Jun 222018
 
 June 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Yellow-Red-Blue 1925

 

Could China’s Next Target Be the US Housing Market? (Forsyth)
Next Central Bank Puts QE Unwind on the Calendar (WS)
Eurogroup Deal For Greece Clinched After Marathon Session (K.)
IMF Welcomes Greek Debt Deal But Has Reservations On Long-Term (R.)
Germany Has Made Over $3 Billion Profit From Greek Crisis (KTG)
Greek GDP Is Low, But Food Prices Are High (K.)
EU Is Getting Ready For No-Deal Brexit – Juncker (G.)
Multi-Decade Outsourcing Boom Comes to Sticky End in the UK (DQ)
Energy Is The Primary Driver Of The Economy (EI)
Italy To Pick Up Migrants, Impound German Charity Ship (R.)
People Donate Millions To Help Separated Families (AP)
2 Koreas Meet To Arrange Reunions Of War-Split Families (AP)
Tourism Preventing Kenya’s Cheetahs From Raising Young (G.)
India Is Facing Its Worst-Ever Water Crisis (ZH)

 

 

They can’t really sell Treasuries. MBS, though…

Could China’s Next Target Be the US Housing Market? (Forsyth)

While so much attention is focused on foreign purchases of Treasuries, the big action has been in U.S. agencies, most of which consist of mortgage-backed securities from government-sponsored Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. In April, overseas investors bought $20 billion of agencies, bringing their 12-month total to $186 billion, or over $100 billion more than Treasuries. Asia accounted for $160 billion of those purchases, including $24 billion from China. U.S. corporations also get key support for their borrowing habit from abroad. Foreign investors bought $128 billion of corporate bonds in the latest 12 months, although just $1.6 billion in April. As for equities, overseas investors bought $82 billion ($6 billion in the latest month).

The numbers show that, even more than Uncle Sam, U.S. home borrowers depend on the kindness of strangers. China could retreat from bolstering the American housing market merely not reinvesting the monthly MBS interest and principal payments, resulting in a stealth tightening of mortgage credit. The housing market is already in the doldrums, as May’s weaker-than-expected existing home sales at an annual rate of 5.43 million, 100,000 less than forecast and below April’s 5.45 million annual pace. That disappointing home sales pace comes with unemployment at just 3.8%. But with single-family home prices up 5.2% from a year ago, home sales are sluggish. A further push up in mortgage rates, already at seven-year highs, would further crimp this key sector of the U.S. economy.

Read more …

Do we see nerves there?

Next Central Bank Puts QE Unwind on the Calendar (WS)

Markets were surprised today when the Bank of England took a “hawkish” turn and announced that three out of nine members of its Monetary Policy Committee – including influential Chief Economist Andrew Haldane, who’d been considered dovish – voted to raise the Bank Rate to 0.75%, thus dissenting from the majority who kept it at 0.5%. This dissension, particularly by Haldane, communicated to the markets that a rate hike at the next meeting in August is likely. The beaten-down UK pound jumped. But less prominent was the announcement about the QE unwind. Like other central banks, the BoE heavily engaged in QE and maintains a balance sheet of £435 billion ($577 billion) of British government bonds and £10 billion ($13 billion) in UK corporate bonds that it had acquired during the Brexit kerfuffle.

Before it starts shedding assets on its balance sheet, however, the BoE wants to raise the Bank Rate enough to where it can cut it “materially” if needed, “reflecting the Committee’s preference to use Bank Rate as the primary instrument for monetary policy,” as it said. In this, it parallels the Fed. The Fed started its QE unwind in October 2017, after it had already raised its target range for the federal funds rate four times. The BoE’s previous guidance was that the QE unwind would start when the Bank Rate is “around 2%.” Back in the day when this guidance was given, NIRP had broken out all over Europe, and pundits assumed that the BoE would never be able to raise its rate to anywhere near 2%, and so the QE unwind could never happen.

Today the BoE moved down its guidance about the beginning of the QE unwind to a time when the Bank Rate is “around 1.5%.” The Fed’s target range is already between 1.75% and 2.0%. The Fed leads, other central banks follow. And by August 2, the BoE’s Bank Rate may be at 0.75%. From that point forward, the QE unwind may only be three rate hikes away.

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Many headlines talk about debt relief. But that’s not what this is. It’s just another bunch of loan extensions and a €15 billion new loan. There will be many more years of austerity and creditor oversight. No, the bailout has not been completed.

Eurogroup Deal For Greece Clinched After Marathon Session (K.)

After several hours of negotiations, Greek officials and representatives of the country’s international creditors reached an agreement on securing the sustainability of the country’s debt in the early hours of Friday. Greece is to receive a loan tranche of 15 billion euros (3.3 billion euros of which would be used to pay off part of the country’s debt to the ECB and IMF), European officials said. Greece will also get a 10-year extension for the repayment of its European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) loans and an additional grace period of 10 years on interest payments. The extension of the repayment period of the EFSF loans and the size of the final bailout tranche had been a sticking points in the talks.

These two issues were the focus of several trilateral meetings between Greek Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and his French and German counterparts, Bruno Le Maire and Olaf Scholz. At a press conference announcing the details of the deal, European Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici spoke of a “historical moment for Greece” and said a new chapter was beginning for the country. He expressed “great satisfaction” in seeing Greece emerge from eight years of financial support.

“Tonight’s Eurogroup agreement achieves what we have been calling for, a credible, upfront set of measures, which will meaningfully lighten Greece’s debt burden, allow the country to stand on its own two feet, and reassure all partners and investors,” he said. Eurogroup President Mario Centeno struck a similar note. “This is it,” he said. “After eight long years, the Greek bailout has been completed.”

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The IMF has caved on debt relief. Even though it knows it must be accorded.

IMF Welcomes Greek Debt Deal But Has Reservations On Long-Term (R.)

The IMF welcomed on Friday a deal on debt relief for Greece reached by Athens’ euro zone creditors saying it will improve debt sustainability in the medium term, but maintained reservations on the long term. Euro zone finance ministers earlier on Friday offered Greece a 10-year deferral and maturities extension on a large part of past loans as well as 15 billion euros in new credit to ensure Athens can stand on its own feet after it exits its third bailout in August. “The additional debt relief measures announced today will mitigate Greece medium-term financing risks and improve medium term debt prospects,” the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told a news conference.

But she added that the fund will not join the expiring 86-billion-euro bailout as the time “has run out”, and maintained “reservations” on the long term sustainability of the Greek debt, which runs until 2060. The fund will begin assessing the sustainability of the Greek debt “as early as next week”, Lagarde said, adding that the fund will remain engaged in Greece and will participate to the monitoring of the Greek economic performance and reforms after the end of the program.

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“Contrary to all right-wing myths, Germany has benefited massively from the crisis in Greece..”

Germany Has Made Over $3 Billion Profit From Greek Crisis (KTG)

Germany has earned around 2.9 billion euros in profit from interest rate since the first bailout for Greece in 2010. This is the official response of the Federal Government to a request submitted by the Green party in Berlin. The profit was transmitted to the central Bundesbank and from there to the federal budget. The revenues came mainly due to purchases of Greek government bonds under the so-called Securities Markets Program (SMP) of the European Central Bank (ECB). Previous agreements between the government in Athens and the eurozone states foresaw that other states will pay out the profits from this program to Greece if Athens would meet all the austerity and reform requirements.

However, according to Berlin’s response, only in 2013 and 2014 such funds have been transferred to the Greek State and the ESM. The money to the euro bailout landed on a seggregated account. As the Federal Government announced, the Bundesbank achieved by 2017 about 3.4 billion euros in interest gains from the SMP purchases. In 2013, approximately 527 million euros were transferred back to Greece and around 387 million to the ESM in 2014. Therefore, the overall profit is 2.5 billion euros. In addition, there are interest profits of 400 million euros from a loan from the state bank KfW.

“Contrary to all right-wing myths, Germany has benefited massively from the crisis in Greece,” said Greens household expert Sven Christian Kindler said and demanded a debt relief for Greece. “It can not be that the federal government with billions of revenues from the Greek interest the German budget recapitalize,” Kindler criticized. “Greece has saved hard and kept its commitments, now the Eurogroup must keep its promise,” he stressed.

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And here’s why the Greek recovery story is simply falsehood.

Greek GDP Is Low, But Food Prices Are High (K.)

Greeks may be among the poorest citizens in the European Union, but that does not mean low prices for basic products and services in this country. According to figures published on Wednesday by Eurostat, Greece was the 17th most expensive country among the 28 EU member-states last year, with the general price level standing at 84 percent of the EU average. However, in the most basic category – food – price levels in Greece stood above the bloc’s average, having a significant negative impact on living standards. Eurostat figures had shown on Tuesday that the per capita GDP in Greece in 2017 amounted to just 67 percent of the EU average, while real private consumption stood 23 percent below the EU mean rate.

A key role in food prices remaining at such high levels – in spite of the decade-long crisis – has been played by a succession of hikes in the value-added tax: From a 9 percent rate on food imposed in 2009, many food products now bear a VAT rate of 24 percent, making Greece the 13th most expensive country for food across the bloc. High indirect taxes also explain the particularly high prices in tobacco and alcoholic beverages in Greece, which make this country the 12th most expensive in the EU in this category.

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A hard Brexit will be very unpretty. Airbus talked today about moving 14,000 jobs out of the UK. And they won’t be the last.

EU Is Getting Ready For No-Deal Brexit – Juncker (G.)

The EU needs to be realistic about the dangerous state of the Brexit negotiations and is preparing to deploy its trillion-pound budget to cushion the bloc from the prospect of a no-deal scenario, the European commission president has warned. With the two sides still far apart on the “hardest issues”, just days from a crunch leaders’ summit in Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker told the Irish parliament on Thursday he was stepping up preparations for a breakdown in talks, and even drafting plans aimed at keeping the peace in Northern Ireland. The problem of avoiding a hard border with the Republic – said by the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, to be akin to a “riddle wrapped in an enigma” – is threatening to thwart all attempts to make progress on a wider deal.

With Theresa May refusing to countenance what Juncker described as the bloc’s “bespoke and workable solution”, of the Northern Ireland effectively staying in the customs union and single market, it was crucial for the 27 EU member states to prepare for the worst outcome, the commission president said. Juncker told Irish MPs and senators in a joint session of parliament in Dublin: “With pragmatism comes realism. As the clock to Brexit ticks down, we must prepare for every eventuality, including no deal. This is neither a desired nor a likely outcome. But it is not an impossible one. And we are getting ready just in case.

“We will use all the tools at our disposal, which could have a cushioning impact. The new long-term budget for our union from 2021 onwards has an in-built flexibility that could allow us to redirect funds if the situation arose. “We will also earmark €120m (£105m) for a new peace programme which has done so much in breaking down barriers between communities in Northern Ireland and the border counties.”

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More things coming to an end in Britain.

Multi-Decade Outsourcing Boom Comes to Sticky End in the UK (DQ)

The United Kingdom, widely considered to be the birthplace of the modern incarnation of the public-private partnership (PPP), in which private firms are contracted to complete and manage public projects, could be one of the first countries to jettison the model. The collapse in January of 200-year old UK infrastructure group Carillion, whose outsized role in delivering public services earned it the moniker “the company that runs Britain,” has fueled concerns that other big outsourcing groups could soon follow in its doomed footsteps. Last week the CEO of Interserve, another large outsourcing group, revealed that the government has given the firm a red rating as a strategic supplier, meaning it has “significant material concerns” about the company’s finances.

Fears are growing that Carillion was not a one-off episode but rather the swan song of a deeply flawed and dying business model. Those fears were hardly assuaged by the release this week of a damning parliamentary report into the UK government’s practice of outsourcing public projects through so-called Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs). PFI deals were invented in 1992 by the Conservative government and then enthusiastically rolled out by the subsequent Labour government. The schemes usually involved large-scale public buildings such as new schools and hospitals which were previously funded by the UK Treasury. Under PFI they were put out to tender with bids invited from developers who put up the investment to build new schools, hospitals or other schemes and then leased them back.

[..] The Treasury’s incapacity to measure the actual benefits of PFI should be of grave concern to British taxpayers given that the interest rate of private-sector debt — these projects are debt financed — can be as much as 2 to 3.75 percentage points higher than the cost of government borrowing. Even if the government doesn’t enter into any new PFI-type deals, it will pay private companies £199 billion, including interest, between April 2017 until the 2040s for existing deals, in addition to some £110 billion already paid. That’s for 700 projects worth around £60 billion. British taxpayers could clearly “get a much better deal,” the report concludes.

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John Lounsbury posted this talk by Steve from late 2016 again. And why not? Economics denies the role of energy…

Energy Is The Primary Driver Of The Economy (EI)

Economic theory has failed to incorporate the role of energy in production for two centuries since the Physiocrats, according to Prof. Steve Keen. In this video he derives a production function that includes energy in an essential manner. It implies that economic growth has been driven by the increase in the energy throughput capabilities of machinery. Prof. Keen argues that all economic gain can be traced to the use of energy which we receive at no cost from the sun. Capital and labor participate in the economy only by use of this energy.

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The Dutch play a strange role in this.

Italy To Pick Up Migrants, Impound German Charity Ship (R.)

Italy appeared to relent on Thursday after at first refusing to accept 226 migrants on board a German charity rescue ship, saying later in the day it would take them in but would impound the vessel. Anti-immigrant interior minister Matteo Salvini initially said the Dutch-flagged ship Lifeline should take the people it plucked from the Mediterranean to the Netherlands and not Italy. But transport minister Danilo Toninelli, who oversees the coastguard, later said it was unsafe for the 32-metre vessel to travel such a great distance with so many people on board. “We will assume the humanitarian generosity and responsibility to save these people and take them onto Italian coastguard ships,” Toninelli said in a video posted on Facebook.

Earlier this month Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships bring rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven. The Dutch government denied responsibility for the vessel, something Toninelli said Italy would investigate. The Italian coastguard would escort Lifeline “to an Italian port to conduct the probe” and impound the ship, he said. Also on Thursday, the German charity Sea Eye which operates another Dutch-flagged ship, the Seefuchs, said in a statement it was ending its sea rescue mission after the Dutch government told them that it was no longer responsible for the vessel.

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Please make sure it’s spent well.

People Donate Millions To Help Separated Families (AP)

In an outpouring of concern prompted by images and audio of children crying for their parents, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are donating to nonprofit organizations to help families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Among those that have generated the most attention is a fundraiser on Facebook started by a Silicon Valley couple, who say they felt compelled to help after they saw a photograph of a Honduran toddler sobbing as her mother was searched by a U.S. border patrol agent. The fundraiser started by David and Charlotte Willner had collected nearly $14 million by Wednesday afternoon.

The Willners, who have a 2-year-old daughter, set up the “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” fundraiser on Saturday hoping to collect $1,500 — enough for one detained immigrant parent to post bond — but money began pouring in and within days people had donated $5 million to help immigrant families separated under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. “What started out as a hope to help one person get reunited with their family has turned into a movement that will help countless people,” the couple said in a statement released by a spokeswoman Wednesday. The couple, who were early employees at Facebook, declined to be interviewed.

“Regardless of political party, so many of us are distraught over children being separated from their parents at the border.” The money collected from more than 300,000 people in the United States and around the world will be given to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, a Texas nonprofit that that offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrants.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in doesn’t sit still.

2 Koreas Meet To Arrange Reunions Of War-Split Families (AP)

North and South Korean officials are meeting to arrange the first reunions in three years between families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War. Friday’s meeting at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rivals take reconciliation steps amid a diplomatic push to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the meeting will discuss ways to carry out an agreement on the reunions made at a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two summits between Kim and Moon have opened various channels of peace talks between the Koreas, including military talks for reducing tensions across their tense border and sports talks for fielding combined teams at the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.

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Even if we don’t shoot them, we find other ways to kill them off.

Tourism Preventing Kenya’s Cheetahs From Raising Young (G.)

High levels of tourism can lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of cheetahs able to raise their young to independence, new research has found. A study in Kenya’s Maasai Mara savannah found that in areas with a high density of tourist vehicles, the average number of cubs a mother cheetah raised to independence was just 0.2 cubs per litter – less than a tenth of the 2.3 cubs per litter expected in areas with low tourism. Dr Femke Broekhuis, a researcher at Oxford University and the author of the study, surveyed cheetahs in the reserve between 2013 and 2017 to assess how the frequency of tourist vehicles affected the number of cheetah cubs that survived to adulthood.

“During the study there was no hard evidence of direct mortality caused by tourists,” such as vehicles accidentally running over cubs, Broekhuis said. “It is therefore possible that tourists have an indirect effect on cub survival by changing a cheetah’s behaviour, increasing a cheetah’s stress levels or by minimising food consumption.” Broekhuis said she has seen as many as 30 vehicles around a single cheetah at the same time. “The most vehicles that we recorded at a cheetah sighting was 64 vehicles over a two-hour period,” she said.

Too many tourist vehicles can reduce a cheetah’s hunting success rate, the study suggests, and even if the hunt is successful, the disturbance from tourists could cause a female to abandon her kill, making her less likely to be able to provide for her young. Broekhuis said it was “crucial that strict wildlife viewing guidelines are implemented and adhered to,” and suggested limiting the number of vehicles around a cheetah to five and not allowing them to get any closer than 30 metres.

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The shape of things to come.

India Is Facing Its Worst-Ever Water Crisis (ZH)

India is facing its worst-ever water crisis, with some 600 million people facing acute water shortage, a government think-tank says. The Niti Aayog report, which draws on data from 24 of India’s 29 states, says the crisis is “only going to get worse” in the years ahead. Around 200,000 Indians die every year because they have no access to clean water, according to the report. And as The BBC reports, many end up relying on private water suppliers or tankers paid for the by the government. Winding queues of people waiting to collect water from tankers or public taps is a common sight in Indian slums. Indian cities and towns regularly run out water in the summer because they lack the infrastructure to deliver piped water to every home.

• 600 million people face high-to-extreme water stress. • 75% of households do not have drinking water on premise. 84% rural households do not have piped water access. • 70% of our water is contaminated; India is currently ranked 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index. India faces more than one problem – all compounding the nation’s crisis: Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers (~53% of agriculture in India is rainfed17). When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year.

Interstate disagreements are on the rise, with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance. And that means massive problems lie ahead… 40% of the Indian population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 with 21 cities running out of groundwater by 2020 – affecting 100 million people which will cut 6% from GDP by 2050. What remains alarming is that the states that are ranked the lowest – such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in the north or Bihar and Jharkhand in the east – are also home to nearly half of India’s population as well the bulk of its agricultural produce.

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Jan 212018
 
 January 21, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Francisco Goya The Dog 1819-23

 

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)
Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)
Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)
China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)
China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)
Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)
Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)
Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)
In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)
Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)
Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)
15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

 

 

Let it go down; why maintain the illusion that the system functions?

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)

The US Senate is due back in session to try to end a budget impasse before the start of the working week when the shutdown of many federal services will be felt around the country. Hundreds of thousands of federal staff face the prospect of unpaid leave. On Saturday, recriminations flew around over the Senate’s failure to pass a new budget and prevent the shutdown. A bill to fund the federal government for the coming weeks did not receive the required 60 votes by Friday. The Republican leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said there will be a vote at 01:00 in the early hours of Monday (06:00 GMT) on a bill to fund the government until 8 February. The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days.

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

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No gloating.

Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)

Donald Trump was set to be the first U.S. president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in nearly two decades, but the government shutdown might have scrambled those plans. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that Trump’s plans to travel to Davos next week are up in the air while Congress scrambles to strike a deal to fund the federal government. “We’re taking Davos, from the president’s perspective and the Cabinet’s perspective, on a day-by-day basis,” Mulvaney told reporters during an impromptu briefing. The government shut down at midnight Friday, after congressional negotiators failed to pass a budget.

Earlier in the day, Trump cancelled a planned trip to Florida, where he was scheduled to host a party at his private Mar-a-Lago club to mark the one year anniversary of his inauguration. Tickets for the Mar-a-Lago party begin at $100,000 per couple, and proceeds will benefit the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. On Saturday, RNC staffers were busy setting up TV screens in the private club, so Trump could address the guests via satellite, according to CNN. The budget impasse showed no signs of letting up on Saturday, as both Democrats and Republicans dug their heels in, and each party blamed the other. The president is scheduled to depart for Switzerland on Wednesday, along with a delegation of more than a dozen Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top White House aides.

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They have to release it, no choice.

Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)

One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, The Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues. We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four-page memo alleging abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spying processes during the 2016 election.

This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material. The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.” This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.” Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself.

The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes — or anyone else — are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

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Don’t worry, the shadow banks will.

China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)

The People’s Bank of China has ordered financial institutions to stop providing banking or funding to any activity related to cryptocurrencies, further tightening the noose since its shutdown of crypto exchanges last September sent digital currency enthusiasts fleeing overseas. “Every bank and branch must carry out self-inspection and rectification, starting from today,” according to a document issued by the central bank on Wednesday. “Service for cryptocurrency trading is strictly prohibited. Effective measures should be adopted to prevent payment channels from being used for cryptocurrency settlement.” The Chinese-language document, as seen by the South China Morning Post, was distributed as an internal document among banks, and not published on the central bank’s official website.

“Banks should enhance their daily transaction monitoring, and the timely shut down of the payment channel once they discover any suspected trading of cryptocurrencies,” the document said, adding that the deadline for disclosing the measures is on January 20. The emphasis was on handling any capital settlement to avoid any financial losses by cryptocurrency investors from escalating into public protests – known as “group events” in China – and preserve social stability, the central bank said. [..] Chinese cryptocurrency traders, who once dominated 90 per cent of the world’s trading volume of bitcoin, the most popular and oldest form of cryptocurrency, have moved to the underground market, or overseas to Japan. Bitcoin is considered legal tender in Japan.

“Most of the trading is taking place via US dollar now, as some big accounts active in digital currency trading are already on China’s official watch list and payment channel already blocked,” said Zhao Dong, an individual bitcoin investor who spends most of his time in Japan now. “This move by the PBOC is further pushing capital and innovation out of China.” Still, a person no less than Zhou Xiaochuan, the longest-serving governor in the Chinese central bank, has himself announced that the People’s Bank of China itself is studying the feasibility of developing its own digital currency.

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As does Russia.

China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)

China’s National Defense Ministry said the U.S. should abandon a “Cold War” mindset and view Chinese national security and military efforts “rationally and objectively.” The instigators of militarization of the South China Sea are “other countries” that don’t seem to want to see peace in the region and are using the banner of “navigational freedom” to undertake military activities in a tyrannical manner, ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement released late Saturday. The statement was in response to a U.S. Defense Department strategy report, released last week, that singled out China’s military modernization and expansion in the South China Sea as key threats to U.S. power.

China has undertaken massive land reclamation in the contested waterway that hosts $5 trillion in trade a year, to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area. That has strained ties with other claimant states, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. The National Defence ministry’s statement on Saturday came shortly after China’s Foreign Ministry vowed to take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty after a U.S. warship entered waters surrounding the Huangyan Island in the South China Sea. China’s activities in the South China Sea is “a matter within China’s sovereign rights,” Ren said, adding that the country is committed to a path of peaceful development and a harmonious world order.

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A good point not particularly well made.

Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)

Brexit, at its heart, is a recognition that Britain has become steadily weaker since it spent much of its empire wealth fighting two world wars – too feeble in the years before the 2016 referendum to sustain an exchange rate of $1.60 and €1.40, just as it was too poor to cope with $4 to the pound in the 1950s and $2 to the pound in 1992. Manufacturers were unable to make things cheaply, reliably or efficiently enough against the headwind of a high-value currency, forcing many to give up. An economy that boasted 20% of its income coming from manufacturing in the 1980s found it was the source of barely 10% at the beginning of this decade.

Surges in GDP growth in the 70 years since the war can be attributed (and this short list makes the point crudely) to periods when there were cheap raw materials and energy costs; or a growing population; or foreign ownership and management of key industries; or the offloading of vast amounts of state and mutually owned assets; or cheap borrowing. Without these in operation to improve the UK’s performance, a lower exchange rate became inevitable. Some Brexit campaigners made a cheaper currency their explicit aim, arguing that while Britain’s wealth and standing in the world would be diminished in the short term, the breathing space given to manufacturers would allow them to sell abroad at cheaper prices, then use the funds to invest and gain the efficiencies needed to cope with a return to a higher exchange rate sometime in the next decade.

There is a good deal of logic to the argument, but it rests, like so many revolutionary aims, on the many and competing forces in the economy doing exactly what its proponents want them to. For instance, manufacturers, with a few honourable exceptions, have refused to invest more than the bare minimum for decades, even when the exchange rate has helped them. There are windfall profits to be made when currencies fall: but these windfalls have been trousered by shareholders, not invested.

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Little emperor.

Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has said it would be possible for Britain to secure a bespoke trade deal but only if the UK accepts certain “preconditions”. The French president said that while a special solution could be secured, full access to the single market without accepting its rules was “not feasible”. The comments were made during an interview recorded for BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Macron has been in the UK for his first visit since taking office. On Thursday, at the end of a joint press conference with Theresa May at Sandhurst military training college, he rejected the idea of a tailored Brexit deal for Britain’s financial services sector. Macron said full access to EU markets would not be possible unless the UK paid into the EU budget and accepted all its rules.

In the interview with Marr, he said there was “a competition between different countries” to attract financial services companies in the future and that France wanted “to attract the maximum activity”. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said he is seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” arrangement, based on the EU-Canada trade treaty, but with additional access for services. However, EU negotiators have stressed that Britain would not be allowed to “cherry-pick” sectors. Pressed on whether there would be a bespoke special solution for the UK, Macron said: “Sure, but … this special way should be consistent with the preservation of the single market and our collective interests. “And you should understand that you cannot, by definition, have the full access to the single market if you don’t tick the box.” He added: “So it’s something perhaps between this full access and a trade agreement.”

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It’s starting to feel like Stockholm Syndrome.

Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)

Eurozone finance ministers are to meet in Brussels on Monday to assess Greece’s progress in enforcing economic reforms, decide whether to disburse 6.7 billion euros in bailout loans and, Athens hopes, signal talks on debt relief. It was unclear if the loan tranche would be disbursed in its entirety, as some prior actions are pending. However, Greek officials sounded upbeat following a decision late on Friday by Standard & Poor’s to raise Greece’s sovereign credit rating from B- to B with a positive outlook. “Greece’s growth and fiscal outlooks have improved alongside a labor market recovery and amid a period of relative policy certainty,” S&P said.

“These positive developments boost the sense that the trust of the markets and investors in the Greek economy is being restored with steady steps,” the Finance Ministry said on Saturday. “With the conclusion of the program in August 2018 and the securing of steady access to the markets, the Greek economy is definitely moving away from a long period of crisis.” Despite the upbeat rhetoric, there are divisions within SYRIZA over government policies, particularly in the radical Group of 53 faction. In comments to SYRIZA’s central committee on Saturday, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos conceded that there are “many short-term problems” and underlined two major risks. “One is the banks and the other is the IMF,” he said.

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Nice. Kiwis believe in fairy tales.

In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)

Ask Tourism New Zealand what 100% Pure means and they’ll tell you: it’s not a ‘clean, green’ campaign, but a campaign that delivers a “100% Pure New Zealand experience”. What it is is 100% pure advertising, and a slogan fit to replace the fertiliser used in the country’s intensive farming. But while Kiwis do seem to be realising there’s something murky about our clean-green image, there is one area we are still fooling ourselves about – the state of our native creatures. Stuff has just wrapped up its Forgotten Species series, a five-part series looking at a handful of the estimated 3700 native species which are either approaching extinction or at risk. Despite having one of the highest proportions of threatened or endangered species of anywhere on the planet, 70% of the public feel the state of our country’s natives is adequate or doing well, according to a recent Lincoln University study.

Ask study co-author Ross Cullen and he will tell you – 70% of the public is “totally wrong”. All countries advertise, and everyone accepts it with a pinch of salt. If we didn’t we would all be jetting off to England expecting a village in the Cotswolds and end up at a sleazy pub in Plumstead, east London. Advertising is advertising, and good advertising brings in tourism money. However, when the public believes its own advertising, it’s no longer advertising, it’s propaganda –and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because if the populace think something’s going well, they ignore it, the political hot-potato cools, and the decline continues. Case in point – the National Government’s Minister for Conservation, Maggie Barry, paraded the new Threatened Species Strategy in front of voters just as the 2017 general election was heating up.

It promised to increase the number of at-risk species directly managed by 40%. On the face of it, this seems great, but when the Budget was released a couple of weeks later, almost all of DOC’s extra funding was ring-fenced for upgrading tourism infrastructure and developing new Great Walks. It was a great ad delivered by a great ex-garden show host. Kiwis might have kicked up a fuss – if the majority didn’t think we were doing a bang up job on protecting native species already. I remember a telling moment after ex-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s launched her report finding 80% of native birds were threatened. I was present to hear why Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts didn’t fancy this was a problem. “The people come here for our scenery, not our wildlife,” he said. Roberts didn’t disagree with any of the report’s findings, he just thought a visitor levy would do more harm to the country than the rapid die-off of our native birds.

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Depression zone. I went from Athens to Amsterdam 5 weeks ago, lost 2 hours of daylight to begin with, and been dead tired ever since. Vitamin D doesn’t do it either.

Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)

Sunshine is in short supply across a swathe of north-west Europe, shrouded in heavy cloud from a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems since late November and suffering one of its darkest winters since records began. If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January. “Sound the alarm and announce the disappearance,” read a despairing headline in photon-deprived northern France’s regional paper, La Voix du Nord. “A star has been kidnapped. We still have no sign of life from the sun.”

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute has declared December 2017 “the second darkest month since 1887”, when it began measuring, after the 10.5 hours of sun recorded at its Uccle weather station last month were beaten only by a bare 9.3 hours in 1934. France’s northern Hauts-de-France region did better with 26 hours of sunshine in December, but that was against a norm of 48. But Météo France described the paltry 2.7 hours of sun recorded from 1 to 13 January in Lille, the region’s biggest city, as “exceptional”. The January average stands at 61.4 hours, according to the agency – meaning Lille and its unfortunate residents were deprived of perhaps 30 hours’ worth of rays in the first part of the month.

[..] Even southern French sun-traps such as Bordeaux and Marseille fell a very long way short of their usual ray quota in the first half of the month, basking in just 10.3 and 26.9 hours respectively against monthly averages of 96 and 92.5. Health experts say a shortage of sunshine can lead to seasonal depression, whose symptoms include a lack of energy, a desire to sleep and a perceived need to consume greater quantities of sugar and fat. “Exposure to morning light inhibits the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep and favours the production of hormones that will stimulate the body,” Matthieu Hein, a psychiatrist at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, said. In the absence of light, we are “rather slow, tired, which is characteristic of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder”. Florent Durand, who runs a massage studio in Lille, told France 3 TV that his €39 light therapy sessions were booked out.

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As Turkey bombs US supported Kurds, Erdogan feels like a god.

Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to curb human trafficking across the Aegean appears to be in jeopardy again after a top Turkish official warned that a current impasse with the EU gives Ankara no reason to honor the deal. A collapse of the deal would put more pressure on Greek islands where thousands of migrants are cooped up in overcrowded reception centers. The comments on Friday by Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, essentially rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a partnership rather than full EU membership for Turkey. “A privileged partnership or similar approaches, we don’t take any of these seriously. Turkey cannot be offered such a thing,” Celik told Reuters.

Celik said the EU was not fully honoring its part of the migration deal, noting that financial aid was “not working well” and that no new chapters have been opened in Turkey’s EU accession bid. “Technically there’s no reason for Turkey to maintain this deal,” he said. The minister’s words echoed those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, during a landmark visit to Greece in December, hit out at the EU for giving Turkey just a portion of the aid it had pledged as part of the 2016 migrant deal. During Erdogan’s visit, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed that Turkey take back migrants from facilities on the Greek mainland to free up space for migrants from overcrowded camps on the islands. Erdogan did not publicly respond to the suggestion.

After Celik’s comments on Friday, a spokesman for the Greek Migration Ministry said the government’s position, that all sides must honor the Turkey-EU deal, remained “fixed and firm.” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Lesvos on Friday, together with Valentin Radev, the interior minister of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mouzalas reassured local residents, who had gathered at the Moria facility, that measures would be taken to ensure that migrants alleged to have been involved in thefts or other offenses will no longer be allowed to leave the premises. Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said the minister was not doing enough to adequately inform residents and was shifting the blame for the situation on the islands on to local authorities.

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New year, same old lack of humanity.

15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

Fifteen Syrian refugees – some of them children – have been found frozen to death while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. Thirteen bodies were found on Friday and two more were discovered on Saturday after the area was hit by a fierce snowstorm. Lebanese civil defence officials found the bodies after being told a group of refugees were in trouble near Masnaa. Local reports say the group had been abandoned by smugglers. Two smugglers have reportedly been arrested.

Several refugees were rescued, including a young boy who was found wandering by himself. The group were taking the same route hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken before them trying to flee the conflict at home. Lebanon, with a population of four million, has taken in nearly one million Syrians since the war began in 2011. The Lebanese authorities brought in new restrictions in 2015 to try to restrict the number of refugees arriving in the country.

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Aug 142015
 
 August 14, 2015  Posted by at 10:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 14 2015


G. G. Bain Katherine Stinson, “the flying schoolgirl,” Sheepshead Bay Speedway, Brooklyn 1918

Greek Parliament Approves Bailout Deal (Guardian)
Greek Bailout On A Tightrope – Again (CNBC)
China Halts Yuan Devaluation With Slight Official Rise Against US Dollar (AFP)
The Economic Wizards Of Beijing Have Feet Of Clay After All (Guardian)
China Denies Currency War As Global Steel Industry Cries Foul (AEP)
China and the Danger Of An Open Currency War (Paul Mason)
China’s Devaluation Becomes Japan’s Problem (Pesek)
Why The Yuan May Deck Singapore Property Stocks (CNBC)
Greece Creditors Raise ‘Serious Concerns’ About Spiralling Debt (Guardian)
Greece To Get €6 Billion In Bridge Loans If No Agreement At Eurogroup (Reuters)
Greece Crisis Proves The Need For A Currency Plan B (John Butler, Cobden)
Greeks Taste Breadth Of Bailout In Loaf And Lotion Rules (Guardian)
European Union Backs IMF View Over Greece – Then Ignores It (Guardian)
Total U.S. Auto Lending Surpasses $1 Trillion for First Time (WSJ)
Surge in Global Commercial Real-Estate Prices Stirs Bubble Worries (WSJ)
Glencore: World Of Big Mining Agog At Huge Fall (Guardian)
The Junk Bond Market ‘Is Having A Coronary’: David Rosenberg (CNBC)
‘I Will Leave Politics And Return To Comedy’: Beppe Grillo (Local.it)
World without Water: The Dangerous Misuse of Our Most Valuable Resource (Spiegel)
Greece Sends Cruise Ship To Ease Kos Migrant Crisis (Guardian)
Mediterranean: Saving Lives at the World’s Most Dangerous Border (Spiegel)

Talk about a Pyrrhic victory.

Greek Parliament Approves Bailout Deal (Guardian)

After a tumultuous, often ill-tempered and at times surreal all-night debate, Greek MPs voted early on Friday to approve a new multibillion euro bailout deal aimed at keeping their debt-stricken country afloat. With his ruling leftist Syriza party apparently heading for a formal split over the €85bn package, prime minister Alexis Tsipras needed the support of the opposition to win parliament’s backing for the bill in a 9.45am vote which the government eventually won by a comfortable margin. But controversial former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis voted against the punishing terms of the deal, along with a large number of Syriza rebels angered by what they said was a sell-out of the party’s principles and a betrayal of its promises, leaving Tsipras severely weakened.

Tsipras told MPs before the vote that the rescue package was a “necessary choice” for the nation, saying it faced a battle to avert the threat of a bridge loan – which he called a return to a “crisis without end” – that Greece may be offered instead of a full-blown bailout. The draft bailout must now be approved by other eurozone member states at a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Friday afternoon, and ratified by national parliaments in a number of countries – including Germany, which remains sceptical – before a first tranche can be disbursed that will allowing Greece to make a crucial €3.2bn payment to the ECB due on 20 August. The Athens parliament did not start debating the 400-page text of the draft bailout plan until nearly 4am after parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, a Syriza hardliner, ignored Tsipras’s request to speed up proceedings and instead raised a lengthy series of procedural questions and objections.

[..] On the left, former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis, who leads a rebel bloc of around a quarter of Syriza’s 149 MPs, pledged to “smash the eurozone dictatorship”, while in her concluding pre-vote remarks, Konstantopoulou announced: “I am not going to support the prime minister any more.” Earlier, the government spokeswoman, Olga Gerovasili, conceded divisions within the leftist party, which swept to victory in January’s elections on a staunch anti-austerity platform, were now so deep that a formal split was probably inevitable. Tsipras could call fresh elections as early as next month.

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Time for Dijsselbloem to screw up one last time.

