May 082017
 
 May 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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RCA TV test pattern 1939

 

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)
In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)
Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)
US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)
Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)
UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)
Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)
China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)
Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)
Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)
Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)
How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)
German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)
Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)
1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)
Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

 

 

Anyone would have won against Le Pen.

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)

Unknown just three years ago, and with a party only 12 months old, Emmanuel Macron has seized the presidency against all the odds. His challenge now is to govern. To do that he must build a parliamentary majority that supports his election pledges in June legislative elections, when France’s two established parties will put their huge machines to work. Macron has at least one thing in his favor: the “majority amplifier” effect of an electoral system designed by post-war leader Charles de Gaulle specifically to maximize presidential independence from parliament. Last week, the first opinion survey for the legislative elections showed Macron’s new movement “En Marche!” could win between 249 and 286 mainland France seats in the lower house. Even a figure at the bottom of that range would be a good outcome for him.

He only needs 289 for an absolute majority, and the poll excluded 42 seats in Corsica and overseas. It foresaw centrist and conservative parties winning around 200-210 mainland seats, the far-right National Front 15-25 and the Socialists 28-43. “In the lowest-case scenario, En Marche would still be the largest political grouping, which would be enough to try to constitute a majority. The question would then be how and with whom,” said OpinionWay’s Bruno Jeanbart, who directed the poll. En Marche is only a year old and has never fielded candidates before. Only 14 have been named so far, and at first glance a majority looks unlikely. But that reckons without de Gaulle’s amplifier – known as the “fait majoritaire” by French political scientists. [..] The last legislative vote in 2012 also showed the “fait majoritaire” in action.

Socialist Francois Hollande garnered less than 30% in the first rounds of both the presidentials and the legislatives, yet came away with over 40% of the second-round legislative vote and, with help from 17 Green party MPs, governed with a comfortable majority. “Macron can totally have an extremely solid majority of at least 350 MPs,” said Xavier Chinaud, an electoral expert. He added that to reach that number, the president would have to employ tactics like poaching popular MPs from other parties. The old parties will put up a fight, especially the conservative Republicans [..] Now led by Francois Baroin, they hope for enough seats to force Macron into France’s fourth “cohabitation” since 1958. Cohabitation does not have to mean paralysis, but rather that the prime minister and his camp in parliament have the upper hand over the president.

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“En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign.”

In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)

Winning the presidency now looks like the easy bit. If Emmanuel Macron makes his way to the Élysée Palace, as expected, in the second round of France’s presidential election Sunday, another bruising political battle is looming. To be able to govern and not be sidelined by a hostile parliament, Macron’s nascent political movement En Marche will have to cobble together a majority in the National Assembly in an election beginning on June 11. And unlike in the second round of the presidential ballot — in which parties from across the political spectrum have urged their supporters to vote for him over his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen — Macron’s rivals will be devoting all their energies to defeating him.

The 39-year-old former economy minister will be counting on his army of 250,000 En Marche volunteers, and a crew made up mostly of political novices. And while Macron hopes that a victory in the presidential election will draw others to his banner, for a movement that was launched a little over a year ago, winning control of parliament looks like a tall order. The stakes are high. If Macron can’t clinch a majority, he won’t be able to appoint a prime minister of his liking. He’ll spend his term largely as a figurehead, his dreams of reforming France all but sunk. Macron needs 289 deputies to be ensured of an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament. So far, En Marche, the movement he still refuses to call a party, has endorsed 14.

True to form, Macron exudes a sense of confidence that the momentum of his election will carry over to the parliamentary polls, allowing him to clinch a majority just six weeks later. This may not be out of reach. A survey conducted this week by OpinionWay, although preliminary, indicated that En Marche could well obtain more than half the seats in the National Assembly. By weaving in electoral results from past elections with a recent poll, OpinionWay estimates that the next Parliament would be dominated by En Marche and the conservative Républicains party. The ruling Socialist Party would be decimated, and Le Pen’s National Front would obtain 25 MPs at most – due to France’s electoral system.

Sill, obstacles abound. En Marche will be facing an energized right. Both the mainstream center-right Républicains party and Le Pen’s National Front will emerge from the presidential election feeling that Macron has robbed them of a victory they at some point considered theirs. François Fillon’s failed campaign has left deep wounds in the Républicains, but one way to try to heal them could be to make Macron their common target in June. [..] En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign. Political parties in France are provided with public funding according to their performance in previous elections. En Marche, founded a little over a year ago, has never put up a candidate for office before.

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Not THAT much trust perhaps.

Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)

The euro rose to a six-month high in the wake of Emmanuel Macron’s convincing victory in the French election but the upside for the single currency could be short-lived, analysts warned. In Asian trading on Monday, the euro rose as high as $1.1024 , its highest since 9 November, and also jumped to a one-year high of 124.58 yen against its Japanese counterpart. But it had slipped almost 0.3% to $1.096 against the dollar by 5.30am GMT and lost a similar amount to the yen with traders remarking that gains had already been largely priced in thanks to Macron’s strong showing in the first round of voting two weeks ago. “The market already priced in the victory of Macron,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist for Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

“We saw some additional rise of the euro this morning, but considering the difficulty for Macron’s party to get a majority in the national assembly election, he may not bring higher growth.” Looking at positioning in the euro, he said, “the market has squared its short positions, but there are no fresh reasons to take long positions, as there will likely be no new positive developments, and limited scope for upside for the euro”. The muted analysis was partly based on an acknowledgment of the problems facing Macron, a 39-year-old former banker who has never held elected office. He was economy minister under outgoing president François Hollande but failed to turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered government. He has pledged to reform the country’s rigid labour laws – long seen by pro-market economists as a hindrance to growth – but such change was beyond the Hollande administration, despite a lengthy struggle.

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Reality check.

US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)

The Washington Post has long pushed the view that a dollar (or euro) that is in the pocket of a middle class person is a dollar that should be in the pockets of the rich. (They are okay with crumbs for the poor.) In keeping with this position, in its lead editorial today the Post complained about the “sclerotic statism” of the French economy. It then called for increasing employment, “through reforms of the labor code, not by protectionism or restriction of immigration.” It is worth bringing a little bit of data to the fact free zone of the Washington Post opinion pages. France actually has consistently had a higher employment rate for its prime age workers (ages 25 to 54) than the United States.

As can be seen, the employment rate for prime age workers in France was roughly 2 percentage points higher in 2003. The gap expanded to almost 7 percentage points following the downturn, but it has in more recent years narrowed again to just under 2 percentage points. France does have much lower employment rates among younger and older workers than the United States, but this is due to policy choices. College is largely free in France and students get stipends from the government. Therefore many fewer young people work. France also makes it much easier for people to retire in their early sixties than in the United States, with largely free health care and earlier pensions. The merits of these policies can be debated, but they are not evidence of a sclerotic economy.

It is also not clear that the Washington Post’s desire to weaken protections for workers (euphemistically described as “reforms of the labor code”) will have a significant effect in reducing unemployment or raising employment. Extensive research has shown there is little relationship between worker protections and employment. It is also worth noting that the Post denounced protectionism in this editorial, but it is fine with protectionism in the form of ever longer and stronger copyright and patent protection, which benefit people it likes.

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Expect losses.

Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)

Enjoy the stock indexes riding at record highs for now, but get ready for much stingier markets in the years to come. That’s the message consistently conveyed these days by investment counselors and finance scholars, who argue that with today’s starting equity valuations and low interest rates, the coming decade should produce dramatically lower returns than the historical average. The leaders of Vanguard Group, overseers of some $4 trillion in client assets, have been advising investors to expect a typical 60% stocks/40% bonds portfolio to deliver two- to- three percentage points less in nominal annual returns than its long-term norm. (Since 1926, such an asset mix has returned better than 8.5% annualized.)

Other forecasts are even less generous. Research Affiliates, a quantitative and “smart beta” fund manager, projects that U.S. stocks might only offer one% a year for the next decade, after inflation. This is based largely on the so-called Shiller P/E, a ratio of the S&P 500 index to its trailing ten-year average earnings, which is now above 29 and higher than any period aside from the run-up to the 1929 and 2000 market peaks. Jeremy Grantham of institutional value manager GMO has, by his admission, been wrong for years in assuming that corporate profit margins and equity valuations would revert to their pre-1990s trend levels. Yet even accounting for some more permanent upward shift in these gauges, he sees real (after inflation) returns of 2-3% a year looking out two decades.

And a simple plot of the market’s forward P/E ratio against subsequent market returns shows that, since 1978, when starting at today’s multiple of around 17.5 forecast earnings, ensuing seven- and 15-year nominal returns (before inflation) have been clustered in the mid- to low-single digits. These forward-return calculations vary in their approach and assumptions, but all are anchored on today’s stock valuations, long-term norms in corporate-profit growth and current interest rates. Stocks, even during the depths of the last bear market, never got dramatically cheap compared to prior cycles and certainly didn’t stay inexpensive for very long. And with risk-free 10-year government debt yielding a skimpy 2.3% in the U.S. and far less elsewhere, all other financial assets have repriced for skimpier future returns as well.

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The consumer is toast.

UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)

U.K. consumer-spending growth slowed in April and is forecast to remain weak in the coming months, according to a report from Visa. Its index showed spending rose an annual 0.5% in April, down from 1% in March and marking one of the slowest rates of growth in the past three years. Weaker household demand is also taking a toll on retailers. A separate report from the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales showed while there was a jump in business confidence this quarter, retailing was the laggard among nine sectors covered. “The trend of relatively modest expenditure growth is likely to extend in to the coming months, as consumers are squeezed by both rising living costs and relatively lackluster wage growth,” said Annabel Fiddes, an economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the consumer index.

Inflation was at 2.3% last month and is forecast to keep accelerating through this year, outpacing wage increases and leaving workers facing a drop in real incomes. The Bank of England may raise its forecast for consumer-price growth this week, which could indicate an even bigger squeeze on households. The overall business sentiment gauge by the ICAEW jumped the highest in almost a year this quarter. Yet despite firms being more confident, the report showed they are still reluctant to make long-term commitments. While Brexit is dominating the agenda in the buildup to the U.K. election on June 8, the institute said all parties must spell out how they will “address the problem of business investment head-on.”

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No wonder consumer spending’s down.

Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)

Britain has more billionaires than ever in what equality campaigners said was a clear sign the UK economy is only working for the few at the top. There are now 134 billionaires based in the UK according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 14 more than the previous highest total, as the super-rich reap the benefits of a “Brexit boom”. Fifteen years ago, there were 21. The annual rich list showed that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain have combined wealth of £658bn, up from £575bn last year, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would plunge the economy into a fresh turmoil. The Equality Trust said the £83bn increase in wealth among the richest 1,000 people over the past year could pay the energy bills of all UK households for two and a half years and would be enough for the grocery bills for all food bank users for 56 years.

Wanda Wyporska, the executive director of the trust, said that an elite was sitting on mountains of wealth in the fifth largest economy of the world. “The super-rich continue to streak away from the rest of us, while the poorest see their wealth shrink. This is an economy working for the few, not the many,” she said. “Record numbers of people visited food banks last year, millions are locked out of a decent home and two-thirds of children in poverty are in working households. “We know that inequality damages our economy and society, and makes it harder for ordinary people and their children to get on. With the general election fast approaching, our politicians need to decide the sort of country they want to build. One where we can all prosper or one where we’re picking crumbs from the super-rich’s table.”

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China Shadow Banking Assets Estimated at 64.5t Yuan or 87% of GDP: Moody’s.

China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)

When a new hedge fund opened in Mountainside, New Jersey, a leafy suburb that still holds an annual little-league parade, few would have guessed where much of its funding came from: Chinese billionaire Cai Kui. The credit hedge fund, Westfield Investment, was founded by former Goldman Sachs Managing Director Renyuan Gao and managed $139 million as of January. It’s part of a new crop of asset management firms that are expanding China’s reach on Wall Street as money has poured into the U.S. from the world’s second-biggest economy. China’s marquee names are among those setting up shop in the U.S. Chen Feng, who controls the HNA Group airline and hotel conglomerate, has opened a U.S. money management firm. China Vanke, the mainland’s second-largest residential developer, has indirectly taken a major stake in a manager.

All told, about 324 firms with financial ties to the mainland and Hong Kong had registered with regulators by last year, more than double the number in 2012, filings show. They are riding the wave of capital that left China on concerns about bank debt, a real estate bubble and the yuan, which plummeted about 11% against the dollar in the last two years. The currency flight was reflected in balance of payments data where capital outflows tripled to $220 billion last year from $70 billion in 2014, according to Derek Scissors, a China economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “There is so much Chinese money floating around the U.S. now,” Scissors said. “If you’re a Chinese money manager, why wouldn’t you come here?” The migration comes amid a Chinese shopping spree for an array of U.S. companies, including financial firms like New York’s Cowen Group and the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Chongqing Casin Enterprise led the purchase of the exchange, which was founded in 1882. The deal was reviewed by a U.S. panel on national security grounds and eventually cleared in December. In another deal with political overtones, a subsidiary of Chen’s HNA Group agreed in January to buy a stake in Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital, a New York fund of hedge funds firm. The announcement came after reports that Scaramucci had been tapped for a top job in the White House, stirring speculation that HNA’s motives were partly political. The registration of the China-linked firms with the SEC hasn’t drawn such scrutiny. The SEC began requiring hedge funds and buyout firms to sign up with the agency in 2012 as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act. About 30% of the Chinese firms that registered by 2016 are full-fledged money managers. The rest filed as exempt advisers that operate in the U.S. on a more limited basis.

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OPEC is fast losing what remained of its credibility.

Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)

Hedge funds jumped out of the oil market just in time. Before West Texas Intermediate crude nosedived on Thursday, wiping out the rally driven by OPEC’s deal, money managers slashed bets on rising prices by 20%, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data. Now they may soon be well poised to start betting on the next rally. “We are moving toward a positioning where these money managers are no longer over-invested,” Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said. “This opens up the potential for them to start buying again.” Oil collapsed Thursday amid concerns that OPEC has failed to ease a supply glut as U.S. shale drillers ramp up output. Shares of U.S.-based producers got crushed as investors worry they might be repeating the same pattern that led to the market crash in 2014.

Earlier this year, billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm urged colleagues to take a “measured” approach to lifting production, or risk a new glut. In a gamble that things could get worse, about $7 million worth of options changed hands Friday that will pay off if WTI falls beneath $39 a barrel by mid-July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Hedge funds decreased their net-long position, or the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a drop, to 203,104 futures and options in the week ended May 2, the CFTC data show. Longs fell about 7%, while shorts surged 37%, following a 26% jump a week earlier. [..] Oil’s tumble to a five-month low was driven purely by technical trading and supply is still getting tighter, according to Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The current price plunge began when WTI broke through its 200-day moving average. Once that gave way, another key technical indicator called a Fibonacci retracement was breached, paving the way to the low of the year and then $45 a barrel.

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Multigenerational households are the model of the past and the future. Come look in Greece.

Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)

Remove the door knockers. Pull down the shutters. Pretend no one’s home. Your adult children are coming back – for good. One-in-nine baby boomer parents said their adult children returned home within the last year, according to a new report from financial services firm Fidelity Investments and Stanford Center on Longevity, which surveyed 9,000 employees.The adult children save money on rent and household goods, but their parents are the ones who appear to be suffering: 68% said they were more stressed, 53% said they were less happy and another 53% said they had less leisure time after the return of their “boomerang kids.” More than three-quarters (76%) said they took on higher expenses, too. Even people who are now in their 40s and 50s are considering mom and dad an option.

Older millennials are 2.7 times more likely to live in their parents’ home than people under 55 years old than in 1999, while Generation-Xers, who are now in their mid-30s to early 50s, were 2.2 times as likely to live with their parents, according to separate data released last week by real estate site Trulia. “No parent is going to want to say no to a child who needs help, but certainly being realistic about the financial situation is important,” said Katie Taylor at Fidelity. More American adults are living with their parents and grandparents than ever before — 19% of the U.S. population (or nearly 61 million people) lived in a multigenerational household, up from 17% (42 million) in 2009 and 12% (27.5 million) in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center, nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

But not all millennials are as “lazy” or “entitled,” as they are often accused of being. About one in four 25- to 34-year-olds who live at home and are not working or going to school do so because of a health-related reason or because they are acting as caregivers to their family members. And more than a third of Americans, including millennials, expect to financially help their parents within the next few years, another survey found. Some are even making efforts to help their parents save for retirement.

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Wow, great timing! We’re coming to you live from the barn, and there’s not a horse in sight.

Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)

Australia will hold an inquiry into competition in the country’s financial system, following a series of scandals in the banking sector and public allegations against the “Big Four” banks of abuse of market power. The latest inquiry is part of a number of government measures since last year aimed at alleviating public concerns about the power of the big banks, after revelations of misconduct in the industry. Australia’s four major lenders – Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank – have come under fire recently following several scams involving misleading financial advice, insurance fraud and interest-rate rigging, as well as for refusing to pass on official interest rate cuts in full. The four together control 80% of Australia’s lending market and have posted record profits for years.

Westpac, NAB and ANZ all reported a rise in half-yearly cash profits this month, taking their total to about A$8.5 billion. CBA will report limited third-quarter figures on Tuesday. “The high concentration and degree of vertical integration in some parts of the Australian financial system has the potential to limit the benefits of competition…and should be proactively monitored over time,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement on Monday. “The Government is committed to ensuring that Australia’s financial system is competitive and innovative. That is why I have tasked the Productivity Commission to hold an inquiry into competition in Australia’s financial system.” The inquiry will consider the degree of concentration in key segments of the financial system, examine barriers to innovation in the system and look into competition in personal deposits and mortgages for households and small businesses.

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The benefits of ZIRP.

How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)

The global economy is picking up steam, but that’s deceptive. The foundations of expansion are soft, marked by weak productivity growth and inequality. The two are related. The productivity problem confronting the world’s advanced economies predates the financial crisis more than a decade ago. When we look beyond the headline statistics, patterns emerge. Advanced economies have become less dynamic and are at risk of becoming sclerotic unless the ambition for reform is revived. It’s essential that we understand three sources of the current productivity slump in particular, and identify the key reforms necessary to address them. First, the productivity slowdown masks a widening performance gap between more productive and less productive firms, as the chart below shows (the picture for service sector firms is even worse).

This divergence is not just driven by firms at the frontiers of their industry, pushing the technological boundaries, but also by stagnating productivity growth at what can be called laggard companies that have failed to adopt the leaders’ best practices. This is also bad news for inclusiveness, since rising wage inequality can be largely traced to the growing differentials in average wages paid across companies, with high-productivity ones paying high wages and low-productivity businesses paying low wages. Second, in well-functioning markets we would expect strong incentives for productive companies to aggressively expand and drive out less productive ones. The opposite has happened. The propensity for high-productivity companies to expand and low-productivity companies to downsize or exit the market has declined over time.

This pattern is evident in the U. S. and is particularly stark in southern Europe, where scarce capital has been increasingly misallocated to low-productivity firms. Third, across the 35 countries in the OECD, we are seeing a drop in the dynamism of the business sector. Not only has the share of recent entrants into the market declined, but marginal companies, which would typically exit or be restructured in a competitive market, are more likely to remain. At the same time, the average productivity of these marginal businesses has fallen. In other words, it has become easier for weak companies that do not adopt the latest technologies to survive. The survival of weak companies drags down average productivity, but the consequences for growth are even worse. Since such firms take up scarce resources, their prolonged survival (or their delayed restructuring) inflates wages relative to productivity, depresses market prices and undermines investment – all of which deters the expansion of productive companies, particularly startups, and amplifies the mismatch of skills.

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They’ve known about this for decades.

German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)

The head of Germany’s armed forces has called for an inspection of all army barracks after investigators discovered Nazi-era military memorabilia in a garrison, broadening a scandal about right-wing extremism among soldiers. The discovery at a barracks in Donaueschingen, in southwest Germany, was made in an investigation that began after similar Nazi-era items were found in the garrison of an army officer arrested on suspicion of planning a racially motivated attack. As a result, General Inspector Volker Wieker ordered a wider search of barracks. “The General Inspector has instructed that all properties be inspected to see whether rules on dealing with heritage with regard to the Wehrmacht and National Socialism are being observed,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the military must root out right-wing extremism.

“We must now investigate with all due rigor and with all candor in the armed forces,” the minister told broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “The process is starting now, and more is sure to come out. We are not through the worst of it yet.” Displaying Nazi items such as swastikas is punishable under German law, although possession of regular Wehrmacht items is not. Von der Leyen said last week, however, she would not tolerate the veneration of the Wehrmacht in today’s army, the Bundeswehr. Von der Leyen said the arrested officer – who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee – had likely worked with others to squirrel away 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but the chief federal prosecutor was still investigating the matter. The suspect’s goal, she said, had likely been to carry out an attack and then pin the blame on migrants.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)

After rallying his ministers, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must now get coalition MPs behind him for a new multi-bill of austerity measures that is set to go to Parliament this coming week. Although some lawmakers have expressed reservations about the deal, which foresees further cuts to pensions and more tax increases, along with changes to the energy and labor markets, it is widely expected that Tsipras will get the support he needs to push the bill into law. A raft of so-called countermeasures – social welfare interventions that will come into effect in 2019 if the government meets budget targets – will be voted on separately and is sure to get the support of coalition MPs. The government has also appealed to the main political opposition New Democracy to back the offsetting measures but ND has refused to oblige.

According to government sources, Tsipras is already looking beyond the vote, expected on May 15 or 16, and beyond a scheduled Eurogroup summit on May 22 where the agreement between Greece and its creditors is expected to be rubber-stumped. Aides to the prime minister said he is considering a cabinet reshuffle to give his government a lift and inspire investors as talks on lightening Greece’s debt and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s QE program are next on the agenda. It remains unclear whether Tsipras is considering a “cosmetic” shake-up or a radical overhaul, or whether key cabinet members such as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos would keep their posts. But it appears that the government is keen to send out a message that it is turning a page following the completion of a tough bailout review that dragged on for months.

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Our times, and our very selves, are defined by refugees and famine more than anything else. But we don’t like to look at what defines us.

1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)

More than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, two United Nations agencies said Monday, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the U.N.’s child and refugee agencies in a statement Monday. “The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.”

Roughly 62% of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the U.N. statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total. “No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,” said Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa Bureau Director. “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.” For children still living in South Sudan, the situation is still grim. Nearly three quarters of children are out of school, according to the U.N. statement, which is the highest out-of-school population in the world. An official famine was declared in two counties of South Sudan in February, and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation in the absence of food aid, according to the U.N.

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Why Russia’s safety zones make sense.

Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

The co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ehmed, said that the operations to push out the Islamic State (IS) has resulted in refugee flows into the northern parts of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and that the displaced people are in urgent need of aid. “We have gathered the refugees that came recently in two camps,” Ehmed said to ANF. “In one of the camps, 50 thousand refugees are living. A number of aid organisations are present but there are no serious aid efforts. Many of the organisations receive funding from Europe but they still don’t help,” she said. “One can’t help wondering if they want Syrians to die, if there is a plan to kill them first with war and then with hunger. And if that fails from the heat and the cold. That’s the sad conclusion one draws from the situation.”

The SDC co-chair said they had discussed the urgent needs of food, housing and health with the US-led coalition without any results. “This is not acceptable, they should at least provide support for the refugee camps,” she said, stressing that preparations must be made as the operation to evict IS from Raqqa will give rise to many more refugees. “38 refugees coming from Raqqa have already died, some were children. It’s a tragedy. The European countries and the coalition must take their responsability.” Ehmad stressed the need of mediaction, clinics and doctors in the camps. “This is really urgent. Some will be able to return after the area has been liberated but those who lost their homes will stay, so we must make preparations.”

Ehmad also criticized Europe for giving in to what she called Turkey’s “blackmailing.” “There is an approach to the issue which goes something like this: ‘Let’s give them [Turkey] money so that no refugees will come here’. But everyone knows that the refugees are remaining in our region [Syria] at the moment.” Last year, the United Nations estimated that more than 6 million were internally displaced within Syria, and over 4,8 million were refugees outside of the country.

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Mar 092017
 
 March 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Marjory Collins “Crowds at Pennsylvania Station, New York” 1942

 

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)
US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)
Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)
US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)
Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)
Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)
Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)
The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)
Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)
French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)
Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)
Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)
Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)
Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)
It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

 

 

How is this going to affect Apple and Microsoft sales in China?

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)

WikiLeaks’ data dump on Tuesday accounted for less than 1% of ‘Vault 7’, a collection of leaked CIA documents which revealed the extent of its hacking capabilities, the whistleblowing organization has claimed on Twitter. ‘Year Zero’, comprising 8,761 documents and files, was released unexpectedly by WikiLeaks. The organization had initially announced that it was part of a larger series, known as ‘Vault 7.’ However, it did not give further information on when more leaks would occur or on how many series would comprise ‘Vault 7’. The leaks have revealed the CIA’s covert hacking targets, with smart TVs infiltrated for the purpose of collecting audio, even when the device is powered off. The Google Android Operating System, used in 85% of the world’s smartphones, was also exposed as having severe vulnerabilities, allowing the CIA to “weaponize” the devices.

The CIA would not confirm the authenticity of the leak. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.” Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, is cited as saying in The Washington Post. WikiLeaks claims the leak originated from within the CIA before being “lost” and circulated amongst “former U.S. government hackers and contractors.” From there the classified information was passed to WikiLeaks. End-to-end encryption used by applications such as WhatsApp was revealed to be futile against the CIA’s hacking techniques, dubbed ‘zero days’, which were capable of accessing messages before encryption was applied. The leak also revealed the CIA’s ability to hide its own hacking fingerprint and attribute it to others, including Russia. An archive of fingerprints – digital traces which give a clue about the hacker’s identity – was collected by the CIA and left behind to make others appear responsible.

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The Trump bull is alive for now.

US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)

U.S. private employers added 298,000 jobs in February, well above economists’ expectations, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 190,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 247,000. Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised up to 261,000 from an originally reported 246,000 increase. The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment. Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 193,000 jobs in February, down from 237,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have changed by 190,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to tick down to 4.7% from the 4.8% recorded a month earlier.

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How much of it will be put to good use, and how much merely siphoned off?

Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)

President Donald Trump pushed his White House team on Wednesday to craft a plan for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that would pressure states to streamline local permitting, favor renovation of existing roads and highways over new construction and prioritize projects that can quickly begin construction. “We’re not going to give the money to states unless they can prove that they can be ready, willing and able to start the project,” Mr. Trump said at a private meeting with aides and executives that The WSJ was invited to. “We don’t want to give them money if they’re all tied up for seven years with state bureaucracy.” Mr. Trump said he would was inclined to give states 90 days to start projects, and asked Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, to provide a recommendation.

He expressed interest in building new high-speed railroads, inquired about the possibility of auctioning the broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers, and asked for more details about the Hyperloop, a project envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would rapidly transport passengers in pods through low-pressure tubes. “America has always been a nation of great promise, because we dream big,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to really dream big now.” The president called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan last month in his address to a joint session of Congress and added that the projects would be financed through public and private capital. The White House was considering a repatriation tax holiday to generate about $200 billion in funding, but other sources also were being considered, a senior administration aide said.

In the meeting, the president said he aimed to win approval for an infrastructure plan once Congress finishes deliberations on health care and a reform of tax laws. Mr. Trump suggested that an infrastructure plan may be part of the tax-reform debate. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Vice President Mike Pence, who sat across from the president during the meeting, said that Congress is “committed to the president’s vision.” “There’s a great of interest in Congress in doing this,” Mr. Pence said. “But there’s also just as much interest in listening to leaders in the private sector to identify the capital and identify the needs to be able to finance this in a way that really captures the energy of the American economy.”

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Time to acknowledge demand isn’t coming back?

US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)

Oil is on track to break through the key psychological level of $50 a barrel after a ninth straight rise in U.S. crude stockpiles came at exactly the wrong moment, analysts said Wednesday. The amount of crude oil in U.S. storage rose to another record high on Wednesday, jumping 8.2 million barrels from the previous week, the Energy Information Administration reported. The increase was more than four times what analysts expected. Weekly figures also showed U.S. oil production continuing to tick up toward 9.1 million barrels a day, the highest level in more than a year. That provided further evidence that rising American output is confounding efforts by OPEC, Russia and 10 other exporters to reduce global oil inventories by curbing their own output. The data sent U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude prices plunging more than 5% to a nearly three-month low.

The plunge through a number of lows on Wednesday puts oil on a path to test the December low of $49.95 a barrel, said John Kilduff at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “From there you could accelerate,” he told CNBC, adding that $50 “was the fail-safe.” Kilduff’s downside target, once oil breaks below $50 a barrel, is $42. For the last three months, oil has traded in a range between $49.61 and $55.24. According to Kilduff, all the elements are in place for oil to break below its three-month range: lack of cohesion among OPEC members, bearish statements from oil ministers at CERAWeek conference by IHS Markit and subdued refinery activity as operators perform seasonal maintenance in the United States. On Tuesday, Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih warned at CERAWeek that the kingdom would only support OPEC’s intervention in markets for a “restricted period of time” and would not “underwrite the investments of others at our own expense and long-term interests.”

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Snippets from an interview. The euro was doomed from the start because of conditions put on it.

Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)

But the trouble is, you see, they didn’t have to have a single currency combined with the 60% limit on government debt and the 3% limit on government deficits. If they simply had a currency and made no rules whatsoever about that, then it would have been feasible, potentially, to say okay, well it’s not working as well as we would like it to, but not imposing austerity on economies in a downturn, which is what they ended up doing courtesy of those rules. Maybe we need a treasury to make it work better, but it wasn’t just the fact that it was only the central bank, it was also the rules on government spending.

[..] another part of it, which is quite intriguing, I heard in Berlin just recently, is that also, one of the other rules they agreed to, or one of the other objectives they agreed to, not a rule, was to target a 2% rate of inflation. Now what you actually had happen was that Germany hit about 1%, France actually hit about 2%, Italy hit about 3%, the three major trading partners of course on the block. Well, that means, as a result, over every year, German manufacturers were gaining a 2% cost advantage over Italian manufacturers. Which ultimately means of course that people don’t buy Lamborghinis and Fiats anymore, they buy Mercedes, because for the same features they’re cheaper.

It’s not about labour productivity alone, it’s about the rate of inflation, which comes down to the rate of wage change, because the Germans suppressed the rate of wage change, the rate of inflation was lower, and that was 1% below the level they agreed to. Now, if they’d agreed to 2%, and France did 2%, and Italy maybe suppressed its wage change and they hit 2%, you wouldn’t have these imbalances. But they’ve built up over 15 – going on close to 20 years now – and those level of imbalances mean that, fundamentally, Italian industry can’t compete with German industry, not because of productivity differences so much but wage costs combined with that.

[..] That’s why Trump’s complaining about Germany having an undervalued currency, and he’s bloody right on that front. If you can run a 9% of GDP trade surplus, which is the level Germany’s now hit, a lot of that is with the rest of the world, the EU itself overall is balanced, so there’s a huge imbalance – Germany’s got a huge trade surplus with the rest of Europe, but it’s also got it with the rest of the world, and on that scale I think Germany’s trade balance now is the same scale as China’s. Now that’s ludicrous.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with Europe is that transparency and the EU don’t mix. In this case it’s clear why: the ECB was used as a -very blunt- tool for political pressure. Their defense is basically: if we become transparent, we’re no longer independent. And people buy that?!

Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has joined forces with the German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi in a bid to clarify whether the ECB had a legal right to limit the liquidity of Greece’s banks in 2015. The duo told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (8 March) that they were collecting signatures for a petition to ECB president Mario Draghi, asking him to disclose two legal opinions commissioned by the bank. The first study was ordered in February, before the ECB decided to limit the access of Greek banks to ECB funding and opted instead to open access to the emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) – a fund with more restrictive access conditions. The decision was taken a few days after the radical left-wing Syriza party came to power, with Varoufakis as finance minister.

The second study, in June 2015, was about the ECB’s decision to freeze the amount of money available through the ELA after the Greek government’s decision to hold a referendum on the bailout conditions required by the country’s creditors. The measure was taken over concerns that Greek banks would become insolvent because of the deadlock in bailout talks. It also put more pressure on the Greek government to accept the lenders’ conditions. To avoid a bank run, where large numbers of people withdraw money from their deposit accounts at the same time, the government introduced capital controls. This meant that Greek people were only able to withdraw a maximum of €60 per day. The measure prevented a capital run, but also put pressure on Athens to agree to creditors’ terms for a third bailout.

Varoufakis, who was finance minister at the time, said this was a breach of the independence of the bank. “The ECB has the capacity to close down all the banks of a member state. At the same time, it has a charter which grants it – supposedly – complete independence from politics. And yet, there is no central bank, at least in the West, which has less independence of the political process,” Varoufakis said. He said Draghi was “completely reliant” on the decisions of an “informal group of finance ministers”, referring to the fact that the Eurogroup, which gathers the finance ministers of the 19 eurozone countries, isn’t enshrined in EU treaties. “It is apparent that Draghi didn’t feel that the was on solid legal ground when proceeding with the closing of Greek banks,” Varoufakis said.

[..] In September 2015, Fabio De Masi already asked Draghi for the opinions. But the ECB chief, in a letter made public by the MEP, said the bank does not plan to publish the legal opinions because this would “undermine the ECB’s ability to obtain uncensored, objective and comprehensive legal advice, which is essential for well-informed and comprehensive deliberations of its decision-making bodies”. “Legal opinions provided by external lawyers and related legal advice are protected by legal professional privilege (the so-called ‘attorney-client privilege’) in accordance with European Union case law,” Draghi said. “Those opinions were drafted in full independence, on the understanding that they can only be disclosed by the addressee and only shared with people who need to know in order to take reasoned decisions on the issues at stake,” he added.

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No cashless society there.

Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)

As worries over the future of the euro zone heat up, the union’s biggest member is doubling down on the single currency in an underappreciated way. Germany’s central bank is by far the biggest issuer of cash in the bloc, with the Bundesbank the source of more euro banknotes in circulation than all of its peers combined. The size of the imbalance is underscored by new data from the ECB, showing nations’ contributions towards the Eurosystem’s consolidated financial statement. Each national central bank, or NCB, has a notional banknote allocation that’s tied to its share of Eurosystem capital. At the end of last year, there were €1.1 trillion euros ($1.25 trillion) in circulation, breaking down like this:

That accounts for how euro cash would be distributed in theory. In order to find out how much cash is actually issued you have to make adjustments that take into account variations in demand, which push the number higher in some countries and lower in others. The adjustments look like this:

The Bundesbank has, since the introduction of the euro in 2002, put a net €327 billion into circulation above its on-paper allocation. By combining the figures in the two charts, we arrive at a true picture of the origin of banknotes in the European economy:

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“The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks.”

The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)

The bias of the press is getting so bad, they are undermining everything they were supposed to stand for. This is a critical aspect in the decline and fall of an empire, nation, or city state. Once the news is compromised, confidence not just in the press, but in everything crumbles. The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks. They lobby for their special deals and the support the status quo. The New York Times at least admitted their coverage of the election was biased. They apologized, but nothing has really changed. “As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly.”

Even if Trump met with Putin, exactly what does that infer? Did it alter the election? No. Even Obama admitted that no hack altered the vote count. So what is the issue? The press aids the Democrats in trying to blame Putin for Hillary’s loss. But there is not a single shred of evidence that ANY of the leaked emails from the Democrats was ever altered or was fake. The Democrats simply got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and blame Putin. So what is all this Russia thing about? It seems to be just a diversion to discredit Trump and stop the agenda of any reform. A simple technical analysis of Democrat v Republican shows that the former is in a major decline and their agenda has been dying. In fact, look out for 2018-2019. Sheer chaos is coming.

In Europe, political forces are also in a state of denial. The EU is collapsing and the politicians refuse to surrender their goals. Instead, they lash out at what they are calling “populism” as with the election of Trump, BREXIT, and the developments in France. The will of the people is not worth anything when it goes against their dreams. So in both cases, we are witnessing the demise of the West. All of this political fighting is setting the stage for the shift from the West to the East of financial power. The wheel of fortune spins. We lost. What is accomplished by overthrowing Trump? What is accomplished by forcing Europe to remain in the EU with unelected people controlling everything from Brussels? If the press succeeds in overturning Trump, what is accomplished? Do they really think everything can go back to the way it was before?

[..] the media in the USA has degenerated to fake news, but in Europe the very same trend has emerged. This is a serious nail in our coffin and mainstream media has indeed become the sword of our own destruction. Can we prevent this outcome? No. All we can do is hopefully learn from our mistakes and this time try to create a system that prevents such an oligarchy from rising. All Republics historically collapse into oligarchies. As we head into 2018, this is going to get really bad. This is going to be a turning point of great importance in the political world.

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A president without a party. Or a program. Doesn’t seem to add up.

Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)

Currently riding high in the polls, Emmanuel Macron, the self-styled “beyond left and right” candidate for the French election, has been tipped to become the next president in May. But if he does, will he actually run the country? This question might sound odd but the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister. The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded.

So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly. So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

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This is what happens everywhere, in varying ways. In France, both establishment blocks look to be cast aside.

French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)

The old order is fading in France. Every election since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic more than half a century ago has seen at least one of the major parties in the presidential runoff and most have featured both. With Republicans and Socialists consumed by infighting and voters thoroughly fed up, polls suggest that neither will make it this year. For the past month, survey after survey has projected a decider between Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old rookie who doesn’t even have a party behind him, and Marine Le Pen, who’s been ostracized throughout her career because of her party’s history of racism. “We’ve gone as far as we can go with a certain way of doing politics,” said Brice Teinturier, head of the Ipsos polling company and author of a book on voters’ disillusionment. “Everyone feels the system is blocked.”

Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, said in an interview with Le Monde Tuesday he may back Macron because he doesn’t “identify” with the more extreme platform put forward by his party’s candidate Benoit Hamon. De Gaulle’s latest standard-bearer Francois Fillon has spent the past week facing down rebellions in his party triggered by a criminal probe of his finances. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls hasn’t campaigned for Hamon since losing to him in the primary and Socialist President Francois Hollande hasn’t even endorsed his party’s candidate either. Instead, senior figures from the Socialist camp are endorsing Macron, with former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe the latest to offer his backing on Wednesday. “There’s a breakdown of parties in France,” Francois Bayrou, a two-time centrist candidate who is now backing Macron, said Tuesday on RMC Radio. “There are hostile battles between factions within each party, which has ruined the parties and ruined the image of politics.”

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Crazy that such differences still persist.

Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)

On International Women’s Day, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies to prove they pay all employees the same regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality, The country’s government announced a new law that will require every company with 25 or more staff to gain a certificate demonstrating pay equality. Iceland is not the first country to introduce a scheme like this – Switzerland has one, as does the US state of Minnesota – but Iceland is thought to be the first to make it a mandatory requirement. Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said that “the time is right to do something radical about this issue.” “Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that,” he said.

The move comes as part of a drive by the Nordic nation to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022. In October, thousands of female employees across Iceland walked out of workplaces at 2.38pm to protest against earning less than men. After this time in a typical eight-hour day, women are essentially working without pay, according to unions and women’s organisations. Iceland has been at the forefront of establishing pay equality, having already introduced a minimum 40% quota for women on boards of companies with more than 50 employees. The country has been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running, but despite this, Icelandic women still earn 14 to 18% less than men, on average.

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“Cleaning up the plant [..] is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).” Uh, no, it will cost far more than $189 billion, and it’s to NOT clean up the plant. They have no idea how to do it. It’s all just fantasy.

Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)

Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week. As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel. Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.

The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”. Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn). The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago. The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.

[..] Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”. The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government. “The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”

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And it will remain in recession for a long time.

Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)

Household consumption and a rebound in investment drove economic growth in the euro zone in the last three months of last year, the latest data from EU statistics office Eurostat shows. Eurostat confirmed its earlier estimate that the economy of the 19 countries sharing the euro grew 0.4% quarter-on-quarter and 1.7% year-on-year. It said household consumption added 0.2 % points to the final quarterly growth number and capital investment added another 0.1 points, rebounding from a 0.1 point negative contribution in the third quarter. Growing inventories added another 0.1 points and government spending another 0.1 points while net trade subtracted 0.1 points.

Greece was the only country that was in negative territory, with GDP declining by 1.1% compared with the last quarter of 2015 and by 1.2% compared to the third quarter of 2016. Combined, the eurozone continued steady recovery, with the economy growing by 1.7% year on year and 0.4% on a quarterly basis. Messages were positive in the eurozone core. Germany grew by 1.8% and France by 1.2%, while the third largest economy of the euro, Italy, increasing by 1%. Impressive was the growth of Spain as it reached 3%. Social protection spending in Greece represented 20.5 % of the country’s GDP in 2015.

This is slightly higher than both the Eurozone average ratio (20.1% of GDP) and the EU28 average ratio (19.2% of GDP). Social protection expenditure in EU member-states ranged from 9.6% of GDP in Ireland to 25.6% of GDP in Finland in that year. Eight member-states (Finland, France, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Greece and Belgium) spent more than 20% of GDP on social protection while Ireland, the Baltic states, Romania, Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic spend less than 13%.

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“Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022.”

Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)

Farmers who travelled to Athens from Crete have clashed with riot police in the latest unrest on the streets of the Greek capital, prompted by the government’s austerity policies. The confrontation occurred outside the agriculture ministry, where farmers wielding staffs engaged with police firing teargas to prevent them from entering the building. More than 1,100 stockbreeders and farmers arrived on overnight ferries in the early hours of Wednesday, to protest against increases in tax and social security contributions demanded by the creditors keeping Greece afloat. Footage showed the farmers, many wearing black bandanas, smashing the windows of riot vans with shepherds’ staffs, setting fire to rubbish bins and hurling rocks and stones.

When the agriculture minister, Evangelos Apostolou, initially refused to meet a 45-member delegation representing protesters, anger peaked. “Dialogue is one thing, thuggery quite another,” the minister said, before attempts at further talks also foundered. Greek farmers, long perceived to be the privileged recipients of generous EU funds, have historically been exempt from taxation. However, the barrage of cuts and increases in the price of everything from fuel to fertilisers will hit them hard. Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022. Prof George Pagoulatos, who teaches European politics and economy at the University of Athens, said: “Farmers, in many ways, are a classic example of one of Greece’s protected groups. “In certain rural constituencies, like Crete, they are also electorally very influential.”

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Wages have become too low to pay for pensions. 23% unemployment. Almost half of Greeks depend on pensions to stay alive. More cuts are inevitable. The only way is down.

It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

The constant decline in salaries and the rise of flexible forms of employment are undermining the sustainability of the country’s social security system despite the numerous interventions in terms of pensions. According to social security experts, the slide in the average salary means that it now takes the contributions of 10 workers to pay one pension; before the crisis it required the contributions of four workers. The deterioration of that ratio highlights the system’s viability problem. The main feature of that problem is that the contributions of today’s workers go in their entirety toward covering the pensions of today’s pensioners.

According to data from the new Single Social Security Entity (EFKA), the analysis of employers’ declarations from May 2016 showed that the average salary of 1.4 million workers with full employment amounted to €1,176 per month. The average monthly gross earnings of the 588,000 part-time workers amounted to just €394; their number increased by about 11% from a year earlier. The same data show that bigger enterprises pay higher salaries: Businesses with fewer than 10 employees have an average full-employment salary that amounts to just 58.9% of that paid to employees of companies with more than 10 workers.

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Feb 262017
 
 February 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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DPC Elephants in Luna Park promenade, Coney Island 1905

 

President Trump: Replace The Dollar With Gold (F.)
Marine Le Pen’s Aides Meet With Bankers To Discuss Euro Exit (BBG)
Dutch Parliament Commissions Report On Future Of Euro (R.)
Dutch Voters Are About To Set The Stage For Europe’s Elections (G.)
Fannie, Freddie Investors Lose In Court (Econ.)
Underground Network Readies Homes To Hide Undocumented Immigrants (CNN)
Washington Governor Bans Employees From Aiding Trump Immigration Crackdown (I.)
Be Clear About What Happened To Keith Ellison (Bruenig)
Half of Germans Against Debt Relief For Greece (R.)
The Living Fabric Of The World Is Slipping Through Our Fingers (G.)

 

 

Using the Fed to go for gold?

President Trump: Replace The Dollar With Gold (F.)

What would be the outcome of Trump’s following his instincts and going for the gold? Prosperity, that’s what. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan just provided a barely noticed Big Reveal. In an interview with the World Gold Council’s Gold Investor Chairman Greenspan, stating “I view gold as the primary global currency,” went on to explicitly reveal, for the first time to my knowledge, that “When I was Chair of the Federal Reserve I used to testify before US Congressman Ron Paul, who was a very strong advocate of gold. We had some interesting discussions. I told him that US monetary policy tried to follow signals that a gold standard would have created.”

The period of “following signals that a gold standard would have created,” called the Great Moderation under President Clinton, was one of the most equitably prosperous in modern American history. That era saw the creation of over 20 million jobs. Robust growth converted the federal deficit into a surplus. It was, if only virtually rather than institutionally, a golden age. After the Fed abandoned its Great Moderation America experienced almost no net job creation under President George W. Bush and very mediocre job creation under President Obama. Sad! I want the American Dream back. We all do, very much including President Trump. How might President Trump go about turning this around? He has a unique opening to forcefully pivot America toward epic prosperity.

As Paul-Martin Foss of the Menger Center astutely points out the Federal Reserve Board currently has three vacancies. If Trump were to fill those vacancies with three sophisticated gold standard advocates from the short list of Lewis E. Lehrman (whose eponymous Institute I formerly served), Dr. Judy Shelton (who served as an advisor on his presidential economic transition team), former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and John Allison, former CEO of BB&T (preferably as vice chairman for regulation) the president would create a super “beachhead team” at the Fed to seriously restore equitable prosperity.

These appointments would be the safe and sure first steps out of economic stagnation for America. Couple these with a White House “Team B” to plan the enactment of the Jack Kemp Gold Standard Act and removal of the regulatory and tax barriers to using gold as currency. Then watch an American economic miracle take place. Mr. President: “No such thing as a global currency?” The dollar is the global currency. Want prosperity? Heed Chairman Greenspan and do not just view but restore “gold as the primary global currency.” President Trump: replace the dollar with gold as the global currency to make America great again. We have the gold.

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Not if but when.

Marine Le Pen’s Aides Meet With Bankers To Discuss Euro Exit (BBG)

Top advisers to French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have met with strategists and analysts from BlackRock, Barclays and UBS, among other firms to explain their economic program and plans to withdraw France from the euro. While such meetings are common for campaign officials from mainstream parties in France and other European countries, this is the first time Le Pen’s National Front has been approached, the candidate’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot and her business aide Mikael Sala said in interviews. In the last seven months, they have met with analysts from British and American financial institutions in Paris, Brussels and Strasbourg at the firms’ request.

The interest from financial markets underlines how seriously financial analysts take the possibility that Le Pen may win power in the euro zone’s second-largest economy. Polls have shown her holding a lead in the first round of voting for more than a year, though all surveys predict that she will also lose the run-off ballot on May 7. “These strategists see that Le Pen may be the next president of France and they are doing their due diligence,” Monot said. “They’re very much looking for a detailed account of our plans.” Monot and Sala, who head Le Pen’s business advisory council Croissance Bleu Marine, said they also met or spoke with representatives from the Medley Advisors and CheckRisk consultancies. Monot added that he met with U.S. pension funds without naming them.

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Every EU country should do this, and do it honestly.

Dutch Parliament Commissions Report On Future Of Euro (R.)

The Netherlands’ future relationship with the euro will be comprehensively debated by its parliament following elections in March, after lawmakers commissioned a report on the currency’s future. The motion approving the investigation by the Council of State, the government’s legal advisor, coincides with a rising tide of euroscepticism in Europe, which populist parties are hoping to tap into in a series of national elections this year also taking in euro zone powerhouses France and Germany. The probe will examine whether it would be possible for the Dutch to withdraw from the single currency, and if so how, said lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt. Omtzigt, of the opposition Christian Democrats, tabled the parliamentary motion calling for the investigation, which legislators passed unanimously late on Thursday.

It was prompted by concerns the ECB’s ultra-low interest rates are hurting Dutch savers, especially pensioners, and doubts as to whether its bond purchasing programmes are legal, he said. Its findings will be presented in several months, by which time the make-up of parliament will have changed dramatically. While most Dutch voters say they favour retaining the euro, the eurosceptic far-right party of Geert Wilders is expected to book large gains though it is unlikely to win enough votes to form a government. The most probable outcome of the March 15 vote is a new centrist coalition including some parties, such as Omtzigt’s Christian Democrats, that have been vocal in their opposition to current ECB policy. “The problems with the euro have not been solved,” Omtzigt said. “This is a way for us to look at ways forward with no taboos.” Thursday’s motion instructs the Council to look at “what political and institutional options are open for the euro,” and “what are the advantages and disadvantages of each.”

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“Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice.”

Dutch Voters Are About To Set The Stage For Europe’s Elections (G.)

Across Europe, we can see three trends in elections, which can be described in the famous terms of the German-American economist Albert Hirschman: exit, voice and loyalty. In two of these the Dutch lead the way, but one bucks the broader trend. To start with exit (non-voting), throughout Europe turnout in national and European elections has been dropping. Although the trend is not universal, the past 10 years has seen a sharp drop in several countries. Perhaps most shocking is the situation in Greece, a country that has compulsory voting, although it is not really enforced. In 1985 the abstention rate in national elections was “just” 16.2%, in 2004 it was 23.4%, and in the last elections, in September 2015, it was a staggering 44%. In other words, in a country with compulsory voting a modest majority of 56% turned out.

Compared with that, the decrease in turnout in Dutch national elections is modest: in 1986 turnout was 86% and in the last two elections it was still a commendable 75%. Expectations are that turnout might actually go up in this year’s elections. With regard to loyalty (the vote for established parties), the Netherlands is very much in line with the European trend. Most European countries have seen a sharp decline in electoral support for established parties. While this development is related to societal changes that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, such as secularisation and a shrinking working class, the decline of the established parties only became a broader issue in the 1990s, and has significantly increased during the great recession. The process has been particularly pronounced in the Netherlands.

Throughout the 1980s the three established parties – the Christian democratic CDA, the social democratic PvdA, and the conservative VVD – received around 80% of the vote. In 2002 that dropped to about 60% as a consequence of the rise of Fortuyn’s LPF, and it stayed like that until 2012 – although Rutte’s VVD is now bigger than the CDA and the PvdA. However, in the most recent polls the three parties only have some 40% of the vote, half of what they had in the 1980s. At the same time, voice (the support for populist parties) has increased significantly. In the 1980s populist parties barely got more than a few seats in parliament, whereas in 2002 the left populist SP and Fortuyn’s right populist LPF together gained more than 20%. In the latest polls Wilders’s PVV is the largest party, or at least running neck-and-neck with the Rutte’s VVD, while the SP is struggling a bit – and has become less populist. Together they are close to 30% of the vote, of which the PVV would get almost two-thirds.

[..] The two most likely outcomes of the Dutch elections are either a very broad coalition of four or five parties, with or without Wilders’s PVV, or a minority government, dependent upon temporary coalitions to get some policies through. Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice. That is the main European lesson of the Dutch elections.

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Wait till the new bubble pops too, and the hedge funds want to transfer their losses to the public.

Fannie, Freddie Investors Lose In Court (Econ.)

One unresolved issue from the financial crisis is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two firms that stand behind much of America’s housing market. Fannie and Freddie purchase mortgages, bundle them into securities and sell them on to investors with a guarantee. When America’s housing market collapsed a decade ago, the government had to bail them out. Its treatment of the firms since then has created a titanic legal struggle. Shareholders have cried foul. On February 21st, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling in the government’s favour. At issue is the Obama administration’s decision in 2012 to hoover up all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits. Until then, it had received a fixed dividend on its investment. The timing of the shift was striking—just before a surge in the firms’ profitability. Since 2008 the Treasury has sucked in about $250bn from the firms, 30% more than the cost of the bail-out.

The change enraged hedge funds who had bought Fannie and Freddie’s shares and found themselves expropriated. The investors’ lawsuit held that the government overstepped its authority by seizing all profits. A federal court dismissed that claim in 2014; it has taken until now for an appeals court to uphold the most important parts of the decision. An odd aspect of the ruling is that it largely ignored the substantive arguments but concluded the court lacked the authority to curb the government’s actions. Its ruling sent shares in Fannie and Freddie tumbling (see chart). That reversed about half of the rally sparked by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election. Investors reckon that Mr Trump’s administration will be more favourable to Fannie and Freddie’s investors. Initially Steve Mnuchin, now treasury secretary, told a business-news network that Fannie and Freddie should be privatised again.

But in his confirmation hearing before the Senate in January, he seemed to roll back those remarks. The firms are hardly robust. The Treasury is running down their capital by $600m a year. By 2018 they will have none left. From then on, should the firms make a loss, they will need to draw on an emergency line of credit from the government. Doing so would be characterised by some as a second bail-out. That worrying prospect should provide some impetus to the search for an alternative solution. But it will be hard to find an ownership structure for Fannie and Freddie that satisfies everyone. The firms keep mortgages cheap by lumping taxpayers with a staggering amount of risk. (If the housing market collapsed, the cost to the Treasury could be 2-4% of GDP, according to an analysis by The Economist). Few will want investors to make profits on the back of such a taxpayer guarantee.

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Oh man, it’s WWII in Europe. The Underground Railroad in the US. And here we were thinking that was in the past.

Underground Network Readies Homes To Hide Undocumented Immigrants (CNN)

A hammer pounds away in the living room of a middle class home. A sanding machine smoothes the grain of the wood floor in the dining room. But this home Pastor Ada Valiente is showing off in Los Angeles, with its refurbished floors, is no ordinary home. “It would be three families we host here,” Valiente says. By “host,” she means provide refuge to people who may be sought by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The families staying here would be undocumented immigrants, fearing an ICE raid and possible deportation. The purchase of this home is part of a network formed by Los Angeles religious leaders across faiths in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The intent is to shelter hundreds, possibly thousands of undocumented people in safe houses across Southern California. The goal is to offer another sanctuary beyond religious buildings or schools, ones that require federal authorities to obtain warrants before entering the homes.

“That’s what we need to do as a community to keep families together,” Valiente says. At another Los Angeles neighborhood miles away, a Jewish man shows off a sparsely decorated spare bedroom in his home. White sheets on the bed and the clean, adjacent full bathroom bear all the markers of an impending visit. The man, who asked not to be identified, pictures an undocumented woman and her children who may find refuge in his home someday. The man says he’s never been in trouble before and has difficulty picturing that moment. But he’s well educated and understands the Fourth Amendment, which gives people the right to be secure in their homes, against unreasonable searches and seizures. He’s pictured the moment if ICE were to knock on his door. “I definitely won’t let them in. That’s our legal right,” he says. “If they have a warrant, then they can come in. I can imagine that could be scary, but I feel the consequences of being passive in this moment is a little scary.”

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Great legal battles.

Washington Governor Bans Employees From Aiding Trump Immigration Crackdown (I.)

A state governor has banned his employees from cooperating with Donald Trump’s policies on immigration. Jay Inslee signed an executive order that bars the state of Washington’s agencies from denying services to people based on their citizenship or legal status and from helping detain immigrants for breaking civil rules. It came after memos were released by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly showing his department planned to prioritise the removal of undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offence”, following directives from the President. This will include those who “have abused any programme related to receipt of public benefits”.

Governor Inslee said: “Washington will not be a willing participant in promoting or carrying out mean-spirited policies that break up families and compromise our national security and community safety. “Our officers are here to keep the public safe by enforcing the criminal laws, not to act as [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers or enforce civil violations.” He added that it reaffirmed “the state’s commitment to tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness” and the order was “designed to ensure that all state agencies under my executive authority carry out only those duties and responsibilities prescribed to them in state and federal law.” He said: “In Washington state we know this: we do not discriminate based on someone’s race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. That remains true even as federal policies create such uncertain times.”

Washington agencies must comply to the extent to which they are permitted under federal law, he said. The agencies are ordered not to collect any more information about people than is necessary to perform their basic duties. Mr Inslee’s office said immigrants make up 17% of Washington’s workforce and contribute some $2.4bn in taxes. Mr Kelly has insisted there will be “no mass deportations” during the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. He told reporters in Mexico City there would be “no use of military force for immigration operations” and said enforcing new policies would be done legally and with respect for human rights.

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The losers are still in charge.

Be Clear About What Happened To Keith Ellison (Bruenig)

On the Monday after the 2016 election, Keith Ellison announced that he intended to run for DNC chair. At the time of his announcement, Ellison had the support of prominent establishment Democrats (Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer) and prominent left-wing Democrats (Bernie Sanders, Raúl Grijalva). He was the clear frontrunner. His challengers were mostly insignificant or bygone figures that nobody thought posed a threat to his bid. Around a week after he announced, the New York Times reported that Obama’s people were not happy with Ellison and that they were scouring the benches for someone to beat him: But after steadily adding endorsements from leading Democrats in his bid to take over the party, Mr. Ellison is encountering resistance from a formidable corner: the White House.

In a sign of the discord gripping the party, President Obama’s loyalists, uneasy with the progressive Mr. Ellison, have begun casting about for an alternative, according to multiple Democratic officials close to the president. The Obama people did not rally around an existing candidate in the field that they thought was better. They went out and recruited someone. The point of this recruitment was to beat back the left faction that Ellison represented. They considered many potential avatars for this anti-Ellison effort and eventually settled on Tom Perez. On December 15, Tom Perez came into the DNC race. Around the same time, the establishment forces mounted a brutal smear campaign against Ellison, placing stories all over the place about how he was (or still is) an anti-semitic, Farrakhan-loving, Nation of Islam guy. This effort ultimately paid off with Perez narrowly winning the DNC chair election over Ellison.

During and after the DNC chair race, many moderate pundits and posters took the position that who wins the DNC chair does not really matter and also that infighting between left and right factions of the Democratic party is unhelpful in the times of Trump. But this, bizarrely enough, wasn’t self-criticism of the moderate establishment wing of the party. No, it was criticism that was and continues to be lobbed at the left-wing sorts who backed Ellison. Before this gets turned into another thing where the establishment Democrats posture as the reasonable adults victimized by the assaults of those left-wing baddies, let’s just be very clear about what happened here. It was the establishment wing that decided to recruit and then stand up a candidate in order to fight an internal battle against the left faction of the party. It was the establishment wing that then dumped massive piles of opposition research on one of their own party members. And it was the establishment wing that did all of this in the shadow of Trump, sowing disunity in order to contest a position whose leadership they insist does not really matter.

