Jan 012015
 
 January 1, 2015  Posted by at 12:37 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Gillender Building, corner of Nassau and Wall Streets, built 1897, wrecked 1910 1900

Third Of Listed UK Oil And Gas Drillers Face Bankruptcy (Telegraph)
Occam’s Oil (Alhambra)
AAA Says Motorists May Save $75 Billion on Gasoline in 2015 (Bloomberg)
Bottom On Oil’s Plunge Unknown (CNBC)
US Eases Oil Export Ban In Shot At OPEC As Crude Price Slumps (Telegraph)
Even $20 Oil Will Struggle To Save Self–Harming Eurozone (Telegraph)
ECB’s Draghi Says Eurozone Must ‘Complete’ Monetary Union (Reuters)
Greek Expulsion From The Euro Would Demolish EMU’s Contagion Firewall (AEP)
Europe’s Shadow Budget Venture Could Lead To Spiralling Debt (Sinn)
Implications for the ECB and Its Preparation for Sovereign QE (Elga Bartsch)
Seven Shocking Events Of 2014 (Ugo Bardi)
For the Wealthiest Political Donors, It Was a Very Good Year (Bloomberg)
Pension Funds Triple Stake In Reinsurance Business to $59 Billion (NY Times)
Inside Obama’s Secret Outreach to Russia (Bloomberg)
Italian President to Resign, Posing Challenge for Renzi (Bloomberg)
Rousseff Begins Second Term as Brazil Economic Malaise Hits Home
Eyes On Saudi Succession After King Hospitalized (CNBC)
Saudi Succession Plan About Continuity (CNBC)
Sony Hackers Threaten US News Media Organization (Intercept)
Next Year’s Ebola Crisis (Bloomberg ed.)

“.. 70% of the UK’s publicly listed oil exploration and production companies are now unprofitable..” We can all see what that means for the global industry.

Third Of Listed UK Oil And Gas Drillers Face Bankruptcy (Telegraph)

A third of Britain’s listed oil and gas companies are in danger of running out of working capital and even going bankrupt amid a slump in the value of crude, according to new research. Financial risk management group Company Watch believes that 70% of the UK’s publicly listed oil exploration and production companies are now unprofitable, racking up significant losses in the region of £1.8bn. Such is the extent of the financial pressure now bearing down on highly leveraged drillers in the UK that Company Watch estimates that a third of the 126 quoted oil and gas companies on AIM and the London Stock Exchange are generating no revenues. The findings are the latest warning to hit the oil and gas industry since a slump in the price of crude accelerated in November when the OPEC decided to keep its output levels unchanged.

The decision has caused carnage in oil markets with a barrel of Brent crude falling 45% since June to around $60 per barrel. The low cost of crude has added to the financial pressure on many UK listed drillers which are operating in offshore areas such as the North Sea where oil is more expensive to produce and discover. Ewan Mitchell, head of analytics at Company Watch, said: “Many of the smaller quoted oil and gas companies were set up specifically to take advantage of historically high and rising commodity prices. The recent large falls in the price of oil and gas could leave the weaker companies in difficulties, especially the ones that need to raise funds to keep exploring.” Losses are expected to be much deeper among privately-owned oil and gas explorers, which traditionally have more debt.

Company Watch has warned that almost 90% in the UK are loss making with accounts that show a £12bn accumulated black hole in their finances. Mr Mitchell said: “Investors in this sector need to focus primarily on the strength and structure of the balance sheet. A critical question is whether the balance sheet is sufficiently robust to keep the company in business until revenues are expected to flow and, crucially are they likely to be able to rely on existing funding lines while they wait? “Our fear is sustained low oil and gas prices will put an intolerable financial burden on the weaker companies, jeopardising many livelihoods.”

The findings of the Company Watch research are the latest downbeat analysis to hit the industry, which is preparing itself for oil prices to fall below current levels of $60 per barrel. Sir Ian Wood, founder of the oil and gas services giant Wood Group, warned earlier this month that the North Sea oil industry could lose 15,000 jobs in Scotland alone and that production could fall by 10% as drillers cut back. According to energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie, around £55bn of oil and gas projects in the North Sea and Europe could be shelved should prices fall below their current levels. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s recently flagged its concern of some of Europe’s biggest oil and gas groups such as Royal Dutch Shell, BP and BG Group. Its primary worry is debt levels which it says have jumped from a combined $162.9bn (£105bn) for the five largest European companies in the sector at the end of 2008 to an estimated $240bn in 2014.

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It’s about demand, not supply.

Occam’s Oil (Alhambra)

As my colleague Joe Calhoun continually reminds us, everything that happens has happened before. The ongoing “struggle” to define what is driving crude oil prices lower is perhaps another instance of a past “cycle” being reborn. With oil prices now heading much closer to the $40’s than the $60’s, consistent commentary is increasingly swept aside. The move in crude these past six months is now nothing short of astounding. At about $52 current prices (which will probably move in either direction significantly by the time this is posted) the collapse from the recent peak now equals only past, significant global recessions under the oil regime that began in the mid-1980’s.

That comparison includes the 1997-98 Asian “flu” episode where the mainstream convention was also totally convinced of only massive oversupply defining price action. This was incorporated even into the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) estimates of oil inventories, as described shortly thereafter by certain incredulous oil observers:

Fourteen months have passed since the International Energy Agency’s oil analysts alerted the world to the mystery of the “missing barrels.” This new term referred to the discrepancy between the “well-documented” imbalance between supply and demand for oil and the lack of any stock build in the industrialized world’s petroleum supply. In April last year [1998], the IEA’s “missing supply” totaled only 170 million barrels. At the time, the IEA described this odd situation an “arithmetic mystery,” but assured us that these missing barrels would soon show up. As months passed by, stock revisions occasionally too place, but often in the wrong direction. Rather than shrink, the amount of “missing barrels” grew by epochal proportions.

By the publication date of the IEA’s April 1999 Oil Market Report, the unaccounted for crude needed to confirm the IEA’s extremely bearish views of massive oversupply of oil throughout 1997 and 1998 ballooned to an astonishing 647 million barrels of oil. Two months later, the IEA’s June report still presumes that 510 million barrels of oil is still “missing”, and the IEA has officially opined that it all resides in the un-traded storage facilities in the developing countries of the world.

As the author of that analysis points out in another piece, those “un-traded storage facilities” being blamed were sometimes ridiculous notions, such as “slow-steaming tankers”, South African coal mines or even Swedish salt domes. In other words, the idea that there was this massive oversupply of oil production driving the almost 60% collapse in global crude prices in 1997 and 1998 was total bunk. Instead, what was driving prices lower was the simple fact of supply and demand balancing to achieve a physical clearing price. That meant, in the broader context far and away from Swedish salt domes, the price of oil was really trading on the collapse in global demand for it. The Asian “flu” was not simply a financial panic among “unimportant”, far-flung isolated economies of tiny nations, but rather a global slowdown across nearly every economy – which sharply lower oil prices simply confirmed.

[..] today, the Saudis are supposedly up to the same tricks, now trying to drive US shale production out of business. The fact that all those increased marginal suppliers more than survived the Asia flu tells you everything you need to know about this wild assertion of “intentional” Saudi action. It is a convoluted rumor that survives solely because it is convenient to those economists and commentators that refuse to accept these more basic connections.

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“We’re buying more of it from ourselves, which is a great economic multiplier.” Well, until you start losing 1000s of jobs.

AAA Says Motorists May Save $75 Billion on Gasoline in 2015 (Bloomberg)

Drivers in the U.S. may save as much as $75 billion at gasoline pumps in 2015 after a yearlong rout in crude oil sent prices tumbling, AAA said today. Americans already saved $14 billion on the motor fuel this year, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, the country’s largest motoring group. Pump prices have dropped a record 97 consecutive days to a national average $2.26 a gallon today, the lowest since May 12, 2009, AAA said by e-mail. A global glut of crude oil and a standoff between U.S. producers and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries over market share has been a boon for consumers. U.S. production climbed this year to the highest in three decades amid a surge in output from shale deposits.

Oil is heading for its biggest annual decline since the 2008 financial crisis. “Next year promises to provide much bigger savings to consumers as long as crude oil remains relatively cheap,” Avery Ash, an AAA spokesman, said by e-mail today. “It would not be surprising for U.S. consumers to save $50-$75 billion on gasoline in 2015 if prices remain low.” U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 46% this year while Brent oil, the international benchmark that contributes to the price of gasoline imports, fell 49%. “It’s getting lower because what happened? We drilled in the United States,” Peyton Feltus, president of Randolph Risk Management in Dallas, said today in a telephone interview.

“We’re buying more of it from ourselves, which is a great economic multiplier.” There is “significant uncertainty” over the cost of crude next year as lower prices may force companies to curb production and may also lead to instability in other oil-producing countries, the motoring group said. Gasoline futures fell 48% this year to close at $1.4353 a gallon today on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The average U.S. household will save about $550 on gasoline costs next year, with spending on track to reach the lowest in 11 years, the Energy Information Administration said Dec. 16. “They’ve got more disposable income and they’re going to have even more in the coming months,” Feltus said. “Gasoline prices are going to go lower than anybody thought they could.”

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“It’s similar to 2008 when we knew oil at $120, $130 and $140 made no sense, but high prices became the reason for higher prices. It’s the same thing in reverse.”

Bottom On Oil’s Plunge Unknown (CNBC)

Oil’s massive price drop continues to befuddle industry experts. “We’re at the stupid range,” Stephen Schork, editor and founder of The Schork Report, said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Schork added this situation is similar to oil’s price spike in 2008 in terms of its uncertainty. “We don’t know how much lower oil can go,” Schork said. “It’s similar to 2008 when we knew oil at $120, $130 and $140 made no sense, but high prices became the reason for higher prices. It’s the same thing in reverse.” Schork also said oil’s price plunge is attracting many investors. “Bets for oil below $30 by June traded over 46,000 contracts over the past two weeks,” he said.

Also on “Squawk Box,” Boris Schlossberg, founding partner of B.K. Asset Management, said an entire year of oil selling at $50 per barrel will create problems for Russia. “Russia is in very serious trouble if oil just stays low,” he said. “We had a bounce in the ruble, and it sort of stabilized right now, but if you have oil staying at $54 for a whole year, it’s really going to create problems over there.” Schlossberg added that this could lead to more capital leaving Russia for other currencies, including the Swiss franc. “There’s a lot of money being moved into the Swiss franc as a safety trade,” he said.

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“The move could signal that a full opening of the export ban, which has existed since the oil shock of the 1970s, is imminent.”

US Eases Oil Export Ban In Shot At OPEC As Crude Price Slumps (Telegraph)

President Barack Obama has fired a shot at the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the war to control global oil markets by quietly sanctioning the easing of America’s 40-year ban on exporting crude. The US government has reportedly told oil companies they can begin to export shipments of condensate – a high-grade crude produced as a by-product of gas – without going through the formal approval process. The move could signal that a full opening of the export ban, which has existed since the oil shock of the 1970s, is imminent. Brent crude fell sharply on the news, first reported by Reuters. The global benchmark opened down almost 2% in London at $56.85 per barrel as it closes in on its biggest annual drop since the financial crisis in 2008. Brent has lost 50% of its value since reaching its year-long high in June. The ending of America’s self-imposed embargo on oil exports would mark a serious escalation in the unfolding oil price war with OPEC led by Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has made it clear that it is willing to watch the price of oil fall lower in order to protect its share of the global market. OPEC share has fallen to about a third of world supply, down from about half 20 years ago as the flood in shale oil drilling in the US and new supplies from Russia and South America have created a global glut. Meanwhile, the sharp fall in the value of oil is placing economies in major producing nations such as Venezuela and Russia under extreme strain. Venezuela – also a member of OPEC – has fallen into recession after its economy contracted for the first three quarters of the year, while inflation topped 63% in the 12 months to November. The South American oil giant’s economy shrank 2.3% in the third quarter, after contracting 4.8% in the first quarter and 4.9% in the second, the central bank has said.

Recession also looms in Russia, where the economy has fallen into decline for the first time in five years, according to official figures, which show that GDP contracted by 0.5% in the year to November. Falling oil prices are helping the US to exert pressure on the Kremlin over President Vladimir Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine. Oil also came under pressure on the final day of the year after new data showed that China may miss its growth target for 2014. China manufacturing PMI fell to 49.6, down from final 50.0 in November. This is the first time in the second half of the year that China’s factory sector has contracted and has increased the possibility that 2014 GDP will miss the official 7.5% target. “Weak Chinese manufacturing data also damaged demand sentiment around oil as Brent breached the $57 handle,” said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote.

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“When the future arrives, prices will still be low, confounding those who have bought forward.”

Even $20 Oil Will Struggle To Save Self–Harming Eurozone (Telegraph)

Revisiting the past year’s predictions is, for most columnists – yours truly included – a frequently humbling experience. The howlers tend to far outweigh the successes. Yet, for a change, I can genuinely claim to have got my main call for markets – that oil would sink to $80 a barrel or less – spot on, and for the right reasons, too. Just in case you think I’m making it up, this is what I said 12 months ago: “My big prediction is for $80 oil, from which much of the rest of my outlook for the coming year flows. It’s hard to overstate the significance of a much lower oil price – Brent at, say, $80 a barrel, or perhaps lower still – yet this is a surprisingly likely prospect, the implications of which have been largely missed by mainstream economic forecasters.” If on to a good thing, you might as well stick with it; so for the coming year, I’m doubling up on this forecast.

Far from bouncing back to the post crisis “normal” of something over $100 a barrel, as many oil traders seem to expect, my view is that the oil price will remain low for a long time, sinking to perhaps as little as $20 a barrel over the coming year before recovering a little. I’ve used the word “normal” to describe $100 oil, but in fact such prices are in historic terms something of an aberration. The long term, 20–year average is, in today’s money (adjusting for inflation), more like $60. It wasn’t that long ago that OPEC was targeting $25 oil, which back then seemed a comparatively high price. Be that as it may, for 15 years prior to the turn of the century Brent traded at around the $20 mark in nominal terms. Oil at $20 is a much more “normal” price than $100. The assumption of much higher prices is in truth a very modern phenomenon, born of explosive emerging market demand. For the time being, this seems to be over. Chinese growth is slowing and becoming less energy intensive.

By the by, however, the relatively high prices of the past 10 years have incentivised both a giant leap in supply – in the shape of American shale and other once marginal sources – and continued paring back of existing demand, as consumers, under additional pressure from environmental objectives, seek greater efficiency. Lots of new technologies have been developed to further these aims. Personally, I wouldn’t read much into the present deep “contango” in markets – an unusual alignment whereby futures prices are a lot higher than present spot prices. Some cite this as evidence that the price will shortly rebound. I’d say it’s just a leftover from the old “peak oil” mindset of permanently high prices. When the future arrives, prices will still be low, confounding those who have bought forward. In any case, for now we are faced with an oil glut, and there is no reason to believe that this mismatch between supply and demand is going to close any time soon.

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Draghi must leave.

ECB’s Draghi Says Eurozone Must ‘Complete’ Monetary Union (Reuters)

Euro zone countries must “complete” their monetary union by integrating economic policies further and working towards a capital markets union, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said. In an article for Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Wednesday, Draghi said structural reforms were needed to “ensure that each country is better off permanently belonging to the euro area”. He said the lack of reforms “raises the threat of an exit (from the euro) whose consequences would ultimately hit all members”, adding the ECB’s monetary policy, whose goal is price stability, could not react to shocks in individual countries.

He said an economic union would make markets more confident about future growth prospects – essential for reducing high debt levels – and so less likely to react negatively to setbacks such as a temporary increase in budget deficits. “This means governing together, going from co-ordination to a common decisional process, from rules to institutions.” Unifying capital markets to follow this year’s banking union would also make the bloc more resilient. “How risks are shared is connected to the depth of capital markets, in particular stock markets. As a consequence, we must proceed swiftly towards a capital markets union,” Draghi wrote.

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“An army of critics retort that the underlying picture is turning blacker by the day. Europe’s rescue apparatus is not what it seems. The banking union belies its name. It is merely a supervision union.”

Greek Expulsion From The Euro Would Demolish EMU’s Contagion Firewall (AEP)

We know from memoirs and a torrent of leaks that Europe’s creditor bloc came frighteningly close to ejecting Greece from the euro in early 2012, and would have done so with relish. Former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has described the mood at a G7 conclave in Canada in February of that year all too vividly. “The Europeans came into that meeting basically saying: ‘We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They are really terrible. They lied to us, and we’re going to crush them,’” he said. “I just made very clear right then: if you want to be tough on them, that’s fine, but you have to make sure that you’re not going to allow the crisis to spread beyond Greece.” German chancellor Angela Merkel did later retreat but only once it was clear from stress in the bond markets that Italy and Spain would be swept away in the ensuing panic, setting off an EMU-wide systemic crisis.

The prevailing view in Berlin and even Brussels is that no such risk exists today: Europe has since created a ring of firewalls; debtor states have been knocked into shape by their EMU drill sergeants. The democratic drama unfolding in Greece this month is therefore a local matter. If Syriza rebels win power on January 25 and carry out threats to repudiate the EU-IMF Troika Memorandum from their “first day in office”, Greece alone will suffer the consequences. “I believe that monetary union can today handle a Greek exit,” said Michael Hüther, head of Germany’s IW institute. “The knock-on effects would be limited. There has been institutional progress such as the banking union. Europe is far less easily blackmailed than it was three years ago.” This loosely is the “German view”, summed up pithily by Berenberg’s Holger Schmieding: “We’re looking at a Greece problem, the euro crisis is over. I do not expect markets to seriously contest the contagion defences of Europe.”

It sounds plausible. Bond yields in Italy, Spain and Portugal touched a record low this week. Yet it rests on the overarching assumption that the Merkel plan of austerity and “internal devaluation” has succeeded. An army of critics retort that the underlying picture is turning blacker by the day. Europe’s rescue apparatus is not what it seems. The banking union belies its name. It is merely a supervision union. Each EMU state bears the burden for rescuing its own lenders. Europe’s leaders never delivered on their promise to “break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns”. The political facts on the ground are that the anti-euro Front National is leading in France, the neo-Marxist Podemos movement is leading in Spain, and all three opposition parties in Italy are now hostile to monetary union.

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Creative accounting intended to fool the German court system(s). Good luck with that.

Europe’s Shadow Budget Venture Could Lead To Spiralling Debt (Sinn)

More details about the European commission’s €315bn (£247bn) investment plan for 2015-17 have finally come to light. The programme, announced in November by the commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker,amounts to a huge shadow budget – twice as large as the EU’s annual official budget – that will finance public investment projects and ultimately help governments circumvent debt limits established in the stability and growth pact. The borrowing will be arranged through the new European fund for strategic investment, operating under the umbrella of the European Investment Bank. The EFSI will be equipped with €5bn in start-up capital, produced through the revaluation of existing EIB assets, and will be backed by €16bn in guarantees from the European commission. The fund is expected to leverage this to acquire roughly €63bn in loans, with private investors subsequently contributing around €5 for every €1 lent – bringing total investment to the €315bn target.

Though EU countries will not contribute any actual funds, they will provide implicit and explicit guarantees for the private investors, in an arrangement that looks suspiciously like the joint liability embodied by Eurobonds. Faced with Angela Merkel’s categorical rejection of Eurobonds, the EU engaged a horde of financial specialists to find a creative way to circumvent it. They came up with the EFSI. Though the fund will not be operational until mid-2015, EU member countries have already proposed projects for the European commission’s consideration. By early December, all 28 EU governments had submitted applications – and they are still coming. An assessment of the application documents conducted by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research found that the nearly 2,000 potential projects would cost a total of €1.3tr, with about €500bn spent before the end of 2017. Some 53% of those costs correspond to public projects; 15% to public-private partnerships (PPPs); 21% to private projects; and just over 10% to projects that could not be classified.

The public projects will presumably involve EFSI financing, with governments assuming the interest payments and amortisation. The PPPs will entail mixed financing, with private entities taking on a share of the risk and the return. The private projects will include the provision of infrastructure, the cost of which is to be repaid through tolls or user fees collected by a private operator. Unlike some other critics, I do not expect the programme to fail to bolster demand in the European economy. After all, the €315bn that is expected to be distributed over three years amounts to 2.3% of the EU’s annual GDP. Such a sizeable level of investment is bound to have an impact. But the programme remains legally dubious, as it creates a large shadow budget financed by borrowing that will operate parallel to the EU and national budgets, thereby placing a substantial risk-sharing burden on taxpayers.

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A note from Morgan Stanley h/t Durden.

Implications for the ECB and Its Preparation for Sovereign QE (Elga Bartsch)

Even though my colleagues, Daniele Antonucci and Paolo Batori, do not expect the ECB and the National Central Banks (NCBs) to be subject to haircuts in the event of a Syriza-led debt restructuring, this is unlikely to be clear-cut for some time to come. As a result, the Greek political turmoil complicates matters for the ECB and its preparation of a sovereign QE programme. In my view, a sovereign default in the eurozone and the prospect of the ECB potentially incurring severe financial losses is likely to intensify the debate on the Governing Council, where purchases of government bonds remain highly controversial. This could make a detailed announcement and the start of a buying programme already at the January 22 meeting look even more ambitious than it seemed. The spectre of default does not only make the issue of sovereign QE less certain again than the market believes, it also could create new limitations in its implementation.

One of the decisions that the Governing Council will need to take is whether to include the two programme countries (Greece and Cyprus), the only ones that are not investment grade at the moment, in its sovereign QE. In our view, it is unlikely that the ECB will deviate from the conditions imposed in the context of the ABSPP and CBPP3, i.e. the countries need to have under a troika programme (and the programme needs to be broadly on track). This would mean though that for some eurozone countries, sovereign QE would become conditional – just as OMT was. If governments across the eurozone and the financial constructs they are backing with off-balance sheet guarantees are being haircut and the resulting losses start to show up in national budgets, the political opposition to sovereign QE might increase materially.

In fact, elected politicians in creditor countries might have a preference for the ECB taking a hit as well given that the Bank has considerable risk provisioning that could absorb these losses which national budgets don’t have. This debate could also materially influence how a sovereign QE programme by the ECB is structured, notably on whether the risks associated with such a programme should be shared by all NCBs. Even ahead of the latest developments in Greece, the Bundesbank was already pushing for there not being risk-sharing in a sovereign QE programme. This position is unlikely to only relate to Greece though, I think. It is much more likely to relate to the concerns voiced by the German Constitutional Court regarding the implicit fiscal transfers between countries in the event of purchases of government bonds. In the view of Court, this could amount to establishing a fiscal transfer mechanism that is outside the ECB’s mandate.

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Ugo!

Seven Shocking Events Of 2014 (Ugo Bardi)

Being involved with peak oil studies should make one somewhat prepared for the future. Indeed, for years, we have been claiming that the arrival of peak oil would bring turmoil and big changes in the world and we are seeing them, this year. However, the way in which these changes manifest themselves turns out to be shocking and unexpected. This 2014 has been an especially shocking year; so many things have happened. Let me list my personal shocks in no particular order

1. The collapse of oil prices. Price oscillations were expected to occur near the oil production peak, but I expected a repetition of the events of 2008, when the price crash was preceded by a financial crash. But in 2014 the price collapse came out of the blue, all by itself. Likely, a major financial crisis is in the making, but that we will see that next year.

2. The ungreening of Europe. My trip to Brussels for a hearing of the European parliament was a shocking experience for me. The Europe I knew was peaceful and dedicated to sustainability and harmonic development. What I found was that the European Parliament had become a den of warmongers hell bent on fighting Russia and on drilling for oil and gas in Europe. Not my Europe any more. Whose Europe is this?

3. The year propaganda came of age. I take this expression from Ilargi on “The Automatic Earth”. Propaganda is actually much older than 2014, but surely in this year it became much more shrill and invasive than it had usually been. It is shocking to see how fast and how easily propaganda plunged us into a new cold war against Russia. Also shocking it was to see how propaganda could convince so many people (including European MPs) that drilling more and “fracking” was the solution for all our problems.

4. The Ukraine disaster. It was a shock to see how easy it was for a European country to plunge from relative normalcy into a civil war of militias fighting each other and where citizens were routinely shelled and forced to take refuge in basements. It shows how really fragile are those entities we call “states”. For whom is the Ukraine bell tolling?

5. The economic collapse of Italy. What is most shocking, even frightening, is how it is taking place in absolute quiet and silence. It is like a slow motion nightmare. The government seems to be unable to act in any other way than inventing ever more creative ways to raise taxes to squeeze out as much as possible from already exhausted and impoverished citizens. People seem to be unable to react, even to understand what is going on – at most they engage in a little blame game, faulting politicians, immigrants, communists, gypsies, the Euro, and the great world conspiracy for everything that is befalling on them. A similar situation exists in other Southern European countries. How long the quiet can last is all to be seen.

6. The loss of hope of stopping climate change. 2014 was the year in which the publication of the IPCC 5th assessment report was completed. It left absolutely no ripple in the debate. People seem to think that the best weapon we have against climate change is to declare that it doesn’t exist. They repeat over and over the comforting mantra that “temperatures have not increased during the past 15 years”, and that despite 2014 turning out to be the hottest year on record.

7. The killing of a bear, in Italy, was a small manifestation of wanton cruelty in a year that has seen much worse. But it was a paradigmatic event that shows how difficult – even impossible – it is for humans to live in peace with what surrounds them – be it human or beast.

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“Our democracy just isn’t going to survive in this type of atmosphere ..”

For the Wealthiest Political Donors, It Was a Very Good Year (Bloomberg)

Here’s a bit of perspective on the ever-rising cost of elections, and the big-money donors who finance them: Three of the country’s wealthiest political contributors each saw their net worth grow in 2014 by more than $3.7 billion, the entire cost of the midterm elections. And as the 2016 presidential election approaches, almost all of those donors have even more cash to burn. The only top political donor who lost money in 2014, Sheldon Adelson, still has a fortune greater than the annual gross domestic product of Zambia, so playing in U.S. politics remains well within his financial range. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index tracks the daily gains and losses in the net worth of the financial elite, and with the final hours of trading for this year ticking away, we’ve reviewed the bottom line for 2014 for the politically active super-wealthy. In total, 11 of the donors that Bloomberg tracks added a combined $33 billion to their wealth in a single year. (The index does not include Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.)

The tab for the House and Senate elections came to $3.7 billion, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, and Laurene Powell Jobs each could have covered all of that with the wealth they accumulated in the past 12 months. James Simons and George Soros would have come pretty close. Some of that wealth, combined with loosening campaign-finance restrictions and a political class growing ever more comfortable with the new world of virtually unlimited donations, could start flowing to campaigns in the next few months as candidates prepare for the 2016 presidential race. Wealthy donors will have even more giving options after Congress voted to raise the limits on how much individuals can give to political parties, creating a political landscape that horrifies some good-government groups.

They point to a reality: A wealthy donor can now almost singlehandedly bankroll a candidate, as Adelson did for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012, raising questions about whether these financial commitments ultimately will influence future policy. “Our democracy just isn’t going to survive in this type of atmosphere,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a group that advocates for stricter campaign-finance limits. “The United States, throughout history, has worked on a very delicate balance between capitalism in the economic sphere and democracy in the political sphere. We no longer have that balance. The economic sphere is going to smother and overwhelm the political sphere.”

David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a group that argues the limits on political spending are arbitrary, sees it differently. “Big money in politics can actually make the electorate better informed,” he said. Besides, he added, there are enough billionaires to go around. For example, “you’ve got billionaires funding gun control and billionaires paying for groups that oppose gun control. It’s all pretty much a wash.” The sheer amount of money some donors made on paper in 2014 rewrites the context of “big” money in politics. For a political race, a $1 million cash infusion could change the outcome. For America’s big-money clique, it’s a fraction of what some billionaires can make or lose in a single day.

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That’s your money.

Pension Funds Triple Stake In Reinsurance Business to $59 Billion (NY Times)

Billions of dollars from pension funds and other nontraditional players have been moving into the reinsurance business in recent years, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Treasury Department. The report did not identify individual pension funds or other providers of what it called “alternative capital” for reinsurance. But it found that such newcomers had put about $59 billion into the $570 billion global reinsurance market as of June 30. That was more than three times their stake in 2007. The report also said that more than half the capital standing behind reinsurance innovations now comes from “pension funds, endowments and sovereign wealth funds, generally through specialized insurance-linked investment funds.” By contrast, hedge funds and private equity firms now provide about one-fourth of the money for such investments.

The report said that alternative reinsurance arrangements were increasingly being pitched to investors as “mainstream products” and said that “exposure to such risks could be problematic for unsophisticated investors.” The purpose of the Treasury report was not to assess risks or spotlight potential problems but to describe the overall state of the reinsurance industry, which is familiar to experts but almost unknown to everyone else. In fact, the report stressed that reinsurance brings many benefits and that some reinsurance programs are operated by the states, like Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and California’s Earthquake Authority. The report was issued by the Federal Insurance Office, an arm of the Treasury established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Normally the states regulate insurance, but the Federal Insurance Office has been looking at parts of the industry that extend beyond state regulators’ reach. Reinsurance frequently transfers risks offshore, for example, to jurisdictions where the states’ capital and other requirements do not apply. Increasingly, some states have been creating alternative regulatory frameworks to attract some of the offshore reinsurance business back to the United States. That can bring investment and jobs to those states, but it has also raised concerns that a poorly understood and risky “shadow insurance” sector is taking shape. “Regulatory concerns about this widespread practice continue to receive attention within the national and international insurance supervisory community,” the report said.

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Whatever anybody says, the Russians feel deeply betrayed by the west. That’s what drives their actions.

