Sep 212018
 
 September 21, 2018  Posted by at 1:35 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher The Tower of Babel 1928

 

Two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news on social media. Google and Facebook receive well over 70% of US digital advertising revenues. The average daily time spent on social media is 2 hours. Just a few factoids that have at least one thing in common: nothing like them was around 10 years ago, let alone 20. And they depict a change, or set of changes, in our world that will take a long time yet to understand and absorb. Some things just move too fast for us to keep track of, let alone process.

Those of us who were alive before the meteoric rise of the hardware and software of ‘social’ media may be able to relate a little more and better than those who were not, but even that is not a given. There are plenty people over 20, over 30, that make one think: what did you do before you had that magic machine? When you walk down the street talking to some friend, or looking at what your friends wrote on Facebook, do you ever think about what you did in such situations before the machine came into your life?

 


From 10% to 75% in 10 years

 

We’re not going to know what the hardware and software of ‘social’ media will have done to our lives, individually and socially, for a very long time. But in the meantime, their influence will continue to shape our lives. They change our societies, the way we interact with each other, in very profound ways; we just don’t know how profound, or how, period. There can be little question that they change us as individuals too; they change how we communicate, and in such a way that there is no way they don’t also change our very brain structures in the process.

Someone who walks down a street talking to someone else 10, 100, 1000 miles away, or sees messages from such a person come in in virtual real time, experiences things that were not available ever in human history. Our brains must adapt to these changes, or we will be left behind. And while for the over-20, over-30 crowd this takes actual adaptation, for those younger than that it comes quasi pre-cooked: they’ve never known anything else. Still, their brains were formed in completely different times too. Think hunter-gatherers. And that’s just the human part of the brain.

There are too many aspects to this development to cover here. One day someone will write a book, or rather, many someones will write many books, and they will all be different. Some will focus on people’s lives being saved because their smartphones allow them to either receive or send out distress signals. Others will tell stories of teenagers committing suicide after being heckled on ‘social’ media. With yin comes yang. Millions feel better with new-found ‘friends’, and millions suffer from abuse even if they don’t kill themselves.

 

With new media, especially when it goes from 1 to 100 in no time flat, it should be no surprise that the news it delivers changes too. We went from a few dozen TV- and radio stations and newspapers to a few hundred million potential opinions in the US alone. The media are no longer a one-way street. The first effect that has had is that the chasm between news and opinion has narrowed spectacularly. If their readers post their views of what they read and see, journalists feel they have the right to vent their opinions too.

And then these opinions increasingly replace the news itself. The medium is again the message, in a way, a novel kind of way. A hundred million people write things without being restricted by due diligence or other journalistic standards, and we see journalists do that too. They will come up with lies, half-truths, innuendo, false accusations, and moreover will not retract or correct them, except when really hard-pressed. After all, who has the time when you post a hundred+ tweets a day and need to update your Facebook pages too?

Obviously, Donald Trump is an excellent example of the changing media environment. His use of Twitter was a major factor in his election victory. And then his detractors took to Twitter to launch a huge campaign accusing him of collusion with Russia to achieve that victory. They did this moving in lockstep with Bob Mueller’s investigation of that collusion accusation. But almost two years after the election, neither Mueller not the media have provided any evidence of collusion.

That, ironically, is the only thing that is actually true about the entire narrative at this point. Sure, Mueller may still have something left in his back pocket, but if he had solid proof he would have been obliged to present it. Collusion with a foreign government is too serious not to reveal evidence of. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that in September 2018, Mueller has no such evidence. But what about the thousands of printed articles and the millions of Tweets and Facebook posts claiming collusion that were presented as true?

Funny you asked. What they prove is not collusion, but the changing media landscape. The anti-Trump echo-chamber that I’ve written about many times has been going strong for two years and shows no signs of abating. There are still lots of people posting a hundred (re-)tweets etc. daily who are being read by many others, all of them confirming their biases in a never fulfilled feeding frenzy.

This is not about Trump. And I’m not a Trump supporter. This is instead about the media, and the humongous difference interactivity has made. And about the fact that it hasn’t just added a hundred million voices, it has also altered the way traditional media report the news, in an effort to keep up with those hundred million.

 

The thing here that is about Trump, is that he’s everybody’s favorite meal ticket. He confirms everyone’s opinion, whether for or against him, by the way he uses media. And most importantly, they all make a lot of money off of him. The New York Times and WaPo and MSNBC would be in deep financial trouble without Trump. Like they were before he came along. Polarization of opinions saved them. Well, not the WaPo, Jeff Bezos can afford to run 1000 papers like that and lose money hand over fist. But for the NYT and many others a Trump impeachment would be disastrous. Funny, right?

Another thing that is obvious is that one thing still sells above all others: sex. The smear campaign against Julian Assange has been successful in one way only, and it’s been a smash hit: the rape allegations. Completely false, entirely made up, dragged out as long as possible, and turning millions, especially women, against him.

The accusations against Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh haven’t been around long enough to be discredited. Maybe they will be, maybe they won’t. But read through newspaper articles, watch TV shows, follow Twitter, and you see countless voices already convinced ‘he did it’. And that ‘it’ is often labeled ‘rape’, though that’s not the accusation.

But it’s part of the Anti-Trump train, and the echo-chamber has gone into overdrive once again. Even if everyone understands that a 36-year old accusation must be handled with care. The accusing woman’s lawyer says the FBI must investigate, and everyone says: FBI! FBI!. Conveniently forgetting that the FBI has been far from impartial with regards to Trump, and the White House is not exactly waiting for another FBI role.

What’s wrong with waiting till you know the facts? Why judge a situation you know nothing about other than a woman accuses a man of assault 36 years ago, and doesn’t remember time, location etc.?

 

And that’s the thing all along, isn’t it? That people, both readers and journalists, all 200 million Americans of them, think they have acquired the right to judge any person, any situation they read a few lines about, just because they have purchased a smartphone. A faulty notion fed on a daily basis by the fact there are millions who think just like them.

We may want to rethink the terms ‘social’ media and ‘smart’ phone. They sound good, but they don’t cover the true nature of either. It’s hard to say where all this is going, but the sharply increasing polarization of society is certainly not a good sign. People feeling they have the right to accuse others without knowing facts, people building a Russiagate narrative without evidence, these are not things a society should welcome, whether they’re profitable or not.

Meanwhile, there are two people (there are many more, of course) who were banned from the platforms so many others use to draw baseless conclusions and spout empty accusations. And we miss them both, or we should: Alex Jones and Julian Assange. Have they really used ‘social’ media in worse ways than those 200 million Americans? Or were they banned because millions of Americans were following and reading their non-mainstream views?

We better get a grip on this, and on ourselves, or we won’t get another chance. What we have seen so far is that it’s not that hard to shape people’s opinions in a world with information overload. And that process is about to get a whole lot more intense. Until all you’re left with is the illusion that your opinion is actually your own.

 

 

Aug 172018
 
 August 17, 2018  Posted by at 1:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


William Hogarth Humours of an Election, Plate 2 1754

 

Two thirds of Americans want the Mueller investigation (inquisition, someone called it) over by the midterm elections. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said that if Mueller wants to interview Trump, he’ll have to do so before September 1, because the Trump camp doesn’t want to be the one to unduly influence the elections. Mueller himself appears to lean towards prolonging the case, and that may well be with an eye on doing exactly that.

And there’s something else as well: as soon as the investigation wraps up, Trump will demand a second special counsel, this time to scrutinize the role the ‘other side’ has played in the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath. He’s determined to get it, and he’ll fire both Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein if they try to stand in his way.

There have of course been tons of signs that it’s going to happen, but we got two significant ones just the past few days. The first is the termination of John Brennan’s security clearance. It looks impossible that no additional clearances will be revoked. There are more people who have them but would also be part of a second special counsel’s investigation. That doesn’t rhyme.

The second sign is Senator Rand Paul’s call for immunity for Julian Assange to come talk to the US senate about what he knows about Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Obviously, we know that he denies its very existence, and has offered to provide evidence to that end. But before he could do that, a potential deal with the DOJ to do so was torpedoed by then FBI chief James Comey and Senator Mark Warner.

Both will also be part of the second investigation. Rand Paul’s motivation is simple: Assange’s testimony could be a very significant part of the process of figuring out what actually happened. And that should be what everybody in Washington wants. Question is if they all really do. That’s -ostensibly- why there is the first, the Mueller Russian collusion, investigation. Truth finding.

But Mueller doesn’t appear to have found much of anything. At least, that we know of. He’s locked up Paul Manafort on charges unrelated to collusion, put him in isolation and dragged him before a jury. But don’t be surprised if Manafort is acquitted by that jury one of these days. The case against him seemed a lot more solid before than it does now. A jury that asks the judge to re-define ‘reasonable doubt’ already is in doubt, reasonable or not. And that is what reasonable doubt means.

 

But it wasn’t just Brennan and Comey and Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and all the rest of them in the intelligence community who played questionable roles around the election and the accusations of Russian meddling in it. The American media were also there, and very prominently. Which is why when 300 papers publish editorials pushing against Trump ‘attacking’ the media, you can’t help but -wryly- smile.

Why does Trump attack the press? Because they’ve been attacking him for two years, and they’re not letting go. So the press can attack the president, but he cannot fight back. That’s the rationale, but with the Mueller investigation not going anywhere it’s a hard one to keep alive.

There are three reasons for the behavior of the New York Times, WaPo, MSNBC, CNN et al. The first is political, they’re Democrat hornblowers. The second is their owners have a personal thing against Donald Trump. But these get trumped by the third reason: Trump is their golden goose. Their opposition makes them a fortune. All they need to do is publish articles 24/7 denouncing him. And they have for two years.

That puts the 300 papers’ editorials in a strange light. Many of them would have been fighting for their very lives if not for anti-Trump rhetoric. All 300 fit neatly and easily in one echo chamber. And, to put it mildly, inside that chamber, not everyone is always asking for evidence of everything that’s being said.

It’s not difficult to whoop up a storm there without crossing all your t’s. And after doing just that for 2 years and change, it seems perhaps a tad hypocritical to claim that you are honest journalists just trying to provide people with the news as it happened.

Because when you’ve published hundreds, thousands of articles about Russian meddling, and the special counsel that was named to a large degree because of those articles, fails to come up with any evidence of it, it will become obvious that you’ve not just, and honestly, been reporting the news ‘as it happened’. You have instead been making things up because you knew that would sell better.

And when the second special counsel starts, where will American media be? Sure, it may not happen before the midterms, and you may have hopes that the Democrats win those bigly, but even if that comes to pass (slim chance), Trump will still be president, and the hearings and interviews won’t be soft and mild. Also, there will be serious questions, under oath, about leaks to the press.

 

Still, whichever side of this particular fence you’re on, there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on. That is, when we get to count how many of the 300 editorials have actually mentioned, let alone defended, Julian Assange, and I’ll bet you that number is painfully close to zero, that is where we find out how honest this defense of the free press is.

If for you the free press means that you should be able to write and broadcast whatever you want, even if it’s lacking in evidence, as much of the Russiagate stuff obviously is, and you ‘forget’ to mention a man who has really been attacked and persecuted for years, for publishing files that are all about evidence, you are not honest, and therefore probably not worth saving.

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are the essence of the free press. A press that is neutral, objective, fearless and determined to get the truth out. The New York Times and CNN simply don’t fit that description -anymore-. So when their editors publish calls to protect free press, but they leave out the one person who really represents free press, and the one person who’s been tortured for exactly that, you have zero credibility.

