G.G. Bain Three-ton electric sign blown into Broadway, New York. 1912
Maybe we need to remind ourselves from time to time that we do NOT have functioning markets. Central banks buying up corporate bonds is of course about as distorting for markets as it comes.
We will yet take debt to its inevitable conclusion.
Central banks have a new favorite tool for boosting lackluster growth: corporate-debt purchases. Two months after the ECB started buying corporate bonds, the Bank of England said Thursday that it would adopt a similar strategy. It will buy as much as £10 billion ($13.33 billion) of U.K. corporate debt starting in September as part of a larger package of stimulus measures, including £60 billion of additional government-bond purchases. The move, investors and analysts say, is likely to drive down borrowing costs even further around the globe for large companies already benefiting from ultralow interest rates.
But the decision again raises concerns about possible side effects of unconventional monetary policies, including excessive risk taking by investors, and faces substantial skepticism from investors who doubt such programs meaningfully address the global economy’s core deficiencies, centering on soft demand for goods and services. Already this year, negative-interest-rate policies and aggressive bond buying by central banks in Japan and Europe have helped create trillions of dollars of negative-yielding government bonds. That in turn has driven down corporate-bond yields, leading to robust debt issuance among companies in the U.S., if not all developed countries.
In the U.S., the average yield of investment-grade corporate bonds was 2.85% Wednesday, compared with 3.67% at the end of 2015, according to Barclays data. The average spread to Treasury yields also has shrunk, to 1.48 percentage points from 1.72. Companies have issued $519.2 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds this year, just below their pace at this time last year when issuance ultimately reached a record $794.6 billion, according to Dealogic.
Wait till the stock market crashes, that’s when pensions will be hit.
Pension savers could be big losers from the Bank of England rate cut, as critics warned of a “hammer blow” to workplace schemes and forecast that pension payouts would fall to record lows. Within minutes of the Bank’s decision to cut the base rate to 0.25%, yields on government bonds, otherwise known as gilts, dived to all-time lows. Companies that still offer final salary pension schemes will as a result see the cost of maintaining them soar. Hymans Robertson, a pensions consultancy, said the rate cut meant a £70bn increase in the amount company schemes needed to meet their commitments to scheme members, to a total of £2.4trn. “To put this in context, UK GDP currently stands at £1.8trn. This has pushed the aggregate UK [company scheme] deficit up to £945bn – the worst it has ever been,” it said.
Companies will have to find the money to fill the gap in their pension schemes, or like most already have, close them to new members. In extreme cases, some may attempt to redraw pension contracts to cap their future liabilities. Patrick Bloomfield of Hymans Robertson said: “Pension schemes are being hit hard by recent events, but we need to remember that the impact will not be felt equally by all … There are schemes with robust funding plans that don’t take more risk than they need to, which will be able to weather this. The gap between pension schemes that hedged their risks and those that haven’t is starker than ever before.”
A forced reset is not necessarily a bad thing.
Britain’s labour market entered “freefall” after the vote to leave the European Union, with the number of permanent jobs placed by recruitment firms last month falling at the fastest pace since May 2009, a survey showed on Friday. The monthly report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showed starting salaries for permanent jobs rose in July at the slowest pace in more than three years. Overall, the survey added to evidence that business confidence and activity slowed sharply after the June 23 vote to leave the European. “The UK jobs market suffered a dramatic freefall in July, with permanent hiring dropping to levels not seen since the recession of 2009,” said REC chief executive Kevin Green. “Economic turbulence following the vote to leave the EU is undoubtedly the root cause.”
Different countries have different ways of hiding their debt.
On the surface, China is talking the reform talk. But is it also walking the walk? There are many examples to demonstrate it isn’t. The most recent one is a directive from the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) to not cut off lending to troubled companies and evergreening bad loans. This first reported by The Chinese National Business Daily on Aug. 4. “A Notice About How the Creditor Committees at Banks and Financial Institutes Should Do Their Jobs” tells banks to “act together and not ‘randomly stop giving or pulling loans.’ These institutes should either provide new loans after taking back the old ones or provide a loan extension, to ‘fully help companies to solve their problems,’” the National Business Daily writes.
“It’s big news. A couple of weeks ago they were threatening Liaoning Province to cut off all lending to them if they didn’t tighten loan standards,” said Christopher Balding, a professor of economics at Peking University in Shenzen. “This is a pretty significant turn-around for them to do and it indicates how significant the problem is.” The official reform narrative is espoused in this Xinhua piece which claims China has to reform because there is no Plan B. “Supply-side structural reform is also advancing as the country moves to address issues like industrial overcapacity, a large inventory of unsold homes and unprofitable ‘zombie companies.’” Clearly resolving the bad debt of zombie companies is not high on the priority list.
