May 292015
 
 May 29, 2015  Posted by at 2:32 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Walker Evans Saint Charles Street. Liberty Theatre, New Orleans 1935

With the 3rd US Q1 GDP print coming in at -0.7% (-3% if not for inventories), perhaps the media spotlights – and lively imagination – can move away from Greece for a few weeks. The US has enough problems of its own, it would seem. For one thing, its Q1 GDP is now worse than Greece’s. Of course its debt is also much higher, just not to the IMF and ECB. But let’s leave that one be for the moment. Though a bit of perspective works miracles at times.

Of course it’s not a technical recession yet for the US, which only recently presented a +4% quarter with a straight face, and there’s always the ‘multiple seasonal adjustment’ tool. But still. It’s ugly.

The IMF confirmed on Thursday that Athens has the right to ask for “bundled” repayments in June. “Countries do have the option of bundling when they have a series of payments in a given month … making a single payment at the end of that month,” as per an IMF spokesman. Who added that the last country to do so was Zambia three decades ago.

That leaves Athens, in theory, with a 30-day window, not a 7-day one. This of course takes the pressure cooker away from Athens, and the media attention as well. There is no immediate risk of a default, or a Grexit, or anything like that. The negotiations with the creditors will continue, but the conversation will change with time less of an issue.

One thing that’s changing is that the pressure on the other eurozone countries is rising fast. They might yet get to regret the way ‘their side’ conducts the debt talks with Syriza, in which they are a party through the eurogroup of finance ministers. Because it makes ever more deposits disappear from Greek banks, some €300 million in the past few days alone. That triggers a eurozone ‘program’ entitled Target2. For those who don’t know what it is, I’ll use an explanation by Mish from 2012:

If a Greek depositor sends money to a foreign bank (say a German bank), that bank now has additional deposits. To the extent it doesn’t want to recycle them (in the past, it may have used them to buy Greek government bonds), it deposits them with a national central bank – in this case the Bundesbank. Target claims are created because the Greek bank that loses deposits gets funding via the ECB’s ELA (Emergency Liquidity Assistance) program.

Simply put, the ECB sends money to the Bank of Greece in a kind of open credit line to make up for the cash that left the Greek bank. There are some restrictions, but not many. This is not a major problem unless Greece changes currencies, or defaults. If it does, Greece will repay the credit line with Drachmas, not euros.

There are quite a few other ways in which the rest to the eurozone is on the hook for Greek debts, but this is a major one. RIght now, so-called ‘Intra-Eurosystem Liabilities’ from the Greek national bank, the Bank of Greece, have risen to €115 billion and counting -fast-. Germany’s on the hook for 27% of that, or €31 billion. While that is not life threatening for Germany, other countries will not feel that comfortable.

Countries like Spain and Portugal may by now scratch their heads about taking a hard line on the Greek issue. They may not have fully realized to what extent the eurozone is indeed a shared commitment. All eurozone nations now have at least another 30 days to think that over. The main risk in that period is that Greece may decide to leave on its own.

The 30-day grace period will probably dampen the deposit outflows for a bit, depending on what both parties have to offer in the way of statements going forward. And the incumbent ‘leaders’ in various countries can use the time to try and tell the troika that they don’t want to explain the potential losses to their voters. There are elections coming up all over, starting with Italy this weekend.

There is another possibility: that the ECB makes good on its long running threat of limiting Greek banks’ access to the ELA program. But, given the 30-day ‘grace’, and given that it would be seen as a political move by at least some parties, that seems unlikely. And it’s not like the entire thing has now become predictable, just that there’s breathing space. In which clearer -and smarter- heads can prevail.

As for the US, it’s spring, the season to adjust. But -0.7% still stings, and things ain’t going well at all no matter what anybody tells you.

May 182015
 
 May 18, 2015  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Car exterior. Washington & Old Dominion R.R. 1930

Q Ratio: Today’s Stock Market Has at Least One Similarity to 1929 (Bloomberg)
Greece’s Debt Battle Exposes Deeper Eurozone Flaws (WSJ)
Would Staying In The Euro Be A Catastrophe For Greece? (Guardian)
Greek Endgame Nears for Tsipras as Bank Collateral Hits Buffers (Bloomberg)
Greek Lessons for UK’s David Cameron (WSJ)
David Blanchflower: Bank of England In Cloud-Cuckoo Land On Wages (Independent)
UK Police Warn Big Budget Cuts Will Lead To ‘Paramilitary’ Force (Guardian)
If Numbers Don’t Lie Then… (Mark St. Cyr)
China Home Prices Drop Over 6% In April (Reuters)
China Struggles To Make Its Debt Problems Go Away (MarketWatch)
Merkel Under Pressure To Reveal Extent Of German Help For US Spying (Reuters)
A Diplomatic Victory, and Affirmation, for Putin (NY Times)
The Democratic Party Would Triangulate Its Own Mother (Matt Taibbi)
TPP: Fast-Track Measure Will Pass ‘This Week’, McConnell Says (Guardian)
The American Press Tried To Discredit Seymour Hersh 40 Years Ago, Too (Ames)
Huge El Niño Becoming More Likely In 2015 (Slate)
Antarctic Larsen B Ice Shelf In Last Throes Of Collapse (Livescience)

“It is very strongly indicated .. that we’re looking at a stock market which is something like 80% over-priced.”

Q Ratio: Today’s Stock Market Has at Least One Similarity to 1929 (Bloomberg)

If you sold every share of every company in the U.S. and used the money to buy up all the factories, machines and inventory, you’d have some cash left over. That, in a nutshell, is the math behind a bear case on equities that says prices have outrun reality. The concept is embodied in a measure known as the Q ratio developed by James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale University who died in 2002. According to Tobin’s Q, equities in the U.S. are valued about 10% above the cost of replacing their underlying assets – higher than any time other than the Internet bubble and the 1929 peak. Valuation tools are being dusted off around Wall Street as investors assess the staying power of the bull market that is now the second longest in 60 years.

To Andrew Smithers, the 77-year-old former head of SG Warburg’s investment arm, the Q ratio is an indicator whose time has come because it illuminates distortions caused by quantitative easing. “QE is a very dangerous policy, in my view, because it has pushed asset prices up and high asset prices, we know from history, are very dangerous,” Smithers, of Smithers & Co. in London, said in a phone interview. “It is very strongly indicated by reliable measures that we’re looking at a stock market which is something like 80% over-priced.” Acceptance of Tobin’s theory is at best uneven, with investors such as Laszlo Birinyi saying the ratio is useless as a signal because it would have kept you out of a bull market that has added $17 trillion to share values. Others see its meaning debased in an economy whose reliance on manufacturing is nothing like it used to be.

To Smithers, the ratio’s doubling since 2009 to 1.10 is a symptom of companies diverting money from their businesses to the stock market, choosing buybacks over capital spending. Six years of zero-percent interest rates have similarly driven investors into riskier things like equities, elevating the paper value of assets over their tangible worth, he said. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index members last year spent about 95% of their profits on buybacks and dividends, with stock repurchases exceeding $2 trillion since 2009, data compiled by S&P Dow Jones Indices show. In the first four months of this year, almost $400 billion of buybacks were announced, with February, March and April ranking as three of the four busiest months ever, according to data compiled by Birinyi Associates Inc.

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“Our discussions on the Greek side progressed a lot more easily than the discussions on the European side..”

Greece’s Debt Battle Exposes Deeper Eurozone Flaws (WSJ)

Since there is no international bankruptcy court, sovereign restructurings always face political challenges as the debtor and creditor countries’ taxpayers, and the shareholders of private lending institutions all duke it out to determine how to distribute the losses. But in this case, it’s further complicated by the close financial integration between eurozone member countries. It brings a heightened level of contagion risk to the table – the idea that investors in other eurozone countries’ bonds will sell them to cover losses incurred in Greece and unleash a vicious cycle of market pressure. To forestall that risk, eurozone authorities were always reluctant to let private-sector creditors suffer big “haircuts” on their investments – which inevitably translated into a bigger burden for taxpayers.

Yet there were no pan-European political institutions to pool fiscal resources and automatically apportion how to share those burdens. Without a U.S.-style centralized federal government, the 17 member states would fight over every dollar. The result was something close to paralysis. “The technological and capital market integration was so advanced, and the world was so fragile after the 2008 crisis, that in order to really create freedom of decision-making in Greece you needed a huge amount of institutional buffers that weren’t there — buffers against contagion,” says Georgetown law professor Anna Gelpern, a long-time scholar of sovereign debt markets.

It’s tempting to suggest that bankers and hedge funds exploited this dysfunction at taxpayers’ expense. But one fund manager who participated in the private sector involvement, or PSI, talks of 2012, complained that even when the creditor committee was poised to sign a deal, the 16 EU finance ministers couldn’t agree on the terms among themselves. “Our discussions on the Greek side progressed a lot more easily than the discussions on the European side,” he said. This tortured process looms over the eurozone’s future, even if Greece finally gets a successful debt restructuring. The same flawed structure means that contagion could rear its head again in Portugal – or worse, in Spain or Italy – currently low bond yields could spike again and the panic that of 2012 could return.

While we are a long ways from those levels, this month’s rapid selloff in the region’s bond markets hints at how quickly things could unwind. For now, the ECB’s massive bond-buying program functions as the de facto institutional buffer that the eurozone politicians failed to build. But its powers aren’t limitless – the ECB can only act within a narrow mandate of achieving price stability and suffers internal political divisions of its own. Such alternative “buffer institutions are cushions to buy space to find a political solution,” said Ms. Gelpern. “If you run through those buffers without getting a political solution, then the system is going to crack. We are closer than ever to that.”

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It would if the German attitude towards power doesn’t change.

Would Staying In The Euro Be A Catastrophe For Greece? (Guardian)

Yanis Varoufakis rues the day when Greece joined the euro. The Greek finance minister says his country would be better off if it was still using the drachma. Deep down, he says, all 18 countries using the single currency wish that the idea had been strangled at birth but understand that once you are in you don’t get out without a catastrophe. All of that is true, and explains why Greece is involved in a game of chicken with all the other players in this drama: the International Monetary Fund, the European commission, the European Central Bank and the German government. Varoufakis wants more financial help but not if it means sending the Greek economy into a “death spiral”. Greece’s creditors will not stump up any more cash until Athens sticks to bailout conditions that Varoufakis says would do just that.

Things will come to a head this summer because it is clear Greece cannot make all the debt repayments that are coming up. It has to find €10bn (£7.3bn) in redemptions to the IMF, the ECB and other bondholders before the end of August and the money is not there. Greece’s creditors know that and are prepared to let the government in Athens stew. They know that Greece really has only two choices: surrender or leave the euro, and since it has said it wants to stay inside the single currency, they expect the white flag to be fluttering any time soon. Greece’s willingness to go ahead with the privatisation of its largest port, Piraeus, will be seen as evidence by the hardliners in Brussels and Berlin that they have been right to take a tough approach in negotiations with the Syriza-led government.

But before he admits he has lost the game of chicken, Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, should think hard about Varoufakis’s analysis. Was it a mistake for Greece to join the euro? Clearly, the answer is yes. Would Greece be better off with the drachma? Given that the economy has shrunk by 25% in the past five years and is still shrinking, again the answer is yes. Can you leave the euro and return to the drachma without a catastrophe? Undoubtedly there would be massive costs from doing so, including credit controls to prevent currency flight, and a profound shock to business and consumer confidence. There are also the practical difficulties involved in substituting one currency for another.

In a way, though, this is not the question the Greek government should be asking itself. Greece has been suffering an economic catastrophe since 2010. It is suffering from an economic catastrophe now and will continue to suffer from an economic catastrophe if it stays in the euro without generous debt forgiveness and policies that facilitate, rather than impede, growth. So the real question is not whether leaving the euro would be a catastrophe, because it would. The real question is whether it would be more of a catastrophe than staying in.

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Turning into a long endgame.

Greek Endgame Nears for Tsipras as Bank Collateral Hits Buffers (Bloomberg)

Greek banks are running short on the collateral they need to stay alive, a crisis that could help force Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s hand after weeks of brinkmanship with creditors. As deposits flee the financial system, lenders use collateral parked at the Greek central bank to tap more and more emergency liquidity every week. In a worst-case scenario, that lifeline will be maxed out within three weeks, pushing banks toward insolvency, some economists say. “The point where collateral is exhausted is likely to be near,” JPMorgan Chase Bank analysts Malcolm Barr and David Mackie wrote in a note to clients May 15. “Pressures on central government cash flow, pressures on the banking system, and the political timetable are all converging on late May-early June.”

European policy makers are losing patience with Tsipras who said as recently as May 14 that he won’t compromise on any of his key demands. While talks are centering on whether to give Greece more money, the European Central Bank could raise the stakes if it increases the discount on the collateral Greek banks pledge in exchange for cash under its Emergency Liquidity Assistance program. Such a move might inadvertently prompt a further outflow of bank deposits and pressure Tsipras to choose between doing a deal and putting his country on the road to capital controls. “We are in an endgame,” ECB Executive Board member Yves Mersch said Saturday. “This situation is not tenable.”

The arithmetic goes as follows: Greek lenders have so far needed about €80 billion under the ELA program. Banks have enough collateral to stretch that lifeline to about €95 billion under the terms currently allowed by the ECB, a person familiar with the matter said. With the central bank raising the ELA by about €2 billion every week, that could take banks to the end of June. A crunch will come if the ECB increases the haircut on Greek collateral to levels not seen since last year. That could be prompted by anything from a complete breakdown in talks to a missed debt payment, the official said. A continuation of the current impasse could even be all that’s needed, the official said. An increased haircut would reduce the ELA limit to about €88 billion, the person said. While that gives banks about four weeks before hitting the buffers, the leeway is so limited that Greece might need to impose capital controls, limiting transactions such as ATM withdrawals, to conserve the cushion.

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Nice comparison.

Greek Lessons for UK’s David Cameron (WSJ)

David Cameron and Alexis Tsipras are miles apart politically, but they share more in common than either may care to admit. Both the U.K. and Greek prime ministers took office after elections in which their parties secured just 37% of the vote. Both claim a strong mandate to reform their country’s relationship with the European Union—and boast that their real aim is to reform the EU itself. Both face pressure from party hard-liners who would rather risk a permanent rupture than accept any compromise. And both leaders believe the rest of Europe will do anything to avoid such a rupture and so will ultimately have to accept their demands. Mr. Tsipras will find out soon enough if his assessment was right: Greece’s debt negotiations are approaching their drop-dead moment when failure to agree on a new funding deal will push the government into a messy default.

But Mr. Cameron’s EU odyssey has only just begun: He must now follow through on his election pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU by the end of 2017. The stakes could hardly be higher. Many analysts think a Greek euro exit would be destabilizing but ultimately containable. But a British exit from the EU would diminish the union in the eyes of the world, weakening its capacity to secure trade deals, deepen the European single market and to confront threats from Russia and the Mediterranean. Just as Mr. Tsipras says he wants to keep Greece in the euro, Mr. Cameron has no desire to lead the U.K. out of the EU. And as in Greece, there is little public appetite for an exit. A recent poll showed British voters back EU membership by 45%—against 33% who want out—rising to 56% to 20% if Mr. Cameron can renegotiate the terms of membership.

Like Mr. Tsipras, Mr. Cameron’s problem lies with his party, not the public. Up to a quarter of his 331 parliamentarians look certain to campaign to leave the EU since their demands for opt-outs for large swaths of EU law, a U.K. veto on future EU rules and an end to the right of EU citizens to seek work in the U.K. can never be met. Mr. Cameron’s objective is to avoid an even bigger split that would damage his authority and could become permanent. For a prime minister who has bet his country’s strategic future on his ability to renegotiate the terms of EU membership, the lack of detailed planning is striking. U.K. officials say that as things stand, Downing Street has no clear process, no team, no detailed policy proposals, no clear view on what is needed to declare the renegotiation a success and no decision on the timing of the referendum.

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“There is no such thing as an expansionary fiscal contraction.”

David Blanchflower: Bank of England In Cloud-Cuckoo Land On Wages (Independent)

In his reply to a letter from the Monetary Policy Committee this week outlining why CPI inflation was 2% below the target he had set for them, the Chancellor made clear there was more austerity heading everyone’s way. “Ultimately, the credibility of our economic policy rests on the strength of our public finances. This new Government now has a clear mandate to take the steps needed to return them to surplus and ensure continued economic security.” Here we go again, and this time he thinks he has a “mandate’ to slash and burn. It really is amazing that he hasn’t learnt from his past errors. In 2010 George Osborne imposed austerity and the economy stalled for two years; he relaxed austerity and went to plan B, and growth picked up.

So Slasher Osborne is back to his old tricks. Sadly for Slasher this time he has a slowing economy to deal with, rather than the rapidly growing one he inherited in 2010. Now the bond markets really do seem to be in free-fall, just as they weren’t in 2010. As the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, made clear in his press conference this week, “there is persistent fiscal drag … just as there has been over the last several years”. That’s one of the headwinds that weighs on the economy. The headwinds are once again going to become hurricane force. Hurricane Slasher is heading your way. Austerity is likely to smash growth once again. It seems almost inevitable that monetary policy will have to compensate for such tightening, so I fully expect the next interest rate move to be downwards, with another significant round of quantitative easing, if this austerity is implemented.

There is no such thing as an expansionary fiscal contraction. Just to remind readers, GDP growth was 1% in Q2 2010 and 0.3% in Q1 2015, the latest data that we have. To put this in context, the first chart plots quarterly GDP growth rates for the 19 EU countries that to this point have produced estimates. The UK’s growth rate of 0.3% is below both the EU and the eurozone averages of 0.4%, and is growing at half France’s growth rate of 0.6%. The UK ranks joint 11th with Belgium, Germany and Italy. There are several other countries who are yet to report for 2015 but whose growth rates for Q4 2014 were higher than 0.3%: the Czech Republic, Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Sweden, plus two non-EU members, Norway and Switzerland. The UK is now one of the slowest-growing European economies.

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A very valuable insight: “You police by consent by having a relationship with local communities.”

UK Police Warn Big Budget Cuts Will Lead To ‘Paramilitary’ Force (Guardian)

Police will be forced to adopt a “paramilitary” style of enforcement if the government inflicts big budget cuts on them, the head of the police officers’ organisation has warned. Steve White, chair of the Police Federation, said his 123,000 members, from police constables to inspectors, fear a move towards a more violent style of policing as they try to keep law and order with even fewer officers than now. White told the Guardian that more cuts would be devastating: “You get a style of policing where the first options are teargas, rubber bullets and water cannon, which are the last options in the UK.” White said cuts would see the bedrock principle of British law enforcement, policing by consent, ripped apart. The week ahead sees the federation stage its annual conference, which starts on Tuesday 19 May.

The key day will be Wednesday when the home secretary, Theresa May, will address rank-and-file officers. Last year May stunned delegates with a speech telling them to reform or be taken over by government, and telling them policing was failing too often. Police leaders have a fine line to walk in opposing cuts. Rank-and-file members are furious at the effects of austerity on their terms and conditions, as well as falling officer numbers nationally. But May and her advisers believe some members of the police force use over-the-top rhetoric in predictions that cuts would lead to chaos on the streets, and instead believe they should squeeze maximum value out of the public money given. White said police had already endured five years of austerity and were braced for more “swingeing cuts” after the election of a Conservative government with a majority.

White said that since 2010, when the Conservative-led coalition started slashing its funding to police by 20%, the service had been cut by 17,000 officers and 17,000 civilian staff, but had managed to limit the effect on the public. He said the service was now “on its knees”, with some internal projections within policing of a further 20% to 25% of cuts by the end of the next parliament in 2020. This would lead to more than 15,000 officers disappearing off the streets, only being seen when responding to crime or serious events such as disorder on the streets. White said: “You are left with a police service who you only speak to in the direst of circumstances, a police service almost paramilitary in style.”

“You police by consent by having a relationship with local communities. “If you don’t have a relationship, because the officers have been cut, you will lose the consent which means the face and style of policing changes. “The whole service, from top to bottom, is deeply concerned about the ability to provide the service that the public have come to expect over the next five years.”

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First, falling gas prices were supposed to boost the economy. Now rising prices are to do the same thing.

If Numbers Don’t Lie Then… (Mark St. Cyr)

One argument now being proposed to help bolster the projections that Q2 will be closer to 3% as opposed to the abysmal print of Q1 is (even as the Atlanta Fed. is now predicting the same if not worse) that this jump will be fueled by (wait for it…) “Cap-ex spending relating to the bump up in crude prices over the recent weeks…” (insert rimshot here) This wasn’t coming from some ancillary small fund manager. This line of thought and analysis was coming from one of our “too big to fail” taxpayer-funded bail-out houses of financial acumen. As this “insight” was simultaneously broadcast throughout television and radio, heralded as “This is why we have people like you on – for exactly this type of insightful analysis and perspective.” I couldn’t help myself but to agree.

For this is what “financial” brilliance across the financial media now represents: Financial spin. My analysis? With analysis like this? Taxpayers better get ready – again! This objective “seasoned” analysis is being professed by one of the same that expected the prior GDP print to show “great improvement” based on “the gas savings made possible from lower crude prices.” The result? If the build in inventory hadn’t been “adjusted” in formulations Pythagoras would marvel at – the print would have been negative. So now you’re being led to believe with the recent rise in crude prices: drillers, refiners, etc., etc., are going to load up on cap-ex only months after many have scuttled rigs, buildings, employees, and more? Again, soon enough to effect Q2?

If cap-ex can be effected that soon, and to that degree as to pull GDP prints from near negative to 3% in a single quarter all by itself – as every other macro data point is collapsing? Why would lower gas prices have ever been wanted let alone touted as “good for the economy?”I’ll just remind you that this “insightful analysis” was coming from one of the many who loved to tout endlessly how the U.S. economy is based on “consumer spending” and “more money in consumers wallets based on lower prices at the pump was inevitable.”

All I’ll ask is: when does “inevitable” materialize? Before? Or, after the next revisions? Again, now since it’s been shown that the “inevitable consumer” spent nothing of their gas savings to help prop up the prior GDP. (sorry I forgot, yes they did in higher health insurance costs) Where the case was made to bludgeon any doubters of their analysis: i.e., “lower crude prices resulting in lower gas prices = more consumer spending.” We are now supposed to embrace the inverted narrative where: “GDP for Q2 will show growth of around 3% based on higher crude prices resulting in increased cap-ex?”

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Still, nothing the media can’t put a positive spin on.

China Home Prices Drop Over 6% In April (Reuters)

Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities dropped 6.1% last month from a year ago, the same rate of decline as in March, according to Reuters calculations based on official data published today. But nationwide prices steadied from March, further narrowing from a 0.1% fall in the previous month. Beijing saw prices rise, albeit modestly, for the second month in a row, while those in Shanghai rose for the first time in 12 months. But prices in many smaller cities, which account for around 60% of national sales, continued to fall. Analysts said that property investment, which comprises around 20% of China’s GDP, may grow less than 5% this year, compared with 10.5% in 2014, knocking 1 %age point off economic growth.

Data last week showed home sales measured by floor area rebounded 7.7% in April from a year ago, the first growth since November 2013. But property investment growth continued to slow in the first four months of 2015 to the lowest since May 2009 as new construction slumped, impacting demand for everything from steel and cement to appliances and furniture. However, government measures seem to be slowing enticing some buyers back into the market. Mortgages rose 2.1% in the months from Janaury to April from the same time a year earlier. China relaxed tax rules and downpayment requirements on second homes in late March. Earlier this month, the central bank cut interest rates for the third time since November to lower companies’ borrowing costs and stimulate loan demand.

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“..the interest-cost burden of servicing debt has risen to 15% of GDP.”

China Struggles To Make Its Debt Problems Go Away (MarketWatch)

China’s latest plan to tackle its local-government-debt problem appears to be pretending there isn’t one. This might actually stave off a wave of unpleasant corporate busts and bankruptcies, but investors need to be alert for other signs of distress in China’s repressed financial system. In recent weeks, plans floated to address local government debt — estimated to be some 22 trillion yuan ($3.54 trillion) — have included swapping loans for bonds and even potential quantitative easing by the central bank. But as these initiatives appeared to lose steam, it emerged Friday that Beijing had reverted to a more traditional plan: Tell banks to keep lending to insolvent state projects and roll over such loans.

The directive was jointly issued by the Ministry of Finance, the banking regulator and the central bank, saying that financial institutions should keep extending credit to local-government projects, even if borrowers are unable to make payments on existing loans. The positive take is that this latest maneuver postpones a painful debt reckoning and will help protect the property market and broader economy from another leg down after more weak economic data for April. Caution is understandable, as local-government debt presents numerous contagion risks. SocGen describes it as the “critical domino” in the chain of China’s credit risk. This is not just because of the size of the problem, but also due to the labyrinth of funding which straddles special-purpose-funding vehicles and the shadow-banking market.

Further, local governments are inextricably linked to the property market, as they rely on land sales for their revenue. So if the implicit guarantee on state debt were to be removed at the local-government level, the potential for a messy unraveling looks high. It’s also easy to see how this represents a larger systematic risk, as Fitch estimates banks’ total exposure to property could exceed 60% of credit if non-loan financing is also taken into account. Yet any relief that funding taps will not be switched off will also be balanced by concerns over the dangers of building up an even larger debt burden. Fitch warns that the more authorities permit loans by weak entities to be rolled over, the greater the build-up and cost of servicing that debt, and the greater the strain on banks and the overall economy. They calculate that the interest-cost burden of servicing debt has risen to 15% of GDP.

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Apparently, the BND now claims it was instrumental in catching Osama Bin Laden. Get in line!

Merkel Under Pressure To Reveal Extent Of German Help For US Spying (Reuters)

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is coming under increasing pressure to divulge a list of targets, including the IP addresses of individual computers, that German intelligence tracked on behalf of the US National Security Agency (NSA). Critics have accused Merkel’s staff of giving the BND foreign intelligence agency the green light to help the NSA spy on European firms and officials. The scandal has strained relations between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and its junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, whose leader, Sigmar Gabriel, has publicly challenged her over the affair.

