against the executive branch, and require improper “agency decision-making” by forcing officials to answer questions about climate change. But the appeals court said the issues raised “are better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.” A trial is scheduled for Oct. 29 in the federal court in Eugene, Oregon. President Donald Trump’s administration also has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the lawsuit or put it on hold, and is awaiting a ruling. Its earlier bid to end the lawsuit failed in March.

Read more …

And bars deportation of reunified families.

Judge Praises US Efforts In Reuniting Migrant Families (R.)

A federal judge said on Friday the U.S. government had made “very promising” progress toward reuniting some 2,500 immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. The government has six days left to comply with the reunification order by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who summoned government attorneys to appear in his San Diego courtroom to update him on efforts made in bringing families back together. “I’m very impressed with the effort being made,” said Sabraw at the end of the brief hearing. Lawyers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported in a court filing late Thursday that 364 children aged 5 and older had been reunited since Sabraw’s order was issued more than three weeks ago.

The number was updated to 450 today, an ACLU spokesperson said. Younger children were reunited last week. In Thursday’s status report, filed as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging parent-child separations at the border, the government did not say how many reunifications were likely before the July 26 deadline. Nearly 850 parents had been interviewed and cleared for reunification as of Thursday and another 229 parents had been deemed ineligible because of criminal records, or because they “waived” reunification or for other reasons, the report said. The rest are pending review.

More than 850 parents are facing final deportation orders, government lawyers told the court on Friday. The ACLU has asked Sabraw to give those parents at least a week after being reunited with their children before deportation so they have adequate time to obtain legal counsel and consider options. Sabraw has temporarily barred deportations of reunified families pending a final decision.

Read more …

Jul 192018
 
 July 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Félix Vallotton The balloon 1899

 

Is Goldman Sachs Really a Bank? Really? (Whalen)
Everyone Is Smart Except Trump (Fischer)
Russiagate Is Like 9/11, Except It’s Made Of Pure Narrative (CJ)
Kudlow: US Expecting Significant Trade Offer From EU Soon (CNBC)
Mega Tech’s Trillions Of Market Value In Eye-Popping Perspective (MW)
Amazon Now Accounts For 49% Of US Online Retail (ZH)
EU Commissioner On $5 Billion Fine: Google Has To ‘Stop This Behavior’ (CNBC)
How Can We Reverse Brexit When Europe Doesn’t Want Us Back? (Münchau)
Police ‘Identify’ Skripal Suspects (PA)
Cali High Court Orders Proposal To Split Up State Removed From Ballot (R.)
The Cashless Society Is A Con – And Big Finance Is Behind It (G.)
The Most Unbelievable Tax Break Ever (F.)

 

 

No, it’s not.

Is Goldman Sachs Really a Bank? Really? (Whalen)

Most of the largest US banks that reported earnings this week saw interest expense rise by mid-double digits even as interest earnings rose by single digits. Goldman Sachs, for example, saw its funding expenses increase 61% year-over-year (YOY) in Q2’18 while interest income rose just 50%. Citigroup (C), on the other hand, being already positioned in the world of institutional funding, saw interest expense rise only 28%. But the Q2’18 earnings seem to confirm a rising trend in funding costs that could see NIM flatten out and decline by 2019. When Solomon’s ascension to the top spot was announced at Goldman Sachs, our friend Bill Cohan commented on CNBC that this amounted to a takeover of GS by alumni of Bear, Stearns & Co. God does have a sense of humor.

He also reminded Andrew Sorkin et al on Squawk Box that the freewheeling Goldman of old is long gone and that GS is now run and regulated as “a bank.” Well, no, not really. Goldman Sachs is basically a broker-dealer with a small bank in tow. When you compare the net interest margin of GS with its peers, for example, the other members of Peer Group 1 defined by the FFIEC reported NIM of 3.28% vs 0.41% for GS in Q1’18. Because the bank unit of GS is so small, the overall NIM for the group is 1/10th of its peers compared with total assets. Goldman makes less than 2% on earning assets vs almost 4% for its asset peers. So to paraphrase the wisdom of Josh Brown, GS does not make money on interest rates, up or down, but rather earns fees from trading and investment banking. GS profits from the spread, both in terms of price and volume.

The basic problem confronting David Solomon and his colleagues is that GS really is not a bank. It is regulated like a bank and therefore constrained in terms of business activities, but it does not earn the carry on assets that most banks take for granted when they turn on the lights each morning. Talk of expanding the banking side of the business (aka “Marcus”) is fine, but progress in this regard is very slow indeed. Of the $9.4 billion in net revenues reported in Q2’18, just $1 billion represented net interest earnings.

Read more …

My Twitter account risks becoming unreadable because of this. I like diverse points of view, but there’s just too much nastiness. People retweeting factoids dozens of times a day.

Everyone Is Smart Except Trump (Fischer)

It really is quite simple. Everyone is smart except Donald J. Trump. That’s why they all are billionaires and all got elected President. Only Trump does not know what he is doing. Only Trump does not know how to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. Anderson Cooper knows how to stand up to Putin. The whole crowd at MSNBC does. All the journalists do. They could not stand up to Matt Lauer at NBC. They could not stand up to Charlie Rose at CBS. They could not stand up to Mark Halperin at NBC. Nor up to Leon Wieseltier at the New Republic, nor Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, nor Michael Oreskes at NPR, at the New York Times, or at the Associated Press. But — oh, wow! — can they ever stand up to Putin! Only Trump is incapable of negotiating with the Russian tyrant.

Remember the four years when Anderson Cooper was President of the United States? And before that — when the entire Washington Post editorial staff jointly were elected to be President? Remember? Neither do I. The Seedier Media never have negotiated life and death, not corporate life and death, and not human life and death. They think they know how to negotiate, but they do not know how. They go to a college, are told by peers that they are smart, get some good grades, proceed to a graduate degree in journalism, and get hired as analysts. Now they are experts, ready to take on Putin and the Iranian Ayatollahs at age 30. That is not the road to expertise in tough dealing. The alternate road is that, along the way, maybe you get forced into some street fights.

Sometimes the other guy wins, and sometimes you beat the intestines out of him. Then you deal with grown-ups as you mature, and you learn that people can be nasty, often after they smile and speak softly. You get cheated a few times, played. And you learn. Maybe you become an attorney litigating multi-million-dollar case matters. Say what you will about attorneys, but those years — not the years in law school, not the years drafting legal memoranda, but the years of meeting face-to-face and confronting opposing counsel — those years can teach a great deal. They can teach how to transition from sweet, gentle, diplomatic negotiating to tough negotiating. At some point, with enough tough-nosed experience, you figure out Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” yourself.

Read more …

Well, it sells. Bigtime.

Russiagate Is Like 9/11, Except It’s Made Of Pure Narrative (CJ)

[..] the current administration has actually been far more aggressive against Russia than the previous administration was, and has worked against Russian interests to a far greater extent. If they wanted to, the international alliance of plutocrats and intelligence/defense agencies could just as easily use their near-total control of the narrative to advance the story that Trump is a dangerous Russia hawk who is imperiling the entire world by inflicting insane escalations against a nuclear superpower. They could elicit the exact same panicked emotional response that they are eliciting right now using the exact same media and the exact same factual situation. They wouldn’t have to change a single thing except where they place their emphasis in telling the story.

The known facts would all remain exactly as they are; all that would have to change is the narrative. Public support for Russiagate depends on the fact that most people don’t recognize how pervasively their day-to-day experience is dominated by narrative. If you are intellectually honest with yourself, you will acknowledge that you think about Russia a lot more now than you did in 2015. Russia hasn’t changed any since 2015; all that has changed is the narrative that is being told about it. And yet now the mass media and a huge chunk of rank-and-file America now view it as a major threat and think about it constantly. All they had to do was talk about Russia constantly in a fearful and urgent way, and now US liberals are convinced that Vladimir Putin is an omnipotent world-dominating supervillain who has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government.

Read more …

Juncker to visit Trump next week.

Kudlow: US Expecting Significant Trade Offer From EU Soon (CNBC)

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration expects a significant trade offer to come from the European Union soon. In an interview at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Wednesday, Kudlow said a lot of discussions are being held with individual countries. EU President Jean-Claude Juncker is coming to Washington next week, Kudlow said. “We will be in discussions,” he said. “I am told he’s bringing a very important free trade offer.” Kudlow added he couldn’t confirm that.

President Donald Trump has opened trade discussions on numerous fronts, using tariffs on products like steel and aluminum imports and the threat of tariffs on automobiles to get people to the negotiating table. The tariffs have rankled long-time allies in Europe and elsewhere, and tensions elevated after Trump’s visit to the NATO summit last week. That hasn’t deterred progress, however. “I am told through sources, including our ambassadors, that [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel has been working on that, shaking up the EU,” Kudlow said. “The president has put things on the table. The Europeans are looking at them, okay? And we may be pleasantly surprised.”

Read more …

“Value”.

