Feb 262019
 
 February 26, 2019  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali The Feeling of Becoming 1931

 

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)
18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)
Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)
Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)
With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)
Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)
Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD
Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)
Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)
Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)
Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

 

 

“..almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years..”

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)

Remember all those sub-prime mortgages that blew up in 2007 and popped the housing bubble? The widely-held consensus is that millions of them were foreclosed as housing markets cratered. [..] The truth is these mortgages are still dangerous and could soon undermine the housing recovery. Collectively, loans from the bubble period that were not guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac were called non-agency securitized mortgages. Researcher Black Box Logic had an enormous database of non-agency loans until it was sold to Moody’s three years ago. At the peak of the buying madness — November 2007 — its database showed 10.6 million loans outstanding with a total balance of $2.43 trillion.

In 2016, Fitch Ratings first published a spreadsheet showing what percentage of these loans had been delinquent for more than three-, four-, or five years. Here is an updated table showing the 10-worst states and how the number of deadbeat borrowers has soared.

In 2012, just 2% of all these delinquent borrowers had not paid for more than five years. Two years later that number had skyrocketed to 21%. Why? Mortgage servicers around the country had discontinued foreclosing on millions of delinquent properties. Homeowners got wind of this and realized they could probably stop making payments without any consequences whatsoever. So they did. Take a good look at the figures for 2016. Nationwide, almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years.

In the worst four states, more than half of them were long-term deadbeats. Notice also that four of the other states were those you would not expect to have this rampant delinquency — North Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland. Another way to gauge the extent of the problem is to look at the major metros with the highest delinquency rate. Here is a table of the 10 metros with the worst delinquency rate in early 2016, taken from Black Box Logic’s database.

Within the last two years, important graphs and tables showing the extent of the delinquency mess have disappeared from reports issued regularly by Fannie Mae, mutual fund provider TCW, and data provider Black Knight Financial Services. According to a TCW spokesperson, the graph is no longer published in the firm’s Mortgage Market Monitor because there did not seem to be much demand for it. Really? This graph had appeared in their report for years and showed the extremely high percentage of modified non-agency loans where the borrower had re-defaulted. Meanwhile, the omitted Fannie Mae table also showed the rising percentage of modified Fannie Mae loans that had re-defaulted. Its last published table showed re-default rates of almost 40%. Do you think these important omissions are just coincidence?

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25% in 2019 alone?!

18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)

The housing market has taken a turn for the worse moving deeper into the decline of a debt-financed asset bubble, possibly driving house prices to fall by as much as 25 per cent in 2019 on nominal terms, according to housing bear and analyst LF Economics. The group made up of Lindsay David and Philip Soos, who have authored books on boom and bust in housing markets, lists 18 factors that are putting extreme pressure on the Sydney and Melbourne markets. Their baseline prediction is a 15 per cent to 20 per cent fall in prices just in 2019 although 25 per cent is possible.

One of the main factors driving the pressure is $120 billion worth of interest-only loans that are transitioning to principal and interest loans between now and 2021. “Banks and regulators have already softened their stance on these borrowers, allowing some greater time to sell or extending the interest-only period ,” LF Economics said in a new report “Let The Bloodbath Begin”. “Nevertheless, with debt repayments rising anywhere between 20 [per cent] to 50 per cent upon conversion, many recent borrowers will be placed under considerable financial stress.”

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Question: how are the shadow banks linked to international trade?

Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)

Imports by China and other emerging Asian economies in December plunged to the lowest level in two years, in the steepest one-month plunge since 2008, after having already plunged in November, according to the Merchandise World Trade Monitor, released on Monday by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. For November and December combined, imports by China and other Emerging Asian Economies plunged 13%, the steepest two-month plunge since November and December 2008 (-18%). In point terms, it was the largest plunge in the data going back to 2000. “Emerging Asia” includes China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Singapore. But China is by far the largest economy in the group, and by far the largest importer in the group.

The fact that imports into Emerging Asia are plunging is a sign of suddenly and sharply weakening demand in China. This type of abrupt demand-downturn was clearly visible in the double-digit plunge in new-vehicle sales in China over the last four months of 2018, plunging demand in many other sectors in China, and record defaults by Chinese companies. When it comes to China, “plunge is no longer an exaggeration. So the US trade actions against China – the variously implemented, threatened, or delayed tariffs – was largely geared toward hitting exports by China to the US. But it was imports that plunged! Exports from Emerging Asia too dropped in November and December, but not nearly as brutally as imports, down by 6.7% over the two months combined. And these drops were not all that unusual in the export index:

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Xi has lost control. There are reports about him being replaced, but that would be way into the future, if it happens.

Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)

For almost two years, the question has lingered over China’s market-roiling crackdown on financial leverage: How much pain can the country’s policy makers stomach? Evidence is mounting that their limit has been reached. From bank loans to trust-product issuance to margin-trading accounts at stock brokerages, leverage in China is rising nearly everywhere you look. While seasonal effects explain some of the gains, analysts say the trend has staying power as authorities shift their focus from containing the nation’s $34 trillion debt pile to shoring up the weakest economic expansion since 2009.

The government’s evolving stance was underscored by President Xi Jinping’s call for stable growth late last week, while on Monday the banking regulator said the deleveraging push had reached its target. “Deleveraging is dead,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. Investors reacted positively to the official remarks, with the more than 30 brokerages listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen up by the 10 percent daily limit on Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest lender by assets, rose 6.3 percent.

[..] China’s overall leverage ratio stood at 243.7 percent at the end of 2018, with corporate debt reaching 154 percent, household borrowings at 53 percent and government leverage at 37 percent, according to Zhang Xiaojing, deputy head of the Institute of Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Before that, the nation’s leverage ratio climbed at an average 12 percentage points each year between 2008 and 2016. China’s total debt will rise relative to GDPthis year, after a flat 2017 and a decline in 2018, Wang Tao, head of China economic research at UBS in Hong Kong, predicted in a report this month. While Wang cautioned that “re-leveraging” may increase concerns about China’s commitment to ensuring financial stability, investors have so far cheered the prospect of easier credit conditions.

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The shadows reign supreme in China.

“..a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019.”

With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)

Eager to pile into the world’s most-volatile major stock market with 10-to-1 leverage? China’s shadow bankers are happy to help – and that has the nation’s policy makers worried. Just hours after China’s CSI 300 Index notched a 6 percent surge on Monday, its biggest gain in more than three years, the country’s securities regulator warned of a rise in unregulated margin debt and asked brokerages to increase monitoring for abnormal trades. The China Securities Regulatory Commission’s statement followed a pickup in advertising by margin-finance platforms, which operate with little to no supervision and offer far more leverage than the country’s regulated securities firms.

While margin debt in China is much lower today than when it helped precipitate a market collapse in 2015, investors are taking on leverage quickly as they chase a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019. The risk is that a sudden reversal would force leveraged traders to sell, exacerbating volatility in a market that posted bigger swings than any of its peers over the past 30 days. That prospect may unnerve Chinese policy makers, who have a history of trying to protect the nation’s 147 million individual investors from outsized losses. “If the market continues to go up, the situation will get worse and so will the risks,” said Yang Hai, an analyst at Kaiyuan Securities Co. in Shanghai. “Under the current regulatory scope, investors have to shoulder risks themselves.”

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Finally someone talks to Volcker and he doesn’t say anything.

Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker has some serious fears about the banking industry. And he believes supporting regulators to combat those fears is imperative. Speaking to analyst Mike Mayo in a CFA Enterprising Investor interview published on Monday, Volcker said that he’s “concerned” about the current “culture of the financial system, banking in particular.” He told Mayo that banks have been dominated by “how much profit the firm (and you) make.” And he believes that the focus on profitability could ultimately affect corporate oversight. “What’s the role of directors in keeping culture under control?” he asked. “Can the directors of a big bank really do an effective job of overseeing an institution? Or do they see their job as protecting the CEO who they appointed?

Or maybe the CEO appointed them, so there is a certain amount of built in mutual interest in ducking emphasis on internal controls.” Volcker, who served as Fed chairman during the Carter and Reagan administrations, has been one of the more vocal supporters of controlling and regulating banks. He’s the namesake for the Volcker Rule, which aims at limiting banking activity and bank interaction with hedge funds and private equity funds. It also puts the onus on banks to protect customers. In his interview with Mayo, Volcker talked about the importance of banks protecting their customers. He said that a right and good banking culture is one where “the customer comes first.” The issue, however, is that banks sometimes fail in doing that, Volcker said.

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No kidding.

Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD

The global economy faces escalating risks from rising levels of corporate debt, with companies around the world needing to repay or refinance as much as $4tn (£3.1tn) over the next three years, according to the OECD. Sounding the alarm over the scale of the debt mountain built up over the past decade since the last financial crisis, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that global company borrowing has ballooned to reach $13tn by the end of last year – more than double the level before the 2008 crash. Nearly the equivalent of the entire US Federal Reserve balance sheet – roughly $4tn – will need to be repaid or refinanced over the coming years, the report said. However, the task is complicated by cooling economic growth from trade tensions and a slower rate of expansion in China ..

Financial market investors have grown increasingly concerned that high debt levels in the US could turn a looming slowdown for the world’s largest economy into a full-blown recession. High debt levels in several other nations as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates has also rattled financial markets in recent months. According to research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, a potential meltdown in the US bond market is the second biggest risk to the world economy after the US-China trade standoff, amid a combination of global economic headwinds “more wide-ranging and complex than at any point since the great recession”. The IMF has previously warned of gathering “storm clouds” for the world economy, including from trade tensions and heightened levels of debt – particularly in China.

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.. since 1999, Germans on average cumulatively richer by $26,120. Italians poorer by $84,000.

Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)

The eurozone’s single currency, the euro, has been a serious drag on the economic growth of almost every member of the bloc, according to a study by German think tank, the Centre for European Politics (CEP).
Germany and the Netherlands, however, have benefited enormously from the euro over the 20 years since its launch, the study showed. The currency triggered credit and investment booms by extending the benefits of Germany’s low interest-rate environment across the bloc’s periphery. However, those debts became hard to sustain after the 2008 financial crisis, with Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus forced to seek financial aid as growth slowed and financing became scarce.

According to CEP, over the entire period since 1999, Germans were on average estimated to be cumulatively richer by €23,000 ($26,120) than they would otherwise have been, while the Dutch were €21,000 ($23,850) wealthier. To compare, Italians and French were each €74,000 ($84,000) and €56,000 ($63,600) poorer, respectively. The survey did not include one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies, Ireland, due to a lack of appropriate data. [..] In the first few years after its introduction, Greece gained hugely from the euro but since 2011 has suffered enormous losses,” the authors wrote, explaining that over the whole period, Greeks were each €190 ($216) richer than they would have been.

The study concluded that since the loser countries could no longer restore their competitiveness by devaluing their currencies, they had to double down on structural reforms. Spain was highlighted as a country that was on track to erase the growth deficit it had built up since the euro’s introduction. “Since 2011, euro accession has resulted in a reduction in prosperity. Losses reached their peak in 2014. Since then, they have been falling steadily,” said the report, adding: “The reforms that have been carried out, are paying off.”

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Corbyn should have been much more concerned about his credibility. This late in the game, does it even matter anymore?

Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has finally thrown his party’s weight behind a second EU referendum, backing moves for a fresh poll with remain on the ballot paper if Labour should fail to get its own version of a Brexit deal passed this week. The decision to give the party’s backing to a second referendum follows a concerted push by the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, and deputy leader, Tom Watson, who fear any further delay could have led to more defections to the breakaway Independent Group (TIG), whose members all back a second referendum. Although the move has delighted MPs who are backing the People’s Vote campaign, Corbyn is likely to face determined opposition from dozens of MPs in leave seats if the party whips to back a second referendum, including a significant number of frontbenchers.

The former shadow minister Lucy Powell said she believed at least 25 MPs would vote against any whip to back a second referendum, meaning that it would face an uphill struggle to pass the Commons without significant Conservative support. A private briefing sent to Labour MPs on Monday night and seen by the Guardian makes it clear that Labour’s policy would be to include remain as an option in any future referendum. “We’ve always said that any referendum would need to have a credible leave option and remain,” the briefing said. “Obviously at this stage that is yet to be decided and would have to be agreed by parliament.”

The briefing also makes it clear that the party would not support no deal being included on the ballot paper. “There’s no majority for a no-deal outcome and Labour would not countenance supporting no deal as an option,” the briefing says. “What we are calling for is a referendum to confirm a Brexit deal, not to proceed to no deal.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1100294356706168832

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No matter how big the political mess,

UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)

The US has lent its backing to Britain to protect the City from losing trillions of pounds of complex financial derivatives business after Brexit, warding off a potential banking industry land grab by the EU. In a joint announcement heralded as a sign of the special relationship between the UK and the US, the two countries said they would take every step to ensure the continued trading of derivatives across the Atlantic under every Brexit eventuality. Derivatives are financial contracts widely used by companies to manage risks, ranging from hedging against changes in central bank interest rates to fluctuations in commodity prices. Brexit threatens to unpick trading in the UK, even with the US, as City banks currently operate under EU rules while Britain is a member of the bloc.

Under the steps announced by the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, firms working in the US and the UK will continue to meet the requirements required to operate in both countries, even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. London and New York sit at the centre of the world’s multitrillion-pound derivatives market, with the US and the UK controlling 80% of the $594tn (£454tn) a year business – worth more than five times world GDP. About a third of the £230tn of derivatives contracts traded in the UK every year come from US companies, more than any other jurisdiction. The development comes as Brussels prepares rules that would force clearing houses – financial institutions key to the trading of derivatives – outside the EU to come under the supervision of its regulators.

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This is getting awfully close to class justice. Monsanto has hundreds of the top lawyers, and what do the plaintiffs have?

Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)

Monsanto is facing its first federal trial over allegations that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, but a US judge has blocked attorneys from discussing the corporation’s alleged manipulation of science. In an extraordinary move in a packed San Francisco courtroom on Monday, US judge Vince Chhabria threatened to sanction and “shut down” a cancer patient’s attorney for violating his ban on talking about Monsanto’s influence on government regulators and cancer research. “You’ve completely disregarded the limitations that were set upon you,” the visibly angry judge said to attorney Aimee Wagstaff, threatening to prevent her from continuing. “If you cross the line one more time … your opening statement will be over … If I see a single inappropriate thing on those slides, I’m shutting you down.”

The unusual conflict in the federal courtroom has fueled concerns among Monsanto’s critics that the trial may be unfairly stacked against the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man who alleges that his exposure to Roundup over several decades caused his cancer. Building on longstanding allegations, Hardeman’s lawyers and other critics have argued that Monsanto has for years suppressed negative studies and worked to promote and “ghostwrite” favorable studies about its herbicide to influence the public and regulators.

In a blow to the plaintiffs, Chhabria this year approved Monsanto’s request to prohibit Hardeman’s attorneys from raising allegations about the corporation’s conduct, saying issues about its influence on science and government were a “significant … distraction”. That means jurors must narrowly consider the studies surrounding Roundup’s cancer risks, and if they rule that Monsanto caused Hardeman’s illness, then in a second phase the jury would learn about the company’s conduct when assessing liability and punitive damages.

[..] Wagstaff told the Guardian last week before trial began that the limitations on evidence in the first phase meant the “jury will only hear half of the story”. “The jury will hear about the science, but they won’t get to hear about how Monsanto influenced it,” she said. “The jury won’t have a complete understanding of the science. If we win without the jury knowing the complete science, that’s a real problem for Monsanto.” Chhabria repeatedly interrupted Wagstaff’s opening statement Monday morning, reminding jurors that her comments did not constitute evidence and should be taken with a “grain of salt”. He also asked her to speed up when she was introducing Hardeman and his wife and discussing how they first met in 1975.

Wagstaff spoke in detail about the research on cancer and glyphosate, about some of Monsanto’s involvement in studies, and about the company’s communications with the Environmental Protection Agency. [..] The restrictions on testimony about Monsanto’s conduct and alleged manipulation of science is likely to be a major detriment to Hardeman and future plaintiffs, said Jean M Eggen, professor emerita at Widener University Delaware Law School. “It was a brilliant move on the part of the defendant Bayer to try to keep [out] all of that information,” she said. “And it may pay off for them.”

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We paved paradise. Which is a much wider and bigger issue than just a climate one.

Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

Because of the heat needed to decompose rock and the natural chemical processes involved in making cement, every tonne made releases one tonne of C02, the main greenhouse warming gas. Including the new Crossrail line through London, the building of Britain’s four largest current construction projects will, if completed, together emit more than 10m tonnes of CO2 – roughly the same amount as a city the size of Birmingham, or what 19 million Malawians emit in a year. Nearly 6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 8% of the world’s, are now sourced from cement production. If it were a country, the cement industry would be the third largest in the world, its emissions behind only China and the US.

So great is its carbon footprint that unless it is transformed and made to adopt cleaner practices, the industry could, on its own, jeopardise the whole 2015 Paris agreement which aims to hold worldwide temperatures to a 2C increase. To bring it into line, the UN says its annual emissions need to fall about 16% in the next 10 years, and by far more in the future. While some of the biggest cement companies have reduced the carbon intensity of their products by investing in more fuel-efficient kilns, most improvements gained have been overshadowed by the massive increase in global cement and concrete production. Population increases, the urban explosion in Asia and Africa, the need to build dams, roads and houses, as well as increases in personal wealth have stoked demand.

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Jan 072019
 
 January 7, 2019  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Berthe Morisot Julie and her boat 1884

 

China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction (Balding)
China Drops Hints Of Trade Pain Ahead (BV)
US and China To Resume Trade Talks With Both Eager For Compromise (G.)
May To Hold Parliamentary Brexit Vote On January 15 (R.)
Theresa May Pleads For EU To Give Ground And Rescue Brexit Deal (G.)
Germany and Ireland Step Up Efforts To Find Brexit Border ‘Fix’ (G.)
Average UK Unsecured Household Debt Hits Record £15,400 (G.)
UK Car Sales Record Biggest Fall Since Financial Crisis (R.)
France’s Macron Reeling As Tough Stance Against ‘Yellow Vests’ Backfires (R.)
The Euro: A Mindless Idea – Ashoka Mody (Spiked)

 

 

$1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year. There are $90 billion of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars. Good luck.

China Has a Dangerous Dollar Debt Addiction (Balding)

China’s foreign debt has been rising rapidly, and that’s becoming an increasingly big problem — for the country and, potentially, the world. Officially, China lists its outstanding external debt at $1.9 trillion. For a $13 trillion economy, that’s not a major amount. But focusing on the headline number significantly understates the underlying risks. Short-term debt accounted for 62% of the total as of September, according to official data, meaning that $1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year. Just as worrying is the speed of increase: Total external debt has increased 14% in the past year and 35% since the beginning of 2017. External debt is no longer a trivial slice of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, which stood at just over $3 trillion at the end of November, little changed from two years earlier. Short-term foreign debt increased to 39% of reserves in September, from 26% in March 2016.

The true picture may be more precarious. China’s external debt was estimated at between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion by Daiwa Capital Markets in an August report. In other words, total foreign liabilities could be understated by as much as $1.5 trillion after accounting for borrowing in financial centers such as Hong Kong, New York and the Caribbean islands that isn’t included in the official tally. Circumstances aren’t moving in China’s favor. The nation’s companies rushed to borrow in dollars when there was a 3% to 5% spread between Chinese and U.S. interest rates and the yuan was expected to strengthen. Borrowing offshore was cheaper and offered the additional bonus of likely currency gains. Now, the spread in official short-term yields has shrunk to near zero and the yuan has been depreciating for most of the past year. Refinancing debt in dollars has become harder, and more risky.

Beijing’s policies have exacerbated the buildup of foreign debt. To promote Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president’s landmark foreign policy endeavor, China has been borrowing dollars on international markets and lending around the world for everything from Kenyan railways to Pakistani business parks. With this year and 2020 being the peak years for repayments, China faces dollar funding pressure. To repay their dollar debts, Chinese firms will either have to draw from the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves (a prospect Beijing is unlikely to allow) or buy dollars on international markets. This creates a new set of problems. There are only 617 billion yuan ($90 billion) of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars. If China was to push firms to bring debt back onshore, this would necessitate significant outflows that would push down the yuan’s value against the dollar.

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More trickle down fails.

China Drops Hints Of Trade Pain Ahead (BV)

While a cut in the reserve requirement ratio, China’s fifth in a year, was not surprising, the 100-basis point shift that started off 2019 was larger than anticipated. Of course, demand for cash tends to spike around this time of year, due to both the Chinese New Year holiday and tax deadlines, but the economy is cooling uncomfortably fast. Official figures may show growth slowed to 6.3% in the fourth quarter, Standard Chartered reckons. Friday’s announcement adds to other easing measures: People’s Bank of China officials last month announced a new policy tool to encourage lenders to disburse their cash more widely. The “targeted medium-term lending facility” will make cheaper funding available to banks that the PBOC judges to be doing their part by lending more to small companies.