Gabriel told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that parliament needed to see the list, which contains names, search terms and IP addresses. The government has said it must consult the US before revealing the list, whose contents are thought crucial to establishing whether the BND was at fault in helping the NSA. Gabriel, who is also Germany’s vice-chancellor, said: “Imagine if there were suspicions that the NSA had helped the BND to spy on American firms. Congress wouldn’t hesitate for a second before looking into the documents.”

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Big victory indeed. That’s why we read so little about it.

A Diplomatic Victory, and Affirmation, for Putin (NY Times)

For Russia, victory came three days after Victory Day, in the form of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit this week to the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. It was widely interpreted here as a signal of surrender by the Americans — an olive branch from President Obama, and an acknowledgment that Russia and its leader are simply too important to ignore. Since the seizure of Crimea more than a year ago, Mr. Obama has worked aggressively to isolate Russia and its renegade president, Vladimir V. Putin, portraying him as a lawless bully atop an economically failing, increasingly irrelevant petrostate. Mr. Obama led the charge by the West to punish Mr. Putin for his intervention in Ukraine, booting Russia from the Group of 8 economic powers, imposing harsh sanctions on some of Mr. Putin’s closest confidants and delivering financial and military assistance to the new Ukrainian government.

In recent months, however, Russia has not only weathered those attacks and levied painful countersanctions on America’s European allies, but has also proved stubbornly important on the world stage. That has been true especially in regard to Syria, where its proposal to confiscate chemical weapons has kept President Bashar al-Assad, a Kremlin ally, in power, and in the negotiations that secured a tentative deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Putin, who over 15 years as Russia’s paramount leader has consistently confounded his adversaries, be they foreign or domestic, once again seems to be emerging on top — if not as an outright winner in his most recent confrontation with the West, then certainly as a national hero, unbowed, firmly in control, and having surrendered nothing, especially not Crimea, his most coveted prize.

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“..you’ve been had.”

The Democratic Party Would Triangulate Its Own Mother (Matt Taibbi)

Barack Obama made headlines this week by taking on Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a dispute over our latest labor-crushing free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The president’s anger over Warren’s decision to lead the Senate in blocking his authority to fast-track the TPP was heavily covered by the Beltway media, which loves a good intramural food fight. It was quite a show, which was the first clue that something wasn’t quite right in this picture. The Beltway press made a huge spectacle out of how the “long-simmering” Obama-Warren “feud” had turned “personal.”

And there were lots of suggestions that the president, in his anger toward Warren, simply let his emotions get the best of him – that he let slip impolitic and perhaps sexist words in his attacks on Warren, whom he described as “absolutely wrong” and “a politician like everyone else.” Reuters, taking the cheese all the way with this “it just got personal” storyline that people on both sides of the Warren-Obama spat have been pimping to us reporters all week, quoted observers who put it like this: The president miscalculated in making this about Elizabeth Warren, that backfired badly. It only served to raise awareness of the issue and drive people away from his position,” said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist who has worked with labor unions opposed to the pact. “It never makes sense to make these kinds of issues personal,” he said.

Politicians do get angry. They even sometimes get angry in public. They are, after all, human, in some cases anyway. But politicians mostly only take their masks off when cornered: stuck in a televised argument with an expert irritant, called to speak in a legislative chamber just as that nagging case of intermittent explosive disorder kicks in, surprised by a ropeline question on the campaign trail, etc. But if you think that Barack Obama, one of the coolest cucumbers ever to occupy the White House, sat down for a scheduled interview in front of a professional softballer like ex-Times and current Yahoo pundit Matt Bai – a setup that’s the presidential media equivalent of a spa treatment – and just suddenly “lost it” in a discussion about the TPP, you’ve been had.

Read more …

GOP praise for Obama. Can’t be a good sign.

TPP: Fast-Track Measure Will Pass ‘This Week’, McConnell Says (Guardian)

Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday the Senate will pass “fast-track” authority to negotiate major trade deals this week, despite opposition to the measure from many of President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. “Yes, we’ll pass it. We’ll pass it later this week,” McConnell said in an interview with ABC. The trade issue has made unlikely allies of the Republican majority leader and the Democratic president. McConnell said on Sunday that Obama has “done an excellent job” on the trade issue. The Senate voted last week to consider the fast-track measure, two days after Democrats had blocked debate on the bill, which would clear the way for a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement.

The strong support on the second vote suggested senators were unlikely to reject the trade measure. Heated debate is still expected in the Senate over amendments and later in the House of Representatives, where many Democrats staunchly oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership on fears trade liberalisation will cost US jobs. The Republican representative Paul Ryan said on CNN that he was confident the measure would pass the House. “We will have the votes,” said Ryan, who is chairman of the House ways and means committee. “We’re doing very well. We’re gaining a lot of steam and momentum.”

Read more …

How many investigative journalists are left?

The American Press Tried To Discredit Seymour Hersh 40 Years Ago, Too (Ames)

Seymour Hersh found himself in the middle of an F-5 shitstorm this week after breaking his biggest blockbuster story of the Obama Era, debunking the official heroic White House story about how Navy SEALs took out Osama Bin Laden in a daring, secret nighttime raid in the heart of Pakistan. According to Hersh’s account, OBL was given up by one of his Pakistani ISI prison wardens—our Pakistaini allies had been holding him captive since 2006, with backing from our Saudi allies, to use for leverage. Hersh’s account calls into question a lot of things, starting with the justification for the massive, expensive, and brutal US GWOT military-intelligence web, which apparently had zilch to do with taking out the most wanted terrorist in the world. All it took, says Hersh, was one sleazy Pakistani ISI turncoat walking into a CIA storefront in Islamabad, handing them the address to Bin Laden’s location, and picking up his $25 million bounty check. About as hi-tech as an episode of Gunsmoke.

The celebrated Navy SEAL helicopter raid and killing of OBL was, according to Hersh, a stage production co-directed by the US military and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, who escorted the SEALs to Bin Laden’s room, pointed a flashlight at the captive, and watched the SEALs unload hot lead on the old cripple, turning him into spaghetti bolognese. (Raising other disturbing questions—such as, why would the White House want to silence forever the one guy with all the names, the most valuable intelligence asset in the world… unless of course that was the whole point of slaughtering him in his Abbottabad cell? Which leads one to wonder why the US wanted to make sure Bin Laden kept his secrets to himself, should one bother wondering.)

Hersh has pissed off some very powerful people and institutions with this story, and that means the inevitable media pushback to discredit his reporting is already underway, with the attacks on Hersh led by Vox Media’s Max Fisher, CNN’s Peter Bergen, and even some on the left like Nation Institute reporter Matthieu Aikins. Yesterday Slate joined the pile-on, running a wildly entertaining, hostile interview with Hersh. Such attacks by fellow journalists on a Sy Hersh bombshell are nothing new—in fact, he used to relish them, and probably still does. He got the same hostile reaction from his media colleagues when he broke his biggest story of his career: The 1974 exposé of the CIA’s massive, illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, which targeted tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly antiwar and leftwing dissidents.

Hersh is better known today for his My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib exposés, but it was his MH-CHAOS scoop, which the New York Times called “the son of Watergate,” that was his most consequential and controversial—from this one sensational exposé the entire intelligence apparatus was nearly taken down. Hersh’s exposés directly led to the famous Church Committee hearings into intelligence abuses, the Rockefeller Commission, and the less famous but more radical Pike Committee hearings in the House, which I wrote about in Pando last year. These hearings not only blew open all sorts of CIA abuses, assassination programs, drug programs and coups, but also massive intelligence failures and boondoggles.

Read more …

“At the top end, this El Niño could be the strongest in recorded history.”

Huge El Niño Becoming More Likely In 2015 (Slate)

For the first time since 1998—the year of the strongest El Niño on record, which played havoc with the world’s weather patterns and was blamed for 23,000 deaths worldwide—ocean temperatures in all five El Niño zones have risen above 1 degree Celsius warmer than normal at the same time. That’s the criteria for a moderately strong event, and the latest forecast models are unanimous that it’s going to keep strengthening for the rest of the year. A sub-surface wave of warm water is driving this trend, which has reached off-the-charts levels during the first four months of 2015. That data was enough for Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to officially upgrade the Pacific Ocean to El Niño conditions this week. David Jones, head of climate monitoring for the BOM, told reporters that the 2015 El Niño is shaping up to be “quite a substantial event … not a weak one or a near miss.”

The U.S. weather service, which uses slightly different criteria, declared official El Niño conditions back in March. The U.S. updated its outlook on Thursday, boosting odds of a continuation of El Niño until this summer to around 90%—what they called a “pretty confident forecast.” Autumn outlooks made this time of year normally have an error of plus-or-minus 0.6 degrees Celsius, meaning the current forecast of a 2.2 degree warming of the tropical Pacific by December essentially locks in a strong event. At the low end, we can expect the biggest El Niño since the last one in 2009-2010, a moderately strong event. At the top end, this El Niño could be the strongest in recorded history.

Read more …

“The Larsen B ice shelf existed for 12,000 years before it fell apart in 2002..”

Antarctic Larsen B Ice Shelf In Last Throes Of Collapse (Livescience)

A vast Antarctica ice shelf that partly collapsed in 2002 has only a few years left before it fully disappears, according to a new study. Radar data reveals that the Larsen B ice shelf could shatter into hundreds of icebergs by 2020, researchers reported Thursday (March 14) in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. “It’s really startling to see how something that existed on our planet for so long has disappeared so quickly,” lead study author Ala Khazendar, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Live Science. An ice shelf is like a floating ice plateau, fed by land-based glaciers. The Larsen B ice shelf existed for 12,000 years before it fell apart in 2002, separate studies showed.

The ice shelf is on the Antarctica Peninsula, the strip of land that juts northward toward South America. Larsen B is about half the size of Rhode Island, some 625 square miles (1,600 square kilometers). Because the ice shelf is already in the ocean, its breakup won’t further boost sea level rise. But Khazendar and his co-authors also discovered that the glaciers feeding into Larsen B’s remaining ice shelf have dramatically thinned since 2002. “What matters is how much more ice the glaciers will dump into the ocean once this ice shelf is removed,” Khazendar said. “Some of these glaciers are most likely already contributing to sea level rise because they are in the process of accelerating and thinning.”

The Leppard and Flask glaciers thinned by 65 to 72 feet (20 to 22 meters) between 2002 and 2011, the new study reported. The fastest-moving part of Flask Glacier sped up by 36%, to a speed of 2,300 feet (700 m) a year. The glaciers that were behind the vanished section of the Larsen B ice shelf sped up by as much as 8 times their former rate after the ice crumbled over a six-week period in 2002, earlier studies showed. The northwestern part of the Larsen B ice shelf is also becoming more fragmented, the researchers said. But the southeastern part is cracking up. A huge rift has appeared just 7.5 miles (12 km) from the grounding line, where the ice loses contact with the ground and starts floating on the ocean, the study reported. This crack marks where the ice shelf may start to break apart, the researchers said.

Read more …

May 142015
 
 May 14, 2015  Posted by at 9:58 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Washington Monument, view from air 1919

I know I’ve talked about this before, but it just keeps coming and it keeps being crzay. Bloomberg ‘reports’ that the ‘German Finance Ministry’, let me get this right, “is supporting the idea of a vote by Greek citizens to either accept the economic reforms being sought by creditors to receive a payout from the country’s bailout program or ultimately opt to leave the euro.” And that’s it.

They ‘report’ this as if it has some sort of actual value, as if it’s a real thing. Whereas in reality, it has the exact same value as Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis suggesting a referendum in Germany. Or Washington, for that matter. Something that Bloomberg wouldn’t even dream of ‘reporting’ in any kind of serious way, though the political value would be identical.

Apparently there is some kind of consensus in the international press – Bloomberg was by no means the only ‘news service’ that ‘reported’ this – that Germany has obtained the right to meddle in the internal politics of other eurozone member nations. And let’s get this one thing very clear: it has not.

No more than the Greek government has somehow acquired the right to even vent its opinions on German domestic issues. It is a no-go area for all European Union countries. More than that, it’s no-go for all nations in the world, and certainly in cases where governments have been democratically elected.

So why do Bloomberg and Reuters and all the others disregard such simple principles? All I can think is they entirely lost track of reality, and they live in a world where reality is what they say it is.

Now, I know that Schäuble ‘merely’ said – I quote Bloomberg -: “If the Greek government thinks it should hold a referendum, it should hold a referendum.. Maybe it would even be the right measure to let the Greek people decide whether they’re ready to accept what needs to be done.”

That’s admittedly not the same thing that Bloomberg makes of it, though it’s possible that the ‘reporter’ got some additional background information from the German Finance Ministry, and that that’s the reason the ministry gets mentioned, instead of just Schäuble.

But that still doesn’t make it alright by any stretch of the imagination. The EU, and the eurozone, are made up of sovereign nations. Who function in a system of equal partners, certainly from a political point of view. So the German FinMin has no business even talking about a Greek referendum, no more than the Greeks have talking about a German referendums. And Angela Merkel should be on his case for this. But she’s not. At least not in public.

Whether or not Greece has a referendum -about the euro or anything else- is up to the Greek people, and first of all to the government they elected only 3.5 months ago. It has absolutely nothing to do with whoever is in charge in Berlin, or Paris, or even in the EU headquarters in Brussels. It’s a fatal mistake to think otherwise. Bloomberg has made that fatal mistake. Schäuble has come so close Athens should file a complaint against him.

Granted, all parties involved may be influenced by what happened 4 years ago -more Bloomberg-:

Schaeuble’s stance on a Greek plebiscite is a departure from Germany’s position in 2011. Back then, Prime Minister George Papandreou dropped his plan for a referendum after Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged him not to hold the vote.

That referendum involved a haircut on Greek debt ‘negotiated’ by the troika, which Papandreou wanted the Greek people to vote on. And Merkel and Sarkozy did much more than ‘urge’ Papandreou not to hold the vote. They were afraid it would drive Greece from the eurozone, and scared the sh*t out of him so much he withdrew the plan a few days after proposing it.

Which is just another case of Euro nations meddling in the internal affairs of a fellow member nation. Something for which there wasn’t then, and still isn’t now, any political or legal support or framework inside the EU. Still, Brussels, Berlin and Paris applied similar pressure on Italy PM Berlusconi in those days, and installed – helped install – a technocrat PM, Mario Monti. In Greece, they got Papademos. Both Papandreou and Berlusconi were gone soon after the ‘pressure’ was applied.

That’s how Europe operates. And they have no legal right to do it. But that you won’t read at Bloomberg. The whole thing is so accepted that not even Syriza tells the Germans – or Bloomberg for that matter – to shut their traps. Even though they would have a lot more right to do that than Schäuble has to comment on internal Greek affairs.

And from where I’m sitting that means that Ashoka Mody’s piece for Bruegel is too little too late. Nice try but..

Europe’s Integration Overdrive

The problems will worsen in Greece and, will inevitably, arise elsewhere. The economic and political costs of breaking the Eurozone are so horrendous that the imperfect monetary union will be held together. Instead, the cost of the ill-judged rush to the euro and mismanagement of Greece will eventually be a substantial forgiveness of Greek debt.

But this is a good moment to step back and loosen European ties. As Schuman said, “Europe will not be built according to one plan.” The task is to create a de facto solidarity—not to force a fragile embrace. A new architecture should scale back the corrosive power relationships of centralized economic surveillance. Let nations manage their affairs according to their priorities.

And put on notice private creditors that they will bear losses for reckless lending. The European fabric -held together by commercial ties- is fraying as European businesses seek faster growing markets elsewhere. That fabric could tear if political discord and economic woes persist. History and Schuman will be watching.

Things have moved way beyond where Mody thinks they are at present. The secret ingredient is simply the crisis. The way the eurozone was hastily slapped together allows only for good times. The idea was that as long as things go well, nobody would notice the cracks. But Europe has been nothing but cracks for 7 years now, and there’s no end in sight.

The Greek people can vote all they want to end the misery Europe has inflicted on them, it doesn’t matter to the major powers in the union. They simply blame it all on the same Greeks, and judging from how Bloomberg approaches the issue, they have the upper hand. They live above their means, they’re wasteful and they’re lazy. That’s the portrait painted, and that’s how 90% of the world therefore sees them.

It makes no difference whether it is true or not. It’s all just about who has more money and power and press; they get to decide what people think about other people.

Does the euro have a future? If it does, it won’t look anything like it does today. The eurozone has only ever been a mechanism to make more money flow from the south to the north. And now the north will have to come up with a measure of solidarity, of being an actual union, and they bluntly refuse.

Rich European countries are all led by politicians who want to win their next elections. And these are national elections, not European elections. Those hardly matter. Because Europe is made up of sovereign nations. And that’s why the European Union in its present shape is doomed to fail.

Brussels will always clamor for a closer union, politically, fiscally, economically. But the way Germany et al has treated Greece and Italy and Spain over the past 7 years makes abundantly clear that such a close union will never come to fruition. These are all countries that are proudly independent, that commemorate battles from hundreds of years ago where their ancestors shed the blood and gave the lives that made them independent.

They’re not going to let Germany and France and Holland call the shots in their economies and countries now. Not a chance.

Europe only has a -peaceful- future as a continent of independent nations that work together where they can. To get there, they will need to abolish the euro and completely redo the union project, from scratch, close down all offices in Brussels, and they will have to do it soon, or there will be no peace.

Meanwhile, what’s left for Greece in Brussels that is beneficial to the country? I don’t see it. It makes me think more of a Stockholm syndrome by the hour. Get out, get your own currency, negotiate a treaty with Italy and Spain, maybe France. But don’t stay in a ‘union’ with outsiders who think they can tell you, Greeks, how to run a democracy, or when to hold a referendum. That can only be a road to nowhere.

Apr 142015
 
 April 14, 2015  Posted by at 9:41 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC French Market, New Orleans 1910

From southern Europe to the far north, matters are shifting, sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. There are moments when it seems all that goes on is the negotiations over the Greek dire financial situation and its bailout conditions, but even there nothing stands still. The Financial Times ran a story claiming Greece is about to default on is debt(s), and many a pundit jumped on that, but there was nothing new there. Of course they are considering such options, but they are looking at many others as well. That doesn’t prove anything, though.

Yanis Varoufakis’ publisher, Public Affairs Books, posted a promo for an upcoming book by the Greek Finance Minister, due out only in 2016, mind you, that reveals a few things that haven’t gotten much attention to date. It’s good to keep in mind that most of the book will have been written before Yanis joined the new Greek government on January 26, and not see it as a reaction to the negotiations that have played out after that date.

Varoufakis simply analyzes the structure of the EU and the eurozone, as well as the peculiar place the ECB has in both. Some may find what he writes provocative, but that’s beside the point. It’s not as if Europe is beyond analysis; indeed, such analysis is long overdue.

Indeed, it may well be the lack of it, and the idea in Brussels that it is exempt from scrutiny, even as institutions such as the ECB build billion dollar edifices as the Greek population goes hungry, that could be its downfall. It may be better to be critical and make necessary changes than to be hardheaded and precipitate your own downfall. Here’s the blurb for the book:

And The Weak Suffer What They Must
Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future

“The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” —Thucydides

The fate of the global economy hangs in the balance, and Europe is doing its utmost to undermine it, to destabilize America, and to spawn new forms of authoritarianism. Europe has dragged the world into hideous morasses twice in the last one hundred years… it can do it again. Yanis Varoufakis, the newly elected Finance Minister of Greece, has a front-row seat, and shows the Eurozone to be a house of cards destined to fall without a radical change in direction. And, if the EU falls apart, he argues, the global economy will not be far behind.

Varoufakis shows how, once America abandoned Europe in 1971 from the dollar zone, Europe’s leaders decided to create a monetary union of 18 nations without control of their own money, without democratic accountability, and without a government to support the Central Bank.

This bizarre economic super-power was equipped with none of the shock absorbers necessary to contain a financial crisis, while its design ensured that, when it came, the crisis would be massive. When disaster hit in 2009, Europe turned against itself, humiliating millions of innocent citizens, driving populations to despair, and buttressing a form of bigotry unseen since WWII.

In the epic battle for Europe’s integrity and soul, the forces of reason and humanism will have to face down the new forms of authoritarianism. Europe’s crisis is pregnant with radically regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath while extinguishing the hope for shared prosperity for generations to come. The principle of the greatest austerity for the European economies suffering the greatest recessions would be quaint if it were not also the harbinger of misanthropy and racism.

Here, Varoufakis offers concrete policies that the rest of the world can take part in to intervene and help save Europe from impending catastrophe, and presents the ultimate case against austerity. With passionate, informative, and at times humorous prose, he warns that the implosion of an admittedly crisis-ridden and deeply irrational European capitalism should be avoided at all cost. Europe, he argues, is too important to be left to the Europeans.

How dire the situation is in Greece becomes obvious from the following article by documentary film maker Constantin Xekalos, posted on Beppe Grillo’s site. It makes you wonder how Europe dare let this happen. How it could possibly have insisted prior to the January elections that the Greeks should vote for the incumbent government, and how someone like Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem could ever have had the gall to point to “all the progress we’ve made”.

Greece, The Euro’s Greatest “Success”

Greece is a social disaster zone. 3 million people are without guaranteed healthcare, 600,000 children are living under the breadline and more than half of them are unable to meet their daily nutritional needs. 90% of families living in the poorer areas rely on food banks and feeding schemes for survival, and unemployment is approaching 30%, with youth unemployment approaching 60%. These are not just numbers, they are real people. In order to show their faces and tell their stories, writer and documentary film maker from Crete and now living in Florence, Constantin Xekalos, decided to make a documentary film entitled: “Greece, the Euro’s greatest success “. In today’s Passaparola he talks about this documentary film and about the suffering of the Greek people that he has encountered in his personal experience. Today it is all happening, but is Italy next?

The healthcare tragedy in Greece When we made this documentary it was said that 1/3 of the Greek population, (more than 3 million people,) were without any guaranteed healthcare. In the interim that number has grown. They have been abandoned. If you go to a hospital, obviously a public one, they will treat you and they will accept you if it is an emergency, but if you are admitted, you then have to pay. If you are unable to pay, they send the bill to the Receiver of Revenue’s office and they take it from there. If you have no money, they start with foreclosure, even your home , even if it is your only home!

This is crime against society that is totally unacceptable. In an advanced and so-called democratic Country that is part of the western world, things like this are totally inconceivable, absurd and unacceptable. I repeat, this is crime against society that we absolutely cannot accept! If you are ill, democracy guarantees the treatment you need, otherwise it should be called by some other name. When a child is not guaranteed the nutrition he/she needs, a mere helpless child, or elderly people that are no longer able to look after themselves, then that is no longer democracy. Some of the older Greeks were telling me that when the Germans were there during the occupation in the Second World War, the people lived exactly like they are living now.

The Greeks are dying of hunger 90% of Greek families living in the poorer areas are obliged to rely on food banks and feeding schemes in order to survive. Unfortunately there are many in this situation. We toured a number of Athens’ districts and in each and every district there is a square where good people, people who care about others and truly have a sense of community have rolled up their sleeves and, with the help of the Church, are providing meals for those who would otherwise have nothing to eat. Every district has its own square. I saw children passing out because of lack of food, but are too embarrassed to admit it. We simply cannot accept this kind of thing. It’s a crime when children go without food to eat. I will shout that from the rooftops until I burst and I hope that they lay charges against me: it is a crime when a child cannot get enough to eat!

The disappearance of the Greek middle-class Many good people found themselves unemployed from one day to the next, not through any fault of their own and not by choice, not lazy people as they would have us believe. They want to work but at this point there simply are no jobs any more. The social fabric is gone, there is no more middle-class, it is virtually nonexistent. All there is is an ever-shrinking oligarchy of very wealthy people and then the rest of the people who are becoming ever poorer. Very real poverty! Currently, and here I’m talking about the latest data from a month ago now, someone who does indeed find a job has to accept a salary of €300 a month . Take into account that Athens is a very expensive city to live in, even more so than Florence. I happen to live in Florence so this is just by way of example, but I was horrified at the thought. How on earth do these people manage to live? There is no way that they can live decently, there is no longer any dignity and therefore they cannot be free: they are destroying your soul as well as you body!

Over 50% of young people are unemployed Youth unemployment is now standing somewhere between 50% and 60% . The young people do whatever they can, they accept any kind of position, even things that not right and unfair, simply because necessity forces them to accept job offers that should not even be made. I saw jobs offered at €100 a month . This sort of thing is now happening here in Italy as well.

What all this will eventually lead to, inevitably so, becomes clear from the following. Anti-euro, anti-immigrant, anti-bailout and down the line anti anything to do with the failed European project. In Finland, of all places, the anti-euro party looks certain to get into the next government. Finland’s economy is in tatters, despite its AAA rating, and people increasingly choose to see the world through blinders.

Anti-Euro Finnish Party Gets Ready to Rule as Discontent Brews

The anti-euro The Finns party, which eight years ago got just 4% of the vote, is now dressing itself up for Cabinet seats as Finnish voters are set to oust the government after four years of economic failure. The Finns, whose support is based on equal parts of anti-euro, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment sentiment, have captured voters on the back of the euro-area’s economic crisis and a home-grown collapse of key industries. In the 2011 election, during the height of the euro crisis, it shocked the traditional parties by winning 19% of the vote. “We can’t be ignored, because a strong majority government won’t be possible without us,” Timo Soini, the party leader, said [..]

The country is struggling to emerge from a three-year recession after key industries such as its papermakers have buckled amid slumping demand and Nokia Oyj lost in the smartphone war, cutting thousands of jobs. The government has raised taxes and lowered spending, adding to unpopularity, and on top of that have been bailout costs for Greece and Portugal, among others, which have eroded finances for Finland, still top-rated at Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service. “Our stance will be very tight, no matter what,” Soini said. “Nothing is forcing Finland to participate in these bailout policies. If we don’t want to take part, we can refuse.”