Mega Tech’s Trillions Of Market Value In Eye-Popping Perspective (MW)

A picture is worth a thousand words but a pie chart may be more eloquent, especially when it comes to sizing up the giants of the tech industry. Michael Batnick, director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, on Wednesday tweeted out a chart that underscored how absolutely dominant tech companies have become in a world where size seems to increasingly matter. Batnick, in his tweet, noted that the top five S&P 500 companies — Apple, Amazon.com, Alphabet Inc., Microsoft and Facebook — combined are worth $4.095 trillion versus $4.092 trillion for the bottom 282 companies.

As mind-boggling as that may be, Batnick told MarketWatch that this sort of concentration is normal, pointing out that AT&T and General Motors represented 14.5% of the S&P 500 during their heyday in 1965. What is different today, however, is that all the big players are uniformly tech names. “The gains have been extraordinary over the past five years, with Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google growing from $1.2 trillion to near $4 trillion,” wrote Batnick in a recent blog entry.

Read more …

At what point do we call it a monopoly?

Amazon Now Accounts For 49% Of US Online Retail (ZH)

Amazon will account for 49.1% of all online retail sales, up from 43% the year before, if they clear an expected $258 billion in sales this year. The stunning figure provided by research firm eMarketer is tempered by the fact that Amazon’s near-majority share of online sales accounts for just 5% of all retail sales. Amazon is set to rake in $258.22 billion in US retail sales in 2018, while annual growth has jumped 29.2% year-over-year, reports Tech Crunch. Fueling Amazon’s rise is a robust network of third-party sellers and a rapidly expanding range of goods from groceries to fashion – made all the more attractive for subscribers of their Prime services.

Now, it is fast approaching a tipping point where more people will be spending money online with Amazon, than with all other retailers — combined. Amazon’s next-closest competitor, eBay, a very, very distant second at 6.6 percent, and Apple in third at 3.9 percent. Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer when counting physical stores, has yet to really hit the right note in e-commerce and comes in behind Apple with 3.7 percent of online sales in the US. -TC

Read more …

And more fines coming. But who pays in the end?

EU Commissioner On $5 Billion Fine: Google Has To ‘Stop This Behavior’ (CNBC)

The EU’s commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, said Google has to “stop this behavior” in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, after a record antitrust fine against the company. “The thing that Google has to do now is of course to stop,” Vestager told “Squawk on the Street.” “This of course will free up the market to allow mobile manufacturers to use other Android systems.” Regulators hit the Alphabet unit with a $5 billion fine for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system – by far the most popular smartphone OS in the world. The EU says Google pushed device makers to bundle Google apps like the Chrome web browser and Gmail, which harms competition. The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, threatened additional fines if Google didn’t put an end to illegal conduct within 90 days.

“They have products that we all like and like to use,” Vestager said. “The only thing we don’t like is when they get to misuse their success and put in place illegal restrictions.” Wednesday’s fine is the largest ever issued to Google, dwarfing even the $2.7 billion penalty from the EU last year for favoring its shopping service over competitors. The company plans to appeal the ruling, according to a statement. The commission is still investigating a third antitrust case against Google’s search advertising service, AdSense. “This is not about Apple, this is not about Android, this is about Google behavior — a behavior that’s illegal for a dominant company because it’s locking down competition and disabling innovation and choice that we would all like to enjoy,” Vestager said.

Read more …

Good question. But first more mayhem at home.

How Can We Reverse Brexit When Europe Doesn’t Want Us Back? (Münchau)

What strikes me most about the Brexit discussions in the UK is not the usual Eurosceptic xenophobia, but the lack of understanding of the EU’s position by those who campaign in favour of a Brexit reversal. The leaders of the EU are officially disappointed that Britain is headed for the door; secretly they will be relieved when it goes. In truth, the EU does not really want Brexit to be reversed. Why? Britain has a reputation as an obstreperous “partner” in the institutions, and in the past has sometimes made it harder for Europe to move forward—most notoriously in 2011, when David Cameron used the euro–crisis to try and extract concessions on other things. In the event of a reversal, the Europeans would rightly assume that the ghost of Brexit would never go away.

Ukip would be back in the European Parliament, adding strength to the Salvini and Le Pen factions. Brussels, Berlin and Paris could all do without that. Let’s imagine—and it’s more of a leap than many Remainers acknowledge—that all the legal questions could be swept out of the way. I suppose the EU would ultimately accept a reversal, but without enthusiasm—and with conditions. If a UK prime minister wrote a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, asking for Brexit to be reversed, he would immediately invoke a special EU summit, in which the other leaders would make at least three demands: the first is an end to the British budget rebate for the next budget period, and perhaps also an end to certain other instances of special treatment, such as on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Secondly, the EU would insist that the UK could not block decisions they have taken since the UK announced its intention to leave. The third ask would be for a political commitment by the big political parties not to trigger Brexit again after the next elections. Just let that sink in for a minute. And in any second referendum, the Brexiteers could reasonably argue that the UK was not simply remaining, but doing so on much less advantageous terms. Britain, in other words, would inject a whole new wave of political instability and unpleasantness into its own politics, and those of the continent, if—after all the turmoil—it tried to remain. It would become harder, not easier, for Europe to grapple with the really big challenges it faces with the UK back on board.

Read more …

No they haven’t. An unnnamed cources alleges the police say it’s the Russians. And that is presented as news. Because waiting for proof is so last century.

Police ‘Identify’ Skripal Suspects (PA)

Police are believed to have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack on Russian former spy Sergei Skripal. Officers think several Russians were involved in the attempted murder of the former double agent and daughter Yulia in Salisbury and are looking for more than one suspect. A source with knowledge of the investigation told the Press Association: “Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time. They (the investigators) are sure they (the suspects) are Russian.”

The news comes as an inquest is due to open on Thursday for Dawn Sturgess, 44, who died earlier this month, eight days after apparently coming into contact with Novichok from the same batch used in the attempted murder of the Skripals in March. Her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, was left fighting for his life after also being contaminated by the chemical weapon. It is understood Sturgess was exposed to at least 10 times the amount of nerve agent the Skripals came into contact with. Investigators are working to the theory that the substance was in a discarded perfume bottle found by the couple in a park or somewhere in Salisbury city centre and Sturgess sprayed Novichok straight on to her skin, the source said.

Read more …

Some rich guy’s hobby.

Cali High Court Orders Proposal To Split Up State Removed From Ballot (R.)

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the November ballot purged of an initiative that seeks to split California into three states, citing significant questions raised about the proposal’s validity. State election officials certified last month that supporters of the so-called Cal3 measure, also known as Proposition 9, had collected enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot in the country’s most populous state. An environmental group, the Planning and Conservation League, challenged the measure in court, arguing it posed a “revision” of the state constitution – as opposed to an amendment – that is too sweeping to be legally subjected to the direct consent of the voters.

Siding with opponents for the time being, the court directed state election officials to keep the measure off the upcoming November ballot to allow the justices sufficient time to review and decide the merits of the case. The court left open the possibility of allowing the initiative to be put before voters in the future, saying the “potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs” the harm of its delay. The initiative was launched by billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, who has argued that California’s size makes it ungovernable. He failed in two previous bids to qualify a six-way split of California for the ballot.

Read more …

Nudging.

The Cashless Society Is A Con – And Big Finance Is Behind It (G.)

All over the western world banks are shutting down cash machines and branches. They are trying to push you into using their digital payments and digital banking infrastructure. Just like Google wants everyone to access and navigate the broader internet via its privately controlled search portal, so financial institutions want everyone to access and navigate the broader economy through their systems. Another aim is to cut costs in order to boost profits. Branches require staff. Replacing them with standardised self-service apps allows the senior managers of financial institutions to directly control and monitor interactions with customers. Banks, of course, tell us a different story about why they do this.

I recently got a letter from my bank telling me that they are shutting down local branches because “customers are turning to digital”, and they are thus “responding to changing customer preferences”. I am one of the customers they are referring to, but I never asked them to shut down the branches. There is a feedback loop going on here. In closing down their branches, or withdrawing their cash machines, they make it harder for me to use those services. I am much more likely to “choose” a digital option if the banks deliberately make it harder for me to choose a non-digital option. In behavioural economics this is referred to as “nudging”. If a powerful institution wants to make people choose a certain thing, the best strategy is to make it difficult to choose the alternative.

We can illustrate this with the example of self-checkout tills at supermarkets. The underlying agenda is to replace checkout staff with self-service machines to cut costs. But supermarkets have to convince their customers. They thus initially present self-checkout as a convenient alternative. When some people then use that alternative, the supermarket can cite that as evidence of a change in customer behaviour, which they then use to justify a reduction in checkout employees. This in turn makes it more inconvenient to use the checkout staff, which in turn makes customers more likely to use the machines. They slowly wean you off staff, and “nudge” you towards self-service.

Read more …

Looks like a good story. But is it?

The Most Unbelievable Tax Break Ever (F.)

Success Street in North Charleston, South Carolina, might be the most misnamed place in America, a path through a weedy, desolate neighborhood with 20% unemployment and a 40% poverty rate. Its biggest claim to fame strolls past the gritty brick apartment buildings and tumbledown bungalows on a muggy morning in late June: Timothy Scott, a local product who grew up to become the first black Republican U.S. senator in more than three decades. Joining Scott is another success story: the frenetic, peripatetic tech billionaire Sean Parker, who flew in by private jet from Los Angeles’ ritzy Holmby Hills for a personal tour of the senator’s hometown.