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What happens when nobody tells them the truth.

Half of Germans Against Debt Relief For Greece (R.)

Around half of Germans are against granting debt relief to Greece and around three in 10 want it to quit the eurozone, a survey showed on Friday. The INSA poll for the Bild newspaper showed 46.4% of people living in Germany, Europe’s paymaster, thought giving Greece debt relief would be unfair for other eurozone countries. That compared with around a fifth (18.4%) who did not share that view and 9.1% who said they did not care.

Athens and its creditors agreed on Monday to resume talks on a long-stalled review of Greece’s bailout, but only after Greece accepted examination of its reforms for 2019 onward. The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said on Wednesday that Greece does not need a haircut on its debt at the moment but added that debt restructuring and interest rate cuts on bailout loans were necessary. The German government, preparing for an election on September 24, is against debt relief for Greece.

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Half of all species could be extinct by the end of the century. Or before.

The Living Fabric Of The World Is Slipping Through Our Fingers (G.)

One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that will rise to 50% by the end of the century unless urgent action is taken. That is the stark view of the world’s leading biologists, ecologists and economists who will gather on Monday to determine the social and economic changes needed to save the planet’s biosphere. “The living fabric of the world is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” say the organisers of the Biological Extinction conference held at the Vatican this week. Threatened creatures such as the tiger or rhino may make occasional headlines, but little attention is paid to the eradication of most other life forms, they argue. But as the conference will hear, these animals and plants provide us with our food and medicine.

They purify our water and air while also absorbing carbon emissions from our cars and factories, regenerating soil, and providing us with aesthetic inspiration. “Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”

Monday’s meeting is one of a series set up by the Vatican on ecological issues – which Pope Francis has deemed an urgent issue for the Catholic church. “We need to unravel the processes that led to the ills we are now facing,” said one of the conference’s organisers, the economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, of Cambridge University. “That is why the Vatican symposia involve natural and social scientists, as well as scholars from the humanities. That the symposia are being held at the Papal Academy is also symbolic. It shows that the ancient hostility between science and the church, at least on the issue of preserving Earth’s services, has been quelled.”

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Feb 242017
 
 February 24, 2017  Posted by at 10:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Marion Post Wolcott Works Progress Administration worker’s children, South Charleston, West Virginia 1938

 

France Scrapping The Euro Could Go Beyond A ‘Lehman Moment’ (CNBC)
Le Pen Says French Foreign Policy Must Be Decided in Paris (BBG)
Obamacare Just Hit Its Highest Popularity Ever (BI)
Former IMF Chief, Dozens of Former Bank Execs Sentenced to Jail in Spain (DQ)
Analyzing the Emerging World Order: The Future of Globalism (GR)
Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric From A Long-Standing US Playbook (GG)
What Does Russia Produce? (Humor)
Career Politicians Aren’t Qualified To Run The Country (Hewson)
Turkish Commandos Ask For Asylum In Greece (K.)
Synthetic Clothing And Tires Could Be Polluting The Oceans In A Big Way (CNBC)
Arctic ‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Receives 50,000 New Deposits (AP)
Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef Set Back Decades (AFP)

 

 

Fear mongering goes into overdrive.

France Scrapping The Euro Could Go Beyond A ‘Lehman Moment’ (CNBC)

Past performance is no guide to future returns, as investors are so often told, but the French electorate runs the risk of creating a crisis worse than the fall of Lehman Brothers if it follows the U.K. in instigating a referendum on EU membership, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank. As the French presidential race heats up ahead of the first round of voting in April, the German bank has warned of the pitfalls of using the U.K.’s Brexit vote as a model for a potential “Frexit”, as touted by nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, who is currently leading the race according to the latest BVA-Salesforce opinion poll, has vowed to hold a French referendum on EU membership if she is successful in winning France’s two-round leadership race.

Pointing to the U.K., which has – so far – felt a relatively benign impact from its Brexit vote, Le Pen has relied on it as a basis for rallying support during her campaigning, saying: “They told us that Brexit would be a catastrophe, that the stock markets would crash … The reality is that none of that happened.” However, Deutsche Bank has warned of the inconsistencies of likening the two votes. An EU referendum in France, one of the founding members of the economic bloc, runs the risk of undermining the euro, the currency shared by 19 of the EU’s 28 member states. “Make no mistake, there is the world of difference between tearing up bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, and, unwinding a monetary union as far reaching in scope as the EMU (economic and monetary union) project,” Deutsche Bank said in a note Tuesday.

“It is the difference between a benign global risk event and something that has the potential to go beyond a ‘Lehman’s moment’.” The frictionless interaction enjoyed by countries within the European Monetary Union would turn into it a “nightmare”, says Deutsche Bank, as a lack of a currency hedge would make all EMU members vulnerable to currency weakness. The bank estimates that assets shared between the economic bloc plus liabilities totaled €46 trillion at the end of the third quarter 2016. This it describes as an “upper bound estimate of EMU exposure that would have no hedge, and be exposed to currency risk in the event of an EMU break-up.”

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And many people all over Europe will say she’s damn right.

Le Pen Says French Foreign Policy Must Be Decided in Paris (BBG)

French foreign policy should be decided solely in Paris, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said, calling for a reversal of her country’s quest over past decades for tighter ties with European Union allies. Laying out her foreign-policy vision in a speech in Paris, Le Pen spoke of a world based on nation states that pursue their own interest and preserve their own cultures without interference. “To assure the freedom of the French, there is no price too high too pay,” Le Pen said. “The foreign policy of France will be decided in Paris, and no alliance, no ally, can speak in her place.” Her first move as president would be to renegotiate EU treaties as an initial step toward creating a “Europe of Nations,” she said. She saluted Britain’s vote to leave the EU, and said she’d withdraw from NATO’s military command.

“I rejoice in Europeans claiming back their freedom against the attempts to create an artificial super-state,” she said. “The European Union is not the solution, it’s the problem.” Polls show that Le Pen would win the most votes in the April 23 first round of the elections, but would lose the May 7 run-off against whoever she faces. On the U.S., she said she was hopeful President Donald Trump would reverse what she described as interventionist policies of President Barack Obama. She listed support for rebels in Libya and Syria as “mistakes” that have undermined world peace. “The U.S. is an ally but sometimes an adversary,” she said, adding that she was encouraged by Trump’s early days in office.

She said Russia has an “essential balancing role to keep world peace” and “has been badly treated by the European Union.” In Africa, French policy would be one of “non-intervention, but not indifference.” Le Pen said communism and liberal capitalism have both been delusions, and that “people are trying to escape, and find in the nation the best way to protect themselves. Each country should be free to follow its interests, choose its allies, preserve its culture, and France supports that right for all nations.”

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Hornets nest.

Obamacare Just Hit Its Highest Popularity Ever (BI)

Americans are learning to love the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. As the law faces possible repeal and replacement by Republicans, a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows that the ACA’s popularity is soaring and has hit its highest point since it was passed. 54% of respondents in Pew’s survey said they approve of the law, with just 43% disapproving. This is better than the 48% approve, 47% disapprove margin from December 2016. Additionally, of the 43% against the law, only 17% of people the total surveyed want Republicans to repeal the way entirely while 25% want the law modified instead, according to Pew.

Every age group, ethnic group, and education level saw increased support for Obamacare between Pew’s current poll and one conducted in October 2016. The result also matches up with other recent polls from a variety of outlets that show President Barack Obama’s signature health law becoming ever-more popular with Americans. House Speaker Paul Ryan said that the GOP plans to introduce a repeal and replace bill for the ACA soon after the week-long President’s Day break. Dissent among Republicans and recent pushback from constituents at town halls, however, has indicated that a repeal may be less than smooth than originally anticipated. Even former GOP House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that repeal is “not going to happen.”

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A 6-year sentence but no hard time?

Former IMF Chief, Dozens of Former Bank Execs Sentenced to Jail in Spain (DQ)

The unimaginable just happened in Spain: two former bank CEOs, Miguel Blesa (CEO of Caja Madrid) and Rodrigo Rato (CEO of Bankia) were just awarded prison sentences of six years and four-and-a-half years, respectively, for misappropriation of company funds. Rato was also Managing Director of the IMF from 2003 to 2007. He was succeeded by another luminary, Dominique Strauss Kahn. Now, the question on everyone’s mind is will Blesa and Rato actually serve the sentence (more on that later). Dozens more former Caja Madrid senior executives, most of whom are closely connected to either, or both, of the country’s two main political parties and/or unions also face three to six years in prison. They were found guilty by Spain’s National High Court of misusing company credit cards.

Those cards drained money directly from the scarce funds of Caja Madrid, which at the height of Spain’s banking crisis was merged with six other failed savings banks into Bankia, which shortly thereafter collapsed and ended up receiving the biggest bail out in Spanish history, costing taxpayers over €20 billion, to date. Between 2003 and 2012 Caja Madrid (and its later incarnation, Bankia) paid out over €15 million to its senior management and executive directors through its “tarjeta negra” (black card) scheme. According to accounts released by Spain’s bad bank, FROB, much of that money went on restaurants, cash withdrawals, travel and holidays, and the like. The amounts – which did not show up on any bank documents, job contracts, or tax returns – may be small, given the magnitude of the misdeeds that led to the Spanish bank fiasco, but it’s the principle that counts.

Only 4 out of 90 Caja Madrid senior managers, executives, and board members had the basic decency to turn down the offer of undeclared expenses. For the rest, it was an offer they could not refuse. In his last few months at Caja Madrid – just before the whole edifice came crumbling down – Blesa went on a mad spending binge. In one month alone he made purchases on his black card worth €19,000 – more than many Spaniards’ annual salary. This is a man who pocketed over €20 million in salaries and bonuses while at the helm of the bank that he helped destroy. On his departure in 2010, he was awarded a €2.5 million golden parachute. Yet even after his ouster he, like many other Caja Madrid executives, continued making liberal use of his tarjeta negra.

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“The unsolvable problem here is that this debt based system is really just an elaborate pyramid scheme predicated on ever increasing amounts of debt in a world where sources of real wealth are finite.”

Analyzing the Emerging World Order: The Future of Globalism (GR)

We live in a world subdivided by societies: nations and their respective subdivisions. As a matter of fact, there are over 200 nations recognized by the United Nations (UN). We are taught that a society must conform to a binary label such as “free” or “unfree”, “democratic” or “non-democratic” and so on. This is done principally for two reasons – to provide a tautological definition, also for easier control of the masses via manipulation. The current overarching narrative provides that we are divided between the “western” and “eastern” worlds. What does this really mean? We can distill this down to one principal root: economics. What do we mean by economics? We can say that in it’s purest form, it is simply the structured allocation of finite resources.

Today we are observing the transition from a so called unipolar world, one in which a single nation (or group of allied nations) dictates the terms of life for all global citizens, to a more balanced and natural multipolar world. The current dominating group, the “western” bloc of nations, is led by the United States along with numerous vassal states; this order has persisted since the end of the Second World War. This construct is held together using a combination of supranational organizations (UN,WTO,World Bank, IMF, et cetera), propaganda (mainstream media complex), armed might (MIC,NATO, private mercenary forces) and chiefly economics (central banks, corporations). The true “rulers” of this bloc are a cabal of very wealthy and powerful oligarchs that work in the background (shadow banking, dark pool finance, shadow governments, think tanks, NGO’s) to subvert the various sovereignties to their advantage.

These oligarchs are the principal owners of, not just the industries and corporations that front for them, but the governments that rule over the masses. Most importantly this cabal owns the means by which real wealth extraction is carried out: fiat currency, chiefly the “worlds reserve currency”- the United States dollar and it’s derivatives. These currencies are backed not by equitable assets; such as natural resources, precious metals or productive capacities; instead they are backed by the creation of debt. Debt that represents a claim on real assets that virtually all participants in global commerce must pay. How did this cabal come into power? This is a complex question that is subject to many possible answers and interpretations. Briefly, we know from historical fact that a global empire is a central part of this construct, today the United States empire holds that role (previously British, French so on…). This provides the controlling force behind such a cabal.

The privately owned quasi-governmental western central banks are at the heart of this operation. They form the crucial nexus between sovereign governments and the financial world in which they derive their revenue stream, and by extension, their power. The current seat of this construct (United States) was founded as a Constitutional Republic. Unfortunately, the United States Constitution is quite amorphous. Using many acts of legislative, executive and even judicial fiat, this cabal has been able to effectively take over the reigns of the nation. With that feat accomplished, near world domination was made possible. A complex web of regulations, laws, and rules; coupled with a financial system few fully comprehend has been put into place across the west. This became the mechanism by which this “new world order” has been enforced.

The unsolvable problem here is that this debt based system is really just an elaborate pyramid scheme predicated on ever increasing amounts of debt in a world where sources of real wealth are finite. At present, the growth rate and the total amount of debt issuance, is outpacing the extraction rate and amount of available reserves of resources on the planet.

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Glenn Greenwald has been vocal about the Putin hysteria.

Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric From A Long-Standing US Playbook (GG)

For aspiring journalists, historians, or politically engaged citizens, there are few more productive uses of one’s time than randomly reading through the newsletters of I.F. Stone, the intrepid and independent journalist of the Cold War era who became, in my view, the nation’s first “blogger” even though he died before the advent of the internet. Frustrated by big media’s oppressive corporatized environment and its pro-government propaganda model, and then ultimately blacklisted from mainstream media outlets for his objections to anti-Russia narratives, Stone created his own bi-monthly newsletter, sustained exclusively by subscriptions, and spent 18 years relentlessly debunking propaganda spewing from the U.S. government and its media partners. What makes Stone’s body of work so valuable is not its illumination of history but rather its illumination of the present.

What’s most striking about his newsletters is how little changes when it comes to U.S. government propaganda and militarism, and the role the U.S. media plays in sustaining it all. Indeed, reading through his reporting, one gets the impression that U.S. politics just endlessly replays the same debates, conflicts, and tactics. Much of Stone’s writings, particularly throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, focused on the techniques for keeping Americans in a high state of fear over the Kremlin. One passage, from August 1954, particularly resonates; Stone explained why it’s impossible to stop McCarthyism at home when — for purposes of sustaining U.S. war and militarism — Kremlin leaders are constantly being depicted as gravely threatening and even omnipotent. Other than the change in Moscow’s ideology — a change many of today’s most toxic McCarthyites explicitly deny — Stone’s observations could be written with equal accuracy today.

[..] Few foreign villains have been vested with omnipotence and ubiquity like Vladimir Putin has been — at least ever since Democrats discovered (what they mistakenly believed was) his political utility as a bogeyman. There are very few negative developments in the world that do not end up at some point being pinned to the Russian leader, and very few critics of the Democratic Party who are not, at some point, cast as Putin loyalists or Kremlin spies. Putin — like al Qaeda terrorists and Soviet Communists before him — is everywhere. Russia is lurking behind all evils, most importantly — of course — Hillary Clinton’s defeat. And whoever questions any of that is revealing themselves to be a traitor, likely on Putin’s payroll.

As The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel put it on Tuesday in the Washington Post: “In the targeting of Trump, too many liberals have joined in fanning a neo-McCarthyite furor, working to discredit those who seek to deescalate U.S.-Russian tensions, and dismissing anyone expressing doubts about the charges of hacking or collusion as a Putin apologist. … What we don’t need is a replay of Cold War hysteria that cuts off debate, slanders skeptics and undermines any effort to explore areas of agreement with Russia in our own national interest.” That precisely echoes what Stone observed 62 years ago: Claims of Russian infiltration and ubiquity are “the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect” (Stone was not just cast as a Kremlin loyalist during his life but smeared as a Stalinist agent after he died).

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Turns out, a lot.

What Does Russia Produce? (Humor)

This past September, in one of his regular interviews with the newspaper Parlamentní Listy, retired Czech Major General Hynek Blasko commented on the possibility of a conflict between Russia and NATO with a following anecdote: “I have seen a popular joke on the Internet about Obama and his generals in the Pentagon debating on the best timing to attack Russia. They couldn’t come to any agreement, so they decided to ask their allies. The French said: ” We do not know, but certainly not in the winter. This will end badly. ” The Germans responded: “We do not know, either, but definitely not in a summer. We have already tried.” Someone in Obama’s war room had a brilliant idea to ask China, on the basis that China is developing and always has new ideas.

The Chinese answered: “The best time for this is right now. Russia is building the Power of Siberia pipeline, the North Stream Pipeline, Vostochny Cosmodrome Spaceport, the MegaProject bridge to Crimea; also Russian is upgrading the Trans-Siberian railroad with a new railway bridge across Lena River and the Amur-Yakutsk Mainline. Russia is also building new sports facilities for the World Cup and athletics, and has in development over 150 production projects in the Arctic … Well, now they really need as many POWs as possible!” So, now, even NATO members’ generals have noticed something peculiar about Russia. According to the myth that is being peddled by Western media, Russia has an underdeveloped economy based on the exchange of raw mineral resources for glass beads… I mean Western produced hi-tech products. Any barber would tell you that even Asians can make iPhones, but Russians can’t.

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View from Australia that applies everywhere.

Career Politicians Aren’t Qualified To Run The Country (Hewson)

When I was leader of the opposition, concerned about the standing of our politicians and failing confidence in our political processes, John Howard used to chip me about the need to recognise politics as a “profession”, and politicians as “professionals”. Now, some 25 years on, the dissatisfaction with our career politicians and the political system is of paramount importance, and fundamental to the drift away from the major parties, whereby now almost one in three direct their votes elsewhere. Politics has become a daily “conflict game”, dominated by career politicians concentrated on winning points on the other side, rather than on developing and delivering good public policy, and good government.

Important issues have been left to drift, or in some cases have been compounded by short-term, populist responses, so that important problems remain unresolved, all having a negative impact on the wellbeing of the average voter, let alone the legacies being left to their children. Minor parties and independents are attracting support in protest, or in the now desperate hope that they will at least shake things up, perhaps even drive governments and oppositions to better economic and social outcomes. But they too are mostly opportunistic, and populist, and often “extreme”, knowing they will never be in a position to have to deliver. Moreover, without experience and the requisite skills, they too may soon be “absorbed” or “defeated” by the system. Unfortunately, the skill sets and experience required of a career politician essentially make them incompetent to govern effectively.

Their career path is often from university, community or union politics, through local government/party engagement, perhaps serving as a ministerial staffer, to pre-selection, then election, and so on. Politics has become the end in itself. Those that make it are mostly qualified just to play the “game”, but not to govern. Increasingly, fewer have ever had a “real job”, or a significant career, before entering politics, and even then that may not qualify them to be a competent minister. It is also not easy to come from outside, as both Trump and Turnbull are finding. Yet, many end up as ministers responsible for significant government portfolios, and large budgets, with little or no relevant experience or skills or commitment to that area, let alone in management. Clearly, if we were to advertise the ministerial posts to attract those with the necessary competence – with the abilities, commitments, knowledge, experience and skills to do the job well – very few indeed, if any, of the current lot would be appointed.

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These guys were allegedly directly involved the coup?! Hard to protect.

Turkish Commandos Ask For Asylum In Greece (K.)

Two Turkish servicemen believed to have been involved in the plot to assassinate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the July coup attempt in the neighboring country, are being held in custody in Alexandroupoli, it was revealed Thursday. The two men, former members of Turkey’s special forces, entered Greece illegally through the Evros border crossing a few days ago and turned themselves in to police authorities in Orestiada. Through a local lawyer, the two commandos applied for political asylum on February 20.They had eluded arrest for months until they entered Greece. The pair are believed to have told Greek investigators that they were indeed involved in a plot to assassinate Erdogan. So far, there has been no Turkish request for their extradition.

Meanwhile, Ankara has submitted a fresh extradition request for the eight Turkish servicemen who Ankara have accused of being involved in the coup attempt. The initial request for their extradition was rejected in January by Greece’s Supreme Court, which said that regardless of whether they were guilty or not, the servicemen would not receive a fair trial in Turkey. In the new request, Ankara provided reassurances that they would receive a fair trial. It also includes what Turkish authorities describe as new incriminating evidence. The request sent to the Greek Foreign Ministry further includes two additional charges, on top of the four included in the first extradition request. The Foreign Ministry has passed on the request to the Justice Ministry.

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The curse of carbon comes in many forms. But it’s free, so we can’t resist.

Synthetic Clothing And Tires Could Be Polluting The Oceans In A Big Way (CNBC)

A new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has found that as much as 31 percent of the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of plastic that enters the ocean annually could be from sources such as tires and synthetic clothing. These products can release “primary microplastics”, which are plastics that directly enter the environment as “small particulates”. According to the IUCN, which released the report on Wednesday, they come from a range of sources. These include synthetic textiles, which deposit them due to abrasion when washed, and tires, which release them as a result of erosion when driving.

The report identified seven “major sources” of primary microplastics: Tires, synthetic textiles, marine coatings, road markings, personal care products, plastic pellets and city dust. “Our daily activities, such as washing clothes and driving, significantly contribute to the pollution choking our oceans, with potentially disastrous effects on the rich diversity of life within them, and on human health,” Inger Andersen, director general of the IUCN, said in a statement on Wednesday. “These findings indicate that we must look far beyond waste management if we are to address ocean pollution in its entirety,” he added.

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Are they implying changing the seeds when they talk about reconstituting them, developing climate-resilient crops for generations?

Arctic ‘Doomsday’ Seed Vault Receives 50,000 New Deposits (AP)

Nearly 10 years after a “doomsday” seed vault opened on an Arctic island, some 50,000 new samples from seed collections around the world have been deposited in the world’s largest repository built to safeguard against wars or natural disasters wiping out global food crops. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a gene bank built underground on the isolated island in a permafrost zone some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from the North Pole, was opened in 2008 as a master backup to the world’s other seed banks, in case their deposits are lost. The latest specimens sent to the bank, located on the Svalbard archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, included more than 15,000 reconstituted samples from an international research center that focuses on improving agriculture in dry zones.

They were the first to retrieve seeds from the vault in 2015 before returning new ones after multiplying and reconstituting them. The specimens consisted of seed samples for some of the world’s most vital food sources like potato, sorghum, rice, barley, chickpea, lentil and wheat. Speaking from Svalbard, Aly Abousabaa, the head of the International Center for Agricultural Research, said Thursday that borrowing and reconstituting the seeds before returning them had been a success and showed that it was possible to “find solutions to pressing regional and global challenges.” The agency borrowed the seeds three years ago because it could not access its gene bank of 141,000 specimens in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, and so was unable to regenerate and distribute them to breeders and researchers.

“The reconstituted seeds will play a critical role in developing climate-resilient crops for generations,” Abousabaa said.The 50,000 samples deposited Wednesday were from seed collections in Benin, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, the U.S., Mexico, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus and Britain. It brought the total deposits in the snow-covered vault — with a capacity of 4.5 million — to 940,000.

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“Given the severity of the damage and the slow trajectory of recovery, the overarching vision of the 2050 Plan… is no longer attainable for at least the next two decades..”

Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef Set Back Decades (AFP)

Australia’s plan to rescue the beleaguered Great Barrier Reef has been set back at least two decades after the fragile ecosystem suffered its worst-ever bleaching last year, experts said Friday. The vast coral reef – which provides a tourism boon for Australia – is under pressure from agricultural run-off, the crown-of-thorns starfish, development and climate change. Last year swathes of coral succumbed to devastating bleaching, due to warming sea temperatures, and the reef’s caretakers have warned it faces a fresh onslaught in the coming months. Canberra updated the UN’s World Heritage committee on its “Reef 2050” rescue plan in December, insisting the site was “not dying” and laying out a strategy for incremental improvements to the site.

But an independent report commissioned by the committee concluded that the government had little chance of meeting its own targets in the coming years, adding that the “unprecedented” bleaching and coral die-off in 2016 was “a game changer”. “Given the severity of the damage and the slow trajectory of recovery, the overarching vision of the 2050 Plan… is no longer attainable for at least the next two decades,” the report said. Last year’s bleaching killed two-thirds of shallow-water corals in the north of the 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) long reef, although central and southern areas escaped with less damage. The government has pledged more than Aus$2.0 billion (US$1.5 billion) to protect the reef over the next decade, but researchers noted a lack of available funding, with many of the plan’s actions under-resourced.

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Feb 162017
 
 February 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Femme 1930

 

 

Great read from Ed. “..while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms — about 45% in GDP per person — Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece.” Good part on Dutch elections too.

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies (Edward Harrison)

This chart encapsulates the narrative in Matt’s post – namely that Greece has underperformed other emerging market crisis countries on post-crisis growth. Here’s how Matt put it: Greece had a very different post-crisis experience: it never recovered. By contrast, all the other countries were well past their pre-crisis peak after this much time had elapsed. On average, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have outperformed Greece by more than 40 percentage points after nine years. The reasonable question is why. Matt answers that in the paragraph before, saying: “But unlike those countries, Greece lacked the ability to use the exchange rate as a shock absorber. So while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms — about 45% in GDP per person — Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece. The net effect is that Greece had a relatively typical crisis in dollars but an unprecedently painful one in the terms that matter most”.

My view is that what we are seeing, therefore, is the difference monetary sovereignty can make in post-crisis recovery because the currency does a lot of the heavy lifting. And this is true for developed economies as well. For example, we saw the UK and Sweden recover after a housing bubble and EMU turmoil in the early 1990s in part because of currency depreciations. But of course, Greece doesn’t have its own currency so the currency can’t depreciate. Greece must use the internal devaluation route, which makes its labor, goods and services cheaper through a deflationary path – and that is very destructive to demand, to growth, and to credit. This, in my view, accounts for much of Greece’s underperformance relative to emerging market crisis countries.

In response to my tweet on Greece, Danish economist Lars Christensen pointed out to me that he had compared Greece to Turkey in 2015 and Greece came out poorly too. And his post noted that: “14 years later Turkey is still in many ways politically dysfunctional – in fact it has gotten worse in recent years – there has been rumours of plans of military coups, there has been major corruption scandals even involving the Prime Minister (now president Erdogan) and the governing AKParty and lately the civil war in Syria has created a massive inflow of refugees and increased tensions with Turkish Kurdish population.” Translation: it’s not about reforms, people. It’s about growth. And the euro – and the policies tied to membership – is anti-growth, particularly for a country like Greece that is forced to hit an unrealistic 3.5% primary surplus indefinitely. And there will be no debt forgiveness either, as the IMF has said is necessary.

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The WaPo takes a break from its political campaign and shows it still has at least one person left who can write an actual -and execellent- report.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought (WaPo)

We now take a break from your regularly scheduled scandals to bring you some not-so-breaking news: austerity was as big a disaster as its biggest critics said it was. That, at least, is what economists Christopher House and Linda Tesar of the University of Michigan and Christïan Proebsting of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne found when they looked at Europe’s budget-cutting experience the last eight years. It turns out that cutting spending right after the worst crisis in 80 years only led to a lower GDP and, in the most extreme cases, higher debt-to-GDP ratios. That’s right: trying to reduce debt levels sometimes increased debt burdens. Other than that, how was the policy, Mrs. Lincoln? But let’s back up a minute. This isn’t something that’s always true. In fact, it almost never used to be.

Cutting spending, you see, shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can cut interest rates too. That’s because lower borrowing costs can stimulate the economy just as much as lower government spending slows it down. What happens, though, if interest rates are already zero, or, even worse, you’re part of a currency union that means you can’t devalue your way out of trouble? Well, nothing good. House, Tesar and Proebsting calculated how much each European economy grew — or, more to the point, shrank — between the time they started cutting their budgets in 2010 and the end of 2014, and then compared it with what actually realistic models say would have happened if they hadn’t done austerity or adopted the euro.

According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1% instead of the 18% they did if they hadn’t slashed spending; by only 7% if they’d kept their drachmas, pounds, liras, escudos, pesetas and the ability to devalue that went along with them if they hadn’t become a part of the common currency and outsourced those decisions to Frankfurt; and only would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn’t tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced. In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.

[..] the euro really has been a doomsday device for turning recessions into depressions. It’s not just that it caused the crisis by keeping money too loose for Greece and the rest of them during the boom and too tight for them during the bust. It’s also that it forced a lot of this austerity on them. Think about it like this. Countries that can print their own money never have to default on their debts — they can always inflate them away instead — but ones that can’t, because, say, they share a common currency, might have to. Just the possibility of that, though, can be enough to make it a reality. If markets are worried that you might not be able to pay back your debts, they’ll make you pay a higher interest rate on them — which might make it so that you really can’t. In other words, the euro can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy where countries can’t afford to spend any more even though spending any less will only make everything worse.

That’s actually a pretty good description of what happened until the ECB belatedly announced that it would do “whatever it takes” to put an end to this in 2012. Which was enough to get investors to stop pushing austerity, but, alas, not politicians. It’s a good reminder that you should never doubt that a small group of committed ideologues can destroy the economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. That’s true whether you’re talking about the European politicians who pushed for the creation of the euro itself – they ignored the economists who warned them that it might turn out just as badly as it has – or the ones who pushed for austerity a few decades later. After all, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that trying to balance your budget when interest rates were zero would end badly.

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What’s lacking in Europe is self-reflection. Maybe that’s because it has no flexibility in its policies. But that still doesn’t make Malloch wrong.