Inside Obama’s Secret Outreach to Russia (Bloomberg)

President Barack Obama’s administration has been working behind the scenes for months to forge a new working relationship with Russia, despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown little interest in repairing relations with Washington or halting his aggression in neighboring Ukraine. This month, Obama’s National Security Council finished an extensive and comprehensive review of U.S policy toward Russia that included dozens of meetings and input from the State Department, Defense Department and several other agencies, according to three senior administration officials. At the end of the sometimes-contentious process, Obama made a decision to continue to look for ways to work with Russia on a host of bilateral and international issues while also offering Putin a way out of the stalemate over the crisis in Ukraine.

“I don’t think that anybody at this point is under the impression that a wholesale reset of our relationship is possible at this time, but we might as well test out what they are actually willing to do,” a senior administration official told me. “Our theory of this all along has been, let’s see what’s there. Regardless of the likelihood of success.” Leading the charge has been Secretary of State John Kerry. This fall, Kerry even proposed going to Moscow and meeting with Putin directly. The negotiations over Kerry’s trip got to the point of scheduling, but ultimately were scuttled because there was little prospect of demonstrable progress.

In a separate attempt at outreach, the White House turned to an old friend of Putin’s for help. The White House called on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to discuss having him call Putin directly, according to two officials. It’s unclear whether Kissinger actually made the call. The White House and Kissinger both refused to comment for this column. Kerry has been the point man on dealing with Russia because his close relationship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represents the last remaining functional diplomatic channel between Washington and Moscow. They meet often, often without any staff members present, and talk on the phone regularly. Obama and Putin, on the other hand, are known to have an intense dislike for each other and very rarely speak.

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Draghi for president!

Italian President to Resign, Posing Challenge for Renzi (Bloomberg)

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he’ll resign “soon,” setting up a challenge for Premier Matteo Renzi, who will now need to form alliances among lawmakers to push through his own candidate for the job. “It’s my duty not to underestimate the signs of fatigue,” Napolitano, 89, said in his traditional Dec. 31 end-of-year speech, giving his age among the reasons for his resignation. He also cited the need to “return to constitutional normalcy” putting an end to his prolonged term. He gave no exact date for his resignation in the televised address. Napolitano, who took office in 2006, reluctantly accepted a second term in April 2013 after inconclusive elections led to a hung parliament which failed to strike a deal on his successor for days. The president had signaled from the start that he wouldn’t serve a full seven-year term.

Now Renzi, 39, will have to find a name appealing enough to at least half of an over 1000-member electoral college in order to push through a candidate of his liking. While Italy’s head of state is largely a ceremonial figure, the role and powers are enhanced at times of political crisis as the president has the power to dissolve parliament and designate prime minister candidates. Napolitano picked Renzi to lead a new government in February and his efforts to guarantee political stability have supported the prime minister’s reform package aimed at lifting Italy out of recession. After Napolitano steps down, Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso will act as caretaker head of state until his successor is elected.

National lawmakers and 58 regional delegates make up the electoral college of more than 1,000 members that will vote for the new president. The procedure can take several days as just two rounds of voting are held each day by secret ballot. To win in any of the first three rounds, a candidate must secure two-thirds of the vote, whereas from the fourth round a simple majority suffices. [..] Names circulated for the post so far in the Italian press include European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, and Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco. Napolitano, a former communist, known for once praising the Soviet Union’s crushing of the 1956 reformist movement in Hungary, is credited with helping restore market confidence in Italy during Europe’s 2011 debt crisis.

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Can she save her ass from the Petrobras scandal? She headed the company for years, for Pete’s sake.

Rousseff Begins Second Term as Brazil Economic Malaise Hits Home

Dilma Rousseff will be sworn in today for her second term as Brazil’s president as a corruption scandal involving the country’s biggest company, above-target inflation and the slowest economic expansion in five years undermine her support. Since Rousseff took over from her mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva four years ago, the budget deficit has more than doubled to 5.8% of gross domestic product and economic growth has come to a standstill from 7.5% growth in 2010. Inflation has remained above the center of the target range throughout her first term. Rousseff, who won an Oct. 26 runoff election by the narrowest margin of any president since at least 1945, has appointed a new economic team and announced spending cuts.

The central bank increased the key lending rate twice since the election to contain consumer price increases. While such measures are a first step to prevent a credit rating downgrade, the question is whether Rousseff will have the political support to hold the course, said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at Tendencias, a Sao Paulo-based consulting firm. “The economic malaise will spread to consumers and the corruption scandal will impose a negative legislative agenda,” Cortez said in a phone interview. “In a best-case scenario, she’ll manage to recover some investor credibility and pave the wave for moderate growth; the worst case is that we’ll have a lame duck president in a year or two.”

Rousseff is scheduled to be sworn in today and address Congress in Brasilia this afternoon. Designated Finance Minister Joaquim Levy pledges to pursue a budget surplus before interest payments of 1.2% of gross domestic product this year and at least 2% of GDP in 2016 and 2017, after Brazil’s credit rating in 2014 suffered a downgrade for the first time in more than a decade. The primary budget balance turned to a deficit of 0.18% of GDP in the 12 months through November, the first such annual shortfall on record. On Dec. 29 the government announced cuts to pension and unemployment benefits that will save an estimated 18 billion reais ($6.8 billion). Authorities also have increased the long-term lending rate for loans granted by the state development bank BNDES to 5.5% from 5%.

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A 79-year old crown prince. And millions of unemployed 16 to 24-year old testosterone bombs. Nice contrast.

Eyes On Saudi Succession After King Hospitalized (CNBC)

The Saudi stock market fell after King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was hospitalized Wednesday, but any succession for the throne would likely be smooth for the country. The Saudi royal family announced in March that 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman would succeed the king, and experts said those plans have eased most concerns about an impending transition. In fact, Saudi watchers told CNBC that the country’s oil, domestic and geopolitical policies should remain virtually unchanged when Salman takes over. “This is very predictable,” Bilal Saab, senior fellow for Middle East security at the Atlantic Council, said of the transition. Still, he reflected, “the markets just react in unpredictable ways.” Although King Abdullah has been perceived as a champion of domestic reform, his departure would not signal the reversal of any of his (relatively) progressive policies, Saab said.

Salman, who has assumed many state duties while currently serving as deputy prime minister and minister of defense, is relatively well-liked by regional neighbors and in Washington, according to Karen Elliott House, author of “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future.” Given that the transition of duties has partially begun, experts said that there would likely be little political drama when Salman takes the throne. Still, the issue of his successor could prove a contentious moment for the perpetually stable kingdom. The royal family officially announced in March that Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the youngest surviving half brother of the king and Salman, would be given the role of deputy crown prince – in effect naming him the successor to Salman.

House said that could provide a moment of tension for the royal family: A successor has traditionally been picked by an ascending king, and some family members were reportedly less than pleased about Muqrin’s appointment. Still, those concerns pale in comparison to the current succession worries in Oman, Saab said. That country’s sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, has no formal successor plan, and political chaos after his death could be problematic for the region, he said. “This is someone who has a much more influential role, not just in his country, but in the region with the Iranians,” Saab said. “The concerns over succession are much more pronounced in Oman than in Saudi Arabia”

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A bit of infighting among the family’s scores of princes would be funny. Whatever happens in the family, the House of Saud faces domestic turmoil.

Saudi Succession Plan About Continuity (CNBC)

Oil investors are closely watching the health of Saudi Arabia’s king, who was hospitalized Wednesday. However, while some wonder about how an eventual change in leadership might impact the global oil markets, two Middle East experts told CNBC they don’t expect much difference in how a new monarch would govern. “They’ll pursue the same security arrangements with the United States. They’ll maintain Saudi Arabia’s commitment to fight the Islamic State. They’ll also be pumping oil because there are broader strategic interests the kingdom is pursuing,” David Phillips, former senior advisor to the State Department and a CNBC contributor, said in an interview with “Street Signs.”

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, thought to be 91, was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday for medical tests, according to state media, citing a royal court statement. A source told Reuters he had been suffering from breathing difficulties, but was feeling better and in stable condition. The news sent the Saudi stock exchange down as much as 5%, before it recovered slightly to close almost 3% lower. The king has “been in bad health for the past several years,” and the government has been anticipating his passing for some time, said Phillips, now the director of the Peace-building and Human Rights Program at Columbia University. “There are policies and personalities in place in order to maintain continuity,” he added.

Read more …

From Glenn Greenwald’s people.

Sony Hackers Threaten US News Media Organization (Intercept)

The hackers who infiltrated Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer servers have threatened to attack an American news media organization, according to an FBI bulletin obtained by The Intercept. The threat against the unnamed news organization by the Guardians of Peace, the hacker group that has claimed credit for the Sony attack, “may extend to other such organizations in the near future,” according to a Joint Intelligence Bulletin of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security obtained by The Intercept. Referring to Sony only as “USPER1”and the news organization as “USPER2,” the Joint Intelligence Bulletin, dated Dec. 24 and marked For Official Use Only, states that its purpose is “to provide information on the late-November 2014 cyber intrusion targeting USPER1 and related threats concerning the planned release of the movie, ‘The Interview.’ Additionally, these threats have extended to USPER2 —a news media organization—and may extend to other such organizations in the near future.”

In the bulletin, titled “November 2014 Cyber Intrusion on USPER1 and Related Threats,” The Guardians of Peace threatened to attack other targets on the day after the FBI announcement. “On 20 December,” the bulletin reads, “the [Guardians of Peace] GOP posted Pastebin messages that specifically taunted the FBI and USPER2 for the ‘quality’ of their investigations and implied an additional threat. No specific consequence was mentioned in the posting.” Pastebin is a Web tool that enables users to upload text anonymously for anyone to read. It is commonly used to share source code and sometimes used by hackers to post stolen information. The Dec. 20 Pastebin message from Guardians of Peace links to a YouTube video featuring dancing cartoon figures repeatedly saying, “you’re an idiot.”

No mention of a specific news outlet could be found by The Intercept in any of the GOP postings from that date still available online or quoted in news reports. “While it’s hard to tell how legitimate the threat is, if a news organization is attacked in the same manner Sony was, it could put countless sensitive sources in danger of being exposed—or worse,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told The Intercept. Timm points out, however, that media are already commonly targeted by state-sponsored hackers.“This FBI bulletin is just the latest example that digital security is now a critical press freedom issue, and why news organizations need to make ubiquitous encryption a high priority,” he said.

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“Consider, first, how a competent response to Ebola might have played out ..”

Next Year’s Ebola Crisis (Bloomberg ed.)

One of the many ways the world failed to distinguish itself in 2014 was with its response to the Ebola crisis. It cannot afford to be so late, slow and fatally inadequate next year — with Ebola, which continues to kill people in West Africa, or with the next global pandemic. Consider, first, how a competent response to Ebola might have played out: A year ago, the health workers in Guinea who saw the first cases would have had the training to recognize it and the equipment to treat it without infecting themselves and others. They didn’t, and the disease spread quickly to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ideally, then, doctors there would have diagnosed Ebola, and traced and quarantined everyone who had contact with the victims. Crucially, they would have alerted the World Health Organization. As it happened, the WHO wasn’t told of the outbreak until March.

At that point, in a best-case scenario, with local health-care systems overwhelmed, the WHO would have intervened with a team of well-equipped doctors and nurses. Such a team didn’t exist, and it took the WHO until August even to declare a public-health emergency, and several weeks beyond that to come up with a response plan. And so the total number of infections is now more than 12,000, with some 7,700 dead. This might-have-been story reveals how countries and the WHO need to change before the next outbreak – of Ebola, SARS, bird flu or whatever it turns out to be. Every country needs hospitals and laboratories capable of diagnosing, safely treating and monitoring disease. The WHO needs improved surveillance and reporting systems, as well as the capacity to send medical teams when needed. The World Health Assembly, the international body that sets policy for the WHO, cannot waste any time seeing that these changes are made.

What’s frustrating is that world leaders have long recognized the need to be ready for outbreaks of infectious disease. In 1969, they signed a pact known as the International Health Regulations, meant to make sure preparations would be in place. The most recent update to this accord – in 2005, after the SARS epidemic – called for all 196 countries to have the laboratories, hospitals and medical expertise to detect, treat and monitor epidemics. One glaring weakness in this framework, however, is that countries have been allowed to monitor their own readiness. An outside body – either the WHO or an independent organization – must be appointed to keep track of their progress toward building sturdy medical infrastructure. And at least until all 196 countries are up to snuff, the WHO needs to have the authority to step in.

Read more …

Dec 312014
 
 December 31, 2014  Posted by at 8:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


John Vachon Auto of migrant fruit worker at gas station, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin Jul 1940

Let’s see, how do we close this year in a proper manner? I already wrote that 2014 for me has been The Year Propaganda Came Of Age. Likewise, looking forward, I said that The Biggest Economic Story Going Into 2015 Is Not Oil. Moreover, I talked about things that need to be done next year in Things To Do In 2015 When You’re Not Yet Dead.

So what else is left? I thought I’d make a list of narratives that painted the past year, and look at what’s real about them versus what we’re being told they are about. Nothing comprehensive about them, mind you, just train of thought.


Ukraine/Crimea/Putin

The Crimeans voted to join Russia: not an option. Everybody but the Crimeans and Russians declared the vote illegal. East Ukraine held a referendum: not an option. Everybody but the East Ukrainians and Russians declared the vote illegal. The ‘logic’ is the only people who can hold a legal referendum in East Ukraine are the very ones who send in their armies to kill them.

But the US/EU-led ouster of an elected president, and the replacement of his government with one led by a US handpicked PM, narrowly voted in by a parliament at the time replete with guns and at best shady elements, that’s democracy, AD 2014. Throw in a billionaire Willy Wonka who, true, did get elected as president, though the legal status of that election should be under scrutiny given that East Ukraine did not, could not, participate in electing its own leader.

One of the very first things Willy Wonkoshenko did was order his Swastika-toting storm troops to go and kill more East Ukrainians, whose ‘official’ president he had just become (and they did). This all happened under US/EU command (Ukraine itself couldn’t fund a brassband, let alone an army).

Which makes me think, that’s not that far removed from for instance imagining that Washington sends its army into Texas or West Virginia with a licence to kill. But who over there have stood up for East Ukraine? None that I’m aware of. Other than Ron Paul, a proud Texan himself. You guys could have really gotten under Obama’s skin on that, but you never did. What a missed chance, right wing America! Too far away? Too close? Here you got these people whose only goal it is not to be subdued by Washington, and who get shot to bits because of it, and you don’t recognize yourselves in that image?

The west didn’t leave Putin any other option than to assimilate Crimea – and he did it through elections! -; it was clear all along to all involved that Russia would never let go of its only warm water port. It had nothing to do at any point with anything close to a majority of Ukrainians wanting to be ‘free’, but with the west – NATO – wanting to encroach on Russia’s borders, despite specific agreements stemming from the early 1990s not to do that. Putin is not the aggressor in this narrative, we are.


EU

2014 was almost quiet in Europe, apart from the Ukraine narrative, compared to the last few years. Well, that’s not going to last. We’re going to have a Greek election January 25, and an epic three weeks of mud-slinging and fear-mongering prior to that date. It’ll be something to behold, at least from a safe distance. For the Greek people, it won’t feel like much fun.

The European Union consists of democracies – however flawed and corrupt they may be -, but it is not itself a democracy. And that increasingly reflects back – in a very negative way – on the original democracies that founded the doomed edifice in the first place. Everyone gets infected by the virus eventually.

The EU, and the eurozone, will fail and fall apart at some point. The longer it takes, the worse it will be for the people. The EU deserves to fail for the same reasons other supra-national organizations do, like NATO, World Bank, IMF etc.: they’re all inherently undemocratic. They have no reason to listen to what people want. The same can by now well be said for the US, by the way.

The reason these organizations will start to fail now is that economies have begun to fail. It’s as simple as that. I first quoted Yeats years ago on this, but it’s still as fitting as can be: The Centre Cannot Hold. Not when the economy falls to bits. All the smart boys will call it protectionism, in very derogatory tones, but that’s what happens when economies and empires fail: people must manage to take care of themselves in smaller units.

The good thing is, people are very good at that. The bad thing, is emperors and other power hungry ‘leaders’ don’t take kindly to being made redundant. But it has to be done regardless. So let Greece lead the way. It wouldn’t be the first time. Brussels has been nothing but disaster to southern Europe. The European Union is dead and must be dissolved, and its place be taken by a form of cooperation that doesn’t suffocate entire nations. There’s no simpler or clearer way of putting it.


OPEC and oil prices

I know where it’s coming from, but I still look with a childish kind of amazement at all the pundits who declare OPEC, and Saudi Arabia first, responsible for what happens to oil prices. If only OPEC would cut production … what? like they did 30-40 years ago?! It’s a different world, kiddos. Why not demand the US cut production, or Canada? The rationale behind that is energy independence and all that, isn’t it?

But the reality behind that, in turn, is that global oil demand is dropping much faster than producers anticipated, while supply – temporarily – outpaces expectations because of unconventional oil. But, you know, if you fill your media to the brim with false reports about US growth and China growth day after day, what can you expect? The recent sudden drop in oil prices was a long time coming, and only held back by the QE related global central bank money drops.

We’ve seen lipsticked pigs for years now, and we think they’re born that way. They’re not, But it’s still very blind to say OPEC caused the drop in prices. I found a nice take on this at RT, where they interview Margaret Bogenrief at ACM partners, who says:

I think what is most interesting, and you are seeing this really with a lot of countries throughout the Middle East, is the genie has kind of been let out of the bottle. I mean, in Saudi Arabia its oil prices, in other countries like Iraq it’s the dissolution of the previous government. I don’t know if there is a lot that Saudi Arabia can do in 2015 to really take care of its citizenry and to prevent the unrest that you see is growing there. If you look at its population, it’s predominantly male, young and unemployed.

And I don’t know if there is a lot that they can do to keep that under control. [..] I think social unrest in Saudi Arabia is going to be a significant issue in 2015 and beyond. What I think is most interesting is that if you look at the 2014 economic numbers, oil accounted for something like 89% of the country’s revenue. That’s a very singular economy. And if you look at this economic disparity combined with that so focused on that resource, you are going to see some significant issues in 2015 and beyond.

[..] the US has really worked under the Bush and Obama Administrations to increase domestic oil production. That has sent a signal to the world market that the US is really looking not to be as competitive as Saudi Arabia, but certainly to be involved and try to control that a little bit more. Secondly, it’s also just a demographic issue. Saudi Arabia is facing a demographic reality that it has not had to face for decades. The combination of those two things along with the US fracking and trying to get more involved in the energy sector, that’s really combining to costs and issues.

If you look at fracking, I actually think that fracking is not as significant when it comes to actual oil production. I think it’s a better message tool than it’s an actual production tool. What Saudi Arabia is realizing, you certainly saw it in the budget, is that suddenly it doesn’t have complete control over the pricing and manufacturing of oil. That’s really causing some issues. In the budget for 2015 oil was priced to be $80 a barrel. Honestly, that’s wishful thinking.

If you look at Saudi Arabia it’s going to impact Saudi Arabia far more than other Middle Eastern countries. I know Iran is facing some potential sanction issues in 2015; the US is debating whether or not to lift sanctions. That’s not necessarily energy related but I do think you are going to see some significant changes there too.

Not like it’s a brilliant take, but it’s much better than just about any I’ve seen. The Saudis don’t control the price of oil anymore, and they know it – ahead of anyone else, it seems – . They’ve been running budget deficits for a while, and they’ve just seen their revenues halved. And then some 10,000 dimwit western journalists write that they should cut production, while shale oil in the US must keep growing. And then today the Saudi King was hospitalized today as well?

The House of Fahd is not having an easy time of it. They’re all on quaaludes by now. And then Bloomberg reports about a maze in the export ban laws that allow for more US light crude exports. What a brilliant idea. Export into an overloaded market, and let your own actions behead your own industry.


North Korea

Yeah, that daft film that now allegedly stands for freedom, artistic or otherwise, and that Obama apparently had to lean into. Chances that North Korea was involved into hacking the Japanese firm that financed it and sort of released it are by now slim to none, no matter what the FBI said. This is what America stands for these days. A mere narrative. Next up: the rape and murder of Obama’s daughters, Prince George and Vladimir Putin. All very funny and artistically free.


The US dollar and global currencies, stocks and bonds

As we speak, the euro has passed the $1.21 barrier. When the new year starts, it will sink below that, unless crazy measures are taken by someone, anyone. And stock markets are not going to remain anywhere near their present highs with commodities falling the way they are; too much ‘money’ is being lost along the way. It’s known as debt deflation.

Yes, the greenback had a good run in 2014:

But there’s much more to come. And not because ‘investors like the US’ so much, or because the American economy actually grows at a 5% clip. The real reason is, as I explained in The Biggest Economic Story Going Into 2015 Is Not Oil, that emerging economies are being pulled through a wringer, and all the cheaply borrowed dollars they kept appearances up with are dripping right back into the mothership, i.e. the US.

How happy should this make us? Well, how happy should we be about poverty in Greece, Spain, Brazil and all these other nations to begin with? Do you feel it’s a good idea for us to get richer off of the backs and the misery of other people? If you say yes, it’s clean sailing for a while longer. If you don’t, what are you going to do about it?

If you live in a western country, no matter which one, that’s how your political candidates can promise to keep you rich for a bit. By making people elsewhere poorer, and by making your own children even worse off. There are no other ways left to keep up the facade we live in today. There’s no economic growth, there are no new energy sources, the only thing left to do is borrow from the future. And yeah, I know that seems to work up to the present.

But the price of oil should be a warning sign to you. If oil falls the way it does over a significant amount of time, and other commodities do too, it’s just a matter of time until stocks and bonds start bombing merrily along. And that’s even before the Fed raises its key rates, ‘guided’ by numbers like that 5% US GDP growth in Q3.

This is going to be a crazy year. We’ve said it many times before, but here you go again: volatility will reign the day, in ways we haven’t seen in many years. And the volatility will drive us downward. Not up. Nerves will guide decisions. And losses. Losses that will pressure economies, first of all Japan and Europe, into ever deeper deflationary territory. The central bank fairy tale will not last another 12 months. But the US dollar will be fine. Because it’ll be ‘nurtured’ by the demise of emerging markets.

What we, fortunate citizens of this earth, in the twilight of our civilization, should do in my humble view, is not to enrich ourselves as much as we can, but to ‘minimize the suffering of the herd’, as any shepherd should. I saw this Telegraph headline today, “Goodbye To One Of The Best Years In History”, and I thought, if that’s what you see when you look around, if you’re in Britain and you don’t see that fast and vast increase in poverty on your own doorstep, then what can I say? Hats off? Or heads off?

See ya in da New Year!

Nov 282014
 
 November 28, 2014  Posted by at 8:58 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Thanksgiving turkeys for the President Nov 26 1929

Thinking plummeting oil prices are good for the economy is a mistake. They instead, as I said only yesterday in The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy, point out how bad the global economy is doing. QE has been able to inflate stock prices way beyond anything remotely looking fundamental, but energy prices have now deflated instead of stocks. Something had to give at some point. Turns out, central banks weren’t able to inflate oil prices on top of everything else. Stocks and bonds are much easier to artificially inflate than commodities are.

The Fed and ECB and BOJ and PBoC may of course yet try to invest in oil, they’re easily crazy enough to try, but it will be too late even if they did. In that sense, one might argue that OPEC – or rather Saudi Arabia – has gifted us QE4, but the blessings of the ‘low oil price stimulus’ will of necessity be both mixed and short-lived. Because while the lower prices may free some money for consumers, not nearly all of the freed up ‘spending space’ will end up actually being spent. So in the end that’s a net loss as far as spending goes.

The ‘OPEC Q4′ may also keep some companies from going belly up for a while longer due to falling energy costs, but the flipside is many other companies will go bust because of the lower prices, first among them energy industry firms. Moreover, as we’re already seeing, those firms’ market values are certain to plummet. And, see yesterday’s essay linked above, many of eth really large investors, banks, equity funds et al are heavily invested in oil and gas and all that comes with it. And they are about to take some major hits as well. OPEC may have gifted us QE4, but it gave us another present at the same time: deflation in overdrive.

You can’t force people to spend, not if you’re a government, not if you’re a central bank. And if you try regardless, chances are you wind up scaring people into even less spending. That’s the perfect picture of Japan right there. There’s no such thing as central bank omnipotence, and this is where that shows maybe more than anywhere else. And if you can’t force people to spend, you can’t create growth either, so that myth is thrown out with the same bathwater in one fell swoop.

Some may say and think deflation is a good thing, but I say deflation kills economies and societies. Deflation is not about lower prices, it’s about lower spending. Which will down the line lead to lower prices, but then the damage has already been done, it’s just that nobody noticed, because everyone thinks inflation and deflation are about prices, and therefore looks exclusively at prices.

It’s like a parasite can live in your body for a long time before you show symptoms of being sick, but it’s very much there the whole time. A lower gas price may sound nice, but if you don’t understand why prices fall, you risk something like that monster from Alien popping up and out.

I had started writing this when I saw a few nicely fitting articles. First, at MarketWatch, they love the notion of the stimulus effects. They even think a ‘consumer-spending explosion’ is upon us. They’re not going to like what they see. That is, not when all the numbers have gone through their third revision in 6 months or so.

OPEC Has Ushered In QE4

Welcome to the new era of QE4. As if on cue, OPEC stepped in just as monetary policy (at least the Fed’s) has dried up. Central bankers have nothing on the oil cartel that did just what everyone expected, but has still managed to crush oil prices. Protest away about the 1% getting richer and how prior QE hasn’t trickled down to those who really need it, but an oil cartel is coming to the rescue of America and others in the world right now.

It’s hard to imagine a “more wide-reaching and effective stimulus measure than to lower the cost of gas at the pump for everyone globally,” says Alpari U.K.’s Joshua Mahoney. “For this reason, we are effectively entering the era of QE4, with motorists able to allocate more of their money towards luxury items, while firms are now able to lower costs of production thus impacting the bottom line and raising profits.”

The impact of that could be “bigger than anything that has come before,” says Mahoney, who expects that theory to be tested and proved, via sales on Black Friday and the holiday season overall. In short, a consumer-spending explosion as we race to the malls on a full tank of cheap gas. Tossing in his own two cents in the wake of that OPEC decision, legendary investor Jim Rogers says it’s a “fundamental positive for anybody who uses oil, who uses energy.” Just not great if you’re from Canada, Russia or Australia, he says. Or if you’re the ECB, fretting about price deflation. Or until it starts crushing shale producers.

Bloomberg, talking about Europe, has a less cheery tone.

Eurozone Inflation Slows as Draghi Tees Up QE Debate

Eurozone inflation slowed in November to match a five-year low, prodding the European Central Bank toward expanding its unprecedented stimulus program. Consumer prices rose 0.3% from a year earlier, the EU statistics office said today. Unemployment held at 11.5% in October [..] While the slowdown is partly related to a drop in oil prices, President Mario Draghi, who may unveil more pessimistic forecasts after a meeting of policy makers on Dec. 4, says he wants to raise inflation “as fast as possible.” [..]

“The only crumb of comfort for the ECB – and it is not much – is that November’s renewed drop in inflation was entirely due to an increased year-on-year drop in energy prices,” said Howard Archer at IHS. The data are “worrying news” for the central bank, he said. Data yesterday showed Spanish consumer prices dropped 0.5% this month from a year ago, matching the fastest rate of deflation since 2009. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, inflation slowed to the weakest since February 2010. [..]

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, a long-running opponent to buying government bonds, today highlighted the positive consequence of low oil prices. “There’s a stimulant effect coming from the energy prices – it’s like a mini stimulus package,” he said in Berlin.

Sure, there’s a stimulant effect. But that’s not the only effect. While I’m happy to see Weidmann apparently willing to fight Draghi and his pixies over ECB QE programs, I would think he understands what the other effect is. And if he does, he should be far more worried than he lets on.

But then I stumbled upon a long special report by Gavin Jones for Reuters on Italy, and he does provide intelligent info on that other effect of plunging oil prices. Deflation. As I said, it eats societies alive. I cut two-thirds of the article, but there’s still plenty left to catch the heart of the topic. For anyone who doesn’t understand what deflation really is, or how it works, I think that is an excellent crash course.

Why Italy’s Stay-Home Shoppers Terrify The Eurozone

Italy is stuck in a rut of diminishing expectations. Numbed by years of wage freezes, and skeptical the government can improve their economic fortunes, Italians are hoarding what money they have and cutting back on basic purchases, from detergent to windows. Weak demand has led companies to lower prices in the hope of luring people back into shops. This summer, consumer prices in Italy fell on a year-on-year basis for the first time in a half-century ..

Falling prices eat into company profits and lead to pay cuts and job losses, further depressing demand. The result: Italy is being sucked into a deflationary spiral similar to the one that has afflicted Japan’s economy for much of the past two decades. That is the nightmare scenario that policymakers, led by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, are desperate to avoid.

The euro zone’s third-biggest economy is not alone. Deflation – or continuously falling consumer prices – is considered a risk for the whole currency bloc, and particularly countries on its southern rim. Prices have fallen for 20 months in Greece and five in Spain, for example. Both countries are suffering through deep cuts in salaries and state welfare. Yet Italy, a large economy with a huge public debt, is the country causing most worry. [..]

Like Japan, Italy has one of the world’s oldest and most rapidly aging populations – the kind of people who don’t spend. “It is young people who spend more and take risks,” says Sergio De Nardis, at thinktank Nomisma. In recent years, young people have been the hardest hit by layoffs, he says. Many have left the country to seek work elsewhere. People tend to spend more when they see a bright future. Italian confidence has steadily eroded over the past two decades … In Italy, as in Japan, the lack of economic growth has become chronic.

Underpinning economists’ worries is Italy’s biggest handicap: a huge national debt equal to 132% of national output and still growing. Rising prices make it easier for high-debt countries like Italy to pay the fixed interest rates on their bonds. And debt is usually measured as a proportion of national output, so when output grows, debt shrinks. Because output is measured in money, rising prices – inflation – boost output even if economic activity is stagnant, as in Italy. But if activity is stagnant and prices don’t rise, then the debt-to-output ratio will increase. [..]