Sure, you may appear to have credibility in your echo chamber, but that’s not where real life takes place, where evidence is available and where people can make up their own minds based on objective facts provided by real journalists.

You guys just blew this big time. You don’t care about free press, you care about your own asses. And the second special counsel is coming. Good luck. Oh, and we won’t forget your silencing of Assange, or your attacks on him. If you refuse to do it, WE will free the press.

 

 

Jul 242018
 
 July 24, 2018  Posted by at 12:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jacques-Louis David Erasistratus Discovering the Cause of Antiochus’ Disease 1774

 

One thing that’s not receiving enough attention in the respective Assange and Russia coverage is to what extent both protagonists are needed in each other’s narratives to keep each of these alive. Without explicitly linking Assange to Russia, allegations against him lose a lot, if not most, of their credibility. Likewise, if Assange is not put straight in the middle of the Russia story, it too loses much. Linking them is the gift that keeps on giving for the US intelligence community and the Democratic party.

In that light, as the shameful/shameless treatment of Julian Assange continues and is on the verge of even worse developments, I was wondering about some dates and timelines in the whole sordid affair. And about how crucial it is for those wanting to ‘capture’ him, to tie him to Russia in any form and shape they can come up with and make halfway credible.

10 days ago in The True Meaning of ‘Collusion’ I mentioned how Robert Mueller in his indictment of 12 Russians -but not Assange-, released on the eve of the Trump-Putin summit, strongly insinuated that WikiLeaks had actively sought information from Russians posing as Guccifer 2.0, that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. I also said that Assange was an easy target because, being closed off from all communication, he cannot defend himself. From the indictment:

 

a. On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

 

Now, the indictment itself has been blown to shreds by Adam Carter, while the narrative that the Russians hacked DNC servers and provided what they stole to WikiLeaks, has always categorically been denied by Assange, while the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and others have concluded that the speed at which the info was downloaded from the servers means it couldn’t have been a hack.

Oh, and Carter left little standing of Mueller et al’s portrait of Guccifer 2.0 as being of Russian origin. Plus, as several voices have pointed out, Assange had said on British TV on June 12 2016, ten days before the date the indictment indicates, that WikiLeaks was sitting on a batch of material pertaining to Hillary Clinton. An indictment full of allegations, not evidence, that in the end reads like Swiss cheese.

But it does serve to keep alive, and blow new fire into, the “The Russians Did It” narrative. And obviously, it also rekindles the allegation that Assange was working with the Russians to make Trump win and Hillary lose. Allegations, not evidence, against which neither Assange nor “the Russians” are in a position to defend themselves. Very convenient.

 

In his June 25 article How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal, The Hill’s John Solomon details how negotiations in early 2017 between legal representatives for Julian Assange and the US Justice Department were suddenly halted when James Comey, then FBI director, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) suddenly and entirely unexpectedly told Adam Waldman, Assange’s attorney, and David Laufman, then head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section, who had been picked to lead the talks, to stand down.

This happened when Waldman reached out to Warner, who informed Comey, among other things, about Assange’s offer to provide evidence that he did not get the DNC files from the Russians. That would have dealt a huge blow to the Russia-Did-It allegation, and it would also have destroyed the narrative of Assange working with Russia. And lest we forget: it would have made Mueller’s indictment worth less than the paper it’s written on.

That Comey’s order for Waldman and Laufman to stand down risked the lives and safety of CIA operatives receives surprisingly(?) little attention, but apparently it was worth it for Comey to keep the narrative(s) alive. What do the operatives themselves think about it, though?

It’s not fully clear from Solomon’s article when exactly the stand down order was given, and/or when the talks broke down entirely. Going through the dates, we know it’s sometime between March 28 2017, when we know talks were still ongoing, and April 7 2017, when Assange “released documents with the specifics of some of the CIA malware used for cyber attacks.” After that, then CIA director Mike Pompeo labeld WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service.”

Why is the date interesting? For one thing because present Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno was elected to his job on April 2 2017 (he took office on May 24). And it’s Moreno who now holds Assange’s fate in his hands. It was Moreno, also, who cut off Assange completely from the outside world last March.

Moreno’s about-face since becoming president is something to behold. He had been vice-president, trustee and friend to his predecessor Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2013. Moreno, who’s wheelchair bound after being shot in a burglary in 1998, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts for the disabled in Ecuador.

What made him turn? Or should we perhaps ask: when did the Americans get to him? And what do they have on him? Is it bribe or blackmail? There’s talk of new and generous IMF loans as we speak. What’s clear is that Moreno is in London this week, and it’s unlikely that Assange’s situation doesn’t come up in talks at all, even if that’s what Moreno’s people want to make us believe. It’s way more likely that discussions are happening about how to put Assange out on to the street and then in a British or even US jail.

 

But Assange’s case may not be as hopeless as we think. First, all the British have on him is a charge of jumping bail. That carries three months and a fine. It’s not labeled a serious charge, that goes for offences that carry three years and more. New UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt misspoke seriously when he said Assange faced serious charges. He doesn’t. And Britain still has a court system, and Assange still has lawyers.

More important, perhaps, is that Moreno will come under a lot of pressure, and probably already is, to not hand over Assange. The UN has been very clear about what it thinks about Assange’s treatment. It violates more international laws than we can count. But who cares about the UN anymore these days, right?

Even more outspoken has been the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. I know, I had never heard of them either. But they’re a serious body, most South American nations are members, and many Caribbean ones. Here’s what the court said on July 13:

 

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled on Friday the right to seek asylum in embassies and other diplomatic compounds. The ruling includes a mandatory safe process, and the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum. Without naming Julian Assange, the ruling was deemed a huge victory for the WikiLeaks founder who has been held up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012.

The court released a public statement, which said that it had “interpreted the reach of the protection given under Article 22 (7) of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XXVII of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, which recognize the right to seek and receive asylum in a foreign territory.”

“In particular, the Court declared upon the relative issue of whether this human right protects both territorial asylum and diplomatic asylum. Similarly, the Court determined the human rights obligations of the Member States of the Organization of American States regarding the host country and, in this case, for third States, in virtue of the risk that persons seeking international protection could suffer, which was the reason for the principle of non-refoulement.

 

This court is not some hobby club. Wiki: “The Organization of American States established the Court in 1979 to enforce and interpret the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. Its two main functions are thus adjudicatory and advisory. Under the former, it hears and rules on the specific cases of human rights violations referred to it. Under the latter, it issues opinions on matters of legal interpretation brought to its attention by other OAS bodies or member states.”

The court is also very clear in its ruling. Note: “the obligation of states to provide safe passage to those granted asylum”. Moreno may want to think twice before he surrenders Assange and goes against the ruling. The consequences could be far-reaching. Nobody wants to start a fight with ALL of their neighbors all at the same time. Violating the ruling would make the court obsolete.

The ideal solution would be if Australia would offer Julian Assange safe passage back home. Another country could do the same. Assange has never been charged with anything, other than the UK’s bail-skipping charge, a minor offence.

Julian Assange is a journalist, and a damn good one at that. The silence in the Anglo -and international- media about his case is shameful and deafening. So is the smear campaign that’s been going on for over a decade. How many women have been turned against the man by the false Swedish rape charges? Condemning someone to isolation without access to daylight or medical care goes way beyond shameful.

It’s time to end this horror show, not prolong or deepen it. But the power of international intelligence services is at stake, and they’re going to go to great lengths to impose that power. The US has already even claimed that freedom of speech, i.e. its entire Constitution, does not apply to non-Americans.

That’s quite the claim when you think about it. That also tells us how much is at stake for ourselves. The mainstream media are already captives to the system, lock, stock and barrel. But if Assange can be silenced this way, what are Jim Kunstler, the Automatic Earth and Zero Hedge going to do? Are we all going to shut up?

 

We need to rage against the dying of the light more than ever. Because the light, indeed, is dying. We should not go gentle into that night without ever being heard from again. We owe that to ourselves, our children, and to Julian. It’s all the same thing. Not standing up for Assange means not standing up for your children. Are you sure you’re okay with that?

 

 

Jul 142018
 
 July 14, 2018  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso The blue room 1901

 

Chinese Property Buyers Are GONE (MB)
It “Hit the Mortgage Market Over the Head with a Baseball Bat” (WS)
No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians (MoA)
Lawmakers Press Trump To Cancel Putin Summit After Mueller Indictments (CNBC)
Trump Should Fire Rosenstein Immediately (PCR)
Summitgate and the Campaign vs. ‘Peace’ (Stephen Cohen)
The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War (Pieraccini)
Theresa May Is Approaching Her Zero Dark Thirty Moment (G.)
How Amazon Rules (WS)
Judge Tells US To Pay Costs Of Reuniting Immigrant Families (R.)
Hope and Change Are At Hand (Kunstler)

 

 

Xi halts outflows.

Chinese Property Buyers Are GONE (MB)

NAB’s survey results have highlighted to a trend decline in foreign buying activity in recent quarters resulting from policy changes in China on foreign investment outflows and tighter restrictions on foreign property buyers in Australia. In Q2 2018, there were fewer foreign buyers in the market for Australian property, with their market share dipping to 9.6% (10.9% in Q1 2018) in new housing markets and to 4.8% in established housing markets (5.7% in Q1 2018 and their lowest share since Q1 2012).

In established housing markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states. They continued to be most active in VIC but their market share of total sales fell to a 4-year low of 6.2% (8.2% in Q1 2018). The decline was even more pronounced in NSW, where their market share fell to 4.8% (5.4% in Q1 2018) – the lowest level in over 6 years. In QLD, foreign buyers accounted for 5.4% of total sales (5.6% in Q1 2018), while in WA their share fell to 2.2% (4.7% in Q1 2018).

In new property markets, the share of sales to foreign buyers fell in all states except QLD where their share jumped to 22.8% (11.5% in Q1 2018). This may have reflected anecdotal reports of increased Chinese property investment associated with record numbers of Chinese student enrolments in the state. In contrast, the share of foreign buyers fell to 11.7% in VIC (down from an average of 14.4% since the survey started), 7.4% in NSW (from an average of 10.2%) and 4.6% in WA from an average of 6.8%.

Read more …

Sydney house prices down 11-15%.

It “Hit the Mortgage Market Over the Head with a Baseball Bat” (WS)

Australia’s housing market is getting rattled. The mortgage industry is in turmoil. Banks are battered by incessant revelations of misconduct. Home prices in the Sydney and Melbourne metros, after surging to an astounding degree, are deflating. And the once splendid and vast game of real-estate speculation just isn’t fun anymore. Lindsay David, of LF Economics in Sydney — who has long played a role in exposing misconduct in Australia’s banking system including, in early 2016, by calling for a Royal Commission investigation into the mortgage sector — put some findings of his boots-on-the-ground analysis into a note to clients. Here are some of them:

1. Drop-off in Speculative Demand: “We spent countless hours” in recent months “observing buyer turnouts to scheduled property inspections of houses for sale,” he writes. “While there may still be a small sum of properties on market that continue to see very large turnouts, there was a clear visual drop-off of engaged interest from buyers and indeed ‘property snoops’ across the majority of properties for sale that we had observed.” “On many occasions, we observed either no interested parties, or less than 4 parties inspecting a property across a very decent chunk of offerings on the market,” he writes. “This lower rate of turnouts was something we simply had not observed over the years at such a dramatic scale.”

2. Sharper drop in selling prices than shown in official data: According to CoreLogic (the official data), home prices in Sydney fell 4.6% in June compared to a year ago, with house prices down 6.2%, and prices of condos down 0.7%. In the most expensive quartile, prices fell 7.3%. But Lindsay David writes: “It is our view based on all the resources made available that house prices in the Sydney area have broadly fallen somewhere between 11% and 15% over the comparison period.”