Soini’s recipe for fixing the economy includes encouraging exports, backing entrepreneurship, investing in road infrastructure and cutting red tape. The party seeks to balance public finances through budget cuts of as much as €3 billion and higher taxes for the wealthy. The euro-skeptic group will probably join a three-party coalition. Polls predict more than 50 seats out of 200 for the opposition Center Party.

The Center Party backed bailouts and loans for Greece, Portugal and Ireland while in government in 2010 and 2011 and was then ousted. It has since opposed further help, alongside The Finns party. The Center Party and us will have a majority within the government, if it keeps the stance it has had,” Soini said. His group isn’t currently pushing for Finland to exit the euro. Still, “Finland should under no circumstances declare it will always and forever stay,” he said.

The party first negotiated joining government after the 2011 elections, after catapulting to third place with 39 lawmakers. Its opposition to euro-area bailouts in the height of the crisis meant the door to government was closed. In 2007, its five seats didn’t qualify for an invitation to join talks to form a ruling coalition. “We’ve grown, we’ve moved forward, we’ve stabilized,” Soini said. “It’s a key goal for us to consolidate our backing and be one of the big parties, so that we’re not just a one-vote wonder.”

Of course, there are worse options than the True Finns. You can get from anti-immigrant to downright extreme right wing, where Greece may be headed if Europe doesn’t adapt to Syriza’s view of what the eurozone might be.

The prevailing views amongst Europe’s richer nations, and its domestic banking sectors, don’t look promising. And when the European project crashes to a halt, things are not going be pretty. The wisest thing for Brussels to do may well be to try and dismantle itself as peacefully as it can. But Brussels is far too loaded with people seeking to hold on to the power they have gathered.

Still, there’s no denying they have held sway over rapidly deteriorating conditions on the ground (though they will prefer to lay the blame elsewhere), which will down the line lead to their own downfall. They better listen to Yanis now.

Mar 292015
 
 March 29, 2015  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Butler’s dredge-boat, sunk by Confederate shell, James River, VA 1864

QE Will Permanently Impair Living Standards For Generations To Come (Guggenheim)
Fed Chases Equilibrium Phantom, Has Not Learnt From The Crisis (Steve Keen)
Fears Of A New Global Crash As Debts And Dollar’s Value Rise (Guardian)
Investors Flee Market At Crisis-Level Pace (CNBC)
China Banks on Sharing Wealth to Shape New Asian Order (WSJ)
China Wants To Compel US To Engage It As An Equal Partner In AIIB (ATimes)
Russia To Apply For China-Led Infrastructure Bank AIIB (RT)
Netherlands Seeks To Join Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Reuters)
Australia to Join China-Led Development Bank, Says Finance Minister (WSJ)
Eurozone Can’t Survive In Current Form, Says PIMCO (Telegraph)
Greek Energy Minister To Visit Moscow, Hits Out At Germany (Reuters)
Greece Submits Reform Proposals To Eurozone Creditors – With A Warning (Guardian)
Fitch Downgrades Greece Amid Bailout Uncertainty (AP)
Opposition Tells Tsipras To Get Control Of His Party (Kathimerini)
Troika Expects Greece To Miss Primary Surplus Target This Year (Reuters)
Ukraine’s $3 Billion Debt To Russia Puts IMF Package At Risk (RT)
Andorra On The Brink Of Europe’s Next Banking Crisis (Telegraph)
Ex-Chancellor Schroeder Criticizes Merkel’s Russia Policy (RT)
Brazil Police Arrest Businessmen Linked to Petrobras Scandal (Reuters)

Just so you can feel rich for a while longer.

QE Will Permanently Impair Living Standards For Generations To Come (Guggenheim)

Essentially, monetary authorities around the globe are levying a tax on investors and providing a subsidy to borrowers. Taxation and subsidies, as well as other wealth transfer payment schemes, have historically fallen within the realm of fiscal policy under the control of the electorate. Under the new monetary orthodoxy, the responsibility for critical aspects of fiscal policy has been surrendered into the hands of appointed officials who have been left to salvage their economies, often under the guise of pursuing monetary order. The consequences of the new monetary orthodoxy are yet to be fully understood. For the time being, the latest rounds of QE should support continued U.S. dollar strength and limit increases in interest rates. Additionally, risk assets such as high-yield debt and global equities should continue to perform strongly.

Despite ultra-loose monetary policies over the past several years, incomes adjusted for inflation have fallen for the median U.S. family. With the benefits of monetary expansion going to a small share of the population and wage growth stagnating, incomes have been essentially flat over the past 20 years. In the long run, however, classical economics would tell us that the pricing distortions created by the current global regimes of QE will lead to a suboptimal allocation of capital and investment, which will result in lower output and lower standards of living over time. In fact, although U.S. equity prices are setting record highs, real median household incomes are 9% lower than 1999 highs. The report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch plainly supports the conclusion that QE and the associated currency depreciation is not leading to higher global output.

The cost of QE is greater than the income lost to savers and investors. The long-term consequence of the new monetary orthodoxy is likely to permanently impair living standards for generations to come while creating a false illusion of reviving prosperity.

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“..Yellen has fallen back on the core concept—that a market economy reaches “equilibrium”—rather than part of the fantasy mechanism by which The Fed believes equilibrium is achieved. Equilibrium. What nonsense!”

Fed Chases ‘Equilibrium’, Has Not Learnt From The Crisis (Steve Keen)

The Financial Crisis of 2007 was the nearest thing to a “Near Death Experience” that the Federal Reserve could have had. One ordinarily expects someone who has such an experience—exuberance behind the wheel that causes an almost fatal crash, a binge drinking escapade that ends up in the intensive care ward—to learn from it, and change their behaviour in some profound way that makes a repeat event impossible. Not so the Federal Reserve. Though the event itself gets some mention in Yellen’s speech yesterday, the analysis in that speech shows that the Fed has learnt nothing of substance from the crisis. If anything, the thinking has gone backwards. The Fed is the speed driver who will floor the accelerator before the next bend, just as he did before the crash; it is the binge drinker who will empty the bottle of whiskey at next year’s New Year’s Eve, just as she did before she woke up in intensive care on New Year’s Day.

So why hasn’t The Fed learnt? Largely because of a lack of intellectual courage. As it prepares to manage the post-crisis economy, The Fed has made no acknowledgement of the fact that it didn’t see the crisis itself coming. Of course, the cause of a financial crisis is far less obvious than the cause of a crash or a hangover: there are no skidmarks, no empty bottle to link effect to cause. But the fact that The Fed was caught completely unawares by the crisis should have led to some recognition that maybe, just maybe, its model of the economy was at fault. Far from it. Instead, if anything is more visible in Yellen’s technical speech than it was in Bernanke’s before the crisis, it’s the inappropriate model that blinded The Fed—and the economics profession in general—to the dangers before 2007.

In fact, that model is so visible that its key word—“equilibrium”—turns up in a word cloud of Yellen’s speech. “Equilibrium” is the 17th most frequent word in the document, and the only significant words that appear more frequently are “Inflation” and “Monetary”. In contrast, “Crisis” gets a mere 6 mentions, and household debt gets only one. What’s evident, when one compares Yellen’s speech to one to a similar audience by Bernanke in July 2007—the month before the crisis began—is that The Fed is just as much in the grip of conventional economic thinking as it was before the crisis.

The only difference is that Bernanke’s speech focused on the “inflation expectations” aspect of The Fed’s model—which would be rather hard for Yellen to focus on, given that inflation is running at zero (versus 4% when Bernanke spoke). So Yellen has fallen back on the core concept—that a market economy reaches “equilibrium”—rather than part of the fantasy mechanism by which The Fed believes equilibrium is achieved. Equilibrium. What nonsense! But the belief that the economy reaches equilibrium—that it can be modelled as if it is in equilibrium—is a core delusion of mainstream economics. There was some excuse for looking at the world prior to the crisis and seeing equilibrium—though the more sensible people saw “Bubble”. But after it? How can one look back on that carnage and see equilibrium?

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Poor nations fall first. Nothing has changed.

Fears Of A New Global Crash As Debts And Dollar’s Value Rise (Guardian)

Greek ministers are spending this weekend, almost five grinding years since Athens was first bailed out, wrangling over the details of the spending cuts and economic reforms they have drawn up to appease their creditors. As the recriminations fly between Europe’s capitals, campaigners are warning that the global community has failed to learn the lessons of the Greek debt crisis – or even of Argentina’s default in 2001, the consequences of which are still being contested furiously in courts on both sides of the Atlantic. As Janet Yellen’s Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates, boosting the value of the dollar, while the plunging price of crude puts intense pressure on the finances of oil-exporting countries, there are growing fears of a new debt crisis in the making.

Ann Pettifor of Prime Economics, who foreshadowed the credit crunch in her 2003 book The Coming First World Debt Crisis, says: “We’re going to have another financial crisis. Brazil’s already in great trouble with the strength of the dollar; I dread to think what’s happening in South Africa; then there’s Malaysia. We’re back to where we were, and that for me is really frightening.” Since the aftershocks of the global financial crisis of 2008 died away, the world’s policymakers have spent countless hours rewriting the banking rulebook and rethinking monetary policy. But next to nothing has been done about the question of what to do about countries that can’t repay their debts, or how to stop them getting into trouble in the first place.

Developing countries are using the UN to demand a change in the way sovereign defaults are dealt with. Led by Bolivian ambassador to the UN Sacha Sergio Llorenti, they are calling for a bankruptcy process akin to the Chapter 11 procedure for companies to be applied to governments. Unctad, the UN’s Geneva-based trade and investment arm, has been working for several years to draw up a “roadmap” for sovereign debt resolution. It recommends a series of principles, including a moratorium on repayments while a solution is negotiated; the imposition of currency controls to prevent capital fleeing the troubled country; and continued lending by the IMF to prevent the kind of existential financial threat that roils world markets and causes severe economic hardship.

If a new set of rules could be established, Unctad believes, “they should help prevent financial meltdown in countries facing difficulties servicing their external obligations, which often results in a loss of market confidence, currency collapse and drastic interest rates hikes, inflicting serious damage on public and private balance sheets and leading to large losses in output and employment and a sharp increase in poverty”. It calls for a once-and-for-all write-off, instead of the piecemeal Greek-style approach involving harsh terms and conditions that knock the economy off course and can ultimately make the debt even harder to repay. The threat of a genuine default of this kind could also help to constrain reckless lending by the private sector in the first place.

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“Outflows from equity-based funds in 2015 have reached their highest level since 2009..”

Investors Flee Market At Crisis-Level Pace (CNBC)

Recent market volatility has sent stock market investors rushing for the exits and into cash. Outflows from equity-based funds in 2015 have reached their highest level since 2009, thanks to a seesaw market that has come under pressure from weak economic data, a stronger dollar and the the prospect of monetary tightening. Funds that invest in stocks have seen $44 billion in outflows, or redemptions, year to date, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Equity funds have seen outflows in five of the last six weeks, including $6.1 billion in just the last week. U.S. equities have been particularly hard-hit, with the group surrendering $10.8 billion last week, BofAML reported.

To be sure, the trend could be interpreted as a buy signal. In 2009, the stock market was in the throes of a 60% Great Recession plunge that led to unprecedented levels of stimulus from the Federal Reserve—and the birth of a huge bull market that has pushed stocks up more than 200%. The moves out of equities come as the S&P 500 has been essentially flat for the year, though getting there has seen numerous dips and spikes. The Dow industrials are off about 0.8% in 2015, while the Nasdaq tech barometer has been the strongest of the three major indexes, gaining 2.7%.

Funds focused on cash and investment-grade and government bonds gathered $12 billion in assets last week. Money market funds have just shy of $2.7 trillion in assets despite their promise of basically zero yield, according to the Investment Company Institute. That number has stayed essentially flat over the past year. Bond funds have seen 12 straight weeks of inflows; those focused on higher-quality debt have had 66 straight weeks of inflows. Trends in the $2.1 trillion exchange-traded fund industry help show investors’ mentality.

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China has a plan. The US only has neocons.

China Banks on Sharing Wealth to Shape New Asian Order (WSJ)

President Xi Jinping sketched out China’s vision for a new security and economic order in Asia, offering to spread the benefits of Chinese prosperity and cooperation across the region. In a speech to a regional forum Saturday, Mr. Xi presented China as a partner willing to “jointly build a regional order that is more favorable to Asia and the world.” He highlighted a new China-led infrastructure bank and other initiatives designed to leverage hundreds of billions of dollars to finance railways, ports and other development projects, and foster regional economic integration. Throughout the 30-minute speech, Mr. Xi stressed that China’s vision, while centered on Asia, was open to participation by all countries.

He was careful not to place China at the center of this emerging order, as some regional politicians and security experts have warned could happen. But Mr. Xi said given China’s size, it will naturally play a larger role. “Being a big country means shouldering greater responsibilities for the region, as opposed to seeking greater monopoly over regional and world affairs,” Mr. Xi told the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual China-sponsored conference named for the southern seaside town where it is held. The speech was the latest by Mr. Xi to articulate his government’s plans to use China’s growing power to reshape economic and security arrangements in the region—a change from recent decades when Beijing largely worked within a U.S. and Western-dominated international system.

At the center of these efforts is the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and plans to build infrastructure across Asia and along the maritime routes that historically connected China to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The plans have been welcomed by many countries and companies throughout the region, which the Asian Development Bank estimates is in need of trillions of dollars of infrastructure. Close U.S. allies and other governments have signed on to the infrastructure bank, despite concerns from Washington about the way the bank will be run.

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“..Beijing has a much bigger game plan of scattering the U.S.’ containment strategy.”

China Wants To Compel US To Engage It As An Equal Partner In AIIB (ATimes)

The AIIB Charter is still under discussion. The media report that China is not seeking a veto in the decision-making comes as a pleasant surprise. Equally, China is actively consulting other founding members (who now include U.K., Germany, France, Italy, etc). These would suggest that Beijing has a much bigger game plan of scattering the U.S.’ containment strategy. Clearly, the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal is already looking more absurd if China were to be kept out of it. The point is, AIIB gives financial underpinning for the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, which now the European countries and Russia have embraced, as they expect much business spin-off. China has said that its Silk Road projects are not to be confused as a latter-day Marshal Plan for developing countries, and that, on the contrary, the projects will be run on commercial terms.

Which opens up enormous opportunities for participation by western companies. In geopolitical terms, therefore, China hopes that the ‘win-win’ spirit that permeates the AIIB and ‘Belt and Road’ will render ineffectual the American attempts to hem it in on the world stage and compel Washington to revisit a ‘new type of relations’ with China. As for Bretton Woods, to my mind, China hopes that AIIB will force the pace of IMF reforms (which are stalled at the U.S. Congress for the past 4 years). China’s intention is not to destroy the current financial system but to seek a greater role for it in the decision-making and running of the institutions such as World Bank and IMF. China hopes to force a rethink on the part of the US as regards the IMF (ie, expand and reform the institution, accommodate the renminbi and so on.)

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“I would like to inform you about the decision to participate in the AIIB..”

Russia To Apply For China-Led Infrastructure Bank AIIB (RT)

Russia decided to apply to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said on Saturday. “I would like to inform you about the decision to participate in the AIIB,” which was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Shuvalov said at the Boao Forum for Asia. Shuvalov added that Russia welcomes China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative and is happy about stepping up cooperation. “We are delighted to be able to step up cooperation in the format of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and China…the free movement of goods and capital within the EEU brings economies of Europe and Asia closer. This is intertwined with the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, launched by the Chinese leadership,” he said. Britain and Switzerland have been formally accepted as founding members of the AIIB, China’s Finance Ministry confirmed Saturday.

This comes a day after Brazil accepted an invitation to join the bank. “We should push forward with the creation of a regional hub for financial cooperation,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday, Reuters reported. China should “strengthen pragmatic cooperation in monetary stability, investment, financing, credit rating and other fields,” Xi said. AIIB has 30 founding members with applications still coming in, according to China’s Finance Ministry. Australia has recently applied to join the bank. The application deadline has been set for March 31. Other nations will still be able to join the AIIB after the deadline expires, but only as common members, Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said last week. China wants to see the AIIB operational before the end of 2015.

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The Netherlands is home to a disproportionately large number of international construction companies..”

Netherlands Seeks To Join Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Reuters)

The Netherlands intends to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Saturday, becoming the latest U.S. ally to seek membership in the China-led institution despite Washington’s misgivings. Rutte announced the decision on his official Facebook page during a visit to China and after a meeting with President Xi Jinping. “There is a great shortage of financing for infrastructure in Asia,” Rutte said. “An investment bank such as the AIIB can meet this demand, and the Netherlands has much expertise in this area”. The United States had warned against the new institution, but after Britain announced it would join, European allies France, Germany and Italy quickly followed suit this month.

South Korea has said it will join, while Japan is still deciding. The AIIB has been seen as a challenge to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and a significant setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence in the Asia Pacific region to balance China’s growing financial clout and assertiveness. Rutte said joining is in the Netherlands’ interests as a trading nation, and said he hoped it would ultimately create jobs. The Netherlands is home to a disproportionately large number of international construction companies, including many with a focus on dredging and maritime construction such as Boskalis , VolkerWessels, Ballast Nedam, Van Oord and BAM, among others.

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“We want this bank to be the best possible bank with the best possible structure..”

Australia to Join China-Led Development Bank, Says Finance Minister (WSJ)

Australia intends to join the new Asian infrastructure bank China is setting up, becoming the latest U.S. ally to announce its participation despite Washington’s concerns about the way the bank may operate. Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Saturday that Prime Minister Tony Abbott will make an announcement Sunday about Australia’s application for membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Mr. Cormann, speaking at a conference in China, said the decision comes after “very good” discussions on Friday with Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei. He said Australia had been urging that the bank adopt best practices in lending and operations. “We want this bank to be the best possible bank with the best possible structure,” Mr. Cormann said.

Australia’s decision was expected. China had set a deadline for the end of March for countries to become founding members of the bank. Chinese officials have said that founders’ status that would allow some say over setting rules for the bank, which is expected to start operating by the end of the year with $100 billion in capital. Australia had come under pressure from Washington last year not to join the bank, according to U.S. and Australian officials. Washington has expressed concern that the bank, if not governed properly, would contribute to corruption and indebtedness and supplant institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. But with the March deadline looming, other U.S. allies, from Britain and Germany to South Korea, have in recent weeks gone ahead and announced their intention to join.

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EU countries will never give up independence. So they might as well stop pretending this union thing.

Eurozone Can’t Survive In Current Form, Says PIMCO (Telegraph)

The eurozone is “untenable” in its current form and cannot survive unless countries are prepared to cede sovereignty and become a “United States of Europe”, the manager of the world’s biggest bond fund has warned. The Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) said that while the bloc was likely to stay together in the medium term, with Greece remaining in the eurozone, the single currency could not survive if countries did not move closer together. Persistently weak growth in the eurozone had led to voter unrest and the rise of populist parties such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and Front National in France, said PIMCO managing directors Andrew Bosomworth and Mike Amey. “The lesson from history is that the status quo we have now is not a tenable structure,” said Mr Bosomworth.

“There’s no historical precedent that this sort of structure, which is centralised monetary policy, decentralised fiscal policy, can last over multiple decades.” PIMCO said the rise of populist parties demonstrated how uneasy some people had become about the euro. “[Persistently low growth] manifests itself in a lack of support in the common currency, so then it leads to the rise to power of political parties that want to end it,” said Mr Bosomworth. “That’s what we seen in the last few years. [Populist parties have] risen from zero to be a considerable force. In Greece’s case to form a government. ‘This means we’re in a critical situation, because you cannot just plaster over these people’s concerns, there needs to be a political response as well, which involves addressing the question: what is the ultimate future of the monetary union?”

PIMCO used the example of the Latin and Scandinavian unions in the 19th century, which lasted an average of 50 years before breaking up, to illustrate how monetary unions were incompatible with sovereignty. “You need to reach some sort of political agreement about how to share fiscal resources around the zone. We’re a long, long, long way from designing that and getting the political backing for it,” he said. “So while you’re waiting for that and you’ve got low growth, and high unemployment, you run the risk of letting these anti-euro parties to the forefront.” “Will we get the United States of Europe? It’s not impossible, but Europe could also spend many decades in a hybrid form of a political and fiscal federation. While there might not be one government, one passport and one army, we could be moving closer towards that – but not yet.”

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“No list should go over the will and sovereignty of the people..”

Greek Energy Minister To Visit Moscow, Hits Out At Germany (Reuters)

Greece’s Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis will meet his Russian counterpart and the CEO of energy giant Gazprom in Moscow on Monday, as he hit out at the EU and Germany for tightening a ‘noose’ around the Greek economy. Outspoken Lafazanis, on the left wing of Greece’s co-ruling Syriza party, will meet Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Gazprom Chief Executive Alexei Miller as well as other senior government officials, the energy ministry said on Saturday. But as Athens battles to have a list of reforms accepted by its EU partners in order to secure much-needed funds to stave off bankruptcy, Lafazanis criticized Berlin and said the government must not roll back on its commitments.

“No list should go over the will and sovereignty of the people,” he told Kefalaio newspaper in an interview on Saturday. “The Germanized European Union is literally choking our country and tightening week by week the noose around the economy,” he said. Greece will run out of money by April 20, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday, unless it manages to unlock aid by agreeing on a list of reforms with EU-IMF partners with Lafazanis opposed to several energy privatizations.

The previous center-right government had planned to accelerate the sale of a 65% stake in gas utility DEPA, after an initial attempt to sell to Gazprom in 2013 failed. Within days of Syriza taking power in January, Lafazanis said he would scrap the sale. DEPA has previously negotiated with Gazprom in a bid to get cheaper gas supplies and was one of the first European companies to obtain a rebate in 2011. Lafazanis’ visit will come just over a week before Tsipras is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow although the Greek government has stressed it is not seeking funding from the Kremlin.

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“..we want a solution, but if things don’t go well you have to bear the bad scenario in mind as well. That is the nature of negotiations.”

Greece Submits Reform Proposals To Eurozone Creditors – With A Warning (Guardian)

Greece submitted a long-awaited list of structural reforms to its creditors on Friday as its leftist-led government warned it would stop meeting debt obligations if negotiations failed and aid was not forthcoming. As officials from the EU, the ECB and the IMF prepared to pore over Athens’s latest proposals, the country’s international economic affairs minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, raised the stakes, saying while Greece wanted an agreement it was prepared to go its own way “in the event of a bad scenario”. He told the Guardian: “We are working in the spirit of compromise, we want a solution, but if things don’t go well you have to bear the bad scenario in mind as well. That is the nature of negotiations.” The government, dominated by the anti-austerity Syriza party, had assembled a package of 18 reforms in the hope of unlocking £7.2bn in financial assistance.

The desire was for a positive outcome, Tsakalotos said, but Athens’s new administration was not willing to abandon its anti-austerity philosophy. Two months after assuming office, the government’s priority remained to alleviate the plight of those worst affected by Greece’s catastrophic five-year-long crisis. The British-trained economist said: “Our top priority remains payment of salaries and pensions. If they demand a 30% cut in pensions, for example, they do not want a compromise.” mThe reform-for-cash deal, the latest twist in Greece’s battle to keep bankruptcy at bay, did not – and would not – include any recessionary measures, a government official said, adding it was hoped the proposals would bolster state coffers with €3bn (£2.2bn) in badly needed revenues.

“The actions proposed though the reforms list foresee revenues of €3bn for 2015, which under no circumstances will come from wage or pension cuts,” he said. “The list does not include recessionary measures.” [..] With the country shut out of international capital markets, economists and officials have warned Athens could run out of money by 9 April, when it must pay €450m to the IMF. “The government is not going to continue servicing public debt with its own funds if lenders do not immediately proceed with the disbursement of funds which have been put on hold since 2014,” said government aides. “The country has not taken receipt of an aid instalment from the EU or IMF since August 2014 even though it has habitually fulfilled its obligations.”

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“Lack of market access, uncertain prospects of timely disbursement from official institutions, and tight liquidity conditions in the domestic banking sector..”

Fitch Downgrades Greece Amid Bailout Uncertainty (AP)

Ratings agency Fitch has downgraded Greeces sovereign rating amid growing uncertainty over the new government’s pledge to overhaul reforms needed to restart bailout loan payments and avoid default. The agency late on Friday said it had lowered the country’s rating deeper into non-investment grade status from B to CCC, citing «extreme pressure on Greek government funding.” Rescue lenders are expected this weekend to start reviewing reforms overhauled by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s new left-wing government. The government has promised to ax austerity measures that cut chronic deficits but kept Greece in a punishing recession for six years. “Lack of market access, uncertain prospects of timely disbursement from official institutions, and tight liquidity conditions in the domestic banking sector have put extreme pressure on Greek government funding,” Fitch said.

“We expect that the government will survive the current liquidity squeeze without running arrears on debt obligations, but … the damage to investor, consumer, and depositor confidence has almost certainly derailed Greece’s incipient economic recovery.” Greece has been unable to borrow on international markets since 2010 due to high borrowing rates that reflect a lack of investor confidence in the country. It has relied since then on funds from a €240 billion bailout from other eurozone countries and the IMF. But its creditors are refusing to release the last installments, worth more than €7 billion, unless the government produces an acceptable list by Monday of reforms aiming to restore the country’s tattered economy.

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Tsipras doesn’t care about the old guard.

Opposition Tells Tsipras To Get Control Of His Party (Kathimerini)

Opposition parties called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras over the weekend to get a firmer control on his party, claiming that some sections of SYRIZA are seeking a confrontation with lenders. With talks between technical teams from Greece and the institutions under way in Brussels, Tsipras was due to hold a cabinet meeting on Sunday night to brief his ministers about the content of the government’s proposals and the course of discussions in the Belgian capital. However, opposition parties had earlier expressed concern about Tsipras’s apparent inability to get his party to support a compromise with creditors.