Sebastiano Salzone, a diminutive 33-year-old from the poor southern region of Calabria, left with his wife five years ago to run the historic Cafe Fiume on Via Salaria, a traditionally busy shopping street near the center of Rome. Salzone was excited by the challenge. But after four years of grinding recession, his business is struggling to survive. “When I took over they warned me demand was weak and advised me not to raise prices. But now, I’m being forced to cut them,” he says. [..] Despite the lower prices, sales have dropped 40%, or 500 euros a day, in the last three years. [..]

For hard-pressed individuals, low and falling prices can seem a godsend; but low prices lead to business closures, lower wages and job cuts – a lethal spiral. Since Italy entered recession in 2008 it has lost 15% of its manufacturing capacity and more than 80,000 shops and businesses. Those that remain are slashing prices in a battle to survive.

Home fixtures maker Benedetto Iaquone says people are now only changing their windows when they fall apart. To hold onto his €500,000-a-year business, Iaquone says he is cutting prices. By doing so, he is helping fuel the chain of deflation from consumers to other companies.

In Italy’s largest supermarket chains, up to 40% of products are now sold below their recommended retail price, according to sector officials. “There is a constant erosion of our margins,” says Vege chief Santambrogio.

What Italy would look like after a decade of Japan-style deflation is grim to imagine. It is already among the world’s most sluggish economies, with youth unemployment at 43%. As a member of a currency bloc, Rome’s options are limited [..] Italy’s budget has to follow European Union rules.

Lasting deflation would force more companies out of business, reduce already stagnant wages and raise unemployment further [..] The inevitable rise in its public debt could eventually lead to a default and a forced exit from the euro.

Many in southern Europe say the EU should abandon its strict fiscal rules and invest heavily to create jobs. They also say Germany, the region’s strongest economy, should do more to push up its own wages and prices. Mediterranean countries need to price their products lower than Germany to make up for the fact that their goods – particularly engineered products such as cars – are less attractive. But with German inflation at a mere 0.5%, maintaining a decent price difference with Germany is forcing southern European countries into outright deflation.

Italy’s policymakers are trying to stop the drop. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi cut income tax in May by up to €80 a month for the country’s low earners. But so far the emergency measures have had little effect – partly because Italians don’t really believe in them. A survey by the Euromedia agency showed that, despite the €80 cut, 63% of Italians actually think taxes will rise in the medium-term. Early evidence suggests most Italians are saving the extra money in their paychecks. If so, it will be reminiscent of similar attempts to boost demand in Japan in the late 1990s. The Japanese hoarded the windfalls offered by the government rather than spending them.

That same process plays out, as we speak, in a lot more countries, both in Europe and in many other parts of the world: South America, Southeast Asia etc.

Deflation erodes societies, and it guts entire economies like so much fish. Deflation is already a given in Japan, and in most of not all of southern Europe. Where countries might have saved themselves if only they weren’t part of the eurozone.

If Italy had the lira or some other currency, it could devalue it by 20% or so and have a fighting chance. As things stand now, the only option is to keep going down and hope that another country with the same currency Italy has, i.e. Germany, finds some way to boost its own growth. And even if Germany would, at some point in the far future, what part of that would trickle down to Italy? So what’s Renzi’s answer? An €80 a month tax cut for people who paid few taxes to begin with.

Deflation is not lower prices. Deflation is people not spending, then stores lowering their prices because nobody’s buying, then companies firing their employees, and then going broke. Rinse and repeat. Less spending leads to lower prices leads to more unemployment leads to less spending power. If that is not clear, don’t worry; you’ll see so much of it you own’t be able to miss it.

And don’t think the US is immune. Most of the Black Friday and Christmas sales will be plastic, i.e. more debt, and more debt means less future spending power. Unless you have a smoothly growing economy, but that’s not going to happen when Europe, Japan and soon China will be in deflation.

And yes, oil at $50-60-70 a barrel will accelerate the process. But it won’t be the main underlying cause. Deflation was baked into the cake from the moment that large scale debt deleveraging became inevitable, and you can take any moment between the Reagan administration, which first started raising debt levels, to 2008 for that. And all the combined central bank stimulus measures will mean a whole lot more debt deleveraging on top of what there already was.

We’ll get back to this topic. A lot.

Nov 262014
 
 November 26, 2014  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Oregon or Bust, family fleeing South Dakota drought Jul 1936

Banking’s Toxic Culture ‘Will Take A Generation To Clean Up’ (Guardian)
Consumer Confidence in US Unexpectedly Dropped in November (Bloomberg)
Case Shiller Reports “Broad-Based Slowdown For Home Prices” (Zero Hedge)
BEA Revises 3rd Quarter 2014 US GDP Growth Upwards to 3.89% (CMI)
Refinancing Boom Exposing Risks in US Property Bonds (Bloomberg)
Abe Sales Tax Backfiring With More Debt Not Less (Bloomberg)
Japan Is Running Out of Options (Bloomberg)
Eurozone ‘Major Risk To World Growth’: OECD (CNBC)
Do German Bonds Face Japanification? (CNBC)
UK Housing Market Cools Rapidly (Guardian)
Commodity Exporters Like Cheaper Currencies (A. Gary Shilling)
On This Day, 138 Years Ago, The Idea Of QE Was Born (Art Cashin)
A Bearish Hedge Fund Bets Against the Bulls and Still Profits (NY Times)
Saudi Arabia Says No One Should Cut Output, Oil Will Stabilize
Pre-OPEC Producer Meeting Fails to Deliver Oil Output Cut (Bloomberg)
The Unbearable Over-Determination Of Oil (Ben Hunt)
Who Will Wind Up Holding the Bag in the Shale Gas Bubble? (Naked Capitalism)
US Oil Producers Can’t Kick Drilling Habit (FT)
The Environmental Downside of the Shale Boom (NY Times)
Obama Climate Envoy: Fossil Fuels Will Have To Stay In The Ground (Guardian)
Cracks Form in Berlin Over Russia Stance (Spiegel)
Europe Looks ‘Aged And Weary’: Pope Francis (CNBC)

Why should it? Just regulate the heebees out of them or close them down.

Banking’s Toxic Culture ‘Will Take A Generation To Clean Up’ (Guardian)

Overhauling the broken culture of high street banking will take a generation to achieve, according to a report that found UK banks have received 20m customer complaints since the financial crisis. The report, by the thinktank New City Agenda, calculated that in the last 15 years the retail operations of banks had incurred £38.5m in fines and redress for mistreatment of customers. Andre Spicer, a professor at Cass Business School and the report’s lead author, said: “Most people we spoke to told us that real change will take at least five years. “There was some uncertainty as to how these changes were being translated into good practice at the customer coalface. Many culture change initiatives are fragile, and their success is not ensured. It’s clear to us that much work still needs to be done.”

The report concluded that it will take a generation to end a sales culture exposed by the 2008 crisis. It said UK banks did not address cultural change until the eruption of the Libor scandal in 2012, having failed to act after the emergence of mis-selling debacles such as the payment protection insurance scandal. “A toxic culture, decades in the making, will take a generation to clean up,” said the founders of New City Agenda, who are Labour peer Lord McFall, Conservative MP David Davis, and Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey. They added: “Some frontline staff told us they still feel under significant pressure to sell. Complaints continue to rise and trust remains extremely low. Most of the people we talked to believed that real change, and as a consequence the better treatment of customers, will take some time to achieve.”

Read more …

Will they ever stop using the word ‘unexpectedly’? It’s certainly a favorite over at Bloomberg, and not just there.

Consumer Confidence in US Unexpectedly Dropped in November (Bloomberg)

Consumer confidence unexpectedly declined in November to a five-month low as Americans became less upbeat about the economy and labor market. The Conference Board’s index fell to 88.7 this month from an October reading of 94.1 that was the strongest since October 2007, the New York-based private research group said today. The figure last month was weaker than the most pessimistic estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The decline this month interrupts a steady pickup in sentiment since the middle of the year and shows attitudes about the economy would benefit from bigger wage gains. While confidence slipped, buying plans picked up, indicating spending will be sustained on the heels of stronger job growth and lower fuel costs.

The drop this month “doesn’t change our view that the trend in consumer confidence is moving upwards,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds in New York. “Gasoline prices are down, the unemployment rate is down, home prices are gradually rising, and stock prices are certainly rising.” The median forecast of 75 economists in the Bloomberg survey called for a reading of 96, with estimates ranging from 93.5 to 99 after a previously reported October index of 94.5. The Conference Board’s measure averaged 96.8 during the last expansion and 53.7 during the recession that ended in June 2009.

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I’m wondering how this squares with that GDP revision.

Case Shiller Reports “Broad-Based Slowdown For Home Prices” (Zero Hedge)

While the just revised Q3 GDP surprised everyone to the upside, the Case Shiller index for September which was also reported moments ago, showed yet another month of what it called a “Broad-based Slowdown for Home Prices.” The bad news: the 20-City Composite gained 4.9% year-over-year, compared to 5.6% in August. However, this was modestly above the 4.6% expected. However, what was more troubling is that on a sequential basis, the Top 20 Composite MSA posted a modest -0.03% decline, the first sequential drop since February. And from the report itself: “The National Index reported a month-over-month decrease for the first time since November 2013. The Northeast region reported its first negative monthly returns since December 2013 and its worst annual returns since December 2012 due to weaknesses in Washington D.C. and Boston.”

Read more …

Some useful details.

BEA Revises 3rd Quarter 2014 US GDP Growth Upwards to 3.89% (CMI)

In their second estimate of the US GDP for the third quarter of 2014, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported that the economy was growing at a +3.89% annualized rate, up +0.35% from their first estimate for the 3rd quarter but still down some -0.70% from the 4.59% annualized growth rate registered during the second quarter. The modest improvement in the headline number masks substantial changes in the reported sources of the annualized growth. The previously reported significant inventory draw-down almost vanished completely (dropping to a mere -0.12% impact on the headline number). Improving fixed investments added +0.23% to the headline, with nearly all of that improvement from spending for commercial equipment. Consumer spending for goods was also reported to be growing 0.27% in this report, while consumer spending for services was essentially unchanged (+0.02%).

Offsetting those upside revisions was a significant erosion in the previously reported export growth, which subtracted -0.38% from the headline. The contribution from imports in the headline number also weakened, taking the annualized growth down another -0.17%. Governmental spending was also revised down slightly, knocking another -0.07% from the headline. Nearly all of that downward revision to governmental spending was from reduced state and local investment in infrastructure. Despite the increased consumer spending, households actually took a disposable income hit in this revision – losing $146 in annualized per capita disposable income (now reported to be $37,525 per annum). This is down $344 per year from the 4th quarter of 2012. The spending growth reported above came exclusively from reduced household savings, which dropped a full 0.5% in this report.

As mentioned last month, softening energy prices play a major role in this report, since during the 3rd quarter dollar-based energy prices were plunging (and have continued their dive since). US “at the pump” gasoline prices fell from $3.68 per gallon to $3.32 during the quarter, a 9.8% quarter-to-quarter decline and a -33.8% annualized rate – pushing most consumer oriented inflation indexes into negative territory. During the third quarter (i.e., from July through September) the seasonally adjusted CPI-U index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was actually mildly dis-inflationary at a -0.10% (annualized) rate, and the price index reported by the Billion Prices Project (BPP — which arguably reflected the real experiences of American households) was slightly more dis-inflationary at -0.18% (annualized).

Yet for this report the BEA effectively assumed a positive annualized quarterly inflation of 1.40%. Over reported inflation will result in a more pessimistic growth data, and if the BEA’s numbers were corrected for inflation using the appropriate BLS CPI-U and PPI indexes the economy would be reported to be growing at a spectacular 5.42% annualized rate. If we were to use just the BPP data to adjust for inflation, the quarter’s growth rate would have been an astounding 5.52% annualized rate.

Read more …

The smell of volatility on the morning.

Refinancing Boom Exposing Risks in US Property Bonds (Bloomberg)

A $40 million penalty wasn’t enough to keep the owner of San Francisco’s Parkmerced apartment complex from the chance to lock in record-low interest rates and take advantage of the property’s $1.5 billion value. While a landlord willing to pay almost 63 times the average fee to refinance early is a bullish sign for commercial real estate, it’s less so for bond investors facing $295 billion of mortgages that come due during the next three years. That’s because the securities are increasingly tied to the market’s weakest properties, many of them financed during the peak of the real-estate boom in 2007, as the strongest are paid off. More property owners are jumping on a drop in financing costs and loosening terms to pay off their mortgages. That helped shrink the amount of debt maturing before the end of 2017 from $332 billion at the start of 2014, according to Bank of America data.

“If you’re a well-capitalized entity, you’re going to do it,” Richard Hill, a debt analyst at Morgan Stanley, said. That could leave commercial-mortgage bond investors “holding the bag on a bunch of lower-quality loans.” Properties such as skyscrapers, shopping malls, hotels and apartment complexes are attracting investors from sovereign wealth funds to insurance companies as they seek higher-yielding assets amid six years of Federal Reserve policies to hold short-term interest rates near zero. Wall Street banks are on pace to issue $100 billion of securities backed by commercial real estate this year after issuance doubled to $80 billion in 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sales, which peaked at $232 billion in 2007, are poised to climb to $140 billion in 2015, Credit Suisse Group AG analysts led by Roger Lehman forecast in a Nov. 21 report.

Sales of the securities also are being fueled by rules that will require banks to retain some portion of loans that are sold to investors as securities, according to Morgan Stanley’s Hill. That may increase financing costs when they take effect in 2016. Ray Potter, founder of R3 Funding, a New York-based firm that arranges financing for landlords and investors, said he’s advising clients not to wait to refinance as economists forecast the Fed will raise rates next year for the first time since 2006. There has been a surge in borrowers looking to refinance in the past couple of months, Potter said. “If you like that coupon, lock it in for 10 years,” he said. While the interest rate could dip even lower, it’s not worth the risk because “when it moves higher it moves fast,” he said.

Read more …

“Japan remains doomed by its demographics and, of course, by its horrible debt.”

Abe Sales Tax Backfiring With More Debt Not Less (Bloomberg)

What started as a plan to reduce Japan’s debt is turning into a reason to issue more bonds. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration implemented a higher sales tax in April to boost revenue as government liabilities ballooned to 1 quadrillion yen ($8.5 trillion), more than double the nation’s yearly economic output. Consumption plunged and the economy fell into a recession, prompting companies including Mirae Asset Global Investments Co. and High Frequency Economics to predict even more sovereign debt sales to revive growth. “The government’s policies have failed,” Will Tseng, a money manager in Taipei at Mirae Asset, which manages about $62 billion, said in an e-mail Nov. 20. “They’re still issuing more debt and printing more money to try to help the economy. They’re in a really bad cycle.” He said he’s staying away from Japanese bonds.

The cost of protecting Japan’s debt from default surged for eight straight days and the yen tumbled to a seven-year low as Abe called a snap election and delayed plans to further increase the sales tax by 18 months. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Oct. 31 boosted the amount of government bonds he plans to buy to as much as 12 trillion yen a month, a record. Japan will go back to its routine of borrowing more to fund plans to spur growth, said Carl Weinberg, the chief economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York. What it needs to do is allow immigration to keep the population from shrinking, he said Nov. 18 on the “Bloomberg Surveillance” radio program. “The population and the economy are contracting, and the debt is growing, and that’s an unsustainable trend,” Weinberg said. “Japan remains doomed by its demographics and, of course, by its horrible debt.”

Read more …

” .. Kuroda now has a budding mutiny on his hands. Many of his staffers think the central bank has already gone too far to weaken the yen and buy virtually every bond in sight.”

Japan Is Running Out of Options (Bloomberg)

The New York Times recently lit up the Japanese Twittersphere with a cartoon that was a little too accurate for comfort. In it, a stretcher marked “economy” is loaded into an ambulance with “Abenomics” painted on the side; the vehicle lacks tires and sits atop cinder blocks. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks on nervously, holding an IV bag. The image aptly sums up Japan’s failure to gain traction in its push to end deflation. The Bank of Japan’s unprecedented stimulus and Abe’s pro-growth reforms have yet to spur a recovery in inflation and gross domestic product growth, and the country is yet again in recession. Worse, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda is rapidly running out of weapons in his battle to eradicate Japan’s “deflationary mindset.”

Minutes from the central bank’s Oct. 31 board meeting, at which officials surprised the world by expanding an already massive quantitative-easing program, show that Kuroda now has a budding mutiny on his hands. Many of his staffers think the central bank has already gone too far to weaken the yen and buy virtually every bond in sight. That’s a problem for Kuroda and Abe in two ways.

First, board members warned that the costs of further monetary stimulus outweigh the benefits. We already knew that Kuroda had only won approval for his shock-and-awe announcement by a paper-thin 5-4 margin, and that Takahide Kiuchi dissented when the BOJ boosted bond sales to about $700 billion annually. But the minutes suggest Kuroda came as close to any modern BOJ leader ever has to defeat on a policy move. Cautionary voices like Kiuchi’s worry that the BOJ could be “perceived as effectively financing fiscal deficits.” I’d say it’s too late for that. Of course the BOJ is acting as the Ministry of Finance’s ATM, just as Abe intended when he hired Kuroda. Still, the fact is that Kuroda’s odds of getting away with yet another Friday surprise are nil at best.

Second, maintaining stability in the bond market just got harder. The only way Kuroda can stop 10-year yields – currently 0.44% – from spiking as he tries to generate 2% inflation is by making ever bigger bond purchases. But fellow BOJ board members will be giving Kuroda less latitude to cap market rates. Japan is lucky in one way: Given that more than 90% of public debt is held domestically, Tokyo can the avoid wrath of the “bond vigilantes.” Kuroda further neutralized these activist traders by saying there’s “no limit” to what he can do to make Abenomics work. The fact that so many of his colleagues are skeptical of the policy, however, undermines Kuroda’s credibility. If markets begin to doubt his staying power, yields are sure to rise.

Read more …

The entire world is a risk to world growth.

Eurozone ‘Major Risk To World Growth’: OECD (CNBC)

The eurozone poses a serious danger for global growth, with the world’s economy already “in low gear”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Tuesday. “The euro area is grinding to a standstill and poses a major risk to world growth, as unemployment remains high and inflation persistently far from target,” the OECD said in the 96th edition of its Economic Outlook. The euro zone’s fledgling recovery—which started at the end of 2013—has been a cause for concern over recent months, with gross domestic product (GDP) rising only 0.2% quarter-on-quarter between July and September. Policymakers are also battling with very low inflation and high unemployment—around one-quarter of Spaniards and Greek remain without jobs.

The OECD sees euro zone economic growth at 0.8% this year. This is better than the economic contraction the currency union suffered in 2012 and 2013, but below average growth of 1.1% between 2002 and 2011. By comparison, the OECD expects the world’s economy to expand by 3.3% this year. As with the euro zone, this is an improvement on 2012 and 2013, but below the 2002-2011 average of 3.8%.”A moderate improvement in global growth is expected over the next two years, but with marked divergence across the major economies and large risks and vulnerabilities,” the OECD said.

A euro zone analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit said the risks to the world economy posed by the euro zone were even larger than the OECD forecast.”The euro zone’s fundamental institutional deficiencies are now exacting a damaging price, by hampering the formulation and implementation of policy responses to the ongoing slump,” said Aengus Collins in a research note emailed after the OECD report.”In addition, the OECD overlooks political risk, which is rising sharply in line with voter disaffection.” Major countries expected to post solid growth include the U.S., which the OECD predicts will expand by 2.2% this year and 3.1% next. China, meanwhile, is seen growing by an impressive 7.3% in 2014, before slowing to 7.1% in 2015.

Read more …

More interestingly, where will that leave Spanish and Italian bonds?

Do German Bonds Face Japanification? (CNBC)

The euro zone’s long disinflation has spurred fears it will tumble all the way to Japan-style deflation, with some concerned yields on the continent’s safe-haven bond, the German bund, could remain depressed for the long haul. “While we are still not convinced that the euro zone is the new Japan, despite the many similarities in their economic predicaments, we are increasingly of the view that the 10-year Bund yield will remain exceptionally low for at least the next couple of years,” John Higgins, chief markets economist at Capital Economics, said in a note Wednesday. The 10-year bund is yielding around 0.75%, around all-time lows, compared with the 10-year Japanese government bond (JGB) at around 0.45% after a decades-long downtrend.

Japan’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to 0.5% in 1995, a move that pushed the 10-year JGB yield below 1% after three years, Higgins noted. “Investors did not know in 1998 that Japan’s key policy rate would remain near zero for the next 16 years (and counting). But the prospect of it remaining there for the foreseeable future was enough to keep the 10-year yield quite firmly anchored,” he said. “We see no reason why a similar outcome couldn’t happen in Germany,” as the bund yield fell below 1% after the ECB cut its main rate to 0.5% in mid-2013.

Read more …

” .. new mortgage approvals hit a 17-month low of 37,076 in October. That total was down nearly a quarter from January’s 76-month high of 48,649. It was also down 16% year on year ..”

UK Housing Market Cools Rapidly (Guardian)

Britain’s housing market is cooling rapidly as a result of tougher Bank of England mortgage market requirements, high prices and the uncertainty caused by the coming general election. The prospect of higher interest rates at some point in 2015 is also dampening demand. Figures from the British Bankers’ Association showed a sharp slowdown in mortgage approvals, while Nationwide building society has reported a drop in lending volumes. The BBA said that new mortgage approvals hit a 17-month low of 37,076 in October. That total was down nearly a quarter from January’s 76-month high of 48,649. It was also down 16% year on year. However, a house price crash is unlikely, according to new forecasts. Halifax’s forecasts for 2015 point to a further rise in values of 3% to 5% next year, despite uncertainty about the general election. Earlier this month Halifax reported that house prices fell during October and recorded their smallest quarterly increase in nearly two years.

The October survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that buyer inquires shrank for the fourth month running. Half-year results from Nationwide building society added to the gathering evidence of a weakening market, with net lending down by £2bn to £3.6bn in the six months to 30 September – although lending to landlords rose slightly. The society, which reported a doubling in pre-tax profits and higher savings inflows, said part of the reason net lending was down was tougher competition from other major mortgage providers, such as Halifax and Santander. “The BBA data add to now pretty widespread and compelling evidence that the housing market has come well off the boil,” said Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Insight. “The fact that mortgage approvals are substantially below their January peak levels – and falling – after lenders have got to grips with the new mortgage regulations points to an underlying moderation in housing market activity.”

Read more …

“The Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars as well as the Brazilian real, Russian ruble and other emerging economies are all playing this game. Those countries want weaker currencies to offset declining commodity exports ..”

Commodity Exporters Like Cheaper Currencies (A. Gary Shilling)

The U.S. dollar is strengthening for reasons that go beyond deliberate devaluations of the euro and yen. Major commodity exporters are also purposely pushing down their currencies as commodity prices drop. The Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars as well as the Brazilian real, Russian ruble and other emerging economies are all playing this game. Those countries want weaker currencies to offset declining commodity exports. In the past year, the head of the Reserve Bank of Australia has expressed sympathy for a weaker Aussie in view of soft mineral exports and a moderately growing economy.

Recently, the head of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said that, even with the drop in the New Zealand dollar, the kiwi is at “unjustifiable” levels and isn’t reflecting the weakness in the global commodity market. Earlier, the kiwi was propelled by strong meat and dairy exports to China and robust prices for milk, which have plunged. New Zealand’s economic growth is in jeopardy. The Bank of Canada recently left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 1% and expects inflation to be near its 2% target. But a decline in energy and other commodity prices has hurt the Canadian economy, which is growing at the same slow 2% rate as the U.S. The commodity bubble in the early 2000s prompted producers of industrial commodities, such as copper, zinc, iron ore and coal, to increase production. New output resulted just in time for the price collapse in the 2007 to 2009 recession.

The subsequent rebound didn’t hold and commodity prices have been falling since early 2011, no doubt due to excess supply of industrial commodities and slower growth in China, the world’s biggest commodity user. The price decreases are also due to sluggish expansions in developed countries and, in the case of agricultural products, good weather and more acreage being planted. So far this year, grain prices are falling, as are industrial commodity prices. Crude oil prices rose until mid-June, but have since dropped 25% and now are the lowest in six years. Spurred by fracking, U.S. oil output is exploding as economic softness in Europe and China and increased conservation have curtailed consumption. Copper, which is used in everything from plumbing fixtures to computers, is dropping in price as supply leaps and demand lags.

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“Several months earlier, the stock market had begun to plunge violently. Soon there were layoffs and business closings and the economy was having a tough time getting back in gear.”

On This Day, 138 Years Ago, The Idea Of QE Was Born (Art Cashin)

On this day in 1876, a group of influential, yet irate, Americans met in Indianapolis. Their primary purpose was to send a message to Washington on how to get the economy moving again. America at the time was going through a difficult and unusual period. Several months earlier, the stock market had begun to plunge violently. Soon there were layoffs and business closings and the economy was having a tough time getting back in gear. And for months now, strange things were happening, the money supply seemed not to be growing, real estate values were stagnant to slipping, and commodity prices were heading lower. (How unusual.)

So this group decided that what was needed was re-inflation (put more money in everyone’s hands, you see). The method they proposed was to issue more and more money. Cynics called them “The Greenback Party”. And on this day, the Greenbacks challenged Washington by running an independent for President of the United States. His name was Peter Cooper. He lost but several associate whackos were elected to Congress. To celebrate stop by the “Printing Press Lounge”. (It’s down the block from the Fed.) Tell the bartender to open the tap and just keep pouring it out till you say stop. Reassure the guy next to you (while you can still talk) that now we have more enlightened people in Washington. Try not to spill your drink if he falls off the stool laughing. There wasn’t much raucous laughter on Wall Street Monday, but the bulls were beaming with smiles as they managed to continue their string of bull runs.

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” .. the stimulus policies of the Federal Reserve and other central banks have the power to drive stocks higher. But they will ultimately be self-defeating ..”

A Bearish Hedge Fund Bets Against the Bulls and Still Profits (NY Times)

The stock market has been rising for years, hitting new highs almost every week. So how is it that one of Wall Street’s most bearish investors can claim to have profited strongly over this period? Universa Investments, a hedge fund founded by Mark Spitznagel, is one of the few firms that is set up with the aim of making money in an economic and financial collapse. In the market turmoil of 2008, Mr. Spitznagel earned large returns. Large pessimistic bets usually lose a lot of money when stocks are rising, as they have ever since 2009. But Universa is saying that its investment strategy has been able to produce consistent gains since then, including a 30% return last year, according to firm materials that were reviewed by The New York Times.

In comparison, the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index in 2013 had a return of 32% with dividends reinvested. Insurance policies that pay out after disasters do not produce big returns when the catastrophe fails to occur. But since 2008, some investors have been looking for ways to ride the market higher while having bets in place that will notch up huge gains if the system teeters on the brink once again. At Universa, Mr. Spitznagel’s strategy stems from his skepticism toward government efforts to revive the economy. He acknowledges that the stimulus policies of the Federal Reserve and other central banks have the power to drive stocks higher. But they will ultimately be self-defeating, he contends.

This theory holds that another crash will occur when the Fed stops being able to stoke the economy. Universa’s strategy seeks to profit when confidence in the central banks is strong — and when it evaporates. “The Fed has created a trap in this yield-chasing environment,” Mr. Spitznagel said in an interview, during which he gave an overview of Universa’s approach. “It allows you to be long, but it gets you in position to be short when it’s all over,” he said.

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Beggar thy neighbor, oil edition.

Saudi Arabia Says No One Should Cut Output, Oil Will Stabilize

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said tumbling crude prices will stabilize and there’s no need for producing nations to cut output. “No one should cut and market will stabilize itself,” Ali Al-Naimi told reporters a day before OPEC meets in Vienna. “Why Saudi Arabia should cut?The U.S. is a big producer too now. Should they cut?” Oil ministers from the 12 nations in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meet tomorrow in Vienna to discuss their combined production at a time when prices have fallen 30 percent since June. Crude fell in part on speculation that Saudi Arabia and other OPEC states wouldn’t take the necessary measures to curb a surplus. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez met with officials from Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia yesterday. While they agreed to monitor prices, they made no joint commitment to lower their supplies.

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It’s not going to happen. They are in too much distress.

Pre-OPEC Producer Meeting Fails to Deliver Oil Output Cut (Bloomberg)

Nations supplying a third of the world’s oil failed to pledge output cuts after meeting in Vienna today. Russia can withstand prices even lower than they are now, the country’s biggest producer said. Officials from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Russia said only that they would monitor prices. Crude futures sank to a four-year low in New York. OPEC meets in two days, with analysts split evenly over whether the group will lower output in response to the crash in prices. Crude fell into a bear market this year amid the highest U.S. production in 31 years and speculation that Saudi Arabia and other members of OPEC won’t do enough to curb a surplus. Prices are below what nine of group’s 12 members need to balance their national budgets, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“All these countries are significantly affected by lower prices and want to see cuts, but it is a big step between having these talks and taking actual coordinated action to achieve this,” Richard Mallinson, geopolitical analyst at Energy Aspects, said by phone today. “The key is going to be what happens amongst OPEC members.” Brent, the global benchmark, fell as much as 2.1% in London, having gained 1% before the four-way meeting concluded. It settled at $78.33 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate sank 2.2% to $74.09, the lowest since Sept. 21, 2010. The discussions didn’t result in any joint commitment to reduce supplies, Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister and representative to OPEC, told reporters after the meeting. All parties said they were worried about the oil price, he said.

“There is an overproduction of oil,” Igor Sechin, Chief Executive of OAO Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, said after the meeting. “Supply is exceeding demand, but not critically” and Russia wouldn’t need to cut production immediately even if oil fell below $60 a barrel, he said. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela between them produced 27.8 million barrels a day of oil last year, according to data from BP Plc. Total global output was 86.8 million barrels daily, the oil company’s figures show. OPEC, which meets to discuss output in Vienna on Nov. 27, pumped 30.97 million barrels a day last month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Too many opinions, too many variables.