Read more …

This one stinks.

No Evidence In Mueller’s Indictment Of 12 Russians (MoA)

The Special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment against 12 Russian people alleged to be officers or personal of the Russian Military Intelligence Service GRU. The people, claims the indictment, work for an operational (26165) and a technical (74455) subunit of the GRU. A Grand Jury in Washington DC issued 11 charges which are described and annotated below. A short assessment follows. The first charge is for a “Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States” by stealing emails and leaking them. The indictment claims that the GRU units sent spearfishing emails to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party organizations DNC and DCCC. They used these to get access to email boxes of John Podesta and other people.

They are also accused of installing spyware (X-agent) on DNC computers and of exfiltrating emails and other data from them. The emails were distributed and published by the online personas DCLeaks, Guccifer II and later through Wikileaks. The indictment claims that DCLeaks and Guccifer II were impersonations by the GRU. Wikileaks, “organization 1” in the indictment, is implicated but so far not accused. Note: There is a different Grand Jury for the long brewing case against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Assange has denied that the emails he published came from a Russian source. Craig Murray, a former British ambassador, said that he received the emails on a trip to Washington DC and transported them to Wikileaks.

The indictment describes in some detail how various rented computers and several domain names were used to access the DNC and DCCC computers. The description is broadly plausible but there is little if any supporting evidence.

Read more …

The Special Counsel was for collusion. There is none.

Lawmakers Press Trump To Cancel Putin Summit After Mueller Indictments (CNBC)

Lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin after special counsel Robert Mueller charged against 12 Russians for interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election Friday. Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives, alongside a growing list of other Democratic lawmakers, called on the president to abandon the meeting, which is scheduled to take place Monday in Helsinki, Finland. In their statements, many Democrats said they did not trust Trump, who has often expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, to confront Putin about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

They were joined by at least one high-profile member of the opposing party: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic and a Russia hawk, called on the president to cancel the summit if he is “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.” But the Trump administration appears unlikely to do so. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News on Friday afternoon that the summit is “still on.” The White House downplayed the significance of the indictment, noting there were no allegations against members of Trump’s campaign team. The president’s lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the charges were “good news for all Americans” and called on the special counsel to end his investigation and declare the president innocent.

Read more …

“Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.”

Trump Should Fire Rosenstein Immediately (PCR)

Does Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking Hillary’s emails and interfering in the US election have any purpose other than to throw a monkey wrench in President Trump’s upcoming summit with Putin? Don’t forget that Rosenstein is implicated in the orchestration of Russiagate as a weapon against Trump, a weapon that serves the interests of the Democratic Party and the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned us 56 years ago to no avail. Rosenstein’s indictment of 12 Russians for allegedly hacking computers is a political indictment aimed at President Trump. The indictment is otherwise pointless as the Russian government will certainly not turn over its military personnel to a Washington kangeroo court.

The indictment serves no purpose except to poison the atmosphere of the summit. If you read the indictment, you will see that it consists of nothing but improbable accusations. There is no way on earth that the US Justice (sic) Department would be able to acquire the information in this fictional story that Rosenstein has presented. Moreover, there is no sign whatsoever of any evidence in the indictment. Rosenstein knows that he needs no evidence, because the accused will never be brought to trial.

Rosenstein has thrown red meat to the presstitutes, who are assets of the military/security compex and Democratic Party, and the presstitutes will pressure the Republicans to get behind Rosenstein’s call for a united front against Russian interference. You can imagine what would happen if Trump and Putin were to have a successful summit and normalize the relations that Washington ruined between the two countries.

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“As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes.”

Summitgate and the Campaign vs. ‘Peace’ (Stephen Cohen)

As a rule, American presidents have departed for summits with bipartisan support and well-wishes. Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Putin, in Helsinki on July 16, is profoundly different in two respects. US-Russian relations have rarely, if ever, been more dangerous. And never before has a president’s departure—in Trump’s case, first for a NATO summit and then the one with Putin—been accompanied by allegations that he is disloyal to the United States and thus cannot be trusted, defamations once issued only by extremist fringe elements in American politics. Now, however, we are told this daily by mainstream publications, broadcasts, and “think tanks.”

According to a representative of the Clintons’ Center for American Progress, “Trump is going to sell out America and its allies.” The New York Times and The Washington Post also feature “experts”—they are chosen accordingly—who “worry” and “fear” that Trump and Putin “will get along.” The Times of London, a bastion of Russophobic Cold War advocacy, captures the mainstream perspective in a single headline: “Fears Grow Over Prospect of Trump ‘Peace Deal’ with Putin.”

An anti-“peace” Washington establishment is, of course, what still-unproven Russiagate allegations have wrought, as summed up by a New York magazine writer who advises us that the Trump-Putin summit may well be “less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.” The charge is hardly original, having been made for months at MSNBC by the questionably credentialed “intelligence expert” Malcolm Nance and the, it seems, selectively informed Rachel Maddow, among many other “experts.” Considering today’s perilous geopolitical situation, it is hard not to conclude that much of the American political establishment, particularly the Democratic Party, would prefer trying to impeach Trump to averting war with Russia, the other nuclear superpower. For this too, there is no precedent in American history.

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The fear of peace.

The Globalist Elite Fears Peace, Wants War (Pieraccini)

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. The following so stretches credulity that sources will have to be cited and an exact quotations given to be believed. A case in point is the following title: “Fears growing over the prospect of Trump ‘peace deal’ with Putin”. The Times does not here fear a military escalation in Ukraine, an armed clash in Syria, a false-flag poisoning in England, or a new Cold War. The Times does not fear a nuclear apocalypse, the end of humanity, the suffering of hundreds of millions of people. No, one of the most authoritative and respected broadsheets in the world is fearful of the prospect of peace! The Times is afraid that the heads of two nuclear-armed superpowers are able to talk to each other.

The Times fears that Putin and Trump will be able to come to some kind of agreement that can help avert the danger of a global catastrophe. These are the times in which we live. And this is the type of media we deal with. The problem with The Times is that it forms public opinion in the worst possible way, confusing, deceiving, and disorienting its readers. It is not by accident the world in which we live is increasingly divorced from logic and rationality. Even if the outcome of this meeting does not see any substantial progress, the most important thing to be achieved will be the dialogue between the two leaders and the opening of negotiation channels for both sides. In The Times article, it is assumed that Trump and Putin want to reach an agreement regarding Europe.

The insinuation is that Putin is manipulating Trump in order to destabilize Europe. For years now we have been inundated with such fabrications by the media on behalf of their editors and shareholders, all part of the deep state conglomerate. Facts have in fact proven that Putin has always desired a strong and united Europe, looking to integrate Europe into the Eurasian dream. Putin and Xi Jinping would like to see a European Union more resistant to American pressure and able to gain greater independence. The combination of mass migration and sanctions against Russia and Iran, which end up hurting Europeans, opens the way for alternative parties that are not necessarily willing to Washington’s marching orders.

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“..this endgame of competing impossibilisms..”

Theresa May Is Approaching Her Zero Dark Thirty Moment (G.)

Donald Trump’s outburst may have done Theresa May a fleeting favour. Had the grand Shrek not delivered every imaginable insult (short of impugning St Gareth of Southgate) to his host country yesterday, the story in the spotlight this weekend would have been on the growing disquiet around May’s handling of the Chequers agreement on Brexit, and the darkening mood that has descended on her own benches. As it turned out, May rode out the turbulence. But with the awkward visitor gone, the stony road to Brexit – “a tough deal”, as the US president observed – resumes. What started a mere week ago as applause for the prime minister in facing down her most troublesome ministerial insurgents has slipped into acute agitation.

It turns in part on the convoluted deal itself – but also on a fresh bout of panic about her ability to lead when the pressure is on. The departures of Boris Johnson and David Davis disconcerted Brexiteers – but did not unleash rebellion. Thursday’s white paper was another matter. Its use of the term “association agreement” (not used previously) was a red rag to many bulls. Given that the last one the European Union signed was with Ukraine, it hardly takes a marketing genius to see the problem. In this endgame of competing impossibilisms – hard Brexit versus a byzantine arrangement of near-customs-union “associations”, segmented agreements on goods and services, and somewhat indeterminate reassurance for the City on how its practices will be affected – the prime minister’s nightmare is that both enemy camps conclude they don’t want whatever she is offering.

This is the Zero Dark Thirty moment at which a serious move to oust May becomes probable – unless she can take back control of her disputatious party. May is not quite at that point – but perilously close. As one recently departed senior figure put it, there is no such thing as summer relief “because Graham Brady’s letter box is open over the recess”. Brady is the chair of the backbench MPs’ committee to which no-confidence votes would be submitted.

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It’s gotten far too big.

How Amazon Rules (WS)

Amazon is a Goliath in very different sectors. One is the internet cloud, a booming business. Amazon Web Services has evolved into the single largest player offering cloud computing services to companies, governments, and individuals. In the first quarter, AWS owns 33% share of the cloud infrastructure market, ahead of Microsoft with a 13% share, and Google with a 6% share. Being the biggest kid on the block, it has become the shoo-in for a multi-year $10-billion Pentagon contract. That business is highly profitable.

Less profitable are Amazon’s e-commerce operations. But in terms of magnitude, Amazon totally rules. According to a report from eMarkter, cited by CNBC, Amazon’s online sales in the US are expected to surge 30% in 2018 compared to a year earlier, to $258 billion. This would boost Amazon’s share of US e-commerce sales of 49.1%! The other combatants are fighting over the crumbs in terms of market share. The next nine largest e-commerce operations combined grab about 22% of the market: eBay (EBAY): 6.6% Apple (AAPL): 3.9% Walmart (WMT): 3.7% Home Depot (HD): 1.5% Best Buy (BBY) 1.3% QVC Group (QVCA): 1.2% Macy’s (M): 1.2% Costco (COST): 1.2% Wayfair (W): 1.1%

That leaves 29% of e-commerce for all the other retailers with online operations, from Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) to the tiniest home-office operations, millions of them. Amazon online sales fall into two categories: its “direct sales” and the sales from other sellers that use Amazon’s platform and execution (“Marketplace sales”). Both are growing in leaps and bounds, but Marketplace sales are growing the fastest. In 2018, Marketplace sales are expected to account for 68% of Amazon’s e-commerce sales, and direct sales for 32%, according to eMarketer estimates. Overall, e-commerce sales in the US have soared 16% in the first quarter from a year ago and are on track to exceed $500 billion this year.

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Sabraw rules again.

Judge Tells US To Pay Costs Of Reuniting Immigrant Families (R.)

A U.S. judge in California on Friday ordered President Donald Trump’s administration to pay the costs of reuniting immigrant parents with children separated from them by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than forcing the parents to pay. The U.S. government is working to reunite around 2,000 children with their parents, who were detained and separated as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach to deter illegal immigration. “It doesn’t make any sense for any of the parents who have been separated to pay for anything,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who last month ordered that the children be reunited with their parents by July 26, said at a hearing in San Diego.

The government missed a deadline this week for getting the youngest of the children back with their parents. Trump has made his hardline immigration policies a central part of his presidency. His administration adopted the family separation policy as part of its effort to discourage illegal immigration, but Trump bowed to intense political pressure and abandoned the policy on June 20. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the administration over the family separations, said at the hearing that immigrant parents had been told by immigration officials they had to pay for their travel. One parent was initially asked to pay $1,900 to be reunited with a child, according to ACLU court papers.