It’s certainly not full-blown monetary stimulus yet; the central bank has not fired its heavier artillery, such as a benchmark rate cut. The market has also been kept waiting for reductions to cost of borrowing from the PBOC’s more important channel, its regular medium-term lending facility. But the overall direction of travel is clear, and both recent moves point to structural issues that worry pessimists: the extra liquidity pumped into the system does not seem to be translating into more loans for smaller companies, which may signal deeper problems with capital allocation, not to mention the private sector’s nervousness about politics in 2019.

All of this is bad news for Beijing’s trade negotiators, when they hold talks with U.S. counterparts face-to-face this week. As the pain mounts, they may be pushed to yield more in order to gain relief. They could, for example, agree to formally drop the controversial “Made in China 2025” plan, or to announce concrete measures to beef up enforcement of intellectual property rights. Trump said on Sunday that weakness in China’s economy will push officials to negotiate. He may be right.

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Tariffs rose Jan 1. It’s getting urgent.

US and China To Resume Trade Talks With Both Eager For Compromise (G.)

US officials arrived in China for the first face-to-face negotiations since a 90-day truce was declared in a trade war between Washington and Beijing, in the hope of ending a bruising confrontation between the world’s two largest economies. Hopes that the sixth round of negotiations between the two sides could yield a breakthrough helped Asian shares rise on Monday, combined with optimism about the state of the global economy on the back of strong US jobs figures on Friday. In Tokyo, the Nikkei soared more than 3% and there were also strong positive moves in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney. US and Chinese trade representatives were set to hold talks on Monday and Tuesday.

After failing to reach an agreement in December when Donald Trump and Xi Jinping met, both sides agreed to suspend tariff increases while holding discussions on technology transfers, as well as intellectual property theft and cybersecurity. If no agreement is reached, US tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods will increase in March to 25% from the current 10%. Trump said on Sunday that China was under pressure to do a deal amid signs of a slowdown in its economy. “I think China wants to get it resolved. Their economy’s not doing well. I think that gives them a great incentive to negotiate,” he said. “China’s slowdown is occurring across the board, affecting almost every industry and region,” said Scott Kennedy, a trade expert focused on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Resolving the trade war or at least finding some common ground with Washington will be needed to fully restore confidence,” he said.

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Whatever the outcome, chaos guaranteed. You can jot down next Tuesday night in your agenda for that.

May To Hold Parliamentary Brexit Vote On January 15 (R.)

Prime Minister Theresa May will hold a delayed parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal on Tuesday, January 15, the BBC reported on Monday, citing government sources. May was forced to pull the vote on her deal in December after she said it would be defeated by a large majority. The government had previously said the vote would be held in the week of January 14. May said on Sunday that Britain would be in uncharted territory if her Brexit deal is rejected by parliament, despite little sign that she has won over sceptical lawmakers.

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In case you were still wondering who will be blamed.

Theresa May Pleads For EU To Give Ground And Rescue Brexit Deal (G.)

Theresa May is preparing to make another desperate plea to EU leaders to offer a concession on the Irish backstop as she attempts to win over Brexiters who have vowed to vote down the government’s deal. The prime minister on Sunday promised to hold the meaningful vote in parliament in the week beginning 14 January despite growing opposition from Conservative backbenchers and the Democratic Unionist party, whose votes are required to push the deal through parliament. As MPs prepare to return to Westminster with the crucial Commons vote looming on the withdrawal agreement, Downing Street insisted that new compromises could still be won from Europe that would ensure the safe passage of May’s plan.

The hope of new developments came as opposition to the prime minister’s deal hardened. The hurdles facing May include: • Brexiters say the government faces a disaster if it fails to ditch the current deal, with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds describing the Irish backstop as “toxic”. • EU sources say talks to be held in Dublin on Tuesday between Leo Varadkar and Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, will not seek to reopen negotiations over the 585-page withdrawal agreement. • Senior MPs including Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan are launching a parliamentary campaign to rewrite government legislation to block a no-deal Brexit. • Chris Patten, the former Conservative Party chairman, called for a second referendum on the UK’s decision to leave the EU. • More than 200 MPs have signed a letter calling for Theresa May to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Tory ex-minister Dame Caroline Spelman, who organised the letter with Labour’s Jack Dromey, said the group had been invited to see the prime minister on Tuesday.

In an interview on Sunday, May said the vote, which was due to be held last month and postponed, would go ahead next week, as she sought further clarification from the EU to address MPs’ concerns. She also said she would look at giving parliament a greater say in how the UK’s future relationship would be negotiated, but refused to say exactly what that might be. Asked if there had been any changes she could offer to backbenchers who were expected to vote down her deal, she told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show: “What we will be setting out over the next few days are assurances in three areas: first are measures specific to Northern Ireland; the second is a greater role for parliament as we take these negotiations forward into the next stage for our future relationship; and third – and we are still working on this – is further assurances from the European Union to address the issues that have been raised.”

Whitehall sources insisted that a compromise could still be found with the EU and that further planned announcements will be made this week that would win over MPs opposed to the deal. “We will be working flat out. There will be further contacts with the EU leaders. The issue of the backstop is not yet over,” the source said.

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“The EU cannot now give another concession ahead of the vote because if the deal isn’t ratified, it means any new concessions will simply be banked again to no benefit at all. It would be pointless.”

Germany and Ireland Step Up Efforts To Find Brexit Border ‘Fix’ (G.)

Germany’s foreign affairs minister is to fly to Dublin on Tuesday for Brexit talks as relations with Ireland intensify in an attempt to find a “fix” that will help Theresa May get the EU withdrawal agreement ratified. Heiko Maas will address an annual gathering of Ireland’s global diplomatic corps and take part in an unofficial fourth round of talks between Ireland and German leaders since Thursday. He will make the address in English, with a large German media contingent accredited, a reflection of how significant his speech is deemed back in Berlin. Last week the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had a lengthy telephone call with Angela Merkel. He then flew to Munich to address a meeting of her coalition partners, the CSU, and on Friday met the Germany chancellor’s successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, for discussions on Brexit and the future of Europe.

The emerging Irish-German nexus on the Irish border backstop “fix” is being seen as significant in Irish political circles, where people also point to the fact that Varadkar speaks German and has a good working relationship with Merkel. They point out it was Merkel, not the taoiseach, who requested the phone call with Varadkar last Thursday. The talks lasted 40 minutes and were, according to Varadkar, “an opportunity to kind of brainstorm a bit as to what we could do to assist prime minister Theresa May in securing ratification of the withdrawal agreement”. But informed EU sources say Brexiters should not raise their hopes of a reopening of negotiations. The “fix” will be further details in the political declaration on the future relationship and not the 585-page withdrawal agreement. “That is locked,” said one EU source.

There is deep frustration that the British cannot see how far the EU went to break the impasse on the Irish border talks, yielding to May’s demands for a UK-wide customs arrangement. One EU source said: “The EU was totally opposed to this in 2017 and again in March and June in 2018. It then emerged out of the tunnel in the autumn as the solution, but the Brexiters did not see it for what it was – a major concession. [..] “They are now looking for more concessions, but they just can’t be given. The Brits banked this major concession and just did nothing with it. People can’t understand why it wasn’t sold as a victory for May. “The EU cannot now give another concession ahead of the vote because if the deal isn’t ratified, it means any new concessions will simply be banked again to no benefit at all. It would be pointless.”

Read more …

That’s about $20,000. Not including mortgages and student loans.

Average UK Unsecured Household Debt Hits Record £15,400 (G.)

Britain’s household debt mountain has reached a new peak, with UK homes now owing an average of £15,385 to credit card firms, banks and other lenders, according to the TUC. The trade union body said household debt rose sharply in 2018 as years of austerity and wage stagnation forced households to increase their borrowing. The TUC said in its annual report on the nation’s finances that the amounts owed by British households rose to a combined £428bn in the third quarter of 2018. Each household owed £886 more than it did 12 months previously, it said. The figures do not include outstanding mortgage debts but do include student loans.

The level of unsecured debt as a share of household income is now 30.4%, the highest level it has ever been at. It is well above the £286bn peak in 2008 before the financial crisis, the TUC said. That figure also included student loans, but tuition fees then were £3,000 a year compared with up to £9,250 now. [..] The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Household debt is at crisis level. Years of austerity and wage stagnation has pushed millions of families deep into the red. The government is skating on thin ice by relying on household debt to drive growth. A strong economy needs people spending wages, not credit cards and loans.”

Read more …

They’re going to stay home?!

UK Car Sales Record Biggest Fall Since Financial Crisis (R.)

British new car sales in 2018 fell at their fastest rate since the global financial crisis a decade ago, hit by a slump in demand for diesel, stricter emissions rules and waning consumer confidence due to Brexit, according to an industry body. Demand dropped by nearly 7% last year to 2.37 million vehicles, the largest fall since registrations nosedived 11.3% in 2008, preliminary data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed. A nearly 30% drop in demand for diesel was the most significant factor in the decline. Diesel has been pummelled since the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal of 2015, prompting a crackdown and higher levies.

But the industry also warned that Britain’s departure from the European Union due at the end of March risks the future of a sector which employs over 850,000 people and has been one of Britain’s few manufacturing success stories since the 1980s. “It’s still hard to see any upside to Brexit,” said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes. “Everyone recognises that Brexit is an existential threat to the UK automotive industry and we hope a practical solution will prevail,” he said, calling for lawmakers to back Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal to guarantee a transition period. [..] After record highs in 2015 and 2016, demand fell in 2017 and some analysts see car demand as a leading indicator which could be a harbinger for future economic performance. Britain’s economy slowed to a crawl at the end of 2018, the housing market is stalling and lending to consumers growing at its slowest pace in nearly four years, according to data released on Friday.

Read more …

Macron is not just a fool himself, he’s surrounded by them as well. His spokesman after fleeing his office out of a back door as protesters invaded the courtyard and smashed up several cars said: “It wasn’t me who was attacked.” “It was the Republic.”.

Because the government is the Republic. The population is not.

France’s Macron Reeling As Tough Stance Against ‘Yellow Vests’ Backfires (R.)

Emmanuel Macron intended to start the new year on the offensive against the ‘yellow vest’ protesters. Instead, the French president is reeling from more violent street demonstrations. What began as a grassroots rebellion against diesel taxes and the high cost of living has morphed into something more perilous for Macron – an assault on his presidency and French institutions. The anti-government protesters on Saturday used a forklift truck to force their way into a government ministry compound, torched cars near the Champs Elysees and in one violent skirmish on a bridge over the Seine punched and kicked riot police officers to the ground.

The French authorities’ struggle to maintain order during the weekend protests raises questions not just over policing tactics but also over how Macron responds, as he prepares to bring in stricter rules for unemployment benefits and cut thousands of public sector jobs. On Sunday evening, Macron wrote on Twitter: “Once again, the Republic was attacked with extreme violence – its guardians, its representatives, its symbols.” His administration had hardened its stance against the yellow vests after the protest movement appeared to have lost momentum over the Christmas holidays.

The government would not relent in its pursuit of reforms to reshape the economy, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Friday, branding the remaining protesters agitators seeking to overthrow the government. Twenty-four hours later, he was fleeing his office out of a back door as protesters invaded the courtyard and smashed up several cars. “It wasn’t me who was attacked,” he later said. “It was the Republic.”

Read more …

“There is a Euro, which is a single currency in an incomplete monetary union, with a set of fiscal rules that are evidently economically illiterate..”

The Euro: A Mindless Idea – Ashoka Mody (Spiked)

[..] most serious of all is the notion of common economic development as a basis for Europe. It was briefly true after the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which opened up the borders, but the momentum ran out within two decades. You open borders, but once they’re open, there’s not a lot more you can do. Even the gains from the so-called Single Market are very limited beyond a certain point. Every economist understands that. On the Euro, there was never any question that it was a bad idea. Nicholas Kaldor, an economist at Cambridge University, wrote in March 1971 that a single currency was a terrible idea, both as economics and as politics. And Kaldor has been proven right time and again.

But the entire European establishment just ignores every subsequent warning from well-regarded economists, and produces defensive counternarratives. For example, I often hear that Europe needs fixed exchange rates in order to have a Single Market. Why? Germany is trading a lot with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are in the Single Market, but have different currencies. These fluctuate, but the trade continues apace. You don’t need a single currency for a Single Market.

spiked: When did your critique of the European project emerge? Was it during your involvement in the Irish bailout? Mody: When I finished at the IMF I planned to write a book on the Euro crisis. And I began writing it as an IMF economist would – what happened before the crash, the bubble, the bubble bursting, the panic, the fact it wasn’t well managed, and so on. But I soon realised that something wasn’t right here. And so I spent two years tracing the history of the Euro, and asking the question: what brought the Euro into existence in its current form? You see, it is not just that there is a Euro. There is a Euro, which is a single currency in an incomplete monetary union, with a set of fiscal rules that are evidently economically illiterate – and nobody questions the fact that they are economically illiterate, that they lack a necessary fiscal backstop and the necessary fiscal union. So why does it exist?

Read more …

Jan 012019
 
 January 1, 2019  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Sisley Snow at Louveciennes 1878

 

Looking Forward To Dow 11,000 (Bear’s Lair)
US Stocks Post Worst Year In A Decade, S&P Falls More Than 6% In 2018 (CNBC)
European Stocks End 2018 With Deep Losses; Worst Year In A Decade (CNBC)
FTSE 100 Tumbles By 12.5% In 2018 – Its Biggest Fall In A Decade (G.)
Chinese Markets’ 2018 Performance Was Their Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
China December Manufacturing Activity Contracts Even More Than Expected (CNBC)
Lessons From Two Decades Of The Euro (Ind.)
The Delusional Leaders of the Eurozone (Steve Keen)
‘Nostradamus’ Macron Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter (RT)
France Starts Taxing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (RT)
Russia’s $75 Trillion In Resources Is Why Sanctions Are Impossible (RT)
“I See No Way Out”: Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)
Putin Says Still ‘Open To Dialogue’ With US (AFP)
Giuliani Says Assange Should Not Be Prosecuted (Lauria)

 

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

Be sure to stay with the Automatic Earth in 2019 to keep up with the biggest possible picture. And do consider sponsoring us.

Here’s a good way to start the new year. Martin Hutchison explains the many advantages of a 50% drop in the Dow. A functioning economy for one.

The Dow’s at 23,000 right now.

Looking Forward To Dow 11,000 (Bear’s Lair)

[..] owing to decades of funny money the market has got far ahead of its equilibrium value, which is now around 11,000 on the Dow, half the present level. It is worth examining what a world with Dow 11,000 will look like. Dow 11,000 isn’t just a random number. The Fed changed monetary policy definitively at its meeting in February 1995, and on the same day, the Dow Jones Industrial Index broke through 4,000 for the first time — with the Fed changing its policy decisively to an easier trend, it was natural for the market to rise. Since stock prices should rise approximately in line with the economy’s expansion, that Dow 4,000 is equivalent to Dow 11,000 today, taking account the rise of around 175% in nominal GDP between the first quarter of 1995 and today.

So, if the Dow were around 11,000 today, it would be at the same relative valuation as it was in February 1995. That was not an ultra-low level; the Dow was almost 50% above its peak of October 1987 and after all, that day in February 1995 was the first time the Dow had ever reached the exalted level of 4,000. The world of Dow 11,000, after the next bear market and perhaps partial recovery, will have quite a lot of our current economic landscape missing. Far too many Fortune 500 companies have overindulged in stock buybacks, leaving them in some cases with no equity at all. As the stock market decline continues, many of those companies will be forced to recapitalize themselves, generally at share prices far below where they bought back shares.

For some of them, this emergency recapitalization will prove to be insufficient, and a second recapitalization will prove unavailable in the market. At that point, those companies will be forced to file for bankruptcy. The chances are, the victims will include some very large names indeed. [..] in our Dow 11,000 world it would no longer be attractive for companies to repurchase their shares in large volumes – the cost of debt and equity capital would be too great to be balanced by the modest short-term earnings boost from doing so. [..] A further consequence of our new Dow 11,000 world will be a re-balancing of the wealth distribution. Asset prices would be much lower, capital scarcer and borrowing more expensive, so there will be far fewer billionaires and the explosion in earnings of the Top 0.01% will reverse.

Read more …

A series of headlines depicts how many stats are at their owrst in 10 years.

US Stocks Post Worst Year In A Decade, S&P Falls More Than 6% In 2018 (CNBC)

Wall Street concluded a tumultuous 2018 on Monday as the major stock indexes posted their worst yearly performances since the financial crisis. After solid gains on Monday, the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 6.2% and 5.6%, respectively, for 2018. Both indexes logged in their biggest annual losses since 2008, when they plunged 38.5% and 33.8%, respectively. The Nasdaq Composite lost 3.9% in 2018, its worst year in a decade, when it dropped 40%. The S&P 500 and Dow fell for the first time in three years, while the Nasdaq snapped a six-year winning streak. 2018 was a year fraught with volatility, characterized by record highs and sharp reversals.

This year also marks the first time ever the S&P 500 posts a decline after rising in the first three quarters. For the quarter, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq plunged 13.97% and 17.5%, respectively, their worst quarterly performances since the fourth quarter of 2008. The Dow notched its worst period since the first quarter of 2009, falling nearly 12%. A sizable chunk of this quarter’s losses came during a violent December. The indexes all dropped at least 8.7% for the month. The Dow and S&P 500 also recorded their worst December performance since 1931 and their biggest monthly loss since February 2009.

Read more …

US, EU, where did all that virtual wealth vanish into?

European Stocks End 2018 With Deep Losses; Worst Year In A Decade (CNBC)

European stocks closed higher on the final day of 2018 but marked the year as its worst in a decade. The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed 0.38% higher. The FTSE 100 closed trading on the final day of the year, down 0.2%. The French CAC, meanwhile, closed more than 1% higher. U.K.’s FTSE index is down more than 12% since the start of the year and has suffered its biggest one-year fall since the financial crisis in 2008 as investors digest uncertainty surrounding the country’s exit from the European Union. The pan-European Stoxx 600 has ended the year down 13% – its worst since the financial crisis. The DAX, has followed a similar trajectory, down more than 18% since the start of the year.

Read more …

Not much of the FTSE losses can be Brexit-related, it’s very much in line with everyone else.

FTSE 100 Tumbles By 12.5% In 2018 – Its Biggest Fall In A Decade (G.)

Britain’s leading stock market index has suffered its worst year in a decade as economic worries, Brexit uncertainty and the trade war between the US and China all spooked investors. The FTSE 100 tumbled by 12.5% during 2018, its biggest annual decline since 2008, wiping out more than £240bn of shareholder value. The blue-chip index of top UK shares ended the year at 6,728 points, down from 7,687 on the last trading day of 2017. The sell-off has inflicted significant losses on pension funds, major fund managers and small investors alike.

[..] Some investors are deeply concerned that the US economy could be slowing, even as the country’s central bank raises interest rates despite protests from Donald Trump. “Markets are torn between recession fears and the hope that it is just another false alarm,” said Holger Schmieding of the German bank Berenberg. “As the saying goes, financial markets tend to predict nine out of five recessions. For economists, it is probably the other way around, though. Economic fundamentals remain mostly positive. What we may have to fear for 2019 is fear itself and the risk of extraordinary political stupidity well beyond the usual mishaps of life.”

Read more …

China’s numbers are even worse than the rest.

Chinese Markets’ 2018 Performance Was Their Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

This year has not been a great one for Chinese stocks. In fact, it’s been the worst in a decade. The Shanghai composite, the mainland’s major share average, ended the trading year at 2,493.90 — that was approximately 24.6% lower than its final close of 2017. All 10 sectors of the index were down significantly in the year, with information technology being the worst performer as it fell 34%, according to Chinese financial services firm Wind Information. Even the best performing sector, utilities, dropped 11%. That puts the Shanghai composite’s performance at its worst since 2008, the year of the global financial crisis, when it plunged more than 65%.

Those dramatic losses were also seen elsewhere in China, with the Shenzhen composite plummeting about 33.25% and the Shenzhen component plunging around 34.44% in 2018 as compared to their last close of 2017. The Shenzhen component’s performance was also its worst since 2008, when it dove 63%, according to Wind Information. As shares on the mainland were pummeled, Hong Kong stocks performed a bit better. The Hang Seng index notched a decline of only 13.61% for 2018.

Read more …

The question becomes whether China can lead everybody down.

China December Manufacturing Activity Contracts Even More Than Expected (CNBC)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector contracted for the first time in more than two years in the month of December amid a domestic economic slowdown and Beijing’s ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. The Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) was 49.4 — lower than the 49.9 analysts expected in a Reuters poll. The December reading was the weakest since February 2016, according to Reuters’ record. That was worse than November’s official manufacturing PMI, which was 50.0. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below that signals contraction. In particular, new export orders contracted for a seventh straight month, with that measure falling to 46.6 from 47.0 in the previous month.

Meanwhile, China’s official non-manufacturing PMI came in at 53.8, which was higher than the reading of 53.4 in November. The services sector accounts for more than half of the Chinese economy and the “bright spot” of the improved on-month expansion in December points to a rebalancing of the Chinese economy toward more consumption, Nomura economists wrote in a note on Monday. [..] Even before the escalation in trade tensions with the U.S. this year, Beijing was already trying to manage a slowdown in its economy after three decades of breakneck growth. China’s worse-than-expected PMI reading on the last day of 2018 suggests a challenging start to 2019, said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian Economics Research at HSBC.