‘The European Project Has Failed’ – Trump EU Envoy Pick Malloch (Exp.)

Donald Trump’s likely EU ambassador has launched a blistering attack on the “undemocratic” bloc and its “elitist” leaders.In comments that will terrify Brussels, Ted Malloch said the EU had become “bloated” by bureaucracy and “anti-Americanism”. And he called for member states to hold their own Brexit-style referendums – which could spark the break-up of the union. It comes after Mr Trump hailed Brexit as a “blessing to the world” and said the UK would be far stronger outside the bloc. Mr Malloch, who is the President’s pick to become Washington’s envoy to Brussels, made the comments in The Parliament magazine.

He said: “Put the EU to a referendum vote in every member country. “It is time for greater scepticism and realism about the European Union and its not so hidden agenda and ever closer union.” He added: “The failure of the European integration project should by now be self-apparent to everyone. “This is simply not something Churchill or Roosevelt would countenance. “The European Union has become undemocratic and bloated by both bureaucracy and rampant anti-Americanism.” He said: “We want democracy and accountability, while the EU is intrinsically undemocratic and unaccountable. “So should the US continue to promote such a damaged European model, which is alien to our own traditions? Is it not working against US interests to do so?”

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It may be an option considered fleetingly, but that’s it.

Greece ‘May Ditch Euro In Favour Of The Dollar’ – Malloch (Ind.)

The man tipped to be Donald Trump’s ambassador to the European Union has said that Greece is contemplating leaving the euro in favour of the US dollar. According to the transcript of a translated interview with Greek local online news site ekathimerini.com, Professor Ted Malloch claimed Greek economists are looking into taking on the US banknotes if the country turns its back on the European single currency in a move that he said would “freak out” Germany. He said: “I know some Greek economists who have even gone to leading think tanks in the US to discuss this topic and the question of dollarisation. “Such a topic of course freaks out the Germans because they really don’t want to hear such ideas.”

Mr Malloch added that a “Grexit” would be the best options for Greek people as the current situation is “unsustainable”. Mr Malloch, a strident Brexiteer, has indicated he is no fan of Brussels on several occasions. Earlier this month, in an interview with Bloomberg, Mr Malloch said that he didn’t want to speak on behalf of the Greek people but “I think there is probably – from an economist’s perspective – a very strong reason for Greece moving away from the euro.” Last month, Mr Malloch said the euro “could collapse” in the next 18 months. “The one thing I would do in 2017 is short the euro,” he said. “I think it is a currency that is not only in demise but has a real problem and could in fact collapse in the coming year, year and a half,” he added.

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‘He will die in jail’:

US Intelligence Community Ready To ‘Go Nuclear’ On Trump (RawS)

U.S. national security officials are reportedly ready to “go nuclear” after President Donald Trump’s latest attack on the intelligence community. In a series of tweets on Tuesday and Wednesday, Trump insisted that the “real scandal” was not that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about his contact with Russia. Instead, the president blasted what he said were “un-American” leaks that led to Flynn’s ousting.On Wednesday, former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler provided some insight into the reaction of national security officials. “Now we go nuclear,” he wrote on Twitter. “[Intelligence community] war going to new levels. Just got an [email from] senior [intelligence community] friend, it began: ‘He will die in jail.’” “US intelligence is not the problem here,” Schindler added in another tweet. “The President’s collusion with Russian intelligence is. Many details, but the essence is simple.”

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No matter where you stand, this must be of concern. A state within the state is not what the founders had in mind.

Spies Keep Intelligence From Donald Trump on Leak Concerns (WSJ)

U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him. In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said.

Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government. A White House official said: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.” A spokesman for the Office of Director of National Intelligence said: “Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.” Intelligence officials have in the past not told a president or members of Congress about the ins and outs of how they ply their trade. At times, they have decided that secrecy is essential for protecting a source, and that all a president needs to know is what that source revealed and what the intelligence community thinks is important about it.

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Fewer reserve requirements means less Treasury appetite.

How Trump Could Trigger A Massive Wave Of Selling In The Treasury Market (CNBC)

Since the financial crisis, banks have been stockpiling Treasurys because they qualify as “safe” assets that count toward required regulatory capital levels. U.S. commercial banks now hold $2.4 trillion in government debt and agency securities, more than double the total from nine years ago, according to the St. Louis Fed. But House Republicans – with the support of the administration – are pushing to roll back parts of the Dodd-Frank regulations that were put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. That means banks could get a reprieve from those capital level requirements, and they could reduce their Treasury holdings as a result. In a report, RBC managing director and banking analyst Gerard Cassidy calculates the 24 largest bank holding companies already hold $100 billion in excess capital, with Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase having the highest dollar amount.

As regulation eases, the capital that was once used as a large cushion against a future recession could be funneled into stock buybacks. Those Treasury-heavy portfolios “will certainly be the source of cash to use to buy back stock,” Cassidy wrote in an e-mail to CNBC. Banks have already been slowly selling off the debt, which causes yields to rise. Between the middle of 2013 and 2014, Bank of America’s holdings of U.S. Treasurys grew from $2.9 billion to $58 billion. At the end of 2016, that figure had dropped to $48 billion, according to the bank’s earnings. Wells Fargo’s $26 billion Treasury balance in September is down nearly 30% from a year ago. Not all banks break out the specific balance, but the totals as of the third quarter of 2016 range from $23 billion (Morgan Stanley) to $111 billion (Citigroup).

But banks are just one source of possible selling en masse. China is a creditor of a different magnitude: The country held $1.05 trillion in Treasurys as of November, down by $215 billion from a year earlier. It dumped $41 billion in U.S. debt in October alone, a move that relinquished its ranking as the largest foreign creditor to the United States. One reason for the country selling U.S. debt previously was its need to raise cash to prop up its currency, the yuan, after years of seeking to devalue it to make its exports more attractive. Its intervention in the currency markets led President Donald Trump, while campaigning, to label China a currency manipulator and threaten a 45% tariff on products made in China but sold in the United States.

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Interesting phenomenon, but the writers have a hard time explaining.

Houses as ATMs No Longer (NYFed)

Housing equity is the primary form of collateral that households use for borrowing. This makes it a potentially important source of consumption funding, especially for younger households. In a previous post we showed that owner’s equity in residential real estate has finally, thanks to increasing home prices, rebounded to and essentially re-attained its 2005 peak level. Yet in spite of a gain of more than $7 trillion in housing equity since 2012, so far homeowners haven’t been tapping this equity at anything like the pace we witnessed during the housing boom that ended in 2006. In this post, we analyze the changes in equity withdrawal.

The blue line in the chart below shows total owner’s equity in real estate from the Flow of Funds—this is the same series as in our previous post. It shows a dramatic rebound in aggregate home equity over the last several years. The red line shows the combination of two ways that households can withdraw equity—assuming they have some—without selling the house: they can originate a junior lien against the property or they can refinance using a cash-out refinancing of an existing first-lien mortgage. The series in the chart, which we have shown in an earlier post on household debt, captures both of these, while excluding the equity withdrawal associated with selling a home.

The first observation that’s striking about the chart is the dramatic change in borrower behavior with respect to home equity. During the boom between 2000 and 2006, household equity and its extraction were both rising rapidly. From 2003 to 2007, homeowners were extracting more than $350 billion per year, resources that were available for use in a variety of purposes from home improvement to consumption. The second major point of the chart is the effect of the housing and financial crises. Beginning in 2008, equity extraction began to decline quickly and was hovering around zero by 2010, where it remained through 2012. The virtual elimination of equity withdrawal was a big contributor to the household deleveraging that ultimately shaved more than $1.5 trillion from household debt. It also likely contributed to the sharp decline of consumption during the Great Recession and its subsequent sluggish recovery.

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Looks dangerous. Fighting bubbles with bigger bubbles is always a bad idea.

Fed Frets about $2 Trillion Commercial Real Estate Bubble (WS)

Boom and bust: that’s the material CRE is made of. We had seven years of boom, and now the Fed is worried about the bust. Yellen didn’t mention CRE in her prepared testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. But it featured in the twice-yearly report that the Fed delivered to Congress in support of Yellen’s testimony. And it wasn’t the first time that it was mentioned in these twice-yearly reports – but the fifth time in a row. In its February report two years ago, the Fed first pointed at “valuation pressures” in CRE. And warnings about CRE have appeared since then in every report, twice a year, with growing sharpness, including in the report issued in June 2016, which warned that “valuations in the CRE sector appear increasingly vulnerable to negative shocks….”

Other Fed governors have also warned about the CRE boom and a potential bust, particularly Boston Fed governor Eric Rosengren, who was gazing with amazement at a stunning crane forest in his own city. What concerns the Fed about CRE aren’t the valuations per se, but the fact that the sector is highly leveraged, and that when prices collapse, which they tend to do, the collateral value gets crushed, and banks are left to twist in the wind. That’s what happened during the Financial Crisis. Just how badly can prices get crushed? The national averages hide the drama that happens on the ground in particular cities. But even these national averages still show enough drama, as per data from the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index. The index shows that overall prices across the major markets in the nation plunged nearly 40% during the Great Recession and have since more than doubled:

So that’s why the Fed is fretting about it. This time around, the Fed report said: “Commercial real estate (CRE) valuations, which have been an area of growing concern over the past year, rose further, with property prices continuing to climb and capitalization rates decreasing to historically low levels.” Then the report discusses the debt that nurtured this boom to these heights. This debt has ballooned to $1.98 trillion, and is now 14% higher than during the crazy peak of the prior bubble that collapsed with such spectacular results:

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All of a sudden Hamon has 38%?! Oh wait, the numbers don’t add up at all. More countries should discuss their colonial past- and present.

France’s Colonial Past Muscles Into Presidential Race (AFP)

French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron drew a storm of criticism Wednesday after calling France’s colonisation of Algeria a “crime against humanity”. In a TV interview in Algiers this week, the centrist said French actions in Algeria, which achieved independence in 1962 after eight years of war, were “genuinely barbaric, and constitute a part of our past that we have to confront by apologising”. His visit also included a stop at the Martyrs’ Memorial in Algiers, saying he wanted to promote a “reconciliation of memories” between the two countries. His rivals on the right for the French presidency – due to be decided in a first round election in April and a run-off between the two top candidates in May – pounced on the comments.

Les Republicans candidate Francois Fillon on Wednesday denounced what he called “this hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance that is unworthy of a candidate for the presidency of the republic”. Wallerand de Saint-Just, an official in Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front party, accused Macron of “shooting France in the back”, while Gerald Darmanin, an ally of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, tweeted “Shame on Emmanuel Macron for insulting France while abroad”. It was the not the first time Macron, who currently leads the polls for the two rounds of voting in April and May, has touched on the livewire issue. “Yes, there was torture in Algeria, but there was also the emergence of a state, or wealth, of a middle class,” he told the magazine Le Point in October.

“This is the reality of colonialism. There are elements of civilisation and elements of barbarism.” And Fillon has been tripped up by his own comments on French colonialism. In August, he drew claims of trying to sanitise history, claiming that “France is not guilty of having wanted to share its culture with the peoples of Africa”. Macron remains the frontrunner in the presidential race, with 39% of those surveyed in the latest survey by pollsters Ipsos giving him a favourable opinion. In the poll released by the magazine Le Point on Wednesday, Macron was followed by Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, with 38%, while Fillon tumbled 18 percentage points to 25%, just behind Le Pen, on 26%.

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One step away from a formal investigation. Does he really want it that bad?

French Prosecutor Keeps Fillon Fake Work Probe Open (R.)

France’s financial prosecutor announced on Thursday that an investigation into fake work allegations surrounding presidential candidate Francois Fillon would remain open, in a new blow to the ex-prime minister’s campaign. A three week-old scandal over hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers’ money which his wife was paid for work she may not have done has cost conservative Fillon his status as favorite to win the French presidency in May. “It is my duty to affirm that the numerous elements collected (by investigators) do not, at this stage, permit the case to be dropped,” prosecutor Eliane Houlette said in a statement, after receiving an initial police report on the subject.

The prosecutor did not announce any further steps, but among the choices before it are dropping the case, taking it further by appointing an investigating magistrate, or sending it straight to trial. Fillon, 62, has said he would step down should he be put under formal investigation, but his camp has also challenged the legitimacy of the probe. The first round of the election is less than 10 weeks away.

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Feb 102017
 
 February 10, 2017  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Al Capone’s free soup kitchen, Chicago, 1931

 

US Appeals Court Upholds Suspension Of Trump Travel Ban (AP)
The Crash Will Be Violent (David Stockman)
Foreign Governments Dump US Treasuries as Never Before; Who is Buying? (WS)
Impediments to Growth (Lacy Hunt)
A Game Of Chess (BP)
Biography of President Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Wayne Newton” (Jim Kunstler)
What Would it Cost a Country to Leave the Euro? (WS)
Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’ (Ind.)
Greece Hopeful Of Imminent EU Debt Deal Despite German Warning (G.)
Greek Crisis Descends Into Blame Game (Tel.)
China Bitcoin Exchanges Halt Withdrawals After PBOC Talks (BBG)
Where US Immigrants Have Come From Over Time (BI)
The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller (BBG)
Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels (Fox)
Ground-Breaking Research Uncovers New Risks of GMOs, Glyphosate (NGR)
‘No One Accepts Responsibility’: Thirteen Refugees Dead In Greece (IRR)

 

 

It is crucial for the US political system to be tested this way. So far, it seems to work, but we’re in very early innings. Important to recognize that Trump and Bannon merely attempt to use the broader executive powers developed under Clinton, Bush and Obama. A major problem can be that the judiciary has alredy become very politicized, with presidents getting to pick judges.

US Appeals Court Upholds Suspension Of Trump Travel Ban (AP)

Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration’s immigration policy. In a unanimous decision, the panel of three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the U.S. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible. The court rejected the administration’s claim that it did not have the authority to review the president’s executive order. “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said. The judges noted that the states had raised serious allegations about religious discrimination.

Following news of the ruling, Trump tweeted, “See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!” U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban last week after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns. Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism. The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.

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“..the first half of the year will be consumed in nasty partisan battles over cabinet appointments, the Gorsuch nomination, interminable maneuvers over the travel ban and follow-on measures of extreme vetting and the Obamacare repeal/replace battle.”

The Crash Will Be Violent (David Stockman)

[..] What will be coming soon, however, is the mother of all debt ceiling crises — an eruption of beltway dysfunction that will finally demolish the notion that Trump is good for the economy and the stock market. The debt ceiling holiday ends on March 15, and it appears that the rudderless Treasury Department — Mnuchin has not yet been approved as Treasury Secretary and there are no Trump deputies, either — may be engaging in a bit of sabotage. That is, the cash balance has run down from a peak of about $450 billion to just $304 billion as of last Friday. Unless reversed soon, this means that the Treasury will run out of cash by perhaps July 4th rather than Labor Day. After that, all hell will break loose.

Washington has been obviously dysfunctional for years, but the virtue of the Great Disrupter is that his tweets, tangents, inconsistencies and unpredictabilities guarantee that the system will soon shut down entirely. Consequently, the first half of the year will be consumed in nasty partisan battles over cabinet appointments, the Gorsuch nomination, interminable maneuvers over the travel ban and follow-on measures of extreme vetting and the Obamacare repeal/replace battle. Then, the second half of 2017 will degenerate into a non-stop battle over raising the debt ceiling and continuing resolutions for fiscal year (FY) 2018 which begins October 1. That will mean, in turn, that there is no budget resolution embodying the Trump/GOP fiscal agenda, and therefore no basis for filibuster-proof “reconciliation instructions” on the tax cut.

This latter point, in fact, needs special emphasis. The frail GOP majorities now in place will be too battered and fractured by the interim battles to coalesce around a ten-year budget resolution that embodies the $10 trillion of incremental deficits already built into the CBO baseline — plus trillions more for defense, veterans, border control, the Mexican Wall, an infrastructure bonanza and big tax cuts, too. It will never happen. There is not remotely a GOP majority for such a resolution. But without an FY 2018 budget resolution, inertia and the K-Street lobbies will rule. Without a 51-vote majority rule in the Senate, a material, deficit-neutral cut in the corporate tax rate would be absolutely impossible to pass. Yet that’s exactly what the casino is currently pricing-in.

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Foreign investors.

Foreign Governments Dump US Treasuries as Never Before; Who is Buying? (WS)

It started with a whimper a couple of years ago and has turned into a roar: foreign governments are dumping US Treasuries. The signs are coming from all sides. The data from the US Treasury Department points at it. The People’s Bank of China points at it in its data releases on its foreign exchange reserves. Japan too has started selling Treasuries, as have other governments and central banks. Some, like China and Saudi Arabia, are unloading their foreign exchange reserves to counteract capital flight, prop up their own currencies, or defend a currency peg. Others might sell US Treasuries because QE is over and yields are rising as the Fed has embarked on ending its eight years of zero-interest-rate policy with what looks like years of wild flip-flopping, while some of the Fed heads are talking out loud about unwinding QE and shedding some of the Treasuries on its balance sheet.

Inflation has picked up too, and Treasury yields have begun to rise, and when yields rise, bond prices fall, and so unloading US Treasuries at what might be seen as the peak may just be an investment decision by some official institutions. The chart below from Goldman Sachs, via Christine Hughes at Otterwood Capital, shows the net transactions of US Treasury bonds and notes in billions of dollars by foreign official institutions (central banks, government funds, and the like) on a 12-month moving average. Note how it started with a whimper, bounced back a little, before turning into wholesale dumping, hitting record after record (red marks added):

The People’s Bank of China reported two days ago that foreign exchange reserves fell by another $12.3 billion in January, to $2.998 trillion, the seventh month in a row of declines, and the lowest in six years. They’re down 25%, or almost exactly $1 trillion, from their peak in June 2014 of nearly $4 trillion (via Trading Economics, red line added):

China’s foreign exchange reserves are composed of assets that are denominated in different currencies, but China does not provide details. So of the $1 trillion in reserves that it shed since 2014, not all were denominated in dollars. The US Treasury Department provides another partial view, based on data collected primarily from US-based custodians and broker-dealers that are holding these securities for China and other countries. But the US Treasury cannot determine which country owns the Treasuries held in custodial accounts overseas. Based on this limited data, China’s holdings of US Treasuries have plunged by $215.2 billion, or 17%, over the most recent 12 reporting months through November, to just above $1 trillion.

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From a Mish article quoting an unpublished report. I wonder when all these people will begin to understand my point that growth is gone. Only then will the pieces fall into place. Note: calling Weak Global Growth and Impediment to Growth sounds a bit silly.

Impediments to Growth (Lacy Hunt)

1. Unproductive Debt At the end of the third quarter, domestic nonfinancial debt and total debt reached $47.0 and $69.4 trillion, respectively. Neither of these figures includes a sizeable volume of vehicle and other leases that will come due in the next few years nor unfunded pension liabilities that will eventually be due. The total figure is much larger as it includes debt of financial institutions as well as foreign debt owed. The broader series points to the complexity of the debt overhang. Netting out the financial institutions and foreign debt is certainly appropriate for closed economies, but it is not appropriate for the current economy.

Total debt gained $3.1 trillion in the past four quarters, or $5.70 dollars for each $1.00 of GDP growth. From 1870 to 2015, $1.90 of total debt generated $1.00 dollar of GDP. We estimate that approximately $20 trillion of debt in the U.S. will reset within the next two years. Interest rates across the curve are up approximately 100 basis points from the lows of last year. Unless rates reverse, the annual interest costs will jump $200 billion within two years and move steadily higher thereafter as more debt obligations mature. This sum is equivalent to almost two-fifths of the $533 billion in nominal GDP in the past four quarters. This situation is the same problem that has constantly dogged highly indebted economies like the U.S., Japan and the Eurozone.

2. Record Global Debt The IMF calculated that the gross debt in the global non-financial sector was $217 trillion, or 325% of GDP, at the end of the third quarter of 2016. Total debt at the end of the third quarter 2016 was more than triple its level at the end of 1999. Debt in China surged by $3 trillion in just the first three quarters of 2016. Chinese debt at the end of the third quarter soared to 390% of GDP, an estimated 20% higher than U.S. debt-to-GDP. This debt surge explains the shortfall in the Chinese growth target for 2016, a major capital flight, a precipitous fall of the Yuan against the dollar and a large hike in their overnight lending rate. Such policies lose their effectiveness over time. [As stated by] Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek (1933):“To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about.”

3. Weak Global Growth Based on figures from the World Bank and the IMF through 2016, growth in a 60-country composite was just 1.1%, a fraction of the 7.2% average since 1961. Even with the small gain for 2016, the three-year average growth was -0.8%. As such, the last three years have provided more evidence that the benefits of a massive debt surge are elusive. World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992.

4. Eroding Demographics World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992.

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Absolutely delightful.

A Game Of Chess (BP)

Chess is a game where the number of possible positions rises at an astronomical rate. By the 2nd move of the game there are already 400 possible positions and after each person moves twice, that number rises to 8902. My coach explained to me that I was not trained enough to even begin to keep track of those things and that my only chance of ever winning was to take the initiative and never give it up. “You must know what your opponent will do next by playing his game for him.” was the advice I received. Now, I won’t bore you with the particulars but it boiled down to throwing punches each and every turn without exception. In other words, if my opponent must always waste his turn responding to what I am doing then he never gets an opportunity to come at me in the millions of possibilities that reside in the game. Again, if I throw the punch – even one that can be easily blocked, then I only have to worry about one combination and not millions.

My Russian chess coach next taught me that I should Proudly Announce what exactly I am doing and why I am doing it. He explained to me that bad chess players believe that they can hide their strategy even though all the pieces are right there in plain sight for anyone to see. A good chess player has no fear of this because they will choose positions that are unassailable so why not announce them? As a coach, I made all of my students tell each other why they were making the moves that they made as well as what they were planning next. It entirely removed luck from the game and quickly made them into superior players.

My Russian coach next stressed Time as something I should focus on to round out my game. He said that I shouldn’t move the same piece twice in a row and that my “wild punches” should focus on getting my pieces on to the board and into play as quickly as possible. So, if I do everything correctly, I have an opponent that will have a disorganized defense, no offense and few pieces even in play and this will work 9 out of 10 times. The only time it doesn’t work for me is when I go against players that have memorized hundreds of games and have memorized how to get out of these traps.

With all that said, let’s see if President Trump is playing chess. First, we can all agree that Trump, if nothing else, throws a lot of punches. We really saw this in the primaries where barely a day could go by without some scandal that would supposedly end his presidential bid. His opponents and the press erroneously thought that responding to each and every “outrage” was the correct thing to do without ever taking the time to think whether or not they had just walked into a trap. They would use their turn to block his Twitter attack but he wouldn’t move that piece again once that was in play but, instead, brought on the next outrage – just like my coach instructed me to do.

Second, Trump is very vocal in what he is going to do. Just like I had my students announced to each other their plans, Trump has been nothing but transparent about what he intends to do. After all, announcing your plans only works if your position is unassailable. It demoralizes your opponent. You rub their face in it. Another benefit to being vocal is that it encourages your opponent to bring out his favorite piece to deal with said announced plans. This is a big mistake as any good chess player will quickly recognize which piece his opponent favors and then go take them.

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“Fraid Jim lost it.

Biography of President Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Wayne Newton” (Jim Kunstler)

And so it happened years ago on the Trump family’s annual Christmas pilgrimage to Paraguay that Papa Fred and Mama Mary Anne fell in socially with the circle around Klaus Furtwänkler, Waffen-SS Gruppenführer (ret.) in the little resort village of Nueva Bavaria. The former commandant of the Flossenbürg work camp (granite quarries) introduced young Donald to the song “Danke Schoen” popularized by the vocalist Eva Braun at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since earliest childhood, with his love for the “spotlight,” Donald had entertained the family with renditions of Disney’s beloved hits, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “When I See an Elephant Fly,” and “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (an Actor’s Life for Me).” The next evening, on Furtwänkler’s 3,000-hectare estancia, before an audience of fifty “special guests” at the Heiliger Abend buffet (Arapaima snapper with red cabbage and potato salad), Donald performed “Danke Schoen” to wild applause, propelling him into a career in show business. Not a few of the frauleins present fainted.


Young Donald or someone else?

To protect Papa’s real estate business interests in Queens, New York, Donald adopted the professional name “Wayne Newton” and was withdrawn from military school to perform on the county fair circuit across the states that would later self- identify by the color “red” — but which, given our adversarial relations with the USSR at the time, styled themselves red, white, and blue. Six month’s later, “Wayne” caught the eye of Las Vegas promoter Sal “Cukarach” Vaselino while playing the Refrigeration Engineers annual meet-up at the Sands Hotel, and then after a six-week smash engagement at the Golden Nugget in 1963, “Wayne” was inducted into the notorious Frank Sinatra / Dean Martin Rat-pack as its first underage member. (Rat-pack consigliere Peter Lawford introduced the talented lad to the concept of “sloppy seconds”).

[..] Back on the convention circuit with Jules the Singing Jackrabbit, Wayne played the 1983 National Realtors Association Pump-and-Dump Expo and was influenced to get his first real estate license. “Why pay for milk when you can own the cash cow,” keynote speaker Ivan Boesky advised “Wayne,” prompting him to return to his New York City “roots” and resume his identity as “The Donald,” son of “The Fred” Trump. A carefully orchestrated life of public appearances at Gotham charity events and a lavish wedding to model Ivana Zelníková reestablished Donald Trump as a fixture on the glittering Manhattan scene – meanwhile, a Greyhound Bus mechanic and aspiring country crooner named Bud Gorch, a “dead-ringer” look-alike for the erstwhile “Wayne Newton,” was recruited by the Trump Organization to impersonate the once-again in-demand Las Vegas star. Gorch-as-Wayne successfully premiered his new act at the National Colorectal Surgeons Association Chron’s and Colitis Congress and the “great switch” was achieved. The rest, as they say, is history!


Who actually was it onstage at the National Organ Transplant Association Convention, 1967?

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The door is ajar.

What Would it Cost a Country to Leave the Euro? (WS)

[Le Pen] is campaigning on taking France out of the euro (after holding a referendum) and re-denominating the entire €2.4 trillion pile of French government debt into new franc. Then the government can just print the money it wants to spend. There are some complications with her plan, including that the diverse and bickering French political class will unite into a slick monolithic bloc against her during the second round. And if she still wins, her government will face that bloc in parliament. But hey. And now people are seriously thinking about it. Greece was on the verge of leaving the euro, but then within a millimeter of actually taking the step, it blinked and inched back from the precipice in the hot summer of 2015. And so for now still no one knows what the cost would be to leave…

[..] Now ECB President Mario Draghi is stumbling into the fray. “The euro is irrevocable,” he told the European Parliament on Monday, to counter the populist rejection of the euro. “This is the treaty,” he said. Which evoked memories of the good ol’ days of the sovereign debt crisis, when, to put an end to it in July 2012, Draghi said that the euro was “irreversible” and that the ECB was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” At the time, the Spanish 10-year yield was above 7% and the Italian 10-year yield was above 6%. So now, same tune, different scenario. It’s not a debt crisis. It’s just a question of whether or not it’s possible to leave the euro, and if yes, how much it would cost. And that question has already been raised officially.

On January 18, Draghi had sent a letter to European Union lawmakers Marco Valli and Marco Zanni, telling them: “If a country were to leave the Eurosystem, its national central bank’s claims on or liabilities to the ECB would need to be settled in full.” That was the opening – the IF. “If a country were to leave…” It meant that a country could leave! It was the first official admission that this was actually possible. It was just a matter of cost. That’s how Zani saw Draghi’s response. Bloomberg: “I wanted to bring up the issue of exit from the euro and how it can happen,” he said in an interview before the testimony. “Draghi has now clearly admitted that such an exit is possible and now there is need to have more clarity about the cost. I’m sure that in case of Italy’s exit from the euro, benefits exceed costs.”

Alas, in his testimony before the European Parliament, Draghi refused to put a price tag on leaving the euro. Valli asked him whether the “liabilities” Draghi had referred to that would “need to be settled in full” were the so-called Target2 imbalances. These are a result of payment settlements within the European System of Central Banks. They’d soared during the debt crisis to hundreds of billions of euros, a sign of the underlying financial tensions between debtor and creditor countries. But Draghi dodged the question: “I cannot answer a question that is based on hypotheses, on assumptions which are not foreseen” by the European treaties, he said. “What I could do is send you a written answer which compares our Target2 system with the Federal Reserve-based system.” Which was very helpful.

But even though he refused to put a price tag on leaving the euro, the whole exchange confirmed that it’s possible to leave the euro, though there is nothing in the treaties that mentions leaving the euro.

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Yanis is spot on right. The Greeks are now being sacrificed on the altar of incumbents afraid to lose elections. The insane narrative that Germans and Dutch ‘give’ billions to Greece persists. That says a lot about the press in these countries.

Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’ (Ind.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has said that everyday life in Greece is unsustainable and that the country’s European creditors are going after the “little people” rather than “corrupt oligarchs”. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the 55-year old economist said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.

He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”. Earlier this week, the IMF warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path, despite years of economic reform. The IMF has insisted on additional debt relief and reduced fiscal targets before it participates financially in Greece’s current bailout program. Germany, which faces national elections, has resisted such moves. Statistics agency ELSTAT said on Thursday that Greece’s jobless rate came in at 23% in November, unchanged from the previous month. But although the jobless rate has come down from record highs, it remains more than double the euro zone’s average of 9.8% in November.