The Unbearable Over-Determination Of Oil (Ben Hunt)

You know you’re in trouble when the Fed’s Narrative dominance of all things market-related shows up in the New York Times crossword puzzle, the Saturday uber-hard edition no less. It’s kinda funny, but then again it’s more sad than funny. Not a sign of a market top necessarily, but definitely a sign of a top in the overwhelming belief that central banks and their monetary policies determine market outcomes, what I call the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence. There is a real world connected to markets, of course, a world of actual companies selling actual goods and services to actual people. And these real world attributes of good old fashioned economic supply and demand – the fundamentals, let’s call them – matter a great deal. Always have, always will. I don’t think they matter nearly as much during periods of global deleveraging and profound political fragmentation – an observation that holds true whether you’re talking about the 2010’s, the 1930’s, the 1870’s, or the 1470’s – but they do matter.

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as looking at some market outcome – the price of oil declining from $100/bbl to $70/bbl, say – and dividing up the outcome into some percentage of monetary policy-driven causes and some percentage of fundamental-driven causes. These market outcomes are always over-determined, which is a $10 word that means if you added up all of the likely causes and their likely percentage contribution to the outcome you would get a number way above 100%. Are recent oil price declines driven by the rising dollar (a monetary policy-driven cause) or by over-supply and global growth concerns (two fundamental-driven causes)? Answer: yes. I can make a case that either one of these “explanations” on its own can account for the entire $30 move. Put them together and I’ve “explained” the $30 move twice over. That’s not very satisfying or useful, of course, because it doesn’t help me anticipate what’s next.

Should I be basing my risk assessment of global oil prices on an evaluation of monetary policy divergence and what this means for the US dollar? Or should I be basing my assessment on an evaluation of global supply and demand fundamentals? If both, how do I weight these competing explanations so that I don’t end up overweighting both, which (not to get too technical with this stuff) will have the effect of sharply increasing the volatility of my forward projections, even if I’m exactly right in the ratio of the relative contribution of the potential explanatory factors. Here’s the short answer. I can’t.

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Note: this is shale gas, not oil. That’s another bubble, and just as big.

Who Will Wind Up Holding the Bag in the Shale Gas Bubble? (Naked Capitalism)

We’ve been writing off and on about how the sudden fall in gas prices has been expected to put a lot of shale gas development on hold. In fact, quite a few analysts believe that one of the big Saudi aims in refusing to support oil prices was to dent the prospects for competitive energy sources, not just renewables like wind and hydro power, but shale gas. Even though OilPrice reported that US rig count had indeed fallen as oil prices plunged, John Dizard at the Financial Times (hat tip Scott) gives a more intriguing piece of the puzzle: the degree to which production is still chugging along despite it being uneconomical. The oil majors have been criticized for levering up to continue developing when it is cash-flow negative; they are presumably betting that prices will be much higher in short order. But the same thing is happening further down the food chain, among players that don’t begin to have the deep pockets of the industry behemoths: many of them are still in “drill baby, drill” mode. Per Dizard:

Even long-time energy industry people cannot remember an overinvestment cycle lasting as long as the one in unconventional US resources. It is not just the hydrocarbon engineers who have created this bubble; there are the financial engineers who came up with new ways to pay for it.

And while the financial engineers will as always do just fine, lenders are another matter:

By now, though, there is an astonishing amount of debt that continues to build up on the smaller E&P companies’ balance sheets. According to Gavekal, the research group, even before the oil price plunge, aggregate debt-to-equity ratios in the smaller publicly traded energy companies are now at 93%, up from around 70% in 2012 and 2013, and around 50% between 2005 and 2011. This in a highly cyclical industry that used to go through periodic banker-driven shakeouts and even bankruptcies.

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John Dizard from last Friday: the debt boom can’t stop without wreaking havoc across the industry.

US Oil Producers Can’t Kick Drilling Habit (FT)

You would think, what with the recent oil price crash, the people who finance US oil and gas producers would have learnt their lesson. But not yet. For the past several years, and despite the once again widening gap between capital spending and cash flow, Wall Streeters have stepped in like an overindulgent parent to pay for the producers’ drilling habit. “Isn’t he cute!” they exclaim, as an exploration and production boy crashes another budget. “So talented! Did you see how many frac stages he can do now, and how tight his well spacing is?” Of course the exploration and production companies and their lenders have been to expensive accounting therapy sessions, where the concerned Wall Street family, accompanied by the sullen E&P operators, are told that they have to make a really sincere effort to match finding, drilling and completion expenditures to internally generated cash flow.

Everyone promises the accountant that that irresponsible land purchase or midstream commitment was the last mistake. From now on, cash flow break-even. Right. By now, though, there is an astonishing amount of debt that continues to build up on the smaller E&P companies’ balance sheets. According to Gavekal, the research group, even before the oil price plunge, aggregate debt-to-equity ratios in the smaller publicly traded energy companies are now at 93%, up from around 70% in 2012 and 2013, and around 50% between 2005 and 2011. This in a highly cyclical industry that used to go through periodic banker-driven shakeouts and even bankruptcies.

Particularly in the gas and natural gas liquids drilling directed sector, every operator (and their financier) is waiting for every other operator to stop or slow their drilling programmes, so there can be some recovery in the supply-demand balance. I have been hearing a lot of buzz about cutbacks in drilling budgets for 2015, but we will not really know until the companies begin to report in January and February. Then we will find out if they really are cutting back, using their profits on in-the-money hedge programmes to keep their debt under control, and taking impairment charges on properties that did not really pay off.

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Nasty report.

The Environmental Downside of the Shale Boom (NY Times)

Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances. In recent years, as the boom really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared, with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production, an investigation by The New York Times found. Yet, even as the state has hired more oil field inspectors and imposed new regulations, forgiveness remains embedded in the Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country. [..]

Continental Resources hardly seems likely to walk away from its 1.2 million leased acres in the Bakken. It has reaped substantial profit from the boom, with $2.8 billion in net income from 2006 through 2013. But the company, which has a former North Dakota governor on its board, has been treated with leniency by the Industrial Commission. From 2006 through August, it reported more spills and environmental incidents (937) and a greater volume of spillage (1.6 million gallons) than any other operator. It spilled more per barrel of oil produced than any of the state’s other major producers. Since 2006, however, the company has paid the Industrial Commission $20,000 out of $222,000 in assessed fines.

Continental said in a written response to questions that it was misleading to compare its spill record with that of other operators because “we are not aware other operators report spills as transparently and proactively as we do.” It said that it had recovered the majority of what it spilled, and that penalty reductions came from providing the Industrial Commission “with precisely the information it needs to enforce its regulations fairly.” What Continental paid Mr. Rohr, the injured driller, is guarded by a confidentiality agreement negotiated after a jury was impaneled for a trial this September. His wife, Winnie, said she wished the trial had gone forward “so the truth could come out, but we just didn’t have enough power to fight them.”

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You wish.

Obama Climate Envoy: Fossil Fuels Will Have To Stay In The Ground (Guardian)

The world’s fossil fuels will “obviously” have to stay in the ground in order to solve global warming, Barack Obama’s climate change envoy said on Monday. In the clearest sign to date the administration sees no long-range future for fossil fuel, the state department climate change envoy, Todd Stern, said the world would have no choice but to forgo developing reserves of oil, coal and gas. The assertion, a week ahead of United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, will be seen as a further indication of Obama’s commitment to climate action, following an historic US-Chinese deal to curb emissions earlier this month. A global deal to fight climate change would necessarily require countries to abandon known reserves of oil, coal and gas, Stern told a forum at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

“It is going to have to be a solution that leaves a lot of fossil fuel assets in the ground,” he said. “We are not going to get rid of fossil fuel overnight but we are not going to solve climate change on the basis of all the fossil fuels that are in the ground are going to have to come out. That’s pretty obvious.” Last week’s historic climate deal between the US and China, and a successful outcome to climate negotiations in Paris next year, would make it increasingly clear to world and business leaders that there would eventually be an expiry date on oil and coal. “Companies and investors all over are going to be starting at some point to be factoring in what the future is longer range for fossil fuel,” Stern said.

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Merkel has problems keeping her stance.

Cracks Form in Berlin Over Russia Stance (Spiegel)

Within the European Union, the interests of the 28 member states are diverging in what are becoming increasingly clear ways. Taking a tough stance against Russia is generally less important to southern Europeans than it is to eastern Europeans. In the past, the German government had sought to serve as a bridge between the two camps. But in Berlin itself these days, significant differences in the assessment of the situation are starting to emerge within the coalition government pairing Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). It’s one that pits Christian Democrat leaders like Merkel and Horst Seehofer, who heads the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), against Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD and Social Democratic Party boss Sigmar Gabriel, who is the economics minister.

“The greatest danger is that we allow division to be sown between us,” the chancellor said last Monday in Sydney. And it’s certainly true to say that this threat is greater at present than at any other time since the crisis began. Is that what the Russian president has been waiting for? Last week, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier traveled to Moscow to visit with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. With Steinmeier standing at his side, the Russian foreign minister praised close relations between Germany and Russia. “It’s good my dear Frank-Walter that, despite the numerous rumors of recent days, you hold on to our personal contact.” Steinmeier reciprocated by not publically criticizing contentious issues like Russian weapons deliveries to Ukrainian separatists. Afterwards, Vladimir Putin received him, a rare honor. It was a prime example of just how the Russian strategy works.

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Don’t want to be a prick, and I like the man, but so does he a bit.

Europe Looks ‘Aged And Weary’: Pope Francis (CNBC)

Pope Francis has warned European politicians and policymakers that Europe is becoming less of a protagonist in the world as it looks “aged and weary.” Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of one billion Catholics worldwide, suggested that Europe risks becoming irrelevant. “Europe gives the impression of being aged and weary,feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently looks on itwith aloofness, distrust and even, at times, suspicion…As a grandmother, no longer fertile and lively,” he said. “The great ideas that once inspired Europe…seem to have been replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of Europe’s institutions.” Speaking at the plenary session of the parliament, he told lawmakers that they had the task of protecting and nurturing Europe’s identity “so that its citizens can experience renewed confidence in the institutions of the (European) Union and its project of peace and friendship that underlies it.”

Pope Francis’ visit to the European Parliament is the first by a pontiff since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1988. He is also visiting the Council of Europe – the region’s human rights body – later on Tuesday. “I encourage you to work so that Europe rediscovers the best of its health,” he added. The pope also spoke about the importance of education and work. On the question of migration, a hot topic in Europe, Pope Francis said there needed to be a “united response.” “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a large graveyard,” he said, referring to the number of migrants who die during their attempts to cross the sea and reach Europe. “Rather than adopting policies that focus on self-interest which increase and feed conflicts, we need to act on the causes (for migration) and not only on the effects,” he added.

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Nov 162014
 
 November 16, 2014  Posted by at 1:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Indian guides and Nash auto at Covelo stables, Mendocino County, CA 1925

We Need To Ramp Up Global Growth: OECD (CNBC)
G-20 Plans $2 Trillion Growth Boost to Uneven Global Economy (BW)
The G-20 Doesn’t Need a Growth Target (Bloomberg)
How The UK Coalition Has Helped The Rich By Hitting The Poor (Observer)
The Centre Is Falling Apart Across Europe (Observer)
Across Europe Disillusioned Voters Turn To Outsiders For Solutions (Observer)
How Can The Eurozone Escape A Lost Decade? (Guardian)
Europe Should Fear The Spectre Of Austerity, Not Communism (Observer)
Putin Leaves G20 After Leaders Line Up To Browbeat Him Over Ukraine (Guardian)
Why We Need Stock Prices To Fall 25% (MarketWatch)
Time to Hide Under the Covers (Martin Armstrong)
Forex Banks Prepare To Claw Back Bonuses (FT)
JPMorgan Settles Claims It Cheated Shale-Rights Owners (Bloomberg)
EC Says Starbucks’ Dutch Tax Deal At Odds With Competition Law (Guardian)
Shipbrokers In Merger Talks After 30% Plunge In Oil Price (Guardian)

Blind clowns run this world, and we let them. Don’t tell me you don’t deserve what you’re going to get.

We Need To Ramp Up Global Growth: OECD (CNBC)

The global economy should be growing at a much faster pace, the chief economist of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned on Sunday, as world leaders agreed on hundreds of measures they hope will boost expansion. “As the emerging markets become a greater share of the global economy, we really ought to be seeing the global economy growing at 4% or more, so the tone is dour,” said OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann, speaking to CNBC at the G-20 summit in Brisbane over the weekend. Growth of 4% is well behind the group’s projected global gross domestic product (GDP) of 3.3% for this year. In its latest Economic Outlook, published earlier this month, the OECD warned of “major risks on the horizon” for the world’s economy, such as further market volatility, high levels of debt and a stagnation in the euro zone recovery.

Mann’s comments come as world leaders at the G-20 agreed on measures they said will equate to 2.1% new growth, inject $2 trillion into the world economy and create millions of jobs. The Paris-based OECD has previously outlined a target of adding around 2 percentage points to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2018, relative to the 2013 level. To achieve a faster growth rate, Mann said that countries had given the OECD a range of commitments – and the focus was now on holding them accountable. “Our job is to say to countries: OK, you’ve told us what you’re going to do, so next year we’re going to look at what you’ve said you’re going to do and determine whether or not you’ve done it. It’s challenging. It’s absolutely a process,” she said. World leaders at the summit in Brisbane agreed on around 800 new measures on issues including employment, global competition and business regulations.

Mann was optimistic that job creation would increase in tandem with global growth, as countries ramped up infrastructure investment. “We know that there’s usually a relationship between growth and jobs. It’s not always a tight relationship. There’s always an issue about the distribution, where the jobs are being created, what sectors, what countries and some of the disconnect there can be,” she said. “Mismatch can be a problem, but I do think we are going to see job creation go hand in hand with global growth.” One way to boost global growth is a renewed focus on infrastructure, and Mann stressed there was a “significant deterioration” in infrastructure around the world. “Every country needs to have more bridges, or rebuild bridges and ports,” she said.

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Because, as we all know, all it takes to foster growth is deciding to have some. The emptiness that emanates from this is blinding.

G20 Says Growth Plans To Boost GDP By 2.1% If Implemented (BW)

Group of 20 leaders agreed to take measures that would boost their economies by a collective $2 trillion by 2018 as they battle patchy growth and the threat of a European recession. Citing risks from financial markets and geopolitical tensions, the leaders said the global economy is being held back by lackluster demand, according to their communique following a two-day summit in Brisbane. The group submitted close to 1,000 individual policy changes that they said would lift growth and said they would hold each other to account to ensure they are implemented. “There are some worrying warning signs in the global economy that are threats to us and our growth,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said after the meeting ended. “If every country that has come here does the things they said they would in terms of helping to boost growth,” including trade deals, then growth will continue, he said.

Action to bolster growth comes as policies around the world are diverging with the U.S. tapering its monetary easing as it boasts the strongest economy among advanced nations, while Europe and Japan add further stimulus to ward off deflation. The IMF last month cut its projection for world economic growth next year to 3.8%. The mostly structural policy commitments spelled out in each country’s individual growth strategy include China’s plan to accelerate construction of 4G mobile communications networks, a A$476 million ($417 million) industry skills fund in Australia and 165,000 affordable homes in the U.K. over four years.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told the leaders that in order to avoid the “new mediocre” of low growth, low inflation, high unemployment and high debt, all tools should be used at all levels. “That includes not just monetary policy, which is being significantly used, particularly in the euro zone, but also fiscal policy, structural reforms and, under certain conditions, infrastructure,” she said. The IMF and OECD assessed the policy commitments and said they would raise G-20 gross domestic product by an additional 2.1% from current trajectories by 2018, according to the communique. “It’s a worthy objective for the G-20 as global growth is still lagging,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital, which manages about $125 billion. “But a lot of those measures might not be fully implemented and, even if they do, they may not deliver the results.”

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But Pesek still thinks it needs growth.

The G-20 Doesn’t Need a Growth Target (Bloomberg)

Group of 20 host Tony Abbott went to great lengths to keep one topic — climate change — off the agenda at this weekend’s confab in Brisbane. There’s little mystery why: While the world hails China and the U.S. for moving forward on curbing carbon emissions, Australia is backsliding by scrapping a tax on carbon and resisting pressure to expand the use of renewables. Abbott’s justification? The need for growth. In fact, Australia’s prime minister wants the rest of the G-20 also to pledge to grow by an additional 2% or more over five years. The goal sounds unobjectionable, until one considers how much trouble arbitrary growth targets are already causing China. The mainland government’s annual pledge to generate a fixed expansion in gross domestic product – 7.5% this year – is also the biggest roadblock to clearing its air and eventually reducing emissions.

Pressure to meet that arbitrary target leads local officials to ignore anti-pollution directives. It could prompt additional stimulus, a second wind for investment in smokestack industries and even more smog. China may be considering a reduction in next year’s target; it shouldn’t set one at all. Neither should the broader G-20. This indiscriminate emphasis on a specific data point encourages short-term policy behavior. In the quest for higher growth at the lowest political cost, governments from Washington to Tokyo have abdicated their responsibility to unelected central bankers. The reliance on monetary easing to prop up growth is clearly dangerous. Too much liquidity chasing too little demand for credit and too few productive investments can only lead to fresh bubbles in a world already filled with them. The consequences are worryingly unpredictable.

Chinese officials like Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao have begun to warn that “divergence” in monetary policies – ultra-loose ones among developed economies, tighter conditions among emerging ones – could have unforeseen effects. “It will create new risks and uncertainties for the global economy,” Zhu told Bloomberg yesterday, calling the global financial environment “uneven and brittle.” Ceding control to central banks relieves political leaders of the pressure to make more difficult changes – the kind that will sustain growth in the long run and broaden its benefits. The only way China can make good on its climate targets, for example, is by rebalancing the economy way from heavy industry. That requires a level of political will Xi has yet to display.

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All the talk about growth serves only to implement more of this.

How The UK Coalition Has Helped The Rich By Hitting The Poor (Observer)

A landmark study of the coalition’s tax and welfare policies six months before the general election reveals how money has been transferred from the poorest to the better off, apparently refuting the chancellor of the exchequer’s claims that the country has been “all in it together”. According to independent research to be published on Monday and seen by the Observer, George Osborne has been engaged in a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent in the past four years. Those with the lowest incomes have been hit hardest. In an intervention that will come as a major blow to the government’s claim to have shared out the burden of austerity equally, the report by economists at the London School of Economics and the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex finds that:

• Sweeping changes to benefits and income tax have had the effect of switching income from the poorer half of households to most of the richer half, with the poorest 5% in the country in terms of income losing nearly 3% of what they would have earned if Britain s tax and welfare system of May 2010 had been retained.

• With the exception of the top 5%, who lost 1% of their potential income, it is the better-off half of the country that has gained financially from the changes, with an increase of between 1.2% and 2% in their disposable income.

• The top 1% in terms of income have also been small net gainers from the changes brought in by David Cameron’s government since May 2010, which include a cut in the top rate of income tax.

• Two-earner households, and those with elderly family members, were the most favourably treated, as a result of direct tax changes and state pensions respectively.

• Lone-parent families did worst, losing much more through cuts in benefits and tax credits and higher council tax than they gained through higher income tax allowances. Families with children in general, and large families in particular, also did much worse than the average.

• A quarter of the lowest paid 10% have shouldered a particularly heavy burden, losing more than 5% of what would have been their income without the coalition’s reforms.

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Brussels is blowing itself up. It’s not going to be pretty.

The Centre Is Falling Apart Across Europe (Observer)

Wednesday morning in Brussels and Beppe Grillo has brought his anti-establishment roadshow to the European parliament. The committee room is packed, standing room only for the former standup act. Once he gets going, Grillo resembles a force of nature. He declines to sit on the parliamentary rostrum alongside the other participants. Instead he prowls the floor, spitting out a staccato torrent of abuse and grievance, unscripted, unstoppable, laugh-a-minute. “I’m a bit over the top,” Grillo admits when he first pauses to draw breath after half an hour. “Maybe I should stop here.” Grillo is the Mr Angry of Italian and, increasingly, European politics. His Five Star Movement is running a consistent second in the opinion polls at around 20% behind the modernising centre-left of the Democratic Centre of prime minister Matteo Renzi.

If Grillo is hammering on the establishment’s doors, across Europe upstarts, populists, mavericks, iconoclasts and grassroots movements are performing even more strongly, radically changing the face of politics, consigning 20th-century bipartisan systems to the history books, and making it ever trickier to construct stable governing majorities. Fragmentation is the new norm in the parliaments and politics of Europe. Voter volatility, the death of deference, the erosion of party loyalties,, the dissolution of the ties of class make for a chaotic cocktail and highly unpredictable outcomes. Especially during and in the aftermath of economic slump.

“The crisis has shredded voters’ trust in the competence, motives and honesty of establishment politicians who failed to prevent the crisis, have so far failed to resolve it, and who bailed out rich bankers while imposing misery on ordinary voters, but not on themselves,” said Philippe Legrain, a former adviser to the head of the European commission and author of European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right. If elections were held tomorrow in half a dozen EU countries, according to current polls, the biggest single parties would be neither the traditional Christian nor social democrats of the centre-right and centre-left, but relative newcomers on the far right or hard left who have never been in government – from Greece and Spain, where far-left anti-austerity movements top the polls, to anti-EU, nationalist, anti-immigrant parties of the extreme right in France, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark.

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Lengthy article with reports fom France, Italy, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Spain.

Across Europe Disillusioned Voters Turn To Outsiders For Solutions (Observer)

Ever since Matteo Renzi became Italy’s youngest prime minister at 39 in February, styling himself as a political outsider and promising to prise open Italy’s closed-shop economy, commentators have been writing off Italy’s other great anti-establishment figure, Beppe Grillo. The former standup comedian, who rose to fame with rants at the establishment and a wildly popular blog, won a staggering 8.7 million votes in the 2013 elections to Italy’s lower house, running the centre-left Democratic Party a close second. But since then, the MPs and senators who flooded into parliament to represent him have been criticised for refusing to team up with other parties on key legislation. The few that did risked expulsion from his Five Star Movement. “There are continual divisions within Grillo’s parliamentary group – it’s pretty chaotic,” says Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor of politics at LUISS university in Rome. “They are still waiting for Renzi to fail so they can inherit whatever’s left after the disaster.”

Furthermore, Grillo’s anti-Europe rhetoric is now being matched by a resurgence of the rightwing Northern League. After being decimated by scandals, this party has dropped its focus on autonomy for northern Italy, and charismatic new leader Matteo Salvini is now picking up votes nationally with attacks on immigration. So why, despite the setbacks, are Grillo’s poll ratings still healthy? A survey of voting intentions this month put his movement at 19.9%, more than double the Northern League’s, albeit trailing Renzi’s 38.9%. “Until the economy turns around, Grillo will win votes – there is so much frustration in Italy,” says D’Alimonte, who adds that Grillo’s raging against corruption continues to strike a chord. “We still read every day about scandalous misuses of public funds.” Silvio Berlusconi’s decline is also helping the tousle-haired comedian, says D’Alimonte. “Grillo cuts across the political spectrum, taking votes from the left and the right, just like Ukip.”

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There’s only one answer to that question: by disbanding itself.

How Can The Eurozone Escape A Lost Decade? (Guardian)

It says something about the diminished expectations that the reaction to the latest growth figures for Germany and France was one of relief. Such is the gloom that has descended on the eurozone in the past few months, there was a fear that the data from the eurozone’s two biggest economies could have been worse. That’s true. Germany might now be in technical recession had the 0.1% contraction in the second quarter been followed by a further fall in gross domestic product in the third. As it was, growth of 0.1% was eked out. Similarly, France’s 0.3% expansion was a tad better than feared. But the headline growth number disguised underlying weakness. The growth was entirely due to government spending and the build-up of unsold stocks of goods.

The private sector in France remains painfully weak. What’s true of Germany and France is true of the 18-nation eurozone as a whole. Unlike the US and the UK, the eurozone has never really shown signs of emerging strongly from the financial crisis and recession of 2008-09. The recovery that began in 2013 has petered out. There are a number of reasons for that. The European Central Bank has been slower than the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve in taking action to boost growth – and less imaginative in its choice of weapons. Quantitative easing is now in the offing for the eurozone – almost six years after it was deployed in Britain and America. Blanket austerity for the eurozone has weakened domestic demand.

Attempting to slash budget deficits before growth returned has been a terrible mistake, and one for which Germany has to take the blame. With consumers not spending and businesses not investing, the eurozone has been dependent on exports to keep growth ticking over. But the slowdown in some of the world’s leading emerging markets this year – China, Brazil and Russia to name but three – has made it harder to sell goods overseas. Internal eurozone trade has also faltered. All is not completely lost. The plunge in oil prices will reduce energy bills and boost the real disposable incomes of consumers. A sharp fall in the value of the euro will make exports to the rest of the world more competitive.

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The Observer sounds as hollow as the rest of them here.

Europe Should Fear The Spectre Of Austerity, Not Communism (Observer)

The approach to macroeconomic policy in Brussels is dominated by Germany. The problem is that the Germans are urging further cuts on economies that are rapidly nearing the end of their tether. One close observer of policymaking in Germany says, only half jokingly, that advice is dominated by a combination of “those who don’t understand Keynes and those who do but are too scared to admit it”. The Tories, who may yet save the beleaguered Ed Miliband by tearing themselves apart over Europe, would be well advised to heed the words of one George Soros, who has pointed out that by being members of the European Union but not of the eurozone, we in Britain enjoy “the best of both worlds”. The Bank of England pointed out in the inflation report that “the potential positive impact of ECB policy actions” is likely to be outweighed in the near term by the factors that are already depressing growth in the euro area.

Carney, who has not hesitated on occasion to acknowledge that Osborne’s fiscal policy impeded the British recovery, manifested some sympathy with Draghi’s view that there needs to be a relaxation of fiscal policy. This means at the very least going easy on budget cuts, but ideally adopting a major expansionary policy involving much-needed infrastructure projects. Indeed, even Germany itself is crying out for renewal of its infrastructure. For “structural reform” read “infrastructure reform”! This does not seem to be understood in Berlin – or, for that matter, in Brussels. They go on relentlessly about the need to honour the EU’s “stability and growth pact”, with its strict targets for budgets and debt. But that pact was drawn up in what were reasonably normal times. The financial crisis changed everything. I always thought it significant that the word “stability” came before “growth” when the pact was signed. The problem now is that there is precious little growth, even in Germany itself, and the danger is that stability may soon turn into deflationary instability.

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Fools like Harper, Cameron, Abbott are not going to make Putin nervous. All they’ve done over the summit is show him face to face just how stupid they are. Harper allegedly told Putin to get out of Russia. Nobody in the room wanted to provide his reply, but it may well have been: ‘You first’.

Putin Leaves G20 After Leaders Line Up To Browbeat Him Over Ukraine (Guardian)

Vladimir Putin quit the G20 summit in Brisbane early saying he needed to get back to work in Moscow on Monday after enduring hours of browbeating by a succession of Western leaders urging him to drop his support for secessionists in eastern Ukraine. With the European Union poised this week to extend the list of people subject to asset freezes, the Russian president individually met five European leaders including the British prime minister, David Cameron, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, where he refused to give ground. Putin instead accused the Kiev government of a mistaken economic blockade against the cities in eastern Ukraine that have declared independence in votes organised in the past month. He said that action was short-sighted pointing out that Russia continued to pay the salaries and pensions of Chechenya throughout its battle for independence.

Justifying his early departure Putin said: “It will take nine hours to fly to Vladivostok and another eight hours to get Moscow. I need four hours sleep before I get back to work on Monday. We have completed our business.” In an interview with German TV he also accused the west of switching off their brains by imposing sanctions that could backfire. Putin said: “Do they want to bankrupt our banks? In that case they will bankrupt Ukraine. Have they thought about what they are doing at all or not? Or has politics blinded them? As we know eyes constitute a peripheral part of brain. Was something switched off in their brains?” The Russian leader also complained he had not been consulted by the EU about the recognition of Ukraine. However, British officials insisted behind Putin’s bluster, that they detected a new flexibility about the Ukraine orientating towards the EU so long as this did not extend to Nato assets being placed on Ukrainian soil.

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Because that’s by how much, at the very least, they have been distorted (?!)

Why We Need Stock Prices To Fall 25% (MarketWatch)

In early October, as share prices wobbled, I had high hopes that U.S. stocks would plummet to attractive levels. Instead, shares have shot higher, adding to the rip-roaring bull market that has seen stocks triple since March 2009. The long rally has done wonders for my portfolio’s value. But it also means stocks are now more richly valued—and expected returns are lower. Unless you never again plan to add to your stock portfolio, you should have mixed feelings about the market’s heady gains. Think about all the money you’ll invest in stocks in the years ahead, whether it’s with new savings, reinvested dividends or by shifting money from elsewhere in your portfolio. Wouldn’t you rather buy at 2009 prices than at today’s nosebleed valuations? Indeed, I find it hard to get enthused about the prospects for U.S. stocks over the next 10 years. Consider the three components of the market’s return: the dividend yield, corporate-earnings growth and the value put on those earnings, as reflected in the market’s price/earnings ratio.

We already know the dividend yield: It’s 2% for the S&P 500. But big question marks hang over the other two components of the market’s return. How fast will earnings grow? Over the 10 years through mid-2014, the per-share earnings of the S&P 500 companies grew 6.3% a year, far ahead of the 3.6% nominal (including inflation) growth in GDP. But there are three reasons to fear slower earnings growth over the next 10 years. First, the recent gains have been driven by rising profit margins. After-tax corporate profits rose from 7.9% of GDP in mid-2004 to 10.6% in early 2014. Without that boost, the S&P 500’s earnings would have lagged behind GDP growth. Suppose profits remain at 10.6% of GDP, rather than reverting to 7.9%. Even in that scenario, investors likely wouldn’t be happy, because corporate profits would grow no faster than the economy. That brings us to the second reason for worry: Economic growth may disappoint.