“China is a good gauge in terms of temperature about what’s going on in the global industrial cycle,” Neumann told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The “PMI numbers out today suggest the economy is still decelerating. That’s going to weigh down not just Chinese GDP growth but really global trade,” Neumann said. In fact, Nomura economists warned that “the worst is yet to come,” for China. “Looking ahead, we see more headwinds to growth from weakening domestic demand, the ongoing credit downcycle, a cooling property sector and lingering China-U.S. trade tensions,” the economists wrote.

Read more …

Watch the European elections in May. They will be like an earthquake.

Lessons From Two Decades Of The Euro (Ind.)

Twenty years ago an “accounting currency” was born. This was the single currency of what became known as the “eurozone”: the euro. Now this wasn’t the notes and coins that most of us associate with the euro. Those were only introduced three years later in January 2002. That was the moment when the single currency became tangible in the lives of hundreds of millions of people across Europe, and the old deutschmarks, guilders, francs, lira, pesetas and all the ancient constituents of the European monetary mosaic were consigned to history. What happened on 1 January 1999 was the creation of a rigidly fixed exchange rate and interest rate regime for all those national currencies, so they could all be valued in a common unit.

The euro was not yet tangible, but it existed in the ether and in the foreign exchange markets. It has been a turbulent two decades for the single currency since that launch. [..] many economists would snort at the very idea of the euro being a success. Since 2000 eurozone GDP growth per capita measured (at purchasing power parity) has underperformed that of the US and the UK, growing by 15% versus 19% and 20% respectively. Yet that’s less important than the fact that the single currency was in the throes of existential crisis between 2010 and 2015, when it looked like the eurozone was about to disintegrate as nations such as Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal came under unbearable pressure in the bond markets.

[Some] argue that the single currency has been unjustly scapegoated for failures of national governments, especially Italy, to reform their labour markets and wider domestic economies. This, they contend, is the reason, not the euro, that such a gulf has opened up between the economic performance of the strong economies such as Germany and the Netherlands and those such as Greece and Italy. Unemployment rates in the former countries are at record lows, while in the latter group they have still not recovered their pre-recession rates. But pessimists say that this ignores the extent to which the structure of the single currency facilitated destabilising investment booms in the peripheral states before the 2008 financial crisis and then prevented an appropriate monetary adjustment in its wake. Their view is that such are the structural contradictions within the single currency that the existential crisis is destined to re-emerge at some point – and it may not take 20 years.

Read more …

The Yellow Vests may well be the no. 1 political force across Europe for the May European elections.

The Delusional Leaders of the Eurozone (Steve Keen)

I had forgotten that this was the 20th anniversary of the start of the Euro. But the Eurocrats in Brussels hadn’t. Some hours before the New Year commenced, Juncker and friends put out a press release extoling the virtues of the Euro. Virtues such as “unity, sovereignty, and stability … prosperity”. Well so much for New Year cheer. With this one tweet, the EU put 2019 on track to be even worse than 2018. Using any of those words to describe the Euro—apart perhaps from “unity”, since the same currency is used across most of continental Europe now—is a travesty of fact that even Donald Trump might baulk at.

Sovereignty? Tell that to the Greeks, Italians or French, who have had their national economic policies overridden by Brussels. Stability? Economic growth has been far more unstable under the Euro than before it, and Europe today is riven with political instability which can be directly traced to the straitjacket the Euro and the Maastricht Treaty imposed. Prosperity? Let’s bring some facts into Juncker’s fact-free guff. I’ll start with Phil’s point about Greece. Greece’s GDP has fallen at Great Depression rates since the Eurozone imposed its austerity policies on it, and nominal GDP today is more than 25% below its peak.

Now of course that could be blamed on the Greeks themselves, so let’s look compare economic growth in the entire Eurozone to the USA (minus Ireland and Luxembourg, since in the former case their data is massively distorted by data revisions, and the latter has highly volatile data as well, and is so small—under 600,000 people—that it can safely be ignored).


Figure 2: Real economic growth rates

[ ..] the real comparison is with growth since the crisis. The USA’s average post-crisis growth rate has been anaemic at 1.4%, but this is positively dynamic in comparison to the entire Eurozone’s average post-crisis growth rate of 0.2%. Europe has basically been stagnant for a decade, thanks to the Euro and the austerity policies that are inseparable from it, courtesy of the Maastricht Treaty that Juncker is so proud to have signed. In reality, the Euro has brought low growth, economic instability, and political discord to Europe. Yet Europe’s unaccountable leaders spin it as an unbridled positive, at a time when ordinary citizens of Europe are donning Yellow Vests and bemoaning their plight.

Read more …

18% support. 82% not support.

‘Nostradamus’ Macron Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter (RT)

Looking back at 2018 and the French president’s vows to unite the nation, disappointed twitteratti noted the situation in the country, divided by the Benalla affair and the Yellow Vests riots, is not so rainbow-bright after all. “In my view, 2018 will be the year of national cohesion,” the centrist Macron ambitiously wrote in his New Year’s Eve message a year ago. That prediction hasn’t aged well, and Twitter noticed. We saw that [cohesion] with the Benalla affair and Yellow Vests,” one user noted, adding that “words are no longer enough to conceal poor management of the country and decisions that go against the interests of [French] people.” “What clairvoyance”,”#nostradamus”, the sarcastic comments went on.

And, if 2018 was thought to be the year of unity, many people got worried about imminent 2019. “And after the cohesion of the nation, what would you call Year 2019?” Others said that Macron was right, and there was “cohesion” in the country – against his government, that is. France has never been as fractured as it was in 2018, one more person noted, adding that the president probably divided the nation “to better reign” over it.

“King for the Rich,” “King of bling-bling”, “President of the Wealthy”, “Jupiter” – these are a few nicknames given to Macron both by fellow politicians and by ordinary folk online. Even his New Year’s trip to the posh resort of Saint-Tropez on the eve of planned Yellow Vests rallies came in for harsh criticism. “Saint-Tropez is the bling-bling symbol of France, it [embodies] success, the absence of problems,” Benjamin Cauchy, one of the Yellow Vests’ leaders, said, pointing out that it’s not as sunny in the rest of the protest-plagued country as in the French Riviera.

Read more …

Wonder how they arrive at their rates. And to what extent they’re bound to them if the EU decides to raise higher ones.

France Starts Taxing Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (RT)

Tech giants will now pay more tax in France, after the country decided not to wait for the rest of the EU to introduce the measure. The so-called GAFA tax targeting major digital firms comes into force on January 1. The French government hopes to raise €500 million ($572 million) with levies specifically aimed at multinational tech firms, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, announcing the move in December. He stressed that “the tax will be introduced whatever happens.” Paris has been pushing for what it sees as fairer taxation of the big-tech firms in the European Union. Progress on the issue has stalled in Brussels, as the 28-member bloc is divided on imposing the levies on Silicon Valley giants.

Any changes must receive unanimous approval by member states. Critics say that the big-tech firms are making money from European countries’ economies, but use their complex structure to route some of their profits to low-tax member states. The opposing block is led by Ireland, which has become a sort of Mecca for US tech companies, and hosts many of their headquarters. Estonia and Sweden are also among those who do not favor France’s bid, fearing that the taxes could trigger US retaliation. The EU has been discussing plans for a three-percent tax on the revenues of large internet companies that make money from user data or digital advertising. However, the last round of talks on the matter in November resulted in no significant progress, apparently pushing France to move forward with it alone.

Read more …

Always interesting numbers, but says not a word about why sanctions are impossible.

Russia’s $75 Trillion In Resources Is Why Sanctions Are Impossible (RT)

The country with the largest mineral reserves in the world, Russia, is the second top exporter of rare earth minerals. Its natural resources are estimated at tens of trillions of dollars. It has abundant supplies of oil, natural gas, timber and valuable minerals, such as copper, diamonds, lead, zinc, bauxite, nickel, tin, mercury, gold and silver. Most of those resources are located in Siberia and the Far East. Russia’s mining industry, which is the country’s second largest after oil and gas, accounts for a significant share of its GDP and exports. The country is among the top three producers of mineral commodities such as platinum, gold and iron ore. It is also the world’s largest producer of diamonds and palladium.

The Ural Mountains have vast amounts of minerals while most deposits of coal, oil, gas and timber are located in Siberia. Russia is the world’s fifth largest producer of coal, with reserves of about 175 billion tons. Most of those mines are in Siberia and the Urals. The timber industry, which is worth about $20 billion annually, is also a significant economic contributor to the Russian economy. The country’s fishing industry is the fourth largest in the world. The value of Russia’s resources is huge and, according to statistics, is estimated at $75 trillion. In comparison, the US natural resources are worth approximately $45 trillion while China’s stand at $23 trillion.

Read more …

The entire political system guarantees this will get worse in 2019.

“I See No Way Out”: Countless Americans Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)

A recent Philly.com article noted that, despite the supposed economic “boom”, professionals like real estate agents, farmers, business executives and even computer programmers are all still living paycheck to paycheck. Responding to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter, millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers that work in a range of geographic areas claim that they have simply been unable to save as rent, childcare and student loans have all gotten in the way. Americans living paycheck to paycheck were highlighted in a recent report from the Federal Reserve that showed four in ten adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without going into debt or selling something. And now a partial government shutdown that is seeing nearly 800,000 federal workers not getting paid has fueled the discussion on Twitter about how brief income lapses can be disastrous for some households.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state. Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.” Those involved in the conversation on Twitter have been using the hashtag #ShutdownStories in response to Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who asked reporters last week: “Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?” Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor, has the answer: “It’s astronomical what people need just to make it month to month. Given the high cost of transportation, housing, health care. … There is often no wriggle room.”

Read more …

Always.

Putin Says Still ‘Open To Dialogue’ With US (AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reassured his US counterpart Donald Trump that Moscow remains “open to dialogue” despite the year ending without the hoped-for warming of relations, the Kremlin said on Sunday. “Russian-US relations remain an important factor in order to guarantee strategic stability and international security,” the presidency said in a New Year statement. Putin “has confirmed that Russia is open to dialogue with the United States on the maximum number of subjects,” the statement added. In December 2017, Putin said he hoped to “normalise” relations with Donald Trump but the chances of that evaporated with multiple investigations of Moscow’s alleged meddling in US politics.

Washington this year dramatically announced its intention to pull out of a key Cold War-era nuclear weapons deal – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty – to which Putin responded that Moscow would develop new missiles. Putin also sent messages to other heads of state including Britain’s Theresa May and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In his message to May, Putin wished the British people “wellbeing and prosperity” in 2019.

Read more …

Now let’s hear Trump say it.

Giuliani Says Assange Should Not Be Prosecuted (Lauria)

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, said Monday that WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had done “nothing wrong” and should not go to jail for disseminating stolen information just as major media does. “Let’s take the Pentagon Papers,” Giuliani told Fox News. “The Pentagon Papers were stolen property, weren’t they? It was in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nobody went to jail at The New York Times and The Washington Post.” Giuliani said there were “revelations during the Bush administration” such as Abu Ghraib. “All of that is stolen property taken from the government, it’s against the law. But once it gets to a media publication, they can publish it,” Giuliani said, “for the purpose of informing people.”

“You can’t put Assange in a different position,” he said. “He was a guy who communicated.” The U.S. government has admitted that it has indicted Assange for publishing classified information, but it is battling in court to keep the details of the indictment secret. As a lawyer and close advisor to Trump, Giuliani could have influence on the president’s and the Justice Department’s thinking on Assange. Giuliani said, “We may not like what [Assange] communicates, but he was a media facility. He was putting that information out,” he said. “Every newspaper and station grabbed it, and published it.” Giuliani also said there was no coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. “I was with Donald Trump day in and day out during the last four months of the campaign,” he said.

“He was as surprised as I was about the WikiLeaks disclosures. Sometimes surprised to the extent of ‘Oh my god, did they really say that?’ We were wondering if it was true. They [the Clinton campaign] never denied it.” Giuliani said: “The thing that really got Hillary is not so much that it was revealed, but they were true. They actually had people as bad as that and she really was cheating on the debates. She really was getting from Donna Brazile the questions before hand. She really did completely screw Bernie Sanders.” “Every bit of that was true,” he went on. “Just like the Pentagon Papers put a different view on Vietnam, this put a different view on Hillary Clinton.”

Read more …

Dec 182018
 


Titian The rape of Europe 1560-62

 

It took me a while to decide which word(s) best define the past year and the next one, but I think this is pretty much it. 2018 was chaotic more than anything else, and that chaos will give rise to mayhem in 2019.

What I think is striking is that this is true across the board, in all walks of life so to speak. In finance, in politics, in energy markets, in ecological matters, and perhaps most of all in the ways all these topics are being covered by what once were trusted media.

I’m going to have to come back to all these topics separately, so it’s promising to be a very busy holiday season, but it’s also good to try and put them together in one place, if only to show how interconnected everything is. And how futile it is to look at the economy without seeing its connection to energy flows and ecosystems. And vice versa.

 

In finance and economics, we’ve seen an avalanche of falling numbers recently, in stock prices, bond prices, housing, across the globe, and obviously that evokes a lot of comments in the financial press. But that press, and bankers investors on their own, still talk about markets.

However, as I wrote in April 2018, if there is no price discovery, and there isn’t, there ARE NO markets, and it would be good and beneficial if many more people absorb that simple reality. Many more so-called traders and investors would be a start, but by no means enough. Lots more people who have nothing to do with the ‘markets’ should understand why there is no such thing anymore.

As long as you limit it to stock and bond markets, it may appear fine that people don’t understand. But as soon as you acknowledge there are no housing markets either for the exact same reasons, the story changes considerably. Because then it becomes clear that all -former- markets, bar none, have been eviscerated by central bank policies that sought to prop up banks, often highly successfully so, which they knew could only happen at the expense of communities and societies.

We’ve ended up with scores of mom and pop ‘investors’ who own hugely overpriced stocks and homes, while their pensions funds hold zillions ‘worth’ of bonds and also increasingly stocks. The link between pensions and AAA-rate assets was pulverized in the process. That looks set to continue, and worsen, in 2019. But that may be just the look of things. Because there really are no markets, there is no price discovery.

What is still there is a lot of talk about whether the Fed -and other central banks- will raise rates further or not, or will stop or continue their asset buying schemes. Central banks are the only game in town, there are no markets, nobody knows what anything is really worth because the Fed etc. took the discovery process beyond their reach.

And now all those financial ‘subjects’ are sitting on all this stuff that only appears to have value, and that value hinges exclusively on what Draghi, Kuroda, Yellen and now Jay Powell have decided things are worth. And yes, it does make matters appear okay, but because they can’t do QE forever, all of those values will need to be re-assessed by actual markets once Powell et al. are either thrown out or decide for themselves to leave the arena.

It won’t be pretty, it will be devastating. It’s impossible to say if it will come to a head in 2019, because the Fed can lower rates a bit again after its recent rate hikes and prop up the zombie for longer. Then again Draghi can’t do that anymore since he’s already in negative rate territory, and while the euro could fall to parity with the USD as a consequence, there’s a limit to that too.

Anyway, more on that later.

 

Energy and ecology seem to become more intertwined as we go along, though that may well be a trompe oeil, trick of the eye. Still, if you see and read what people have to say about things like the big COP24 event in Katowice last week, it’s obvious that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is a hard one to internalize. Because that law seems to say that the use of energy, period, produces waste, while all these mostly well-meaning folk are merely focusing on shifting between energy sources.

There is surprisingly little attention for not using energy in the first place, which the 2nd Law appears to stipulate is the only way to stop the rot. And it’s entirely feasible to build homes that use 70-80% less power to heat and cool, or to design a transport system in a city that saves that much energy.

But the ‘leaders’, politicians and business people, prefer to address solar panels and wind turbines that allow for the amount of energy used to fall only moderately, which when combined with the economic growth that nobody questions, will lead to the use of ever more energy.

And I get that, you need to shrink your present economies, and the models they’re based on, in order to save the planet. I’m not so much talking about climate change, since the earth is a system so complex we should really be very cautious about deriving any conclusions about it from simplified models, but the species extinction reported in 2018 is another, and more immediately convincing, story.

Still, conferences like COP24, or its predecessor COP21 which I wrote about 3 years ago in CON21, are not just entirely useless, they move everything backward that all the worried boys and girls are so worried about.

The movers and shakers of the world all owe their positions to the economies, and therefore the levels of energy use, that the worried people now want to move away from. And then they turn to the same movers and shakers to make that happen. Sorry, no can do. All you’ll get is lip service from people looking for money and power, who are not interested in being proved wrong if they are.

Today’s climate discussion is a road to nowhere where down the line there’ll be nobody left to talk to and no birds singing. You yourself probably won’t be there either. There is not one politician who will volunteer to give up their power if that could save the world their children will have to live in. They’ll come up with a story where their position is save and so is that world, and they’re more than likely to believe it.

 

As for the media, the tale gets darker fast. It didn’t start in 2018, but it did become a lot more outspoken. As I’ve said before, there are three targets for the former trusted sources of impartial news, even as those sources rapidly become more partial as we move forward. And that of course has to do with their new business model I wrote about a lot: writing negative stories about Donald Trump became an obvious source of revenue well before he was president.

Once he was elected, the media doubled down. They wrote against Trump at first thinking he would be beaten in the GOP primaries, then some more when he faced Hillary, then because they didn’t like him in the White House, and finally because he turned out to be the business proposition that quite literally kept them alive. What was it, over 100,000 new subscribers for the NYT a MONTH at a certain point?! Would CNN and Rachel Maddow even exist anymore without the Donald?

But that also means that the MSM cannot report anything positive about the man, with the exception of a bombing campaign in a faraway sandbox, and that is pretty crazy. No matter where you stand politically, not even Trump can do everything wrong, but CNN, MSNBC, WaPo,NYT et al can’t say it out loud, because their new readers and viewers want negative stories.

I’m not at all a Trump fan, I find it insane that America can’t find a single person among its 320 million inhabitants who could better represent it, but I also saw well over two years ago that the reporting on Trump was so biased someone had to restore at least some balance. And if that was to be me, so be it.

It’s like the entire US -and UK- press has become the National Enquirer, where the questions of truth or accuracy have become, and/or always was, a complete afterthought, irrelevant to whatever is actually published. And the readers and viewers caught inside the echo chamber will never know any better than that that is what the world really looks like.

It’s the ‘old’ media’s response to the threat of social media, a fight they cannot possibly win in the end, but not one they will relinquish easily; it will be the end of them. So there’s Trump, and then there’s Russia and Julian Assange. And there’s a live shooting practice going on in which all three are fair game.

According to two reports published just yesterday in the NY Times and the BBC, African Americans and French Yellow Vests were targeted by Russian bots, trolls, give them a name. What these once trusted media no longer understand, or don’t care about, is that they are effectively saying that African Americans and Yellow Vests are all so stupid and so unconvinced and unconvincing in their political convictions that a bunch of poorly defined Russians made them throw their votes away from Hillary Clinton and towards Trump.

Like African Americans have no opinions and therefore in the end no functioning brains. Like their f*king robots, some inferior lifeform. Is there anything you can say that is more racist than that? I come up empty. And I understand Kanye.

And that the ‘Russians’ caused tens of thousands of Frenchmen and -women to put on a yellow vest and protest Macron’s dismantling of -very- long-standing labor rights and taxation ‘reforms’ that benefit the rich French elite. You cannot insult two such vast yet diverse groups of people, who seem to have little if anything in common, African Americans and Yellow Vests, you cannot insult them more or worse than such reports do.

And they simply don’t see it. In their view, and which they -rightly by now- trust their public will eat up like hot cakes, their 24/7 anti-Trump and anti-Russia campaigns have been so convincing that they can basically say anything at all by now. If Trump or the Russians deny, that’s just what they would do if they were guilty. Assange can’t deny anything at all, they’ve totally silenced him. They being the US deep state in liaison with the MSM.

 

That’s how we’re about to enter 2019, how we’re about to move from chaos to mayhem. It is scary not just because of what we see happening today, but even more because we’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Sure, US media, any country’s media, have always supported government strategic lies in times of warfare or other tensions.

But an overall campaign against a sitting president, comprised of dozens of articles a day consisting of mere allegations and rumors, let alone the same against a state nuclear power arguably mightier than the US itself, and a journalist who’s the only one in his profession who’s actually done what journalists should do, not the well-paid follow the party line thing going on at the MSM, all this is unprecedented.

And given what we’ve seen in 2018 in the realm of banned social media accounts, in a wider sense of the word, we can only wonder how much worse the censorship can get in the mayhem year of 2019.

Can the Automatic Earth, and for instance our friends at Zero Hedge, only continue to exist next year if we agree to increasingly become the poodles of the ruling political classes, intelligence services, and their press masters and lackeys?

It’s starting to look that way. So in closing, I want to call on you to support us by donating a Christmas gift, and preferably a recurring one all through the 2019 mayhem year, so we know we can continue to present you with an alternative to the ‘appropriate’ information you’re ‘supposed’ to be receiving.