“He does not want to cause a rift because he does not have a mandate from voters for such a move and he knows the consequences would be catastrophic,” PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said in an interview with Agora newspaper. “On the other hand, he does not have the parliamentary majority needed to support a clean and honest turn toward responsibility.” To Potami also voiced its concern about the comments from some government members after Energy Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis claimed in an interview with Kefalaio weekly that the only way for Greece to exit the crisis is through “a tough confrontation, if not a clash with German Europe.” “Mr Tsipras has to advise his ministers not to play with fire just so they are liked by the minority within his party and the drachma lobby,” said the centrist party in a statement.

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Nice negotiating partners.

Troika Expects Greece To Miss Primary Surplus Target This Year (Reuters)

The three institutions or troika representing Greece’s official creditors expect Athens could miss its goal of a primary budget surplus this year, German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Saturday citing a source within the group of lenders. Greece’s former conservative government said last year it would achieve a primary surplus of 3.0% of GDP in 2015, but the magazine quoted the source as saying: “Probably nothing will remain from that.” It added Greece’s financial situation had worsened since January due to a lack of reforms under leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. A spokesman for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble declined to comment on the report, that also estimated Greece’s funding gap had grown to up to €20 billion.

Greece has sent its creditors a long-awaited list of reforms with a pledge to produce a small budget surplus this year in the hope that this will unlock badly needed cash, Greek government officials said on Friday. The list estimates a primary budget surplus of 1.5 pct for 2015, below the 3% target included in the country’s existing EU/IMF bailout, and growth of 1.4%, the official said. The Greek finance ministry recently revised last year’s primary budget surplus to 0.3%, from 1.5% of GDP as estimated by the former conservative government and agreed with the country’s international lenders. The finance ministry said its estimate was based on preliminary data and was partly due to a shortfall of €3.9 billion in state revenue late last year. Greece’s deputy prime minister was quoted as saying by China’s official Xinhua news agency that Greece will sell its majority stake in the port of Piraeus within weeks, a u-turn by the government as it seeks funds from its creditors.

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“If the debt is considered official, it will breach the terms of providing financial assistance..”

Ukraine’s $3 Billion Debt To Russia Puts IMF Package At Risk (RT)

Ukraine’s $3 billion debt to Russia could undermine the IMF’s four-year multibillion dollar bailout program. If the debt is considered official, it will breach the terms of providing financial assistance, said IMF spokesperson William Murray. The Ukraine debt includes $3 billion in Eurobonds lent by Russia to the country’s previous government in December 2013. IMF rules say a bailout cannot be provided to a country if it defaulted on a loan from a state institution. “We have a non-tolerance policy,” William Murray told reporters at a news conference on Thursday, adding that Ukraine’s debt to Russia should be considered state debt. “If I’m not mistaken, the $3 billion Eurobond comes from the Russian sovereign wealth fund, so it’s official debt,” he said.

However, the IMF hasn’t yet clarified its attitude towards the whole matter, Murray said. If Russia rejects the possibility of restructuring Ukraine could face imminent default, placing the IMF in an awkward situation. Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Friday he considers Ukraine’s $3 billion debt official. “Russia is definitely acting as the official creditor in this case,” Siluanov said. Siluanov also said that Russia isn’t ready to restructure the Ukrainian debt, as “it is in a difficult situation itself.” Talking about the possibility of settling Ukraine’s debt to lenders through the Paris club of creditor nations, he said that Russia received no official information about Ukraine talking to the club.

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“After international banks cut off links, withdrawals were capped at €2,500 a week, a limit many people are maxing out.”

Andorra On The Brink Of Europe’s Next Banking Crisis (Telegraph)

Andorra, the tiny Catalan principality nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees between France and Spain, tends to conjure up images of scenic ski resorts, medieval churches and duty-free shopping. The country has for many years enjoyed the benefits of European borders without the restrictions of EU membership, allowing light-touch regulation that has brought in tourism and wealthy expats from its bordering countries. However, in the last three weeks, the state has been gripped by a banking crisis that threatens to take it to the brink. Bankers have been thrown in jail, savers’ deposits have been restricted, and the country’s government is scrambling to convince powerful regulators thousands of miles away that the country is not a haven for tax evasion.

On Tuesday March 10, the US Treasury Department’s financial crime body, FinCEN, accused Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA), the country’s fourth-largest bank, of money-laundering. The authority said “corrupt high–level managers and weak anti–money-laundering controls have made BPA an easy vehicle for third–party money-launderers”. Three senior managers at the bank accepted bribes to help criminals in Russia, Venezuela and China, to funnel money through the Andorran system, according to FinCEN. The next day, the state took charge of BPA, dismissing three directors. On the Friday, the bank’s chief executive, Joan Pau Miquel, was arrested and detained. Mr Miquel remains in a jail cell in La Comella, the country’s only prison, with a capacity of 145.

At BPA, the Andorran authorities have installed new management. After international banks cut off links, withdrawals were capped at €2,500 a week, a limit many people are maxing out. Banco Madrid, the Spanish subsidiary of BPA acquired as part of an expansion spree in recent years, filed for administration on Wednesday. The Andorran government insists that BPA is an isolated case, saying it is committed to transparency and that the rest of the sector is clean. For its sake, it had better be right, but many experts fear this is not the case. The state’s banks have assets under management 17 times bigger than the economy, and the sector accounts for a fifth of GDP – almost all of the rest is from tourism.

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“..he understands Moscow’s foreign policy concerns and sees no reason to fear a possible Russian threat in Eastern Europe..”

Ex-Chancellor Schroeder Criticizes Merkel’s Russia Policy (RT)

German ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has slammed Angela Merkel’s policy towards Russia, saying he understands Moscow’s foreign policy concerns and sees no reason to fear a possible Russian threat in Eastern Europe. Schroeder, the chancellor of Germany from 1998-2005, fully recognized Russia’s concerns, which are linked to the growing isolation of the country. “The Warsaw Pact ceased to exist with the end of the Soviet Union, while NATO not only survived, but also has extensively expanded to the East,” he said in a Saturday interview to Der Spiegel. Schroeder said he knows “no one, not even in Russia, who would be so mad as to just consider placing in question the territorial integrity of Poland or the Baltic states,” he said, seeking to lessen the fears of Russia’s Eastern European neighbors.

The Social Democrat also criticized the attitude of Chancellor Angela Merkel towards Russia. He pointed out that Berlin shouldn’t let the EU Commission “have talks about the EU-association only with Ukraine, and not with Russia,” also stressing that “Ukrainian culture is split itself.” Schroeder has insisted that the attempt of the international isolation of Russia is “wrong,” as responsibility for the Ukraine crisis is “on all parties.” He said that “in this conflict, mistakes have been made by all the sides, and they have led to a spiral of threats, sanctions and the resort to force.” However, he said that Crimea joining Russia last year was a “violation of the international law.” Still, commenting on the expulsion of Russia from the G8 group in 2014, he said that “during a crisis talks are absolutely necessary.”

Read more …

And you thought your country was corrupt.

Brazil Police Arrest Businessmen Linked to Petrobras Scandal (Reuters)

Brazilian police on Friday arrested two businesspeople in connection to corruption probe focused on state-owned oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras). Dario Galvao, chief executive of a construction group, and Guilherme Esteves, a lobbyist who is being investigated for funneling bribe money, were taken to federal police headquarters in the southern city of Curitiba, a court spokesperson said. Federal judge Sergio Moro ordered the arrests after a request by investigators looking into the Petrobas scandal. Investigators said they were led to Galvao by Shinko Nakandakari, an import figure implicated in the scandal who has been cooperating with the investigation.

Judge Moro called Galvao the mastermind of his company’s criminal activity and said he posed a risk of committing more crimes. “There is evidence of crimes for extended periods, starting at least from 2008 to 2014,” Moro wrote in a court decision. Moro said that a search of Esteves’ home “revealed evidence of corruption crimes and money laundering, with the use of secret accounts abroad by Guilherme Esteves de Jesus to make bribe payments… to leaders of Petrobras and (oil rig maker) SeteBrazil.” In a statement, Grupo Galvao said Galvao’s arrest was “without legal grounding” and he had “not committed any crime.” It also said that Galvao Engenharia, its building subsidiary which filed for bankruptcy this week, rejects vehemently any accusations of being part of a corrupt cartel.

Read more …

Mar 272015
 
 March 27, 2015  Posted by at 10:52 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Pedestrians ascending steep grade, San Francisco 1935

Speculation and expert comments are thrown around once more – or still – like candy on Halloween. Let me therefore retrace what I’ve said before. Because I think it’s really awfully simple, once you got the underlying factors in place.

But first, if one thing has become obvious after Syriza was elected to form a Greek government on January 25, it’s that the party is not ‘radical’ or ‘extremist’. Those monikers can now be swept off all editorial desks across the world, and whoever keeps using them risks looking like an awful fool.

All Syriza has done to date, when you look from an objective point of view, is to throw out feelers, trying to figure out what the rest of the eurozone would do. And to make sure that whatever responses it got are well documented.

Because of course Greece (through Syriza) is preparing to leave the eurozone. Of course the effects and consequences of such a step are being discussed, non-stop. They would be fools if they didn’t have these discussions. And of course there will be a referendum at some point.

There’s just that one big caveat: Syriza insists on needing a mandate from its voters for everything it does, whether that may be kowtowing to Greece’s EU overlords or walking away from them. At present, however, it doesn’t have a mandate for either of these actions.

The best it can do is to drag out negotiations as much as it can, and let Europe openly assert its perceived superior power over the Greek population as much as it wants to, complete with more iron-fisted demands for austerity, more budget cuts, more asset sales. Tsipras and his people will let this go on until the Greeks are even more fed up with Brussels than they already were when they elected Syriza in the first place.

It’s a subtle game, but it’s the only one open to Tsipras and his crew. Even if they’ve long concluded that trying to negotiate a deal with Germany et al was a lost cause way before talks started, Syriza has to go through the motions until it is confident the people of Greece are ready to vote in a referendum on eurozone membership.

A risky game, since it could bring back ‘the old guard’ of the handful of families that have governed the country for decades and that were willing co-operators with the Troika, but at the same time it’s the only game in town at the moment.

Tsipras needs to explain to the Greek people that the double mandate of staying inside the eurozone and at the same time ending austerity is in fact an empty mandate, because the eurozone refuses to allow it.

He needs to explain that this means the eurozone refuses to recognize the democratic values of one of its member states, voting to change policy. Brussels is in effect telling the Greek people on a daily basis that they don’t matter. That’s what Tsipras has to make clear, and then he can call the referendum.

It should be obvious that this whole mandate question changes potential actions by Athens to a huge degree. But from what I read every day, it doesn’t seem to be. Even within Tsipras’ own support base, perhaps some don’t understand what is going on. Either that or they’re part of the strategy. Judge for yourself:

Greek Crisis Nears A Turning Point

Stathis Kouvelakis, who teaches political theory at King’s College in London and is a member of Syriza’s central committee, says the party has to face up to the reality of its recent retreat on its election pledges and the nature of the forces arrayed against it. In particular, Kouvelakis notes the successive steps taken by the ECB to restrict the flow of liquidity to the Greek economy, shutting down or limiting Greek access to various types of ECB financing.

“It should be clear, however, that these moves would bring about a dynamic that would breach fundamental constraints of the monetary union and would inevitably lead to the exit from it,” Kouvelakis wrote in his latest post at Jacobin. “In any case, the ECB’s relentless blackmail with its provision of liquidity places onto the agenda every day the issue of regaining sovereignty over monetary policy.” It was the stranglehold that prompted Tsipras in a recent interview with Der Spiegel to refer to the ECB “still holding onto the rope that is around our necks.”

But Kouvelakis argues that covering over the issues by renaming the troika “the institutions” or by using weasel words like “creative ambiguity” is not going to solve the problem. The initial euphoria over Syriza’s victory has quickly faded, but it can be revived, he says, if the party faces reality. “In order for this to happen, however, the horns of battle have to blow again, and the ensuing struggle has to be waged with all due seriousness and determination, not with PR stunts and rhetorical contortions.”

He cited the widely quoted words from Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis earlier this month before the Greek Parliament, when he said “the country is at war, a social and a class war with the lenders” and that in this war “we will not go like cheerful scouts willing to continue the policies of the memorandum.” This is the kind of talk the world needs to hear from Greek officials, Kouvelakis says, “not the language of facile optimism that creates illusions and causes confusion that tomorrow may prove costly.”

Kouvelakis reasons from a standpoint that is not covered by Syriza’s present mandate. He at least should know this. Tsipras cannot afford to be seen by the Greek population as the man who hasn’t done all he could to keep the country in the eurozone while negotiating an end to austerity. It makes no difference at this point what his personal ideas are on the issue.

Kouvelakis does choose to let his personal opinions prevail. If Tsipras would do the same, a referendum would be much riskier for Syriza. The party was elected to represent its austerity-weary voters, not the subjective opinions of its leaders.

If Tsipras and Varoufakis should elect to give in to Brussels and Berlin, that decision would still need to be put before the people to vote on, because it would mean a prolongation of austerity. And that is not the mandate.

By the same token, if the leadership decides an exit is the only option, and that further negotiations are hopeless because Europe won’t accept anything else than strapping the proud Greek people in a straitjacket, that too will have to be put before a vote.

Of course Syriza, like any other government, keeps track of opinion polls, but they know there will come a moment when a referendum can no longer be postponed no matter what the polls say. In that, Greece is living up to its glorious past as the cradle of democracy.

And that makes it all the more cruel that the country has been ruled for such a long time by anything but a democratic system. Maybe we can say the circle is round. But the connection that closes the circle is still very fragile, and nobody knows that better than Alexis Tsipras.

Still, make no mistake: of course they’re preparing to leave.

As someone long prepared for the occasion;
In full command of every plan you wrecked –
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
that hides behind the cause and the effect.

And you who were bewildered by a meaning;
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed –
Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.

Say goodbye to Alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to Alexandra lost.

Leonard Cohen – Alexandra Leaving

Mar 202015
 
 March 20, 2015  Posted by at 8:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Provision store. Caracas, Venezuela 1905

Once again, a look at Greece and the Troika, because it amuses me, it angers me, and also because it warms my cockles, in an entirely metaphorical sort of way. The Troika members love to make it appear (and everyone swallows it whole) as if in their ‘negotiations’ with Greece all sorts of things are cast in stone and have no flexibility at all. Humbug.

First, another great piece by Rob Parenteau (via Yves Smith), who lays it out in terms so simple they can’t but hit the issue square on the nose. For Europe and the Troika, there’s Greece, and then there’s the rest. No money for the Greeks lining up at soupkitchens (not even for the soupkitchens themselves), but $60 billion a month for the bond market. The $200 million anti-poverty law – a measly sum in comparison – that Athens voted in this week is a no-no because Greek government has to ask permission for everything in Brussels first, says Brussels, no matter that that only prolongs the suffering. It’s not about money, in other words, it’s about power, and the Greeks must be subdued.

Both the financial and the political press have by now perfected their picture of Yanis Varoufakis as a combination of some kind of incompetent blunderer on the one hand, and a threat the size of Vladimir Putin on the other, while the rudeness of German FinMin Schäuble is not discussed at all. The media are no longer capable of reporting anything outside of their propaganda models. The ‘middle finger’ video turns out to be a fake, but who cares, it’s done its damage. Parenteau:

Goebbelnomics – Austerian Duplicity and the Dispensing of Greece

So let’s get this straight. The Troika does not have enough money to roll over Greek debt (in a Ponzi scheme like fashion, mind you) – debt that was incurred not so much as a bailout of Greece, but more as a bailout of German and other core nation banks and insurance companies and private investors who made stupid loans to or investments in Greece, but refused to fob them off on their own taxpayers.

But the Troika does have enough money to adequately perform damage control for the eurozone if Greece, because, you know, Greece is a “dispensable” eurozone member – even though ECB lawyers themselves say there is no legal mechanism for disposing of eurozone members in any such fashion.

No money in Greece for humanitarian aid in a country that may be on its way to becoming a failed nation state. No money outside Greece to roll over existing debt, or when necessary to extend and pretend, add more debt on existing debt to service the old debt, Charles Ponzi style. But somehow there is still “sufficient” money to ring fence Greece from the rest of the eurozone once Greece figures out it is dispensable and so must exit.

But that is not even the whole deception. It turns out the ECB does happen to have enough money to buy €60 billion per month of bonds from now until at least September 2016. Which means the same bondholders who are benefitting from the misnamed “bailout” funds used to keep the core nation financial institutions from collapsing under the weight of failed loans, can now count on a monthly government handout, courtesy of the ECB.

Some are more equal than others, in other words. That is true also of Ukraine, which gets to issue bonds guaranteed by the American taxpayer. If Greece could do that, they‘d have a way out of the dark pit austerity has thrown it in. And Greece isn’t even killing its own people…. But then Kiev doesn’t need to be subdued, it’s already being ruled exclusively by US stooges.

To come back to Schäuble lack of basic civil manners for a moment, it’s of course not true that Germany has an ironclad case against the Greek demands for WWII reparations. If it did, none of the rudeness would be necessary. And aside from that, even if the case was indeed closed, Germany would still need to be open and respectful and way more civilized than it is at present. WWII is a very black chapter in world history, and it’s not some very remote event. Even if post-WWII German schoolchildren never learned anything about what their parents and grandparents had done.

Maybe there’s a task here for the world Jewish community. Schäuble’s attitude smacks of denial, much more than respect for victims and their surviving family members. And besides, there were a lot of Greek Jews who became victim of German atrocities.

But to focus for now on the purely legal side of the matter, there’s at the very least a large grey area:

Legal Experts: Greece Has Grounds for WWII Reparations

A growing number of legal experts are supporting Greece’s demands over the German war reparations from the country’s brutal Nazi occupation during World War II. Despite the official German refusal to address the issue, legal experts say now Athens has ground for the case. The hot issue is expected to be brought up by Greece’s newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during his official visit to Berlin on Monday, where he is scheduled to hold a meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. [..]

The Greek leftist-led coalition government has repeatedly raised the issue causing Germany’s firm reaction as expressed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who recently warned Athens to forget the war reparations, underlining that the issue has been settled decades ago. Central to Germany’s argument is that 115 million deutschmarks have been paid to Greece in the 1960s, while similar deals were made with other European countries that suffered a Nazi occupation.

At the same time, though, lawyers from Germany and other countries have said the issue is not wrapped up, as Germany never agreed a universal deal to clear up reparations after its unconditional surrender. The German answer on that is that in 1990, before its reunification, the “Two plus Four Treaty” agreement was signed with the United Kingdom, the United States, the former Soviet Union and France, which renounced all future claims. According to Berlin, this agreement settles the issue for other states too.

“The German government’s argument is thin and contestable. It is not permissible to agree to a treaty at the expense of a third party, in this case Greece,” international law specialist Andreas Fischer-Lescano said, as cited by Reuters. Mr. Lescano’s opinion finds several other experts in agreement. One of them, the Greek lawyer Anestis Nessou, who works in Germany highlighted that “there is a lot of room for interpretation. Greece was not asked, so the claims have not gone away.”

Merkel had better start taking the matter very serious, and in a very respectful way to boot. Because no matter how well oiled the publicity spin machine is, Schäuble’s attitude, mirrored by many of his countrymen, will awaken in countries all across Europe the realization that they don’t want this from Germany, they won’t be ruled by Berlin, and they won’t stand for more German uncivilized behavior either. The memories are far too fresh for that.

As I said the other day, Merkel had better take the reins in all this, because she risks blowing up the entire European Union if she lets things slip further. Let Greece go, if only by trying to force it into some sort of debt servitude which the Greek people deem unacceptable on moral grounds, and the EU project will start shaking on its already feeble foundations.

There’s only one thing that can save the Union now: for Merkel to show compassion, with the Greeks, and with all other weaker members. And to stop the anti-Greek propaganda, immediately. Or else. It’s nonsense to pretend that this is merely a business issue, as is made clear by Parenteau above: there is very clearly plenty space to negotiate solutions with Greece that preserve everyone’s dignity. Refuse that, and you can kiss the EU goodbye. There’s alot more that plays into this than mere money issues. Ignore that, and you might as well dismantle the Union right now.

And there are indeed other approaches too. Like that of the German couple, whose story I picked up some 24 hours ago on RT, and which has since appeared on a whole scale of media:

German Couple Pays €875 To Greece For Their Share Of WWII Reparations

A German couple visiting Greece have handed over a check for €875 to the mayor of the seaport town of Nafplio, saying they wanted to make amends for their government’s attitude for refusing to pay Second World War reparations. Nina Lahge, who works a 30-hour week, and Ludwig Zacaro, who is retired, made the symbolic gesture and explained that the amount of €875 would be the amount one person would owe if Germany’s entire war debt was divided by the population of 80 million Germans.

“If we, the 80 million Germans, would have to pay the debts of our country to Greece, everyone would owe €875 euros. In [a] display of solidarity and as a symbolic move we wanted to return this money, the €875 euros, to the Greek population,” they said.

They apologized for not being able to afford to pay for both of them. “We are ashamed of the arrogance, which our country and many of our fellow citizens show towards Greece,” they told local media in Nafplio, southern Greece. The Greek people are not responsible for the fiasco of their previous governments, they believe.

“Germany is the one owing to your country the World War II reparation money, part of which is also the forced loan of 1942,” they added. The couple was referring to a loan which the Nazis forced the Greek central bank to give the Third Reich during the WWII thus ruining the occupied country’s economy. The mayor of Nafplio, Dimitris Kotsouros, said the money had been donated to a local charity.

And a perhaps even better story comes, almost entirely under the radar, through Kathimerini. Turns out, where Brussels and Berlin spend their time blaming Tsipras and Varoufakis for everything that happens, Norway, not an EU or eurozone member, steps in to alleviate the worst of the suffering:

Athens Mayor Unveils Scheme To Support Poor With Help From Norway

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis, Norwegian Ambassador Sjur Larsen and the president of nongovernmental organization Solidarity Now, Stelios Zavvos, on Wednesday inaugurated a new program to provide support to the Greek capital’s poor. The Solidarity & Social Reintegration scheme comprises a food program benefiting 3,600 households, as well as a space provided by City Hall and managed by Solidarity Now where the organization will provide social, medical and legal aid, among other services.

“The aim is the immediate relief of those in need by providing food, medical care, social services, legal support, help finding employment, and support for single-parent families, children and other vulnerable groups,” said Larsen, whose country has donated 95.8% of the €4.3 million needed to fund the program. The other donors are Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Note: Brussels and the IMF have refused to do what Norway does. They have also refused to let the elected Greek government take care of its own people, without first asking permission to do so. It’s an insane situation, if you ask me. And I don’t see why the Greeks would stand for it any longer. If they vote to leave the eurozone, and perhaps the EU, they will have a hard time for a while, for sure, and it will be made much harder by the Troika, simply out of spite.

But they would face an at least equally hard time if they choose to stay inside the shackles Brussels and Berlin want to lock them in. The EU is supposed to be made up of independent nations. And while it’s certainly true that that is perhaps its fatal flaw, trying to take away that status from the Greeks will drive them away, and warn other countries as well that they could be next in line for the same shackles.

We’re looking at economic warfare here, and there can be no doubt that it will end with only losers on all sides. Unless Merkel wakes up and smells the roses.

Mar 112015
 
 March 11, 2015  Posted by at 6:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Grace Church, New York 1905

The Blistering Pace Of Dollar’s Rally Is Rattling Markets (MarketWatch)
EM Currency Turmoil As US Rate-Hike Jitters Bite (CNBC)
Here’s Why Draghi’s Inflation Bomb Could Prove to Be a Dud (Bloomberg)
Stronger Dollar Sends U.S. Stocks to Biggest Drop in Two Months (Bloomberg)
Get Ready For A Much Bigger Oil Shock (CNBC)
Thomas Piketty on the Eurozone: ‘We Have Created a Monster’ (Spiegel)
Why Understanding Money Matters in Greece (Rob Parenteau)
Varoufakis Unsettles Germans With Admissions In Documentary (Reuters)
Tsipras Says Will Pursue German War Reparations (Kathimerini)
Greece Got a ‘Deal’ in February, But Things Still Haven’t Calmed Down (Bloomberg)
Eurozone Central Bank Buying Crushes Yield Curves (Bloomberg)
Why Does America Continue To Subsidize Housing For The Wealthy? (Guardian)
China’s Solution to $3 Trillion Debt Is to Deal with It Later (Bloomberg)
Yellen Meets Senate Bank Chief With Fed Transparency in Focus (Bloomberg)
Chaos: Practice and Applications (Dmitry Orlov)
‘We’ll Buy Reverse Gas Supplies At $245’- Ukraine’s President (RT)
US Applies Pressure to States Opposing Anti-Russian Sanctions: Nuland (Sputnik)
It’s NATO That’s Empire-Building, Not Putin (Peter Hitchens)

The Blistering Pace Of Dollar’s Rally Is Rattling Markets (MarketWatch)

It’s probably not the dollar’s unrelenting march higher that is unsettling U.S. stock investors, but it might be the speed of the rally. “I think what people are concerned about is the pace of the dollar strength,” Douglas Borthwick at Chapdelaine said. “Countries can always adapt to currencies strengthening or weakening, but certainly as the dollar strengthens very, very quickly it leaves very little chance for others to adapt,” he said. On a trade-weighted basis, the dollar remains far from its highs in the mid-1980s and early 2000s, but the pace of the rise over the past half year is the second fastest in the last 40 years, noted David Woo at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The ICE dollar index, a measure of the U.S. unit against a basket of six major rivals, is up 9% since the end of last year alone to trade at its highest level since late 2003. U.S. stocks dipped significantly, leaving the S&P 500 down 0.9% and within a whisker of erasing its 2015 gain after clawing back some of its earlier decline. The long-term correlation between the direction of the dollar and the S&P 500 is near zero, analysts note. But there have been periods when the dollar and stocks marched either in lock step or in opposite directions for significant periods. In the end, it all seems to come down to context. If the dollar rises because investors are confident about the future of the economy, then stocks can rise, too, as was the case in the late 1990s.