Trump administration lawyer Sarah Fabian called the judge’s order on paying for the reunifications “a huge ask on HHS,” referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fabian said those decisions were handled at the field level, adding that HHS, which houses the detained children, had limited resources. “The government will make it happen,” Sabraw responded. The judge also agreed to impose timelines on the government for reporting details about its reunification efforts.

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Fat Americans can have more tattoos.

Hope and Change Are At Hand (Kunstler)

It seems unfair that the earnest polymath Elon Musk should go broke in the electric car business while Kylie Jenner becomes a billionaire at age 20 hawking lip gloss on Snapchat, but that’s how the American Dream rolls these late days of empire. Perhaps the lesson here, for all you MBA wannabes, is that Mr. Musk could switch his production facilities from cars to lip gloss. Of course, to successfully market his new line of cosmetics on social media, Elon might have to consider sexual “reassignment” surgery — unless he could persuade American men via Facebook and Twitter, that lip enhancement boosts male self-esteem almost as much as the purchase of a Ford F-450 pickup truck at a laughable fraction of the cost.

Which raises an interesting question: if President Donald Trump’s most winning personal feature is that magnificent golden hair-do, why doesn’t he (or his family) get out of the pain-in-the-ass hotel business, with all its construction and maintenance issues and dirty sheets, and just put out shampoo? He is obviously adept at Twitter marketing and surely scores high in global brand recognition. Which raises any number of other major questions about the proper functioning of the US economy. For instance, millions of Americans, especially of Kylie J’s gen, are wasting their lives working dead-end minimum wage jobs manning (personing?) the nation’s fry-o-lator stations when they could start billion dollar cosmetic companies.

After all, if you really want to be successful in this land of success stories, don’t you have to first look and feel successful? Perhaps that’s all you really need… forget all those pain-in-the-ass products with their vexing assembly-line, packing, and shipping problems. Just get America feeling great about itself, starting with the most important person in the room: YOU! Only two things stand in the way: tattoos and blubber. At the rate our fellow citizens are adorning themselves with inky autobiographies, ever fewer will want to cover up their personal messaging with icky makeup. And the remorseless increase in body size implies a concomitant increase in available epidermal sites for said personal messaging — so maybe the tattoo industry ought to be the basis of the next American economy, not electric cars and journeys to Mars, or even lip gloss. Just think of all those empty brick-and-mortar retail spaces out there begging to become Ink Spots! I may be wrong about this, but I haven’t heard of any tattoo billionaires…yet. Who will dare to be first? (Yet another Kardashian?)

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Mar 182018
 
 March 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Bartolomeo Schedoni The Deposition (of Jesus’ body by St. Joseph of Arimathea) 1613

 

The Art of (Cold) War (Claire Connelly)
Killing Diplomacy (Dmitry Orlov)
Russia’s EU Ambassador Says UK Lab Could Be Nerve Agent Source (BBC)
NATO Must Improve Defences Against ‘More Aggressive’ Russia – Stoltenberg (G.)
Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 3 (David Stockman)
UK Brexit Committee In Bitter Row Over Plan To Delay EU Withdrawal (Ind.)
French Language Eyes ‘Le Comeback’ After Brexit (AFP)
Arms Deals Between Turkey And Germany Are Like A Well-Oiled Machine (Region)
At Least 15 Refugees Die As Boat Sinks Near Greek Island In Aegean Sea (R.)
Billion-Dollar Polar Bio-Engineering ‘Needed To Slow Melting Glaciers’ (G.)

 

 

Several people punch sizable holes in the UK story blaming Russia. Found on Twitter, from “Harry Dilemma”:

“Without any evidence, the probability of millions of people being infected with bullshit is higher than the probability of two people being infected with a toxic agent.”

The Art of (Cold) War (Claire Connelly)

Here’s what we know so far: • UPDATE I: Former spy and double agent, Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Julia were allegedly poisoned. • Initial reports claimed the culprit was a chemical which falls under the category of ‘novichoks’, a collection of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, there has been no official medical or scientific confirmation of these claims. The doctor that was allegedly one of the first people on the scene of the Skripals’ poisoning asked to remain anonymous. • No pictures or footage of the victims have been provided. • Skripal’s daughter, Julia, is a member of the Russian Federation but has been denied consular access by the British government.

• The Russian Embassy officially requested the Foreign Office provide information on Sergey and Julia Skripal’s health and details of investigation the day after the poisonings occured on March 5th. Almost two weeks have passed and it still has received no confirmation from the UK government, nor granted access to the alleged victims. • Skripal received at least $100,000 for sharing Russian state secrets with British intelligence. • Skripal was feeding secrets to MI6 at the time Christopher Steele was an MI6 officer in Moscow. • Skripal’s handler was British MI6 agent, Pablo Miller who was previously involved as a suspect in a criminal case against Skripal who in 2006 was sentenced to 13 years in prison for spying for Britain.

Russia is not alone in the development of novichok nerve agents. Former British Ambassador Craig Murray revealed that similar nerve agents are manufactured by the British Government in Porton Down, just 8 miles from where Skripal was poisoned. • Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture. • The official British government story is that these nerve agents are only manufactured “To help develop effective medical countermeasures and to test systems”. • Israel also has a chemical and biological weapons program that manufactures similar poisons. A 1983 CIA intelligence estimate revealed that US spy satellites had uncovered a chemical nerve agent production facility in the Negev Desert the year prior. This fact was censored by the CIA before a version was released to the National Archives in 2009. The information would likely not have come to light were it not for the discovery of the redacted document by a researcher at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

• Russia has never killed a swapped spy before. • Miller had a Salisbury address, according to his LinkedIn account which has since been deactivated. He specialised in the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eastern Europe and his diplomatic postings included Tallinn, Estonia. • Both Steele and Miller were members of Orbis Intelligence, the same firm that produced the sensational Steele Dossier which alleged Trump’s links with Russia, including a certain episode involving Russian prostitutes and golden showers.

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There are quite a few tales about how the victims were supposedly infected with Novichok. Powder or liquid, in Russia or Britain.

Killing Diplomacy (Dmitry Orlov)

• May claimed that the nerve agent was Novichok, developed in the USSR. In order to identify it, the UK experts had to have had a sample of it. Since neither the USSR, nor Russia, have ever been known to export it, we should assume that it was synthesized within the UK. The formula and the list of precursors are in the public domain, published by the scientist who developed Novichok, who has since moved to the US. Thus, British scientists working at Porton Down could have synthesized it themselves. In any case, it is not possible to determine in what country a given sample of the substance was synthesized, and the claim that it came from Russia is not provable.

• It was claimed that the victims—Mr. Skripal and his daugher—were poisoned with Novichok while at a restaurant. Yet how could this have been done? The agent in question is so powerful that a liter of it released into the atmosphere over London would kill most of its population. Breaking a vial of it open over a plate of food would kill the murderer along with everyone inside the restaurant. Anything it touched would be stained yellow, and many of those in the vicinity would have complained of a very unusual, acrid smell. Those poisoned would be instantaneously paralyzed and dead within minutes, not strolling over to a park bench where they were found. The entire town would have been evacuated, and the restaurant would have to be encased in a concrete sarcophagus by workers in space suits and destroyed with high heat. None of this has happened.

• In view of the above, it seems unlikely that any of what has been described in the UK media and by May’s government has actually taken place. An alternative assumption, and one we should be ready to fully test, is that all of this is a work of fiction. No pictures of the two victims have been provided. One of them—Skripal’s daughter—is a citizen of the Russian Federation, and yet the British have refused to provide consular access to her. And now it has emerged that the entire scenario, including the Novichok nerve gas, was cribbed from a US/UK television drama “Strike Back.” If so, this was certainly efficient; why invent when you can simply plagiarize.

• This is only one (and not even the last) in a series of murders and assumed but dubious suicides on former and current Russian nationals on UK soil that share certain characteristics, such the use of exotic substances as the means, no discernible motive, no credible investigation, and an immediate, concerted effort to pin the blame on Russia. You would be on safe ground if you assumed that anyone who pretends to know what exactly happened here is in fact lying. As to what might motivate such lying—that’s a question for psychiatrists to take up.

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Imagine the outrage.

Russia’s EU Ambassador Says UK Lab Could Be Nerve Agent Source (BBC)

Russia’s EU ambassador has suggested a UK research laboratory could be the source of the nerve agent used in the attack on an ex-spy and his daughter. Vladimir Chizhov told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. He said Russia did not stockpile the poison and that the Porton Down lab was only eight miles (12km) from the city. The government dismissed his comments as “nonsense.” Retired military intelligence officer Mr Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on 4 March.

Theresa May had told MPs that personnel from the Defence Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Centre at Porton Down in Wiltshire had identified the substance used on them as being part of a group of military-grade nerve agents developed by Russia known as Novichok. Mr Chizhov told the BBC that Mr Skripal could “rightly be referred to as a traitor” but “from the legal point of view the Russian state had nothing against him”. Asked how the nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury, he said: “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research. And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.” But pressed on whether he was suggesting Porton Down was “responsible” for the nerve agent in the attack, Mr Chizhov said: “I don’t have evidence of anything being used.” He added: “I exclude the possibility of any stockpiles of any chemical weapons fleeing Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union but there were certain specialists, including some scientists who today claim to be responsible for creating some nerve agents, that have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the United Kingdom.”

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But of course.

NATO Must Improve Defences Against ‘More Aggressive’ Russia – Stoltenberg (G.)

Nato must improve its defensive capabilities and willingness to act in the wake of increasingly aggressive and unpredictable actions by Russia, the head of the transatlantic alliance said in a German newspaper interview published on Sunday. The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said he expected the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other Nato leaders to revamp their approach at the next Nato summit this summer, given a risk that Russia could gradually give more weight to nuclear weapons in its doctrine, exercises and new military capabilities. “I think Chancellor Merkel and her colleagues will face new decisions at the Nato summit in July in Brussels. We must be alert and resolute,” Stoltenberg was quoted saying by Welt am Sonntag.

The Nato leader last week accused Russia of trying to destabilise the west with new nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and covert action, including the poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury. “We can always do more and must reflect on that now. Salisbury follows, by all appearances, a pattern we’ve observed for some years – Russia is becoming more unpredictable and more aggressive,” he said. Russia denies any involvement and says it is the US-led transatlantic alliance that is a risk to peace in Europe. “Russia must not miscalculate,” Stoltenberg told the newspaper. “We are always ready to respond when an ally is attacked militarily. We want credible deterrence. We don’t want any war. Our goal is de-escalation.“

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The curious valuations of Amazon and its profitless prosperity.

Goldilocks, R. I. P. – Part 3 (David Stockman)

The first law of Bubble Finance is that stock market crashes trigger recessions, not vice versa. That stands your grandfather’s macroeconomics on its ahead, yet the casual chain from which it arises is straight forward. To wit, in a world of Peak Debt ($230 trillion globally), central bank money pumping mainly inflates financial bubbles. Such bubbles eventually reach blow-off extremes and then burst, thereby sending stock (option) obsessed corporate C-suites into paroxysms of restructuring and downsizing designed to appease the trading gods of Wall Street. The main street sacrificial lambs thus tossed overboard – workers, inventories, plants, stores, warehouses, other “redundant” fixed assets and CapEx outlays – are what we are pleased to call recessions nowadays.