Greek Bailout On A Tightrope – Again (CNBC)

Greece’s third bailout is back in the hands of euro zone finance ministers, who are meeting Friday to discuss whether to go ahead with the deal – or delay it. The baton has been passed on to Brussels after the Greek government, which had debated the reforms that need to be introduced to secure the much needed funds through the night, secured enough votes to pass the bailout bill. However, further uncertainty was heaped on the bailout process with reports from Reuters that left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras seeking a vote of confidence from the parliament after August 20. The Eurogroup of finance ministers will be meeting in Brussels to debate the latest developments.

“It’s obvious we have to sign (a bailout deal) and we have to implement this agreement,” Kostas Chrysogonos, a Syriza member of the European parliament (MEP) told CNBC Friday following the Greek vote, saying that he hoped a deal would be completed at the Eurogroup meeting later today. A confidence vote was the last thing Greece needed right now, he added, so soon after Tsipras was elected in January. “I’m hopeful that many of the dissenters will resign their parliamentary seats…and the confidence vote will be enough to gain the confidence of the parliament for this government. It’s obvious that the last thing that we need right now is a general election, a country that stands at the edge of default cannot afford the luxury of having a second general election within eight months.”

Although the country and its international lenders and those overseeing the program have agreed technical details, a political agreement in the euro zone by member state governments is now necessary before any aid is release. But that is easier said than done with tensions running high both in Greece and Germany, Greece’s largest euro zone lender, over the bailout. This raises the possibility that the bailout deal could be delayed and Greece issued a bridging loan to tide it over. In Greece, members of parliament debated the third bailout package through the night after a long delay to the proceedings due to procedural objections saw the plenary session only get underway at 2am local time (midnight London time).

The vote on the bailout deal finally started at 7.30 London time with the government securing enough votes – 222 votes to 64 – to get the bailout approved. Tensions were running high in the Greek parliament, with high profile members of the ruling Syriza party, including former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, opposing the deal which involves more austerity, spending cuts and reforms. After the bailout was voted through the Greek parliament, Reuters, quoting a government official, said that Tsipras will seek a confidence vote in the Greek parliament after the August 20 deadline for payment to the ECB. A government spokesman told CNBC that he could not confirm the Reuters report but was expecting a statement shortly.

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Wait till Monday.

China Halts Yuan Devaluation With Slight Official Rise Against US Dollar (AFP)

China’s central bank has raised the value of the yuan against the US dollar by 0.05%, ending three days of falls in a surprise series of devaluations. The daily reference rate was set at 6.3975 yuan to $1.0, from 6.4010 the previous day, the China Foreign Exchange Trade System said. That was also slightly stronger than Thursday’s close of 6.3982 yuan. The higher fixing for the yuan came after the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) sought to reassure financial markets by pledging to seek a stable currency after a shock devaluation of nearly 2% on Tuesday.

The cut, and two subsequent reductions, rattled global financial markets – raising questions over the health of the world’s second-largest economy and sparking fears of a possible currency war. Beijing said the move was the result of switching to a more market-oriented method of calculating the daily reference rate which sets the value of the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB). Previously authorities based the rate on a poll of market-makers, but will now also take into account the previous day’s close, foreign exchange supply and demand and the rates of major currencies. The yuan is still only allowed to fluctuate up or down 2% on either side of the reference rate.

“Currently there is no basis for the renminbi exchange rate to continue to depreciate,” PBoC assistant governor Zhang Xiaohui said on Thursday. “The central bank has the ability to keep the renminbi basically stable at a reasonable and balanced level,” she said. Speaking earlier this week another PBoC official said the central bank could directly intervene in the market, after reports it bought yuan on Wednesday to prop up the unit. “The central bank, if necessary, is fully capable of stabilising the exchange rate through direct intervention in the foreign exchange market,” PBoC economist Ma Jun said.

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“..the deputy governor of its central bank was forced to hold a press conference at which he insisted this was all part of a grand plan.”

The Economic Wizards Of Beijing Have Feet Of Clay After All (Guardian)

The economic wizards of Beijing have feet of clay after all. That’s the growing sense after China’s currency fell for a third day and the deputy governor of its central bank was forced to hold a press conference at which he insisted this was all part of a grand plan. Zhang Xiaohui didn’t quite say “devaluation, what devaluation?” just as Jim Callaghan never quite said “crisis, what crisis?” during the Winter of Discontent. Both men were intent on showing that their governments were fully in control even though they were not. For UK politicians in the 1970s this was a familiar sensation; for China’s mandarins it is an entirely new experience. Over the past 30 years, the technocrats in Beijing have attained an almost mythical status.

Decade after decade of rapid growth has transformed China into the world’s second biggest economy, slashing poverty at the same time. There was much admiration – and not a little envy – in the west for the way in which communist party officials quickly lifted China out of recession following the financial crisis of 2008. The fact that policymaking was so opaque added to the mystique. But those golden days are now over. Beijing wanted to rebalance the Chinese economy, to make growth less focused on exports and more reliant on consumer spending. It wanted slower but more sustainable growth that gradually took the heat out of overvalued property and share prices.

This is proving difficult. Official figures understate the speed at which the economy is slowing. As fears of a hard landing have increased, policymakers have started to panic. Beijing botched attempts at shoring up the stock market, a move that was unnecessary given that the fall of 30% had been preceded by a rise of 150%. Now the attempts to reduce the value of the yuan are being conducted in an equally ham-fisted fashion. It won’t really wash that the events of this week are a carefully thought-out liberalisation plan that will persuade the IMF to include the yuan in its reserve assets known as special drawing rights.

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“China’s share of global steel output has rocketed from 10pc to 50pc over the last decade.” American and European steel industries can say goodbye.

China Denies Currency War As Global Steel Industry Cries Foul (AEP)

Chinese steelmakers are preparing to flood the global market with cut-price exports as they take advantage of this week’s shock devaluation of the yuan, setting off furious protests from struggling competitors in Europe and the US. It is the first warning sign of a deflationary wave of cheap products from China after the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, abandoned its exchange rate regime, letting the currency fall in the steepest three-day drop since the country emerged as an economic powerhouse. The yuan has fallen 3.3pc against the dollar. Steel mills in the Chinese industrial hub of Hebei have already begun to trim prices of rebar mesh-wires used for building by between roughly $5 and $10 to $295, citing the devaluation as a fresh chance to offload excess stocks of steel.

Europe’s steel lobby Eurofer warned that there would be “very real competitiveness impacts” for European steel firms, already battling for their lives with wafer-thin margins. America’s United Steelworkers accused China of predatory practices.”It is time for China to live by the rules or face the consequences,” said the union’s international president, Leo Gerard. The US steel group Nucor called the devaluation the “latest attempt to support Chinese industry at the expense of producers in the rest of the world who have to earn their cost of capital to survive.” Indian tyre-makers have issued their own warnings, fearing a fresh rush of cheap imports from China. They are already grappling with a 100pc surge in shipments over the last year as the recession in China’s car industry displaces excess supply.

The anger is a foretaste of what China may face if this week’s devaluation is the start of a concerted effort to gain market share in a depressed global economy. Yet it is far from clear whether Beijing really has such an intention. The People’s Bank of China insisted on Thursday that the drop in the yuan was a one-off effect as the country shifts to a more market-friendly exchange regime, essentially a managed float. It described the sudden drop as “irrational” and said reports of a plot to drive down the yuan by 10pc were “nonsense”. China’s share of global steel output has rocketed from 10pc to 50pc over the last decade. It has installed capacity of 1.1bn tonnes a year that it cannot possibly absorb as the Chinese economy shifts away from heavy industry.

It now has 340m tonnes of excess capacity, which has driven down global steel prices by 40pc since early 2014. “This overcapacity alone is more than double the EU’s steel demand, and China is now exporting record quantities to Europe as a result,” said Eurofer.

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“..another way of looking at QE is as an undeclared currency war – which is exactly how China sees it.”

China and the Danger Of An Open Currency War (Paul Mason)

China has stunned the world by devaluing its currency twice in two days. Or rather it has stunned that naive part of the world that believed China’s economy was okay, that its Communist Party was en route to being some kind of team player in the global economy, and that the words “currency war” were just scaremongering. Here’s what’s happened, and why it matters. China’s economy, which grew at 9% and above per year in the period of rapid industrialisation in the 2000s, has slowed to 7%. Because the entire control system of the conomy is based on one bureaucrat lying to/competing with another, nobody really knows whether the Chinese growth figures are correct – but there’s been a clear slowdown.

That, in turn, caused a stock market slump last month – after more than a year of ordinary Chinese people pouring money into shares. So the government tried to contain by ordering state owned stockbrokers to buy RMB 120bn worth of shares, setting a stock market “target level” reminiscent of the old Soviet grain targets. Now, with growth continuing to falter, the Chinese government has devalued its own currency again in a bid to boost exports. At the same time – as a concession to its trade rivals – it has promised to “take more notice of the markets” when setting interest rates in future. Since it re-entered the global economy, China has pegged its currency, the renminbi, against the dollar – refusing to let it trade freely and to find a market rate.

Under pressure from America and Japan, which say China’s currency is too cheap and gives it an unfair trade advantage, China allowed the RMB gradually to rise against other currencies. This was seen as a first step towards the RMB becoming convertible, and ultimately emerging as a rival global currency to the dollar. Now that policy has been reversed. The context is, first, the tit-for-tat stimulus measures that the world’s major economies have been taking. Europe has launched a massive programme of quantitative easing; Britain’s QE programme remains in place and Japan is reliant on more and more dollops of printed money to buy state debt and keep the economy going. When states or currency unions print money on this scale the side effect is to weaken the value of their currency and boost exports. So another way of looking at QE is as an undeclared currency war – which is exactly how China sees it.

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Abenomics can still get uglier than it already was.

China’s Devaluation Becomes Japan’s Problem (Pesek)

Among the clearest casualties of China’s devaluation is the Bank of Japan. The chances were never high that Governor Haruhiko Kuroda was going to be able to unwind his institution’s aggressive monetary experiment anytime soon. But the odds are now lower than even skeptics would have previously believed. The real question, though, is what China’s move means more broadly for Abenomics. A sharply devalued yen, after all, is the core of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s gambit to end Japan’s 25-year funk. Abenomics is said to have three parts, but monetary easing has really been the only one. Fiscal-expansion was neutered by last year’s sales-tax hike, while structural reform has arrived only in a brief flurry, not the avalanche needed to enliven aging Japan and get companies to raise wages.

China’s devaluation tosses two immediate problems Japan’s way. The first is reduced exports. As Beijing guides its currency even lower, as surely it will, the yen will rise on a trade-weighted basis. And Bloomberg’s Japan economist Yuki Masujima points out that trade with China now contributes 13% more to Japanese GDP than the U.S., traditionally Tokyo’s main customer. “Given China’s rise to prominence, the yen-yuan exchange rate now has far greater influence on Japan than the yen-dollar rate,” Masujima says. The other problem is psychological. Japanese households have long lamented their rising reliance on China, a developing nation run by a government they widely view as hostile.

But the BOJ was glad to evoke China’s 7% growth – and the millions of Chinese tourists filling shopping malls across the Japanese archipelago – to convince Japanese consumers and executives that their own economy was in good shape. Now, the perception of China as a growth engine is fizzling, exacerbating the exchange-rate effect. “To the extent that the depreciation reflects weakness in China, then that weakness – rather than the depreciation per se – is a problem for Japan,” says Richard Katz, who publishes the New York-based Oriental Economist Report. It’s also a problem for Abe, whose approval ratings are now in the low 30s thanks to his unpopular efforts to “reinterpret” the pacifist constitution to deploy troops overseas. The prospect that Abe will enrage Japan’s neighbors by watering down past World War II apologies at ceremonies this weekend marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the wary is further damping support at home.

The worsening economy, which voters hoped Abe would have sorted out by now, doesn’t help. Inflation-adjusted wages dropped 2.9% in June, a sign Monday’s second-quarter gross domestic product report for the may be truly ugly. It’s an open question whether such an unpopular leader can push painful, but necessary, structural changes through parliament. “Already,” Katz says, “Abe has backpedaled on many issues to avoid further drops.” After 961 days, all Abenomics has really achieved is a sharply weaker yen, modest steps to tighten corporate governance and marketing slogans asking companies to hire more women.

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Think leverage, shadow banking, and fill in the blanks.

Why The Yuan May Deck Singapore Property Stocks (CNBC)

Singapore’s property shares, already on the back foot from expectations of rising interest rates, have taken a beating since China devalued its currency on Tuesday and more pain may be on the cards. “Given that the majority of property stocks with China exposure do not hedge the currency exposures of their incomes and balance sheets, a weaker renminbi suggests that both asset values and earnings/dividends would be negatively affected,” analysts at JPMorgan said in a note Wednesday. “Book values and dividend per unit (DPU) would be affected.” Singapore real-estate investment trusts (S-REITs) are also likely to take a hit as the moves Tuesday and Wednesday by the People’s Bank of China to push down the Chinese currency also caused the Singapore dollar to weaken.

“The weakening Singapore dollar would result in upward pressure on interest rates,” it said, estimating that every 100 basis point rise in interest rates pushes S-REITs’ DPU down by 2.7% because of increased costs. Singapore property shares with China exposure based on earnings and assets under management include CapitaLand Retail Trust China, Global Logistic Properties, CapitaLand and City Developments, JPMorgan noted. Those shares are down 1.2-5.5% so far this week, after a bit of a recovery Thursday. Singapore may not be alone in feeling property pain from China. In Hong Kong, Wharf, Cheung Kong Property and Hang Lung all have significant China exposure, noted Patrick Wong at BNP Paribas.

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The spiralling debt is a direct consequence of the conditions those same creditors force upon Greece.

Greece Creditors Raise ‘Serious Concerns’ About Spiralling Debt (Guardian)

Greece’s European creditors have underlined the temporary nature of the country’s surprise return to growth by warning that they have “serious concerns” about the spiralling debts of the eurozone’s weakest member. The economic news came as Greece’s parliament met in emergency session on Thursday to ratify a new bailout deal, although it was unclear whether the multibillion-euro agreement had the vital backing of Germany. The three European institutions negotiating a third bailout package with the government in Athens said that the Greek economy had plunged into a deep recession from which it would not emerge until 2017. According to an analysis completed by the EC, the ECB and the eurozone bailout fund, Greece’s debts will peak at 201% of GDP in 2016.

The study says that Greece’s debt burden can be made more bearable by waiving payments until the economy has recovered and then giving Athens longer to pay. However, it opposes the idea of a so-called “haircut” – or reducing the size of the debt. It is a course of action the International Monetary Fund, which joined the three European institutions in negotiating the latest bailout, thinks may be necessary for Greece’s debts to become sustainable.

“The high debt to GDP and the gross financing needs resulting from this analysis point to serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greece’s public debt,” said the analysis, adding that far-reaching reforms were needed to address the worries. It forecasts that the Greek economy will contract by 2.3% this year and a further 1.3% in 2016 before returning to 2.7% growth in 2017. Greece’s debt to GDP ratio will peak next year but will still be 175% in 2020 and 160% in 2022. The IMF views a debt to GDP ratio above 120% as unsustainable.

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Greece doesn’t want a bridge loan.

Greece To Get €6 Billion In Bridge Loans If No Agreement At Eurogroup (Reuters)

Greece could get €6.04 billion in bridge financing if euro zone finance ministers cannot agree on the planned third bailout for Athens when they meet on Friday, according to German newspaper Bild, citing a European Commission proposal for the meeting. That proposal says the bridge loans should run for a maximum of three months, Bild said in an advance copy of an article due to be published on Friday. Eurozone finance ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss a third financial rescue that Greece has negotiated with its creditors.

Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos expressed his opposition on Thursday to Greece taking another temporary loan to meet its immediate debt repayments, calling on lawmakers to approve a new, three-year bailout deal. “I think whatever everyone’s stance on the euro and on whether this is a good or bad accord, there must be no one who is working towards a bridge loan,” he told a parliamentary committee. Athens must make a €3.2 billion debt payment to the ECB on Aug. 20.

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Cobden Partners was proposed to Varoufakis right after the January election as an advisor. Syriza opted for Lazard instead.

Greece Crisis Proves The Need For A Currency Plan B (John Butler, Cobden)

The recent Greek capitulation under pressure from other euro member countries, led by Germany, demonstrates that euro members have de facto ceded sovereignty over fiscal policy to the EU. While this arrangement may be acceptable to some countries, perhaps even Greece, it will be resisted by others. However, as the Greek failure also demonstrates, any eurozone country wishing to restore fiscal sovereignty, or restructure some of their debt, or implement any policy or set of policies that runs afoul of the preferences of certain Eurogroup finance ministers will have near-zero negotiating leverage if they fail to plan, credibly and in advance, for the introduction of a viable alternative currency.

Without this critical card to play, the country in question will be held hostage by the now politicised ECB. Its domestic banking system and financial markets will be shut down, the economy will grind to a halt and the government will face either a humiliating retreat or full capitulation. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has now revealed much of the detail of the recent negotiations, capitulation and attempts to vilify him personally for acting insubordinately or even in a treasonous manner at the 11th hour. However, it is entirely understandable that, once Varoufakis became aware of the degree to which his country’s banks and national finances had been taken hostage by the ECB and EU institutions, he sought some flexibility in order to strengthen Greece’s negotiating position.

Alas, this was much too little, and way too late. In retrospect, it is now obvious that Varoufakis and his colleagues should have set about developing a credible alternative currency plan prior to entering into any negotiations around either debt reduction or fiscal reforms. Had they done so, when the ECB suspended further increases in the ELA, forcing the banks and financial markets to close, Greece would have been able to roll out a temporary plan which, in the event that subsequent negotiations were indeed to fail, could easily have become permanent. Moreover, the very existence of such a plan would have greatly strengthened Greece’s hand to the point where negotiations may well have succeeded.

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Summary: Foreign corporations will take over everything.

Greeks Taste Breadth Of Bailout In Loaf And Lotion Rules (Guardian)

Vouldis, 33, whose bakery was founded 22 years ago by his parents in the southern Athens suburb of Kallithea, and is one of 15,000 local bakeries in Greece, said: “If a supermarket can call itself a bakery and present frozen loaves as fresh, that’s cheating customers . And if we sell by the kilo – which we’ve been supposed to be doing since Easter, actually, but no one does – customers will end up spending more on their bread. Bakers will have far more opportunity to play around with their prices. “Neighbourhood bakeries are the heart of a community; it’s wrong to make things harder for them than they already are. And it’s unacceptable to have international institutions saying, you’re stupid, you don’t know how to run your business, here’s how you must do it.”

Stefanidi meanwhile was concerned at the bailout powers’ insistence that anyone should be allowed to own a pharmacy: at present, Greek law limits their ownership to pharmacists. The way the OECD and the international creditors saw it, far too many laws protected Greece’s 11,000 pharmacies – a quantity, per head of the population, about double that for France or Spain, and more than 15 times Denmark’s total. Many of the rules were scrapped last year despite a European court upholding Greece’s view that it was perfectly entitled to legislate on the matter since its supreme court had ruled that pharmacies were not pure commercial enterprises but also fulfilled a vital social function.

The rule that no district can have more than one pharmacy per 1,000 people will stay. But the regulation stipulating that over-the-counter medicines may only be sold at licensed pharmacies is soon to be scrapped; and the ownership restriction could be gone next week if the bailout package is approved. “It’s crazy,” said Konstantinos Lourantos, president of the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association, in his pharmacy in the Athens suburb of Nea Smyrni. “Anyone will be able to open a pharmacy now. Anyone. In all Europe, only in Slovenia and Hungary is this allowed. Even in Germany, a licensed pharmacist must own at least 51% of a pharmacy.”

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There will be no real debt relief, not if Germany has its way. It’ll just be toying with margins, unacceptable for the IMF.

European Union Backs IMF View Over Greece – Then Ignores It (Guardian)

The good news for the IMF, which has been saying for ages that Greece’s debts are unsustainable, is that European lenders now seem to agree. There are “serious concerns” about the sustainability of the country’s debts, the three European institutions negotiating the latest bailout said on Thursday. They think Greece’s debts will peak at 201% of GDP in 2016, which is roughly what the IMF said a month ago when it projected a high “close to 200% of GDP in the next two years”. So what should be done? Unfortunately, that is where unanimity seems to break down.

The IMF’s view of the options in July was blunt. First, there could be “deep upfront haircuts” – in other words, a portion of Greece’s debts to eurozone lenders would be written off, which, reading between the lines, seemed to be the IMF’s first preference. Second, there was the politically-impossible policy of eurozone partners making explicit transfers to Greece every year. Or, third, Greece could be given longer to repay, an approach likely to be more palatable to European leaders. But this option came with a heavy qualification from the IMF: “If Europe prefers to again provide debt relief through maturity extension, there would have to be a very dramatic extension with grace periods of, say, 30 years on the entire stock of European debt, including new assistance.”

Is Europe ready to be “very dramatic,” as the IMF defined it? Almost certainly not – at least not in Germany. Thursday’s European report spoke about extending repayment schedules but it seems highly unlikely that 30 years would be acceptable in Berlin. If that’s correct, the IMF’s willingness to cough up its €15bn-€20bn contribution to the latest €85bn rescue package must be in serious doubt. The fund’s guidelines say loans can only be advanced when there is a clear path back to debt sustainability, usually defined as borrowings being less than 120% of GDP. On Thursday’s European analysis, Greece would still be at 160% even in 2022.

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Subprime is all America has left.

Total U.S. Auto Lending Surpasses $1 Trillion for First Time (WSJ)

With the recession now six years behind in the nation’s rearview mirror, lending for automobiles has sharply accelerated: Around $119 billion in auto loans were originated in the second quarter of this year, a 10-year high, according to figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released Thursday. Auto lending has climbed steadily during the past four years, helping sales of U.S. autos and light trucks completely recover their losses from the recession. In May, consumers purchased vehicles at an annual pace of 17.6 million, the highest since June 2005. Americans have now racked up more than $1 trillion in both auto-loan debt and student-loan debt, which surpassed $1 trillion for the first time in 2013.

The overall indebtedness of U.S. borrowers remains lower than before the recession, owing to declines in home-loan and credit-card balances. But with low gas prices, a growing number of jobs, and an aging automotive fleet, many people have found it an opportune time to get a new vehicle. “A lot of the gain we’ve seen is from light trucks, SUVs, cross-overs, minivans and pickup trucks,” said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio. “Because gasoline prices have come down, it makes it less expensive to run the vehicles that use more fuel” and frees up consumers’ budgets to put toward more cars or higher car loan payments. Auto lending and credit-card lending used to trade spaces as the second- and third-largest categories of U.S. household debt, after mortgages.

Both were surpassed by student loans in 2010. Since 2011, auto loans have rapidly outgrown credit cards. Today, household credit-card balances stand at $703 billion, about the same as four years ago. Auto lending and mortgages offered a study in contrast over the past five years. Both types of debt fell in the recession; from 2008 to 2010 the total stock of auto loans declined by more than $100 billion. Mortgage balances dropped by more than $800 billion. “There was some tightening in auto-loan standards after the financial crisis, but by many measures it’s returned basically to where it was pre-recession,” said Wilbert van der Klauw, a New York Fed economist. “That’s quite a contrast to mortgage underwriting, which remains significantly tighter than before the recession.”

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Spot the zombie.

Surge in Global Commercial Real-Estate Prices Stirs Bubble Worries (WSJ)

Investors are pushing commercial real-estate prices to record levels in cities around the world, fueling concerns that the global property market is overheating. The valuations of office buildings sold in London, Hong Kong, Osaka and Chicago hit record highs in the second quarter of this year, on a price per square foot basis, and reached post-2009 highs in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Sydney, according to industry tracker Real Capital Analytics. Deal activity is soaring as well. The value of U.S. commercial real-estate transactions in the first half of 2015 jumped 36% from a year earlier to $225.1 billion, ahead of the pace set in 2006, according to Real Capital. In Europe, transaction values shot up 37% to €135 billion ($148 billion), the strongest start to a year since 2007.

Low interest rates and a flood of cash being pumped into economies by central banks have made commercial real estate look attractive compared with bonds and other assets. Big U.S. investors have bulked up their real-estate holdings, just as buyers from Asia and the Middle East have become more regular fixtures in the market. The surging demand for commercial property has drawn comparisons to the delirious boom of the mid-2000s, which ended in busts that sunk developers from Florida to Ireland. The recovery, which started in 2010, has gained considerable strength in the past year, with growth accelerating at a potentially worrisome rate, analysts said. “We’re calling it a late-cycle market now,” said Jacques Gordon at LaSalle Investment.

While it isn’t time to panic, Mr. Gordon said, “if too much capital comes into any asset class, generally not-so-good things tend to follow.” Regulators are watching the market closely. In its semiannual report to Congress last month, the Federal Reserve pointed out that “valuation pressures in commercial real estate are rising as commercial property prices continue to increase rapidly.” Historically low interest rates have buoyed the appeal of commercial real estate, especially in major cities where economies are growing strongly. A 10-year Treasury note is yielding about 2.2%. By contrast, New York commercial real estate has an average capitalization rate—a measure of yield—of 5.7%, according to Real Capital.

By keeping interest rates low, central banks around the world have nudged income-minded investors into a broad range of riskier assets, from high-yield or “junk” bonds to dividend-paying stocks and real estate. Lately money has been pouring into commercial property from all directions. U.S. pension funds, which got clobbered in the aftermath of the crash, now have 7.7% of their assets invested in property, up from 6.3% in 2011, according to alternative-assets tracker Preqin. Foreign investors also have been stepping on the gas. China’s Anbang Insurance in February paid $1.95 billion for New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, a record price for a U.S. hotel. Another Chinese insurer, Sunshine Insurance in May purchased New York’s glitzy Baccarat Hotel for more than $230 million, or a record $2 million per room.

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Big Mining is in for a Big Surprise.

Glencore: World Of Big Mining Agog At Huge Fall (Guardian)

How do you make a £2bn fortune from commodities? Answer: start with a £6bn fortune. Ivan Glasenberg, chief executive of Glencore, won’t be laughing. Those numbers are the value of his shareholding in the mining and commodity-trading company at flotation in 2011 and now. Yes, Glencore’s share price really has fallen by two-thirds, from 530p to 180p, since it came to market with a fanfare. Among London’s big miners, only Anglo-American has done worse. This week alone the fall has been 10% as the China-inspired rout has run through commodity markets and mining stocks. Glencore is being whacked harder than the likes of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto for a simple reason – relative to earnings, it has a lot more debt.

Analysts predict borrowings will stand at about $48bn when the company reports half-year numbers next week, which is a hell of a sum even for a business making top-line (before interest and tax) earnings of $10bn-$12bn. Bold borrowings aren’t quite what they seem, it should be said, because Glencore’s marketing division holds a stockpile of commodities as inventories that can be turned into cash. Viewed that way, net debt might be nearer $30.5bn at year-end, estimates JP Morgan Cazenove.

But here’s the rub: Glencore might have to go ahead and turn some of that stock into cash if its wants to save its BBB credit rating. “At spot commodity prices, we calculate net debt needs to fall $16bn by year-end 2016 to safeguard Glencore’s BBB credit rating,” says JP Morgan. Preservation of BBB is a financial priority, Glencore said in March, for the sound reason that a healthy rating is vital to keep funding costs low in the trading-cum-marketing division. It’s a financial challenge caused by the plunge in prices that is undermining profits on the other side of Glencore – the mining operation concentrated on the old Xstrata assets, which are skewed towards copper and coal.

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All ‘markets’ are about to have one of those.

The Junk Bond Market ‘Is Having A Coronary’: David Rosenberg (CNBC)

The biggest trouble sign for stocks may be bonds. High-yield bonds, specifically, often are seen as an effective proxy for movements in the equity market. If that’s the case, trends in junk are pointing to a rocky road ahead. Average yields for low-rated companies have jumped to 7.3% and spreads between such debt and comparable duration Treasurys have widened dramatically, according to David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff. History suggests that fallout in stocks is not far behind. “If you think the equity market is heading for a spot of trouble here, the high-yield bond market is having a coronary,” Rosenberg said in his daily market analysis Thursday.

Rosenberg points out that the average yield is the highest since mid-December and has risen 120 basis points—1.2 percentage points—just since June. Spreads are at 580 basis points, a level hit only twice in the last three years. His caution on junk reflects sentiment heard from a number of other market analysts who believe the troubles in the high-yield market, which has led fixed income performance with 7% annualized returns over the past 10 years, are a bad sign. Since the most recent lows in June, spreads have widened a full percentage point. “In other words, this move in high-yield spreads is on par with what we have seen when we have previously had a 9% correction in equities or what would be about the same as the S&P 500 now correcting to 1,910,” he said.

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“I am going to withdraw from the movement because I’m very old and I have a large family.”

‘I Will Leave Politics And Return To Comedy’: Beppe Grillo (Local.it)

Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), said he plans to leave politics and return to his old job as a comedian. In a TV interview with La7 on Tuesday afternoon, Grillo said: “I am going to withdraw from the movement because I’m very old and I have a large family.” Grillo has distanced himself from the party recently, with some of its members seen as rising political stars. Luigi Di Maio, who at 29 is the youngest deputy president of the lower house in Italian history, is quickly becoming the new face of the Five Star Movement. While Grillo said that he’s “here for now” and that “the movement is my life”, he hinted that the party perhaps no longer needed to use his personality as a springboard for media coverage.

“Once people understand that I am not the undisputed leader of M5S, that I am not in charge and that they are not voting for Grillo but for an idea that I have been part of – then I can return to my job, which is making people laugh and showing them things they don’t know,” he said. The Five Star Movement’s leader has not yet given any clear indications as to when he will be stepping down. His spokesperson told The Local that the leader has not resigned. The comedian is working on a new show that he hopes to launch at the end of this year, after delaying it because of political commitments. A return to TV might also be on the cards. Reports last week suggested he could return to Italy’s national broadcaster Rai, but Grillo was uncertain. “I don’t know, I’m open to anything,” he said.

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Drill baby drill 2.0.

World without Water: The Dangerous Misuse of Our Most Valuable Resource (Spiegel)

California’s rivers and lakes are running dry, but its deep aquifers are also rapidly disappearing. The majority of the 40 million Californians are already drawing on this last reserve of water, and they are doing so with such intensity and without restriction that sometimes the ground sinks beneath their feet. The underground reservoir collapses. This in turn destabilizes bridges and damages irrigation canals and roads. This groundwater is thousands of years old, and it is not replenishing itself. Those who hope to win the race for the last water reserves are forced to drill deeper and deeper into the ground. The Earth may be a blue planet when seen from space, but only 2.5% of its water is fresh. That water is wasted, polluted and poisoned and its distribution is appallingly unfair.

The world’s population has almost tripled since 1950, but water consumption has increased six-fold. To make matters worse, mankind is changing the Earth’s climate with greenhouse gas emissions, which only exacerbates the injustices. When we talk about water becoming scarce, we are first and foremost referring to people who are suffering from thirst. Close to a billion people are forced to drink contaminated water, while another 2.3 billion suffer from a shortage of water. How will we manage to feed more and more people with less and less water? But people in developing countries are no longer the only ones affected by the problem. Droughts facilitate the massive wildfires in California, and they adversely affect farms in Spain.

Water has become the business of global corporations and it is being wasted on a gigantic scale to turn a profit and operate farms in areas where they don’t belong. “Water is the primary principle of all things,” the philosopher Thales of Miletus wrote in the 6th century BC. More than two-and-a-half thousand years later, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations felt it was necessary to define access to water as a human right. It was an act of desperation. The UN has not fallen so clearly short of any of its other millennium goals than the goal of cutting the number of people without this access in half by 2015. The question is whether water is public property and a human right. Or is it ultimately a commodity, a consumer good and a financial investment?

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They should send it to an English port.

Greece Sends Cruise Ship To Ease Kos Migrant Crisis (Guardian)

The Greek government has chartered a cruise ship to help deal with the refugee crisis on Kos, a day after more than 2,000 mainly Syrian refugees were locked inside a stadium on the island for more than a day with limited access to water. The vessel, which can fit up to 2,500 people, will function as a floating registration centre. Officials hope its presence will speed up the processing of about 7,000 refugees who are stranded on Kos after making the short boat journey from Turkey, and to whom the authorities have been previously unable to provide paperwork or housing. The move follows a disastrous attempt to register refugees inside an old stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday, which led to up to 2,500 mainly Syrian migrants trapped in the stadium grounds.

For more than 12 hours, much of it in temperatures of about 35C, migrants were without access to water or toilets. This led some to faint at a rate of one every 15 minutes, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, an aid agency providing medical support outside the stadium. By dawn on Thursday, the last migrants were finally released in calm circumstances witnessed by the Guardian, but some were literally bruised by the experience after clashes broke out on Wednesday between confused refugees and panicking police officers. Youssef, a 29-year-old Syrian banker, criticised the undignified nature of the process after being released early on Thursday morning. “I have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA,” he said. “It’s a shame to treat us like this.”

Registered migrants like Youssef are still stuck on Kos, with up to 5,000 others yet to be processed. The situation has led the Greek government to send a cruise liner, the Eleftherios Venizelos, to mitigate the fallout – as hundreds more refugees arrive every day. Kos’s mayor, Giorgos Kyritsis, who made the decision to use the stadium, denied that the ship would simply be yet another place of limbo for refugees. Kyritis said: “It’s not going to be used as a camp. As soon as it is filled with migrants, the ship with depart and another ship will come.”

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Médecins Sans Frontières is forced to do what Europe should be doing.

Mediterranean: Saving Lives at the World’s Most Dangerous Border (Spiegel)

The Mediterranean has become a crisis region, one where more than 2,000 people have died this year already – more than have lost their lives in attacks in Afghanistan. But of course that figure is misleading. It reflects only the number of recorded deaths. Who knows how many people have drowned without a trace? Nevertheless, no aid agencies are active in the region. They all wait on shore for the survivors to arrive. The business of saving lives is left to those who are the least prepared: navies and merchant vessels. Meanwhile, more and more refugees are embarking on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean – 188,000 so far this year. It’s hard to believe that a crisis area of this magnitude is empty of aid workers – unthinkable, Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, thought.

It is the biggest, best organized medical relief organization in the world. An army of survival. They are professionals for natural catastrophes and civil wars, and they are engaged in the fight against HIV, Ebola and measles. With a budget of €1.066 billion in 2014, MSF’s 2,769 international employees and 31,000 local helpers undertook some 8.3 million treatments. They calculate the need for help based on mortality rates – a cold, precise measurement. An emergency situation is considered acute when there is one death per day for every 10,000 people. Last year, at least 3,500 refugees died in the Mediterranean while 219,000 made it to Europe. That’s a mortality rate of around 10 per day, or one in 63. MSF, until now a land-based operation, has decided to set sail.

Never has the organization’s name been more fitting than right now, as it carries out its mission in a vast sea that has developed into the world’s deadliest border. Three boats have been in action since early summer. The Dignity 1, the Bourbon Argos and MY Phoenix, the smallest of the fleet. Together they have room for 1,400 refugees. It is the only real private rescue mission in the Mediterranean, and it is almost entirely funded by donations. Operating costs have already topped €10 million this year. Of that, Phoenix, jointly funded by MOAS, has cost €1.6 million thus far this year. MSF has rescued more than 10,000 people so far. By mid-2015, the mortality rate in the Mediterranean was one in 76. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

An estimated 15 to 20 boats carrying around 3,000 people set sail from Libya’s beaches every day. After a few hours, they call a contact person in Italy or they get in touch with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome directly. That’s if a navy vessel or a cargo ship doesn’t stumble across them first. Whoever is close by is obligated to come to the rescue. But what if no one is nearby to save them?

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Jul 122015
 
 July 12, 2015  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Up Sutter Street from Grant Avenue, San Francisco 1906

China’s Real Problem Isn’t Stocks – It’s Real Estate! (Harry Dent)
Greece Crisis: Europe Turns The Screw (Paul Mason)
EU Leaders’ Greece Summit Cancelled As Eurozone Talks Grind On (Guardian)
Greek Bailout Deal Remains Elusive (WSJ)
Germany Prepares ‘Temporary’ Grexit, Euro Project On Brink Of Collapse (Khan)
Germany Trying To Humiliate Greece, Says MEP Papadimoulis (Reuters)
Finland’s Parliament In Favour Of Forcing Greece Out Of The Euro (AFP)
The Problem With a Euro Fix: What’s in It for the Dutch? (NY Times)
Would Grexit Be A Disaster? Probably Not, Says History (Arends)
Angela Merkel’s Legacy At Stake As She Chooses Between Two Disasters (Guardian)
The Eurogroup Gets Mythological on Greece (Lucey)
A Union of Deflation and Unemployment (Andricopoulos)
The Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis (Wren-Lewis)
Greece Prepares Itself To Face Another Year Of Political Turmoil (Observer)
Greeks Resigned To A Hard, Bitter Future Whatever Deal Is Reached (Observer)
A Coming Era Of Civil Disobedience? (Buchanan)

China private debt is staggering.