Goldman Sachs complained in a recent note to clients that companies can default on payments and often nothing happens. The investment bank notes that companies like Sichuan Coal default on payments of interest and principal for weeks or months and then maybe pay creditors later. The company in question defaulted on 1 billion yuan ($150 million) worth of commercial paper in June but made full payments later during the summer, a somewhat arbitrary process. Another case is Dongbei Special Steel, which missed at least five payments on $6 billion of debt since the beginning of the year, but has done nothing to resolve the problem. This is why creditors wrote an angry letter to the local government to help resolve the issue.
Why the EU can’t be reformed.
Europe’s political elite may have missed the Brexit memo. Six weeks since U.K. voters rebuked the ruling class by choosing to leave the European Union, the region’s establishment has reacted by carrying on as before. The revolving door of former policy makers joining the finance industry has spun again, with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signing up with Goldman Sachs and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King joining Citigroup. Meanwhile departed Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for nominating numerous aides for honors, including his wife’s stylist.
The perception of elite coziness risks further disenfranchising those backing Brexit, and peers across the continent who share the feeling of being left behind by the powerful and wealthy in the era of globalization and financial crises. A potential upshot is more support for populist parties that tap into alienation such as the U.K. Independence Party or France’s National Front. “Anything that doesn’t show government or public institutions in a good light merely confirms some of the attitudes that probably contributed to the Brexit vote,” said Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor at London’s Cass Business School. For some voters, “there is a group of people out there who aren’t normal people like you or me, who have benefited since the financial crisis – because they’re an elite.”
Tsipras already lost the ‘fight’. Beppe Grillo may lead such an alliance, not Tsipras.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is planning to forge an alliance with the leaders of other countries in Southeastern Europe in a bid to bolster Greece’s bid for a debt restructuring and lower the primary surplus targets set by creditors. Tsipras is expected to explore the prospects for such an alliance at a meeting of European socialist heads of state scheduled to take place in Paris on August 25, particularly with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and French President Francois Hollande. The meeting had originally been planned for May 20 in Rome but was postponed after an Egyptian passenger plane crashed in the Mediterranean. The Greek premier’s aim, according to sources, is to arrange a subsequent meeting in Athens, probably on September 9, and in any case before a scheduled European Union leaders’ summit on September 16, to further explore the prospect of forming a Southeastern European alliance.
Tsipras and Renzi had agreed at their last meeting on the sidelines of an EU summit on June 28 on the need for southern states to create their own growth-focused agenda, compared to the austerity prescribed by Northern European countries. At the time, Hollande and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa had appeared open to the prospect of such an alliance. In Athens, sources close to Tsipras believe the time is right to pursue the creation of a strong southern “axis” to counter the stance of countries in Northern Europe. The idea of a united front of Southern European countries was first mooted by leftist SYRIZA before the general elections of January 2015 that brought it to power.
At the time, Tsipras thought Athens would attract the solidarity of Southern European countries in SYRIZA’s rhetoric against austerity and that those countries would stand by Greece in its negotiations with international creditors. That solidarity did not transpire then. However, sources close to Tsipras believe the current situation is potentially more beneficial for Athens as the protracted imposition of austerity on Greece and elsewhere has increased the pressure on countries in Southern Europe. Athens is also hopeful about forming a common front on another crucial issue that has divided Southern and Northern European countries: the ongoing refugee crisis. Indications by Turkey that it might not honor a migrant deal with the EU have fueled concerns in Greece that a slowed migrant influx could pick up again.
Nostalgia. “And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.”
Presidential campaigns today are themselves, to use Boorstin’s famous term, “pseudo-events” that stretch from months into years. By now, most Americans know better than to take at face value anything candidates say or promise along the way. We’re in on the joke — or at least we think we are. Reinforcing that perception on a daily basis are media outlets that have abandoned mere reporting in favor of enhancing the spectacle of the moment. This is especially true of the cable news networks, where talking heads serve up a snide and cynical complement to the smarmy fakery that is the office-seeker’s stock in trade. And we lap it up. It matters little that we know it’s all staged and contrived, as long as — a preening Megyn Kelly getting under Trump’s skin, Trump himself denouncing “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, etc., etc. — it’s entertaining.