Read more …

“..currencies where countries have higher deficits or fiscal issues are under increased selling pressure..”

EM Currency Turmoil As US Rate-Hike Jitters Bite (CNBC)

Emerging market currencies were hit hard on Tuesday, while the euro fell to a 12-year low versus the U.S. dollar, on rising expectations for a U.S. interest rate rise this year. The South African rand fell as much as 1.5% to a 13-year low at around 12.2700 per dollar, while the Turkish lira traded within sight of last Friday’s record low. The Brazilian real fell over one% to its lowest level in over a decade. It was last trading at about 3.1547 to the dollar. Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency fell as low as $1.0731, its lowest level in 12 years, fueling talk of a move closer to parity against the greenback. A perception that a U.S. rate hike could come sooner rather than later has been building since the release of Friday’s stronger-than-expected U.S. non-farm payrolls report.

Analysts said that concerns about fiscal issues were compounding weakness in some currencies. In the case of the euro, the massive quantitative easing (QE) program just unleashed by the ECB weighed. “It’s a case of broad-based dollar strength amid increased expectations of a U.S. rate hike this year,” Lee Hardman at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi told CNBC. “So currencies where countries have higher deficits or fiscal issues are under increased selling pressure, such as the South Africa rand, the Turkish lira and the Brazilian real. The euro is weakening on its own accord because of QE.”

Read more …

“..the higher the dollar goes the more likely investors will flee developing nations..”

Here’s Why Draghi’s Inflation Bomb Could Prove to Be a Dud (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi’s inflation bomb could prove to be a dud. That’s because the weakness in the euro resulting from the European Central Bank’s €1.1 trillion quantitative-easing program risks being more than offset globally by the deflationary impact of a stronger dollar. Making that case as the euro trades around its lowest in 11 years against the greenback is David Woo, head of global rates and currencies at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. He’s telling clients that pressure from a rising dollar threatens to rattle emerging markets, undermine U.S. stocks and curb commodities prices. Here’s how:

First, the higher the dollar goes the more likely investors will flee developing nations; that will make their borrowings in the U.S. currency more expensive, damaging their already-shaky outlook for growth. As Woo notes, the Turkish lira and Mexican peso have both reached or traded near all-time lows against the dollar in the past few days and Brazil’s real is at its weakest since 2004. China, which manages the value of its yuan against a basket of other currencies, may be forced to devalue to keep its products cheap in the international marketplace.

Next, because commodities are priced in dollars, the higher the greenback goes the more downward pressure will be applied to oil prices. Bank of America already says the likelihood is greater that crude falls rather than rises. Finally, Woo estimates the dollar’s rise is starting to undermine profits at home. U.S. companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index get 40% of their earnings from overseas and the index has fallen in 19 out of 27 trading days this year in which the greenback gained. “The obvious implication is that investors are becoming concerned about the ability of the U.S. economy to cope with the strengthening dollar,” Woo said in a report to clients Monday. “The decline of euro/dollar below 1.10 may be less benign than it may appear at first.”

Read more …

Pretty big losses.

Stronger Dollar Sends U.S. Stocks to Biggest Drop in Two Months (Bloomberg)

U.S. stocks fell the most in two months as the dollar strengthened to near a 12-year high versus the euro amid speculation the Federal Reserve is moving closer to raising interest rates. Intel and Cisco lost at least 2.4% as technology companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index led declines. United Technologies Corp., Goldman Sachs and Home Depot dropped more than 1.8% to pace losses among the biggest companies. The S&P 500 retreated 1.7% to 2,044.16 at the close in New York, falling below its average price for the past 50 days for the first time since Feb. 9. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 332.78 points, or 1.9%, to 17,662.94. Both indexes erased gains for the year. The Nasdaq 100 Index fell 1.9%. About 7.1 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 2.8% above the three-month average.

“A continuation of dollar strength and euro destruction is certainly raising some concerns,” Michael James at Wedbush Securities said in a phone interview. “I don’t think there was any one specific event or item that caused this, but the fact that it’s a trend that’s been going on for the last several weeks is concerning given the levels we’re at now.” Concern the Fed may start raising interest rates this year amid a strengthening economy has weighed on equities and helped boost the dollar. In his last speech as president of the Fed Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher said the central bank should begin to gradually raise rates before the economy reaches full employment to avoid triggering a recession.

Read more …

“..the Iran production growth story is just one but it makes factors such as Libya’s piddly production oscillation and rig count obsessions in the US pale into insignificance.”

Get Ready For A Much Bigger Oil Shock (CNBC)

So what’s the biggest trade in the markets right now? Could it be the one way bet on European fixed income with Draghi’s massive bond-buying program set to obliterate anyone who challenges ludicrously low bond yields? Or the tech bull position with the Nasdaq around year-2000 highs? For now let’s ignore the collapse in euro zone yield and the nose-bleeding valuations in tech and concentrate on my favourite trade – the brutal battle being fought in the oil market. Last week, InterContinental Exchange revealed that the hedge-betters and speculators were piling into the oil trade in levels not seen since the middle of last year. You remember the middle of last year, that was when crude was still at $110 per barrel, pretty much double where it is now. So are we setting ourselves up for another massive bout of volatility after a few weeks of relatively calm price action?

The longs are out in force, according to the data but are they too early in calling an end to the oil price rout? Brent may have had a fantastic rally in February, having plummeted to the low $40s region after last year’s rout. But was that a dead cat bounce ignoring the still dreadful near term fundamentals? Despite a lot of excitement about the falling rig count and the huge number of job expenditure cuts across exploration and production, there is still over-production not only in the US but also across the world. In fact, if you believe the bears, then the US will shortly run out of storage space above ground. The guys who’ve been in the industry and have seen cycle after cycle like this keep telling me that the cure for lower prices is lower prices. But when will we see supply and demand responses to $50-60 oil?

Well, many of the global wells just can’t afford to stop just yet, whether it is because of the need for Middle Eastern petro-dollars of the demanding Texan bank manager who still expects the oil well-related loan to be serviced. Surely the key factors in where we go next have still to come to the fore this year and we are still at the appetiser stage. For many, June will be the main event. That month is when the next scheduled OPEC meeting is due to take place and it is possibly the most likely time we will see a supply response from the group representing around a third of global production. The end of June just also happens to be the deadline for the Iran nuclear deal. If – and it’s a big “if” – Iran gets a framework agreement by the end of this month, the country will be desperate to ramp up production of oil as quickly as possible. And, believe me, it may take them months if not years but they really want to ramp it up.

Iran doesn’t just want to up its levels from the current 2.8 million barrels a day. It wants to first get to the 4 million barrels it was producing back in 2008 and then it wants to keep going on and on and on. That will set up Iran for a huge row with Saudi over OPEC production levels. Yes, the Iran production growth story is just one but it makes factors such as Libya’s piddly production oscillation and rig count obsessions in the US pale into insignificance. So for me the phoney war going on in the oil market at the moment may just result in a stalemate until the middle of the year. That is when we may get the real battle. The one that may just justify at least one side of the extreme calls from $20 to back up to $90 per barrel.

Read more …

A morally bankrupt monster.

Thomas Piketty on the Eurozone: ‘We Have Created a Monster’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: You publicly rejoiced over Alexis Tsipras’ election victory in Greece. What do you think the chances are that the European Union and Athens will agree on a path to resolve the crisis?
Piketty: The way Europe behaved in the crisis was nothing short of disastrous. Five years ago, the United States and Europe had approximately the same unemployment rate and level of public debt. But now, five years later, it’s a different story: Unemployment has exploded here in Europe, while it has declined in the United States. Our economic output remains below the 2007 level. It has declined by up to 10% in Spain and Italy, and by 25% in Greece.

SPIEGEL: The new leftist government in Athens hasn’t exactly gotten off to an impressive start. Do you seriously believe that Prime Minister Tsipras can revive the Greek economy?
Piketty: Greece alone won’t be able to do anything. It has to come from France, Germany and Brussels. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) already admitted three years ago thatthe austerity policies had been taken too far. The fact that the affected countries were forced to reduce their deficit in much too short a time had a terrible impact on growth. We Europeans, poorly organized as we are, have used our impenetrable political instruments to turn the financial crisis, which began in the United States, into a debt crisis. This has tragically turned into a crisis of confidence across Europe.

SPIEGEL: European governments have tried to avert the crisis by implementing numerous reforms. What do mean when you refer to impenetrable political instruments?
Piketty: We may have a common currency for 19 countries, but each of these countries has a different tax system, and fiscal policy was never harmonized in Europe. It can’t work. In creating the euro zone, we have created a monster. Before there was a common currency, the countries could simply devalue their currencies to become more competitive. As a member of the euro zone, Greece was barred from using this established and effective concept.

SPIEGEL: You’re sounding a little like Alexis Tsipras, who argues that because others are at fault, Greece doesn’t have to pay back its own debts.
Piketty: I am neither a member of Syriza nor do I support the party. I am merely trying to analyze the situation in which we find ourselves. And it has become clear that countries cannot reduce their deficits unless the economy grows. It simply doesn’t work. We mustn’t forget that neither Germany nor France, which were both deeply in debt in 1945, ever fully repaid those debts. Yet precisely these two countries are now telling the Southern Europeans that they have to repay their debts down to the euro. It’s historic amnesia! But with dire consequences.

SPIEGEL: So others should now pay for the decades of mismanagement by governments in Athens?
Piketty: It’s time for us to think about the young generation of Europeans. For many of them, it is extremely difficult to find work at all. Should we tell them: “Sorry, but your parents and grandparents are the reason you can’t find a job?” Do we really want a European model of cross-generational collective punishment? It is this egotism motivated by nationalism that disconcerts me more than anything else today.

SPIEGEL: It doesn’t sound as if you are a fan of the Stability Pact, the agreement implemented to force euro-zone countries to improve fiscal discipline.
Piketty: The pact is a true catastrophe. Setting fixed deficit rules for the future cannot work. You can’t solve debt problems with automatic rules that are always applied in the same way, regardless of differences in economic conditions.

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Great read. h/t Yves.

Why Understanding Money Matters in Greece (Rob Parenteau)

As Greece staggers under the weight of a depression exceeding that of the 1930s in the US, it appears difficult to see a way forward from what is becoming increasingly a Ponzi financed, extend and pretend, “bailout” scheme. In fact, there are much more creative and effective ways to solve some of the macrofinancial dilemmas that Greece is facing, and without Greece having to exit the euro. But these solutions challenge many existing economic paradigms, including the concept of “money” itself. At the Levy Economics Institute conference held in Athens in November 2013, I proposed tax anticipation notes, or “TANs”, as a way for Greece to exit austerity without having to exit the euro.

This proposal is based on a deeper understanding of what money actually is, and the many roles that it plays in the economies we inhabit. In this regard, Abba Lerner captured the essence of modern fiat currencies, which are created out of thin air by modern states with sovereign currency arrangements. Lerner’s essential insight is contained in the following passage from over half a century ago (and, you will note, Lerner’s view informs much of the neo-chartalist view espoused by advocates of what is called Modern Monetary Theory):

The modern state can make anything it chooses generally acceptable as money…It is true that a simple declaration that such and such is money will not do, even if backed by the most convincing constitutional evidence of the state’s absolute sovereignty. But if the state is willing to accept the proposed money in payment of taxes and other obligations to itself the trick is done.

The modern state, then, imposes and enforces a tax liability on its citizens, and chooses that which is necessary to pay taxes. That means a state with a sovereign currency is never revenue constrained. In fact, the government has to first create the money before the private sector can find a way to get the money it requires to pay taxes and by government bonds. Taxes and bonds are therefore not really the source of government funding or finance. Wait, what? The government itself ultimately is the source of money required to pay for government expenditures. Taxes simply give value to money, as households and nonbank firms cannot create money – that is counterfeiting. Instead, they have to sell an asset or a product or a service to the government to get money, or they need to be beneficiaries of government corporate subsidy or household transfer programs to get money.

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Weird coincidence?

Varoufakis Unsettles Germans With Admissions In Documentary (Reuters)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has described his country as the most bankrupt in the world and said European leaders knew all along that Athens would never repay its debts, in blunt comments that sparked a backlash in the German media on Tuesday. A documentary about the Greek debt crisis on German public broadcaster ARD was aired on the same day euro zone finance ministers met in Brussels to discuss whether to provide Athens with further funding in exchange for delivering reforms. “Clever people in Brussels, in Frankfurt and in Berlin knew back in May 2010 that Greece would never pay back its debts. But they acted as if Greece wasn’t bankrupt, as if it just didn’t have enough liquid funds,” Varoufakis told the documentary.

“In this position, to give the most bankrupt of any state the biggest credit in history, like third class corrupt bankers, was a crime against humanity,” said Varoufakis, according to a German translation of his comments. It was unclear when the program was recorded. Although strident criticism of the way Greece has been treated is typical for Varoufakis, a Marxist economist, the remarks caused a stir in Germany where voters and politicians are increasingly reluctant to lend Greece money. Bild daily splashed the comments on the front page and ran an editorial comment urging European leaders to stop providing Greece with ever more financial support. “The Greek government is behaving as if everyone must dance to its tune. But there must be an end to this madness. Europe must not be made to look stupid,” wrote a commentator.

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Syriza is not taking the attempts at humiliations lying down.

Tsipras Says Will Pursue German War Reparations (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Tuesday expressed his government’s firm intention to seek war reparations from Germany, noting that Athens would show sensitivity that it hoped to see reciprocated from Berlin. In a speech in Parliament, launching a debate on the creation of a committee to seek war reparations, the repayment of a forced loan and the return of antiquities, Tsipras told MPs that the matter of war reparations was “very technical and sensitive” but one he has a duty to pursue. He also seemed to indirectly connect the matter to talks between Greece and its international creditors on the country’s loan program. “The Greek government will strive to honor its commitments to the full,” he said.

“But it will also strive to ensure all unfulfilled obligations toward Greece and the Greek people are fulfilled,” he added. “You cannot pick and choose on ethical issues.” Tsipras noted that Germany got support “despite the crimes of the Third Reich” chiefly thanks to the London Debt Agreement of 1953. Since reunification, German governments have used “silence, legal tricks and delays” to avoid solving the problem, he said. “We are not giving morality lessons but we will not accept morality lessons either,” Tsipras said. In comments to Parliament later PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said it was important not to link the issue of reparations with Greece’s talks with creditors.

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Given the above, what’s that deal worth?

Greece Got a ‘Deal’ in February, But Things Still Haven’t Calmed Down (Bloomberg)

On February 20th, the Eurogroup came to an agreement with Greece on a way forward that would allow Greece access to further bailout funding. The agreement covered the way forward for Greece and consisted of three main elements.
• Greece would come up with a set of budgetary measures that would allow a successful review by the institutions.
• Greece would then implement these measures.
• The institutions would disburse funding to Greece as successful implementation progressed.

With this deal in place, it briefly seemed like things would quiet down for Greece, for a few months at least. Unfortunately, a sticking point has already emerged, which was highlighted at yesterday’s Eurogroup meeting. That sticking point is due to the very slow progress on meeting any of the elements of the February deal. The institutions are now going to take a larger role in formulating the measures Greece must undertake. The first meeting between Greece and the institutions is due to take place in Brussels tomorrow. If these meetings can produce measures that are acceptable to both sides, that will be a first step. But for Greece to access further funding it will have to also take the second step and start to implement those agreed measures. With time running out, there should be willingness on both sides to expedite this quickly. Recent events have shown, however, that each step forward in the process only happens at the last possible moment.

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Let’s all get sunk in a bottomless pit.

Eurozone Central Bank Buying Crushes Yield Curves (Bloomberg)

Euro-area government bonds with longer maturities surged as the region’s central banks bought sovereign debt for a second day, pushing yields closer to those on shorter-dated notes. That’s flattening so-called the yield curves of debt from Germany to Italy. Euro-system central banks were said to have purchased securities, including German five-year notes with a negative yield, under the ECB’s expanded quantitative-easing plan, according to three people with knowledge of the transactions. Belgian and Italian securities were also acquired, one of the people said. As the ECB and national members embark on purchases of sovereign debt designed to boost price growth in the region, rates on short-term securities are below zero in seven euro-area nations, meaning a buyer now would get less back than they paid if they held them to maturity.

That’s boosting demand for longer-dated bonds, particularly as the ECB’s rules preclude purchases of debt yielding below its deposit rate of minus 0.2%. German 30-year yields dropped the most in more than two months and touched an all-time low. “Nobody wants to fight the flow,” said Felix Herrmann, an analyst at DZ Bank in Frankfurt. “We have many investors who are desperately looking for yield. They are simply scaling into those bonds that yield some interesting pick up.” The yield premium investors demand to hold Germany’s 30-year bunds instead of two-year notes shrank to 100 basis points, or 1%age point, at 3:59 p.m. London time, the least since October 2008. The spread is down from 234 basis points a year ago. A yield curve is a chart of rates on bonds of varying maturities.

The Bundesbank may struggle to meet its buying quotas given the amount of German debt yielding less than the ECB deposit rate, SocGen analysts wrote in a client note. Germany’s seven-year yield dropped below zero for the first time since Feb. 27. “Without good purchases in the short-dated bonds, where outstandings are big, it is difficult to see how the Bundesbank is going to get its share of the program done,” the analysts wrote. Germany’s three-year note yields reached minus 0.24% Tuesday, while the four-year rate touched minus 0.197%, less than one basis point from the ECB’s deposit rate.

Longer-dated bonds are also being favored after policy makers last week failed to agree on how to share losses from buying bonds with negative yields. 78 of the 346 securities in the Bloomberg Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index already have rates below zero. “For me, as a fund manager, it doesn’t make sense to hold any bonds with a negative yield, so I’m happy to sell,” Christoph Kind, head of asset allocation at Frankfurt Trust, which manages about $20 billion, said Monday. “We are selling to the brokers, not directly to the ECB, but maybe in the end this will be bought by the ECB.”

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Because that’s the only way to keep the housing industry alive.

Why Does America Continue To Subsidize Housing For The Wealthy? (Guardian)

Many people in the US have given up on the American dream of owning a house: US homeownership rates have now dropped to the lowest point in almost 20 years. But the government shouldn’t be focusing on trying to raise that rate – for now, their priorities should lie with increasing affordable housing. For too long, well-off, high-income homeowners have benefited from generous government support. All the while, ordinary Americans are struggling to pay the rising rent. It is time to stop prioritizing home sales – increasingly out of reach for many Americans – and help everyday people attain a much more basic, and pressing need: affordable housing. Since the Great Depression, US housing policies have aimed almost exclusively at encouraging Americans to become homeowners.

Housing policies favor and heavily subsidize homeownership because it is said to help create strong communities and build family wealth. But it would be a mistake to continue with this approach now. Homeowners receive tax benefits for their housing expenses, mostly because of the enormously expensive mortgage interest deductions, which disproportionately benefits higher-income taxpayers. But no such support is offered to lower-income renters. The government should consider introducing housing tax credits or other tax benefits that would help those who are struggling to pay the rent. The federal government should also consider providing tax subsidies for land trusts or shared equity plans that help renters become homeowners but share the home’s appreciation with a third-party.

The old have policies have failed; we need to try a new approach. Though housing policies succeeded in encouraging renters to buy homes until the 1990s, homeownership has now become unaffordable for lower- and middle-income Americans largely because they do not have savings, and they have unstable and stagnated income – which has changed little (adjusted for inflation) since 1995. Because housing sales have been sluggish since the 2007-2009 recession, the US government has repeatedly tried to get people to buy houses, and keep existing homeowners in their houses. Yet programs like Hope for Homeowners program, the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Home Affordable Refinance Program all failed to achieve their goals of preventing owners from losing their homes, largely because of design flaws.

The homeownership problem is particularly acute in young adults, who entered the labor market at the time of the recession. Overall unemployment rates in 2007 were only 4.6%, but then soared to 9.3% by 2009. The jobs that have been created since the recession ended have mostly come from the low-wage retail, service and food/beverage sectors, making it harder even for young adults who have jobs to save money for a down payment – or even to pay rent. Student debt, which has skyrocketed, isn’t helping: average student loan balances increased by 91% from 2003 to 2012.

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Sounds sort of smart, but most debt is with the shadow banks, and that remains open.

China’s Solution to $3 Trillion Debt Is to Deal with It Later (Bloomberg)

China’s government has a creative solution to address repayment concerns hanging over more than $3 trillion in regional debt. It will deal with it later. The Finance Ministry issued a 1 trillion yuan ($160 billion) quota for local governments to convert maturing high-cost debt into lower-yielding municipal notes to be repaid at a future date on March 8. Questions left unanswered include whether investors will be forced into the swap, how much transparency there will be over assets involved and whether the liabilities will strain the nation’s finances. China’s bond risk rose the most in a month on March 9 even as debt-rating companies welcomed the government’s plan to address regional debt, which Mizuho estimates may have reached 25 trillion yuan, bigger than Germany’s economy.

The ministry’s 500 billion yuan municipal bond trial and the auction of 100 billion yuan of special bonds is insufficient to meet local-government financing vehicle debt due this year while funding budgets, Moody’s Investors Service said. “It will buy time for the government to solve the local debt problem, as the transition period takes three to five years,” said Ivan Chung, a senior vice president at Moody’s in Hong Kong. “The 1 trillion yuan debt-swap plan will be able to cover the refinancing needs of the maturing bonds this year, as municipal bond issuance is not enough.” The government is seeking to rein in local-government borrowing while accelerating infrastructure spending to defend a 7% economic growth target. Regional authorities set up thousands of funding units to finance projects from sewage systems to subways after a 1994 budget law barred them from issuing notes directly. Their fundraising helped liabilities jump 67% from the end of 2010 to 17.9 trillion yuan as of June 2013.

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“That doesn’t jump out at me as a significant enough change.”

Yellen Meets Senate Bank Chief With Fed Transparency in Focus (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen reached out on Tuesday to Republicans who want to shake up the central bank, meeting with the powerful head of the Senate Banking Committee who has called for more accountability from the Fed. Yellen declined to comment after her 25 minute-long meeting with Alabama Republican Richard Shelby at his offices in Washington. Shelby earlier told reporters that “what we are doing is trying to figure out exactly what we need to do legislatively to make the Fed more accountable to the people and to do a better job as a regulator.” Lawmakers from both parties have voiced concerns about the central bank and are narrowing their focus to the New York Fed, which is the target of proposals to either make its president subject to Senate confirmation or dilute its policy powers.

Republicans have complained about the Fed’s aggressive monetary policies and what they consider regulatory overreach. Democrats have accused the Fed of failing to police the largest banks to prevent the kind of excessive risk-taking that contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. Shelby previously said he’s looking “very strongly” at a proposal from Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, who is retiring next week, that would strip the New York Fed of its permanent vote on the policy-making Federal Open Market Committee.

Fisher’s staff has already responded to questions about his proposal from Shelby’s aides. Sherrod Brown, the senior Democrat on the Senate banking panel, said on Tuesday he favors a plan to make the president of the New York Fed a presidential appointment requiring Senate approval, like members of the Fed’s Washington-based Board of Governors. “The way we have the Fed structure, banks have so much influence over their regulator,” Brown, from Ohio, told reporters. “I don’t know if it should go any further than the New York Fed but it makes a lot of sense that the New York Fed be selected by the president and be confirmed.” While saying he would like to look more closely at the Fisher proposal, Brown said, “That doesn’t jump out at me as a significant enough change.”

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You can call it the Silly Empire, but that seems to ignore that chaos is the goal, rather than the means.

Chaos: Practice and Applications (Dmitry Orlov)

The term “chaos” has been popping up a lot lately in the increasingly collapse-prone world in which we find ourselves. Pepe Escobar has even published a book on it. Titled Empire of Chaos, it describes a scenario “where a[n American] plutocracy progressively projects its own internal disintegration upon the whole world.” Escobar’s chaos is tailor-made; its purpose is “to prevent an economic integration of Eurasia that would leave the U.S. a non-hegemon, or worse still, an outsider.” Escobar is not the only one thinking along these lines; here is Vladimir Putin speaking at the Valdai Conference in 2014:

A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.

Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and recoil. I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keep stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.

Indeed, Escobar’s chaos doesn’t seem to be working too well. Eurasian integration is very much on track, with China and Russia now acting as an economic, military and political unit, and with other Eurasian states eager to play a role. The European Union is, for the moment, being excluded from Eurasia because it is effectively under American occupation, but this state of affairs is unlikely to last due to budgetary problems. (To be precise, we have to say that it is under NATO occupation, but if we dig just a little, we find that NATO is really just the US military with a European façade hammered onto it Potemkin village-style.)

And so the term “empire” seems rather misplaced. Empires are ambitious undertakings that seek to exert control over their domain, and what sort of an empire is it if its main activity is stepping on the same rake over and over again? A silly one? Then why not just call it “The Silly Empire”? Indeed, there are lots of fun silly imperial activities to choose from. For example: arm and train moderate opposition to a regime you want to overthrow; find out that it isn’t moderate at all; try to bomb them into submission and fail at that too.

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Russia won’t stand for it.

‘We’ll Buy Reverse Gas Supplies At $245’- Ukraine’s President (RT)

Ukraine will pay $245 per thousand cubic meters for the gas it will get through reverse flow from Europe as the country diversifies its natural gas suppliers away from Russia, President Petro Poroshenko has said. Ukraine has significantly reduced its energy dependence on Russia, and will buy Russian gas through reverse flows from Europe at $245 per 1,000 cubic meters, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a TV interview Monday. “We have lived through the winter; we bought only 2 billion cubic meters of gas with the last purchase at a price of less than $300 per 1,000 cubic meter. As a result, it all came down to the Russian Federation having had to apply for a pumping volume increase of 68%, which crashed the gas market. And today we will buy gas for $245 under reverse deliveries,” Poroshenko said.