China’s Real Problem Isn’t Stocks – It’s Real Estate! (Harry Dent)

I always say bubbles burst much faster than they grow. And after exploding up 159% in one year, Chinese stocks crashed 35% in three weeks. This all happened while the Chinese economy and exports continued to fall. And two thirds of these new trading accounts belong to investors who don’t have so much as a high school degree. How crazy is that? As Rodney wrote earlier this week, the Chinese government is taking every desperate measure to stop the slide: Artificial buying to prop up the market… Banning pension funds from selling stocks… Threatening to jail investors for shorting stocks… Allowing 1350 out of 2900 major firms to halt trading in their stocks indefinitely, and stopping trades on another 750 that fell 10% or more… It’s madness!

This second and FINAL bubble in Chinese stocks occurred precisely because real estate stopped going up. Over the last year it actually declined. So after decades of speculation, the gains stopped coming in, and rich and poor investors alike switched to stocks. But the funny thing about the Chinese is – they don’t put most of their money in stocks. Only about 7% of urban investors own stocks and half of those accounts are under $15,000. In fact, it’s estimated that the Chinese only put 15% of their assets there, and that may be on the high side. What is so unusual about the Chinese is that they save just over half their income! And the top 10% save over two-thirds! And where do those savings go? Mostly into real estate! China’s home ownership rate is 90%. It’s just 64% in the U.S. even though we’re much wealthier and credit-worthy.

That’s because home ownership is a staple of their culture. A Chinese man has no chance of getting a date or getting laid unless he owns a home – no matter how small. Just look at this simple chart:

Chinese households have 74.7% of their assets in real estate vs. 27.9% in the U.S. – which helps explain why theirs is one of the greatest real estate bubbles in modern history! But the key here is – when that bubble bursts, it will cause an unimaginable implosion of Chinese wealth. In one fell swoop, three-quarters of their assets will get crushed! And just how big of a bubble is it? In Shanghai, real estate is up 6.6 times since 2000. That’s 560%. I’ve been going on and on about the massive overbuilding of basically everything in China for years now. I’ve never once flinched from my prediction that this enormous bubble will burst. And I’ve kept saying there will be a very hard landing no matter how much the government tries to fight it.

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So there! “.. the Greeks last night revealed the true dysfunctionality of the system they are trying to stay inside.”

Greece Crisis: Europe Turns The Screw (Paul Mason)

The Greeks arrived with a set of proposals widely scorned as “more austere than the ones they rejected”. The internet burst forth with catcalls – “they’ve caved in”. By doing so, however, the Greeks last night revealed the true dysfunctionality of the system they are trying to stay inside. First, Germany put forward a proposal one could best describe as “back of envelope” for Greece to leave the Eurozone for five years. There is logic to it – because Germany was signalling that only outside the Eurozone could Greece’s debts be written off. But for the most powerful Eurozone nation to arrive with an unspecified, two-paragraph “suggestion” at this stage explains why the Italians, according to the Guardian, are about to blast them with both barrels for lack of leadership.

Then came the Finns. Their government is a coalition of centre right parties and the right-wing populist Finns Party. The latter threatened to collapse the new governing coalition if the Finns take part in a new bailout for Greece. The demand is now that the Greeks pass all the laws they signed up to in advance of any new bailout deal. This is backed up by a threat to keep the Greek banks starved of liquidity from the ECB for another week. In Greece large numbers of people – on all sides of politics – believe the Europeans are trying to force the elected government to resign before a deal is concluded. If so there will be political chaos. Syriza’s poll rating is currently 38% and rising. Without a “moderate” split from Syriza the centrist parties have no chance of forming a new government, and without Tsipras’ tacit consent there can be no interim government of unelected technocrats.

On Friday I reported, on the basis of intelligence being supplied to large corporations, that the key supply concerns are gas – because of the need for forward contracts – disposables in the healthcare system, and meat imports. The screw Europe is turning on its own supposed member state now begins to resemble a sanctions regime. Without more liquidity the banks will run out of money some time this week. To be clear, it is Europe that is in charge of the Greek banking system, not Greece. Yet after last night what many in Greece and elsewhere see is that Europe has no single understanding of what it’s trying to achieve through this enforced destruction of a modern economy.

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Got to stretch it out for dramatic effect.

EU Leaders’ Greece Summit Cancelled As Eurozone Talks Grind On (Guardian)

A meeting of all EU leaders to decide Greece’s fate has been cancelled, as ministers from the narrower eurozone group struggle to agree on a way forward to resolve the intractable debt crisis. Donald Tusk, the European council president, announced that the session of the 28 EU heads of government scheduled for Sunday had been postponed. Instead, eurozone finance ministers are meeting on Sunday morning, and a summit of eurozone heads of government will take place in the afternoon. “I have cancelled #EUCO today. #EuroSummit to start at 16h and last until we conclude talks on #Greece,” Tusk tweeted. Last-chance talks between the 19 eurozone finance ministers in Brussels ended at midnight, with deep divisions persisting over whether to extend another bailout of up to €80bn to Greece in return for fiscal reforms.

Finland rejected any more funding for the country and Germany called for Greece to be turfed out of the currency bloc for at least five years. Experts from the group of creditors known as the troika said fiscal rigour proposals from Athens were good enough to form “the basis for negotiations”. But the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, dismissed that view, supported by a number of northern and eastern European states. “These proposals cannot build the basis for a completely new, three-year [bailout] programme, as requested by Greece,” said a German finance ministry paper. It called for Greece to be expelled from the eurozone for a minimum of five years and demanded that the Greek government transfer €50bn of state assets to an outside agency for sell-off.

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Only some of the parties seem to want one.

Greek Bailout Deal Remains Elusive (WSJ)

Greek crisis talks between eurozone finance ministers on a new €74 billion loan came to an inconclusive end this morning in a sign that a deal which would secure much-needed financing for Athens and prevent a possible exit from the currency area is still far from certain. The ministers will reconvene at around 11am local time in an effort to reach consensus on whether economic overhauls and budget cuts proposed by Greece are sufficiently far-reaching to form a basis for negotiations on fresh loans to Athens. Then the baton will be handed over to European leaders, who will gather for an emergency summit. The heads of state and government will then have to determine how much money, and political goodwill, they are prepared to spend on keeping Greece in their currency union.

“It is still very difficult, but work is still in progress” said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who presides over the meetings with his counterparts. “There’s always hope,” said Pierre Moscovici, the European Union’s economics commissioner, adding that he hoped for more progress. Only unanimous agreement on the amount of new rescue loans and debt relief to grant Athens will allow the country to avoid full-on bankruptcy and Greek banks to reopen on Monday with euros in their tills. The talks came after an assessment by the Troika estimated that a new bailout for Greece would cost €74 billion. In a letter requesting the loan earlier this week, Greece has estimated its financing needs at €53.5 billion.

Two weeks of capital controls have inflicted such damage on Greece’s banks that it will cost €25 billion to prop them up again, European officials said. Such costs would add to Greece’s already high debt load, creating more pressure for controversial action to be taken to make it more manageable. Over the past five months, Athens has exhausted the patience of most of its counterparts — particularly after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras unexpectedly called for a referendum on creditors’ demands, asking voters to reject them. While Mr. Tsipras has since largely backed down on most of the overhauls and budget cuts creditors asked for, there are doubts across European capitals over whether his government can implement any deal it signs.

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If you ask me, tempexit is the craziest notion so far.

Germany Prepares ‘Temporary’ Grexit, Euro Project On Brink Of Collapse (Khan)

The German government has begun preparations for Greece to be ejected from the eurozone, as the European Union faces 24 hours to rescue the single currency project from the brink of collapse. Finance ministers failed to break the deadlock with Greece over a new bail-out package, after nine hours of acrimonious talks as creditors accused Athens of destroying their trust. It leaves the future of the eurozone in tatters only 15 years after its inception. In a weekend billed as Europe’s last chance to save the monetary union, ministers will now reconvene on Sunday morning ahead of an EU leaders’ summit later in the evening, to thrash out an agreement or decide to eject Greece from the eurozone.

Should no deal be forthcoming, the German government has made preparations to negotiate a temporary five-year euro exit, providing Greece with humanitarian aid while it makes the transition. An incendiary plan drafted by Berlin’s finance ministry, with the backing of Angela Merkel, laid out two stark options for Greece: either the government submits to drastic measures such as placing €50bn of its assets in a trust fund to pay off its debts, and have Brussels take over its public administration, or agree to a “time-out” solution where it would be expelled from the eurozone. German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said they were Greece’s only viable options, unless Athens could come up with better alternatives. “Every possible proposal needs to be examined impartially” said Mr Gabriel, who is also Germany’s socialist party leader.

Creditors voiced grave mistrust with Athens, a week after the Leftist government held a referendum in which it urged the Greek people to reject the bail-out conditions it has now signed up to. A desperate Alexis Tsipras managed to secure parliamentary backing for a raft of spending cuts and tax rises to secure a new three-year rescue programme worth around €75bn-€100bn. But finance ministers rounded on Mr Tsipras for offering to implement measures that he had previously dubbed “humiliating” and “blackmail” only seven days ago. “We will certainly not be able to rely on promises,” said Germany’s hard-line finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. “In recent months, during the last few hours, the trust has been destroyed in incomprehensible ways,” he said. “We are determined to not make calculations that everyone knows can’t be trusted. We will have exceptionally difficult negotiations. I don’t think we will reach an easy decision.”

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No kidding.

Germany Trying To Humiliate Greece, Says MEP Papadimoulis (Reuters)

Germany is trying to humiliate Greece by bringing new demands for a bailout deal, Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of Greece’s ruling SYRIZA party, said on Sunday. Highlighting the depth of reluctance to grant another rescue to Greece, Germany’s finance ministry put forward a paper on Saturday demanding stronger Greek measures or a five-year “time-out” from the euro zone that looked like a disguised expulsion. “What is at play here is an attempt to humiliate Greece and Greeks, or to overthrow the (Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras government,” Papadimoulis told Mega TV.

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A country with a population half the size of Greece will decide?

Finland’s Parliament In Favour Of Forcing Greece Out Of The Euro (AFP)

Finland’s parliament has decided it will not accept any new bailout deal for Greece, media reports said Saturday, piling on pressure as eurozone finance ministers tried to find a way out of the impasse. The decision to push for a so-called “Grexit” came after the eurosceptic Finns party, the second-largest in parliament, threatened to bring down the government if it backed another rescue deal for Greece, according to public broadcaster Yle. Under Finland’s parliamentary system, the country’s “grand committee” – made up of 25 of 200 MPs – gives the government a mandate to negotiate on an aid agreement for Greece. Members of the committee met for talks in Helsinki on Saturday afternoon to decide their position, YLE reported.

The finance minister, Alexander Stubb, was at the crunch eurozone talks in Brussels and tweeted that he could not reveal the mandate given to him by the grand committee so long as the negotiations were still ongoing. “The mandate is not public and the Finnish delegation will not discuss it publicly,” Kaisa Amaral, a Finnish spokesman, told AFP. The Brussels talks were set to resume on Sunday after failing to reach an agreement on Saturday but opinion among northern and eastern European countries appeared to be hardening against accepting the reform’s Greece has offered in exchange for another bailout. Finns party leader Timo Soini, who is also the country’s foreign minister, has repeatedly argued in favour a “Grexit”, saying it would be better for Greece to leave the euro.

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Holland in the role of Connecticut.

The Problem With a Euro Fix: What’s in It for the Dutch? (NY Times)

Economists agree: If the eurozone does not break up, it will have to move closer together. They’re right. But it’s easy to understand why Europeans are not eager to heed their advice. Basically, the proposition of European integration is that the Netherlands should end up like Connecticut. And even though Connecticut is a lovely place, the Dutch have good reason to be wary of that. It’s expensive to be Connecticut, because Connecticut has to pay for Mississippi and Alabama. Large, economically diverse areas can successfully share a single currency if they have deep economic links that make it possible for troubled regions to ride out crises. That means shared bank regulation and deposit insurance, so banks don’t face regional panics; a labor market that lets people move from places without jobs to places with them; and a fiscal union, which allows the government to collect taxes wherever there is money and spend it wherever there are needs.

The United States shows that this approach can work: America’s 50 economically diverse states share a currency quite comfortably, in part because of our banking union (Washington State did not have to bail out Washington Mutual on its own when it failed), our fluid labor market (as oil prices rise and fall, workers move in and out of North Dakota) and our fiscal union (states in economic pain benefit from government programs financed by all states). Nevada does not need to devalue its currency to restore its competitiveness relative to California in a severe recession; instead, Nevadans can collect federally funded unemployment insurance and, if necessary, move to California. If the Greeks had similar options available in 2008, they would be much better off today.

But the EU’s centralized budget equals only about 1% of Europe’s GDP, compared with more than 20% for the American federal government. A much more centralized E.U. budget, with much more money flowing through Brussels the way it flows through Washington, could provide similar macroeconomic stability to Europe by creating a fiscal union. But the American fiscal union is very expensive for rich states. According to calculations by The Economist, Connecticut paid out 5% of its gross domestic product in net fiscal transfers to other states between 1990 and 2009; that is, its tax payments exceeded its receipt of government services by that amount. This is typical for rich states: They pay a disproportionate share of income and payroll taxes, while government services are disproportionately collected in states where people are poor or old or infirm.

The obvious question, then, about a fiscal union is: What’s in it for the Netherlands (or Austria or Luxembourg)? Is it worth making the euro “work” if that entails devoting several%age points of your economic output to fiscal transfers to poorer countries, indefinitely, the way Connecticut does to poorer states?

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I would not rule this out. But Greece would have to start from scratch with printing a new currency.

Would Grexit Be A Disaster? Probably Not, Says History (Arends)

If Greece rejected the international “bailout” terms, defaulted on its debts and dropped out of the eurozone, would it really face economic devastation, collapse and disaster? The IMF, the ECB and most economic “news” reports about the crisis say so. But history says something completely different. Contrary to what you may have read, lots of countries have been in a similar bind to that faced by the Greeks. And those that chose the so-called nuclear option of devaluation and default did just fine. Great Britain saw a “V-shaped” economic recovery after it dropped out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the forerunner to the euro, in 1992. Real economic output expanded by 14% over the next five years, IMF records show.

The East Asian “Tiger” economies boomed after dropping their pegs to the U.S. dollar and letting their currencies plunge in 1997-1998. Ditto Russia after it defaulted and devalued in 1998. Ditto Argentina after it defaulted and devalued in 2001-2002. Those countries saw huge gains in real, inflation-adjusted output per person in the years following the alleged “nuclear” option of devaluation or default. The IMF’s own data reveal that from 1998 to 2003, Russia’s output per person soared by more than 40%. So did Argentina’s from 2002 to 2007. So much for “disaster” and “collapse.” Even the U.S. has been through this. In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt outraged bankers by abandoning the gold standard and devaluing the dollar by 70%.

Over the next five years, gross domestic product expanded by around 40% (at constant prices). If history says financial devaluation or default may turn out just fine on Main Street, the same may even be true of bank closures. Ireland suffered three massive bank strikes in the 1960s and 1970s, including one that lasted for six months. During that time, people were effectively unable to use banks or get their hands on currency. What happened? The real economy emerged largely unscathed. People coped. They circulated IOUs and endorsed checks as makeshift currencies. They understood that “money” is just an accounting system. In other words, human beings proved to be adaptable and used some common sense, even without the help of financiers. Gosh. Who knew?

Our grandparents and great-grandparents did something similar here in the U.S. in the early 1930s, at the depths of the Great Depression’s banking crisis, records Loren Gatch, a political-science professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. Towns and even employers that lacked official currency to meet payroll or pay suppliers issued IOUs or notes, he writes. In March 1933, 24 companies in the mill town of New Bedford, Mass., effectively issued their own bank notes, and those were accepted by retailers around the town and circulated at face value, Gatch wrote. It’s hardly a surprise. Only bankers or fools would think human beings are completely powerless without banks. As for currencies, whether gold or dollars or euros or drachmas: The idea that they have power in themselves is a myth. They are purely a social construct..

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Her legacy is shot.

Angela Merkel’s Legacy At Stake As She Chooses Between Two Disasters (Guardian)

Merkel has faced a decision between two potentially disastrous scenarios. As Artur Fischer, joint CEO of the Berlin stock exchange, puts it: “Either she goes for a third bailout but risks isolating herself domestically in the process – and also faces returning to the same point we’re at now six months down the line and again a year down the line. Or she agrees to a Grexit and, as Greece sinks into more misery with pictures of their plight flashed round the world, she is blamed for that.” For weeks Merkel has talked more about Greece than Germany. So familiar is she with its politics that Bernd Ulrich, chief political correspondent of the weekly Die Zeit, half-joked that “she could co-govern in Athens any time”.

The Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung summed up in an editorial what it described as the “Herculean task” that has faced her over the past few days. “This is Angela Merkel’s hour. She was the one expected to negotiate between the Greeks and the other euro partners. She was the one expected to find the compromise between the interests of 11 million Greeks and 320 million other inhabitants of the eurozone.” She will now have to bring the decision made in Brussels back to the Bundestag, where she will find an increasingly rebellious mood in her own conservative ranks, many of whom are seething that she has not pushed for a Grexit. They have also refused to even contemplate a haircut or debt restructuring, which the IMF is insisting upon if it is to remain involved.

They all say they are representing the voices of their angry constituents. And while there is not much doubt Merkel could get a bailout deal of some sort through the Bundestag if she wanted to, thanks to the backing of her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, the question remains: at what cost to her? A revolt within her party ranks could prove critical to her future as German chancellor. She sees her legacy at stake just as there are murmurings that she may contemplate a fourth term in 2017. In the past days an online petition by the economist Thomas Piketty, which appeals for the German government to grant Greece a debt cut like the one Germany received to help it to restructure after the second world war, has made a huge impact.

That and headlines such as the New York Times one last week: “Germans Forget Postwar History Lesson on Debt Relief in Greece Crisis”, accompanying an article that referred to “German hypocrisy” and a picture of the signing of an agreement that effectively halved West Germany’s postwar debt in 1953, has left some Germans smarting.

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Tantalus!

The Eurogroup Gets Mythological on Greece (Lucey)

Greek myth, which is in case you missed it full of tragedies, is the cultural mine that keeps on yielding for the present crisis. Last night we had a Eurogroup meeting. Greece offered everything the Eurogroup wanted, and more. The Eurogroup demurred and the Finns, in thrall to as populist a bunch of vote grabbers as ever was in the True Finns (the hint in the name is chilling) apparently said Aye, which is apparently Finnish for yes, although as nobody speaks Finnish outside Finland, who knows. So delving into Greek myth, today we see Tantalus. Tantalus fits right on the button. He was condemned to stand in a lake of water with a grapevine over his head. If he stooped to drink the water receded, if he stretched to eat the grapes drew back.

If Greece tries to cut its way from a depression the debt burden worsens, if it seeks aid the aid is yanked out of reach. What was Tantalus’s crime? Again, it fits. He took from the gods that which they would not give, in some myths ambrosia (not the custard dish but the food of the gods), in others it was Nectar. These he distributed to humans, angering the gods who believed that these goodies were theirs to distribute and not his. Greece entered the Euro and ..well, you see it. We should also note that Tantalus had form for hiding things, notably the golden hound of Hephaestus , the smith of the gods who made all things. Greece, let us not forget, hid the true state of the finances, a well functioning state statistical apparatus being the foundation of all things in a modern economy.

Interestingly, in myth he was aided by Pandareus, who could gorge forever on the finest things and neither be satiated nor suffer. Greece was aided in its concealment of the true state of its economy by Goldman Sachs… A further crime that Tantalus committed was, in an attempt to appease the now vengeful deities, he sacrificed his son Pelops and served a Greek version of Frey Pie to the gods. They recoil and his punishment is sealed. Syriza have killed, baked and served up to the Eurozone their own mandate and policies, only to have them thrown back faceward. Mind you, in myth Pelops was revived, repaired, and taken on board by the gods, Demeter (the bountiful goddess) having eaten of the pie and wanting to turn back time. The IMF, under Lagarde, have eaten of the pie and taken on board its central spice, the need for debt relief, and are now busy with time travel experiments.

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Can’t cover all ideas in a summary. Read original.

A Union of Deflation and Unemployment (Andricopoulos)

On Twitter recently, someone posted that anyone who doesn’t understand the importance of the difference between a sovereign money supply and a non-sovereign money supply does not understand economics. I wholeheartedly agree with this. And the majority of comments I see on articles about the Greek situation confirms that most people don’t understand economics. I don’t even know where to begin with criticisms of the idea of a shared currency without shared government. There are three main problems:

Problem 1: It is very easy to get into debt: A country in the Euro has no control of its monetary policy. Therefore when Greece had negative real interest rates during the boom time, there was nothing it could do to prevent people borrowing money. When added to a government also borrowing to appease special interests, this can be disastrous. But Spain had this problem even whilst running government budget surpluses. A country in the Euro has very little control over fiscal policy due to the rules determining how much governments can borrow and save. So even if a government wanted to combat loose monetary policy with correctly tight fiscal policy, it couldn’t.

Problem 2: Once in debt is impossible to get out of debt: There are three main ways a government has historically gotten out of debt. The first is economic growth; a growing economy means that debt to GDP ratios go down as GDP rises. The second is inflation; if a government’s debt gets too large it can always resort to the printing press to help it out. The third is outright default.

Problem 3: After both of these are realised, economic growth becomes very difficult: Governments, chastened by the experience of Greece and knowing that they are effectively borrowing in a foreign currency, can not borrow much more. A sovereign nation would have no problem issuing 150 or 200% debt to GDP. The central bank would support them and they would know that real interest rates could not get too high. Not so a borrower of a foreign currency.

I think I show three things here:
• The only policy a country can follow if it wants to avoid debt crisis is to run a current account surplus.
• This leads to a policy of internal devaluation and deflation.
• This creates a positive feedback mechanism which leads to a spiral of deflation and unemployment.

This is true certainly as long as Germany insists on low inflation and trade surpluses but possibly anyway, just by the nature of the riskiness of sovereign borrowing. I would like to hereby offer my humble advice to the leaders in Europe; now is the time to give up on this unworkable idea before it becomes even more of a disaster.

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Very good. “Two crises with the same cause but very different outcomes.”

The Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis (Wren-Lewis)

The Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis are normally treated as different. Most accounts of the Great Recession see this as a consequence of a financial crisis caused by profligate lending by – in particular – US and UK banks. The crisis may have originated with US subprime mortgages, but few people blame the poor US citizens who took out those mortgages for causing a global financial crisis. With the Eurozone crisis that started in 2010, most people tend to focus on the borrowers rather than the lenders. Some ill-informed accounts say it was all the result of profligate periphery governments, but most explanations are more nuanced: in Greece government profligacy for sure, but in Ireland and other countries it was more about excessive private sector borrowing encouraged by low interest rates following adoption of the Euro.

Seeing things this way, it is a more complicated story, but still one that focuses on the borrowers. However if we see the Eurozone crisis from the point of view of the lenders, then it once again becomes a pretty simple story. French, German and other banks simply lent much too much, failing to adequately assess the viability of those they were lending to. Whether the lending was eventually to finance private sector projects that would end in default (via periphery country banks), or a particular government that would end up defaulting, becomes a detail. In this sense the Eurozone crisis was just like the global financial crisis: banks lent far too much in an indiscriminate and irresponsible way.

If borrowers get into difficulty in a way that threatens the solvency of lending banks, there are at least two ways a government or monetary union can react. One is to allow the borrowers to default, and to provide financial support to the banks. Another is to buy the problematic loans from the banks (at a price that keeps the banks solvent), so that the borrowers now borrow from the government. Perhaps the government thinks it is able to make the loans viable by forcing conditions on the borrowers that were not available to the bank.

The global financial crisis was largely dealt with the first way, while at the Eurozone level that crisis was dealt with the second way. Recall that between 2010 and 2012 the Troika lent money to Greece so it could pay off its private sector creditors (including many European banks). In 2012 there was partial private sector default, again financed by loans from the Troika to the Greek government. In this way the Troika in effect bought the problematic asset (Greek government debt) from private sector creditors that included its own banks in such a way as to protect the viability of these banks. The Troika then tried to make these assets viable in various ways, including austerity. Two crises with the same cause but very different outcomes.

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Taking Syriza apart?

Greece Prepares Itself To Face Another Year Of Political Turmoil (Observer)

Greece’s embattled prime minister is expected to come under intense fire in the coming weeks after leading figures in his own leftwing Syriza party rebelled against the adoption of further austerity as the price of keeping bankruptcy at bay. The prospect of the crisis-hit country being thrown, headlong, into political turmoil drew nearer amid speculation that Alexis Tsipras will be forced not only to reshuffle his cabinet, possibly as early as Monday, but to call fresh elections in the autumn. “I cannot support an austerity programme of neoliberal deregulation and privatisation,” said his energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, after refusing to endorse further tax increases and spending cuts in an early-morning vote on Saturday.

“If accepted by the [creditor] institutions and put into practice, they will exacerbate the vicious circle of recession, poverty and misery.” The Marxist politician, who heads Syriza’s militant wing and is in effect the government’s number three, was among 17 leftist MPs who broke ranks over the proposed reforms. Other defectors included the president of the 300-seat parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou; the deputy social security minister, Dimitris Stratoulis; and the former London University economics professor Costas Lapavitsas. All described the policies – key to securing solvency in the form of a third bailout – as ideologically incompatible with Syriza’s anti-austerity platform.

Whatever the outcome of this weekend’s emergency summit, Tsipras will face intense pressure at home when he is forced to push several of the measures through parliament. The house is expected this week to vote on tax increases and pension cuts – crucial to receiving a bridging loan that will allow Athens to honour debt payments including €3bn to the ECB on 20 July. “It is very hard to see how a government with this make-up can pass these measures,” said the political commentator Paschos Mandravelis. “Already several prime ministers have been ousted during this crisis attempting to do that very thing. The idea of a leftist trying is almost inconceivable.”

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Troika gutted the entire economy. Takes time to rebuild no matter what.

Greeks Resigned To A Hard, Bitter Future Whatever Deal Is Reached (Observer)

Greece has become so gloomy that even escapism no longer sells, the editor of the celebrity magazine OK! admits. “All celebrity magazines have to pretend everything is great, everyone is happy and relaxed, on holiday. But it is not,” says Nikos Georgiadis. Advertising has collapsed by three-quarters, the rich and famous are in hiding because no one wants to be snapped enjoying themselves – and even if OK! did have stories, a ban on spending money abroad means it is running out of the glossy Italian paper that the magazine is printed on. “We have celebrities calling and asking us not to feature them because they are afraid people will say ‘we are suffering and, look, you are having fun on the beach’,” Georgiadis says. “One did a photoshoot but then refused to do the interview. They don’t want to be in a lifestyle magazine.”

It might be easy to mock the panic of Greece’s gilded classes, if the only thing affected was the peddling of aspiration and envy. But the magazine provides jobs to many people whose lives are a world away from the ones they chronicle, and like thousands of others across Greece they are on the line as the government makes a last-ditch attempt to keep the country in the euro. “If we go back to the drachma, they told us the magazine will close. It’s possible we won’t have jobs to go to on Monday,” Georgiadis says bluntly, as negotiations with Greece’s European creditors headed towards the endgame.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras pushed a €13bn austerity package through parliament early on Saturday, overcoming a rebellion by his own MPs and sealing a dramatic and unexpected transformation from charismatic opponent of cuts to their most dogged defender. It seemed like nothing so much as a betrayal of those he had called out in their millions less than a week earlier to reject an almost identical package of painful reforms. Greece’s creditors had soon made clear though that they were not ready to improve bailout terms, even to keep the country in the euro. And so after painful days of cash shortages, closed banks, dwindling supplies of anything imported, from medicine to cigarettes, and mounting fear, the extraordinary U-turn was met with more resignation than anger.

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In the US.

A Coming Era Of Civil Disobedience? (Buchanan)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ordered a monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the Capitol. Calling the Commandments “religious in nature and an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths,” the court said the monument must go. Gov. Mary Fallin has refused. And Oklahoma lawmakers instead have filed legislation to let voters cut out of their constitution the specific article the justices invoked. Some legislators want the justices impeached. Fallin’s action seems a harbinger of what is to come in America — an era of civil disobedience like the 1960s, where court orders are defied and laws ignored in the name of conscience and a higher law. Only this time, the rebellion is likely to arise from the right.

Certainly, Americans are no strangers to lawbreaking. What else was our revolution but a rebellion to overthrow the centuries-old rule and law of king and Parliament, and establish our own? U.S. Supreme Court decisions have been defied, and those who defied them lionized by modernity. Thomas Jefferson freed all imprisoned under the sedition act, including those convicted in court trials presided over by Supreme Court justices. Jefferson then declared the law dead. Some Americans want to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, who, defying the Dred Scott decision and fugitive slave acts, led slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

New England abolitionists backed the anti-slavery fanatic John Brown, who conducted the raid on Harpers Ferry that got him hanged but helped to precipitate a Civil War. That war was fought over whether 11 Southern states had the same right to break free of Mr. Lincoln’s Union as the 13 colonies did to break free of George III’s England. Millions of Americans, with untroubled consciences, defied the Volstead Act, imbibed alcohol and brought an end to Prohibition. In the civil rights era, defying laws mandating segregation and ignoring court orders banning demonstrations became badges of honor. Rosa Parks is a heroine because she refused to give up her seat on a Birmingham bus, despite the laws segregating public transit that relegated blacks to the “back of the bus.”

In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King, defending civil disobedience, cited Augustine — “an unjust law is no law at all” — and Aquinas who defined an unjust law as “a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.” Said King, “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” But who decides what is an “unjust law”?

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Mar 082015
 
 March 8, 2015  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Sternwheeler Falls City, the levee, Vicksburg, Mississippi 1900

Austria Is Fast Becoming Europe’s Latest Debt Nightmare (Telegraph)
Tsipras: ‘We Don’t Want to Go on Borrowing Forever’ (Spiegel)
Eurogroup To Consider Greek Reform Proposals Amid Scramble For Funding (Kath.)
The ECB’s Lunatic Full Monty Treatment (Tenebrarum)
7 Things To Know About The ECB’s QE Game Plan (MarketWatch)
30 Years Of A Polarised Economy Have Squeezed Out The Middle Class (Observer)
Foreign Banks Tighten Lending Rules For China State-Backed Firms (Reuters)
China’s February Exports Surge 48.3% (CNBC)
Azerbaijan Should Be Very Afraid of Victoria Nuland (GR)
EU Won’t Be Pushed Into Confrontation Over Ukraine – Foreign Policy Chief (RT)
Why Do Russians Still Support Vladimir Putin? (New Statesman)
The Dark Undercurrents Of The War In The Ukraine (Saker)
‘Give Peace A Chance, Decide Sanctions Later’: EU Rethinks Russia (RT)
Layoffs And Empty Streets As Australia’s Boom Towns Go Bust (Reuters)
Venezuela To Get South American Help For Food Crisis (BBC)
Why Fresh Water Shortages Will Cause The Next Great Global Crisis (Guardian)
The Francis Miracle: Inside The Transformation Of The Pope And The Church (TIME)

The hills are alive with the sound of too little money.

Austria Is Fast Becoming Europe’s Latest Debt Nightmare (Telegraph)

Ah Austria, land of schnitzel, lederhosen, Mozart, alpine meadows and beer drinking. Less widely appreciated is its special place in the history of catastrophic banking crises. It was the failure of Creditanstalt, a Viennese bank founded in 1855 by Anselm von Rothschild, that arguably sparked the Great Depression, setting off an unstoppable chain reaction of bankruptcies throughout Europe and America. No-one would think that what happened last week at Austria’s failed Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank International falls into quite the same category; we are meant to be in the recovery phase of the latest global banking crisis, so this is more about re-setting the system than again bringing it to its knees, right? Well, make up your own mind. I suspect neither financial markets nor policymakers have yet caught onto the full significance of the latest turn of events.

In a nutshell, the Austrian government has had enough of funding the bank’s losses, and announced plans to “bail-in” external creditors to the tune of €7.6bn instead. As such, this marks a test case of new European rules to make creditors pay for failing banks. About time too, you might say. What took them so long? Only in this case, the bonds are notionally guaranteed by the Austrian state of Carinthia, which now theoretically becomes liable for the bail-in. It’s an echo of the mess Ireland got itself into at the height of the banking crisis, when it foolishly attempted to stem the panic by underwriting all Irish banking liabilities; the move very nearly ended up bankrupting the entire country. Hypo will bankrupt Carinthia. Essentially, what the Austrian government is doing is cutting loose an entire region, rather in the way the federal authorities in the US allowed Detroit to go bust a number of years ago.

It’s a mini-Greece going off in the heartlands of Europe. In Hypo’s case, the bail-in also threatens knock-on consequences for public bodies elsewhere, including Bayern Landesbank, a big holder of Hypo bonds which is owned by the German state of Bavaria, and the Munich based FMSW, which is again publicly underwritten. All this is just the tip of the iceberg; Europe is awash with interlinked banking and public liabilities, many of which will never be repaid and basically need to be written off. Massive creditor losses are in prospect. The European authorities had us all half convinced that Europe’s debt crisis was over. In truth, it may have barely begun.

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Good interview. Read.

Tsipras: ‘We Don’t Want to Go on Borrowing Forever’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, most of your European partners are indignant. They accuse you of saying one thing in Brussels and then saying something completely different back home in Athens. Do you understand where such accusations come from?
Tsipras: We say the same things in Germany as we do in Greece. But sometimes, problems can be viewed differently, depending on the perspective. (He points to his water glass.) This glass here can be described as being half full or half empty. The reality is that it is a glass filled half-way with water.

SPIEGEL: In Brussels, you have given up your demands for a debt haircut. But back home in Athens, you continue talking about a haircut. What does that have to do with perspective?
Tsipras: At the summit meeting, I used the language of reality. I said: Prior to the bailout program, Greece had a sovereign debt that was 129% of its economic output. Now, it is 176%. No matter how you look at that, it’s not possible to service that debt. But there are different ways to solve this problem: via a debt cut, debt restructuring or bonds whose payback is tied to growth. The most important thing, though, is solving the true problem: the austerity which has driven debt way up.

SPIEGEL: Are you a linguist or a politician? You told the Greeks that you got rid of the troika and sold it as a victory. But the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) are still monitoring your reforms. Now, they are simply called “the institutions.”
Tsipras: No, it isn’t a question of terminology. It has to do with the core of the issue. Every country in Europe has to work together with these institutions. But that is something very different than a troika that is beholden to nobody. Its officials came to Greece to strictly monitor us. Now, we are again speaking directly with the institutions. Europe has become more democratic because of this change.

SPIEGEL: What change? You still have to submit your reform plans to three “institutions” for approval.
Tsipras: The reforms won’t be approved by the institutions. They have a say in the process and establish a framework that applies to all in Europe. Previously, the situation was such that the troika would send an email telling the Greek government what it had to do. Our planned reforms are necessary, but we are deciding on them ourselves. They aren’t being forced onto us by anyone. We want to stop large-scale tax evasion and tax fraud more than anybody. Thus far, it has only been the low earners and not the wealthy that paid. We also want to make the state more efficient.

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Lots of emptiness.

Eurogroup To Consider Greek Reform Proposals Amid Scramble For Funding (Kath.)

Greece faces another tough Eurogroup summit Monday when a slew of reform proposals from Athens are to come under the microscope in Brussels, with the two sides apparently far from a compromise even as state coffers in Athens are close to emptying. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis is expected to face a barrage of questions from his eurozone counterparts on a series of proposals set out in an 11-page letter he sent to Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, which include the creation of a so-called fiscal council to generate budget savings, the revision of licensing for gaming and lotteries and the hiring of non-professionals, including students and tourists, as tax agents to help a foundering crackdown on tax evasion.

Sources suggested over the weekend that the proposals had met with skepticism from eurozone officials. In comments on Saturday on the sidelines of a conference in Venice, Varoufakis said he had received a response from Dijsselbloem. He added that Greece was keen to move forward with reforms but that the two sides must agree on “the process by which the reforms will be made more specific, implemented and evaluated so that they can be reviewed by the Eurogroup.” Varoufakis added that Greece’s reform program would be “discussed by technical teams that will convene shortly in Brussels.” Some eurozone officials appeared to be running out of patience. ECB governing council member Luc Coene said in an interview on Saturday that Greece must realize “there is no other way than to reform,” noting that Greeks had been sold “false promises.”

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“Perhaps the cupboards of the monetary bureaucrats are short a few plates and in need of a little pharmacological fine-tuning. Just saying.”