“I remember so many kids with amazing potential who died on the vine,” Scott says as he surveys the shuttered Chicora Elementary School, where weeds climb the walls and graying plywood shields shattered windows. “The frustration, irritation and low expectations were so pervasive here that I always wanted to make a difference.” He now may get his chance. Today’s visit is less a grim walk down memory lane than a legislative victory lap for Scott and Parker. The unlikely pair are core members of an even more unlikely group of conservatives and liberals, capitalists and philanthropists, U.S. lawmakers and small-town mayors who have successfully created one of the greatest tax-avoidance opportunities in American history, in the service of underperforming American cities and neighborhoods.

For all the focus on drastic tax-rate cuts, the fate of the state and local tax deduction and the exploding federal deficits, it’s the least-known part of last year’s tax-cut law that could be the most consequential. Officially called the Investing in Opportunity Act, it promises to pump a massive amount of cash into America’s most impoverished communities by offering wealthy investors and corporations a chance to erase their tax obligations. [..] The heart of this new law: Opportunity Zones, or “O-zones,” low-income areas designated by each state. Investors will soon be able to plow recently realized capital gains into projects or companies based there, slowly erase the tax obligations on a portion of those gains and, more significantly, have those proceeds grow tax-free. There are almost no limits.

Read more …

Jul 162018
 
 July 16, 2018  Posted by at 7:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The human condition 1935

 

Trump Cautious Ahead Of Putin Summit (BBC)
Kremlin Takes Trump To Task Over His Gas Pipeline Comments (R.)
Trump Calls European Union A ‘Foe’ – Ahead Of Russia And China (G.)
Xi’s Overly-Ambitious Goals Triggered US-China Trade War (Nikkei)
The Global Reset Will Come Like A Thief In The Night (von Greyerz)
Theresa May’s Grand Plan Has Left Her Stranded In No Woman’s Land (G.)
Theresa May Faces Rebellion From Brexit Hardliners In Customs Bill Vote (G.)
Glut Of Property Hits UK Housing Market In July (R.)
EU Urges Big Powers To Prevent Trade ‘Conflict And Chaos’ (AFP)
At Last, A Law That Could Have Stopped Blair And Bush Invading Iraq (G.)

 

 

Despite all the attempts to frustrate the meeting, it looks like it will take place. Good.

Trump Cautious Ahead Of Putin Summit (BBC)

US President Donald Trump will meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin later on Monday, ending a tumultuous European tour in which he criticised his allies. Mr Trump said he had “low expectations” ahead of the talks in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, but added that “maybe some good” would come of them. The summit comes after 12 Russians were charged with hacking in the 2016 US elections. Mr Trump says he will raise the issue, but there is no formal agenda. The two leaders will meet one-on-one, and will be joined only by their interpreters. It is the first-ever summit between Mr Putin and Mr Trump – although they have previously met on the sidelines of multilateral talks.

There have been calls in the US for Mr Trump to cancel the meeting altogether over the indictments of Russian military intelligence agents, announced on Friday. Russia denies the allegations, and says it is looking forward to the talks as a vehicle for improving relations. US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said both sides have agreed the meeting will have no set agenda. But he said he found it “hard to believe” Mr Putin did not know about the alleged election hacking and the subject would be mentioned. “That’s what one of the purposes of this meeting is, so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it,” he told ABC News.

Read more …

Nordstream 2 will be built.

Kremlin Takes Trump To Task Over His Gas Pipeline Comments (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of Russia’s Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline to Europe is an egregious example of unscrupulous competition and it worries Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Monday. Speaking shortly before Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit down together for a summit in the Finnish capital, Peskov also said discussions between the two on Syria would be difficult because of the U.S. stance on Iran, Russia’s ally and a major player in the Syrian conflict. Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Peskov as saying he hoped the Helsinki talks would represent some kind of step away from the current crisis in U.S.-Russian relations.

Read more …

On trade.

Trump Calls European Union A ‘Foe’ – Ahead Of Russia And China (G.)

Donald Trump described the European Union one of his greatest “foes” in another extraordinary diplomatic intervention on Sunday, just hours before sitting down to a high-stakes summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Asked in a TV interview to name his “biggest foe globally right now”, the US president started by naming the European Union, calling the body “very difficult” before ticking off other traditional rivals like Russia and China. Hours earlier, British prime minister Theresa May revealed that Trump suggested she “sue the EU” rather than go into negotiations over Brexit. “Well I think we have a lot of foes,” Trump told CBS News at his Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union but they’re a foe.”

Apparently taken aback, anchor Jeff Glor replied: “A lot of people might be surprised to hear you list the EU as a foe before China and Russia.” But Trump insisted: “EU is very difficult. I respect the leaders of those countries. But – in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us.” Trump’s controversial tour through Europe has turned postwar western relations inside out, the president sparring with Nato leaders in Brussels and blasting May’s Brexit strategy in the Sun newspaper. His remarks have reflected one of this president’s core beliefs: that America is exploited by its allies. Donald Tusk, president of the European council, tweeted: “America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news.”

Read more …

A different point of view.

Xi’s Overly-Ambitious Goals Triggered US-China Trade War (Nikkei)

China ranges over the global economy like a bull elephant roams the savanna. Other grassland wildlife is sensitive to this mammoth’s slightest moves. The ferocious lion, the U.S., is no exception. China has yet to become fully aware that it is the elephant in the global economy’s boardroom. But in Washington, Trump was cognizant that he could not stand idly by after China vowed to knock the U.S. off its economic pedestal in just 17 years from now. He campaigned for the presidency by promising voters he would put “America first.” News of China’s decision to bring forward its modernization target date emerged at a bad time. It came shortly after Xi had promised Trump business deals worth $250 billion.

That pledge came in November, when Trump was visiting Beijing, and was portrayed as a salve that would help to heal the U.S.’s massive trade deficit with China. As expected, it was little more than talk. The trade gap continues to quickly widen. Alarmed by China’s ambitions and frustrated by the lack of progress in narrowing the U.S. trade deficit, Trump went on the offensive in the spring. There are good reasons for China coming under U.S. trade fire. It has been the biggest beneficiary of the global trade system since it became a member of the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001. All the while, it has imposed strict foreign ownership limits in each industrial sector, forced foreign companies that enter China to transfer technologies and has set up various other barriers to its markets.

Backed by huge amounts of government funds, Chinese companies have made splashy acquisitions of U.S. and European companies that own key technologies, especially in the auto and information technology sectors. Chinese companies can quickly obtain technologies by acquiring or taking equity investments in U.S. and European companies. In the U.S. and Europe, any company can acquire any other company as long as it can obtain the necessary funds. But it is difficult for U.S. and European companies to acquire Chinese companies. Chinese authorities have numerous regulations at their disposal to block any such attempt.

When Xi bared China’s sharp claws, declaring China would overtake the U.S. economically by 2035, he did so for the benefit of a domestic audience and to aid his fierce power struggle with the political factions that had run China for decades. China is now beginning to realize the high price it is having to pay for Xi’s declaration.

Read more …

“When the monster, ‘everything’ bubble pops, so will the paper markets in gold, silver, and other precious metals. The size of this market is at least 100-times bigger than the physical market.”

The Global Reset Will Come Like A Thief In The Night (von Greyerz)

“It is absolutely unreal how the world pays so much respect to mediocrity or even incompetence when it comes to running the financial system. Central banks and their heads have created this monster balloon which is now waiting to be popped. They have given the world the impression that they have been instrumental in saving the world economy. The central bank chiefs that managed to retire before the balloon burst can count themselves lucky. In my view, the luck is now in the process of running out for the present ones. These chiefs believe so much in their own ability as saviors of the world that they don’t understand that all they are doing is creating a much bigger monster by printing and printing and printing.

[..] When the monster, ‘everything’ bubble pops, so will the paper markets in gold, silver, and other precious metals. The size of this market is at least 100-times bigger than the physical market. The rise of this market is very much linked to manipulation of the precious metals by central banks, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and bullion banks. When the paper metals markets pop, there will be no gold (or silver) offered at any price. This is the time when overnight or over a weekend the price will go from $1,250 to $10,000 or even $100,000. This might sound totally unreal to some, but this will be the most likely consequence of the monster bubble popping and everyone in markets running for the exit.

Most people believe that the status quo can go on forever and that central banks will continue their ridiculous game of pretending that air is real money that can create wealth. The few people who believe that there is a serious risk that the system will not survive in its present form, and that their assets — be it cash, bonds, or stocks — could decline substantially in value, must seriously consider insurance.

The next decline in financial markets is likely to start in late 2018 or early 2019. And this will not be an ordinary decline or normal correction. Instead, it will be the beginning of the biggest global bear market in history. And this time central banks and governments will fail in their attempts to save the system. They will, however, certainly print a lot of money and try to reduce interest rates. But as global bond markets collapse, rates will go up rapidly. This means that bonds and stocks will both crash along with most assets.