Over the past 50 years, roughly half the economy’s 3% after-inflation growth has come from increases in the working population and half from productivity gains. But the labor force is now growing more slowly, as the entrance of new workers barely outpaces retiring baby boomers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the civilian labor force will expand 0.5% a year over the 10 years through 2022, versus 0.7% for 2002-12 and 1.2% for 1992-2002. On top of that, many American families simply can’t afford to spend freely, either because they’re unemployed or underemployed or they remain handcuffed by hefty amounts of debt. That, too, could crimp economic growth. A third reason to worry: Over the past 10 years, companies have bought back as much stock as they’ve issued. That’s unusual—and it may not last. Historically, shareholders have seen their claim on the nation’s profits diluted by two percentage points a year, as new companies emerge and existing companies issue new shares.

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“The liquidity is still off by 50% from 2007. Retail participation in the US share market is at historic lows. When the global economy turns down, it will drop faster than ever before BECAUSE liquidity is not there. We NEED to RESTRUCTURE the world economy NOW – RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT.”

Time to Hide Under the Covers (Martin Armstrong)

The USA may not be as all-powerful as its tells its people or our politicians believe. For all the spying going on against American citizens to hunt them down for taxes intercepting all cell phone calls, the USA is vulnerable on many fronts. The Chinese have been able to compromise the US defense systems. Meanwhile, in the Black Sea, Russia sent a Su-24 jet which then simulated a missile attack against the USS Donald Cook. It carried a new device that rendered the ship literally deaf, dumb, and blind. The Russian aircraft repeated the same maneuver 12 times before flying away. Obama better wake up. This is not some video game. The world is on the brink of war and governments need this war because they are dead in the water economically. The government in Ukraine has told its people it cannot reform now, it is in war. So be patient. We will see this same excuse migrate to Europe and the USA. Government NEED such a diversion. It also does not hurt to kill off those anticipating being taken care of by the state.

The US economy is holding up the entire world economy right now and the growth rate is minimal. When we turn the economy down, look out below. These morons have been hunting taxes everywhere and as a result they have shut down global capital flows. Government lives in an illusion. They simply assumed they could always tax and never funded anything presuming they could always shake money from us. It has been the FREEDOM of investment capital on a global basis that built the economies of the world after World War II. This was the same aspect that built the Roman Empire. Conquering everything enabled global capital flows. Capital flows around the globe at all times and has done so since ancient times. Cicero commented that any event in Asia (Turkey) be it financial or natural disaster, sent waves of panic running through the Roman Forum. If capital has been restricted in movement as it is today, no American would have ever been able to invest in Europe or Asia. Where would the world be today had FATCA been around in 1945?

These idiots have destroyed the world economy and we will only understand this full impact after 2015.75. If you outlaw short-selling, there is nobody to buy during a panic. This is the same problem. The liquidity is still off by 50% from 2007. Retail participation in the US share market is at historic lows. When the global economy turns down, it will drop faster than ever before BECAUSE liquidity is not there. We NEED to RESTRUCTURE the world economy NOW – RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT. Raising taxes and stopping global flows is the absolute worse case scenario you can possibly ever do in times like the present. This is turning VERY ugly. You better buy some extra heavy blankets because you are going to want to just hide in your bed when this chaos erupts. There are boggy-men under the bed and in the closet and he is listening and watching everything you do. Why? Because he is scared to death he may be losing power. They are in the final stages of insanity – the Stalin Phase where they are paranoid about what everyone even thinks and says.

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Let’s hope this pisses off the traders enough to tell on their bosses.

Forex Banks Prepare To Claw Back Bonuses (FT)

Five banks at the heart of the forex rate rigging probe are preparing to claw back millions of dollars in bonuses from traders as the City seeks to shore up its reputation in the wake of the latest scandal to hit the banking industry. This would be the first time that banks have applied this draconian measure on such a large scale. Under European rules, they have the power to take this step, but in practice they have largely restricted themselves to withholding as yet unpaid bonuses. This week’s move, however, by UK, US and Swiss regulators to fine six banks $4.3bn for their role in the global foreign exchange scandal has reignited calls for the sector to take tougher action against wrongdoers.

Royal Bank of Scotland, Citigroup, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase and UBS, five of the banks fined this week, are all looking at taking back bonuses from dozens of traders – although people familiar with their thinking say the plans are subject to internal reviews of the individuals’ cond[uit]. RBS is considering going even further by reducing this year’s overall bonus pool for the whole investment bank. Such a move would echo RBS’s stance last year after the Libor rate-rigging scandal, when the state-owned bank reduced its incentive pool by £300m after paying a £390m penalty to UK and US regulators. The forex scandal revealed that groups calling themselves “the players”, “the three musketeers” and “a co-operative” tried to rig key currency benchmarks including at least one provided by central banks, according to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.

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JPMorgan fraud no. 826.

JPMorgan Settles Claims It Cheated Shale-Rights Owners (Bloomberg)

JPMorgan settled a lawsuit by Texas mineral-rights owners who accused it of cutting sweetheart deals with oil company clients to cheat them out of $681 million in compensation. The dispute centered on payments for rights to drill in the Eagle Ford, a shale formation underlying much of central and southwest Texas that has helped put the U.S. in competition with Saudi Arabia and Russia for title of world’s largest oil producer. Beneficiaries of the South Texas Syndicate Trust accused the bank, which was supposedly working on their behalf, of instead hatching favorable deals with commercial-banking clients Petrohawk Energy and Hunt Oil for cut-rate prices on the trust’s rights in the Eagle Ford, the highest-yielding oil field in the U.S. Deal talks between the bank and the trust stalled and forced the start of a trial Nov. 12 in state court in San Antonio while negotiations continued.

The settlement was completed Nov. 14 as jurors heard a third day of testimony, according to lawyers for both the bank and trust’s beneficiaries. “The case was resolved with some conditions, and the jury was excused,” Dan Sciano, a lawyer for the trust beneficiaries, said yesterday in a phone interview. Sciano said he was optimistic “a sufficient number of beneficiaries” will sign the accord at their annual meeting in San Antonio this weekend. “Otherwise, we would not have dismissed the jury,” he said. Sciano declined to discuss the amount of the settlement. [..] The San Antonio Express News reported that the beneficiaries would receive $40 million from the bank. The trust beneficiaries claimed they got only $32.5 million on rights that yielded benefits worth $1.1 billion because JPMorgan wanted to curry favor with its oil company clients at their expense. The bank rejected the claims as speculation and hindsight.

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Luxembourg, Holland, Ireland, they’re all doing the same, and they all claim it’s fully legal. Morals don’t enter the picture.

EC Says Starbucks’ Dutch Tax Deal At Odds With Competition Law (Guardian)

Brussels has accused the Dutch government of cooking up an illegal deal with Starbucks that allowed the coffee chain to pay a very low rate of tax. In a preliminary report into an alleged sweetheart deal the European commission said the coffee shop’s tax arrangements in the Netherlands were at odds with EU rules on competition, which are intended to stop a government using state funds to give a company an unfair advantage. The report, published today, had been sent to the Dutch government on 11 June, when the commission officially launched its investigation into the tax affairs of Apple, Starbucks and Fiat. Starbucks ran into a political furore when it emerged in 2012 that it had paid just £8.3m in corporate taxes since coming to the UK in 1998, despite racking up sales of more than £3bn.

The British subsidiary of the coffee chain was classified as loss-making – so did not pay taxes on profits – largely because it made payments to other companies in the Starbucks group for its coffee supplies, use of the Starbucks logo and shop format, and interest on loans within the group. The commission’s investigation is focusing on these so-called transfer payments and has homed in on the role of the coffee chain’s roasting facility in Amsterdam and its relationship with other parts of the Starbucks business. Officials have also expressed doubts about the legality of a decision by the Dutch tax authorities to allow Starbucks to book in the Netherlands revenues it has earned in other countries. In 2012, Starbucks’ chief financial officer, Troy Alstead, told the UK’s public accounts committee of MPs that the group had legitimately secured a tax deal with the Netherlands that allowed it to pay tax at a “very low rate”. According to the commission, the coffee chain’s Dutch companies paid €716,000 (£570,000) of tax in 2011 in the Netherlands and between €600,000 and €1m in 2012.

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An insanely overbuilt market faces reality.

Shipbrokers In Merger Talks After 30% Plunge In Oil Price (Guardian)

Plunging oil prices have triggered merger talks among London’s shipping and offshore brokers, with key companies including Clarkson, Icap and Howe Robinson all in discussions. With shipping in the doldrums, brokers have been relying over the last couple of years on the offshore oil industry to boost profits but a 30% plunge in the crude price has caused panic. Clarkson, the world’s largest shipbroker, confirmed on Friday it was hoping to acquire RS Platou, a major Norwegian-based rival which also controls a significant operation in the UK. Icap and Howe Robinson are also understood to be looking at options and sources predicted some kind of merger deal between those firms could be unveiled as early as next week.

Clarkson said the purchase of privately-owned Platou, which some believe could cost up to £200m, made commercial sense: “Given the complementary activities, in terms of geographic locations, operations and industry specialisation, the boards of both Clarksons and Platou believe the enhanced offering of the combined business positions the enlarged group as a leading integrated global shipping and offshore group.” The move could have reunited Clarkson with its flamboyant former chief executive, Richard Fulford-Smith, who left and joined Platou, but the Ferrari-driving shipbroker has unveiled his own plans to buy out Platou’s UK business. While key parts of the shipping market such as dry bulk carriers and container ships have continued to struggle against massive overbuilding of tonnage and tepid volume growth, Clarkson has continued to prosper.

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Nov 142014
 
 November 14, 2014  Posted by at 9:06 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Farm family fleeing OK drought for CA, car broken down, abandoned Aug 1936

That says quite something, that title. And it’s probably not entirely true, it’s just that I can’t think of any others. And also, I’m in Europe myself right now, and I still have a European passport too. So there’s two of us at least. Moreover, I visited Beppe Grillo three years ago, before his 5-Star Movement (M5S) became a solid force in Italian politics. So we have a connection too.

Just now, I noticed via the BBC and Zero Hedge that Beppe not only expects to gather far more signatures than he said he would recently (1 million before vs 4 million today) for his plan to hold a referendum on the euro, he also claims to have a 2/3 majority in the Italian parliament. Well done. But he can’t do it alone.

Martin Armstrong thinks the EU may have him murdered for this before they allow it to take place. Which is a very good reason for everyone, certainly Europeans, to come out in support for the only man in Europe who makes any sense. I know many Italians find Beppe too coarse, but they need to understand he’s their only way out of this mess.

The smear campaigns against him are endless. The easier ones put him at the same level as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, the more insidious ones paint him off as a George Soros patsy. There’ll be a lot more of that. And given the success of this year’s anti-Putin campaign in Europe, and the ongoing pro-Euro one, it’s going to take a lot not to have people believe whatever they are told to.

Just take this to heart: since Italy joined the euro, its industrial production has fallen by 25%. How is that not a disaster? Meanwhile, the eurozone economy is in awful shape, and the longer that lasts, the more countries like Italy will be disproportionally affected and dragged down further. There’s a reason for that numbers such as that: it’s not like Germany and Holland lost 25% of their production.

The eurozone must end before it starts to do irreversible damage, and before it turns Europe into a warzone, a far more real and imminent risk than anyone dares suggest.

The first bit here is from Zero Hedge, and then after that I will repost a lengthy piece about Beppe that I first published on February 12, 2013.

Italy’s Grillo Rages “We Are Not At War With ISIS Or Russia, We Are At War With The ECB”

Next week, Italy’s Beppe Grillo – the leader of the Italian Five Star Movement – will start collecting signatures with the aim of getting a referendum in Italy on leaving the euro “as soon as possible,” just as was done in 1989. As Grillo tells The BBC in this brief but stunning clip, “we will leave the Euro and bring down this system of bankers, of scum.” With two-thirds of Parliament apparently behind the plan, Grillo exclaims “we are dying, we need a Plan B to this Europe that has become a nightmare – and we are implementing it,” raging that “we are not at war with ISIS or Russia! We are at war with the European Central Bank,” that has stripped us of our sovereignty.

Beppe Grillo also said today:

It is high time for me and for the Italian people, to do something that should have been done a long time ago: to put an end to your sitting in this place, you who have dishonoured and substituted the governments and the democracies without any right. Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? A crumb of humanity? Is there one vice you do not possess? Gold and the “spread” are your gods. GDP is you golden calf.

We’ll send you packing at the same time as Italy leaves the Euro. It can be done! You well know that the M5S will collect the signatures for the popular initiative law – and then – thanks to our presence in parliament, we will set up an advisory referendum as happened for the entry into the Euro in 1989. It can be done! I know that you are terrified about this. You will collapse like a house of cards. You will smash into tiny fragments like a crystal vase.

Without Italy in the Euro, there’ll be an end to this expropriation of national sovereignty all over Europe. Sovereignty belongs to the people not to the ECB and nor does it belong to the Troika or the Bundesbank. National budgets and currencies have to be returned to State control. They should not be controlled by commercial banks. We will not allow our economy to be strangled and Italian workers to become slaves to pay exorbitant interest rates to European banks.

The Euro is destroying the Italian economy. Since 1997, when Italy adjusted the value of the lira to connect it to the ECU (a condition imposed on us so that we could come into the euro), Italian industrial production has gone down by 25%. Hundreds of Italian companies have been sold abroad. These are the companies that have made our history and the image of “Made in Italy”.

As Martin Armstrong asks rather pointedly…

Since the introduction of the euro, all economic parameters have deteriorated, the founder of the five-star movement in Italy is absolutely correct. The design or the Euro was a disaster. There is no fixing this any more. We have crossed the line of no return. Beppe is now calling for referendum on leaving euro. Will he be assassinated by Brussels? It is unlikely that the EU Commission will allow such a vote.

And then here’s my February 2013 article; it seems silly to try and rewrite it. There is nobody in Europe other than him who understands what is going on, and is willing to fight for it. Grillo is a very smart man, a trained accountant and an avid reader of anything he can get his hands on. The image of him as a populist loud mouthed good for little comedian is just plain false. It was Grillo who exposed the Parmalat scandal,and the Monte Dei Paschi

Never forget what political and behind the veil powers he’s up against in his country, and how they seek to define the image the world has of him. What Beppe Grillo does takes a lot of courage. Not a lot of people volunteer to be smeared and insulted this way, let alone run the risk of being murdered. Those who do deserve our support.

Beppe Grillo Wants To Give Italy Democracy

In the fall of 2011, The Automatic Earth was on another European lecture tour. Nicole Foss had done a series of talks in Italy the previous year, and there was demand for more. This was remarkable, really, since a knowledge of the English language sufficient to understand Nicole’s lectures is not obvious in Italy, so we had to work with translators. Certainly none of this would have happened if not for the limitless drive and energy of Transition Italy’s Ellen Bermann.

In the run-up to the tour I had asked if Ellen could perhaps set up a meeting with an Italian I found very intriguing ever since I read he had organized meetings which drew as many as a million people at a time for a new – political – movement. Other than that, I didn’t know much about him. We were to find out, however, that every single Italian did, and was in awe of the man. A few weeks before arriving, we got word that he was gracious enough to agree to a meeting; gracious, because he’d never heard of us either and his agenda was overloaded as it was.

So in late October we drove the crazy 100+ tunnel road from the French border to Genoa to meet with Beppe Grillo in what turned out to be his unbelievable villa in Genoa Nervi, high on the mountain ridge, overlooking – with a stunning view – the Mediterranean, and set in a lovely and comfortable sunny afternoon. I think the first thing we noticed was that Beppe is a wealthy man; it had been a long time since I had been in a home where the maids wear uniforms. The grand piano was stacked with piles of books on all sorts of weighty topics, politics, environment, energy, finance. The house said: I’m a man of wealth and taste.


Eugenio Belgeri, Raúl Ilargi Meijer, Beppe Grillo, Nicole Foss and Ellen Bermann in Genoa Nervi, October 2011

I don’t speak Italian, and Beppe doesn’t speak much English (or French, German, Dutch), so it was at times a bit difficult to communicate. Not that it mattered much, though; Beppe Grillo has been a super charged Duracell bunny of an entertainer and performer all his life, and he will be the center of any conversation and any gathering he’s a part of no matter what the setting. Moreover, our Italian friends who were with us – and couldn’t believe they were there – could do a bit of translating. And so we spent a wonderful afternoon in Genoa, and managed to find out a lot about our very entertaining host and his ideas and activities.

Beppe had set up his Five Star movement (MoVimento Cinque Stelle, M5S) a few years prior. He had been organizing V-day “happenings” since 2007, and they drew those huge crowds. The V stands for “Vaffanculo”, which can really only be translated as “F**k off” or “Go f**k yourself”: the driving idea was to get rid of the corruption so rampant in Italian politics, and for all sitting politicians to go “Vaffanculo”.

At the time we met, the movement was focusing on local elections – they have since won many seats, have become the biggest party on Sicily (after Beppe swam there across the Straits of Messina from the mainland) and got one of their own installed as mayor of the city of Parma.

Grillo explained that M5S is not a political party, and he himself doesn’t run for office. He wants young people to step forward, and he’s already in his sixties. Anyone can become a candidate for M5S, provided they have no ties to other parties, no criminal record (Beppe does have one through a 1980 traffic accident); they can’t serve more than two terms (no career politicians) and they have to give back 75% of what they get paid for a public function (you can’t get rich off of politics).

I found it surprising that our friends at Transition Italy and the general left were reluctant to endorse Grillo politically; many even wanted nothing to do with him, they seemed to find him too coarse, too loud and too angry. At the same time, they were in absolute awe of him, openly or not, since he had always been such a big star, a hugely popular comedian when they grew up. Grillo offered to appear through a video link at Nicole’s next talk near Milan, but the organizers refused. It was only the first sign of a lot of mistrust among Italians even if they all share the same discontent with corrupt politics. Which have made trust a major issue in Italy.

This may have to do with the fact that Grillo is a comedian in the vein of perhaps people like George Carlin or Richard Pryor in the US. On steroids, and with a much wider appeal. Rough language, no holds barred comedy turns a lot of people off. Still, I was thinking that they could all use the visibility and popularity of the man to get their ideas across; they preferred anonymity, however.

By the way, the Five Stars, perhaps somewhat loosely translated, stand for energy, information, economy, transport and health. What we found during our conversation is that Beppe Grillo’s views on several topics were a little naive and unrealistic. For instance, like so many others, he saw a transition to alternative energy sources as much easier than it would realistically be. That said, energy and environment issues are important for him and the movement, and in that regard his focus on decentralization could carry real benefits.

Still, I don’t see the present naive ideas as being all that bad. After all, there are limits to what people can do and learn in a given amount of time. And Beppe certainly has a lot to do, he’s leading a revolution, so it’s fine if the learning process takes some time. Ideally, he would take a crash Automatic Earth primer course, but language will be a barrier there. I hope he finds a way, he’s certainly smart and curious enough.

When his career took off in the late 70’s, early 80’s, Beppe Grillo was just a funny man, who even appeared on Silvio Berlusconi’s TV channels. Only later did he become more political; but then he did it with a vengeance.

Grillo was first banned from Italian TV as early as 1987, when he quipped about then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and his Socialist Party that if all Chinese are indeed socialists, who do they steal from? The ban was later made permanent. In the early 90’s, Operation Clean Hands was supposed to have cleaned up corruption in politics. Just 15 years later, Beppe Grillo started the Five Star movement. That’s how deeply engrained corruption is in Italy, stretching across politics, business and media.

We are- almost – all of us living in non-functioning democracies, but in Italy it’s all far more rampant and obvious. There’s a long history of deep-seated corruption, through the mafia, through lodges like P5 and Opus Dei, through many successive governments, and through the collaboration between all of the above, so much so that many Italians just see it as a fact of life. And that’s what Beppe Grillo wants to fight.

Ironically, he himself gets called a neo-nazi and a fascist these days. To which he replies that perhaps he’s the only thing standing between Italy and a next bout of fascism. I’ve read a whole bunch of articles the past few days, the international press discovers the man in the wake of the general elections scheduled for February 24-25, and a lot of it is quite negative, starting with the all too obvious notion that a clown shouldn’t enter politics. I don’t know, but I think Berlusconi is much more of a clown in that regard than Grillo is. A whole lot more of a clown and a whole lot less funny.

Beppe is called a populist for rejecting both right and left wing parties, a neo-nazi for refusing to block members of a right wing group from M5S, a Jew hater in connection with the fact that his beautiful wife was born in Iran, and a dictator because he’s very strict in demanding potential M5S candidates adhere to the rules he has set. Oh, and there are the inevitable right wing people calling him a communist.

There are of course tons of details that I don’t know, backgrounds, I’m largely an outsider, willing to be informed and corrected. And this would always be much more about the ideas than about the man. Then again, I did talk to the man in his own home and I don’t have the impression that Grillo is a fraud, or part of the same system he purports to fight as some allege, that he is somehow just the existing system’s court jester. He strikes me as being too loud and too embarrassing for that. And too genuinely angry.

Moreover, I think Italy is a perfect place for a nasty smear campaign, and since they can’t very well murder the man – he’s too popular – what better option than to make him look bad?! If anything, it would be strange if nobody did try to paint him off as a demagogue, a nazi or a sad old clown.


Photo: AFP: Marcello Paternostro

After being banned from TV, Grillo went on the build one of the most visited blogs/websites in the world, and the number one in Europe. Ironically, he is now in some media labeled something of a coward for not appearing in televised election debates. But Beppe doesn’t do TV, or – domestic – newspapers. For more than one reason.

Because he was banned from TV, because of the success of the internet campaign, and because Silvio Berlusconi incessantly used “lewd” talk shows on his own TV channels to conduct politics, Beppe Grillo insists his councilors and candidates stay off TV too, and he has his own unique way of making clear why and how: When a female Five Star member recently ignored this and appeared on a talk show anyway, Grillo said “the lure of television is like the G-spot, which gives you an orgasm in talk-show studios. It is Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. At home, your friends and relations applaud emotionally as they share the excitement of a brief moment of celebrity.”. Of course Beppe was labeled a sexist for saying this.

The internet is central to Grillo’s ideas. Not only as a tool to reach out to people, but even more as a way to conduct direct democracy. Because that is what he seeks to create: a system where people can participate directly. Grillo wants to bring (back) democracy, the real thing, and he’s long since understood that the internet is a brilliant tool with which to achieve that goal. One of his spear points is free internet access for all Italians. Which can then be used to let people vote on any issue that can be voted on. Not elections once every four years or so, but votes on any topic anytime people demand to vote on it. Because we can.

Since we had our chat in that garden in Genua, Beppe Grillo and M5S have moved on to bigger pastures: they are now set to be a major force in the general elections that will establish a new parliament. Polls differ, but they can hope to gain 15-20% of the vote (Grillo thinks it could be even much more). The leader in the polls is the Socialist Party, and then, depending on which poll you choose to believe, M5S comes in either second or third (behind Berlusconi). What seems certain is that the movement will be a formidable force, carrying 100 seats or more, in the new parliament, and that they could have a lot of say in the formation of any new coalition government.

In the run-up the elections, Beppe has now traded his home for a campaign bus, going from town to town and from one jam-packed campaign event to the next on what he has labeled the Tsunami Tour, in which he, in his own words, brings class action to the people.

As was the case in the local elections, Beppe Grillo says he wants “normal” people (“a mother of three, a 23-year-old college graduate, an engineer [..] those are the people I want to see in parliament”) to be elected, not career politicians who enrich themselves off their status and influence, and who he labels “the walking dead”, and though he acknowledges his candidates have no political experience, he says: “I’d rather take a shot in the dark with these guys than commit assisted suicide with those others.” In the same vein, another one of his lines is:“The average age of our politicians is 70. They’re planning a future they’re never going to see”.

On his immensely popular website beppegrillo.it, which has quite a bit of English language content, Grillo has some nice stats and tools. There is a list of Italian parlimentarians and Italian members of the EU Parliament who have been convicted of crimes. At this moment there are 24; their number has come down, but still. There is also a great little thing named “Map of Power of the Italian Stock Exchange” that graphically shows the links various politicians have with various corporations. I remember when Grillo proudly showed it to us, that after clicking just 2-3 politicians and 2-3 businesses, the screen was so full of lines depicting connections it had become an unreadable blur.

In between all the other activities, Beppe was instrumental 10 years ago in exposing the stunning $10 billion accounting fraud at dairy and food giant Parmalat before it went bankrupt, as well as the recent scandal at the world’s oldest bank, Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena, which will cost a reported $23 billion. Corruption is everywhere in Italy, which has a large political class that is all too eager to share in the spoils. Mr. Grillo was trained as an accountant, and he understands what he’s talking about when it comes to dodgy numbers. What he needs is the power to act.

Apart from the strong stance that Grillo and M5S take against corruption and for direct representation, critics say they have few clear policy objectives, that they don’t even know what they want. Being a movement instead of a party doesn’t help. But then, these critics think inside the very old system that M5S wants to replace with one that is far more transparent and direct. It’s more than obvious that existing powers have no interest in incorporating the possibilities for improvement offered by new technologies, but it should also be obvious that people, wherever they live, could potentially benefit from a better functioning political system.

There will be many who say that no such thing can be achieved, but perhaps it not only can, but is inevitable. All it could take is for an example to show that it can work. One might argue that the only reason our current systems continue to exist in all their opaqueness is that those who stand to profit from them are the ones who get to vote on any changes that could be applied. What Beppe Grillo envisions is a system in which every one can vote directly on all relevant issues, including changes to the system itself. It’s about class action, about taking back power from corrupt existing politics. Italy looks like a good testing ground for that, since its systemic rot is so obvious for all to see. But in other western countries, just like in Italy, it could return the power where it belongs: in the hands of the people.

Radical ideas? Not really, because when you think about it, perhaps it’s the technology itself that’s radical, not the use of it. And maybe it’s the fact that we’re so stuck in our existing systems that keeps us from using our new technologies to their full potential. Just like it keeps us from restructuring our financial systems and our energy systems for that matter. We continue to have systems and institutions guide our lives long after they’ve ceased to be useful for our present day lives, as long as we’re snug and warm and well-fed. And we do so until a real bad crisis of some sort comes along and makes it absolutely untenable, often with a lot of misery and blood thrown into the equation.

Beppe Grillo wants to break that chain. And he’s got a recipe to do it. It may not be perfect or foolproof, but who cares when it’s replacing something that no longer functions at all, that just drags us down and threatens our children’s lives? Who cares? Well, the Monti’s and Berlusconi’s and Merkel’s and Obama’s and Exxon’s and BP’s and Monsanto’s of the world do, because it is the old system that gave them what they have, and they don’t want a new one that might take it away. Our so-called democracies exist to please our leaders and elites, not ourselves. And we’re unlikely to figure that one out until it’s way too late.

Unless the Italians do our work for us and vote for the Cinque Stelle in huge numbers.

Oct 192014
 
 October 19, 2014  Posted by at 10:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edwin Rosskam Service station, Connecticut Ave., Washington, DC Sep 1940

Low Oil Price Means High Anxiety For OPEC As US Flexes Its Muscles (Observer)
Germany’s Tough Medicine Risks Killing Off The European Project (Observer)
Why The Eurozone’s Woes Have Become The World’s Problem (Observer)
Under-30s Being Priced Out Of The UK (Observer)
Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20% (Guardian)
UK Mortgage Battle Hots Up As Banks Prepare To Slash Rates (Guardian)
Why Abenomics Failed: There Was A “Blind Spot From The Outset” (Zero Hedge)
Richard Feynman On The Social Sciences (Tavares)
Orwell Was Only Wrong About The Date (Scott Stantis)
Struggle Against Extinction: The Pictures That Capture The Story (Observer)
The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us (Monbiot)
Human Extinction? Not So Much (Ecoshock)
White Rhino Dies In Kenya: Only Six Animals Left Alive In The World (Observer)
Radiation Levels At Fukushima Rise To Record Highs After Typhoon (RT)
Oxfam Calls For Troops In Africa As Ebola Response Is Criticized (Observer)
Ebola Deaths In Liberia ‘Far Higher Than Reported’ (Observer)

Saudi Arabia vs its former partners, but still with the US, in a long established protection racket.

Low Oil Price Means High Anxiety For OPEC As US Flexes Its Muscles (Observer)

During a week of turmoil on the global stock markets, the energy sector played out a drama that could have even bigger consequences: a standoff between the US and the Opec oil-producing nations. While pension holders and investors watched aghast as billions of pounds were lost to market gyrations, a fossil-fuel glut and a slowing global economy have driven the oil price down to a level that could save the world $1.8bn a day on fuel costs. If this is some consolation for households everywhere after last week’s hit on stock market wealth, it means pain for the Opec cartel, composed mainly of Middle East producers. Opec’s 12-member group has largely controlled the global price of crude oil for the past 40 years, but the US’s discovery of shale oil and gas has dramatically shifted the balance of power, to the apparent benefit of consumers and the discomfort of petrostates from Venezuela to Russia.

The price of oil has plummeted by more than a quarter since June but will Opec, which holds 60% of the world’s reserves and 30% of supplies, cut its own production to try to lift prices? Or will the cartel allow a further slide from the current price – in the mid-$80s per barrel – in the hope of making it impossible for US drillers to make a profit from their wells, and so driving them out of business? Saudi Arabia – Opec powerhouse and traditional ally of Washington – and other rich Gulf nations have been building up their cash reserves and have shown themselves willing to slash prices in a bid to retain market share in China and the rest of Asia. The US, the world’s biggest oil consumer, has relied in the past on Saudi to keep Opec price rises relatively low. But now it has the complicating factor of protecting its own huge shale industry.