It’s later than you think.

 

 

Aug 132018
 
 August 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The yellow house (The Street), Arles 1888

 

Turkey Central Bank To Take ‘All Necessary Measures’ For Stability (AFP)
Turkey Pledges Action To Calm Markets (BBC)
Euro Drops To One-Year Low On Lira Crisis Contagion Fears (G.)
Beware the Dog Days of August (Pettifor)
Trump Gives Mueller Three Weeks For Sitdown (ZH)
Trump ‘Will Deny Under Oath’ Asking Comey For Flynn Leniency (AT)
Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal (Zuesse)
China Slashes Support For Solar Industry (R.)
Greek Bailout Drama ‘In Last Throes’ But The Hardship Is Not Over Yet (G.)
Those Who Think That They Will Break Julian Assange Are Mistaken (P.)

 

 

“Whatever it takes” is still popular. But there are limits. They’re cutting off FX trade and injecting liquidity. But what if they’re called on this? It’s only Monday… As I write this the lira has lost another 6.6% so far for the day.

Turkey Central Bank To Take ‘All Necessary Measures’ For Stability (AFP)

Turkey’s central bank on Monday announced it was ready to take “all necessary measures” to ensure financial stability after the collapse of the lira, promising to provide banks with liquidity. “The central bank will closely monitor the market depth and price formations, and take all necessary measures to maintain financial stability, if deemed necessary,” the bank said in a statement, vowing to provide “all the liquidity the banks need”. The statement came after the Turkish lira hit record lows against the dollar amid a widening diplomatic spat with the United States. The detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson since October 2016 on terrorism charges has sparked the most severe crisis in ties between the two NATO allies in years.

The central bank announced the series of measures on Monday, a day after Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is treasury and finance minister, announced an action plan was in the pipeline. “In the framework of intraday and overnight standing facilities, the Central Bank will provide all the liquidity the banks need,” the bank said. The bank also revised reserve requirement ratios for banks, in a move also aimed at staving off any liquidity issues. It said with the latest revision, approximately 10 billion lira, $6 billion, and $3 billion equivalent of gold liquidity will be provided to the financial system. The nominally independent central bank has defied pressure to hike interest rates which economists said would curb the fall of the lira.

Read more …

“I am specifically addressing our manufacturers: Do not rush to the banks to buy dollars… You should know that to keep this nation standing is… also the manufacturers’ duty..”

Turkey Pledges Action To Calm Markets (BBC)

Turkey has pledged it will take action to calm markets after the lira plunged to a new record low in Asian trading. The details would be unveiled shortly, the country’s finance minister told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “From Monday morning onwards our institutions will take the necessary steps and will share the announcements with the market,” Berat Albayrak said. The lira lost 20% of its value versus the dollar on Friday. It had already fallen more than 40% in the past year. The latest blow came on Friday, when US President Donald Trump said he had approved the doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium. Concerns about contagion prompted investors to sell riskier assets on Monday including emerging market currencies and stocks in Asia.

Mr Albayrak said the country would “act in a speedy manner” and its plan included help for the banks and small and medium-sized businesses most affected by the dramatic volatility in the lira. His assurance came after Turkey’s president blamed the lira’s plunge on a plot against the country. “What is the reason for all this storm in a tea cup? There is no economic reason… This is called carrying out an operation against Turkey,” he said. Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again urged Turks to sell dollars and buy liras to help boost the currency. “I am specifically addressing our manufacturers: Do not rush to the banks to buy dollars… You should know that to keep this nation standing is… also the manufacturers’ duty,” he said.

Read more …

It’s starting to spread. And hurt.

Euro Drops To One-Year Low On Lira Crisis Contagion Fears (G.)

The Turkish lira fell almost 9% in early trading on Monday and the euro hit a one-year low as investors feared that the country’s financial crisis could spread to European markets. Despite defiant words by the Turkish president Erdogan over the weekend pledging as yet unspecified action to reverse the slide, the currency slipped alarmingly against the US dollar on Monday. In early trading it reached an all-time low of 7.24 before bouncing back after the country’s banking regulator announced late on Sunday night that it would limit the ability of Turkish banks to swap the battered lira for foreign currency. Asian stock markets were also down on Monday. The Nikkei in Japan lost 1.7%, Hong Kong was off 1.8%, Shanghai -1.7%, Sydney -0.5% and the Taiwanese bourse fell 3%.

The FTSE100 was expected to open down 0.4% later on Monday morning while Germany’s Dax 30 was set for a 0.65% fall. The euro dropped 0.3% to a one-year low against the US dollar on Monday as the falling lira fuelled demand for safe havens, including the greenback, Swiss franc and yen. The Vix volatility index measuring turbulence in financial markets – also known as the fear index – jumped 16% on Monday. There was also concern that other emerging market currencies – already under pressure from the rising US dollar – could be dragged into the lira’s downward spiral. The South African rand hit a low level not seen since mid-2016, the Russian rouble slumped again and the Indian rupee slid to an all-time trough. The lira has tumbled more than 40% this year on worries about Erdogan’s increasing control over the economy and deteriorating relations with the United States ..

Read more …

The Fed is to blame for Turkey.

Beware the Dog Days of August (Pettifor)

Today’s financial turbulence can be traced back to Fed decisions in June 2017 to begin the “normalisation” of its balance sheet, gradually shedding its bond holdings in monthly stages. This monthly “runoff” of $10bn of maturing assets on to capital markets causes bond prices to fall, and yields to rise. On some estimates the Fed’s bond portfolio is expected to shrink by $315bn in 2018 and $437bn in 2019. This process of “normalisation” is no simple and stable matter. In the words of market analyst Kristina Hooper, it’s like “defusing a bomb”. To add to the strains caused by the “runoff” of assets, in June 2018, the Fed raised rates for the seventh time in three years and Libor followed suit.

These rising rates of interest have led to the strengthening of the dollar and capital flight from emerging markets. But above all, interest rate rises pose a threat to the heavily indebted global economy. In 2000, the stock of global private and public debt amounted to $142 trillion – 260% of global GDP or income. Today, 10 years after, the credit bubble at the heart of the GFC has nearly doubled to $247 trillion, or 318% of global GDP. Much of that debt is a result of the Federal Reserve’s largesse. Thanks to capital mobility, quantitative easing enabled companies, like many based in Turkey, to borrow in dollars on the international capital markets at low rates of interest.

Now, as Turkey’s currency and those of other emerging markets fall, the cost of servicing debt denominated in dollars rises dramatically, threatening default. But while it is necessary to point to the Fed’s actions to understand tremors in world markets, and to warn of the threat of another financial crisis, the fact is that central bankers should never have alone been held responsible for the restoration of macroeconomic stability.

[..] After the 1929 financial crisis, Keynes in 1931 and Roosevelt in 1933 got a grip, and as Erich Rauchway explains in his book The Money Makers, jointly began the process of ending the gold standard, and radically restructuring the global financial system to restore not just macroeconomic stability but, after 1945, a “golden age” in economics. Today, we are once again threatened by global financial turmoil. This may be the time to ditch economic orthodoxy, and revive the radical and revolutionary monetary theory and policies of John Maynard Keynes. Or do we have to endure another global crisis before economists come to their senses?

Read more …

“..we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election..”

Trump Gives Mueller Three Weeks For Sitdown (ZH)

President Trump is giving special counsel Robert Mueller until September 1st for a sit-down interview under limited conditions, as an interview beyond that window “could interfere with the midterm elections,” reports the Wall Street Journal, citing Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s attorneys sent Mueller’s team a proposal indicating that the president would be willing to take questions on collusion with Russia in the 2016 elections, but not obstruction of justice alleged to have occurred after he took office – as Giuliani has previously said it could become a perjury trap. “We certainly won’t do [an interview] after Sept. 1, because we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election,” Mr. Giuliani told the Journal.

“Let him [Mr. Mueller] get all the bad publicity and the attacks for that.” “I think we made the offer we can live with,” said Giuliani. “Based on a prior meeting with Mr. Mueller, Mr. Giuliani said he had believed prosecutors wanted to wrap up the inquiry by September. “Now they’re not really rushing us,” he said. Mr. Mueller has made some moves that suggest the inquiry itself could stretch beyond the midterm elections and certainly past the September timeline Mr. Giuliani laid out.” -WSJ Last week the special counsel subpoenaed Roger Credico, comedian and radio host that former Trump adviser Roger Stone claims was a back channel to Wikileaks. Credico has denied this – instead calling himself a “confirming source” due to his contacts with WikiLeaks attorneys. He is set to testify in front of Mueller’s grand jury on September 7.

Read more …

Can we get Comey under oath too?

Trump ‘Will Deny Under Oath’ Asking Comey For Flynn Leniency (AT)

If he has to testify under oath, US President Donald Trump will deny he ever asked former FBI director James Comey to treat former national security adviser Michael Flynn leniently, his lawyer said on Sunday. “There was no conversation about Michael Flynn,” Rudy Giuliani said on CNN’s State of the Union program regarding the February 14, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office. The private chat figures prominently in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible obstruction of justice in the Russia election interference case.

Comey testified in Congress last year that Trump tried to persuade him to go easy on Flynn the day after the president sacked his national security adviser for lying about his contact with the Russian ambassador. “I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Comey quoted Trump as saying. Trump sacked Comey in May 2017, later admitting on TV that the FBI’s Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision.

Read more …

Nice analysis by Eric Zuesse. h/t ZH

Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal (Zuesse)

[..] whereas Fox News, Forbes, National Review, The Weekly Standard, American Spectator, Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Breitbart News, InfoWars, Reuters, and AP, are propagandists for the Republican Party; NPR, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The New Republic, New Yorker, New York Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Salon, are propagandists for the Democratic Party; but, they all draw their chief sponsors from the same small list of donors who are America’s billionaires, since these few people control the top advertisers, investors, and charities, and thus control nearly all of the nation’s propaganda. The same people who control the Government control the public; but, America isn’t a one-Party dictatorship. America is, instead, a multi-Party dictatorship. And this is how it functions.

Trump cancelled the Iran deal because a different group of billionaires are now in control of the White House, and of the rest of the US Government. Trump’s group demonize especially Iran; Obama’s group demonize especially Russia. That’s it, short. That’s America’s aristocratic tug-of-war; but both sides of it are for invasion, and for war. Thus, we’re in the condition of ‘permanent war for permanent peace’ — to satisfy the military contractors and the billionaires who control them. Any US President who would resist that, would invite assassination; but, perhaps in Trump’s case, impeachment, or other removal-from-office, would be likelier. In any case, the sponsors need to be satisfied — or else — and Trump knows this.

Trump is doing what he thinks he has to be doing, for his own safety. He’s just a figurehead for a different faction of the US aristocracy, than Obama was. He’s doing what he thinks he needs to be doing, for his survival. Political leadership is an extremely dangerous business. Trump is playing a slightly different game of it than Obama did, because he represents a different faction than Obama did. These two factions of the US aristocracy are also now battling each other for political control over Europe.

Read more …

Too much debt.

China Slashes Support For Solar Industry (R.)

China’s solar stress could burn more dealmakers. The industry faces a glut of raw materials and panels after the Chinese government slashed support for the heavily indebted sector. The first victim of the switch is industry giant GCL-Poly Energy, which scrapped plans to flog assets to state-backed Shanghai Electric. It won’t be the last. The loss of official support has cast a shadow over the business. After Beijing in June limited the number of new projects and cut tariffs it pays to solar generators, analysts lowered their forecasts for new installations of solar capacity this year by as much as a third. That signals dark days ahead, as new projects drive growth for both power plant operators and manufacturers.

The industry’s dependence on hefty leverage – a legacy of hasty expansion and delayed subsidy payouts – makes its position more precarious. Some solar companies, such as Panda Green Energy, were already struggling with net borrowing of more than 10 times EBITDA. The squeeze is especially hard on manufacturers of solar materials and equipment, which must splash cash on research to stay competitive. Meanwhile, overcapacity has depressed prices: Chinese solar modules now trade at a 15% discount to the global average, according to Macquarie. Distress should spur consolidation. The Solactive China Solar Index has fallen nearly 20% since the policy shift. As valuations sink, less indebted players like LONGi Green Energy Technology can go bargain-hunting.

Read more …

Stop trying to make it look like a recovery. It is not possible under present conditions.

Greek Bailout Drama ‘In Last Throes’ But The Hardship Is Not Over Yet (G.)

In an economy that has contracted by 26%, a fifth of the working population – two-fifths of young people – have been left unemployed, while about 500,000 people have fled, mostly to EU member states in Europe’s wealthier north. And the hardship isn’t over. The leftist-led government has signed up to a staggering array of ambitious targets. Post–bailout Greece has committed to produce primary surpluses of 3.5 % of GDP until 2022, a feat achieved by only a handful of countries since the 1970s, and 2.2 % until 2060. For Kevin Featherstone, who heads the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics, such obligations amount to perpetual purgatory.

“No other government in Europe would choose to follow this path,” he said. “Greece has been saved in the sense of avoiding the armageddon of euro exit but how it has been saved is so disadvantageous that one can’t talk of a rescue or exit from crisis.” Although Tsipras is at pains to play down outside supervision, Greece will still be subject to a regime of enhanced surveillance initially. Further pension cuts are in store. In May he had unveiled a 106-page post-bailout growth plan. But no amount of preparation can conceal the country’s acute vulnerability to turbulence beyond its borders. Only days before the programme’s end, global market jitters saw yields on Greek bonds soared.

It is accepted that Greece has enough resources to meet funding needs for the next two years, but the IMF is far from persuaded that Athens will be able to sustain market access “over the longer run without further debt relief”. If so, the fund is likely to clamour ever more loudly that the landmark deal, reached in June, easing Greek debt repayments (extending maturities on some loans and improving interest rates on others) just does not go far enough. The crisis has lasted so long that many Greeks can no longer recall their country being “normal” or their pockets full. The middle class has been hardest hit with taxes as high as 70% of income earned. Controversial property levies have added to the toll. “In reality this exit will be a formality because in truth it isn’t going to change a thing,” said Stratos Paradias, who leads the Hellenic Property Federation.

Read more …

Great interview with Ecuador’s former consul to the UK, who became a close friend of Assange.

Those Who Think That They Will Break Julian Assange Are Mistaken (P.)

[..] conditions in the Latin American country’s embassy in Knightsbridge are now very different to those that Assange experienced during the six years beginning 19 June 2012, when he arrived seeking political asylum. Ecuador’s government at the time, and its president Rafael Correa, openly accepted his request, believing Assange’s life to be in danger and admiring his fight to defend freedom of information and expression. At that time the Consul of Ecuador in the UK was Fidel Narváez, who was tasked with accompanying Assange from the day he first set foot in the embassy. Narváez had contacted Julian and Wikileaks in April 2011 to request that the organisation publish all the cables relating to Ecuador.

At that moment an amicable relationship was born, one which has continued to grow throughout the years. Fidel is no longer Consul. He was relieved of his duties for issuing a letter of safe-conduct for Edward Snowden without consulting his government. It was, he states, a completely personal decision, and one for which he feels absolutely no regret. “If I found myself in the same situation now, I would do the same thing again. It was the correct decision, the just decision. I knew who Snowden was, what he had done, why he was being pursued, and I knew how important it was to protect him. I do not regret it. I am proud of what I did.”

Read more …

Jun 232018
 


Henri Matisse The goldfish 1912

 

Greece Swaps Bailout Hell For Eternal Purgatory (R.)
Euro Is Here To Stay: German Finance Minister (R.)
Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion? (Taibbi)
Ike Was Right! (Bill Bonner)
Irish House Prices Sky-High Due To Finance Not Scarcity (Pettifor)
Trump Threatens 20% Tariff On European Union Cars (R.)
Social Security Benefits Buy 34% Less Than In 2000 (CNBC)
In 2010 Britons Stopped Getting Any Older. The Implications Are Huge (G.)
Airbus Raises Range Of Fears In Brutal Brexit Assessment (G.)
Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Reveals Every Species of Hypocrite (Taibbi)
Don’t Cry for Me, Rachel Maddow (Kunstler)
Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded (AFP)
Children In Custody At Border To Be Reunited With Families By End Of Day (CBS)
US Judge Says May Rule Next Week On Reuniting Migrant Children (R.)
Survivors Report 220 Migrants Drown Off Libya In Recent Days (R.)
Starving Seabirds On Remote Island Full Of Plastic (BBC)

 

 

A terrible deal.

Greece Swaps Bailout Hell For Eternal Purgatory (R.)

Greece is swapping bailout hell for eternal purgatory. Eight years after it first sought outside financial assistance Athens can at last support itself, helped by extra euro zone funds and debt relief. But it will have to maintain a tight budget for decades, while doubts over its debt sustainability will linger. The latest deal suits both European creditors and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. With the country’s third bailout coming to an end in August, both sides wanted a clean exit, without a backstop facility. Euro zone countries recoiled at the idea of granting Greece more credit, while Tsipras wants to claim that the country is finally free of austerity. Both Ireland and Portugal ended their bailouts in this way.

But Greece still owes a hefty 180% of GDP, because official lenders refused to write off the debt. True, the euro zone has extended repayments over many decades. Still, the International Monetary Fund’s reluctance to describe the debt as sustainable made a smooth exit less certain. Hence the latest dollop of debt relief. Lenders have given Greece the last €15 billion of the bailout to build a cash buffer. They also extended their loans by 10 years, meaning Greece should not face large repayments until the 2030s. Creditors will also lower interest rates and transfer the profit on Greek bonds bought by the ECB as long as the country sticks to reform targets. The deal should make it possible for Greece to survive without further financial help for at least a decade.

But the country’s junk credit rating and the absence of a backstop means government bonds won’t be eligible as collateral for ECB loans. This will force banks to find other, more expensive sources of funding. The other question is whether Greek debt can be sustained without a default or further writedowns. If the government delivers on its promise to maintain a budget surplus before interest payments of over 3.5% of GDP – three times the euro zone average – until 2022, and 2.2% thereafter, the debt load will slowly fall. Yet Greece’s unemployment rate of 20% is more than twice as high as in the rest of the single currency area. And euro zone officials will still visit every quarter. The country has escaped its bailout hell, but is hardly free.

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Again, this is like a team owner stating publicly that he supports the coach 100%.

Euro Is Here To Stay: German Finance Minister (R.)

The euro is irreversible, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said in a newspaper interview to be published on Saturday when asked if the single currency will still be there in 10 years. “Yes, the euro is irreversible,” Scholz told the Rheinische Post. “It secures our common future in Europe.” He added that an initial blueprint to strengthen the euro zone agreed between Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during talks at the Meseberg retreat outside Berlin this week would shield the euro from crises. “With the Meseberg agreements we are further building the house of Europe,” he said. “It contains a sealed roof that withstands future storms and rainy days. We have a new momentum in Europe and this is thanks to President Macron.”

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Don’t question the military.

Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion? (Taibbi)

While the world continues to be transfixed over the gruesome images coming from the border, business went on as usual in Washington. Earlier this week, the Senate quietly passed the $716 billion “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.” The bill, which passed 85-10 in a massive show of bipartisan support, represents a considerable boost in defense spending across the board – roughly $82 billion just for next year. The annual increase by itself is bigger than the annual defense budget of Russia ($61 billion) and the two-year jump of over $165 billion eclipses the entire defense budget of China ($150 billion).

The bill is a major win for Trump, who has made no secret about his desire to push through giant increases in military spending. The legislation even sends the U.S. down the road to meeting the Trump administration’s lunatic goal of developing smaller, more “flexible” (read: usable) nuclear weapons, as it includes $65 million for the development of a new, lower-yield, submarine-launched nuke. But the problem with the defense bill, at least in terms of attracting coverage, is that it’s also a big win for almost every other major political constituency in Washington. Spending on defense lobbying has actually been dropping slightly in recent years, but that may only be because the opposition to defense spending has become so anemic that lobbyists don’t really need to bother anymore.

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“..the damage done by Germany’s hyperinflation of the early ’20s led to far more than just wiped-out mortgages and billion-dollar cigars.”

Ike Was Right! (Bill Bonner)

Our working hypothesis is that General Eisenhower was right. There were two big temptations to the American Republic of the 1950s; subsequent generations gave in to both of them. They spent their children’s and grandchildren’s money. Now, the country has a government debt of $21 trillion. That’s up from $288 billion when Ike left the White House. And they allowed the “unwarranted influence” of the “military/industrial complex” to grow into a monster. No president, no matter how good his intentions, can stop it. A corollary to our major hypothesis is that the rise of the Deep State (the military/industrial/social welfare/security/prison/medical care/education/bureaucrat/crony complex) was funded by the Fed’s fake-money system.

Now, investors, businesses, households, and the feds themselves have all been “faked out” by a fraudulent money system. None of them can survive a cutback in credit. For nearly 30 years, central banks have backstopped markets and flooded the world with liquidity. But last week, the Fed turned the screws a little further. It now targets a 2% Fed Funds Rate and claims to be on the path of “normalization.” And the ECB made it official, too; it hasn’t quite begun tightening, but it’s got its toolbox open. And command of the ECB work crew is set to change hands next year anyway, passing on to a German engineer.