Needless to say, you can’t see these bouts of C-suite mayhem coming if your dashboard is still cluttered with your grandfather’s macro-monitors. That is, the junk data from the BLS and Commerce Department. By the same token, you will most surely espy Goldilocks prancing through these incoming data reports because at this late stage of the business cycle they are really nothing more than a read-out on capitalism’s inherent impulse to trudge forward until it is monkey-hammered by the central bank and its imploding bubbles. That is to say, the next recession is embedded in the stock charts because they are the Bubble tracker in plain sight. And here is the leading indicator at the present moment – the utterly lunatic trading metrics for Amazon (AMZN).

As the current bubble metastized after the immediate post-recession rebound in the stock market, the momo crowd piled into AMZN because the “price action” was just plain awesome. Between the March 2009 bottom and January 2017, the stock soared from $65 to $750 per share or by nearly 1100%. And it did so without any regard for AMZN’s profitless prosperity—perhaps signified by its 170X PE multiple at the end of 2016. Then again, when it comes to miracle stocks and the Great Disrupters, profits are–apparently–a matter of will, not performance. If Jeff Bezos wanted profits, the true believers insist, he would will them. Simple. Still, since the beginning of 2017, even the willpower meme has begun to get way in front of its skis.

During the past 14 months, Amazon’s market cap exploded by $400 billion – rising from $360 billion in January 2017 to $760 billion at present. At the same time, its LTM operating free cash flow plunged from a meager $9.5 billion ( on $136 billion of sales) to just $6.5 billion during the year ending in December. Since the rules of arithmetic apparently have not yet been “disrupted”, AMZN’s implied multiple on operating free cash flow has erupted from an already frisky 39X to a completely absurd 120X. Needless to say, a 24-year old company with virtually no cumulative profits and free cash flow to show for itself should not trade at anything remotely close to a triple digit multiple – and that’s to say nothing of one that’s essentially in the books, schmatta, gadgets and food sourcing, moving, storage and moving business.

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The Brexit mayhem hides behind the Russia story for now.

UK Brexit Committee In Bitter Row Over Plan To Delay EU Withdrawal (Ind.)

An influential Commons committee has become mired in a bitter row after Leave members refused to back its report recommending a potential delay to Brexit and extending the transition period afterwards. After they fell out with Remain backing members of the Brexit Committee, the group was forced to publish two sets of recommendations on Sunday. Prominent Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is a member, attacked others in the group as the “high priests of Remain”, claiming they had attempted to force through a “partisan” document. The committee’s Labour chair Hilary Benn said the divisions demonstrated just how difficult achieving an agreement on Brexit will be.

The group was set to call for an “extension to the Article 50 time”, which dictates the UK will formally leave the EU in March 2019, in order to ensure a comprehensive agreement can be reached. Their report was also due to back a provision in withdrawal arrangements to allow the transition period after departure, to be extended beyond the 21 months currently set, “if necessary”. Mr Benn highlighted that the extension would likely be needed because with just seven months left to reach an agreement, a host of highly complex issues remain. He said: “While the committee welcomes the progress that has been made in some areas, the Government faces a huge task when the phase two talks actually begin.

“The Government must now come forward with credible, detailed proposals as to how it can operate a ‘frictionless border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because at the moment, the committee is not persuaded that this can be done at the same time as the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union.”

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“There was a time when everyone in the bubble spoke French..”

French Language Eyes ‘Le Comeback’ After Brexit (AFP)

Once upon a time speaking French was easy in Brussels, but things have changed. Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, felt that keenly during a recent panel event with European steel-makers after several hours of speaking English with EU counterparts. “Maybe one in French if possible, otherwise I will run the risk of being criticised,” Le Maire, who speaks perfect English, said as he scanned the audience for questions. But raised hands quickly dropped away, leaving just one from a journalist, who asked the question in English anyway. Such is the fate of the speaker of French in today’s EU bubble, that small world of European decision-making where the language of Catherine Deneuve and Moliere was once essential.

Even after the shock vote of Brexit, English – or at least that simplified, beat-up version known as Globish – is firmly rooted as the lingua franca of the Brussels elite. “In the last 20 years, English has become completely dominant. French is not going to replace English in any way,” said Nicolas Veyron, one of the most respected economists in Brussels, who spends most of his day speaking English although he is French. That reality stings for French-speaking veterans of the Brussels bubble who remember a time when the top echelon of Europe was a coterie of francophones.

“The retreat of French has been catastrophic,” said Jean Quatremer, the longtime EU correspondent for French daily Liberation who has championed holding the line against the advance of English. “There was a time when everyone in the bubble – commissioners, officials, spokespeople, even (Brexit-backing British foreign minister) Boris Johnson, who was a journalist here – spoke French,” said AFP’s Christian Spillman, who first came to Brussels as a corespondent in 1991.

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Whenever Europe talks about peace, remember this.

Arms Deals Between Turkey And Germany Are Like A Well-Oiled Machine (Region)

Even after Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria’s Afrin, the German government has approved the supply of millions of euros in armaments to its partner, Turkey. The situation is revealed by a response from the Ministry of Economic Affairs to a request by the Green MP Omid Nouripour. In the first five and a half weeks of Turkey’s so-called “Operation Olive Branch” against the Kurdish militia YPG, and unfortunately civilians, in Afrin, 20 export authorisations for German armaments worth 4.4 million euros were granted. This is even more than the average value of the previous year for the same period (14 permits worth 3.6 million euros). Despite the strong opposition of German public opinion and media, arms sales to Turkey aren’t disrupted.

The type of armaments is unclear. In addition to weapons such as rifles, tanks or missiles, for example, unarmed military vehicles or reconnaissance armaments are possibly on the list. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), who resigned on Wednesday, had repeatedly assured in February, since the beginning of the Syrian offensive, that there is a complete export ban for all armaments to Turkey. “We did not deliver any armaments because of the conflict in northern Syria. That is forbidden in Germany, even to supply military armaments to a NATO partner like Turkey, “he said to the media on 16 February, the day of release of the journalist Deniz Yucel. Gabriel added, “Before this conflict, we would have been willing to deliver armaments that are not weapons. But that too has been stopped because of the conflict in Syria. And we can not and do not want to change that. ”

State Secretary Matthias Machnig (SPD), however, now writes in his reply to the request that the Federal Government has issued export licenses “in individual cases” even after the beginning of Turkey’s offensive. “These are either in connection with international arms cooperation, in which Germany is bound by contractual obligations to other EU and NATO partners, or they serve the NATO Alliance defence.” “The Federal Government has lied publicly and systematically to the public,” Nouripour told the media. “Permits, given despite the disproportionate assaults of the Turkish forces in northern Syria, cause heavy damage on the credibility of the new federal government and unmask their commitment to a restrictive arms export policy as empty promises.”

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Mere numbers.

At Least 15 Refugees Die As Boat Sinks Near Greek Island In Aegean Sea (R.)

Fifteen people, including at least five children, drowned on Saturday when the small boat they were travelling on capsized in the Aegean Sea, Greek coast guard officials said. The incident occurred off Greece’s Agathonisi island, which is close to the Turkish coast. The identity and nationality of the victims was not immediately known. “At least four more [migrants] were unaccounted [for],” a coast guard official told Reuters. Three others were rescued. Saturday’s incident was thought to be the highest death toll of migrants trying to reach outlying Greek islands in months.

Greek authorities said they believed there were 22 people on the boat. Greek coast guard vessels assisted by two helicopters were searching for more survivors. “We can’t tolerate losing children in the Aegean Sea … the solution is to protect people, to implement safe procedures and safe routes for migrants and refugees, to hit the human trafficking circuits,” Greek migration minister Dimitris Vitsas said in a press release.

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Because man is smarter than nature.

Billion-Dollar Polar Bio-Engineering ‘Needed To Slow Melting Glaciers’ (G.)

Scientists have outlined plans to build a series of mammoth engineering projects in Greenland and Antarctica to help slow down the disintegration of the planet’s main glaciers. The controversial proposals include underwater walls, artificial islands and huge pumping stations that would channel cold water into the bases of glaciers to stop them from melting and sliding into the sea. The researchers say the work – costing tens of billions of dollars a time – is urgently needed to prevent polar glaciers melting and raising sea levels. That would lead to major inundations of low-lying, densely populated areas, such as parts of Bangladesh, Japan and the Netherlands.

Flooding in these areas is likely to cost tens of trillions of dollars a year if global warming continues at its present rate, and vast sea-wall defences will need to be built to limit the devastation. Such costs make glacier engineering in polar regions a competitive alternative, according to the team, which is led by John Moore, professor of climate change at the University of Lapland. “We think that geoengineering of glaciers could delay much of Greenland and Antarctica’s grounded ice from reaching the sea for centuries, buying time to address global warming,” the scientists write in the current issue of Nature. “Geoengineering of glaciers has received little attention in journals. Most people assume that it is unfeasible and environmentally undesirable. We disagree.”

Ideas put forward by the group specifically target the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctic because these will contribute more to sea rise this century than any other source, they say. Their proposals include: • Building a 100-metre high wall on the seabed across a 5km wide fjord at the end of the Jakobshavn glacier in western Greenland. This would reduce influxes of warming sea water which are eroding the glacier’s base; • Constructing artificial islands in front of glaciers in Antarctica in order to buttress them and limit their collapse as their ice melts due to global warming; • Circulating cooled brine underneath glaciers such as the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica – in order to prevent their bases from melting and sliding towards the sea.

In each case, the team – which includes scientists in Finland and the US – acknowledges that costs would be in the billions. Construction is also likely to cause considerable disruption. For example, building a dam across the Jakobshavn fjord could affect ecology, fisheries and tourism, and large numbers of workers would have to be shipped in to complete the project. Similarly, building artificial islands in front of glaciers would mean importing about six cubic kilometres of material, a task that would be immensely difficult in stormy Antarctic waters. And drilling through ice that is kilometres thick to pump down cooled water would also stretch the capabilities of engineers.

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Jul 282014
 
 July 28, 2014  Posted by at 7:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Cow at Wabash Farms cooperative, Indiana May 1938

At this point, you may want to consider making it personal. Your government, wherever you are in the west, but especially in the US, takes you for a bunch of fools they can feed anything at all and fully expect you to believe all of it. As for the media who convey government messages, it’s up in the air whether they too take you for a flock of dimwits, or are just plain fools themselves. As for your families, friends and neighbors, you decide.

After failing to present a single shred of evidence in 10 days to substantiate their claims that either the rebels, Russia or all of the above were involved in the downing of MH17, they still haven’t. They did, however, come with something that is as devoid of shame as it is full of disgrace. And the media, surprise, present it as the real deal once again. Which goes to prove that nothing has to be real or true, Washington only has to claim it is.

The latest ‘release’ allegedly proves that Russia is firing missiles into Ukraine across the border. But the country with by far the best satellites and other spy equipment (or should we from now on just say the most expensive?), with which it, on a daily basis, traces every move of millions of people worldwide, in particular its own citizens both home and abroad, hasn’t been able so far to locate one single incriminating piece of ‘evidence’ on its own multi-multi-billion dollar spy networks.

For its first ‘real’ proof it turns to a company called Digital Globe, which apparently has produced a number of satellite pics that the US now uses to show the world that the Russians indeed fire those missiles. Remember the precision bombing footage on CNN in the Gulf War? Think 50 years before that in technology. Think grainy pics you couldn’t make out anything on without the help of ‘useful’ US provided arrows and descriptions of what you see.

If you were a religious person, and one of those helpful arrows and partial blow-ups said “that’s Jesus walking on water there”, you’d probably believe it too. And if you’re of the anti-Putin conviction, you’ll be inclined to take these pics for gospel. But that still does not come anywhere near to constituting evidence.