Read more …

The numbers are simply not there.

Theresa May’s Grand Plan Has Left Her Stranded In No Woman’s Land (G.)

Lyndon Johnson, who was majority leader in the US Senate before he became his country’s president, once declared that the most important talent in politics is “the ability to count”. There aren’t enough people who can count around Mrs May. The fatal flaw in her plan is that there is no majority for it in the House of Commons. The Brexit ultras are crying treachery and promising havoc. They both express and feed the furies of Tory activists. The Brextremists don’t have an alternative plan, other than to crash out of the EU without any deal at all, a catastrophic outcome that some of them actually wish for, but that hasn’t stopped them before and won’t curb them now.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and his cabal can muster the 48 signatures of Tory MPs that they need to trigger a confidence vote in Mrs May. They do not sound confident that they have the numbers – they require 159 – to oust her from the premiership. What the ultras can do is make the government’s life even more hellish by prosecuting a “guerrilla war” in parliament. Even if Mrs May could get the EU to accept her plan, 60-plus Conservative MPs are opponents of her version of a Brexit deal. That number will climb if, as is inevitable, she has to make further concessions in Brussels to secure an agreement. There are more than enough Brextremist rebels to block the prime minister in the Commons unless she can get some assistance from the opposition.

She needs the help of Labour MPs and she is not going to get it. Jeremy Corbyn won’t give her any succour. He is more interested in bringing down the Tories than helping them to solve a mad riddle of their own making. The Labour leadership calculates that defeating Mrs May in Brexit votes is their best chance of collapsing the government and precipitating an early general election. But Number 10 clearly harboured hopes that centrist Labour MPs might embrace her plan as the least worst version of Brexit that they are likely to get in the circumstances.

Read more …

They’ll keep at it till she’s gone. And it will get even messier.

Theresa May Faces Rebellion From Brexit Hardliners In Customs Bill Vote (G.)

Theresa May faces a concerted rebellion from the hard Brexit wing of the Conservative party on Monday, as MPs unhappy with her Chequers compromise prepare to mount a show of strength by voting for their amendments on the customs bill. The party’s European Research Group says it will reject any last attempts at compromise by Number 10 as they hope to force May to change course over Brexit or risk a no-confidence vote before the summer break by demonstrating the depth of their support. A special ERG whipping operation, using the WhatsApp messaging service, has been created by Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister who resigned from the government last week, although ERG insiders would not put a number on how many they expected to rebel in the Commons.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the ERG, told the BBC “we’ll have an idea of the numbers at 10pm on Monday evening” while one ERG insider added that they were “intensely relaxed” about the number of rebels they had signed up. Last week, members of the hard Brexit group put down four amendments to the taxation (cross-border trade) bill due to be debated on Monday evening, aimed at halting the customs plan announced by May at Chequers nine days ago. The level of support they attract will draw intense focus, particularly if the number significantly exceeds the 48 required to call for a vote of no confidence in May’s leadership of the Conservative party.

Read more …

No buyers left.

Glut Of Property Hits UK Housing Market In July (R.)

Britain’s housing market saw a glut of new property offered for sale this month, keeping a lid on prices at a time when sales typically suffer from a seasonal lull, property website Rightmove said on Monday. Real estate agents now have the highest amount of stock since September 2015, Rightmove said. “While an increase in seller numbers is a welcome sign of more liquidity in a generally stock-starved market, it has unfortunately come at a quieter time of year,” Rightmove director Miles Shipside said. The number of homes advertised by Rightmove, Britain’s largest property website, is 8.6 percent higher than the same month a year ago, but the number of sales is virtually unchanged from a year earlier, down 0.2 percent.

Average asking prices for new sellers are down 0.1 percent since June, typical for the time of year, Rightmove added. But in a sign that previous sellers had priced their property too high, a third of stock being advertised had seen at least one price reduction, the highest proportion for the time of year since 2011. Other industry data has shown British house price growth has slowed sharply since the June 2016 Brexit vote, though with marked regional variation. The slowdown is most marked in London and neighbouring areas, where demand has been hit by higher tax on expensive property and reduced demand from foreign investors. In other parts of Britain, prices are still rising moderately.

Read more …

EU Council President Donald Tusk says it is the duty of Europe, the US, China and Russia not to destroy global trade, but to improve it.

EU Urges Big Powers To Prevent Trade ‘Conflict And Chaos’ (AFP)

The European Union on Monday called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to avoid trade “conflict and chaos” to prevent it spiralling into violent confrontation. “It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history,” EU Council President Donald Tusk said in Beijing. “There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos.” Tusk spoke after meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as part of an annual EU-China summit that opened against the backdrop of the growing China-US economic confrontation and wider global trade discord.

The EU — the world’s biggest single market with 28 countries and 500 million people — is trying to buttress alliances in the face of the protectionism unleashed by US President Donald Trump’s “America First” administration. The meeting between Chinese and European officials in Beijing, which also included European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, comes as Trump prepared to hold talks in Helsinki with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The world needed trade reform, rather than confrontation, Tusk said. “This is why I am calling on our Chinese hosts, but also on Presidents Trump and Putin, to jointly start this process from a thorough reform of the WTO.”

Read more …

Dream on. As Smedley Butler said, the only way to stop wars is to take the profit out of them.

At Last, A Law That Could Have Stopped Blair And Bush Invading Iraq (G.)

Tuesday is a red-letter day for international law: from then on, political and military leaders who order the invasion of foreign countries will be guilty of the crime of aggression, and may be punishable at the international criminal court in The Hague. Had this been an offence back in 2003, Tony Blair would have been bang to rights, together with senior numbers of his cabinet and some British military commanders. But if that were the case, of course, they would not have gone ahead; George W Bush would have been without his willing UK accomplices. The judgment at Nuremberg declared that “to initiate a war of aggression … is the supreme international crime”.

But this concept never entered UK law (as the misguided crowdfunded effort to prosecute Blair discovered last year). International acceptance of it stalled until states could agree on an up-to-date definition. The crime was included in the ICC jurisdiction back in 1998, but was suspended until its elements could be decided (in 2010) then ratified by at least 30 states (in 2016). At last it is finally being “activated”. In the meantime, Iraq and Ukraine have been invaded and other countries threatened, while Donald Trump attacked Syria last year. Now, the very existence of the crime of aggression offers some prospect of deterrence, and some degree of certainty in identifying the criminals.

Read more …

Jul 132018
 
 July 13, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh View of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer 1888

 

Stock Markets See the US Winning the Trade War, Defying Propaganda (WS)
A Decade On, Pre-Crisis Mortgages Linger For Big Banks, Homeowners (R.)
Fed’s Escape From Crisis Holdings Could Hit Dead End (R.)
Social Security, Medicare To Add Another $50 Trillion to Our National Debt (JM)
China’s Record Trade Surplus With US Further Inflames Trade Tensions (R.)
Approval Of Brexit Negotiations Lowest On Record (Orb)
No Brand Of Brexit Can Command A Commons Majority (G.)
Donald Trump Is Right. NATO Is A Costly White Elephant (G.)
Trump Ready To Help Some NATO States Buy US Arms (R.)
Who Wants To Disrupt Strategic Balance In The Black Sea Region? (SCF)
Germany Puts Last Bailout Tranche to Greece on Hold (GR)
Europe’s Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial (Varoufakis)
US Judge Asked To Create Mental Health Fund For Migrant Children (R.)
Facebook Users Marked With “Treason” Label (ZH)

 

 

“Now they had a fig leaf – the threat of future tariffs – behind which to hide their long-planned offshoring strategies.”

Stock Markets See the US Winning the Trade War, Defying Propaganda (WS)

The trade war talk has been going on since the presidential campaign but markets just brushed it off and rallied. In 2018, the trade war verbiage moved to the foreground. But until June 14, the administration vacillated between thinking about tariffs and putting the trade war “on hold,” depending on who was doing the talking or tweeting. This vacillation ended on June 14 (Thursday) evening, when it was reported that Trump had approved to hit an initial list of $50 billion in goods (1,300 products) from China with tariffs of 25%. At the time, the administration was also preparing a second list of products, accounting for another $100 billion in imports from China.

On the evening of June 19 (Monday), Trump threatened to hit another $200 billion of imports from China with tariffs of 10%. And on Tuesday, the Shanghai stock market plunged. Markets were taking it seriously. Since then, Corporate America’s propaganda machine – the same that for the past two decades had extolled the unrivalled virtues of offshoring production to cheap countries – fired up the mainstream media, which launched into incessant, deafening, repetitive, and manipulative coverage of how these tariffs would hurt US jobs more than anything.

Two glorious examples are Harley-Davidson and GM, which had been laying off workers and shutting plants in the US for years as they were offshoring production to cheap countries. For example, in July 2017, Harley-Davidson announced layoffs in the US as it was building a factory in Thailand. GM has been laying off workers in the US since 2016, even as it opted to produce more models in Mexico. Now they had a fig leaf – the threat of future tariffs – behind which to hide their long-planned offshoring strategies.

Read more …

TBTF banks have no incentive to come clean.

A Decade On, Pre-Crisis Mortgages Linger For Big Banks, Homeowners (R.)