The German psyche has been scarred by its awful experience in the last century. Even though today’s Germans didn’t live through it themselves, the entire country seems to have a race memory of it. Still preparing for hard times, the household savings rate in Germany is at least three times higher than in the sans souci U.S. Germany’s apocalypse, too, can be described in Eisenhower’s terms – too much debt (arising from World War I)… and too much influence in the hands of the military/industrial complex. Debt led to hyperinflation. But the damage done by Germany’s hyperinflation of the early ’20s led to far more than just wiped-out mortgages and billion-dollar cigars.

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Ireland and all the others.

Irish House Prices Sky-High Due To Finance Not Scarcity (Pettifor)

Economists regard the theory of supply and demand as nothing less than a “law” and as one of the fundamental principles governing “the economy”. Almost every economic event or phenomenon is considered the product of the interaction of the laws of supply and demand, argues The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. The “law” is currently being invoked by those who believe the solution to the Irish housing crisis is to simply build more houses. It is an analysis echoed regularly by grateful developers and estate agents. But the “law” of supply and demand is a micro-economic concept and applicable only to the “economy” of individuals, households and firms.

The “economy” of a globalised country such as Ireland is, in stark contrast, a macro-economic concept, the result of analysing the aggregate activities of more than four million people operating within global markets for housing and other assets. As evidence of the flawed nature of this fundamental micro-economic theory, we only have to look at Ireland’s housing market in 2006 – the year in which the market boomed before imploding catastrophically. Irish home construction peaked in that year. In a country of just four million people, more than 90,000 homes were built. (By contrast the housing stock increased by just 8,800 between 2011 and 2016). And yet, despite this extraordinary increase in supply, and contrary to economic theory, prices in 2006 continued rising – by a whopping 11%.

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Just settle it amicably.

Trump Threatens 20% Tariff On European Union Cars (R.)

President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to escalate a trade war with Europe by imposing a 20% tariff on all U.S. imports of European Union-assembled cars. Trump posted his threat on Twitter the day European Union reprisals took effect against U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The EU targeted $3.2 billion in American goods exported to the 28-member bloc. “If these Tariffs and Barriers are not soon broken down and removed, we will be placing a 20% Tariff on all of their cars coming into the U.S. Build them here!” Trump wrote.

A month ago, the administration launched a probe into whether auto imports pose a national security threat. The United States currently imposes a 2.5% tariff on imported passenger cars from the European Union and a 25% tariff on imported pickup trucks. The EU imposes a 10% tariff on imported U.S. cars. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW build vehicles at plants in the United States. Industry data shows German automakers build more vehicles in southern U.S. states that voted for Trump than they ship to the United States from Germany.

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Think medical bills.

Social Security Benefits Buy 34% Less Than In 2000 (CNBC)

If you feel like your Social Security check doesn’t stretch as far as it once did, there’s a likely explanation for it. Since 2000, the buying power of monthly benefits has fallen by more than a third, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Senior Citizens League, an advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia. In other words, the cost of goods and services common among retirees have collectively risen faster than the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, that Social Security recipients get every year. “People who recently retired might have seen only a [small] decrease in buying power,” said Mary Johnson, a policy analyst for the league. “But those retired for a long time are feeling the cumulative effect of this.”

About 47 million older Americans receive Social Security. Overall, the benefits comprise about a third of income among those age 65 or older, according to the Social Security Administration. The league’s annual report examines the costs that typically comprise household budgets of older Americans and compares their price change with annual COLAs. Based on those comparisons, the research found a 4% loss in Social Security buying power from January 2017 to January 2018 and a 34% decrease since 2000.

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Wonder if this is true only in Britain.

In 2010 Britons Stopped Getting Any Older. The Implications Are Huge (G.)

The most profound change to human life over the previous 100 years came to a halt in 2010. In the decades before it, life expectancy in Britain kept rising, with men, in particular, born in the 1920s and 1930s enjoying far longer and healthier lives than ever expected. This increase in lifespan has affected everything – from housing to health to pensions. It’s why we need to find ever greater sums for the NHS. It’s why the state pension age has had to go up. Arguably, it’s a big reason why house prices are so high – because people are living in them for longer. But the great leap forward in longevity has come to a shuddering halt.

An extraordinary analysis by the Office for National Statistics this week reveals that the trend line in longevity stopped in 2010, and has flatlined since. Why? Pick anything from austerity and cuts in NHS spending, to influenza outbreaks, obesity, diabetes, and even the rise of “multimorbidity” – where someone might have diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure all at the same time. But the ONS did not try to answer the “why” question. It wanted to check if the statistics really do prove that longevity rises have come to a halt. And the depressing conclusion from its research is that, indeed they have. It found that the “breakpoint” in the trend towards better longevity began with males in the second quarter of 2009, with females following soon after.

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“The fear of “chaos at the borders” in 2020..”

Airbus Raises Range Of Fears In Brutal Brexit Assessment (G.)

Airbus hated Brexit from the off but, until now, it had confined itself to soft expressions of worry in public and harder lobbying behind the scenes. Its dramatic warning that it could stop investing in the UK is a radical departure from that position and carried a sting. The aircraft manufacturer did not merely say a no-deal outcome to Brexit talks “directly threatens Airbus’s future in the UK”. It also said an “orderly” Brexit, complete with a trade agreement and a transition period, would also be risky. In effect, the group will freeze investment in the UK until it can judge how a new set-up would work and how many extra costs its UK factories and research centres would bear.

John Longworth, the co-chair of Leave Means Leave campaign, accused Airbus of running a scare story and reheating Project Fear. Tariffs on aeronautical products are zero, he argued, and so “nothing will change” if the UK leaves the customs union. Yet he overlooked the detail of the Brexit assessment by Airbus, which barely mentioned tariffs. Instead, the worries were about the movement of employees between the UK and the EU, logjams in the supply chain and aircraft regulations. The most critical issue on that list is probably UK membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which certifies aircraft parts and runs safety checks.

In theory, the Civil Aviation Authority could do the job in the UK, as it once did, but Airbus doubts the body could assemble the expertise in time to provide a smooth transition. Norway is a non-EU member of EASA and so the UK, if it is prepared to accept the European court of justice as the legal authority behind EASA’s rulings, could also stay within. But a deal has not yet been struck, which is one of many reasons why Airbus is shouting that time is running short. Its supply chain frustrations will be shared by other large manufacturers with cross-border operations that run on a just-in-time basis to keep costs low. The fear of “chaos at the borders” in 2020, as Tom Williams, the Airbus executive in charge of the commercial aircraft division, put it, is real.

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“America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.”

Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Reveals Every Species of Hypocrite (Taibbi)

John McCain, in Arizona receiving treatment for brain cancer, tweeted about Donald Trump’s barbarous immigration policy this week. “The administration’s current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded,” the senator wrote. Those comments bring to mind a commercial John McCain made eight years ago. At the time, he was facing a tough primary challenge from Tea Party Republican J.D. Hayworth. In the ad, McCain is seen walking along Arizona’s southern border with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, in the shadow of an enormous fence.

McCain starts tsk-tsking about the wave of crime pouring into his state. “Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder?” McCain asks. “We’re outmanned,” the sheriff says. “Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.” McCain asks if they have “the right plan.” The sheriff says, “You bring troops, state, county and local law enforcement together.” “And complete the danged fence!” says McCain. [..] Trump’s policies on the border were and are monstrous. But those photos of children in captivity, which rightfully have been nearly as damaging to America’s reputation as the Abu Ghraib debacle, didn’t appear out of nowhere.

Those scenes are the latest in a long series of developments, under which politicians like McCain and Cruz and Dick Cheney, along with officials like Hayden, have gradually normalized the idea of human rights abuses as solutions to political problems. Now they’re all hiding behind someone else’s scandal. America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.

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Democratic leadership has been AWOL for a long time.

Don’t Cry for Me, Rachel Maddow (Kunstler)

Actual political leadership among “the Resistance” is AWOL this week. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer failed to offer up any alternative legislative plan for sorting out these children differently. One can infer in the political chatter emanating from the Offendedness Cartel that immigration law is ipso-facto cruel and inhuman and that the “solution” is an open border. In theory, this might play to the Democratic Party’s effort to win future elections by enlisting an ever-growing voter base of Mexican and Central American newcomers. But it assumes that somehow these newcomers get to become citizens, with the right to vote in US elections — normally an arduous process requiring an application and patience — but that, too, is apparently up for debate, especially in California, where lawmakers are eager to enfranchise anyone with a pulse who is actually there, citizen or not.

Krugman of The Times really hit the ball out of the park today with his diatribe comparing US Immigration enforcement to the Nazis treatment of the Jews. As a person of the Hebrew persuasion myself, I rather resent the reckless hijacking of this bit of history for the purpose of aggrandizing the sentimentally fake moral righteousness of the Resistance. It actually diminishes the enormity of the Nazi campaign against European Jews. I daresay that commentary like Krugman’s will only serve to amplify a growing resentment of Jewish intellectuals in this country — including myself, increasingly the target of anti-Jewish calumnies and objurgations. You’d think that Mr. Trump had offered to blow up Ellis Island the way the Resistance is clamoring to pull down statues of Thomas Jefferson.

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That’s two in a row for using pictures out of context. Very damaging.

Fact-Check: Was Migrant Girl On US Border Taken From Mother? Unfounded (AFP)

Two photos that went viral on social media depict scenes that are not directly related to the family separations taking place on the US-Mexico border since early May. The most prominent, of Honduran two-year-old Yanela Varela crying inconsolably, has become a global symbol of the separations – helping to attract more than $18 million in donations for a Texas non-profit called RAICES. The photograph was taken on June 12 in McAllen, Texas by John Moore, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for Getty Images. An online article about the picture, published by Time Magazine, initially reported the girl was taken from her mother, but was subsequently corrected to make clear that: “The girl was not carried away screaming by US Border Patrol agents; her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together.”

Time Magazine nonetheless used the image of the sobbing child on its cover, next to an image of President Trump looming over her, with the caption “Welcome to America”. The head of Honduras’ Migrant Protection Office Lisa Medrano confirmed to AFP that the little girl, just two years old, “was not separated” from her family. The child’s father also said as much. Denis Varela told the Washington Post that his wife Sandra Sanchez, 32, had not been separated from their daughter, and that both were being detained together in an immigration center in McAllen. Under fire for its cover – which was widely decried as misleading including by the White House – the magazine said it was standing by its decision. “The June 12 photograph of the 2-year-old Honduran girl became the most visible symbol of the ongoing immigration debate in America for a reason,” Time’s editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal said.

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A mixed bag.

Children In Custody At Border To Be Reunited With Families By End Of Day (CBS)

Most of the immigrant children who’d been separated from their families and are still being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are expected to be reunited by the end of the day, a source with the Department of Homeland Security told CBS News. This does not reflect the greater number of children who are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. That number was reported this week to be greater than 2,340. There will be a small number of children with Customs and Border Protection who will not be immediately reunited with their families. Reasons for delay may include if relationships can’t be confirmed or if authorities think there’s a risk to the child.

At the border, the government is trying to clear up who gets prosecuted and who does not. Confusion, however, hasn’t stopped border crossings, CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal reports. Shane McMahon’s client from El Salvador was charged with crossing into the U.S. illegally. He was separated from his 16-year-old son, and on Friday, those charges were suddenly dropped. “I think what’s happening is that everybody’s trying to figure out how the order applies to us and what to do with it,” McMahon said. The Trump administration says that nearly 500 children have been reunited with family. More than 1,800 remain separated from parents, who are desperate for answers.

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A case from February that could solve today’s issues.

US Judge Says May Rule Next Week On Reuniting Migrant Children (R.)

A federal judge said on Friday he could rule as soon as the middle of next week on a request to order the U.S. government to reunite thousands of immigrant children who were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. While U.S. President Donald Trump bowed to political pressure on Wednesday and issued an executive order ending the separations, the administration has been silent on plans to reunite parents split from their children. More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated since the Trump administration began a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal border crossings in early May.

At a court hearing on Friday, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union pressed U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego to issue an injunction as soon as Friday evening to force the government to begin reuniting families. “Parents can’t find their children, they are not even speaking to their children. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the ACLU, at Friday’s hearing. He asked the judge to order the government to reunite all children in 30 days, and in five days for children under the age of five. Gelernt also asked for an order barring separations.

[..] The judge peppered a government lawyer with questions about procedures for handling children separated from their parents and tracking by government agencies, and in general the government lawyer focused on arguments about legal procedure. The government has said in court papers that separation of children is a consequence of the lawful detention of the parent. The ACLU filed the case in February alleging the government violated the right to due process of two unidentified women, from Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo, when their children were removed from them.

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Europe outdoes Trump.

Survivors Report 220 Migrants Drown Off Libya In Recent Days (R.)

Survivors have reported that about 220 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya in the last few days while trying to reach Europe, putting the death toll this year on that route to more than 1,000, the United Nations said on Thursday. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said that as the summer season starts, the number of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean was expected to increase and it called for increased rescue operations. The Libyan coast guard has brought more than 8,000 people to disembarkation points along the coast this year, it said. Only five people survived the capsizing of a boat carrying 100 people on Tuesday, while the same day a rubber craft with 130 passengers sank, leading to 70 people drowning, UNHCR said.

On Wednesday a boat of refugees and migrants who were rescued reported that more than 50 people traveling with them had perished at sea, it said. “UNHCR is dismayed at the ever-growing numbers of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean,” the agency said. Earlier, Libya’s coastguard picked up 443 African migrants on Thursday from three inflatable boats in trouble near its western coast, a spokesman said.

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Where’s the outrage? Why is there still no overall ban on one-use plastics? Why do I still see people walking around with plastic coffee cups?

Starving Seabirds On Remote Island Full Of Plastic (BBC)

New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team. Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed. Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food. The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment. The marine biologists the team filmed are working on the island to save the birds. They captured hundreds of chicks – as they left their nests – to physically flush plastic from their stomachs and “give them a chance to survive”.

The birds nest in burrows on Lord Howe Island, which is more than 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia. While chicks wait in the burrow, the parents head out to sea and dive for small fish and squid to feed their offspring. “These birds are generalist predators,” explained marine biologist Jennifer Lavers who works with the shearwater colony. “They’ll eat just about anything they’re given. That’s what’s allowed them to thrive – a lack of pickiness. “But when you put plastic in the ocean, it means they have no ability to detect plastic form non-plastic, so they eat it.”

Parent birds unwittingly feeding plastic to their chicks means that the birds emerge from their burrows with stomachs filled with plastic, and with insufficient nutrition to enable them set out to sea and forage for themselves. But when the birds first head out of the burrow, the research team have been stepping in to help. “If the amount of plastic is not so significant, we use a process called levage, where we flush or wash the stomach – without harming the bird,” explained Dr Lavers. The BBC crew filmed the team working with individual chicks – using tubes to flush their stomachs with seawater and make them regurgitate the plastic.

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Jun 072018
 
 June 7, 2018  Posted by at 8:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky Stormy Night at Sea 1850

 

Is Draghi Risking Everything To Teach Rome A Lesson? (ZH)
The Next Economic Crisis Begins in the European Union (Bruno)
David Stockman: Stocks Will Plunge 50% In This ‘Daredevil Market’ (CNBC)
Euro Recovers On Rising Bets ECB May Unwind Stimulus (R.)
Indonesia Joins India In Begging Fed To Stop Shrinking Its Balance Sheet (ZH)
Fed Clambers Back To Positive Real Rates, Now Debate Is When To Stop (R.)
Social Security To Tap Into Trust Fund For First Time In 36 Years (MW)
Opioids Are Responsible For 20% Of US Millennial Deaths (ZH)
The ‘Doomsday Brexit Plan’ Document Should Frighten Us All (TP)
Nearly 4 Million UK Adults Forced To Use Food Banks (Ind.)
How We Created The Anthropocene (BBC)

 

 

“..watch as the EUR and bond yields tumble, and the dollar resumes its relentless push higher.”

Is Draghi Risking Everything To Teach Rome A Lesson? (ZH)

[..] as Bloomberg’s Lisa Abramowicz said in a podcast today, it was the ECB “basically just giving the finger to Italy.” Confirming as much, Anne Mathias, Global Rates and FX strategist for Vanguard, responded that “part of the vocal nature of the ‘talking about the talking about’ [the end of QE] probably has something to do with Italy, especially as they’ve been paring their purchases of Italian debt. What the ECB is trying to say is hey, “this is our party, and you’re welcome to it, but if you’re going to leave it’s not going to be easy for you.” The ECB is trying to show Italy a future without the ECB as backstop.”

A spot-on follow up question from Pimm Fox asked if this is “a situation in which the ECB is cutting off its nose to spite its face, because you can stick to rules for the sake of sticking to rules, but when you have a potential crisis, why wait for it to be a real crisis such as Italy, which the new government has pledged to spend a lot of money, to lower taxes, while they still have a huge government deficit. Why would the ECB do this.” The brief answer is that yes, it is, because sending the Euro and yields higher on ECB debt monetization concerns, only tends to destabilize the market, and sends a message to investors that the happy days are ending, in the process slamming confidence in asset returns, a process which usually translates into a sharp economic slowdown and eventually recession, or even depression if the adverse stimulus is large enough.

As for the punchline, it came from Abramowicz, who doubled down on Pimm Fox’ question and asked if the “European economy can withstand the shock” of the ECB’s QE reversal, which would send trillions in debt from negative to positive yields. While the answer is clearly no, what is curious is that the ECB is actually tempting fate with the current “tightening” scare, which may send the Euro and bond yields far higher over the next few days, perhaps even to a point where Italy finds itself in dire need of a bailout… from the ECB. Then again, don’t be surprised if during next Thursday’s ECB press conference, Mario Draghi says that after discussing the end of QE, no decision has been made or will be made for a long time. At that moment, watch as the EUR and bond yields tumble, and the dollar resumes its relentless push higher.

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Downsize Germany or else.

The Next Economic Crisis Begins in the European Union (Bruno)

Mercantilism is a practice of conducting economic affairs that Europe practiced especially during the period between the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s the progenitor of colonialism and favors the idea that a state’s—or nation’s—power increases in direct proportion to its ability to export. The more a nation exports, producing a trade surplus, the stronger it becomes. The current “imperfection” of the euro stems from this concept. Germany has become a mercantilist power within a union of nation states (the EU) that had agreed to pursue common as well as national interests. The result has not only been an imbalance of trade; rather, it’s been a complete political and economic disparity.

Some EU countries, of which Germany represents the best example, have also used their surplus to lower their inflation rate below the eurozone-accepted two-percent standard. Indeed, Germany’s trade surplus formula was predicated on a minimal increase in salaries—and reduced government spending on infrastructure and other public services. The result has been the accumulation of significant competitive advantages. Ironically, whenever the euro drops in value, Germany gains with respect to the PIGS. The products that make up the core of its surplus become even more competitive within and beyond the EU.

That explains President Donald Trump’s ever more vociferous suggestions to ban the import of German cars in the United States. It’s no accident that Trump launched a literal trade war, focusing on Germany and China, just days before the start of the G7 Summit in Canada. Germany’s accumulated gains from the low inflation and the more competitive conditions allow it to literally “colonize” (financially speaking) the so-called less virtuous or “deficit” nations. Germany can buy up their best businesses and services. In the meantime, Germany has also acquired a political dominance to match its surplus within the EU itself.

It can control the rules of the EU economy and influence their evolution. That’s why there are few options for the PIGS. And that’s why society and political discourse have deteriorated. The rise of the so-called populist—I prefer the term “protest”—parties, Left or Right, in countries like Italy is a trend destined to expand throughout the EU and cause irreparable fissures. If the EU does not change (and by change, I mean a downsizing of Germany’s stature), the fissures will be irreparable, and one or more states will leave, breaking the union.

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“It’s all risk and very little reward in the path ahead..”

David Stockman: Stocks Will Plunge 50% In This ‘Daredevil Market’ (CNBC)

David Stockman is intensifying his bear case. President Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget director blames a bull market that’s getting longer in the tooth — paired with headwinds ranging from President Donald Trump’s leadership to fiscal policy decisions to questionable earnings. “I call this a daredevil market. It’s all risk and very little reward in the path ahead,” Stockman said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “This market is just way, way over-priced for reality.” His thoughts came as the Nasdaq was reaching all-time highs again, while S&P 500 rose slightly but the Dow failed to extend its win streak to three days in a row.

“The S&P 500 could easily drop to 1,600 because earnings could drop to $75 a share the next time we have a recession,” Stockman warned. “We’re about eight or nine years into this expansion. Everything is crazily priced. I mean the S&P 500 at 24 times at the end, tippy top of a business cycle.” One of his biggest gripes with the bulls is the notion that President Donald Trump’s tax cuts are providing a fundamental lift to stocks. “These tax cuts are going to add to the deficit in the 10th year of an expansion. It’s just irresponsible crazy,” he said. “It’s all going to stock buybacks and M&A deals anyway. That doesn’t cause the economy to grow. It’s just a short-term boost to the stock market that doesn’t last.”