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Why try anymore?

Greece Hopeful Of Imminent EU Debt Deal Despite German Warning (G.)

The Greek government has expressed hope of an imminent deal with its EU creditors, despite a warning from the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, that the country could cut its debts only by leaving the single currency. Athens is in a familiar stand-off with the German finance ministry as it seeks easier repayment terms on its €330bn debt pile, which the IMF has described as unsustainable and explosive. The IMF has so far declined to get involved in the latest Greek rescue effort, a three-year EU bailout worth €86bn set to run until August 2018. The fund says it will only join if Greece gets significant debt relief, although its board is split. Germany and the Netherlands, which both face elections this year, think the IMF’s involvement is crucial for the bailout plan to continue.

Tensions – and Greek borrowing costs – have risen in recent weeks, ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on 20 February, which is widely seen as the last moment to reach agreement before the eurozone election cycle. The Dutch go to the polls in March; French presidential elections follow in April-May and German elections in the autumn. George Katrougalos, Greece’s Europe minister, voiced confidence that a deal was within reach: “I am optimistic that we can have such an agreement before the Eurogroup of 20 February.” He told journalists in Brussels that Europe was not the problem. “If we had just to deal with the Europeans we would have already completed this review in December. All the delay is due to the ambivalence of the IMF to participate or not to participate.”

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“Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, argued that “Greece’s debt situation does not have to be cause for alarm”…

Greek Crisis Descends Into Blame Game (Tel.)

Greece is under mounting pressure to embark on a new wave of economic reforms, as its international creditors demand extra efforts to drag the country out of its latest crisis. At the same time Germany is facing fresh demands from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to write off some of the money it loaned to Greece in the most recent €86bn (£73bn) bailout. And the IMF has been forced to defend its dire predictions of permanent economic gloom as the Greek government rejects the IMF’s assessment of its reforms, public finances and economic performance. On top of that, the IMF itself is split, with a minority of directors pushing for extra spending cuts and tax hikes in Greece to try to improve its public finances. The IMF tried to address its internal splits, stressing that it wants debt relief for Greece combined with economic reforms, not austerity. It does still demand serious action, though – unless the economy picks up and debts are slashed, it has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path.

“Our strong preference is for a primary [Greek budget] surplus target of 1.5pc and that this should be accompanied by significant debt relief. We’ve referred to this as the ‘two legs’ of the programme that we think is required,” said Gerry RIce, the IMF’s spokesman. “We think this target, the 1.5, can be obtained by the policies envisaged by the current European Stability Mechanism programme – in short, the IMF is not asking for any more austerity for Greece.” That passes much of the pressure on to Germany and the other nations which have loaned Greece money, but are unwilling to write off the debt. Germany renewed the pressure on Greece to press ahead with more economic reforms. Its finance minister Wolfgang Schauble told a German TV station that the Lisbon Treaty prevents governments from writing off these debts.

Instead, he argued, Greece must continue reforming to make its economy more competitive. Meanwhile Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, argued that “Greece’s debt situation does not have to be cause for alarm”. Writing in the Financial Times, he said that the IMF has failed to fully appreciate the amount of support on offer from other eurozone countries to Greece, largely in the form of very generous loans. “It is hard to overestimate the significance of this pledge, made by the finance ministers of the eurozone. Solidarity with Greece will continue,” he said. “We would not have lent this amount if we did not think we would get our money back,” he said, ruling out debt relief and backing more economic reforms.

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Beijing decides what bitcoin is.

China Bitcoin Exchanges Halt Withdrawals After PBOC Talks (BBG)

China’s three biggest bitcoin exchanges took steps to prevent withdrawals of the cryptocurrency amid pressure from the nation’s central bank to clamp down on capital outflows. BTC China subjected all bitcoin withdrawals to a 72-hour review, while Huobi and OKCoin suspended them completely, the three venues said in separate statements on Thursday. They all said the measures were in response to central bank requirements. Conversion to and from the yuan is not affected and the curbs will be dropped after updates to compliance systems, the exchanges said. The People’s Bank of China told nine bitcoin venues at a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday that it will close exchanges that violate rules on foreign exchange management, money laundering, and payment and settlement.

Chinese authorities are scrutinizing the cryptocurrency amid concerns it’s being used to spirit money out of the country, undermining official efforts to clamp down on capital outflows and prop up the yuan. Demand from investors in Asia’s largest economy, home to most of the world’s bitcoin trades, has fueled a 160% rally versus the dollar over the past year. Huobi and OKCoin said it will take about a month to upgrade systems in line with new PBOC guidelines. BTC China did not give a timing for when any upgrade would be completed. “The Chinese government is worried about capital flight,” said Arthur Hayes, a former market maker at Citigroup who now runs BitMEX, a bitcoin derivatives venue in Hong Kong. “Bitcoin is seen as another way to move money out of China, even though most people trade it for onshore capital appreciation and as another asset in their portfolio.”

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A long history of immgrant bans.

Where US Immigrants Have Come From Over Time (BI)

President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration may have reignited public debate, but Americans have long harbored anti-immigrant sentiments. One-third of Americans said in a 2016 Pew Research Center survey that immigrants are a “burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care,” and 38% say immigration should be decreased. On the flip side, 59% of Americans say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” and either think immigration should stay at its present level or increase. Today, immigrants make up 13.5% of the US population — on par with the share in 1860, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The overall number of immigrants coming to the US peaked from 2000-05 at 5 million, and has been declining since then. Here are the major regions where immigrants entering the US have come from since 1820:

US immigrants were largely of European descent in the 1800s, and started coming from the Americas (largely Mexico) in the 1960s. The sharp decrease in the 1920s is due to Congress passing the Exclusion Act, which set limits on the number of immigrants who could enter the US, based on a quota system of the percentage of nationalities already in the country. Barely anyone from Asia could enter at all. Congress revised the law in 1952, and immigration started to tick up again.

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Wonderful story.

The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller (BBG)

Some of the most respected people in the investing industry say that, dating back to the 1980s, nobody has had a better nose for sniffing out fraud than the 56-year-old Cohodes. He’s exposed suspect accounting at a number of high-profile companies, including the Belgian speech-recognition software developer Lernout & Hauspie, which went bankrupt in 2001 after being valued at about $10 billion, and mortgage lender NovaStar Financial, where his efforts earned him a Harvard Business School case study published in 2013. “I would not want to be his adversary if I was still a criminal today,” says Sam Antar, who was sentenced to six months of house arrest and 1,200 hours of community service for cooking the books at New York consumer-electronics chain Crazy Eddie in one of the largest securities frauds unearthed in the 1980s. “A character like Marc”—the two crossed paths later in his life when both were focused on detecting fraud—“you stay away from.”

And that’s been relatively easy for at least part of the past eight years. In 2008 the hedge fund Cohodes worked at for more than two decades went out of business under controversial circumstances. He maintains that Goldman Sachs, its prime broker, closed it too hastily by making needless margin calls, a claim Goldman disputes. The fallout spurred a bout of what Cohodes likens to post-traumatic stress disorder. “What happened to me would put the average person under,” he says. He retreated to his farm, where he recuperated by spending his days delivering eggs to San Francisco, cheering on the Oakland Raiders, and traveling to see a friend’s rock band, Collective Soul. Besides, the vast majority of stocks were rising because of central bank stimulus, depriving him of ideal opportunities as a short seller.

Now Cohodes is back. His time among the horses and chickens—outside the money management industry—may even have helped him return to the top of his game. Slimmed down and fighting fit, he’s been winning big on a series of short bets against Canadian companies since he made his comeback. Cohodes says he’s been betting against embattled Valeant Pharmaceuticals International since the summer of 2015. Around the same time, he began shorting another debt-laden Canadian drugmaker, Concordia International, which he calls “the poor man’s Valeant.” Both stocks lost most of their value last year. Cohodes says he’s committed to exposing companies that he believes may be ripping off ordinary, unwary investors—“Joe Six-pack,” as he puts it. “Legitimate companies don’t know who the f— I am. And they don’t care,” Cohodes says. “The bad guys? They know. And they do care.”

And he’ll go to great lengths to chase them down: dumpster-diving to find clues of wrongdoing, lambasting enemies on Twitter (where his rambunctious character is on full display), and hotfooting it across Las Vegas to check whether new business offices reported by NovaStar were real. (They weren’t, according to Cohodes; one was a private home, another a massage parlor.) “I’m a pretty driven guy,” he says.

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Still trying to find a good report on this, it’s frustrating. One detail: radiation levels are measured at a certain distance from the source, having some suggest real levels at that source could be 5000 sievert.

Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels (Fox)

The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels. Adam Housley, who reported from the area in 2011 following the catastrophic triple-meltdown, said this morning that new fuel leaks have been discovered. He said the radiation levels – as high as 530 sieverts per hour – are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor. “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

He said that critics, including the U.S. military in 2011, have long questioned whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and officials have been providing accurate information on the severity of the radiation. TEPCO maintains that the radiation is confined to the site and not a risk to the public. It’s expected to take at least $300 billion and four decades to fix it. Housley said small levels of radiation are still being detected off the coasts of California and Oregon and scientists fear it could get worse. “The worry is with 300 tons of radioactive water going into the Pacific every day, what is that doing to the Pacific Ocean?” said Housley. He added that critics are now questioning whether the radiation has been this severe all along.

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Keep paying attention.

Ground-Breaking Research Uncovers New Risks of GMOs, Glyphosate (NGR)

Within just a few weeks, two studies were published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports that cast new doubts on the safety of genetically modified foods and glyphosate herbicide. The first found that a genetically modified corn, NK 603, was not substantially equivalent to a non-GMO counterpart, which is contrary to claims of GMO proponents. The second study found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, can cause a serious liver disease at doses thousands of times lower than that allowed by law. Dr. Michael Antoniou, Head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, led the ground-breaking research.

The main focus of research within Dr. Antoniou’s group is the study of the molecular mechanisms of the regulation of gene function. He has used these discoveries to develop efficient gene expression systems for efficacious and safe biotechnological applications, including gene therapy. More recently, Dr. Antoniou has expanded his research program to include using molecular profiling “omics” methods in evaluating the safety of foods derived from GMO crops, low dose exposure from their associated pesticides, and other chemical pollutants. Dr. Antoniou is also a co-author of GMO Myths and Truths, an evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety of genetically modified crops and foods.

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Too many parties involved see misery as being a positive for their goals. Very few aim at actually solving the problems.

‘No One Accepts Responsibility’: Thirteen Refugees Dead In Greece (IRR)

The IRR has been trying to ascertain the circumstances in which thirteen refugees and migrants died since April 2016 in Greece, with six of these deaths occurring in hotspots. In only one of these cases are we in a position to provide the full name of the deceased; the only available identifier is nationality. At least six of the dead were refugees from Syria, including Syrian Kurds, three were from Afghanistan. Five of the dead were living at the hotspot at Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos where over 3,000 refugees are accommodated, well above stated capacity. Those who died here did so because the heaters and gas canisters they had obtained in order to keep warm or cook food were faulty, or used in dangerous situations. An Iraqi man died of a cardiac arrest at a hotspot in Samos (refugee population around 1,800 in a place designed for less than half that number).

Since the Idomeni makeshift migrant camp close to the Macedonian border was cleared by police in May 2016, sub-standard government refugee camps lacking basic amenities have been set up, with three of the dead living in such facilities around Thessaloniki. The oldest to die was a grandmother of 66, the youngest a two-month-old baby. There are three children amongst the dead. The remaining two deaths we have recorded were of men who died of hypothermia after having crossed from Turkey via the river Evros. It’s likely that they made the perilous crossing in order to avoid being detained in the hotspots on the Greek islands. Autopsy results are shrouded in secrecy. Nevertheless, the facts speak for themselves. Overcrowded, unprotected and dangerous conditions are all symptoms of institutional neglect. The simple truth is that the securitisation of asylum policy has come at the expense of refugee protection, as well as basic human rights.

[..] The deaths that have occurred over the winter have at least been reported in the media, partly because human rights defenders, wary of the positive communication strategy of the UNHCR and the EU, issued a number of press releases. Even so, officialdom does not appear over- anxious to investigate. What is particularly worrying is the secrecy shrouding autopsy results, which, if left unchallenged, will ensure that completely avoidable deaths such as these become the new normal. Philippa Kempson, of the Eftalou/ Molovos refugee support group on Lesbos, told IRR News of her fear that the ‘deaths could be subject to cover ups’, and her particular concern that ‘the “accidental” deaths in Moria still do not have a conclusive cause of death’. She also drew attention to the escalation in suicide attempts, particularly amongst unaccompanied minors, at Moria. ‘No one accepts responsibility for what is going on, just a circle of blame,’ she said.

In fact, evading accountability is hard-wired into the way refugee reception is organised in Greece, as there is no central authority responsible for the camps’ administration but a number of actors – a mixture of EU officials, the Greek army and other Greek institutions, the Red Cross and the UNHCR. This means that when anything goes wrong, the various actors end up blaming each other – something academics refer to as a process of distanciation, in which complex chains of responsibility make it difficult to connect cause (ie, government policies) with effect (ie, border-related deaths). Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley made a similar point in his recent exposé of how a multi-million pound fund administered by the EU’s aid department ECHO, implemented in Greece by UNHCR and aimed at creating adequate facilities to protect refugees from the winter, has been mishandled. Kingsley points out that as ‘no single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps, this has allowed most parties to distance themselves from blame’.

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Feb 092017
 
 February 9, 2017  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Migrant family in trailer home near Edinburg, Texas Feb 1939

China Approaches Maxi-Devaluation (DR)
German Exports Break Record as Trump Targets Trade Balance (BBG)
The Blood Bath Continues In The US Major Oil Industry (SRSrocco)
Record $1 Trillion in US Junk Debt to Mature in Next 5 Years (WSJ)
Trump EU Envoy Says Greece Is Now More Likely To Leave The Euro (G.)
Le Pen Aide Briefed French Central Banker on Plan to Print Money (BBG)
Global Banks In London To Relocate $1.9 Trillion Of Assets After Brexit (BBG)
Former Fed Staffer Says Central Bank Is Under the Thumb of Academics (WSJ)
Out of Pocket, Italians Fall Out of Love With The Euro (R.)
Italy’s “Bitter” Bank Rescue Tsar Bemoans Strategy Vacuum (R.)
Activists Plan Emergency Actions Across The Country To Protest DAPL (IC)
UK Government Backtracks On Pledge To Take Syrian Child Refugees (Ind.)
My Country Was Destroyed (Tima Kurdi)

 

 

Very much in line with what I’ve been saying. China’s dollar reserves are plunging but its dollar-denominated debt soars. A devaluation looks inevitable, and it has to be big because having to do a second one is the worst of all worlds.

China Approaches Maxi-Devaluation (DR)

The Institute of International Finance reports that capital outflows swelled to a record $725 billion last year. China’s desperate to keep that capital at home to support the economy. And it’s been burning holes in its dollar reserves to support the yuan. Selling its dollar holdings to buy yuan puts footings under the yuan. Makes it more attractive. Halts the capital flight. But the fire can only burn so long before it torches the remaining reserves… A $2.99 trillion war chest or a $3 trillion war chest sounds like plenty. But as Jim Rickards explained recently, it’s not nearly as much as it sounds: “Of the $3 trillion that China has left, only $1 trillion of that is a liquid. One trillion is invested in hedge funds, private equity funds, gold mines, et cetera. That money is not liquid. It cannot be used to support the currency, so remove a trillion.”

That leaves $2 trillion: “Another trillion has to be held on what’s called a precautionary reserve to bail out their banking system. The Chinese banks are completely insolvent. That system is going to need to be bailed out sooner rather than later.” Scratch another trillion: “That leaves only $1 trillion of the original $4 trillion in liquid form. The problem is that capital flight is continuing at a rate of $1 trillion per year, so China will be devoid of usable liquid assets by late 2017.” So now what? Jim has warned that Trump could soon label China a currency manipulator. That has vast implications, as you’ll see. But it’s not just Mr. Rickards. We learn today that a group of analysts at Deutsche Bank is piping an identical tune:

“Sometime in the next few weeks, President Trump or his Treasury secretary may declare China a currency manipulator and propose penalties including tariffs on some or all imports from China unless it ceases this and other alleged unfair trade policies.” And that would invite Chinese retaliation. Tariffs of their own on American goods. And then… China might reach for the nuclear option — a “maxi-devaluation.” Jim again: “We know what Donald Trump has said. China’s going to be labeled a currency manipulator. That’s like firing the first shot in a major currency war. We could see tariffs imposed in both directions, shots in retaliation, a financial war… China will retaliate with what I call their nuclear option, which is a maxi-devaluation of the Chinese yuan.”

If China’s going to be branded a currency manipulator and have its exports slapped with a steep tariff, why not go ahead and devalue? One, it would make Chinese exports more competitive. Two, China could stop depleting its dollar reserves. It would no longer have to burn through dollars to boost the yuan. And three, it could actually halt the capital outflows. How? Many Chinese fear the government will impose stricter capital controls as the situation worsens. So they move their capital out of the country in advance. That brings greater fear of capital controls. And more incentives for capital flight. It’s a vicious cycle. But if China devalues all at once, say, 25% or 30%, it sends this message: The worst is over. You may as well keep your capital in China. There will be no further devaluation.

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German trade surplus is bigger than the entire Greek economy. That is how the European Union ‘functions’.

German Exports Break Record as Trump Targets Trade Balance (BBG)

Germany posted a record trade surplus in 2016, which may further fuel accusations by the Trump administration that Europe’s largest economy is exploiting a “grossly undervalued” euro. Exports climbed 1.2% last year to 1.2 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion), the Federal Statistics Office in Wiesbaden reported on Thursday, while imports rose 0.6% to 954.6 billion euros. That left Germany’s trade surplus at 253 billion euros in 2016. The report feeds into a debate kicked off late last month by Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, who told the Financial Times that Germany is gaining an unfair advantage over the U.S. and other nations with a weak currency.

ECB President Mario Draghi, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble all rejected the claim that came on the back of President Donald Trump’s promises of renegotiating or tearing up free-trade treaties. “The fact that the German economy is exporting much more than it imports is a source of concern and no reason to be proud” because weak imports are the result of a lack of investment, Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute in Berlin, said in an e-mailed statement. “The record surplus will continue to fuel conflict with the U.S. and within the EU.” Exports fell 3.3% in December from the previous month, the report said, while imports were unchanged. The country’s current-account surplus reached 266 billion euros in 2016.

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Zombies on life support.

The Blood Bath Continues In The US Major Oil Industry (SRSrocco)

The carnage continues in the U.S. major oil industry as they sink further and further in the RED. The top three U.S. oil companies, whose profits were once the envy of the energy sector, are now forced to borrow money to pay dividends or capital expenditures. The financial situation at ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips has become so dreadful, their total long-term debt surged 25% in just the past year. [..] While the Federal Government could step in and bail out BIG OIL with printed money, they cannot print barrels of oil. Watch closely as the Thermodynamic Oil Collapse will start to pick up speed over the next five years. According to the most recently released financial reports, the top three U.S. oil companies combined net income was the worst ever. The results can be seen in the chart below:

In 2011, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Conocophillips enjoyed a combined $80.4 billion in net income profits. ExxonMobil recorded the highest net income of the group by posting a $41.1 billion gain, followed by Chevron at $26.9 billion, while ConocoPhillips came in third at $12.4 billion. However, the rapidly falling oil price, since the latter part of 2014, totally gutted the profits at these top oil producers. In just five short years, ExxonMobil’s net income declined to $7.8 billion, Chevron reported its first $460 million loss while ConocoPhillips shaved another $3.6 billion off its bottom line in 2016. Thus, the combined net income of these three oil companies in 2016 totaled $3.7 billion versus $80.4 billion in 2011. Even though these three oil companies posted a combined net income profit of $3.7 billion last year, their financial situation is much worse when we dig a little deeper.

We must remember, net income does not include capital expenditures or dividend payouts. If we look at these oil companies Free Cash Flow, they have been losing money for the past two years. Their combined free cash flow fell from a healthy $46.3 billion in 2011 to a negative $8.7 billion in 2015 and a negative $7.3 billion in 2016. Now, their free cash flow would have been much worse in 2016 if theses companies didn’t reduce their CAPEX spending by nearly a whopping $20 billion.

[..] the free cash flow minus dividend payouts provides us evidence that these oil companies have been seriously in the RED since 2013, not just the past two years displayed in the Free Cash Flow chart. As we can see, the group’s free cash flow minus dividends was a negative $32.8 billion in 2015 and a negative $29 billion last year. Of course, these three companies may have sold some financial investments or assets to reduce these negative values, but a company can’t stay in business for long by selling assets that it would need to use to produce oil in the future. So, what has falling free cash flow and dividends done to ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips long-term debt? You guessed it… it skyrocketed:

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Does this sound like a good thing? : “..the environment remains highly favorable for junk-rated businesses..”

Record $1 Trillion in US Junk Debt to Mature in Next 5 Years (WSJ)

More than $1 trillion of junk-rated corporate debt is slated to mature over the next five years, creating a stiff challenge for heavily-indebted businesses if the market for riskier debt were to deteriorate, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. The $1.063 trillion in maturing debt is the highest ever recorded by the ratings firm over a five-year period and also includes the highest single-year volume in 2021, when $402 billion of junk-rated corporate debt is scheduled to come due. Overall, a little more than $2 trillion of corporate debt is scheduled to mature by 2021 when factoring in $944 billion of investment-grade bonds. But it is the volume of junk-rated debt that could be of greater significance, given that investment-grade companies rarely have trouble extending debt maturities even in more difficult conditions.

As it stands, the environment remains highly favorable for junk-rated businesses, making it easy for most to access funds at their choosing. The average junk-bond yield was 5.72% Tuesday, the lowest level since September 2014. Buoyed by rising interest rates, junk-rated bank loans, which feature floating-rate coupons, have performed especially well of late, enabling U.S. companies to refinance $100 billion of loans in January, the largest monthly total in at least a decade, according to data from S&P Global Still, conditions can change quickly in the leveraged finance markets. A year ago, amid concerns that the U.S. was heading toward another recession, the average junk bond yield was nearly 10%, raising the risk that many borrowers would be unable to refinance bonds with looming maturities, hastening their descent into bankruptcy.

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“..you might have to ask the question if what comes next could possibly be worse than what’s happening now.”

Trump EU Envoy Says Greece Is Now More Likely To Leave The Euro (G.)

Donald Trump’s administration has put itself on a fresh collision course with the European Union after the president’s candidate to be ambassador in Brussels said Greece should leave the euro and predicted the single currency would not survive more than 18 months in its present form. Days after being accused of “outrageous malevolence” towards the EU for publicly declaring that it “needs a little taming”, Ted Malloch courted fresh controversy by saying Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago when it would have been “easier and simpler”. Malloch made his comments as financial markets began to take fright at the possibility of a fresh Greek debt crisis later this year. Shares fell and interest rates on Greek debt rose after it emerged that the EU was at loggerheads with the IMF over whether to give the country more generous debt relief.

“Whether the eurozone survives I think is very much a question that is on the agenda,” he told Greek Skai TV’s late-night chat show Istories. “We have had the exit of the UK, there are elections in other European countries, so I think it is something that will be determined over the course of the next year, year and a half. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro,” Malloch said. The stridently Brexit-supporting businessman, who has yet to be confirmed as the US president’s EU ambassador and is seen by Brussels as a provocative nominee for the post, said he wholeheartedly agreed with Trump’s tweet from 2012 saying Greece should return to the drachma, its former currency.

“I personally think [Trump] was right. I would also say that this probably should have been instigated four years ago, and probably it would have been easier or simpler to do,” Malloch said in the interview with the show’s chief anchor, Alexis Papahelas. Seven years of arduous austerity – the price of the international bailout – had been so bad for the country that it was questionable whether what came next could possibly be worse, Malloch said. In the third bailout in as many years, Greece has lost more than 25% of its GDP due to austerity-fuelled recession, the biggest slump of any advanced western economy in modern times. Without further emergency funding from its €86bn rescue programme, Athens could face a default in July when debt repayments of about €7bn to the European Central Bank mature.

[..] The renewed focus came as the IMF revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over the IMF’s participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy. The IMF believes that the budgetary demands being imposed on Greece by Europe are unreasonable and that the country’s debts will hit 275% of national income by 2060 without fresh assistance. Malloch said: “I have travelled to Greece, met lots of Greek people, I have academic friends in Greece and they say that these austerity plans are really deeply hurting the Greek people, and that the situation is simply unsustainable. So you might have to ask the question if what comes next could possibly be worse than what’s happening now.” The biggest unknown was not a euro exit, but the chaos it would likely engender as Greece moved to a new currency, he said.

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French revolution. Ironic that the central bank governor makes Le Pen’s point while trying to ‘push back’: “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” That’s exactly Le Pen’s point, it’s just that she doesn’t see the euro as ‘our currency’. For her, that means the franc.

Le Pen Aide Briefed French Central Banker on Plan to Print Money (BBG)

Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s chief economic adviser Bernard Monot met with Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau in September and set out her party’s plans to take control of the central bank and use it to finance government spending. The meeting took place on the sidelines of Villeroy de Galhau’s public hearing in Brussels at the economic and monetary committee of the European Parliament, Monot, who also sits on the panel, said in a Feb. 4 interview. The central bank has become one of Le Pen’s key targets as she fleshes out her plans for taking control of the French economy and leaving the euro. She intends to revoke the Bank of France’s independence and use it to finance French welfare payments and service the government’s debts after abandoning the European monetary union.

While the National Front leader is ahead in polling for the first ballot on April 23, she’s still an outsider to become the next president because of the two-round system which requires broad-based support to win the run-off two weeks later. Villeroy de Galhau, who also sits on the governing council of the ECB, pushed back against her proposals in an interview on BFM television Thursday, though he didn’t mention her specifically. “It’s important that we have institutions and a currency that straddle daily turbulence,” the governor said. “The Bank of France belongs to all French and is at the service of a French asset – our currency.” The spread between French 10-year bonds and similarly dated German debt was the widest in more than four years earlier this week, as political uncertainty deterred investors. Villeroy de Galhau described the move as “temporary tension.”

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The British economy will be healthier when its dependence on banking goes down. Not richer, but healthier. For instance, home prices can finally fall, a much needed development. There’s nothing good about a one-trick pony.

Global Banks In London To Relocate $1.9 Trillion Of Assets After Brexit (BBG)

Global banks in London may have to relocate 1.8 trillion euros ($1.9 trillion) of assets to the continent after Britain withdraws from the European Union, putting as many as 30,000 U.K. jobs at risk, according to Brussels-based research group Bruegel. The assets potentially on the move represent 17% of the U.K. banking system, Bruegel said in a report published Wednesday. Based on discussions with market participants, the researchers estimate that 35% of wholesale banking activity in London can be attributed to dealings with customers inside the EU. Financial firms will have to move that business to countries inside the trading bloc after the U.K. leaves the EU in 2019, likely spelling the end of passporting, where firms seamlessly service the rest of the single market from their London hubs.

Banks, and their clients, are most concerned about a “cliff edge” Brexit, whereby all access is cut off after two years. To safeguard against that loss of access, banks are already in discussions with European regulators about setting up new bases inside the EU and have said they will start the process of moving people within weeks of the government triggering Brexit talks, expected in March. “At a minimum, it is expected that the new EU27-based entities will need to have autonomous boards, full senior management teams, senior account managers and traders, even though much of the back-office might stay in London or elsewhere in the world,” researchers led by Andre Sapir said in the report.

London-based firms will likely have to move about 10,000 employees into these new EU entities, Breugel estimates. An additional 18,000 to 20,000 people in associated professions, such as lawyers, consultants and accountants, may also have to relocate. Bruegel’s estimates are at the conservative end of the spectrum. TheCityUK industry lobby group forecasts as many as 35,000 banking jobs could be relocated, rising to 70,000 when including associated financial services. London Stock Exchange CEO Xavier Rolet has said Brexit would likely see 232,000 jobs leaving the U.K.

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Both Danielle DiMartino Booth and Ann Pettifor have new books coming out. We need girl power, badly.

Former Fed Staffer Says Central Bank Is Under the Thumb of Academics (WSJ)

The Federal Reserve is dominated by academics who don’t know how finance and the economy really work, according to a former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas staffer in her new book. Danielle DiMartino Booth, an adviser to Richard Fisher when he was Dallas Fed president, says the economists who control most of the central bank’s seats of power filter their decision-making through theoretical models. That led the institution to miss the forces that created the financial crisis, and then adopt the wrong policies to put the economy back on track, she says. Ms. Booth makes her case in a book called “Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America,” set to be published Tuesday. Her book comes as other Fed critics are pushing for more diversity at the central bank.

They often focus on the dearth of women and minorities among the top officials, but some have said a broader range of educational and professional backgrounds also would widen the central bank’s perspective. Of the 17 Fed governors and regional bank presidents, 16 are white, 13 are men, and 10 have a Ph.D. in economics. Ms. Booth’s arguments echo those of her former boss, who led the Dallas Fed from 2005 to 2015, and frequently voted against the central bank’s aggressive stimulus efforts during and after the financial crisis. “If you rely entirely on theory, you are not going to conduct the right policy, because policies have consequences” that in many cases people with real-world experience are particularly well-suited to spot, Mr. Fisher said in an interview late last year.