A decade on big U.S. banks are still running down and selling off crisis-era mortgages, a process executives point to as weighing on loan growth. Eager to see a turning point in loan books, analysts count these portfolios as one factor, along with home equity loan runoff and new mortgage demand, to watch for when deciphering the true loan growth picture as U.S. second-quarter bank earnings start on Friday. Wells Fargo and Bank of America executives have flagged portfolios from prior to the 2008-2009 crisis era where banks are no longer originating similar new products when they are asked to predict a turning point in consumer loans. “These are portfolios of a bygone era that were very, very painful for the banks,” said Gerard Cassidy at RBC Capital Markets.

“They are not plain vanilla portfolios, which means they are more costly to manage. It may just not be worth the headache.” Analysts have said higher loan growth is critical to driving bank’s stock prices, but they anticipate only a modest acceleration year over year, driven primarily by commercial and industrial loans, not residential. “Remember that there’s a portion of that book that, again, is pre-crisis,” Chief Executive Tim Sloan said about Wells Fargo’s mortgage book at a May conference. He added the bank continues to examine the older portfolio’s risk-return tradeoff and sells assets when the opportunity arises, factors “that could have some impact” on growth.

Read more …

Backpedalling.

Fed’s Escape From Crisis Holdings Could Hit Dead End (R.)

Not long ago the Federal Reserve expected to quietly shed nearly half of its $4.5-trillion portfolio by around 2022, leaving little trace of the extraordinary steps it took to face down the financial crisis. But an unexpected market kink could force the Fed to scrap the plan two or three years early and permanently leave it holding $1 trillion more than it wanted. The U.S. central bank is making adjustments on the fly and keeping its options open. “I don’t think that’s problematic in any way” to halt the process “somewhat earlier,” William Dudley, the former New York Fed president and key architect of the portfolio strategy, told reporters last month.

Yet if the world’s largest holder of U.S. bonds tossed out its play book and effectively took on a more accommodative stance, the result could be an across-the-board easing of market borrowing costs, the foreign-exchange value of the dollar, and of the growing strains on emerging markets. “The evidence that we have suggests that the ultimate size of the balance sheet will be bigger than what people expected,” said Matthew Luzzetti, senior economist at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York. All of this amounts to the final chapter in the Fed’s unprecedented decision over the last decade to buy some $3.5 trillion in mortgage and Treasury bonds in an effort to boost riskier investments, hiring and economic recovery from recession. In a nod to a stronger U.S. economy, the Fed since 2015 has raised interest rates well above zero and, since October of last year, begun shrinking its balance sheet to a more normal but yet-unspecified size.

Read more …

“As of this year, both programs are in negative cash flow, meaning Congress must provide additional cash to pay the promised benefits.”

Social Security, Medicare To Add Another $50 Trillion to Our National Debt (JM)

The official, on-the-books federal debt is currently about $21.2 trillion, according to the US National Debt Clock. $21.2T is the face amount of all outstanding Treasury paper, including so-called “internal” debt. This is about 105% of GDP and it’s only the federal government. If you add in state and local debt, that adds another $3.1 trillion to bring total government debt in the US to $24.3 trillion or more than 120% of GDP. Then there’s corporate debt, home mortgages, credit cards, student loans, and more. Add it all together and total debt is about 330% of GDP, according to the IIF data I cited in Debt Clock Ticking. We are in hock up to our ears. In calculating debt, however, we don’t factor in Social Security and Medicare. These aren’t yet debt because they have dedicated revenue streams: payroll taxes.

Most Medicare recipients also pay premiums. To date, these revenue sources have covered current expenditures and more, allowing the programs to build up reserves. But that’s about to change. As of this year, both programs are in negative cash flow, meaning Congress must provide additional cash to pay the promised benefits. It will get worse, too. The so-called “trust funds” are going to run dry sooner or later, and it may be sooner. This month’s annual trustee report estimated Social Security will run out of reserves in 2034, and the hospitalization part of Medicare will go dry in 2026. Just for the record, those “trust funds” don’t exist except as an accounting fiction. It is like you saving $100,000 for your child’s education and then borrowing all the money from your child’s education fund.

You can pretend that you have set aside $100,000 for your child’s future education, but when it comes time to make those payments, you’ll have to pull it out of current income or liquidate other assets. The US government has borrowed (or used or whatever euphemism you want to apply) all the money in those trust funds. So, talking about running out of reserves in 2034 or 2026 is rather meaningless. We’ve already run out of reserves. Any time a politician talks about putting a “lock box” around Social Security or Medicare trust funds, he or she is either staggeringly ignorant or lying.

Read more …

Stockpiling ahead of the crash?!

China’s Record Trade Surplus With US Further Inflames Trade Tensions (R.)

China’s trade surplus with the United States swelled to a record in June as its overall exports remained solid, a result that could further inflame a bitter trade dispute with Washington. The data came after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump raised the stakes in its trade row with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 percent tariffs on an extra $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, including numerous consumer items. China’s trade surplus with the United States, which is at the center of the tariff tussle, widened to a record monthly high of $28.97 billion, up from $24.58 billion in May, according to Reuters calculations based on official data going back to 2008.

Trump, who has demanded Beijing cut the trade surplus, could use the latest result to further ratchet up pressure on China after both sides last week imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s goods. Washington has warned it may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods – nearly the total amount of U.S. imports from China last year. The dispute has jolted global financial markets, raising worries a full-scale trade war could derail the world economy. Chinese stocks fell into bear market territory and the yuan currency has skidded, though there have been signs in recent days its central bank is moving to slow the currency’s declines.

[..] China’s exports to the United States rose 13.6 percent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier, while its imports from the U.S. rose 11.8 percent in the same period. Separate data showed Chinese shipments to U.S. ports rose more than expected in June, suggesting some retailers moved up orders to insulate themselves from the intensifying trade war that threatens to send up costs on a growing number of consumer products. For January-June China’s trade surplus with the United States rose to $133.76 billion, compared with about $117.51 billion in the same period last year.

Read more …

May will have to find something else.

Approval Of Brexit Negotiations Lowest On Record (Orb)

Approval of the Brexit negotiations has seen a significant fall in July – now the lowest on record. Last month 36% approved of the negotiations and it is now 29%. In June, 32% agreed that Theresa May would get the right deal for Britain in the Brexit negotiations – this has now fallen to 26% – the lowest again on record. These 2,027 interviews were carried out before the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Read more …

Perhaps the biggest one of a million problems.

No Brand Of Brexit Can Command A Commons Majority (G.)

Theresa May’s new cabinet has now rallied behind her Chequers plan, set out fully in the government’s white paper on future UK-EU relations. However, far from settling the Brexit debate, recent events have given rise to another nightmare scenario that is only just beginning to take shape: that every conceivable Brexit outcome may now not command a parliamentary majority. The conventional wisdom in Westminster is that since the general election last year, there is no House of Commons majority for a hard Brexit. With a working majority of only 13, including the Democratic Unionists, it would take just seven Tory MPs to oppose it. But there are at least 20-30 pro-European Tories minded to do so.

Yet May’s softer Brexit blueprint has also significantly increased the prospect of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voting against her EU deal when it is put to parliament later this year. In the febrile atmosphere at Westminster this week, there have been rumours that up to 70 Tories could oppose it – especially if, as seems likely, May makes further concessions in order to win the EU’s backing for a bespoke deal, instead of having to choose between a Canada or Norway-style agreement. Hints in the white paper about a preferential system for EU migrants, despite May’s rhetoric about ending free movement of labour, will fuel the Tory revolt.

May’s embrace for a softer Brexit has therefore changed the Commons arithmetic – and the political calculations that come with it. It is now Labour MPs, rather than Tory ones, who may prove critical. In recognition of this, May has been reaching out to Labour MPs in the hope that soft Brexit supporters vote for her deal, neutralising the impact of the Eurosceptics voting against it. In an unusual move, David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and May’s de facto deputy, briefed Labour (as well as Liberal Democrat and SNP) MPs on the Chequers plan. But Labour won’t want to save May. Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will almost certainly whip Labour MPs to oppose May’s deal, in the hope that the ensuing chaos will result in an election.

Read more …

What I said a few days ago.

Donald Trump Is Right. NATO Is A Costly White Elephant (G.)

Nato was founded in 1949 in response to Stalin’s blockade of Berlin. It was meant to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. Since then, it has welcomed the American nuclear shield, at vast cost to America. Otherwise, its only military achievements have been the breakup of Yugoslavia and the loss of a squalid 17-year war in Afghanistan. Neither has anything to do with the North Atlantic. Nothing better symbolised this than Theresa May’s bizarre gift to Trump this week of 450 British troops for Kabul. Nato was about deterring an attack on Europe from Russia. In 1945, the west agreed the Potsdam settlement, accepting the Soviets’ “sphere of influence” over eastern Europe.

Thus when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, there was no question of Nato, or Europe, retaliating. The iron curtain was iron. Come 1989 and the collapse of Potsdam Europe, Nato did not approach a broken Russia to agree some new settlement. It did the opposite. To protests from Russia’s weakened leader, Boris Yeltsin, it gathered former Warsaw Pact states under its wing and advanced its border east towards Russia. It embraced Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, then the Baltic states, Romania and Bulgaria. It was like Khrushchev stationing missiles in Cuba. Only Germany counselled caution.