The ECB’s Lunatic Full Monty Treatment (Tenebrarum)

The belief that the market economy requires “steering” by altruistic central bankers, who make decisions influencing the entire economy based on their personal epiphanies, has rarely been more pronounced than today. Most probably it has actually never been stronger. It is both highly amusing and disconcerting that so many economists who would probably almost to a man agree that it would be a very bad idea if the government were to e.g. take over the computer industry and begin designing PCs and smart phones by committee, think that government bureaucrats should determine the height of interest rates and the size of the money supply.

We know of course that central banks are the major income source for many of today’s macro-economists, so it is in their own interest not to make any impolitic noises about these central planning institutions and their activities. Besides, most Western economists have not exactly covered themselves with glory back when the old Soviet Union still existed. Even in the late 1980s, Über-Keynesian Alan Blinder for instance still remarked that the question was not whether we should follow its example and adopt socialism, but rather how much of it we should adopt. The recent ECB announcement detailing its new “QE” program once again confirms though that there is nothing even remotely “scientific” about what these planners are doing. Common sense doesn’t seem to play any discernible role either. [..]

Leaving for the moment aside how sensible it is for the bond yields of virtually insolvent governments mired in “debt trap” dynamics to trade at less than 1.3%, one must wonder: what can possibly be gained by pushing them even lower? Does this make any sense whatsoever? Meanwhile, the ECB let it be known that it wouldn’t buy any bonds with a negative yield-to-maturity exceeding 20 basis points – the level its negative deposit rate currently inhabits as well. What a relief! What makes just as little sense is that the economic outlook presented by Mr. Draghi on occasion of his press conference was actually quite upbeat. To summarize: yields are at record lows, with about €2 trillion in European government bonds sporting negative yields to maturity. The economic outlook is said to be good.

The current slightly negative HICP rate is held to be a transitory phenomenon (it very likely will be). Needless to say, the arbitrary 2% target for “price inflation” makes absolutely no sense anyway. Not a single iota of wealth can be created by pushing prices up. Last but certainly not least, year-on-year money supply growth in the euro area has soared into double digits recently. And the conclusion from all this is that the central bank needs to boost its balance sheet by €1 trillion with a massive debt monetization program? Are these people on drugs? If not, then they should perhaps see a shrink. Perhaps the cupboards of the monetary bureaucrats are short a few plates and in need of a little pharmacological fine-tuning. Just saying.

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It’s no longer useful to view this from an investor point of view.

7 Things To Know About The ECB’s QE Game Plan (MarketWatch)

After years of discussion, months of urgent calls and weeks of preparation, the European Central Bank is about to write history—on Monday it will kick of its €1.1 trillion-euro, quantitative-easing program. Unlike its U.S., U.K. and Japanese central-bank peers, the ECB never resorted to sovereign QE at the height of the global financial crisis. Instead, it’s attempted an array of other extraordinary policy measures, including a negative deposit rate, programs to provide cheap funding to eurozone banks, and a less-powerful bond-buying program, often called “private QE,” focused on purchasing asset-backed securities and covered bonds. Now, as investors prepare for the launch of full-blown QE on March 9, here’s what we know about the program so far.

What’s the aim of the QE? Under quantitative easing, a central bank creates money electronically, which it then uses to buy securities, such as government bonds, from banks and other institutions. It’s hoped that these institutions will then use the new bank reserves to buy other assets, lowering interest rates and encouraging spending. The ECB hopes QE will revive growth and inflation in the eurozone. Despite repeated attempts to spur an economic recovery, the currency bloc is still grappling with painfully high unemployment, slow growth and negative inflation among its members.

Will the ECB buy government bonds with negative yields?Yes, but nothing that carries a yield below the ECB’s own deposit rate, which currently stands at negative 0.2%. The limit means that bonds currently yielding more than the deposit rate have room to fall further. Even before the big QE bazooka has been fired, yields for most eurozone countries have tanked. For Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Holland and Finland borrowing costs for shorter-dated debt are now negative, meaning that bondholders essentially agree to pay issuers to hold their debt.

What will QE do to bond yields? Initially, sovereign QE and lower bond yields should march together hand in hand. As the ECB buys large quantities of government debt, bond prices should go up, which will send yields lower. On Friday, borrowing costs for Italy, Spain and Portugal dropped to record lows in anticipation of QE takeoff. However, big moves in the bond markets show much of the impact may have already been priced in. Longer-term, as the QE liquidity injection begins to work on the eurozone economy, and likely boost inflation and growth, bond yields should start to rise to reflect the stronger economy. The latest eurozone data indicate that the region may be turning a corner, leaving room for higher borrowing costs.

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London is a wasteland. It may be rich, but it’s still a wasteland. No there there.

30 Years Of A Polarised Economy Have Squeezed Out The Middle Class (Observer)

London has always been a city of extremes but the extent to which it has become polarised between rich and poor is laid bare in research that reveals a 43% decrease in middle-income households between 1980 and 2010. England is increasingly divided between the rich and the poor, with a 60% increase in poor households and a 33% increase in wealthy households. This has come at a time – 1980 to 2010 – when the number of middle-income households went down by 27%. But the trend is most marked in London, according to an analysis of census data by Benjamin Hennig and Danny Dorling of the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford.

Over the three decades, the capital has seen an 80% increase in poor households, an 80% increase in wealthy households – and a 43% decrease in middle households. Around 36% of London households are now classified as poor (up from 20% in 1980), while 37% are middle income (down from 65%). The largest%age point fall in households in the middle has been in Westminster, which saw its middle reduce from nearly three-quarters of all households to just one-third. The largest%age-point increase in wealthy households has been in Richmond-upon-Thames, where more than half of households are now wealthy, compared with a fifth in 1980. In contrast, in Newham, almost one in two households is now poor.

The researchers have drawn up maps of England according to wealth, described by Dorling as “fancy pie charts”. The polarising of wealth has been exacerbated in recent years, with economic growth having been slower than had been hoped, and wages in the middle failing to rise in parallel with the recovery. The economic divide between the beneficiaries of the property bubble and non-homeowners also continues to widen in the country as a whole, with upward pressure on land values. Dorling said: “This analysis shows that England is becoming more polarised, with an increase in households that are poor and those that are wealthy. The number of households in poverty has jumped by 60% since 1980, meaning that now almost three in 10 are poor.

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So more PBOC QE too?

Foreign Banks Tighten Lending Rules For China State-Backed Firms (Reuters)

Some banks are adopting stricter lending criteria for China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs), demanding collateral from some companies they used to deem as safe as government debt, as Beijing tries to reform its bloated firms and the economy slows. Singapore’s DBS Group, which recently suffered a loss on a bad loan to an SOE-related firm it had assessed as risk-free, plans to launch a “decision grid” to assess the creditworthiness of SOEs, according to draft internal risk guidelines reviewed by Reuters. A banker at Taiwan’s Chang Hwa Commercial Bank said that from the beginning of this year his bank would only lend to state-owned Chinese companies that provide collateral, in recognition that SOEs were no longer risk free.

Such changes in policy suggest some foreign banks are preparing for a rise in defaults in the world’s second-largest economy, which is growing at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century and where the government is trying to make the state sector more efficient.
DBS will now lend more conservatively to SOEs seen as receiving less government support, as China plans to prioritize SOEs in strategic sectors. The January-dated DBS document said: “Not all SOEs receive the same degree of government support. It is our further belief that the differentiation of such support will widen in the future as the government continues to pursue market economy.” DBS will now divide SOEs into tiers according to their likely level of government support, with subsidiaries considered more risky than top-level holding companies.

Group companies that are not consolidated into the parent SOE’s financial statements will be evaluated as an ordinary borrower, the decision grid shows. DBS effectively acknowledges that lenders can no longer take for granted implicit support from above. “Compared to ordinary corporates, implicit support obtained from the parents of SOEs are subject to higher risks because of the risk of policy and people changes,” the document said. A DBS spokeswoman said: “It is still business as usual for us in China. With slower regional economic growth, we continue to be disciplined and watchful of risks in all the markets we operate in..”

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C’mon, admit it, you were due for a good laugh.

China’s February Exports Surge 48.3% (CNBC)

China’s exports surged 48.3% on year in February, sharply above analysts’ forecasts, potentially signaling stronger economic growth for its trade partners. Imports fell 20.5% for the period, according to data from China’s customs department. A Reuters poll had forecast exports would rise 14.2% and imports would fall 10%. For January and February combined – a common metric to help smoothe distortions from the Lunar New Year holiday period – exports rose 15% from a year earlier, while imports declined 20.2%. “The demand from the advanced economies bodes well,” ANZ said in a note Sunday, citing data showing shipments to the U.S. and European Union rose 40.3% and 36.6% on-year respectively.

But the bank noted that the jump in exports could be due to a base effect. “The February 2014 figures were extremely low as Chinese authorities cracked down the round-tripping trade flows,” it said. “We still see strong headwinds facing China’s exports this year,” ANZ said, citing weak export order PMI data. ANZ attributed the decline in imports to weak commodity demand compounded by sharp drops in commodity prices, citing as an example the 45.4% on year drop in the value of iron-ore imports, although the iron-ore import volume only fell 0.9%. As well, “Chinese commercial banks have significantly tightened the trade financing facilities for commodity traders,” ANZ said.

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“..it is not likely that she came to Baku with positive intentions, or even with a positive image of the country in her mind.”

Azerbaijan Should Be Very Afraid of Victoria Nuland (GR)

The US’ Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, visited Baku on 16 February as part of her trip to the Caucasus, which also saw her paying stops in Georgia and Armenia. While Azerbaijan has had positive relations with the US since independence, they’ve lately been complicated by Washington’s ‘pro-democracy’ rhetoric and subversive actions in the country. Nuland’s visit, despite her warm words of friendship, must be look at with maximum suspicion, since it’s not known what larger ulterior motives she represents on behalf of the US government. [..]

Given the ideological context in which Nuland likely sees eye-to-eye on with her husband, plus her experience in instigating the Color Revolution in Ukraine, it is not likely that she came to Baku with positive intentions, or even with a positive image of the country in her mind. This is all the more so due to the recent scandal over Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The US-government-sponsored information agency was closed down at the end of December under accusations that it was operating as a foreign agent. While the US has harshly chided the Azeri government for this, at the end of the day, it remains the country’s sovereign decision and right to handle suspected foreign agents as it sees fit. Azerbaijan’s law is similar to Russia’s, in that entities receiving foreign funds must register as foreign agents, and interestingly enough, both of these laws parallel the US’ own 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

So why does the US feel that it reserves the sole right to register foreign agents and entities, and if need be, identify and punish those that are acting in the country illegally, but Azerbaijan is deprived of this exercise of sovereignty? The reason is rather simple, actually – it’s the US that is the most likely to use these foreign agents to destabilize and potentially overthrow governments (as in Ukraine most recently), whereas Azeri agents in America, should they even exist, are nothing more than an administrative nuisance incapable of inflicting any real harm on the authorities. This double standard is at the core of the US’ relations with all countries in the world, not just Azerbaijan, but it’s a telling example of the power and leverage Washington attempts to hold over Baku, which is seen most visibly by the blistering criticism leveled on the government after Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s closing in compliance with the law.

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Too little too late. Fait accompli.

EU Won’t Be Pushed Into Confrontation Over Ukraine – Foreign Policy Chief (RT)

The EU is resisting calls from hotheads to supply arms to Ukraine, saying it won’t be pulled into a confrontation with Russia. Europeans cite the progress in implementing a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine between Kiev and local rebels. The idea of providing lethal aid to Kiev is popular among many NATO officials and American politicians. US House Speaker John Boehner and a bipartisan group of top lawmakers called on President Barack Obama to deliver the weapons. But Europeans are opposing the move, which would likely escalate tensions with Russia. “The European Union today is extremely realistic about developments in Russia. But we will never be trapped or forced or pushed or pulled into a confrontative [sic] attitude,” the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini told the media on Friday, following an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia.

“We still believe that around our continent – not only in but around – cooperation is far better than confrontation. We still argue for that,” she added. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the EU’s goal in Ukraine is “a ceasefire, not an escalation.” Germany has been among the most vocal critics of sending arms to Ukraine and now German officials question the assessment of the situation in the country voiced by Kiev armament pundits. “The statements [on Ukraine] from our source do not fully coincide with the statements made by NATO and the US,” German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the conference. “We are interested in not allowing it to grow into a misunderstanding.” The German Spiegel magazine reported on Saturday that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government suspects the US and NATO of trying to derail the EU’s mediation effort in Ukraine.

The Minsk ceasefire agreement between Kiev and rebels in eastern Ukraine was brokered last month by Germany, France and Russia. So far, it’s mostly holding, with both parties pulling some of their heavy weapons back from the front line, and OSCE monitors reporting a significant reduction in violence. The EU says it wants to increase the number of OSCE observers on the ground, doubling its current ceiling of 500. “The main point is obviously working to increase the number of selected and skilled people that can do the job,” Mogherini said. The more observers the tougher it would be to violate the conditions of the Minsk agreement with impunity. Kiev and its foreign backers, particularly in Washington, accuse Russia of propping up the rebel forces with weapons and troops. Moscow insists that it has no involvement in the armed conflict and has only delivered humanitarian aid to the ravaged areas.

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“86% of the respondents approve of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president. When asked to name five or six politicians or government officials they trust, 59% responded: ”Putin”.”

Why Do Russians Still Support Vladimir Putin? (New Statesman)

The news of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition politician, dominated the news this weekend. It was possible to imagine – just for a day or two – that the charismatic Boris Nemtsov, who first entered the national political arena in Russia back in the Yeltsin days, had been a prominent figure without whom the opposition would struggle to have a say against Kremlin. Unfortunately, the truth is that Nemtsov was hardly a force to be reckoned with. However open his position on Putin was and however brave his last interview to the Moscow radio station Echo Moskvy was, just hours before his death, Boris Nemtsov was not important. Like any other opposition leader in Russia, he was a scribble on the margin of current affairs. The overwhelming majority of the Russian population supports the country’s president, Vladimir Putin.

A recent poll, conducted between 20-23 February 2015 among 1,600 Russians aged 18 or more in 46 different regions of Russia by an independent Russian not-for-profit market research agency Levada Centre for Echo Moskvy radio station, found that 54% of the population agreed that “[Russia] is moving in the right direction”. 86% of the respondents approve of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president. When asked to name five or six politicians or government officials they trust, 59% responded: ”Putin”.

Let’s put aside the possibility of rigged polls because there is little to suggest Putin’s popularity is fake. Putin is respected, if not revered. He is referred to as batyushka, the holy father. Many Russians are particularly upset and angry about Nemtsov’s murder because western fingers are pointing at Putin. In their opinion, Nemtsov was most likely killed as a provocation to destabilise Russia and fuel hostility between Kremlin and the west. “With all due respect to the memory of Boris Nemtsov, in political terms he did not pose any threat to the current Russian leadership or Vladimir Putin, said presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov. “If we compare popularity levels, Putin’s and the government’s ratings and so on, in general Boris Nemtsov was just a little bit more than an average citizen.”

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Who’s “our son of a bitch“?

The Dark Undercurrents Of The War In The Ukraine (Saker)

The situation in the Ukraine is more or less calm right now, and this might be the time to step back from the flow of daily reports and look at the deeper, underlying currents. The question I want to raise today is one I will readily admit not having an answer to. What I want to ask is this: could it be that one of the key factors motivating the West’s apparently illogical and self-defeating desire to constantly confront Russia is simply revanchism for WWII? We are, of course, talking about perceptions here so it is hard to establish anything for sure, but I wonder if the Stalin’s victory against Hitler was really perceived as such by the western elites, or if it was perceived as a victory against somebody FDR could also have called “our son of a bitch“. After all, there is plenty of evidence that both the US and the UK were key backers of Hitler’s rise to power (read Starikov about that) and that most (continental) Europeans were rather sympathetic to Herr Hitler.

Then, of course and as it often happens, Hitler turned against his masters or, at least, his supporters, and they had to fight against him. But there is strictly nothing new about that. This is also what happened with Saddam, Noriega, Gaddafi, al-Qaeda and so many other “bad guy” who began their careers as the AngloZionists’ “good guys”. Is it that unreasonable to ask whether the western elites were truly happy when the USSR beat Nazi Germany, or if they were rather horrified by what Stalin had done to what was at that time the single most powerful western military – Germany’s? [..] for the western elites, [..] they must have known that their entire war effort was, at most, 20% of what it took to defeat Nazi Germany and that those who had shouldered 80%+ were of an ideology diametrically opposed to capitalism. Is there any evidence of that fear? I think there is and I already mentioned them in the past:

Plan Totality (1945): earmarked 20 Soviet cities for obliteration in a first strike: Moscow, Gorki, Kuybyshev, Sverdlovsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Saratov, Kazan, Leningrad, Baku, Tashkent, Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Magnitogorsk, Molotov, Tbilisi, Stalinsk, Grozny, Irkutsk, and Yaroslavl.

Operation Unthinkable (1945) assumed a surprise attack by up to 47 British and American divisions in the area of Dresden, in the middle of Soviet lines.This represented almost a half of roughly 100 divisions (ca. 2.5 million men) available to the British, American and Canadian headquarters at that time. (…) The majority of any offensive operation would have been undertaken by American and British forces, as well as Polish forces and up to 100,000 German Wehrmacht soldiers.

Operation Dropshot (1949): included mission profiles that would have used 300 nuclear bombs and 29,000 high-explosive bombs on 200 targets in 100 cities and towns to wipe out 85% of the Soviet Union’s industrial potential at a single stroke. Between 75 and 100 of the 300 nuclear weapons were targeted to destroy Soviet combat aircraft on the ground.

But the biggest proof is, I think, the fact that none of these plans was executed, even though at the time the Anglosphere was safely hidden behind its monopoly on nuclear weapons (and have Hiroshima and Nagasaki not been destroyed in part to “scare the Russians”?). And is it not true that the Anglos did engage in secret negotiations with Hitler’s envoys on several occasions? (The notion of uniting forces against the “Soviet threat” was in fact contemplated by both Nazi and Anglo officials, but they did not find a way to make that happen.) So could it be that Hitler was, really, their “son of a bitch”?

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“We support sanctions that bring the other side to the negotiation table.. But we are against sanctions that are imposed simply because someone is angry.”

‘Give Peace A Chance, Decide Sanctions Later’: EU Rethinks Russia (RT)

The latest EU meeting has shown that many of its members are in no rush to extend the sanctions which were imposed on Russia last year following a US example, or to exert any more pressure on Moscow, as long as the Minsk ceasefire agreement is holding. Most foreign ministers at the EU two-day meeting in the Latvian capital expressed hopes that the latest Minsk agreement would be a success, and there would be no need to impose further sanctions on Russia. The meeting had a format of an informal discussion, where the ministers touched the topics of the Minsk agreements and the OSCE mission in Ukraine, as well as the possible stepping up of pressure on Russia to “promote peace.”

Scheduled ten days before an official summit in Brussels, the meeting has shown that the EU can’t yet agree even on the automatic extension of existing sanctions – a move that some of the hawkish states have been actively promoting. “In my opinion, we must not make any other steps, we have to give peace a chance. The extension could take place, but only if there is no improvement of the situation,” Spanish FM Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said, expressing his views after the meeting , according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The Spanish FM is heading to Moscow, during which he will not only discuss the Ukrainian crisis, but will also meet with the Russian Energy minister.

Meanwhile, Italian FM Paolo Gentiloni told reporters the he sees “encouraging signals” on the ground in eastern Ukraine, and so “at the moment we don’t need either new sanctions or automatic renewals.” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz shared the views of his Italian counterpart, saying that there is a “glimpse of hope” following the Minsk agreements: “We should do everything now to improve the situation and decide later whether that improvement really happened and we can reduce the sanctions, or, if we have to, extend them,” Kurz said. Greece has also spoke out against any new sanctions as long as Russia supports the Minsk agreements, with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias saying the Greek experience suggests that “not every sanction is constructive” and can succeed. “We support sanctions that bring the other side to the negotiation table,” Kotzias told German ARD. “But we are against sanctions that are imposed simply because someone is angry.”

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Wait! Where have we heard this before? “Owner will throw in a brand new car..” “Just pick your favorite colour.”

Layoffs And Empty Streets As Australia’s Boom Towns Go Bust (Reuters)

When Probo Junio got a visa to work in Australia, he thought he had won a ticket to the good life. In 2013, the 45-year-old boilermaker left his hometown of Cebu in the Philippines, where he was getting paid about $10 a day, to work in Karratha in Western Australia for $30 an hour. Enough to support his relatives and build a new life Down Under. What Junio didn’t expect was that Australia’s booming resources industry would go bust less than two years later, taking his job, and leaving him just 60 days to find work or go home. “It’s very difficult because most of the companies don’t want 457 visa holders,” he said, referring to temporary permits for skilled workers.Across the country, people like Junio are falling victim to downsizing. Jobs, once plentiful and well paid, are scarce.

Real estate prices in boom towns are sinking and even the notoriously high coffee prices in mining capital Perth have levelled off at under $4. Prices of iron ore and coal, the country’s two biggest export earners, have plunged during the last two years amid falling demand from China, in the wake of its economic slowdown. Just a few years ago, foreign workers were flooding into Australia, lured by huge pay as the resources industry scrambled to fill positions. Truck driving and cooking jobs offering $100,000 a year made headlines abroad. But those workers, like Junio, are now hard-pressed to find work, especially if they are on temporary visas. Even permanent residents have to take lower pay. “There is reality coming into the marketplace about salaries,” said John Downing, who runs global resources recruiting firm Downing Teal, adding that salary expectations have fallen 10% to 25%.

“For Lease” signs are everywhere in West Perth, the headquarters of many mining, oil and gas companies. “You could shoot a cannon down those streets,” said resources analyst Peter Strachan. “There’s nobody there.”Commercial vacancy rates in the city are near a 20-year high of 15% as resources companies downsize or shut down, said Joe Lenzo, of the Property Council of Australia. The real estate market has also been hit in the coal country of Queensland, across the continent. “Owner will throw in a brand new car,” read advertisements for houses in the coal-mining town of Moranbah. “Just pick your favorite colour.”

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There’s something very positive about South America.

Venezuela To Get South American Help For Food Crisis (BBC)

Foreign ministers from 12 South American nations gathering in Caracas have promised to help Venezuela overcome an ongoing shortage of food, medicine and other products. The regional Unasur bloc agreed with President Nicolas Maduro to provide items that have gone missing from many Venezuelan supermarkets. The shortage of staples has contributed to popular discontent. Unasur highlighted the importance of safeguarding democratic stability. “The idea is to get all the countries to support the distribution of staples,” said Ernesto Samper, Secretary-General of Unasur (Union of South American Nations). “We will work together with the Venezuelan authorities to strengthen the distribution networks in our countries so they help Venezuela,” said Mr Samper.

He criticised recent anti-government protests in Venezuela that descended into violence. The opposition must “express its opinions in a democratic, peaceful and lawful manner,” said Mr Samper. The Unasur ministers will meet opposition leaders and government officials in the next few days to seek guarantees that Venezuela will be able to hold free and fair elections later this year. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that Mr Maduro could cancel the vote, which is scheduled for the second half of this year. “The government had never had such a large deficit [in the polls] heading into an election. Now it does. How does it change that? It rigs the game,” said Mr Capriles. Mr Maduro said the elections would go ahead as planned.

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“For us, water is [now] more important than oil.”

Why Fresh Water Shortages Will Cause The Next Great Global Crisis (Guardian)

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water. The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water. Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle, drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater.

City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added. In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. In the Middle East, swaths of countryside have been reduced to desert because of overuse of water. Iran is one of the most severely affected. Heavy overconsumption, coupled with poor rainfall, have ravaged its water resources and devastated its agricultural output. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates is now investing in desalination plants and waste water treatment units because it lacks fresh water.

As crown prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan admitted: “For us, water is [now] more important than oil.” The global nature of the crisis is underlined in similar reports from other regions. In south Asia, for example, there have been massive losses of groundwater, which has been pumped up with reckless lack of control over the past decade. About 600 million people live on the 2,000km area that extends from eastern Pakistan, across the hot dry plains of northern India and into Bangladesh, and the land is the most intensely irrigated in the world. Up to 75% of farmers rely on pumped groundwater to water their crops and water use is intensifying – at the same time that satellite images shows supplies are shrinking alarmingly.

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“I look at . . . so many forests, all cut, that have become land . . . that can [no] longer give life..”

The Francis Miracle: Inside The Transformation Of The Pope And The Church (TIME)

It was probably inevitable that the first pope named Francis—inspired by a saint who preached to birds and gave pet names to the sun and the moon—has turned out to be a strong environmentalist. In fact, Francis has said that concern for the environment is a defining Christian virtue. (The young Jorge Bergoglio trained as a chemist, so he has a foundation to appreciate the scientific issues involved.) This element of the social gospel bubbled to the surface as early as his inaugural mass, when Francis issued a plea to “let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” St. Francis’s imprint on this pope is clearly strong. In unscripted comments during a meeting with the president of Ecuador in April 2013, he said, “Take good care of creation. St. Francis wanted that.

People occasionally forgive, but nature never does. If we don’t take care of the environment, there’s no way of getting around it.” The two previous popes were also environmentalists. The mountain-climbing, kayaking John Paul II was a strong apostle for ecology, once issuing an almost apocalyptic warning that humans “must finally stop before the abyss” and take better care of nature. Benedict XVI’s ecological streak was so strong that he earned a reputation as “the Green Pope” because of his repeated calls for stronger environmental protection, as well as gestures such as installing solar panels atop a Vatican audience hall and signing an agreement to make the Vatican Europe’s first carbon-neutral state. Francis is carrying that tradition forward.

Among other things, he told French President François Hollande during a January 2014 meeting that he is working on an encyclical on the environment. (An encyclical is considered the most developed and authoritative form of papal teaching.) The Vatican has since confirmed that Francis indeed intends to deliver the first encyclical ever devoted entirely to environmental issues. In a July 2014 talk at the Italian university of Molise, Francis described harm to the environment as “one of the greatest challenges of our times.” It’s a challenge, he said, that’s theological as well as political in nature. “I look at . . . so many forests, all cut, that have become land . . . that can [no] longer give life,” the pope continued, citing South American woodlands in particular. “This is our sin, exploiting the Earth. . . . This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation.”

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Mar 072015
 
 March 7, 2015  Posted by at 11:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Bulletin press car: Mitchell auto at Yosemite National Park 1920

A Fair Hearing For Sovereign Debt (Stiglitz/Guzman)
Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine (Spiegel)
Week of Milestones for US Stocks Spoiled by Fed Rate Anxiety (Bloomberg)
Dear Janet Yellen: We’re Nowhere Close To Full Employment (MarketWatch)
‘A Conspiracy Of Silence’: HSBC, Guardian And The Defrauded British Public (ML)
Almost 100 Families Evicted Daily In Spain (RT)
It Might Be Time To Panic About Greek Government Bonds (John Dizard)
Greek And German Bruisers Limber Up For ‘Rumble In The Eurozone’ (AFP)
Europe Holds ‘Noose Around Greek Necks’ Says PM Tsipras (Telegraph)
Time For Greece To Plan Its Exodus From The Euro (MarketWatch)
Greece Sends Proposals, But No Decision Due At Monday’s Eurogroup (Kathimerini)
Cash-Strapped Greece Repays First Part Of IMF Loan Due In March (Reuters)
Greece Wants Immediate Talks With Troika On Bailout, Eyes Follow-up Deal (Reuters)
The Noise From Brazil? An Economy On The Brink (Guardian)
Brazil Supreme Court Clears Probe of Top Lawmakers Amid Petrobras Scandal (WSJ)
Petrobras Has a $13.7 Billion Yard Sale (Bloomberg)
RBS Top Bankers Received Millions Despite £3.5 Billion Loss (Guardian)
EU To Hold Immigrants At Bay With Third-Country Asylum Centers (RT)
ISIS Generates Up To $1 Billion Annually From Trafficking Afghan Heroin (RT)

“..simple modifications like contract amendments will not overcome the system’s deficiencies.”

A Fair Hearing For Sovereign Debt (Stiglitz/Guzman)

Last July, when United States federal judge Thomas Griesa ruled that Argentina had to repay in full the so-called vulture funds that had bought its sovereign debt at rockbottom prices, the country was forced into default, or “Griesafault”. The decision reverberated far and wide, affecting bonds issued in a variety of jurisdictions, suggesting that US courts held sway over contracts executed in other countries. Ever since, lawyers and economists have tried to untangle the befuddling implications of Griesa’s decision. Does the authority of US courts really extend beyond America’s borders? Now, a court in the UK has finally brought some clarity to the issue, ruling that Argentina’s interest payments on bonds issued under UK law are covered by UK law, not US judicial rulings.

The decision – a welcome break from a series of decisions by American judges who do not seem to understand the complexities of global financial markets – conveys some important messages. First and foremost, the fact that the Argentinian debt negotiations were pre-empted by an American court – which was then contradicted by a British court – is a stark reminder that market-based solutions to sovereign-debt crises have a high potential for chaos. Before the Griesafault, it was often mistakenly assumed that solutions to sovereign-debt repayment problems could be achieved through decentralised negotiations, without a strong legal framework. Even afterwards, the financial community and the IMF hoped to establish some order in sovereign-bond markets simply by tweaking debt contracts, particularly the terms of so-called collective-action clauses (which bind all creditors to a restructuring proposal approved by a supermajority).

But simple modifications like contract amendments will not overcome the system’s deficiencies. With multiple debts subject to a slew of sometimes-contradictory laws in different jurisdictions, a basic formula for adding the votes of creditors – which supporters of a market-based approach have promoted – would do little to resolve complicated bargaining problems. Nor would it establish the exchange rates to be used to value debt issued in different currencies. If these problems are left to markets to address, sheer bargaining power, not considerations of efficiency or equity, will determine the solutions. The consequences of these deficiencies are not mere inconveniences. Delays in concluding debt restructurings can make economic recessions deeper and more persistent, as the case of Greece illustrates.

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Finally some sense?

Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine (Spiegel)

It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding. On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine – with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. But Breedlove hasn’t been the only source of friction. Europeans have also begun to see others as hindrances in their search for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine conflict. First and foremost among them is Victoria Nuland, head of European affairs at the US State Department. She and others would like to see Washington deliver arms to Ukraine and are supported by Congressional Republicans as well as many powerful Democrats.

Indeed, US President Barack Obama seems almost isolated. He has thrown his support behind Merkel’s diplomatic efforts for the time being, but he has also done little to quiet those who would seek to increase tensions with Russia and deliver weapons to Ukraine. Sources in Washington say that Breedlove’s bellicose comments are first cleared with the White House and the Pentagon. The general, they say, has the role of the “super hawk,” whose role is that of increasing the pressure on America’s more reserved trans-Atlantic partners.

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Not too much sense, though.

EU To Prepare Possible New Sanctions On Russia Over Ukraine (Reuters)

Britain’s foreign minister said on Friday the European Union would prepare possible new sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine conflict that could be imposed quickly if the Minsk ceasefire agreement is broken. Both Kiev and pro-Russia separatists have accused each other of violence since last month’s peace deal that calls for heavy weapons to be withdrawn from the frontline in east Ukraine. “The European Union will remain united on the question of sanctions, sanctions must remain in place until there is full compliance (with the Minsk agreement),” Philip Hammond said. “We will prepare possible new sanctions, which could be imposed quickly if there is further Russian aggression or if the Minsk agreement is not complied with,” he said.

Hammond also said Britain does not have immediate plans to supply Kiev with weapons, but it is “not ruling anything out for the future” as the situation in east Ukraine remains “dynamic”. At a joint conference with his British counterpart in Warsaw, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said new sanctions could be imposed if, for example, separatists attack Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol, but a move such as excluding Russia from the SWIFT payments system was an extreme option. “(Exclusion) from SWIFT is the ‘nuclear’ option, this is an extreme option and there is a long list of sanctions that may be used before that,” he said. “Also, the truth is that it is a ‘double-edged sword’.”

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What comes up…

Week of Milestones for US Stocks Spoiled by Fed Rate Anxiety (Bloomberg)

The specter of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates spoiled a week of milestones for U.S. equities. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index capped a sixth year of the bull market, the Nasdaq Composite Index topped 5,000 for the first time in 15 years and Apple Inc., the world’s largest company by market value, gained admission to the Dow Jones Industrial Average. None of that stopped benchmarks from notching their worst week since January, as concern mounted that the monetary stimulus that helped equities triple from March 2009 will soon end, after a surge in hiring fueled speculation the Fed will raise borrowing costs this year.

The S&P 500 lost 1.6% in the five days, trimming its gain in 2015 to 0.6%, worst among 24 developed-nation markets. “It’s definitely been a week of milestones,” Russ Koesterich, the New York-based chief investment strategist at BlackRock, said in a phone interview. “People are obviously taking a pause as valuations aren’t cheap. This is all about rates. The ultra-dovish view that it won’t happen until next year is much less likely.” The S&P 500 tumbled 1.4% in the final session of the week after data showed employers added 295,000 workers to payrolls in February, more than forecast, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5%, the lowest in almost seven years.

The jobless rate has now reached the Fed’s range for what it considers full employment, keeping policy makers on course to raise interest rates this year as persistent job growth sets the stage for a pickup in wages. Three rounds of Fed bond-buying and near-zero interest rates have helped the S&P 500 rally more than 200% since its bear-market low on March 9, 2009. The current bull market, lasting almost 2,200 days, is about two months away from overtaking the 1974-1980 run as the third longest since 1929. The gauge hasn’t had a 10% drop since 2011.

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She doesn’t care. She wants the narrative, not reality.

Dear Janet Yellen: We’re Nowhere Close To Full Employment (MarketWatch)

The unemployment rate fell to 5.5% in February, dropping to a level that some might call “full employment.” The Federal Reserve has said that, in the long run, the unemployment rate can’t go much below 5.2% to 5.5% without fostering a lot of unwanted inflation. With the February report, we’ve crossed that line. Already, the Fed is under a lot of pressure to raise interest rates this summer to make sure inflation doesn’t get too high. The February jobs report adds to that pressure. There’s just one problem: Inflation isn’t too high, and there’s no sign that inflation will suddenly accelerate. In fact, the main concern right now is that the inflation rate is too low. The Fed has long operated under a theory that there’s a limit to how low unemployment can safely go. This rate is known as the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment,” or NAIRU.

The Fed has pegged this number at 5.2% to 5.5%. The argument goes like this: At low levels of unemployment, companies can’t find the workers they need without offering more pay. Once companies get into a bidding war for skilled workers, everyone’s pay goes up. And to pay those wages, companies need to raise their selling prices. Voilà! Inflation. It’s a tidy argument that might have made a lot of sense in 1979, but in today’s economy, there’s no sign that the labor market is so tight that wages are being bid up, even though lots of policy makers and private-sector economists are positive that inflationary wages are coming any day now, that they are right around the corner, just you wait. They’ve been saying that for months.

Here are the facts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly earnings (wages) for all private-sector workers are up 2% in the past 12 months, about the same wage growth we saw last year and the year before that and the year before that. Average hourly wages for the 80% of workers who aren’t supervisors are up 1.6% in the past year, down from the 2.5% growth reported a year ago. The Employment Cost Index, which is a little more sophisticated than the average hourly wages report, tells a similar story: Wages and benefits are up 2.3% in the past year, up from 2% in the year before that. The ECI shows a little acceleration in compensation, but Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said that workers’ compensation can grow at about 3% to 4% without engendering any inflationary pressures. We’re still a long way from there.

Does anyone really think we’re close to full employment today? Officially, there are 8.7 million people who were actively searching for work last month, plus another 6.5 million people who didn’t look last month but who say they want a job. Plus another 6.6 million who want to work full-time but can only get a part-time job. That’s nearly 22 million people who are unemployed or underemployed. They deserve a shot at a job that pays a living wage. The Fed should think about them, rather than pay attention to a phantom inflation problem.

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Go Nafeez!

‘A Conspiracy Of Silence’: HSBC, Guardian And The Defrauded British Public (ML)

The corporate media have swiftly moved on from Peter Oborne’s resignation as chief political commentator at the Telegraph and his revelations that the paper had committed ‘a form of fraud’ on its readers over its coverage of HSBC tax evasion. But investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has delved deeper into the HSBC scandal, reporting the testimony of a whistleblower that reveals a ‘conspiracy of silence’ encompassing the media, regulators and law-enforcement agencies. Not least, Ahmed’s work exposes the vanity of the Guardian’s boast to be the world’s ‘leading liberal voice’.

Last month, the corporate media, with one notable exception, devoted extensive coverage to the news that the Swiss banking arm of HSBC had been engaged in massive fraudulent tax evasion. The exception was the Telegraph which, as Oborne revealed, was desperate to retain advertising income from HSBC. But now Ahmed reports another ‘far worse case of HSBC fraud totalling an estimated £1 billion, closer to home’. Moreover, it has gone virtually unnoticed by the corporate media, for all the usual reasons. According to whistleblower Nicholas Wilson, HSBC was ‘involved in a fraudulent scheme to illegally overcharge British shoppers in arrears for debt on store cards at leading British high-street retailers’ including B&Q, Dixons, Currys, PC World and John Lewis. Up to 600,000 Britons were defrauded.