Now if the US would really want to present these things as evidence to the whole world, in a serious way, they would do one of two things: either have Colin Powell take them to the UN and do a show and tell for the General Assembly (worked like a charm before), or at the least do a multi-hour State Dept. and/or Pentagon press-op, simulcast across all major networks, in which various experts can point long sticks at large blowups of the pics and tell us what we see (Thar walketh the Lord … ).

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Digital Globe pics were released through, of all places, the Twitter account of Geoffrey Pyatt, the infamous US ambassador in Kiev who rose to fame when word got out that he and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland had handpicked the next Ukraine government even before the last – and elected – one had gone, after spending $5 billion to make sure the change happened.

Look, I don’t want to keep getting wound up about all this. What use is it? Suffice it to say that if Washington had solid proof of any of the accusations it has made against any of the parties it has made such accusations against, the ‘evidence’ wouldn’t be presented this way. That’s not the MO, and no, the government hasn’t all of a sudden gone all modern; things presented this way are simply much easier to dismiss when push comes to shove. That’s why they are.

Most accusations against Russia, Putin and the east Ukraine rebels since MH17 crashed 10 days ago have been made – and then easily refuted -through social media accounts located somewhere in Kiev, many through Kiev government accounts, and now Geoffrey Pyatt. This whole set-up stinks five ways into Tuesday.

One more thing: there is another implication of the release of the Digital Globe pics, namely that they make it even less probable that we’ll ever see any evidence that the rebels downed the plane. Unless Digital Globe has pictures of that too. The US government does not, or it would have already made it public. Then again, it has no need to: whatever it says is swallowed up whole by the faithful regardless of how likely its ‘reports’ are to be true.

The Dutch, Australian and Malaysian forensic experts who have been sent in to work on the crash site to save what is left of the bodies and dignity of the victims whose remains haven’t yet been found, cannot enter the area, because the Ukraine army happened to have elected the past weekend to start a new offensive against the rebels. Ostensibly to clear the crash site for the experts, but they would have had full access already without the offensive.

Rebel leader Borodai says the army went in to ‘evade exposure’ (i.e. hide evidence) of its culpability in the crash, and I’m wondering how far off he could possibly be.

And that brings up yet another question: who commands the Ukraine army? The latest offensive began after former PM Yatsenyuk resigned, and just yesterday Ukraine president Poroshenko told journalists – again – that he had ordered to stop combat operations in a 40-kilometer zone around the crash site (the latest attacks take place much closer than that). If it’s not the government or the president ordering the latest attacks, the ones that make truth finding impossible, then who is it?

Does Poroshenko lie through his teeth or is something else going on? The country’s bankrupt. It has used large swaths of its IMF loans to fund its army, it has proposed conscription for all men under 50 years old, soldiers are fleeing to Russia because they don‘t want to shoot their own countrymen, but attacks with bombers and tanks on cities filled with civilians are intensified.

I still haven’t seen one single western leader call for an immediate cessation of all attacks on both sides, so the dead can be properly and respectfully buried. Not one. Not even the Dutch PM. And I think that should tell you all you need to know about what the true priorities are that ‘we’ have. Respect is a fleeting term.

Not that it’s only in matters related to Ukraine that Washington fully and arrogantly expects you to take for granted anything it says. Libya is going down the drain as we speak, and weren’t we just there recently? Israel is once again shooting fish in a barrel in the Gaza strip (and I know it’s not black and white), and “we” are not just outside observers there either. The blood-smeared ISIS campaign in Iraq can’t even make the headlines anymore, but “we” obviously have something to explain about our recent involvement there too.

“America” and “peace initiative” are two terms that are getting ever harder to fit into one sentence. And somehow, no matter how naive it may sound, that still feels like a giant betrayal of what the nation once stood for.

America doesn’t want peace, because peace doesn’t rhyme with power.

Meanwhile, at home, whenever you see someone anyone talk about ‘recovery’, you now know they’re full of it. The Russell Sage Foundation issued a 2-page report that makes clear ‘recovery’ is about the worst possible and least applicable term to use to describe what is happening in the US economy.

Households at the “median point in the wealth distribution – the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower”, saw their wealth plummet -36% from 2003 to 2013. From the highest point, in 2007, to 2013 the number is -43%.

Five years after 2008 and Lehman, five years into the alleged recovery, which raised US federal, Federal Reserve, and hence taxpayer, obligations by $10-$15 trillion or more, US median household wealth was down -36% from 2003. And that’s by no means the worst of it:

If you look at the 5th and 25th percentile ‘wealth’ numbers (much of it negative), you see that they went down from 2003 to 2007, while the median was still rising. For both, wealth in the 2003-2013 timeframe deteriorated by some -200% (or two-thirds, if you will). -$9,479 to -$27,416 for the poorest 5%, $10.219 to $3,2000 for the lowest 25%.

This is how Washington defines recovery. Just in case you were wondering.

But they’re going to talk about it again, you just wait for it, just like they’re going to continue to blame Putin and the rebels for everything that goes wrong in Ukraine. They’re not going to stop until they have control over Russia’s resources, no matter what the body count, and they’re not going to stop until most Americans are de facto debt slaves.

And Uncle Sam counts on you! To swallow it all hook line and sinker. It works like a charm to date.

Hussman is solid.

This Equity Bubble Has Already Surpassed 1929 And 2007 (Hussman)

Make no mistake – this is an equity bubble, and a highly advanced one. On the most historically reliable measures, it is easily beyond 1972 and 1987, beyond 1929 and 2007, and is now within about 15% of the 2000 extreme. The main difference between the current episode and that of 2000 is that the 2000 bubble was strikingly obvious in technology, whereas the present one is diffused across all sectors in a way that makes valuations for most stocks actually worse than in 2000. The median price/revenue ratio of S&P 500 components is already far above the 2000 level, and the average across S&P 500 components is nearly the same as in 2000. The extent of this bubble is also partially obscured by record high profit margins that make P/E ratios on single-year measures seem less extreme (though the forward operating P/E of the S&P 500 is already beyond its 2007 peak even without accounting for margins).

Recall also that the ratio of nonfinancial market capitalization to GDP is presently about 1.35, versus a pre-bubble historical norm of about 0.55 and an extreme at the 2000 peak of 1.54. This measure is better correlated with actual subsequent market returns than nearly any alternative, as Warren Buffett also observed in a 2001 Fortune interview. So if one wishes to use the 2000 bubble peak as an objective, we suggest that it would take another 15% market advance to match that highest valuation extreme in history – a point that was predictably followed by a decade of negative returns for the S&P 500, averaging a nominal total return, including dividends, of just 3.7% annually in the more than 14 years since that peak, and even then only because valuations have again approached those previous bubble extremes. The blue line on the chart below shows market cap/GDP on an inverted left (log) scale, the red line shows the actual subsequent 10-year annual nominal total return of the S&P 500.

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20% only?

Stock Trader Who Called Three Crashes Sees 20% Collapse (MarketWatch)

Mark Cook, a veteran investor included in Jack Schwager’s best-selling book, “Stock Market Wizards,” and the winner of the 1992 U.S. Investing Championship with a 563% return, believes the U.S. market is in trouble. The primary indicator that Cook uses is the “Cook Cumulative Tick,” a proprietary measure he created in 1986 that uses the NYSE Tick in conjunction with stock prices. His indicator alerted him to the 1987, 2000, and 2007 crashes. The indicator also helped to identify the beginning of a bull market in the first quarter of April 2009, when the CCT unexpectedly went up, turning Cook into a bull. What does Cook see now? “There have been only two instances when the NYSE Tick and stock prices diverged radically, and that was in the first quarter of 2000 and the third quarter of 2007. The third time was April of 2014,” Cook says. In simple terms, as stock prices have gone higher, the NYSE Tick has moved lower.

This divergence is an extremely negative signal, which is why Cook believes the market is losing energy. In fact, the Tick is showing a bear market, which seems impossible considering how high the market is rising. “The Tick readings I am seeing (-1100 and -1200) is like an accelerator on the floor that is pressed for an indefinite amount of time,” Cook says. “Eventually the motor will run out of gas. Now, anything that comes out of left field will create a strain on the market.” Since the CCT is a leading indicator, prices have to catch up with the negative Tick readings. “Think of a dam that has small cracks that are imperceptible to the eye,” he says. “Finally, the dam gives way. Eventually, prices will go south, and the Tick numbers will be horrific.” Cook is also concerned that the market is acting abnormally. “It’s like being in the Twilight Zone, he says. “Imagine going outside when it’s raining and getting sunburned. That’s the environment we’re in right now.”

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Not sure I like the use of the word ‘intelligence’ in this context.

US Releases Satellite Images ‘Proving’ Russia Is Firing Into Ukraine (RT)

The US State Department has released satellite images via email which it says act as “evidence” that Russia is firing rockets at Ukrainian troops across the border. The images were posted on Twitter by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. The four-page emailed document, titled ‘Evidence of Russian Shelling into Ukraine,’ contains four satellite images, all dating between July 21 and July 25/26. Monochrome images taken by civilian satellites are said to be indicating fire from multiple rocket launchers “on the Russian side of the border” and “artillery strikes within Ukraine.” The slides were prepared by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and came supplied with a short description. Thus, a slide dated July 25/26 shows what US officials claim to be “ground scarring at a multiple rocket launch site on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukrainian military units within Ukraine.” [..]

Paul Craig Roberts, columnist and head of the Institute for Political Economy, told RT that he doubts the credibility of the photographs released by the State Department. “I can state with complete confidence that information this important would not be released in this way,” Roberts said. “If this was released by the State Department, which I doubt, it is so unprofessional; it would mean that the State Department is trying to spread propaganda about Russia on social media. Now the way this type of information would be released would be at a press conference with a high level of government officials addressing the bureau chiefs of the major news organizations.”

He added that experts would explain the meaning of the photographs and their validity. “The US government has been desperate to produce information to back up its claims. It would not release information in this way,” he said, adding that anyone can spread information on social media. Russia has been repeatedly criticizing the US for accusations made by the State Department without any sustainable evidence. Washington directly blamed Moscow for building up troops close to the border, as well as for the “firing of Russian heavy weapons from the Russian side of the border at Ukrainian military personnel.”

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Not what we want to hear.

Intl. Inspectors Find ‘No Violations’ By Russia Along Ukraine Border (RT)

Inspectors who came to check the state of Russian troops along the Ukrainian borders have found no violations, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said. This came as a response to the US alleging 15,000 Russian troops have amassed in the area. “It has come to our attention that new allegations by top US officials as to the alleged amassing of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border have been voiced,” the statement by the Defense Ministry read, following allegations by the US Permanent Representative to NATO, Douglas Lute, and State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf. The last four months have witnessed 18 separate inspections along the Ukrainian border with the Russian Federation, all in line with the Vienna Open Skies Treaty and the Vienna agreement of 2011.”

The statement goes on to list the international makeup of those inspections, which included representatives from the US, as well as NATO and Ukraine. The inspections also included flybys and visits to any military units that might have aroused suspicion. “No instances of violations by Russia along the Ukrainian border had been registered by the inspectors,” adding that in spite of the above, “frequent action by the Ukrainian military taking place on the Russian border has hindered our own ability to perform similar inspections and flybys along our border.” While no evidence of a Russian military buildup at Ukrainian border regions was registered, similar inspections in other regions, were they to be carried out, would undoubtedly find that the opposite is true for Ukrainian forces, who’ve had heavy equipment stationed there, firing regularly onto Russian settlements, the ministry states. “Their actions have already led to casualties on our side,” the statement concludes.

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How prepared is Putin? He must have seen this coming years ago.