Nato’s provocation was so blatant as to be an open invitation to any new populist leader in Moscow to exploit Russia’s bruised patriotism: hence Vladimir Putin. He and his kleptocratic cronies are virtually a Nato creation. But the fact that America was party to the provocation does not invalidate Trump’s question. What is Nato’s policy beyond needling Russia and feebly relying on the American shield?

Read more …

But in the end, it’s all about money. That’s why NATO still exists. Nothing to do with security.

Trump Ready To Help Some NATO States Buy US Arms (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was ready to help smaller NATO countries to buy U.S. weapons as he pushed them to spend more on their own defense. Speaking after a NATO summit, at which he said nations had agreed on new spending pledges, Trump said some less wealthy members had asked during meetings in Brussels if he could help them buy U.S. arms equipment, but did not name the countries. Asked about pressures on countries with weaker finances, he said, “We have many wealthy countries with us today but we have some that aren’t so wealthy and they did ask me if they could buy the military equipment, and could I help them out, and we will help them out a little bit,” he told a news conference.

“We are not going to finance it for them but we will make sure that they are able to get payments and various other things so they can buy – because the United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world: the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything.” Trump claimed a personal victory at the summit after telling European allies to increase spending or lose Washington’s support. The White House has been pushing a “Buy American” initiative which aims to help drum up billions of dollars more in arms business. The initiative has raised concerns in Europe, where some see increased weapons sales as a key goal of Trump’s repeated calls for NATO members to increase their military spending.

Read more …

Americans have no business there. Go home.

Who Wants To Disrupt Strategic Balance In The Black Sea Region? (SCF)

The US-led series of drills in and around Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline is part of NATO exercise Sea Breeze that kicked off on July 9 to last until July 21. The training event involves an international armada representing 19 countries, including such non-NATO states as Ukraine, India, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Moldova. All in all, 29 warships, 1 submarine, and 25 aircraft are involved in the exercise held in Odessa and Mykolayiv and the northwestern Black Sea region. The Black Sea regional security is actually an issue paid little attention to. It’s not addressed by an international forum. NATO official documents adopt an openly provocative language to challenge Russia.

The North Atlantic Alliance always emphasizes the Black Sea’s role as a critical intersection. The US-led NATO activities have been intensifying since 2014 to turn the region into another hotbed along with the South China Sea and the Baltic. Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, three of the six Black Sea countries, are NATO members. Ukraine and Georgia are the bloc’s close partners aspiring for membership. The alliance has a significant military presence in Romania, including a US Aegis Ashore BMD system capable of firing long-range cruise missiles at Russia.

American military presence in Romania and Bulgaria is gradually growing. The US plans to deploy up to 2,500 troops at Novo Selo, Bulgaria. The facility is large enough to accommodate as many as 5,000 servicemen. Heavy tanks deployment is envisaged. The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, where NATO pledged not to deploy “substantial forces” near Russia, seems to be forgotten. The US Navy’s policy is aimed at ramping up its presence there. The presence of American warships perilously close to Russia’s borders is undoubtedly provocative. For comparison, the Russian Navy does not stage regular maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea with such allies as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela though nothing prevents it from doing so.

Read more …

First, Berlin forces Greece to keep the islands loaded with refugees. Then it forces them to load more taxes on the already destroyed economies there.

Germany Puts Last Bailout Tranche to Greece on Hold (GR)

Germany blocked a final 15 billion-euro ($17.5 billion) bailout payment to Greece after the government in Athens postponed a value-added tax (VAT) hike on a handful of islands that have been hit hard by the influx of migrants. For the tranche to be unblocked by early August, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos pledged at yesterday’s Eurogroup that the measure to retain the 30 percent VAT discount on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos will end in January 2019, and that the loss of 28 million euros of revenues will be offset from other sources.

The SYRIZA-led government postponed the VAT hike in the islands without consulting Greece’s creditors. Germany was eager to send a message to Athens that it will not tolerate any deviation from the program in the future. Commentators say that the Eurogroup decision shows how difficult it will be for the southern country to regain financial sovereignty even as it exits an eight-year bailout regime in August.

Read more …

Given how Greece gets treated, denial doesn’t sound like the correct term.

Europe’s Remarkable Ability To Remain In Denial (Varoufakis)

Europe’s establishment is luxuriating in two recent announcements that would have been momentous even if they were only partly accurate: the end of Greece’s debt crisis, and a Franco-German accord to redesign the eurozone. Unfortunately, both reports offer fresh proof of the European Union (EU) establishment’s remarkable talent for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The two announcements did not come in the same week by accident. The Greek debt implosion, back in 2010, was the ugly symptom of the eurozone’s design flaws, which is why it triggered a domino effect across the continent. Greece’s continuing insolvency reflects the deep disagreements within the Franco-German axis concerning eurozone redesign.

While three French presidents and the same German chancellor were failing to agree on the institutional changes that would render the eurozone sustainable, Greece was asked to bleed quietly. In 2015, the Greeks staged a rebellion, which Europe’s establishment ruthlessly crushed. Neither Brexit nor the EU’s steady delegitimation in the eyes of European voters managed to convince the establishment to change its ways. French President Emmanuel Macron’s election seemed the last hope for the new Berlin-Paris accord needed to prevent a suffocating Italy from triggering the next—this time lethal—domino effect.

Under Macron, new, hopeful ideas were proposed: a common budget for the eurozone; a new safe debt instrument and quasi-federal tax-raising capacities; a common unemployment insurance fund; common bank deposit insurance and a common pot from which to recapitalize failing banks. Moreover, a new investment fund would mobilize idle savings across Europe, without adding to the fiscal stress of member states. A year later, with Italy on a collision course with the EU, the Meseberg Summit between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron delivered an agreement on eurozone reform. A few days later, the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers delivered its own “solution” to the Greek debt crisis.

Read more …

Sensible.

US Judge Asked To Create Mental Health Fund For Migrant Children (R.)

A civil rights group asked a federal judge on Thursday to order the U.S. government to provide mental health counseling for the around 2,000 immigrant children separated from their parents by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border. The request by the American Civil Liberties Union follows a chaotic week for U.S. immigration officials, who failed to meet a court-ordered deadline on Tuesday for reuniting children under the age of five. The government “must establish a fund to pay for professional mental health counseling, which will be used to treat children who are suffering from severe trauma as a result of their forcible separation from their parents,” said the ACLU in court papers filed late Thursday.

The group said the cost of the fund could be determined at a future date. The rights group brought the lawsuit that prompted U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego last month to order the government to reunite families separated at the border. The family separation policy was instituted as part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to curtail illegal immigration. The administration ended the practice last month after widespread protests. The government, in the same court filing on Thursday, acknowledged that it had missed a Tuesday deadline for reuniting the youngest children with their parents, but said it had now complied with the judge’s order.

Read more …

How does anyone make this, too, about Russia? It’s your own people who use this for spying on you. Targeting ‘Russians’ is just a way to divert your attention from that.

Facebook Users Marked With “Treason” Label (ZH)

Beleaguered social media giant Facebook has removed “treason” from their database of the keywords assigned to users for advertising purposes, the company stated Wednesday after Danish state broadcaster DR reported its existence. Company spokesman Joe Osborne replied “National treason was an advertising interest because of its historical significance, but as it is an illegal act, we have removed it.” Facebook tags its more than 2 billion users with a wide variety of keywords depending on their interests – from shopping habits to political and religious views in order to sell more efficiently targeted advertising.

This makes Facebook a sublime sales channel for companies. Categorizing users in areas of interest means that companies with ads on Facebook can buy into an almost perfect audience. Eg. garden equipment for people with special interest in gardens, etc. But categorization also allows intelligence services in all countries to look at the population over the shoulder. DR suggests that the a government such as Russia could have used the “treason” tag to locate around 65,000 Facebook users who had been marked with the keyword. The article notes that they do not know “if the Russian authorities have used Facebook’s “treason” keyword” for nefarious purposes – adding “Only the Russian authorities know that.”

Read more …

Jul 122018
 
 July 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Blu Mural in Rome, Italy 2015 Click to enlarge See also here

 

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)
Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)
It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)
Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)
Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)
Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)
China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)
The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)
New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)
EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)
Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

 

 

Great cartoon.

Trade War Risk On (Hedgeye)

– Global equities are retreating materially today on fears of a commensurate escalation in the burgeoning trade war between the U.S. and China. Specifically, the Trump administration released a list of goods that it may target w/ sanctions totaling some $200 billion, while China’s Commerce Ministry described the move as “totally unacceptable bullying”, and promised to lodge complaints at the WTO without detailing what its retaliatory steps would be. Are trade wars bad for growth? Of course they are. Does anyone really possess a reliable framework for quantifying the ultimate impact ex ante? Probably not.