Ukraine has increased the amount of gas collecting in its underground storage facilities to 23 million cubic meters per day compared with 8 million cubic meters in February, according to the data provided by the GSE association on Tuesday. Currently the country is accepting 10 million cubic meters of Russian gas daily at a price of $329 per 1,000 cubic meters. Ukraine claims it pays 15% more for Russian gas than Europe. Ukraine currently receives reverse deliveries of natural gas from Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Gas supplies from Hungary have been reduced by Ukraine and stand at 715,000 cubic meters a day from March 7, which is almost 5 times lower than in February, according to reports from the TASS news agency. Capacity from Slovakia remains at 37.7 million cubic meters a day. Poland can deliver up to 717, 000 cubic meters a day compared with 840,000 cubic meters in February. Last week Ukraine imported 330 million of cubic meters of natural gas from Europe, and 81 million cubic meters from Russia.

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Send her home and keep her there.

US Applies Pressure to States Opposing Anti-Russian Sanctions: Nuland (Sputnik)

The United States government is applying pressure to European countries that oppose sanctions against Russia, US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland said at a US Senate hearing on Tuesday. “We continue to talk to them bilaterally about these issues,” Nuland said of Hungary, Greece, and Cyprus, whose leaders have opposed anti-Russian sanctions. “I will make another trip out to some of those countries in the coming days and weeks.” Nuland noted that “despite some publically stated concerns, those countries have supported sanctions” in the European Union Council. Additionally, discussions between the United States and Europe have continued, Nuland said in her opening statements to the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We have already begun consultations with our European partners on further sanctions pressure should Russia continue fueling the fire in the east or other parts of Ukraine, fail to implement Minsk or grab more land,” she said. The United States, the European Union and their allies blame Russia for fueling the internal conflict in Ukraine and have imposed a series of sanctions against Russia targeting its defense, banking, and energy sectors. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations and responded with targeted export bans. Some European nations including Greece, Hungary and Cyprus, have opposed further sanctions, and Spain has recently stated its opposition as well.

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Obviously.

It’s NATO That’s Empire-Building, Not Putin (Peter Hitchens)

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding? There remain 300,000 neutral square miles between the two, mostly in Ukraine. From Moscow’s point of view, this is already a grievous, irretrievable loss. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the canniest of the old Cold Warriors, wrote back in 1997, ‘Ukraine… is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.’

This diminished Russia feels the spread of the EU and its armed wing, Nato, like a blow on an unhealed bruise. In February 2007, for instance, Vladimir Putin asked sulkily, ‘Against whom is this expansion intended?’ I have never heard a clear answer to that question. The USSR, which Nato was founded to fight, expired in August 1991. So what is Nato’s purpose now? Why does it even still exist? There is no obvious need for an adversarial system in post-Soviet Europe. Even if Russia wanted to reconquer its lost empire, as some believe (a belief for which there is no serious evidence), it is too weak and too poor to do this. So why not invite Russia to join the great western alliances?

Alas, it is obvious to everyone, but never stated, that Russia cannot ever join either Nato or the EU, for if it did so it would unbalance them both by its sheer size. There are many possible ways of dealing with this. One would be an adult recognition of the limits of human power, combined with an understanding of Russia’s repeated experience of invasions and its lack of defensible borders.

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Jan 302015
 
 January 30, 2015  Posted by at 11:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing “Pennsylvania Avenue with snow, Washington, DC” 1918

Commodity Prices Collapse To Lowest In 12 Years (Telegraph)
Cheap Oil Burns $390 Billion Hole in Investors’ Pockets (Bloomberg)
China Shadow Banking Trusts Fuel Stocks With 28% Jump in Investment (Bloomberg)
Europe Stocks Head for Best January Since 1989 (Bloomberg)
Eurozone Slides Deeper Into Deflation (CNBC)
We Must Stop Angela Merkel’s Bullying Or Let Austerity Win (Guardian)
Lies, Damned Lies And Greece’s Debt Default (MarketWatch)
Greece Turns Left, Europe Goes Right (Bloomberg)
Open Letter To German Readers: What You Were Never Told About Greece (Tsipras)
Syriza’s Original 40 Point Manifesto (Zero Hedge)
Greece’s New Young Radicals Sweep Away Age Of Austerity (Guardian)
It’s Time For Greece To Leave The Eurozone And Move On (Telegraph)
Greece’s Predicament in One Scary Chart: Capital Flight (Bloomberg)
Russia Extends Olive Branch To Greeks (CNBC)
Japan Braces For Falling Prices As Oil Collapses (CNBC)
The Next Shot In The Currency War Will Be Fired By… (CNBC)
Denmark Surprises Market With Third Rate Cut In Two Weeks (Reuters)
Denmark, Deutschland And Deflation (BBC)
Young Workers Hit Hardest By Wages Slump Of Post-Crash Britain (Guardian)
Gorbachev Accuses US Of Dragging Russia Into New Cold War (RT)
China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Boosts Suicide Rate (FT)
Animals In France Finally Recognized As ‘Living, Sentient Beings’ (RT)

Mother of all bubbles.

Commodity Prices Collapse To Lowest In 12 Years (Telegraph)

The world’s leading index of commodity prices has slumped to its lowest level in more than 12 years as China slows and America hints at tightening monetary policy. The Bloomberg Commodity index, which tracks the prices of 22 different commodity prices such as gold, natural gas and oil, fell 0.3pc to 99.84 in early trading, the lowest point since August 2002. The recent bout of weakness in commodity prices came as the US Federal Reserve issued an upbeat view on the state of US economy. Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s December meeting said the US economy is expanding at a solid rate with strong job gains, a signal that the central bank remains on track with plans to raise interest rates.

Commodities, like all asset classes, have benefited from America’s loose monetary policy. The upbeat view from the US economy came after another sign of a slowdown in China, with official figures showing profits from the industrial sector fell 8pc in December from a year earlier. Last year, China’s annual economic growth slowed to 7.4pc—its slowest pace in nearly a quarter of a century—as the property crisis in the country holds back the economy, and there is rising debt and slower demand for its products at home and abroad. Most economists expect Beijing to set an annual-growth target for 2015 of 7pc.

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“Demand was so high that the company more than doubled the size of the offering. The debt is now trading for less than 50 cents on the dollar..”

Cheap Oil Burns $390 Billion Hole in Investors’ Pockets (Bloomberg)

Investors have a message for suffering U.S. oil drillers: We feel your pain. They’ve pumped more than $1.4 trillion into the oil and gas industry the past five years as oil prices averaged more than $91 a barrel. The cash infusion helped push U.S. crude production to the highest in more than 30 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Now that oil prices have fallen below $45, any euphoria over cheaper energy will be tempered by losses that are starting to show up in investment funds, retirement accounts and bank balance sheets. The bear market has wiped out a total of $393 billion since June – $353 billion from the shares of 76 companies in the Bloomberg North America Exploration & Production index, and almost $40 billion from high-yield energy bonds, issued by many shale drillers.

“The only thing people are noticing now is that gas prices are dropping,” said Sean Wheeler at law firm Latham & Watkins. “People haven’t noticed yet that it’s also hitting their portfolios.” The money flowing into oil and gas companies around the world in the last five years came from a variety of sources. The industry completed $286 billion in joint ventures, investments and spinoffs, raised $353 billion in initial public offerings and follow-on share sales, and borrowed $786 billion in bonds and loans. The crash caught investors and lenders by surprise. Eight months ago, oil producer Energy XXI sold $650 million in bonds. Demand was so high that the company more than doubled the size of the offering, company records show. The debt is now trading for less than 50 cents on the dollar, and the stock has declined 88%.

Energy XXI, which has more than $3.8 billion in debt, is one of more than 80 oil and gas companies whose bonds have fallen to distressed levels, meaning their yields are more than 10percentage points above Treasury debt, as investors bet the obligations won’t be repaid, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The stocks and bonds of Energy XXI and other struggling energy firms have been bought up by pension funds, insurance companies and savings plans that are the mainstays of Americans’ retirement accounts. Institutional investors had more than $963 billion tied up in energy stocks as of the end of September, according to Peter Laurelli at analytics firm eVestment, that gathers data on about $22 trillion of institutional strategies.

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Mother of all bubbles’ younger sister.

China Shadow Banking Trusts Fuel Stocks With 28% Jump in Investment (Bloomberg)

China’s trusts, part of the shadow-banking industry, fueled a stock-market rally by boosting their investments in equities by a record 122 billion yuan ($19.5 billion) in the fourth quarter. The increase, reported by the China Trustee Association on Friday, was the biggest by value in data starting in 2010. The 28% gain was the largest since the third quarter of 2010. China’s capital controls and weakness in the property market have helped to channel money into stocks, driving a 35% surge in the Shanghai Composite Index over three months. Trusts’ assets under management grew at the fastest pace in six quarters, gaining almost 8% to 13.98 trillion yuan. Investment in equities totaled 552 billion yuan. So-called umbrella trusts, which allow more leverage than broker financing, have played a role in the stock boom. At the end of last year, China had 369 “risky” trust products valued at 78.1 billion yuan, the statement showed, down from 82.4 billion yuan three months earlier.

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Mother of all bubbles’ elder sister.

Europe Stocks Head for Best January Since 1989 (Bloomberg)

European stocks were little changed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index heading for its best start to a year since 1989. The Stoxx 600 added less than 0.1% to 368.85 at 9:53 a.m. in London, having slipped as much as 0.3% and risen as much as 0.4%. The gauge has advanced 7.7% in January as the European Central Bank unveiled a 1.1 trillion-euro ($1.2 trillion) quantitative easing program. A report at 11 a.m. Frankfurt time is projected to show a second month of deflation in the euro area, after a German consumer-price index turned negative for the first time since 2009.

“We’ll see a pickup in growth after QE, but it will be modest,” said Henrik Drusebjerg at Carnegie Investment Bank in Copenhagen. “Most European countries still need to do more reform. We are beginning to take a look at some European companies. I’m curious how aggressive to see Greece will be on their election promises.” Greece’s ASE Index rose for a second day, paring its weekly drop to 11%. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised not to spring any surprises on Greece’s troika of official creditors. The nation’s banks slid this week amid concern a coalition led by Syriza, which won Sunday’s election, will challenge austerity measures. They recovered some losses after the head of ECB’s Supervisory Board said yesterday that the nation’s lenders can survive the current market turbulence.

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Stocks higher, prices lower. Makes a lot of sense.

Eurozone Slides Deeper Into Deflation (CNBC)

The euro zone slid further into deflation in January, underlining the case for the European Central Bank’s full-blown bond-buying program, announced earlier this month. Prices fell by 0.6% year-on-year in January, official flash estimates showed Friday, below the 0.5%-slide forecast by analysts polled by Reuters. In December, the region fell into deflation for the time since 2009, when prices fell by 0.2%. January’s further slide in prices was driven by an accelerating fall in energy costs, Eurostat said. Energy prices fell by a sharp 8.9% in January, compared with 6.3% in December. Prices in January for food, alcohol, tobacco and non-energy-related industrial goods also fell; only prices for services were seen rising. January’s figures come two weeks after after the ECB announced the launch of QE.

The program’s main purpose will be to boost inflation back towards the “just under 2%” level targeted by the central bank and sovereign bond purchases will start in March. In some much-needed good news for the euro zone, however, official figures also revealed that the region’s jobless level had fallen. Eurostat announced Friday that seasonally-adjusted unemployment in the single currency zone fell to 11.4% in December — the lowest recorded in the region since mid-2012, and down from 11.5% in November. By comparison, the unemployment rate stood at 5.6% in the U.S. in December 2014.

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“All Europe’s leaders have to offer is broken societies and broken people.”

We Must Stop Angela Merkel’s Bullying Or Let Austerity Win (Guardian)

All Europe’s leaders have to offer is broken societies and broken people. Over half of young people in Spain and Greece are without work, leaving them scarred: as well as mental distress, they face the increased likelihood of unemployment and lower wages for the rest of their lives. Workers’ rights, public services, a welfare state: all won at such cost by tough, far-sighted people, all being stripped away. There is a certain smugness expressed in Britain: just look across the waters at how bad things could be. Certainly Britain has been free of the euro. It has employed quantitative easing on a grand scale – though for the benefit of banks rather than people, and in an unsustainable, credit-fuelled mini-boom. But in any case, British workers have suffered the biggest fall in their paypackets since the Victorian era, and one of the worst of any EU country.

Britain’s rulers, just like those everywhere else in Europe, have punished their own people for the actions of an ever-thriving elite. That’s why Greece has to be defended urgently – not just to defend a democratically elected government and the people who put it there. European elites know that if Syriza’s demands are fulfilled, then other like-minded forces will be emboldened. Spain’s Podemos, a surging anti-austerity movement, will be more likely to triumph in elections this year. Syriza has already achieved change: the European Central Bank’s limited quantitative easing is partly a response to its rise. Even that well-known radical Reza Moghadam, Morgan Stanley’s vice-chairman of global capital markets and ex-head of the IMF’s European department, confirms Syriza’s strong negotiating position.

The precedent of an exit from the eurozone would lead to the market punishing other members, and to calls for the erasing of half of Greece’s debt. A victory is possible, but it depends on popular pressure right across Europe. If Syriza extracts concessions, it will be a stunning victory for all anti-austerity forces, and will help shift the balance of power in Europe. But if Greece loses, as those governments and banks that will now try to suffocate Syriza at birth intend? Then austerity will triumph over democracy. The future of millions of Europeans – Greek, French, Spanish and British alike – will be bleak indeed. That is why a movement to defend the already ruined nation of Greece is so important. Defeated Germany benefited from debt relief in 1953, and we must demand that for Greece today.

We must champion Syriza’s call for the end of an austerity policy that has achieved nothing but social ruin, across Europe in favour of a strategy of growth. Syriza’s posters declared: “Hope is coming”. Its election must represent that everywhere, including in Britain, where YouGov polling reveals huge popularity for a stance against austerity and the power of big business. A game of high stakes indeed: one that, if lost, will mean countless more years of economic nightmare. This rerun of the 1930s can be ended – this time by the democratic left, rather than by the fascist and the genocidal right. The era of Merkel and the machine men can be ended – but it is up to all of us to act, and to act quickly.

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“Nobody forced banks to lend money to the Greek government on nearly the same terms as they lent to, say, the German or Dutch governments.”

Lies, Damned Lies And Greece’s Debt Default (MarketWatch)

Can we stop it, please, with the Greek debt panic? Can we stop pretending that this crisis is something it isn’t, or that it involves principles it doesn’t, or that there is no alternative other than more pain on the streets of Athens? There’s been a renewed flap following Sunday’s stunning Greek election victory for the radical Syriza party, which wants to renegotiate the country’s crippling debt burdens and escape the deflation trap imposed by external bankers. It’s time for some hard, yet simple, truths. Greece’s gross debts add up to around $320 billion in nominal value, according to the International Monetary Fund. That’s big compared to the Greek economy, but tiny compared to the world outside. It’s less than 3% of the entire eurozone economy, which is about $13.5 trillion.

So even if Greece refused to pay one more nickel of its debts — an outcome no one is suggesting — the eurozone could make up the difference with about eight days’ output … or an hour’s money-printing by the ECB. And the real value of the Greek national debt is even less than this nominal sum. That’s because the markets have already adjusted themselves sensibly to the situation. According to the National Bank of Greece, shorter-term government bonds are already trading at about 85 cents on the euro, while longer-term bonds are down to between 65 and 50 cents on the euro. According to calculations by Felix Brill at investment firm Wellershoff, publicly traded Greek government bonds are trading at an average of 70 cents on the euro. So, in real terms, a big chunk of that Greek debt has already been written off. Crisis? What crisis?

Second, the idea that a partial Greek debt default would somehow represent an earthquake in the world of finance, or endanger the eurozone, or be an improvident reward for the reckless and the feckless, is nonsense. Nobody forced German and other bankers to buy Greek government bonds at absurd prices during the bubble. Nobody forced banks to lend money to the Greek government on nearly the same terms as they lent to, say, the German or Dutch governments. And nobody forced the international honchos at the IMF, ECB or EC to take over those obligations from the banks a few years ago as a “bailout.”

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“.. the worse the economy, the worse for the far right and the better for the far left.”

Greece Turns Left, Europe Goes Right (Bloomberg)

Why has Greece chosen a far-left government at a time when discontented and frustrated voters elsewhere in Europe have turned to the far right? In northern Europe, the frustrated voters’ parties of choice are right wing and anti-immigrant. So how come frustrated Greeks made a sharp turn to the left, electing the near-communist Syriza party to lead the government? The choice of left over right is especially striking because Greece is a first port of call for so many new immigrants to Europe. If Spain’s Podemos party continues to grow, then the contrast between northern and southern Europe will be even more striking. A combination of economics, politics and history can shed light on the differences. The simplest – and most surprising – answer may be just this: the worse the economy, the worse for the far right and the better for the far left.

The southern European economies are in substantially deeper trouble than their counterparts in middle and northern Europe. This has two distinct political effects, which together explain the difference between a turn to the left and a turn to the right. First of all, Greece is facing austerity demands that come from the northern members of the European Union, especially Germany. That means the Greeks perceive the main bad guy as external, not internal, and see the neoliberalism of Angela Merkel as the immediate source of the pain. The resistance to reducing state employment, cutting budgets, and working harder for less money and shorter vacations becomes resistance to the market economy itself.

The ex-communist radical left is the natural place for such resistance: The economic program of the left simply denies that such measures will actually help, and instead holds the promise of telling Europe to get lost.In northern Europe, economies may be in the doldrums, but no external European political force is pressing for fundamental structural change. Frustrated voters who see their job benefits scaled down even moderately thus need a different target. Those who arrived recently – immigrants – are the traditional objects of blame. The social contract may seem to be breaking down as a result of neoliberalism, but because no one has forced this change on northern European societies, it’s much easier to blame immigrants for burdening the state and making the social contract too expensive. Never mind if it’s true: The point is to blame anyone other than yourself.

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Written pre-election.

Open Letter To German Readers: What You Were Never Told About Greece (Tsipras)

Alexis Tsipras’ “open letter” to German citizens published on Jan.13 in Handelsblatt, a leading German language business newspaper

Most of you, dear readers, will have formed a preconception of what this article is about before you actually read it. I am imploring you not to succumb to such preconceptions. Prejudice was never a good guide, especially during periods when an economic crisis reinforces stereotypes and breeds biggotry, nationalism, even violence. In 2010, the Greek state ceased to be able to service its debt. Unfortunately, European officials decided to pretend that this problem could be overcome by means of the largest loan in history on condition of fiscal austerity that would, with mathematical precision, shrink the national income from which both new and old loans must be paid. An insolvency problem was thus dealt with as if it were a case of illiquidity.

In other words, Europe adopted the tactics of the least reputable bankers who refuse to acknowledge bad loans, preferring to grant new ones to the insolvent entity so as to pretend that the original loan is performing while extending the bankruptcy into the future. Nothing more than common sense was required to see that the application of the ‘extend and pretend’ tactic would lead my country to a tragic state. That instead of Greece’s stabilization, Europe was creating the circumstances for a self-reinforcing crisis that undermines the foundations of Europe itself. My party, and I personally, disagreed fiercely with the May 2010 loan agreement not because you, the citizens of Germany, did not give us enough money but because you gave us much, much more than you should have and our government accepted far, far more than it had a right to.

Money that would, in any case, neither help the people of Greece (as it was being thrown into the black hole of an unsustainable debt) nor prevent the ballooning of Greek government debt, at great expense to the Greek and German taxpayer. Indeed, even before a full year had gone by, from 2011 onwards, our predictions were confirmed. The combination of gigantic new loans and stringent government spending cuts that depressed incomes not only failed to rein the debt in but, also, punished the weakest of citizens turning people who had hitherto been living a measured, modest life into paupers and beggars, denying them above all else their dignity. The collapse of incomes pushed thousands of firms into bankruptcy boosting the oligopolistic power of surviving large firms.

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Good series.

Syriza’s Original 40 Point Manifesto (Zero Hedge)

The daily bulletin of Italy’s Communist Refoundation Party published today the apparently official program of the Greek coalition of the left, Syriza. Here the 40 points of the Syriza program.
1) Audit of the public debt and renegotiation of interest due and suspension of payments until the economy has revived and growth and employment return.
2) Demand the European Union to change the role of the European Central Bank so that it finances States and programs of public investment.
3) Raise income tax to 75% for all incomes over 500,000 euros.
4) Change the election laws to a proportional system.
5) Increase taxes on big companies to that of the European average.
6) Adoption of a tax on financial transactions and a special tax on luxury goods.
7) Prohibition of speculative financial derivatives.
8) Abolition of financial privileges for the Church and shipbuilding industry.
9) Combat the banks’ secret [measures] and the flight of capital abroad.
10) Cut drastically military expenditures.
11) Raise minimum salary to the pre-cut level, €750 per month.
12) Use buildings of the government, banks and the Church for the homeless.
13) Open dining rooms in public schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to children.
14) Free health benefits to the unemployed, homeless and those with low salaries.
15) Subvention up to 30% of mortgage payments for poor families who cannot meet payments.
16) Increase of subsidies for the unemployed. Increase social protection for one-parent families, the aged, disabled, and families with no income.
17) Fiscal reductions for goods of primary necessity.
18) Nationalization of banks.

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“We will continue with our plan. We don’t have the right to disappoint our voters.”

Greece’s New Young Radicals Sweep Away Age Of Austerity (Guardian)

One by one they were rolled back, blitzkrieg-style, mercilessly, ruthlessly, with rat-a-tat efficiency. First the barricades came down outside the Greek parliament. Then it was announced that privatisation schemes would be halted and pensions reinstated. And then came the news of the reintroduction of the €751 monthly minimum wage. And all before Greece’s new prime minister, the radical leftwinger Alexis Tsipras, had got his first cabinet meeting under way. After that, ministers announced more measures: the scrapping of fees for prescriptions and hospital visits, the restoration of collective work agreements, the rehiring of workers laid off in the public sector, the granting of citizenship to migrant children born and raised in Greece. On his first day in office – barely 48 hours after storming to power – Tsipras got to work. The biting austerity his Syriza party had fought so long to annul now belonged to the past, and this was the beginning not of a new chapter but a book for the country long on the frontline of the euro crisis.

“A new era has begun, a government of national salvation has arrived,” he declared as cameras rolled and the cabinet session began. “We will continue with our plan. We don’t have the right to disappoint our voters.” If Athens’s troika of creditors at the EU, ECB and IMF were in any doubt that Syriza meant business it was crushingly dispelled on Wednesday . With lightning speed, Europe’s first hard-left government moved to dismantle the punishing policies Athens has been forced to enact in return for emergency aid. Measures that had pushed Greeks on to the streets – and pushed the country into its worst slump on record – were consigned to the dustbin of history, just as the leftists had promised. But the reaction was swift and sharp. Within minutes of the new energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, announcing that plans to sell the public power corporation would be put on hold, Greek bank stocks tumbled. Many lost more than a third of their value, with brokers saying they had suffered their worst day ever.

While yields on Greek bonds rose, the Athens stock market plunged. By closing time it had shed over 9%, hitting levels not seen since September 2012 and losing any gains it had clawed back since Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank chief, vowed to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. By nightfall there was another blow as Standard & Poor’s revised its Greek sovereign rating outlook, taking the first step towards a formal downgrade. The agency warned that a bank run might also be in the offing, noting that “accelerated deposit withdrawals from Greek banks had created “a credit concern”. Perhaps prepared for the onslaught, Tsipras had also acted. On Tuesday, he met the Chinese ambassador to Athens to insist that while Syriza and its junior partner, the populist rightwing Independent Greeks party, would also be cancelling plans to privatise Piraeus port authority, the government wanted good relations with Beijing. China’s Cosco group, which already controls several docks in Piraeus, had been among four suitors bidding for the port.

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RIght wing view of a left wing government.

It’s Time For Greece To Leave The Eurozone And Move On (Telegraph)

The single currency was always a mistake, and I was one of a number of commentators who has always opposed its creation. Single currency areas can work only under one of three scenarios, none of which has ever been on the cards in Greece and much of Europe First, and ideally, you need an economy with radical levels of flexibility, a small government, a well-educated and motivated entrepreneurial workforce, and labour markets that adjust to shocks. A hit to demand leads to a very speedy reallocation of resources; workers are willing to take nominal pay cuts to keep their jobs; and the country bounces back quickly from shocks without suffering from massive unemployment. That is the ideal economic system — but sadly it is not on the agenda. Many libertarian economists, especially in the US but also in Europe, backed the euro because they thought it would trigger free-market reforms, but while some have taken place, they have been insufficient in scale and scope. Ultimately, you can’t impose an economic system on a reluctant society.

Second, an ultra-mobile pan-European society. In such a world — which doesn’t exist in anything like the way I’m imagining — unemployed people in Greece are able to move en masse to parts of the eurozone with better jobs prospects. This still happens to some extent in the US, where states like Texas have been fuelled by mass intra-state migration, and poor areas such as Detroit have simply lost their population. Workers do also move within the UK, and within other countries, though generally not enough. There is now lots of migration within Europe, but even the numbers we see aren’t enough to allow economies to adjust properly. There is no single European demos; people speak different languages and have different cultures. This won’t change for the foreseeable future.

Third, a massive pan-European welfare state with a federal tax system and permanent redistribution from rich to poor areas. In such a world, where the one-size-fits-all monetary policy is unable to cater for a hit to parts of the eurozone, fiscal policy kicks in. Germany and other richer parts send billions to poor states. In return, the power of nations to borrow is dramatically curtailed: member states lose much of their sovereignty. In such a world, Greece would simply not be allowed to borrow and spend as it saw fit, and many more functions currently operated by national governments would be transferred to Brussels.

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Nothing sensational.