Mr. Fisher hired Ms. Booth, a former Wall Street trader turned financial journalist, to work at the Dallas Fed in 2006 on the strength of columns she had written warning about the state of the housing market and financial markets. She eventually rose to be his appointed eyes and ears on financial markets. In her book, Ms. Booth describes a tribe of slow-moving Fed economists who dismiss those without high-level academic credentials. She counts Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and former Fed leader Ben Bernanke among them. The Fed’s “modus operandi” is defined by “hubris and myopia,” Ms. Booth writes in an advance copy of the book. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink.’”

“Global systemic risk has been exponentially amplified by the Fed’s actions,” Ms. Booth writes, referring to the central bank’s policies holding interest rates very low since late 2008. “Who will pay when this credit bubble bursts? The poor and middle class, not the elites.” Fed officials have defended their crisis-era stimulus policies, saying they lowered unemployment and helped the housing market recover. Opponents feared near-zero interest rates would cause excessive inflation and dangerous market bubbles, neither of which has happened. Ms. Booth also is among the Fed critics who see a worrisome revolving door between the central bank and the financial firms it regulates. She points to New York Fed President William Dudley, a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, as an illustration of a “codependent” relationship between the central bank and markets. He and three other regional Fed bank presidents have worked for or had associations with Goldman Sachs. With this in mind, she writes, “Goldman has positioned players on the Fed’s chessboard.”

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“Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion.” But now: “only 41% said the euro was “a good thing”..”

Out of Pocket, Italians Fall Out of Love With The Euro (R.)

When the Italian central bank’s deputy governor joined a radio phone-in show last week, many callers asked why Italy didn’t ditch the euro and return to its old lira currency. A few years ago such a scenario, that Salvatore Rossi said would lead to “catastrophe and disaster”, would not have been up for public discussion. Now, with the possibility of an election by June, politicians of all stripes are tapping into growing hostility towards the euro. Many Italians hold the single currency responsible for economic decline since its launch in 1999. “We lived much better before the euro,” says Luca Fioravanti, a 32-year-old real estate surveyor from Rome. “Prices have gone up but our salaries have stayed the same, we need to get out and go back to our own sovereign currency.”

The central bank is concerned about the rise in anti-euro sentiment, and a Bank of Italy source told Reuters Rossi’s appearance is part of a plan to reach out to ordinary Italians. Few Italians want to leave the European Union, as Britain chose to do in its referendum last year. Italy was a founding EU member in 1957 and Italians think it has helped maintain peace and stability in Europe. And the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is pro-euro and wants more European integration though it complains that the fiscal rules governing the euro are too rigid. But the three other largest parties are hostile, in various degrees, to Italy’s membership of the single currency in its current form. The PD is due to govern until early 2018, unless elections are called sooner. The PD’s prospects of victory have waned since its leader Matteo Renzi resigned as premier in December after losing a referendum on constitutional reform, and polls suggest that under the current electoral system no party or coalition is likely to win a majority.

Italians used to be among the euro’s biggest supporters but a Eurobarometer survey published in December by the European Commission showed only 41% said the euro was “a good thing”, while 47% called it “a bad thing.” In the Eurobarometer published in April 2002, a few months after the introduction of euro notes and coins, Italy was the second most pro-euro nation after Luxembourg, with 79% expressing a positive opinion. Italy is the only country in the euro zone where per capita output has actually fallen since it joined the euro, according to Eurostat data. Its economy is still 7% smaller than it was before the 2008 financial crisis, and youth unemployment stands at 40%.

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They literally don’t know what they’re doing: “badly devised and even more badly executed”

Italy’s “Bitter” Bank Rescue Tsar Bemoans Strategy Vacuum (R.)

The head of Italy’s bank-bailout fund said on Tuesday the country lacked a clear strategy for shifting 356 billion euros ($381 billion) in problem loans. In an extraordinary outburst from a man picked by Rome to help tackle the problem, Alessandro Penati, whose boutique asset management firm was chosen to raise private funds for struggling banks, said he felt “bitter and disillusioned”. His comments exposed tensions within the banking sector over Italy’s rescue efforts. “There is no clear vision of the problem and no strategy,” Penati said at a financial conference in Milan, suggesting that he was virtually working alone on rescues that had revealed “horror stories” within some banks. “There is simply a reaction to a problem and this has been the main difficulty for me over these past few months – I had nobody to relate to.”

The Atlante fund, created 10 months ago following pressure from the government, gathered 4.25 billion euros from around 70 mostly private investors, including Italy’s healthier lenders, to buy up bad loans and invest in weaker banks. But the fund’s investors are already making big writedowns on the value of their stakes in Atlante, which promised them annual returns of 6%. The fund faces ever greater demands for capital and no investors willing to stump up more money. In December, Penati’s plan to buy into Italy’s biggest-ever sale of bad debts – 28 billion euros worth of loans written by struggling bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS.MI) — fell apart when the bank failed to find any other major investors.

Penati, a former economist who set up Milan-based Quaestio Capital Management, said the sale had collapsed because it had been tied to a capital raising that had been “badly devised and even more badly executed”. Monte dei Paschi (MPS) is now to be rescued by the state. “It would no longer make sense for Atlante to play a role now. The point is that state intervention is considered a way to solve all problems, but it isn’t … MPS’s bad loan problem remains and how they are going to solve it – I don’t know.”

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Drilling has reportedly restarted. How bad can this get?

Activists Plan Emergency Actions Across The Country To Protest DAPL (IC)

On Tuesday the Army Corps of Engineers gave notice to Congress that within 24 hours it would grant an easement allowing Energy Transfer Partners to move forward with construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies have attempted to halt out of concern for water contamination, dangers to the climate, and damage to sites of religious significance to the tribe. The federal government dismissed those concerns in its filing. “I have determined that there is no cause for completing any additional environmental analysis,” Douglas Lamont, the acting assistant secretary of the Army, wrote in a memorandum. “The COE has full responsibility to take the reasonable steps necessary to execute the requested easement.”

Two weeks earlier, after only four days in office, Trump signed two memoranda instructing federal officials to ram forward approvals for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, both of which had been halted by the Obama administration after people mobilized across the U.S. to stop them. On Dakota Access, the Army Corps did just what the president demanded, waiving the standard 14-day waiting period before such a permit becomes official. The tribe has been left with just one day to rally a legal response. Lawyers for the tribe say they will argue in court that an environmental impact statement, mandated by the Army Corps under Obama, was wrongfully terminated. They will likely request a restraining order while the legal battle ensues. Pipeline company lawyers have said that it would take at minimum 83 days for oil to flow from the date that an easement is granted.

Although the tribal government once supported the string of anti-pipeline camps that began popping up last spring, leaders have since insisted that pipeline opponents go home and stay away from the reservation. “Please respect our people and do not come to Standing Rock and instead exercise your First Amendment rights and take this fight to your respective state capitols, to your members of Congress, and to Washington, D.C.,” tribal chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement. Still, the easement announcement is already activating pipeline opponents to return. A “couple thousand people” are headed back to the camps, including contingents of veterans, said former congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the tribe, in a video posted to Facebook.

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Boy, what a moral void.

UK Government Backtracks On Pledge To Take Syrian Child Refugees (Ind.)

Hours before the final vote on the triggering of Article 50 the government quietly announced it would allow just 350 unaccompanied Syrian children to come to the UK, thousands short of the figure suggested by government sources last year. The statement from Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said local authorities indicated “have capacity for around 400 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the end of this financial year” and said the country should be “proud” of its contribution to finding homes for refugees. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called the decision “a betrayal of British values”. “Last May, MPs from all parties condemned the Government’s inaction on child refugees in Europe, and voted overwhelmingly to offer help to the thousands of unaccompanied kids who were stranded without their families backed by huge public support,” Mr Farron said.

“Instead, the Government has done the bare minimum, helping only a tiny number of youngsters and appearing to end the programme while thousands still suffer. At the end of December last year the Government had failed to bring a single child refugee to the UK under the Dubs scheme from Greece or Italy where many of these children are trapped.” Ministers introduced the programme last year after coming under intense pressure to give sanctuary to lone children stranded on the continent. Calls for the measure were spearheaded by Lord Dubs, whose amendment to the Immigration Act requires the Government to “make arrangements to relocate to the UK and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe”.

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“This is not about supporting Bashar. This is about ending the war in Syria. We can’t continue like this, supporting regime change.”

My Country Was Destroyed (Tima Kurdi)

I am the aunt of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who tragically drowned September 2, 2015. The devastating image of my 2-year old nephew’s lifeless body, lying face-down on the beach in Turkey, was all over the news across the world. Two weeks ago, I got home from work and my husband showed me a video of Tulsi Gabbard talking about her visit to my home country of Syria. The things she was saying about the United States policy of regime change and how the West and the Gulf countries are funding the rebel groups who wind up with the terrorists are true. I was shocked because it’s something no other U.S. politician has the courage to say. Regime change policy has destroyed my country and forced my people to flee. Tulsi’s message was exactly what I have been trying to say for years, but no one wants to listen.

I live in Canada now, but I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Growing up, our country was peaceful, beautiful and safe. Our neighbors were Christian, Muslim, Sunni, Shia; all kinds of religion and color. We all lived together and respected each other. Syria is a secular country. In 2011, the war started in Syria. Most of my family was still in Damascus. I was always in close contact with them and talked to them on the phone on a daily basis. For a year, I heard many tragic stories of people, friends, and neighbors who I grew up with having died in this war. Ultimately, my family had to flee to Turkey. I did what everyone would do for their own family to help, I sent them money and I listened to their struggles to survive as refugees in Turkey.

In 2014, I went to Turkey to visit my family and tried to help them. What I saw and experienced is not what we all saw in the news or we heard in the radio. It was worse than I could ever have imagined. I saw people in the streets without homes, without hope. Children were hungry, begging for a piece of bread. I heard many heartbreaking stories from other refugees who were suffering so much and many who had lost loved ones in the war. After I returned to Canada, I decided I wanted to bring my family here as refugees, but I couldn’t get them approved to come in. Eventually, my brother Abdullah and his wife Rehana, like thousands of Syrians, decided they had to take the risk and trust a smuggler they thought would bring them to freedom, safety, and hope. In September 2, 2015, I heard the tragic news that my sister-in-law Rehana and her two sons drowned crossing from Turkey to Greece.

The image of my two year old nephew Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach was all over the media across the world. It was the wake up call to the world. Enough suffering. Enough killing. And most importantly, it was my wake up call. [..] Like me, many Syrians are encouraged that Tulsi met with President Bashar Assad in Syria. Tulsi recognizes that we need to talk to him because a political solution is the only way to restore peace in Syria. If the West keeps funding the rebels, we will see more people flee, more bloodshed, and more suffering. My people have suffered for at least six years. This is not about supporting Bashar. This is about ending the war in Syria. We can’t continue like this, supporting regime change. We have seen it before in Iraq, in Libya, and look what happened to them.

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Feb 082017
 
 February 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Rear window tenement dwelling, 133 Avenue D, NYC 1936

This Is How Out-Of-Whack US Trade Relationships Really Are (WS)
John Kelly, Homeland Security Chief, Says Travel Ban Rolled Out Too Quickly (WSJ)
Trump Travel Ban: Judges Skeptical About Arguments On Executive Order (G.)
‘Trump Makes Sense To A Grocery Store Owner’ – Taleb (Hindu)
Do Not Let Elliott Abrams Anywhere Near The State Department (Rand Paul)
EU Faces Crisis As IMF Warns Greek Debts Are On ‘Explosive’ Path (Tel.)
Greece’s Debt Costs Rise Sharply As Worries Grow Over IMF Role (G.)
Don’t Sell the Euro Short. It’s Here to Stay. (Eichengreen)
Money Is Pouring Out Of China, And The Government Can’t Stop It (R.)
China’s Reserves Approach Breaking Point As Another Devaluation Looms (BBG)
Russia Shows Why China Should Just Stop Burning Up Its Reserves (BBG)
Cracks Are Appearing In Australia’s Trillion-Dollar Property Debt Pile (BBG)
Putin Orders Russian Air Force To Prepare For ‘Time Of War’ (Ind.)
Controversial Dakota Pipeline To Go Ahead After Army Approval (R.)
Why Should A Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously? (Dolan)

 

 

“It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.”

This Is How Out-Of-Whack US Trade Relationships Really Are (WS)

2016 marked another banner year for US trade, a banner year largely for other countries that at the initiative of Corporate America, whose supply chains weave all over the world, managed to load the US up with their merchandise. According to the Commerce Department’s report today, the US trade deficit in goods and services rose to $502.3 billion in 2016, the highest in four years. Exports of goods and services fell $52 billion in 2016 year-over-year to $2.21 trillion, and imports fell $50 billion to $2.71 trillion. That both exports and imports fell is a sign of weakening world trade, lackluster demand globally, and lousy economic growth in the US, where GDP in 2016 inched up by a miserable 1.6%, matching the growth rate of 2011, both having been the lowest growth rates since 2009.

Exports add to the economy and to GDP; imports subtract from GDP. And it’s a big number: the trade deficit in 2016 amounted to 2.7% of GDP. In overly simplified, scribbled-on-a-napkin-after-the-third-beer math: had trade been balanced, with imports about equal to exports, GDP growth would have been 2.7 percentage points higher in 2016. So 4.3%! OK, we’re dreaming. But that’s how a massive trade deficit whacks the economy. The overall trade balance is composed of trade in goods and services. It used to be years ago when the trade deficit in goods began to balloon that it was no big deal because America was exporting innovative services, such as complex financial services, and they would make up for the deficit in old-fashioned goods.

They did lessen the pain for a little while, and then they didn’t. And soon, even the overall US trade deficit ballooned, but it was no big deal because soaring imports showed that the US economy was healthy and brimming with consumer demand. Year after year, we heard this from economists and politicians. Beyond that, apathy was palpable. No one cared. It’s just the way it is. Dreaming of balanced trade was like so 1980s or whatever. Meanwhile, Corporate America was fine-tuning its game of offshoring production and importing from cheaper countries. The entire business model of Wal-Mart depends on it. US supply chains wind all over the globe, in search of the lowest production costs, whether it’s consumer gadgets or automotive components. It never was a big deal because growing imports were portrayed as healthy demand in the US. The world loved it.

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Kelly’s a straight shooter. Wonder how long he can last.

John Kelly, Homeland Security Chief, Says Travel Ban Rolled Out Too Quickly (WSJ)

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress the Trump administration should have taken more time to inform Congress before implementing its controversial executive order temporarily blocking entry of people from seven nations. “The thinking was to get it out quick so potentially people coming here to harm us would not take advantage” of a delay, Mr. Kelly told the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday. In his first congressional appearance as a cabinet member, Mr. Kelly offered a forceful defense of the order, saying it wasn’t a ban on Muslims as critics have charged, but a “temporary pause” on immigrants and visitors from countries about whose residents the U.S. can’t access solid information. He sought to take responsibility for the chaotic rollout, saying the confusion was “all on me.”

“Going forward, I would have certainly taken some time to inform the Congress and certainly that’s something I’ll do in the future,” he said. The Wall Street Journal and others have reported that Mr. Kelly had little input in the order or its rollout, which was directed by the White House. The order, issued on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 27, resulted in initial confusion and confrontation at airports around the country, as some travelers were detained for hours or sent away and protesters gathered at terminals to denounce the new rules. A federal court in Seattle temporarily put the order on hold on Friday, citing potential legal concerns. That action prompted President Donald Trump to question the judge’s credentials and say he could be to blame in the event of a terrorist attack. Mr. Kelly waded into that debate on Tuesday, likening judges to academics removed from on-the-ground realities.

“I have nothing but respect for judges, but in their world it’s a very academic, very almost in-a-vacuum discussion, and of course, in their courtrooms, they are protected by people like me, so they can have those discussions,” he said. “They live in a different world than I do. I’m paid to worst-case it, he’s paid to, in a very academic environment, make a call.” [..] Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said he backed the executive order, which a court order has put on hold. But he said it was poorly implemented. He said some U.S. permanent residents who are citizens of the targeted countries were initially not allowed to return to the country, while foreigners who aided the U.S. military and students attending American schools were “trapped overseas.”

“I applaud you for quickly correcting what I consider errors,” Mr. McCaul said. The congressman said he had suggested the approach President Donald Trump took when Mr. Trump was a candidate. His goal, Mr. McCaul said, was to help reframe the proposal from what Mr. Trump initially described as a Muslim ban, an approach he thought would have been unconstitutional.

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It’s great to have the courts discuss this. That’s where it belongs. If Trump can win, we will know just how broad US presidents’ power had become, before Trump. And we can judge whether we like things that way. He either has the authority, or he doesn’t. That should be clear from the law, not a matter of taste or preference.

Trump Travel Ban: Judges Skeptical About Arguments On Executive Order (G.)

A lawyer seeking to reinstate Donald Trump’s travel ban was grilled by a panel of three judges on Tuesday, facing questions over the president’s inflammatory campaign promise to close America’s borders to Muslims. August Flentje, of the Department of Justice, was put on the spot over why seven Muslim-majority countries had been targeted in Trump’s executive order, as well as past statements made by the president and his ally Rudy Giuliani. The hour-long hearing before the San Francisco-based ninth circuit court of appeals was the most significant legal battle yet over the ban. The judges said they would try to deliver a ruling as soon as possible but gave no indication of when. Flentje, reportedly called up for the hearing at short notice, asked the judges for a stay on the temporary restraining order placed on Trump’s travel ban by district court judge James Robart last week.

[..] During a hearing conducted by telephone between various locations, Flentje described the ban as putting a “temporary pause” on travelers from countries that “pose special risk”. He said the seven countries targeted had “significant terrorist presence” or were “safe havens for terrorism”. Trump’s actions were “plainly constitutional”, Flentje argued, as the president sought to strike a balance between welcoming visitors and securing the nation of the risk of terrorism. “The president has struck that balance,” he said. “The district court order upset that balance.” Flentje argued that the district court restraining order was too broad, giving rights to people “who have never been to the United States” and “really needs to be narrowed”. Judge Michelle Friedland asked: “Are you arguing then that the president’s decision in the regard is unreviewable?”

Flentje replied: “Yes, there are obviously constitutional limitations.” But Judge William Canby pointed out that people from the seven countries already could not come into the country without a visa and were subject to “the usual investigations”. How many of these people had committed terrorist attacks in the US, he wondered, before pointing out it was none. Flentje pointed to Congress’s determination that they were countries of concern, an argument that Judge Richard Clifton dismissed as “pretty abstract”. Trying to regain ground, the lawyer said: “Well, I was just about to at least mention a few examples. There have been a number of people from Somalia connected to al-Shabaab [an Islamist militant group] who have been convicted in the United States.” Friedland, who was appointed by Barack Obama, interjected: “Is that in the record? Can you point us to what, where in the record you are referring?” Flentje admitted: “It is not in the record.”

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“..if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much..”

‘Trump Makes Sense To A Grocery Store Owner’ – Taleb (Hindu)

In Skin in the Game, you seem to build on theories from The Black Swan that give a sense of foreboding about the world economy. Do you see another crisis coming? Oh, absolutely! The last crisis [2008] hasn’t ended yet because they just delayed it. [Barack] Obama is an actor. He looks good, he raises good children, he is respectable. But he didn’t fix the economic system, he put novocaine [local anaesthetic] in the system. He delayed the problem by working with the bankers whom he should have prosecuted. And now we have double the deficit, adjusted for GDP, to create six million jobs, with a massive debt and the system isn’t cured. We retained zero interest rates, and that hasn’t helped. Basically we shifted the problem from the private corporates to the government in the U.S. So, the system remains very fragile.

You say Obama put novocaine in the system. How will the Trump administration be able to address this? Of course. The whole mandate he got was because he understood the economic problems. People don’t realise that Obama created inequalities when he distorted the system. You can only get rich if you have assets. What Trump is doing is put some kind of business sense in the system. You don’t have to be a genius to see what’s wrong. Instead of Trump being elected, if you went to the local souk [bazaar] in Aleppo and brought one of the retail shop owners, he would do the same thing Trump is doing. Like making a call to Boeing and asking why are we paying so much.

You’re seen as something of an oracle, given that you saw the 2008 economic crash coming, you predicted the Brexit vote, the outcome of the Syrian crisis. You said the Islamic State would benefit if Bashar al-Assad was pushed out and you predicted Trump’s win. How do you explain it? Not the Islamic State, but al-Qaeda at the time, and I said the U.S. administration was helping fund them. See, you have to have courage to say things others don’t. I was lucky financially in life, that I didn’t need to work for a living and can spend all my time thinking. When Trump was running for election, I said what he says makes sense to a grocery store owner. Because the grocery guy can say Trump is wrong because he can see where he is wrong. But with Obama, he can’t understand what he’s saying, so the grocery man doesn’t know where he is wrong.

Is it a choice between dumbing down versus over-intellectualisation, then? Exactly. Trump never ran for archbishop, so you never saw anything in his behaviour that was saintly, and that was fine. Whereas Obama behaved like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was going to do good but people didn’t feel their lives were better. As I said, if it was a shopkeeper from Aleppo, or a grocery store owner in Mumbai, people would have liked them as much as Trump. What he says makes common sense, asking why are we paying so much for this rubbish or why do we need these complex taxes, or why do we want lobbyists. You can call Trump’s plain-speaking what you like. But the way intellectuals treat people who don’t agree with them isn’t good either. I remember I had an academic friend who supported Brexit, and he said he knew what it meant to be a leper in the U.K. It was the same with supporting Trump in the U.S.

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Amen to that.

Do Not Let Elliott Abrams Anywhere Near The State Department (Rand Paul)

I hope against hope that the rumors are wrong and that President Donald Trump will not open the State Department door to the neocons. Crack the door to admit Elliott Abrams and the neocons will scurry in by the hundreds. Neoconservative interventionists have had us at perpetual war for 25 years. While President Trump has repeatedly stated his belief that the Iraq War was a mistake, the neocons (all of them Never-Trumpers) continue to maintain that the Iraq and Libyan Wars were brilliant ideas. These are the same people who think we must blow up half the Middle East, then rebuild it and police it for decades. They’re wrong and they should not be given a voice in this administration.

One of the things I like most about President Trump is his acknowledgement that nation building does not work and actually works against the nation building we need to do here at home. With a $20 trillion debt, we don’t have the money to do both. I urge him to keep that in mind this week when he meets with Elliott Abrams, the rumored pick for second in command to the Secretary of State. Abrams would be a terrible appointment for countless reasons. He doesn’t agree with the president in so many areas of foreign policy and he has said so repeatedly; he is a loud voice for nation building and when asked about the president’s opposition to nation building, Abrams said that Trump was absolutely wrong; and during the election he was unequivocal in his opposition to Donald Trump, going so far as to say, “the chair in which Washington and Lincoln sat, he is not fit to sit.”

Why then would the president trust him with the second most powerful position in the State Department? Abrams was equally dismissive throughout Trump’s entire candidacy. As a Never-Trumper, he repeatedly said he would neither vote for Clinton nor Trump. He likened the choice to the one the nation faced of McGovern vs. Nixon. I voted for Rex Tillerson for secretary of state because I believe him to have a balanced approach to foreign policy. My hope is that he will put forward a realist approach. I don’t see Abrams as part of any type of foreign policy realism. Elliott Abrams is a neoconservative too long in the tooth to change his spots, and the president should have no reason to trust that he would carry out a Trump agenda rather than a neocon agenda. But just as importantly, Congress has good reason not to trust him – he was convicted of lying to Congress in his previous job.

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It’s not only a broken record, it’s a really bad song too.

EU Faces Crisis As IMF Warns Greek Debts Are On ‘Explosive’ Path (Tel.)

The EU faces a looming crisis which could threaten the sustainability of the eurozone as the IMF has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path despite years of attempted austerity and economic reforms. Global financiers at the IMF are increasingly unwilling to fund endless bailouts for the eurozone’s most troubled country, passing more of the burden onto the EU – at a time when Germany does not want to keep sending cash to Athens. The assessment opens up a fresh split with Europe over how to handle Greece’s massive public debts, as the IMF called on Europe to provide “significant debt relief” to Greece – despite Greece’s EU creditors ruling out any further relief before the current rescue programme expires in 2018. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Eurogroup President repeated that position last night, saying there would be no Greek debt forgiveness and dismissing the IMF assessment of Greece’s growth prospects as overly pessimistic.

“It’s surprising because Greece is already doing better than that report describes,” said Mr Dijsselbloem, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, adding that Greece was on track for a “pretty good recovery at the moment”. The renewed divisions over how to handle the Greek debt crisis has raised fresh questions over whether the IMF will be a full participant in the next phase of the Greek rescue – a key condition for backing from the German and Dutch parliaments. As Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, fights a tough reelection battle, Germany is particularly reluctant to send funds directly to Greece, with populist parties in Germany arguing that the payments amount to an unfair bailout from hard-working Germans to less deserving Greeks.

The IMF split came as Mrs May last night comfortably defeated a Brexit rebellion in the Commons as MPs rejected Labour plans to give Parliament a “meaningful” vote on the terms of a final deal. Despite suggestions that up to 30 Tory MPs could defy their party whip and back the Labour amendment just seven chose to do so. Mrs May stemmed the rebellion after the Government pledged to hold a vote in Parliament on the deal before it is sent to the European Parliament. However ministers said that MPs would have to “take or leave it”, meaning that Mrs May is prepared to walk away from Europe without a deal if Parliament rejects it. A fresh crisis over Greek debt could be triggered as soon as in July when Greece is due to repay some €7bn to its creditors – money the country cannot pay without a fresh injection of bailout cash.

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As they do the same thing again and again, things only get worse. And then they have to do it again.

Greece’s Debt Costs Rise Sharply As Worries Grow Over IMF Role (G.)

Fresh worries over Greece’s debts have pushed the country’s borrowing costs sharply higher amid renewed insistence from Athens it will not swallow further austerity demands from international lenders. The yields on two-year government bonds jumped to their highest level since last June and went above 10% to reflect growing anxiety on financial markets over Greece’s ability to keep up to date with debt repayments. Yields on 10-year government bonds were also higher at above 7.8%, the highest close since November. The renewed focus on Greece’s debts came as the International Monetary Fund revealed its board was split over how far spending cuts in the country should go, raising fresh doubts over its participation in rescue plans for the struggling Greek economy.

The fund has made repeated warnings that Greece’s debt burden of about €330bn is unsustainable despite the government pushing through spending cuts and tax increases that have badly hit popularity ratings for the government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The IMF declined to join other international lenders – the ECB and the EU – in funding the country’s third bailout, agreed in August 2015, and it is currently deciding whether to take part in a new chunk of rescue funds needed by mid-2018. Germany has warned the IMF’s involvement is crucial if support for Greece is to continue. News of a split on the IMF board raised new questions over whether Germany will see its wish granted for the fund joining the next rescue. In its latest annual review of the Greek economy, the IMF revealed that its board members were in disagreement over whether Athens should enforce even more austerity to satisfy its lenders.

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Barry Eichengreen basically says the euro will stay because of fear (of the consequences of leaving). That doesn’t seem a very stable foundation.

Don’t Sell the Euro Short. It’s Here to Stay. (Eichengreen)

Two forms of glue hold the euro together. First, the economic costs of break-up would be great. The minute investors heard that Greece was seriously contemplating reintroducing the drachma with the purpose of depreciating it against the euro, or against a “new Deutsche mark,” they would wire all their money to Frankfurt. Greece would experience the mother of all banking crises. The “new Deutsche mark” would then shoot through the roof, destroying Germany’s export industry. More generally, those predicting, or advocating, the euro’s demise tend to underestimate the technical difficulties of reintroducing national currencies. They suggest briefly imposing capital controls to prevent holders of euros from fleeing while the new money, electronic or other, is quickly put in place.

This ignores the complexity of actually removing controls once they are adopted. Recall the experiences of Iceland and Cyprus, which required years, not days, to completely remove their “temporary” controls. The proponents advocate quickly restructuring the debts of banks, firms and households with euro-denominated liabilities, without realizing that one person’s debt is another’s asset. Moreover, because borrowing and lending occurs across borders, agreement on debt restructuring will require lengthy negotiation between countries if the country abandoning the euro is to avoid harsh retaliatory measures. This process would make the U.K.’s Brexit negotiations look like a stroll in the park.

For southern European countries, there is an additional complication. They would have a massive bill to the ECB, and by implication to the other member states that are shareholders in the ECB, in settlement of their so-called Target2 balances, liabilities incurred as a result of cross-border payments in central bank money. ECB President Mario Draghi recently made clear that countries abandoning the euro would be presented with this bill. For Italy, to pick a case not entirely at random, those balances currently stand at €360 billion ($383 billion), or approximately €6,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s about 10 times on a per capita basis what the U.K. likely owes the EU as alimony for its divorce. And if a country like Italy chooses to default on its Target2 obligations, it will be unceremoniously kicked out of the EU.

This brings us to the second form of glue: namely that European countries, Britain aside, still attach very considerable value to EU membership. That membership matters even more now that that President Trump has cast NATO into doubt and the United States is no longer seen as a reliable ally. The example of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, reduced to cozying up to Mr. Trump and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not one that many other European politicians care to follow. In a 2007 article, I too made a bet — namely that the euro, while flawed, wasn’t going away. I argued that it is the roach motel of currencies. Like the Hotel California of the song: you can check in, but you can’t check out. For 10 years I’ve been right. To be sure, past performance is no guarantee of future returns, as any prudent investor knows. Even so, unlike ambassador-in-waiting Malloch, I continue to think that shorting the euro is bad advice.