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All it takes is some hollow words.

Euro Recovers On Rising Bets ECB May Unwind Stimulus (R.)

The euro stayed near two-week highs against many of its rivals on Thursday, on rising bets the ECB may soon announce it will start winding down its massive bond purchase program. Jens Weidmann, the head of Germany’s central bank, said expectations the ECB would taper its bond-buying program by the end of this year were plausible while his Dutch counterpart, Klaas Knot, said there was no reason to continue a quantitative easing program. The trio of comments drove the euro to a two-week high of $1.1800 sharp. The common currency last traded at $1.1781, extending its gains so far this week to 1.15%.

“In the near term, we are likely to see event-driven trading on the euro. We should expect the euro to jump 100 pips (one cent) quite easily on comments from key officials,” said Kyosuke Suzuki, director of forex at Societe Generale. The ECB has been debating whether to end the unprecedented 2.55 trillion euro ($2.99 trillion) bond purchase program this year as the threat of deflation has passed. Still many market players were surprised by the flurry of comments as they had thought uncertainty caused by a political crisis in Italy could make policymakers cautious about indicating an end to stimulus at its policy meeting on June 14.

Indeed, the yield spread of Italian debt to German Bunds widened on Wednesday as Italian bonds are seen as the biggest beneficiary of the ECB’s buying. “This euro buying is essentially short-term trade. People don’t know when Italian debt problems will be solved but they do know when the ECB might announce an exit from stimulus,” said Mitsuo Imaizumi, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities.

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But then Europe and Japan signal they’ll do the same.

Indonesia Joins India In Begging Fed To Stop Shrinking Its Balance Sheet (ZH)

On the same day that the governor of Malaysia’s central bank quit, and just days after Urjit Patel, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, took the unprecedented step of writing an oped to the Federal Reserve, begging the US central bank to step tightening monetary conditions, and shrinking its balance sheet, thereby creating a global dollar shortage which has slammed emerging markets (and forced India into an unexpected rate hike overnight), Indonesia’s new central bank chief joined his Indian counterpart in calling on the Federal Reserve to be “more mindful” of the global repercussions of policy tightening amid the ongoing rout in emerging markets.

As Bloomberg reports, in his first interview with international media since he took office two weeks ago, Bank Indonesia Governor Perry Warjiyo echoed what Patel said just days earlier, namely that the pace of the Fed’s balance sheet reduction was a key issue for central bankers across emerging markets. As a reminder, the RBI Governor made exactly the same comments earlier this week, arguing that slowing the pace of stimulus withdrawal at a time when the US Treasury is doubling down on debt issuance, would support global growth, as the alternative would be an emerging markets crisis that would spill over into developed markets.

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Get the hell out. Take their powers away.

Fed Clambers Back To Positive Real Rates, Now Debate Is When To Stop (R.)

The Federal Reserve will likely raise its target interest rate to above the rate of inflation for the first time in a decade next week, igniting a new debate: when to stop. The Fed has been gradually hiking rates since late 2015 with little sign of tighter conditions hampering economic recovery. The expected June increase will raise the stakes as the Fed seeks to sustain the second-longest U.S. expansion on record while continuing to edge rates higher. With inflation still tame, policymakers are aiming for a “neutral” rate that neither slows nor speeds economic growth. But estimates of neutral are imprecise, and as interest rates top inflation and enter positive “real” territory, analysts feel the Fed is at higher risk of going too far and actually crimping the recovery.

The Fed is “gradually entering a new world when rates are at 2 percent,” nearing zero on a real basis and approaching where they are no longer felt to be stimulating economic activity, said Thomas Costerg, senior U.S. economist at Pictet Wealth Management. The last time rates moved into positive real territory on a sustained basis was the spring of 2005 when the Fed began tightening rapidly after a period of arguably too-lax monetary policy, ending just months before the start of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The debate over the current cycle’s end point “came earlier than I expected,” Costerg said, with the Fed facing imminent calls on where the neutral rate of interest lies.

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Opaque topic, but this is obviously not good.

Social Security To Tap Into Trust Fund For First Time In 36 Years (MW)

Medicare’s finances were downgraded in a new report from the program’s trustees Tuesday, while the projection for Social Security’s stayed the same as last year. Medicare’s hospital insurance fund will be depleted in 2026, said the trustees who oversee the benefit program in an annual report. That is three years earlier than projected last year. This year, like last year, Social Security’s trustees said the program’s two trust funds would be depleted in 2034. For the first time since 1982, Social Security has to dip into the trust fund to pay for the program this year. It should be stressed that the reports don’t indicate that benefits disappear in those years.

After 2034, Social Security’s trustees said tax income would be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of retirees’ benefits. Congress could at any time choose to pay for the benefits through the general fund. Medicare beneficiaries also wouldn’t face an immediate cut after the trust fund is depleted in 2026. The trustees said the share of benefits that can be paid from revenues will decline to 78% in 2039. That share rises again to 85% in 2092. The hospital fund is financed mainly through payroll taxes. Social Security trustees said that reserves for the fund that pays disability benefits would be exhausted in 2032. Combined with the fund that pays benefits to retirees, all Social Security reserves would be exhausted by 2034, they said.

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Better start acting.

Opioids Are Responsible For 20% Of US Millennial Deaths (ZH)

The opioid crisis has become a significant public health emergency for many Americans, especially for millennials, so much so that one out of every five deaths among young adults is related to opioids, suggested a new report. The study is called “The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States,” published Friday in JAMA. Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, found that all opiate deaths — which accounts for natural opiates, semi-synthetic/ humanmade opioids, and fully synthetic/ humanmade opioids — have increased a mindboggling 292% from 2001 through 2016, with one in every 65 deaths related to opioids by 2016. Men represented 70% of all opioid-related deaths by 2016, and the number was astronomically higher for millennials (24 and 35 years of age).

According to the study, one out of every five deaths among millennials in the United States is related to opioids. In contrast, opioid-related deaths for the same cohort accounted for 4% of all deaths in 2001. Moreover, it gets worse; the second most impacted group was 15 to 24-year-olds, which suggests, the opioid epidemic is now ripping through Generation Z (born after 1995). In 2016, nearly 12.4% of all deaths in this age group were attributed to opioids. “Despite the amount of attention that has been placed on this public health issue, we are increasingly seeing the devastating impact that early loss of life from opioids is having across the United States,” said Dr. Tara Gomes, a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s.

“In the absence of a multidisciplinary approach to this issue that combines access to treatment, harm reduction and education, this crisis will impact the U.S. for generations,” she added. Over the 15-year period, more than 335,000 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the United States that met the study’s criteria. Researchers said this number is an increase of 345% from 9,489 in 2001 (33.3 deaths per million population) to 42, 245 in 2016 (130.7 deaths per million population).

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“At what stage of their hapless fiddling, constant arguing and pitiful attempts to administer the kiss of life to the corpse that Brexit has turned out to be, does a politician officially earn the title of – stupid idiot?”

The ‘Doomsday Brexit Plan’ Document Should Frighten Us All (TP)

This is the first paragraph of The Times article (paywall) regarding Britain’s now famous Doomsday Brexit plan. “Britain would be hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within a fortnight if the UK tries to leave the European Union without a deal, according to a Doomsday Brexit scenario drawn up by senior civil servants for David Davis.” The Times confirms that the port of Dover will collapse “on day one” if Britain crashes out of the EU, leading to critical shortages of supplies. This was the middle of three scenarios put forward by senior advisors. A type of best guestimate if you like. You simply do not want to know the outcome of the worst of those three scenarios. Indeed, we have been spared from such details.

The article states that the RAF would have to be deployed to ferry supplies around Britain. And yes, we’re still on the middle scenario here. “You would have to medevac medicine into Britain, and at the end of week two we would be running out of petrol as well,” a contributing source said. The report continues to describe matters such as cross-channel disruption for heavy goods vehicles, which would also be catastrophic. Massive carparks will be required. A senior official said in the ‘Doomsday’ Brexit plan: “We are entirely dependent on Europe reciprocating our posture that we will do nothing to impede the flow of goods into the UK. If for whatever reason, Europe decides to slow that supply down, then we’re screwed.”

Let’s not worry about the fact that French borders are often left in chaos due to the all too familiar strikes that appear almost monthly during holiday season for one reason or another. Home secretary Sajid Javid makes an unconvincing comment stating he’s ‘confident’ a deal will be done. That’s hardly the type of assurance we need is it? UK officials emphasised that the June EU summit due on the 28th was heading for a “car crash” because “no progress has been made since March” to devise plans for a long-term deal. If your confidence in Brexit is starting to wane, don’t worry, half the nation are not just anxious but downright fearful – mainly because, neither in or out has given any concreate evidence of likely outcomes. This is probably because Brexit hasn’t been done before – and was designed that way. Deliberately.

At what stage of their hapless fiddling, constant arguing and pitiful attempts to administer the kiss of life to the corpse that Brexit has turned out to be, does a politician officially earn the title of – stupid idiot? “Just bloody get on with it” shout the Brexiteers, except both they and the UK government still can’t decide what ‘it’ is.

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I’ve asked it before: where will Britain be 10 years from now?

Nearly 4 Million UK Adults Forced To Use Food Banks (Ind.)

Nearly 4 million adults in the UK have been forced to use food banks due to ”shocking” levels of deprivation, figures have revealed for the first time. An exclusive poll commissioned by The Independent reveals one in 14 Britons has had to use a food bank, with similar numbers also forced to skip meals and borrow money as austerity measures leave them “penniless with nowhere to turn”. The findings come as a major report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) shows more than 1.5 million people were destitute in the UK last year alone, a figure higher than the populations of Liverpool and Birmingham combined. This includes 365,000 children, with experts warning that social security policy changes under the Tory government were leading to “destitution by design”.

Destitution is defined as people lacking two “essential needs”, such as food or housing. The polling on food poverty, from a representative sample of 1,050 UK adults carried out for The Independent by D-CYFOR, suggests that 7 per cent of the adult population – or 3.7 million people – have used a food bank to receive a meal. A million people have decreased the portion size of their child’s meal due to financial constraints, the survey says. The results come after it emerged in April that the number of emergency meals handed out at food banks had risen at a higher rate than ever, soaring by 13 per cent in a year, with more than 1.3 million three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in the 12 months to March.

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I haven’t read the book -and it’s not out yet- but this seems, let’s say, naive. If you figure that a constant increase in energy use is the culprit, how can you say renewable nergy is the solution, and not call for using less energy?

How We Created The Anthropocene (BBC)

Factories and farming remove as much nitrogen from the atmosphere as all of Earth’s natural processes, and the climate is changing fast because of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use. Beyond these grim statistics, the critical question is: will today’s interconnected mega-civilisation that allows 7.5 billion people to lead physically healthier and longer lives than at any time in our history continue from strength to strength? Or will we keep using more and more resources until human civilisation collapses? To answer this, we re-interpret human history using the tools of modern science, to provide a clearer view of the future.

Tracing the ever-greater environmental impacts of different human societies since our march out of Africa, we found that there are just five broad types that have spread worldwide. Our original hunter-gatherer societies were followed by the agricultural revolution and new types of society beginning some 10,500 years ago. The next shift resulted from the formation of the first global economy, after Europeans arrived in the Americas in 1492, which was followed in the late 1700s by the new societies following the Industrial Revolution. The final type is today’s high-production consumer capitalist mode of living that emerged after WWII.

A careful analysis shows that each successive mode of living is reliant on greater energy use, greater information and knowledge availability, and an increase in the human population, which together increase our collective agency. These insights help us think about avoiding the coming crash as our massive global economy doubles in size every 25 years, and on to the possibilities of a new and more sustainable sixth mode of living to replace consumer capitalism. Seen in this way, renewable energy for all takes on an importance beyond stopping climate breakdown; likewise free education and the internet for all has a significance beyond access to social media – as they empower women, which helps stabilise the population.

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Jun 052018
 
 June 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia 1901

 

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)
The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)
US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)
India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)
China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)
Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)
Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)
Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)
Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)
Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)
A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)
Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)
Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

 

 

Don’t think it will happen without an overall economic collapse.

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)

Trillions of dollars of fossil fuel wealth will be wiped out at some point over the next 17 years even if governments fail to impose binding carbon emissions limits on industry to curb global warming, according to a major new study. Environmentalists and policymakers have long warned of the threat of a “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” for listed energy companies, based on the possibility they will never be able to realise the value of their vast stores of oil, gas and coal if politicians actually deliver on their decarbonisation promises.

But today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case. “Our analysis suggests that, contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuels assets may happen even without new climate policies. This suggests a carbon bubble is forming and it is likely to burst,” said Professor Jorge Viñuales from Cambridge University. If policymakers did deliver on the decarbonisation programmes, the loss for investors would be even more rapid.

The research is at odds with work from the International Energy Agency, which projects steady price rises for fossil fuels until 2040. And Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has also done nothing to persuade most investors to take the stranded assets warning seriously. But the researchers’ new “simulation-based, energy-economy-carbon-cycle climate” model suggests investing in fossil fuel firms today is likely to prove a disastrous bet, suggesting that between $1 trillion and $4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035.

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Steel and concrete prices better not rise.

The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)

Electricity production is heavily dependent on materials like steel, concrete, copper and aluminum, for both producing electricity and moving it around to where it’s needed (see figure). Solar and Wind energy take more steel than any other energy source. Natural gas and nuclear take the least. Solar needs 1,600 tons of steel per MW, wind energy needs over 400 tons of steel, while gas and nuclear need only 4 and 40 tons, respectively. Wind and solar also require ten times more transmission, also heavily steel-intensive, since they are usually sited far away from where the energy is used.

The average high-voltage transmission tower includes about 30 tons of steel and transmission wire contains about a ton of steel per mile. Going from our biggest solar array, located in the Mohave Desert, to Los Angeles is almost 300 miles, requiring on the order of 10,000 tons of steel depending on specific design. While we tend to think of renewables as associated with Blue States, they are actually growing faster in Red States. Four of the five states with the most installed wind energy are Texas (20,321 MW), Iowa (6,917 MW), Oklahoma (6,645 MW) and Kansas (4,451 MW). The only Blue State in the top five is California (5,662 MW).

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Prop up your stock some more.

US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)

Money is pouring into the U.S. economy and in turn helping provide support for the otherwise struggling stock market. If current conditions persist, corporations are likely this year to inject more than $2.5 trillion into what UBS strategists term “flow” — the combination of share buybacks, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity. The development comes as companies find themselves awash in cash, thanks primarily to years of stashing away profits plus the benefits of a $1.5 trillion tax break this year that slashed corporate rates and encouraged firms to bring back money idling overseas. Companies have nearly $2.5 trillion in cash parked domestically, according to the Federal Reserve, and as much as $3.5 trillion overseas, various estimates have shown.

When all is said and done for 2018, UBS expects dividend issuance to top $500 billion, buybacks to range from $700 billion to $800 billion, and M&A to constitute about $1.3 trillion. If the numbers pan out, they would equate to about 10% of the S&P 500’s market cap and 12.5% of GDP. “Assuming improving growth and stable rates, we expect the positive positioning/flow backdrop to support US equities, which is important as the daily corporate flow slows from mid-June to mid-July,” UBS strategist Keith Parker said in a note. Parker pointed out that the firm has overweight positions in both tech and health care as the two sectors are leading the buyback boom.

Buybacks specifically have been on a torrid pace and are helping provide a floor to a market that for much of 2018 had looked tired and volatile after a 20% S&P 500 gain the year before. Repurchases are up 83% year to date, far ahead of the 9% gain in dividends, while M&A activity involving U.S. companies has surged 130%, according to UBS. [..] UBS estimates that the combination of buybacks, dividends and demand flows account for some 40% in performance this year. The S&P 500 has nudged 2.6% higher and the Dow industrials are just ahead of breakeven.

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The Fed retreats and the Treasury issues new debt.

India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)

In an op-ed published overnight in the FT, a central banker writes that when it comes to the turmoil gripping the world’s Emerging Markets, whether it is the acute, idiosyncratic version observed in Argentina and Turkey, which according to JPM may be doomed, or the more gradual selloffs observed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and India, don’t blame the Fed’s rate hike cycle. Instead blame the “double whammy” of the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet coupled with the dollar draining surge in debt issuance by the US Treasury.

That’s the message from the current Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel, who writes that “unlike previous turbulence, this episode cannot be attributed to the US Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rates, which have been rising steadily since December 2016 in a calibrated manner.” But does that mean that the Fed is not to blame for what increasingly looks like another budding EM crisis? Not at all: according to Patel, the dollar funding shortage “upheaval” stems from what he sees as the confluence of two significant events of which the Fed’s balance sheet reduction is one, while the second is the dramatic increase in US Treasury issuance to pay for Trump’s tax cuts; what is notable is that both events are drastically soaking up dollar liquidity.

As a result, Patel blames a lack a coordination between the Fed and Treasury on the adverse flow through across global funding markets as a result of this decline in dollar liquidity, and writes that “given the rapid rise in the size of the US deficit, the Fed must respond by slowing plans to shrink its balance sheet. If it does not, Treasuries will absorb such a large share of dollar liquidity that a crisis in the rest of the dollar bond markets is inevitable.” Putting these two parallel processes – which threaten to materially impair dollar funding markets – in context, on one hand there is QT, or the gradual decline in the Fed’s balance sheet which is set to peak at a rate of $50BN/month by October, while at the same time US net Treasury issuance is set to jump to $1.2 trillion in 2018 and 2019 to cover the forecasted budget deficit of $804BN and $981BN in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

And in a curious coincidence, the withdrawal of dollar funding by the Fed in monthly terms, as it reduces its reinvestment of income received, is proceeding at roughly the same pace as that of net issuance of debt by the US government. Furthermore, both processes are open ended which means that over the next few years, the government’s net issuance will stabilize, albeit at a high level, whereas the Fed’s balance-sheet reduction will keep rising. Both are terrible news for Emerging Markets, which are in desperate need of reversing the ongoing dollar outflows; however as long as Trump continues to make America great, and funds said stimulus with excess debt issuance, emerging market turmoil is virtually guaranteed.

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China retreats, too.

China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)

China’s debt crackdown is a key risk to the country’s economic growth and will have significant knock-on effects for the global economy, particularly emerging markets with high commodity dependence or close Chinese trade links, Fitch Ratings said. Beijing’s campaign to put a lid on debt could also lead to a sharp slowdown in business investment, Fitch said late on Sunday, forecasting that growth in the world’s second-biggest economy would slow to around 4.5% over the medium term. Fitch said the implications of this scenario for the global economy would be significant but not dramatic, unlike a full-scale hard landing.

One of the most significant effects would be on commodity prices, with Fitch expecting oil and metal prices to fall 5 to 10% from its baseline scenario, reflecting China’s large role as a commodity consumer. In April, a Reuters poll of 72 institutions showed economists expected China’s economic growth to slow to 6.5% this year and 6.3% next year as Beijing extends its crackdown on riskier lending practices. GDP in 2017 expanded 6.9% in real terms and 11.2% in nominal terms. Beijing’s financial crackdown, now in its third year, has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is choking off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.

The ratio of Chinese corporate debt to GDP is already very high by international standards – at 168% in 2017 – and is expected to start rising again as nominal GDP growth declines towards 8% from the unusually high rate of more than 11% in 2017, Fitch said. If the government aims to stabilize its corporate debt ratio by 2022, Fitch said China’s nominal economic growth rate could fall by 1 percentage point a year over the medium term while business investment growth would drop 5percentage points per year.

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Restructuring Target2. That should be fun.

Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)

The political upheaval and social unrest fueling the current crisis in Italy should surprise no one. On the contrary, the only uncertainty was when exactly matters would come to a head. Now they have. Italy’s per capita GDP in 2018 is about 8% below its level in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. And the International Monetary Fund’s projections for 2023 suggest that Italy will still not have fully recovered from the cumulative output losses of the past decade. Among the 11 advanced economies that were hit by severe financial crises in 2007-2009, only Greece has suffered a deeper and more protracted economic depression.

Greece and Italy were the two economies carrying the highest debt burdens at the outset of the crisis (109% and 102% of GDP, respectively), leaving them poorly positioned to cope with major adverse shocks. Since the crisis erupted a decade ago, economic stagnation and costly banking weaknesses have propelled debt burdens higher still, despite a decade of exceptionally low interest rates. Greece has already faced more than one “credit event” and, while Italy has also had a couple of close calls, the spring of 2018 is turning out to be its most tumultuous episode yet. The summer will probably be worse, bringing Italy closer to a sovereign debt crisis. On the surface, general government debt appears to have stabilized since 2013, at around 130% of GDP. However, as I have stressed here and elsewhere, this “stability” is misleading.

General government debt is not the whole story for Italy, even setting aside the private debt loads and the recent renewed upturn in nonperforming bank loans (a daunting legacy of the financial crisis). When evaluating Italy’s sovereign risk, the central bank’s debts (Target2 balances) must be added to those of the general government. As the most recent available data (through March) show, these balances increase the ratio of public-sector debt to GDP by 26%. With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.