This we do know, however: prior to the last Friday’s tit-for-tat escalation targeting $34 billion in Chinese goods and a list of [mostly] U.S. agricultural products, Export growth was trending lower in 70% of the near-50 economies we maintain detailed predictive tracking algorithms for, while 77% of Manufacturing PMI series were trending lower. This figures reflect data through MAY and JUN, respectively, and are supportive of our view that trade tensions aren’t the driving force behind Global #Divergences; they are merely adding fuel to the fire. Global equities peaked in late-JAN for a reason.

Read more …

Anyone remember AAA?

Corporate Bonds Are Getting Junkier (DDMB)

Life insurers invest heavily in high-grade corporate bonds to fund annuities, life insurance policies and other products. Here’s a look at the possibility that the issues might be affected by credit rating grade inflation… Much has been made of the degradation of the $7.5 trillion U.S. corporate debt market. High yield offers too little, well, yield. And “high grade” now requires air quotes to account for the growing dominance of bonds rated BBB, which is the lowest rung on the investment-grade ladder before dropping into “junk” status. And then there’s the massive market for leveraged loans, where covenants protecting investors have all but disappeared.

How does that break down? Corporate bonds rated BBB now total $2.56 trillion, having surpassed in size the sum of higher-rated debentures, which total $2.55 trillion, according to Morgan Stanley. Put another way, BBB bonds outstanding exceed by 50% the size of the entire investment grade market at the peak of the last credit boom, in 2007. But aren’t they still investment grade? At little to no risk of default? In 2000, when BBB bonds were a mere third of the market, net leverage (total debt minus cash and short term investments divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) was 1.7 times. By the end of last year, the ratio had ballooned to 2.9 times.

Given the marked deterioration in fundamentals, bond powerhouse PIMCO worries that “This suggests a greater tolerance from the credit rating agencies for higher leverage, which in turn warrants extra caution when investing in lower-rated IG names, especially in sectors where earnings are more closely tied to the business cycle.” [..] why not treat the BBB portion of the bond market for what it is: a high-risk slice of the corporate debt pie. Keeping count of “fallen angels,” or those investment-grade bonds that are downgraded into junk territory, will become a spectator sport.

Read more …

“Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share.”

It’s Not Wage Rises That Are A Problem – It’s The Lack Of Them (Frank)

If you study the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers on wages for nonsupervisory workers over the past few decades, you will notice that wage growth has been strangely slow to pick up. Hot economies usually drive wages up pretty promptly; this recovery has been running since 2009 and it has barely moved the needle. It’s even more perverse on the other side of the Atlantic. According to a 2017 story in the Financial Times, Britain was “the only big, advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded” – an amazing achievement if you think about it. And UK thinktank the Resolution Foundation has said this decade is “set to be the worst for pay growth since the Napoleonic wars”.

How could such a thing happen in this modern and enlightened age? Well, for starters, think of all that whining we’re hearing from the US’s management, who will apparently blame anyone and do anything to avoid paying workers more. Every labour-management innovation seems to have been designed with this amazing goal in mind. Every great bipartisan political initiative, from free trade to welfare reform, points the same way. When Republicans are in charge, it’s open season on working-class organisations. And you can forget about increases in the minimum wage, regardless of who’s in the White House.

Of course it’s happening the same way in the UK; be it Thatcher’s war on unions or New Labour’s “third way”, Britain has followed the US model closely. Political decisions within both countries have had highly predictable results, and we are now fated to live with them. Good times aren’t really all that good for ordinary people any more, only for the people on top – the owners of companies, of real estate, of stocks. Except in the very tightest labour markets, workers simply don’t have the power to demand their fair share. If you ask me, this is the thing to panic about: not the possibility that workers might prosper, but that they’re not prospering yet.

Read more …

“..ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners..”

Britain Facing ‘State Of Emergency’ If No Deal Reached – Grieve (Ind.)

Britain will face a “state of emergency” if no Brexit deal is reached by February, Dominic Grieve has warned at an exclusive event for Independent subscribers. Appearing on a stage with other key Brexit figures, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Gina Miller, the leading Tory rebel said “ordinary life will grind to a halt” if the talks are still deadlocked as D-Day nears. The warning came as Mr Rees-Mogg launched his most outspoken attack yet on big businesses opposing a hard Brexit, claiming they have “got everything wrong in the whole of their history”. Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, suggested she would not accept any further “compromises” beyond the deal struck at Chequers by Theresa May – preferring a no-deal outcome. [..]

Last month, Mr Grieve, a former attorney general, led an aborted revolt to guarantee MPs a “meaningful vote” to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU without an agreement. In his most dramatic language yet, to underline the high stakes, Mr Grieve told the audience: “If by the end of February or early March it is clear that there is no deal on anything, there will be a declaration of a state of emergency in this country. “Actually, ordinary life will grind to a halt. That is the extent to which our lives are intermeshed with the lives of our European partners, and that is what will happen if there is no deal on anything.” Mr Grieve said hardline anti-Brexit MPs had “abdicated” their responsibilities to the public by boasting that they will do “absolutely nothing while we skated off the edge of the cliff into this major national crisis”. “That is the madness that has crept into some of the discourse in parliament,” he added.

Read more …

They won’t.

Trump Tells NATO Allies To Spend 4% of GDP On Defence (G.)

Donald Trump left the opening day of the Nato summit in Brussels in disarray on Wednesday after making a surprise demand for members to raise their defence spending to 4% of GDP, and clashing with German chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed pipeline deal with Russia. Trump left the assembled presidents and prime ministers floundering, unsure whether he was serious about the 4% target, double the existing Nato target of 2%, which many do not meet, or whether it was just a ploy. After making the announcement, Trump walked out.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, confirmed the 4% figure. “During the president’s remarks today at the Nato summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” she said. Sanders added: “President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and, at a very minimum, meet their already stated obligations.”

Read more …

So there. WHy on earth would you need so many US bases?

Germans Want Trump To Pull US Troops Out Of Germany (Ind.)

Germans would actually welcome the withdrawal of American troops stationed in their country, a new poll has found – as Donald Trump threatens to pull the plug on military support. The finding comes on the first day of a Nato summit in which the US president is urging Europe to spend more on defence if it wants to continue to receive American military protection. But far from being seen as a threat, a YouGov poll for the dpa news agency found that more Germans would welcome the departure of the 35,000-strong American force than would oppose it.

42% said they supported withdrawal while just 37% wanted the soldiers to stay, with 21% undecided. Last month the US media reported that the US government was in the process of assessing the cost of keeping troops in Germany ahead of a possible withdrawal, citing Pentagon sources. But the policy of actually pulling out of the country has not actually reached the negotiating table in his week’s Brussels summit and is not expected to be discussed as a possibility – for now.

Read more …

At some point the Chinese will run into Americans there.

China’s Silky Charming of Arabia (Escobar)

Under the radar, away from World Cup frenzy and the merger and acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo Inc. and Fiat, the eighth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF), established in 2004, sailed on in Beijing, hosted by President Xi Jinping. Amid the torrential pledge of loans and aid, China committed to invest right across the Arab world in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, finance, digital economy and artificial intelligence (AI). Significantly, Beijing will offer $15 million in aid for Palestinian economic development, as well as $91 million distributed among Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

A China-Arab bank consortium will be set up, with a dedicated fund of $3 billion tied up with the financial aid and loan package. Beijing also foresees importing a whopping $8 trillion from Arab states up to 2025. Predictably, once again Xi fully connected the whole Arab world with the expansion of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And careful to navigate the geopolitical minefield, he urged “relevant sides” to respect the international consensus in the Israel-Palestine confrontation, calling for justice. That may indicate a gradual, but sure departure from trademark Chinese passive or reactive policy across the Arab world, focused exclusively on energy and political non-interference.

Xi is now openly tying up Chinese financial aid and deals with nations across the Global South to an overall economic development drive; the only roadmap to solve intractable political and religious conflict. And that includes full respect of international deals. As much as the Arab world, Iran is in Southwest Asia. A day before the China-Arab forum, Premier Li Keqiang, in Berlin, was warning of “unforeseeable consequences” if the Iran nuclear deal, known as JCPOA, were to be discarded, as the Trump administration wants.

Read more …

Stating the obvious.

The Supreme Court Is Much Too Powerful (Mises.org)

The current frenzy over the vacancy on the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Kennedy’s retirement highlights just how much power has been centralized in the hands of a small number of people in Washington, DC. The left has grown positively hysterical over the thought of yet another Trump-appointed judge being installed, who could potentially serve on the court for decades. Right-wingers who claim the left is overreacting, however, are unconvincing. One can only imagine the right’s reaction were Hillary Clinton president. She would have already had the opportunity to appoint Scalia’s replacement, and we might now be talking about her nominee to replace Justice Ginsberg.

The right-wing media would be filled with article after article about how the new court would be a disaster for health-care freedom, private gun ownership, and, of course, the unborn. But, as it is, we live in a country where five people on a court decide what the law is for 320 million people. And for some reason, many people think this is entirely normal. It’s our own American version of the Soviet politburo, but few are even bothering to ask whether it’s a good idea. After all, if it makes sense for a small handful of people to decide law for the entire country, why even bother with a House of Representatives? Even the Senate — composed primarily of multimillionaires living full-time in Washington, DC, is [by comparison] extravagantly “democratic.”