This emphasis on spectacle has drained national politics of whatever substance it still had back when Ike and Adlai commanded the scene. It hardly need be said that Donald Trump has demonstrated an extraordinary knack — a sort of post-modern genius — for turning this phenomenon to his advantage. Yet in her own way Clinton plays the same game. How else to explain a national convention organized around the idea of “reintroducing to the American people” someone who served eight years as First Lady, was elected to the Senate, failed in a previous high-profile run for the presidency, and completed a term as secretary of state? The just-ended conclave in Philadelphia was, like the Republican one that preceded it, a pseudo-event par excellence, the object of the exercise being to fashion a new “image” for the Democratic candidate.
The thicket of unreality that is American politics has now become all-enveloping. The problem is not Trump and Clinton, per se. It’s an identifiable set of arrangements — laws, habits, cultural predispositions — that have evolved over time and promoted the rot that now pervades American politics. As a direct consequence, the very concept of self-government is increasingly a fantasy, even if surprisingly few Americans seem to mind.
At an earlier juncture back in 1956, out of a population of 168 million, we got Ike and Adlai. Today, with almost double the population, we get — well, we get what we’ve got. This does not represent progress. And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse. Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.
Can’t see US handing Gulen over on a platter, but Turkey is not done demanding his head. And many others.
U.S. officials weren’t likely to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an imam Turkey blames for plotting the recent failed coup, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the discussion. Those people said the evidence presented so far by Turkey wasn’t convincing and U.S. officials were also concerned about Turkish officials’ threatening public statements, which made the fairness of his potential treatment questionable, the report said. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied wrongdoing, the report said.
Separately, Reuters reported that Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan pledged on Thursday to cut off revenues from businesses tied to the 75-year-old Gulen, which include schools, firms and charities. Even before the failed coup, authorities in Turkey had seized Islamic lender Bank Asya, closed media businesses and arrested businessmen on accusations of funding the imam’s movement, Reuters reported. The failed coup, which took place on July 15, left more than 230 dead. Since then, more than 60,000 people across various branches of government have been detained, suspended or put under investigation, Reuters reported. That’s spurred concerns Erdogan was cracking down on all dissent.
“68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”
Though Europe does not have the rates of gun violence the United States continues to grapple with, European governments have made over a billion euros by fueling gun violence in the Middle East and North Africa. A report conducted by a team of reporters from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found a group of European nations has been funneling arms into the Middle East region since 2012, making at least 1.2 billion euros in the process. According to the report, 68 flights that took place within 13 months transported weapons and ammunition to the Middle East, including to NATO member Turkey, which in turn “funnelled arms into brutal civil wars in Syria and Yemen.”
The report also notes that these flights make up only a small portion of the 1.2 billion euros in arms deals between Europe and the Middle East since 2012. The report’s conclusions are horrifying, to say the least. The report states: “Arms export licenses, which are supposed to guarantee the final destination of the goods, have been granted despite ample evidence that weapons are being diverted to Syrian and other armed groups accused of widespread human rights abuses and atrocities.” Considering Europe is battling a continually rising terrorist threat, they seem to be going about tackling this issue the wrong way. Surely the best way to counter terrorism is to cease funding it in the first place.
One astounding aspect of the report is that the lucrative war-profiteering business involves nations the world would not usually regard as overly-interested in war. The countries contributing to the rising terror threat, as identified by the report, are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Romania, among others. This report adds to the already glaring problem of European countries making billions of dollars off the death and destruction of Middle Eastern civilian life. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the United Kingdom was second only to the United States in arms sales, making up 10.4% of the total $401 billion worth of arms sold around the world for the 2014 period.
Trump for Peace. We have 3 months left to get used to that.
In matters of substance as opposed to character assassination that both parties’ candidates have engaged in freely, what separates the candidates and makes it worthwhile to register and vote on November 8th is the domain of international relations. This, as a general rule, is the only area where a president has free hands anyway, whatever position his party holds in the Congress. Here the choice facing voters is stark, I would say existential: do we want War or Peace? Do we want to pursue our path of global hegemony, which is bringing us into growing confrontation with Russia, meaning a high probability of war, (the policy of Hillary Clinton), or do we want a harmonious international order in which the U.S. plays its role at the board of governors, just like other major world powers (the policy of Donald Trump).
Let me go one step further and explain what “war” means, since it is not something that gets much attention in our media, whereas it is at the top of the news each day in Russia. “War” does not mean Cold War-II, a kind of scab you can pick to indulge a pleasure in pain that is not life threatening. War means what our military like to call “kinetics” to mask the horror of it all. It means live ammunition, ranging from conventional to thermonuclear devices that can devastate large swathes of the United States if we play our hand badly, as would likely be the case for reasons I explain below should Hillary and her flock of Neocon armchair strategists take the reins of power in January 2017.