Even US oil producers see the political benefits of abundant shale resources and the resultant downward pressure on prices. Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, the biggest US oil company, said recently that his country had now entered a “new era of energy abundance” – meaning it is no longer dependent on the politically unstable Middle East. So there will be understandable tension next month when the ruling Opec body meets in Vienna and its member states fight over what to do. The cartel would like to reassert its authority over oil prices but some producing countries, such as Saudi, can withstand lower crude values for much longer than others, and the relative costs of production vary wildly between nations.

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That’s what I’m hoping for.

Germany’s Tough Medicine Risks Killing Off The European Project (Observer)

Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-rebel leader of Italian politics, must have laughed heartily. No sooner had he announced to supporters that the euro was “a total disaster” than the currency union was driven to the brink of catastrophe once again. Grillo launched a campaign in Rome last weekend for a 1 million-strong petition against the euro, saying: “We have to leave the euro as soon as possible and defend the sovereignty of the Italian people from the European Central Bank.” Hours later markets slumped on news that the 18-member eurozone was probably heading for recession. And there was worse to come. Greece, the trigger for the 2010 euro crisis, saw its borrowing rates soar, putting it back on the “at-risk register”. Investors, already digesting reports of slowing global growth, were also spooked by reports that a row in Brussels over spending caps on France and Italy had turned nasty.

With China’s growth rate continuing to slow, and US data showing the world’s largest economy was not as immune to the turmoil as many believed, it was time to head for the hills. Wall Street slumped and a month of falls saw the FTSE 100 lose 11% of its value. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, voters backed austerity and the euro in expectation of a debt-reducing recovery. But as many Keynesian economists warned, this has proved impossible. More than five years later, there are now plenty of voters willing to call time on the experiment, Grillo among them. And there seems to be no end to austerity-driven low growth in sight. The increasingly hard line taken by Berlin over the need for further reforms in debtor nations such as Greece and Italy – by which it means wage cuts – has worked to turn a recovery into a near recession.

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Given Europe’s size, they always were.

Why The Eurozone’s Woes Have Become The World’s Problem (Observer)

Forget the economic threat posed by Ebola. Pay scant heed to the risk that the Chinese property bubble is about to be pricked. Take with a pinch of salt the risk that an imminent rise in US interest rates will trigger a wave of disruption across the fragile markets of the emerging world. In the end, the explanation for last week’s plunge on global financial markets comes down to one word: Europe. That’s not to say none of the other factors matter. Global pandemics, all the way back to the Black Death in the 14th century, have always been economically catastrophic. The knock-on effects of America starting to jack up the cost of borrowing are uncertain, but potentially problematical. The dangers facing policymakers in China as they seek to move the economy towards lower but better balanced growth are obvious. But it is the worsening condition of the eurozone that has spooked markets in the past couple of weeks.

The problem can be broken down into a number of parts. The first problem is that recovery in Europe appears to have been aborted. A tentative recovery began in the middle of 2013, but appears to have run into the sand. Technically, the eurozone has been in and out of recession since 2008. In reality, the story of the past six years has been of a deep slump followed by half a decade of flatlining. Until now, markets have been able to comfort themselves with the fact that the core of the eurozone – Germany – has been doing fine. Recent evidence has shown that the slow growth elsewhere in Europe, in countries such as France and Italy, is now having an effect on Germany. Exports and manufacturing output are suffering, not helped by the blow to confidence caused by the tension in Ukraine. That’s problem number two.

Until now, opposition from Berlin and the still influential Bundesbank in Frankfurt has made it impossible for the European Central Bank to fire its last big weapon: quantitative easing. The slowdown in Germany should make it easier for the ECB’s president, Mario Draghi, to begin cranking up the electronic printing presses, but are markets impressed? Not really. They are coming to the view that monetary policy – using interest rates and QE to regulate the price and quantity of money – is maxed out. The third facet of the problem is concern that Draghi’s intervention will be too little, too late, and that Europe is condemned to years of nugatory growth.

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This is as crazy and disgraceful as the over 50% youth unemployment in southern Europe.

Under-30s Being Priced Out Of The UK (Observer)

Britain is on the verge of becoming permanently divided between tribes of haves and have-nots as the young increasingly miss out on the opportunities enjoyed by their parents’ generation, the government’s social mobility tsar claim. The under-30s in particular are being priced out of owning their own homes, paid lower wages and left with diminishing job prospects, despite a strong economic recovery being enjoyed by some. Those without the benefits of wealthy parents are condemned to languish on “the wrong side of the divide that is opening up in British society”, according to Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the government’s Commission on Social Mobility. In an illustration of how the less affluent young have been abandoned, Milburn notes that even the Saturday job has become a thing of the past. The proportion of 16- to 17-year-olds in full-time education who also work has fallen from 37% to 18% in a decade.

Milburn spoke out in an interview with the Observer as tens of thousands of people, including public sector workers such as teachers and nurses opposed to a below-inflation 1% pay offer from the government, protested in London, Glasgow and Belfast about pay and austerity on Saturday. The TUC, which organised the protests under the slogan “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”, said that between 80,000 and 90,000 people took part in the London march. Speaking on the eve of the publication of his final annual report on social mobility to ministers before the general election, Milburn demanded urgent action by the state and a change in direction by businesses. He said that only a radical change would save a generation of Britons buffeted by an economic downturn and condemned by a fundamental change in the labour market that left them without hope of better lives.

In a strikingly downbeat intervention, Milburn said: “It is depressing. The current generation of young people are educated better and for longer than any previous one. But young people are losing out on jobs, earnings and housing. “This recession has been particularly hard on young people. The ratio of youth to adult unemployment rates was just over two to one in 1996, compared to just under three to one today. On any definition we are nowhere near the chancellor’s objective of “full employment” for young people. Young people are the losers in the recovery to date.”

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Britain as a mirror to the world.

Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20% (Guardian)

The scale of Britain’s growing inequality is revealed by a report from a leading charity showing that the country’s five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population. Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday’s budget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together. The development charity, which has opened UK programmes to tackle poverty, said the government should explore the possibility of a wealth tax after revealing how income gains and the benefits of rising asset prices had disproportionately helped those at the top. Although Labour is seeking to make living standards central to the political debate in the run-up to next year’s general election, Osborne is determined not to abandon the deficit-reduction strategy that has been in place since 2010.

But he is likely to announce a fresh crackdown on tax avoidance and measures aimed at overseas owners of high-value London property in order to pay for modest tax cuts for working families. The early stages of the UK’s most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits. But the trend has been reversed in recent years as a result of falling real wages, the rising cost of food and fuel, and by the exclusion of most poor families from home and share ownership. In a report, a Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

The most affluent family in Britain, headed by Major General Gerald Grosvenor, owns 77 hectares (190 acres) of prime real estate in Belgravia, London, and has been a beneficiary of the foreign money flooding in to the capital’s soaring property market in recent years. Oxfam said Grosvenor and his family had more wealth (£7.9bn) than the poorest 10% of the UK population (£7.8bn). Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet. “It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

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Chasing the last few suckers left.

UK Mortgage Battle Hots Up As Banks Prepare To Slash Rates (Guardian)

The battle to tempt mortgage customers with attractive deals is heating up again as major lenders put more rate cuts into action. Barclays is preparing to offer what it said are some of its lowest ever rates, including a three-year fixed rate at 2.29%, a five-year fix at 2.85% and a 10-year fix at 3.49%. All of these deals are aimed at people with 40% deposits and come with a £999 fee. Barclays is also cutting the rate on its innovative family springboard mortgage, which helps people with only a 5% deposit get on the property ladder by allowing their parents to put some money into a savings account which is then linked to the mortgage. The savings money is later released back to their parents with interest, provided that the mortgage payments are kept up to date. The rate on a three-year fixed family springboard deal, which has no application fee, is to be slashed from 3.79% to 2.99%.

The bank is also cutting rates on deals aimed at people with deposits of 10%, 15%, 20% and 30% in what will be the seventh consecutive round of reductions to its range. Barclays said its “never seen before” rate cuts will come into place early this week and they are likely to be around for only a limited period. Meanwhile, a new 0.99% deal from HSBC will be launched on Monday. HSBC has said the product, which is available for borrowers with a 40% deposit, has the lowest rate it has ever offered. The 0.99% deal is in effect a 2.95% discount off HSBC’s 3.94% standard variable rate (SVR), which lasts for two years. In theory, HSBC could decide to increase its SVR within the two-year discount period, which would mean the rate would move above 0.99% but the borrower would still get a rate of 2.95% below whatever the new SVR rate was for the two years after initially taking out the deal.

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Exactly what I’ve always said all the time about Abenomics. It should be held up as an example for all of our stimulus measures.

Why Abenomics Failed: There Was A “Blind Spot From The Outset” (Zero Hedge)

Ever since Abenomics was announced in late 2012, we have explained very clearly that the whole “shock and awe” approach to stimulating the economy by sending inflation into borderline “hyper” mode in a country whose main problem has to do with an aging population demographic cliff and a global market that no longer thinks Walkmen and Sony Trinitrons are cool and instead can find all of Japan’s replacement products for cheaper and at a higher quality out of South Korea, was doomed to failure. Very serious sellsiders, economists and pundits disagreed and commended Abe on his second attempt at fixing the country by doing more of what has not only failed to work for 30 years, but made the problem worse and worse.

Well, nearly two years later, or roughly the usual delay before the rest of the world catches up to this website’s “conspiratorial ramblings”, the leader of the very serious economist crew, none other than Goldman Sachs, formally admits that Abenomics was a failure, and two weeks after Goldman also admitted that now Japan is informally (and soon officially) in a triple-drip recession, begins the scapegoating process when in a note by its Naohiko Baba, it says that Abenomics failed because all along it was based on two faulty “misconceptions and miscalculations.” Ironically, the same “misconceptions and miscalculations” that frame the Keynesian “recovery” debate in every insolvent developed world country which is devaluing its currency to boost its exports and economy, when in reality all it is doing is propping up its stock market, allowing the 1% of the population to cash out and leaving the 99% with the economic collapse that inevitably follows.

So what happened with Abenomics, and why did Goldman, initially a fervent supporter and huge fan – and beneficiary because those trillions in fungible BOJ liquidity injections made their way first and foremost into Goldman year end bonuses – change its tune so dramatically?

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Bit of a loose argument, since Feynman never specifically talked about economics, but point taken.

Richard Feynman On The Social Sciences (Tavares)

Looking back at his own experience, Feynman was keenly aware of how easy our experiments can deceive us and thus of the need to employ a rigorous scientific approach in order to find the truth. Because of this, he was highly critical of other sciences which did not adhere to the same principles. The social sciences are a broad group of academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups and individuals, including anthropology, geography, political science, psychology and several others. Here is what he had to say about them in a BBC interview in 1981:

“Because of the success of science, there is a kind of a pseudo-science. Social science is an example of a science which is not a science. They follow the forms. You gather data, you do so and so and so forth, but they don’t get any laws, they haven’t found out anything. They haven’t got anywhere – yet. Maybe someday they will, but it’s not very well developed. “But what happens is, at an even more mundane level, we get experts on everything that sound like they are sort of scientific, expert. They are not scientists. They sit at a typewriter and they make up something like ‘a food grown with a fertilizer that’s organic is better for you than food grown with a fertilizer that is inorganic’. Maybe true, may not be true. But it hasn’t been demonstrated one way or the other. But they’ll sit there on the typewriter and make up all this stuff as if it’s science and then become experts on foods, organic foods and so on. There’s all kinds of myths and pseudo-science all over the place.

“Now, I might be quite wrong. Maybe they do know all these things. But I don’t think I’m wrong. See, I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to get to really know something, how careful you have about checking your experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something. “And therefore, I see how they get their information. And I can’t believe that they know when they haven’t done the work necessary, they haven’t done the checks necessary, they haven’t done the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don’t know and that they are intimidating people by it. I think so. I don’t know the world very well but that’s what I think.”

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Amen. Word.

Orwell Was Only Wrong About The Date (Scott Stantis)

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Struggle Against Extinction: The Pictures That Capture The Story (Observer)

Toshiji Fukuda went to extraordinary lengths to photograph an Amur tiger, one of the world’s rarest mammals, in 2011. He built a tiny wooden hut overlooking a beach in Russia’s remote Lazovsky nature reserve, on the Sea of Japan, and spent the winter there. Fukuda was 63 at the time. “Older people have one advantage: time passes more quickly for us than the young,” he said later. Possession of such resilience was fortunate because Fukuda had to wait seven weeks for his only glimpse of an Amur tiger, which resulted in a single stunning image of the animal strolling imperiously along the beach below his hide. “It was as if the goddess of the Taiga had appeared before me,” he recalled.

In recognition of the photographer’s efforts, Fukuda was given a key award at the 2013 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, an annual event that has showcased the best images taken of the planet’s rarest animals and habitats and which has taken on an increasingly important role in recording their fates. This year’s exhibition, which opens on Friday, is the 50th such exhibition – to be held, as usual, at the Natural History Museum – and a recent study of past winning images has revealed the unexpected twists of fortune that have affected the world’s wildlife. Some animals, which appeared to be doing well, have plummeted towards extinction. Others, which seemed to be doomed, have bounced back. “It still seems to be very much a matter of hit or miss whether a threatened species recovers or instead continues to dwindle towards extinction,” said the museum’s curator of mammals, Roberto Portela Miguez.

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” … a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time…”

The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us (Monbiot)

What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing and conspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness. When Thomas Hobbes claimed that in the state of nature, before authority arose to keep us in check, we were engaged in a war “of every man against every man”, he could not have been more wrong. We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominins of east Africa could not have survived one night alone. We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others. The age we are entering, in which we exist apart, is unlike any that has gone before.

Three months ago we read that loneliness has become an epidemic among young adults. Now we learn that it is just as great an affliction of older people. A study by Independent Age shows that severe loneliness in England blights the lives of 700,000 men and 1.1m women over 50, and is rising with astonishing speed. Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.

Yes, factories have closed, people travel by car instead of buses, use YouTube rather than the cinema. But these shifts alone fail to explain the speed of our social collapse. These structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism. What counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage. British children no longer aspire to be train drivers or nurses – more than a fifth say they “just want to be rich”: wealth and fame are the sole ambitions of 40% of those surveyed.

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Why anyone would want to do Guy McPherson the honor of talking about his loony tunes is beyond me, but here goes. Nicole gets mentioned.

Human Extinction? Not So Much (Ecoshock)

The case against going extinct soon due to extreme climate change & human impacts.

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The sadness is unspeakably deep.

White Rhino Dies In Kenya: Only Six Animals Left Alive In The World (Observer)

An endangered northern white rhino has died in Kenya, a wildlife conservancy has said, meaning only six of the animals are left alive in the world. Suni, a 34-year-old northern white, and the first of his species to be born in captivity, was found dead on Friday by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nairobi. While there are thousands of southern white rhinos in the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching has meant the northern white rhino is close to extinction. Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world as no northern white rhinos are believed to have survived in the wild. Though the conservancy said Suni was not poached, the cause of his death is currently unclear. Suni was born at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in Czech Republic in 1980. He was one of the four northern white rhinos brought from that zoo to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in 2009 to take part in a breeding programme.

Wildlife experts had hoped the 90,000-acre private wildlife conservancy, framed on the equator and nestled between the snow capped Mount Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range, would offer a more favourable climate for breeding. The conservancy said in a statement: “The species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race. “We will continue to do what we can to work with the remaining three animals on Ol Pejeta in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf.” Suni’s father, Suit, died in 2006 of natural causes, also aged 34.

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” … levels of the radioactive isotope cesium are now at 251,000 becquerels per liter, three times higher than previously-recorded levels.”

Radiation Levels At Fukushima Rise To Record Highs After Typhoon (RT)

The amount of radioactive water near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has risen to record levels after a typhoon passed through Japan last week, state media outlet NHK reported on Wednesday. Specifically, levels of the radioactive isotope cesium are now at 251,000 becquerels per liter, three times higher than previously-recorded levels. Cesium, which is highly soluble and can spread easily, is known to be capable of causing cancer. Meanwhile, other measurements also show remarkably high levels of tritium – another radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Samples from October 9 indicate that there are 150,000 becquerels of tritium per liter in the groundwater near Fukushima, according to Japan’s JIJI agency. Compared to levels recorded last week, that’s an increase of more than 10 times.

Additionally, “materials that emit beta rays, such as strontium-90, which causes bone cancer, also shattered records with a reading of 1.2 million becquerels, the utility said of the sample,” JIJI reported. Officials blamed these increases on the recent typhoon, which resulted in large amounts of rainfall and injured dozens of people on Okinawa and Kyushu before moving westward towards Tokyo and Fukushima. While cesium is considered to be more dangerous than tritium, both are radioactive substances that authorities would like to keep from being discharged into the Pacific Ocean in high quantities. For now, extra measures to contain the issue are not on the table, since “additional measures have been ruled out since the depth and scope of the contaminated water leaks are unknown, and TEPCO already has in place several measures to control the problem, such as the pumping of groundwater or walls to retain underground water,” according to the IANS news service.

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A shocking number: “There are some 3,700 Ebola orphans.”

Oxfam Calls For Troops In Africa As Ebola Response Is Criticized (Observer)

Anger is growing over the “inadequate” response to the Ebola epidemic this weekend with the World Health Organisation’s Africa office accused of incompetence and world governments of having failed. Aid charities and the president of the World Bank are among the critics, declaring that the fight against the virus is in danger of being lost. On Saturday Oxfam took the unusual step of calling for troops to be sent to west Africa, along with funding and medical staff, to prevent the Ebola outbreak becoming the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”. It accused countries that did not commit military personnel of “costing lives”. The charity said that there was less than a two-month window to curb the spread of the virus but there remained a crippling shortfall in logistical support. Several African countries have for the last decade been suffering severe shortages of homegrown medics thanks to a “brain drain” to countries such as Britain, which rely on foreign workers.

The executive director of frontline medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, Vickie Hawkins, said national and global health systems had failed. “We are angry that the global response to this outbreak has been so slow and inadequate. “We have been amazed that for months the burden of the response could be carried by one single, private medical organisation, while pleading for more help and watching the situation get worse and worse. When the outbreak is under control, we must reflect on how health systems can have failed quite so badly. But the priority for now must remain the urgent fight against Ebola – we simply cannot afford to fail.” The worst outbreak on record has claimed 4,500 lives, out of 8,914 recorded cases since the start of the year, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The true number is agreed to be higher. There are some 3,700 Ebola orphans.

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There should be no doubt about this. Too many reasons for too many people to play it down.

Ebola Deaths In Liberia ‘Far Higher Than Reported’ (Observer)

The true death toll from the Ebola epidemic is being masked by chaotic data collection and people’s reluctance to admit that their loved ones had the virus, according to one of west Africa’s most celebrated film-makers. Sorious Samura, who has just returned from making a documentary on the crisis in Liberia, said it is very clear on the ground that the true number of dead is far higher than the official figures being reported by the World Health Organisation. Liberia accounts for more than half of all the official Ebola deaths, with a total of 2,458. Overall, the number of dead across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has exceeded 4,500. Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country.

“People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people. The truth is that it is still not under control.” WHO has admitted that problems with data-gathering make it hard to track the evolution of the epidemic, with the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, going under-reported. Efforts to count freshly dug graves had been abandoned. Local culture is also distorting the figures. Traditional burial rites involve relatives touching the body – a practice that can spread Ebola – so the Liberian government has ruled that Ebola victims must be cremated. “They don’t like this burning of bodies,” said Samura, whose programme will air on 12 November on Al Jazeera English. “Before the government gets there they will have buried their loved ones and broken all the rules.”

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Oct 182014
 
 October 18, 2014  Posted by at 11:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


John Vachon Koolmotor, Cleveland, Ohio May 1938

The Stock Market, Inevitably, Is Going To Crash (MarketWatch)
One Simple Reason Why Global Stock Markets Are Reeling (AEP)
Jim Rogers: Sell Everything And Run For Your Lives (Zero Hedge)
The Return Of The ‘Fear Trade’ (MarketWatch)
Fannie, Freddie Plan Measures to Ease Lending to Riskier Borrowers (Bloomberg)
Why US Banks Are Now Extremely Vulnerable (Simon Black)
Just Try to Refinance. I Dare You (Ritholtz)
Rates Below 4% Leave U.S. Refinancing Banker Sleepless (Bloomberg)
ECB Policymakers Clash Over How To Treat Eurozone (Reuters)
Eurozone: Five Years Of Bailouts, Market Turmoil And Protests (Guardian)
Greece’s Latest Woes Signal Next Stage Of The Eurozone Crisis (Telegraph)
Kudos To Herr Weidmann For Uttering Three Truths In One Speech (Stockman)
Before Bailout, ECB Had Doubts Over Keeping a Cyprus Bank Afloat (NY Times)
Moody’s Report Makes Grim Reading For British Supermarkets (Guardian)
Putin Talks With EU, Ukraine ‘Difficult, Full Of Misunderstandings’ (Reuters)
West Unwilling To Be Objective On Ukraine, Says Russia (WSJ)
1,000 Years Of Dust Bowls Now Inevitable (Paul B. Farrell)
‘We Have A Worst-Case Ebola Scenario, And You Don’t Want To Know’ (Bloomberg)

History says so.

The Stock Market, Inevitably, Is Going To Crash (MarketWatch)

And you thought stock-market crashes were a thing of the past. One ancillary benefit of this week’s turmoil has been to remind us that a market crash could occur at any time. We had been lulled into a false sense of security by the markets’ exceptionally good performance in recent years, coupled with our too-short memories. At one point during the air pocket that hit during Wednesday’ session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen almost 508 points — which, coincidentally, was the same decline during the 1987 stock market crash, the worst in U.S. history. Piling on: This weekend marks the 27th anniversary of that crash.

Of course, 508 points in 1987 represented a far bigger drop than Wednesday’s intra-day decline, since the Dow at that time was trading for just a fraction of where it stands today. To decline as much in percentage terms today as it did then, the Dow would have to fall by more than 3,700 points. And, believe it or not, declines that big are also an inevitable, if rare, feature of the investment landscape. And we’re kidding ourselves if we think that market reforms will be able to prevent it. The only real solution is to devise investment strategies with the knowledge that big daily drops are unavoidable.

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Liquidity. The magic word.

One Simple Reason Why Global Stock Markets Are Reeling (AEP)

It is no mystery why global liquidity is evaporating. Central banks have turned off the tap. They have reduced net stimulus by roughly $125bn a month since the end of last year, or $1.5 trillion annualized That is a shock for the financial system. The ratchet effect has been incremental, but relentless. We are finally seeing the consequences, with the usual monetary policy lag The Fed and People‘s Bank of China (PBOC) have stopped their two variants of global QE altogether (for now). Others have chopped their purchases of bonds by half or more. The Brazilians are net sellers, and in a sense they carrying out reverse QE. The Russians have just joined them again. Fed tapering has taken out $85bn a month. The markets are having to go it alone as of this month, without their drip feed. Less understood is the effect of global reserve accumulation by the BRICS, emerging Asia, and the Petro-states. This has collapsed. Nomura’s Jens Nordvig has crunched the latest numbers for Q3.

They show that China’s PBOC has completely withdrawn from global asset markets. In fact, it may have sold almost $9bn of bonds, (even adjusting for currency effects). This is a policy shift by Beijing. Premier Li Keqiang said in May that China’s $4 trillion foreign reserves are already so big they have become a “burden“. China bought $106bn as recently as the first quarter of 2014, so this is a very sudden shift. Yes, I know, China’s purchases of US Treasuries, Gilts, Bunds, French bonds, and Japanese JGBs are not quite the same as QE. There are complex sterilization effects. Yet there is a fungible effect whether the Fed is buying Treasuries or whether the Chinese central bank is buying them. It is all a form of global QE. It all helps to inflate asset prices, and vice versa if it reverses. This was really what Ben Bernanke meant when he first began talking of the “global savings glut“. The flood of money into the bond markets was compressing yields for everybody.

Hence the subprime debt crisis in the US, and hence too the Club Med debt bubble. The money had to go somewhere as the rising world powers boosted global FX reserves to $11.3 trillion from under $1 trillion in 2000. It went into safe-haven bonds, displacing that money into everything else. Over the latest quarter, almost every country has been choking back: the Bank of Korea has cut net purchases from $25bn to $9bn; the Reserve Bank of India from $43bn to $12bn; the petro-states have cut from $19bn in Q1 to $11bn. (That must surely turn steeply negative with oil at $86 a barrel). Net sellers were: China (-$9bn), Brazil (-$7bn), Singapore (-$7bn), Malaysia (-$5bn), Thailand (-$3bn), Turkey (-$1bn). Overall FX accumulation worldwide fell from $106bn to $22bn.

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Word: “we are all going to pay a terrible price for all this money-printing and debt.”

Jim Rogers: Sell Everything And Run For Your Lives (Zero Hedge)

From Bitcoin to the Swiss gold referendum, and from Chinese trade and North Korean leadership, Jim Rogers covers a lot of ground in this excellent interview with Boom-Bust’s Erin Ade. Rogers reflects on the end of the US bull market. citing a number of factors from breadth to the end of QE, adding that he agrees with Albert Edwards’ perspective that now is the time to “sell everything and run for your lives,” as the “consequences of [The Fed] are now being felt.” Most notably though, Rogers believes the de-dollarization is here to stay as Western sanctions force many nations to find alternatives. Simply put, Rogers concludes, “we are all going to pay a terrible price for all this money-printing and debt.” Excerpts:

On US stocks: This is the end of the bull market. Stocks will fall 20%. Market breadth is waning as evidenced by the lower number of stocks hitting new highs and trading above their 200-day moving averages. Small cap stocks have already corrected over 10 percent and almost half of the Nasdaq is down 20 percent – a bear market already. Where is this headed? Consolidation is the bare minimum. But, depending on the real economy, it could be worse. “Any pension plans, endowments, etc., are suffering because they invest for the futures and are finding that their situation has gotten worse,” he says.

On The Fed: “We are all going to pay a terrible price for all this money-printing… They are doing this at the expense of people who save and invest. They are doing it to bail out the people who borrowed huge amounts of money. The consequences are already being felt.”

On de-dollarization: The move away from the U.S. dollar is yet another reaction to Western sanctions placed on Russia since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March. Russia and Iran have agreed to use their own national currencies in bilateral trade transactions rather than the U.S. dollar. An original agreement to trade in rials and rubles was made earlier this month in a meeting between Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh. Similarly, Russia and China also agreed to trade with each other using the ruble and yuan in early September, following a Russian deal with North Korea in June to trade in rubles

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Yeah, but you would have expected a move into gold as well, and that never happened. Maybe there’s isn’t that much fear yet?!

The Return Of The ‘Fear Trade’ (MarketWatch)

Halloween came early this October. A vicious midweek selloff shows that investors can be still be scared out of their wits, at least for a few hours. And while the monster is now back in its cage, it is unlikely the “fear trade” has completely run its course. But first, what triggered the carnage? For once, few pundits were offering a pat, one-size-fits-all answer. That’s because there wasn’t one. Instead, it came down to a combination of nagging but interrelated worries surrounding Europe, collapsing oil prices, the threat of global deflation, and the Fed’s rate path. Throw in a steady drumbeat of Ebola headlines and suddenly folks were streaming toward the exits. But the most attention-grabbing moment occurred in the bond market. The rally in Treasurys that accompanied the stock-market selloff, temporarily dropped the yield on the 10-year note below 2%. While a flight to quality would be expected, the sharp one-third of a point drop in the yield had market veterans scratching their heads.

Yields have since rebounded as Treasurys gave back most of the Wednesday rally. Wall Street is enjoying a sharp Friday rebound as oil prices bounce from multiyear lows. But that still leaves traders to make sense of the mayhem. In a note, Eric Green, head of U.S. rates at TD Securities, succinctly summarized the midweek market turmoil as the extension of two competing forces: One was the continuation of a post-quantitative-easing correction in stocks “that should be viewed as healthy.” The other “is a fear trade that has been gathering momentum over the past several weeks, one that has its roots in a global recovery that looks to be weakening outside of the U.S., especially in Europe.” Indeed, Europe is still a primary source of anxiety. And for a good reason.

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First, let’s see you fog that mirror!

Fannie, Freddie Plan Measures to Ease Lending to Riskier Borrowers (Bloomberg)

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and their regulator are nearing agreement with mortgage issuers on efforts to boost lending and ease banks’ concerns that they will get stuck with bad loans when borrowers default. The initiatives include a consensus on when defaulted loans are so flawed that lenders must buy them back from the two mortgage-finance companies, a key sticking point in efforts to unlock credit, according to three people familiar with the discussions. The steps are part of a broader push to increase lending after banks had to repurchase billions of dollars of mortgages that were issued during the housing bubble. The banks’ reticence has kept first-time homebuyers and others with weak credit out of the real-estate market and created a drag on the fragile housing recovery.

Melvin L. Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, will clarify in a Oct. 20 speech at the Mortgage Bankers Association conference in Las Vegas how some loans can be permanently exempted from the threat of buybacks, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. Watt will also discuss an effort that would allow borrowers to put down as little as three% of the purchase price on loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, enabling borrowers with lower incomes to access the mortgage market, the people said. The two companies currently require a 5% down payment on most loans.

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Loading up on Treasuries. Sure, risky down the line, but a bit overdone here.

Why US Banks Are Now Extremely Vulnerable (Simon Black)

For a casual observer of the US economy (most “experts”), you could say that things look pretty good. Unemployment is at its lowest rate in six years. Earnings of S&P 500 companies are higher than ever, while their debt is lower than it’s been in the last 24 years. Nonetheless, rather than getting excited for good economic times, the big commercial banks are all battening down the hatches. They’re preparing for bad times ahead. I often stress the importance of being prepared, so in theory, that should be a great sign. But then, you look at what they are “defensively” investing in, and you see that what they consider as prudence is simply insanity. What banks are stockpiling these days are US government bonds, and they’re not doing this casually, they’re going nuts for them. In just the last month alone American banks increased their holdings of US treasuries by $54 billion, to a record $1.99 trillion. Citigroup, for example, held $103.8 billion worth of bonds at the end of June, up 19% from the end of last year.