Wilson uncovered the crimes while he was head of debt recovery for Weightmans, a firm of solicitors acting on behalf of John Lewis. But when he blew the whistle, his employer sacked him. He has spent 12 years trying to expose this HSBC fraud and to help obtain justice for the victims. The battle has ‘ruined his life’, he said during a brief appearance on the BBC’s The Big Questions, the only ‘mainstream’ coverage to date.

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Europe’s recovery symbol.

Almost 100 Families Evicted Daily In Spain (RT)

At least 95 families were evicted every day in Spain in 2014, fresh statistics say as Spaniards struggle to meet mortgage payments. Home foreclosures have become a stark symbol of the 7-year economic crisis, with 2014 seeing a further rise in numbers. The number of foreclosures on all types of residences, including holiday homes, offices and farms, reached 119,442 last year, almost 10% higher than in 2013, according to data from the National Statistics Institute. Foreclosure procedures on main residences rose to 34,680 families in 2014, an increase of 7.4% over the previous year.

Andalusia, Catalonia and Valencia were the worst-affected regions. Evictions have become a symbol of the economic crisis Spain has been struggling with since 2008. Most of them were connected to mortgages taken out during property booms in 2006 and 2007. The situation has provoked nationwide protest. Campaigners often rally outside homes in an attempt to prevent residents from having to spend the night in the street. They are calling on the country’s authorities to make more housing available, or allow vacant housing following developers’ bankruptcies to be used.

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“The problem with taxing the shipowners is that it would take only 24 hours for them to reflag their entire fleet..”

It Might Be Time To Panic About Greek Government Bonds (John Dizard)

Judging by the prices of Greek government bonds, the investing community seems to have overcome its blind, unreasoning panic about the Syriza-led government that took office in January. In the past five weeks, the 10-year benchmark yield has dropped from a peak of about 11.2% to just over 9.5%. This is good. Blind, unreasoning panic is wrong. I think it might be time for open-eyed, reasoned panic about traded Greek Government bonds. They might look cheap compared to negative yield German bonds, or zero yield GDF Suez bonds, but they will get even cheaper later this year. If you own them, sell them. Bond investors have been lulled too quickly by the truce declared between Greece and its European creditors.

Not that Greece will necessarily default on the already-haircut issues held by the private sector. The principal payments will not be due for another eight years or so, and the interest payments are not very burdensome. Those bonds are now governed by English law, which makes them rather more enforceable than the old “local law” Greek debt. The Syriza cabinet recognises these facts. The problem is that the Greek government will run out of cash to pay its operating expenses in full by the summer, or even sooner, and neither the Europeans nor anyone else will give them enough new money to pay its bills. That means the Syriza cabinet will have to tell public sector employees and pensioners that part of their income will be paid in (transferable) IOUs, which will plunge to a steep discount.

The leaders can blame Germans, oligarchs, neoliberal economists or Martians, but a lot of their core supporters will be unhappy, and quite open about their feelings. The eurogroup political leadership and the eurocracy are prepared for this. Their recent civil exchange of letters represents a truce, not a peace. The eurogroupies know that there is no mutually acceptable deal to be had with the Syriza government. So their silent intention is to negotiate with the next government, whoever that might be, after the Greek government is forced to call for an early election. Things have to get pretty bad for that to happen; after all, Syriza just won fair and square less than two months ago, and their policies are supported by a majority of the Greek public. Bad enough for those 9.5% yields to look a bit thin on a risk-adjusted basis. And they will.

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Greece does good cop bad cop pretty well.

Greek And German Bruisers Limber Up For ‘Rumble In The Eurozone’ (AFP)

They are both tough men of a certain age used to getting their way. In one corner stands Wolfgang Schaeuble, the dry 72-year-old German Finance Minister and self-appointed guardian of the European Union’s fiscal orthodoxy. And at the opposite end of Europe’s austerity divide glowers former Communist Panagiotis Lafazanis, Greece’s obdurate new energy and output minister. Schaeuble and Lafazanis, 63, have not yet sat down together around a negotiating table in Brussels, but a clash between them is unavoidable nonetheless as Athens and Berlin square up for another bail-out showdown. Lafazanis is responsible for some of Greece’s main state companies that were slated to be privatized under the rescue plan agreed with the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

These include dominant electricity provider PPC, state gas distributor DEPA and leading refiners HELPE. State stakes in all three were to be sold to private investors as part of the Greece’s bail-out deal until January, when the new hard-left Syriza government pulled the plug on the plan. “No privatisation will be held in the energy sector – neither at PPC, nor at DEPA nor at HELPE,” Lafazanis said at the time. When electricity workers were given a pay rise this week – to general consternation – the ministry did not object. Schaeuble, however, insists on the new Greek government honoring the country’s existing pledges, and he has castigated Syriza for making promises they cannot afford to keep.

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Juncker will need to act.

Europe Holds ‘Noose Around Greek Necks’ Says PM Tsipras (Telegraph)

Greece’s prime minister has accused the ECB of holding a noose around the country’s neck as his government rushes to assure creditors it can avert bankruptcy this month. Speaking in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, Alexis Tsipras appealed to the ECB to alleviate pressure on the cash-strapped country. The ECB “is still holding the rope which we have around our necks” said Mr Tsipras, referring to the central bank’s reluctance to resume ordinary lending to Greek banks at a meeting in Cyprus on Thursday. The central bank has also rebuffed Greek appeals to raise the limit on short-term debt issuance, as it faces €6.5bn in payments over the next three weeks. Should the ECB continue to resist Greek pleas for assistance, “the thriller we saw before February 20 will return” warned Mr Tsipras, referring to the market turmoil which gripped the country as it carried out protracted negotiations with its creditors.

Greece made its first €300m payment to the International Monetary Fund on Friday. It faces another €1.2m in loan redemptions to the Fund before the end of the month. But the government is scrambling to find the funds it needs to meet its obligations to creditors in March. Athens is not due to receive €7.2bn of bail-out money before April. ECB president Mario Draghi said a collateral waiver on Greek bonds would only be reinstated once “a successful completion of the bail-out review be put in place”. Greek banks are having to rely on an a form of expensive emergency funding to stay afloat as capital has rushed out of the country. Ahead of a meeting of European ministers on Monday, Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis submitted an 11-page list of reforms his government intends to carry out to unlock the vital cash it needs from its creditors.

The proposals include measures to fight tax evasion using students, tourists and housekeepers as undercover tax inspectors. The “rock-star” finance minister also made an appearance on the cover of the Greece’s Esquire magazine for March. Following the ECB’s hostility to Greece’s woes, Mr Tsipras asked to meet with the European Commission’s Jean-Claude Juncker but was turned down, according to a Greek government source. A meeting between the two could now take place next week to “discuss how Greece will utilise European funds to address the humanitarian crisis and unemployment”, said a Syriza spokesman. Amid fears that the country will not come good on its election promises, Mr Varoufakis has promised his Leftist government has “alternative plans” to plug its financing gap over the next 21 days. “We go into the negotiations with optimism, with especially good preparation”, said the finance minister.

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Be sure the plan is there. They just can’t talk about it.

Time For Greece To Plan Its Exodus From The Euro (MarketWatch)

Greece must now plan on a way to exit the euro if it is to have any chance of staying. This is not a conundrum; it is the way negotiation works. The new government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to backtrack last month on its election pledges to get its foreign debt reduced and reverse austerity because it had no plausible alternative to European Union intransigence on extending the bailout. The only viable alternative would be to exit the euro, default on the debt and suffer the consequences, and Athens was not ready to do that. This “Plan B” cannot be a bluff and at this point it is better than even odds it will be the plan Greece will have to follow.

Tsipras and his finance minister, Yannis Varoufakis, have so far argued in their “Plan A” that Greece can stay in the euro, but pinned that belief on Germany and other EU members being reasonable. Germany — as well as the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund — made it amply clear in the initial round of negotiations that they have no intention of being reasonable in the way Tsipras and Varoufakis believe they should. It was always a fairly delusional assumption that German leaders would suddenly see the light and embrace an enlightened Keynesian solution to the economic and social crisis in Greece. Berlin and Brussels remain pitiless and more convinced than ever of the rightness of their destructive neoliberal policies.

The only way Greece can regain its sovereignty — which is essentially what Tsipras’s Syriza party pledged to voters in its rise to power — is to reclaim its sovereign rights, and especially control of its currency and banking system. The consequences of defaulting on the country’s debt would be dramatic, but relatively short-lived compared to the guaranteed long-term misery of the EU austerity program.

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Finance ministers are out of their league, they need third-party advisers.

Greece Sends Proposals, But No Decision Due At Monday’s Eurogroup (Kathimerini)

Greece submitted to Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem Friday an outline of seven reform proposals to form the basis for discussion at Monday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers, but the signs from Brussels are that Athens is no closer to securing the release of its next tranche of bailout funding. The 11-page document sent by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis sets out several proposals that have already been made public as well as some that were only made known Friday. The suggestion that caused the most surprise was to fight tax evasion by enlisting non-professional inspectors, including tourists, on a two-month basis during which they would collect audiovisual data that could be used to target evaders. Varoufakis also outlined plans to activate a fiscal council to generate budget savings and update licensing of gaming and lotteries to boost state revenues by an estimated €500 million.

He also gave details of the government’s plan to ease the social impact of the crisis, which will cost some €200 million, and to introduce a new payment plan for tax debtors, which the coalition estimates could raise €3 billion in revenues. In his letter to Dijsselbloem, Varoufakis calls for technical discussions regarding the proposals to begin as soon as possible. “We envisage that… the majority of the items on our first list can be further specified as soon as possible so that the resulting agreement can be ratified by the Eurogroup, and Greece’s Parliament, and become the basis for the review,” wrote the Greek finance minister, who added that the government proposes all technical discussions and fact-finding or fact-exchange sessions should take place in Brussels.

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It’s about what comes after.

Cash-Strapped Greece Repays First Part Of IMF Loan Due In March (Reuters)

Greece repaid on Friday the first €310 million instalment of a loan from the International Monetary Fund that falls due this month, as it scrambles to cover its funding needs. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s newly elected government must pay a total of €1.5 billion to the IMF this month, but it is rapidly depleting its cash. The payments fall due over two weeks starting on Friday. The next three instalments are due on March 13, 16 and 20. “The payment of €310 million has been made, with a Friday value date,” a government official told Reuters, requesting anonymity. The Tsipras government has said it will make the payments, but uncertainty has been growing over Greece’s cash position. It faces a decline in tax revenues, while aid from EU/IMF lenders remains on hold until Athens completes promised reforms.

Athens sent an updated list of reforms to Brussels on Friday, before a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Monday, a Greek government official said. The list expanded on an earlier set of proposals, he said. The reforms include measures to fight tax evasion and red tape and facilitate repayment of tax and pension fund arrears owed by millions of Greeks, the official said. It also proposes a “fiscal council” to generate savings for the state. In the letter to the Eurogroup, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis says Athens aims to save €200 million by cuts in public-sector spending, offseting an estimated €200 million cost to tackle what it calls the country’s “humanitarian crisis.” It also aims to collect €500 million in extra revenues annually from new gaming licences and taxing online gaming operators.

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Keep up the pressure, see if they make mistakes.

Greece Wants Immediate Talks With Troika On Bailout, Eyes Follow-up Deal (Reuters)

Greece asked euro zone countries on Friday for an immediate start of technical talks with international creditors on the first batch of reforms that would help conclude its current bailout programme and allow the disbursement of more loans. The request marks a softening of Greece’s stance. Until now, it has rejected talks with the three institutions that have supervised it so far on implementing reforms. But Greece, which faces loan repayments over the coming weeks and months, is running out of cash and needs more euro zone credit to avoid bankruptcy. If it concludes the bailout, which means implementing reforms the previous government had agreed to, but which the current government rejects, it could get €1.8 billion of loans remaining from the existing 240 billion-euro bailout.

It would also be eligible to get €1.9 billion that the ECB made in profits on buying Greek bonds. And Greek banks would again become eligible to finance themselves at the ECB’s open market operations. “I am now writing to you … to convey the Greek government’s view that it is necessary to commence immediately the discussions between our technical team and that of the institutions,” Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said in a letter to the chairman of euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Varoufakis proposed that discussions with the institutions take place in Brussels – avoiding the connotation of a loss of sovereignty that visits to Athens by Troika representatives over the past five years have had for the Greek public.

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Bye bye Rousseff.

The Noise From Brazil? An Economy On The Brink (Guardian)

The more you look at Brazil’s fundamentals, the more shaky the country looks. And we are not talking about the defensive prowess of David Luiz here. It is the country’s economic backline that risks tumbling down like a set of dominoes. When a Latin American economy is in trouble a good place to start is its inflation rate. Brazil’s is today running at 7.5%. While this is nowhere near the 2,000-3,000% of the early 1990s, when the price of everything went up several times a week, it is far higher than the central bank’s mid-point target of 4.5%. On Wednesday, in an effort to bring inflation down, Brazil’s central bank raised interest rates to 12.75%, a six-year high.

The problem is that the country is hiking interest rates – and trying to curb high prices – at a time in which its economy is on the brink of recession. Between 2002 and 2008, Brazil’s economy expanded at 4% a year. It has since averaged less than 2%. GDP is expected to contract 0.5% this year. High inflation makes matters worse in at least two ways. First, high prices hinder shoppers’ purchasing power. The Economist calculates that about half of the country’s growth over the past decade was driven by consumption. A drop in purchases will not only dampen economic prospects but would lead to a recession that would freeze the pay of millions because the minimum wage is linked to GDP and inflation.

Elsewhere, salaries in both the public and private sector have grown above GDP for the past decade and are now unlikely to keep pace with inflation. Tax hikes and fare rises will not help either. It is therefore not surprising that consumer confidence is at its lowest since records began in 2005. Second, next to rising prices, the real is sinking. Despite the rate increase, Brazil’s currency hit R$3 to the US dollar on Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade. This puts further pressure on prices: the cost of imported goods goes up – more bad news for shoppers.

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Cats in a sack.

Brazil Supreme Court Clears Probe of Top Lawmakers Amid Petrobras Scandal (WSJ)

A corruption dragnet that has jailed dozens of executives and erased billions from Brazil’s state-controlled oil giant has now snared some of the nation’s top lawmakers, deepening a crisis that is weighing on South America’s largest economy. Brazil’s Supreme Court on Friday gave the go-ahead to federal prosecutors to investigate close to 50 politicians, including Senate President Renan Calheiros and Eduardo Cunha, head of the Chamber of Deputies, as part of a widening corruption probe of Petróleo Brasileiro S.A., known as Petrobras. Both men are members of the PMDB party, Brazil’s largest and a key partner in President Dilma Rousseff ’s effort to pass austerity measures to narrow a yawning budget gap. With the economy skidding and Brazil in danger of losing its investment-grade sovereign rating, the investigation could push top legislators away from strict measures and toward populism.

“What’s going to prevail is the survival instinct,” said Ricardo Ismael at Rio’s Pontifical Catholic University. “The big problem I think is with the economy because the government was really counting on fast votes from Congress, so they could share the cost of the fiscal adjustment.” Fear that fallout from the scandal would threaten budget cuts has weighed on Brazil’s stocks and currency. The IBOVESPA stock index declined by 3.1% this week, while the real plunged about 7%. On Tuesday, hours after rumors emerged that his name was on “Janot’s list,” Mr. Calheiros torpedoed an executive order from Ms. Rousseff that would have raised payroll taxes to fill government coffers. Local press characterized the move as retaliatory, though it followed a period of heightened tension between the two politicians. The attorney general is independent of the government.

“What happened this week is that the risks, which were already there, became more visible,” says Carlos Melo, a professor at São Paulo business school Insper. “After Renan´s move, it is clear the government will not be able to push any kind of fiscal adjustment through Congress without negotiating first.” In practice, analysts say, that stretches the odds of the government meeting its 1.2% target for the primary budget surplus, seen by many as a make-or-break goal in the effort to avoid a sovereign downgrade. Prosecutors say the PMDB, Ms. Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, and other government-aligned parties suggested executives to run major divisions at Petrobras.

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“The devourers of capitalism had become the devourers of Petrobras.”

Petrobras Has a $13.7 Billion Yard Sale (Bloomberg)

Staggered by $135 billion in debt and scandal, Brazilian state-run oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA has announced plans to offload some $13.7 billion in assets. Officials claim this is not a plan to raffle the jewel of the government crown. Instead think fire sale, a maneuver to raise cash and keep creditors at bay. The move plays like a scene in a script coming full circle. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva once joked that back in the 1990s, when he was still the country’s ranking lefty and not its president, “people trembled” whenever he passed by the door of the Sao Paulo stock exchange. “There goes that devourer of capitalism,” they’d say.

Yet scarcely more than a decade later, Lula, a self-described “walking metamorphosis,” was at Bovespa as president of Brazil, hosting the feast as the state-run oil giant went on the bloc in one of the world’s biggest public stock offerings. “Capitalization,” he beamed in 2010, “is one of the safeguards the government has to assure that this wealth doesn’t get lost to the labyrinths of waste and dubious interests.” Tell that to prosecutor general Rodrigo Janot, who just handed the Supreme Court a list of 54 lawmakers and government officials suspected of looting the country’s flagship multinational for political gain. So labyrinthine is waste and corruption that the new management – the old one resigned in disgrace – has yet to file the 2014 balance sheet, which is one reason why Moody’s Investor Services recently downgraded Petrobras paper to junk.

The fire sale Petrobras is planning may prove difficult. With crude prices slumping, it’s a buyer’s market for rigs and refineries. Meanwhile, the ruling Working Party and union rank and file, who see a plot to privatize Petrobras by stealth, have called for a mass protest March 13 to defend the company and roll back austerity measures announced by Lula’s successor, President Dilma Rousseff. Leading the charge, strangely enough, is Lula himself, who exhorted companheiros to stand up to bottom-feeding “neoliberals.” This was wagging the dog. It’s not the market-friendly opposition that threatens Brazil’s biggest brand, but repeated government attempts – first by Lula, then Rousseff — to suspend the basic rules of economic gravity. The devourers of capitalism had become the devourers of Petrobras.

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New normal.

RBS Top Bankers Received Millions Despite £3.5 Billion Loss (Guardian)

Royal Bank of Scotland paid 128 of its top bankers more than €1m (£720,000) in 2014, a year when it reported its seventh consecutive year of losses since being bailed out by the taxpayer and was punished by regulators for rigging foreign exchange markets. Three bankers, whose identities are protected because only the pay deals of boardroom directors have to be published, received up to €6m. The disclosures are likely to reignite the controversy over the pay handed out by the bank, which has incurred losses on a par with the £45bn ploughed in by taxpayers to prevent it going bust. None of the 79% stake has yet to been sold off although George Osborne has promised to sell it as “quickly as we can” if he remains chancellor after the 7 May election.

Chief executive Ross McEwan was paid £1.8m in salary, pension and benefits in 2014 and was handed £1.5m in shares to buy him out of his previous employer in Australia when he was recruited to run the retail bank. He was awarded £1.5m of shares under a long-term plan that will pay out in the future. The pay of the New Zealander, though, was eclipsed by a number of colleagues. The newly recruited finance director Ewen Stevenson received £3.1m after being bought out of his previous employer, Credit Suisse, and Rory Cullinan, who runs the non-core division of the bank, received £2.2m from bonuses handed out in previous years. Cullinan, who has been promoted to help wind down the investment banking arm, cashed in £1.2m of shares and was awarded £2m in a new pay deal.

The bank published share payouts and awarded to the members of the executive management team who do not sit on the board. When share awards to McEwan and Stevenson are included, eight senior managers were awarded shares worth £11m which will payout in the future. In total more than £5m of shares were cashed in from previous years. The bank said the 128 paid more than €1m compares with 149 a year ago when the staff who have relocated to the US through its Citizens Financial arm, in the process of being floated in the US stock market, are included.

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Too little too late.

EU To Hold Immigrants At Bay With Third-Country Asylum Centers (RT)

Opening processing centers in transit countries in the hope that it will curb the number of illegal immigrants is Brussels’ answer to the inflow of refugees, who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life. The measure is part of the new European Agenda on Migration, which will be published later in mid-May. At a media conference this week, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, said amending the way the EU deals with illegal immigration is an urgent issue that requires complex solutions. “When presenting a comprehensive European Agenda on Migration we have to think about all dimensions of migration – this is not about quick fixes; this is about creating a more secure, prosperous and attractive European Union,” he said.

Last year, over 276,000 people entered the EU illegally, which is 155% more than in 2013, according the EU borders agency Frontex. Some 220,000 arrived via the Mediterranean, with at least 3,500 and possibly more than 4,000 people dying en route. The passage is considered the most dangerous in the world. “We need to be effective, as Europeans, on the immediate response and at the same time to address the root causes, starting from the crises spreading at our borders, most of all in Libya,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “That’s why we are increasing our work with origin and transit countries to provide protection in conflict regions, facilitate resettlement and tackle trafficking routes.”

Establishing processing centers in countries like Niger, Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon represents a U-turn in EU policies as the idea is gaining traction among the more affected members. Southern European countries including Italy and Malta are among those members of the union that pay the greatest price dealing with the inflow. France and Germany also favor the idea. Strong opposition to the idea remains among national governments less eager to welcome refugees from countries like Libya and Syria on their soil, such as Denmark and the UK. Part of the reluctance is because some EU members don’t want to relinquish authority over immigration policies to Brussels.

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How’s the CIA supposed to make a living now?

ISIS Generates Up To $1 Billion Annually From Trafficking Afghan Heroin (RT)

Drug money is a massive source of profit for ISIS, who makes up to $1 billion annually from sales throughout its conquered lands, according to the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN). “The area of poppy plantations is growing. This year, I think, we’ll hear news about a record-high poppy harvest, therefore a high yield of opium and heroin. So this issue should be raised not only in Moscow, but also in the UN in general, because this is a threat not only to our country, but also European security. Over the past five years the Balkan route has been split – heroin traffic now also goes through Iraqi territory,” TASS quotes FSKN head Viktor Ivanov as saying. What makes profits especially huge is that, despite not operating in Afghanistan, large quantities of poppy are being transported through those parts of Iraq the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) controls.

To Ivanov, this makes possible a “huge financial sponsorship.” “According to our estimates, IS makes up to $1 billion annually on Afghan heroin trafficked through its territory,” he added. The FSKN in November said that the sale of Afghan heroin in Europe could generate upwards of $50 billion for the militants. What’s more, over half of Europe’s heroin now comes from the IS, according to Ivanov. Indeed, drug money has been high on the IS’s list of profit generators, together with oil and conquest. A recent report by the Financial Action Task Force talked of how the IS has been branching out into all manner of finance-generating activities, though it is the reliance on oil that makes them a truly unique terrorist group, unlike others before it.

It remains unclear whether IS can hold its drugs though, let alone run a smuggling business. One British ex-soldier who joined the Peshmerga Kurdish fighters in November 2014 to fight the IS describes the majority of Islamist militants as a disorganized bunch of “office workers and villagers” on drugs. “They do not have a choice, and they don’t have any information, or even any clear leadership. Many of them are heavily involved in taking drugs they are so terrified,” Jamie Read said.

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Feb 252015
 
 February 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley “J.A. Herzog Pontiac, 17th & Valencia Sts., San Francisco.” 1936

Yellen Removes Another Obstacle To An Eventual Rate Hike (MarketWatch)
US Government’s ‘New Rule’ Allows Banks To Completely Make Sh#t Up (Simon Black)
Greek Finance Chief: We Want To Regain EU’s Trust (CNBC)
Greek Finance Minister’s Full Letter To The Eurogroup (Kathimerini)
Greece Has Lost The Gamble But Can Still Come Up Trumps (Guardian)
How Addiction To Debt Came Even To China (Martin Wolf)
China Readies Measures to Counter Housing Market Slump (Bloomberg)
Britain To Send Military Advisers To Ukraine, Announces Cameron (Guardian)
UK Military Training In Ukraine: Symbolic Move That Risks Russian Ire (Guardian)
IMF Package for Ukraine: Some Pesky Macros (Constantin Gurdgiev)
Kiev Cash-For-Gas Fail Could Cost EU Its Supply In 2 Days – Gazprom (RT)
East Ukraine Artillery Withdrawal In Focus – As Poroshenko Buys UAE Weapons (RT)
Lure of Wall Street Cash Said to Skew Credit Ratings (Bloomberg)
Militants, Migrants And The Med: Europe’s Libya Problem (BBC)
Lester Brown: ‘Vast Dust Bowls Threaten Tens Of Millions With Hunger’ (Guardian)
The Amherst Cauldron: The Donbass in New England (Albert Bates at ClubOrlov)
Kick-The-Can Has Morphed Into A Blatant Farce (David Stockman)
“Remove From Governments The Ability To Interfere With [Our] Rights” (Snowden)
London: A Set Of Improbable Sex Toys Poking Gormlessly Into The Air (Guardian)

All these financne guys don’t think she’ll do it without letting them know well in advance. But that would defeat the very purpose.

Yellen Removes Another Obstacle To An Eventual Rate Hike (MarketWatch)

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Tuesday took another step closer to the first rate hike since 2006. In testimony to the Senate, Yellen signaled to financial markets the Fed would soon drop the word “patient” from its forward guidance. She softened the blow with several dovish comments that suggest no hurry about actually moving. Markets had expected that when the Fed dropped “patient” from its policy statement that it would mean the a rate hike would follow in the next couple of meetings. That interpretation came from signals Yellen had sent in December. Now, however, Yellen stressed that the Fed wasn’t on automatic pilot and only wanted the flexibility to move “on a meeting-by-meeting basis.”

Several analysts said a June rate hike remained on the table if the Fed decides to drop the word “patient” from its policy statement on March 17-18. Several Fed officials have said they want to drop “patient” from the Fed’s next policy meeting scheduled in mid-March. Minutes of the January meeting released last week showed Fed officials were concerned with how the market might react if “patient” was dropped. Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies in New York, said Yellen had effectively neutered the word so it no longer even matters whether the word stays or goes in the Fed’s next policy statement. “Now ‘patient’ doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Simons said.

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No end to insanity.

US Government’s ‘New Rule’ Allows Banks To Completely Make Sh#t Up (Simon Black)

Banks still use accounting tricks to hide their true condition. Bloomberg showcased one such technique last year, exposing the way that many US banks are rebooking their assets from “available for sale (AFS)” to the “held-to-maturity (HTM)” designation. This is a very subtle move that means nothing to most people. But to banks, it’s a highly effective way of concealing losses they’ve suffered in their investment portfolios. Banks ordinarily buy bonds and other securities with the purpose of generating a return on that money until they have to, you know, give it back to their depositors. That’s why they’re called “available for sale,” because the bank has to sell these assets to pay their depositors back. But here’s the problem– many of these investments have either lost money, or they soon will be. And banks don’t want to disclose those losses.

So instead, they simply redesignate assets as HTM. It’s like saying “I don’t care that these bonds aren’t worth as much money as when I bought them because I intend to hold them forever.” Thing is, this simply isn’t true. Banks don’t have the luxury of holding some government bond for the next 30-years. This is money they might have to repay their customers tomorrow, which makes the entire charade intellectually dishonest. That doesn’t stop them. JP Morgan alone boosted its HTM mortgage bonds from less than $10 million to nearly $17 billion (1700x higher) in just one year. This is a huge shift. Nearly every big bank is doing this, and is doing it deliberately. This is no accident. And there’s only one reason to do it—to use accounting minutia to conceal losses. But the accounting tricks don’t stop there. And in many cases they’re fueled by the government.

One recent example is how federal regulators created a new ‘rule’ which allows banks to consciously reduce the risk-weighting they assigns their assets. The Federal Financial Institution Examination Council recently told banks that, “if a particular asset . . . has features that could place it in more than one risk category, it is assigned to the category that has the lowest risk weight.” This gives banks extraordinary latitude to underreport the risk levels of their investments. Bankers can now arbitrarily decide that a risky asset ‘has features’ of a lower risk asset, and thus they can completely misrepresent their investments. Bottom line, it’s becoming extremely difficult to have confidence in western banks’ financial health. They employ every trick in the book to overstate their capital ratios and understate their risk levels. This, backed by a central bank that is borderline insolvent and a federal government that is entirely insolvent.

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All the right words.

Greek Finance Chief: We Want To Regain EU’s Trust (CNBC)

Greece’s new government wants to re-establish trust with the rest of Europe, the country’s finance minister told CNBC, as Athens obtained a four-month extension of its bailout program. “The reason why we have this four-month period is to re-establish bonds of trust between us and our European partners as well as the IMF in order to build a new contract between us and our partners so as to put an end to this debt inflationary spiral,” Yanis Varoufakis said in an interview in Athens. On Tuesday, euro zone finance ministers accepted a list of Greek reform proposals, but warned that the reforms must be expanded in detail before new bailout funding would be released. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde called the proposals “sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point” but said they lacked “clear assurances.”

Varoufakis said implementing new legislation concerning corruption and tax evasion is his top priority. As to whether European officials will approve each and every measure passed in parliament, he said “there is going to be a great deal of toing and froing between us and the institutions and our partners.” The trained economist was also critical of the tense negotiation process with euro zone finance ministers, saying they were dominated by “legalisms.” “You know what I think the main problem is, European finance ministerial meetings are seldom about finance, they’re more about process and rules…and I’m not good at that. I think that when we’re talking about macroeconomics, when we’re talking about Greece’s recovery, I don’t think we have the moral right to talk as if this is applying rules.”

Leftist political party Syrzia’s principal task of reducing Greece’s $366 billion debt has been flatly rejected. Several Greeks, noticeably senior politician Manolis Glezos, claim the party has bent too much to European creditors, making it no different from the previous administration. But Varoufakis rejected the notion that Syrzia has been unfaithful to Greeks: “We got elected to renegotiate Greece’s deal with our partners. What is a negotiation; it’s an attempt to find a compromise. The fact that we compromised is not a U-turn. A U-turn would have been to have led this negotiation to an impasse, and we didn’t do that because we’re interested in a mutually beneficial agreement.”

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Click the link to see all the specific proposals for Syriza to comply with EU demands, while keeping its promises to voters. It will undergo a thousand changes, but at least everyone can see now what has been put on the table.

Greek Finance Minister’s Full Letter To The Eurogroup (Kathimerini)

Dear President of the Eurogroup: In the Eurogroup of 20 February 2015 the Greek government was invited to present to the institutions, by Monday 23rd February 2015, a first comprehensive list of reform measures it is envisaging, to be further specified and agreed by the end of April 2015. In addition to codifying its reform agenda, in accordance with PM Tsipras’ programmatic statement to Greece’s Parliament, the Greek government also committed to working in close agreement with European partners and institutions, as well as with the International Monetary Fund, and take actions that strengthen fiscal sustainability, guarantee financial stability and promote economic recovery. The first comprehensive list of reform measures follows below, as envisaged by the Greek government. It is our intention to implement them while drawing upon available technical assistance and financing from the European Structural and Investment Funds.

Truly Yanis Varoufakis, Minister of Finance, Hellenic Republic=

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No broad vision at the Guardian.

Greece Has Lost The Gamble But Can Still Come Up Trumps (Guardian)

Tsipras and finance minister Yanis Varoufakis have been criticised for sending out mixed messages, referencing Nazi Germany, longingly gazing towards Russia, and even their untucked shirts. But Greece’s liquidity weaknesses were clear long before Syriza won the elections, and were exploited to the fullest by its lenders. The country’s fragility lies in the fact that it cannot fund itself and is shut out of international bond markets. Between this and the absence of a credible plan to exit the euro, even for use as a negotiating tool, Tsipras and Varoufakis were left with very few options. Whether they blundered into a deal or secured it with clever cajoling is a trivial matter at the moment.

Athens’ diplomatic indiscretions and a helter-skelter approach to negotiations have been matched by stubbornness and contempt in other European capitals. In this environment, everyone can shirk their responsibilities. Greek leaders can substitute progressive policymaking with populist bluster, while their European counterparts can continue to peddle the myth that Greeks have received European solidarity but given nothing in return. If all sides withdraw to these positions over the coming months the Greek people, who have experienced the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and the sharpest fiscal adjustment western Europe has ever seen, will pay an even heavier price than they have over the past five years. There is a great historical responsibility on all those involved to ensure that punishment on one side and retribution on the other are not the main policy drivers over the months to come.

There remains a small window of opportunity in which Syriza can change the narrative. One of the most important concessions it gained in Brussels was to be the main author of its own reform programme – previous governments were merely handed a checklist of changes from its lenders. Of course, the creditor nations will still push for some unpopular measures. But Tsipras and Varoufakis will have a unique chance to show if they are truly committed to tackling Greece’s chronic problems brought about by its decaying institutions, including the public administration and judicial system. These changes could have broad appeal among Greeks, and may also help alter the sour mood that has emerged between Greece and the eurozone over the past few weeks.

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Worse for the others than it is for China.

How Addiction To Debt Came Even To China (Martin Wolf)

Balance sheets matter. This is the biggest lesson of the financial crises that have rolled across the world economy. Changes in balance sheets shape the performance of economies, as credit moves in self-fulfilling cycles of optimism and pessimism. The world economy has become credit addicted. China could well be the next victim. If we think about balance sheets in the world economy of today, four questions arise. First, what determines vulnerability? Second, where are vulnerabilities now appearing? Third, how are countries coping with the legacy of old debt crises? Finally, can the world economy cope with the new vulnerabilities? Start with the sources of vulnerability. In economies with liberalized financial sectors, the driver towards disaster is far more often private than public imprudence.

Rising property prices and expanded mortgage lending drive many credit booms. A deterioration in the public sector’s balance sheets usually then follows crises. Failure to recognize this link between private excess and public borrowing is wilful blindness. In an update of work on debt and deleveraging, McKinsey notes that between 2000 and 2007, household debt rose as a proportion of income by one-third or more in the US, the UK, Spain, Ireland and Portugal. All of these countries subsequently experienced financial crises. Indeed, huge increases in private sector credit preceded many other crises: Chile in 1982 was an important example of this connection. Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley argues that the 30 most explosive credit booms all led to a slowdown, often a crisis.

A rapid change in the ratio of credit to gross domestic product is more important than its level. That is partly because some societies are able to manage more debt than others; it is partly because a sudden burst in lending is likely to be associated with a sudden collapse in lending standards. Thus, in seeking new vulnerabilities, we need to look for economies that have had sharp rises in private debt. China leads the pack, with a rise of 70 percentage points in the ratio of corporate and household debt to GDP between 2007 and 2014 . If we add financial sector debt, the rise in gross private indebtedness is 111 percentage points. With government debt included, it is 124 percentage points.

China’s huge credit boom has several disquieting features. Much of the rise in debt is concentrated in the property sector; “shadow banking” — that is lending outside the balance sheets of the formal financial institutions — accounts for 30% of outstanding debt, according to McKinsey; much of the borrowing has been put on off-balance-sheet vehicles of local governments; and, above all, the surge in debt was not linked to a matching rise in trend growth, but rather to the opposite. This does not mean China is likely to experience an unmanageable financial crisis. On the contrary, the Chinese government has all the tools it needs to contain a crisis. It does mean, however, that an engine of growth in demand is about to be switched off. As the economy slows, many investment plans will have to be reconsidered. That may start in the property sector. But it will not end there. In an economy in which investment is close to 50% of GDP, the downturn in demand (and so output) might be far more severe than expected.

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More bigger bubble.

China Readies Measures to Counter Housing Market Slump (Bloomberg)

China is preparing measures to counter a housing market slump and will roll them out if the economy needs support, people with knowledge of the matter said. The government could reduce down-payment requirements for second-home purchases, the people said, declining to be identified as the information isn’t public. Another possible step would be to let homeowners sell properties without paying sales tax after two years, down from five years. China’s new-home prices posted a record year-on-year decline in January, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysis of government data tracking 70 cities.

Implementation of the new easing policies will depend on whether an economic downturn continues or worsens, the people said. An interest-rate cut in November and the removal of some curbs have failed to revive the property industry. In September, the central bank allowed lower down payments and mortgage rates for some people applying for loans for second homes. As a result of past efforts to curb property speculation and rein in price gains, minimum down payments for second homes are now at least 60%.

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On course for dying British boys and girls.

Britain To Send Military Advisers To Ukraine, Announces Cameron (Guardian)

Britain was pulled closer towards a renewed cold war with Russia when David Cameron announced UK military trainers are to be deployed to help Ukraine forces stave off further Russian backed incursions into sovereign Ukraine territory. The decision – announced on Tuesday but under consideration by the UK national security council since before Christmas – represents the first deployment of British troops to the country since the near civil war in eastern Ukraine began more than a year ago. Downing Street said the deployment was not just a practical bilateral response to a request for support, but a signal to the Russians that Britain will not countenance further large scale annexations of towns in Ukraine.