Greece’s Predicament in One Scary Chart: Capital Flight (Bloomberg)

If the new prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, hopes to make a deal with his country’s creditors, time is of the essence. Judging from data on capital flows, Greece’s change of political course is rapidly eroding confidence that it will stay in the European currency union. Just because the 19 countries of the euro area share a currency doesn’t mean a euro in Greece is worth as much as a euro elsewhere. If, for example, Greece’s bank depositors start to worry that the country will exit the monetary union and leave them holding devalued drachma, they’ll move their money to a safer locale such as Germany, effectively trading their Greek euros for German ones. Such capital flight can be tracked (roughly) by looking at the accounts of central banks: If €1 billion moves out of Greece, the Bank of Greece records a corresponding €1 billion liability to the rest of the euro area.

Lately, the Greek central bank’s so-called intra-Eurosystem liabilities have been rising at a pace not seen since the darkest days of the European financial crisis. In December, when the previous Greek government announced the snap presidential vote that ultimately cleared the way for Tsipras and his far-left Syriza party to take power, the liabilities increased by about €7.6 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s more than in any month since May 2011 – and it happened even before Syriza won the Jan. 25 parliamentary election on a platform that included promises to end austerity and renegotiate the government’s onerous debts. Here’s a chart showing the estimated three-month cumulative capital flows between Greece and the euro area, as a% of Greek gross domestic product (positive numbers are inflows to Greece):

The capital flight from Greece contrasts sharply with the progress the country had been making since mid-2012, when ECB President Mario Draghi tamed markets with his promise to do “whatever it takes” to hold together the euro area. Over the two years through June 2014, the Bank of Greece’s intra-eurosystem liabilities declined by more than €75 billion as money flowed back in.

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“(The) ruble weakened and as you might see, life still goes on here and we just keep on living..”

Russia Extends Olive Branch To Greeks (CNBC)

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told CNBC that Russia would consider giving financial help to debt-ridden Greece—just days after the new Greek government questioned further European Union sanctions against Russia. Siluanov said Greece had not yet requested Russia for assistance, but he did not rule out an agreement between the two countries if Greece came asking. “Well, we can imagine any situation, so if such [a] petition is submitted to the Russian government, we will definitely consider it, but will take into account all the factors of our bilateral relationships between Russia and Greece, so that is all I can say. If it is submitted we will consider it,” Siluanov told CNBC on Thursday. Siluanov’s comments come two days after Greece’s new left-wing-led government distanced itself from calls to increase sanctions against Russia—indicating that Greece could be looking east to Russia for support.

On Tuesday, EU leaders issued a statement calling for “further restrictive measures” to be considered against Russia with regard to its involvement in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. After the statement, a representative for Greece’s newly elected Syriza party reported that the EU’s statement was made “without our country’s consent” and expressed “dissatisfaction with the handling of this.” On Thursday, Siluanov said that while Western-imposed sanctions against Russia thus far had been harmful, the country has managed to adapt. “The sanctions that have already been imposed against Russia did have (a) negative effect on us. However, Russia companies have adjusted and the Russian balance of payments has adjusted. (The) ruble weakened and as you might see, life still goes on here and we just keep on living,” he said.

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Abenomics is an open festering wound.

Japan Braces For Falling Prices As Oil Collapses (CNBC)

Japan’s consumer inflation eased in December for a fifth straight month and the rate of price rises could slow further or even turn negative as the economy adjusts to lower oil prices, analysts say. The consumer price index (CPI) rose 2.5% in December from the year-ago period, government data showed on Friday, compared with Reuters’ forecast for a rise of 2.6% and down from the 2.7% print in November. The core Tokyo CPI for January, considered a leading indicator, rose 2.2% on year, in line with expectations and easing from 2.3% in December. Excluding the effects of the sales tax hike, the nationwide consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.5%.

With the collapse in oil prices yet to be reflected in consumer inflation, analysts say the numbers will look worse in the coming months, dealing a further blow to the Bank of Japan’s ambitious inflation targets. “There is a six-month lag before global LNG prices are factored into electricity prices – and it’s electricity prices, rather than the price of oil at the pumps, that counts for Japanese households,” said Credit Suisse economist Takashi Shiono. “The electricity companies are still scheduled to raise their prices in February, so we’ll have to wait until April for the lower oil prices to filter through to the headline inflation numbers,” he added. Credit Suisse is forecasting the CPI to turn negative by April, assuming that current levels of oil and the dollar-yen holds.

Shino expects CPI to fall by up to 0.3% in April and down 0.1% for the full-year ending March 2016. The BOJ has been betting that its massive quantitative easing program unleashed since April 2013 will defeat inflation for good and bring CPI stripped of sales tax hike up to 2% by financial year ending March 2016. But market watchers see the goal increasingly unlikely especially in the wake of crashing oil prices. Earlier this month, the BOJ cut its CPI forecast for 2015/16 to 1% from an earlier projection of 1.7%, reflecting the state of oil markets. “Inflation is still likely to moderate further. Less than half of the plunge in the price of crude oil has been passed on to consumers in the form of lower gasoline prices,” Capital Economics’ Marcel Thieliant said in a research note.

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New Zealand?

The Next Shot In The Currency War Will Be Fired By… (CNBC)

The currency war is getting out of control. A snapshot of the week so far in central banking: The Monetary Authorty of Singapore surprised markets Tuesday night with a policy switch to pursue a slower pace of currency appreciation, its main policy tool. Wednesday afternoon, New Zealand’s Reserve Bank kept policy unchanged, but significantly altered its language, saying it expects to see a “further significant depreciation” for the kiwi and that “the exchange rate remains unjustified in terms of current economic conditions. Hungary’s central bank struck a decidedly dovish note, hinting at easier policy ahead. The moves follow surprise policy changes from Denmark, India Canada and Switzerland earlier this month. That includes the European Central Bank. Despite a great deal of anticipation, Mario Draghi managed to surprise and impress financial markets with the ECB’s trillion-euro bond purchase program.

“The trend of central bank surprises continues, adding volatility to markets and highlighting a more uncertain global policy stance but one that is partially centered on (foreign exchange) ahead,” Camilla Sutton, chief FX strategist at Scotiabank, wrote in a note this week. “An environment of increased volatility and uncertainty is typically U.S. dollar positive.” The U.S. dollar has been the beneficiary of those moves and easy policies. In 2015 alone, the dollar has strengthened nearly 7% against the euro, more than 7% against the Canadian dollar and 6% against the New Zealand dollar. Over the past 12 months, the moves are in the double digits, with the dollar strengthening more than 20% against Sweden’s and Norway’s currencies, more than 17% against the euro and 13% against the yen.

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Can the grandstanding stop now? Denmark has real problems.

Denmark Surprises Market With Third Rate Cut In Two Weeks (Reuters)

The Danish central bank cut its key interest rate for the third time in two weeks to another historic low after intervening in the market to keep the crown within a tight range against the euro. The central bank cut its certificate of deposit rate to -0.5% from -0.35%, making a reduction of 45 basis points since Monday last week. While analysts said last week that its actions might not be enough to weaken the crown, few expected another cut so soon, especially as Denmark’s rate went below the eurozone equivalent of -0.20%, making it less attractive than the euro. Analysts have said the central bank tends to use interest rate tools after spending 10 to 15 billion crowns in intervention.

“It has become expensive to have Danish crowns and the (upward) pressure is therefore expected to ease off, but whether the rate cuts are enough to turn off the ‘stream’ into the market is still uncertain,” Danske Bank chief economist Steen Bocian said in a note. The central bank has intervened every month since September, aside from December, as the crown has strained at the upper limit of its trading band with the euro. But crown buying accelerated after the Swiss National Bank scrapped the franc’s cap against the euro. It also cut interest rates to -0.75%. Some analysts think the Danish central bank may have more cuts up its sleeve. “The objective is to push down money market rates and make it less attractive to hold crowns,” a bank spokesman said. “We expect a reaction so we don’t need to intervene and the crown will weaken.”

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“Germany was an exception to the pattern, but provisional figures for January show that is no longer the case. Deflation in Germany suggests the eurozone will experience faster falls in prices in the months ahead.”

Denmark, Deutschland And Deflation (BBC)

There have been two important, connected economic developments in Europe. New official figures from Germany show that prices have fallen, by 0.5%, over the previous 12 months. Meanwhile the Danish Central Bank has cut one of its main interest rates for the second time in a week. It is a rate paid to commercial banks for excess funds parked at the central bank. It was already below zero. Now it is even lower – minus 0.5%. It means banks have to pay to leave money at the central bank, above certain specified limits. Negative interest rates are another example of the strange financial world that has emerged in the aftermath of the financial crisis. What is the connection between falling prices – or deflation – in Germany and the Danish central bank? It is about Denmark’s 35-year policy of tying its currency, the krone, to the euro, and before that to the German mark.

That peg has come under increasing strain as the European Central Bank, the ECB, has taken steps to combat deflation. Falling prices arrived for the eurozone as a whole last month. Germany was an exception to the pattern, but provisional figures for January show that is no longer the case. Deflation in Germany suggests the eurozone will experience faster falls in prices in the months ahead. There is a debate to be had about whether deflation really is a problem and if so how serious, but the ECB clearly thinks it is. The steps it has taken to address low inflation, and then deflation, have made it harder for financial market investors to make money in the eurozone. The ECB cut interest rates and last week launched its quantitative easing programme, which also tends to reduce returns on financial assets. So investors piled into other currencies, including the krone, pushing it higher, though not so high that it has gone above the top of the central bank’s target band.

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But the economy is doing great!

Young Workers Hit Hardest By Wages Slump Of Post-Crash Britain (Guardian)

British workers are taking home less in real terms than when Tony Blair won his second general election victory in 2001, with men and young people hit hardest by the wage squeeze that followed the financial crisis, according to new research. The Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank said wages were 1% lower in the third quarter of 2014 than in the same period 13 years earlier after taking inflation into account. Jonathan Cribb, an author of the report, said: “Almost all groups have seen real wages fall since the recession.” However, the study finds that women have been relatively cushioned from the worst of the wage cuts because they are more likely to be in public sector jobs, where wages fell less rapidly during the early years of the downturn.

Aided at the start of the crisis by the relative stability of public sector wages, women’s average hourly pay fell by 2.5% in real terms between 2008 and 2014, the IFS found, while men’s pay fell by 7.3%. The IFS also singled out younger workers as among the biggest victims of the falling living standards that have become widespread in post-crash Britain. “Between 2008 and 2014, there is a clear pattern across the age spectrum, with larger falls in earnings at younger ages,” the thinktank found in a detailed study of the state of the labour market. Labour immediately seized on the figures as evidence that Britain was trapped in a “cost of living crisis”. Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “This report shows David Cameron has overseen falling wages and rising insecurity in the labour market. Only Labour has a plan to tackle low pay and to earn our way to rising living standards for all.”

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“Are they completely out of their minds? The US has been totally ‘lost in the jungle’ and is dragging us there as well.”

Gorbachev Accuses US Of Dragging Russia Into New Cold War (RT)

Mikhail Gorbachev has accused the US of dragging Russia into a new Cold War. The former Soviet president fears the chill in relations could eventually spur an armed conflict. “Plainly speaking, the US has already dragged us into a new Cold War, trying to openly implement its idea of triumphalism,” Gorbachev said in an interview with Interfax. The former USSR leader, whose name is associated with the end of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, is worried about the possible consequences. “What’s next? Unfortunately, I cannot be sure that the Cold War will not bring about a ‘hot’ one. I’m afraid they might take the risk,” he said.

Gorbachev’s criticism of Washington comes as the West is pondering new sanctions against Russia, blaming it for the ongoing military conflict in eastern Ukraine, and alleging Moscow is sending troops to the restive areas. Russia has denied the allegations. “All we hear from the US and the EU now is sanctions against Russia,” Gorbachev said. “Are they completely out of their minds? The US has been totally ‘lost in the jungle’ and is dragging us there as well.” Gorbachev suggests the situation in the EU is “acute” with significant differences among politicians and different levels of prosperity among member nations. “Part of the countries are alright, others – not so well, and many, including Germany, are excessively dependent on the US.”

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“..suicide is often considered the most honorable course of action. That is because their death will bring about the end of any investigation into their alleged corruption..”

China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Boosts Suicide Rate (FT)

The Chinese Communist party has launched a nationwide survey to ascertain how many of its members have committed suicide since President Xi Jinping unveiled an anti-corruption campaign two years ago. The crackdown has so far led to warnings or disciplinary action for about a quarter of a million cadres but it has also been accompanied by a sharp rise in suicides among officials, according to numerous Chinese media reports. In recent days the party has sent out a questionnaire to officials across the country asking them to identify the number and details of “unnatural deaths”, including suicides, of party members since December 2012. That is when President Xi launched the graft clean-up that has become his most prominent policy since he took power in November that year.

As well as hundreds of thousands of “flies”, as party rhetoric describes low-level officials, Mr Xi’s anti-corruption drive has also netted dozens of high-ranking “tigers”, including the former head of China’s domestic security services, Zhou Yongkang, and former vice-chairman of the Chinese military, Xu Caihou. China’s state-controlled media have published several articles vilifying allegedly corrupt officials for killing themselves while under investigation but for family members and associates of these officials suicide is often considered the most honorable course of action. That is because their death will bring about the end of any investigation into their alleged corruption, protecting any accomplices or associates and allowing their families to keep their assets, ill-gotten or otherwise.

Officials found guilty of corruption are not only handed lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty; they and their families are invariably stripped of generous state pensions and all their assets. Children of disgraced officials are also sometimes forced to leave prestigious schools or high-profile jobs. China’s main anti-corruption body, the Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection, is in effect an extralegal entity with enormous powers to detain indefinitely and “discipline” any of the country’s 87 million party members. Legal scholars, family members and rights activists in China have raised serious concerns about the prevalence of torture in CCDI investigations and several of the “suicides” reported in the past two years are believed to be cover-ups of deaths that happened during torture sessions.

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“Until the motion was passed, animals in France, including domestic pets and farm animals, had the same status as a sofa.”

Animals In France Finally Recognized As ‘Living, Sentient Beings’ (RT)

It has taken the French parliament more than 200 years to officially recognize animals as “living, sentient beings” rather than “furniture,” finally upgrading their embarrassing status that dates back to Napoleonic times. While amendments to the Civil Code were first approved in November, the National Assembly voted on the motion Wednesday, according to AFP. The Assembly had to give its final word after debate with the Senate over several clauses, including the animals’ status. Until the motion was passed, animals in France, including domestic pets and farm animals, had the same status as a sofa. When the civil code was wrapped up by Napoleon back in 1804, animals were considered as working farm beasts and viewed as an agricultural force designated as goods or furniture.

A two-year fight led by the French animal rights organization Fondation 30 Million d’Amis (Foundation of 30 Million Friends) has resulted in the long-awaited change. The charity’s president, Reha Hutin, insisted that the new legislation was needed to stop horrendous acts of cruelty toward animals. Currently, the law on the cruel treatment of animals in France comprises the punishment of a maximum two-year prison term and a 30,000-euro fine. “France is behind the times here. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland they have changed the law so it says that animals are not just objects,” Hutin told The Local. “How can the courts in France punish the horrible acts that are carried out against animals if they are considered no more than just furniture?” she said.

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Jan 072015
 
 January 7, 2015  Posted by at 1:10 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


DPC Foundry, Detroit Shipbuilding Co., Wyandotte, Michigan 1915

Attack at Paris Satirical Magazine Office Kills 12 People (WSJ)
Is Attack Linked to Novel Depicting France Under Islamist President? (Bloomberg)
Bill Gross Calls It: 2015 Is Going to Be Terrible (Bloomberg)
Bill Gross Says the Good Times Are Over (Bloomberg)
Not Just Oil: Are Lower Commodity Prices Here To Stay? (CNBC)
Oil Price Slump Deepens As Drillers Seen Slashing Spending (Telegraph)
How the Bear Market in Crude Oil Has Polluted Non-Energy Stocks (Bloomberg)
As Oil Drops Below $50, Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing? (BW)
ECB Considering Three Approaches To QE (Reuters)
Germany Prepares For Possible Greek Exit From Eurozone (Reuters)
Germany, France Take Calculated Risk With ‘Grexit’ Talk (Reuters)
Greece On the Cusp of a Historic Change (Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA)
Eurozone Inflation Turns Negative For First Time Since October 2009 (Reuters)
Greek 10-Year Bond Yields Exceed 10% for First Time Since 2013 (Bloomberg)
Euro’s Drop is a Turning Point for Central Banks Reserves (Bloomberg)
Eurozone Prices Seen Falling as Risk of Deflation Spiral Mounts (Bloomberg)
Operation Helicopter: Could Free Money Help the Euro Zone? (Spiegel)
Russia’s ‘Perfect Storm’: Reserves Vanish, Derivatives’ Default Warnings (AEP)
Obama Threatens Keystone XL Veto (BBC)
Bank Of England Was Unaware Of Impending Financial Crisis (BBC)

Insanity. Marine Le Pen will become a lot more popular now in France.

Attack at Paris Satirical Magazine Office Kills 12 People (WSJ)

Armed men stormed the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday morning, killing 12 people and injuring more, French President François Hollande said. The men opened fire inside the magazine’s offices using automatic AK-47 rifles before fleeing, a police officer said. In November 2011, Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters were gutted by fire, hours before a special issue of the weekly featuring the Prophet Muhammad appeared on newsstands. The weekly has often tested France’s secular dogma, printing caricatures of the prophet on several occasions. Since the arson attack, the weekly has moved to a new location, which was guarded by police. Two of the victims in Wednesday’s shooting were police, an officer on the scene said.

The 2011 fire caused no injuries but spurred debate over press freedom and religious tolerance in France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population. The special issue put a caricature of the prophet on its front page, quoting him as promising “100 lashes if you don’t die from laughter.” Several journalists received anonymous threats and its website was hacked, according to French officials. In 2012, France closed embassies and French schools in 20 countries after the weekly published a series of cartoons. In 2006, the paper reprinted images of Muhammad that had appeared in a Danish magazine a year before. The next year, it published a picture of Muhammad crying, with the tagline “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.” The Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France filed slander charges, but a French court cleared the paper.

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Suggestive title. Answer: no. What happened is an editorial meeting was going on to prepare a special issue, named Sharia Hebdo, with the prophet Mohamed as guest editor.

Is Attack Linked to Novel Depicting France Under Islamist President? (Bloomberg)

“Submission,” a book by Michel Houellebecq released today, is sparking controversy with a fictional France of the future led by an Islamic party and a Muslim president who bans women from the workplace. In his sixth novel, the award-winning French author plays on fears that western societies are being inundated by the influence of Islam, a worry that this month drew thousands in anti-Islamist protests in Germany. In the novel, Houellebecq has the imaginary “Muslim Fraternity” party winning a presidential election in France against the nationalist, anti-immigration National Front. “A pathetic and provocative farce,” is how Liberation characterized the book in a Jan. 4 review that scathingly said the novelist is “showing signs of waning writing skills.”

Political analyst Franz-Olivier Giesbert in newspaper Le Parisien yesterday was kinder, calling it a “smart satire,” adding that “it’s a writers’ book, not a political one.” National Front’s leader Marine Le Pen, who appears in the 320-page novel, said on France Info radio on Jan. 5 that “it’s fiction that could become reality one day.” On the same day, President Francois Hollande said on France Inter radio he would read the book “because it’s sparking a debate,” while warning that France has always had “century after century, this inclination toward decay, decline and compulsive pessimism.” In an interview on France 2 TV last night, Houellebecq denied that he was being a scaremonger.

“I don’t think the Islam in my book is the kind people are afraid of,” he said. “I’m not going to avoid a subject because it’s controversial.” Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to discuss their respective countries’ struggle with Islamophobia, anti-immigration protests and the rise of Europe’s nationalist parties at an informal dinner in Strasbourg on January 11 organized by the European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Houellebecq’s book is set in France in 2022. It has the fictional Muslim Fraternity’s chief, Mohammed Ben Abbes, beating Le Pen, with Socialists, centrists, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party rallying behind him to block the National Front.

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Wow: “Gross is putting himself way out on a limb: Not one of Wall Street s professional forecasters predict the S&P 500 will drop in 2015.” Wow.

Bill Gross Calls It: 2015 Is Going to Be Terrible (Bloomberg)

Bill Gross, bond king, ousted executive, self-styled poet of the markets, has a bold, depressing prediction for 2015, and he’s not couching it in any of his usual metaphor: The good times are over, he wrote in his January investment outlook note. By the end of 2015, he goes on, there will be minus signs in front of returns for many asset classes. Gross is putting himself way out on a limb: Not one of Wall Street s professional forecasters predict the S&P 500 will drop in 2015. Their average estimate calls for an 8.1% rise. And while the global economy looks weak, the U.S. has been heating up, with GDP up 5% in the third quarter. These gloomy predictions come without Gross s usual colorful commentary. At Pimco, his monthly notes made reference to Flavor Flav and Paris Hilton. Since leaving for Janus Capital Group in September, he’s riffed on domestic violence in the NFL, the porosity of sand and the joys of dancing with his wife.

This month, Gross is almost all business. The trouble for the world s economy is that ultra low interest rates are holding back growth rather than stimulating it, he warns. After years of rising markets, investors are facing too much risk for the prospect of low returns. The time for risk taking has passed, he writes. Gross admits he’s taking his own risk with this call. Even if he’s completely right that the bear market is over, he could very well be a year or two early. And even if he’s right about economic growth, he could be wrong about how the market reacts to it. Gross advises buying Treasury and high-quality corporate bonds, but they could be hurt if U.S. interest rates rise this year.

He also puts a word in for stocks of companies with low debt, attractive dividends and diversified revenues both operationally and geographically. But as Causeway Capital Management s Sarah Ketterer warned, those high-quality dividend payers have already soared and could have trouble meeting expectations in the next few years. Gross has been wrong before, most famously in his predictions that bond yields would rise when the Federal Reserve ended quantitative easing. But maybe this time he sees something other market observers don’t. As Gross writes, deploying the commentary’s only off-color metaphor: There comes a time when common sense must recognize that the king has no clothes, or at least that he is down to his Fruit of the Loom briefs.

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Perhaps when he says it people actually will wake up.

Bill Gross Says the Good Times Are Over (Bloomberg)

Bill Gross, the former manager of the world’s largest bond fund, said prices for many assets will fall this year as record-low interest rates fail to restore sufficient economic growth. With global expansion still sputtering after years of interest rates near zero, investors will gradually seek alternatives to risky assets, Gross wrote today in an investment outlook for Janus Capital, where he runs the $1.2 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund. “When the year is done, there will be minus signs in front of returns for many asset classes,” Gross, 70, wrote in the outlook. “The good times are over.” Six years after the end of the financial crisis, borrowing costs in the world’s richest nations are stuck near zero, a sign investors have little confidence that their economies will strengthen.

Gross, the former chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Co. who left that firm in September to join Janus, has argued the Federal Reserve won’t raise interest rates until late this year if at all as falling oil prices and a stronger U.S. dollar limit the central bank’s room to increase borrowing costs. The benchmark U.S. 10-year yield fell to 1.99% today, and bonds in the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Broad Market Sovereign Plus Index had an effective yield of 1.28% as of yesterday, the lowest based on data starting in 1996. The all-time 10-year Treasury low is 1.379% on July 25, 2012. Economists predict the yield will rise to 3.06% by end of 2015, according to a Bloomberg News survey with the most recent forecasts given the heaviest weightings.

Stocks plunged yesterday, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropping 1.8% to 2,020.58 and the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index increasing for the fifth time in six days. Declines spurred by tumbling oil and concerns Greece will exit the euro have sent American equities to the biggest decline to start a year since 2005, data compiled by Bloomberg show. While timing the end of a bull market is difficult, the next 12 months will probably see a turning point, Gross wrote. “Knowing when the ‘crowd’ has had enough is an often frustrating task, and it behooves an individual with a reputation at stake to stand clear,” he wrote. “As you know, however, moving out of the way has never been my style.”

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Yes.

Not Just Oil: Are Lower Commodity Prices Here To Stay? (CNBC)

Oil isn’t the only commodity that’s gotten cheaper. From nickel to soybean oil, plywood to sugar, global commodity prices have been on a steady decline as the world’s economy has lost momentum. That lower demand helps explain, in part, why nearly everything from crude oil to cotton has been getting cheaper. Sure, some commodity prices are rising. Local supply constraints have pushed prices higher in some parts of the world; transportation costs can also have a big impact on local prices. In the U.S., for example, a drought in California caused the price of vegetables and other food products to spike last year. Prices are also rising for some commodities, especially meats such as beef and chicken, thanks to growing demand from an expanding middle class in the developing world. But the global cost of most commodities has been on a long-term, downward trend since the Great Recession. The chart below is based on global prices, in dollars, assembled by the World Bank.

Now, as much of the world slogs through a faltering recovery, there are fears that falling prices in slow-moving economies such as Europe and Japan could spark and extended period of deflation, when the consumer prices of finished goods fall over an extended period. Deflation can be difficult to reverse if businesses and consumers start to cut back on spending and investment, waiting for prices to fall further, setting off an economic contraction that can deepen. European central bankers are scrambling to avoid that amid signs that prices in the euro zone have all but flattened. On Monday, the latest data showed that German inflation slowed to its lowest level in over five years in December; prices inched up at an annual rate of 0.1%, down from 0.5% in November. A widely watched inflation index of the entire euro zone is due out Wednesday. Some analysts think it could show a negative reading for the first time since October 2009.

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We’ve seen nothing yet.

Oil Price Slump Deepens As Drillers Seen Slashing Spending (Telegraph)

Brent crude has slumped to a new five-and-a-half-year low as leading ratings agency Moody’s warns that oil companies could be forced to slash spending by up to 40% this year. The benchmark crude contract fell to as low as $51.64 per barrel in early trading, while West Texas Intermediate oil traded in the US fell 2.2% to $48 per barrel. Earlier, Moody’s Investors Service issued a report warning of broad cuts in spending that could soon hit the entire oil and gas industry as companies move to protect their dwindling profit margins. The agency fears that, should prices remain below $60 per barrel for a significant period, companies in North America will slash capital spending by up to 40%.