This is like preparing for an earthquake by running out and buying whole new sets of porcelain dishes and glass vases. All it’s going to do is make things more dangerous, and even if you somehow make it through the disaster, you have a million more shards to clean up. With government bonds you are guaranteed to lose both in the short-term and the long-term. Bonds keep you consistently behind inflation (even the deceptively named TIPS—Treasury Inflation Protected Securities), so the value of your savings is slowly being chipped away. But that’s nothing compared to the long-term threats of the US government not being able to repay the loans. Facing $127 trillion in unfunded liabilities – which is nearly double 2012’s total global output – and with no inclination to reduce those numbers at all, at this point disaster for the US is entirely unavoidable. Never before in history has a government stretched itself so thin and accumulated anywhere close to this amount of debt.

So when the day comes, it won’t be a minor rumble. It will be completely off the Richter scale. These facts about the US government are in no way secret. Every bank out there knows it, yet they keep piling in. Why do they keep buying bonds that they know the government will never be good for? Even though people know in their guts that the government has no earthly possibility to ever repay its debt, on paper it’s a no risk investment. The US government’s sovereign debt has an AA+ rating after all. They might not make money off it, but no fund manager and investment banker is going to get fired for investing in “risk-free” US government debt.

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What is the truth in refinancing these days? Two articles that leave a lot of questions:

Just Try to Refinance. I Dare You (Ritholtz)

The bond market seems to have had its own flash crash this week. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond dipped briefly below 2%, as panicked equity sellers looked for a safe place to park their cash. Treasuries, of course, are the world’s option of choice, the safest and most liquid port during the storm. Demand for bonds has helped drive down mortgage rates as well. Bloomberg News reported that “U.S. mortgage rates plunged, sending borrowing costs for 30-year loans below 4% for the first time in 16 months, as signs of a slowing global economy drove investors to the safety of government bonds.” Almost immediately, lower rates worked their way through the entire credit complex. The average rate on 30-year fixed home loan is now 3.97%. To put this into context, the median U.S. home price is $219,800. Put down 10% and that $200,000 mortgage costs the homebuyer $951 a month. A decade ago the same mortgage would have cost this buyer as much as 6.34%. The monthly payment would have been more than 25% higher at $1,243.

Under normal circumstances, this decrease in rates should have far reaching and beneficial effects on the economy. It would spur increased investment in real estate. Mortgage refinancings also would rise, and that would put a little more discretionary cash in the hands of consumers each month. As rates fall, one would expect sales of new and existing homes to rise. Lower financing costs should mean higher sales volume, along with some price increases as well. An increase in home sales tends to boost purchases of washing machines, furniture, TVs, cars and other durable goods. The increased economic activity eventually results in more hiring, increased wages, higher spending, all leading to a virtuous cycle. The key phrase in the prior paragraph is “Under normal circumstances.” These are decidedly not normal circumstances today, thus the unsatisfying economic growth we confront today.

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Rates Below 4% Leave U.S. Refinancing Banker Sleepless (Bloomberg)

The drop in mortgage rates below 4% has cut into Debra Shultz’s sleep. The New York City banker is busier than she’s been in months, working with three dozen homeowners eager to lower their payments. Shultz helped a Greenwich Village homeowner on Wednesday lock in a 3.63% interest rate for a 30-year fixed jumbo mortgage of more than $900,000. An hour later, the rate jumped to 3.75%. One lender changed its rate sheet six times that day. “It just went crazy,” said Shultz, a senior vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate in New York. “I sent out a blast e-mail to 1,600 clients and had 30 responses right away.” Mortgage rates are following a slide in 10-year Treasury yields as weaker-than-expected economic data from Germany to China combine with concern about the Ebola virus, sparking demand for safe investments.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.97%, the lowest since June 2013, Freddie Mac said yesterday. Borrowing costs spiked in September before dropping for the last four weeks, giving owners a new opportunity to refinance. “This is bizarro world,” said Anthony B. Sanders, an economics professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “Usually we associate lower interest rates with lower volatility. Now you’re seeing the opposite.” A gauge of U.S. mortgage refinancing jumped 10.6% last week, the most since early June, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. The share of home-loan applicants seeking to refinance climbed to 58.9%, the highest since mid-February, from 56.4%, the group said. In December of 2012, after the 30-year average rate hit a record low of 3.31% in November, borrowers wanting to refinance accounted for 84% of applications.

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Times turn desperate.

ECB Policymakers Clash Over How To Treat Eurozone (Reuters)

European Central Bank policymakers clashed on Friday over what policy medicine to administer to the sickly euro zone economy, laying bare deep-seated tensions within the Governing Council. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said he saw no need for fiscal stimulus in Germany, rejecting a thinly veiled appeal from ECB President Mario Draghi for Berlin to increase its public investment levels to help support the euro zone. Germany, a strong advocate of fiscal austerity, has come under pressure from other countries including the United States, and finance officials around the globe to use its large current account surplus and budgetary room for manoeuvre to invest. Earlier, Draghi’s lieutenant at the ECB, Benoit Coeure, said governments could help counteract lower prices with “fiscal policy, when it is available without questioning long-term debt sustainability” – a cue for governments like Germany to invest.

The discord between the hawkish Weidmann and policymakers closer to Draghi such as Coeure highlights deep divisions within the Council about how far the ECB should go to support the economy, and comes just as jittery markets look for reassurance.
Weidmann brushed off the suggestion that more German public investment could help other euro zone economies, and also took aim at ECB plans to buy asset-backed securities, or bundled loans — a dig that a further ECB policymaker rejected. “The boost to the peripheral countries from an increase in German public investment is … likely to be negligible,” Weidmann told a conference in Riga, where Coeure also spoke. “And with the economy operating at normal capacity utilisation, Germany is not in need of stimulus either – and this will remain the case with the revised forecasts that still foresee growth in line with potential,” he added. On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected calls for Berlin to ditch its plans for a balanced budget next year.

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A great overview of five years of utter failure.

Eurozone: Five Years Of Bailouts, Market Turmoil And Protests (Guardian)

The eurozone crisis didn’t emerge from a clear blue sky five years ago. Greece’s economic problems were well known; in 2004, it admitted fudging its deficit figures to qualify for euro membership, and a year later Athens brought in an austerity budget to, it hoped, bring down borrowing. But the left-wing Pasok government still shocked the financial markets and its EU neighbours on 18 October. Fresh from winning a general election, it announced that Greece’s budget problems were far worse than imagined; a deficit equal to 12% of national output, not the 6% forecast by the previous government. That admission triggered market panic, tumbling share prices, credit rating downgrades – setting the tone for the years ahead.

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They signal the hopelessness of the whole project, of the idea that Greece will be as rich as Germany.

Greece’s Latest Woes Signal Next Stage Of The Eurozone Crisis (Telegraph)

If Greece is the canary in the coal mine, then we are all in trouble. Interest rates on Greek debt have jumped in recent days, rocketing to around 9pc on 10-year bonds, an unsustainable financing cost for such a troubled government. The last time this sort of thing happened, in 2010, the eurozone was soon plunged into near-fatal crisis. Four years later, the debt crisis in the eurozone’s periphery was meant to be over, so Greece’s sudden relapse is one reason why so many equity, bond and commodity investors are running for the hills. Unlike last time, no hidden debt has been discovered, and Greece’s budget deficit has actually fallen significantly. While not quite a model student, Greece had at least been trying to mend its ways. The proximate trigger for the surge in bond yields is that the Athens government had been over-exuberant since the start of the year, hoping to leave the bail-out programme early, partly for the wrong, anti-austerity reasons.

None of this will now happen, and the European Central Bank has promised to help out, which may temporarily calm matters down. The stark reality is that Greece is not out of the woods, contrary to what many had claimed – yet its crisis is containable. Its economy is too small; even under a worst-case scenario it would not be able to take down the whole of the eurozone. But what this latest flare-up confirms is that merely reducing budget deficits is not enough. Having an excessive national debt remains a major problem, especially now that economists are slashing their growth forecasts for the eurozone as a whole and continent-wide deflation is looming. In such a Japanese-style scenario, the traditional debt-eroding mechanisms of inflation and growth no longer apply. Falling prices – caused by a defective, one-size-fits-all monetary policy, and thus insufficient demand – will push up debt ratios as a share of GDP, especially when economic output is stagnating at best.

As Capital Economics points out, any eurozone country with high and rising debt ratios is vulnerable; Italy and Portugal, which both have debt to GDP ratios of about 130pc, could be next in the firing line. Once again, excess debt is the problem – though this time, burdens are rising for partly different reasons. The euro has seen its value slide by 5pc against a trade-weighted basket of currencies since March, with Citigroup predicting that the total depreciation will hit 10pc over the next 12 months. In the past, this would have generated a 5pc boost to exports, translating to a 1pc rise in GDP over three years. Sadly, the impact this time around is likely to be far more muted. Demand for the sorts of goods the eurozone exports has weakened significantly. A greater share of the value of the region’s exports is in turn made up of imported components or raw materials, limiting the beneficial impact of the weaker euro, Citigroup correctly points out.

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“The biggest bottleneck for growth in the euro area is not monetary policy, nor is it the lack of fiscal stimulus: it is the structural barriers that impede competition, innovation and productivity ..” Eh, what about the debt, Mr Weidmann?

Kudos To Herr Weidmann For Uttering Three Truths In One Speech (Stockman)

Once in a blue moon officials commit truth in public, but the intrepid leader of Germany’s central bank has delivered a speech which let’s loose of three of them in a single go. Speaking at a conference in Riga, Latvia, Jens Weidmann put the kibosh on QE, low-flation and central bank interference in pricing of risky assets. These days the Keynesian chorus in favor of policy activism is so boisterous that a succinct statement to the contrary rarely gets through – especially at Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street yarn factory. But here’s what penetrated even Brian Blackstone’s filters:

“The biggest bottleneck for growth in the euro area is not monetary policy, nor is it the lack of fiscal stimulus: it is the structural barriers that impede competition, innovation and productivity,” he said.

Needless to say, that is not only the truth but its one that is distinctly unwelcome to the policy apparatchiks in Brussels and the politicians in virtually every European capital. Self-evidently, printing money and running up the public debt are pleasurable and profitable tasks for agents of state intervention. But reducing “structural barriers” like restrictive labor laws, private cartel arrangements and inefficiency producing crony capitalist raids on the public till are a different matter altogether. In the political arena, they involve too much short-term pain to achieve the long-run gain.

But implicit in Weidmann’s plain and truthful declaration is an even more important proposition. Namely, rejection of the mechanistic Keynesian notion that the state is responsible for every last decimal point of the GDP growth rate. Indeed, the latter has now become such an overwhelming consensus in the political capitals that to suggest doing nothing on the “stimulus” front sounds almost quaint – a throwback to the long-ago and purportedly benighted times of laissez faire. But perhaps stolid German statesmen like Weidmann remember a thing or two about history, and have noted that what is failing in the present era is not private capitalism, but the bloated omnipresent public state. And having almost uniquely among DM nations resisted the siren song of Keynesian activism, Germans can also observe that their economy has not plunged into some depressionary dark hole for want of sufficient fiscal activism.

Read more …

A line that will soon return (stress test results due out October 26): “It was not the governing council’s job to keep afloat banks that were awaiting recapitalization and were not currently solvent .. ”

Before Bailout, ECB Had Doubts Over Keeping a Cyprus Bank Afloat (NY Times)

As the Cypriot economy reeled from the collapse of its second-largest bank in 2013, the European Central Bank faced a thorny question: Should it keep the institution, Cyprus Popular Bank, alive with short-term loans or pull the plug? By many financial measures, the bank was failing. Stung by a disastrous bet on Greek government bonds, Cyprus Popular Bank had been in trouble for the better part of 2012 and depositors were withdrawing their savings in ever larger numbers. It needed cash and fast. Under E.C.B. rules, troubled banks that can no longer raise funds on the open markets are allowed to borrow from their national central bank, which assumes responsibility for this so-called emergency liquidity assistance, or E.L.A. Still, strict rules govern this process. The bank in question must be solvent. And if the loans surpass 2 billion euros, or $2.56 billion, the E.C.B. reserves the right to refuse additional requests for money. The methodology for valuing the collateral used to secure the credit also has to be disclosed.

Fearing possible contagion if the bank failed, the E.C.B.’s governing council, a decision-making arm consisting of 24 members, had approved an emergency loan request by one its members, the Central Bank of Cyprus, in late 2011. As 2013 approached, the short-term loans to Cyprus Popular Bank had grown to €9 billion, about two thirds the size of the Cypriot economy, and Jens Weidmann, the hawkish head of the German Bundesbank, had begun to forcefully argue that this exposure was too large, according to the minutes of governing council meetings. By approving the loans – which were disbursed by the central bank of Cyprus – Mr. Weidmann said that the E.C.B. was violating a core tenet. That rule holds that banks on the verge of failure should not be bailed out with additional loans. “It was not the governing council’s job to keep afloat banks that were awaiting recapitalization and were not currently solvent,” he said at a meeting in December 2012, according to internal documents from the bank.

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It’s not just increased competition, the economy is reeling. But that is largely overlooked.

Moody’s Report Makes Grim Reading For British Supermarkets (Guardian)

Britain’s big four supermarkets will be forced to cut prices further in a race to the bottom with the German discounters Aldi and Lidl, according to a report from the credit ratings agency Moody’s. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda will have to reduce prices to slow the pace of falling sales and loss of business to Aldi and Lidl, Moody’s said. But the big grocers will not win the war as their operating margins halve from their historical averages, Moody’s said. Despite the expected price cuts, the discounters will continue to take market share from the big four. Though Aldi’s and Lidl’s sales growth will probably slow, they will open more branches, putting extra pressure on the big grocers’ larger stores, which shoppers are abandoning, Moody’s predicted.

Moody’s analysts Sven Reinke and Michael Mulvaney said in the report: “We believe the big four will have to cut prices further to stem their sales declines and slow market share losses… We believe Aldi and Lidl are now entrenched and their combined market share could reach 10% over the next couple of years from 8.3% today. Over time the discounter’s UK market share could be similar to that of discounters in other European countries at around 12%-15%.” After decades of growth, Britain’s supermarkets are in crisis as they battle to compete with Aldi and Lidl. Customers changed their habits during the recession and started shopping locally, and little and often to reduce waste. Squeezed by falling real wages, they opted to save money at the German discounters’ small branches instead of making a weekly trip to the big four’s vast stores.

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[..] … “certain participants” had taken an “absolutely biased, non-flexible, non-diplomatic” approach to Ukraine …

Putin Talks With EU, Ukraine ‘Difficult, Full Of Misunderstandings’ (Reuters)

Talks between Russia, Ukraine and European governments on Friday were “full of misunderstandings and disagreements”, the Kremlin said, undercutting more upbeat messages from leaders hoping for a breakthrough in the Ukraine crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at the start of a meeting with European leaders aimed at patching up a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and resolving a dispute over gas supplies. The various leaders emerged an hour later telling reporters some progress had been made and promising further talks. “It was good, it was positive,” a smiling Putin told reporters after the meeting, held on the margins of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Milan.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later poured cold water on hopes of any breakthrough, saying “certain participants” had taken an “absolutely biased, non-flexible, non-diplomatic” approach to Ukraine. “The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, the exchange of opinion is in progress,” he said. A similar message emerged overnight after Putin met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a formerly cordial relationship that has come under heavy strain from Moscow’s support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. The meeting was reported by both sides to have made little progress, with the Kremlin saying “serious differences” remained in their analysis of a crisis. Putin, Poroshenko, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were due meet later in the day, their aides said.

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They all just seem to want Putin to say he did it. Not going to happen. There’s still zero proof.

West Unwilling To Be Objective On Ukraine, Says Russia (WSJ)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparred with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine in front of other world leaders Friday, as the most intense diplomatic effort in months aimed at defusing tensions there ended with little sign of progress. Mr. Putin’s arrival in Milan late Thursday for a two-day summit of Asian and European leaders spurred a flurry of top-level meetings over the crisis in Ukraine, but both sides sounded pessimistic afterward. “On this, I can’t see any kind of breakthrough whatsoever,” Ms. Merkel said at a news conference Friday, referring to differences over implementing the cease-fire and peace plan signed Sept. 5 between Ukraine and Russia-backed rebels. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that “there was a complete unwillingness to be objective on the part of some participants.”

The mood was illustrated by what two European officials described a curt exchange between Ms. Merkel and Mr. Putin at a private retreat with Asian and European leaders. Mr. Putin had spoken of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March as being lawful, and Ms. Merkel contested that in front of the other leaders, said one senior European Union official. Another official confirmed a terse exchange between the two. In a news briefing after the talks, Mr. Putin referred several times to the rebels in eastern Ukraine as representatives of “Novorossiya,” a tsarist-era term that spans large swaths of what is now southern and eastern Ukraine. The term has been widely used by Russian nationalists to justify claims on much of Ukraine’s territory.

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Capitalism at war with the planet.

1,000 Years Of Dust Bowls Now Inevitable (Paul B. Farrell)

Yes, capitalism’s at war, fighting against all efforts to limit global warming and climate change. This is WWIII, the defining moment of the 21st century. Why? “One word in the latest draft report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sums up why climate inaction is so uniquely immoral: Irreversible.” Irreversible? Not to capitalists. They’re betting the future of the human race they’re right. Big Oil, the GOP and right-wing fundamentalists are all climate-science deniers, absolutely certain they are right, they will win WWIII: Exxon Mobil is spending $37 billion annually on new drilling. U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue says we have enough oil to last over two centuries. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s a Luddite. Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe published “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” But, what if the Right is wrong? What if global warming really is irreversible? What if their gamble doesn’t pay off? Too bad. Too late. Capitalism has no Plan B.

So billions of humans just won’t survive the 1,000-year Dust Bowl that’s ahead if Plan A fails. Yes, it’s that huge a bet. The damage to our civilization is irreversible. And inaction is immoral. Soon we’ll pass a point of no return. After that, the damage takes 1,000 years to repair, warns ClimateProgress editor Joe Romm. Why? Because of today’s “ongoing failure to cut carbon pollution: The catastrophic changes in climate we are voluntarily choosing to impose on our children and grandchildren, and countless generations after them, cannot be undone for hundreds of years or more.” Conservative opposition is based on the economics of Big Oil and the energy industry. They believe any regulations or taxation of carbon emissions will have a negative impact on corporate earnings, shareholder dividends, production costs. As California Gov. Jerry Brown put it: There’s “virtually no Republican” in Washington that accepts climate science. And most GOP governors “openly deny climate science” despite widespread scientific evidence. Worse, Big Oil deniers spend hundreds of millions annually on lobbying for GOP votes.

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“That would be like a bad science fiction movie”.

‘We Have A Worst-Case Ebola Scenario, And You Don’t Want To Know’ (Bloomberg)

There could be as many as two dozen people in the U.S. infected with Ebola by the end of the month, according to researchers tracking the virus with a computer model. The actual number probably will be far smaller and limited to a couple of airline passengers who enter the country already infected without showing symptoms, and the health workers who care for them, said Alessandro Vespignani, a Northeastern University professor who runs computer simulations of infectious disease outbreaks. The two newly infected nurses in Dallas don’t change the numbers because they were identified quickly and it’s unlikely they infected other people, he said.

The projections only run through October because it’s too difficult to model what will occur if the pace of the outbreak changes in West Africa, where more than 8,900 people have been infected and 4,500 have died, he said. If the outbreak isn’t contained, the numbers may rise significantly. “If by the end of the year the growth rate hasn’t changed, then the game will be different,” Vespignani said. “It will increase for many other countries.” The model analyzes disease activity, flight patterns and other factors that can contribute to its spread. “We have a worst-case scenario, and you don’t even want to know,” Vespignani said. “We could have widespread epidemics in other countries, maybe the Far East. That would be like a bad science fiction movie.”

Read more …

Oct 172014
 
 October 17, 2014  Posted by at 9:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Marjory Collins Carpool for 3rd shift defense workers, midnight, Baltimore April 1943

Da markets today sort of refound their – shaky – feet, oil up a dollar, EU exchanges up 3% or so, Greece even over 7%, while interestingly gold didn’t move much at all during the wild week (no safe haven), and most movement was perhaps, through all the see-saw, in bonds. To sum up the week: panic followed by plunge protection teams. And now the ‘leaders’ hope plunge protection will save another day too.

And they may. Germany sinks a bit, but Germany is strong. US housing is at least not falling further, but US consumer spending stalls and drops. The deep dark weakness has not yet hit the big economies. But the nerves are back. Volatility is back with a vengeance. As it should. And that will paint the picture going forward, plunge protection or not. Da markets will come again and again and dare central banks to plunge protect.

Well, either that or more QE, but despite whatever Bullard says the Fed will go ahead with the taper – just listen to Yellen waxing dreamily about the US ‘expansion’ -, and the ECB won’t go full QE because the member states will never agree on anything. And Merkel feels the euroskeptics breathing down her neck as much as the ‘leaders’ of Britain, Italy, France et al.

But as we’ve seen today, there’s sufficient fire power left on both sides of the pond to survive one week of mayhem. But that’s not the main lesson on this Friday. The main lesson is that Europe’s Achilles heel has been laid bare, once more, in full sight, and Europe – re: Draghi, Merkel – thinks that denial is its best defense. Big mistake.

The lofty leaders at the ECB, and Berlin, Paris, Brussels, pretend they can make everything right that’s wrong inside their toy monetary union through asset purchases, sovereign bond purchases, and anything that falls in the ‘whatever it takes’ category. But it’s all just bluff. Because, what it all boils down to, they can’t keep buying Greek bonds with German taxpayer money until the end of time.

And the markets know this. And when they feel like it, for example because other profits (free QE funds) have dried up, the markets will call that bluff at craftfully chosen intervals. It’s the easiest thing in the world: they only need to bet against something they know is hollow gaping hot air to begin with. There’s no there there. Draghi cannot save Greece. Period. And if he can’t save Greece, he can’t save the euro. Period.

In Brussels, like in Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, only one thing really counts: they have to achieve economic growth, because if they do, all problems will vanish into thin air. Which is not only an idiotic notion, it’s been 7 years now and they still haven’t achieved even just that one thing they focus on. It’s exactly like converting to some religion because it promise that the deity of their choice will relieve you of all your troubles, only in modern economics the deity is growth. And its apostles are debt, debt and credit.

If it were you or me, we’d say: let’s try something else, go for some other approach, but not Brussels or Washington, they live in one dimension only, they lack every form of depth perspective, and they will keep pushing for growth until they die trying. And in the case of the ECB, drag Europe down with them, first of all the young people of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The idea is that all problems will be solved by the return of growth, but how is Greece ever going to grow again when over 50% of its young people haven’t, for 6-7 years running now, ever worked a decent job in their lives, and those who are now 25-28 years old, and never had a shot at real work, despite college degrees, university degrees, face the competition of all graduating classes of those 6-7 years for the same jobs, which still don’t exist?!

It’s an impossibly dumb concept that can exist only in the minds of well-paid bureaucrats in both Athens and Brussels – and Rome and Madrid-. And it can lead to only one outcome: Greece will leave the EU. Because no matter what you think about the Greeks’ abilities to govern themselves, they couldn’t possibly do worse for themselves, for their young people, and thereby their entire economy, than the present system has done. What could possibly have been worse than this?

Greece wanted to join the EU because of the promise of added riches. Instead, they see their entire society dissolve through the EU ideal of lifting all Mediterranean boats to the level of Germany. It’s not like Germany wanted itself to become poorer, that was never their reason to set up the EU.

Berlin wanted Greece to become Germany, and Germany to become an economic Nirvana. They still do. Politicians know that to get (re-)elected they need to promise growth, they need to paint a rosier picture than people see around them today. As if we’re not rich enough yet. It’s not just the politicians who lack depth perspective, it’s their voters too. If you can choose between a promise of more or a threat of less, you know how you will vote.

What this turbulent week exposed was this: Greek 10-year bond yields rose to close to 9%. They’re back down to 7.8% as we speak, plunge protection. 7% is the major ‘sustainable’ level. Greece, just very recently, said they wanted to free themselves of the Troika. The financial markets have now let them know what they think of that.

First Greece, then Cyprus, and Spain, and Italy, and Portugal, and Ireland, will continue to be the targets of the global financial markets. And the EU can’t save them all. There will be more moments like the past week, and the ECB is powerless to stop them all, other than at such gigantic costs that the voters in the richer nations will move their support to other parties.

4-5 years ago, when the PIIGS crisis was at its height, Europe could have enabled the poorer countries to leave the euro straightjacket. Soon, it won’t be a question of enabling anymore, it will turn into a dogfight. The eurozone as a whole will never achieve growth anymore, but Germany and Holland and Finland might; at the cost of the PIIGS.

This will stop at some point, da markets will make sure it does. Achilles was a mighty warrior, with one fatal weakness. That weakness for the eurozone was laid bare this week in the Greek 10-year bond 9% yield. The only ways that exist to bring that back down are artificial: it’s not like Greece itself, with 25% unemployment and more than twice that among young people, can lift itself up by its hairs.

And still, no, it’s not Greece that is Europe’s Achilles heel. It’s the hubris and megalomania that has made Europe, Brussels, blind to its inherent weaknesses. If Greece, and perhaps Spain, Italy, Portugal, would have been allowed to leave the eurozone in 2008/9, they would all have done much better than they are now, and so would the richer core of the EU.

After all, how could the PIIGS possibly have done worse than the present 50%+ youth unemployment? Greece is not Germany, and never will be. Italy is not Helsinki, and never will be.

The peace ideals behind the European unification will, unless something changes very soon, turn into them’s fightin’ words. Because the hunger for power floated like so much excrement to the top of yet another supra-national organization that this world of ours should never have built. EU, World Bank, UN, IMF, NATO, you name them. They take on powers we never designed them for, and before we know it we can’t stop them anymore from accumulating ever more power.

The eurozone’s Achilles heel was there for everyone to see this week, and it’s fatal, lethal: Greek 10-year yields at 9%. That will end up killing the whole edifice. Unless Brussels comes up with a plan to let the PIIGS leave. Brussels won’t. The power hungry don’t give up power voluntarily. So we’ll fight. Suit yourself. But don’t think this will somehow turn out alright all by its smooth and easy self. Europe is on the verge of disintegration. For no reason at all, other than the power dreams of a bunch of borderline psychopaths.

Oct 122014
 
 October 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Vachon Michigan Avenue, Chicago July 1941

IMF: Get Bold On Economy, Ease Up On Budget Cuts (Reuters)
Financial Storm Clouds Cast A Deep Shadow Over IMF Summit (Observer)
Fed’s Evans: Stronger Dollar Will Hurt Growth, Inflation Fight (MarketWatch)
Fed’s Williams: What Emerging Markets Should Fear (MarketWatch)
Fed’s Tarullo: Banking Scandals More Than Just A Few Bad Apples (MarketWatch)
Europe Growth Pact Floated As Euro Zone Recession Fears Mount (Reuters)
Italy’s Beppe Grillo Prepares Referendum On Leaving The Eurozone (RT)
Italian PM Stakes His Credibility On Passage Of Big Reforms (Economist)
Grillo’s M5S Stages 3-Day Gathering In Rome To Protest Reform Bill (PressTV)
Irish Voters Take To The Streets In Anti-Austerity Protests (Reuters)
US Seeks ‘Total Cooperation’ From Swiss On Tax Dodging (Reuters)
An ISIS/Al-Qaeda Merger Could Cripple the Civilized World (Fiscal Times)
IMF: Price Drop Shouldn’t Disrupt Oil Producers’ Government Spending (Reuters)
Hackers Plan $1 Billion ‘Cyber-Heist’ On Global Bank (ES)
Banks Accept Derivatives Rule Change To End ‘Too Big To Fail’ (Reuters)
New China Import Tariffs Mean ‘Game Is Over For Australian Coal’ (Reuters)
One In Seven Australians Living Below The Poverty Line (Guardian)
Fracking Firms Get Tested by Oil’s Price Drop (WSJ)
‘The Overnighters’ Shows Dark Side Of North Dakota Oil Boom (Reuters)
Health Care Worker Who Treated Texas Victim Tests Positive For Ebola (BBC)
Second Leaker In US intelligence, Says Glenn Greenwald (Guardian)

We should dissolve the IMF. They’ve become even more dangerous than they are useless.

IMF: Get Bold On Economy, Ease Up On Budget Cuts (Reuters)

The IMF’s member countries on Saturday said bold action was needed to bolster the global economic recovery, and they urged governments to take care not to squelch growth by tightening budgets too drastically. With Japan’s economy floundering, the euro zone at risk of recession and the U.S. recovery too weak to generate a rise in incomes, the IMF’s steering committee said focusing on growth was the priority. “A number of countries face the prospect of low or slowing growth, with unemployment remaining unacceptably high,” the International Monetary and Financial Committee said on behalf of the Fund’s 188 member countries. The Fund this week cut its 2014 global growth forecast to 3.3% from 3.4%, the third reduction this year as the prospects for a sustainable recovery from the 2007-2009 global financial crisis have ebbed, despite hefty injections of cash by the world’s central banks.

The IMF has flagged Europe’s weakness as the top concern, a sentiment echoed by many policymakers, economists and investors gathered in Washington for the Fund’s fall meetings, which wrap up on Sunday. European officials have sought to dispel the gloom, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Saturday talking about a delay, not an end, to the region’s recovery. But efforts to provide more room for France to meet its European Union deficit target looked set to founder on Germany’s insistence that the agreement on fiscal rectitude was set in stone. The IMF panel urged countries to carry out politically tough reforms to labor markets and social security to free up government money to invest in infrastructure to create jobs and lift growth. It called on central banks to be careful when communicating changes in policy in order to avoid financial market shocks. While not naming any central banks, the warning appeared aimed at the U.S. Federal Reserve, which will end its quantitative easing policy this month and appears poised to begin raising interest rates around the middle of next year.