Read more …

“be fair to those who care”

New Zealand Hospitals In Chaos As 30,000 Nurses Strike (G.)

Hospitals in New Zealand have cancelled elective surgeries and discharged patients early after 30,000 nurses walked off the job in the first such nationwide strike in 30 years. The 24-hour strike began on Thursday, and comes after months of negotiations between the government and nurses broke down on Wednesday, leaving hospitals to battle winter illnesses without crucial staff. Long delays at hospital emergency departments are expected around the country. Striking nurses held rallies in major cities, chanting “be fair to those who care” in the largest public demonstrations by the health sector ever seen on the country’s streets. Nurses said they were overworked and underpaid, with unsafe working conditions leading to burnout and exhaustion.

Patient care and staff wellbeing were routinely compromised, they said. Acting prime minister Winston Peters said the government was “very, very disappointed” that its latest offer of a 12.5% increase had been rejected, and that it would take time to address nine years of neglect under the previous National government. Although the May budget delivered a surplus, Peters said the extra funds were needed to handle unforeseen spending, such as managing the spread of mycoplasma bovis, a cow disease. “We are saying give us some time … it’s not that we’re not willing to, we haven’t got the money,” said Peters. “We’ve gone as far as we can go as a government. We got hold of a negotiated arrangement which we inherited – the nurses have had a raw nine years.”

Read more …

Straight jacket.

EU Approves ‘Enhanced Surveillance’ for Post-Bailout Greece (GR)

The European Commission on Wednesday said Greece will remain under an “enhanced surveillance framework” to ensure that it meets ambitious budget targets through 2022. The country will still be subject to quarterly inspections from creditors after the bailout program ends in late August. “Greece is now able to stand on its own two feet but that doesn’t mean it has to stand alone … The reform era has not ended,” EU Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. “Enhanced surveillance is not a fourth program: it involves no new commitments or conditions. It is a framework to support the completion and delivery of ongoing reforms,” he added.

Despite returning to growth after a massive recession, Greece leaves the program still facing major difficulties. Banks are struggling to deal with a high rate of bad loans. At over 20%, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the euro currency union. Government bonds remain below investment grade even though their yields have fallen to manageable rates. And to help reduce its debt, Greece has committed to punishingly high primary budget surpluses — that is, the budget excluding the cost of debt servicing — of above 3.5% through 2022. “Enhanced surveillance is there to help Greece build confidence with markets, investors and companies,” Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said. “They all want stability and predictability.”

Read more …

They’ll find a new dump.

Trash Piles Up In US As China Closes Door To Recycling (AFP)

For months, a major recycling facility for the greater Baltimore-Washington area has been facing a big problem: it has to pay to get rid of huge amounts of paper and plastic it would normally sell to China. Beijing is no longer buying, claiming the recycled materials are “contaminated.” For sure, the 900 tons of trash dumped at all hours of the day and night, five days a week, on the conveyor belts at the plant in Elkridge, Maryland – an hour’s drive from the US capital – are not clean. Amid the nerve-shattering din and clouds of brown dust, dozens of workers in gloves and masks – most of them women – nimbly pluck a diverse array of objects from the piles that could count as “contaminants.”

That could be anything from clothes to cables to tree branches to the bane of all recyclers: plastic bags, which are not supposed to go in recycling bins because they snarl up the machinery. “We’ve had to slow our machinery, and hire more people” to clean up the waste, says Michael Taylor, the head of recycling operations for Waste Management, the company that runs the plant. At the end of the sorting line is the end product — huge bales of compacted waste containing paper, cardboard or plastics. These have been bought up for decades by businesses, most of them based in China, which clean them up, crush them and transform them into raw materials for industrial plants.

Last year, China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the United States. Globally, since 1992, 72% of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. But since January, China has closed its borders to most paper and plastic waste in line with a new environmental policy pushed by Beijing, which no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. For other waste products such as cardboard and metal, China has set a contamination level of 0.5% — a threshold too low for most current US technology to handle. US waste handlers say they expect China will close its doors to all recycled materials by 2020 — an impossibly short deadline.

Read more …

Jul 082018
 
 July 8, 2018  Posted by at 12:58 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind 1896

 

Here’s the lowdown: the EU’s single market mechanism dictates freedom of movement for labor, capital, services and goods. These are not divisible; you cannot have one without the other. Still, that’s precisely what Theresa May, again, is proposing. She basically wants to keep the UK in the single market for goods, and make other arrangements for the rest. The EU will not accept that because it could have 27 other countries coming with their own versions of single market à la carte.

So why does she come with version 826 of what she already knows will not be accepted? And why did her cabinet comply? There are a few possibilities. Perhaps May has finally understood that there is no manner of leaving the EU left to her that will not lead to utter disaster. Maybe she just wants the whole thing to stop. Or maybe Boris Johnson et al, sensing failure for May, see a chance to dethrone her and take over power. Then again, maybe they all look for a way to blame the EU for their own failures.

It’s hard to say, really. What’s obvious, through the comments of industries like Airbus and Jaguar Land Rover, is that 100,000s of jobs are at stake, along with 100s of billions of investments in Britain. Large enterprises are often branched out all through the EU, and they need to comply with EU rules; separate rules for their business with the UK would be a nightmare.

And even smaller companies, to varying degrees, face those same problems. For all you may think of the EU, it has arranged the single market strictly and successfully. There are enormous advantages for companies in that. Take those away and they will look at relocating towards the continent, where they would regain those advantages.

There appear to be three options (and May’s plan is not one of them): a hard Brexit, new elections, or no Brexit at all.

A hard Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster, because everything in Britain runs according to EU rules and regulations. Changing that to British rules is a Herculean task, and one for which the UK is not at all prepared (and they just lost 2 years). An example: thousands of new border officials will be needed, something for which preparations reportedly haven’t even started in earnest. And that’s just one obvious example. A hard Brexit would ruin the country. Not because Britain couldn’t function as a country, but because it’s so utterly unprepared to do so.

New elections wouldn’t solve the issues, they probably would even necessitate an extension of the March 29 2019 date by which the UK is set to leave the EU. But they would open the way to have another look at what’s actually at stake. Do Britons really want to lose all those jobs, and see their standard of living deteriorate accordingly? Because from what I’m reading all the time, the Tories’ austerity has already hit hard, and infrastructure – roads, schools, hospitals, NHS etc.- is being dismantled. A hard Brexit on top of that would be very painful.

No Brexit at all : that’s the most interesting option. Quite a few of the protagonists involved must realize by now how bad things are. Not just May. And that’s where the jockeying for position starts. On the one hand the sociopaths want the power, on the other they want to deflect the blame if things go awry.

A nice angle is emerging for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has so far insisted his party must protect the people’s Brexit voice: he can now make the case that since the Tories wasted two years, that vote has lost validity, because a ‘decent split’ is no longer possible. It would even be against national security (no joke).

A stronger case could perhaps be found in the campaign financing of the Leave campaign. It seems clear that there have been irregularities, it’s just a matter of how much. If it was too much, the entire referendum could be declared null and void. But what do the media focus on?

Yes, the Russians, who allegedly furnished capital for the campaign. At the very time that the May government comes out with a Novichok 2.0 tale, which has even less credibility than its older sibling (which led to 324 diplomats being expelled). Britain has a Russia problem. Or, its government does. The English football team and its supporters do not.

Cut out the Russia stuff. Focus on Arron Banks and the money flows around him. It may be the way for everyone involved, except for those close to Leave.EU, to get out of this mess unscathed. The path is clear, says lawyer Jessica Simor:

Why It’s Not Too Late To Step Back From The Brexit Brink

[..] the government does not deny that reversal is legally possible. Its position accords with advice, which I am told from two good sources the prime minister has received, namely that the article 50 notification can be withdrawn by the UK at any time before 29 March 2019, resulting in the UK remaining in the EU on its current favourable terms. [..] As a lawyer, I agree with them. Article 50 provides for the notification – not of withdrawal but of an “intention” to withdraw. In law, an “intention” is not a binding commitment; it can be changed or withdrawn.

Article 50(5) is, moreover, clear that it is only after a member state has left that it has to reapply to join. Had the drafters intended that once a notification had taken place, a member state would have to request readmission (or seek the consent of the other member states to stay), then article 50(5) would have referred not just to the position following withdrawal, but also following notification. Such an interpretation is in line with the object and purpose of article 50.

I’d say this has turned into a story not of political preferences or ideology, but into one of sheer incompetence. Britain risks being thrown back into the age of Marx and Dickens. I’m all for independence and sovereignty, and I fully agree the EU is a massive threat to both, but this is not the way to go about these things. Get in, stay in, while you can.

Oh, and as for incompetence, that’s something you’ll see everywhere as economies dwindle, it’s not a British trait. They’re just among the first to face the challenges. The vast majority of politicians in the west will be exposed as grossly incompetent once the markets start to really go down. It’s easy to make the impression that you know what you’re doing in times of growth, but the litmus test is trying to deal with crisis. Most ‘leaders’ will fail.