“If oil prices remain at around $55 a barrel through 2015, most of the lost revenue will hit the E&P [exploration and production] companies’ bottom line, which will reduce cash flow available for re-investment,” said Steven Wood, managing director for corporate finance at Moody’s. “As spending in the E&P sector diminishes, oilfield services companies and midstream operators will begin to feel the stress.” However, Moody’s believes that oil majors such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron and Total are in a stronger position to weather the financial storm caused by lower prices because they have already trimmed their capital expenditure for 2015.

Moody’s is the latest ratings agency to issue a major warning about the impact that falling oil prices will have on exploration and production companies. Standard & Poor’s said last month that the dramatic deterioration in the oil price outlook had prompted it to take a number of “rating actions” on European oil and gas majors including Shell, BP, and BG Group. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud has said that a weak global economy was to blame for the current slide in prices, which will place his kingdom under severe economic stress. In a speech read out on state television by Crown Prince Salman, the king said that Saudi will deal with the current fall in oil prices “with a firm will”. The 91-year-old monarch of the world’s largest oil exporter was recently admitted into hospital, raising concerns over succession in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia was instrumental in convincing the other members of OPEC not to cut output in November, a decision which triggered the current sharp falls in prices. The kingdom, which has the capacity to pump up to 12.5m barrels per day (bpd) of crude), this week discounted its oil heavily to European and US customers as it seeks to protect its market share. European buyers can now pay $4.65 per barrel less than for the Brent reference price for Saudi crude. “There is little reason at present to expect any end to the nose-diving oil prices,” said analysts at Commerzbank.

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Fifth Third Bancorp 2 years ago: “The oil and natural gas sector represents a tremendous growth opportunity.”

How the Bear Market in Crude Oil Has Polluted Non-Energy Stocks (Bloomberg)

Perusing the list of the biggest stock-market losers since the price of oil peaked in June yields some predictable results. You have your large-cap energy companies like Transocean, Denbury, Naborsm Noble and Halliburton, all down at least 45%. Yet mixed in with all the obvious ugliness are some names that bring to mind the question asked of Billy Joel by those drinkers at the piano bar, or perhaps even some of the wedding guests who watched him walk down the aisle with Christie Brinkley: Man, what are you doing here? The answer illustrates how much of an impact the energy industry has had on the bottom line of corporate America, whether it’s companies profiting from the boom in domestic production or those that made big investments based on the premise that fuel will always be expensive. As such it helps explain why the entire stock market, not just the energy companies, tends to freak out when oil heads lower rapidly.

The big bets on high energy prices made by companies like Ford (down 13% since oil peaked on June 20) or Tesla Motors (down 10%) or Boeing (down 3.9%) jump immediately to mind. Not so obvious, unless you follow the stock closely, is the investment made by Fifth Third Bancorp, one of the regional lenders that tried to chase the fracking boom. (It’s down 12% since June 20.) Here’s how the company’s management described the rationale for the launch of a new national energy banking team two years ago: “The energy sector is a rapidly growing industry,” said the announcement. The new team “demonstrates our commitment to providing dedicated banking services to this evolving sector. The oil and natural gas sector represents a tremendous growth opportunity.” The sector certainly is “evolving.” Fitch Ratings last month identified regional banks lifted by the shale boom that now face potential credit pressures in loans related to the industry. Oil prices below $50 a barrel, like now, would likely trigger a jump in credit losses, Fitch said.

Fitch’s list of banks with high concentrations of loans to the industry is topped by BOK Financial, which is down 13% since June 20.; Cullen/Frost, down 16%; Hancock, down 19%; Comerica, down 14%; and Amergy Bank of Texas, which is down 13%. Losses are even worse among the industrial companies that provide the services and sell the pipes, valves and assorted doodads used to pump oil and gas. Fluor Corp. an engineering, maintenance and project management firm that counted on the oil and gas industry for 42% of its revenue in 2013, is down 27% since June 20. Flowserve Corp., whose pumps and valves are used in refineries and pipelines, is off about the same amount. Caterpillar, Joy Global, Allegheny, Dover, Jacobs Engineering and Quanta Services are all down more than 20% since oil peaked at almost $108.

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Oh come on, let’s get real.

As Oil Drops Below $50, Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing? (BW)

Oil falls below $50 a barrel on Jan. 5, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunges nearly 330 points. Seems like an open-and-shut case that the price plunge is getting to be a problem. People remember that in 1998, a sharp decline in the price of oil contributed to a Russian default that rocked the global financial system. Not quite. Cheaper oil is still creating more winners than losers. Far more people live in oil-importing countries than live in oil-exporting countries. The U.S., for one, remains a net importer. The well-publicized travails of U.S. shale oil producers are small compared with the gains by American consumers and businesses that are paying less for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, petrochemicals, and the like. With fuel prices down, people are driving more miles and buying more cars and trucks.

Do the math: Close to 70% of the U.S. economy is consumer spending, which will gain from cheaper crude. Only about 10% is capital spending, of which 10% to 15% is the energy sector. That comes to roughly 1% of U.S. output, which might decline 20% this year, making it a relative drop in the bucket of U.S. gross domestic product, says Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for IHS Global Insight. Why, then, did stock prices fall when West Texas Intermediate for February delivery dropped nearly $3 a barrel on Jan. 5, to $49.89? Mostly because of market fears about global growth, which weighed down both stocks and oil prices, says Gus Faucher, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services. In other words, the latest drop in oil is a symptom, not a cause, of economic weakness, Faucher says. “Anyone who thinks that lower oil/gasoline prices is a net negative for the U.S. (and the global economy) is brain dead, economically speaking!” argues a Dec. 23 report by Faucher’s boss, PNC Chief Economist Stuart Hoffman.

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Try and trick the Germans?!

ECB Considering Three Approaches To QE (Reuters)

The European Central Bank is considering three possible options for buying government bonds ahead of its Jan. 22 policy meeting, Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources. As fears grow that cheaper oil will tip the euro zone into deflation, speculation is rife that the ECB will unveil plans for mass purchases of euro zone government bonds with new money, a policy known as quantitative easing, as soon as this month. According to the paper, one option officials are considering is to pump liquidity into the financial system by having the ECB itself buy government bonds in a quantity proportionate to the given member state’s shareholding in the central bank.

A second option is for the ECB to buy only triple-A rated government bonds, driving their yields down to zero or into negative territory. The hope is that this would push investors into buying riskier sovereign and corporate debt. The third option is similar to the first, but national central banks would do the buying, meaning that the risk would “in principle” remain with the country in question, the paper said.

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Hot air.

Germany Prepares For Possible Greek Exit From Eurozone (Reuters)

Germany is making contingency plans for the possible departure of Greece from the euro zone, including the impact of any run on a bank, tabloid newspaper Bild reported, citing unnamed government sources. The newspaper said the government was running scenarios for the Jan. 25 Greek election in case of a victory by the leftwing Syriza party, which wants to cancel austerity measures and a part of the Greek debt. In a report in the Wednesday issue of the paper, Bild said government experts were concerned about a possible bank collapse if customers storm Greek institutions to secure euro deposits in the event that Greece leaves the zone.

The European Union banking union would then have to intervene with a bailout worth billions, the paper said. Der Spiegel magazine reported on Saturday that Berlin considers a Greek exit almost unavoidable if Syriza wins, but believes the euro zone would be able to cope. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday that Germany wants Greece to stay and there are no contingency plans to the contrary, while noting the euro zone has become far more stable in recent years. As the euro zone’s paymaster, Germany is insisting that Greece stick to austerity and not backtrack on its bailout commitments, especially as it does not want to open the door for other struggling members to relax reform efforts.

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Right. And they have their pet hamsters doing the calculating.

Germany, France Take Calculated Risk With ‘Grexit’ Talk (Reuters)

Evoking a possible Greek exit from the euro zone, Germany and France are taking a coordinated and calculated risk in the hope of averting a leftist victory in Greece’s general election on Jan. 25. The intention, according to Michael Huether, head of Germany’s IW economic institute, is to make clear that other euro area countries “can get on well without Greece, but Greece cannot get on without Europe”, and to warn that the left-wing Syriza party would bring disaster on the country. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, whose party leads in opinion polls, insists he wants to keep Greece in the euro. However, he has promised to end austerity imposed by foreign creditors under the country’s bailout deal if he wins power, and wants part of the €240 billion lent by the EU and IMF written off.

The risk is that the European Union’s two main powers are seen by Greeks as interfering and threatening them, provoking a backlash after a six-year recession that shrunk their economy by 20% and put one in four workers out of a job. French President Francois Hollande said on Monday it was up to the Greek people to decide whether they wanted to stay in the single currency, while a German magazine reported that Berlin no longer feared a “Grexit” would endanger the entire euro area. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman did not explicitly deny the weekend “Der Spiegel” report but said: “The aim has been to stabilize the euro zone with all its members, including Greece. There has been no change in our stance.”

Merkel and Hollande conferred by telephone during the winter holidays and will meet in Strasbourg on Sunday with European Parliament President Martin Schulz for what a French diplomatic source insisted were not crisis talks on Greece. Should center-right Prime Minister Antonis Samaras lose power in the election, the real issue was how a Syriza-led government might seek to reschedule Greece’s debt, not its place in the euro, the French source said. Paris and Berlin have underlined that any new government in Athens would have to honor the country’s obligation to repay the bailout loans received since 2010. In an article in the Huffington Post, Tsipras accused German conservatives of spreading “old wives’ tales”, singling out Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Syriza, a coalition of former communist and independent leftist groups, “is not an ogre, or a big threat to Europe, but the voice of reason,” he wrote.

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Tsipras himself sees it this way:

Greece On the Cusp of a Historic Change (Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA)

Greece is on the cusp of a historic change. SYRIZA is no longer just a hope for Greece and the Greek people. It is also an expectation of a change of course for the whole of Europe. Because Europe will not come out of the crisis without a policy change, and the victory of SYRIZA in the 25th of January elections will strengthen the forces of change. Because the dead end in Greece is the dead end of today’s Europe. On January 25th, the Greek people are called to make history with their vote, to trail a space of change and hope of all people across Europe by condemning the failed memoranda of austerity, proving that when people want to, when they dare, and when they overcome fear, then things can change. The expectations alone of political change in Greece, has already begun to change things in Europe. 2015 is not 2012

SYRIZA is not an ogre, or a big threat to Europe, but the voice of reason. It’s the alarm clock which will lift Europe from its lethargy and sleepwalking. This is why SYRIZA is no longer treated as a major threat like it was in 2012, but as a challenge to change. By all? Not by all. A small minority, centered on the conservative leadership of the German government and a part of the populist press, insists on rehashing old wives’ tales and Grexit stories. Just like Mr. Samaras in Greece, they can no longer convince anyone. Now that the Greek people have experienced his government, they know how to tell the lies from the truth. Mr. Samaras offers no other program except continuing with the failed MOU of austerity.

It has committed itself and others to new wage and pension cuts, new tax increases, in the framework of accumulated income cuts and over- taxation of six whole years. He asks Greek citizens to vote for him so that he can implement the new memorandum. It is precisely because he has committed to austerity, that he interprets the rejection of this failed and destructive policy as a supposedly unilateral action. He is essentially hiding that Greece as a Eurozone member is committed to targets and not to the political means by which those targets are achieved. For this reason, and unlike the ruling party of Nea Dimokratia, SYRIZA has committed to the Greek people to apply from the first days of its’ administration a specific, cost-efficient and fiscally balanced program, “The Thessaloniki Program” regardless of our negotiation with our lenders.

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The editor told them not to call it deflation.

Eurozone Inflation Turns Negative For First Time Since October 2009 (Reuters)

Euro zone consumer prices fell by more than expected in December because of much cheaper energy, a first estimate by the European statistic office showed in data that is likely to trigger the European Central Bank’s government bond buying program. Eurostat said inflation in the 18 countries using the euro in December was -0.2% year-on-year, down from 0.3% year-on-year in November. The last time euro zone inflation was negative was in October 2009, when it was -0.1%. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a -0.1% year-on-year fall in prices. The ECB wants to keep inflation below but close to 2% over the medium term. Eurostat said that core inflation, which excludes the volatile energy and unprocessed food prices, was stable at 0.7% year-on-year in December – the same level as in November and October. But energy prices plunged 6.3% year-on-year last month and unprocessed food was 1.0% cheaper, pulling down the overall index despite a 1.2% rise in the cost of services.

The ECB is concerned that a prolonged period of very low inflation could change inflation expectations of consumers and make them hold back their purchases in the hope of even lower prices, triggering deflation. Because the ECB’s interest rates are already at rock bottom, the bank is preparing a program of printing money to buy government bonds on the secondary market to inject even more cash into the economy, boost demand and make prices rise faster. Economists expect the decision to launch such a bond buying program could be made as soon as the ECB’s next meeting on January 22. “We are in technical preparations to adjust the size, speed and compositions of our measures early 2015, should it become necessary to react to a too long period of low inflation. There is unanimity within the Governing Council on this,” ECB President Mario Draghi said on January 1. Inflation in the euro zone has below 1% – or what the ECB calls the danger zone – since October 2013.

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There we go again. Maybe the ECB is behind this.

Greek 10-Year Bond Yields Exceed 10% for First Time Since 2013 (Bloomberg)

For the first time in 15 months, Greek 10-year government bond yields are back above 10%. The rate on the securities climbed to 10.18% today as investors abandoned the bonds in the run-up to a Jan. 25 election that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said will determine Greece’s euro membership. Greek stocks also fell, posting the biggest decline among 18 western-European markets. The double-digit yield is reminiscent of the euro region’s debt crisis. In 2012, Greece’s 10-year rates climbed as high as 44.21% before the nation held the biggest reorganization of sovereign debt in history.

Greek 10-year yields increased 44 basis points, or 0.44 %age point, to 10.18% at 11:02 a.m. London time. The 2% bond due in February 2024 fell 1.885, or 18.85 euros per 1,000-euro ($1,185) face amount, to 60.585. The nation’s three-year rate jumped 60 basis points to 14.65%. The ASE Index of stocks fell 2.7%, set for the lowest close since November 2012. With a 29% slump, the ASE posted the world’s worst performance among equity indexes after Russia last year.

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We said long ago that the dollar would rise.

Euro’s Drop is a Turning Point for Central Banks Reserves (Bloomberg)

Central banks and reserve managers are breaking from past practice by showing little appetite to add euros as the currency tumbles. The total amount of reserves held in euros fell 8.1% in the third quarter, more than the currency’s 7.8% decline in the period against the dollar, according to the most recent figures from the International Monetary Fund. The last two times the euro depreciated 7% or more in a quarter, 2011 and 2010, holdings declined much less. The data suggest reserve managers are passing up the chance to buy euros while they’re cheap, removing a key pillar of support. In August, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi cited the drop in central banks’ euro holdings as a factor that would help weaken the exchange rate and ultimately boost the region’s faltering economy.

“Central banks have found new reasons not to feel comfortable with the euro,” Stephen Jen, managing partner and co-founder of SLJ Macro, said. “Nobody wants to have a negative yield. You’re not keeping a currency to lose money.” The ECB has experimented with negative interest rates on deposits in an attempt to draw money out of safe government debt and into the broader economy. Yields on two-year notes in Germany, the Netherlands and France are all below zero on speculation the ECB is losing the battle against deflation. Policy makers are signaling they are ready to step up the fight by expanding the money supply through further stimulus, such as purchasing government debt, that typically weigh on a currency’s value.

Adding to the pressure is concern that Draghi won’t be able to hold the currency bloc together amid signs Greece may quit the euro area after its Jan. 25 election. The 19-nation euro fell in each of the past six months, dropping to $1.1843 today, its lowest level since February 2006. A spokesman for the Frankfurt-based ECB, who asked not to be identified, said yesterday by e-mail that the international role of the euro is primarily determined by market forces and the central bank neither hinders nor promotes it. The amount of euros held in allocated reserves – or those where the currency is specified – fell to $1.4 trillion in the third quarter, or 22.6% of the total, from $1.5 trillion, or 24.1%, at the end of June, according to figures published by the IMF on Dec. 31. The proportion is the lowest since 2002 and down from as much as 28% in 2009.

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“We expect the ECB to announce a broad-based asset-purchase program including government bonds.”

Eurozone Prices Seen Falling as Risk of Deflation Spiral Mounts (Bloomberg)

Consumer prices in the euro area probably fell for the first time in more than five years last month, pushing the European Central Bank closer to adding stimulus as it battles to revive inflation. Prices dropped an annual 0.1% in December, according to the median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey. That would be the first decline since October 2009. ECB officials are working on a plan to buy government bonds as they strive to prevent a deflationary spiral of falling prices and households postponing spending, a risk President Mario Draghi has said can’t be “entirely excluded.” They may use a gathering tomorrow to weigh options for a quantitative-easing program that may be announced at their Jan. 22 policy meeting.

“Inflation will most likely fall even further in January and remain extremely low all year long,” said Evelyn Herrmann, European economist at BNP Paribas SA in London. “We expect the ECB to announce a broad-based asset-purchase program including government bonds.” A sluggish economy and plunging oil prices are damping inflation across the euro region. Consumer prices are falling on an annual basis in Spain and Greece, while data yesterday showed inflation in Germany at 0.1%, its weakest since 2009. Crude oil prices have fallen about 50% in the past year amid a supply glut. Core euro-zone inflation, which strips out volatile items such as energy, food, tobacco and alcohol, is forecast to have increased 0.7% year-on-year in December.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, will publish the data at 11 a.m. in Luxembourg, along with its unemployment report for November. ECB officials have taken different approaches in analyzing the impact of plunging oil prices on the economy. While Draghi has warned of a dis-anchoring of inflation expectations and signaled support for QE, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann favors not acting at this time, arguing that the drop could prove to be a “mini-stimulus package.”

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“Daniel Stelter at think tank Beyond the Obvious has even called for giving €5,000 to €10,000 to each citizen. “It has to be massive if it is going to have any effect,” he says.”

Operation Helicopter: Could Free Money Help the Euro Zone? (Spiegel)

It sounds at first like a crazy thought experiment: One morning, every resident of the euro zone comes home to find a check in their mailbox worth over €500 euros ($597) and possibly as much as €3,000. A gift, just like that, sent by the ECB in Frankfurt. The scenario is less absurd than it may sound. Indeed, many serious academics and financial experts are demanding exactly that. They want ECB chief Mario Draghi to fire up the printing presses and hand out money directly to the people. The logic behind the idea is that recipients of the money will head to the shops, helping to turn around a paralyzed economy in the common currency area. In response, companies would have to increase production and hire more workers, leading to both economic growth and a needed increase in prices because of the surge in demand.

Currently, the inflation rate is barely above zero and fears of a horror deflation scenario of the kind seen during the Great Depression in the United States are haunting the euro zone. The ECB, whose main task is euro stability, has lost control. In this desperate situation, an increasing number of economists and finance professionals are promoting the concept of “helicopter money,” tantamount to dispersing cash across the country by way of helicopter. The idea, which even Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once found attractive, has triggered ferocious debates between central bank officials in Europe and academics. For backers, there’s more to this than just a new instrument. They are questioning cast-iron doctrines of monetary policy. One thing, after all, is becoming increasingly clear: Draghi and his fellow central bank leaders have exhausted all traditional means for combatting deflation.

The failure of these efforts can be easily explained. Thus far, central banks have primarily provided funding to financial institutions. The ECB provided banks with loans at low interest rates or purchased risky securities from them in the hope that they would in turn issue more loans to companies and consumers. The problem is that many households and firms are so far in debt already that they are eschewing any new credit, meaning the money isn’t ultimately making its way to the real economy as hoped. Sylvain Broyer at French investment bank Natixis, says, “It would make much more sense to take the money the ECB wants to deploy in the fight against deflation and distribute it directly to the people.” Draghi has calculated expenditures of a trillion euros for his emergency program, funds that would be sufficient to provide each euro zone citizen with a gift of around €3,000.

Daniel Stelter at think tank Beyond the Obvious, has even called for giving €5,000 to €10,000 to each citizen. “It has to be massive if it is going to have any effect,” he says. Stelter freely admits that such figures are estimates. After all, not a single central bank has ever tried such a daring experiment. Many academics have based their calculations on experiences in the United States, where the government has in the past provided cash gifts to taxpayers in the form of rebates in order to shore up the economy. Oxford economist John Muellbauer, for one, looks back to 2001. After the Dot.com crash, the US gave all taxpayers a $300 rebate. On the basis of the experience at the time, Muellbauer calculates that €500 per capita would be sufficient to spur the euro zone. “It (the helicopter money) would even be much cheaper for the ECB than the current programs>],” the academic says.

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Ambrose doesn’t like Putin.

Russia’s ‘Perfect Storm’: Reserves Vanish, Derivatives’ Default Warnings (AEP)

Russia’s foreign reserves have dropped to the lowest level since the Lehman crisis and are vanishing at an unsustainable rate as the country struggles to defends the rouble against capital flight. Central bank data show that a blitz of currency intervention depleted reserves by $26bn in the two weeks to December 26, the fastest pace of erosion since the crisis in Ukraine erupted early last year. Credit defaults swaps (CDS) measuring bankruptcy risk for Russia spiked violently on Tuesday, surging by 100 basis points to 630, before falling back slightly. Markit says this implies a 32% expectation of a sovereign default over the next five years, the highest since Western sanctions and crumbling oil prices combined to cripple the Russian economy. Total reserves have fallen from $511bn to $388bn in a year. The Kremlin has already committed a third of what remains to bolster the domestic economy in 2015, greatly reducing the amount that can be used to defend the rouble.

The Institute for International Finance (IIF) says the danger line is $330bn, given the dollar liabilities of Russian companies and chronic capital flight. Currency intervention did stabilise the exchange rate in late December after a spectacular crash threatened to spin out of control, but relief is proving short-lived. The rouble weakened sharply to 64 against the dollar on Tuesday. It has slumped moe than 20% since Christmas, with increasing contagion to Belarus, Georgia and other closely-linked economies. There are signs that Russia’s crisis may undermine President Vladimir’s Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union before it has got off the ground. Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko is already insisting that trade be carried out in US dollars, while Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev warned that the Russian crash poses a “major risk” to the new venture.

The rouble is trading in lockstep with Brent crude, which has continued its relentless slide this week, falling to a five-year low of $51.50 a barrel. “If oil drops to $45 or lower and stays there, Russia is going to face a big problem,” said Mikhail Liluashvili, from Oxford Economics. “The central bank will try to smooth volatility but they will have to let the rouble fall and this could push inflation to 20%.” Under the Russian central bank’s “emergency scenario”, GDP may contract by as much as 4.7% this year if oil settles at $60. The damage could be worse following the bank’s contentious decision to raise rates from 9.5% to 17% in December. BNP Paribas says that each 1% rise in rates cuts 0.8% off GDP a year later. BNP’s Tatiana Tchembarova said the situation is more serious than in 2008, when Russia had to spend $170bn to rescue its banks. This time it no longer has enough reserves to cover external debt, and it enters the crisis “twice as levered”.

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Why bother?

Obama Threatens Keystone XL Veto (BBC)

President Barack Obama will veto a bill approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline if it passes Congress, the White House has said. It is the first major legislation to be introduced in the Republican-controlled Congress and a vote is expected in the House later this week. Spokesman Josh Earnest said the legislation would undermine a “well-established” review process. The $5.4bn (£3.6bn) project was first introduced in 2008. Mr Obama has been critical of the pipeline, saying at the end of last year it would primarily benefit Canadian oil firms and not contribute much to already dropping petrol prices. Environmentalists are also critical of the project, a proposed 1,179-mile (1,897km) pipe that would run from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it could join an existing pipe.

And the project is the subject of a unresolved lawsuit in Nebraska over the route of the pipeline. “There is already a well-established process in place to consider whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country,” Mr Earnest said on Tuesday. He added that the question of the Nebraska route was “impeding a final conclusion” from the US on the project. Despite the veto threat from the White House, the bill sponsors say they have enough Democratic votes to overcome a procedural hurdle to pass in the Senate.

“The Congress on a bipartisan basis is saying we are approving this project,” said Republican John Hoeven, one of the bill’s sponsors. But Mr Hoeven and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said they would be open to additional amendments to the bill, a test of the changing political realities of the Senate. Democratic critics of the bill are said to be planning to add measures to prohibit exporting the oil abroad, use American materials in the pipeline construction and increased investment in clean energy. It is unclear if those amendments would gather the two-thirds of votes needed in both chambers to override Mr Obama’s veto.

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But took decisions costing trillions of pounds anyway.

Bank Of England Was Unaware Of Impending Financial Crisis (BBC)

A month before the start of the financial crisis, the Bank of England was apparently unaware of the impending danger, new documents reveal. In a unique insight of its workings, the Bank has published minutes of top-secret meetings of the so-called Court that took place between 2007 and 2009. The minutes show that the Bank did identify liquidity as a “central concern” in July 2007. However no action was taken as a result. The documents show that the Bank also used a series of code names for banks that were in trouble. Royal Bank of Scotland was known as “Phoenix”, and Lloyds as “Lark”. Following publication, Andrew Tyrie MP, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, was highly critical of some of the Court’s non-executive directors. He said they had failed to challenge senior executive members, like the then governor, Mervyn King, whom some accuse of failing to prioritise financial stability.

The minutes show that in July 2007, the Court – akin to a company board – spent time discussing staff pensions, open days and new members of the Monetary Policy Committee. Members heard that the Bank was working on a new model to detect risks to the financial system, but there was little suggestion of any impending trouble. Less than a month later, on 9 August, the French bank BNP Paribas came clean about its exposure to sub-prime mortgages, in what some believe was the start of the financial crisis. Six weeks later, despite some turmoil in financial markets, Court members were told to have confidence in the triple oversight of the Bank of England, the Treasury and the then Financial Services Authority (FSA). “The Executive believed that the events of the last month had proven the sense and strength of the tripartite framework,” the minutes asserted for the 12th September, 2007. The next day the banking crisis began in earnest.

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