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And this is before Trump.

Money Is Pouring Out Of China, And The Government Can’t Stop It (R.)

China’s foreign exchange reserves unexpectedly fell below the closely watched $3 trillion level in January for the first time in nearly six years, even as authorities tried to curb outflows by tightening capital controls. Reserves fell by $12.3 billion in January to $2.998 trillion, compared with a drop of $41 billion drop in December. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast forex reserves would fall by about $10.5 billion to $3 trillion. While the $3 trillion mark is not seen as a firm “line in the sand” for Beijing, concerns are swirling in global financial markets over the speed at which the country is depleting its ammunition to defend the currency and staunch capital outflows.

Some analysts fear a heavy and sustained drain on reserves could prompt Beijing to devalue the currency. The yuan fell 6.6% against the rising dollar in 2016, its biggest annual drop since 1994. For 2016 as a whole, China burned through nearly $320 billion of reserves, on top of a record drop of $513 billion in 2015. The yuan has found some respite in recent weeks as the dollar retreated, helped also by recent steps to curb capital outflows. But analysts expect downward pressure on the yuan to resume, especially if the U.S. continues to raise interest rates, which would likely trigger fresh capital outflows from emerging economies such as China and test its enhanced capital controls.

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“What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.”

China’s Reserves Approach Breaking Point As Another Devaluation Looms (BBG)

In his first few weeks in office, President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and confirmed his intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. The consensus is that it won’t be long before he turns his focus to China, which he calls a currency manipulator. China can weather such criticism, for now. But if Trump’s threats of trade sanctions and 45% tariffs become real, the economic impact for the world’s second-biggest economy would be meaningful and could upend financial markets, potentially leading to a global recession. With economic growth already slowing and capital fleeing the nation, China’s $11 trillion economy is operating from a position of weakness.

Here’s how it plays out: As the world’s dominant reserve currency, the dollar has no peer. IMF data show that the greenback accounts for 63.3% of global foreign-exchange reserves, with the euro next at 20.3%, followed by the British pound and Japanese yen, both at 4.5%. That means that in times of crisis, the dollar benefits from global investors seeking a haven, even if the strife and the the uncertainty emanates from the U.S. It’s possible that a trade war would drive flows into the dollar, putting upward pressure on the currency at the expense of other exchange rates. That would be on top of the natural demand for the greenback created by the anticipation of significant fiscal stimulus floated by the Trump administration and a faster pace of interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve.

In terms of China, it’s important to remember that the yuan’s external value is managed by authorities in a way that isn’t compatible with a sharp appreciation pressure of the dollar vis-à-vis all other currencies. The currency is managed to achieve a stable, effective, trade-weighted exchange rate and to foster a gently crawling peg relative to the dollar. That peg would be threatened if a trade war weakened China’s economy at a faster rate than forecast. What was presented as a gradual depreciation of the yuan last year was in reality a significant 6% weakening of the currency versus the dollar as China’s domestic woes mounted. A collapse of the crawling peg could lead to yuan depreciation that is three times as large.

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The ruble lost 50% vs the USD. A similar path for the yuan would be catastrophic.

Russia Shows Why China Should Just Stop Burning Up Its Reserves (BBG)

China has wiped out about a quarter of the world’s heftiest foreign-currency stockpile over the past 18 months in its quest to keep the yuan stable. According to Commerzbank, such intervention is futile. Data Tuesday showed China’s foreign reserves slipped below $3 trillion in January, the first time they’ve breached that psychologically potent level in almost six years. Yet the experiences of some fellow BRICs show that drawing down the stockpile will probably have little effect on the currency’s long-term fate, Hao Zhou, Commerzbank’s Singapore-based senior emerging-markets economist, wrote in a research note late Tuesday.

While efforts by Russia and Brazil in recent years might have cushioned the blow of currency declines, they couldn’t change the market’s dynamics. In Russia’s case, a collapse in oil prices and the imposition of economic sanctions over the Crimea crisis proved more powerful drivers than the sale of a third of the country’s foreign-currency hoard between April 2013 and March 2015. The ruble fell more than 50% versus the dollar in the period.

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Get out while you can.

Cracks Are Appearing In Australia’s Trillion-Dollar Property Debt Pile (BBG)

The Reserve Bank of Australia frequently seeks feedback on the health of the economy. It might want to call the debt counsellors soon. Homeowners, consumers and property investors around Australia are making more calls to financial helplines as three warning signs back up the spike in demand: mortgage arrears are creeping up, lenders’ bad debt provisions have increased and personal insolvencies are near an all-time high. “It’s steadily out of control – I don’t know of too many financial counselling services where demand doesn’t exceed supply,” said Fiona Guthrie, chief executive officer of Financial Counselling Australia, who says the biggest increase in calls is from people suffering mortgage stress. “There are more people who have got mortgages that they can’t afford to pay.”

Australia’s households are among the world’s most-indebted after bingeing on more than $1 trillion of mortgages amid a housing boom that’s fizzled out in parts of the country, but still roaring in Sydney and Melbourne. While most are capably servicing their debts, a worsening of credit metrics has seen executives and analysts take a more cautious tone. It’s also a key factor in the central bank’s rate decisions this year, as RBA governor Philip Lowe places financial stability at the forefront of monetary policy. The concerns are understandable. Australians’ private debt has soared to 187% of their income, from about 70% in the early 1990s, encouraged by low interest rates. In a November speech, Lowe said that while most households are managing these levels of debt, many feel they are closer to their borrowing capacity than they once were.

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Odd that this reaches the press.

Putin Orders Russian Air Force To Prepare For ‘Time Of War’ (Ind.)

Russia’s air force has been ordered to prepare for a “time of war”. President Vladimir Putin has ordered a “snap check” of the country’s armed forces, accoording to defense minister Sergey Shoigu. As well as checking whether agencies and troops are ready for battle, the same order will ensure that systems are ready to fight, according to state news agency TASS. Those preparations have already begun, according to Russian ministers. “In accordance with the decision by the Armed Forces Supreme Commander, a snap check of the Aerospace Forces began to evaluate readiness of the control agencies and troops to carry out combat training tasks,” he said, according to TASS.

“Special attention should be paid to combat alert, deployment of air defense systems for a time of war and air groupings’ readiness to repel the aggression,” Shoigu added. The preparations come amid increasing concern about tensions between Russia and many of the world’s largest superpowers. Donald Trump has both condemned Russia’s military campaigns and been criticised for being too close to the country’s leaders, and Russia itself is standing in an increasingly tense relationship with some Nato countries. The country has been increasing movement of its military including the launch of the biggest Arctic military push since the fall of the Soviet Union, last month. It has also revealed plans to expand its military over 2017, including a huge boost in the number of tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft controlled by the company.

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Really? Trump is willing to strongarm veterans and Native Americans? Bad PR.

Controversial Dakota Pipeline To Go Ahead After Army Approval (R.)

The U.S. Army will grant the final permit for the controversial Dakota Access oil pipeline after an order from President Donald Trump to expedite the project despite opposition from Native American tribes and climate activists. In a court filing on Tuesday, the Army said that it would allow the final section of the line to tunnel under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system. This could enable the $3.8 billion pipeline to begin operation as soon as June. Energy Transfer Partners is building the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) line to help move crude from the shale oilfields of North Dakota to Illinois en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where many U.S. refineries are located. Protests against the project last year drew drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains including Native American tribes and environmental activists, and protest camps sprung up.

The movement attracted high-profile political and celebrity supporters. The permit was the last bureaucratic hurdle to the pipeline’s completion, and Tuesday’s decision drew praise from supporters of the project and outrage from activists, including promises of a legal challenge from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. “It’s great to see this new administration following through on their promises and letting projects go forward to the benefit of American consumers and workers,” said John Stoody, spokesman for the Association of Oil Pipe Lines. The Standing Rock Sioux, which contends the pipeline would desecrate sacred sites and potentially pollute its water source, vowed to shut pipeline operations down if construction is completed, without elaborating how it would do so.

The tribe called on its supporters to protest in Washington on March 10 rather than return to North Dakota. “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get back up,” the tribe said in the statement. “We will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back.” Less than two weeks after Trump ordered a review of the permit request, the Army said in a filing in District Court in Washington D.C. it would cancel that study. The final permit, known as an easement, could come in as little as a day, according to the filing. There was no need for the environmental study as there was already enough information on the potential impact of the pipeline to grant the permit, Robert Speer, acting secretary of the U.S. Army, said in a statement.

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The case is not that hard to make. You just need to erase the ideological resistance.

Why Should A Libertarian Take Universal Basic Income Seriously? (Dolan)

In a recent post on EconLog, Bryan Caplan writes, “I’m baffled that anyone with libertarian sympathies takes the UBI [universal basic income] seriously.” I love a challenge. Let me try to un-baffle you, Bryan, and the many others who might be as puzzled as you are. Here are three kinds of libertarians who might take a UBI very seriously indeed. Philosophical issues aside, what galls many libertarians most about government is the failure of many policies to produce their intended results. Poverty policy is Exhibit A. By some calculations, the government already spends enough on poverty programs to raise all low-income families to the official poverty level, even though the poverty rate barely budges from year to year. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that money in a way that helps poor people more effectively?

A UBI would help by ending the way benefit reductions and “welfare cliffs” in current programs undermine work incentives. When you add together the effects of SNAP, TANF, CHIP, EITC and the rest of the alphabet soup, and account for work-related expenses like transportation and child care, a worker from a poor household can end up taking home nothing, even from a full-time job. A UBI has no benefit reductions. You get it whether you work or not, so you keep every added dollar you earn (income and payroll taxes excepted, and these are low for the poor). But, wait, you might say. Why would I work at all if you gave me a UBI? That might be a problem if you got your UBI on top of existing programs, but if it replaced those programs, work incentives would be strengthened, not weakened.

In which situation would you be more likely to take a job: one where you get $800 a month as a UBI plus a chance to earn another $800 from a job, all of which you can keep, or one where your get $800 a month in food stamps and housing vouchers, and anything extra you earn is taken away in benefit reductions? Or, you might say, a UBI might be fine for the poor, but wouldn’t it be unaffordable to give it to the middle class and the rich as well? Yes, if you added it on top of all the middle-class welfare and tax loopholes for the rich that we have now. No, if the UBI replaced existing tax preferences and other programs that we now lavish on middle- and upper-income households. Done properly, a UBI would streamline the entire system of federal taxes and transfers without any aggregate impact on the federal budget.

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Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 10:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Paris 1952

Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban Nationwide (ZH)
Airlines Told To Allow Banned Travelers Into US After Judge’s Order (G.)
Trump’s Travel Ban Has Revoked 60,000 Visas For Now (R.)
If Americans Truly Cared About Muslims, They Would Stop Killing Them (BAR)
Iran To Name US Individuals Involved In ‘Helping And Founding’ Terrorists (ZH)
EU Flirts With Hypocrisy In Criticising Trump’s Refugee Ban (EUO)
America Is Shedding Its Whole Middle Class (Jim Kunstler)
Vancouver Home Sales Plummeted 40% In 2016 On Foreign Buyer Tax (AFR)
Amazon Accounts For 43% Of US Online Retail Sales (BI)
UniCredit Writedowns Ring Alarm Bells For Italian Banks (R.)
Euro Too Weak For Germany But Too Strong For Others (R.)
Eurocrats ‘Beg States To Agree To Deeper Integration To Save The Bloc’ (Exp.)
Grexit? Greece Again On The Brink As Debt Crisis Threatens Break With EU (G.)

 

 

“It’s a case of that magnitude, it’s a case that frankly I think will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, so that would not surprise me one way or the other.”

Judge Blocks Trump Travel Ban Nationwide (ZH)

Following a brief moment of ‘success’ for the Trump administration as a Boston judge ruled Trump’s immigration policy was not a Muslim ban, a Bush-appointed federal judge in Seattle, who said the states of Washington and Minnesota can sue claiming their residents were harmed by the ban, granted a nationwide temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s immigration ban. District Judge James Robart ruled the executive order would be stopped nationwide effective immediately: his ruling was the most comprehensive legal rebuke of Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order prohibiting immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria and four other nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Judges in Brooklyn, New York, Los Angeles and Alexandria, Virginia, had previouslyissued orders that are less sweeping.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson was delighted with the decision: “The Constitution prevailed today,” Ferguson said in a statement after the ruling. “It is not the loudest voice that prevails on the Constitution,” Ferguson continued speaking outside the courthouse. “We are a nation of laws, not even the president can violate the Constitution. It’s our president’s duty to honor this ruling and I’ll make sure he does,” Ferguson added hopefully. Good luck with that. In his ruling, Robart said that “the state has met its burden in demonstrating immediate and irreparable injury” while Fergsuon added that “Judge Robart’s decision, effective immediately, effective now, puts a halt to President Trump’s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order. It puts a stop to it immediately, nationwide.” The court order, effective immediately, will remain in place until the judge considers a motion – probably within a month – to permanently invalidate the president’s order, Ferguson said.

Ferguson, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit three days after Trump signed the executive order. The suit argued that the travel ban targets Muslims and violates constitutional rights of immigrants and their families. In his request for the order, according to Bloomberg, Ferguson had said the effects on the state included economic consequences for employers based there, including Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com. Expedia, based in Bellevue, Washington, had about 1,000 customers with flight reservations in or out of the U.S. from the seven countries, he said. Minnesota, like Washington, cited the effect of the ban on students at its colleges and universities, as well as health care centers including the Mayo Clinic. The state’s 5.4 million residents included 30,000 immigrants from the affected countries, it said in the lawsuit.

According to The Hill, in a phone interview with CNN Friday evening, Ferguson said he “expected win, lose or draw” that the case would move “fairly quickly through, up to the Ninth Circuit” Court of Appeals – “just because of the magnitude of the executive order.” And hinting that the Supreme Court showdown we suggested previously now appears inevitable, Ferguson added that he is “prepared for this case to go all the way to the Supreme Court whichever way the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals goes,” he said, anticipating a challenge to Robart’s ruling. “It’s a case of that magnitude, it’s a case that frankly I think will ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, so that would not surprise me one way or the other.”

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Trump’s legal team senses difficulties ahead: “..The justice department later said it would not immediately file for an emergency stay..”

Airlines Told To Allow Banned Travelers Into US After Judge’s Order (G.)

Customs officials have reportedly told US airlines that they can board passengers who had been barred from entering the country after a federal judge in Seattle ordered a temporary halt on Donald Trump’s travel ban for refugees and people from seven predominantly-Muslim nations. District judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order on Friday after hearing arguments from Washington state and Minnesota that the president’s order had unlawfully discriminated against Muslims and caused unreasonable harm. It was not immediately clear whether authorities would comply with the broad order, especially after officials reacted in confusion a week earlier, detaining valid visa holders and arguing with lawyers.

Late on Friday, the White House released a statement saying that it would seek an emergency stay against Robart’s ruling; an earlier request for a stay by a justice department attorney had been denied by the judge. “At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate. The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. In a second “updated” statement, the White House removed the word “outrageous”. The justice department later said it would not immediately file for an emergency stay, at least on Friday night, and reports said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had informed US airlines that they should board travelers who had been barred by an executive order last week.

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Looks like the worst of the chaos may be over. Trump can’t afford too many court battles, certainly if he loses them. He’s being told to confer with the lawyers first now.

Trump’s Travel Ban Has Revoked 60,000 Visas For Now (R.)

About 60,000 visas were revoked under U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the State Department said on Friday, in one of several government communications clarifying how the order is being rolled out. The revocation means the government voided travel visas for people trying to enter the United States but the visas could be restored later without a new application, said William Cocks, a spokesman for consular affairs at the State Department. “We will communicate updates to affected travelers following the 90-day review,” he said. Earlier news reports, citing a government attorney at a federal court hearing, put the figure at more than 100,000 visas.

The government issued over 11 million immigrant and non-immigrant visas in fiscal year 2015, the State Department said. The immigration executive order signed by Trump a week ago temporarily halted the U.S. refugee program and imposed a 90-day suspension on people traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump said the measures would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks. Under President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor, the United States added those seven countries as “countries of concern” under its visa waiver program, effectively toughening U.S. visa procedures for individuals who visited those places during the past five years.

Trump’s executive order was at least in part informed by those restrictions. The new president, who took office on Jan. 20, went further by temporarily barring passport holders from those seven countries. The State Department first issued the guidance about revoking the visas on Jan. 27, the day Trump signed his executive order, according to a memo filed in a court case in Massachusetts. But confusion about the roll out of the order sparked protests at airports across the country where people had been detained and led to a wave of lawsuits filed by individuals, states and civil rights groups.

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“.. so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche.”

If Americans Truly Cared About Muslims, They Would Stop Killing Them (BAR)

In the most dramatic expression of insider opposition to a sitting administration’s policies in generations, over 1,000 U.S. State Department employees signed on to a memo protesting President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries setting foot on U.S. soil. Another recent high point in dissent among the State Department’s 18,000 worldwide employees occurred in June of last year, when 51 diplomats called for U.S. air strikes against the Syrian government of President Bashar al Assad. Neither outburst of dissent was directed against the U.S. wars and economic sanctions that have killed and displaced millions of people in the affected countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Rather, the diplomatic “rebellion” of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her “Big Tent” full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria, while the memo currently making the rounds of State Department employees claims to uphold “core American and constitutional values,” preserve “good will towards Americans” and prevent “potential damage to the U.S. economy from the loss of revenue from foreign travelers and students.” In neither memo is there a word of support for world peace, nor a hint of respect for the national sovereignty of other peoples – which is probably appropriate, since these are not, and never have been, “core American and constitutional values.” “The diplomatic ‘rebellion’ of last summer sought to pressure the Obama administration to join with Hillary Clinton and her ‘Big Tent’ full of war hawks to confront Russia in the skies over Syria.”

Ironically, the State Department “dissent channel” was established during one of those rare moments in U.S. history when “peace” was popular: 1971, when a defeated U.S. war machine was very reluctantly winding down support for its puppet regime in South Vietnam. Back then, lots of Americans, including denizens of the U.S. government, wanted to take credit for the “peace” that was on the verge of being won by the Vietnamese, at a cost of at least four million Southeast Asian dead. But, those days are long gone. Since 2001, war has been normalized in the U.S. – especially war against Muslims, which now ranks at the top of actual “core American values.” Indeed, so much American hatred is directed at Muslims that Democrats and establishment Republicans must struggle to keep the Russians in the “hate zone” of the American popular psyche.

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Could be interesting.

Iran To Name US Individuals Involved In ‘Helping And Founding’ Terrorists (ZH)

Following the escalation on Friday morning, in which the US Treasury Department published a list of 13 Iranian individuals and 12 Iranian entities facing new restrictions following Iran’s recent ballistic missile test, Tehran promptly denounced the latest round of sanctions imposed by the US and said it would retaliate – something it has previously said it would do – however added a new twist when Tehran announced it would impose legal restrictions on American individuals and entities helping “regional terrorist groups”, a Foreign Ministry statement read as quoted by TV. For obvious reasons, this naming and shaming of US-based terrorists promises to be far more interesting than if Iran were to actually ban, say, the US national chess team. Such an action will quickly coalesce the world’s attention on a handful of US entities, putting under a microscope all of their offshore activities.

“The new sanctions … are not compatible with America’s commitments and resolution 2231 of the U.N. Security Council that endorsed the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six powers,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry statement said late on Friday.Tehran said it will react accordingly to any U.S. measure aimed at the Iranian nation’s interests. “In retaliation for the U.S. sanctions, Iran will impose legal restrictions on some American individuals and entities that were involved in helping and founding regional terrorist groups,” the Foreign Ministry statement said. It said names of the entities and individuals would be announced later, although it was not clear when exactly that is. As reported earlier, on Friday, the US Treasury Department blacklisted 13 individuals and a dozen businesses as part of the sanctions. The majority of the individuals in question are from Iran, as well as three Chinese nationals and two Arabs.

“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” John E. Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said. He added that in countering what he called “Iranian malign activity,” Washington will not hesitate to put more pressure and restrictions “to address this behavior.” Countering rising US rhetoric, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said in a twitter post that “Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people.” “We’ll never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense,” he stressed. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan noted that Tehran “will not allow foreigners to interfere” in the country’s defense issues and insisted “the test did not violate the nuclear deal or (UN) Resolution 2231.”

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Understatement of the year.

EU Flirts With Hypocrisy In Criticising Trump’s Refugee Ban (EUO)

The EU rightly spoke out against Donald Trump’s entry ban on asylum seekers from Syria. But its own track record leaves much to be desired. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Monday (Jan 30) that the EU would continue to host refugees. “It’s our identity: we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” she said in a tweet. Her comments appeared the same day a young man from Pakistan suffocated to death in a tent at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. He was trying to keep warm. It was the third death at the camp in a week. The misery of people is well documented in so-called hotspots set up by the EU in both Italy and in Greece. The conditions are so bad that many, including Syrian refugees, have volunteered to return to Turkey from the Greek islands.

The EU blames the Greek government. The Greek government blames EU states for not relocating asylum seekers and for sealing off the Western Balkan route. When Hungary erected a wall on its border with Serbia, the European Commission said it was a national issue. When a Syrian refugee protested against the barrier, Hungarian authorities gave him a 10-year prison sentence. The EU talks endlessly about solidarity. But in reality, solidarity does not exist except among the nameless volunteers on the ground. And some of those are risking jail for their efforts. One Danish woman went on trial for people-smuggling after giving a family of refugees a ride to Copenhagen. A similar case is unfolding in Sweden. Only around 10,000 people have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU states.

The two-year scheme, which ends in September, had called for 160,000. Many more have been kicked out. Almost 11,000 people were sent home last year, a four-fold increase compared with 2015 when 3,565 migrants were returned in 66 operations. Both EU commission and member states now appear to oppose issuing humanitarian visas for people in need. Germany may stand out as an exception after welcoming some 1 million in 2015. But the fact that the world’s richest nations are unwilling to properly care for the thousands stranded in Greece and on its islands is a disgrace. The task has largely been delegated to volunteers, NGOs and international aid organisations. With populist parties gaining ground in the Netherlands, France and Germany, the anti-immigrant discourse has also gone mainstream.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte last week told Muslims to “act normal, or go away”. France’s conservative presidential contender Francois Fillon has promised to erect national borders and German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere wants zones outside Europe to screen applicants before arrival. De Maiziere’s proposal is gaining traction. The plan is to offshore the problem to war-torn Libya. The job is already under way in a handful of other African states and Afghanistan. This is the EU’s invisible wall.

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Good to see Jim is still reading the Automatic Earth.

America Is Shedding Its Whole Middle Class (Jim Kunstler)

I guess you’ve noticed by now that the center didn’t hold. Instead of a secure platform for political premises like tradition, precedent, rationality, and cultural norms, you see a fiery maw of sheer emotion between the camps of the so-called Left and the so-called Right. I say so-called because the campus Left and the Trump Right have escaped the categorical corrals they formerly occupied. And they may have left their customary official parties stranded and dying too. It may be fatuous to say whether that is a good or bad thing; it just is, for the moment. They are two halves of a polity so broken and so far apart that it is also hard to see how they might ever come back together into a consensus about how a society might operate successfully.

Not having a consensus — some substantial overlap between circles of perspective — it’s not surprising that America can’t construct a coherent view of what is happening, or make a plan for what to do about it. Mainly what’s happening is the running down of fossil fuel based techno-industrial economies, and the main symptom is falling standards of living, with fading prospects for future happiness and security. As I’ve said before, our economic picture is basically untenable due to the falling energy-return-on-investment of the crucial oil supply. At the high point of 1920s oil production the ratio was around 100-1. The shale oil “miracle” is good for about 5-1. The aggregate of all oil these days is under 30-1. Below that number, you’ve got to shed some activities in our complex economy (or they just get too expensive to support) — things like high-paying labor jobs, medical care, tourism, college, commuting, heating 2500 square foot homes…).

Oddly the way it’s actually working out is that America is simply shedding its whole middle class and all its accustomed habits and luxuries. At least that’s how it adds up in effect. Naturally, that produces a lot of bad feeling. President Trump is unlikely to be able to fix that essential problem, unless he can pilot the whole political-economy into a glide-path leading toward neo-medievalism — what I call the World Made By Hand. Trump’s call for restoring the factory economy of 1962 is a low-percentage prospect. Instead, he’ll be saddled with the collateral damage caused by the dishonest effort of his recent predecessors to borrow from the future to pay for the way we live now — that is, racking up debt.

This mighty debt-load, never before seen in history, and the accounting fraud that enables it, has helped produce all kinds of distortions, perversities, and fragilities in our money system (finance and banking) which can easily slip into collapse if a crucial prop fails here or there, and that is exactly what I think will happen under Trump. It will not be his fault, but he’ll get blamed for it. And when it happens, he won’t be able to give his attention to anything but that.

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People don’t recognize it yet, but this is how you spell success.

Vancouver Home Sales Plummeted 40% In 2016 On Foreign Buyer Tax (AFR)

Home sales in Vancouver plummeted 39.5% in January from a year ago and fell 11% from December, five months after the government slapped a tax on foreign buyers. January marked the sixth consecutive month of falling sales in Canada’s hottest real estate market, where an influx of mainly Chinese offshore buyers has helped push the price of a typical home to more than 12 times the median resident’s household income. Vancouver topped a list of cities around the world that UBS has identified as most at risk of a housing bubble. Sydney placed fourth after London and Stockholm. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said the monthly sales – 1523 homes sold in January – marked a 10.3pc drop on the 10-year average for the month.

‘It’s a lukewarm start to the year compared to 2016,” said Dan Morrison, the board’s president. “While we saw near record-breaking sales at this time last year, home buyers and sellers are more reluctant to engage so far in 2017.” The government of British Columbia – Vancouver is the province’s biggest city – acted last year to cool the market, slapping a new 15% tax on offshore buyers in August. The average benchmark price for detached properties in the Pacific port has fallen 17.8% to $C1,474,800 from a record high of $C1.83 million in January 2016. The average price has fallen 6.6% in the past six months and edged 0.6% lower from December. The composite benchmark price for all residential properties – detached, units and townhomes – has fallen 3.7% since June.

The BC Ministry of Finance earlier reported that the %age of sales in Vancouver to foreign residents had plummetted since the new foreign buyers’ tax went into effect on August 2. In September, foreign purchasers were involved in 1.3% of all transactions in the city of 1.5 million people. “From June 10 to August 1, the period before the additional tax took effect, foreign purchasers were involved in 13.2% of residential property transfers in Metro Vancouver,” a ministry statement said.

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Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have become far too big for anyone’s good. Time to cut them down to size.

Amazon Accounts For 43% Of US Online Retail Sales (BI)

An analysis by Slice Intelligence released this week found that 43% of all online retail sales in the US went through Amazon in 2016, as the e-commerce giant’s market share continues to grow. According to the study, which analyzed more than 4 million online purchases, Amazon accounted for the majority (53%) of the growth in US e-commerce sales for the year. Simply put, Amazon’s already dominant share of the US e-commerce market is only increasing. It reportedly captured 33% of all US online purchases in 2015, according to Internet Retailer, up from 25% in 2012. If those estimates are correct, then the company increased its share of the US e-commerce market by 10% in 2016, an incredible accomplishment given that it already controlled such a sizeable chunk of the space.

Slice said that Amazon’s growth in 2016 was driven by sales in the electronics, home, and apparel categories. Electronics contributed to an estimated 18% of the company’s sales growth in 2016, as the number of US households that own an Amazon Echo device more than doubled from 2015. The next biggest contributors were the home and kitchen category (15%), apparel and accessories (12%), food (11%), and health and beauty (10%), illustrating that Amazon is seeing significant growth in consumer packaged goods (CPGs). The company’s recent expansion of its Dash Buttons to its online site and mobile app should help fuel further growth in these categories. Amazon’s success has also been fueled by high customer loyalty and brand awareness.

The Amazon Prime subscription service continues to grow: One study released last September by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners found that 20% of all US consumers are Prime members. Meanwhile, an Internet Retailer survey of 500 US consumers last December found that more than half of them (52%) go directly to Amazon when they shop online. Although the company faces a wide range of competition in the e-commerce market from both legacy retailers and new entrants, none of them can match Amazon’s customer loyalty and brand awareness when it comes to online shopping. Other online retailers will have to build up their brand awareness to compete with Amazon, but they’ll also likely need to sell through Amazon’s marketplace to stay relevant as its market share keeps growing.

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Slo-mo suffocation. Much better to swallow the bitterness and start afresh.

UniCredit Writedowns Ring Alarm Bells For Italian Banks (R.)

UniCredit has heavily written down the value of its €700 million ($756 million) investment in Italy’s bank rescue fund and other investors are likely to follow suit, sources told Reuters, complicating efforts to stabilize the nation’s banking sector. Italy biggest bank has cut the value of its investment in the Atlante fund by significantly more than a third on its books, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The move is part of its plan to clean up its balance sheet before it taps the market for 13 billion euros in a share issue next week. By writing down the stake, UniCredit is indicating that it does not believe it will make money on the investment it made into the state-managed fund created to recapitalize a number of failing Italian banks and help the industry offload bad loans.