The prime minister said Britain would be “the strongest pole in the tent”, and argued for tougher sanctions against Moscow if Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine failed to observe the provisions of a ceasefire agreement reached this month with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. Downing Street said some personnel would be leaving this week as part of the training mission. Initially 30 trainers will be despatched to Kiev with 25 providing advice on medical training, logistics, intelligence analysis and infantry training. A bigger programme of infantry training is expected to follow soon after taking the total number of trainers to 75. They will not be sent to the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Personnel involved in the training elements could spend one or two months in the country, with a command and control deployment lasting up to six months. [..]

He said there was no doubt about Russian support for the rebels. “What we are seeing is Russian-backed aggression, often these are Russian troops, they are Russian tanks, they are Russian Grad missiles. You can’t buy these things on eBay, they are coming from Russia, people shouldn’t be in any doubt about that. “We have got the intelligence, we have got the pictures and the world knows that. Sometimes people don’t want to see that but that is the fact.” He added: “If there was major further incursion by Russian-backed forces and effectively Russian forces into Ukraine, we should be clear about what that is. That is trying to dismember a democracy, a member of the United Nations, a sovereign state on the continent of Europe, and it’s not acceptable.”

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The level of dumb-f#cked-ness is deafening.

UK Military Training In Ukraine: Symbolic Move That Risks Russian Ire (Guardian)

Britain’s decision to dip its toe into the Ukraine crisis is hardly likely to have a decisive impact on the outgunned and struggling Ukrainian army, but it serves the symbolic purpose of taking a stake in the country’s defence. The 75 British trainers bound for Ukraine in the coming days will provide instruction in command procedures, tactical intelligence, battlefield first aidand logistics, and assess the national army’s infantry training needs. The overall aim, said UK defence sources, was to “improve the survivability” of Ukrainian troops who have been pummelled by heavy artillery, reportedly from weapons such as self-propelled howitzers supplied by Russia in support of the separatists, some of which appear to have been being fired from Russian soil.

The British trainers will be deployed well away from the frontlines, in western Ukraine, to eliminate the risk of British and Russian soldiers inflicting casualties on each other. But it is likely the move will be seized on in Moscow as proof of President Vladimir Putin’s claims that the Russian-backed separatists are fighting a Nato ‘foreign legion’. American advisers will be arriving in spring to train four companies of the Ukrainian National Guard at the Yavoriv training area near the Polish border. The British effort appears to be coordinated with that mission, and by getting its soldiers on the ground first, David Cameron’s coalition government will seek to counter recent criticism that it has been marginalised in the international diplomacy aimed at stopping the war.

It was a Franco-German initiative that led to the latest ceasefire agreement in Minsk between Putin, Angela Merkel and François Hollande earlier this month. That truce shows little sign of taking hold, and sanctions so far do not seem to have dissuaded Putin from intervention in eastern Ukraine, leaving western capitals struggling to come up with other methods of demonstrating their resolve to resist Russian encroachment. For now, training is seen as being of more long-term value than supplying arms to Ukrainian troops, and less directly confrontational with Moscow. “I think it’s obvious that the prime minister was seriously stung by the domestic political response to his absence from the Minsk diplomacy, and therefore feels compelled to take a strong position,” said Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “I also think it reflects a not-unreasonable judgment that the Minsk agreement is breaking down, and that further coercive diplomacy is inevitable.

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Debt prison. The entire nation.

IMF Package for Ukraine: Some Pesky Macros (Constantin Gurdgiev)

Ukraine package of funding from the IMF and other lenders remains still largely unspecified, but it is worth recapping what we do know and what we don’t.Total package is USD40 billion. Of which, USD17.5 billion will come from the IMF and USD22.5 billion will come from the EU. The US seemed to have avoided being drawn into the financial singularity they helped (directly or not) to create. We have no idea as to the distribution of the USD22.5 billion across the individual EU states, but it is pretty safe to assume that countries like Greece won’t be too keen contributing. Cyprus probably as well. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy – all struggling with debts of their own also need this new ‘commitment’ like a hole in the head.

Belgium might cheerfully pony up (with distinctly Belgian cheer that is genuinely overwhelming to those in Belgium). But what about the countries like the Baltics and those of the Southern EU? Does Bulgaria have spare hundreds of million floating around? Hungary clearly can’t expect much of good will from Kiev, given its tango with Moscow, so it is not exactly likely to cheer on the funding plans… Who will? Austria and Germany and France, though France is never too keen on parting with cash, unless it gets more cash in return through some other doors. In Poland, farmers are protesting about EUR100 million that the country lent to Ukraine. Wait till they get the bill for their share of the USD22.5 billion coming due.

Recall that in April 2014, IMF has already provided USD17 billion to Ukraine and has paid up USD4.5 billion to-date. In addition, Ukraine received USD2 billion in credit guarantees (not even funds) from the US, EUR1.8 billion in funding from the EU and another EUR1.6 billion in pre-April loans from the same source. Germany sent bilateral EUR500 million and Poland sent EUR100 million, with Japan lending USD300 million. Here’s a kicker. With all this ‘help’ Ukrainian debt/GDP ratio is racing beyond sustainability bounds. Under pre-February ‘deal’ scenario, IMF expected Ukrainian debt to peak at USD109 billion in 2017. Now, with the new ‘deal’ we are looking at debt (assuming no write down in a major restructuring) reaching for USD149 billion through 2018 and continuing to head North from there.

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Maybe the Russians will just do it and have the charade over with.

Kiev Cash-For-Gas Fail Could Cost EU Its Supply In 2 Days – Gazprom (RT)

Russia will completely cut Ukraine off gas supplies in two days if Kiev fails to pay for deliveries, which will create transit risks for Europe, Gazprom has said. Ukraine has not paid for March deliveries and is extracting all it can from the current paid supply, seriously risking an early termination of the advance settlement and a supply cutoff, Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller told journalists. The prepaid gas volumes now stand at 219 million cubic meters. “It takes about two days to get payment from Naftogaz deposited to a Gazprom account. That’s why a delivery to Ukraine of 114 million cubic meters will lead to a complete termination of Russian gas supplies as early as in two days, which creates serious risks for the transit to Europe,” Miller said.

Earlier this month, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak estimated Ukraine’s debt to Russian energy giant Gazprom at $2.3 billion. In the end of 2014, Kiev’s massive gas debt that stood above $5 billion, forced Moscow to suspend gas deliveries to Ukraine for nearly six months. On December 9, Russia resumed its supplies under the so-called winter package deal, which expires on April 1, 2015. [..] On Monday, Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz accused Gazprom of failing to deliver gas that Kiev had paid for in advance. Naftogaz says Russia has broken an agreement to deliver 114 million of cubic meters of natural gas to Ukraine by delivering only 47 million cubic meters.

During a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on February 20, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern about an increase in daily applications by Ukraine for the supply of gas, TASS reports. He noted that “Ukraine’s consumers have requested a larger supply; the volume has increased by 2.5 times. This means that the prepaid volumes left are enough for no more than two to three days.”

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Kiev is not capable of saying anything true.

East Ukraine Artillery Withdrawal In Focus – As Poroshenko Buys UAE Weapons (RT)

While the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were meeting in Paris to talk about the Eastern Ukraine peace settlement, it was revealed that the Ukrainian president has struck a deal on arms supplies from the UAE. The four ministers agreed on the need for the ceasefire to be respected, as well as on the need to extend the OSCE mission in Eastern Ukraine, reinforcing it with more funding, personnel and equipment. It’s important for Kiev troops and the rebels to start withdrawing heavy weapons right now, without waiting for the time “when not a single shot is fired,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting.

He added that his German and French counterparts thought it a positive development that the Donetsk and the Lugansk rebels had started to pull their artillery back. “The situation has significantly improved, that was acknowledged by my partners,” Lavrov said. “However, sporadic violations are being registered by the OSCE observers.” The withdrawal of heavy weaponry by Kiev troops and the rebels is part of the ceasefire deal struck in Minsk earlier in February. The Donetsk militia has announced it is complying. “Today at 9 am our units continued the pullback of heavy weaponry from the separation line,” said Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Tass news agency reported. [..]

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has meanwhile reached an agreement on weapons supplies from the United Arab Emirates. That’s according to a Facebook post by advisor to Ukrainian Interior Minister, Anton Gerashchenko. The deal was struck with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. “It’s worth emphasizing that unlike Europeans and Americans, the Arabs aren’t afraid of Putin’s threats of a third world war starting in case of arms and ammunition supplies to Ukraine,” Gerashchenko wrote. He also said he believed the UAE blamed Russia for the drop in oil prices. “So, this is going to be their little revenge,” the adviser said.

Gerashchenko said the types of weapons to be delivered and the volume of the supplies could not be disclosed. The UAE supplying weapons to Ukraine could be part of a US covert operation, former US diplomat James Jatras told RT. “This discussion in Washington about supplying weapons has been going on for some time. Usually that indicates that some kind of a covert program is already in operation and that we already are supplying some weapons directly,” he said. Jatras added that it is hard to believe that UAE would sell these weapons to Ukraine “without a green light from Washington.”

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Nobody expects anything other than a stink on Wall Street anymore. Pecunia DOES olet.

Lure of Wall Street Cash Said to Skew Credit Ratings (Bloomberg)

Michelle Choi, an analyst for Moody’s Investors Service, gave a credit rating to bonds issued by a New Jersey town in September. In October, she switched sides and started working for the town’s underwriter, Morgan Stanley. Choi is one of hundreds of employees at Moody’s and other credit-rating companies, including Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, who’ve gone to work for Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis exposed the conflicts at the heart of the ratings business. While there’s no evidence that Choi’s job-hunting influenced the grade she gave Evesham Township’s debt, the rising number of job changes in the industry raises a question: can credit analysts be impartial about grading bonds while looking for employment at banks that underwrite them? The ratings companies say the answer is yes.

An academic study by longtime industry observers suggests otherwise. “The fact that analysts can get employed by the issuers is a problem and the SEC should be doing something about it,” said Marcus Stanley, policy director at Americans for Financial Reform, a Washington-based coalition of 200 advocacy groups. Ratings analysts can work for issuers immediately because there’s no rule about a waiting period like there is in other industries. Accountants, in some cases, must wait one year before working for a company they audited. Choi’s new job at Morgan Stanley is “an internal risk function and is not part of the underwriting group,” said Mary Claire Delaney, a Morgan Stanley spokeswoman. Since 2008, more than 300 analysts have left the major ratings companies for jobs at banks and other debt issuers, according to U.S. SEC data.

Last year alone, more than 80 people made the switch, the most since the SEC began compiling such data in 2006. That’s out of a total of about 4,000 analysts employed by the ratings firms, according to SEC data. The migration shows that the credit graders and Wall Street banks are as close as ever. Their symbiotic relationship first came to widespread attention in the aftermath of the 2008 credit bust, when Moody’s and S&P were accused of inflating the rankings of mortgage bonds in order to win and keep business from underwriters. The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the role the two played in the fiasco, and this month S&P agreed to pay $1.5 billion, without admitting guilt, to settle cases with state and federal authorities. The investigation into Moody’s continues.

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More threats.

Militants, Migrants And The Med: Europe’s Libya Problem (BBC)

Islamic State militants in Libya have vowed to attack Europe. Meanwhile, boatloads of migrants flee the collapsing state for European shores. Could the Mediterranean migration mask an influx of militants? Italy and Egypt have warned that Islamic State (IS) militants could hide among thousands of migrants rescued by European patrols. Both countries are troubled by the situation in Libya and have an interest in influencing it. However, neither has given any evidence to support its warnings. The migrants are mostly from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. The idea that they pose a threat evokes a vicious logic at odds with humanitarian imperatives: refugees bring conflict, as conflict breeds refugees. What threat do the migrant boats pose? And what – if anything – can be done about it? Last week, Libyan militants allied to IS released a video that appeared to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian prisoners. The choreography echoed videos shot in Iraq and Syria.

However, instead of desert, the prisoners were positioned on a beach, against the grey Mediterranean Sea. Addressing the camera, a masked man promised attacks in Europe. “And now we are south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya,” he said, “sending you another message.” The video is thought to have been filmed near Sirte, a Libyan coastal town where Islamic State has gained a foothold. A few miles off that coast last week, an Italian operation rescued some 2,000 migrants from stormy waters. As one of the empty vessels that had carried the migrants was being towed away, a speedboat swept off the Libyan shore. The men aboard it were armed with assault rifles and, according to Italian officials, they wanted their boat back. The confrontation was the latest sign that some of the armed groups thriving in the Libyan chaos are also involved in human-trafficking.

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Kudos to the man. A giant.

Lester Brown: ‘Vast Dust Bowls Threaten Tens Of Millions With Hunger’ (Guardian)

Vast tracts of Africa and of China are turning into dust bowls on a scale that dwarves the one that devastated the US in the 1930s, one of the world’s pre-eminent environmental thinkers has warned. Over 50 years, the writer Lester Brown has gained a reputation for anticipating global trends. Now as Brown, 80, enters retirement, he fears the world may be on the verge of a greater hunger than he has ever seen in his professional lifetime. For the first time, he said tens of millions of poor people in countries like Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Peru could afford to eat only five days a week. Most of the world was exhausting its ground water because of overpumping. Yields were flatlining in Japan. And in northern and western China, and the Sahel region of Africa – an area already wracked by insurgency and conflict – people were running out of land to grow food.

Millions of acres of were turning into wasteland because of over-farming and over-grazing. “We are pushing against the limits of land that can be ploughed and the land available for grazing and there are two areas of the world in which we are serious trouble now,” Brown said. “One is the Sahel region of Africa, from Senegal to Somalia. There is a huge dust bowl forming now that is actually stretching right across the continent and that dust bowl is removing a lot of top soil, so eventually they will be in serious trouble,” he said. In areas of China, villagers were abandoning the countryside because the land was too depleted to raise flocks or grow food. “At some point there will be a reckoning,” he said.

“They will be abandoning so much land, both for farming and for grazing, that it will restrict their efforts to expand food production.” The result would be far worse than anything America saw in the 1930s. “Our dust bowl was serious, but it was confined and within a matter of years we had it under control … these two areas don’t have that capacity.” Brown has previously used his broad vision and his fluency with data to identify and explain major developments in the global food system and environment – as a junior analyst for the US Department of Agriculture, founder of the first US environmental thinktank, the Worldwatch Institute, and now as founder and president at the Earth Policy Institute. This latest warning – that demand for food is fast outstripping supply – may be one of his last as an institutional insider.

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Great piece by Albert the Über-Hippie. I finally get to post something by him.

The Amherst Cauldron (Albert Bates at ClubOrlov)

Wall Street Bankers watch warily from their penthouse eyries the power that populist movements like Occupy is gaining, especially in Albany but also in the New England States. Determined to thwart them, lest a revolt gather momentum against their interests, they decide to funnel millions of dollars to right wing rabble, to cause massive trouble… and to then wrest order out of the ensuing chaos (this part of their plan was always a bit sketchy, but they couldn’t think of anything better). Unfortunately, the only psychologically normal right-wing rabble they can find wouldn’t pass the physical due to weight issues and is permanently glued to giant plasma TV screens with their mouths stuffed full of cheese doodles, and so they have to go with the rejects: skinheads, neo-Nazis, gun freaks and prepper wing-nuts.

A State Department official is tasked with feeding and herding these rejects together. After a sudden and severe downturn in the stock market, the economy goes into free-fall and events spin out of control. Anarchist rallies take place throughout New England. A prominent Goldman Sachs broker’s Connecticut estate is overrun and videos posted to YouTube show pearled chandeliers and gold faucets. Throughout New England, grassroots efforts drive legislators to enact sweeping reforms. A new “uniform code” of banking reforms, designed to break finance cartels and prosecute fraud, takes hold among the states, snatching the initiative away from the bureaucratic heel-draggers at the federal level.

Then comes the great day that changes everything. It starts as a small protest march in Albany, to which the State Police predictably overreact. But then a group of snipers, of unknown provenance, kill a hundred or so people, both protesters and police among them. After that incident, a group of rioters, some secretly in the pay of Wall Street and coordinated by the US State Department, seize the Capitol in Albany. Much to everyone’s surprise, the New York National Guard defects to the rebel side. Despite impassioned pleas from the Canadian Premier, Washington does not send in troops to restore order. In the anarchy that is Albany, a slate of fresh faces wins a statewide referendum and forms a new state government.

It is quickly endorsed by other parts of the emergent “New England Federation” of states, all of which want to push back against the Wall Street bankers and their corruption by enlarging the scope of the uniform code. But the federally-funded wing-nuts also move quickly to consolidate their power, pushing through a wide-reaching agenda of oppressive laws. Some states in New England try to distance themselves, while others serve as apologists. Maine surprises everyone when it decides that it wants nothing to do with any of this and votes to secede and join Canada. Washington vows to take Maine back but it is trying to walk a narrow line with Canada, whose fossil fuel resources it views as indispensable.

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David is right of course, but not everyone can afford his lack of patience.

Kick-The-Can Has Morphed Into A Blatant Farce (David Stockman)

Kick-the-can has morphed into a blatant farce. Everywhere in the world central banks and financial officialdom are engaging in desperate, juvenile maneuvers to buy time – amounting to hardly a few weeks at a go. Never before has the debt-saturated, speculation-ridden global casino rested upon such a precarious foundation. This week, for instance, Janet Yellen will again waste two days of Congressional hearings in forked-tongue equivocations about an absolutely stupid issue. Namely, the exact date when money market interest rates will be permitted to blip upward from the zero bound by even 25 basis points. But this “lift-off” drama is flat-out surreal.

How could it possibly matter whether ZIRP will have been in place by 80 months or 83 months from its inception point way back in December 2008? There is not a single household or business on main street America which will change its behavior in the slightest during the next year regardless of whether the federal funds rate is 5 bps, 30 bps or 130 bps. The whole Kabuki dance in the Eccles Building is about hand signals to Wall Street carry traders; its a reflection of the desperate fear of our monetary politburo that having inflated for the third time this century the mother of all financial bubbles, they must now keep it going literally one meeting at a time—lest it splatter again and destroy the illusion that an egregious spree of money printing has saved the main street economy.

Likewise, it now transpires that the bruising political war of words between the Germans and the “radical” Greek government has been suspended for another few weeks. And the reason is a pathetic fear that unites the parties despite their irreconcilable substantive policy differences. Namely, that the markets will crater upon even a hint that a real solution is on the table, and that the way to keep the beast at bay is to cover their eyes, kick-the-can and hope something turns up to avert the next crisis a few weeks down the road. Still, this is getting beyond juvenile. If there were any adults in the room they would focus on quickly shaping a workable Greek default and exist—-not on perpetuating the lie that Greece can ever recover from its debt servitude to the EU superstate and IMF.

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“We will remove from …”

“Remove From Governments The Ability To Interfere With [Our] Rights” (Snowden)

If people lose their willingness to recognize that there are times in our history when legality becomes distinct from morality, we aren’t just ceding control of our rights to government, but our agency in determing our futures. How does this relate to politics? Well, I suspect that governments today are more concerned with the loss of their ability to control and regulate the behavior of their citizens than they are with their citizens’ discontent. How do we make that work for us? We can devise means, through the application and sophistication of science, to remind governments that if they will not be responsible stewards of our rights, we the people will implement systems that provide for a means of not just enforcing our rights, but removing from governments the ability to interfere with those rights.

You can see the beginnings of this dynamic today in the statements of government officials complaining about the adoption of encryption by major technology providers. The idea here isn’t to fling ourselves into anarchy and do away with government, but to remind the government that there must always be a balance of power between the governing and the governed, and that as the progress of science increasingly empowers communities and individuals, there will be more and more areas of our lives where—if government insists on behaving poorly and with a callous disregard for the citizen—we can find ways to reduce or remove their powers on a new—and permanent—basis. Our rights are not granted by governments. They are inherent to our nature. But it’s entirely the opposite for governments: their privileges are precisely equal to only those which we suffer them to enjoy.

We haven’t had to think about that much in the last few decades because quality of life has been increasing across almost all measures in a significant way, and that has led to a comfortable complacency. But here and there throughout history, we’ll occasionally come across these periods where governments think more about what they “can” do rather than what they “should” do, and what is lawful will become increasingly distinct from what is moral. In such times, we’d do well to remember that at the end of the day, the law doesn’t defend us; we defend the law. And when it becomes contrary to our morals, we have both the right and the responsibility to rebalance it toward just ends.

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Brilliant article by Ian Martin.

London: A Set Of Improbable Sex Toys Poking Gormlessly Into The Air (Guardian)

I wonder what in 100 years from now it will be, London. The city that privatised itself to death. Abandoned to nature, maybe, the whole place a massive, feral version of that mimsy garden bridge over the Thames currently being planned by the giggling classes. Poor London, the ancient and forgotten metropolis, crumbling slowly into an enchanted urban forest. Imagine. In 2115, all the lab-conjured animals in Regent’s Park Jurassic Zoo are free to roam, reliving their evolution. A diplodocus there, grazing in the jungled Mall. Look, a stegosaurus asleep in the ruins of Buckingham Palace. High above the forest canopy, a lone archaeopteryx soars, where once hundreds of drones glided through YouTubed firework displays.

Perhaps eminent historians will study London in the early 21st century, see how its poorer inhabitants were driven out, observe how its built environment was slowly boiled to death by privatisation. And they will wonder why people tolerated this transfer of collective wealth from taxpayers to shareholders. And they will perhaps turn their attention to Eduardo Paolozzi’s fabled mosaics at Tottenham Court Road underground station. Back in 2015, a debate has bubbled briefly, after some of these lovely, publicly owned mosaic murals were quietly dismantled as part of the station’s thorough £400m Crossrail seeing-to. I say “debate”; it was really only that polarised quackbait thing we have now: Click If You Think The Mosaics Are Great, We Should Save What’s Left Of Them v Smash Them Up They’re Ugly, Anyway Who Cares It’s Just Patterns On A Wall.

Arguments about the aesthetics of Paolozzi’s mosaics missed the point, it seemed to me, which has less to do with the merit of the art itself and more to do with what, in the long run, it turned out the art was for. Paolozzi’s legacy had stood intact for three decades. Not just as 1,000 sq m of charming, optimistic art, but as 1,000 sq m of commercial retardant. You can’t paste an ad on to a wallful of public art. You can’t fix one of those irritating micromovies over it, telling a vacuous five-second story about investments or vitamins or hair. The Paolozzi mosaics went up as decorative art, just as privatisation was about to explode like a dirty bomb all over the public realm. What survives at Tottenham Court Road station is a brave, forlorn little seawall set against a stormtide of corporate advertising.

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Feb 172015
 
 February 17, 2015  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Byron On the streets after a New York blizzard 1899

How Central Banks Have Lost Control Of The World (Telegraph)
Draghi QE Plan Seen Challenged by Hoarders Amassing Bonds (Bloomberg)
Athens Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ Eurozone Demands (Guardian)
Greece Rejects Eurozone’s ‘Absurd’ Offer As Time Runs Out On Talks (Telegraph)
Greece Defies Creditors, Seeking Credit But No Bailout (Reuters)
Brussels’ Blunt Bargaining Presents Austerity As Greece’s Only Option (Guardian)
Greek Brussels Defiance Means Hope at Home Tinged With Anxiety (Bloomberg)
Greek Talks With Euro-Area Finance Ministers Break Up (Bloomberg)
How a Liquidity Squeeze Could Push Greece Out of the Euro (Bloomberg)
UK Chancellor George Osborne Says It’s Crunch Time For The Eurozone
No Time for Games in Europe (Yanis Varoufakis)
Varoufakis: ‘Austerity Has Done Nothing to Solve Greece’s Problems’ (Spiegel)
Germany’s Schaeuble “Very Sceptical” About Greek Debt Talks (Reuters)
Chinese Home Prices Fall For Ninth Month (BBC)
China New Home Prices Drop At Record Pace (CNBC)
Russian Researchers Expose Breakthrough US Spying Program (Reuters)
EU Places New Sanctions On Ukrainians, Russians (CNBC)
Putin Heads Off a US-Russia War (Margolis)
France Should Recognize Crimea As Part Of Russia – Le Pen (RT)
How Many More Wars? (Ron Paul)

“Competitive easing”

How Central Banks Have Lost Control Of The World (Telegraph)

The world’s oldest central bank has ventured into uncharted territory. Last week, Sweden’s Riksbank slashed its main policy rate into negative territory. In doing so, it became the 14th central bank to ease monetary policy so far this year, but the first to actually take its “repo rate” below zero to -0.1pc. This means Sweden is actually charging its banks to lend money. In Britain, the same interest rate currently stands at a historic low of 0.5pc, but could well be cut further if Mark Carney is to be believed. Switzerland and Denmark have already sent their deposit rates to -0.75pc to prevent currency appreciation and defeat deflation.

Faced with the twins threats of deflation and economic stagnation, monetary policymakers are reaching for their interest rate levers and digital money-printing tools in a bid to stave off recessions and debt deflationary dynamics. In energy exporting nations such as Russia, the collapse in oil prices has led to a flight of capital forcing central banks into massive foreign exchange intervention and dramatic rate hikes to prop up the value of their currencies. Loose monetary policy, coupled with the much anticipated tightening from the world’s largest economy later this year, is provoking fears that central banks are losing their grip on the global economy. Here’s a breakdown of the consequences that could emerge from their actions. “Competitive easing” among central banks has stoked fears of a return of international currency wars.

The announcement of unprecedented monetary stimulus from the ECB and the Bank of Japan has led to the respective weakening of their exchange rates and prompted dramatic responses from the smaller central bank players. In Europe, the Swiss, Danish and Swedish authorities have all moved to impose punitive negative interest rates in a bid to prevent their currencies from rocketing in value. The Swiss kicked off this round of devaluation with a shock decision to abandon its de facto peg with the euro in January. The Riksbank has gone further and will begin its own round of bond-buying in response to the ECB’s moves. Denmark meanwhile, has been forced to lower rates four times in three weeks and purchase €32bn in foreign exchange to prevent the krone from developing into a safe haven for investors. This co-ordinated central bank action is reviving the “ghosts of the 1930s”, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley.

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“If it becomes at all clear that the ECB is struggling to buy a sufficient quantity of bonds, it makes it even less likely that anybody will want to sell..”

Draghi QE Plan Seen Challenged by Hoarders Amassing Bonds (Bloomberg)

As if Mario Draghi doesn’t have enough problems already. Europe is trying to avert a crippling bout of deflation. Germany wants austerity and less stimulus. And Greece is demanding to renegotiate the terms of its bailout, a move that has revived the risk of the euro area splintering. Now, there’s yet another: the European Central Bank president’s unprecedented plan to jolt the euro zone out of its economic malaise by buying €1.1 trillion of bonds may be hamstrung, even before it starts. The reason? A dearth of new supply and a lack of willing sellers. Morgan Stanley estimates net issuance from governments will be negative for the first time, once the ECB’s plan is taken into account.

The resulting scarcity makes hoarding of the safest euro-area securities by banks, insurers and pension funds all but inevitable, hindering ECB efforts to buy in 19 months roughly the same proportion of those bonds as the Federal Reserve accumulated in almost six years of Treasuries purchases. “If it becomes at all clear that the ECB is struggling to buy a sufficient quantity of bonds, it makes it even less likely that anybody will want to sell,” said Michael Riddell at M&G, who also said he’d been telling clients the ECB may have difficulty with its purchases. “This would scupper their attempts to boost inflation,” he said. The program has been carefully calibrated to take account of the size of different markets, an ECB spokesman said by e-mail on Monday.

The central bank is not at all worried about its success, and operational details will be regularly reassessed, the spokesman said. While the ECB faces economic risks akin to those in the U.S. when the Fed started quantitative easing, global debt trading has evolved. A tighter balance between supply and demand has pushed up prices, helping send rates in Europe to record lows and leaving €1.2 trillion of the region’s sovereign bonds yielding less than zero. That may make holders of the securities more reluctant to sell. “We have institutional investors, which are desperately looking for yield,” said Franck Dixmier at Allianz Global, a unit of Europe’s biggest insurer. “They will not sell. Because what really matters for a pension fund or an insurance company is the yield at the time you purchase the bond – and there’s the question of reinvestment for those investors.”

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Dirty tricks.

Athens Rejects ‘Unacceptable’ Eurozone Demands (Guardian)

Talks between Greece and its eurozone creditors collapsed in disarray on Monday night, heightening concerns that the country is edging closer to a disruptive exit from the eurozone. The breakdown of discussions in Brussels over the Greek bailout programme appeared to leave both sides as far apart as ever, although eurozone finance ministers said a last-ditch summit could be held on Friday. However, the Greek delegation was told in no uncertain terms that talks would recommence only if the country was willing to extend its bailout package, which carries a list of austerity measures that the new left-wing government in Athens has vowed to pare back. Effectively presenting Greece with an ultimatum, the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers said Athens had until Friday to agree to maintain the current bailout under the auspices of the Troika – something that Greece has said is unacceptable.

Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, made it clear in the acrimonious discussions in Brussels on Monday that Greece would not accept prolonging the bail out for six months unless the other 18 members of the eurozone agreed to water down the austerity conditions attached to the deal. Varoufakis insisted that an “honourable agreement” was within reach for Greece, despite voicing strong criticism of unspecified advocates of Greece’s current bailout, who were playing “games with the future of Europe”. “We are going to meet half way during the next couple of days,” he said. “Europe will do the usual trick, it will pull a good agreement, an honourable agreement, out of what appears to be an impasse.”

The Syriza-led coalition in Athens is convinced that, despite the tough language used by Germany, it can secure more favourable terms by holding out until closer to the 28 February deadline when its current €172bn bailout expires. But it ran the risk on Monday night of infuriating other eurozone members through its negotiating stance and by leaking the details of a draft agreement while the meeting was going on. A Greek official described the draft agreement as “unacceptable” because it restated that Greece must continue in its current bailout programme. “The Greek authorities have indicated that they intend to successfully conclude the programme, taking into account the new government’s plans,” stated a phrase in the rejected communique, which had been crossed out.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the eurogroup, said there had been disappointment about the failure to find common ground. But he insisted that the Greek government had to make the next move by asking to continue in the bailout programme. “The next step has to come from the Greek authorities; they have to make up their mind.” He said eurozone ministers were likely to meet on Friday, but this would be the last chance to get an agreement.

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“..carrying out the bailout programme was off the table at the summit. Those who bring this back are wasting their time.”

Greece Rejects Eurozone’s ‘Absurd’ Offer As Time Runs Out On Talks (Telegraph)

The latest meeting between Greece and its international lenders over the debt-stricken country’s €172bn bailout ended in disarray on Monday, as the eurozone’s offer was rejected as “absurd” and “unacceptable”. Greece has demanded an end to the EU and IMF’s “adjustment” programme of economic reforms and austerity agreed three years ago in return for a bailout. Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday hoping to reach a compromise before the bailout expires on February 28. However, Greek politicians reacted with anger to a draft statement tabled by Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers. The communique committed Greece’s far-Left Syriza government to “successfully conclude” the EU-IMF programme.

“The Greek authorities gave their firm commitment to refrain from unilateral action and will work in close agreement with its European and international partners, especially in the field of tax policy, privatisation, labour market reforms, financial sector and pensions,” the draft stated. “The Greek authorities committed to ensure appropriate primary fiscal surpluses and financing in order to guarantee debt sustainability in line wit the targets agreed on the November 2012 Eurogroup statement. Moreover, any new measures should be funded, and not endanger financial stability. “On this basis the Greek authorities expressed their intention to request a six-month technical extension of the current programme as an interemediate step. This would bridge the time for the Greek authorities and the eurogroup to work on a follow up arrangement.”

Greece’s government blasted the document, with one source telling Reuters that “carrying out the bailout programme was off the table at the summit. Those who bring this back are wasting their time.” To replace the bailout, Greece is seeking a “bridging arrangement”, worth up to €21bn, that would allow the government in Athens breathing space to implement radical economic reforms. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, accused the Greek government of “behaving irresponsibly” by threatening to tear up agreements made with the eurozone in return for access to the loans which are all that stand between Greece and financial collapse. “It seems like we have no results so far. I’m quite sceptical. The Greek government has not moved, apparently,” he said.

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“He cited what he called a “splendid” proposal from the European Commission by which Greece would get four to six months credit in return for a freeze on its anti-austerity policies..”

Greece Defies Creditors, Seeking Credit But No Bailout (Reuters)

Talks between Greece and euro zone finance ministers over the country’s debt crisis broke down on Monday when Athens rejected a proposal to request a six-month extension of its international bailout package as “unacceptable”. The unexpectedly rapid collapse raised doubts about Greece’s future in the single currency area after a new leftist-led government vowed to scrap the €240 billion bailout, reverse austerity policies and end cooperation with EU/IMF inspectors. Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who chaired the meeting, said Athens had until Friday to request an extension, otherwise the bailout would expire at the end of the month. The Greek state and its banks would then face a looming cash crunch. How long Greece can keep itself afloat without foreign support is uncertain.

The euro fell against the dollar after the talks broke up but with Wall Street closed for a holiday, the full force of any market reaction may only be felt on Tuesday. The European Central Bank will decide on Wednesday whether to maintain emergency lending to Greek banks that are bleeding deposits at an estimated rate of €2 billion a week. The state faces some heavy loan repayments in March. Seemingly determined not to be browbeaten by a chorus of EU ministers intoning that he needed to swallow Greek pride and come back to ask for the extension, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a left-wing academic economist, voiced confidence that a deal on different terms was within reach within days.

“I have no doubt that, within the next 48 hours Europe, is going to come together and we shall find the phrasing that is necessary so that we can submit it and move on to do the real work that is necessary,” Varoufakis told a news conference, warning that the language of ultimatum never worked in Europe. He cited what he called a “splendid” proposal from the European Commission by which Greece would get four to six months credit in return for a freeze on its anti-austerity policies. He said he had been ready to sign that – but that Dijsselbloem had then presented a different, and “highly problematic”, deal. A draft of what Dijsselbloem proposed, swiftly leaked by furious Greek officials, spoke of Athens extending and abiding by its “current programme” – anathema to a government which, as Varoufakis said, was elected last month to scrap the package.

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“In the corridors of the European commission, officials will tell anyone interested that Greece long ago relinquished its autonomy.”

Brussels’ Blunt Bargaining Presents Austerity As Greece’s Only Option (Guardian)

Rarely have European finance ministers given such a clear statement. To the request from Greece to scrap its toxic austerity programme, the answer was no. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, is not the worst when it comes to convoluted euro-speak. Still, he has rarely delivered such a pithy response. Two weeks of shuttle diplomacy is the blink of an eye in Brussels. But that is all it took for Athens to be told its demand for an alternative bailout, with more relaxed rules, was a dream. The eurogroup said the troika programme must continue. As a concession it agreed the programme could be extended, and it would also allow for some elements to be up for discussion. But an extension must bring with it a commitment to carry through the majority of the reforms attached to the programme.

And any dropping of certain measures – such as a squeeze on public sector employment – must be matched by an agreement to add other elements of austerity. In other words, the abandonment of one public sector cut simply brings with it an equally tough one in a different guise. Dijsselbloem gave Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras until Thursday to buckle, with a view to holding an emergency eurogroup meeting on Friday to discuss surrender terms. Without a call from Tsipras, Dijsselbloem said the bailout would end on 28 February. From 1 March a new bailout could be debated, but the hint was clear – the terms would be just as tough. And let’s face it, the terms are for a full and total surrender.

Not only will Tsipras give up his economic project, he will effectively be telling the Greek people something many have felt since the first bailout in 2010 – that they are governed from Brussels, and how they vote is irrelevant. In the corridors of the European commission, officials will tell anyone interested that Greece long ago relinquished its autonomy. Such was the severity of its financial crash and the dysfunction in its economy, being run from Brussels was the only answer. For Tsipras to have other ideas was wholly naive. And when last week, after the first eurogroup meeting, he told finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to keep pushing for more and the dapper economics professor went public again with accusations of financial waterboarding, the Eurogroup was left with no alternative but to say no.

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“The rallies show how exhausted Greek society is, how it’s a society on the brink.”

Greek Brussels Defiance Means Hope at Home Tinged With Anxiety (Bloomberg)

Christina Zografou wasn’t among the thousands of Athenians who gathered in Syntagma square on Sunday to support Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. That’s not because the 21-year-old university student doesn’t support the efforts of his three-week-old government. Rather it’s because Zografou is more anxious than hopeful about what Tsipras will achieve. On Monday night, talks between Greece and its European creditors foundered after Tsipras’s government said the euro area’s proposal to extend existing bailout commitments was “absurd” and “unacceptable.” “I’m not optimistic this government won’t end up like the others; they aren’t prepared,” Zografou said. “The rallies show how exhausted Greek society is, how it’s a society on the brink.”