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What the euro has meant for Greece and Italy: lower wages, higher unemployment and higher current account deficit.

Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)

[..] we thought it would be a good idea to remind readers why the euro exists in the first place. The briefest possible answer: to make sure the Deutsche Mark does not. As presented in the chart below – which shows the performance for each of the EU12 countries against the German DEM in every decade from the 1950s to the start of the Euro in 1999 – apart from a small revaluation of core countries in the 1990s, every country devalued to Germany in every decade between the 1950s and the start of the Euro. Said otherwise, the Deutsche Mark appreciated in value against all of its European peers for 5 consecutive decades, a condition which if left unchanged, would have led to an economic and trade crisis.

And as a bonus chart, here is same data (with the US and UK added) from the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 to the start of the Euro (Lira -82% devaluation to German DM) and during the 1990s (-24% devaluation) – the decade immediately leading up to the Euro start. As can be seen Italy is amongs the weakest performers relative to the German DM over these periods and showed the momentum that existed in the period leading up to the start of the Euro.

And while the fixed exchange of the Euro for European nations allowed the German export industry to go into overdrive, the lack of the possibility for an external, i.e. currency, devaluation, meant that Italy has been forced to do it all by engaging in internal devaluation, i.e., lower wages, higher unemployment and boosting its current account deficit, which however is made virtually impossible given Italy’s deteriorating demographics. This is what DB’s Jim Reid said of Italy’s potential future: Looking forward, Italy will not find it easy to grow out of its problems as its facing one of the worst set of demographics of the G20 countries. Its population size has peaked (according to the UN) and is expected to decline out to 2050. Its working age population (15-64 year olds as a proxy) is set to fall -24% over the same period and is again one of the worst placed in the G20.

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“Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago..”

Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)

Housing in the Greater Toronto Area is, let’s say, retrenching. Canada’s largest housing market has seen an enormous two-decade surge in prices that culminated in utter craziness in April 2017, when the Home Price Index had skyrocketed 32% from a year earlier. But now the hangover has set in and the bubble isn’t fun anymore. Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago, to 7,834 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). It affected all types of homes, even the once red-hot condos: • Detached houses -28.5% • Semi-detached houses -29.4% • Townhouses -13.4% • Condos -15.5%.

It was particularly unpleasant at the higher end: Sales of homes costing C$1.5 million or more plummeted by 46% year-over-year to 508 homes in May 2018, according to TREB data. Compared to the April 2017 peak of 1,362 sales in that price range, sales in May collapsed by 63%. But it’s not just at the high end. At the low end too. In May, sales of homes below C$500,000 – about 68% of them were condos – fell by 36% year-over-year to 5,253 homes. The TREB publishes two types of prices – the average price and its proprietary MLS Home Price Index based on a “composite benchmark home.” Both fell in May compared to a year ago.

The average price in May for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) fell 6.6% year-over-year to C$805,320, and is now down 12.3%, or an ear-ringing C$113,000, from the crazy peak in April 2017. There are no perfect measures of home prices in a market. Each has its own drawbacks. Average home prices can be impacted by the mix and by a few large outliers – but over the longer term, it gives a good impression of the direction. The chart below shows thepercentage change in average home prices in the GTA compared to a year earlier:

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Because the boom was a bubble.

Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)

It doesn’t feel all that long ago that Australian banks were the envy of the world. In March 2009, when stress-testing of US financial institutions drove the final spasm of the previous year’s credit crisis, you could have bought all the shares in Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays with their $US8.4 trillion ($11 trillion) of gross assets for less than you’d pay for the equity of Westpac, with $US347 billion of assets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price peaked six years later just a sliver south of three times the value of its net assets, an extraordinary level in a business where price-book ratios have struggled to break above one times over the past decade.

With the current Royal Commission inquiring into practices in the country’s financial services industry and a slew of court cases, those high-flyers have come to earth with a bump. CBA on Monday agreed to pay $700 million to settle a money laundering case in which it admitted that a software update allowed about 54,000 reportable transactions to go unreported over a period of almost three years. On Friday, ANZ and local units of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they were facing possible criminal cartel charges over their handling of a $2.5 billion placement of ANZ shares in 2015. Having executives hauled up before government inquiries and paying out hundreds of millions in court settlements isn’t great for headlines, but it would be a mistake to see the declines in Australia’s banking sector as purely a result of this.

When your annual net income is in the region of $10 billion, as CBA’s is, a $700 million charge is more than just a rounding error. But the 1.2 per cent jump in the company’s stock after the settlement was announced Monday is an indication that the cost is worth less to shareholders than the benefit of putting the issue firmly in the past. The greater risk to Australia’s banks lurks not in the papers of regulators and inquisitors, but on the streets of the country’s sprawling suburbs. As we’ve argued before, the most ominous indicator to watch is also a favourite one of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Rents, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have been increasing at less than 1 per cent for nine consecutive quarters , the worst performance for the measure since the housing crash of the early 1990s.

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The spirit of Steve Jobs?!

Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)

Apple will attempt to frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems. “We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference. He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity. The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – held in San Jose, California – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of. “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. “Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?” “You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move. “Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont. “Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much. “Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

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Building on the Ring of Fire.

A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)

It’s only been in the last thirty years that Seattle hoisted up its tombstone cluster of several dozen office and condo towers. That’s what cities do these days to demonstrate their self-regard, and Seattle is perhaps America’s boomingest city, what with Microsoft’s and Amazon’s headquarters there — avatars of the digital economy. A megathrust earthquake there today would produce a scene that even the computer graphics artistes of Hollywood could not match for picturesque chaos. What were the city planners thinking when they signed off on those building plans?

I survived the journey through the Seattle tunnel, dogged by neurotic fantasies, and headed south to California’s Bay Area, another seismic doomer zone. For sure I am not the only casual observer who gets the doomish vibe out there on the Left Coast. Even if you are oblivious to the geology of the place, there’s plenty to suggest a sense of impossibility for business-as-usual continuing much longer. I got that end-of-an-era feeling in California traffic, specifically driving toward San Francisco on the I-80 freeway out in the suburban asteroid belt of Contra Costa County, past the sinister oil refineries of Mococo and the dormitory sprawl of Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette.

Things go on until they can’t, economist Herb Stein observed, back in the quaint old 20th century, as the USA revved up toward the final blowoff we’ve now entered. The shale oil “miracle” (so-called) has given even thoughtful adults the false impression that the California template for modern living will continue indefinitely. I’d give it less than five years now.

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Snowden deserves as much support as Assange does.

Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)

Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. In a phone interview to mark the anniversary of the day the Guardian broke the story, he recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.

Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.” What has happened in the five years since? He is one of the most famous fugitives in the world, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, a Hollywood movie, and at least a dozen books. The US and UK governments, on the basis of his revelations, have faced court challenges to surveillance laws. New legislation has been passed in both countries. The internet companies, responding to a public backlash over privacy, have made encryption commonplace.

Snowden, weighing up the changes, said some privacy campaigners had expressed disappointment with how things have developed, but he did not share it. “People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.” The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

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Bayer-Monsanto: “It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits..”

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn). The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”.

Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get. It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.

Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds. You might think that these mergers would alert the government, but because political parties in Britain are so inward-looking, and because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard.

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Jun 022018
 


Edward S. Curtis Crow Scout in Winter 1908

 

The US Economy Suddenly Looks Like It’s Unstoppable (CNBC)
Record 95.9 Million Americans Are No Longer In The Labor Force (ZH)
The Pause That Refreshes (Roberts)
EU Joins Global Battle Against Trump Tariff Onslaught (AFP)
Eurozone Not Facing New Debt Crisis – Juncker (R.)
Three Critical Lessons From Europe’s Recent Mini-Meltdown (Black)
EU Lawmakers From Italy’s Coalition Parties Seek Funds To Quit Euro (R.)
Canada Auditor General To Public Service: Stop Ignoring My Reports (CBC)
Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization (Nation)
EU Scraps Plans To Tackle Antibiotics Abuse (G.)

 

 

And I have a bridge in Brooklyn.

The US Economy Suddenly Looks Like It’s Unstoppable (CNBC)

In the face of persistent fears that the world could be facing a trade war and a synchronized slowdown, the U.S. economy enters June with a good deal of momentum. Friday’s data provided convincing evidence that domestic growth remains intact even if other developed economies are slowing. A better-than-expected nonfarm payrolls report coupled with a convincing uptick in manufacturing and construction activity showed that the second half approaches with a tail wind blowing. “The fundamentals all look very solid right now,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC. “You’ve got job growth and wage gains that are supporting consumer spending, and tax cuts as well. There’s a little bit of a drag from higher energy prices, but the positives far outweigh that. Business incentives are in good shape.”

The day started off with the payrolls report showing a gain of 223,000 in May, well above market expectations of 188,000, and the unemployment rate hitting an 18-year low of 3.8%. Then, the ISM manufacturing index registered a 58.7 reading — representing the%age of businesses that report expanding conditions — that also topped Wall Street estimates. Finally, the construction spending report showed a monthly gain of 1.8%, a full point higher than expectations. Put together, the data helped fuel expectations that first-quarter growth of 2.2% will be the low-water point of 2018. “May’s rebound in jobs together with yesterday’s report of solid income growth and the rise in consumer confidence points to the economy functioning very well,” the National Retail Federation’s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said in a statement.

“Solid fundamentals in the job market are encouraging for retail spending, as employment gains generate additional income for consumers and consequently increase spending.” The most recent slate of widely followed barometers could see economists ratchet up growth expectations. Already, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker sees the second quarter rising by 4.8%. While the measure also was strongly optimistic on the first quarter as well, at one point estimating 5.4% growth, other gauges are positive as well. CNBC’s Rapid Update, for instance, puts the April-to-June period at 3.6%.

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The unemployment rate is meaningless. Is that why it keeps being reported?

Record 95.9 Million Americans Are No Longer In The Labor Force (ZH)

In what was otherwise a solid jobs report – one which Donald Trump may or may not have leaked in advance – in which the establishment survey reported that a higher than expected 223K jobs were added at a time when numbers below 200K are expected for an economy that is allegedly without slack, the biggest surprise was not in the Establishment survey, but the household, where the unemployment rate tumbled once more, sliding to a new 18 year low of 3.8%, even as the participation rate declined once again, as a result of a stagnant labor force, which was virtually unchanged (161.527MM in April to 161.539MM in May, even as the total civilian non-inst population rose by 182K to 257.454LMM).

What was perhaps more interesting, however, is that for all the talk that the slack in the labor force is set to decline, precisely the opposite is taking place, because in May, the number of people not in the labor force increased by another 170K, rising to 95.915 million, a new all time high. Adding to this the 6.1 million currently unemployed Americans, there are 102 million Americans who are either unemployed or out of the labor force (and it is also worth noting that of those employed 26.9 million are part-time workers). In other words, contrary to prevailing economist groupthink, there is a lot of slack in the economy, and if as the latest Beige Book revealed, employers are now hiring drug addicts and felons to make up for the shortage of qualified candidates, a long time will pass before wages see significant gains.

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Deutsche is dangerous.

The Pause That Refreshes (Roberts)

As long as interest rates remain low and negative in some cases, debt can continue to be accumulated even with weaker rates of economic growth. More importantly, as long as rates remain low, the banking system can continue to play the “hide-the-debt game” through derivatives, swaps and a variety of other means. But rates are rising, and sharply, on the shorter-end of the curve. Historically, sharply rising rates have been a catalyst for a debt related crisis. As long as everything remains within the expected ranges, the complicated “math” behind trillions of dollars worth of financial instruments function properly. It is when those boundaries are broken that things “go wrong” and quickly so.

People have forgotten that in 2008 a major U.S. financial firm crashed as its derivative based exposure “blew up.” No, I am not talking about Lehman Brothers, the poster-child of the financial crisis, I am talking about Bear Stearns. In just 365-days, Bear Stearns stock went from $159 to $2, with about half of the loss occurring within a few weeks. Bear Stearns was the warning shot for the financial markets in early 2008 that no one heeded. Within a couple of months, the markets dismissed Bear Stearns as a “non-event” and rallied to a higher level than prior to the event, and almost back to highs for the year. Remember, there was “nothing to worry about” at the time, even though the Fed was increasing interest rates, as the “Goldilocks economy” could handle tighter monetary policy.

Sure, housing had been slowing down, mortgage delinquencies were rising, along with credit card defaults, but there wasn’t much concern. Today, we are seeing similar signs.Interest rates are rising, along with delinquencies, defaults, and a slowing housing market. But no one is concerned as the “Goldilocks economy” can clearly offset these mild risks. And no one is paying attention to, what I believe to be, one of the biggest risks to the global financial markets – Deutsche Bank.

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Globalization in reverse.

EU Joins Global Battle Against Trump Tariff Onslaught (AFP)

The EU on Friday launched its first counteroffensive against Washington’s punishing steel and aluminum tariffs while the US began meetings in Canada with outraged finance ministers from its top trading partners. Meanwhile in Washington, US President Donald Trump floated the possibility of scrapping the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement in favor of separate bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico. And in another leg of Trump’s multi-front trade offensive, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrived in Beijing to continue fraught talks with Chinese officials. Trump has vowed to press ahead with tariffs on as much as $50 billion in imports from China.

Brussels and Ottawa on Friday filed legal challenges at the World Trade Organization against Washington’s decision. The EU, Canada and Mexico also threatened stiff retaliatory tariffs as they pushed back against Trump’s moves. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he was dumbfounded by Washington’s national security basis for the tariffs, given that US and Canadian troops had fought together in World War II, Afghanistan and elsewhere. “This is insulting to them,” he told NBC News. British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply disappointed” and reiterated a call for Britain and the EU to be “permanently exempted” from the “unjustified” metals tariffs.

At the Group of Seven ministerial meeting in Canada, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced stern reactions from his counterparts, who accused Trump of jeopardizing the world economy with steps that would prove job killers for all concerned. “The French, British and Germans held firm,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters. “Everyone expressed their complete incomprehension of the American decisions and everyone said it was up to the Americans to take the next step since they were the ones who imposed the tariffs.”

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This is like the owner of a sports team publicly declaring the coach has their full support. Bad sign.

Eurozone Not Facing New Debt Crisis – Juncker (R.)

There is no threat of a new sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone despite an anti-establishment coalition government taking power in Italy, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in remarks published on Saturday. Asked by the RND network of German newspapers if the single currency bloc faced a new crisis, Juncker said: “No. The reactions of the financial markets are irrational. People should not draw political conclusions from every fluctuation in the stock market. Investors have been wrong on so many occasions before.” A governing coalition comprising two parties hostile to the euro was installed in Italy on Friday, calming markets spooked by the possibility of a new election that might have become a referendum on quitting the single currency. “I am certain the Italians have a keen sense of what is good for their country,” Juncker said. “They will sort it out.”

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It will just take one little spark.

Three Critical Lessons From Europe’s Recent Mini-Meltdown (Black)

1) On the day that the finance minster was rejected, financial markets worldwide tanked. Italy’s stock market plunged 5%, which is considered a major drop. But curiously, the stock market in the US fell as well, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding 400 points. Even markets in China and Japan had significant drops as a result of the Italy turmoil. Now, it’s easy to see why Italy’s markets fell. And even the rest of Europe. But the entire world? Granted, a lot of people made a really big deal out of this event, concluding that it signals the end of the euro.. or Europe itself… or some other such drama. Sure, maybe. But it’s almost impossible to foretell a trend as significant as ‘the end of the euro’ based on a single event.

At face value, the rejection of a cabinet minister in Italy should have almost -zero- relevance on economies as large and diversified as the US, China, and Japan. To me, this is another sign that we’re near the peak of the bubble… and possibly already past it. Markets are so stretched, and investors are on such pins and needles, that even a minor, insignificant event induces panic. And it makes me wonder: if financial markets are so tightly wound that something so irrelevant can cause such an enormous impact, how big will the plunge be when something serious happens?

2) It wasn’t just stocks either. Bond markets were also keenly impacted. Bear in mind that stocks are volatile by nature; prices move much more wildly than other asset classes. But bonds, on the other hand, are supposed to be safe, stable, boring assets. Especially government bonds in highly developed nations. In Italy the carnage was obviously the worst. Investors dumped the 2-year Italian government bond, and yields (which move opposite to prices) surged from 0.9% to 2.4% in a matter of hours. Simply put, that’s not supposed to happen. And it hadn’t happened in at least three decades. Again, though, even in the United States, yields on the US 10-year note dropped 16 basis points overnight, from 2.93% to 2.77% (which means US bond prices increased).

That’s considered MAJOR volatility for US government bonds. To put it in context, the only day over the past few YEARS that saw 10-year yields move more than that was the day after Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election in 2016. So it was a pretty big deal. Again, this leads me to wonder: if safe, stable assets like government bonds can react so violently from such an insignificant event, how volatile will riskier assets be when there’s an actual crisis? Just imagine what’s going to happen to all the garbage assets out there (like unprofitable, heavily indebted businesses) when a real downturn kicks in.

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No, they supported setting up a fund for countries in trouble.

EU Lawmakers From Italy’s Coalition Parties Seek Funds To Quit Euro (R.)

European Union lawmakers from the two parties forming Italy’s new government coalition backed this week a rejected proposal to set up EU funds to help countries quit the euro, a sign of the Italian leadership’s ambivalent position on the common currency. Their vote came as the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League were finalising a deal to form an executive in Rome, under pledges that leaving the euro was not in their government programme. The government was sworn in on Friday. An earlier attempt to form a government foundered after the parties proposed as economy minister an economist who had devised a plan for Italy’s departure from the euro zone, prompting his rejection by the head of state.

Despite the declared intentions to stay in the euro, all six EU lawmakers from the League and all but one of the 14 5-Star Members of the European Parliament voted on Wednesday for a document that called for the establishment of programmes of financial support “for member states that plan to negotiate their exit from the euro.” The document voted on by their EU lawmakers called for compensation for “the social and economic damages caused by the euro zone membership.” The document was an amendment to a European Parliament resolution on the EU budget for the 2021-2027 period. The proposal, advanced by three leftist MEPs, was backed by 90 lawmakers but was rejected by a majority of the 750 MEPs.

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Sure this is very recognizable across the globe.

Canada Auditor General To Public Service: Stop Ignoring My Reports (CBC)

Canada’s auditor general says he’s getting tired of filing annual reports recommending reforms to the way the government does business — only to see those recommendations disappear down the memory hole afterward. Michael Ferguson released his spring audits on Tuesday. They included scathing criticisms of the government’s performance on the Phoenix pay system, Indigenous services and military justice. Many of these problems have been highlighted in Ferguson’s reports in the past. And that, he told CBC News, is the problem. “We always get the department agreeing to our recommendation but then somehow we come back five years later, 10 years later and we find the same problems,” he told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio’s The House on Wednesday.

“It almost is like the departments are trying to make our recommendations and our reports go away by saying they agree with our recommendations.” His work has made one thing clear, he said: the federal government has a culture problem that makes meaningful change difficult. “They need to do things to make the results better.” Part of the problem stems from political pressure on the public service, said Ferguson. Politicians tend to think from election to election, he said, which can undermine public servants’ efforts to bring in a longer-term plan. “It seems like the political side of things ends up having more weight in the conversation.” In Parliament, he said — and particularly with respect to Indigenous Services — progress tends to be measured on the basis of how much money the government spends on a particular policy file, and not on measurable outcomes.

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“.. it is clear there were strong interests to see Greece’s public wealth turned over into other peoples’ hands..”

Greece’s Busiest Port Reveals the Perils of Privatization (Nation)

In 2015, as a condition of the $100 billion European Union bailout that followed the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek government agreed to privatize a number of state-held assets including the Piraeus Port Authority, which manages the port’s container and passenger terminals. The Greek state sold a majority stake for $330 million to COSCO. For the Chinese company, the purchase had a clear financial logic. About 80 percent of China’s imports and exports to and from Europe are transported by sea, and by avoiding the need to sail to busy Northern European ports like Rotterdam or Hamburg, COSCO could offload containers in Piraeus, reducing the time it takes cargo to get to Europe by nearly a week. Plus, by owning the port authority, COSCO could help determine how much its own ships would have to pay itself in port fees.

As part of the deal, COSCO pledged to participate in financing $410 million worth of investment in the port, including a repair of port equipment and the dredging of Piraeus’s central port. Supporters of privatization argue these improvements signal a coming maritime renaissance at Piraeus—already the busiest port in the eastern Mediterranean. Nektarios Demenopolous, the deputy manager for investor relations at Piraeus Port Authority, told me, “There are 300 million euros [$350 million] of investment to come in the next five years, followed by another 50 million. Privatization has made the port much more dynamic and will reboot activities at the port like ship repair that have been in recession. It will be remembered as a success story.”

But a “success story” for whom? The dockworkers of Piraeus say they and their families have seen little of the alleged gains brought by COSCO. As Piraeus Port Authority boasts of widening profit margins and increasing maritime traffic, wages for dockworkers haven’t budged since they were slashed from 1500 euros ($1,750) per month to 600 euros after the financial crisis. Beyond that, COSCO now hires few dockworkers as full-time employees, and tends to enlist unskilled laborers for complex container unloading. COSCO also primarily remunerates people on an ad hoc basis as subcontractors, leaving dockworkers and their families entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of traffic into Piraeus. It also means their traditional retirement benefits have disappeared.