A source at another bank estimated UniCredit’s writedown could be closer to 70%. Intesa Sanpaolo, which together with UniCredit is Atlante’s biggest investor, on Friday said it had written down the value of its stake in the fund by 33%. A group of about half a dozen other banks that have invested in Atlante have held a series of meetings in recent days to discuss the scale of their own possible writedowns, said another source with direct knowledge of the talks. They are also likely to write down their investments by 30%, according to the source, who did not name the lenders. Atlante executives have acknowledged that the value of investments has fallen but have said the fund created last April has an investment horizon of five years and aims to create value for its backers over that period.

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And that in a nutshell is what condemns the single currency.

Euro Too Weak For Germany But Too Strong For Others (R.)

In an attack on Germany, U.S. President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser said the euro was “grossly undervalued”, a charge which may ring true for the German economy but not for the 19-member currency zone as a whole. The adviser, Peter Navarro, said Germany, the euro zone’s economic powerhouse, was exploiting the euro exchange rate for trade purposes, a charge rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. There’s no clear method of establishing how much a currency is under or overvalued but many economists think that some economic measures show the German economy could easily cope with a stronger euro. It hit a 14-year low of $1.0339 last month. Even German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Friday the single currency could be a bit stronger for Germany.

But he agreed with economists that this would make life hard for other euro members. For weaker economies such as Greece, economic measures show the exchange rate is too strong, and for the whole currency area it is only moderately underpriced. “The euro is below most estimates of fair value. And German exporters appear to be benefiting more than most,” said Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics. The White House is concerned about the exchange rate because German companies sell cars, vehicle parts, pharmaceuticals, planes and helicopters around the world, competing with American, as well as other European, manufacturers. Exports account for nearly half Germany’s economic output, with 9.5% going to the United States and around 35% to euro zone countries.

In 2015, the United States became the top destination for German exports, overtaking France for the first time since 1961 due to an upturn in the U.S. economy but also due to the weaker euro. The currency has lost more than 20% of its value against the U.S. dollar since mid 2014. A handful of recent reports found that while the euro was undervalued for Germany it was too strong for other countries. The World Price Index (WPI) published by research firm World Economics each month found that the euro was undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis, a measure that takes into account what money can buy in two different currencies based on inflation and the cost of living. A “German euro” was nearly 17% undervalued against the dollar in PPP terms, while a “French euro” was overvalued by nearly 5%. A “Greek euro” was overvalued by 7%.

“German exporters remain the beneficiaries of a system that is causing stagnation and unemployment in the rest of Europe,” World Economics said in the report. The IMF also said last year that the euro was undervalued by anywhere from 0 to 10% for the region as a whole. But for Germany that undervaluation was anywhere between 10 and 20%, making it the most undervalued exchange rate for any of the 29 countries and jurisdictions around the world covered in the report.

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The last gasps: ..Mr Tusk will reportedly urge leaders to pledge allegiance to the crumbling Brussels bloc..”

Eurocrats ‘Beg States To Agree To Deeper Integration To Save The Bloc’ (Exp.)

Desperate Eurocrat Donald Tusk will urge EU nations to agree to deeper integration and recommit to the sprawling superstate, a leaked report has hinted. Mr Tusk will reportedly urge leaders to pledge allegiance to the crumbling Brussels bloc and agree to “an ambitious vision” of “political consolidation”. The European Council president will cite “unprecedented external threats” during a meeting in Malta with leaders from EU nations as a reason for recommitting to the European project. According to Politico, the document which will be proposed to officials later today, says “the EU is at a historical turning point” and is “facing important internal challenges as exemplified by Brexit”. Tusk’s lackeys, along with Italian and Maltese officials, will use Friday’s meeting to draft the proposed “Rome declaration” which will outline a future vision for the bloc.

The document urges leaders to commit to “greater unity in foreign policy and more investments in our defence” and “further deepening the Economic and Monetary Union” – two key reasons why Britain chose to divorce itself from the EU. EU leaders will also be told to sign up to an ever-increasing swathe of legislative measure in June following the “Rome declaration” a few months earlier. The report moans that Trump, Brexit, terrorism, increased military expansion by Russia and the migrant crisis pose serious threats to the stability of the EU. It also details the financial instability in Greece as another hinderance to the volatile political union. It adds that the upcoming meeting in Rome in March should “offer an ambitious vision on how to preserve unity and achieve political consolidation”. The EU is set to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome – which laid the basis for “ever closer union” between nation states and which critics argue has forced countries towards a federal Europe.

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“We have become a society that has no hope, not even a slice or piece of hope for the future,” he sighed. “The only reason people want to stay in the euro is because they fear the consequences if we were to leave, but if things don’t get better that will change too.”

Grexit? Greece Again On The Brink As Debt Crisis Threatens Break With EU (G.)

Syriza, like every governing party before it, has been hollowed out by the eviscerating effects of having to apply policies that it came to power vowing to oppose. On Tuesday its parliamentary spokesman took Greeks by storm proposing that Grexit be discussed “without taboo” in the 300-member house. The once unassailable popularity of Tsipras, meanwhile, has been pummelled by the implementation of some of the harshest measures to date and few believe he has the political capital to enforce another round of austerity. “It is not a can but a bomb being kicked down the road,” said one western diplomat. “In a world where liberal values are under threat we could be looking at a very dangerous scenario where the cradle of democracy also collapses.”

Bereft of growth and battered by cuts and tax increases, Greeks have become poorer and ever more cognizant of their own insolvency in a state where sovereignty exists in little more than name. One in three now live below the poverty line and unemployment hovers around 23%. The latest impasse has not only seen emigration levels rise and non-repayment of household and business loans soar but also nostalgia for the drachma grow. That is what worries Panagopoulos, the pollster, most. What was once a minority view is changing fast, with the majority of Greeks in a recent Alco survey saying it was wrong to have joined the euro. “We have become a society that has no hope, not even a slice or piece of hope for the future,” he sighed. “The only reason people want to stay in the euro is because they fear the consequences if we were to leave, but if things don’t get better that will change too.”

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Feb 032017
 
 February 3, 2017  Posted by at 11:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir The Return of the Boating Party 1862

Trump’s Economic Policy Makes Perfect Sense: Albert Edwards (CNBC)
Big Clash Looming (Kath.)
The IMF Should Get Out of Greece (Ashoka Mody)
Italians Are Outright Economic Losers in the Era of the Euro (BBG)
China Net 2016 Outflows At Record $725 Billion (R.)
Reality Vs. The “Recovery” Narrative (Mises)
Markets Are Experiencing Cognitive Dissonance (Rickards)
Scots to Vote on Tuesday on May’s Draft Law to Trigger Brexit (BBG)
America’s Student Loans Problem Is Much Bigger Than Anybody Realized (TAM)
Originalism: Neil Gorsuch’s Constitutional Philosophy (G.)
Angela Merkel Lectures Turkish President Erdogan On Upholding Freedoms (SMH)
Turkey Refugee Deal With EU at Risk, Erdogan Adviser Warns (BBG)
Small Steps Taken To Improve Conditions At Lesvos Migrant Camp (K.)

 

 

“The only things where the US excels are the ability of companies to get credit and resolving insolvency. So US companies excel at leveraging up and going bust – great!”

Trump’s Economic Policy Makes Perfect Sense: Albert Edwards (CNBC)

As the early days of the Donald Trump administration draw global opprobrium, Societe Generale’s famously bearish strategist Albert Edwards is offering unlikely support. “A lot of what he says on the economic front makes perfect sense to me.” Edwards claimed in his latest note published Thursday. Edwards said the new administration might be a “neo-liberal nightmare” but when the controversial topic of immigration was removed, there was clarity in Trump’s thinking. “We have long written on these pages that Germany is one of the biggest currency manipulators in the world. Germany aggressively refutes any criticism, let alone does anything about it (unlike China),” penned Edwards.

Trump’s team has attacked Germany for using the “grossly undervalued” euro to gain unfair trade advantages with the U.S. as well as trading partners within the European Union. The comments, published Tuesday, sent the euro to an eight-week high against the dollar. Edwards wrote that unless Germany changes its current position it “will have huge implications for both financial markets and the sustainability of the euro zone.” He said while the U.S. Treasury and the European Commission appeared unwilling to take on Berlin, it looked like the Trump administration would act assertively. Edwards, a self-described socialist, also said Trump’s plan to strip back regulation affecting U.S. corporates “rings true”.

“US corporate competitiveness is poor and deteriorating. The World Bank, for example, ranks the US a derisory 51st on how easy it is to start a business,” he wrote. “The only things where the US excels are the ability of companies to get credit and resolving insolvency. So US companies excel at leveraging up and going bust – great!” Edwards described America as a low tax and spend nation that has strangled its corporate sector. He said small business, traditionally the growth engine for jobs, is particularly burdened by regulation and concluded “There is much work indeed for The Donald.”

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Can Greece break from the EU and rebuild its “traditional alliances with the US and the UK”?

Big Clash Looming (Kath.)

The United States and Germany are gearing up for a serious clash. Washington’s aim this time is not Germany’s military defeat, as was the case twice last century, but curbing its economic hegemony. Before being sworn in as US president, Donald Trump said that he believed Berlin was using the European Union as a vehicle for its further economic expansion, and the tycoon was right on the money. Speaking to the BBC a few days ago, the man tipped as America’s new ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, expressed his belief that the euro could collapse within the next 18 months. It was a risky prediction, but suggestive of the views prevailing in Washington right now.

The third worrying statement came from the head of the US president’s National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, who told the Financial Times that the euro is a German currency in disguise – an apt observation – that is “grossly undervalued” so that Germany can retain a competitive edge over the United States. His comment is nothing short of a direct challenge and a sign of a more serious confrontation waiting to happen. What is extremely interesting is that Wolfgang Schaeuble, the most fervent of champions of monetary stability and the euro, has so far avoided making a response. Maybe he is aware that when it comes to the US, his firepower is somewhat limited, so he contains his barbs to judgmental comments against Greece and terrorizing Europe’s south.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel muttered something about the European Central Bank’s independence and European Council President Donald Tusk said Trump is a threat to the EU – this is Europe; these are its political leaders, people waiting in fear for America to unfold its policy. This would all be a matter of academic interest were it not for the fact that the looming clash between a US-British alliance and the European establishment poses a major threat to regional stability, and of course to Greece. Bad luck and political imprudence have resulted in Greece being cut off from its own traditional alliances with the US and the UK, now especially so. Given the recent tension with Turkey and the fact that in previous difficult periods Europe stood by as conflict was avoided only thanks to the US’s intervention, it is evident that there are more important issues than the pending bailout review that Athens should be focusing on.

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Germany should get out of Greece too. And Brussels. Take a hike and get paid back in drachma. Or better yet, pay back your own gambling banks instead of letting Greeks do it.

The IMF Should Get Out of Greece (Ashoka Mody)

The IMF’s involvement in Greece has been an unmitigated disaster: Time and again, its failure to heed crucial lessons has visited suffering upon the Greek people. When the fund’s directors meet on Monday, they should agree to forgive the country’s debts and get out. The IMF should never have gotten into Greece in the first place. As late as March 2010, with concerns about the Greek government’s ability to pay its debts roiling markets, Europe’s leaders wanted the IMF to stay away. Europeans feared that the fund’s financial assistance to one of their own would signal broader weakness in the currency union. As Jean-Claude Juncker famously put it: “If California had a refinancing problem, the United States wouldn’t go to the IMF.”

Nonetheless, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided that the IMF’s presence was the signal needed to persuade German citizens that Greece needed urgent financial support and that strict discipline in the use of those funds would be enforced. Merkel’s political priorities coincided with the interests of Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn, who was desperate to pull the IMF out of irrelevance. From that moment on, the IMF became Europe’s – mainly Germany’s – instrument in Greece. Then came the cardinal error: At the IMF’s Board, over the fierce opposition of several executive directors, the Europeans and Americans pushed through a bailout program that, contrary to the fund’s rules, did not impose losses on Greece’s private creditors. The decision was based on a spurious claim that “restructuring” private debt would trigger a global financial meltdown.

Thus, European governments and the IMF lent Greece a vast sum to repay its existing creditors. Greece’s debt burden remained unchanged and onerous, and the most vulnerable Greeks were forced to accept crippling austerity to repay the country’s new official creditors. The economy quickly and predictably went into a tailspin. Even when the IMF recognized the error of its ways, it didn’t change course. An internal “strictly confidential” report, later made public, acknowledged that the program was riddled with “notable failures,” including the lack of private debt restructuring and excessive austerity. But the IMF never took responsibility. Instead, it demanded even more austerity throughout 2014.

In December, the public rebelled and brought the opposition Syriza party to power, which only made the IMF’s demands more insistent. At this point, the evidence that the strategy was pushing Greece to economic and financial collapse was overwhelming. It was like requiring a trauma patient to run around the block before being admitted to intensive care. Yet as usual, the inevitable suffering was blamed on Greece’s unwillingness to cooperate.

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“[Italy] GDP per capita in real terms shrank 0.4% in the last 18 years..” “In Germany, the euro region’s largest economy, per-capita output rose by 26.1% since 1998.”

Italians Are Outright Economic Losers in the Era of the Euro (BBG)

Almost two decades after the creation of the euro single currency, Italians are proving to be the big losers among the 19 member countries. GDP per capita in real terms shrank 0.4% in the last 18 years, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the European Union statistics office up to 2015 and estimates for 2016. While Italy’s economy expanded 6.2% since 1998, its population increased by 6.6% over the period – thus accounting for the per-head drop. “The comparison with other countries clearly shows that the Italian economy has expanded at too-slow a pace over the period,” said Loredana Federico, an economist at UniCredit Bank AG in Milan. “It will be very difficult for Italy to close, in the years to come, the gap with other economies that already returned to the pre-crisis level or even surpassed it.”

Eleven members of the EU introduced the euro as an accounting currency in January 1999; they were later joined by Greece. The actual notes and coins were introduced in January 2002, and expansion of the zone has since continued, with Lithuania becoming the 19th member in 2015. Italy’s per-capita GDP has fared even worse than Greece, which was severely hit by the financial crisis. The value of all goods and services produced in that country rose in the last 18 years by 4% on an individual basis, Bloomberg calculations show. In Germany, the euro region’s largest economy, per-capita output rose by 26.1% since 1998. That makes the citizens of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s nation the winners among all of the bloc’s main economies.

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“If U.S.-based multinational corporates start to repatriate their profits from China, outflows could worsen further in 2017..”

China Net 2016 Outflows At Record $725 Billion (R.)

Capital outflows from China surged last year to a record $725 billion and could pick up further if U.S. firms face political pressure to repatriate profits, the Institute of International Finance said on Thursday. The Washington DC-based group, one of the most authoritative trackers of capital movements in and out of the developing world, estimates net Chinese outflows last year were $50 billion higher than in 2015, dwarfing the inflows other emerging economies received. Net outflows in 2014 had been just $160 billion from China, which has seen capital flight pick up in the past couple of years from local businesses and households, partly on expectations that the yuan would weaken against the dollar.

The outflows, which caused a $320 billion decline last year in Chinese foreign exchange reserves, have prompted authorities to strengthen capital curbs. The yuan fell 6.5% against the dollar last year, the biggest ever yearly fall. The IIF estimated China outflows at a heavy $95 billion in December and noted that a rise in protectionism, especially in the United States after the election of President Donald Trump, could exacerbate the situation. Trump and his top trade adviser this week criticised Germany, Japan and China, saying the three key U.S. trading partners were devaluing their currencies to the detriment of U.S. companies and consumers. “If U.S.-based multinational corporates start to repatriate their profits from China, outflows could worsen further in 2017,” the IIF said, referring to pledges of tax breaks to U.S. firms that bring overseas profits back to the country.

But excluding China, the picture for emerging markets appeared brighter, the IIF said, noting net capital inflows last year had amounted to $192 billion, versus $123 billion in 2015. In January, inflows into the stocks and bonds of a group of big emerging economies stood at a five-month high of $12.3 billion, the group added. “January was a much better month for emerging markets but it is too early to tell if this reflects hope for a better outlook – or this is just the eye of the storm,” the IIF note added. The capital exodus from China, however, dominates the picture – the IIF last November forecast the developing world would suffer net capital outflows of $206 billion in 2017, with the vast majority accounted for by China.

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“Needless to say, Yellen’s credibility, to use a word of the mainstream, should be absolutely shattered.”

Reality Vs. The “Recovery” Narrative (Mises)

As Jeffrey Lacker leads the pack on the Fed’s “concern of overheating” front, last Friday’s 2016 fourth quarter GDP numbers completely contradict the narrative. Coming in at a paltry 1.85% growth rate, the Fed was handed yet another excuse to push off the so-called “normalization of interest rates” further into the future. The Fed’s FOMC again confirmed as much at its February meeting. The Fed has stated for years – since 2008 – that it needed to keep interest rates low in order to support a sustainable recovery. The Fed was allegedly paying close attention to it’s Congressionally-sourced dual mandate to determine when it could start allowing rates to rise. But now it is 2017 and the Fed’s bureaucratic statistics relating to unemployment and price inflation say things are just dandy.

But the GDP numbers, which purport to measure growth, scream the opposite. This is the Fed’s predicament. They’ve held that the dual mandate was their only guide, but it’s becoming quickly evident how irrelevant those numbers are. As it turns out, the third quarter’s 3.5% GDP number was not a sign of coming paradise, but was rather a mocking anomaly. In the past six quarters, only once (third quarter 2016) did the GDP growth rate come in above 2%. Moreover, things are getting worse, not better. 2016’s average growth rate was worse than both 2014 and 2015. Needless to say, Yellen’s credibility, to use a word of the mainstream, should be absolutely shattered. Stimulus and quantitative solutions have been an epic failure.

In light of this, the Fed’s decision to raise the target Federal Funds rate over the coming months is especially painful. Should they choose to do so, they do it in the face of a growth rate that is barely treading water. But if they choose to prolong these target rate hikes, they do so as their own dual mandate components tell them they should be normalizing monetary policy by now.

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“The problem with a financial panic is that panicked investors don’t care if the president is a Democrat or a Republican; they just want their money back.”

Markets Are Experiencing Cognitive Dissonance (Rickards)

Despite Trump’s best efforts and positive policies, a collapse could happen any day unless radical steps are taken to prevent it — such as breaking up big banks and banning derivatives. I’ve been warning about this for a while, but now mainstream economists see the danger too. Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller, for example, sees a stock market crash coming that could be worse than 1929 or 2000. I hope he’s wrong. The problem with a financial panic is that panicked investors don’t care if the president is a Democrat or a Republican; they just want their money back. The same dynamic applies to natural disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes. Once the disaster starts, the dynamics have a life of their own and don’t care if the victims are liberals or conservatives.

Everyone gets hurt just the same. I’m not hoping for it, but this is a lesson Trump may learn the hard way. Above I said collapse means a violent stock market correction, a falling dollar and major rallies in bonds and gold. I expect the latter. The long-term trends favor gold if U.S. growth continues disappoint. The strong dollar story can’t last, so it won’t. The Trump administration has clearly signaled that the day of the strong dollar is over. When you see a coordinated attack on the dollar from the White House, the Treasury and the Fed, you can bet the dollar will weaken. That means a higher dollar price for gold. The dollar may get one last boost from a Fed rate hike in March, but after that, even the Fed will acknowledge that they got it wrong again and start another easing cycle with happy talk and forward guidance.

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Starting to look like a run-up to a Mexican stand-off.

Scots to Vote on Tuesday on May’s Draft Law to Trigger Brexit (BBG)

The Scottish Parliament will vote Tuesday on U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s draft law to formally trigger Brexit, a signal that the Scots want their views to be considered as the premier prepares to embark on two years of talks to leave the EU. May’s bill, which would allow her to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal trigger for exit discussions, passed its first vote in Parliament in London on Wednesday. The draft law will now undergo three days of line-by-line debate in a so-called Committee Stage starting on Monday. Members of Parliament have so far filled a 128-page document with scores of proposed amendments to the 137-word bill, which will then be put to its final vote in the lower chamber, the House of Commons, before being sent up to the House of Lords.

“It is now essential that the Scottish Parliament’s views are heard prior to the end of the committee stage of the Article 50 bill in the House of Commons, so we will lodge a motion to allow Parliament to express its view,” Scottish Minister for U.K. Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe Michael Russell said on Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “I believe that Parliament will send a resounding message that Scotland’s future is in Europe.” The plan by Russell’s Scottish National Party amounts to a political warning to May to heed its concerns as she prepares to negotiate a so-called “hard” Brexit, pulling Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union, which allow free trade within the bloc. The Scottish vote has no power to affect whether May triggers Brexit because the Supreme Court ruled last month that the semi-autonomous legislature doesn’t get to vote on the process.

The SNP produced a detailed plan for Brexit before Christmas that seeks to force May to negotiate to keep Scotland in the single market, even if the rest of the country pulls out. SNP leaders have repeatedly said that Brexit may lead to another independence referendum in Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. May had aimed to trigger Brexit by the end of March without consulting with the central Parliament in London, but was forced to do so after losing a court ruling and subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court. She still aims to stick to her timetable, and is fast-tracking the Article 50 bill through Parliament, aiming to complete its passage through the Lords in early March.

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Institutionalization: The idea that success comes exclusively through attending a university has created a stigma against some of the most valuable occupations.

America’s Student Loans Problem Is Much Bigger Than Anybody Realized (TAM)

The Department of Education recently released a memo admitting that repayment rates on student loans have been grossly exaggerated. Data from 99.8% of schools across the country has been manipulated to cover up growing problems with the $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. New calculations show that more than half of all borrowers from 1,000 different institutions have defaulted on or not paid back a single dollar of their loans over the last seven years. This comes in stark contrast to previous claims and should call into question any statistics provided by government agencies. The American people haven’t fully grasped the long-term implications of loaning a trillion dollars to young people who have no credit or assets.

Increases in tuition seen over the past two decades have become a point of controversy and angst for those who don’t fully understand the contributing factors. Between 1995 and 2015, the average cost of a public, four-year university skyrocketed by well over 200%. Although federal student aid programs are often championed as a necessity, they have been instrumental in making higher education unaffordable. The opportunity to pay for college by working a part-time job evaporated as soon as huge sums of money were handed out to anyone with a pulse. Since students no longer pay their tuition upfront, colleges are able to raise prices in perpetuity, knowing the government will step in and make credit easier and easier to obtain. As an added bonus, outstanding student loans account for 45% of the government’s financial assets.

Subsidizing the lives of an entire generation has turned personal growth and advancement into a choice instead of a necessity. After all, why take risks or work your way up from the bottom when with just a signature, the life you’ve always wanted could be laid at your feet? It’s not hard to figure out why so many people are tempted to take advantage of the instant gratification that comes from student loans, but like everything else in life, they have a price. The same safety net that delays the anxiety of the future also ensures that monthly payments will be owed for decades to come. Procrastinating when faced with pivotal life decisions is an instinct that used to be overcome as a teenager, but today it is worn like a badge of honor well into adulthood.

The policies of intervention haven’t stopped at federal aid, and loan forgiveness is now being offered to those willing to work in the public sector or at a non-profit for ten years. This perverse incentive only serves to drive those desperately in debt further towards government dependence. Productive jobs are created when the needs of others are met in the free market, not by joining the ranks of the state for self-preservation. The idea that success comes exclusively through attending a university has created a stigma against some of the most valuable occupations. The lack of real skill sets has lead to a shortage of welders, electricians, carpenters, and other trade workers. Instead of learning through experience with apprenticeships, many students have embraced four years of sleeping in, drinking heavily, and getting an increasingly useless degree.

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Makes law look like religion.

Originalism: Neil Gorsuch’s Constitutional Philosophy (G.)

At his unveiling on Tuesday night as Donald Trump’s choice to fill the US supreme court vacancy, Neil Gorsuch paid homage not to the man standing beside him, who had just nominated him to one of the most powerful judicial positions in the country, but to a document written 230 years ago. Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge based in Denver, promised that should he get through the confirmation process he would act as a “faithful servant” to what he called “the greatest charter of human liberty the world has ever known”. He was referring to the US constitution, the supreme law of the land drafted in 1787. He was not being rhetorical. Gorsuch describes himself as an “originalist”, indicating that he places overwhelming importance on the original meaning of the constitution as it was understood by “we the people” at the time it was written.

That puts him in a very select group of judges – maybe no more than 30 – who identify themselves as “originalists”. What unites them is that they put as much emphasis on the original understanding of the US constitution as Christian fundamentalists say they put on the original wording of the Bible. Until his death last year, one of the most prominent members of the group was Antonin Scalia, the supreme court justice whom Gorsuch is now lined up to replace. Scalia helped spread the word of originalism among conservative judges in the 1980s as a way of pushing back on what he considered to be the increasingly outlandish opinions of his progressive peers. Judges were there, Scalia argued, not to make up their own laws or politically motivated judgments, but to cleave faithfully to the meaning of the framers’ writings as they were understood back in the 18th century by the American people.

“Originalists ask what the constitution meant at the time it was written, and then argue that the meaning is fixed – it doesn’t change because the world has changed and we now have new problems to deal with,” said Lawrence Solum, a professor at Georgetown Law who is a leading theorist of constitutional originalism. David Feder, a Los Angeles-based lawyer, had first-hand experience of what that meant to Gorsuch in practice when he worked as his law clerk on the federal 10th circuit court of appeals. “Whenever a constitutional issue came up in our cases, [Gorsuch] sent one of his clerks on a deep dive through the historical sources. ‘We need to get this right,’ was the motto – and right meant ‘as originally understood’,” Feder recalled recently in the Yale Journal of Regulation.

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Yeah, Erdogan really strikes me as a guy who would take kindly to being lectured by a woman.

And if the US are actually going to extradite Gulen, they will lose a lot of support in the region.

Angela Merkel Lectures Turkish President Erdogan On Upholding Freedoms (SMH)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of freedom of opinion in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit meant to help improve frayed ties between the two NATO allies. In her first trip to Ankara since a failed military coup in Turkey last year, Dr Merkel said she had agreed with Mr Erdogan on the need for closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Germany and Turkey have been at odds over Ankara’s crackdown on dissidents since the abortive July 15 coup, as well as its allegations – rejected by Berlin – that Germany is harbouring Kurdish and far-left militants.

“With the [attempted] putsch, we saw how the Turkish people stood up for democracy and for the rules of democracy,” Dr Merkel told a news conference on Thursday, when asked about concern over proposed constitutional changes that would strengthen Mr Erdogan’s powers. “In such a time of profound political upheaval, everything must be done to continue to protect the separation of powers and above all freedom of opinion and the diversity of society,” she said, adding she had also raised the issue of press freedom. “Opposition is part of democracy,” Dr Merkel said.

[..] Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said on Wednesday that Berlin was sheltering members of what Ankara calls the “Gulenist Terrorist Organisation” (FETO), referring to the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the coup bid. “If the Gulenists involved in the coup are fleeing to Germany, the Justice Ministry may send information and documents,” Mr Erdogan said, adding that the United States should take quicker action on an extradition request for Mr Gulen. US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser,Michael Flynn, has in recent months suggested that Mr Gulen might be extradited as a show of Washington’s support for its Middle Eastern NATO ally. Turkey’s defence minister has urged Berlin to reject the asylum applications and warned that a failure to do so could damage relations. Berlin has said the applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

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Nothing good will come on continuing Europe’s current ‘policy’ with regards to Turkey. It will take Trump or Putin to tell Erdogan to shut up.

Turkey Refugee Deal With EU at Risk, Erdogan Adviser Warns (BBG)

An accord meant to stem the flow of refugees into Europe could collapse if Greece and Germany don’t extradite fugitive Turkish military officers involved in the botched July coup, a chief adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to throw open Turkey’s borders, accusing the European Union of failing to keep its side of the deal, which has run into turbulence following the Turkish government’s crackdown over the coup. Under the agreement, Turkey agreed to block the flow of refugees across its border into Europe in exchange for cash assistance and eased visa requirements for Turkish citizens.

“If Greece and Germany continue their negative attitude toward Turkey, then Turkey has no other option but to relax its hold on migrants,” Erdogan aide Ilnur Cevik said in an interview shortly before Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel sat down with Erdogan in Ankara, in part to discuss the accord. “Turkey has nothing to lose because Turkey has not gained anything” from the agreement, Cevik said. Greece has refused to extradite eight fugitive Turkish officers while about 40 others Turkey accuses of involvement in July’s failed coup sought asylum in Germany. “Merkel is coming to explain the unexplainable,” Cevik said. “We see that Germany continues to harbor those who have staged a coup in Turkey, he said.

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There are 57(!) NGOs ‘active’ on Lesbos.

Small Steps Taken To Improve Conditions At Lesvos Migrant Camp (K.)

Following the deaths of three migrants in less than a week and criticism from humanitarian groups, the government has started making progress in improving conditions at the Moria processing center on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos. Steps have included moving 300 people, mostly families, to another facility at Kara Tepe and providing winter tents to 700 camp residents who were staying in shelters designed for summer despite the cold weather. Plans are also under way to develop a plot right beside the Moria center that has been leased by the Danish Red Cross but left unutilized because of reactions by locals against any initiatives to expand the camp. Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders has accused the government of failing to provide migrants and refugees with basic necessities. The Moria camp is a “death camp for refugees and migrants,” the NGO said in an announcement on Thursday.

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