The West Risks Collateral Damage By Punishing Russia (FT)

The sanctions to be decided this week are known in EU jargon as “tier three”; the red-alert stage. As reported by Peter Spiegel, the Financial Times Brussels bureau chief, the European Commission wants a ban on purchases by EU citizens and companies of equity and debt issued by state-controlled Russian banks that has a maturity of more than 90 days. The ban would also include investment services. No EU bank would be allowed to help Russians banks raise funds on a regulated market. The rule would extend to development finance institutions. Last week, the EU and the US used their majority vote on the board of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to stop the bank’s investments in Russia, which accounts for almost 20% of its invested assets.

With the US sanctions, this is an impressive list. Even the tier one and tier two measures introduced after the annexation of Crimea appear to have had an impact. German industrial production started to fall soon after those sanctions took effect, by a combined 2% in April and May. It has also gone down elsewhere in the eurozone. The Committee on eastern European Economic Relations, a German business lobby with political power similar to that of the National Rifle Association in the US, says existing sanctions threaten 25,000 German jobs. An estimated 350,000 German jobs directly depend on German-Russian trade; many would be at risk if sanctions were stepped up. Total German trade with Russia was close to €80bn in 2013.

In particular, there are 6,200 Russian companies benefiting from German capital. Robert Kahn from the Council on Foreign Relations in the US wrote in May that the impact of Russian sanctions on the global economy would depend on the financial channels that link Russia to the west. He notes that much of the public discussion has focused on critical trade ties. The implication is that, if you want to know how sanctions filter through to the global economy, it is probably best to follow the money not the flow of gas, oil or, indeed, helicopter carriers. Just as finance acted as a growth accelerator before the economic crisis, financial sanctions could act as decelerator.

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Borodai: Kiev Intensifies Crash Zone Attacks To Evade Exposure (Itar-Tass)

Kiev is seeking to evade exposure of truth over a Malaysian MH17 crash near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine by intensifying combat operations around the crash site, the press centre of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) said on Sunday, citing DPR Prime Minister Alexander Borodai. Earlier, the mass media reported that the Ukrainian military planned to take control over the Malaysian jet crash area, for which ends they were shelling Gorlovka and other settlements controlled by the DPR forces. Intensified combat operations “are irrefutable evidence proving that Kiev is seeking to destroy all evidence of the crime committed by its military,” Borodai was quoted as saying.

“The junta is in panic, the only thing that matters for them today is to evade exposure. Kiev’s actions run counter to [President Pyotr] Poroshenko’s decision to declare a 40-kilometre zone around the crash site a ceasefire territory.” Earlier on Sunday after visiting the Malaysian embassy in Ukraine, President Poroshenko told journalists he had ordered to stop combat operations in a 40-kilometre zone around the Malaysian Boeing crash.

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Courts and politics. Lovely combination.

Yukos Owners Win $50 Billion in 10-Year Fight With Russia (Bloomberg)

Former majority owners of Yukos Oil said they won a landmark $50 billion award against Russia for the confiscation of what was once the nation’s largest oil company. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Russia is liable to pay almost half of the $103 billion plus interest sought by the company’s former owners, Tim Osborne, head of GML, former holding company of Yukos, told reporters in London today. The ruling found that the campaign against Yukos was “politically motivated,” Osborne said. The multi-billion-dollar award against Russia marks a fresh headache for President Vladimir Putin, who’s facing intensifying U.S. and European sanctions aimed at forcing him to resolve the deadly conflict in neighboring Ukraine. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man with a fortune of $15 billion when he was CEO and the main owner of Yukos, was freed in December under an amnesty after serving a decade in Russian prison camps.

He says the charges against him were revenge for his financing of opposition parties, which the Kremlin denies. Collecting the damages is likely to involve years of legal wrangling, according to Yukos’ former chief legal counselor, Dmitry Gololobov. Russia will refuse to pay and seizing Russian state assets abroad will be a difficult task, he said. “Russia has the money to hire the best international lawyers, who won’t give up without a fight,” Gololobov said by e-mail before the ruling was announced. “So the Yukos affair could easily go on for another 10 years.” Putin’s government dismantled Yukos from 2004-2007 after imposing $27 billion in tax charges. Most of its former assets were acquired in a series of forced auctions by state-run OAO Rosneft, which is the world’s largest publicly traded oil company by output. Russia will have the opportunity to appeal the ruling, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. “Russia will use all available legal means to defend its position,” Lavrov said today at a televised news briefing in Moscow.

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Real numbers are much higher.

Ukraine Civil War Death Toll At Least 1,100, Over 3,500 Wounded – UN (RT)

Some 1,129 people have been killed and nearly 3,500 wounded in eastern Ukraine since the start of the Kiev’s military operation in April, according to UN estimates. The report also states that these are the minimum casualty toll estimates by the UN monitoring mission and WHO. The report says that the cause of the rising death toll is intensified artillery shelling of the civilian residential areas and the so-called “collateral damage” of the armed actions in the heavily-populated areas. Also, 100,000 people were forcibly displaced in eastern Ukraine. The Kiev authorities are using heavy weaponry and artillery in strikes on residential areas, while the armed rebels are firing back, the report states. “Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured,” she added.

“Already increasing numbers of people are being killed, with serious damage to civilian infrastructure, which – depending on circumstances – could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. The fighting must stop,” the report stated. On Friday, Human Rights Watch alleged that Kiev is using indiscriminate Grad missiles to attack densely populated areas in Donetsk, which violates international humanitarian law, and also blames the militia for taking cover in the same areas. “Although Ukrainian government officials and the press service of the National Guard have denied using Grad rockets in Donetsk, a Human Rights Watch investigation on the ground strongly indicates that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the attacks that occurred between July 12 and 21,” HRW stated.

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Oh, get real!

New York Federal Reserve Steps Up Pressure On Bank Ethics (FT)

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is stepping up pressure on the biggest banks to improve their ethics and culture, after investigations into the alleged rigging of benchmark rates led officials to conclude bankers had not learnt lessons from the financial crisis. The investigations into the alleged manipulation of Libor and foreign exchange rates produced emails and other evidence that NY Fed officials believe reflected risky and lawless behaviour, people familiar with the situation said. Fed officials were surprised that some of that reported behaviour occurred after the 2008 crisis, leading them to believe bankers had not curbed their poor conduct. To make sure the biggest banks are paying enough attention to ethics and culture, NY Fed bank evaluations have begun incorporating new questions emphasising such issues. Topics include whether the right performance structure is in place to punish bad behaviour, especially when it comes to compensation.

The NY Fed does not have the authority to write regulations, but it plays a crucial role in the regulatory landscape, overseeing banks in its jurisdiction that include Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays and Deutsche Bank. It assesses banks through evaluations, which often do not contain specific criteria but which provide guidance for standards. NY Fed general counsel Thomas Baxter has also been meeting bank executives to emphasise that when it comes to ethics and culture the tone needs to be set at the top, people familiar with the efforts said. The agency will also hold a workshop on bank ethics and culture in the autumn Banks have already been working to overhaul their risk management and have hired thousands of additional compliance staff. But they are worried about how regulators will measure how well they are doing in terms of ethics and culture. “Banks are taking the Fed’s message very seriously,” a banking industry source said. “We just want to make sure we know what the rules are.”

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Why We’re Still Waiting For A Banking ‘Culture Shock’ (CNBC)

Banks may have repaired their balance sheets following the global financial crash of 2008 but we’re still waiting for any notable shift in their culture, according to a market commentator. Alex Brummer, a journalist who concentrates on the U.K.’s financial hub for the Daily Mail, told CNBC Monday that “reckless banking” persists in the industry nearly six years after one of the greatest financial upheavals in the last two centuries. “The cultural change that we hoped for never actually happened,” he said. “(Regulators are) beginning to slam the door but it’s taking a hell of a long time to do so,” he said. Brummer added that any penalties that have been dished out to U.K. banks following a string of trading and market manipulation scandals are just being seen as a new cost of doing business.

“It’s really curious that the smallest countries involved in the crisis, Iceland and Ireland, where perhaps it had the most severe impact on ordinary people in some respects and on the future of their economies, are the only ones that bothered to try these people and put them in prison,” Brummer said. Brummer also rounded on bonus payments for bankers saying that the incentive schemes are all wrong, and added that any upheavals that policymakers or the public want to see would be a “really long term process.” Allegations of rate fixing and foreign exchange manipulation have provided setbacks for many banks across the globe as they try to reinforce capital buffers to provide better foundations in the event of another crisis. In the City of London, some bankers have been suspended from their roles, organizations have been fined and investigations have begun into the alleged wrongdoing. However, critics remain skeptical following the small number of prosecutions that have ended in a prison sentence.

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Who owns this country?

Private Equity’s Free Pass (NY Times)

For thousands of hobbyists, the local Michaels Stores outlet is a must-stop shop for scrapbooks, dried flowers, crochet hooks, sewing notions and dozens of other do-it-yourself paraphernalia. In these essentials, Michaels, the nation’s largest arts-and-crafts retailer, has remained unchanged for years. But behind the scenes, the company has been refashioned by two financial giants — Bain Capital and the Blackstone Group — which have effectively controlled Michaels since 2006, when they took the chain private in a $6 billion leveraged buyout. Since then, Bain and Blackstone have profited from scrapbookers and needlepoint artists in part through an array of sophisticated financial techniques, most recently by selling shares in Michaels in an initial public offering in June.

In some ways, the practices used at Michaels by Bain and Blackstone — and by other private equity firms at other companies — closely resemble those employed by investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. For example, all of these financial firms advise corporations on mergers and acquisitions, on issuing debt and on how to rejigger their financial structures. And they are exceedingly well paid for these services. But there is a crucial difference. The investment bankers are generally designated as broker-dealers — entities that perform crucial functions in financial markets. This lucrative status comes at a cost: Broker-dealers are subject to Securities and Exchange Commission regulations aimed at reining in excesses and requiring that the advice they provide is appropriate. When this so-called suitability standard is violated, brokers face regulatory and legal penalties.

But while private equity firms often operate like Goldman and Morgan Stanley, they are not uniformly subject to the same broker-dealer regulatory regime. Blackstone, for example, registered as a broker-dealer in 2007, a year after it participated in the Michaels buyout. But to this day, Bain has not done so, and the S.E.C. has not required it or many other private equity firms to comply with broker-dealer requirements. Nor has the S.E.C. clamped down on buyout firms for marketing private equity funds to endowments, pension funds and wealthy investors. These activities, too, are usually the purview of broker-dealers. This inconsistent treatment reflects an internal debate in the S.E.C., several people close to the agency said. And it has caused consternation in the private equity industry.

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Empire building in the face of economic collapse. America does it, Europe does it, Japan. So why not China too?

China’s Perilous Tangle Of Military And Economic Fortunes (FT)

Two debates are under way over China. The first, about Beijing’s aggression in the South and East China seas, is between naval strategists and diplomats who know little about economics. The second, about the fragility of the Chinese economy, is between economists who know little about naval strategy and diplomacy These debates should intersect but they rarely do. In one, China appears invincible; in the other, it seems to be on the brink of implosion. The background to the first debate is China’s seemingly inexorable military expansion, especially in sea, air, ballistic missiles and cyber warfare. As regards sea forces, this includes not only warships but also coastguard vessels, merchant shipping and strategic deployment of oil rigs. Beijing’s ability to co-ordinate all these attributes of power has resulted in a subtly shifting military balance in maritime Asia. [..]