The long list of Greek public assets in the privatization pipeline includes Athens International Airport, the oil refiner Hellenic Petroleum, and the electric-grid operator. To date, some roughly $5 billion in Greek state assets, including the Port of Piraeus and Greece’s regional airport network, have been sold, and it is expected that the Greek government will sell nearly $55 billion worth of state assets within the next decade. There is no conclusive evidence that privatized state assets are more efficiently managed than their state-owned predecessors, but privatization is undoubtedly an effective means for a cash-strapped government to raise funds when its creditors are getting impatient. “Piraeus was always a profitable port. However, it is clear there were strong interests to see Greece’s public wealth turned over into other peoples’ hands,” said Giorgos Gogos, head of the Piraeus dockworkers’ union.

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How corrupt is Juncker?

EU Scraps Plans To Tackle Antibiotics Abuse (G.)

The EU has scrapped plans for a clampdown on pharmaceutical pollution that contributes to the spread of deadly superbugs. Plans to monitor farm and pharmaceutical companies, to add environmental standards to EU medical product rules and to oblige environmental risk assessments for drugs used by humans have all been discarded, leaked documents seen by the Guardian reveal. An estimated 700,000 people die every year from antimicrobial resistance, partly due to drug-resistant bacteria created by the overuse, misuse and dumping of antibiotics. The UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned that failing to act could lead to a post-antibiotic apocalypse, spelling “the end of modern medicine” as routine infections defy effective treatment.

Some studies predict that antimicrobial resistance could cost $100tn (£75tn) between now and 2050, with the annual death toll reaching 10 million over that period. An EU strategy for pharmaceuticals in the environment was supposed to propose ways to avert the threat, but leaked material shows that a raft of ideas contained in an early draft have since been diluted or deleted. Proposals that have fallen by the wayside include an EU push to have environmental criteria for antibiotic use included in international agreements as “good manufacturing practice requirements”. This would have allowed EU inspectors to visit factories in Asia or Africa, sanctioning them were evidence of pharmaceutical pollution found.

[..] The pharmaceutical industry spent nearly €40m on lobbying EU institutions in 2015, according to voluntary declarations, and enjoys infamously easy access to officials. Public records show that the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations had more than 50 meetings with the Juncker commission in its first four and a half months of office. In the same period, GlaxoSmithKline had 15 meetings with the commission, Novartis had eight engagements, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson had six sessions apiece, while Pfizer and Eli Lilly both met with EU officials five times each.

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May 292018
 
 May 29, 2018  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1963

 

Showdown Looms In Italy As Caretaker PM Assembles Team (AFP)
The Biggest Short-Sellers Of Italian Bonds (ZH)
If Italy Exits The Euro, It Could Be The End Of The Single Currency (Tel.)
Stock Market Borrowing at All Time High, Increasing Risk of Downdrafts (NC)
The Financial Scandal No One Is Talking About (G.)
Fears Of Bad Brexit Deal Raise Tension Between Bank of England, Treasury (G.)
Eastern, Southern African Finance Leaders Debate Yuan As Reserve Currency (R.)
Indonesia’s Currency Is Spiraling. Sacrifices Are Needed To Save It (CNBC)
Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For A Month To Root Out ‘Fake Users’ (G.)
Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Lashes Out At Former CEO Ackermann (HB)
Fake Maths: The NHS Doesn’t Need £2,000 From Each Household To Survive (G.)
After China’s Waste Import Ban EU Wants To Get Rid Of Single-Use Plastics (RT)
Great Barrier Reef On Sixth Life In 30,000 Years (AFP)

 

 

A team he knows will never be accepted.

Showdown Looms In Italy As Caretaker PM Assembles Team (AFP)

Italy’s caretaker prime minister was Tuesday assembling a cabinet lineup despite almost certain rejection by the populists whose bid for power collapsed at the weekend. Fresh elections are now looming as the most likely outcome of the long-running political saga sparked by inconclusive elections in March. Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF economist, was tasked with naming a technocrat government on Monday after President Sergio Mattarella nixed a cabinet proposed by the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The president in particular vetoed their pick for economy minister, fierce eurosceptic Paolo Savona, throwing the eurozone’s third largest economy into a fresh crisis.

Savona has called the euro a “German cage” and said that Italy needs a plan to leave the single currency “if necessary”. Mattarella said that an openly eurosceptic economy minister was counter to the parties’ joint promise to simply “change Europe for the better from an Italian point of view”. Cottarelli said Italy would face new elections “after August” if parliament did not endorse his team, a near certainty given that M5S and the League together hold a majority. [..] Salvini and Di Maio furiously denounced the presidential veto, blasting what they called meddling by Germany, debt ratings agencies, financial lobbies and even lies from Mattarella’s staff. “Paolo Savona would not have taken us out of the euro. It’s a lie invented by Mattarella’s advisors,” Di Maio said in a live video on Facebook. “The truth is that they don’t want us in government.”

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Draghi vs the vigilantes.

The Biggest Short-Sellers Of Italian Bonds (ZH)

[..] it was in December when we first pointed out a dramatic observation by Citi, which noted that over the past several years, the only buyer of Italian government bonds was the ECB, and that even the smallest political stress threatened a repeat of the 2011 “Berlusconi” scenario, when the freshly minted new ECB head Mario Draghi sent Italian yields soaring to prevent populist forces from seizing power in Italy. Or maybe it didn’t, and it only took the bulls far longer than the bear to admit that nothing in Europe had been fixed, even as the bears were already rampaging insider Europe’s third largest economy.

Consider that according to the latest IHS Markit data, demand to borrow Italian government bonds — an indicator of of short selling — was up 33% to $33.3 billion worth of debt this year to Tuesday while demand to borrow bonds from other EU countries excluding Italy has risen only 5% this year. That said, things certainly accelerated over the last week, when demand to borrow Italian bonds soared by $1.2 billion, which according to WSJ calculations, takes demand, i.e. short selling, close to its highest level since the financial crisis in 2008 (while demand to borrow bonds from EU countries excluding Italy has fallen by $800 million over the past week).

Said otherwise, while the events over the past week may have come as a surprise to many, to the growing crowd of Italian bond shorts today’s plunge and the blowout in Italian-German spreads was not only expected, but quite predictable and extremely lucrative… which is also a major problem as Brussels is well-known to take it very personally when a hedge fund profits from the ongoing collapse of Europe’s failing experiment in common everything, and tends to create huge short squeezes in the process, no matter how obvious the (doomed) final outcome is.

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Sorry, but I said it a lot better on Friday.

If Italy Exits The Euro, It Could Be The End Of The Single Currency (Tel.)

You might think that it would be fitting if the European Union were to come to a sticky end because of Italy. After all, the agreement that established the entity that we now call the European Union was signed in Rome. For several decades after that 1957 treaty, Italy was one of the strongest supporters of the European project. Having endured first fascism and then, after the war, unstable and ineffectual government, it suffered none of the angst about the loss of sovereignty that plagued British debates about joining the European Community. Moreover, in the early years of the union, Italy prospered. At one point its GDP overtook the UK’s, an event that was widely celebrated in Italy as “il sorpasso”, the surpassing, or, if you like, the overtaking.

But the overtaking did not last long. Indeed, since the euro was formed in 1999, the Italian economy has grown by a mere 9%, or less than 0.5% per annum. Over the same period, the UK economy has grown by 42%. This recent disastrous economic performance, plus mounting anxiety about inward migration and the fact that the EU has left Italy to cope with this huge influx on its own, has changed many Italians’ attitudes to the EU. Understandably. These failings go to the heart of the EU project. The truth is that Italy should never have joined the euro in the first place. And it isn’t only Anglo-Saxon euro pessimists such as myself who believe this. At the time the German Bundesbank was appalled at the idea that Italy should be admitted. After all, even then it had a huge public debt and a history of high inflation offset by frequent currency depreciation.

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“..the Chinese stock markets permit a much higher level of borrowings than those in the West..”

Stock Market Borrowing at All Time High, Increasing Risk of Downdrafts (NC)

I find it hard to get excited about stock market risks unless defaults on the borrowings can damage the banking/payments system, as they did in the Great Crash. This is one reason the China perma-bears have a point: even though the Chinese government has managed to do enough in the way of rescues and warnings to keep its large shadow banking system from going “boom,” the Chinese stock markets permit a much higher level of borrowings than those in the West, which could make them the detonator for knock-on defaults. The US dot-com bubble featured a high level of margin borrowing, but because the US adopted rules so that margin accounts that get underwater are closed and liquidated pronto, limiting damage to the broker-dealer, a stock market panic in the US should not have the potential to produce a credit crisis.

But if stock market bubble has been big enough, a stock market meltdown can hit the real economy, as we saw in the early 2000s recession. Recall that Greenspan, who saw the stock market as part of the Fed’s mission, dropped interest rates and kept them low for a then unprecedented nine quarters, breaking the central bank’s historical pattern of reducing rates only briefly. Greenspan, as did the Bank of Japan in the late 1980s, believed that the robust stock market prices produced a wealth effect and stimulated consumer spending. It isn’t hard to see that even if this were true, it’s a very inefficient way to try to spur growth, since the affluent don’t have anything approach the marginal propensity to spend of poor and middle class households.

Subsequent research has confirmed that the wealth effect of higher equity prices is modest; home prices have a stronger wealth effect. A second reason for seeing stock prices as potentially significant right now be is that the rally since Trump won the election is important to many of his voters. I have yet to see any polls probe this issue in particular, but in some focus groups, when Trump supporters are asked why they are back him, some give rise in their portfolios as the first reason for approving of him. They see him as having directly improved their net worth.1

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Accounting.

The Financial Scandal No One Is Talking About (G.)

For centuries, accounting itself was a fairly rudimentary process of enabling the powerful and the landed to keep tabs on those managing their estates. But over time, that narrow task was transformed by commerce. In the process it has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry and lifestyles for its leading practitioners that could hardly be more at odds with the image of a humble number-cruncher. Just four major global firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and KPMG – audit 97% of US public companies and all the UK’s top 100 corporations, verifying that their accounts present a trustworthy and fair view of their business to investors, customers and workers.

They are the only players large enough to check the numbers for these multinational organisations, and thus enjoy effective cartel status. Not that anything as improper as price-fixing would go on – with so few major players, there’s no need. “Everyone knows what everyone else’s rates are,” one of their recent former accountants told me with a smile. There are no serious rivals to undercut them. What’s more, since audits are a legal requirement almost everywhere, this is a state-guaranteed cartel. Despite the economic risks posed by misleading accounting, the bean counters perform their duties with relative impunity.

The big firms have persuaded governments that litigation against them is an existential threat to the economy. The unparalleled advantages of a guaranteed market with huge upside and strictly limited downside are the pillars on which the big four’s multi-billion-dollar businesses are built. They are free to make profit without fearing serious consequences of their abuses, whether it is the exploitation of tax laws, slanted consultancy advice or overlooking financial crime.

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Interesting fight.

Fears Of Bad Brexit Deal Raise Tension Between Bank of England, Treasury (G.)

The growing risk of a bad Brexit deal for the City of London is causing severe tensions between the Bank of England and the Treasury, according to reports. Amid mounting fears that Brussels will reject plans put forward by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, for maintaining close ties with the EU for financial services, the Financial Times reported that Bank officials are at loggerheads with the Treasury over the search for a “Plan B” arrangement. Threadneedle Street fears it could be left as a “rule taker” should Britain agree to a new deal that maintains European market access for financial firms without giving the Bank sufficient control over City regulations in future. The concerns stem from the sprawling scale of the City as one of the biggest financial centres in the world.

Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, used a speech in London last week to highlight the risks posed to the financial system from Brexit and said it was one of the issues raised by Britain leaving the European Union that made him most “nervous”. He also warned in plain terms last year that “we do not want to be a rule taker as an authority”. According to the FT, a number of officials at Threadneedle Street said Jon Cunliffe, the Bank’s deputy governor for financial stability, had fallen out with the Treasury over the issue. The paper quoted one anonymous official saying “the fear is the Treasury is going to give it all away”. The breakdown in relations comes as Hammond strives to prevent an exodus of international banks from the Square Mile, having attempted to reassure them in March that the UK would seek to maintain European market access after Brexit.

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Wishful thinking.

Eastern, Southern African Finance Leaders Debate Yuan As Reserve Currency (R.)

Eastern and southern African central bankers and government officials are to consider the use of China’s yuan as a reserve currency for the region, the official Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday. Seventeen top central bankers and officials from 14 countries in the region will meet at a forum in Harare to consider the viability of the Chinese yuan as a reserve currency, Xinhua said, citing a statement from the Macroeconomic and Financial Management Institute of Eastern and Southern Africa (MEFMI). The forum, to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, will be attended by deputy permanent secretaries and deputy central bank governors, as well as officials from the African Development Bank, Xinhua reported.

Attendees will strategies on the weakening external positions of most member countries, following the global economy slowdown. “Most countries in the MEFMI region have loans or grants from China and it would only make economic sense to repay in termini (Chinese yuan),” said MEFMI spokesperson Gladys Siwela-Jadagu. “This is the reason why it is critical for policy makers to strategize on progress that the continent has made to embrace the Chinese yuan which has become what may be termed ‘common currency’ in trade with Africa,” she added. “Ascendancy of Chinese yuan in the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket of currencies is an important symbol of its importance and the IMF’s approval as an official reserve currency,” said Siwela-Jadagu.

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Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Next!

Indonesia’s Currency Is Spiraling. Sacrifices Are Needed To Save It (CNBC)

Indonesia’s rupiah has been growing worryingly weak, and the country’s central bank has seen little success after multiple attempts to prop up the currency. Now, Bank Indonesia said it will meet again on Wednesday — and speculations are rife that the central bank has more tricks up its sleeve. The rupiah has been one of the worst-hit Asian currencies as investors pull out of the Indonesian stock and bond markets amid rising U.S. Treasury yields and strengthening in the greenback. The falling value of the rupiah could spell trouble for the country’s large foreign currency debt, and the outflows from its bonds are bad news for its government.

The central bank has tried to stem the currency weakness with measures including hiking interest rates and buying sovereign bonds, but the rupiah still depreciated: It fell to 14,202 per U.S. dollar on May 23. That was the weakest in more than two years. With the persistent rupiah weakness, more “rate hikes may be needed, with the next one possibly as early as this week,” Eugene Leow, a strategist at Singapore’s DBS Bank, wrote in a Monday note. The central bank hiked interest rates by 25 basis points in its mid-May meeting — the first raise since November 2014. Central bankers were scheduled to convene again in June, but Bank Indonesia last Friday said an additional policy meeting would be held on May 30.

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Censors?!

Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For A Month To Root Out ‘Fake Users’ (G.)

The Papua New Guinean government will ban Facebook for a month in a bid to crack down on “fake users” and study the effects the website is having on the population. The communication minister, Sam Basil, said the shutdown would allow his department’s analysts to carry out research and analysis on who was using the platform, and how they were using it, admits rising concerns about social well-being, security and productivity. “The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed,” Basil told the Post Courier newspaper. “This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”

Basil has repeatedly raised concerns about protecting the privacy of PNG’s Facebook users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which found Facebook had leaked the personal data of tens of millions of users to a private company. The minister has closely followed the US Senate inquiry into Facebook. “The national government, swept along by IT globalisation, never really had the chance to ascertain the advantages or disadvantages [of Facebook] – and even educate and provide guidance on use of social networks like Facebook to PNG users,” said Basil last month. “The two cases involving Facebook show us the vulnerabilities that Papua New Guinean citizens and residents on their personal data and exchanges when using this social network.”

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Blame game. Deutsche is hanging in the ropes.

Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Lashes Out At Former CEO Ackermann (HB)

German executives rarely wash their dirty laundry in public. This week was a notable exception, when David Folkerts-Landau, Deutsche Bank’s chief economist, accused his former bosses of causing the bank’s current woes by racing hell-for-leather into investment banking. Mr. Folkerts-Landau, who has been with Deutsche’s investment banking division for over two decades, accused its former CEOs of reckless expansion and of losing control of the ship. “Since the mid-1990s, the bank’s management has left operational and strategic control of its financial markets business to the traders,” he said in an interview with Handelsblatt. The bank is still reeling from the consequences of this “reverse takeover,” the economist said.

Deutsche Bank has accumulated more than €9 billion in losses over the past three years, due chiefly to the woes of its investment banking division. The bank is in the throes of a revamp intended to refocus operations on more stable sources of revenue, such as private and commercial banking and asset management. Mr. Folkerts-Landau singled out Josef Ackermann, the bank’s flamboyant boss from 2002 to 2012, for particular criticism over his aggressive expansion into investment banking. “Ackermann was (…) fixed on the magic goal of a return on equity of 25% before taxes. At that time, however, this could only be achieved by accepting major financial and ethical risks,” said the German-born economist. After the financial crisis, Mr. Ackermann rejected state aid from the German authorities and postponed tackling the bank’s structural problems, Mr. Folkerts-Landau added.

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Yeah, you can do the math in many different ways.

Fake Maths: The NHS Doesn’t Need £2,000 From Each Household To Survive (G.)

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation published a report on funding for health and social care. One figure from the report was repeated across the headlines. For the NHS to stay afloat, it would require “£2,000 in tax from every household”. Shocking stuff! The trouble with figures like this is that while there may be a sense in which this is mathematically true, that kind of framing is dangerously close to being false. If you’re sitting at a bar with a group of friends and Bill Gates walks in, the average wealth of everyone in the room makes you all millionaires. But if you try to buy the most expensive bottle of champagne in the place, your debit card will still be declined.

Similarly, the IFS calculated its “average” figures by taking the total amount it calculated the NHS would need and dividing it by the number of households in the country. That’s certainly one way of doing it – it’s not wrong per se – but in terms of informing people about the actual impact on their own finances, it’s very misleading. We have progressive taxation in this country: not every household gets an equally sized bill. Could you pay more if the government chose to cover the cost of social care through a bump in income tax? Sure, but for the vast majority of the country it would be a few hundred pounds.

That’s without engaging with the underlying assumption that a bump in income tax is the way the government will choose to go. Some people have argued that, since the last couple of decades have seen wealth accumulate disproportionately at the very top, government should tax wealth rather than income. Alternatively, researchers have shown that health spending is one of the best ways to stimulate the economy, so the government could opt against tax increases in the short term and instead let healthcare spending act as a fiscal stimulus, at least until purchasing power had increased.

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The reason why is revealing.

After China’s Waste Import Ban EU Wants To Get Rid Of Single-Use Plastics (RT)

The European Commission wants to ban single-use plastic products like disposable cutlery, straws and cotton buds to fight the plastic epidemic littering our oceans – months after China banned millions of tons of imported EU waste. The EC unveiled the market ban proposal on Monday, which included 10 items that make up 70% of all the marine litter in the EU. As well as the aforementioned items, the list includes plastic plates, drink stirrers, sticks for balloons and single-use plastic drinks containers. The crackdown comes less than six months after the EU announced its first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastic recycling following China’s ban on waste imports from Western countries.

At the end of 2017, Beijing banned the import of 24 types of waste from the US and EU and accused the nations of flouting waste standard rules. The new proposal says the ban on single-use plastic products will be in place wherever there are “readily available and affordable” alternatives. Where there aren’t “straight-forward alternatives,” the focus will be on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption. In order for the products to be sold in the EU, they will have to be made exclusively from sustainable materials. Single-use drink containers will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached.

[..] The EC’s proposal will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. It will need the approval of all EU member states and the European Parliament in order to pass – a process which could take three to four years before the rules come into force. Once fully implemented in 2030, the EC estimates that the new measures could cost businesses more than €3 billion ($3.5 billion) per year. But they could also save consumers about €6.5 billion per year, create 30,000 jobs and avoid €22 billion in environmental damage and cleanup costs.

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Resilient little bugger.

Great Barrier Reef On Sixth Life In 30,000 Years (AFP)

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, under severe stress in a warmer, more acidic ocean, has returned from near-extinction five times in the past 30,000 years, researchers said Monday. And while this suggests the reef may be more resilient than once thought, it has likely never faced an onslaught quite as severe as today, they added. “I have grave concerns about the ability of the reef in its current form to survive the pace of change caused by the many current stresses and those projected into the near future,” said Jody Webster of the University of Sydney, who co-authored a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience.

In the past, the reef shifted along the sea floor to deal with changes in its environment – either seaward or landward depending on whether the level of the ocean was rising or falling, the research team found. Based on fossil data from cores drilled into the ocean floor at 16 sites, they determined the Great Barrier Reef, or GBR for short, was able to migrate between 20 centimetres (7.9 inches) and 1.5 metres per year. This rate may not be enough to withstand the current barrage of environmental challenges. The reef “probably has not faced changes in SST (sea surface temperature) and acidification at such a rate,” Webster told AFP. Rates of change “are likely much faster now — and in future projections.”

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