Read more …

And dissolve the World Bank, too. These institutions serve only special interests, they’re an insurance policy for a world order gone haywire.

Financial Storm Clouds Cast A Deep Shadow Over IMF Summit (Observer)

Six years ago, finance ministers and central bank governors gathered in Washington for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund with the global financial system teetering on the brink. It was less than a month since the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers and in the aftermath no institution, however big and powerful, looked safe. After staring into the abyss, they put together a co-ordinated plan to rescue ailing banks. This was followed by further joint moves when the drying up of credit flows plunged the world economy into recession. A second Great Depression was averted, but only just – and at a price. Last week, the IMF and World Bank celebrated their 70th birthdays, but there was a distinct lack of party atmosphere in Washington. While not as tense as during the dark days of October 2008, the mood was distinctly sombre as the two organisations –created at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference – worked their way through a packed agenda that was dominated by six big themes.

Ever since the global economy bottomed out in the spring of 2009, the hope has been that the world would return to the robust levels of growth seen in the years leading up to the financial crash. Time and again, the optimism has proved misplaced, with the IMF repeatedly revising down its forecasts. This year was no exception. “The recovery continues but it is weak and uneven,” said the IMF’s economic counsellor, Olivier Blanchard, as he announced that at 3.3%, growth rates would be 0.4 points lower than anticipated in the spring. What concerns the IMF is that the slowdown – particularly in the advanced countries of the west – may be permanent. The phrase being bandied around in Washington was “secular stagnation”, the notion that there has been a structural decline in potential growth rates. Blanchard said it was entirely possible that developed countries would never return to their pre-crisis growth levels, and that even achieving the lower rates of expansion now expected would require interest rates to be maintained at historically low levels.

Having failed spectacularly to spot the last financial crisis coming, the IMF is now alert to the possibility that a long period of ultra-low interest rates is storing up problems for the future. José Viñals, the IMF’s financial counsellor, said: “Policymakers are facing a new global imbalance: not enough economic risk-taking in support of growth, but increasing excesses in financial risk-taking posing stability challenges.” This is not what the central banks intended when they cut the cost of borrowing and cranked up the electronic-money printing presses in the process known as quantitative easing. They expected cheap and plentiful money to rouse the animal spirits of entrepreneurs, encouraging them to invest. Instead, they have provided the casino chips for speculators.

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Part of a carefully planned spin.

Fed’s Evans: Stronger Dollar Will Hurt Growth, Inflation Fight (MarketWatch)

A stronger U.S. dollar is an obstacle to the Federal Reserve’s ability to meet its inflation mandate and will impede growth, Charles Evans, the president of the Chicago Fed, said on Saturday. “It’s a headwind,” Evans told reporters after giving a speech on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting. “[A] Higher dollar is going to have an effect on our net exports, it is going to reduce it a bit. And it is also going to lead to lower import prices and likely have an effect that our inflation data will be lower,” Evans said. Earlier, in his speech, Evans said there is “more uncertainty” in the global economic outlook than the Fed had expected. Evans said he was restricting his comments to the effects of the stronger dollar on the U.S. economy and had no comment on U.S. dollar policy. Evans said that he expects the economy to growth at a 3% pace, but because housing isn’t acting as its typical engine of growth, a lot of things have to go right to get that growth rate.

“It is in that context that as I see the global uncertainties at a fairly high level it makes me a little concerned about the forecast,” he said. “It is much too soon to take on any headwinds from around the world,” he added. Experts said the U.S. government would only tolerate a stronger dollar versus the euro as long as European officials follow through with structural reforms. Evans is one of the most dovish of the regional Fed presidents, and said the Fed should wait until early 2016 to raise interest rates. He will be a voting member of the Fed policy committee next year. Evans suggested he would support altering the Fed’s guidance to give some quantitative sense that the central bank would tolerate inflation above 2% for some time, as long as projections did not show prices spiking higher.

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‘It’s not only rising rates’ …

Fed’s Williams: What Emerging Markets Should Fear (MarketWatch)

Emerging markets face more risks than from the Federal Reserve, John Williams, the president of the San Francisco Fed, said on Saturday. Many experts, including Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, have urged the Fed to be sensitive to the impact that the timing of its increase in interest rates will have on the developing world. Williams said that market volatility may stem more from the fact that major global central banks are moving in different directions. “Everyone is talking about the Federal Reserve. quite honestly, unconventional policy is going on in Japan and the European Central Bank, so to me it is really the cross currents that really, to my mind, drive the uncertainty and some of that risk out there in global markets.

It is not just what the Fed is doing, it is that fact that different central banks are moving in different directions for appropriate reasons,” Williams said at the Institute of International Finance meeting, taking place on the sideline of the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting. Higher interest rates are expected to draw back money from riskier markets. Last year, just the suggestion by the Fed that it was thinking about ending its quantitative easing program sparked a selloff in currencies and assets in emerging markets. Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia Pacific Sovereigns at Fitch Ratings, said recent research by his firm shows that Indonesia, India, Turkey and Brazil might be vulnerable if there were a shock to financial market conditions as a result of the Fed raising rates.

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So what are you going to do about it?

Fed’s Tarullo: Banking Scandals More Than Just A Few Bad Apples (MarketWatch)

The plethora of banking scandals cannot be written off as just the work of a few bad actors, Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo said Saturday. In remarks to the Institute of International Finance, Tarullo said that the average U.S. citizen reading the newspaper would be understandably upset after reading stories about bank mortgage fraud, and more recent scandals involving efforts to manipulate the Libor reference rate and allegations of manipulation of foreign exchange rates. “The problem at this juncture is that there are so many problems,” Tarullo said. The institute is meeting on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund.

“You can’t just be telling yourself that there are a few apples. There is something about the structure of incentives and expectations within firms that needs to be addressed,” Tarullo said. “ I think a lot of boards, and management, know it needs to be addressed.” Tarullo is the Fed’s point man on bank regulation. In other remarks, Tarullo said it was premature to declare that the problem of too-big-to-fail banks has been solved, noting that cross-border complications remain. As the Fed puts higher liquidity and capital standards on the biggest banks, Tarullo said the central bank will be watching closely to see if any activities move into the shadow banking sector. “That is something we are all going to need to keep a watch on and make sure risk is not building up in other places in the system.”

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Could have been a headline in any of the past 8 years. The more things change …

Europe Growth Pact Floated As Euro Zone Recession Fears Mount (Reuters)

Heeding global calls for action to shore up Europe’s sagging economy, euro zone’s top finance official proposed a new growth pact on Friday to break a policy logjam and spur reforms by rewarding countries with cheap funds and leeway on budget targets. The International Monetary Fund, which cut its global growth forecasts for the third time this year this week, flagged Europe’s weakness as the top concern, a sentiment echoed by many policymakers, economists and investors. European officials in Washington for the IMF and World Bank annual meetings sought to dispel the gloom, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi talking about a delay, not an end, to the region’s recovery. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of euro zone’s finance ministers, used the forum to propose a new “growth deal” for Europe offering nations embarking on ambitious economic reforms more fiscal wiggle room and low-interest EU funds.

“There is no reason for this gloominess about Europe,” Dijsselbloem told Reuters. “Those countries that have actually implemented the strategy and done the reforms, have returned to growth, in southern Europe, in the Baltics, in Ireland. Which once again proves that reforms do not hurt growth, but help recovery quite quickly.” It would take months of political negotiations for the proposed pact to take shape. In the meantime, a steady stream of poor economic data looks set to keep Europe’s partners on edge. “The biggest risk to the global economy at the moment … is the risk of the euro zone falling back into recession and into crisis,” British finance minister George Osborne told reporters.

Read more …

It’s been three years since Nicole and I went to visit Beppe. Good to see he’s still at it. Best chance Italians have.

Italy’s Beppe Grillo Prepares Referendum On Leaving The Eurozone (RT)

The leader of an influential Italian Eurosceptic political party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), says he will collect one million signatures required to petition the Parliament to conduct a referendum on Italy leaving the Eurozone as soon as possible. The Italian government is not effective in restoring jobs and helping people, said Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment M5S, which burst onto the political scene last year winning 25% of the vote in its first parliamentary election in 2013. “Leave the euro and defend the sovereignty of the Italian people from the European Central Bank,” Grillo told his supporters at a M5S event in Rome. “We have to leave the euro as soon as possible,” he said. “We will collect one million signatures in six months and bring them to the Parliament to ask for a referendum to express our opinion.” Grillo hopes his party’s recent success and growing support will allow them to gather enough signatures and push the idea through the Parliament by December 2015.

“This time, we have 150 parliamentarians and senators, and we have time to submit [the signatures] to the Parliament and adopt a law on the referendum,” Grillo said referring to 109 seats out of 630 in the Chamber of Deputies and 54 seats out of 315 in the Senate that his party holds. The constitution of Italy prohibits popular referendums on financial laws and ratifications of international treaties, but in any case the move will send a clear message to the government, Grillo believes. The Five Star Movement was started by Grillo in 2010 and has made a splash at local elections, receiving the third highest number of votes overall and winning the mayoral election for Parma before the success in general election. In the 2014 European election, M5S came in second place nationally, taking 17 of Italy’s seats in the European Parliament.

Beppe Grillo was a popular comedian on Italian television in 80s, but he disappeared from the screen in the 90s, with many suggesting that his harsh satire was too much to handle for Italian politicians. After that he mainly performed in theatres and staged a series of mass rallies, protesting against the criminal activities of the Italian political elite. At a time when unemployment in the Eurozone’s third largest economy is running above 12% and all-time high of 44% for Italians under the age of 25, Grillo’s belief in direct participation through forms of digital democracy might be the only way to get Italian frustration across. Although the IMF predicts Italy’s recession will break in 2015, when the growth is expected to reach 1.1%, the country is struggling to keep its budget deficit below the EU’s cap of 3% of GDP.

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Renzi resorts to sneaky methods to push his ‘reforms’ through. Never a good sign.

Italian PM Stakes His Credibility On Passage Of Big Reforms (Economist)

THE Sala Verde (green room) in the prime minister’s official residence, Palazzo Chigi, in Rome has in the past been the scene of three-way talks between the government, the unions and employers that lasted for days. It was to this chamber that Matteo Renzi, the present prime minister, invited representatives of both sides on October 7th to discuss a revamped employment bill crucial to his government’s credibility as a liberalising administration. He gave them each 60 minutes, starting at 8am. “Only once before has [such] an absence of social dialogue been seen in Europe,” spluttered Susanna Camusso, leader of the biggest trade union federation. “With Thatcher.” But in Italy, where “face” can be as important as it is in several East Asian countries, appearances are one thing and substance another. The employment bill, which passed its first test in the Senate a day later, is far from Thatcherite. It aims to give most new employees gradually increasing job security, potentially improving the lot of young Italians who now often work only on short-term contracts.

But it leaves to enabling legislation the fate of Article 18, an emblematic provision in Italian labour law that makes it almost impossible for companies with more than 15 staff to dismiss workers on open-ended contracts (even if, in practice, most employees are willing to negotiate a settlement). It is too early to assess the likely impact of the bill. It will be heavily conditioned by further legislation, some of it not due for approval until next year. But it is nevertheless Mr Renzi’s first big structural economic reform, and as such it is a much-needed prize for the euro zone’s austerity hawks. With Italy mired yet again in recession and GDP in real terms below its level in 2000, never mind 2008 (see chart), Mr Renzi is desperate for the hawks to take a more flexible view of his budget deficit so as to sustain demand. “Either we promote growth, or the euro is finished,” he says.

This week the IMF reduced its forecast for Italian GDP growth this year to minus 0.2%, from plus 0.3% previously. Not even Italy’s innately optimistic prime minister expects it to get above 1% in 2015. His country’s public debt, already 135% of GDP, continues to grow despite relatively tight fiscal policy. One reason for the brevity of Mr Renzi’s talks with the unions and employers was that he wanted them out of the way before racing his employment bill into the Senate so as to coincide with a one-day European Union jobs summit that he was hosting in Milan on October 8th (Italy occupies the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year). To get the bill approved in the face of misgivings on the left of his Democratic Party (PD) and in other parties, Mr Renzi staked the fate of his government, turning the vote into one of confidence. The result was a tumultuous session in the upper house. No fewer than 26 PD senators put their names to a document criticising the lack of detail in the bill.

Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) also objected to the government’s being given such wide powers to frame the enabling legislation. Some M5S senators threw coins at the government benches; their leader was expelled from the chamber. A lengthy break in the proceedings failed to calm the mood. At one point, a book was hurled at the speaker after he refused to postpone the vote. The bill eventually passed with 165 in favour and 111 against. The passage of this and other reforms is vital if Mr Renzi is to convince Germany and other euro-zone austerians to cut him enough budgetary slack in order to boost growth. For the time being, and unlike France’s leaders, he says he is prepared to stick to the euro zone’s deficit ceiling of 3% of GDP: “An absolute must, for reasons of credibility,” he insists. Yet Italy was originally meant to get the deficit this year down to 2.6%. It stands to lose some EU co-financing if its deficit rises above 3%.

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44% long-term youth unemployment.

Grillo’s M5S Stages 3-Day Gathering In Rome To Protest Reform Bill (PressTV)

Italy’s opposition party, the Five Star Movement has launched a three-day gathering in Rome, attended by thousands of people from across the country. As discontent and disillusion continue to grow in the country, an increasing number of Italians are opting to line up with the Five Star Movement which has taken a hard-line on Italy’s old guard of politicians. Many hold traditional politics responsible for the country’s high level of corruption and skyrocketing unemployment rate. The 5-Star Movement is well known for its anti-establishment agenda. The movement has announced that it would use obstructionism in the parliament against all government measures after an executive’s controversial labor market reform bill recently won a confidence vote in the Senate. During the gathering, the movement leader Beppe Grillo has once again accused Italian media of staging disinformation campaigns against his movement. Also, the 5-Star Movement members of the parliament are currently not attending TV shows as a sign of protest.

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To think that Ireland was presented as an austerity poster child earlier this year…

Irish Voters Take To The Streets In Anti-Austerity Protests (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of people rallied against new water bills in Dublin on Saturday in Ireland’s biggest anti-austerity protest for years as a candidate calling for a boycott of the charges was elected to parliament in a by-election. After years of free water services, the centre-right coalition has decided to charge households hundreds of euros from the start of next year, an unpopular move just 18 months before the next election where the government parties hope to be rewarded by voters for an economic upturn. Ireland has seen relatively few protests compared to other bailed-out euro zone members such as Greece and Portugal, but Saturday’s protesters said the water charges were a step too far. “There is absolute fury against what the government has imposed on the people,” said Martin Kelly, 50, a rail worker holding a placard calling for the government to “stop the great water heist.” “They say this is the last bit, but it’s the hardest. People can’t take any more,” he said.

Since completing an international bailout last year, Ireland has been bucking the trend in Europe’s stalled economic recovery, with the government forecasting gross domestic product to grow by 4.7% this year. The improvement has allowed the government to promise its first budget without any new austerity measures in seven years on Tuesday, but opposition groups say working people are not feeling the upturn. More than one in 10 are unemployed and more than 100,000 mortgage holders in arrears in a population of 4.6 million. Paul Murphy from the Anti-Austerity Alliance, whose campaign was dominated by a call to boycott the water charges, won the parliamentary seat in the Dublin South West constituency that was vacated by a member of the governing Fine Gael party who was elected to the European Parliament. Murphy, told supporters: “Recovery is for the rich, it’s for the 1% … it’s not for the working class people.” His supporters chanted: “No way, we won’t pay.”

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And why not?

US Seeks ‘Total Cooperation’ From Swiss On Tax Dodging (Reuters)

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking “total cooperation” from Swiss banks in a draft agreement aimed at allowing the banks to make amends for aiding tax evasion by wealthy Americans, a Swiss newspaper reported on Saturday. About 100 Swiss banks signed up to work with U.S. authorities at the end of last year in a program brokered by the Swiss government. That followed criminal investigations of roughly a dozen Swiss banks in the United States. Under the program so-called category two banks – those that have reason to believe they may have committed tax offenses – will escape prosecution if they detail their wrongdoing with U.S. clients and pay fines.

These banks have now received a draft non-prosecution agreement from the United States, which would require them to report in full to U.S. authorities any information or knowledge of activity relating to U.S. tax, the the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) said, citing unnamed banking sources. These requirements would also apply to parent companies, subsidiaries, management, workers and external advisors, the NZZ reported. This total cooperation would, in addition, not only apply with respect to the DOJ and the Internal Revenue Service, but also to anyone, even foreign law enforcement agencies, that the DOJ is supporting in its investigations,” the NZZ reported. It said that no end date for this cooperation was given in the draft.

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One would think so.

An ISIS/Al-Qaeda Merger Could Cripple the Civilized World (Fiscal Times)

As ISIS continues to advance on the Syrian town of Kobani and close in on Turkey’s border, experts in Islamic radical movements think the terror group may merge with its al-Qaeda mother organization soon. Together, the group would represent the greatest terror threat to the civilized world. “I think Britain, Germany and France will witness significant attacks in their territories by the Islamic State. Al-Baghdadi [the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS] may reconcile with al-Zawhiri [the leader of the al-Qaeda central organization] to fight the crusader enemy. The attacks by the United States and her allies will unite the two groups,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi researcher who just finished writing a book about ISIS based on his unique access to the organization’s documents and years of research and advising Iraqi security forces.

“I have been monitoring al-Qaeda’s leaders’ rhetoric towards Baghdadi. They are getting softer and softer….The Islamic State, regardless of how big or small it becomes, will come back to its mother: al-Qaeda,” he added. ISIS and al-Qaeda have a long, tangled history with one another. ISIS was the al-Qaeda official branch in Iraq until last February. However, they finally split after disagreements over operations in Syria. The recent US intervention in the region along with the new US-led airstrike campaign against ISIS has actually forced the two groups to renew negotiations. For example, recent reports suggested that ISIS and al-Nusra Front are together planning the war against the US-led alliance. The al-Qaeda affiliated Khorasan group in Syria that was also targeted in the recent air attacks declared a few days ago in an audio message that it had joined ISIS. Add to that the Taliban in Pakistan who are hopping on board the ISIS train and you have a potential jihadi World War III.

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Collateral damage of US/Saudi policies.

IMF: Price Drop Shouldn’t Disrupt Oil Producers’ Government Spending (Reuters)

The drop in global oil prices should not affect the spending plans of oil-producing countries in the Middle East in the near-term given their large financial reserves, the head of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department said on Friday. The official, Masood Ahmed, told reporters that every oil producer in the region outside of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Bahrain were running fiscal deficits, and that the drop in prices would push those budget gaps even wider. However, he said their sizable financial reserves would allow those countries to continue with their spending plans in the short-term, although the price drop has raised a longer-term issue.

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Criminals targeting criminals?!

Hackers Plan $1 Billion ‘Cyber-Heist’ On Global Banks (ES)

Criminal gangs are plotting a $1 billion (£618 million) cyber-heist on global financial institutions, Europol has warned, as they ratchet up the pressure on banks reeling from the record-breaking hit on JPMorgan Chase. Secret listening on internet chatrooms by the European police investigative body has discovered planning by sophisticated Russian cyber-criminals aimed at pulling off one massive hit on a bank. “We have intelligence and information about planning in this direction,” Troels Oerting, pictured, head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre in The Hague, said. Bank insiders are being groomed, says Europol, to put in place programs that will override monitoring apparatus. These insiders will close down alarm systems designed to alert staff when large amounts are unexpectedly transferred out of a bank. “The criminals don’t want to make thousands of small thefts,” said Oerting. “Instead they want one big one on a financial institution.”

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Never trust anything the banks readily accept.

Banks Accept Derivatives Rule Change To End ‘Too Big To Fail’ (Reuters)

The $700 trillion financial derivatives industry has agreed to a fundamental rule change from January to help regulators to wind down failed banks without destabilizing markets. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and 18 major banks that dominate the market will now allow financial watchdogs to apply temporary stays to prevent a rush to close derivatives contracts if a bank runs into trouble, the ISDA said on Saturday. A delay would give regulators time to ensure that critical parts of a bank, such as customer accounts, continue smoothly while the rest is wound down or sold off in an orderly way. That would help to avoid the type of market chaos sparked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and also end the problem of banks being considered too big to fail. The Financial Stability Board (FSB), a regulatory task force for the Group of 20 economies (G20), had asked the ISDA to make the changes with the aim of ending the too-big-to-fail scenario in which banks are propped up with taxpayer money to avoid market disruption.

Under the new contract terms, default clauses in derivatives contracts such as interest rate or credit default swaps would be suspended for a maximum of 48 hours. “Ending too-big-to-fail is going to be an evolutionary process, but the agreement of the first wave of banks to sign the protocol is a big step forward,” ISDA Chief Executive Scott O’Malia said. The ISDA template for millions of derivatives trades will now include the possibility of stays on both new and existing contracts, with the 18 leading players—including the likes of Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs —agreeing to change their contracts from January. Many derivatives are traded among banks. “Well over 90% of the outstanding derivatives notionally held by the G18 banks will be covered with stays, which will give regulators some time to deal with a resolution of a bank in an orderly way,” O’Malia said.

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The big one.

New China Import Tariffs Mean ‘Game Is Over For Australian Coal’ (Reuters)

China, the world’s top coal importer, will levy import tariffs on the commodity after nearly a decade, in its latest bid to prop up ailing domestic miners who have been buffeted by rising costs and tumbling prices. The sudden move by China to levy import tariffs of between 3% and 6% from October 15 is set to hit miners in Australia and Russia – among the top coal exporters into the country. Traders said Indonesia, the second-biggest shipper of the fuel to China, will be exempt from the tariffs since a free trade agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) means Beijing has promised the signatory nations zero import tariffs for some resources. A 3% import tariff imposed on lignite last year did not include Indonesia. “China is clearly moving to protect its local miners. Given that the tariff also covers coking coal, Australia, being the top supplier to China, is likely going to be the most affected,” said Serene Lim, an analyst at Standard Chartered.

The Ministry of Finance said in a statement on Thursday that import tariffs for anthracite coal and coking coal will return to 3%, while non-coking coal will have an import tax of 6%. Briquettes, a fuel manufactured from coal, and other coal-based fuels will see their import tariffs return to 5%. Import taxes for all coals, with the exception of coking coal, was at 6% prior to 2005 before they were scrapped in 2007. Coking coal import taxes were set at 3% before being abolished in 2005. News of the tariff lifted China’s thermal coal futures by 1.9% to 529.2 yuan ($86.33) a tonne, while China-listed shares in top miners such as Shenhua Energy and China Coal Energy also rose. Chinese traders were only willing to pay about $65 a tonne for coal with heating value of 5,500 kcal/kg (NAR) on a landed basis before the tariff was announced, against offers of about $66 a tonne by Australians, traders said. “With the latest tax, Chinese can only offer around $62, which means Australian sellers will need to cut prices by about $3.50-$4 a tonne,” said a senior trader at major international trading house. “It is game over for Australian coal.”

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The scandal that happens all over the western world, and will end up tearing it apart.

One In Seven Australians Living Below The Poverty Line (Guardian)

Four in 10 Australians who rely on social welfare payments – and nearly half of people on the disability support pension – are living below the poverty line, according to a major new report. The research, published by the Australian Council of Social Services (Acoss), found that more than 2.5 million – or one in seven – Australians were living in poverty in 2012, a slight increase on the same survey two years earlier. Nearly 18% of children live beneath the poverty line, one-third of them in sole-parent families, Acoss found. The governor general, Peter Cosgrove, said the report revealed the problem of poverty in Australia to be “insidious and all-encompassing”. “It deprives [the poor] of their freedom and assaults their dignity. As a nation we can’t allow it to continue,” he told the launch of Anti-Poverty Week in Sydney.

The chief executive of Acoss, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said the findings were “deeply disturbing and highlight the need for a national plan to tackle the scourge of poverty which diminishes us all in one of the wealthiest countries in the world”. Single adults on less than $400 per week, and families with two children on less than $841 each week, were deemed as living below the poverty line. More than half of Australians on the Newstart Allowance, 48% of disability pensioners and 15% of aged pensioners struggle to meet basic living costs, the report says. “This finding brings into focus the sheer inadequacy of these allowance payments which fall well below the poverty line,” Goldie said. The maximum payment for a single person on Newstart is $303 per week, nearly 25% less than what is required to stay out of poverty.

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Lots of positivism from the Wall Street Journal. Must be hard to find reporters who can think for themselves.

Fracking Firms Get Tested by Oil’s Price Drop (WSJ)

Tumbling oil prices are starting to frighten energy companies around the globe, especially drillers in North America, where crude is expensive to pump. Global oil prices have fallen about 8% in the past four weeks. The European oil benchmark closed Thursday at $90.05 a barrel, its lowest point in 29 months. The price of a barrel in the U.S. closed at $85.77, its lowest since December 2012. Weakening oil prices could put a crimp in the U.S. energy boom. At $90 a barrel and below, many hydraulic-fracturing projects start to become uneconomic, according to a recent report by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. While fracking costs run the gamut, producers often break even around $80 to $85.

Paul Sankey, an energy analyst with Wolfe Research LLC, said the first drillers to react to declining crude prices would be some in the least productive fringes of North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. “We’re not quite there yet,” he said, but a further drop of $4 or $5 a barrel will force companies to begin trimming their capital budgets. Shares of Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum, which are focused in the Bakken, fell by more than 5% each on Thursday. Shares of major shale-oil and gas developer Chesapeake Energy fell 7%. Jim Noe, executive vice president at Hercules Offshore, a Houston-based drilling-services company with rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mideast, India and West Africa, said companies such as his are monitoring weak oil prices closely. Hercules said its business was affected by a slowdown in drilling activity in the second quarter. Hercules’s stock fell 6.3%.

The fundamental problem is that the world is awash with oil, but demand for energy is growing more slowly amid tepid economic growth around the globe, especially in China. Companies are always reluctant to be the first to cut their energy output, hoping that others flinch first. And hedging can help companies weather temporary drops. The overall U.S. economy, and especially industries such as refining and air travel, would benefit from lower oil prices. Some U.S. oil fields, including the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin in Texas, would remain attractive for drillers even at much lower oil prices.

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“Variety magazine compared it to a John Steinbeck tale from the Great Depression”.

‘The Overnighters’ Shows Dark Side Of North Dakota Oil Boom (Reuters)

Desperate for a fresh start, unemployed workers from all over the world have converged on North Dakota’s burgeoning oil patch, seeking six-figure salaries and the rewards of living in the fastest-growing economy in the nation. But award-winning documentary “The Overnighters,” opening in New York on Friday before expanding nationally, shows the bleak side of that American Dream and the complex efforts of one man to be a Good Samaritan. “The film does show how much harder it is to survive here than people think,” filmmaker Jesse Moss told Reuters. “The Overnighters” tracks the men, and a handful of women, whose dreams of wealth and redemption from past mistakes collide with unwelcoming residents and limited housing in Williston, the epicenter of the energy boom in North Dakota, where more than 1 million barrels of oil are produced monthly.

Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke offers down-on-their luck emigrants a place to sleep inside his church while they acclimate, labeling the newcomers as “overnighters.” About 1,000 took up his offer over a period of about two years. That decision quickly becomes unpopular with the Williston establishment and nearly tears Reinke’s church and family apart. “The people arriving on our doorsteps are gifts to us,” Reinke says in the film. “Not only are these men my neighbors, the people who don’t want them here are also my neighbors,” adds Reinke, a tall, effusive man who spent 20 years pastoring to the community in obscurity. The film won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has generated widespread acclaim. Variety magazine compared it to a John Steinbeck tale from the Great Depression of the 1930s, and The Hollywood Reporter called it “a sobering illustration of the tenuousness of stability in 21st-Century America.”

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The same as happened with the Spanish nurse in Madrid. The apparent lack of precautions is scary.

Health Care Worker Who Treated Texas Victim Tests Positive For Ebola (BBC)

A Texas health care worker who treated US Ebola victim Thomas Duncan before his death has tested positive for the virus, officials say. “We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility,” said Dr David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Mr Duncan, who caught the virus in his native Liberia, died at a Dallas hospital on Wednesday. The health worker has not been named.

Mr Duncan tested positive in Dallas on 30 September, 10 days after arriving on a flight from Monrovia via Brussels. He became ill a few days after arriving in the US, but after going to hospital and telling medical staff he had been in Liberia, he was sent home with antibiotics. He was later put into an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas but died despite being given an experimental drug. It is not clear at which point the health worker, who has tested positive in a preliminary test, came into contact with Mr Duncan.

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1.2 million people are on the US government’s watchlist of people under surveillance as a potential threat or as a suspect.

Second Leaker In US intelligence, Says Glenn Greenwald (Guardian)

The investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald has found a second leaker inside the US intelligence agencies, according to a new documentary about Edward Snowden that premiered in New York on Friday night. Towards the end of filmmaker Laura Poitras’s portrait of Snowden – titled Citizenfour, the label he used when he first contacted her – Greenwald is seen telling Snowden about a second source. Snowden, at a meeting with Greenwald in Moscow, expresses surprise at the level of information apparently coming from this new source. Greenwald, fearing he will be overheard, writes the details on scraps of paper.

The specific information relates to the number of the people on the US government’s watchlist of people under surveillance as a potential threat or as a suspect. The figure is an astonishing 1.2 million. The scene comes after speculation in August by government officials, reported by CNN, that there was a second leaker. The assessment was made on the basis that Snowden was not identified as usual as the source and because at least one piece of information only became available after he ceased to be an NSA contractor and went on the run.

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