While opinion polls in Greece point to unprecedented support for the new government, they also show an undercurrent of concern. A Kapa survey of 1,015 Greeks published the day of the rally showed that hope was the overwhelming feeling chosen to describe Tsipras’s handling of the crisis since his election. The most prevalent feeling after that was anxiety. The rallies “place an even greater burden on the government to deliver a ’new deal’ for Greece,” said Spyros Economides, a professor at the London School of Economics. “If they don’t deliver, the goodwill generated among the electorate up to now could quickly be eroded.” Greece’s new anti-austerity government wants to exit the current bailout program, which it blames for the country’s economic hardships, and replace it with a new plan while obtaining bridge financing to avoid defaulting on its international debt.

The plan, which would include raising wages and reinstating government workers, is not getting much support from the country’s creditors. Germany, as the biggest country contributor to Greece’s €240 billion bailouts and the chief proponent of economic reform and budget cuts in return, insists that Tsipras’s government commit to an extension of its current rescue program, which expires Feb. 28. Without a deal, Greece could run out of money, forcing Tsipras to consider abandoning his promises to the electorate to prevent the country from leaving the single currency. In the weeks since Tsipras came to power and as European officials bear down on the new premier, the focus of conversations in Athens’s cafes, bars and sidewalks is all about what needs to be done and what can be done.

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“Varoufakis said his government had been “happy” with a “splendid,” separate draft communique that was produced by European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici before the meeting.”

Greek Talks With Euro-Area Finance Ministers Break Up (Bloomberg)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 11th-hour effort to strike a deal with Greece on Monday was parried by euro-area finance ministers who sought to extend an austerity program in exchange for financial support. Talks in Brussels ended abruptly and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis claimed a bait-and-switch, saying Juncker’s commission offered a path forward that finance ministers then refused to put on the table. Instead, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem offered a different statement tying Greece to its current agreement. Varoufakis rejected that proposal out of hand, and the euro weakened on the impasse. Time is running out: The current aid agreement expires at the end of February.

Failure to reach an accord could see Greece stumble out of the euro, and while Europe’s defenses are stronger than when the country flirted with exit from the single currency three years ago, a departure could ultimately trigger a flight from risk, bank runs and a downturn in European demand. According to seven European officials with direct knowledge of the talks, the meeting quickly unraveled, sending the euro lower. Dijsselbloem, who leads the finance ministers’ group, eventually halted the proceedings, saying ministers could reconvene on Friday if there’s a breakthrough. “The next step has to come from the Greek authorities,” Dijsselbloem told reporters. “They have to make up their minds whether they will ask for an extension.”

Varoufakis said Greece had no choice but to refuse the statement on offer. “In the history of the European Union nothing good has ever come out of ultimatum,” he told reporters after the meeting. Greece is willing to extend the current aid program as long it’s done on the right terms, Varoufakis said. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government will now return to the bargaining table and “we are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to reach an honorable agreement over the next two days,” he said. [..] Varoufakis said his government had been “happy” with a “splendid,” separate draft communique that was produced by European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici before the meeting.

Moscovici, speaking after the meeting, called on euro-area finance ministers to be “logical, not ideological” as negotiations continue. He urged Greece to request an extension and said concessions so far leave ample room for a deal. “We both agreed that it could be possible to keep 70% of the current program and to replace measures, but which have to be fully financed, up to 30%” of current requirements, Moscovici said. “30% is not a minor room for politics.”

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“With no access to any source of financing, the insolvent state and its banks would have to start using a new currency, or a currency equivalent, as no economy can survive without cash.”

How a Liquidity Squeeze Could Push Greece Out of the Euro (Bloomberg)

The standoff between Greece and its creditors on how to proceed on its bailout program risks triggering a simultaneous cash and credit crunch, which could drive the country out of the euro area. Here’s how a worst-case scenario could unfold: The Greek government, companies and lenders have all effectively lost access to international markets, due to the uncertainty over the country’s future. The current sources of liquidity are bailout funds from the euro-area nations, the currency bloc’s crisis fund, the IMF and the ECB’s Emergency Liquidity Assistance. Failure to strike a compromise means that these payments would cease. This means that the state would be unable to service its debt obligations, which stand at €22 billion this year, excluding treasury bills, according to the 2015 budget.

Greek aid talks in Brussels ended abruptly Monday. “If the ECB considers the talks to have stalled, there is a risk that it will suspend ELA, perhaps leaving Greece with no choice but to exit the euro zone,” Jennifer McKeown at Capital Economics said. Lack of access to bailout funds would also mean that the Greek state wouldn’t be able to repay its €15 billion outstanding of short-term debt held by the country’s lenders. At present, Greek banks continuously roll over bills, helping the government stay afloat. The ECB decision not to accept Greek bills as collateral for financing operations and accelerating deposit outflows are limiting the ability of banks to buy new bills.

With no access to any source of financing, the insolvent state and its banks would have to start using a new currency, or a currency equivalent, as no economy can survive without cash. This would be the start of a de-facto exit from the euro area, caused by Greece’s inability to deal with a stripping of liquidity worth as much as 96 billion euros, according to Bloomberg calculations below.

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Britain gets nervous. It should offer to act as mediator.

UK Chancellor George Osborne Says It’s Crunch Time For The Eurozone

The UK chancellor, George Osborne, has warned that Britain’s economic stability would be rocked if a deal cannot be reached on Greece’s bailout. Speaking on his way into the European Union ministers’ meeting on Tuesday morning, Osborne said: “We are reaching crunch time for Greece and the eurozone, and I’m here to urge all sides to reach an agreement, because the consequence of not having an agreement would be very severe for economic and financial stability.” He added: “What Britain really needs to see is competence not chaos.”

Talks between Greece and its eurozone creditors collapsed in disarray on Monday night, after Athens rejected a plan to prolong its bailout for six months. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of eurozone finance ministers, said on Tuesday morning that eurozone ministers were ready to work with Greece to break the deadlock but insisted that the next move had to come from Athens. “I hope [Greece] will ask for an extension to the programme, and once they do that we can allow flexibility, they can put in their political priorities,” Dijsselbloem said as he arrived for the meeting. Analysts at Commerzbank said the chances of Greece leaving the eurozone were now as high as 50%.

After the eurozone finance ministers again failed to reach an agreement with Greece today, the euro membership of the country hangs in the balance.” Before yesterday’s failed meeting, Commerzbank rated the chances of Greece leaving the currency bloc at 25%.”

Greece is not on the official agenda of the meeting, but a further round of talks between Athens and its eurozone creditors is expected to be getting underway. Dijsselbloem has laid down a deadline of Friday for Greece to ask for an extension to its current bailout deal, which is due to expire on 28 February.

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Truth to power. “I am writing this piece on the margins of a crucial negotiation with my country’s creditors — a negotiation the result of which may mark a generation..”

No Time for Games in Europe (Yanis Varoufakis)

I am writing this piece on the margins of a crucial negotiation with my country’s creditors — a negotiation the result of which may mark a generation, and even prove a turning point for Europe’s unfolding experiment with monetary union. Game theorists analyze negotiations as if they were split-a-pie games involving selfish players. Because I spent many years during my previous life as an academic researching game theory, some commentators rushed to presume that as Greece’s new finance minister I was busily devising bluffs, stratagems and outside options, struggling to improve upon a weak hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, my game-theory background convinced me that it would be pure folly to think of the current deliberations between Greece and our partners as a bargaining game to be won or lost via bluffs and tactical subterfuge.

The trouble with game theory, as I used to tell my students, is that it takes for granted the players’ motives. In poker or blackjack this assumption is unproblematic. But in the current deliberations between our European partners and Greece’s new government, the whole point is to forge new motives. To fashion a fresh mind-set that transcends national divides, dissolves the creditor-debtor distinction in favor of a pan-European perspective, and places the common European good above petty politics, dogma that proves toxic if universalized, and an us-versus-them mind-set.

As finance minister of a small, fiscally stressed nation lacking its own central bank and seen by many of our partners as a problem debtor, I am convinced that we have one option only: to shun any temptation to treat this pivotal moment as an experiment in strategizing and, instead, to present honestly the facts concerning Greece’s social economy, table our proposals for regrowing Greece, explain why these are in Europe’s interest, and reveal the red lines beyond which logic and duty prevent us from going. The great difference between this government and previous Greek governments is twofold: We are determined to clash with mighty vested interests in order to reboot Greece and gain our partners’ trust. We are also determined not to be treated as a debt colony that should suffer what it must.

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“Our country is literally being pushed under water. Just before we suffer an actual cardiac arrest, we are granted a momentary respite. Then we’re pushed back under water, and the whole thing starts again. My aim is to end this permanent terror of asphyxiation.”

Varoufakis: ‘Austerity Has Done Nothing to Solve Greece’s Problems’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Mr. Varoufakis, you have referred to the European Union’s bailout policy for Greece as “fiscal waterboarding.” What exactly do you mean by that?
Varoufakis: For the past five years, Greece has been subjected to austerity measures that it cannot, under any circumstances, meet. Our country is literally being pushed under water. Just before we suffer an actual cardiac arrest, we are granted a momentary respite. Then we’re pushed back under water, and the whole thing starts again. My aim is to end this permanent terror of asphyxiation.

SPIEGEL: Do you really think “waterboarding” is an appropriate metaphor for a rescue package?
Varoufakis: Well, it managed to get your attention, didn’t it? So it worked.

SPIEGEL: You are comparing a rescue package with a form of torture the CIA used on prisoners. But Greece was showered with money, not water.
Varoufakis: That money was used to bail out banks, especially banks in Germany and in France, to prevent them from taking losses.

SPIEGEL: Greece would have become insolvent long ago if it hadn’t received help.
Varoufakis: The truth of the matter is that 90% of that money never arrived in Greece.

SPIEGEL: Going back to your metaphor, who is the torturer that keeps pushing Greece under water?
Varoufakis: The troika of technocrats sent periodically to Greece to enforce an unenforceable program, technocrats representing the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I have nothing against these three institutions as such. However, they sent a cabal of technocrats to Greece to implement and monitor an entirely destructive program.

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The parallel universe: “The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time..” And built soupkitchens with all that money?

Germany’s Schaeuble “Very Sceptical” About Greek Debt Talks (Reuters)

Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a radio interview on Monday that he was not very optimistic that Greece and its euro zone partners would reach a debt agreement at a meeting in Brussels later in the day. Asked if the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers would find a solution for Greece’s debt problems, Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk: “From what I’ve heard about the technical talks over the weekend, I’m very sceptical, but we will get a report today and then we’ll see.” Schaeuble said Germany did not want Greece ot leave the euro zone, but that the new government in Athens had to fulfil the core conditions of its bailout programme and that it was not about finding a compromise deal “just for the sake of a compromise”.

“The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time and that nobody wants to give Greece money anymore without guarantees,” Schaeuble said, noting that Athens had to stick to agreed reforms to become competitive. Schaeuble added that the new Greek government was behaving “quite irresponsibly” right now and that it was no help to insult others who have supported the country in the past. A Greek leftist newspaper close to the ruling party in Athens published a cartoon last week which showed Schaeuble in a Nazi uniform. He is quoted saying “we insist on soap from your fat” and “we are discussing fertilizer from your ashes”, references to the fate of Jews in Nazi death camps. In a separate interview with German broadcaster ZDF, Austria’s finance minister Hans-Joerg Schelling said the new Greek government still appeared to be in “election mode not working mode”.

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Bad to worse.

Chinese Home Prices Fall For Ninth Month (BBC)

The average price of new homes in China’s 70 major cities fell 0.4% in January from a month ago, marking the ninth consecutive decline. Government data showed that prices in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai also fell more last month than they did in December on an annual basis. China’s once red-hot real estate market has been facing headwinds from a slowing economy and oversupply issues. Investors have been turning away from the market and investing in stocks. Home prices fell in 64 of the 70 cities tracked by the National Bureau of Statistics. On an annual basis, prices fell 5.1% in January – marking the fifth consecutive month that prices fell from a year ago.

The continuing slump comes despite a surprise interest rate cut by China’s central bank in November in an attempt to boost growth in the flagging economy. The world’s second-largest economy grew at its slowest pace in 24 years last year, missing its official target and putting pressure on the government to take measures to avoid a sharper downturn. Earlier this month, China’s central bank surprised markets once again by lowering banks’ reserve requirements to boost lending, which is expected to help the property sector. The rate cut was the first since May 2012, although there have been cuts for select small lenders.

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“New home prices fell in 69 of 70 cities by from the year-ago period..”

China New Home Prices Drop At Record Pace (CNBC)

New home prices fell in 69 of 70 cities by an average of 5.1% from the year-ago period, according to Reuters calculations based on fresh data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Tuesday. The pace pips the 4.3% decline in December, which was the largest drop since the current data series began in 2011, according to the FT. Both Beijing and Shanghai clocked in steeper on-year price falls, of 3.2% and 4.2%, respectively, in January compared with the 2.7% and 3.7% respective declines seen in December. The People’s Bank of China slashed the reserve requirements of major banks – or the minimum amount of cash banks need to hold back from lending – last month. The move follows the central bank’s surprise interest rate cut in November.

After skyrocketing in recent years, China’s property prices have been cooling amid a glut of supply and as economic growth moderated. The housing sector contributes to about 15% of China’s economy. The world’s second-biggest economy slowed to 7.4% in 2014, the slowest rate in 24 years. “Since the beginning of last year we are already seeing a steady drop in housing prices across the board,” said David Ji, head of research, Greater China, at Knight Frank. “The problem that we have now is that the developers have two to five years of stock to clear. So until that has been cleared, prices aren’t going up any time soon,” he added.

The pain in the sector is being felt by property developers like Kaisa, which on Tuesday said its assets frozen by courts to protect its creditors have risen to more than $2 billion, sending its shares down nearly 10% in Hong Kong. The troubled developer said Monday its debts now exceed $10 billion, of which it may have to repay more than half this year, and that it was in discussions with creditors to restructure its borrowings urgently. Kaisa’s problems underscores the role the informal – or shadow – banking sector plays in the slumping property market. These nontraditional Chinese lenders, or investment vehicles known as trusts, have lent massive amounts to the sector following the Global Financial Crisis, resulting in the accumulation of ballooning debt.

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This could cost US tech firms a fortune.

Russian Researchers Expose Breakthrough US Spying Program (Reuters)

The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives. That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations. Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria.

The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said. The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States. A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.

Kaspersky published the technical details of its research on Monday, which should help infected institutions detect the spying programs, some of which trace back as far as 2001. The disclosure could further hurt the NSA’s surveillance abilities, already damaged by massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s revelations have hurt the United States’ relations with some allies and slowed the sales of U.S. technology products abroad. The exposure of these new spying tools could lead to greater backlash against Western technology, particularly in countries such as China, which is already drafting regulations that would require most bank technology suppliers to proffer copies of their software code for inspection.

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Can it get any crazier?

EU Places New Sanctions On Ukrainians, Russians (CNBC)

The European Union placed more Ukrainians and Russians under sanctions on Monday, accusing them of “undermining or threatening” Ukraine’s independence. The new list places “restrictive measures” on 28 people or organizations, including Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Defense, Arkady Bakhin. Also on the list was Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov and Andrei Kartapolov, the deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces. The sanctions are due to come into effect immediately. The new penalties are part of an ongoing program by the European Union, but come just days after a cease-fire was announced in Ukraine. Military conflict with Russian separatists has been one of the biggest factors weighing on markets in recent months, but despite the cease-fire some of the rebels have not observed the truce, according to reports.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would “adequately” respond to the sanctions, according to Reuters. It added that the measures contradicted common sense and would not result in a solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine was thrown into turmoil at the start of last year, after protests between anti-government and pro-EU demonstrators led to a change of leadership. Tensions on the streets of Kiev turned into military conflicts on the eastern border, with Moscow accused of aiding pro-Kremlin rebels in the region. Moscow continues to deny the involvement of Russian troops in the conflict.

Despite these denials, the tensions have hit Russia’s economy hard. It is expected to fall into a recession in the coming year on the back of international economic sanctions from both the U.S. and Europe, combined with a dramatic fall in oil prices. The Russian ruble fell sharply against the dollar after the news of more sanctions Monday, despite appreciating much of the morning session. The economic sanctions now mean Western asset freezes and travel bans for yet more Ukrainians and Russians. As well as commanders of armed separatist group in the region, the list also includes Iosif Kobzon, a Russian singer, who the EU has accused of making statements supporting separatists and voting in favor of the annexation of Crimea.

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“Along came that unlikely man of peace, Russia’s Vlad Putin, who charted a diplomatic course out of the Syria mess for the bumbling White House which had talked itself into corner.”

Putin Heads Off a US-Russia War (Margolis)

Has Russia’s Vladimir Putin pulled Barack Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire for a second time? Will the shaky cease-fire in Ukraine that began this weekend hold up and end a conflict that was threatening a nuclear war between the United States and Russia? The answer to the first question is yes. Remember back in 2013 when the Obama White House was threatening to attack Syria over allegations it was using poison gas? As it turned out, the UN found it was the US-backed Syrian rebels who were likely to have used chemical weapons rather than the Damascus regime. Noble Peace Prize Winner Obama and his lady strategists almost got the US into a war in Syria that could have led to direct clashes with Russia, which was backing the Damascus government.

Along came that unlikely man of peace, Russia’s Vlad Putin, who charted a diplomatic course out of the Syria mess for the bumbling White House which had talked itself into corner. Now, it seems the much-reviled Russian leader is doing it again. The cease-fire agreement forged in Minsk late last week may end or at least de-escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine that was drawing the US and Russia into a direct confrontation. Whether the cease-fire/truce holds up is uncertain but the absolute necessity of a negotiated settlement over the Ukraine crisis could not be more clear. Nuclear-armed powers must never, ever clash militarily. President Putin proposed the solution over a year ago: autonomy in a federal state and the right to speak Russian for eastern Ukraine.

Most important, Ukraine would never join NATO. Doing so would have put Russia’s vital naval base at Sevastopol under NATO control – as unthinkable for Moscow as for the US to see Norfolk, Virginia or Houston under Russian or Chinese control. Ukraine’s fierce nationalists and their US backers rejected Putin’s plan and set about trying to impose Kiev’s total control by military force. It’s ironic that the US has given total support to Kiev’s war against what it calls “rebels” and “terrorists” while arming and financing Syria’s Sunni rebels whom Damascus brands “rebels” and “terrorists.”

A peace deal comes not an hour too soon. A full battalion of US Army troops is scheduled to arrive in western Ukraine to “train” government troops and lead them into battle. This hare-brained scheme has a potential clash with Russia written all over it. Imagine if Russian troops arrived outside Montreal to train Canadian forces. The US has no strategic interests in Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union/Russia until 1991. The whole crazy scheme was promoted by neocons as a way of undermining Russia and putting Ukraine into their ideological orbit.

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“Russia is a great country, a great people, with which Europe has many common strategic interests. We need to talk with Russia..”

France Should Recognize Crimea As Part Of Russia – Le Pen (RT)

The leader of the French National Front Party, Marine Le Pen has urged the French government to recognize Crimea as part of Russia’s territory and to restore ties with Moscow, a “natural ally of Europe.” There is no alternative, but to recognize the legality of Crimea’s ascension into the Russian Federation, Le Pen told the Polish Do Rzeczy in an interview. The French politician says that Paris must accept Crimea’s choice, as it became part of Russia in the time of lawlessness following an orchestrated “coup” last year, when “Neo-Nazi militants organized a revolution in Ukraine.” Le Pen says the Peninsula had no other choice as “power in Kiev was illegal,” at that time. “The authorities [in Kiev] started to make decisions that would lead to civil war,” she added. The leader of the French National Front emphasized that “Russia is a natural ally of Europe.”

“We are pawns in the game of influence between the United States and Russia. Russia is a great country, a great people, with which Europe has many common strategic interests. We need to talk with Russia,” she said. Le Pen has been a strong critic of EU policies towards Russia and US influence in European geopolitics from the very beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. In March, speaking about the results of the referendum in Crimea, Le Pen said that on the peninsula, the people’s choice was to be expected. “This was to be expected,” Le Pen said. “And the people [of Crimea], who lived in fear, rushed into the arms of the country where they were from: as you know it, Crimea is part of Ukraine only for 60 years.”

Earlier this month, Le Pen voiced her disapproval of Washington’s stake in Europe. Regarding Ukraine, we behave like American lackeys,” she said, before warning that “the aim of the Americans is to start a war in Europe to push NATO to the Russian border.” She went on to accuse European leaders of turning a blind eye to the Ukrainian government’s “bombing of civilians,” adding that both those in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine believed the country should be federalized. Equally critical of the EU role in Ukraine, in September, she told Le Monde that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is “all the European Union’s fault,” saying Brussels had “blackmailed the country to choose between Europe and Russia.” To resolve the conflict, Le Pen has more than once called on necessity to conduct negotiations on federalization and constitutional reforms to decentralize the power, rather than to try solve the issue by military means.

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“Just as the Europeans seem to have been able to negotiate a ceasefire between the opposing sides in that civil war, President Obama plans to pour gasoline on the fire by sending in the US military.”

How Many More Wars? (Ron Paul)

Last week President Obama sent Congress legislation to authorize him to use force against ISIS “and associated persons and forces” anywhere in the world for the next three years. This is a blank check for the president to start as many new wars as he wishes, and it appears Congress will go along with this dangerous and costly scheme. Already the military budget for next year is equal to all but the very peak spending levels during the Vietnam war and the Reagan military build-up, according to the Project on Defense Alternatives. Does anyone want to guess how much will be added to military spending as a result of this new war authorization? The US has already spent nearly $2 billion fighting ISIS since this summer, and there hasn’t been much to show for it. A new worldwide war on ISIS will likely just serve as a recruiting tool for jihadists.

We learned last week that our bombing has led to 20,000 new foreign fighters signing up to join ISIS. How many more will decide to join each time a new US bomb falls on a village or a wedding party? The media makes a big deal about the so-called limitations on the president’s ability to use combat troops in this legislation, but in reality there is nothing that would add specific limits. The prohibition on troops for “enduring” or “offensive” ground combat operations is vague enough to be meaningless. Who gets to determine what “enduring” means? And how difficult is it to claim that any ground operation is “defensive” by saying it is meant to “defend” the US?

Even the three year limit is just propaganda: who believes a renewal would not be all but automatic if the president comes back to Congress with the US embroiled in numerous new wars? If this new request is not bad enough, the president has announced that he would be sending 600 troops into Ukraine next month, supposedly to help train that country’s military. Just as the Europeans seem to have been able to negotiate a ceasefire between the opposing sides in that civil war, President Obama plans to pour gasoline on the fire by sending in the US military. The ceasefire agreement signed last week includes a demand that all foreign military forces leave Ukraine. I think that is a good idea and will go a long way to reduce the tensions. But why does Obama think that restriction does not apply to us?

Read more …

Feb 162015
 
 February 16, 2015  Posted by at 8:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


John M. Fox WCBS studios, 49 East 52nd Street, NYC 1948

It’s really not that hard. It’s even elegantly simple. But that still requires you’re willing to listen, willing to think, and you don’t go into talks with your mind already made up. Obviously, that is too much to ask from the Eurogroup side of the negotiations with Greece. They haven’t been able to move one inch from their ‘Do as we say or else’ bluster.

German Fin Min Schäuble earlier implied that the Greek people have elected the ‘wrong’ government, an already unforgivable intrusion into a EU member state’s internal affairs. What if the Greeks said the same about Merkel et al, what do you think the reaction would be? Today, SPD executive board member, Joachim Poß, member of Merkel’s German coalition government, does Schäuble one better:

“In the interest of the Greek people and in view of the difficult situation, Prime Minister Tsipras should consider to replace Mr Varoufakis with a political experienced, realistic-efficient person.”

They call for the Greeks to see reality, but they themselves have completely lost it. They think reality is whatever they think or wish it is. The only true reality, however, is that the Greek people, in a very democratic and very convincing way, have elected the government that a cackle of Germans now apparently find inconvenient.

Germany has European reality, and history, and economics, fully upside down. Which, no matter how you take the Greek claim that Germany got in 1953 what Greece deserves today, or their insistence on WWII reparations, is remarkable. How is it possible that there is no voice coming from Berlin to question, doubt, attack, their government’s position? It’s after all not as if there are no unresolved issues left. There are no clear cut positions other than what Berlin and Brussels say there are.

Merkel and Dijsselbloem and Draghi don’t get to decide for the entire world what goes and what does not. Their ‘model’, their ideas, have failed dramatically, and Dijsselbloem’s hollow statement that “much progress has been made” (talking about Greece) only serves to confirm that. They seem to think that a double or nothing on Greece will hide their failures, but the exact opposite is true: Syriza is exposing them as unsavory naked emperors.

Schäuble, in the same vein as Dijsselbloem, insists on saying: “look how great we’ve been doing, which is why we have the right to keep on acting the way we have”. But that is nonsense, neither Schäuble nor Draghi’s policies have been a huge success, far from it. And while Germany may have scraped by – and not much more than that -, this is not remotely true for some of the countries both gentlemen are in an economic union with, least of all Greece. It is simply not true, it’s a self absorbed and self aggrandizing delusion.

If New York State, Texas and California were not bound by the policies inherent in a federal fiscal union, they would have been even richer than they are, but Oklahoma and Nebraska (I’m just picking a few examples) would have been much poorer, and would have no reason to remain part of the USA. The EU and eurozone have no such fiscal union, which means Germany gets to keep all the spoil, and Greece pays the bill. This is possible because Greece, unlike Oklahoma, only gets hand-outs that it has to pay back with interest. Which may be low right now, but that doesn’t change the principle – or the principal, for that matter: Greece gets it share of ‘help’ of the union it’s in, in the form of additional debt. Oklahoma does not.

While at the same time, Greece no longer has a central bank or a currency, so it’s fully dependent on what Berlin decides Frankfurt (ECB) must do. And wouldn’t you know, Frankfurt always decides on doing what is best for Berlin, because it’s the major power in the union. That leaves Greece in a deep dark hole, and one that can only possibly get deeper and darker, unless the eurozone economy starts growing at double digit rates (not!). And even then. Even then that – fantasy – growth would be primarily German.

Just like Nebraska will never be New York or California, Greece will never be Germany. In the US, this was understood – luckily – at an early stage. Or there wouldn’t be a US. I’m not saying the present day US is some sort of Nirvana, but at least it got its basic fiscal principles down early in the game. There’s a means for the federal government to lift up the poorer parts of the union using tax revenues from the richer. And no, that’s not socialism, it’s the only way to keep the better part of an entire continent tied together. And when I say ‘better’, please note I’ve already in my young life lived in Canada for 20 years. And left. And that Canada is actually bigger than the US. It’s a figure of speech.

Schäuble pretends that what is good for Germany, is also good for Greece. And that is manifestly untrue. It would be in a true fiscal union, but it is not true today. It’s nonsense. Doesn’t Germany understand this? That’s hard to believe. Still, they insist that the only way forward for Europe is the one that benefits themselves most. And they get the likes of Dijsselbloem and Draghi to confirm that for them.

All against the Greek underdog. Which, as democratically as their ancestors invented it eons ago, voted they had had enough. And what is Germany’ s reaction? Schäuble said: “The problem is that Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time..” But isn’t that perhaps even more true for Germany itself? It depends on how you look at it.

Greece never stood a chance in the present configuration. All benefits would always have gone to Germany, simply because they get to decide everything. There are no EU or eurozone rules that say Berlin has to bequeath part of its surplus to weaker parts of the union. What inevitably follows from that is that Germany will, as time goes by, squeeze Greece and Italy and Spain ever drier. After all, Berlin is not the Salvation Army, right?! These things should have been written down in very strong terms long ago, like they were in the US. If you don’t do that, there’s no escaping the consequences.

What Greece, Syriza, Tsipras and Varoufakis are doing right now is to try and change this arrangement, which benefits only the richer parts of the European Union, and does so on an inevitably ever larger scale. They’re trying to make the EU perhaps not precisely like the US (Zeus forbid!), but certainly more like it.

In the US there’s at least a basic kind of fairness, which – well, mostly – prevents parts of its union to dissolve into Third World status. Europe has no such fairness, and it therefore does indeed create that sort of misery within its own borders. And instead of saying, ‘okay, perhaps we should have shared a bit more of our wealth, and let’s discuss that’, they dig in and they treat the Greeks like they’re some kind of inferior species whose best option is to wait for some scraps to fall off the beer and beerwurst-laden tables of Bavaria.

And lest we forget it, one more time, and Varoufakis repeated it again last week, the majority of the Greek debt is what Germany and France burdened the country with when they decided to bail out their own banks who has wagered huge amounts of ‘money’, encouraged by Goldman Sachs’ derivatives schemes that hid Athens debts and allowed Greece entry into the eurozone to begin with.

But for Schäuble to state that “Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time” is a huge leap away from that, because those people lining up at the soup kitchens, and those who sleep in the streets, and those who’re dying from ailments that a 100 miles from the Greek border don’t even faze anyone, have obviously not lives beyond their means.

The Greek people haven’t “lived beyond their means for a long time”, or they wouldn’t live in their “hideous humanitarian crisis”, as Varoufakis calls it, to begin with. The Greek elite may have made off like bandits, but not the people. And who did the EU, Schäuble, Dijsselbloem and Draghi, make the deals with that got the situation where it is?

That’s right, the elites. Brussels installed the technocrat Samaras government, and they did it for a reason. And now that whole set-up has been defeated. Which is why Schäuble says things like “the new Greek government [is] behaving “quite irresponsibly”, and it’s all their fault and none of it is his.

Hubris, bluster, and not much else. That’s how Europe enters the negotiations with Greece. So why should Varoufakis be replaced? I can think of a few others who should first. The entire Greek debt story is nothing but a narrative that will only hold until it no longer can. Thing is, by then the entire eurozone may be gone. And whether you think that’s a good idea or not, just make sure you understand that it will happen only because a bunch of stuck-up politicians too full of themselves to see their own blubber want it to.

Not because of Greece or Syriza. They just want to stop their people’s misery. And what does Germany have to say about that? Well, as per Herr Schäuble, that the Greek government is behaving “quite irresponsibly”.

Upside down, topsy turvy, Bizarro. And that’s what Tsipras and Varoufakis must face. l can only hope they have more patience with it than I would.

Feb 162015
 
 February 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC “Steamer loading grain from floating elevator, New Orleans 1906

The USA – All Systems Go? (Steve Keen)
‘China Must Guarantee Minimum 6.5% Annual GDP Growth In 5 Year Plan’ (Reuters)
Greece And Ukraine Are The Hot Spots Of A New War For Supremacy (Salon)
The Great War of the American Empire or Great War II (Michael S. Rozeff)
Greece Sticks To No-Austerity Pledge (Reuters)
Austerity Is ‘Complete Horsesh*t’ (Alternet)
Greek Postwar Alliances Show Europe Has More to Lose Than Money (Bloomberg)
Greeks Show Support for Tsipras on Eve of Brussels Talks (Bloomberg)
Greece, Creditors Extend Talks on Eve of Eurogroup Meeting (Bloomberg)
Greece May Win Compromise Offer From EU Bailout Fund (WSJ)
Syriza Leader Confident Ahead Of Eurozone Crunch Talks In Brussels (Guardian)
Greek Euro Exit Risk Signals Inadequate ECB QE Safeguards (Bloomberg)
US And Greece Helping To Save The Euro (CNBC)
Shoot Bank Of America Now – The Case For Super Glass-Steagall (David Stockman)
Low-Pay Britain, Where Working Families Have To Rent A Fridge (Guardian)
How Kids Company Feeds Britain’s Hungry Children (Observer)
Rolls-Royce Accused In Petrobras Scandal (FT)
Famous Soviet Football Champ Refuses To Fight For Kiev In East Ukraine (RT)
Why I’m Not Breaking Up with America This Valentine’s Day (John Whitehead)
Online Bank Robbers Steal as Much as $1 Billion (Bloomberg)
Spy Agencies Fund Climate Research In Hunt For Weather Weapon (Guardian)
12 Likely Causes Of The Apocalypse, As Seen By Scientists (RT)

“..the country with the bigger deficit would have the bigger problem. And conventional belief would expect this to be state-oriented France, rather than the free-enterprise-oriented USA. Guess again..”

The USA – All Systems Go? (Steve Keen)

The contrast today between Europe—the subject of my first few posts on Forbes—and the USA could not be more extreme. The crisis, when it began in 2007/08, was seen initially as a purely American phenomenon—and by some, proof that the deregulated American (and more generally, the Anglo-Saxon) model of capitalism had failed, while Europe’s more collectivist version was still going strong. One of the most voluble putting that argument was then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who asserted that the crisis proved that the American deregulated version of finance was kaput: “A page has been turned,” he said, on the “Anglo Saxon” financial model. “Even our Anglo-Saxon friends are now convinced that we must have reasonable rules.” Well that was then. Now, it’s the European system—and its very peculiar rules—that are looking decidedly poor, while the USA seems to be powering ahead.

A simple comparison of unemployment rates tells that story well. The US unemployment rate, which briefly exceeded France’s at the depth of the crisis in 2009-2010, is now falling rapidly, while France’s rate has stagnated, and is in excess of the worst that the USA experienced during the crisis. So does the resurgence of the USA and Europe’s stagnation make the opposite point to the one Sarkozy reached in such haste? Is the deregulated US model really the superior one, in that while it succumbed to crisis, its recovery was that much more robust that rule-bound Europe? I am sure that many commentators will reach that conclusion in the next few years. But I think they will prove to be as misguided—or rather as wrongly focused—as was Sarkozy.

There’s a cliché in statistics that “correlation isn’t causation”. I’ve often seen this used to simply dismiss an argument that the interjector doesn’t like, but its spirit applies here: people often draw inferences from the correlation of two factors—American model, recovery; European model, stagnation—when there’s actually a third causal factor at work that is the real explanation. [..] part of the reason for the divergence is that the EU’s policy of austerity—which began in mid-2010—has made the crisis much worse. On that front, the conventional wisdom—as enshrined in the European “Growth and Stability Pact”—is that the country with the bigger deficit would have the bigger problem. And conventional belief would expect this to be state-oriented France, rather than the free-enterprise-oriented USA. Guess again.

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While the printing press is stuttering.

‘China Must Guarantee Minimum 6.5% Annual GDP Growth In 5 Year Plan’ (Reuters)

China needs to guarantee a “bottom line” of 6.5% annual economic growth for its 13th five-year-plan, a state newspaper quoted the director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) Department of Planning, Xu Lin as saying. That would mark the lowest annual growth rate since 1990. The comments by Xu, made on Feb. 14 at the “50 Forum Annual Meeting” – a gathering of Chinese economists – is also an acknowledgment that China is switching to a more sustainable pace of growth from the double-digit rates of the recent past. If this year’s GDP growth is 7%, then the “bottom line” for annual GDP growth in the 13th five-year-plan needs to be at least 6.5%, the China Securities Journal quoted Xu as saying.

China’s economy grew at 7.4% in 2014, its slowest pace in 24 years, dragged down by cooling property prices, slowing inflation and deteriorating domestic and foreign demand. Beijing is set to unveil China’s 13th five-year-plan after the National People’s Congress in March. The plan is an important document that outlines national priorities and sets targets for economic and social development. The International Monetary Fund said last year that China should set a less ambitious growth target of 6.5-7% in 2015 and refrain from stimulus measures unless the economy threatens to slow sharply from that level. China also needs to prioritize the systemic reform of property rights, taxation, banking, finance and rule of law, among other national priorities, Xu said.

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“There is something tragically irrational driving both of these crises. The genesis of each, at least nominally, is the question of whether markets serve society or it is the other way around.”

Greece And Ukraine Are The Hot Spots Of A New War For Supremacy (Salon)

Europe’s confrontation with Greece, the West’s with Russia as the Ukraine crisis runs nearly out of control: Why is it more useful by the week to think of these together? They are both very large, moments of history. There is this. They both reach critical moments this week, as if in concert. The outcomes in each case will be consequential for all of us. As noted with alarm last week, most Americans have by now surrendered to a blitz of propaganda wherein Russia and its leadership are cast as Siberian beasts, accepting as truth tales the National Enquirer would be embarrassed to run. In Europe, Greeks and Spaniards show us up, indeed, as a supine, spiritless people incapable of response or any resistance to the onslaught. There is this, too.

At writing, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s imaginative new finance minister, has just made his first formal effort to present European counterparts with new ideas to get foreign debts of €240 billion off the books and the Greek economy back in motion. These ideas can work. Even creditor institutions acknowledge that Greece cannot pay its debts as they are now structured. But at a session in Brussels Wednesday, the European Union’s arms remained folded. Also at writing, the Poroshenko government in Ukraine appears to have recommitted to a cease-fire signed last September in Minsk and promptly broken. It is not surprising given Kiev’s very evident desperation on all fronts. But neither would it be if Poroshenko once again reneges. There is a sensible solution on the table now, but these are not people who have so far been given to one.