The background to the second debate is China’s overheated economy. For 30 years, double-digit growth has been the norm, but this could not go on for ever. The official growth rate of 7.5 per cent probably errs on the high side – and, even if not, growth on the more populous and developed Pacific coast is surely below that, since the poorer interior has tended to grow at a faster rate. Then there are the credit and housing bubbles; house prices fell by more than 10 per cent in the first five months of 2014. The economy has, especially since 2008, been on a nonstop stimulus. To think that such a situation can continue, with China eventually surpassing the US as the world’s biggest economy, constitutes linear thinking in the extreme.

This second debate pits those who believe China’s economy will muddle through against those who think it could collapse. The muddle-through scenario assumes that China’s very capable and collegial autocrats are not in denial about any of these problems, and can act nimbly – in ways democracies cannot – to make a successful course correction. The culture of discipline, and $4tn in foreign exchange reserves, will help. Others believe China is subject to the same economic laws as everyone else, and that the leadership, as capable as it may be, is still in over its head. It is China’s very authoritarianism that undermines economic reform, they say.

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Eurozone Efforts To Boost Inflation Are Full Of Hot Air (Das)

Announcing the June initiatives, Draghi told reporters: “Are we finished? The answer is no.” It would be reasonable, based on established practice, to expect the ECB resident to repeat this formulation in the coming months, until circumstances dictate a new message. But the utterances are increasingly reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz: “Make no mistake, I have powers, powers beyond your understanding! Powers to make you quake!” It is unlikely that the policies in place will result in an immediate return to the required levels of growth. Inflation is likely to remain low. The ECB believes that inflation will rise from current rates (0.5%) to 1.4% in 2016, despite downward revisions of its inflation forecast for the next three years. The pace of structural reforms in individual nations will remain slow, particularly in the face of electoral disquiet and with low borrowing costs reducing pressures for change.

The ECB package of low-cost funding is unlikely to have the intended effect on the real economy, though it may assist in keeping bond yields low and stock markets buoyant. Draghi has acknowledged that almost all of policymakers’ conventional tools have been exhausted. Indeed, the ECB has only one more card left to play — a large-scale program of asset purchases. But it is not clear that monetary expansion will be effective in stimulating demand. The ECB’s own simulations show that the impact of full-scale quantitative easing on growth and inflation will be limited. The simulations indicated that a QE program of €1 trillion per year, roughly €80 billion per month, would increase inflation by only 0.2% to 0.8%.

European policymakers and investors have ignored real economy weaknesses, choosing to concentrate on the effect of massive central bank liquidity injections. The strategy has generated spectacular returns. But the balance of risk and return is shifting. Should growth and inflation not increase significantly and the present policies prove ineffective, Draghi’s bluff is likely to be called. And as Ambrose Bierce knew: “The hardest tumble a man can take is to fall over his own bluff.”

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Let’s hope they bring it down.

Europe’s Banking Union Faces Legal Challenge In Germany (FT)

Europe’s banking union is set to face a challenge in Germany’s constitutional court, a development that threatens to generate renewed uncertainty over one of the main responses to the eurozone’s financial crisis. Five German academics have filed a case claiming that the EU’s banking union is illegal under German law because it was created without the necessary treaty changes. The constitutional court, which this year rejected a complaint against the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone bailout fund, has a record of broadly supporting EU and eurozone integration. However, the new case, which could spend months winding its way through court hearings, will almost certainly force officials from the European Commission and the European Central Bank to defend the newly-created structure just as it begins to be implemented.

The suit highlights the determination of a group of eurosceptic German economics, finance and law experts to challenge the institutions underpinning the eurozone’s growing financial and economic integration. While the group has limited party political support, its position plays on deep-rooted German convictions that important political decisions should be legally ‘unassailable’ and fears that some EU decisions relating to the monetary union might not be. The banking union has no basis in law in the European treaties, said Markus Kerber, a finance professor at TUB, the Berlin Technical University, who also heads Europolis, a eurosceptic think-tank. Mr Kerber told the Financial Times that the banking union was illegal and contrary to the German constitution. He said the case specifically concerned the new single supervisory mechanism, granting the ECB the power to monitor the eurozone’s largest banks.

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China and Japan, too, will keep the taps open.

Buyers Dream of Draghi as Fed-ECB Divide Bolsters Treasuries (Bloomberg)

As the Federal Reserve moves to end its debt purchases, U.S. bond-market bulls are discovering a new ally: European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. For the first time since 2007, Treasuries offer higher yields than government debt in Europe. That’s largely due to Draghi, who pushed the region’s borrowing costs to record lows after announcing an unprecedented set of stimulus measures last month including negative interest rates to prevent deflation.

With Fed Chair Janet Yellen trying to extricate the central bank from more than five years of its own extraordinary monetary policies to support the world’s largest economy, the relative advantage may help attract more overseas investors to Treasuries and prolong their biggest advance in four years. At 2.48%, 10-year notes yield more than twice as much as German bunds, the biggest premium since 1999. “It certainly does give the Fed some cover to pursue its agenda,” Tim Palmer, the Minneapolis-based head of global bonds at Nuveen Asset Management, which oversees $120 billion, said in a July 24 telephone interview. “It’s likely to be less disruptive to the extent that other countries are engaging in policies that add some liquidity.”

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But they’re too big to fail anyway. Empty threats.

ECB Opaque-Asset Review Seen Targeting Deutsche Bank, BNP (Bloomberg)

Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas, which hold almost half of the hard-to-value assets on the books of the euro area’s 10 biggest banks, are facing a reality check that could impose losses. As part of its review of 128 lenders, the European Central Bank is studying less-actively traded loans and securitized products that banks value with minimal external data. The unprecedented scope of the exercise gives the ECB, which is taking on a supervisory role this year, insight that has eluded investors: comparing how the biggest investment banks value complex assets. The findings, to be released in October, could require Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas and other firms to restate the value of assets, driving down equity and slowing efforts to boost capital levels to meet demands set by regulators, according to Martin Hellmich, a professor of risk management and regulation at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

ECB President Mario Draghi, seeking to show the assessment will be credible, has said some lenders need to fail its stress test. “Banks with a lot of level-three assets that still have a viable business model and funds to spare make for good candidates for the ECB to discipline,” Hellmich said. “That’s a political approach, but it makes sense.” Banks split assets into three categories: one for those with transparent prices, such as stocks; a second for assets where some external data is available, including many over-the-counter derivatives, such as interest-rate swaps; and a third for those they assign their own values to because there isn’t an active market. The last group, known as level three, contains the most illiquid asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, repurchase agreements and derivatives. Banks value these assets using their own models based on historical data and risk assumptions. The models aren’t made available to investors.

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It doesn’t matter who’s guilty. What matters is who pays: the poor.

Argentina Braces For Sovereign Debt Default (FT)

Santiago Medina frowns as he recalls Argentina’s economic crisis at the time of its 2001 sovereign debt default, when he lost his job and took part in street protests. “Those were tough times,” says Mr Medina, who sells newspapers at a small kiosk beside a traffic-clogged avenue in Buenos Aires. “I don’t understand why the government wants to risk default again. It’s irresponsible: people are going to suffer.” Despite such painful memories, Argentines are poised for a default on Wednesday – their third in just over three decades. The trigger would be a missed $539m interest payment after mediated talks between the government and a group of “holdout” creditors made no apparent progress last week.

The growing prospect of default has begun to focus minds on what would come next. Economists broadly expect a recession in the country would deepen, inflation to rise and capital flight – possibly triggering a second devaluation of the peso this year. Still, few believe the consequences of a default would be as dire as 13 years ago, when unemployment reached nearly 25% and forced tens of thousands of Argentines on to the streets to scavenge for cardboard to sell to recycling plants. The economy is not in as deep a crisis as in 2001, when Argentina had suffered from a four-year recession before defaulting. The size of the forgone debt would also be smaller – a maximum of $30bn compared with $80bn.

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” … homeowners owing their creditors 370% of disposable incomes”. What else do you need to know?

Swedes Engage in Household Debt Binge (Bloomberg)

Three weeks after Sweden’s central bank delivered a surprise half-point rate cut, a fresh set of credit data showed that households are borrowing at the fastest pace in almost three years. The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority and the government “have concluded that the higher credit growth and the high household indebtedness is problematic,” Mats Hyden, an economist at Nordea Bank, said by phone. Last week’s credit report “increases the pressure on them to act.” While the Riksbank fights back criticism from Nobel laureates and former members of its own board that it was too slow to tackle disinflation with rate cuts, households are piling on more debt. Consumer borrowing is at a record high with homeowners owing their creditors 370% of disposable incomes, the central bank estimates.

“Credit growth has changed course and is now on an upwards trend,” Hyden said. “And the fact that it increased already in June, before the Riksbank’s rate cut, indicates that there is more momentum in credit growth than previously thought.” Credit grew at an annual rate of 5.4% in June, the quickest pace since November 2011, Statistics Sweden said on Friday. The news sent the krona 0.4% higher against the euro to its strongest since July 3, the day the Riksbank said it was cutting its repo rate to 0.25% from 0.75% to try to drive inflation closer to its 2% target. Prices rose at one tenth that pace in June. Total private debt in Sweden, including households with no loans, stood at about 173% of disposable incomes in the second quarter of this year, according to the Riksbank, which forecasts that that ratio will rise to 185% in 2017.

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Wait till it reaches America.

Two Americans Infected With Ebola In Liberia (UPI)

Two U.S. aid workers in Liberia have tested positive for the Ebola virus in what health officials in west Africa are calling the deadliest outbreak of the disease ever. Both Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly were working in Liberia with Samaritan’s Purse to treat Ebola victims when they were diagnosed with the virus last week, the organization said in a statement. Writebol is an aid worker with the Serving in Mission group, which was partnered with Samaritan’s Purse. Brantly worked directly with Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Consolidated Case Management Center in Monrovia.

Writebol and her husband, David Writebol, had been living in Liberia since August 2013 and are originally from Charlotte, N.C. Brantly, 33, of Fort Worth, Texas, began feeling ill last week and quarantined himself when he recognized the symptoms. He had been living in Liberia since October. As of June 30, the World Health Organization says some 1,093 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are believed to have been infected with Ebola with 660 deaths. Testing has confirmed 786 cases with 442 deaths.

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Baseload issues. We’ve talked about those 1000 times. They force Germany to pay as much as 400 times wholesale electricity prices to coal plants just to keep the grid going. No surprise for Automatic Earth readers.

German Utilities Bail Out Electric Grid at Wind’s Mercy (Bloomberg)

Germany’s push toward renewable energy is causing so many drops and surges from wind and solar power that the government is paying more utilities than ever to help stabilize the country’s electricity grid. Twenty power companies including Germany’s biggest utilities, EON SE and RWE AG, now get fees for pledging to add or cut electricity within seconds to keep the power system stable, double the number in September, according to data from the nation’s four grid operators. Utilities that sign up to the €800 million ($1.1 billion) balancing market can be paid as much as 400 times wholesale electricity prices, the data show.

Germany’s drive to almost double power output from renewables by 2035 has seen one operator reporting five times as many potential disruptions as four years ago, raising the risk of blackouts in Europe’s biggest electricity market while pushing wholesale prices to a nine-year low. More utilities are joining the balancing market as weak prices have cut operating margins to 5% on average from 15% in 2004, with RWE reporting its first annual loss since 1949. “At the beginning, this market counted for only a small portion of our earnings,” said Hartmuth Fenn, the head of intraday, market access and dispatch at Vattenfall AB, Sweden’s biggest utility. “Today, we earn 10% of our plant profits in the balancing market” in Germany, he said by phone from Hamburg July 22.

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