There is something tragically irrational driving both of these crises. The genesis of each, at least nominally, is the question of whether markets serve society or it is the other way around. Economic conflict, then, has been transformed into humanitarian disasters. This is what Greece and Ukraine have most fundamentally in common. It is in search of a logical explanation of the illogic at work in these two crises that something else, something larger, emerges to bring them into a coherent whole. Washington has so many wars going now, none declared, one can hardly keep the list current. But the most sustained and havoc-wreaking of them is unreported. This is the war for neoliberal supremacy across the planet. Greece and Ukraine are best viewed as two hot fronts in this war, a sort of World War III none of us ever imagined.

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“Upon close inspection, all of these rationales fall apart. None is satisfactory. The interventions are too widespread, too long-lasting and too unsuccessful at what they supposedly accomplish..”

The Great War of the American Empire or Great War II (Michael S. Rozeff)

The Great War of the American Empire began 25 years ago. It began on August 2, 1990 with the Gulf War against Iraq and continues to the present. Earlier wars involving Israel and America sowed the seeds of this Great War. So did American involvements in Iran, the 1977-1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Even earlier American actions also set the stage, such as the recognition of Israel, the protection of Saudi Arabia as an oil supplier, the 1949 CIA involvement in the coup in Syria, and the American involvement in Lebanon in 1958. Poor (hostile) relations between the U.S. and Libya (1979-1986) also contributed to a major sub-war in what has turned out to be the Great War of the American Empire.

The inception of Great War II may, if one likes, be moved back to 1988 and 1989 without objection because those years also saw the American Empire coming into its own in the invasion of Panama to dislodge Noriega, operations in South America associated with the war on drugs, and an operation in the Philippines to protect the Aquino government. Turmoil in the Soviet Union was already being reflected in a more military-oriented foreign policy of the U.S. Following the Gulf War, the U.S. government engages America and Americans non-stop in one substantial military operation or war after another. In the 1990s, these include Iraq no-fly zones, Somalia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Haiti, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Liberia, Albania, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Serbia.

In the 2000s, the Empire begins wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and gets into serious military engagements in Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria. It has numerous other smaller military missions in Uganda, Jordan, Turkey, Chad, Mali, and Somalia. Some of these sub-wars and situations of involvement wax and wane and wax again. The latest occasion of American Empire intervention is Ukraine where, among other things, the U.S. military is slated to be training Ukrainian soldiers. Terror and terrorism are invoked to rationalize some operations. Vague threats to national security are mentioned for others. Protection of Americans and American interests sometimes is made into a rationale. Terrorism and drugs are sometimes linked, and sometimes drug interdiction alone is used to justify an action that becomes part of the Great War of the American Empire.

On several occasions, war has been justified because of purported ethnic cleansing or supposed mass killings directed by or threatened by a government. Upon close inspection, all of these rationales fall apart. None is satisfactory. The interventions are too widespread, too long-lasting and too unsuccessful at what they supposedly accomplish to lend support to any of the common justifications. Is “good” being done when it involves endless killing, frequently of innocent bystanders, that elicits more and more anti-American sentiment from those on the receiving end who see Americans as invaders? Has the Great War II accomplished even one of its supposed objectives?

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“Any new bailout program might require several national parliamentary ratifications and could also bring Germany’s Constitutional Court into play.”

Greece Sticks To No-Austerity Pledge (Reuters)

Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis showed no sign that Greece was backing off on its core demand. “The Greek government is determined to stick to its commitment towards the public … and not continue a program that has the characteristics of the previous bailout agreement,” he told Greece’s Skai television. He later said: “The Greek people have made it clear that their dignity is non-negotiable. We are continuing the negotiations with the popular mandate in our hearts and in our minds.” Some of the problems facing the Eurogroup are semantic. The Greeks, for example, will not countenance anything that smacks of an “extension” to the old bailout, preferring something new called a “bridge” agreement.

This is political. Tsipras rode into power on a wave of anti-austerity and anti-bailout anger last month and would have a hard time explaining a row-back so soon. Thousands of Greeks massed outside parliament in Athens on Sunday to back his strategy. But even a cosmetic change of labels could have practical consequences. An “extension” may not require many national ratifications unless it involves additional financial commitments from euro zone governments. Any new bailout program, on the other hand, might require several national parliamentary ratifications and could also bring Germany’s Constitutional Court into play. Among those requiring a parliamentary vote on a new bailout are Germany, Slovakia, Estonia and Finland, all identified by one veteran of EU meetings as part of a hard core of opponents to Greece’s plan.

The Eurogroup’s main debate with Greece’s “no austerity” stance will revolve around the funding of a bridge program, Greece’s request to reduce the ‘primary’ budget surpluses, excluding interest payments, that it is required to reach, and privatizations and labor reform. Greece said on Saturday that it was reviewing a €1.2 billion deal for Germany’s Fraport to run 14 regional airports, one of the biggest privatization deals since Greece’s debt crisis began in 2009. It has also pulled the plug on the privatization of the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki. On the question of liberalizing labor markets, government spokesman Sakellaridis remained tough: “We will discuss it with workers and with pensioners. Whatever we do, we will do through dialogue. We will not legislate at the sole behest of outside factors.”

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” Europe’s been expanding up to the borders of Russia and there’s a country called Ukraine, and, essentially, that means that Europe is writing a put option, which Ukraine has now decided to cash in. Which is why, basically, Europe’s now on the hook for all the crap that is Ukraine. That’s a put option contract.”

Austerity Is ‘Complete Horsesh*t’ (Alternet)

What is it about austerity that you take personally?

Part of it is because what I think the financial crisis is best seen as — and we’re still dealing with the aftermath of it, whether we like it or not — is that there’s a class-specific put option. Let me explain what I mean by this: A put option is a contract that’s very common in finance where essentially someone is selling insurance and the other person is taking the income for payments. At some point, they get to basically cash in the put. One way to think about this is, Europe’s been expanding up to the borders of Russia and there’s a country called Ukraine, and, essentially, that means that Europe is writing a put option, which Ukraine has now decided to cash in. Which is why, basically, Europe’s now on the hook for all the crap that is Ukraine. That’s a put option contract.

What has this got to do with the financial crisis and why do I feel passionately about it? Well, remember all those banks that got bailed [out]? In order to get bailed out you need to have assets, and my liabilities are the bank’s assets. The bank doesn’t give a damn about my condo because they’ve got an income stream coming from the mortgage. The assets and liabilities of the bank and the private sector sum up to zero, so when you bail that out, what you’re doing is you’re bailing out the private sector’s assets, which basically means the top 20% – if not about the top 10%, the top 1% – of the income distribution.

How do you pay for those bailouts? You pay for those bailouts with cuts. And who are the people that use government services? Well, it’s not the top 20% or above of the income distribution, it’s the bottom 70% and below. That’s what I mean by a class-specific put option. The people at the top get their assets bailed; the government says, Oh my God, look at all that spending! It’s out of control! We need to cut policemen and fire brigades and healthcare and various public services.

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Strategic considerations may expose EU’s bluff.

Greek Postwar Alliances Show Europe Has More to Lose Than Money (Bloomberg)

As Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras focuses on the economic arguments for a new bailout deal for Greece, the country’s strategic importance to the European Union may do as much to persuade Germany to grant him concessions. With war in Syria to the east, the failure of the Libyan state to the south and a nascent cease-fire in Ukraine to the north adding to the perennial tensions between Israel and its neighbors, the value of Greece as a NATO member and its ports on the eastern Mediterranean is rising. “One would be justified to ask whether Europe, the U.S. and NATO could afford the creation of a security vacuum and a black hole in a critical region,” Thanos Dokos, director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy said. “That may not be “an acceptable loss for an EU with any ambitions to play a meaningful global and regional role,” he said.

The diplomatic effort that persuaded Russia to halt the violence in Ukraine was punctuated by Tsipras’s own, far more amicable exchanges with President Vladimir Putin. It signaled to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that European powers have more than just 195 billion euros ($223 billion) of bailout funds at stake in its standoff with Greece. The country, among a handful that complies with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s defense spending recommendations, has more than 200 fighter jets and 1,000 tanks. NATO facilities include a military base in Crete that was used during the airstrikes on Libya in 2011. That role may be Tsipras’s strongest weapon in negotiations with the rest of the euro area, according to Dimitris Kourkoulas, a former deputy foreign minister. “This is probably the last bargaining card Tsipras has,” Kourkoulas said.

Western powers recognized Greece’s strategic importance during and after World War II. The country’s resistance to Italy under Benito Mussolini scored the first allied ground victories against the axis powers and is marked annually by a national holiday in Greece on Oct. 28. The U.S. and Britain then intervened in the civil war to help defeat the communists as the rest of eastern Europe fell under the influence of the Soviet Union. The Greeks joined NATO in 1952, three years before the Federal Republic of Germany and at the same time as Turkey. In 1981, Greece became the 10th member of the EU, joining before countries like Spain and Austria, and adopted the euro two decades later.

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An important signal going into the new talks.

Greeks Show Support for Tsipras on Eve of Brussels Talks (Bloomberg)

Thousands of Greeks gathered in central Athens Sunday in support of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government, as officials prepared for a crunch meeting with creditors aimed at breaking an impasse over financing Europe’s most indebted state.
Police said more than 20,000 people assembled in front of the Greek Parliament as of about 8 p.m. in Athens, with more expected to join during the evening. The show of support was directed at a government delegation led by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that will return to Brussels early Monday to try and negotiate a bridge agreement with euro-area peers that allows time and financing to discuss Greece’s post-bailout era. Greek stocks and bonds rose on Friday as officials on both sides signaled a willingness to compromise.

With Greece’s current bailout running out at the end of February, discussions continued at technical level into the weekend to prepare the ground for the Brussels meeting of finance chiefs. “We’re looking at difficult negotiations on Monday,” Tsipras was cited as saying in a weekend interview with Germany’s Stern magazine. “Nevertheless, I’m full of confidence.” Talks took place on Saturday between officials from Greece’s finance and foreign ministries and technical delegations from the Troika. The focus was on identifying common ground and those areas of divergence rather than on negotiating, according to Greek and EU officials. Varoufakis said that both sides have agreed on many issues already, according to an interview with Kathimerini newspaper published on Saturday.

It still isn’t certain that a final agreement will be reached Monday, the Greek official said. Tsipras’s Syriza party was elected Jan. 25 on a platform of ending austerity, a partial debt writedown and no more audits by the troika of the commission, the ECB and the IMF. It is seeking a bridge agreement for the next six months that will replace its current bailout, which it blames for the country’s economic hardship, and secure the country’s financing needs to give officials time to discuss “a new deal” with the euro area, Tsipras said last week. The government is “determined to abide by its commitment to the Greek people and its fresh mandate to end austerity,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Skai TV Sunday.

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“We need time rather than money to put into effect our reform plan,” [..] “I promise you, within six months Greece will then be a different country.”

Greece, Creditors Extend Talks on Eve of Eurogroup Meeting (Bloomberg)

Greek officials and the country’s creditors extended discussions through the weekend, as they raced to make progress ahead of the meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Brussels on Monday. While negotiators sought an agreement, government leaders back home reiterated their markers. For Greece, that means no discussions to continue its current bailout program, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told Skai TV this morning. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, meantime, said that even as officials hold talks over Greece’s debt load, they aren’t willing to write it off. The government is “determined to abide with its commitment to the Greek people and its fresh mandate” for ending austerity,’’ Sakellaridis said.

Meetings dragged on in Athens, where the government held preparative discussions, and Brussels, where officials from Greece’s Finance and Foreign Ministries held “technical” talks with the EU, IMF and ECB, with the goal of laying the groundwork for a successor program. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said it’s too early to say if there’s a deal in the making. Since coming to power in an election last month, Tsipras has maintained his pledge to help Greeks by reversing the austerity imposed under the country’s bailout. That’s led to clashes with other European governments. Germany, the biggest country contributor to bailouts, has led calls for Greece to stick to its political promises regardless of any change in government, while France and Italy have been more sympathetic to Greece’s efforts to secure bridge financing while it works out a longer-term plan.

In the face of opposition, the Greek government has already watered down its position on the debt, ditching a pre-election pledge for a writedown in its nominal value. Greece has more than €320 billion euros in debt outstanding, about 175% of GDP, mostly in the form of bailout loans from the euro area and the IMF. Frustration over the insurmountable pile of debt – even after the world’s biggest-ever restructuring in 2012 – and the dismal economic state helped Tsipras and his anti-austerity Syriza party topple former PM Samaras’s New Democracy in last month’s elections. “We’re looking at difficult negotiations on Monday,” Tsipras told Germany’s Stern magazine. “Nevertheless, I’m full of confidence.” [..] “We need time rather than money to put into effect our reform plan,” Tspiras said after convening a meeting of his cabinet in Athens Friday night, Stern reported. “I promise you, within six months Greece will then be a different country.”

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“An exit from the eurozone would be “the most expensive solution both for Greece and for the euro area..”

Greece May Win Compromise Offer From EU Bailout Fund (WSJ)

A Greek exit from the eurozone would be the worst of all options for everybody involved, the head of the European bailout fund said in a televised interview aired Sunday, signaling willingness to compromise over some conditions that have been linked to the country’s existing bailouts. The comments come a day before a crucial meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, where officials will aim to lay the foundation of a financing deal for struggling Greece, whose existing bailout expires at the end of February. An exit from the eurozone would be “the most expensive solution both for Greece and for the euro area,” said Klaus Regling, the head of the European Stability Mechanism, in a transcript of an interview with German broadcaster Phoenix. “That’s why we try to prevent precisely this.”

Greece’s new leftist government wants to end the austerity course and reduce the country’s debt burden, and is refusing to complete the existing bailout program. Instead of extending its current program, Athens wants a bridge arrangement to keep it afloat until September while it negotiates less onerous terms for long-term assistance. “That a newly elected government has different priorities than the previous government is understandable and nothing new,” said Mr. Regling. “We have for instance seen this too when the government in Ireland changed in the middle of the [bailout] program. It was also possible there to change individual measures but the main direction was kept in place.”

He stressed that countries must embrace reforms to help generate more economic growth in the medium term. “The European Central Bank’s monetary measures can of course be supportive and have an effect,” he said. “With its recent decisions, the ECB has done the maximum to buy time. Now it’s up to the governments.”

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“If our so-called partners insist, in any way, on extending the existing programme, that is to say the sinful memorandum because that is what they mean by the programme, there can be no agreement,”

Syriza Leader Confident Ahead Of Eurozone Crunch Talks In Brussels (Guardian)

Greece’s new prime minister Alexis Tsipras is “full of confidence” his country can secure a deal to ditch strict austerity measures while still satisfying Athens’ international creditors, despite warning that crunch talks in Brussels today would be “difficult”. As a key deadline approaches for Greece to either agree to stick to its existing bailout programme or reach a compromise with its lenders, eurozone finance ministers meet again on Monday in an attempt to hammer out an agreement. The new leftist Greek government is arguing for an end to relentless cuts imposed as a condition of the country’s rescue funding and wants more time to prove that a more pro-growth approach will work better. But it faces opposition from other eurozone countries, most notably Germany, which have pushed for the strict terms of Greece’s €240bn bailout programme to stay in place.

Talks in Brussels last week made no headway in resolving the standoff. But Tsipras also faces growing criticism from hard-left militants in his own party for appearing to row back on some pre-election pledges to ditch austerity measures. Asked about the Brussels talks, the 40-year-old prime minister told German news magazine Stern: “I expect difficult negotiations on Monday. But I am full of confidence. “I am in favour of a solution where everyone wins. I want a win-win solution. I want to save Greece from tragedy and Europe from a split.” “I promise you: Greece will, in six months’ time, be a completely different country,” he said. His finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told Greek newspaper Kathimerini at the weekend that a deal between Athens and the eurozone will be found, even if that may well be at the last minute.

But Tsipras not only has to persuade Berlin that debt-stricken Athens will keep along the path of reform, but assure his own hard-left militants that red lines will not be crossed in any compromise. There was mounting disquiet at the weekend that Varoufakis had gone too far by saying the new government was willing to implement 70% of the hated memorandum outlining Greece’s bailout accords. Firing a warning shot over the government’s bows, the energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who represents Syriza’s radical wing, said there could be no solution if foreign lenders insisted on Athens adopting the “sinful memorandum”. “If our so-called partners insist, in any way, on extending the existing programme, that is to say the sinful memorandum because that is what they mean by the programme, there can be no agreement,” he told the state news agency ANA-MPA on Sunday.

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“Should a nation build up liabilities and then leave the currency union, the remaining members may have to share the bill.”

Greek Euro Exit Risk Signals Inadequate ECB QE Safeguards (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi’s assurance that the European Central Bank has ring-fenced the risks of its bond-buying program has a caveat. While the ECB president says the euro area’s 19 national central banks will buy and hold their own country’s debt, the money they create – at least €1.1 trillion – can flow freely across borders through the region’s Target2 payment system. Should a nation build up liabilities and then leave the currency union, the remaining members may have to share the bill. The risks have been thrown more sharply into focus by the standoff between European governments and a newly elected Greek administration, which has prompted a deposit flight and put the country’s future in the euro in doubt.

As ECB officials join politicians gathering in Brussels on Monday to seek a solution to the crisis, Greece ultimately threatens to expose the weakness of measures to address legal constraints and public concern over central-bank stimulus. “There’s a political signal that comes out of the suspension of risk sharing: there’s no willingness in the ECB to build up fiscal risks via the back door if politicians aren’t,” said Nick Matthews at Nomura in London. “At the same time, asset purchases will create reserves that permeate through the Target2 system. The question of what happens if a country exits hasn’t been addressed.” Whatever happens in Brussels on Monday, Draghi and his Governing Council will meet in Frankfurt on Wednesday to nail down the details of quantitative easing.

Before buying starts in March, policy makers must sign off on the legal act and decide on key elements such as how assets will be bought and how to calculate self-imposed limits. ECB-style QE will be more complicated than programs by the Federal Reserve and Bank of England because it’ll happen in a currency union that isn’t backed by a fiscal union, with debt mutualization and central-bank financing of governments banned. That makes Target2, the Eurosystem’s financial plumbing, a potential indicator of where risks are building up.
When a lender in one country settles an obligation with a counterparty in another, the assets and liabilities are registered on the central-bank balance sheets. Those balances are aggregated each business day at the ECB, the Eurosystem’s hub, and reflected in Target2.

All five bailout countries are running negative Target2 balances, as are six others including Italy and France, according to data compiled by Germany’s Osnabrueck University. Greece had liabilities of 49 billion euros at the end of last year. The biggest creditor is Germany, which saw claims on the ECB jump to 515 billion euros at the end of January from 461 billion euros the previous month.

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“Is the euro zone just a branch office of the Federal Republic of Germany?”

US And Greece Helping To Save The Euro (CNBC)

Greece’s pleas to stop the “fiscal waterboarding” of its devastated economy are substantively no different from President Obama’s repeated warnings to Germany to stop bleeding the euro area economy with excessive fiscal austerity. Sadly, the president’s reportedly more than a dozen phone calls to the German Chancellor Merkel in 2011 and 2012 urging supportive economic policies in the euro area fell on deaf ears. These calls were not just brushed aside; they were plainly ridiculed as Chancellor Merkel kept telling the media that “it made no sense to be adding new debt to old debt.” But – worrying about one-fifth of U.S. exports going to Europe – Washington kept trying.

The former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner went as far as visiting his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble at his summer retreat on a North Sea island on July 30, 2012 to talk about relief to euro area economies. That’s where Geithner was in for a big shock. He writes in his book “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises” that he was “frightened” by the German talk of Greece leaving (i.e., being pushed out of) the monetary union. President Obama, he says, was “deeply worried” about Berlin’s designs. In the end, Geithner had to settle for his host’s assurances that everything was going to plan, and that the heavily indebted euro area countries were making progress on their structural reforms.

Indeed they were: At the time of that meeting, the Greek economy was sinking at a rate of 6.9%, followed by economic downturns of 3.5% in Portugal, 2.4% in Italy, 1.6% in Spain and a continuing economic stagnation in France. These five countries represent 53.1% of the euro area economy, but Germany would not relent in its firm insistence on fiscal retrenchment. For the German Chancellor, these countries’ plight was just a case of self-inflicted wounds because “they did not respect the budget rules and failed to supervise their banks.” That message played well with domestic audience in the run-up to German elections in September 2013. Obviously, it was important to be seen as a stern guardian of German finances bent on protecting taxpayers from southern spendthrifts and fiscal miscreants.

That policy exasperated so much Jean-Claude Juncker to push him into an unheard of attack on German leadership. Currently serving as the president of the European Commission (EU’s executive body), Mr. Juncker was Luxembourg’s prime minister and the chairman of the Eurogroup (a forum of the euro area finance ministers) when he aired his concerns on July 29, 2012. Here is what he said: “… how can Germany have the luxury of playing domestic politics on the back of the euro? If all other 16 euro area countries did the same thing, what would remain of our common project? Is the euro zone just a branch office of the Federal Republic of Germany?”

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“In this case, the abuse consisted of BAC funded and enabled tax avoidance schemes with respect to stock dividends – arrangements which happen to be illegal in the US.”

Shoot Bank Of America Now – The Case For Super Glass-Steagall (David Stockman)

The mainstream narrative about “recovery” from the financial crisis is a giant con job. And nowhere does the mendacity run deeper than in the “banks are fixed” meme—an insidious cover story that has been concocted by the crony capitalist cabals that thrive at the intersection of Wall Street and Washington. So this morning comes yet another expose in the Wall Street Journal about the depredations of Bank of America (BAC). Not surprisingly, at the center of this latest malefaction is still another set of schemes to grossly abuse the deposit insurance safety net and enlist the American taxpayer in the risky business of financing high-rolling London hedge funds. In this case, the abuse consisted of BAC funded and enabled tax avoidance schemes with respect to stock dividends – arrangements which happen to be illegal in the US.

No matter. BAC simply arranged for them to be executed for clients in London where they apparently are kosher, but with funds from BAC’s US insured banking entity called BANA, which most definitely was not kosher at all. As to the narrow offense involved – that is, the use of insured deposits to cheat the tax man – the one honest official to come out of Washington’s 2008-2009 bank bailout spree, former FDIC head Sheila Bair, had this to say: “I don’t think it’s an appropriate use.. Activities with a substantial reputational risk… should not be done inside a bank. You have explicit government backing inside a bank. There is taxpayer risk there.” She is right, and apparently in response to prodding by its regulator, BAC has now ended the practice, albeit after booking billions in what amounted to pure profits from these illicit trades.

But that doesn’t end the matter. This latest abuse by BAC’s London operation is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg – the symptom of an unreformed banking regime that is rotten to the core and that remains a clear and present danger to financial stability and true economic recovery. And not by coincidence there stands at the very epicenter of that untoward regime a $2 trillion financial conglomerate that is a virtual cesspool of malfeasance, customer abuse, operational incompetence, legal and regulatory failure, downright criminality and complete and total lack of accountability at the Board and top executive level. In short, BAC’s six-year CEO, Brian Moynihan, is guilty of such chronic malfeasance and serial management failure that outside the cushy cocoon of TBTF he would have been fired long ago.

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“In 2012 one in five children lived in a home that was cold or damp; one in 10 lacked a necessary clothing item, such as a warm winter coat; and one in 20 households couldn’t afford to feed their kids properly.”

Low-Pay Britain, Where Working Families Have To Rent A Fridge (Guardian)

There’s a minor domestic crisis in any family when the fridge-freezer breaks down. Wasted food; no fresh milk; pools of water on the kitchen floor. But for some households, the demise of the washing machine, the tumble dryer or the telly is more than a hiccup – it throws up a major financial challenge. That’s where firms like BrightHouse come in: pop into one of its 291 stores, and instead of having to find several hundred pounds up front, you can replace a busted appliance for a much more manageable £10-£15 a week. Except there’s a sting in the tail. When MPs on the all-party parliamentary group on debt and personal finance looked into these “rent-to-own” retailers, of which BrightHouse is the leader, they found that by the time delivery charges, insurance and servicing are loaded on, consumers who can ill afford it end up paying several times over.

One fridge-freezer with a five-year service plan, which sells for £644 at middle-class favourite John Lewis, ended up costing £1,716. They have now asked the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, to investigate. But, like disgraced payday lender Wonga, BrightHouse’s appeal is a sharp reminder of the precariousness of many families’ lives. Perhaps BrightHouse’s customers should have read the small print. But signing up to a usurious loan deal because of the temptingly low upfront payment is hardly a rare mistake in today’s credit-fuelled economy. Many rent-to-own customers – half of whom receive benefits, and who have on average £19 a week spare for one-off costs – have little or no alternative. According to Breadline Britain, a salutary new book from poverty researchers Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack, a growing proportion of families are unable to afford the things – such as a working fridge – that most of us would define as essential.

In 2012, their large-scale research project found, one in five children lived in a home that was cold or damp; one in 10 lacked a necessary clothing item, such as a warm winter coat; and one in 20 households couldn’t afford to feed their kids properly. These children’s chances are hobbled long before they reach the school gates – and in many cases their parents are not in the dole queue, but juggling jobs. Many of the adults suffering this kind of “deprivation poverty” – more than half, in fact – are in work. Yet these are the people who have been on the receiving end of a pernicious rhetorical onslaught since 2010. In the Tory lexicon, they are the “troubled families” whose behaviour blights their neighbourhoods: the “skivers”, rather than “strivers”; the people whose blinds are down when their “hardworking” neighbours drag themselves out to work in the morning.

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No rich western society should ever be allowed to stoop this low: “Normal. It’s like… don’t know… it’s normal.”

How Kids Company Feeds Britain’s Hungry Children (Observer)

Kids Company is a rare children’s charity in that the people it feeds and looks after are self-referring. Children come to them by themselves, and later they bring others who are also in need. “Between 2011 and 2012 we saw a 233% increase in these self-referrals,” Guinness says. As a result they launched the Plate Pledge, a fundraising drive built around the £2 cost of a meal. While they get some funding from central government they get none from the boroughs of Lambeth or Southwark whose kids they look after, and still have to raise more than £24m a year to keep services running. The Plate Pledge has meant they have been able to serve another half a million meals. “But we’re not meeting demand,” Guinness says.

Not that anyone is clear what that demand actually is, because it’s hard to get definite numbers. “We tried to get real hard figures on child food poverty when we were researching our report into school food,” says Henry Dimbleby, founder of the Leon healthy fast-food chain, who co-authored the recent School Food Plan. “We found it impossible to do so.” It requires getting deep inside the private domain, into the tight weft and weave of the home and that is a very secretive and emotionally charged place. A team from Reading University recently conducted interviews with children who came to Kids Company, which painted a dismal portrait of need. One child, asked how they deal with hunger, said, with a brutal logic, “I just want to sleep cos… when I [go] to bed hungry and sleep, I’m not hungry.”

Another child, asked how common she found cupboards empty when she got home from school, just shrugged. It was, she said, “Normal. It’s like… don’t know… it’s normal.” Guinness is dismissive of the idea that it’s impossible to get data on these experiences. He has an email from a Department of Health official who admits that, while they do undertake nutrition surveys of the population, they don’t analyse the lowest income groups because “the sample size is too small”. Guinness knows from the demand they are seeing that the sample cannot be too small. I ask him, slightly desperately, if there is any sunlight in this story. “Yes, of course. When you feed a child, when you provide a family-like environment, they thrive. They turn in to fine young people. And it doesn’t cost much.”

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Expect many more to follow.

Rolls-Royce Accused In Petrobras Scandal (FT)

Rolls-Royce has been accused of involvement in a multibillion-dollar bribery and kickback scheme at Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil producer, as more foreign companies are dragged into the country’s largest corruption scandal. The British engineering company, which makes gas turbines for Petrobras oil platforms, allegedly paid bribes via an agent in exchange for a $100 million contract as part of a scheme in operation during much of the past decade, according to testimony from a former Petrobras executive. Pedro Barusco, the Petrobras veteran who has emerged as one of the investigation’s key informants, told police he personally received at least $200,000 from Rolls-Royce — only part of the bribes he alleged were paid to a ring of politicians and other executives at the oil company.

The admission was buried in more than 600 pages of documents released by Brazil’s federal court system this month, detailing the testimonies of Mr Barusco who struck a plea bargain in November. Responding to Mr Barusco’s accusations, Rolls-Royce said: “We want to make it crystal clear that we will not tolerate improper business conduct of any sort and will take all necessary action to ensure compliance.” The accusations come as Rolls-Royce also faces a Serious Fraud Office investigation in the UK over allegations of bribery and corruption in China and Indonesia. They also come as the company is undergoing a painful restructuring, revealing its first fall in underlying sales in a decade and predicting a bigger than expected fall in profits in 2015.

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Kiev is losing on all fronts except the IMF and EU/US.

Famous Soviet Football Champ Refuses To Fight For Kiev In East Ukraine (RT)

Soviet football legend Aleksandr Zavarov said he will not fight in the eastern Ukraine conflict, after reports surfaced that a draft notice bearing the 53-year-old’s name was delivered to the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU) last week. Zavarov, who was born in Lugansk, has categorically refused to comply with the notice. “I will say one thing, I will never fight where my family and kids live, where my parents are buried,” the assistant coach for the Ukraine national team said. “I just want peace.” In 1986, Zavarov was named the best football player in the USSR, and is widely considered to be one of the best players in Soviet history. The FFU received a conscription notice for 89 members of the organization, Ukrainian sports papers reported last week.

FFU representative Pavel Ternovoy confirmed the reports to R-Sport agency. “I can confirm that many members of the Football Federation of Ukraine received draft notices. Alexandr Zavarov and Yuriy Syvukha were among them,” he said. Yuriy Syvukha is a former goalkeeper and current assistant coach for the Ukraine national team. Ternovoy said that each conscript will have to decide for himself how to respond to his notice. “There is a war going on right now. Every citizen should understand what’s going on. What those who got the notices will do is entirely up to them,” he said. In January, Ukraine began a multi-stage military draft in the hope of enlisting 100,000 new recruits.

Reserve servicemen between the ages of 25 and 60 are eligible under the new guidelines. However, a Ukraine army spokesperson admitted late last month that the new draft has faced some problems as potential conscripts attempt to dodge the wave of mobilization. “The fourth wave of mobilization is problematic,” Vladimir Talalay said. “The biggest difficulties are seen in Sumy, Kharkov, Cherkassy, Ternopol, Zakarpatye, and other regions.” Almost 7,500 Ukrainians are already facing criminal charges for evading military service. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Ukrainian draft dodgers are welcome in Russia. He has promised to legalize longer stays in the Russian Federation for those facing conscription.

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“.ot only do we put up with a laundry list of tyrannies that make King George III’s catalogue of abuses look like child’s play, but most actually persist in turning a blind eye to them..”

Why I’m Not Breaking Up with America This Valentine’s Day (John Whitehead)

Almost every week I get an email from an American expatriate living outside the country who commiserates about the deplorable state of our freedoms in the United States, expounds on his great fortune in living outside the continental U.S., and urges me to leave the country before all hell breaks loose and my wife and children are tortured, raped, brutalized and killed. Without fail, this gentleman concludes every piece of correspondence by questioning my sanity in not shipping my grandchildren off to some far-flung locale to live their lives free of fear, police brutality, and surveillance. I must confess that when faced with unmistakable warning signs that the country I grew up in is no more, I have my own moments of doubt.

After all, why would anyone put up with a government that brazenly steals, cheats, sneaks, spies and lies, not to mention alienates, antagonizes, criminalizes and terrorizes its own citizens and then justifies it in the name of safety, security and the greater good? Why would anyone put up with militarized police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, act as if their word is law, and operate as if they are above the law? Why would anyone put up with government officials, it doesn’t matter whether they’re elected or appointed, who live an elitist lifestyle while setting themselves apart from the populace, operate outside the rule of law, and act as if they’re beyond reproach and immune from being held accountable?

Unfortunately, not only do we put up with a laundry list of tyrannies that make King George III’s catalogue of abuses look like child’s play, but most actually persist in turning a blind eye to them, acting as if what they don’t see or acknowledge can’t hurt them. The sad reality, as I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, is that life in America is no bed of roses. Nor are there any signs that things will get better anytime soon, at least not for “we the people,” those of us who belong to the so-called “unwashed masses”—the working class stiffs, the hoi polloi, the plebeians, the rabble, the riffraff, the herd, the peons and the proletariats.

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And that’s just the one(s) we actually hear about. Most will never be told.

Online Bank Robbers Steal as Much as $1 Billion (Bloomberg)

A hacker group has stolen as much as $1 billion from banks and other financial companies worldwide since 2013 in an “unprecedented cyber-robbery,” according to computer security firm Kaspersky Lab. The gang targeted as many as 100 banks, e-payment systems and other financial institutions in 30 countries including the U.S, China and European nations, stealing as much as $10 million in each raid, Kaspersky Lab, Russia’s largest maker of antivirus software, said in a report. The Carbanak gang members came from Russia, China, Ukraine and other parts of Europe, and they are still active, it said The criminals infected bank employees’ computers with Carbanak malware, which then spread to internal networks and enabled video surveillance of staff.

That let fraudsters mimic employee activity to transfer and steal money, according to Kaspersky Lab, which said it has been working with Interpol, Europol and other authorities to uncover the plot. “These bank heists were surprising because it made no difference to the criminals what software the banks were using,” said Sergey Golovanov, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab’s global research and analysis team. “It was a very slick and professional cyber-robbery.”

Criminals also used access to banks’ networks to seize control of ATMs and order them to dispense cash at certain times to henchmen, Kaspersky Lab said. In some cases the gang inflated the balance of certain accounts and pocketed the extra funds without arousing immediate suspicion, according to the report. U.S. President Barack Obama convened a national summit on Friday to encourage cooperation between federal and private security specialists to combat hackers and data breaches. The event included executives and security officials from companies such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Facebook and followed hacks at companies including Sony and JPMorgan last year.

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‘We are working for the CIA and we’d like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we be able to detect it?’ Meaning: could we control their climate?

Spy Agencies Fund Climate Research In Hunt For Weather Weapon (Guardian)

A senior US scientist has expressed concern that the intelligence services are funding climate change research to learn if new technologies could be used as potential weapons. Alan Robock, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has called on secretive government agencies to be open about their interest in radical work that explores how to alter the world’s climate. Robock, who has contributed to reports for the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), uses computer models to study how stratospheric aerosols could cool the planet in the way massive volcanic eruptions do. But he was worried about who would control such climate-altering technologies should they prove effective, he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences published a two-volume report on different approaches to tackling climate change. One focused on means to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the other on ways to change clouds or the Earth’s surface to make them reflect more sunlight out to space. The report concluded that while small-scale research projects were needed, the technologies were so far from being ready that reducing carbon emissions remained the most viable approach to curbing the worst extremes of climate change. A report by the Royal Society in 2009 made similar recommendations. The $600,000 report was part-funded by the US intelligence services, but Robock said the CIA and other agencies had not fully explained their interest in the work.

“The CIA was a major funder of the National Academies report so that makes me really worried who is going to be in control,” he said. Other funders included Nasa, the US Department of Energy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The CIA established the Center on Climate Change and National Security in 2009, a decision that drew fierce criticism from some Republicans who viewed it as a distraction from more pressing terrorist concerns. The centre was closed down in 2012, but the agency said it would continue to monitor the humanitarian consequences of climate change and the impact on US economic security, albeit not from a dedicated office. Robock said he became suspicious about the intelligence agencies’ involvement in climate change science after receiving a call from two men who claimed to be CIA consultants three years ago. “They said: ‘We are working for the CIA and we’d like to know if some other country was controlling our climate, would we be able to detect it?’

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People’s favorite topics.

12 Likely Causes Of The Apocalypse, As Seen By Scientists (RT)

Filmmakers, authors, and media have widely speculated about how human life on Earth will end. Now scientists have come up with the first serious assessment, presenting 12 possible causes of the Apocalypse. Scientists from Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute and the Global Challenges Foundation have compiled the first research on the topic, drawing a list of 12 possible ways that human civilization might end. The idea of the study is not quite new. However, due to its treatment in popular culture, the possibility of the world’s infinite end provokes relatively little political or academic interest, making a serious discussion harder, according to researchers. “We were surprised to find that no one else had compiled a list of global risks with impacts that, for all practical purposes, can be called infinite,” said co-author Dennis Pamlin of the Global Challenges Foundation. “We don’t want to be accused of scaremongering but we want to get policy makers talking.”

Below is the list of threats, ranked from least to most probable.
• Asteroid impact Probability: 0.00013%
• Super-volcano eruption Probability: 0.00003%
• Global pandemic Probability: 0.0001%
• Nuclear war Probability: 0.005%
• Extreme climate change Probability: 0.01%
• Synthetic biology Probability: 0.01%
• Nanotechnology Probability: 0.01%
• Unknown consequences Probability: 0.1%
• Ecological collapse Probability: N/A
• Global system collapse Probability: N/A
• Future bad governance Probability: N/A

And lastly, the most probable of all the mentioned causes of the Apocalypse is…
• Artificial Intelligence Probability: 0-10%

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